Business Trends: Making The Most Of Your Travel Photography

Business Trends

Photos © 2002, Jonathan Kingston, All Rights Reserved

Though travel photography is one of the most sought-after careers in the business, it is difficult to get started and even harder to get established. As a business, it can be approached as both an industry-marketing message and a subject-marketing message.

You can shoot for the marketing of the travel industry or you can shoot to tell the story of a travel location. This gives you a very broad client base for the images.

For example, if you are working with an ad agency, you can be shooting images for marketing an exotic resort spa. If you are working with a magazine, you can be shooting images that tell the story of the people that travel to such places. The key of course will be access to the locations.

One approach to finding this key, and making a business out of travel, is to teach. For his success story, we talked with Jonathan Kingston of Kingston Images ( currently working in India for Light & Life Academy.

Shutterbug: How did you first become interested in travel photography?

Jonathan Kingston: I guess you could say that I have the itchy foot syndrome. Give me the opportunity for adventure and I will jump at the chance. It wasn't until high school that I discovered my passion for photography and it only seemed natural that I combine my two loves. This dream became a reality in 2002 after my graduation from Brooks Institute of Photography, when I received my first job offer to teach photography in India.

Brooks Institute had a heavy influence on the success of my business start up. Not only did Brooks provide me with a topnotch technical understanding of photography, it also built relationships that ultimately led to my position here in India as a photography teacher. I really can't say enough good things about my experience at Brooks.

SB: Did you pursue this teaching opportunity to get access to exotic locations or did you plan the travel first and then arrange to teach the classes?

JK: The teaching job offer came first. I have one of the best jobs in the world. I teach to travel and get access to exotic locations. All my teaching assignments are organized through an institute in India called Light & Life Academy ( Started by a Brooks alumni, it is India's first school dedicated solely to photography and is similar in many ways to Brooks Institute.

I have just completed teaching a travel photography course for the second year full-time students at the academy. During the course equal attention was given to the commercial and editorial aspects of travel photography. The Indian market is just waking up to the possibilities of what I would call "high-end" consumer travel. This will create a great opportunity for the students at the academy who decide to specialize in this area.

Most exciting for me are travel photographic workshops currently in the planning stages at the academy. These workshops will be targeting western audiences who are interested in seeing India with like-minded photographers. Currently on the drawing board are workshops to destinations in India including the Himalayas, the deserts of Rajasthan, and the backwaters of Kerala. Also in the planning stage is an Underwater Photographic workshop to take place either in the Maldives or in the Lakshawadeep Islands in late 2003 or early 2004.

SB: How do you run a free-lancer business and have this job doing so much travel at the same time?

JK: Right now I am in an ideal situation. I have made my "home" base smack dab in the middle of my travel destinations. This takes the trauma out of getting visas, plane tickets, and permission to shoot in various locations. It also keeps my overhead low, as traveling within Asia is for the most part quite inexpensive by American standards. I can get home from teaching a travel photography course, and within three days have my film processed and be ready to head out on the road again. No jet lag.

The two most difficult aspects of running my business from India are self-promotion and communications since my target audience is the US and European markets. Right now all of my self-promotion is done through the Internet and word of mouth. International calls can be quite expensive which is a deterrent to possible clients. Fortunately I have ready access to the Internet and have had a lot of dialog and image delivery taking place with potential clients via e-mail. This keeps my overhead down while providing a direct link to possible clients.

SB: The images you create, do you feel they are for selling travel (more commercial) or for telling stories of places to travel to (more editorial) or both?

JK: My images are a little bit of both but tend toward a more editorial approach. In order to maximize potential sales I try to cover both markets when I travel and shoot, as it seems a waste to not cover both bases having taken the effort to reach the travel destination.

SB: What percentage of images you shoot is assignment and how much is for stock?

JK: Currently much of my shooting is for my job of making promotional materials for future workshops to be offered by Light & Life Academy. However every time I am out on a location I try to maximize my stock files. Travel photography is one of those "Catch 22" businesses. You can't do it until you have done it. Clients often won't hire you or buy what they haven't seen, so as a travel photographer you have to go and produce good work to get the assignments you want. This is my solution to this self-assignment dilemma.

SB: How do you find clients for your work?

JK: So far, all my potential clients have found me through my web site, word of mouth, and some press releases I submitted to various magazines right before I departed for India. I have also listed on various searchable web photographic databases which link to my web site. I have done this type of minimal marketing due to being busy with teaching and traveling. This year I plan to begin marketing myself much more aggressively.

SB: What are your marketing plans for the future?

JK: I plan to do a lot more marketing in the future. Due to the cost of international communication (other than e-mail) I have been considering taking on an Art/Photo rep in the US. Also, there are some fairly low cost paid web listings I plan on purchasing to promote my photography. I am also working on some exciting personal editorial projects here in India including the crash of tea industry prices in the Western Ghats, which has had a devastating effect on the local economy. Other current projects include a booming eucalyptus cottage industry and a photo essay of a tribal group indigenous to the Western Ghats known as the Toda people. Once these projects are completed, I will be sending out press releases and samples to magazines that may be interested in my work.