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

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Following the travel photography passion - a personal story

I ummed and aahed about where to take this series of posts on the passion for travel photography. Because I don't want to be preaching here. That's not my aim for the blog. My aim is to hopefully throw out some ideas that I think are important and hopefully give you all a few good tips on things that I think work and don't work.

So to continue on with the whole thing about following that passion for travel photography I figured the logical next step would be to talk about my journey to this point as honestly (and passionately!) as I can. And hopefully there'll be a few tidbits in there to take away on your own journey.

Like many of us who love the sound of that shutter button, I didn't choose photography, it chose me. Nothing unusual there, we're all in the same boat I'm sure. But I quickly realised that still lifes, portraits of CEOs and fancy Photoshop techniques wasn't where my heart lied.

Nine months in Africa, followed by a year traipsing around SE Asia, India and Nepal had me obsessed with travel photography. It was all I could think about day and night. A couple of years is a long time to be on the road and as fun as it was, towards the end I was really looking forward to putting down some roots and sorting my images out with the dream of making it into a profession.

Of course the best way to kill a passion (and one I forgot to mention yesterday) is to turn it into your job! I'm happy to say, though, in my case that definitely isn't the case. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I've tried, believe me. I've actually sat down and thought about what I would possibly do if I wasn't a travel photographer - sad I know. And nothing at all came into my head. So I guess I'm stuck with this career.

But following a passion like this is a constant struggle. I meet so many professional photographers who, when they hear what area of photography I work in, the first thing out of their mouths is "Oh I wanted to be a travel photographer but it was too hard (financially unrewarding, competitive...insert your own excuse here) so I turned to weddings."

Good on them I say. They've chosen a path that makes them a good living in a constantly renewable market and I salute them for it. But I just couldn't do it. Even when things were tight financially I couldn't make myself photograph stuff that wasn't my passion. You see I'm also a stubborn bastard sometimes. Cutting off my nose despite my face is my constant motto and thorn in my side. :)

Whether I did the right thing or not I always wonder. Turning down paying jobs because they're not your field of expertise is always a risky proposition. But for me that little nag in the back of my mind telling me that this isn't the path I really want to head down always kept me back.

Following the passion led to another major decision quite recently. For the last ten years I have combined travel photography with writing. In Australia it makes a lot of sense to do this. The best way to travel for free is to get sponsored trips, and the only way to get invited on those is to write. So that's what I did. But a comment by a travel photographer/writer friend a year or so ago got me to thinking.

He mentioned that he was working hard on improving his writing. And it suddenly hit me. I had no passion or drive to become a better writer - at least not in the traditional feature travel article sense.

More importantly I felt that when I was on a travel writer's trip my photography lacked quality. Yes I got some nice images but not much that was spectacular because I didn't have that same intensity that I had when I was just concentrating on the photography. They say men can't multi-task and I guess I was living proof of that.

So I decided to give up the writing side of things. And have turned down quite a few jobs over the last year. Again, probably not a wise move financially but spiritually it's been great. Kind of ironic that I write more now every day than I ever did before but now it's writing about my passion - travel photography.

The other thing I've found about following your passion is that you need to listen to yourself more and those around you less. I'm sure all of us who have blogs log in to the Google Analytics page and check whether people are actually tuning in or not. And cheer when the graph goes up, and sob when it goes down. Feel elated when somebody tells us they like our pictures, and terrible when somebody says they don't really.

As artists I think we're all kind of struggling to have our art liked by other people. But, for me at least, following your passion means doing what you believe and not relying on other people's beliefs to shape how you create your art. Hell if I followed the Google Analytics graph I'd just turn it into the Wide Angle vs Telephoto Lens blog 'cause that's what the most people seem to be interested in. :)

So in the spirit of encouraging you all to follow your passion for travel photography I'd like to offer a few words of advice. Remeber that you can make travel photographs at home. Take the time to really work out what you're passionate about and concentrate on photographing that as well as you possibly can and give up photographing everything else just because you can. Don't worry about what other people say, listen to your own inner voice - it will tell you if you're on the right track. And finally get used to baked beans on toast if you want to make it your career!


Graham said...

A great series of posts Paul. Thanks for taking the time and making the effort mate, thoroughly enjoyed reading your thoughts.

Paul Dymond said...

Thanks Graham, I'm glad you enjoyed the posts. Hope they are of some help.

Travel Photography said...

Hi again Paul.

This post is pretty awesome. I'm a person who oftenly forget why started something, and blond-follow tr4ends and Analytics. This post has given me the encourage to write about what I want to write about and not what searchs says. Thanks, really.

Paul Dymond said...

Hi again!

I would definitely encourage you to write whatever you want. When you write stuff for magazines and newspapers you have to fit into their guidelines. When you write for your own blog you have the opportunity to really show your own personality. People will either love you or hate you but either way you'll be staying true to yourself. The world needs more individuals with strong opinions.