Travel photography is changing. Instagram is full of people calling themselves travel photographers, and there are more than 80 million photos uploaded to the app each day. The industry is more competitive than ever – so how do you make yourself stand out? Is it really possible to break through this sea of mediocre work and make your mark?
It was only a few years ago that I was asking these questions myself. As I've built my career as a professional travel photographer, I have found that utilizing social media and the internet has been a very powerful tool in developing my work, and showcasing my portfolio to a wider audience.
When my photography work took off, I left writing behind for a bit, but recently I’ve realized how much one complements the other, and how stories can be the most powerful thing. I think my biggest passion is storytelling, and I feel the combination of words and photographs allows me to do that almost effortlessly.
Once you’ve traveled across the world and taken photographs you’re really proud of, what's next? Instagram is a great place to start. It’s the easiest way to instantly get your photos to a wider audience, even if your first few attempts only get a couple of likes from your mother, your friend’s dog and a few fake accounts. Instagram can be hard to get going, but when used correctly, it’s a very rewarding platform.
It is important to be consistent with the work you are posting. Only post your very best photographs, ideally one or two per day. It can also help to keep the theme similar; for example, if you want to establish yourself as a landscape photographer, don’t start posting food shots. While it can be tempting to fit within the Instagram style of photography, staying true to yourself and your work is key. Nobody wants to see another copycat on the app; originality will go a long way, and it will help you gain a name for yourself. If you’re looking to attract the right kind of publications, ensure you’re only posting high-quality content.
Increasing your Instagram followers can be a challenge at the beginning, but don’t think you need hundreds of thousands of followers to make an impression. Hashtags can be a great way to get more people viewing your photos, and also a way to get reposted on larger accounts. For example, if you tag #worldnomads, you have the opportunity to be reposted to over 220k followers and a few of those are bound to go and check out your account too.
Engagement is key on Instagram, so find other photographers you admire, follow them and comment on your favorite shots. One of the best things about Instagram for me is making contacts with other photographers around the world.
Instagram can also be a great way to reach out to companies or have them recognize your work before you approach them for possible assignments or collaborations. When I first approached a company who is now one of my regular clients, they were already aware of my work through Instagram, and they already knew it was a great fit for their brand. This broke down the initial barrier of me being an unknown photographer whose work they weren’t aware of.
While Instagram is a great tool for getting your photography instantly out to the world, it's not the only way. If you are serious about pursuing travel photography as a professional career, maintaining an online portfolio is key. It is easy to create a website for little cost, and it will be the most professional way to show potential clients examples of your work.
See Instagram as a snapshot of the wider photography work you are doing online. Blogging and publishing stories and narratives (if you are also a writer) is a very useful way to develop your work and get more cohesive bodies of work out to a larger audience. Mark Edward Harris, one of my fellow judges of the 2017 World Nomads Travel Photography Scholarship wrote a longer piece about this.
There are many websites around the internet which will accept story pitches from upcoming travel photographers and writers. Look at sites such as Passion Passport, SUITCASE Magazine and my own publication ROAM Magazine if you’d like to get your first stories published online. You could also start your own blog. Publishing your stories on these platforms will teach you how to pitch to editors, meet a deadline and put together cohesive stories. When you start approaching bigger platforms, you can also use these stories as examples of your past work. I was first invited to join Getty Images after the talent team at the agency spotted some of my work in a blog post I had published on a great site called Exposure. Blogs and online stories can circulate really quickly if people like what you are doing, and you never know who is going to spot it.
Entering photography competitions can also be a good way to get your work out to a wider audience and to instantly get the attention of editors and industry professionals.
When I first decided to put my whole heart into making travel photography my career, I worked incredibly hard to grow my social media platforms and get my work onto as many travel websites as possible. Consistency, hard work, and genuinely great photography pays off, and I soon found more and more people were responding to my work. I was consistent with the work I was producing – and I traveled as much as I could on a budget, taking photos of people and cultures and writing stories about my trips.
I think this hard work has helped me in many ways to get where I am today as a full-time travel photographer, but I would point out that the majority of my work comes from me actively approaching brands and publications via email rather than waiting for people to approach me after finding my social media channels. While promoting yourself on social media is important, there’s still a lot more you need to do to get work.
There is no doubt that the internet has changed the face of travel photography, but what it hasn’t changed is the quality of work. No matter how many followers you have on Instagram, you need to be creating photography work which is high-quality. Sure, spend time promoting yourself on Instagram, but also spend the time getting out there into the world and shooting new work, new stories and new ideas. Stay true to your style and the work you want to bring into the world. While making it as a travel photographer might seem like an impossible mountain to climb in the beginning, this is a career which is endlessly rewarding once you get near the top.
How do you break into the travel photography industry? Our Travel Photography Scholarship Judge, Annapurna Mellor shares highlights of her journey to becoming a full-time travel photographer and her life on the road.
What makes a compelling pitch? What are editors looking for? Photographer Mark Edward Harris shares his advice to help get your work published.