One of my favorite childhood photographs is of my sister and me in Cape Cod. Aged 6 and 7, we are grinning up at the camera, and I have my own little camera slung around my neck.
My smile would be even wider if I’d known that someday my Cape Cod photos would grace the pages of calendars, guidebooks, and some of my favorite magazines, such as Smithsonian, Coastal Living, and Travel + Leisure.
These days, when I travel, I shoot stock images that newspaper, magazine, and book editors can use to illustrate stories about vacation destinations. Instead of being sent on a particular assignment, with stock photography I look for iconic images of a particular location, as well as quirky fun images that can be licensed again and again to different clients. This lets me travel where and when I want, selling photos to fund my adventures.
Sure, I dream of exotic destinations, but I’ll let you in on a little secret: there is a big market for photographs of favorite vacation haunts a short ride from home.
Everybody loves a road trip. Especially one that pays for itself.
Cape Cod, a 5-hour drive from my New York home, boasts some of the world’s finest beaches, attracting visitors—and photo buyers—from around the globe. After realizing vacation snaps I took in 2006, two years before I even heard of stock photography, were consistently among my best sellers, I made it a point to head out there every couple of years to shoot fresh images.
Each successive trip has quickly paid for itself.
Some photos are timeless. Beaches and lighthouses do not usually change much, so I still earn royalties on decade-old family vacation snaps taken with my first digital camera.
Remember seasonal images, too. Fall is a great time to go. I can capture images of pumpkins for sale on the lawns of stately white churches, and pristine empty beaches. Publishers around the globe have featured them in travel articles, and calendar companies have licensed them for the summer and fall months—sometimes paying as much as $300 for a single use.
I earn much more from photos taken during well-planned trips. I recommend having a shot list and contingency plans. Despite five rainy days out of seven, last year’s trip was a success because I knew where I needed to be the minute the sun came out to get my “money shots.”
After one of my trips, I got calls from web designers the minute my images went up on my personal website and had a few nice agency sales too—notably $60 and $250 from Alamy. With the sale of a metal print at a local art show, the trip earned about $800 shortly after I returned, and more since.
A quick tally of all my photos from the Cape show the past few years’ earnings have topped $5,000, with both new and old photos among my best sellers on every site, including Fine Art America and Redbubble. I love that these travel images are so versatile, showing up in London Vogue and selling as iPhone cases and greeting cards, as well as being featured in gallery shows in New York and elsewhere.
Travel does not always mean a long plane ride to an exotic location. Sometimes a beautiful vacation spot is an easy drive from home. Fresh images from popular vacation destinations are always in demand.