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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Commercial travel photography


As the editorial photography world continues to shrivel and die many 'editorial' travel photographers are turning their hand to the more lucrative area of commercial travel photography.

You know the kind of stuff I mean? Beautiful couples in a rainforest pointing up at some fictitious bird in the tree (out of frame) and smiling like a cheshire cat.

For those of us who are used to a documentary style, natural kind of photography adjusting to this new way of seeing the world can be quite a challenge.

This is an area of photography where the latest techniques in HDR, post-processing and 'fancy stuff' don't necessarily go down with everybody. Mainly commercial travel clients want to show their product as naturally as possible while at the same time making it as perfect as possible.

The challenge then becomes to create an image that stays true to your own style whilst selling what it is you're photographing. In many ways travel photography has always been a sell. Even when you do work for a magazine you're selling a destination. Granted it's a soft sell but you're looking for the attractive, interesting sides to a destination. With commercial travel photography you're selling what the client is paying you to sell - namely their travel product.

My style tends to stay as close to my editorial work as possible. I tend to go for strong, graphic compositions that attempt to look like they're not set-up. This isn't always possible because you have to show couples enjoying their breakfast on the balcony with the wonderful view etc. And yes you sometimes have to have them pointing at fictitious birds in the trees . The challenge is to go beyond the cliches and to have clients who want to go beyond what everybody around them is doing.

And so every so often it comes together and you produce a picture that could work both commercially and editorially, and really speaks to you as a photographer as a stand-alone image. This is one such picture for me. Taken at the beautiful Thala Beach Lodge up near Port Douglas, I used to run photo tours up there and had been on this beautiful headland looking down at the beach many times before.

So when they asked me to do some promotional shots for them straight away I knew I wanted to get up on this bluff at sunrise and photograph a couple walking along the beach. It's one of the most beautiful beaches you'll find anywhere and all the times I'd been up there nobody photogenic ever walked into view. The disadvantage of documentary photography - you have to hope somebody walks into your frame!

So I headed up to the bluff and instructed my models to walk down the beach towards me, turn around and do it again a couple times more until I had the shot I wanted. The light was perfect, the beach was looking great and the patterns on the waves were spectacular. When it all comes together like this I just love my job!

As magazine travel work (and magazines for that matter!) dries up, stock photography goes the way of the bargain basement and documentary images get in line behind the public's craving for images of Hollywood celebrities, traditional travel photographers are searching for ways to stay afloat. Commercial travel (tourism?) photography is one such avenue if you can manage to balance your own personal way of seeing the world with a new clientele. Who's up for the challenge?

3 comments:

Graham Cahill said...

Another thought provoking post Paul. I am hopeless at the commercial side...I tend to freeze up and feel utterly stupid framing a shot that I am hoping to look in the end, like a natural scene. But as you say...learn to swim or you are going to sink! To that end, I am now working on grabbing what I can, when I can, as I know a commercial use for a grab (or posed) shot may be just around the corner. I dont do it nearly often enough though...something I must get over.

Dean Birinyi said...

Editorial isn't the only industry experiencing rapid change.

Photographers from all disciplines now have the opportunity to expand their horizons and get out of their comfort zones. This economic turmoil will be a growth opportunity for the ones who can make it and a weeding out of the less determined/committed.

Paul Dymond said...

Without a doubt Dean, I just wrote about the editorial travel side of things because that's what I've been doing for over a decade.

I think getting out of our comfort zones is always something photographers have had to do, but for a lot of the work we do we've always had our clients as publishers. That will change and it still remains to be seen who will be paying us for documentary-style travel work. A challenge to be sure!