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Tips from a Top Travel Photographer: Q&A with Steve Davey

6th January 2016

Steve Davey is a travel photographer and writer whose work has been published worldwide. He also runs his own photography courses in London and a series of travel photography tours to some very exotic destinations (we’re pretty jealous of the places he’s visited!).

We caught up with him to discover more about how he got into photography and to get his top tips for taking better travel snaps, so you can create a travel photography book like no other.

“I loved the chaos and unfamiliarity of being on the road and thought that working as a travel photographer would be the perfect way to see the world!”

How did you first get into photography?

I first got into photography at school. I wasn’t allowed to leave school during free periods, but if I had a camera I could just head on out of school at anytime, and if I got caught I could just say that I was heading out to take pictures. I have been using the same excuse ever since and still sometimes get away with it!

What was it about travel photography that appealed to you?

Quite simply: I love travel. I loved the chaos and unfamiliarity of being on the road and thought that working as a travel photographer would be the perfect way to see the world! I also love the photographic variety of being a travel photographer. I can be photographing a remote landscape one day, a bustling market the next and a festival the day afterwards. I have photographed from planes, underwater and at the top of a mountain!

Where’s your favourite place that you’ve visited?

I have a few: I love Svalbard in the Arctic, Laos and just about anywhere in India; especially the Himalayan kingdom of Ladakh.

“Photography is a great excuse to walk up to people and meet them!”

Is there anywhere on your wishlist that you haven’t been to yet?

I haven’t been to the Antarctic, or Bhutan. Both are on the list if I can arrange some work to give the excuse I need to go!

Is there a particular photo you’ve taken that you really love?

I have a few actually. These are my current favourites.

Snake Charmers in Marrakech

I love the low viewpoint of this shot, and the originality. It was a shot that I planned and took the right equipment out to allow me to shoot it. It was also a lot of fun!

Burning Barrels, Ottery St Mary

The Burning Barrels festival is how the people of Ottery St Mary celebrate Guy Fawkes Night. They carry flaming tar soaked barrels through the crowds just for the sheer hell of it. This shot relied on good flash technique. I used a coloured gel to balance the flash with the flames. It also relied on getting very close with a wideangle lens, and waiting for everyone else to jump out of the way first to give me a clear shot!

Sadhu at the Ganga Sagar Mela

I was shooting for a book on islands around the world for the BBC and was lucky enough to visit this little known festival. I had a great time, and got to spend some time with some of the collection of sadhus (holy men) who hang out there. They walk around naked, covered only in the ash from fires, and are very spiritual, yet pretty friendly if you approach them in the right way!

Land-diving in Vanuatu

I had always wanted to get to see this ancient ritual in Vanuatu and so jumped at the first commercial opportunity. I was shooting a chapter in a book for the BBC. It was a long journey, and somewhat of a leap of faith, as the timings for this ritual are somewhat unpredictable. I was rewarded with great weather and some truly atmospheric images!

Monk welcoming the sunrise, Ladakh

Sometimes you just have to take a risk on something, head out and hope for the best! I had heard of this ritual about an hour’s drive from the main city of Ladakh, and so organised a car to see if it actually happened. Luckily all of the asking around came off and I was in the right place at the right time to take this shot of a monk blowing a conch shell at sunrise!

Do you have any top tips for taking better travel photographs?

  • Get in close and fill the frame. Your pictures will look a lot more exciting and have a lot more impact. You will also be able to engage more with the person or thing that you are photographing.

  • Approach people and interact with them for more sympathetic and meaningful pictures. You will also be rewarded with a lot of great memories too!

  • Try to combine things in the picture. If you photograph something on its own then you will get a picture of what it looks like, but if you photograph two things together then you can set up relations and convey a greater meaning. This might even be as simple as photographing someone against a significant background to tell more of a story about them.

What do you like photographing most?

I love photographing people the best. You can photograph people in any weather, day and night. People are unique, and you have the chance to take a shot that truly sums them up or manages to convey something about their character. And photography is a great excuse to walk up to people and meet them!

“I want people to learn about photography and be inspired, but I also want people to engage with the country they are travelling in, and also have a great time.”

Tell us more about your photography tours.

I had the following feedback from one of my recent tours: “Your love of photography and travel is infectious and I can honestly say I have never laughed or learnt so much on a holiday before!”

If anything sums up what I am trying to achieve with my tours, then it is this. I want people to learn about photography and be inspired, but I also want people to engage with the country they are travelling in, and also have a great time. It is a holiday for them after all. That is a difficult balance to achieve, but over the years, I think that I have worked it out really well.

I set up the tours to complement the first edition of my book Footprint Travel Photography. I teamed up with Intrepid Travel, who are one of the leading names in the adventure travel industry to provide my land arrangements, so that the arrangements will be well organised, and so that people will benefit from full travel industry protection.

I only run about four tours a year to fit with my professional work, and have lead tours to in North Africa, the Middle East and all over Asia. I have forthcoming tours to Ethiopia, Cuba, Bali and Burma!

You’re going to be running photography masterclasses at the Destinations holiday and travel show in February. What can people expect to learn during a masterclass?

The masterclasses at Destinations are very targeted to a particular theme, so you can learn about telling a story through composition, photographing people or introductory or advanced skills. The workshops are based around illustrated talks, but also people have the chance to have some of their work reviewed so that they can get a few personal pointers as to how they can improve. At these workshops they will be educated, entertained and inspired; and will learn a great deal about photography.

For those who are interested in making money from their photography, we have ‘Professional Friday’ featuring a workshop on Working Professionally, and another run by a colleague of mine which focuses on earning money through photolibraries.

Visit http://www.destinationsshow.com/london to find out more about the show and Steve’s masterclasses.

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