Monday, October 10, 2011
Do you want to make a fortune as a travel photographer?
I've seen this headline on the internet a few times over the years and it always makes me laugh. In travel photography, simply put the best way to make a small fortune is to start off with a big fortune! Many travel photographers take the editorial route of combining their travel photography with writing about the places they visit. Their main clients are still magazines and newspapers, with the occasional foray into writing for online sites such as Yahoo and NineMsn.
But here's the clincher. This kind of travel work, which many travel photographers of my generation grew up on, won't have you rolling in clover financially. In fact of all the friends I have who still make a living this way, all except for a bare few are either single, have a second job, a spouse with a job, or another business to help support their love of travel.
In other words if you're thinking you're going to be supporting your family of four with a mortgage and a couple of cars living in a major capital city then you might want to think again.
But for many of my colleagues this doesn't worry them in the least. Because they get to travel for free. When you write articles for major publications your travel expenses are usually covered by companies that work within the travel industry - for the most part PR companies and state and national tourism bureaus.
Getting your name in print gives you legitimicacy in their eyes and a few well-timed introductions can lead you to the inner sanctum where you receive emails and phone calls out of the blue asking if you'd like to go here or there.
If you saw my Facebook Wall you'd see my friends traipsing everywhere from PNG to Antarctica, Japan to Europe. And that's just this month! Next month they'll all be on the opposite side of the globe having more adventures.
Sounds pretty glamorous doesn't it? But the reality is that it is of course very competitive, a lot of hard work to meet deadlines and pull interesting stories out of sometimes very uninteresting places, not to mention the fact that you actually need to be able to craft a feature article! And of course there's never a guarantee that what you write will get published.
The reality is that you often stay in hotels and take part in tours the likes of which you could never actually afford in your 'real life'. The gap between the luxury you enjoy with work and the frugality you survive at home can be huge.
Add to that the fact that in this modern age of cost-cutting and budget constraints the fact that many magazines are now refusing to pay for all those beautiful photographs you take (why bother when they can get them for free from the aforementioned tourism bureaus?) and you might get a bit frustrated to discover you've become a writer and not so much a photographer any more. If you love writing then you'll be more than happy. If you write as a way to get your photos published you might not be so content.
Licensing stock images from trips used to be a good way to help pull in extra passive income to help balance the books but thanks to Microstock and a general collapse in the state of the stock industry that's not such a viable option anymore.
This all sounds like I'm trying to dissuade you from following your passion. Far from it. If you're young and single or a bit longer in the tooth and the kids have left home, and you don't mind being away from your friends and family for a large part of the year then go for it I say. Not all of us need a big paycheck to be happy with our lot in life and you will have more adventures in a year than most people will have in their entire lives.
Just have your eyes open going in. The headline of this blog post isn't very factual for the vasy majority of travel photographers. It's a lifestyle choice. A fantastic, adventurous, wonderful lifestyle. But with as little as $300 being paid for a travel article you are going to have to publish a hell of a lot to break even, even with free travel.
Oh, and what was the second option I was talking about. Shoot other work that pays a lot better and use the profits from that to go and indulge your passion for travel photography. In other words make enough money from other photographic ventures such as commercial work, photography tours or workshops to be able to pay for it yourself. You can still claim your travel expenses on your tax if it's a legitimate work trip and you can prove that, but you won't be so worried about how much money you're spending while you're away.
Documentary-stule travel photography is a passion. A beautiful, exciting, often spine-tingling passion. And it is a wonderful way to live your life. I honestly can't imagine doing anything better for a living. But beware snake charm sellers telling you you'll be the next millionaire as you sell your travel photos all round the globe. It ain't gonna happen. Love it for what it is, just don't do it because you want to be on the next Fortune 500 list.