This post about making money with travel photography is a guest post by Max.
If you have a passion for both travel and love taking photos of all the places and experiences you encounter, you’ve probably asked yourself,
“How can I sell my photos online for money?”
I mean, what would be better than traveling the world, doing what you love, and getting paid for it?
The truth is, selling photography is probably both easier and harder than you think.
Easier in the sense that just about anyone can do it—gone are the days when travel photography was the exclusive purview of fancy magazine photographers.
Harder in the sense that you’ll need a strong dose of grit, creativity, and passion. I say grit because making money through travel photography isn’t all just sipping piña coladas on the beach.
It takes a lot of hard work. You’ll find yourself behind a computer screen more often than not.
You’ll need creativity because the market is saturated with travel photographers. That means you’ll need to have something unique and interesting to offer so that people will want to actually pay for it.
The passion is what makes it all worth it—especially on days when you just don’t want to stare at a computer for another minute, but you need to get your photos edited and posted.
If you have all of these qualities and you can travel on a shoestring, you’ve got a pretty good chance of living the dream.
Getting Started: The Equipment
To begin with, you’ll need to invest in some decent gear.
I’m not talking necessarily about top-of-the-line stuff, but a dedicated camera that can get the job done. (Sorry, but a camera phone just won’t do it.)
Ideally, you’ll have something that’s compact yet has interchangeable lenses.
I use a Sony A7 II. It’s small, has amazing image quality (both stills and video), and has a decent selection of lenses. Before that, I traveled with a Nikon D7000 (heavy, but cheap) and even an Olympus E-520. Both did me well.
The lenses I use most often are wide angle zoom, an 85mm prime, and a 50mm prime. The primes are super sharp and light and are excellent for everything from portraits to street photography.
Again, it’s not important to get the fanciest gear—you can take amazing shots with a five-or even ten-year-old camera.
Knowing how to use it—both in terms of camera functions and in terms of the composition will make all the difference.
So whatever camera you choose to travel with, spend a good amount of time learning it’s different functions and ideally, practice before you go. That way you’ll miss fewer shots.
Also, take the time to study your craft—know what makes a photo stand out, what makes it memorable. It’s this quality more than a host of others that will make people want to buy your work.
How Much Income Do I Need
Obviously, this depends on how you travel.
If you’re looking to stay in 5-star hotels and fly first class, this probably isn’t the line of work that will fund that.
If you learn to travel on a budget, however, you’ll have a much better chance of making ends meet. When I travel for months at a time, I do it as cheaply as possible.
This includes staying at hostels or camping, using websites like Trustroots to find places to stay in different countries, and even hitchhiking when it seems like it will be fun.
For me personally, I only need about $1000-$2000 a month to stay golden. Of course, more is nice, but $1000 will keep me nicely afloat. And since I make money freelancing as a writer as well as a photographer, combined they allow me to go where I want, when I want…Well, as long as I have internet.
Getting Started: The Travel Blog
There are a number of different ways how to make money with your photography, and everyone’s got a different mix of what works for them, but most avenues will become a lot easier if you have a strong travel blog.
You see, unless you’ve already got a large following, you’re going to need a place that showcases your work.
And while a portfolio is a traditional place for this kind of thing, a blog leaves you far more options, especially if you can write decently.
The topics for your blog don’t need to only be about your personal travel.
For example, you can provide reviews of your favorite gear with affiliate links so you earn money on each click.
Another hot topic is photography/travel tutorials. Find out what people want to know, provide rich and unique content, do some decent outreach, and your following will grow.
Ways to Make Money With a Travel Blog
- Advertising: With a bit of work you can expect to make maybe $100-$200 a month. With a lot of work (and luck) you can do better, but $100-$200 works for me (mostly because I don’t feel like putting more work into it.)
- Affiliate Sales: This can be touch and go, but if you hit on an item that sells well, you can make a significant income for a while. Many companies have an affiliate program like photo editing software developers Adobe or Skylum, services like Smug Mug or photography courses like Digital Photography School. For example, a while back I did a camera review that led people to Amazon via an affiliate link. I got lucky and the camera sold well for a couple of months and brought me in about $300-$400 during that time.
- Affiliate Partnerships: These allow fans of your work to showcase it on their blogs, and then include affiliate links back to you. This lets you expand your audience.
The marketing and affiliate partnerships will flow best after your blog is well established and has gained a significant number of followers.
Remember what we talked about earlier? Having grit and doing all that hard work? Yeah, hopefully, you’re starting to see that this type of stuff doesn’t happen overnight. It’s possible if you truly want it and have the drive to commit to it and work, though.
I know people often say that stock photography won’t really be worth your while unless you focus a lot on it, but I’ve been able to bring in a modest income with micro-stock (and once in a while big stock) without too much of a headache.
Of course, it took a few years and a lot of photos to get to this point, but now the income is pretty steady and keeps coming whether I’m uploading photos or not.
For big stock I’m actually really excited about Tandem Stock, though they’re not taking any new contributors right now (unless you have a referral).
The key to selling your travel photos to any of these stock sites (big or micro) is doing your research.
You’re more likely to carve a niche for yourself if you provide them with shots they don’t already have. For example, they’re less likely to have great shots of a remote, off-the-beaten-path place than somewhere like Rome or London.
If you already have a destination in mind, look through the sites to see where they’re missing quality shots of and seek to fill the gap.
This is a tricky type of income to land, but once you get a few good clients, it’s easier to get more. Most of mine I’ve landed through the freelancing site Upwork.
Granted, travel photography/blogging jobs are scarce on there, but they do come along. And once you’ve got a solid work history, great jobs can simply land in your hand.
Depending on how many clients I take on, I make anywhere between $400-$1000 on Upwork a month.
Admittedly much of that is photography and backcountry blogging, not photography specifically, but I often get to use my own photos in that work.
It also has the benefit of hooking me up with clients I’ve been able to do exchanges with—come to their resort and trade photography for the accommodation.
YouTube isn’t a medium that I like much (I don’t enjoy editing videos), but it can definitely be a sustainable income source if you’re into it.
The key is to provide something of value to viewers, which these days usually means teaching something. A channel that consists of tips, hacks, lessons and on-location videos can begin earning a couple of hundred dollars a month or more.
Of course, the caveat here is you’ll need a base audience to start rolling in any cash which means months of dedicating yourself to this without seeing any return yet.
So if you’re into creating videos, it’s definitely a direction worth taking. It’s just not my thing.
Here’s some more information on making money with travel videos.
Believe it or not, there are more people out there who want to learn how to be great photographers than there are who want to buy images.
In fact, teaching has become a huge source of income for a lot of photographers. I haven’t really started formally teaching, but I know travel photographers who use books, video tutorials, and guided photography tours as a key part of their income.
And going off my point above, you can even make a video course or tutorials on YouTube as well.
One thing I really love to do is offer my photography and blogging services in exchange for a hotel or hostel stay or a free tour.
In fact, one client of mine who owned a 5-star hotel in Costa Rica was more than happy to have me come and stay for a couple of weeks in exchange for quality images and blogging.
I’ve heard it also works for things like safaris in Africa (which are particularly expensive). Just make sure your photography is up to a level where you’re giving the client something they can actually use in their marketing.
There a number of other ways to monetize your travel photography, especially once you’ve gained a following. If you’re starting from scratch, however, these are the first ones to try.
In the end, it’s less about how fancy your photos are and more about how good you are at storytelling, marketing yourself, building a following, and taking risks.
Oh, and how hard you work! Trust me, it’s a lot of work and you’ll find yourself behind the computer more often than not. But if you have what it takes to stick with it, you just might find yourself traveling full time and living off your travel photos.
Have you thought about making money from your travel photos? Where are you at in the process? Let us know in the comments!
Max Therry is an architecture student who is fond of photography and wants to become a professional photographer. He also work on his own photography blog about photo editing, modern photo trends, and inspiration.