Early morning plane flights, checking in and out of hotel rooms, transporting equipment from A to B, navigating around foreign cities, adapting to different cultures and language barriers. For some of us, the lifestyle of a travel photographer may seem a world away and a faroff fantasy for those who have aspirations of making a career out of this adventurous pastime. It is true that photography alone takes a lot of hours of practise, research, trial and error and of course some disposable income to put into it. However, we at NETWORTHpick sat down with a travel photographer currently in the process of making this dream a reality. With some expert advice to set you on your way, it may be within reach for anyone – as long as you have the dedication, confidence and willingness to throw yourself in at the deep end.
Friendly, composed and confident, Kieran Williams is an open book when it comes to his experiences, proving an excellent source of inspiration and advice for people following his footsteps into travel photography. His own journey began at the age of 14 when he took up photography as a GCSE, after being inspired by his grandad’s creative endeavours whilst he was alive. He then continued to explore photography in his own time, trying out different styles such as product shoots and getting a feel for different techniques, as well as finding inspiration for where he wanted to take his photography in the future. He explains how finding his niche with travel photography was something that involved throwing caution to the wind and just taking the plunge one day to get the ball rolling.
“It’s something that’s always interested me, I used to follow a lot of people on social media like Instagram, big photographers like Jordan Hammond and people like him. So I used them as my inspiration and just looked for the cheapest way to travel, like on AirBnB, looked for the cheapest days to fly and things like that and just from there, decided I was ready. I was actually at work on New Years Eve in 2018 – going into 2019, I was on a night shift and I was just sitting there thinking ‘I need to do something with my photography, I can’t be doing this job forever.’ So I decided that it would be best to invest my time wisely into researching while I was there. And that night on New Years Eve I booked two trips – one to Austria in January and then the following month in February, I booked a trip to Hungary and so on.”
After getting a taste of adventure, Kieran didn’t stop there. Far from it in fact, as he went on to travel an incredible 15 times to 13 different countries in 2019, visiting a wide variety of places including “Iceland, Sardinia, Gran Canaria and lots and lots of different countries, mainly Europe based, just to kind of get used to the solo travelling thing.” Of course Kieran already had years of experience behind the camera, giving him the confidence to take the plunge and visit these remarkable places for his shoots. Getting to this point took a lot of practise, as well as finding ways to develop his portfolio and building the foundations of his photography. Ever-obliging, Kieran is more than happy to share some advice with people looking to start their photography endeavours.
“Build up a moodboard of inspiration, engage with people on social media platforms that give you that inspiration. There’s a certain category of people that you want to follow, whether it be portrait photography or landscape, just look at more people’s work that inspire you because that’s going to help you to grow. Look into how they edit their photos, see if they’ve got any courses available, if you’ve got any money for a course try and do that. If not then there are other ways around it, you can self-teach yourself so it’s all just down to researching and if you really are passionate about it.”
As well as this practical advice, Kieran’s attitude towards his work is also something to take inspiration from. His ethos is to “Just keep going. It doesn’t matter how long it takes you, it’s taken me 8 years to get to where I am now. I started when I was 14, I’m 23. Yeah, it’s taken me a while but just never give up.” This attitude has no doubt played a part in Kieran being able to pursue his dreams and it’s a reminder that you can have all the equipment and resources but you need the drive to keep going. Keen to share his expertise, Kieran helpfully offers up more tips for finding your own style within photography and looking for paid work as you begin to grow.
“The way I look at it is if you enjoy your work then that’s the work for you. You can have two or three different types of photography that you really enjoy, like travel photography, that’s one. You could be really interested in doing portraits as a side job, that’s two. And that’s just down to if you enjoy it, that’s your style. So on your website you can split it into sections but if you are just focussing on one type of work, obviously if you get a job approach you that you don’t particularly want to do you’re just gonna have to kindly decline them and just say it doesn’t fit the style of work that I do. Just be brutally honest. If you feel like you can do it and you do feel comfortable, then take it.”
There’s no doubt that paid work is beneficial to building experience and portfolio but there are certain things to watch out for and Kieran unfortunately learnt this the hard way from his first paid work experience.
“I did work for a hat company and they told me what they wanted… they wanted to negotiate prices after, but they offered me way less than what I wanted and I had no choice. So always negotiate prices first because you need to know exactly what they want in the package, you need to know whether they want just digital images, if they want them printed, how many they want because that depends as well because that’s taking up your time. If they want 10 photos you think how long it takes you to edit each of them. So it’s all down to time and you wanna prove to them how much your time is worth.”
Even though this job might not have been an ideal introduction to paid work, taking this job early on taught Kieran lessons and skills to take away, not just in his photography but life skills that have helped him beyond the world of work.
“You need to make sure that you’re coming across as confident and that they can’t walk over you, as such. Again, relating to my first job, I feel like because I was a bit nervous and didn’t have the best communication skills, maybe that’s why they took advantage of me and sort of thought, ‘lets try and charge him less for this job’. But actually, it depends on how you’re speaking to them. So in that sense, it’s taught me to be more confident on giving prices and not being worried about it being too high or too low. It’s very important, especially when you’re travelling as well, like travel photography, that’s another thing. Like if you’re doing a solo trip you’ve just gotta kind of have that confidence to think ‘I’m doing it, this is what I’m doing’, and you’re doing it for yourself.”
This attitude is testament to Kieran’s character as he was able to find positives through a negative experience and use it to grow. It shows that it’s not just photography skills that are to be gained from this pastime, as the nature of the work means Kieran has developed other areas of himself as well. As pointed out, travel photography in particular presents a different set of challenges, as travelling solo can be a daunting experience first time. Adapting to the different cultures and languages in a short space of time can be especially challenging. When asked about what he uses to get around these obstacles, he recalls a particular past experience and how he plans to go forward in the future.
“I went out of Budapest, to the north of Budapest to – I don’t know how to pronounce the name – ‘D-O-B-O-G-O-K-O’. It’s on the border of Slovakia and I went up there at like 3:30 in the morning. I looked on the weather app, it said there was going to be a sunrise. I just thought ‘I’ve gotta go somewhere and shoot’. When I got to the place, it was dark. I waited for the sun to rise and did my shoot. When I’d finished, there’s a cafe that had just opened up, it was like 8 o’clock in the morning so I went into the cafe to order some food but this lady that worked there didn’t speak a word of English and bearing in mind that obviously I don’t speak Hungarian. So I just did the classic ‘get out your phone and and get on Google translate’ and just tried my best. So we just spent our time, she was like showing me her message from Hungarian to English and I was doing it vice versa. So there are ways around it, we had a laugh because obviously we both don’t know what we were doing really, but it’s just being in that moment and kind of appreciating that they don’t speak another language and that you don’t speak another language but you can still find ways around it. It’s nice to be in that situation but at the same time it can be awkward but a lot of the time people understand that people are travelling… and so Google Translate is the way forward for me.”
It’s safe to say that going in unprepared proved to be a learning curve for Kieran and it’s best to prepare for language barriers with a translation system, as he plans to do for the future. However, this story really highlights how fun and spontaneous travelling can be, even with a situation that could have been difficult. Unfortunately this fun had to come to an end in March 2020 with the Coronavirus pandemic and UK lockdowns, which included travel restrictions, preventing Kieran from building on a great year of travelling and pushing his photography even further. He was unable to continue with his trips but such is his dedication that he still used this opportunity to be productive and continue to develop his photography as much as he could.
“Well actually, towards the beginning of this year through lockdown in January, I decided to do a photography business course and that has helped me keep going with photography. So I’ve changed up my editing style completely, like the way I edit my photos and just tried to make them more cinematic and dramatic and that’s given me a new focus. So I’ve really tried to focus more on how I present my images rather than being able to go out and take them. I’ve tried looking at what I’ve already got and tried to make them better so that was a heavy focus for me during lockdown and it gave me that inspiration to go forward and keep creating. Again, Instagram, it’s such a good platform to put your work out onto. It’s good for networking, they’ve got all new features on there now as well, where you can do guides and things so you can really put out your travel stories. So it’s given me that kind of push to talk more about what I’ve done already and give people hope for the future of travel.”
Showing positivity in the face of setbacks is admirable and certainly a trait that will help anyone in photography, as there will be obstacles to overcome along the way. Kieran has used this year to his advantage and to continue to develop as a photographer, as he aims towards making photography his career and being able to do it full time. When asked about his progress on this, he also has some very useful suggestions for people in the same position as him.
“At the moment I’m in the process of sort of making it a career. It’s always going to be quite hit and miss until you build up a portfolio and something that you can show to clients. If they see that you’ve got a particular style depending on what you want to do, like I’ve done estate agent photography before, and I’ve done a couple of shoots for outdoor clothing and modelling shoots and things like that, so it all depends on what you’re offering. I would just say that if you have an idea of what you want to do, just keep applying for the jobs, keep building up your portfolio from home as well. A good example would be a shoe company, if you’ve got a pair of shoes lying around indoors that look good and you like them, go out and shoot them because you want to and because that’s what you want to do in the future. Do it for free for yourself and going forward, that’s going to open up more doors for you for paid work if that’s what you want to get into eventually, paid photography. So it’s a game of practise and as long as you’re always practising you’re never gonna fail. In photography it’s never ‘you’re failing’, it’s always ‘you’re progressing’ so that’s the key thing.”
A motivating and uplifting point to end on, the spirit to keep going and work hard to achieve your dreams typifies Kieran’s character and his future looks bright as he looks ahead to the lockdown restrictions lifting and getting back to doing what he loves. For anyone else who has a love of photography, a taste for adventure and a can-do attitude, travel photography may be the path for you. It may take a few years of experimenting/ exploring/ trial and error to get to where you are happy with your photos but it will be worth it when your hard work starts to pay off, especially if they look as incredible as Kieran’s! Hopefully this article will spur you to kickstart your photography adventures, explore the world and stay positive for the future.
Chloe is a content creator with a passion for writing, photography, graphic design and making music. She loves experimenting with creative media and has a desire to work in the music and media industries in the future.