Imagine selling your house to travel all around the world. That's exactly what American blogger and photographer, Gary Arndt, did back in 2007. Since then, Gary has made a name for himself travelling across every continent, to around 140 different countries, as he documents the nature, landscape, culture and wildlife around him.
This month, we had a chat with Gary about what motivates him to continue to travel and create, the challenges of travel photography, as well as his advice for photographers seeking to do more travel on their own.
Hello Gary, thank you for joining us! You’ve been a travel photographer for many years. What got you started in photography?
I got started in photography after buying an expensive SLR in preparation for an around the world trip in 2007. Soon after the trip started, I realised that this expensive camera wasn’t going to take good photos on its own. I started an incremental process of trying to improve my photography.
What was the first trip you took for photography that really helped you to develop the appreciation and passion for travel photography?
Really, I’ve been on one big trip. It started, as I said above when I sold my home in 2007 to start traveling around the world. All my travels for almost 10 years were part of that single “trip”.
Taj Mahal. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
What motivates you to continue to travel and create?
Traveling to me is a way to learn. The Earth is the biggest classroom there is. The more you travel, the more you learn, and the amount you can learn is never-ending.
I know that only a small fraction of people have the time and resources to do what I can do, so creating is a way for me to share with them the places I visit.
When it comes to travel photography, what has been your favourite location on Earth to capture?
The answer I always give to this question is South Georgia Island. Located between South America and Africa, and above Antarctica, it is one of the largest penguin breeding areas in the world. When you first step ashore, there is nothing else quite like it in the world. Being able to photograph a veritable sea of penguins in quite an experience.
Ice cave. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
What is the greatest spectacle that you have ever seen during your travels?
That is really hard to pick. I’ve seen the Northern Lights, I’ve landed on a nuclear aircraft carrier, had a front-row seat at a Formula 1 race, and have been diving in the ruins of the Lighthouse of Alexandria.
What has been your most intense photographic experience?
It would probably be photographing polar bears up in Churchill, Manitoba. An amazing experience and the year I went there was one of the best years for polar bear photography in ages. We saw 44 polar bears in one day!
Polar bear. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
Out of all your world travels, which places were the most challenging? Were there any locations that left you a bit disappointed?
From a photography perspective, not every place you visit is going to have the same level of photographic potential. From a travel standpoint, however, I can find almost anywhere to be interesting. Too many people just visit the obvious places that get tons of tourism, but those are not necessarily the most interesting places. They just happen to have an airport, a cruise terminal, and hotels.
Which elements are you most interested in when choosing a new destination to which you’ll travel?
I’m always looking to travel somewhere new or to do a new take on a place I’ve been to before. There are some places I’ve visited many times, but I always find a new twist on it when I revisit it.
Always looking for something new to photograph. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
If you were to recommend a place for someone to travel to as their first real photography trip, where would you suggest and why?
If someone isn’t an experienced traveler, I’d suggest someplace in Europe like Rome or Paris. There is an extensive tourism infrastructure there, it is easy to get around, and there is plenty to photograph.
What makes a good photo for you?
A good travel photo should convey a sense of place and create a desire for someone to visit and see it for themselves. One of the highest compliments someone can give me is to say they visited a place because of one of my photos.
A good travel photo should create a desire for the person to visit that place. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
Do you have a combination of camera equipment that is essential for what you do? How important is it to you to have professional camera gear?
I don’t travel with a lot of equipment. In fact, I really can’t as the more I carry, the most difficult it makes traveling. “Professional” equipment to me just means gear that works and can get the job done. I need cameras that can perform well in low light, can capture wildlife and other technical things.
What are your thoughts on the impact that travel photography has had upon the environment? Do you see photography as a way to promote conservation?
If done correctly, it certainly should be. The only real negative I see is Instagram and how it has lead to a lowest common denominator type of experience. Instagram and the pursuit of likes promote shallow content, which leads to people only photographing certain places, and leads to over-tourism.
If we turn the camera away from ourselves and towards the landscape, I think we can raise more awareness.
Of all of the images you have taken, can you narrow them down to just one that you could call your favourite? Describe the reasons why this image stands out amongst your portfolio.
I took this photo below in Lalibela, Ethiopia. I was watching a Coptic church service in a stone-carved church and this priest walked out to take a phone call. The moment was totally unplanned and it is one of my favourite images. I like how the lighting works and I like the juxtaposition of new and old.
Gary's favourite image from his collection. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
For someone just finding they have a passion for photography in general, what would you say is the best thing for them to focus on from the very beginning?
Personally, I think it works better if you have a passion for something else, and then use photography as part of that passion. Have a focus and have a specialisation so you can develop a reputation for photographing that thing.
Use photography as part of your passion. Photo by: 'Gary Arndt'.
Finally, what is your advice for someone wanting to become a travel photographer? What does it take to do this?
Don’t expect to get rich right away. The traditional career path for a travel photographer is all but gone. There are few travel magazines remaining, and those that are around don’t pay very much or are heavily reliant on stock photography sites. I suggest starting a travel blog and using that as a platform to get started working with the travel industry.
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