Become a travel photographer

Travel photography offers one the opportunity to work for Indian and global travel magazines, hotels, resorts and tour companies yet this career has its own set of challenges. Vimal ChanderJoshi reports.
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Updated on Mar 24, 2010 10:22 AM IST
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Hindustan Times | ByVimal Chander, New Delhi

They’d wandered far away from town and into a weekly bazaar in Purulia (West Bengal). Kushal Gangopadhyay, a veteran photographer with 30 years experience, and his friend were so engrossed watching some people making masks that, before they realised it, darkness had descended upon them and even the last bus to town had left. “The villagers didn’t let us enter their huts and we remained stranded in the wilderness — even as some elephants wandered around! Luckily, after around three hours, a mini van passing by rescued us. Most travel photographers face such situations when they visit far-flung villages or uninhabited areas,” says Gangopadhyay.

Arun Bhat, 32, an engineer who had worked in several IT companies in Bangalore for around nine years, loved travelling. Thanks to his huge salary, Bhat would often visit exotic destinations and indulge in his favourite pastime — photography.

Gradually, these trips became frequent and his collection of pictures grew, bringing him good money when he sold them to travel magazines. “I was making Rs 20,000 to Rs 25,000 per month by selling the pictures. I thought I could make much more money if I did it full time. So I quit my IT job and took up travel photography — my dream career,” says Bhatt.

Though his earnings do not equal what he got previously, Bhatt has big hopes for the future. “It takes some time to build your professional network, but if you are successful you make a lot of money. As a freelancer, you have to sell as many pictures as you can, some for a low price and the really good ones for a better price. Remember, it’s the volume which bolsters your earnings,” adds Bhatt.

This career has its own set of challenges. Sometimes you’ll have to wake at the crack of dawn, probably when it’s freezing, to wait for the sun to rise and provide perfect lighting. At times you might have to shack up with the locals in small huts when there’s no hotel or lodge nearby. “You are there to click good pictures, which should truly reflect the destination’s essence. You tend to adjust all logistics on those lines. For example, if you think that a particular site would be just right for the shoot next morning then you would want to spend the night somewhere close by, even if it means staying in a native’s hut and not in a hotel five or six kms away,” says Sanjoy Ghosh, consulting picture editor, Outlook Traveller.

As a travel photographer, you can either work full-time (like Ghosh) with a travel magazine (like National Geographic or Outlook Traveller) or a web portal. Freelancers (like Bhatt) are paid according to the number of photographs they manage to get published. It also helps if you are a writer. “Most of my trips are funded by magazines, hotel clients, and travel companies; otherwise I recover the costs through the eight to 10 articles I write for multiple magazines and travel portals after each trip,” Bhatt says.So many travel pieces on one destination? “It’s not difficult. Each destination has many facets. You can, in one article, highlight the shopping hangouts at the destination, and the greenery or serenity there in another. I spent two months in Ladakh and I can write 25 different articles with good pictures supporting each,” says Bhat.

Picking out the novelty factor is another challenge. Whether it’s India or abroad, almost every major destination has been explored, written about and photographed. “You have to give your own perspective to each place” says Bhat.

What's it about?
A travel photographer is a professional or an amateur who is involved in the photographic documentation of an area’s landscape, people, cultures, customs and history. A travel photo is an image that expresses the feeling of a time and place, portrays a land, its people, or a culture in its natural state.

Clock Work
9 pm (the night before): Do online search of the area to be visited the next morning
6 am: Visit various sites and click pictures as and when something interesting catches the eye. It could be the rising sun, landscape or people moving around
early in the morning
10 am: Interact with locals or get in touch with contacts to explore the area intensively
2 pm: Lunch
4 pm: Evening trip to explore the area, its culture, people and the changing facets
6.30 pm: Return to hotel

The Payoff
If you work as a regular employee in a magazine then you earn as much as a photo journalist. Initially, most of the photographers either have to work as assistants or interns when they are usually not paid anything. On joining an organization as a trainee you can start earning between Rs 10,000 to Rs 20,000 per month. Freelancers can make more if they can manage to sell their work to global publications and websites, some of which are likely to pay you as much as $500 per picture

. You need to have an eye for photography
. Have knowledge of the customs and culture of various places
. Communication skills if you have to get through to the locals and do great shoots
. Must be able to manage with limited resources if you land up in inhospitable terrain
. You have to have the ability to stay patient for a good shot to come your way

Institutes & urls
India International Photographic Council, Delhi 011-332 7762
. Triveni Kala Sangam, Delhi, 011- 65751099
. Sri Aurobindo institute of mass communication
. Xavier Institute of Communication, Mumbai
. Photographic Association of Dum Dum, Kolkata (for short term courses)

Pros & Cons

You get to travel around the world, stay in good hotels, enjoy diverse cuisines and meet people from different cultures


Money is good if you are able to sell your work to international magazines


Unless you have a regular job, it is very challenging to arrange for regular flow of money


Takes time and patience to zero in on the novelty factor of a popular tourist destination


Element of danger — at times you might land up in an uncomfortable situation in inhospitable terrain or come across unfriendly people

It is very rewarding

A veteran sheds light on the career scope in travel photography

You have been pursuing your passion of travel photography for the last 30 years. What kind of changes have you witnessed?
Before you go anywhere, you must do some research on the area, geography, its people and culture. Earlier, I used to frequent libraries for information, but now we can get everything we want from the Internet. You can even contribute your pictures to international journals through the web medium. Things have become quite simpler these days.

Do you think the profession pays a lot of money?
It depends on where you contribute. In case of domestic magazines, money is very low — sometimes as little as Rs 900 for a picture, while the international publications pay much more. To survive on travel photography, you must travel very frequently so as to be able to contribute to the popular magazines on a regular basis. You can’t be an amateur and contribute to magazines like National Geographic. It involves complete dedication, which calls for full-time attention.

Is it a must for people to do a course in photography or should one intern with an established photographer?
One should learn from the Internet or senior photographers. I don’t have a high opinion of institutes that teach you photography — these are just money minting machineries.

Should youngsters take up travel photography as a full time career option?
What I can say is that the profession is very rewarding. You meet new people, see new places. You will have nice experiences: like villagers serving you tea.

These experiences are very touching.

Kushal Gangopadhyay interviewed by Vimal Joshi

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