How to Start a Travel Stock Photography Business

A Conversation
with Brett Shoaf

By Andrew Hudson

October, 2006

A question I often get asked is: “How can I become a full-time, professional travel photographer?” My suggestion is to start local and build a travel stock business. Someone who has done just that is my friend, Brett Shoaf.

Brett started his own business — Artistic Visuals — 16 years ago. He’s gradually grown from photographing local sights in San Diego to taking assignments in other cities. For example, the Chicago Convention and Tourism Bureau hired him to photograph the opening of Millennium Park. If he can do it, so can you. To find out more, I had this conversation with him.

Brett, thanks for talking with PhotoSecrets. Let’s get straight to the nitty-gritty. Where do you derive the bulk of your revenue?

I shoot almost exclusively for the tourist trade, and my work appears in numerous visitor guides, city maps, travel magazines, and the occasional photo journal book. I’d say that my photos of San Diego (where I’ve lived since the age of one) now comprise about 60-70% of my revenue, with other cities that I’ve covered making up the rest.

Who are some of your clients?

AAA California, Frommers (travel guides), TravelAge West, Road Runner Card Co. (postcards), Sunset magazine, Westways magazine, San Diego Family Magazine, The San Diegan Guide, San Diego Maritime Museum, Balboa Park Promotions and Legoland California.

Where do your photos appear?

Primarily in travel publications, but also occasionally in the following:

  • Websites for real estate agents
  • Company/organization flyers to showcase area attractions for seminars appearing in the city
  • Fine art wall display prints for offices and in trade shows
  • Brochures and sales kits for the hospitality industry
  • Postcards and calendars
  • Newspapers announcing annual special events in the city.

Some of the people that the aspiring stock photographer should contact for selling work might be: marketing firms, photo editors, publishers, printers, graphic designers, P.R. personnel in various city organizations.

What is your best-selling photo?

One that’s done very well is a photo of a group of colorful windsurfers riding ocean waves just offshore at Mission Beach in San Diego. I captured them in a nice line-up from left to right with a few sails as the dominant subjects out in front and the others positioned behind them but still open to view, all nicely spaced apart by sheer chance. Definitely one of my favorite shots and a great seller.

How much of your revenue comes from stock sales and assignment work?

About 80-90% of my revenue comes from sales of stock shots, with the remaining being from the occasional assignment shoot. Yes, stock sells!

Sometimes the two categories even cross over; in late 2004, one of my clients paid my way to fly to Chicago to cover the opening day of “Millennium Park". Many of the photos I’d shot were then published in their city travel guides, after which I was allowed to keep all the photo originals as part of my collection of stock per an agreement we’d worked out in advance.

Do you use any stock agencies? Web sites?

No, I’ve not yet used any stock agencies. This is something I plan to look into more in the future if sales to my present clientele begin to drop off. The reason I’ve held off for now is because the few agencies that I have contacted in the past had too many stipulations as to exclusive use of the images, and I prefer to maintain ownership of my work. I’d much rather retain the freedom to circulate them to any number of customers at the same time.

What other cities do you photograph?

San Francisco, Dallas, New Orleans, Chicago, and Vancouver. Of these latter choices, I’d have to say I enjoyed shooting in Vancouver the most. Lastly, my two favorite overseas locations for photography have been Kauai and Switzerland.

Click here for part 2

Copyright 2006 Andrew Hudson for Photo Tour Books, Inc. Written for PhotoSecrets. You may reproduce this article for personal, educational, non-commercial and non-Internet use, such as in a local photo club newsletter or school project. No Internet publishing is permitted. For commercial use, please email Andrew Hudson for permission.

Next page: How to Start a Travel Stock Photography Business

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