How to Make Your Camera Pay For Your Vacation

In a lounge chair near mine, a Chinese gentleman in turquoise flowered pajamas snores softly. Bent over my hand, an intent young man massages my cuticles. He’s wearing a surgical mask and his four-inch long hair, which sticks straight up from his head, bobs as he moves.

I’ve wandered into a spa in Shanghai, China, and managed to arrange a manicure. No English has been spoken. Instead, I relied on the universal sign for a manicure—wiggling my fingers with a smile. Suddenly, my neighbor awakes with a start—he seems surprised to find me here.

I’ve come to China to visit a place called Yuanyang. The region is famous for its rice terraces and the colorful costumes of its residents, the Hani. My plan is to come home with the three kinds of photos: fine art, travel and stock. I still marvel at the idea—I’m getting to travel to an exotic place and my photography is going to pay for it.

But first, I’m taking a few days off to visit friends in Shanghai. I was last here four years ago, on my first travel photography expedition with AWAI. I was armed with my brand new DSLR camera and the enthusiasm of a true beginner. I had no idea what I was doing yet, but I was determined to find a way to fund my love of travel. Today, I’m carrying my third camera and still loving the adventure.

I’m delighted to be able to return to Shanghai. The change in just four years is astounding. My friends live in a development that feels like Dallas, Texas. I’ve brought my 2007 tour book but things have come on so much that it’s out of date.

Finding old Shanghai is not as easy as it once was. I went to the ornate Yu Yuan Gardens during my last visit so I decide to stop by again. It does not disappoint. Unlike four years ago, it now teems with Chinese tourists. My friend asks how I’ll get a shot I can use with such heavy crowds. “I’ll just cut off their heads,” I reply with a wink. Tilting the camera up allows me to focus on the graceful rooflines and intricate carvings…while missing the tourists entirely.

We wander through the maze of rooms that comprise the garden, stopping to admire the flowering trees. Spring has come to the city. Then, we happen upon a scene that is too good not to photograph.

Assembled on a meandering bridge across a small lake is a group of people watching the fish swimming below. A grandmother gently holds onto her young grandson as he leans over the water to scatter food on the surface.

Nearby, there is another family of sorts: father, mother and dog. The man and woman are excitedly pointing out the fish. Suddenly, the dog leans too far and in he goes. Everyone on the bridge joins in the laughter. I quickly snap a series of photos.

These pictures will go well with a travel article. They also might work in a photo exhibition. The roofline shots, on the other hand, will make great stock images. Magazines, websites and advertisers require images of all sorts of strange things and they go to stock websites to find them. I upload my pictures to these sites and when someone decides to use one of my pictures, I get paid.

Coming home from a trip like this is like a treasure hunt. I look through the photos to see where they will fit. It feels like a Chinese proverb or a fortune cookie saying—one trip can bring many opportunities.

Editor’s Note: If you’d like to learn more about ways you can pay for your life or travels overseas, including travel photography, sign up for Fund Your Life Overseas, a free e-letter from International Living. Sign up here and we’ll send you a free report: Fund Your New Life Overseas With These 5 Portable Careers.



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