Up Your Travel Photography Game | 2018 Edition


Thank you for reading this presentation, if you have any questions please ask them in the comments section and I'll do my best to answer you. 

Author Justin Mott

#AskMOTT Photography 101 Cheat Sheets

I created these quick and easy cheat sheets for all of you out there interested in expanding your photography skills.

Manual photography can be intimidating, but it doesn’t have to be. Sure, you can shoot on pure auto mode these days with your camera and things will look ok but you shouldn’t strive for just ok.

In order to take your creativity to the next level you need to understand the basics about photography such as ISO, aperture, and shutter speed.  Once you understand how they all work together your creative options are unlimited and I guarantee your photos will improve drastically.

Share these with your friends interested in photography and print them out and store them in your camera bag for when you go out.  Master your camera in manual mode and you too can shoot like a pro.

Check out more photography tips! Look for #AskMott across social channels and tag your posts with this hashtag to ask me any questions you have about being a better photographer


Getting Serious About Your Photography Business - Part 2


Save yourself a whirlwind of trouble and establish what is included in the price and what isn’t in your quote and in your contract. Unless it’s a large scale advertising shoot of just a couple images our price covers cropping, color correction, color balance nothing else.  Additional work such as removing objects costs additional money. Also make it clear again on the shoot right away. Every shoot we do someone from the client side will make a comment on the first shot “oh he can just Photoshop that out” and yes many things are possible with Photoshop. I politely correct them right away to manage expectations.  There is a huge difference between changing someone’s hairstyle in 200 wedding pictures compared to changing a white sky to blue and removing a dust spot.

Most people don’t understand how much work goes into retouching, they think there is just a button on your computer that says “Photoshop” and you press it and it just fixes things. They don’t understand it’s an art and time consuming. It’s not their fault for thinking like that and we can’t change that way of thinking but what we can do is clear up those misconceptions in our contracts and on the shoot. For our wedding work we include color correction, we don’t do smooth skin toning or removing of objects. Yes you see that in our portfolio but you also see that in our contract .  We’ve had small commercial clients put 30 retouching notes on a single image and gigantic global clients get the first round of edits and not ask for anything else, they were perfectly satisfied. It’s all about educating your clients from the beginning on what is possible and what’s not and what’s included in their price and what’s not. Set the tone early (pun intended).


Learn how to sell yourself and believe in what you do. Understand your product and the market for your product. Don’t market yourself as a guy who sometimes will do food shots or weddings if he’s asked to. Do you want to hire that guy/gal?


I’m not an organized person but we started using Dropbox and it simplifies my life. All of our company documents  there and are accessible no matter where I am. Every job has a job number and relevant files in a dedicated folder so it’s all right there when I need to access it.


I typically avoid barter deals for things I don’t need like luxury purchases such as a nice hotel room or whatever it is. Don’t get caught in that trap of a potentially large client not valuing your work and your time. They might want to trade you few nights for some hotel shots but then they will never hire you for a paid job. I’ve traded with a client at a hotel before and will do it again but only have I’ve worked with that hotel on a paid job and only if I see true value in staying there. I’m not saying don’t trade, just be strategic about it.  For example trade with a lawyer, take their company profile shots in exchange for  some advice and contract work. Just be clear, make them understand your true value from the start. Make a proper quote so they see your prices and then it will be a clear trade. I traded a wedding shoot with our graphic designers Croc and Plover. I couldn’t afford them at the time and it proved to be an amazing deal I hope for both of us.


Ask your prospective client “What It Your Budget?”. This is probably the best piece of advice I can give you. You’d be surprised how many clients will just be upfront with you. This isn’t an opportunity to overcharge but it can help a ton with assessing your quote. If the budget is higher for a video for example we can rent a crane or use our drone, if the budget is smaller then we might need to skip these things and shoot less days. For a photo shoot it could be a matter of terms and usage of images. The commercial quoting system is the wild west, just ask their budget and then work from there on how to give the client the most value and best product for that budget. This question will also save you time and effort if the two of you aren’t even close on pricing.


Have a professional site, Facebook or Flickr don’t count and never show your work to prospected client on your phone.


Rolex and an Armani tailored suit for every shoot and meeting, no exceptions. Just kidding, but something between that and board shorts , T-Shirt, and flip-flops should suffice. 


I don’t knock you for trying and for some it works well but the key word there is “some”. When I hear this at panel discussions to new photographers as a viable solution to how to make a living in photography it kills me. The people talking about doing this in panels have a huge number of followers and at some point even those followers will get sick of donating money. Before I get angry looks at the next documentary photography festival and shunned from the scarf totting community that I feel like I’m a part of, I get it that it works for some of you but it’s not a realistic business plan for most. I have a few friends who make this work and I respect them for it but even they will admit it’s a struggle.  Try it out, but don’t rely on it as a way to be a professional photographer.


Work isn’t just going to flow in because you are a talented photographer or because you won a big award. You have to be proactive and go get it yourself. I get shit for OP(Over Promoting)  and at times maybe I can OD on OP’ing but I’m fine with that. I like getting paid to take photos for a living and promoting on social media helps me do that. It works for me, it helps clients remember our diverse business and hopefully they think of us when they need visuals because they remember that picture we posted on Facebook that is relevant do their business.

Most photographers don’t want to talk business because they feel it takes away from their art or their vision. I’ve personally had multiple photographers angry or weary of me for being a businessman. Not a shady business, but just a businessman. This doesn’t mean I’m lurking down alleyways making shady deals and trying to trick people and rip them off, ha ha gotcha!!!  I sell other photographers for weddings and commercial assignments and guess what I take a percentage just like an agency does. We both make money, to me this is a good thing.  My business has employees, offices, marketing expenses etc. and all that costs money but that’s what generates assignments. I’ve had people try to belittle my work as a documentary photographer because I also shoot weddings and commercial work. Shooting weddings and commercial work doesn’t somehow magically make you a bad photojournalist; I’d argue it makes you a better photographer.  My background as a photojournalist and as a documentary photographer helped created who am I today as a photojournalist, wedding photography, cinematographer, and commercial photographer. I personally love weddings, resort shoots, editorial assignments because I love photography.  I realize not everyone is like this and this is just what works for me personally. My point isn’t that everyone out there should shoot weddings, commercial, and editorial work , my point is that if you want to make a living as a photographer you need to start thinking like a business owner. You don’t have to be rich but you do need to survive long term financially. Don’t be ashamed of being a businessman or businesswoman(politically correct points) in whatever path of photography you choose. Embrace it and you perhaps you won’t have to Crowd Fund your retirement plan.

I hope this advice was helpful and please post your own useful tips in the comments section and yes I’ll accept a few wise-ass comments.

Check out more photography tips! Look for #AskMott across social channels and tag your posts with this hashtag to ask me any questions you have about being a better photographer


Justin Mott

Justin Mott is an award-winning editorial, travel, and commercial photographer and director based in Vietnam for over a decade. He has shot over 100 assignments throughout Vietnam and Southeast Asia for the New York Times covering tragedy, travel, features, business, and historical moments.

Getting Serious About Your Photography Business - Part 1

I’ve made almost every mistake a photographer can make in running their own photography business from running up credit card debt to doing jobs without contracts.  

The biggest leap I made was when I decided to stop acting like a freelancer giddy just to get an assignment and started being proactive thinking like a small business owner trying to build a brand sustainable for the future. I never worked in actual office so I got a late start but better late than never.

I’ve had the privilege through festivals, photography events, and workshops to meet a lot of young and old aspiring photographers and what I’ve found are missing from these workshops and festivals is an injection of reality and education about the business world of photography. So I’ve decided to inject, if you don’t want to be injected, stop reading (sorry that really sounded gross and I promise not to use the world inject for the rest of this blog).

Here are some pointers, some big and some small,  that I’ve come up with for all of you who want to make a full-time living off of photography. No matter what genre of photography suits your fancy, this advice should apply to you. For any of you not in the photography world this is going to sound bizarre because you will think all of this is pretty damn obvious. I’m not claiming to reinvent the lens here (see what I did there) but sometimes we all need a reminder.


No matter how old you are start a retirement plan today!!! Open up an IRA, Roth IRA, or Self-Employment IRA account, it takes just a few minutes to sign up. I have a Self-Employment IRA through Vanguard, and the money automatically comes out of my bank account every month and is invested in a mutual fund. If you are in your 30’s ask your friends with corporate jobs how much is in their 401K retirement plan already, the number will astound you. It’s not too late; you will need this money one day I guarantee it,  so sign up now.


This applies mostly to expats but if you live abroad you need something to cover your ass in case of an emergency. I used a broker in Hong Kong and got a plan from Allianz that works for me. One bad accident could bankrupt you.


Injuries, death in the family, emergencies, etc. you need to have money in case things go wrong. A lot of financial planners will tell you to have about 3 months worth of living expenses in liquid savings account as a bare minimum.


Stay on top of this, know what is acceptable to write off and keep good records either with a program like QuickBooks or hire an accountant.


For every job you do should have a contract signed before you do anything. Contracts are negotiable so remember that and don’t get bullied, unless of course you are working for in that case just sign the contract J. Templates are available online or hire a lawyer to draft you one. I hired a lawyer then made necessary adjustments. A good contract will save you and it will let your clients know you are serious about your work. Even with friends have a contract; it’s not about trust it’s about having something in writing signed so that you won’t have any confusion later on. I work with some of my closest friends and we have contracts that we mutually negotiated signed leaving no room for misinterpretations.




If you want to be more than an individual and build a brand, trademark your company. Your lawyer can do it for you and this will protect you from someone stealing your name and logo after you’ve built that successful recognizable brand.


Separate your business from personal bank accounts. I have a company credit card and bank account for my business and only those accounts are used for business transactions. Come tax time this will make things a lot easier and it will be easier just in terms of understanding your financials.


This might seem like an obvious one but I see it all the time. People like to make that joke about “I’m on (Insert Country Here) Time” or “I’m an artist” excuse, screw that. Be on time for all meetings, shoots, conference calls, and deadlines. Don’t forget photography is  subjective so things like being professional and being likable can always help later on when it comes time for the client to approve your work or hire you again. 


If you travel a lot get rewards programs for airlines, credit cards, hotels. Use them all time, they add up to great deals and will save you a lot of money. This dude has a website that offers advice on this, bookmark this.


Don’t do any wedding or commercial work without an f’ing deposit. For editorial work it’s damn hard to do so because they are so last minute. For everything else don’t reserve your time, book airfare/hotels, and turn down other jobs until you get a deposit. We do a 50% non-refundable deposit, that at least covers expenses and more importantly covers our ass from a client cancelling last minute. Without a contract or a deposit it’s really easy for a client to be flaky but it’s amazing how much they respect your time when they’ve paid you a significant amount already. I’ve helped a friend or bended a few times and guess what, those are the times I got burned so just don’t do it. Make it company policy and make sure friends and good clients understand it’s not personal. Sometimes a company will plead with you saying they can’t get you the money in time, guess what,  they can if they want you. They can pay their lease, pay their employees, etc. so they can pay you. Can’t and don’t feel like it are two different things. Be strict on this one, it’s a normal practice.


Don’t give up the goods until you see the $$$. It’s easy for client to say after they received the final high-resolution images to come up with excuses for a discount or delayed payments. We get our final 50% before we give any high-resolution images or video files. Again, we’ve made this mistake. We’ve had clients love the images and say so in an email only to delay 6 months to pay us or try to weasel a discount because image 27 wasn’t what they had in mind. Some will just make things up just to get a deal, not often but it happens.  It’s a pretty fair and simple system we use. We set up a locked online (We use Photoshelter and love it) web resolution gallery of images for the client to review. Once they sign off and pay us the remaining balance we send them the high-resolution images or video within 24 hours of receiving the payment via online gallery. Don’t do anything until you see the actually money in your account, just be safe. It’s a fair system for you and your client and put these details in your contract and terms up front.

Check out more photography tips! Look for #AskMott across social channels and tag your posts with this hashtag to ask me any questions you have about being a better photographer


Justin Mott

Justin Mott is an award-winning editorial, travel, and commercial photographer and director based in Vietnam for over a decade. He has shot over 100 assignments throughout Vietnam and Southeast Asia for the New York Times covering tragedy, travel, features, business, and historical moments.

Hue Of Hues - Make Friends, Shoot Later

“We marvel at the shots of people in major publications – seemingly captured au naturel. While street photography can be done completely organically, a little set up before releasing the shutter improves your chances of getting that money shot.


Simple sentences like “look over at that tree on the left” or “tilt your head a little” could dramatically change the tone of your shot.


It’s your job to make them feel at ease, whether it’s by engaging them in simple conversation or just smiling.


However, if you find yourself in a situation where communication is tricky, then experiment with interesting ways to frame your shot. Look out for elements and texture to add something interesting into your image if their expression or body language isn’t working.”

To read the full blog packed with awesome photography tips visit HERE.

Hue Of Hues - Portraiture Styles

“From the bustling streets in the city’s center to the last fishing village in Hue, opportunities for gorgeous portraits are endless. But how does one best portray these interesting characters?

There are two ways you can go about street portraiture – staged and un-staged. Some of the best shots do happen by chance – just make sure you always have your camera somewhere nearby! ”

To read the full blog packed with awesome photography tips visit HERE.

The Pursuit Of Transience With Justin Mott

“While the wonders of travel are revealed in the destination, the journey is where the real magic happens. From the strangers you pass briefly to the fleeting sights of ever-changing landscapes, you experience a limbo in time, a sense of transience, that is an adventure on its own.

The bustling Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok is the epitome of transience, a gantry to hordes of travelers from the world over. Just stepping through its doors transports you to a different time – one dominated by rail travel. “

The first part of my 3 part video series with Canon Imaging Asia Snapshot blog is live. It’s all about travel photography and testing out brand new Canon gear in the field.

Check it out here and share with your photography friends.

To read the full blog packed with awesome photography tips visit here.

The Pursuit Of Transience

Justin’s photography tips article featured on Canon Snapshot‘s blog.

“Many will tell you that train travel is a great way to see a country, but they don’t usually mention it’s also a photography goldmine. The obvious rolling landscapes and portraits of strangers aside, there is plenty one can capture – even more if you’re going to be onboard for a while.


Travel is exciting and filled with boundless energy, and one of the best ways to conceptually reflect that in your images is through the use of colourWe are surrounded by colour, which is why it’s easy to take for granted, but by paying attention to your surroundings, it could transform a mediocre photo into a powerful one.

  Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, f/4, 35mm, 1/2000sec, ISO100

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, f/4, 35mm, 1/2000sec, ISO100

Deep, saturated colours tend to have more impact, and the key to using dramatic colours is to keep your composition simple. Stick to a few blocks of colour if you want a bigger impact, as having multiple colours in your image can detract from that.

If colour is the main focus of your image, then be sure to pay attention to the lighting. Light has colour– a candle or setting sun casts warmer tones while the light in the shadows of a sunny day tends to result in bluer hues. Play around with the white balance setting of your camera and remember, even using the “wrong” white balance could result in a powerful photo!”

Visit Canon Snapshot to read full article.

The Pursuit Of Transience Shooting Inside Outside The Train

Justin’s photography tips article featured on Canon Snapshot‘s blog.

“Train journeys are not as monotonous as you think. As a photographer, there are plenty of opportunities to capture the ever-changing landscapes outside the train as well as the scenes inside. The trick is to pay attention, plan well, and be extra quick in maneuvering your camera, because there is no time to lose.

  Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, f/4, 1/1250sec, ISO100 – A view of the railroad tracks from aboard a train heading from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF35mm f/1.4L II USM lens, f/4, 1/1250sec, ISO100 – A view of the railroad tracks from aboard a train heading from Bangkok to Chiang Mai

Traveling on a railway locomotive conjures a series of imagery: when Harry and his friends travel to the magical Hogwarts in Harry Potter, or the Whitman brothers and their journey of spiritual self-discovery along the Indian countryside in The Darjeeling Limited. While the journey itself exude a sense of tranquility that gives one ample time for reflection and recollection, there is much more to your ride. The picture-perfect rural landscapes, the impeccably dressed porters, the inquisitive travelers… These invigorating sights, uncommon in our daily travels, are perfect subjects for your train photography collection.”

Visit Canon Snapshot to read full article.

The Pursuit Of Transience

Justin was recently featured on the Canon’s Snapshot blog. 

“Unlike a flight, slow travel in a train requires a different set of essentials, as well as equipment. Find out what Justin Mott takes along on his train journey from Bangkok to Chiang Mai.

Keep it light
For this trip, I brought along my Canon EOS-1D X Mark II, EF35mm f/1.4L II USM lens and EF16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens. When riding on a long train ride such as this, I like to pack light with my clothes and my gear, one body and one to two lenses at the most.”

To read the full article please visit Canon Snapshot.

My New Free #ILoveVietnam Lightroom Preset Is Now Available

I created this preset to highlight what I love most about Vietnam. I love the amazing people and the gorgeous textures you can find in every day life from North to South.

This filter is best used for portrait or detail shots where you want your subject to pop and you want to showcase rich textures.

This week I’ll be posting images from Vietnam that were toned only with the #ILoveVietnam preset.

In order to receive this preset for free all you have to do is scroll down to the bottom of page, and enter your email address into the “Sign up for news and tips” section. If you already signed up, refer a friend and we will send it to you for free 🙂.

The Genesis Of A 2 Minute Portrait

I always recommend taking as much time as you can to craft your image to perfection. In reality, we’re often limited by time; your subject might only have a few minutes to spare, the light could be fading, or your battery is dying (shame on you for not prepping properly!).

But when photography is your profession, no excuses will cut it for your client. Professional photographers must produce top quality images, especially under pressure.

My client here is the Intercontinental Hotel Group and my subject is 3-Star Michelin Chef Pierre Gagnaire.

We’d already taken quite a bit of his time throughout the day to shoot a video and he was enjoying a short coffee break before starting a busy dinner service. That’s when I spotted some gorgeous light sinking behind the mountain scenery that surrounds the stunning resort.

I knew it would help make a beautiful portrait for my client, but the race was really on: the sun was almost gone and I really didn’t like pestering Chef Gagnaire again, but I just had to. I explained how beautiful the light was and promised it would only take two minutes, which it did. Two minutes exactly and I got the one frame I wanted. Here is my full take from start to finish.

Things to learn from this two minute portrait:

1. Don’t be shy! No one will ever see the beautiful shot you didn’t take because you were too shy to ask someone to take their portrait. The best photographers push boundaries and are never shy.

2. Just ask! But be polite, confident and sell your subject on why it will be worth it – in my experience people feed of this energy and you’ll be pleasantly surprised at your success rate.

3. Have a game plan and get your settings ready! Dial in your settings ahead of time and if you can have someone stand in for you before you approach your subject.  You don’t want to be awkwardly fumbling around with your settings (especially in front of a famous chef – luckily this one had much more patience than the likes of Gordon Ramsey!)

4. Never let them see you sweat! Ok, that’s a tough one for me because I sweat a lot, but what I mean is  be cool and confident. If you are unsure of yourself and what your doing it will make your subject uneasy and most likely will result in a bad portrait.

You can also take a look at my post-production process of this image in Adobe Lightroom.

Check out more photography tips! Look for #AskMott across social channels and tag your posts with this hashtag to ask me any questions you have about being a better photographer.