“My Camera Paid for a Trip to Zanzibar”

Zanzibar is one of those places we’ve all heard of, but don’t know where to find on a map. The name conjures up visions of exotic tropical beaches and trading ports that haven’t changed much since the heyday of the spice trade.

When my sister accepted a one-year assignment in East Africa, my wife and I booked a trip to see her. It was a great opportunity to visit this fabled island just off Tanzania’s coast.

We swam through aqua-blue waters above stunning coral reefs and soaked up the vibrant melting pot of cultural heritage in historic Stone Town. When we had our fill of equatorial heat and humidity, a five-day stroll to the top of nearby Mt. Kilimanjaro was just the trick to cool us off.

Like many Fund Your Life Overseas readers, I too suffer from wanderlust. Though the costs of airfare and lodging add up quickly, I have found a way to offset my travel costs by submitting photos to stock photo websites.

Stock photography is an effective method to sell photos for travelers who wish to spend more time exploring, and less time worrying about how and where to market their work. By submitting photos to an online agency, you earn a royalty every time one of your photos sells. Magazines, newspapers, advertising companies…you would be amazed at the number of people who need photos of all kinds of things.

Substantial profits can be made when pictures sell frequently—it isn’t uncommon to find photos that have sold hundreds or even thousands of times.

The general strategy for success in stock photography differs from travel photography—the type of images you might submit to a travel magazine. The following points will help give you a leg up in the industry.

Clear and Simple

The golden rule of stock photography is to have a clear theme. Highly marketable stock photos have good aesthetics, are devoid of distracting elements, and help sell an idea or concept.

Familiar Generic Scenes

Quintessential generic scenes like the cliché overhanging palm tree on the beach are consistent sellers if done well, but don’t be afraid to be more creative. Look for unique vantages and lighting to make familiar scenes and locations interesting.

Include People

Shots of people interacting with each other or their surroundings tend to outsell those without. The crux is that you will need a signed model release for every recognizable or prominently featured person. But there’s an easy solution—don’t be shy in asking your travel companions if they would serve as models for your images. Stock agencies are thirsty for images of real people and not just 20-something models.

Learn Basic Photo Processing

Slight touch-ups of your images add “pop,” and help differentiate them from ordinary snapshots. Software such as Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop Elements are moderately priced and will pay for themselves quickly. Free online resources abound on the Internet to guide you through photo processing techniques if you’re looking for help.

Some people use stock photography to supplement their income and help cover the cost of expensive trips and camera gear. It works very well in that capacity as it takes little initial effort and royalties keep flowing in years after a trip. For others who take it seriously and really learn the system, the only office they ever need set foot in is the kind where you buy a ferry ticket to Zanzibar.

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