Away We Go! A travel photographer strikes out on his own

LAST YEAR I LOST THE SWEETEST GIG EVER. It’s not a long story – newspapers, cutbacks, editors getting packaged out and freelancers dumped on the desolate shores of the jobless islands. It didn’t take me long to realize that I missed going places.

So what to do?

I have been taking photos professionally for over thirty years, but travel photography packed more fun into every minute on the clock than any other work I’d done. I needed to get back out there again with my camera, and it quickly became obvious what I had to do.

I had to build my own pirate ship.

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By the Hollywood sign, Los Angeles, 2016

And because swashbuckling has come to mean something very different than it used to, I’m talking about a travel blog. This travel blog. Which joins an ever more crowded ecosystem of travel blogs out there as newspapers, cutbacks, blah blah blah you know what I’m talking about.

I had met travel bloggers on trips while working at the sweet gig, so I knew there was no shortage of other writers and photographers hoping for a seat on the bus. How could I stand out from this growing crowd?

And then I had the idea.

What do we bring back from vacations, besides that colourful t-shirt with the naughty pun that falls apart in the wash after a year and the bottles of duty free? Photos. Dozens, even hundreds of photos, in cameras and on phones, posted to Facebook or stored on a hard drive. Photos of beaches and monuments and Monet’s house and sunsets and dinners where we drank a bit too much wine.

We’re taking more photos than ever before, but everyone is always complaining to me that they never turn out the way they saw them at the place, at the time. Blurry, faded snapshots printed by drug stores were cherished by our parents and grandparents, while we forget about all those photos lingering in a folder on our laptops or left behind on the phone that died before our plan had run out.

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Donnie Sexton, near Cooke City, Montana, 2016

I remembered one particularly life-changing trip at the sweet gig, through the Beartooth Pass in Montana on the way to Yellowstone National Park. Our little group of travel junketeers was mostly photographers, and so was our veteran guide, Donnie Sexton. We never drove by a dozen great photos on our way from one itinerary stop to another because Donnie knew they were there, and helped us get the shots.

And then I remembered the road running up the side of the old caldera in San Miguel de Allende. It was the last day of that trip and we were on our way to the airport in Mexico City and the guide said that maybe we could stop here and take a photo of the city. All along this road I kept spotting great photos, and there at the top of the hill was that epic panoramic shot of the city below that I’d been trying to get for days.

Wouldn’t it be useful if there was someone who could tell you where and how and when to get that epic shot, in addition to suggesting a great place to eat or a good museum or a few other neat spots for photos nobody knew about except the locals?

And why couldn’t that someone be me?

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Selfie, Beartooth Pass, Montana, 2016

Of course travel photos aren’t just about those epic shots you get framed and have hanging in the breakfast nook. These days they’re about Facebook and Twitter and – most exalted of them all – Instagram, that 24/7 full-on roaring hosepipe of images. Wouldn’t it be nice of someone could tell you about those Instagramable spots, pregnant with selfie potential?

That person, I hope, will be me. I’ll try to bring my thirty-plus years of experience as a professional to the very important business of helping readers get some really great travel shots that won’t end up forgotten in some Pictures folder with an undistinguished title like “DSCF2891.”

I have a few trips lined up with some very nice people who think my little pirate ship is a good idea, and with luck I’ll get a few more, and hopefully this will turn into an adventure that I can share with readers who love taking photos as much as I do. And with that, as I said up at the top, away we go.


PHOTO AT TOP: Mariachis, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, 2016. Mariachis don’t do anything for free, so I had to pay these guys a hundred pesos to move to a part of the square in front of the cathedral where the light was nicer. Best hundred pesos I ever spent.

Photos and story © 2018 Rick McGinnis All Rights Reserved