There are many ways for travel photographers to earn money. Some generate a high monthly income, others just a few lousy dollars per month. I advise you to use several of them and not to put all eggs in one basket.
How many of these 9 foolproof methods a travel photographer can earn money with you should use depends on where you live and how much work you want to put into it. A location-independent photographer living in Bali for $500 USD has to work less for a living than someone living in America or Europe.
Try out all 9 foolproof methods a travel photographer can earn money with for a few months and see what works best for you.
#1 Sell stock photos
With this method you upload images to platforms like iStock and Shutterstock. Because you get very little money per image (often only a few cents), you have to upload a lot of pictures and constantly expand your portfolio.
If you have uploaded at least 2,000 images to Shutterstock and iStock, you may earn $500 USD or a bit more. Provided the images are actually purchased.
#2 Sell images directly to clients
Hotels, tourism boards, tour operators and magazines need new photos every day. Before you address these clients, I recommend that you build a good reputation on the Internet. In any case, you need a good-looking portfolio that represents your best work.
Upload all images you want to sell directly to customers in low resolution and without watermarks to a cloud storage such as Dropbox or Google Drive. Group images that tell a story, arrange them correctly and tag them with matching keywords. Write a short informative text that explains the story in your pictures and emphasize the value of the pictures. Be creative and let clients’ imagination work for you.
Next you send the client a short e-mail and add the link to the pictures. If he does not answer, ask by phone if he has received your mail. This is usually the moment when you receive a confirmation or rejection.
Do not be afraid to tell the customer your price. If he wants to negotiate the price down, send him to the nearest supermarket. There he can shop cheaply.
If the client wants high quality, he has to pay the usual market price.
But what is a usual market price? To be precise, you do not sell pictures but publication rights. For these rights, there are price specifications that are customary in the industry. Use the Getty Images Price Calculator to find out how much you can charge for your images. If you play around with it a bit, you can see how the price for a picture changes, depending on the planned usage.
One more thing. If you’ve read my article The #1 Reason why most photographers fail, you know one of the biggest business killers of all. Clients often ask for free delivery of all unedited images. They then have these pictures retouched by an intern and get a few hundred professional pictures for free. Never get involved. Never give these pictures to the client or charge a discouraging price of $10,000 USD per picture. If you lose this customer, it is not a big loss. You do not need any freeloaders in your customer database.
Depending on how hard-working you are, you can earn $1,000 USD per month or more by selling images directly to customers and agencies.
Jobs where you get paid to travel are the wet dream of all travel photographers. Not only will you receive money for your work, the client will also pay for all expenses, such as airfare and accommodation.
Your income depends on the amount of work and often also the reputation of the client. Expect to earn between $1,000 USD and $2,000 USD.
National Geographic pays about $7,000 USD for a 14-day assignment. This is obviously the premium class.
But do not just look at the money. Assignments are extremely stressful and labour-intensive. Often you still have a lot of work after the assignment and get not paid for it. This puts the paid prices into perspective.
If you have a particularly good relationship with a customer, you can offer him an exclusive first publication right. In this case, the customer pays for being allowed to see and publish your pictures before anyone else. In return, you may not sell any of your latest images elsewhere until the customer has claimed his right of first publication.
This earnings model works on a subscription basis. The customer pays you a monthly fee. An additional income of several hundred dollars is quite possible with retainers.
#5 Brand Deals
If you have many followers on social networks, customers pay you to promote their products on your account. The price you can charge for this type of advertising depends on the number of followers you have.
Because many users artificially increase their numbers with bots and hacker tricks, more and more companies are now evaluating other factors, including the activity of followers. If you bought 20,000 followers, these followers are not active on your account. They are only paid for following, not for likes, comments and similar things. Your clients will find out very quickly whether you have real or just fake followers. Do not even think about cheating here. If you are discovered, you will lose your good reputation and your account will be deleted.
To give you an idea of the achievable earnings, I will give you a few numbers I have calculated with Socialblade. I discovered a Youtuber with 145,000 followers. About 100,000 people follow him on Instagram, almost as many on Twitter. His earnings from brand deals are about $2,000 USD per month.
The Youtuber T-Series has 81 million followers and earns between $700,000 USD and $10,600,000 USD. Per year? No, per month!! Which means there are no limits.
#6 Blogging and Vlogging
Many travel photographers run a blog or Youtube channel. They build up a large following and monetize their accounts with affiliate links.
To be successful with this method you have to publish new content regularly. Most Vloggers publish three to four videos per week. They also share their content on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms.
In each post or video they add an affiliate link and earn commission when someone clicks on the link and buys the advertised item.
Bloggers and Youtubers often produce their own online courses, eBooks and other digital info products and sell them through their channels.
This business model can be combined with all of the above methods. It is the best way not to put all eggs in one basket.
Because bloggers and Vloggers have multiple income streams, it is difficult to determine their earnings. The fact is that you need at least 100,000 followers, preferably on multiple channels, to live well from this method.
On a press trip to Ireland I spoke to a Youtuber who has a little over 100,000 followers on Youtube and about the same number on Instagram and Twitter. He earns $1,200 USD monthly from advertising revenue on Youtube, plus $800 USD through the Amazon Associates program. Additional he earns $1,000 USD with his own online course and another $2,000 USD by promoting products. Because he has signed up on Patreon, people who like his content send him $280 USD monthly. Makes a total of $5,280 USD monthly. Not bad!
#7 Sell prints
You can sell your own pictures to fans through a highly frequented blog. To make it work, it is important to have a large reach and a good reputation.
The sales takes place with a Woocommerce plugin or via services like Fineartamerica and Lumas.
In the same way you can sell calendars, photo mugs and other items to your fans.
Your earnings depend on the number of followers and the price per picture. Do not sell your work underpriced, this makes you look unprofessional. Find out how much money other professional travel photographers charge.
#8 Sell courses and ebooks
If you have a blog or Youtube channel with many followers, you can sell courses and books on it. You can also use marketplaces like Amazon and JVZoo. If your products are good, there is a possibility that they will be promoted by other people. They get an affiliate commission for that.
Building an affiliate army that promotes your courses and books is much more effective and cheaper than paid advertising on Facebook. Try to build a good network.
A high number of followers, combined with a well-functioning affiliate network enables extremely high revenues. Earnings of $10,000 USD or more per month are not uncommon.
You can also sell your knowledge offline. Organize photography workshops or photo tours or get paid as a speaker at congresses.
Also with this method you must first find out and demand the usual market prices. The prospect of a higher outreach does not pay your rent! Do not accept offers where you should speak free of charge. This is only for hobby photographers. Always remember that you run a travel photography business.
How much money you can charge depends strongly on your reputation. And it also depends on how much useful value the knowledge you provide contains.
Being a travel photographer is hard work. You will face a lot of rejection. Building a large and engaged following is hard. But none of it is impossible.
Most travel photographers fail because they are taken over by customers and sell their works too cheaply, and many fail because they do not have the necessary perseverance and give up too early.
The 9 methods shown here are foolproof ways for a travel photographer to earn money. They have been tested and approved by numerous photographers all over the world. However, they only work if you are willing to fight for your dreams.