The Masterclasses 2022: 10 practical tips to help you succeed as a travel photographer

From grabbing an editor’s attention to the all-important topic of gear, October’s travel photography Masterclasses contained a wealth of tips and advice from the best in the business.

By Matthew Figg
Published 14 Nov 2022, 16:45 GMT
Our expert panellists share their tips to help you develop your travel photography.

Our expert panellists share their tips to help you develop your travel photography.

Photograph by Getty Images

The Masterclasses by National Geographic Traveller (UK) returned in October for another week of expert-led sessions discussing the crafts of travel writing and travel photography.

The travel photography sessions took place over three one-hour webinars, with some of the industry’s most experienced photographers discussing their career journeys and sharing a wealth of tips with our audience of aspiring photographers.

From the importance of pre-trip research to techniques for building your portfolio, here are 10 tips to help you develop your travel photography.

1. Use personal trips to build your portfolio

For those at the beginning of their travel photography journey, our panel suggested making the most of personal trips to help you build a strong portfolio. Travel and documentary photographer Annapurna Mellor advised, “When doing personal trips, act like you’re on assignment. Think about what you can add to a portfolio to show different clients what you can shoot.”

A personal trip can also offer you the creative freedom to pull together a full photo story, which could help get you noticed. “Great storytelling is always needed,” said freelance photographer Yulia Denisyuk. “If you can bring editors great stories, you’ll see results in this career.”

2. Build your online presence to stay connected

Whether you’re new to photography or an industry veteran, our experts all agreed on the importance of building and maintaining a strong online presence and staying in touch with past, present and prospective clients.

Lauryn Ishak, a lifestyle and travel photographer, offered tips on building connections to help secure new commissions. “I update my work on my website and my Instagram, and I make sure to stay in touch with editors I know,” she explained. “I also try to meet clients face to face where I can, and I always bring a ‘leave-behind’ for them — something to remember my work by.”

3. Produce varied work to tell an exceptional story

The panellists specialised in everything from commercial shoots to documentary-style storytelling. Whatever your chosen style, our experts explained why you’ll always need to produce a diverse range of shots to best tell the story.

According to Francesco Lastrucci, a freelance photographer whose work focuses on editorial stories, you should try “to keep variety and extra options in mind. It’s important to capture every aspect of the place. Think about different angles and different distances. Try to find new frames and new situations. Never think safe — consider doing something you haven’t done before”.

4. Think about whether the story will work for the publication’s audience

Having a varied portfolio of high-quality work is important, but it won’t guarantee success. Our photographers explained the importance of understanding whether the photo story will resonate with a publication’s readers when pitching.

“Will the work be interesting to the publication’s audience? One of the best ways to know that is by reading the publication,” suggested Yulia. “If you can say why people should care, you know that you have a story on your hand rather than just content. Editors are always looking for stories that their audiences will care about.”

5. Consider taking less gear

Giulia Verdinelli, a food and travel photographer, described how travelling with minimal gear could help improve your shots. “[Travelling light] makes me a better photographer because it brings creative challenges,” she said. “This constraint helps you to think outside the box and might help you tell a better story.”

Advancing your photography skills is a better investment than splashing out on new kit, according to Giulia, who suggested that new photographers should “focus on composition and learn how to shoot with light. Study colour theory and learn the advanced rules of composition. All these skills have nothing to do with gear”.

6. Adapt to your environment while on the road

Travelling light means photographers can carry a discrete camera bag, which could be key to blending in. “All my gear fits into one backpack,” said Los Angeles-based photographer Tanveer Badal. “It doesn’t look like a camera bag, which is the goal. At times, I’ll be in places like markets or public squares and I won’t want to seem like a photographer.”

Commercial photographer Tom Parker recommended a couple of hacks for times when you need to take lots of kit through an airport. “As a rule, I try to get somewhere as early as possible — check-in staff will be more relaxed,” he explained. “Try to choose the queue with the friendliest-looking person — they might be more tolerant to your demands.”

One recurring suggestion across the sessions was to keep learning and developing your photography skills.

Photograph by Getty Images

7. Do your preparation and research to line up the best shots

Our experts agreed that great travel photography normally needs hours of research and preparation ahead of a trip, whether you’re looking for the best locations or trying to secure an all-important interview.

“For magic to happen, most of the time we need to be in the right place at the right time with the right contact,” explained Yulia. “There’s a lot of research that goes into that, as well as logistical elements like setting up interviews,” she said. “That’s where tourism boards can be very helpful, because they’re the people who are most knowledgeable about a given area.”

8. Deliver a well-presented final product

For our panellists, much of the hard work comes at the end of a trip. From editing images to ensuring you’ve met your client’s brief, it’s important to think how you can create a final product that really stands out.

“You want to keep your final board [of images] very tight — think about what will catch the eye and stand out,” said Francesco. “[Aim for] 15 to 20 pictures, up to a maximum of 30, and put these all together in one single file — ideally a PDF. Make sure you start well and finish well, with dynamic presentation that will keep the interest of the editor.”

9. Stay humble and keep learning

A recurring theme across each travel photography session was the need to keep learning and developing your skills. “Be humble,” advised Lauryn. “There’s always someone doing better work than you, and you should always keep learning. The most important thing for me in the past decade is to keep learning on the job.”

Annapurna echoed Lauryn’s advice: “If you are passionate about photography, you naturally look at a lot of other people’s work,” she said. “It’s really nice to get ideas about different ways to use light and different ways to shoot stories.”

10. Be persistent and never give up

Finally, our experts emphasised the need to be persistent and patient as you build your travel photography career.

“This can be a really long game — you have to be patient,” said Yulia. “People often start pitching and stop when they don’t see immediate results. Those of us who are still in the industry are here because we didn’t stop pitching our stories and sharing our pictures. If we can do it, you can, too. If this is your passion, you just have to keep going.”

The Masterclasses by National Geographic Traveller (UK) will return in 2023.

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