Being a full-time travel photographer is the dream career of many newcomers and a reality for a select few pros. Don't let that statement discourage you; “a select few” is meant to be a relative term. With tens of thousands of photographers out there snapping photos of the places they visit, even a small percentage means that there are many photographers making at least part of their income with their travel photos. The really good news is that there's still plenty of demand for great travel photos, so there's room for you, too!
Getting those great travel shots is going to be the first order of business. No matter how sharp your photographic skills, raising the level of your shots from good to great involves more than getting the exposure and composition right. Great travel photos connect your viewers to the location and its residents in a way touches them on an emotional level. Whether the emotion is triggered by the beauty of the landscape, architecture or a simple moment of interaction with the locals, your photos won't have the necessary impact without it. The following rules will help put you in the situations that will deliver that emotional impact.
1. Do your research.
While you're preparing to visit a region, whether in a foreign country or your own, study it thoroughly before you go. Use all available resources to get to know the specific locations you'll want to visit, the local beliefs and customs, and even current events. Knowing the social boundaries ahead of time will help you avoid crossing those you shouldn't.
Using forums and social networks to find photographers in the area may provide some inside information you might not find in the traditional media channels. Contacting hoteliers and other business owners in the area might give you insights to some lesser-known places of local interest you might otherwise miss.
There are dozens of reasons that research can open doors for you when you visit unfamiliar places. There's no such thing as too much knowledge.
2. Show respect.
Interacting with the locals, from shop owners, to market sellers and buyers, to law enforcement needs to be done with the utmost respect for their customs and beliefs. If you've observed rule #1, you should have a good idea of what that means. If those customs or beliefs forbid photographing something, don't try to skirt around it.
Whether you're focused on the people, the scenery or a shop front, don't be invasive. Common courtesy will go a long way toward gaining the trust and cooperation of people you meet and there's a great market for photos of those people. A little extra time spent in communication may even get you access to the inner sanctums of some subjects, which can translate to dollars in your pocket, not to mention some memorable experiences.
3. Get the Release!
This rule is one of the toughest for many travelers to follow. Aside from the possible language barriers, the thought of asking someone to sign a release is daunting, so they skip it in the hope that “it won't come up” in using those images. That's a mistake. High-end markets require model and property releases in order to accept all kinds of images. Don't lose an opportunity because you don't have that "piece of paper".
Presenting yourself as a professional is the first step in getting consent to use photos of someone or something. I like to give people my KeepSnap card as a means of introducing myself. For the actual release, I recommend taking a look at EZRelease for an app that covers most situations in several languages and operates on most mobile devices.
4. Give Something In Return
While it may not be required of you, giving a little something back when someone allows you to take their picture will not only make you appear more professional, but will help you simply come across as a better person. Remember, you're recording people's lives, not paying models to perform for your lens.
In most cases, you don't have to offer much. Start with letting them preview the photos in your LCD. Give them your card and explain that they can see the finished photos in your gallery after you've uploaded them. Let them take a photo of you. If you're in a shop, buy something. Show a little gratitude and watch how many doors will open.
While these are far from the all the things you should remember when you're taking photos on the road, they are rules you should never break. In fact, many of the other recommendations will fall into place when you follow these four rules, like remembering to enjoy yourself. A smile on your face will help put one on the faces of those you meet.