Is Travel Photography dead? What I’m Doing About It

International travel is partially reopened. Depending on where you travel from and where you travel to, you probably have to quarantine when you arrive at your destination, as well as when you arrive home. 28 days of being stuck indoors is probably not an option for most travel photographers like me. So where does that leave us if this the new temporary normal?

Doubling down locally

This is probably a no brainer. However, there’s a good chance that before 2020, travel photographer were probably getting paid by companies of all kinds to fly into your hometown and photograph your stomping grounds. Why should a local business go through all the trouble of paying for flights, accommodations, food allowance, car rentals etc. when they could hire a local photographer?

Of course, if you’re used to excitement of world travel and epic destinations, this might sound like a drag. But one day, you might be happy you grew your local client community. Just imagine if you already had half of your business from local vendors rather than all of your business all over the world. You’d probably be pretty thankful!

The industry will change for a long time, maybe forever

Read that again. Things are different now. I do think that vendors all around the world will rebound and need media assets once again. I just think it’s going to manifest a lot differently than before.

Is that really such a bad thing though? I think most travel photographers are guilty of not having explored their own backyards enough. We’re always thinking of the next great destination. The next unbelievable travel experience. What if you didn’t really have to travel all the way to Asia, or Europe, or the Middle East to have life changing experiences?

How much time have you really invested in your own country? You can maximize this and see it as an opportunity to re-imagine what’s possible in your own nation. Ultimately, one day the boarders will open up, quarantines will be a distant bad memory. You’ll be able to enjoy a new country, but will you look back and be proud of how you pivoted? Will you be content with your creative efforts to try new things and overcome adversity?

I know I might not do everything right. And so far I’ve fallen on my face a lot this year. I know I’ll look back and know that I’ve tried and exhausted every last creative idea I had .

It might be time for that career switch after all

If you’ve been stuck in the travel bubble for a while now, what do you think about your lifestyle after being forced to slow down and be in one space for a while? Is traveling all the time really as great as you thought it would be? Or is the change of pace a blessing in disguise?

Travel photographers are some of the hardest working people I’ve met. We almost never sleep, and navigating airports and strange cities where no one speaks your language can really take a toll on you when you’re simply trying to do your job.

Perhaps there’s other avenues of commercial photography that you’ve never explored that you may find just as rewarding, if not more. Maybe there’s a way to better balance travel and work while still making a livable wage without all of the chaos of constantly being on the road.

You may be reading this and already know that you prefer the fast pace, high stress, quick turn-around lifestyle. That’s totally cool! Me too. I’m just learning that I also enjoy it from the comfort of my home occasionally as well.

Sometimes surviving is winning

Let’s face it. Unless you’re already a billionaire, you’re probably not getting rich this year. The thing is, if you can survive this time and be ready to pounce on opportunities once they eventually present themselves, you’ll be way ahead of the competition. A lot of people are going to be forced to tap out. If you can just survive this period of time, refine your skills, strengthen your ability to be patient, you’ll win in the long run.

This is where I think a lot of travel photographers will do well. Generally speaking, our overhead is very low. We travel too often to have an office. We likely don’t have many employees – I contract much of my work. We’re also extremely adaptable. It’s the nature of the job to thrive in uncertainty.

It’s time to dust off those old hard-drives and let you old photos make money for you

If you haven’t already invested some time into growing your stock photography library, now is probably the best time in your career. Instead of having tens of thousands of old photos sit on your hard-drives where they aren’t doing anything for your bottom line, it’s time to put them to work.

The pain with stock photography is that it takes a lot of time. Once you get to the point where you’re basically just adding shoot by shoot, it’s fairly low maintenance. The initial setup of going through your old images and selecting photos through thousands and thousands files can be time consuming. I can’t think of a better time.

My stock sales have increased about 50% since March. It’s still hit and miss but I believe stock photo sales will increase greatly by the end of this year and leading into next summer. There’s a really good chance a lot of people will be relying on stock photos to write blogs and post filler content on their pages. You don’t want to miss out on a huge potential surge of stock sales, you’ve already done the hard work of creating the photos. Now you just need to post them for sale!

Outdoor recreation is larger now than ever

People have been thriving outside. The mountains near my home have been busier this year than any other summer I can remember. People are just happy to be outside and exploring new trails and engaging with their friends in a safe environment where viruses are unlikely to spread effectively. That means there’s more new photographers than ever heading into the outdoors.

Are you taking advantage of creating helpful articles, creating courses, teaching? These new photographers are going to need to learn from somebody somewhere. Why not you? If you think you have a lot of experience and wisdom to share, why not invest some time into helping the emerging younger community grow in this time as well. It’s not just good karma, it’s good business karma.

One day you might be hiring a new assistant, or contracting more jobs, maybe you’ll be selling a new course bundle. You’ll benefit from investing into your community if you are intentional about it. Someone might even thank you!

Social media

I personally don’t like social media. It can be a huge time suck and it’s clearly awful for mental health. That’s why I spend most of my time of this blog instead of scrolling on social media. That said, it is a powerful tool. It’s a huge lead generator for a lot of people and businesses. Chances are if you’re a travel photographer, you probably have a pretty good handle on how to use social media.

A lot of companies are looking for social media managers and people who can help get organic engagement. I have had many existing photography clients happy to have me manage and grow their social accounts such as Youtube, Instagram, and Facebook. I’ve spent a lot of time learning the ins and outs of those platforms for my own business. Why not help grow someone else’s business? The benefit of course is that it’s all completely remote.

Have a little faith

At the end of the day, things have to get better. Some resemblance of normality has to eventually work its’ way back into our lives someday. You can either choose to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and plan for it. Or you can succumb to the overwhelming darkness and just give up. The choice is obvious. Have a little faith, choose to believe things will be alright, the just might be.

Setbacks Suck, but Your Images Don’t Have to

This will separate you as a pro from an amateur.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned as an outdoor lifestyle photographer, it’s that everything is trying to work against you. The likelihood of an assignment going exactly how you planned for is generally one in a million and the elements will forever be an obstacle so long as you continue to make a living in the outdoors.

Mother Nature is truly a blessing and a curse for us outdoor photographers, but something that separates us pros from amateurs is being able to adapt.

Adaptability is the name of the game when it comes to being successful in the field. If you let a bit of rain deter you from pulling your camera out and snapping photographs of the waterfall you just drove 4 hours to get to, then I can guarantee you you’ll miss the shot and come home empty handed.

As a professional, it’s your job to deliver. Most clients won’t care about how you got the photograph as long as you showed up and delivered an outstanding final product.

So what do you do when the elements aren’t on your side?

Be a professional and work with what you’ve got. Overcast skies? Re-work your shoot to be more dramatic. Cloudless blue skies? Include sun flares and sun bursts to add another dimension to the photographs. This is your opportunity to hone in on your craft and highlight your creativity, besides, you were commissioned because someone liked your work after all.

It’s easy to shoot in ideal conditions but what separates you from an amateur is that you’re able to use the conditions to your advantage and produce original work on demand.

With that being said, show up prepared. It is imperative that you are as prepared as possible for anything that your location throws at you. Whether it’s a rain shell to stay dry, polarized sunglasses because it’s unexpectedly sunny, or extra snacks because your shoot is going longer than expected, be ready for just about anything. There’s nothing worse than trying to be creative while your basic needs are begging you to take care of them.

I’ve learned this lesson from experience. I’m lucky to have learned it early on because last week specifically, I was shooting in the desert where it rains maybe five days a year. To my luck it happened to rain all five days that I was there.

I had to completely rework months of planning and location scouting as a hurricane was making its way up from the coast and causing tons of rain everywhere I planned to shoot.

As much of a curve ball as the weather was, I came prepared and ready for the elements so I was able to adapt and I did not leave empty handed.

I was actually able to condense three different shoots that were supposed to take place at different locations, into just one location and produce exceptionally more than I most likely would have if the weather had worked out as planned.

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To give you an idea, I was able to capture a dreamy lifestyle shoot, then I found a huge puddle of mud that the rainfall created to use in an epic product shoot, and I was able to perfectly capture branded content all in one location.

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Another piece of advice is while travelling, be ready with your gear, props, etc. because sometimes the best shooting locations are the ones that you would least expect, e.g. side of the road. You definitely do not want to kick yourself for not having your drone nearby because you packed it away to use later on or foregoing that outfit that ‘could look cool in this spot’. A mentality lesson from the outdoor photography field, never assume that you’ll ‘just get the shot tomorrow’ because most of us have learned you can never count on tomorrow always working out.

The moral of the story here is that if everything had gone as planned I would not have produced these shots which I am more than happy with. In this field, you will continuously be tested, you will constantly wrestle with your patience, creativity, and flexibility. I promise you that you will continue pushing your creative limits and produce some of your best work when you adapt to your surroundings.