“Do you need an assistant?” I get this question all the time, once people learn I am a travel photographer who regularly visits exotic locations and earns an income doing it. But why be an assistant when you can travel the world and take pictures yourself? Getting paid for your photos is easy if you know how.
In 2003 at the age of 45, I left my legal career. Since then I have traveled to exotic destinations like Morocco…Turkey…Thailand…and India, as well as closer-to-home locations like the Colorado Rockies, Utah’s great national parks, and the Grand Canyon. The common theme throughout my travels has been photography. I make money from my pictures and it gives me the flexibility to pick travel destinations that suit my passions. Because of my love of history and architecture—for example—a couple of years ago I embarked on a trip to Northumberland, England, an area known for its coastal castles.
Over the past 11 years I have worked on quite a number of photo assignments, ranging from a simple shot of a cup of hot cocoa, to a rodeo clown, to a six-week assignment for a Frommer’s travel guide about Puerto Rico. There are many reasons I love doing assignments. For starters, you’re sure to get paid for your efforts. Magazine assignments typically pay about $500 per day plus expenses, though this will vary depending on a variety of factors.
Last November I turned 10 years old as a travel photographer (in human years I am now 55). Before that, I practiced law for almost 20 years. I changed careers about 20 years before I intended to, but being a full-time travel photographer has been a fulfilling experience; I no longer think of myself as a lawyer.
My former attorney colleagues and I used to joke that there were three kinds of closing arguments you could make to a jury: the one you carefully prepared, the one you actually delivered, and the one you wish you had given. Few things ever happen as planned. Nevertheless my “life” plan (the one I carefully prepared) was to practice law until I retired at 65; then I would pursue photography and maybe make a little money on the side.
I practiced law for almost 20 years. I always had an interest in photography and had been published a few times, but I never thought it could be my main source of income.
Puerto Rico at Christmas time also gives me an opportunity to photograph beach scenes, rainforest landscapes and holiday decorations all in one trip. As an extra bonus, the weather is warm and I get to enjoy some of the best seafood found anywhere.
As soon as the mercury heads south, most photographers head inside. After all, who wants to photograph in cold, snowy conditions when you could be enjoying a hot drink in front of a roaring fire? Successful photographers who know the money-making tricks, that’s who.
Straddling the border between Argentina and Brazil, the Iguazú Falls are one of the world’s most dramatic waterfalls. I got to see them up close recently—but I wasn’t there just to admire the sights. These massive waterfalls, combined with the lush subtropical vegetation and varied local fauna, makes this UNESCO World Natural Heritage Site a top-tier photo destination.
It’s always good to have a theme or two in mind before you set off on a photography trip. Take my last visit to Puerto Rico. I had seen a number of articles about the famous lighthouses of Maine and other parts of the East coast in various publications. I was also aware that Puerto Rico happened to have its own string of colonial-era lighthouses along its coastline—but I had never seen anything written about them. Since editors were keen to publish articles and photographs about the Maine lighthouses, I was willing to bet they would go for something similar from Puerto Rico.
There are so many different ways to make money from photography. Needless to say, not all efforts are well rewarded – but many are.
I choose most of the countries I visit based on factors such as cost, available subjects, and the likelihood of selling my images once I return. But often, a chance to travel crops up and taking my camera means I can make money from it. In the case of Holland, I saved on food and lodging by tagging along with my wife, who was attending a business conference near Amsterdam.
I practiced law for almost 20 years before becoming a full-time travel photographer, but I first got interested in photography as a hobby in the mid-90s. I lived in Denver, Colorado, so I had plenty of opportunities to photograph world-class landscapes. I took the next step in 1999 when I began sending out my work to travel publications.