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Making Travel Pay


Everyone travels. Whether you are commercial photographer, pursue fine art creations, or both, you can make your travels pay in three ways. In this piece I refer specifically to travel that takes you more than 20 miles from home. Why more than 20 miles? I’ve placed the answer at the end of the section on Making Your Travels Pay, but see if you can figure it out before you get there. No scrolling! To get us started: making your travels pay first requires your understanding the Commitment Process and incorporating it into your traveling.

Fresh Work Is Critical To Growth And Success

Photographers need and rely upon creativity and fresh imagery to fire their growth, and thereby fuel their success. Even when our travels include the same route and time of day, as in a long commute, we are constantly exposed to fresh photographic opportunities. But, more often, our travels are not repetitive. The key is to use any travel as a means for acquiring fresh ideas and new images. The trick is to look for and use the opportunities that travel continuously presents. And the only way to do that is to be an active participant in the Commitment Process.

Make It Happen

While I may have more flexibility than most, it doesn’t mean you can’t make it happen. It’s a process of commitment and planning. Plan ahead and allow for the unexpected: add an extra day after a business conference; insert a day or two of photography on a road trip to visit grandma or while on any other excursion and; schedule time in your itinerary to look for fresh ideas in new areas.

Never Leave Home Without A Camera

We’ve all had fantastic photo op encounters that leave us saying, “If only I had my camera.” Commit yourself to having a camera handy anytime you travel. With all the money I’ve invested in bodies and lenses, it is still surprising how many photos I’ve captured with the Canon S95 that fits in my pocket. Captured because the Canon S95 is with me all the time. Surprising, because almost 10% of the useable images I made during ten days in Cuba last year were captured with this little camera. The image quality is very good and there is no noticeable shutter delay.

Be Open to Visual Cues

The key to the Commitment Process is having your eyes open, your senses tuned and your schedule ready to accommodate visual cues all the time, not just during one day of the trip. I don’t care what genre of photography you pursue, I challenge you to drive, walk, or even ride a train (more on trains later) for two hours and not find two or three really good photo ops. If you’re driving, try getting off the Interstate and taking the parallel U.S. and State Highways or County Roads. Caution: you may have to add several extra days just to accommodate all the opportunities you encounter. Make sure your vehicle has a sufficient reserve of U-turns built in. You’ll need them.

The Pay Off

So, with that rather extensive discourse on the “Making Your Travels Pay” opening statement, the first step in the Commitment Process, the “how to” method, should be obvious: take advantage of required travel time and locations to find fresh work. The second method is exploring the tax advantages your photography may offer. If you are treating your work as a business (it doesn’t have to be full time) then you should already be keeping track of expenses and income. I’m not a CPA, and this should not be construed to be tax advice. However, if you can show by your records that capturing photos—for use in your business, commercial or fine art—was part of the purpose of your travels, then some or all of your food, lodging and mileage can be declared as legitimate business expense at the end of the year. Third, and perhaps most importantly: if you use the images you acquire during your travels in your portfolio, for sale, or for exhibition, then your travels have rewarded you with work you would not otherwise have.

Speaking Of A Train Ride

Train travel can be bit more challenging than car travel, so let’s briefly explore two scenarios you can make happen. The first requires recognizing that you are not glued to your seat. Move around. Observe. Look for someone—a family, a group of people, a porter or other train staff person—that offers a visually interesting story. Think through how you want to capture their activity, introduce yourself, and hand them your business card. With a little chitchat about who they are and where they are going you will be surprised how easy it is to get their approval for some photos. Note: photos you create in a non-public space such as a train will require a model release if you later use the photos commercially. For fine art use, a model release is not required.

The second is the opportunity to capture your interpretation of the scenery. Long train rides provide countless and continuously changing opportunities to photograph passing scenes—often at very slow train speeds. Find a clean window, use a fast shutter speed, 1/500 or better, set your ISO to 200 or 400, and shoot at an angle to the window. You’ll be surprised at the quality you get. Tips: shoot at an angle to eliminate glare; be adept at using slower shutter speeds; do not put your lens against directly against the window; anticipate what is coming by looking ahead; make yourself comfortable to further reduce shaking; use your motor drive feature and; auto bracket a half stop. As the train meanders through freight yards, industrial districts, even the open plains where the buffalo still roam, offer great options.

My Recent Experiences

I’m traveling in a motorhome from Florida, where I photographed the Atlantis launch, to Upstate New York. Along the way, I’m visiting friends, family and clients. I have some flexibility to adjust my route and I time my visits so I can explore various areas. After parking the motorhome, I use the car I pull behind it to explore. While in North Carolina I came across a Civil War reenactment in a field off a country road. With a quick U-turn, I aligned myself with the row of cannons just in time to catch the muzzle flashes and smoke as they fired a volley.

On Assateague Island I teamed up with a ranger and spent the day on the narrow beaches and in the wetlands bordering the Atlantic. All it took was one phone call to arrange the opportunity and there I was, looking for one of the famed wild horses the ranger needed to treat. In Washington, D.C. I gave myself the assignment of photographing historic monuments at night from very low angles, and also creating some abstracts. (I included the daughter of a client I was staying with to add comedic contrast with the Gandhi and Jefferson memorials.) This week I’m photographing old abandoned buildings in New York City that I found on the web, plus other sites a photographer/reader has offered lead me to.

From the above you can see how driving or walking through a neighborhood, on the trail, or down a small town’s main street can present opportunities that are limited only by your imagination. All you need is the flexibility to allow for the unexpected to happen.

Why 20 Miles?

Psychologists have demonstrated that after a short period of time, we don't consciously register the nuances of things that are in our back yard. They are hidden from us, yet in plain sight.

August 2011