In 2002, I was in Torres del Paine National Park, Chile over the Christmas holiday.
Because of the park’s isolation, changeable weather, and rugged terrain, hotel options are limited and camping is often the only way to be in the right place at the right time—when the light is at its best (first and last light of day).
On Christmas Eve, we camped below the mighty Bariloche Peak—a jagged, 8,530-foot granitic mountain—hoping the next day would bring us good photography conditions. But to my surprise, when I woke up well before dawn on Christmas Day, no one else wanted to leave their warm sleeping bag to join me.
Alone, I clambered up the side of a small hill near our campsite, framed my shot (using a tripod), and waited.
Slowly and ever more beautifully, the sun’s warm rays painted the clouds above the peak pink as it turned the top of the peak dark salmon.
Above it all was a tiny moon getting ready to set. The natural spectacle came and went within a few minutes (the “golden hour” does not last an hour), and I was able to capture it with my camera.
As I happily hiked back to camp, I thought to myself: Merry Christmas indeed.
Fast-forward to Albuquerque, New Mexico, 2017. Our group met at 4:30 a.m. to photograph the Mass Ascension at the Balloon Fiesta.
It was cold, dark, and people hadn’t had their coffee. The situation appeared dim and grim.
As dawn broke, however, hundreds of colorful balloons took to the sky, and our group’s spirits rose with them. As a bonus, a smattering of clouds appeared in the sky, providing our images with a beautiful backdrop.
Suddenly we forgot about the cold and spent the next 90 minutes photographing the spectacle.
It was fun, exhilarating, rewarding.
Experiencing these moments, when you make all the necessary efforts and get the shot, is one of my favorite things about being a travel photographer.
But there are many other things I like about being a photographer, too.
1. Being Your Own Boss: I decided to travel to Torres del Paine because (a) I wanted to see and photograph in Patagonia, and (b) I thought I could write an article about my experience and sell it to a magazine (which I did). Having the flexibility to set your own schedule and itinerary, though scary at times, is awesome!
2. Being Creative: Although I don’t consider myself a fine-art photographer, I enjoy the process of working a subject photographically, looking for the best (or different) angle, waiting for the best light, and using the right piece of equipment (a particular lens or filter, for example)—all of which involves the creative process. I also enjoy the technical challenges that crop up—like being forced to photograph in low light without flash.
3. Learning New Things: Most travel photographers, like me (and probably you), are curious by nature. We want to see what’s on the other side of town, or of the hill, or of the ocean. Being curious in turn leads to learning about all kinds of new things—not just about f-stops and shutter speeds, but also about marketing, developing your images, becoming a better writer, designing and maintaining a website, and so on. I get a kick out of that.
4. Feeling a Sense of Accomplishment: Getting your work published, getting paid for it (OMG!), being asked by a photography group to give a talk about what you do, sharing your knowledge with other photographers, or perhaps winning a photo contest; all of these things will produce a sense of accomplishment that is difficult to match when you work for someone else.
5. Not Getting the Shot (yes, I like this too): I love traveling, being on the go, being outside, meeting new people. None of these things are diminished if I’m unable to get a great shot because of bad weather, a moving truck in front of my subject, or whatever. Instead, I pull out my recipe for making lemonade and make the most out of the situation. This usually means writing notes for future reference (what would be the best time to come back, whether the subject is lit at night), gathering information about the subject that I could use for an article, etc. No matter what, I always get something from every outing.
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