Make More Money While Traveling: Destination Portraits with Karen Bagley
I love to travel. I love learning about different cultures, tasting new food and seeing new things. It seems we all have a bit of the travel bug, which is awesome. I don’t know a single photographer who wouldn’t love to make money while traveling.
But how? You need a business plan outlining how you will pay for your travel. This month, I tell you how I got started and how I run the traveling portion of my business. I will never forget the endless hours I spent on social media, Instagram in particular, looking at women and couples traveling. I would sit there racking my brain, trying to figure out the perfect way to be that person, with nothing but my camera bag and a backpack of clothes, a tumbleweed blowing in the wind around these amazing locations. After talking with a fellow photographer, I realized that staring at social media was getting me nowhere—I needed to just plan a trip.
My very first attempt as a destination portrait photographer was when I went to Portland, Oregon. I asked the family members we were going to see to tell anyone and everyone that I was offering discounts on maternity and newborn sessions. I made a post on Instagram hyping myself up, and was certain everyone would see it and book me. How do you think that went? Not so great. I booked no one, didn’t even get a single lead. Why? I learned rather quickly that posting one or two times on social media and having family members spread the word about you is not enough. There is much more planning and thought needed to be a destination photographer. Let’s break it down.
I live right outside of Atlanta, so I focused on a state that was near me that had a completely different look so people would clearly see I was out of state. I chose Florida. If you try to create a business across the country right out of the gate, you are making things more difficult for yourself. It is much easier to travel and communicate with clients when you are just a few hours from home. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and this part of your business will not be either. Your first few sessions will be a hit to your pocket and you will probably not even break even. You just started doing this; you don’t know what to charge or how you want to run this part of your business. That brings me to my next point.
Keep Excellent Records
Document your spending. Traveling isn’t cheap. Keep a well-kept record of your outgoing costs. That gives you an idea of your revenue from the shoot. You will realize whether or not it is feasible for you and your business. If you are charging appropriately, it will be. Your record is your key to understanding what you must get out of every session. Keep in mind that money is different everywhere. If you travel to New York, things cost more, so you need to charge more. Expect a trial-and-error period. The great part about that is: more traveling. Now you have a fabulous reason to pack those bags and visit new places so you can do research. I am always looking for excuses to travel.
Don’t travel in vain
If you have a trip planned but do not have a model or two ready and waiting for your arrival, you’ve already lost. You can do all of the above, but without some proof that you actually travel, do you really think someone is going to hire you for it? No way. So, when you are on these trips, shoot, shoot, shoot. I do not care what type of photographer you are. Family portraits, get a family. Senior portraits, get a senior or someone who can pass as a senior. You get the picture. If a maternity and underwater portrait photographer like me can do this, you can too. Do not go home empty-handed. I have had everything planned to a tee on a trip only to have every single model flake on me. It happens. But that did not stop me. I asked around, I found a model and I got my shots.
Marketing is the key
If you are expecting people to pay good money to either have you fly out or book you while you are on an excursion, you need images that prove you do destination photography. You can’t market yourself if you don’t have any images to support what you want to accomplish. The reason I was unsuccessful with my trip to Oregon is because I didn’t plan far enough ahead. You can’t expect to plan a spontaneous trip and book enough people to pay for it. You must have a plan in place. Your clients need time to plan too. This is a business, not a hobby. Have a plan.
My marketing was terrible. You have to communicate multiple times to as many eyes as possible that you are traveling. Making a post once or twice on social media does not cut it. If you are running ads, target people in the location you are going to. I know that may seem obvious, but it gets overlooked a lot.
I didn’t have any eye-grabbing photos that even remotely looked like I traveled. That’s where the test travels with models comes into play.
So you have done everything I’ve described above. You have three planned trips for the year, you’re posting like mad, giving everyone plenty of notice, and you even have a model in case everything goes wrong and no one books you. Do we leave it at that? No. There are other things you need to start doing immediately if you want to make money while traveling.
Tag people and places in your photos
As soon as you have photos to share, tag them like crazy. When you are posting on social media, use the resources available to you. Tag travel pages and pages in your niche field. Use both hashtags and account tagging for the most effective combo. For an underwater portrait gig, I used the hashtags #bahamas, #livetoexplore and #underwaterwednesday. Tagging people and places in your photos puts you in front of more and more eyes. Besides hashtags, I would actually tag the Bahamas’ official Instagram account in my post. It’s an underused tactic to get noticed by bigger accounts, and it works great. They may even share your work with their followers.
There is a hashtag for every traveling photographer, regardless of what you photograph. Tagging is especially important for those who do landscapes or real estate photography, and those who work with modeling agencies. As your traveling business grows, because you are hashtagging and marketing appropriately, businesses will start to notice you and they will be calling you to take pictures of people and places around the world. Can you imagine being paid to travel? I can tell you from experience it is pretty freaking amazing. It is very worth all the effort you put in.