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It sounds tempting and exotic. Traveling the world taking photos and seeing those photos appear in newspapers and magazines can be thrilling but are you made for a career in travel photography? Here are seven ways to know if a career in travel photography is right for you.
The first requirement of being a travel photographer is actually enjoying traveling but it’s more than that. It’s a restlessness that simply doesn’t go away no matter what you are doing or where you have already been. You simply can’t sit still and want to explore everything and everywhere. Does that sound like you?
But it’s also important to remember that taking photos while traveling is different than traveling to take photos. Your time on the road as a travel photographer has one reason and one reason only and that’s to take photos. Nothing else matters and nothing can come between you and your next great shot.
Travel photography is a lonely business and most of your time is spent on the road with your own thoughts. Yes you’ll have the odd conversation with a local but ultimately you are working alone. You are usually awake and out and about before others and you usually end up being the last one back to the hotel room. While spending time on your own can sometimes be nice, can you handle days, weeks or even months by yourself?
There is a common theme amongst travel photographers and that is “not enough time”. You will usually find yourself with a long shot list and not enough time to fulfil it. So you need to be able to adapt quickly and hit the ground running straightaway, even in new destinations. There won’t be time to spend a couple of days getting to know a destination and every second wasted is eating into your time needed to cover off your shot list.
But you also need to learn to adapt while you are at a destination, for example, if the weather is causing problems to your shot list. You need to be able to think, act, and plan quickly and efficiently.
I remember learning very early in my career as a travel photographer that you need to learn what people want to see. This is a business after all, and the only way that you can earn a living from it is by being able to sell your images or getting paid for assignments. Some photographers are better at this than others. Ultimately the success or failure of your photography business comes down to being able to give people what they want to see and what they will pay for.
Part of this will come with experience through years of seeing which of your images sell. But you also need to actively spend time researching and looking at trends in the travel industry, be in the know with up and coming destinations and the news. For example a major airline could be starting a new route, or a previously “closed off” country could be opening its doors to tourists.
There’s no getting around it, being a travel photographer on location is tiring work. You often have to function on little sleep as you’ll be getting up before sunrise, spending all day walking around, then hanging around until well after sunset to capture great shots.
In the summer months that could mean having to get by with just a few hours of sleep a night. Add to that carrying camera equipment all day and not eating properly and you will quickly learn that being on a photo assignment is completely different than being on holiday.
As a travel photographer, you often have to do things by yourself. Whether that is adapting to a new location, finding your way around a city or trying to explain to a local why you want to take their photo. But arguably the biggest requirement for a travel photographer is being confident in your ability to capture great photos that will go on to sell.
Unlike working in a studio when you can set up and art direct your shoot and make adjustments as necessary, as a travel photographer sometimes you only get one shot at documenting a location. You may only have a few days at any given place so you have to capture what you need to in that time.
Because of this you need to believe in your ability both to compose and frame your photos, making sure things like the lighting and the subject are right, but also in your ability to execute that shot perfectly. Sometimes there are no second chances to correct a photo that is blurred or poorly focused.
Travel photography is about telling the story of that destination. Whether it’s a famous monument, a beautiful cityscape or a local going about their day, a travel photographer’s job is to capture that. Often those moments are fleeting and don’t stay around for long. For example the gap in the flow of traffic in front of that famous monument could just be a few minutes. Or the interaction between a market vendor and a customer could last a few seconds. Even capturing landscape or city shots could only have a short window where the light is perfect.
The only way to ensure you don’t miss these moments is to be able to work quickly. This means being ready and knowing how to use your camera completely. With practice over time you will naturally improve and get faster in your work and your camera will become an extension of your arm.
Despite all of these points, there really aren’t many jobs that can give you the same excitement, anticipation, and satisfaction as being a travel photographer. Seeing your work published makes all of the early mornings and endless hours of walking around and waiting worth it.
So do you think a career in travel photography is right for you? Share your thoughts below.