I was recently approached by a student who wished to interview me as she was researching 'Travel Photography' as a career.
The student asked how did I become a Travel Photographer and glibly I replied 'I had a camera and I travelled' which is true. However like most things in life it is a lot more complicated than that.
Just out of college I was very lucky that I was commissioned by Ellerman Travel (later to become Thompson & now Tui) to photograph the lifestyle fillers for the Brochure and Point of Sale posters with a number of models traveling to the Canaries, Spain & Portugal and returning with hundreds of travel lifestyle images that greatly improved my portfolio. Once that type of work in your folio, other commissions will follow.Numerous challenging & rewarding Travel Photography commissions later, I still shoot for the Tourism & Hospitality industry but primarily in the UK.
What worked over 40 years ago is not how it works now as today everyone is a photographer and if they travel they are Travel Photographers, yes but the point the student was getting at was how do you make a living from it?
There are some who do, and good luck to them, but like every photography genre the most difficult part of photography is getting the commissions.
I have over the years been very lucky and was that travel photographer, working for tourist boards, airlines & destinations for many years. Before the digital revolution, photographers who could return with usable quality images usually in medium or large format and could be well rewarded.
Now there is a massive supply of quality stock images of most destinations and they are cheap as chips, so why would a photographer be employed to go and take travel pics?
Because discerning clients want quality and images that communicate and they want images that reflect their brand or the brief has concepts that stock images just can't deliver.
I don't really consider myself as a travel photographer, I am an Advertising photographer who travels, nothing like the amount of trips I enjoyed when I was 'hot' & along with a great group of UK photographers we would work internationally out of New York, Paris & London. Most were AoP members and I for one had the greatest respect for photographers like Pete Seaward, Duncan Sim, Paul Wakefield & Simon Stock. There are many great location advertising photographers around now & although there seems to be fewer 'BIG' shoots there are those who are traveling across the globe producing 'Travel Campaigns'.
My current work has taken me in a diffrent direction for most of my commissions, portrait & lifestyle campaigns are mostly UK based but I am still producing stock images that would probably be called 'Travel'.
It is ironic that students think that they do need to travel to be a travel photographer, but as the UK is one of the world's most popular destinations where are the images to promote the UK going to come from? Yes, to be a travel photographer just step out and record where you are, to a foreign visitor it is fascinating but to a local it's just 'everyday'.
That is where a photographer has to acquire the 'eyes of a child' and start seeing with fresh eyes even at a location that you are very familiar with.
It is not what you photograph, but the way you see and conceive the images, many can be just beautifully lit scenes, but if a travel company wants to promote a winter trip to the UK, you need to realistically have images that look wintry. A landscape with trees in full foliage is not what a visitor is going to see, so remember there are four seasons and each destination shall need the images that reflect the changes, it is one of the great attractions of the UK, you can enjoy the seasons although maybe Winter is not as popular as others ?
I believe that there is a market for Travel photography, travel & hospitality is a Billion £ industry and requires a massive amount of images to market the destinations, hospitality venues & attractions. Fashions change , locations change as does the style of travel images. A photographer can make a living in the business, but the images have to be what the market wants, and they have to deliver to the market on an international scale.
However, don't expect an easy time, shooting at sunrise & sunset as well as traveling maybe overnight is not a holiday. Its a hard job, but boy is it FUN.