How to be a travel photographer: 10 great tips from a professional

6. Let people see the real world

For me, it’s a real turn-off when I see photos online that bear almost no relation to the real world. I don’t, of course, see anything wrong with post-production work to bring out the best in a photo, but I see pictures everyday in which photographers have clearly got carried away with Photoshop or Lightroom’s settings. 

Our eyes are pretty clever and detect when something doesn't add up. An over-manipulated photo instantly loses credibility, whether that’s intensely oversaturated colours, a lack of shadows, or oddly manipulated pictures with dark, cloudy skies but scenery bathed in sunlight. Pictures like that might get Likes on Instagram but they're likely to be rejected by newspapers and magazine editors. 

For me, it’s more satisfying to capture something real. There are so many remarkable sights in the world without sprinkling digital magic all over them. 

7. Think about the impact of your pictures

Wherever you go, always treat people with respect. I’ve been shocked by tourists swarming locals with cameras and iPads, treating them like an exotic curiosity, not a person. Whether I’m working with a person or a group for several days or just photographing someone I see on a street, I always check first. Quickly pointing at the camera and asking “OK?” usually does the trick. 

You should also always stop and consider what you’re photographing from an ethical position. Photos can do a lot of good, communicating important stories, but they can also have a negative impact, especially if you become part of cruel or harmful practices. In parts of Asia, some tribal women wear heavy metal chains to give them unnaturally long necks, causing painful physical deformities. What was once a local tradition is now more about someone extracting money from tourists who come to take photos. 

The same goes for wildlife too, whether it's drugged tigers, dancing bears or performing elephants. I don’t want pictures on my memory cards that helped cause any kind of suffering. 

8. Think outside the box 

It’s possible to get so focused on photographing one thing, the main event, that you miss what else is happening, including other details that tell a story or make for interesting photos. Remember to look away from the viewfinder; often, it’s small details that others might miss or walk by, rather than the obvious main attraction, that bring a story to life. 

Looking around, you can often find interesting juxtapositions between the person or animal you’re photographing and features of the landscape, or perhaps a tower or tree, or even the moon. For one of my favourite wildlife photos from the Falklands, instead of coming in tight on a group of penguins, I zoomed out to show a tiny little cluster of the birds facing an approaching storm, which gave a completely different, and, in my view, more interesting result.

A travel story often requires variety, which means looking around at smaller details, and not just the big, key elements (people, landscapes, animals, buildings, and so on). Details, such as a funny street sign or a unique statue, can add layers to a set of photos and give a fuller idea of a place. 

9. Challenge yourself to find new approaches

Photography should always be exciting. You never want to get stuck in a rut, repeating the kind of pictures you’ve taken before, or to be satisfied with pictures that are less than your best.  

The more time you spend taking photos, the more rewarding it is to be creative and find your own way of doing things. Working for other people, especially demanding editors, is one way to push yourself further. But you should always be challenging yourself to produce photographs that excite you to look at. Study what other photographers do, including what you like and what you don’t like about their work. 

Most of all, study and critique your work. How could it be improved? Try to push your photography in new directions, whether framing things differently, seeking out interesting light, or just getting yourself into more interesting situations. 

10. Get paid

Given the sheer volume of photos produced each day, there’s a culture in the media of asking photographers to give away their photos for free. At some point, unless your landlord and local supermarket accept payment in smiles, you need to get paid for your work. 

Getting a job or freelancing for newspapers, magazines and websites means competing against many other would-be professional photographers, so you need to work hard and your photos need to stand out. Build up a portfolio, improve your photography, and work for smaller publications, all of which puts you nearer the front of the line. Having a good social media following and a reputation for being enthusiastic, hardworking and reliable helps. 

You can also work for advertising companies, or sell your pictures via online galleries such as Alamy and Flickr. Many photographers sell prints, give talks, teach photography classes, or lead photography tours and workshops. 

You need to put a value on your work and your time. In every situation, ask: what am I getting out of this? Is it worth my time and expertise? Travel photography is a tough business but an incredibly rewarding one if you can navigate your way.

Follow Graeme on Twitter and Instagram or visit his website

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