This post was written for Ying Huang in Scotland, who emailed me about the essence of travel photography. Thanks Ying for inspiring this post and the next one! Today’s post will be on the challenges of travel photography, and the next post will be on the benefits.
The decision to hire yourself out as a travel photographer has its challenges. Most people might think that travel photography is a thoroughly glamorous job–you jet around the world, you get to hang out creatively so you can capture a story, then you post the story to an editor and then off you go, ready for a new place, a new experience.
Honestly, itâ€™s not that glamorous, and it’s long, lonely, hard work. But if you are organized, persistent and flexible, and you like yourself, you could make it as a travel photographer.
The Value of Organization
Packing your equipment for travel, you have to have done your homework, already.
Most travel stories contain a lot of detail to capture a place, and if you are going to a place you’ve never been, you have to do research beforehand to find out what you can photograph, set the itinerary so you have lots of opportunities to capture the highlights that make the story unique, and pack your camera bag accordingly.
Is travel photography always glamorous? Copyright Aloha Lavina.
Little details like bringing a power adaptor, finding out the voltage of the country, laws on equipment you can bring in and out of the country are just three of the many little things that you have to know before you go. If you don’t do your homework before you travel, you might meet seemingly minor catastrophes that could kill your storyâ€”you could have equipment confiscated, have limited opportunities for shots that work because you brought the “wrong” lens–or worse, have to scramble to charge your batteries because you’re not prepared with proper adaptors. Thorough preparation is one of the challenges of being a travel photographer.
Another part of being an organized travel photographer is knowing how to juggle your assignments. If you’re lucky, you will be hired regularly by a magazine or publisher, and have a steady stream of assignments. But most travel photographers have to be freelance, posting stories, pitching stories, and waiting to get paid after the story is published. Waiting for income to pay bills just doesn’t work with the way bills work in our world, so you have to take on multiple assignments to get a steady income if you’re a freelancer. To do this successfully, you have to create a system that helps you keep track of stories you’ve pitched (tried to sell) to editors, stories that you’ve sold, and stories you’ve actually been paid for. I actually enrolled in a course on being a travel photographer over at MatadorU, an online school for travel photographers and writers, so I could get a firm grasp on how to juggle assignments with the guidance of an editor. Having a system for keeping track is essential, especially if youâ€™re trying to be prolific enough to pay bills with your photography.
The Value of Persistence
With the popularity of digital photography, it’s very easy for publications to buy or get for free photos from non-professional photographers, and a lot of hobbyists who have other means of income make their photos available through stock companies like Getty, where a publication might pay less to get their photos compared to having to commission a photographer to fly somewhere and live in rented accommodations to get specific shots of a place. So rejection of pitches is something a travel photographer has to deal with, and the persistent travel photographer will pitch a story to death to get it bought and published. Aside from organization, persistence is a quality that you need to survive as a travel photographer.
Patience and persistence is rewarded in travel photography. Copyright Aloha Lavina.
Persistence also helps you with the challenge of shooting the story itself. The only thing you can control in a travel assignment is yourself and whether your equipment is prepared. You can’t control the weather, the light, the environment. It might rain, the sunset could be horrible the day you climbed the hill to the lighthouse. The market could be empty when you go there to shoot portraits of people at work. Accepting that these are circumstances beyond your control, and having a backup plan to come back, go somewhere else, and keep shooting a story will help you to turn what might be a bad shooting day to one you can save.
The Value of Flexibility
Flexibility will get you through an assignment. Things won’t work out your way, but you have to get those images. If you’ve done thorough research, you will know where to go instead of the empty marketplace. If you did your homework, you will be able to shoot and post the story.
It’s essential for a travel photographer to shoot in many different shooting conditions and situations. Being able to shoot in a variety of situations helps you to get a story that’s different from what could also be accomplished by those six or sixteen other people your editor could have hired. As a travel photographer, you have to work hard to be technically proficient that you can be creative. Creativity comes after you know the fundamentals of how certain shots work–so if you have a large repertoire of what you can do with your camera, you have an advantage over someone else your editor could hire.
The Value of Liking Yourself
Travel photography means long hours by yourself. I’ve produced photos while traveling with other people, even on tour when I’ve spent hours on a bus and a measly 15 minutes at every tourist site, and my best work has been when I specifically travel to a place, alone, just to make images. There are a few crucial reasons for this.
Your schedule is your own. When you travel alone, you are able to get up as early as it requires to photograph in good light. You don’t have to wait for others to wake up, finish breakfast, and go. You’re able to zip through from one place to another depending on the shooting opportunities. And you can stay as long as you want in a place as long as you have enough memory card space. The advantages of traveling alone for photography are many; but it’s lonely. There’s no one to talk to at the end of the day, to process your experiences, except your travel journal. You really have to like spending time by yourself if you are a travel photographer.
If you like yourself, are flexible and persistent, and organized, you can meet the challenges of being a travel photographer. What other qualities do you think a travel photographer should have to succeed?
UP NEXT: the benefits of being a travel photographer, right here on Imagine That!
Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.
You might also like:
Shoot Themes When You Travel
Keep Your Camera in Motion
Don’t Put Your Camera Away after Sunset
A Changing Story