Photography: Kris B
There are few photography jobs more attractive than travel photography. And there are few specialties harder to break into. The costs of sending a photographer flying around the world to take pictures are so enormous and so hard to justify for most publishers — especially when they can often find a local to do the job just as well — that unless you happen to have a contact at National Geographic, it’s always going to be a near-impossible commission to win.
More realistically, you can expect to fly on your own dime and hope to recoup some of the expenses when you get back.
There are all sorts of ways of doing that. Shooting stock would be one, but you might have more luck cold-calling either a photography magazine or a travel magazine before you leave and asking to speak to the commissioning editor. (The magazine’s masthead should give you the name and a phone number.) Tell the editor where you plan to go and ask if he or she would like any images or an article about the place.
Don’t expect any promises. The best you’ll get is interest and a request to send in what you have when you get back.
Nor should you expect to make a profit. If the editor believed that it was possible to send someone on a long trip and make enough money from the pictures to cover the expense, he’d send his own photographer. But you might make a few hundred bucks and it would certainly give you a useful set of tearsheets.
The chances that you’ll make the sale though are always going to be higher if you’re heading to the sort of places that people just don’t usually visit. Magazines aren’t short of pictures of Yosemite or Cancun; it’s not every day that they get to show their readers images from North Korea, the Arctic Ocean or the wastes of Siberia.
And you can put them on Flickr too. If the images are carefully tagged and added to the world map, there’s a reasonable chance that an editor looking for a good image to accompany a piece about a remote place will pick it up.
All of these images, for example, we dug up by traveling around the world on Flickr.
Photography: Nick Russill
The ice caps might be melting but interest in Antarctica is hotter than ever with regular cruises setting out for the southern ocean. That might mean that the supply of images is already too large to make cold-calling a publication worthwhile, but check back issues to see if the topic has already been covered. If it hasn’t, you’re in with a shout.
Photography: Dave Rawlinson
Few people ever think of heading to the ‘stans for a vacation, which is a shame because the mixture of Islamic architecture and flat steppes can make for some wonderful photography.
Photography: Baba Steve
Images of people can be as representative of a place as photos of landscapes, but remember to respect cultural sensitivities. Not everyone likes having their picture taken — but those who do often like to see it on the digital screen afterwards.
Like Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and their neighbors, Mongolia is another country with plenty of wide-open spaces, few visitors and lots to shoot. Getting around might not be easy, but if you’re visiting China or Russia and you have the time, it could be worth a visit… and even some extra income too.
A country that has come back into the fold of the international community after some time as a pariah can be a good place to visit. It doesn’t happen often but it has happened to Libya. Again, if a travel magazine hasn’t covered it then the editor might well want to.
Photography: Paul Williams
If you’re planning to travel to the developing world, then an alternative option to selling your images might be to work with an aid organization. Find out which groups are operating in the regions you’re visiting and try offering them your photos when you get back. You might only receive credit but the exposure could be enormous.
Ideally, you’d be traveling with a stack of model releases and every time you took a portrait, you’d ask the subject sign one. Realistically, that isn’t always possible. Some people just won’t want to sign anything that looks official. That doesn’t mean you can’t take — or sell — pictures of people though. You’ll just need to understand the difference between editorial use, for which you don’t need a release, and commercial use, for which you do.
You don’t always need to travel to the other side of the world to find an exotic-sounding location. Estonia is in Europe but it’s the part of Europe that many western Europeans ignore. There might be places within a day or two’s drive of you that are equally underappreciated, underrated and unexplored.