What is a travel photographer? Who are these people who roam the world taking pictures and what is that they really do?
If you go to the ever present search engine Google and enter the phrase “what is a travel photographer?” then you’re likely to hit upon a number of pages trying to nail down just what it is that a travel photographer does.
Wikipedia is at the top of this list and defines it as “A genre of photography that may involve the documentation of an area’s landscape, people, cultures, customs and history.”
It “may” involve the documentation of an area’s landscape? It “may” involve the people etc. Seriously? Really! Come on, that’s pretty much what a travel photographer does. Well, I know in my extensive travels across this world it’s exactly what it is that I do.
Landscape should really include the urban landscape too. If you say the word landscape to people then the inevitable rolling hills or wide spaces will come to mind. But the urban landscape is an ever present part of our daily lives and just like the countryside the urban landscape is forever changing. We are absolutely documenting what goes on here.
If you were to take a city such as London. This sprawling city of nearly 9.5 million people and counting is forever changing. You only have to look at the financial centre near to St Paul’s cathedral to see that. Great skyscrapers popping up every year or so.
For me, if I am asked what my job is the default response is that I am a professional landscape and travel photographer. I define the landscape part to people using the wide open space part and travel part as the different cultures that I am capturing or to chime in with Wikipedia’s definition, what I am documenting.
In the beginning of my career I was very much a pure landscape photographer. I would go out of my way to document the landscape. I would go to every effort I could to exclude people from my images. I simply didn’t want humans to invade my images but I realized early on in my professional career that this was in fact a daft thing to do.
Adding in people to my images added in another dimension. It gave the images life and, if I was careful how I captured them, it wouldn’t date an image. By the dating of an image I mean people’s clothing and hairstyles etc.
The cityscapes that I capture are more difficult to do in this respect because they are changing everyday. The slow creeping of urban development isn’t stopping for no one.
But what of cultures? The cultural heritage that inhabits our vast world. I take a different view of it. I capture what is in front of me and actively document it in order to preserve in the digital pixels of my camera the culture that is there.
Take the eagle hunters of western Mongolia. A dying breed of people that is becoming a thing of the past. Yes, there are still a number of them out there but certainly their numbers are less. Do I ignore this amazing culture? Do I turn my back and only look at the vast landscapes behind them? Absolutely not! Some of my best images from 2019 came from documenting this amazing culture. If I had turned my camera lens elsewhere I would have missed some amazing opportunities.
Or how about the bustling markets in Vietnam? These bustling street markets aren’t there for tourists to gawk at. They are a functional every day event for the local people to get their fresh fruits; vegetables; meat and fish. It just happens that the highly photogenic and, if you take the time to learn the language, you can politely ask if you can take a picture. You’ll find the majority of the time it’s a yes. I did this in September and October 2019. I came away from the small city of Hoi An with some extremely memorable images. Were some posed? Of course but in a very loose way.
I see my role as a travel photographer to capture a particular country at its best. It doesn’t matter if it’s my home country of the United Kingdom or if it’s some far off land such as Japan. Wherever I go I aim to first capture the well known places then on a further visit start to drill down further into the culture. And with the latter I tend to start learning the language so that I can get the best out of the people and their culture.
What is a travel photographer? It’s many things to many people. All will converge though on many of the things above.
If you’re interested in joining me on my own travels then you always have the option of one of my photography tours.