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There’s no doubt about it, the business of travel photography has never been tougher. More competition, an oversaturated market, falling license fees and limited client budgets mean that travel photographers have had to work harder and change their business models. Here are five ways to ensure that you stay ahead of the travel photography “game”.
It’s hard believe that there was a time before social media. While some of us remember that time and have fond memories, there’s no doubt that social media has become a necessity for any business wanting to market itself. The opportunities to be able to speak to such a huge audience has meant that any brand that hasn’t embraced social media has been left behind.
Like a lot of other people, I was skeptical at first and didn’t really see the point or need for the likes of Instagram and Twitter. But slowly I have come to realize that it really isn’t an option and every photographer needs to embrace social media and maximize its potential.
So if you haven’t already started to do so, begin to learn about how to maximize the different social media channels available. It is integral to the success of your business.
One of the things that I always find interesting when I speak to people wanting to break into travel photography is their expectations of the industry versus the reality. Unfortunately, travel photography is an incredibly oversaturated market. That means there are more photos available than buyers actually need.
This, coupled with a few big stock agencies reducing prices over the years, has meant that the fee paid to photographers for a stock image is lower than it has ever been. The knock-on effect of this has also meant that the majority of clients who previously might have commissioned photographers are now turning to stock photos as it’s cheaper than hiring a photographer.
This means that as a travel photographer, you now have to really evaluate if a destination is worth the investment required. For example, a few years ago I headed to the Orkney Islands off Scotland (somewhere that had been on my bucket list for a while) and captured some great photos. But to this day I have not made enough sales from that trip to cover the cost of it, whereas somewhere like Abu Dhabi has paid for the cost of the trip a few times over. Clearly, a location like Abu Dhabi is a much more popular destination and so it is also more likely to be in demand for photos.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean you should never go anywhere like the Orkney Islands. But if you are building your business around those far-flung destinations you may find that you are simply not selling as many photos as you need to cover the cost.
DSLRs changed photography forever. Then smartphones came along and changed the whole industry. The explosion in digital photography has also meant that there is now, even more, an opportunity for unique photographs, but also more competition than ever.
So as a travel photographer, you have to be looking for ways to always expand your skills and repertoire. These days that might be by branching out into video, time lapse, or even drone photography. Whether we like it or not, these new innovations offer a completely new way of looking at the world and if you want to stay ahead of the game you need to try and expand your skills accordingly.
Like most things, photography styles and trends move with the times. While it’s important to always keep your own style if you want to earn a living from photography you also need to ensure that you sell photos.
For example, these days more and more picture editors are looking for travel images that convey an experience or story rather than just a generic tourist type photo. In fact, I recently spoke to one of the stock agencies I work with and they said that their clients are now looking for more lifestyle type of travel shots that almost look like they have been taken with a smartphone rather than in a studio.
The key, as in any other industry, is to stay up to date with the current trends. Sign-up to newsletters, look at magazines and read industry news to ensure you know what is going on and where the trends are going.
The biggest difference that amateur photographers notice when then move to being a professional is that they have to start treating photography as a business where every dollar is accountable. Like any business, every few years you need to evaluate where you are and where you want the business to go.
That means you might have to change your strategy, your marketing, and even as mentioned above your offering as a business (like video or time-lapse). No business can ever survive forever without changing with the times and photography is no different.
So if you haven’t done so already, think about your business and where it is and where it needs to go to to stay in the game.
Photographers are often some of the most creative people in the world. But very few often evaluate and relaunch their business to move with the times. Whether we like it or not, change is constantly happening in every industry and photography is no different. Unless you are willing to ensure your photography business can and will evolve, you might be left behind.