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Cappadocia, Turkey | © Nicola Easterby
Cappadocia, Turkey | © Nicola Easterby
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What it Takes to Become a Travel Photographer

Picture of Nikki Vargas
Travel Editor
Updated: 31 May 2017
What does it take to become a travel photographer? Culture Trip turns to blogger, photographer and social media maven, Nicola Easterby, to tap her for advice on how she managed to turn a camera and passion into a job that lets her travel the world.

Popular travel blog, Polkadot Passport, has been featured on The Daily Mail, Lonely Planet and The Huffington Post, while its founder, Nicola Easterby, has earned the silver award for Best Up-coming Travel Blogger at TBC Asia 2016 and was a past contributor to global site, Travelettes.

© Nicola Easterby
© Nicola Easterby

What started out as a solo trip across Europe and a blog to record her adventures, has blossomed into an enviable career that has taken the young Aussie to 30+ countries and counting—all on the wings of her photography. With more than 200,000 Instagram followers and her photography published on billboards and brochures for top travel companies, Nicola shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.

Culture Trip: How did you get started as a travel photographer?

Nicola Easterby: I’ve been practicing photography for over six years now, although I started off in commercial and the wedding sphere. Four years ago, I took my first solo overseas trip and fell in love with travel photography. During that trip, my photography got picked up by a tour company who wanted to purchase some of my holiday snaps. That begun an ongoing relationship with the brand that resulted in me traveling to over 14 countries with them and having my photos displayed on brochures, billboards and marketing material across the world. This was definitely what got my foot in the door to the travel photography world!

Travel Photographer, Nicola | © Nicola Easterby
© Nicola Easterby

CT: What is your go-to equipment for your photos?

NE: I use a Canon 6D, most of the time paired with my go-to 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. Occasionally, I’ll also use a 17-40mm f/4 wide-angle lens for landscape shots. I also use a GoPro HERO 5 Black for all my action and underwater shots. If I’m traveling solo, I’ll also always bring a tripod to get photos of myself.

CT: What photographers do you personally admire?

NE: Instagram has truly opened my eyes to some incredible photographers around the world. There are two young Australian photographers in particular who I am constantly inspired by: @helloemilie, who produces the most stunning, nostalgic imagery, and @jarradseng, who is always pushing the boundaries with his jaw-dropping photography.

CT: How would you describe your photography style?

NE: Vibrant would probably be the key word of use to describe my style. I really try to bring destinations alive by injecting as much color and energy into my photos as possible.

© Nicola Easterby
© Nicola Easterby

CT: What subjects do you prefer to photograph?

NE: I love that fact that as a travel photographer I get to photograph such a diverse variety of subjects. For me, taking photos of people is the most rewarding kind of photography. Being able to capture a fleeting moment or a part of someone’s personality is such a unique and special thing. I also love creating images that combine beautiful landscapes with a human element, which is why I jump in a lot of my Instagram photos.

CT: Tell us about your favorite photo, what’s the story behind the image?

NE: I was coincidentally in New York at the same time as one of my lifelong friends from Australia, so we decided to spend the day exploring the city in a slightly more creative way. In every place we went, I would photograph her jumping in the air.

I took this photo of her jumping near Times Square, and it really was just a lucky and well-timed shot. Until I was looking back on my computer at my photos, I hadn’t even realized the three guys in the background of the photo staring at my friend. I feel the photo sums up NYC so well.

New York Times Square | © Nicola Easterby
New York Times Square | © Nicola Easterby

CT: There is a lot of competition for photographers today with social media, how do you separate your work from the rest?

NE: It’s definitely not easy—particularly when it comes to travel photography—these days everyone seems to go to the same location, wear the same kind of outfits, shoot at the same kind of angles. For me, the key has been staying true to myself and my own style. I try to bring a unique element into all of my photos and show my personality. At the end of the day, I don’t see a point in taking the exact same shot everyone else has taken as that is frankly a little boring.

CT: When you travel—do you ever feel a push pull between capturing the moment and putting down the camera and enjoying it?

NE: Because photography is both my job and one of my greatest hobbies, it can be a very hard balance to strike. I do find that when I am traveling by myself, the way that I enjoy and appreciate a moment is by capturing it. However, when I’m with friends and family, that is when I try to quickly take my snaps and then put my camera down and enjoy the company of those around me. Plus, some moments in life are just too good to capture.

CT: What’s your best piece of advice to aspiring travel photographers?

NE: My first piece of advice is to never stop learning. No matter if you have just picked up a camera for the first time or you’ve been at it for a while, there is always something to learn about photography both technically and creatively. With so many travel photographers out there today, you really have to push the boundaries if you want to make it.

Invest time in doing photography tutorials, learn new shooting and editing techniques, hang out with other photographers and challenge yourself creatively. My second piece of advice is realizing if you want to make it as a travel photographer, you have to be business-savvy. You can be the best photographer in the world, but if you don’t know how to market yourself then you aren’t going to make it very far as a photographer.

Taj Mahal, India | © Nicola Easterby
Taj Mahal, India | © Nicola Easterby

CT: Let’s get technical, for beginner photographers what camera mode do your recommend they shoot on and why?

NE: If you are someone who wants to get serious about your photography, learn manual mode from the beginning. Like anything, if you throw yourself in the deep end, it may be a struggle in the beginning but it will make your life so much easier in the long run. If you can understand how your camera works from the start, you’ll have so much more flexibility when you shoot and will become a better photographer very quickly.

CT: Is shooting on ‘auto’ something aspiring photographers should always avoid?

NE: There is nothing wrong with shooting in auto. If you need to take a quick photo to capture a moment, you are far better off turning your camera to auto rather than missing the moment because you are trying to adjust all the settings. But like I said before, if you can learn and shoot in manual as much as possible, you’ll be able to have so much more control over your photos.

© Nicola Easterby
© Nicola Easterby

CT: What is your process for editing photos?

NE: I load all the photos from my Canon 6D onto Adobe Lightroom on my Surface Pro 4. Lightroom is where I do all the organizing of my photos and 90 percent of the editing, including all lighting and color adjustments. I use the same few custom presets across my shots to make sure my tones are consistent, and just go through a tweak each photo. Then, if necessary, I’ll open the photo in Adobe Photoshop if it needs anymore work such as cloning.

CT: Where are you off to next?

NE: I’m going to be in Spain for the next month taking language classes and exploring the country, then I’ll be going sailing in Greece!