I tell you how I became a Travel Photographer, and how today I manage to live by traveling and taking pictures.
I’ve never talked here about how I make a living. I prefer, by far, to talk about travel and photography than about the underside of the blogosphere and the market for the sale of images. But given the large number of emails (like many, many) that I receive from young future photographers, I tell myself that offering you a complete article on my experience may not be such a bad idea.
I want to clarify that this is not a guide to becoming a photographer. And besides, if someone offered you a procedure to follow to make a living from photography, there is a good chance that it would be quite unreliable. This article is based on my experience of photography in my chosen field (travel) but there are a multitude of photographer profiles, and ways to make a living with photography!
I STARTED BY TRAVELING
The story begins 10 years ago, in 2009. I am a young girl who dreams of adventure who treats herself to a trip with her first savings.
For this trip, I buy my first camera, a 450d, with some lenses, including a 100mm 2.8 that I have long loved for portraits Travel Photographer (but which tragically died during a crossing of Iceland by bike…).
I never flew then. I’m flying to Moscow to begin a 3-week journey by Trans-Siberian. We sometimes read that travel transforms individuals Travel Photographer. It was. When I got back, I had only one desire: to leave. I had taken a liking to travel, to travel photography, to encounters, to the excitement of the unknown, to the adrenaline of discovery.
At the time, I didn’t know that it could one day become a job. I was earning a good living and I wanted to see everything. Every day off was precious! India, USA, Laos, Norway, Scotland, Iceland, Slovenia, Romania, Mali… I literally devoured the world Travel Photographer. It was during these trips that I learned what I liked to photograph, and how. I learned to slow down too, to focus on an area to explore it in depth rather than running from town to town Travel Photographer. And from the beginning, I tried to favor homestay accommodation, because I liked these meetings, and these moments of life.
No need to hope to convince a client with an empty portfolio!
If you can, after graduation, get a job, work countless hours, save every penny, and take a year to travel… and take pictures Travel Photographer. Choose your destinations with precision, according to the subjects you want to develop (wildlife? landscape? life scenes?). Take your time, stay a week, two weeks, if necessary, to get the photos you want Travel Photographer. Tame your tastes, your desires, develop your creativity.
If the big trip option is not possible, do not neglect your region. You want to photograph scenes of life? Go to the markets, browse the town centers around your home Travel Photographer. Do you dream of safaris? Train on migratory birds, the animals that inhabit the forests. Your thing is the portrait? Visit the merchants in your neighborhood.
In short, make your weapons, fill your memory cards and your portfolio.
Note: filling out your portfolio does not mean presenting 200 images to a potential client! This means making as many images as possible so that the ones you choose are truly exceptional Travel Photographer. The portfolio you present should always contain the best of your photographic work. It’s a sample that should make you want. Limit it to a small number of traveler photos (no more than 20).
THE QUESTION OF TRAINING
Personally, I did a literary BAC with an Arts option (cinema) + a second optional Arts option (cinema again!). For three years, in high school, I learned to make short films, studied the history of cinema and the history of art.
Then, after hesitating between a prep and an audiovisual BTS, I chose the option leading me directly to the job I wanted to do at the time: editor. For two years, I therefore continued to learn cinema, with alternating courses on artistic approaches and more technical courses on optics, light, etc. A complete training, in short.
Freshly graduated, I moved to Paris. I had obtained an equivalence in L3 to continue my studies until I found a job. I thought I was living as an intermittent worker. My BTS was highly rated, I had two job offers from the beginning of September (in companies where I had not applied, it was probably easier at the time). I chose the full-time CDI option, and a year later, I was disgusted with the world of television for life! We made rather qualitative programs, but the working conditions were deplorable.
I quit to start working as a freelance graphic designer, and that’s when a client offered me a job as a retouched in the magazine press Travel Photographer. I stayed there for seven years. This is where I started professional photography, first doing still life for magazines.
So, I’m not entirely self-taught, since it’s my professional career that led me there, and I learned to calculate focal lengths and light temperatures […] in my studies, but I don’t have any specific degree in photography. On the other hand, I studied the history of art a lot, the construction of an image, of a painting. And I think that exercising the eye is essential in the process of a photographer (having other images in mind than the identical Instagram photos!).
GET KNOWN, THEN GET STARTED
It is thanks to this blog that my career began. I shared my adventures and my images here, for fun, because I loved to write. And then the first customers arrived.
Among the significant turning points of the beginnings, there will have been the first prize received by the blog, at the Biennale du Carnet de Voyage in Clermont-Ferrand, then a mission to redo the photo library of the French branch of the Tourist Office of the Kenya and finally a book contract, where I published a book devoted to travel photography. All this made me understand that it could become my job, that I was not illegitimate to dream of becoming a photographer.
Feeling legitimate, even today, is not always easy for me. And I found that to be a common trait with a lot of female colleagues. We are taught to be humble. But in artistic professions, humility is not a quality: you must know how to sell yourself.
Over time, the blog grew. It is he who serves as my showcase. I gave interviews on national radios, on television. Many magazines have talked about my work. Even today, it is thanks to the blog that my clients contact me, it is my best asset. It’s also what suits me best: I don’t know how to land somewhere with my portfolio under my arm and explain how extraordinary I am!
WORKING FOR THE PRESS
When we talk about travel photography, we immediately think of the press. To work in a magazine, to be a reporter, to see your images on glossy paper in a newsstand, that inevitably makes you dream. However, I have never been the instigator of my publications in the press.
I tried three times to contact magazines.
The first time, I simply showed my portfolio to the artistic director of one of the magazines for which I worked as a retouched. He had already used some of my full-page photos for his summaries. I simply asked him if he would like to watch, and occasionally let me try my luck. Working for the magazine, I knew a lot of their photographers weren’t very good (since I spent my time having to do damage control on their failed photos). And the artistic director demolished all my photos: everything was bad, nothing found favor in his eyes. It was terrible to hear. At this precise moment, a colleague entered the room and said “oh, these photos are super beautiful, who are they?”. The AD closed my portfolio without responding. And we never talked about it again. I never knew why he reacted like that. A simple “sorry, it’s not the style of the magazine” would have sufficed. Why were my photos so bad?
The second time was hardly more glorious. I was already on my own. I had known this editor-in-chief for several years. During a conversation, I asked if they were looking for new photographers from time to time. The response was as dry as it was quick, making it clear to me that I should feel ashamed of myself for having had the audacity to think I was worthy of his magazine. Good, okay.
The third time was last year. A magazine posted an ad looking for someone who can photograph, make videos, and use social media.
What I’ve observed from working in the press as a retouched, and even now working in the tourist industry, is that places are expensive, and getting them is not so much a question of skills as of relational. Knowing the right people, basically. And in the right way.
I work from time to time with the press, despite everything: when they are the ones who come looking for me.
I even recently started a long-term collaboration with a new magazine, Terra Darwin, in which I will regularly publish travel diaries.
It’s not just the press!
Being published in magazines flatters the ego but is not the only economic model, and fortunately! Take a chance on writing to magazines you like, but don’t expect too much. The market is saturated…
Find other customers! It is even likely that you will be paid more than as a photographer for a magazine!
If you have a great story that no magazine wants, publish it on the web.
If you want to make a book, self-publish! Even if it means doing a crowdfunding campaign to finance the printing!
In short, you are not dependent on the press, you can create your media, your means of distribution, yourself.
FIND CUSTOMERS AND MAKE A LIVING
Started to have more proposals as a photographer (or travel blogger) right when I started to no longer support my paid work. No longer had enough days off to accept all the proposals I liked! Negotiated my departure to benefit from an amicable dismissal: it is a not insignificant detail that allows you to start with confidence, knowing that you will always have enough to pay for. In 2013, I was free from any employment contract and ready to get started!
The advantage of this business is that everything is exponential. Thus, today, my photos are in many brochures of Tourist Offices or Travel Agencies, and this allows me to gain credibility and visibility to obtain other similar contracts. There’s nothing better than being at a meeting with tourism professionals and pointing to the stand of a destination saying “do you see the kakemono over there? Hey, that’s my picture!
Gradually, I also evolve my way of working. Thus, in recent years, I have started to integrate video again to have one more string to my bow (photographers who know how to take pretty pictures, there are plenty of them, but who also know how to make video, this immediately reduces the market). In front of mom, I also specialized more and more in family themes.
On the one hand, because it offers me the non-negligible comfort of, often, making my daughter discover the world, and on the other hand because it is a theme that I particularly appreciate. The sincerity of the children means that they are not always easy to film. There is no drama with them. You must put them in trust, develop a bond, set up the scenes you want, be responsive to capture their expressions. They are extraordinary subjects to immortalize, even when they are other people’s children!
Who is likely to buy your photos?
Since that’s the crux of the matter: who can have money and want to buy a photo from you?
Here again, there are several economic models which differ according to the profiles. The ideal being in my opinion to dig everywhere, especially to start!
You can specialize in selling art prints. This involves making photos that people might be likely to post in their living room. The difficulty will lie in finding gallery owners to exhibit at, or having people visit your website if you want to sell directly.
You can contact bed and breakfasts or small hotels in your area. Locate on AinBnB, Booking or on Google those who have photos that do not value their establishments, and offer them your services. But don’t start your email with “your photos are so ugly that I think you might need me”!
The more accommodations you photograph, the more attractive contracts you will be able to claim and increase your prices.
Make yourself known to travel agencies, tourist service providers and tourist offices around your home. Especially in some rural areas, it is possible that few photographers are active. Thus, the day when their appointed photographer is not available, they may think of you.
Finally, over time, specialize. Become the person we call for a specific subject. It won’t stop you from doing everything, but it will make you an expert in one area.
THE QUESTION OF TARIFFS
Former graphic designer, I knew, when I started as a photographer, that free work would always be prohibited. That didn’t stop me from being cheated, or sometimes just being disappointed. I produced a video for an association whose work I really liked. It’s a small association, my contacts there were all volunteers. I did it for free, with complete freedom, and it was a great project. But when I saw, a few months later, that they had a budget to finance other videos, it made my heart ache. The problem is that they didn’t even consider asking me to compete for the tender. I could have missed it, been less competent than those who won it, it wouldn’t have bothered me. But I was enraged that they didn’t even write to me.
This anecdote sums up the whole problem of free work: once you do it once, people no longer see you as a professional they could pay.
THE LITTLE PIECES OF STRING MAKE THE BIG STRING
Today, I multiply the sources of income, and that gives me a certain stability, so as not to depend entirely on orders. I have an economic model that straddles a lot of profiles, and that suits me well.
My biggest source of income remains the sale of reports to destinations and travel agencies. Depending on the contracts, this will mean making photos or videos (or both). Sometimes it will be a question of publishing a post on this blog as well. The photographer-blogger double that allows me to include more options, offering them visibility in addition to content!
I earn some money through affiliation. This consists of placing links on this blog, to platforms that will pay me commissions. This is the case of Amazon or Booking, for example. For large sites, this can bring in a lot of money. In my case, it will remain anecdotal since I only do it on products and services that I have tested / liked (on my photo equipment for example). Moreover, I always have an ethical problem to refer to these companies, and I therefore limit their presence…
I organize photo trips. That is to say that people can come with me on a trip to learn photography. But let’s be honest: I do it for fun! I wanted to offer these mother daughter trips at the most affordable prices possible. Between the money invested in location scouting and the time spent organizing it, that’s clearly not how I’m going to buy a Rollex. But sharing a week with enthusiasts, discussing photography, seeing them have fun trying new techniques… it’s well worth it!
At the same time, I also give training to tourism professionals: I teach them to make their own videos, to improve their photos.
Finally, there are book publications. I have published three books dedicated to travel photography.
The first was self-published. I sold it myself for 6 months before reissuing it. My royalties are much lower by having a publisher, but the book has been selling very well for several years, without doing anything: it’s a comfortable passive income (where self-publishing involves daily trips to the Post Office and inventory management!).
Finally, I published a new book in December, again self-publishing. This means that I advance all the costs myself: paying the printer is a small fortune! But that also means that I keep all the profits for myself (even if the Post Office receives more than me…).