How To Make It As A Travel Photographer In A Foreign City

Canadian/Guyanese photographer Joel Duncan first came to Medellin over a year ago. Like many of us expats who now call the city home, he fell in love with it and decided to stay.

When I first met Joel, he was struggling to become known as a photographer in the city.

It took me about four months to land my first paying gig.

I have witnessed Joel work for months not just taking photos, but networking, knocking on doors, scheduling meetings, sending emails, and trying to catch his first break.

Finally, I am pleased to announce that Joel is seeing the fruits of his labor. This Thursday, March 7th, he is headlining an art exhibition at the Charlee, one of the most elite hotels in the city.

Joel Duncan Photography at the Charlee Piso 11 Art Exhibit

Joel’s work at the Charlee

Photo by Dwayne M Golden, Jr

When I asked Joel about making the decision to pursue photography as a career, he had this to say:

Everything starts with a decision.

There are quite a few factors that contributed to my decision to be a professional photographer. For starters my sister Mandy is a very talented portrait photographer who gave me my first camera and inspired me to delve deeper into the art. Secondly I wanted to be an artist until my late teens but I got caught up with trying to get a university degree that could help me to get a nice comfortable job. Thirdly, I wanted to do something that I was happy with and proud of on a daily basis.

I think that in general we just need to decide what we want to do, be, or have and go after it. That’s basically what I did with photography. I decided that I loved photography and if someone were to pay me to wake up and take beautiful photos of people and places I would never really have to work a day in my life. What pushed me to decide to move from a hobby photographer to a professional photographer is my philosophy on life – If you are going to do something, do it well or don’t do it at all.

I figure that I have only one chance here on earth, so I better do something that I love doing and hopefully do it well enough to leave my mark.

Joel Jasmine Dwayne

Joel, me and Dwayne after the last Charlee exhibition

As a foreign photographer, there are particular obstacles that Joel had to overcome.

I think that the biggest challenge I have faced as a foreigner is that I didn’t have a local network of friends or clients. I had to start from the very beginning.

Here in Medellin trust isn’t something that is easily given away, you have to earn it, especially as a foreigner.

But being a foreigner isn’t all bad. Joel prides himself on being able to connect Colombians with beautiful destinations they may not have visited yet.

People in Medellin are very curious about life outside of Colombia. They love seeing images from places that they have heard about or fantasize about traveling to one day.

Piso 11 art exhibit at the Charlee

His words of advice for photographers trying to break into their local market:

Decide – make a decision about whether you want to be a hobby photographer or you want to make a life out of it. If you think you are passionate enough about the art form, then do your best to be the best. Sure, some people are naturally talented and have ‘the eye’, but in the end only hard work and practice will help you to improve and reach the next level. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it. There are many people who say that they want to be photographers, but only a few are willing to put in the necessary work, so decide and work hard.

If you’re in town, come join us Thursday night at 7 p.m. at the Charlee Hotel, located in Parque Lleras near Juan Valdez.

You can check out Joel’s latest photos on his website and his Facebook page. You can also check out pics from a fun photo shoot I did with him last year.

  • Ali

    Good post!

    While a hobbyist at best, a take my hat off to anyone who decides to take it up as a proffession.

    A few other things to consider:

    Local competition: From my last foray to Medellin, met many talented photographers with the likes of Fabito Gomez, Felipe Bohorquez, etc being top class professionals.

    Have Unique Selling Points that they don’t .And this day and age, being foreign isn,t enough to cut it in this day and age. along those lines:

    Find a niche within a niche: It’s competitive out there as it is. This will ultimately be your calling card and something you should try to excel at.

    Also, it goes without saying that speaking the language goes along way as well as understanding of local culture.

    But beyond that, as has been mentioned, hard work, passion and good marketing skills will take you a long way

  • http://dev.jasminewanders.com Jasmine Stephenson

    Great tips, thanks Ali.