How To Make a Photo Trip Pay


Photography is an expensive hobby, and it’s not just the lenses and the lighting gear that will empty your bank account. Take a day to drive to the sea, to the woods, to an abandoned building or to a city to load up on images and you’ll have to pay for the gas, the time, the food and in some cases even access to the site. How much you’ll pay will depend on where you’re going, how far you’re traveling and what you plan to do when you get there. But with gas prices now well over $4 a gallon in some states, even a quick 50-mile drive and back will start you nearly $15 in the hole. Bring a model for several hours of shooting in a prime location, and you’re looking at costs per image that quickly run into hundreds of dollars. If you’re shooting for cash, you’ll need to factor those expenses into the price. If you’re photographing for fun rather than profit, those are big bills to absorb. Fortunately, there are a few things that you can do to bring some of that money back.

Pitch a Magazine… Like National Geographic

The ideal photo trip is made with a buyer already lined up. In the best case, you’ll have received a call from a client you’ve worked with before who needs some unique shots made from a particular location. That can happen. Scott Leggo, an Australian landscape photographer, combines trips to national parks to create images for stock and prints with industrial commissions to locations that are no less attractive. His photo trips have included summer visits to alpine regions to scout for places to shoot after the snow falls, and commissions for a new air charter company to shoot floatplanes ferrying tourists to Tasmania. For those commissioned jobs, Leggo is able to estimate the entire cost of journey and submit an expenses chit to the client.

Photographers without Leggo’s professional experience are less likely to be sent on a photography trip. They’re unlikely even to leave the house with a promise that a buyer will take what they produce.

What they can do though is leave with the possibility that a buyer will take what they produce. Magazines do accept submissions from freelancers. Few (National Geographic is a notable exception) will approve a pitch then send a photographer to a location and tell them to get on with it. Most prefer to work the other way around. Once you’re back, you’ll be able to submit the story and the images and hope they buy.  Outdoor Photographer is fairly typical in wanting to see the images themselves before they accept the submission so you’ll need to have been there, taken the pictures and paid for them before you can stand a chance of recouping the cash.

Small publications, such as local newspapers and specialist magazines, may accept phone submissions that will let you gauge interest. Check the masthead for the art or features editor and give them a call or shoot them a quick email to sound them out. Don’t expect a promise to buy but you might be able to pick up an idea of the sort of images they’re looking for and increase the chances that you’ll make a sale when you return.

Shoot Stock That Turns Sites into Sales

Winning a license sale from a magazine can be relatively lucrative (although it still may not cover all of the costs of the trip.) Shooting stock, especially microstock, is much less lucrative, certainly in the short term. Instead of picking up a few hundred dollars (or less, depending on the size of the publication and how it plans to use your photo), you might be picking up just a few cents per sale.

To make those revenues add up even to the price of gas, you’re going to have to create lots of images and wait a long time for the sales to come in. In general, stock photographers talk of images sitting in libraries for a couple of years before their sales cover the cost of the production. They might then have a couple more years of solid profit before the pictures become out of date. Today’s microstock photographers are increasingly finding that their photos fail to generate any profit before they fall out of use. Even leading microstock photographer Yuri Arcurs was reported earlier this year to have stopped uploading new images to sites other than his own.

Whether those pictures are first accepted and then sell will depend both on where they were shot and on what they contain. Make sure that you keyword everything in the image for which a buyer might search. Tag the location and the names of any plants, buildings or features in the image and you should be able to land sales from people looking for specific items as well buyers who can use your composition.

Turn an Image into an Etsy Sale

Craft store Etsy offers more than 350,000 photography items in its art section. Some of those might include frames or Photoshop actions but the most popular images sold on Etsy tend to be of places — and of well-known places too. The site sells nearly 7,000 shots of Paris, for example, and London and New York are also popular. Because Etsy is a craft site, though, buyers expect the images to have been altered and improved. Vintage shots are particularly popular, or at least shots with a vintage look.

Creating the art work from a shot taken on a trip to a city will be only part of the job though. Etsy is highly competitive. Stores have to be organized and supported by social media marketing, search engine optimization, networking and trend-following to keep the sales flowing in.

None of these three approaches alone are guaranteed to cover all of the expenses of a photo trip, let alone make a profit. But together, and with plenty of effort after you get back, you might find that they’re able to turn an expensive road trip into an affordable one, and perhaps even allow you to plan your next getaway more easily.

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