Right at the start of our long term travel (during our three-month stint in offbeat Kashmir), we realised
that photography was a powerful tool. Initially to connect with people that we met and later, as
we started sandeepachetan.com, to connect with our readers.

But photography also opened other avenues. One of our first interactions in Kashmir was with a
tourism officer we happened to meet at the tourist centre. Chetan asked if he could show the officer some images he had clicked till then. The officer saw the photos and responded, “You
are a very important person for us”. We have written a lot about that trip to Kashmir. It was a
“the rest is history” moment in our travel lives. And photography is what helped us get the foot in the door.

Over the years, photography has helped us travel more. How?

  1. Direct work assignments related to photography
  2. Opening up more travel opportunities which get converted to work

We are often asked about how we manage to travel long term and what do we do to earn a
living. We are sharing some ways in which photography has helped us to generate income in our travels.

Food photography on the go

This was one of our first assignments. It perfectly combined all our interests – food, travel and
photography. Our task was to drive nearly 3000 km in 5 days and find interesting places to eat.
It was a social media-driven campaign, where we would ask the readers for recommendations
and instantly share the food photos, interviews with the chefs and our reviews.

The famous Biryani in Palakkad at the Kerala-Tamil Nadu border
Sea food platter, Chef Kartik’s recommendation at Le Dupleix, Pondicherry

Pros

  • Being paid to do what we love.

Cons

  • Long driving hours. Driving around 500 km each day meant the day ending late at night and starting at the break of dawn.
  • We weren’t always eating all the hot and scrumptious food since we would first take photos and videos of the food. The restaurants/dhabas were often kind enough to replace it with another fresh hot plate, but we were always in work mode.

What worked for us

  • Having spent long stretches of time on the road, we were aware of the challenges a road trip can throw at us. Flat tyres, bad roads and spontaneous detours didn’t bother us and we could easily take these in our stride.
  • Since this was mainly a social media campaign, we had to be online all the time. We were constantly uploading heavy files – images and videos. Having a strong and reliable network made this job, not just possible but also easy and fun.

Property shoots at remote locations

People are now looking for destinations beyond the popular tourist circuits. Even while travelling
within India, they are seeking small picturesque towns or villages, perched on hilltops or by a flowing river, hidden from the tourism spotlight. Homes are getting converted to homestays. Locals, as well as tourism companies, are now focussing on creating niche travel experiences at such locations. This means ample photography opportunities.

A homestay in a remote but picturesque village named Sago in Arunachal Pradesh
Properties could by anything from a traditional home in a remote village to a heritage villa. This one is a haveli near Jaipur

Pros

  • Getting to visit picturesque locations for work.

Cons

  • The work is backbreaking.
  • You are in remote locations. In case you need something for your shoot that isn’t available on site – even something as simple as match sticks to light a candle, you might need to drive a few kilometres. This means unexpected delays.
  • Natural light plays a huge role in the kind of images you are able to create. And this is the one aspect we have no control over, ever! The light could play spoilt sport to your planned shots. You always have to have your creative hat on and be able to think on your feet.
  • The beautiful photos create the perception that you are always on holiday. You routinely have to deal with comments like, “wow, you get paid to holiday”.

What worked for us

  • Since we prefer slow travel we like being based in one location for a considerable time. This
  • means we are available in remote locations for long stretches.
  • We can move from one remote location to another since we do not have to “return to base”. We are able to take up photo shoots on the go.
  • Knowing that we are available on site is a huge advantage for the client as well. They don’t have to bother arranging for a photographer from the city every time.
  • Our Airtel 4G network has been a huge help in making this process work faster. Often times, clients are not on site. They are usually in their offices in the cities. Being able to share a bulk of images with them, as we shoot, means real-time feedback. This reduces the to and fro later. Once the images are ready, we are able to share the final product with the client, which means quick delivery, and payment (aka, more money to travel!).

Location Shoots

When thinking of location shoots, it’s usually the big players like the tourism boards that come to
mind. While getting a paid assignment from a tourism board is great and can lead to a long term project and sustained income, it’s a long shot. Projects like these take a long time to materialise.

An unheard of but stunning Daksum in Kashmir, a spot that the tourist department wanted to promote

If you have already decided to travel to a particular region for a few weeks or months, it might prove useful to get in touch with the local players in the places you want to visit. The local tour companies, NGOs, maybe even some local travel enthusiasts. They might have destinations in mind that they want to be promoted. Maybe a local NGO does amazing work that needs to be known by a wider audience. Or a young entrepreneur has a certain travel idea which needs to be made visually appealing. All of these can be enabled by taking impactful photos.

Promoting a virgin place like Basar through travel photography

Pros

  • The experience is extremely enriching.

Cons

  • Pay in this case might not be huge.

What works for us

  • Travel is our primary objective and projects like these help us get us in touch with the local people doing important work.
  • This has invariably given us a new perspective of the place we are travelling to and helped us understand the place better.

Which brings us to the next point.

Photography at local events

Meeting more locals means getting to know a place better. You learn more about the habits and culture of the people there. There have been times in our travels when we have got to know of certain events or festival celebrated locally. We have not only got access to these events because of the camera but have been cordially invited to attend these events.

The Butter Festival at Dayara Bugyal is a local event managed by the people of the village Raithal, but has the potential to be a tourist attraction
Shooting for the Basar Confluence in Arunachal Pradesh. A NGO named GRK organises this festival. They are hoping that this festival will draw the attention of tourists and bring up tourism in the Basar region.

Pros

  • Getting to shoot an exclusive event which not many are familiar with.

Cons

  • This could be something totally offbeat and might or might not convert into commercial benefits.

What worked for us

  • These events make for awesome travel stories. Publications are always on the lookout for something like this.
  • Since we spend a long time in one destination, we get to attend several such events in a row. Some stories are time sensitive. If we wait to get back home and then start pitching them, they could have lost their relevance and might not sound as appealing to the publication.
  • A good network like Airtel 4G has helped us send pitches right away, from the remote location.

Making portraits of the local families

This might be the least rewarding monetarily, but to us, it’s the most precious way to use travel
photography. We have often travelled to locations so remote that a professional camera has been a novelty to the people. Most families, after we have spent time with them, have asked us
to take a family portrait.

“How will I get this photograph?”
“We can send it to you on the phone.”

Initially, we would just show them the portraits on the camera screen. There was no way for us to send them the images. But fast penetration of 4G helped us share images with them instantly. “Can you send this photo on Whatsapp?”, is something the young members of the family often ask us. It’s extremely rewarding for us to be able to do that. Even after we leave, a part of us stays with them, through this photograph.

“What is that?”
“It’s a camera.”
“Really? Prove it. Take a photo with my daughters.”

There are no real pros and cons to this, it’s a priceless experience. But this small exchange helps us continue the connection with them later. They are happy to see the stories of their home or their village on social media. And if there’s any specific information we need, we always have these local connects to get it from.

Photography is a powerful tool when it comes to travel. Travel photography is a flexible term and you can define it the way you want depending on your interests. We have only shared the ways travel photography has helped us combine travel and work.

Opportunities to combine travel and work through photography are waiting to be created – you just need to be open enough to new ways of work and life!

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Sandeepa and Chetan. Married. Indians. Exploring Travel as Lifestyle. Featured by National Geographic, Yahoo. We hope that through our travel stories we inspire others to make their dream into a reality.

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5 Comments

  1. Nomadic Thunker

    What an enjoyable read. Appreciate how you’ll have kept it as real as it gets while talking about how so many of these engagements complement your existing travel style 🙂

  2. Good job! I really like your blog it inspires me a lot.

  3. This is great guys! Very Helpful! Thanks for sharing your insights! 🙂

  4. Deepak Khale

    This should inspire lot of entrants to travel photography.

  5. Sneha Khale

    Love this one!! It’s not quite behind-the-scenes, but it gives some great insight into how you guys manage to do this full-time. Keep up the travel, writing and photography ???

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