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The Spirit of Travel Photography

I know a lot of people who want to make a living in travel photography. I know one person who is successful at it. Here is what separates them.

Here is Everything I Know About Travel Photography

First things first. Before you can really succeed at travel photography, you have to understand what it is and what it isn’t. Some folks believe that you have to do a lot of traveling in order to do travel photography. That really isn’t true, though it doesn’t hurt.

Wait, you say. How can it be travel photography if you aren’t traveling? It’s quite simple, really. The objective of travel photography isn’t to show everyone all the places you’ve visited. I know plenty of people who travel, take lovely photos, yet aren’t making a successful living as travel photographers. Here’s the objective of travel photography.

You have to make people want to go to the place in your photo.

That’s it. You have to get them to let out their inner Tina Fey and say “I want to go to there.” The principle is simple. Making it happen is a bit more complex. That’s because different people want to go to different places. Some travel photos won’t float their boat and others will just send them into a tizzy. Ultimately, you have to inspire their wanderlust. It doesn’t matter if they know they’ll never go there. That isn’t important. You just have to make them want to go there. It’s good to want.

Now, here’s what separates the folks I know who want to be successful as travel photographers from the one person I know who is successful at travel photography. The former as studying it as a business where the latter just did it for fun. He didn’t set out to be a travel photographer. He was already traveling and took up photography.  It didn’t hurt that he already had business acumen to help him develop his travel photography business, of course.

It makes all the difference in the world. While some are hustling to build connections and business ventures, my successful friend is running around almost like a kid saying “I want to go there, and there, and THERE!” As he goes, he finds beautiful scenes that he thinks other people will like, takes a photo, and runs his business. The connections and business ventures follow his passion rather than precede it.

I’m not entirely innocent in this regard. Fortunately, I realized the error of my ways. I enjoy traveling, but I do it now for my own benefit rather than thinking of someplace I can go to make a buck. The enjoyment comes first and, if I’m fortunate, the bucks will come later. In the mean time, I can shoot where I live and there are some folks who enjoy it. I sold a photo to a magazine the other day that I never thought anyone would want to buy, but I liked it. It just reinforces my belief in doing what I like rather than trying to guess what someone else is willing to buy.

The Spirit of St. Louis

This is one of those shots that’s just for me. I never thought that I’d put it on the blog because I didn’t expect anyone else to connect with it the way I do. It’s a shot of the Spirit of St. Louis in the Smithsonian museum. The scene is cluttered and there really aren’t too many vantage points to take a photo of the plane, so my photo isn’t very different than anyone else who visited the museum.

However, this is my keepsake of the moment that made this historic airplane “real” to me. I grew up hearing about this plane. I’ve read about it, written school reports and essays on it, looked at photos of it. Finally, I got to see it. Just out of reach, but still real. That’s what this photo means to me. It’s my connection with something that was just an idea before I stood before it.

When I think about all the photos of this plane that I studied, I realized that maybe it was time to share the photo. There may be someone else, like me, who hasn’t yet had the chance to see it in person. Maybe they won’t ever get the chance to go. Those are the folks who “want to go to there.” Our photos can take them. Those connections made of dreams and feelings have to come before the business of travel photography.

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About William

Author, Photographer and IT Manager. I have a fondness for chocolate. I also own Suburbia Press and Aperture vs Lightroom. Follow me on Twitter at @wbeem.

Comments

  1. That is my approach to my landscape photography as well. If I don’t love the scene in front of me, I don’t see how I can expect to photograph it in a way that will convince the viewer otherwise. And in a state so chock full of beautiful scenes as Florida, why would I waste my time trying to shoot something I find less than inspiring? I make photos to please myself first, with the idea that if I like it, maybe someone else will like it too. I’d love to have more sales, but honestly the primary reason for that is so that I can justify or (even better) finance yet more photography.

    I really like the Spirit of St. Louis shot. In the angle you chose, the wing of the plane echoes the shape of the wing of a hawk or eagle to my mind (with the ribs of the wing suggesting feathers), and the surface of the wall in the right half of the frame suggests “speed lines.”

  2. Scott Baxter says:

    That is my approach to my landscape photography as well. If I don’t love the scene in front of me, I don’t see how I can expect to photograph it in a way that will convince the viewer otherwise. The whole point of what I do — the portion I consider “art,” anyway — is to attempt to present what I see as filtered through my eyes and my heart and soul. And in a state so chock full of beautiful scenes as Florida, why would I waste my time trying to shoot something I find less than inspiring? I make photos to please myself first, with the idea that if I like it, maybe someone else will like it too. I’d love to have more sales, but honestly the primary reason for that is so that I can justify or (even better) finance yet more photography.

    I really like the Spirit of St. Louis shot. In the angle you chose, the wing of the plane echoes the shape of the wing of a hawk or eagle to my mind (with the ribs of the wing suggesting feathers), and the surface of the wall in the right half of the frame suggests “speed lines.”

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