So you want to become a travel photographer and quit your day job to start living the life you see so many people in your Instagram feed living? Maybe you worry that you don’t have a big enough following or you can’t afford to drop everything and fly off to the white sand beaches of Bali or the mountains in South Africa?
Well, I am here to tell you the truth about becoming a travel photographer in 2019 and how I decided to stop waiting for some brand to sponsor me and to take the leap for myself.
All you need to know about me is that I have been taking photos professionally for over 10 years, shooting weddings, headshots, music festivals and fashion shoots for anyone who would pay me. I would even work long hours for free because I thought that it would be good for my “portfolio.”
I tried just about everything to get my Instagram following up; I paid for automated comments and follows from a bunch of Get Followers Fast companies. I joined DM groups with other photographers that would comment and like recent posts and I paid for Facebook and Instagram ads. And even after all of that I still couldn’t manage to even break the 5K threshold on Instagram.
Now, I’ve seen and read numerous blogs and YouTube videos on how to increase your following and how to beat the Instagram algorithms. It seems that all of the things I was doing to grow my account were actually what was causing my account to see such poor results. Instagram was monitoring my activity and they put a “shadow ban” on my account . Which basically meant that when I would post content, only about 10-20% of my following would actually see it, if any!
So what is a person to do? All I wanted was to have my work seen by a wider audience in the hopes of reaching the 10K milestone in order to appeal to bigger brands. It seemed like the odds were stacked against me and I knew I had to make some changes to my approach if I wanted to start living the life I wanted.
The first thing I did was leave all those Instagram groups and unfollowed all those random accounts that I had no real interest in. Then I cancelled any automated sites I was still using and revoked any access they had to my account. Needless to say, after this purge I saw a huge drop in my following. Obviously, those people I had unfollowed took it personally, but those aren’t the kind of followers you want to have anyways.
Next, I needed to figure out a way to make money in order to afford to leave my day job to go travel. For me, the best way to do that was with my wedding photography business. I had been shooting weddings for close friends here and there, but wasn’t charging very much at all. So I decided to start spending money in order to make money. I signed up with a company that would promote my wedding photography business to a much larger audience. This was honestly the best thing I could have done for myself. I went from shooting 1-2 wedding a year and making roughly $500 a wedding to booking over 15 weddings in a year and charging $1700-$3000+ per wedding.
Now, I cannot emphasize this enough to anyone in the creative field who wants to start making money off of their passion. You need to start seeing the worth in your talent in order for others to see that worth as well. It’s okay to say no to people who want you to work for free. There is nothing wrong in doing a few projects for people to help build that initial portfolio, but I have found it best to do those projects with other creatives so that you can both benefit from the results.
Once I started to see the my own worth and actively started promoting myself online, I started to see the results I wanted. I was able to grow my wedding business to a point where I could leave my day job and shoot full time. I would save the money I made from each wedding and put it towards the funds I needed to travel.
What about working with big brands? Well, I slowly realized that I wasn’t going to get that magic email from one day saying:
We saw you last post on Instagram! Thank goodness you used 30 hashtags or we wouldn’t have seen your content.
We want to send you to all your favourite travel destinations to shoot whatever you like. We will give you all the best clothes and equipment to wear and use as you see fit. Oh, did we mention that we will also being paying for everything and paying you a sexy salary as well?
Let us know where you want to go first and reply whenever you can, cause we will just keep emailing you until you agree. lol :)
These kind of things just don’t happen and waiting around for someone to reach out to me wasn’t working out so far. There was the odd company that would ask to send me few swag in exchange for a few photos, but you can’t live off free hats and water bottles forever. Plus, none of them were offering to pay me for those photos.
So with some much needed help, my fiancée and I started planning our own epic 6-month journey to some of our favourite locations. We didn’t have a brand sponsoring us, all of the gear we were bringing we paid for ourselves and we knew we needed to pay for all our accommodations and expenses. We set out a budget and a rough outline of where we would be each week. We rented out our apartment, put all our stuff in storage and took off.
*Tip: when it comes to packing, you always will bring more than you need. So a week before you have to leave, only use what can fit in your carry on luggage and see if you really need as much as you think you do.
Once, we finally reached our first destination and I started taking and sharing photos and videos of our travels on a daily basis, I noticed something really interesting. I was actually losing more and more followers after each post! Here I was finally doing what I wanted to and producing the content I had always dreamed of and the only person commenting on my stuff was still my Mom!
This hit me hard and I actually stopped posting for a month. During that month I focused on shooting for myself and creating content that made me happy. I even filmed a few YouTube tutorials that I plan on releasing once I finally get home.
This small social media break taught me to stop focusing on the numbers and to focus on just creating to make myself happy. I don’t think that becoming an Instagram Influencer is a realistic goal anymore. Instagram has been redesigned to make a profit. Why let its users have organic growth, when you can just alter an algorithm and encourage users to pay to promote their content instead? Plus, Instagram wont be around forever, something new will always come and become the new thing. Imagine spending all your life building up a huge following on 1 platform that could easily disappear tomorrow. What would you do then?
My advice to you if you want to travel the world and take photographs for a living is to simply buy a plane ticket and go! Don’t wait for permission from anyone. You don’t even need to go very far from where you live right now. Start by going on short day trips to somewhere new nearby your hometown, you’d be surprised at what you can find. This year focus on making things happen for yourself and creating for the sake of creating and exercise patience. Nothing worth having comes easy.
1. See your worth. It’s okay to say no to free work.
2. Do not use get quick follower schemes.
3. Spend money to make money. Invest in your marketing
4. Don’t wait for that magic email.
5. Just go travel. Take small day trips near your hometown
6. Forget about the numbers. Create for yourself.
7. Patience, patience, patience.
Peace and Love,