Travel Photography - is there a secret to success?

How do you achieve success as a travel stock photographer? The answer is relatively simple - you really need to treat it as your job, not your hobby. While this article is mainly about finding the best locations for your travel photography, I would also add that you need to work year round - adding studio shots, people shots, still life and perhaps even videos to get a portfolio that meets as many of the needs of the customers as you can manage.

Stack of surfboards by seaside

I'm a great believer in planning before I visit a location, and I usually search for terms such as Photographer's guide to the "Location" and you will often find blog posts and articles from photographers who know the area well and are willing to share the best locations and times to capture those special shots. I save the best of these web pages using an App called Pocket, which creates an offline copy on your phone or tablet and lets you organize them by subject so that you can refer to the right article when you are on location even if you have no mobile signal available.

But often my most successful images are ones that I don't plan for. The image above was a "grab shot" when walking along the beach in Hawaii. The colors attracted me first, and the blue sky gives a great contrast and so I just snapped it as I walked past! That image has earned over $1500 and as I looked at it as a thumbnail I thought it could tell many more stories. So when you have something simple like this, think about how you could modify it to meet even more needs. What about an image with the surf behind - easy to do if you extract the surfboards in Photoshop and paste them onto one of your beach shots. Another $700 earned by that variation!

Surfboards at Lumahai beach Kauai

What about the customer that needs a vertical format? Easy - just paste part of the image into a vertical beach scene! Altogether, this series of images has earned over $3000 since I first took the original photo in 2012 .

That reminds me of another important message in achieving success. You really need to upload your images to as many agencies as you can. Some of my images seize the buyer's imagination on one site, but never achieve lift off on another - and you never know which one will be successful! So spread your portfolio widely! I have written blog posts about my workflow on Backyard Silver if you want to learn more.

But what travel shots really sell and which locations really make it special? Every time you are browsing the web, carefully look at the images that have been chosen to illustrate the article and ask yourself why the designer chose that image? It will almost always be bright and sunny. If it is a "get away from it all" article, the location is likely to be a wide but empty beach. If it is about visiting a city, then either a beautifully shot night panorama of the city skyline or a day shot with people positioned in interesting points in the image will be chosen. It is important to think about how the people are arranged - they need to form a pattern that leads the eye into the main subject, so take multiple shots and perhaps remove someone with the clone tool if they are spoiling that perfect pattern. Remember - you are not a photo journalist and don't have to be offering an exact representation of the scene when you took the picture. You are trying to create an image that will illustrate a travel article about a place and so keep that use in mind. Would your picture make you want to visit? If not, what could you change to make it more attractive?

Cherry Blossom and Washington Monument

Remember also those photography composition rules such as the rule of thirds. They have lasted because they work, and so think about placing the most important parts of your photo on those "powerful lines"

Fabric hammock by turquoise sea

Of course, the most important piece of advice is the one I have saved for last. You must remember that this is a job and spend enough time to properly describe and keyword your images. If it is a city, then add the street, the city, the country. Add GPS coordinates so that it can be found on a map. Describe what the viewer is seeing and try to think of how a customer could use the image and what sort of keywords they might use to search. Use compound keywords such as "Houses of Parliament" as well as the single words. Use the description and title fields to add more flavor for what story the image is telling. You can get across any emotional content in your descriptions as well as those fields are also indexed and searched especially by search engines such as Google. Always keep one thing in your mind - the best photo of the most gorgeous location in the world will never sell unless it can be found!

Photo credits: Steveheap.

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November 22, 2018


Thank you very much! Great tips!

August 13, 2018


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August 06, 2018


Good advice! Thanks for sharing!

August 04, 2018


Excellent insight. Thanks for sharing, Master Steve!

August 03, 2018


Thanks all. And if you have any questions I'll be glad to try to answer!Steve

August 03, 2018


Great article, very useful indeed. Thanks, Steve.

August 03, 2018


Thank you very much for all these ideas and tips!

August 03, 2018


I used to live quite close to Washington DC so was able to get in at dawn to avoid the rush of crowds at Cherry Blossom time! So I guess the message is that location is important but also the ability to get to that location when it will be at its best is pretty critical as well. Too often as travel photographers we have limited time at a place and so we do our best with the lighting conditions we have. Often times I move to taking details and close-ups when the weather isn't co-operating.

August 02, 2018


Thank you very much for all these ideas and tips !

August 02, 2018


Great tips on the photo variations (quite profitable!). Also, great creativity on the photo of the Washington Monument through the Cherry Blossoms. An "overshot" subject, but never have I seen it like that before.

August 02, 2018


Thanks - I wanted to get across the key point that location is important, but not the only determinant of success in travel photography!Steve

August 02, 2018


Thank you. I like this information.

August 02, 2018


Thanks for this, Steveheap, very useful tips.

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