Capturing brilliant travel photography after hours or walking around and waiting is often rewarding enough. But imagine also getting paid for that photo.
Seeing a photo sell can give you an enormous sense of pride and accomplishment. Today, you don’t need to be a professional photographer to sell your photos.
In fact, it’s never been easier for anyone to sell their images to the world as it is in this digital age.
Start With Great Photos
The starting point for you if you want to sell your travel photography is to make sure you have great photos to sell. There’s more competition than ever in travel photography and to be able to make a decent return on photos, they need to be of a high standard.
This means making sure your photos are technically perfect, beautifully lit and composed. They also need to be free of errors like chromatic aberration and excessive noise.
You need to try to ensure that your travel photos are as good or better than what already exists. Ultimately your success in selling your travel photography images will come down to how good your photos are.
Choose How to Sell Your Travel Photos
There are so many different ways to sell your travel photography these days that it comes down to what your goals and aspirations are. But it also depends on what sort of photos you have and like capturing.
So before you dive into selling photos, have a think about what your long-term ambition is. You can then tailor your approach and journey to achieving that goal. Keep in mind that how you choose to sell your photos, will have its own markets and requirements.
Here are a few different ways that you can sell your travel photos.
How to Sell Stock Photography
This is often the starting point for many travel photographers. Stock photography is what is referred to as photos that people can buy usage rights of, through an agent.
The agent is the stock shot agency who then promote and market your work and negotiate fees and also usage licences on your behalf. In return, you will receive a percentage of the sales they make on your photos.
The percentage you receive will differ from one agency to another. So it is worth doing your research before deciding who to sell your photos through.
That seems pretty straightforward, right? But, choosing the right agency is a little more complicated. So it pays for you to spend a bit of time thinking which is right for you before committing to one.
There are two types of agencies. There are the normal stock shot agencies such as Getty and Alamy. Then there are agencies known as Microstock agencies such as Shutterstock.
The big difference between these two types of agencies is the fee that they charge for photos.
Generally, with Microstock shot agencies, they will sell images for a very low price (sometimes pennies) as they tend to be Royalty Free. Whereas the traditional agencies charge more as the price will vary based on usage (i.e. where it’s being used, for how long, in what territory etc).
That’s not all, within the traditional stock agencies, there are then two types of agencies. There are “managed” and “unmanaged” agencies.
Managed agencies will usually have an editor who examines the photos you have submitted and chooses a selection that they wish to represent.
Unmanaged agencies such as Alamy will accept any photo you submit as long as it meets their technical requirements.
All these factors can determine who you may choose to represent your work. The key is to not rush in as most agencies will want exclusive rights to your photos (i.e. you can’t sell the same photos through another agent).
They will also have a minimum notice period of months or even years if you want to remove your photos. So it won’t be a quick change if you decide to move your images to someone else.
So things to consider before signing a contract with a stock shot agency:
- Are you happy with the commission you will receive?
- If it’s a microstock agency, are you happy getting paid a few pence for photos?
- Can you commit your photos to the agency for the timeframe they request?
- If it’s a managed agency, are you OK with someone editing your submission and only choosing a small selection?
- Is the agency a good fit for your work?
When you know which agency you are going to go with, make sure you read their submission guidelines. It will be pointless sending a whole load of photos which for example are not high enough quality.
Most stock shot agencies will give you a document which outlines the exact requirements for submissions. Check that your photos adhere to the requirements before submitting anything.
Sell Your Photos Direct to Clients
You’ve done all the hard work in capturing those great travel photos. Why should you share the profits with anyone else? This is certainly a valid argument.
Instead of supplying your images to stock shot agencies, you can always try sell your travel photography directly to clients. The benefit of this is that you get to keep 100% of the fee you receive.
To do this you will need a collection of travel photos that covers a wide set of destinations. Even with that, unless you have a large contact list that you can promote your work to, you may find it difficult to sell many images.
Then there is also the issue around licence fees and usage. You will need to be fully clear of the laws of photography and when you need things like property or model release forms.
For most travel photographers these logistical issues mean it is not worth the extra income.
Another great way to earn an income from your photos is to sell them as prints. This can either be to businesses or to the public. Things like posters, canvasses or framed photographs can earn you some additional income.
These will be the type of travel photos that people will want to hang on their walls. So naturally, they need to look striking and stunning. You also need to ensure that they are colour corrected and supplied to the printer to be produced to the highest possible standard.
You can expect to fetch a higher price from prints than you would from selling stock shots. But make sure you take into account your production costs.
You don’t have to stop at selling prints either. Puzzles, calendars or even mouse mats and other novelty products can give you a small additional revenue. They can also serve as promotion for you and your travel photography business.
Sell Your Travel Photography Stories
More and more clients are looking for content to provide their customers with. A great way to make money from your travel photos is to try and create and sell content.
This could be videos of your photos highlighting destinations. Or if you are a good writer you can try to provide a complete package of an article and photographs to magazines and newspapers.
These types of photos will need to work in conjunction with the copy to tell a story. So always make sure that you are choosing a set of photos based on that rather than just what looks good.
Cast your net far and wide as it’s not only travel magazines and newspapers who need content. Tour operators, travel companies, airlines and or even your local magazine might all be willing to pay a fee for good content.
Often you’ll find that the more you work with a client, the more other opportunities will present themselves.
Actively Promote Your Work
Whatever path you choose to sell your photos, the reality is that people won’t be waiting to buy your images. You will have to actively market and promote your work to ensure you maximise your sales.
For example, if you have a large social media following, promote your images to your followers. Or think of a way to build up an email list of potential prospects over time by maybe offering something free. You can then use that list to promote products or services.
If you have signed up with a stock agency, work with them to find out how you can maximise your income from your images. Ask them what their collection is missing? Or what’s the current trend and what type of images are selling well?
You can then build your shoots around those destinations and themes to maximise sales. I always keep my agencies informed of where I will be heading to in case a client needs specific images.
Unfortunately, business isn’t going to knock on your door. As a travel photographer, you also have to be a marketing expert as well.
Where You Want to Go Won’t Always Sell
Like any business, you will sometimes fail. For example, you might find that your travel pictures from a certain destination don’t sell as well as others.
Or that a particular email campaign you sent out hasn’t performed as well. Instead of dwelling on that failure, examine why it failed and what you could have done differently.
Are those photos from that destination not selling well because it’s too far off the beaten path and there isn’t as much demand for it? Or is it that they are different in style and theme to the other photos you have on sale?
A big lesson I learnt when I first started in stock photography was that the far-flung places in the world that I liked to travel to were not necessarily the places that sold a lot of photos.
So I have to choose my destinations carefully with the mindset of what is likely to sell, not where I want to go.
How to make money in photography is one of the big questions that people always struggle to find an answer to. The truth is that there is no simple short-term solution.
It will take time, effort, hard work and lots of failures until you can start to see a regular income from your travel photography. But that shouldn’t stop you.
On the contrary, there has probably never been more opportunities for photographers to make money from their photos and you can too.
Looking for some more great tips for improving your travel photos? Check our articles on travel photo backup or editing tips. We have some great gift ideas for travel photographers too!