Tuesday, 27 May 2008

Getting started

People often get in touch with me asking how to get started in travel photography. So here is some of the advice I usually give people.

Are you good enough?

The first thing is to gauge whether you are good enough to start making money from photography full time. Almost anyone can get a picture published these days, because there are a large number of publications that accept mediocre photography. But they are also the ones that pay the least. If you want to know if you are actually going to be able to make a sustainable living from travel photography you need to browse the high end magazines such as Conde Nast Traveller, National Geographic Traveller, Islands, and Travel + Leisure. Look at the features they use to illustrate the articles, especially when they feature a place you have photographed yourself. Then look at the adverts, especially those promoting hotels and resorts. Then be brutally honest with yourself - if you genuinely think you could shoot photos of the same quality and subject matter you’re you are ready. If not, it’s time to get practising.

OK, I think I’m good enough – what now?

If you’re convinced you are ready to take the plunge, then you need to get ready to show your work as a professional.

Firstly, get a decent website. Unless you are showing your work on a slick, well-designed site, no art buyer will give it a second look. Remember that you are a photographer, not a designer, so don’t think you can build a good site yourself. The easiest way to get a slick looking online presence is to use one of the packages designed specifically for photographers. Livebooks is very popular, and has packages starting from $800 going up to $3200. There is also Fluid Galleries which at $400 is more affordable when starting out. Both allow you to customize the look and feel of your site while allowing you to easily change the content as your portfolio grows, and have a slick professional look.

Secondly, get a proper portfolio. When I started out I had my photographs in an A4 plastic binder that looked simply terrible. Now I use A3 leather portfolios by Plastic Sandwich. They’re not cheap, but they look fantastic and are very durable. You should aim to have about 25-30 prints, showing only your very best work and only the kind of photography that you want to shoot. If you have your own high quality inkjet printer then by all means print your own – I do on an HP Designjet 90. This has the advantage of allowing you to reprint an image until you get is exactly the way you want. Be sure to get a custom printer profile made up if you are using off-brand paper. Alternatively, take your files to a high-end lab and get them to print them for you.

Getting your work out there

Once you’ve got your website and printed portfolio together you need to start getting your work in front of people who commission photography. Start out with all the publications you would like to work for. Look at the masthead to find out who the Art Director or Photo Editor is. Add them to your list. Next, find out who are the Art Buyers at the advertising agencies. Add them to your list. If you need help, subscribe to one of the list services such as Bikini Lists (UK) or Agency Access (US).

Every couple of months send out an email with an image and a link to your site. Pick a few of your target clients and follow them up with a phone call. Those that have seen your site and like what they see will call you in to see your book. Here is when your printed portfolio will pay off. A lot of stuff can look good at 500 pixels on a website, but an A3 print will quickly show up any flaws in an image. And almost any image looks better when printed larger. Once they’ve seen you then continue to keep in touch, sending emails when you have new work on your site.

As you work through your list, eventually the phone calls will start to come in. It all takes a lot of time, but eventually your hard work and patience will begin to show rewards.


  1. Thank you Julian for this great tip. You have great photos and I’m going to follow your advice.

    Jose Julio

  2. Hello Julian.
    Have you done any type of photography course? Do you recommend getting stating with one?


  3. I'm very interested on that as well.

  4. I've taken two photography courses.

    The first was "Strictly Business 2" about the business side of photography, given by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) in the US. The national photographer's association in your own country may run something similar.

    The other was a commercial photography course given by Chase Jarvis and his team, covering everything from casting models and location scouting, to shooting and post production. I expect he will be giving the course again at Gulf Photo Plus in Dubai next year, so look out for it if that interests you.

  5. Hello Julian,
    I am a 15 year old who absolutely LOVES photgraphy. I really want to get into travel photography but I have no clue where to start! Are there any colleges that have travel photography programs? My mom has been telling me I just need to become a photographer and then travel, like its that simple. And I really can't afford an expensive high-end college. Any advice?


  6. Hi Chelsea. As I mentioned in the post, most travel photographers are self-taught. College programs tend to be focused on people going into high-end commercial and fashion photography or photojournalism. While none of these will be a bad experience, they are by no means necessary to make a career as a travel photographer.

    The main starting point is to build up a great portfolio. You don't need top travel the world to do this - looking at your own country in a fresh and interesting way is enough. Then you need to get it in front of people - see the advice in the blog post on how to do this.

    It will take time, but that's OK at your age. Good luck!

  7. There are many websites related to digital photography course we can find on internet but i have taken the services of one. They are providing best services in the industry.