Creating Value in Travel Photography

Posted on 10/1/2009 by David Sanger | Printable Version | Comments (3)

With the ever-increasing supply of travel images, declining prices and a fixed amount of attention in the consumer universe, what are the best options for travel photographers to create uncommon value?

Photo buyers can readily get many excellent travel images from a few quick Internet searches and downloads from stock distributors. The secret then is to provide customers with something they want but cannot find so easily.

First, travel photographers must seek to understand the market. Who is licensing and using images, who is looking at images, and what do they need? What images can they already find in ready supply? Editors, advertisers and readers still look for a special angle, something they have not seen before. Even so, the advertising market is currently in decline; there is tremendous competition from low-cost microstock; and consumers are often disinclined to pay for content. They want something more.

Increasingly, value comes from the whole package a photographer provides, not just images the photographer hopes will meet a customer’s specific needs. Chase Jarvis is an example of a photographer who offers videos, interviews, an iPhone app, books and even t-shirts alongside his active stock and assignment business. Photography is more than just producing pictures; it is about building relationships with customers.

With the glut of stock imagery, the economics of assignment work have become more appealing to photographers. Custom imagery can be far more focused on an individual client’s needs. A travel photographer needs to look for ways to do custom production and offer an entire package: research, logistics, models, scouting, location permits, editing and post-processing. Not everyone—and certainly not microstock or pro-amateurs—can successfully organize a multiple-country photo shoot. Coordinating it all is difficult and takes a particular skill set. The key is to find ways to diversify and expand one’s offering beyond the travel genre.

On a recent trip to Buenos Aires, I was able to work with an existing corporate client to photograph a factory just outside of town. Since I was already going to be in the area, there were no travel costs, and this suddenly made the shoot affordable for the client. Piggybacking assignments in this way allows you to provide value to customers who need images from a given location.

Shipping photography is another specialty where I have been able to combine corporate and travel photography. By shooting destination imagery on the off-days while waiting for the arrival of a vessel, I am able to save the client money and also gather helpful stock images. Thinking outside the narrow box of travel industry clients can sometimes make the difference between profit and loss on an overseas shoot.

Develop your own voice

Stock photography provides images to an often-unknown client. Editorial photography consists of working with an editor and art director to produce a visual story to match their brief. In both cases, the photographer’s images are only a part of someone else’s project.

When a photographer develops his or her own voice and has something to say, then the message itself—as opposed to isolated, disembodied images—becomes the deliverable. The story enhances the value and brings a more profound engage ment.  

My book on the San Fancisco Bay was such a project. It was conceived to engage readers to see clearly, perhaps for the first time, the natural wonder of the Bay, which they so often might cross under, over or through without really seeing it. From seeing comes caring, and from caring—a willingness to act on behalf of the environment.

Photographers who move beyond single images to express their own perspective—such as Phil Borges advocating for Tibet, David DuChemin writing on photographic vision, Trey Ratcliffe on HDR or Eric Lafforgue on indigenous peoples—bring an additional dimension to their work. Any photographer, however, can begin to engage their own audience in small ways and speak more clearly through their work, either in blogs, online columns, magazine stories or sharing communities.

Taylor Davidson quipped, “You can steal my photography, but you can’t steal me.” When you develop your own voice, you become the “whole package.” Your point of view, perspective, insight and sensibility become a resource that cannot be duplicated, thus creating uncommon value.

Ancillary services

It is becoming an essential part of a photographer’s business plan to expand beyond the content itself and find additional opportunities for revenue and engagement. Ancillary services—such as photo tours, iPhone apps, podcasts, calendars, fine art prints, books, how-to presentations and public speaking—serve to educate, inspire and engage end users and draw them into a fuller experience. Online community sharing in particular provides the opportunity for many more to participate in the joy of travel, if only vicariously. The photographer then becomes a facilitator for people’s own dreams, aspirations and creativity.

David Sanger lives in the San Francisco Bay area and specializes in travel photography for stock and magazines. For more ideas on creating value, check out the extended version of this article on Sanger’s Web site.

Copyright © 2009 David Sanger. The above article may not be copied, reproduced, excerpted or distributed in any manner without written permission from the author. All requests should be submitted to Selling Stock at 10319 Westlake Drive, Suite 162, Bethesda, MD 20817, phone 301-461-7627, e-mail: wvz@fpcubgbf.pbz


  • Bill Bachmann Posted Oct 1, 2009
    Good points, David! There are not many of us that make a living doing what we do... but we must wear many hats! Funny--- that is part of the fun...

    Bill Bachmann
    Orlando, Florida

  • john lund Posted Oct 1, 2009

    Great article. Relationships are also an important part of the process. I imagine that after all these years you have access to clients who may need your services when you are going to be in a given area. A photographer once gave me great advice when he said "Don't look at a shoot as a $3,000.00 day, but as a $100,000.00 relationship".



  • Frans Lemmens Posted Oct 2, 2009

    Thank you very much for this article. It is the way it is. As a travel photographer depending almost totally on stock, I have some work to do.
    As Bill states: make it a part of the fun !!!

    Frans Lemmens

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