In a nutshell: Here’s my interview with Gary Arndt on world travel photography, why he prefers SmugMug over 500PX and some sage life advice for new photographers (amongst other things!)
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Nice to meet you, can you tell people a little bit about your website and yourself?
Sure, my name is Gary Arndt. I have been travelling around the world for the last 8 years. During that time I have been to – depending how you define it – 105 UN countries, 172 different territories if you include other divisions. My website had been running the entire time.
I am the 2014 travel photographer of the year for the Society of American Travel Writers and the 2013 photographer of the year for the North American Travel Journalists Association.
And I travel around the world and take pictures, that’s what I do.
I really like your website name. How did you come up with “everything everywhere?”
The name just came to me. I was thinking of different names for the site and I didn’t really like any of them. Then I was just driving in my car one day before I started travelling and it just kind of hit me and I was like that’s it. It is a vague enough term, then I can really talk about anything I want.
It’s not anything like “backpacking Gary’s nomadic mega site.” In fact in the future, I probably will do more branching of anything that is talking about the history of places and maybe some science things which fits under the name.
How important is it to take photos of things you love? What’s your take on that?
I think it absolutely helps the photography process. For example, I would be a horrible wedding photographer. I’d stab myself before I had to do that. I would not be passionate about that, I just don’t care.
A good example I have often told people: I am a traveler first and a photographer second. So if a genie came out of a bottle and said: if you can either travel for the rest of your life without a camera or you can be the world’s greatest wedding photographer what would you pick? I would throw the camera in the garbage.
And I know a lot of people like that – they are wildlife photographers and they will go out and watch wildlife without a camera because it is just something they enjoy doing and the photography is a way for them to share their passion.
I have often told people: I am a traveler first and a photographer second.
I agree with you about taking photos of the things you love and your passion:
Yes, I mean I have absolutely noticed that if I had to photograph weddings I would have been doing a terrible job of it. Maybe from a technical standpoint I could do a better job than somebody who doesn’t technically know how to work a camera but it is not something I want to do.
What about new photographers that want to travel the world and do adventure photography, how do you recommend they start?
Buy a camera and start travelling.
There is really nothing more to it than that. I didn’t know anything about photography when I started, I bought a camera that was probably way over my head. I didn’t know how to work it properly and I took a ton of bad pictures.
I look back at some of the pictures I took in the first two years of travelling and they are embarrassing! I just don’t like looking at it but that is really the only way to do it.
I don’t think you should go overboard on gear. You don’t need a lot. A thousand dollars investment in a plane ticket will probably do more for you than a thousand dollars of additional gear once you have the base kit: a couple lenses and a body.
Because I think every photographer goes through this phase at first: you learn all the settings and the exposure settings and worry about gear.
The professional guys I know who have been doing this a long time never talk about that stuff. They talk about how to get the shot, how to position yourself, time of day, time of year, physically how are you going to climb a tree or whatever you need to do and that is truly what you need to do.
I think that getting out there and doing that kind of things will do more for you than worrying about gear or having the perfect lens for a shot. While a lens which is good enough will probably do more for you.
Beautifully said. Plus you can have iPhones nowadays and potentially photograph the world with an iPhone:
Yes there are differences obviously. iPhones are great for sharing things online if you want to share it on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram but the moment you blow them up even a little bit you can see a lot of noise and a lot of details disappear.
How would you suggest photographers and creatives go about selling or marketing their work online?
I actually don’t sell any of my photos. They are available for sale but I hardly sell any.
I don’t think that a lot of people buy photos online. If they buy a photo they are going to want to see something that is already printed so maybe they go to a flea market or a store.
I have seen some photographers who do a co-sale or consignment with a cafe – so they print their photos and put them up in the cafe with a sales price next to them, then people can buy them there once they actually see them.
But buying photos online then having the print coming to you doesn’t really happen that often.
A thousand dollar investment in a plane ticket will probably do more for you than a thousand dollars of additional gear.
I know some photographers that have very large followings, multiple millions of people, and they just don’t sell prints.
So I don’t think that people should pursue that. My model is primarily selling sponsorships to people so they have access to my audience (that has become a more popular one) and the other one is to find clients who will pay you for your work.
To do that I think you need not only be a good photographer which is a start, but also be a good businessman and knowing how to market yourself.
What about places to put your actual work online like 500PX or Shopify?
I use SmugMug as a hosting site. 500px is not really a hosting site. It is more for showing off your work and your portfolio. There are very different things but SmugMug is actually a platform that you can then use.
Let’s say for example there are a lot of wedding photographers and wedding photographers are a group of people that actually sell photos. You hire someone to shoot your wedding and then you get an X number of photos and a book or whatever.
It is designed to do that very well and for what I do in terms of hosting photos that are on my website or on social media, it does a good job of that too. So I am a big fan of SmugMug. I have been using it for years and I have tried other things and SmugMug is the best I have encountered.
When you are travelling and shooting, what sort of workflow do you use? Do you concern yourself with backups (DropBox etc) and/or edit on the road?
Yes I have no choice but to edit on the road because I have no home.
So what I do is I keep two hard drives with me and then I will take my photos and periodically put a copy on each hard drive.
I keep the hard drives in separate bags and then a couple times a year, when I come back to visit my family, I have more hard drives located at their house and then I backup to those hard drives as well.
I have multiple copies on multiple hard drives sort of scattered all over.
It’s not the best system – I think I should use a DROBO or some other storage raid system.
I don’t really do cloud back up for raw images right now just because of the bandwidth limitations. The price is finally getting to a place where it is do-able but it is just hard to upload stuff especially when you are in a hotel room. That is almost impossible. So that is my workflow.
Then I use Lightroom on my laptop to process and then the completed photo gets uploaded to SmugMug.
You mention on your website about using Lightroom and how important it is for photographers to be able to edit their shots:
Yes it is a must. There are some people who think – when getting to photography that it is cheating. It is always, since the first day of photography processing photos that used to be called developing a photo in a dark room and there was not a standard way for doing it.
The process of developing a photo had a lot of artistic decisions people had to make. If you look at Ansel Adams‘ negatives (audio dropped out here – we had some connectivity issues – !!)
What is your philosophy when it comes to photography and life in general? What gets you out of bed in the morning & what are you doing to change the world?
You know the reason why I started travelling is because I always like learning about new things. I think that’s what gets me out of bed: It’s that there’s always new things to learn and there are lots of things that people think they know that they don’t know, and that comes from the media.
I have heard people with all sorts of opinions about all sorts of places in the world that they have never been to, they have never met anybody from that place, they have never talked to anybody from there, and when you have actually been there it changes your perspective on things.
Hopefully if there is one thing I can do to change people’s perception would be to give them a different view of what they’re being told by people that have an incentive to promote fear and uncertainty in people, which is a lot of what the media does.
So have you been to every country in the world yet? (Or getting there?)
I am getting there. I am over halfway, but not quite all the way there yet.
Alright, I am really happy for what we have said, and so nice to hear from you. I really appreciate you taking your time for me and I will present this as a little auditory thing so everyone can see your website and get to know you more Gary.
No problem! Happy to do it.
So what are your thoughts on world travel photography? And what did you learn from this interview with Gary? Please leave a comment below!