Richard I’Anson’s travel photographs have been published in magazines, books and newspapers all over the world and in more than 300 Lonely Planet publications. He wrote Lonely Planet’s Travel Photography: A Guide To Taking Better Pictures as well as two new books Urban Travel Photography andAustralia: 42 Great Landscape Experiences. DAMIAN HALL caught up with him to find out all about his books, his first camera and whether he thinks photography is a natural gift…

When did your love of photography begin?
”I went shopping with my Mum for my sixteenth birthday and we didn’t know what to get. I clearly remember walking past a camera shop and she said, “What about a camera?”. And I said, “Well, okay, as long as it’s not one of those [old little pocket cameras] my sisters have got.” We bought one and one roll of 12 colour prints. I shot that on the weekend, got the pictures the following week and I was just hooked.”

What is it about photography that appeals to you?
”I think I was just thrilled by the whole process; the combination of being able to create something and then actually make something from that, as in process the film and print it.”

Do you believe an eye for a great picture can be learned, or is it a natural gift?
”I think to a certain extent it can be learned, because there are basic rules of composition. You can learn what should work and how compositions, colour and different elements work within aframe. But good composition can be instinctive too – which can get you off to a flying start. If you’ve got that instinct, you might not need the laborious education that some require. On a practical level, someone who’s intuitive and then applies learnt knowledge can compose and shoot very quickly. If you can see a picture, frame it and get all the technical stuff right, all at once, without thinking, it means you can generate good pictures all the time, not just occasionally when things happen to go your way.”

How should an aspiring photographer go about turning professional?
”Ultimately, you’ve got to go full-time. So there’s a leap of faith at some point, as for anyone going into their own business, and some risk involved. With travel photography, you have to actually go and do it; at your own expense at your own time and you have to shoot a lot of film in order to then go around and say “Hey, I am a photographer, this is what I can do.” No one is going to send you anywhere if they don’t have the confidence that you can deliver. Secondly, a big part of this business is selling images you’ve already taken. So again, you’ve got to go and take them. No one is going to pay you to build up your own library – ever. So, the only way to do it is invest in yourself, your travel and equipment, and go and do it. However, you have to be incredibly talented or have had some really, really good advice for your first trip to be anything other than an apprenticeship. I think it was Max Dupain [famous Australian photographer] who said something like: “If you want to get into this business, you have to take a million pictures, chuck them all away and start again.” That’s the way I did it. At some point in every photographer’s life you’re going to make a quantum leap, from just taking average pictures to making good pictures. The only way to make that leap is to take a lot of pictures.”

Your new book is called Australia: 42 Great Landscape Experiences. Why 42, and do you have a favourite?
”Forty-two wasn’t a predetermined number. [But] if you were going to do a trip around Australia these are the places that, I think, you’d want to see. It’s difficult to pick a favourite, but I would say The Kimberley generally and the Bungle Bungles specifically. They’re right up there.”

Tell me about putting the Urban Travel Photography book together; a very different project…
”It was a chance to delve deeper. You end up in a lot of cities when you’re travelling and the book expands greatly on these opportunities and gives advice and suggestions, and it has some pictures to hopefully inspire other people. One of the unique things about urban subjects is that there will always be a subject that is lit up best, at some point during the day. The best light for photography is the first and last couple of hours of the day, and specifically for landscapes, it’s almost not worth taking pictures at any other time. So there’s always something to do, and an unlimited number of subjects, in the city.”

Through your guidebooks and passing on your tips in interviews like this, is there any danger of putting yourself out of a job in the long run? Do you keep a few secrets back for yourself?
”Ha ha. No, I don’t think so. It’s a sad state of affairs if photographers feel they need to [keep things back]. I think it comes down to personality. There’s a very big difference between telling people how you work and then for other people to actually go and do that. I’m completely confident in what I do, but there’s always room for new photographers and new ideas and there are plenty of photographers who take pictures that I think are much better than mine. They give me inspiration to keep going and to take new pictures. I like the tongue-in-cheek question, but, no, there’s plenty of room for all of us.”

Richard I’Anson’s Top 10 Travel Photography Tips:

  • Spend some time researching your destination before departure. A little preparation is all it takes to avoid turning up at a place the day after a weekly market or annual festival and being told how wonderful it was. 
  • Ensure you’re completely comfortable with your equipment. Many photo opportunities don’t repeat themselves and missing the moment because you’re trying to figure out how the camera works is frustrating and avoidable.
  • Fill the frame with your subject so that there is no doubt in the viewer’s mind what the picture is of. If you have to explain that the grey blob is an elephant then the picture has failed.
  • There is no one perfect composition for any given subject, but if in doubt start with the rule of thirds that teaches that the main elements of a composition should be placed at points one-third of the way from the sides of the frame. 
  • Consider whether the subject would look best photographed horizontally or vertically. Camera orientation is an easy and effective compositional tool.
  • Don’t assume that your eye level or the first place you see your subject from is the best viewpoint. A few steps left or right, going down on one knee or standing on a step can make a significant difference. 
  • Look at the space around and behind your subject and make sure nothing overpowers it in colour, shape or size.
  • Focus on the eyes when photographing people or wildlife. It doesn’t matter if other features are out of focus: if the eyes aren’t sharp the image will fail. 
  • When photographing landscapes keep horizons straight.
  • The colour, quality and direction of light change throughout the day. Note how the light is falling on your subject and select a viewpoint that makes the most of these elements of natural light to enhance your subject. This can sometimes mean having to wait or return at another time.