I was contacted by a photographer recently who had some questions about travel photography and how he might improve his prospects as a travel photographer (He did well by flattering me to start; that always helps). To be candid, I receive similar requests from photographers regularly and – while I’d like to help out – I’m often not here so I thought I’d post some answers to at least a few of the questions I’ve received in the past:
Q: How did you become a travel photographer?
A: I was a travel writer who paid a photographer to come with me until I tried it myself and realized it wasn’t rocket science. Pressing a button was a lot easier (and more lucrative) than labouring over a travel story so I went to a couple of remote parts of the world (PNG and Sarawak), took some eye-catching photographs and began to build the library and reputation that – somewhat remarkably – sees me arriving today as one of the most widely published travel photographers in the world.
Q: What’s the best advice you could give to someone just starting out?
A: Differentiate yourself. Sure, show you can do what’s needed but, if your portfolio/web site is looking pretty much like everyone else’s, you’re always likely to be struggling. And be consistent. I have no doubt that many people can take a wonderful photograph but its a professional that takes them consistently and under just about any conditions – and that’s what a prospective client needs to see in your work.
(For more detailed advice in this area, I’ve just published an i-Book on Travel Photography which can be downloaded from the Apple i-Tunes bookstore or there’s an e-book version on my web site at : http://www.kirklandphotos.com/Ebooks/50-top-tips-ebook)
Q: What gear do you use?
A: I generally carry two 35mm Nikons, A medium format Pentax 645D, a range of pro 2.8 lenses (mainly 17-35mm, 30-70mm, 50mm and 80-200mm), a manfrotto stands, a reflector, a flash and, most recently, the Sony RX100 in an underwater housing.
Q: How much time do you spend traveling?
A: I travel for up to eight months of the year.
Q: How do you generate business?
A: Word of mouth is by far my best reference as I do everything I can to ensure my client’s expectations are exceeded. I have a motto: Always deliver what you promise – on time, within budget and to the highest professional standards. Beyond that, I keep my web site up to date and looking the part, I keep in touch with my clients by circulating previews of my assignments to an ever- increasing data base and I offer a special package at the beginning of each year.
Q: What warning would you give to someone wanting to become a travel photographer?
A: Look carefully at the lifestyle of a travel photographer and – setting aside the “glamour of it all” – ask yourself what is the downside of the job and could you really handle it. For example, consider the impact so much traveling has on your relationships and your family or the uncertainty of income (its not as if clients are constantly pounding down the door or a pay cheque gets sent to your bank account every week). It may be some insight to know that while I could not be more grateful for the journey I’ve taken, I have not encouraged my 18 year old son who has similar interests and skills to follow in my footsteps.
Q: What do you think makes you a successful travel photographer?
A: It appears I have a half-way reasonable eye for composition and colour but I’d suggest the success I have enjoyed in this field is largely because I have a combination of other skills as well. I am a writer and a publisher, I have a strong background in tourism marketing and – probably most importantly – I am a businessman. ……And, the gods have been generous to me.
Q: What motivates you?
A: I am motivated by my passion, however, contrary to popular opinion, my passion is not photography; it is to travel and meet people – the further away and the more interesting, the better. While I have mastered both photography and writing to an acceptable commercial level, in my case, these two skills are merely the vehicles I have been fortunate enough to create to realize my passion. That said, with a camera in my hand, I am always motivated to capture better pictures, and I’m forever in search of that one, elusive image which will define me as a travel photographer.
Q: How do you charge for your services?
A: I charge a flat rate for a minimum five day assignment, plus associated expenses which includes airfares, food, accommodation and transport. I rarely discount my fee, believing if someone approaching me is even starting down that road, he’s undervalued my work and we’re unlikely to see eye to eye. However, I will add time to the assignment without charge if I think it will improve the outcome or if I’m particularly excited by the project – provided, of course, I am able to juggle my other assignments around it.
Q: What’s the best part of the job?
A: If you are reading this, you probably already have a fair idea so I’ll be brief. I am paid generously to travel to places many people dream of going to for their holidays and I have the opportunity to experience the very best of some of the most beautiful and interesting places in the world.
Q: What is your goal?
A: Having largely realised the goal I set 10 years ago of being paid to travel the world as a photographer, my goal now is to become the most recognised travel photographer in the world. Ambitious you say? (some might suggest delusional). Maybe – I’ve given myself 10 years to get there.
…And with this statement comes an example of probably the most important advice I can offer any aspiring photographer: If YOU don’t know where you want to be in 10 years time – and you don’t have a plan to get there – how can you expect to arrive? Every day – everything you do once you have set your sights on where you want to be – should be a step in that direction.