Five Things Your Photos Need for You to Make a Good Living as a Travel Photographer

Five Things Your Photos Need for You to Make a Good Living as a Travel Photographer

I just attended a talk by the renowned Travel Photographer Jon Reid. He has been delivering work to Getty Images on a regular basis for over 10 years, but most of his work is commissioned by the largest travel agencies in the world. He shoots stills and video, and his work gets used online to provide information on a specific city or country. 

He gets to travel to the areas the agencies want to focus on as a destination, and he does it by following a simple set of rules he made for the images he captures. 

1. They must give a sense of place.

The traveler has to understand something about the area, country, or city when they views the photo. The travel agency or company using this image has to portray an idea of what the visitor can expect to find there. There should be some clues about where the image was taken. Many seascape images work well as art, but not as travel images, because they could have been taken anywhere.

The Swiss Alps, by Jon Reid.

2. Some images should provide information.

They should convey culture, food, and the experiences you can have. What is the environment like, the people? Can the person viewing the images relate in some way to better understand what it will be like to go there? Not every image has to have artistic merit. This is one of the most challenging adjustments for a photographer to make.

3. The images need to evoke an emotional experience.

Reid notes: "For me, this is the most important element in any photograph. Does the image cause the viewer to feel something? It can be any sort of emotion, anger, happiness, peace, etc., as long as it is not ignored."

With this, he is not referring to the emotional experience of the person in the picture. He’s referring to whether he can evoke an emotion in the viewer of the image. This can be done with photos of the cityscape, the mountain ranges, the faces that pass (with permission), and the energy the place has. It is all dependent on where you are and what you set out to photograph, but this more than any other point is the basis of any kind of photography.

4. It must resonate with travelers.

Photographers tend to focus on moody skies and dramatic weather. Often, we don't even pull out our cameras on blue sky days, but when we're making images to attract tourists, we need to get into the minds of what tourists are after. If it is a tropical paradise, then clear, blue skies are ideal. The purpose of travel photography is not to hang as art, but rather to generate interest in a location. Can you portray an experience a traveler might have on their trip to these locations through your images? 

5. It must show an understanding of the region.

What is the area you're visiting famous for? Alternatively, what stands out to you when visiting a region? Reid recently photographed New South Wales, Australia for a client. He noticed that at almost every beach, there were always a lot of surfers out. He saw that surfing was key to the region and went about photographing it, as well as the surf culture. During the talk, he made it clear that now, more than ever, the travel photographer has an opportunity to make a good living if they are paying attention to what the industry is looking for and they're able to constantly deliver at a high level. 

Are you an experienced travel photographer? Can you add to these tips to be a successful travel photographer? Let us know in the comments.

Image of the Swiss Alps used with permission of Jon Reid. 

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P-J Taylor's picture

Love travel photography! Here's mine:
Your tips are awesome! I love conveying a real sense of place and culture in a photo, evoking emotion.
I try to make photography a real lifestyle and will devote more time to it for sure! Here's how:

David Sanden's picture

One of the the differences between a professional travel photograph and an amateur's is the pro will not look over processed, the colours will look natural (as shown in the article) not over saturated. The picture will 'wow' with composition and not buckets of unnatural colour.

Jonathan Reid's picture

Thanks for noting that David - my images probably did suffer from that over processed look in my early days whilst I now favour a more natural look - mostly due to the limited time I have behind the computer!

Jonathan Reid's picture

Cheers for the article Wouter!

Zoe Larkin's picture

Very interesting, and I'm learning so much. Particularly the point about needing to evoke an emotional experience... I am finding that this is often the key to great photography in any genre. And then post processing in a way that matches that mood/feeling. Thumbs up!

Crystal Provencher's picture

Great read! Working really hard to make this dream a reality! Maybe one day ill be the one with the tips :)

Suzette Barnett's picture

Great article, Wouter! I'm working toward these factors becoming second nature. #1 for me is deciding how I want the viewer to feel when they see my work.