How to Get Started in Destination Photography

How to Get Started in Destination Photography with Sal Cincotta

If you love travel, then you have probably fantasized about traveling the world and getting paid to do what you love, photography. I still remember my first destination wedding. I was hired to shoot a wedding in Ireland and I nearly lost my mind. I couldn’t believe someone was willing to pay me money to travel across the globe to take pictures. I had already had the travel bug, but after this, all bets were off. I was hooked and would spend the next 10+ years looking for any and every way to travel the world doing what I love.

If you want to travel the world creating great photography for your clients, here are some things to consider in getting started. I will tell you, the first job is the toughest. Traveling to another country is hard enough, but shooting in another country adds a whole new level of complexity. So, how do you get started?

Get aggressive

Look, the reality is, if you are just getting started then you have no portfolio to show and for some reasons clients think photography is different in Mexico than it is in your city. If I can make a great portrait in St Louis or NYC, I can make a great portrait in Brazil.

Perception is reality for most people. So, when they don’t see any travel work in your portfolio they assume the worst. I learned this very early on in my career and I stopped trying to fight it. Instead, I embraced it head on. I had a meeting with a bride who was getting married overseas, so I already knew I was at a disadvantage. I had to explain to her, she would be better off hiring me as a local photographer vs someone overseas who she had no recourse with if something were to go wrong and no relationship with prior to the event.

I wanted this job bad. I knew I could use this to build my portfolio and book other jobs. My mindset was simple. Break even on this job and make your money on future jobs. And that is exactly what I did. I said, “look, I want your wedding for my portfolio, I’m not going to lie. However, I cant lose money on your wedding. I’m willing to basically cut my profits to zero if you cover my costs and time to get over there and the cost of the album and products we deliver.”

Contract signed. Done. And with that strategy, we have never looked back. Today, we photograph weddings, commercial work, and portraits all over the world. This was one of the smartest business decisions I could have ever made.

Shoot it first

If you want people to hire you for destination work, you have to have destination work to show. It is a chicken and egg thing. Just like in sales, you have to show it to sell it, well, this is your show it to sell it moment. Before I really started showing a travel portfolio, I would get asked all the time, “do you travel?” What kind of insane question is that? Does a bear shit in the woods? Of course I travel. Now, what this opened my eyes to was the simple fact that people assume a lot of things during the sale process and if you are not making it obvious through your words and imagery, then they will assume you just don’t do it.

If you want clients to see you as a destination photographer, then you are going to need to invest in some travel. Airfare today is insanely inexpensive. Take a trip to another part of the world, wherever it is you would like to offer coverage. Schedule shoots, multiple shoots, in whatever cities you are traveling to. By the way, this does not have to be international, that is up to you. Here is the rub in all this. This becomes both a mini-vacation and business trip all in one. Now, you have a tax deduction.

Invest in you

Every year, we take a trip to another city in the world with one goal in mind, practice and build my portfolio. While, yes, this costs me money, the money invested comes back ten-fold from new business tied to my social media and the work I produce on these shoots. Not to mention, it give me a chance to work on my craft and become a better photographer, which how could that be a bad thing?

Keep in mind, this does not have to be a vacation of a lifetime, nor does it need to be international. You can start this assignment in the simplest of ways. Find a city 3-4 hours from your home base and drive there. This keeps your travel costs down and accomplishes the same goals. You get to another city, showcasing that you travel and you get to build your portfolio with fresh new images for use on social media, your website and of course, bridal shows if you are a wedding photographer.

Find those cliché spots in every city

This is probably one of my favorite things to do. Look, a park is a park is a park. I don’t need to travel across the globe to get a picture of a tree lined path. BORING. If you want to send the message to prospective clients that you, in fact, travel, then you need to show pictures that are staple in those cities. When someone looks at your portfolio it should be undeniable that you are in another city.

What I love most is when I post these pictures of the cliché spots around the world, the Eiffel Tower, the St Louis arch, the NYC skyline, people all say the same thing, “I have never seen that perspective.” Exactly! When you see the Eiffel Tower, you know I’m in Paris. When you see the NYC skyline or the Brooklyn Bridge, you know I’m in New York.

I get it. You want to do something unique something original, but what you are missing is that having a picture in front o the Eiffel Tower in Paris might be cliché to some, but it’s the coolest thing in the world for your clients.

When I am at a bridal show, I showcase a ton of travel imagery and you would be shocked how much business we book based on people seeing travel work. It instantly instills confidence in my couples that I am a well traveled person with experience working in other countries around the world. An interesting side-effect, it lends credibility to the brand to people who are not traveling for their wedding. They love seeing these unique images and hire us to do something equally as epic for them on their local wedding day.

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Show it everywhere

While this may seem obvious, I’m surprised by how many travel photographers don’t lead with these images. If you want to be on the tip of everyone’s tongue when they are getting married, or thinking about destination photography then this needs to be a staple of our portfolio. Don’t take one shot and show that for the next 5 years, I have personally seen photographers with a stale portfolio just re-using images. You have to continuously update your body of work and specifically your travel work.

Your end goal should be portraits that get people to tie your name to travel. Locally, I. get stopped all the time by complete strangers in my town. They will see me in Starbucks and come up to me, “oh my God, I saw those pictures from >>insert city<< and they were amazing. I have always wanted to go there…” and the conversation ensues from there. While this person may never make it to their dream destination, guess what? They want their favorite photographer to take their next headshot or family portrait.

You have to understand that there are unintended positive consequences of this strategy. You will become known as a World-Renowned Photographer in no time in your local market and that my friends is an awesome thing.

I hope this helps point you in the right direction. If you love travel as much as I do, you will not regret embarking on the path to destination photography. It is incredibly rewarding and exciting, but most importantly, it is inspiring to travel the world and explore new cultures, cities, and people.

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