March 06th 2008 by Andrew S Gibson
Gavin Gough must have the perfect life. He spent a year travelling around the world and found that he liked taking photos so much he decided to become a professional travel photographer.
How would you describe your photographic vision? What kind of look/atmosphere/feel do you try and create in your photos?
I’ve never had a very conscious approach to working towards developing a particular style and I’m not sure if many photographers start off with a style in mind. I think like most people, I started by taking pictures of subjects that interested me and the subject matter dictated the feel of the photographs. I do tend to isolate subjects in the frame and I’ve noticed that with some of my images I’ve subconsciously tried to create a sense of balance or symmetry. I guess I’m just trying to tidy up the world through my camera!
When shooting travel stock images I’ll usually be trying to show a location at its best, and I enjoy the challenge of depicting places from a positive perspective. I try to leave time at the end of projects for some personal work and that tends towards a more editorial feel. You might argue that these personal projects offer a more honest representation of the world but it’s all interpretive at the end of the day.
When did you start taking photos and why? What made you decide to become a travel photographer?
I guess like a lot of people I first picked up a camera as a child and started snapping family holidays and parties. I was given a small, 126 Instamatic camera which took cube-shaped Magicube flash bulbs and I remember taking photos whilst on holiday in the English Lake District and during Birthdays and at Christmas. I think I mostly just enjoyed firing off those flashbulbs and watching the interior of the little plastic cube fizzle and blacken. Becoming a Travel Photographer was a really straightforward choice for me, it combines my two greatest pleasures and I honestly can’t imagine doing anything else.
When did you decide to work in stock photography? How did you start out?
I took a one-year sabbatical from my previous job in 2003 and travelled around the world. I don’t think there was ever much chance of returning to my previous incarnation as a Systems Analyst and once I’d decided to take the plunge and leave the security of a steady job behind there was no looking back.
What obstacles and difficulties did you face when you started to sell your own travel and stock photos? How did you overcome them? How are you marketing your business and building your reputation? How important is your website to your marketing strategy?
The main obstacle, if I’m honest, was my own naivete about the business. I think I had a good understanding of what would be required in photographic terms but getting to grips with managing my own business in such a competitive market brought me face-to-face with a steep learning curve. Luckily, I’m a keen student and enjoyed the research and learning process. Not that I’m finished learning yet of course! And now that developing and operating a digital workflow has become such an integral part of most photographers’ job it probably helped that I’m a closet geek. Joining organisations like the Stock Artists’ Alliance and the Association of Photographers was invaluable in terms of the help that established photographers were willing to offer and also in the increased exposure they’ve given me. Marketing is a mysterious, black art and I’m still finding out what works best for me but the web site is a very obvious shop window and invariably the first place that people visit when they want to find out more about me and my work.
You sell your photos through stock libraries like Alamy, Getty, Trevillion, Lonely Planet and Jason Friend. What advice would you give any photographer who would like to successfully sell their work on these sites? Is it possible to earn decent income doing this?
That’s a bit like asking a chef for his secret recipe! There’s no question that stock photographers had a much greater earnings potential two or three decades ago but the industry has been turned on its head with the advent of Royalty Free, the arrival of the Internet and, more recently, Microstock web sites. I would guess that a lot of people who sell stock also have a supplementary income – or a wealthy and generous partner. That’s not to say that there aren’t people earning a healthy living from stock photography but I think it’s reasonable to suggest that they are the exception. The only advice I would offer to hopeful stock photographers is that they should study the market very carefully, try to emulate but not to copy and to concentrate very hard on getting the technical quality of their work spot on.
What changes have you seen in the stock photo industry since you have been working as a photographer? Where do you think the industry will be in five or ten years time?
My career selling stock is relatively short but even in the last few years there have been changes and the speed of change is only likely to increase. If I could predict where the industry will be in ten years then I’d be a stock market analyst and not a photographer. The only thing we can be sure of is that it probably won’t be recognisable when compared with the industry today and those photographers who can’t or won’t adapt will have different jobs in ten years time.
What advice would you give someone just starting out in stock or travel photography now?
I think that’s a really difficult question to answer. Everyone, whether they’re interested in photography or not, has to follow their own path and I’m not really in a position to offer advice. The only thing I would say is that if you’re not prepared to live and breathe the job then it’s probably not for you. You have to be dedicated to the point of obsession but that’s probably a pre-requisite for succeeding in any career really.
Name three photographers you like and why.
Don McCullin is my photographic hero and the first photographer whose work I was really moved and inspired by. There’s no way to adequately describe his work, you have to see it, but the one thing that typifies a McCullin photograph for me is the sense of connection that he seems able to make with his subject. Whether he’s bringing us the image of a person, a situation or a landscape, you can sense McCullin’s presence very strongly in every frame. I feel a sense of excitement just writing briefly about his images and bringing some of them to mind as I write.
There are dozens of other photographers whose work I greatly admire (Steve McCurry is an obvious choice for a Travel Photographer) but McCullin’s life and work has taught me more about what it is to be a photographer than all the others put together so I’ll leave it with just him as my selection. He’s worth three photographers on his own! I thoroughly recommend his autobiography, “Unreasonable Behaviour”.
Where is your photography and your business going? What future photographic project or projects are you excited about?
I’m starting to run workshops this year and really enjoy the time spent with enthusiastic photographers, no matter what their level of expertise. I’m hoping to run more of these in South East Asia in the future and am excited about this aspect of my work. Otherwise, there’s lots more travelling planned, and that’s always an enticing prospect.
Tell us a little about the photography workshops that you participate in? How did you get started with them?
The workshops are very self-indulgent and I enjoy them enormously. They’re a great way for me to spend time with people who are excited about photography and I enjoy passing on my own knowledge and experience but often end up learning as much from the participants as they do from me. It’s always a pleasure spending a day with like-minded people with similar interests. In April this year I’m running workshops on the Dorset coast in southern England, which is one of my favourite places. The tour will include a lunch stop for a pie and a pint at the Square and Compass, best pub in the world, so it’s going to be doubly enjoyable.
What is your favourite place that you’ve visited as a travel photographer?
I’m asked this question quite often and it’s almost impossible to answer as every place has it’s good points and locations differ enormously. I think I’m quite fortunate because I’m a traveller who’s easily pleased. I am often upbeat about arriving in a new location, just being pleased to be there. That frame of mind tends to make me see the more attractive aspects of a location. Having said that, Samoa in the South Pacific really is a wonderful destination where the idyllic surroundings and friendly, open people make for a great combination. Yes, it’s probably the one place where you’d struggle to think of a single thing that could improve it.
You’ve written some articles for magazines. What advice would you give a photographer that can write and would like to break into this market?
I think photographers that can also write are a rare breed and although I do contribute articles for magazines they’re carried along more by my enthusiasm for the subject than any skill as a writer. I’d say that it’s best to write about things that you’re very familiar with. If you can make an editor’s life a little easier then you’re in with a chance so concentrate on understanding what the editor wants and then make sure you deliver what they’ve asked for. Packages of words and pictures together can be more attractive than pictures alone but whatever you’re submitting make sure it’s presented professionally and that it’s simple for the editor to understand the concept of your article straight away.
Bonus Question: Your dream assignment. What is it?
I’m more than happy with any assignment that pays a decent daily rate! Seriously? I think any commissioned work that takes me back to India, Tibet, Bhutan or Nepal is great. Returning to Samoa or the other South Pacific islands would also be a real treat but I think my absolute dream come true would be a commission to compile a book on tea. I’d like to photograph tea plantations around the world and the people who work on them and then follow the process all the way through to the posh cafés and tea houses around the world. I’m a tea fanatic and my personal motto is taken from a Chinese proverb that goes “A man without tea in him is incapable of appreciating truth or beauty.” At which point, I think I’ll put the kettle on. Cheers!
Links & Contact Info:
Web site: http://www.gavingough.com/
E-mail: mail [at] gavingough [dot] com
Phone (UK): +44 (0)7900 432525
I’ve included five photographs taken during a recent trip to northern India, which I’ve chosen because they are pictures that tend to prompt questions about the subjects. People who see these images invariably ask me to explain who the subjects are and I like the sense that there’s something unanswered, or at least something that prompts further enquiry, in the photos. Perhaps these shots also appeal to me because I know something more about each of the people than the photographs offer so I’m able to tell a bit of a story about each one.
All photos Copyright © Gavin Gough. Please contact the author for permission to use in any way.