Travel Photographer Interview – Featuring Sherry Ott

Another inspiring travel photographer interview featuring Sherry Ott from Ottsworld.

Bio: Sherry is a refugee from corporate IT who is now a long term traveler, blogger, and photographer. In addition to Ottsworld, she’s also a co-founder of Briefcase to Backpack, a website offering career break travel inspiration and advice. She is one of the driving forces behind Meet, Plan, Go! Events across the country to inspire more people to get out and travel.

What inspired you to become a photographer?

My inspiration was really travel. I took the occasional friend/family photos and typical snapshots, but it wasn’t until I went to Italy that my interest in photography started growing. I made a distinct transition from snapshots to composition and trying to tell a story. The more I traveled, the more I became interested in photography.

I also suppose that the internet had an impact too. It wasn’t until people could start to easily share photos digitally that I started to get feedback and really started to learn about what made a photo great. Now I’ve been traveling for 4 years continuously and I usually pick my destinations based on photography opportunities now! I still do consider myself an amateur…but a serious amateur!

Do you have any formal training? Have you taken any courses?

Once I became interested in photography, I knew I needed to move beyond my point and shoot camera and I enrolled in classes at Photo Manhattan in New York City. I took classes for about 6 months learning the basics and beyond. The main thing is that it really got me out shooting all the time — and that’s what’s important!

What camera(s) do you use on your travels? Do you have a favorite travel
camera bag?

I travel with a Canon 40D and 3 lenses. Since I am constantly traveling — I have to try to remain somewhat light on equipment — so I make due with very little while on the road. I tell myself it makes me a better photographer since you have to fewer choices and equipment and you have to be inventive sometimes!

I have experimented with a few different camera bags, a backpack style and a Crumpler messenger type bag, but I always come back to my first bag — it’s the best I’ve found — mainly because it provides me maximum flexibility. It’s a simple Tamrac 515 Compact Zoom Pack that fits my camera and my main everyday lens. Then I bring the other two lenses in their own little compact lens bags which velcro onto my Tamrac bag. This way I can take all the lenses out with me on a shoot — or simply take one or none!

Then when I’m traveling big distances to a location, I use the Brenthaven backpack as a carry on (Brenthaven Expandable Trek Laptop Backpack). It fits all of my electronics — camera, 3 lenses, macbook, backup drives, phone, books, and a few other little odds and ends. It’s a great backpack that goes beyond a typical camera only backpack and can handle all of your varied equipment.

In your opinion, what makes a good travel photograph?

Someone who can bring you a new look to a very photographed place or landmark — I think that’s a special skill. Lot of people take pictures of the Eiffel Tower — but how can a photographer show you a side of it you haven’t seen before?

I think to be a good, standout travel photographer you have to research your subject. And if your subject is people, I think it’s important to spend time with those people first before you start shooting — I’m talking days, not just walking up to them and taking their photo and leaving. Understand your environment and get to know the people. It will make for better shots in the long run. I want a photographer to tell me a story — all in one shot. Therefore I like photographers who use wider shots and compose it in such a way that it does tell a story.

What have been your top 3 places to photograph so far and why?

I love to photograph people in India and Nepal for one simple reason — they tend to hauntingly stare right through the camera providing these really intense shots. Plus — everyone wants their photo taken and you don’t typically have to coax it out of them or pay them.

I also loved shooting in Mongolia specifically the Gobi Desert. The landscape was so unique and barren — I loved using a wide angle lens and trying to capture the vastness of the landscape.

Finally — I love shooting markets – anywhere. There’s something about the people who work there and the way the products are always set up. It provides great opportunities for composition and repetition type shots.

What do you enjoy most about being a travel photographer?

It takes me some wonderful places first of all! I think my favorite thing is to be able to go to a remote location and capture the culture there to share with people who will most likely never get a chance to see it. I also really enjoy it when I am able to do candid shots of people and then get prints made and give them to the people. This isn’t always possible and it depends on where I’m at and how long I’m staying. However there is nothing more rewarding then getting the pictures in the hands of the subjects! They typically rarely have photos of themselves and they are overjoyed to have this lasting memory.

You have a lot of really great portrait photography on your site. Do language
barriers ever affect your work when you are photographing people?

Thanks! I don’t think it affects me too much. I don’t know any other languages, but I’ve been able to get by ok. However — I do realize that if I have someone who can translate or a local that speaks English, I can normally get much deeper into a culture. When I traveled to Laos I went with a photographer who spoke the language and we were able to have much better access into villages and with the locals than I ever would have been able to get on my own!

So — if you can find a local who can speak English, it’s a good idea to potentially hire them to help you really get deeper into a culture and get even better opportunities for shots. However, if you can’t do that, then practice up on your charade skills — they have gotten me a long way!

Do you believe the phrase ‘A picture is worth a thousand words?’

Absolutely…Yes, yes Yes. That’s why I love to photograph people, I think their eyes alone can speak a thousand words. However I find that it’s important to make sure that the subject is actually looking into the lens, being patient and waiting for that moment where they make eye contact with the lens — then they are speaking to you.

What are a few tips you would give someone who wants to pursue travel

It’s not an easy business, and I certainly don’t know that I’m successful at it. It’s still not a main form of income for me. However I also don’t spend as much time as I should on the marketing and infrastructure side of it. It’s a business like anything else and you have to understand how to market yourself and how to network . It’s not enough to simply travel and take pretty pictures. It’s a business and you have to hustle. Despite what my family members think, National Geographic doesn’t just call you up one day out of the blue.

I haven’t taken this class, however I have seen the whole curriculum and I think it would provide a decent start to not only understanding the photography basics, but more importantly teaching you about the travel photography industry. MatadorU Travel Photography Course.

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