All photographs courtesy of Larry Louie

In a new series on Notebook, we interview professional photographers, and discuss their different perspectives on travel photography as well as tips for taking better pictures.

Larry Louie is an award-winning photographer whose work has appeared in National Geographic, Conde Nast Traveler, Photo District News (PDN), Black and White Photography Magazine, and many more.

He has racked up many prestigious awards and won numerous photography contests – from the International Photography Awards (IPA) and various National Geographic contests to the World Photography Gala Awards and Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) category wins.

Matador Editor Lola Akinmade caught up with Larry to talk about his black and white documentary photography.

How long have you been a professional photographer?

I have been photographing since my teenage years but did not get into it as a serious hobby until university 20 years ago. It was only about five years ago that I took the serious step of presenting my work to the public: magazines, competitions, and galleries. I still don’t consider myself a pro because I do not shoot on a frequent basis – I am more in the category of semi-pro.

You do a lot of black and white travel photography. Why this particular style?

Color sometimes is very distracting. With black and white, it’s all about texture and lighting. There is a timeless feel to the photo.

You consider yourself a humanitarian documentary photographer. What three tips would you share for amateur photographers who are interested in pursuing this style of photography?

I don’t think as a photographer you should label or limit yourself to a type of photographer. Many fine art photographers do commercial photography and many documentary photographers do fine art. A lot of time, it depends of the project you are shooting and the purpose of the project. I might be more well known for my documentary work .

Tips:

a. You should be open to all types of photography – don’t box yourself into just one type. Look and study all types of photography.

b. If you are shooting a documentary project, the first thing is to research the topic. The research and planning are just as important as the shooting. How would you approach the topic and what are you looking to shoot? There should be a plan of action. Even when things do not turn out as expected, the research should back it up.

c. The most important thing is to get out there and practice: shoot, shoot, and shoot.

I think most documentary photographers want to make a difference in the issue that they cover. Compassionate heart and impassionate eye. Compassionate to the subjects, but impassionate to the topic.

What are the three essential pieces of photography gear you never travel without?

When traveling, my philosophy is the less, the better. But with the digital age, when you give up film, the batteries, flashcards and backup media take their place.

I always travel with a wide angle lens 24mm, mid-telephoto lens 85mm, and my Epson P7000 (for back up) – not to mention 16 gig flash cards and tons of batteries all charged up. A sturdy tripod is less useful when shooting people because it makes you too slow and cumbersome but is good if you are taking in a street scene.

You also work as an optometrist. Do you see yourself becoming a full-time photographer anytime soon?

I can’t see myself giving up my profession as an optometrist to become a full-time photographer anytime soon. My bread and butter right now is my work as an optometrist. It allows me to shoot what I want to shoot and emphasize topics I am concerned with.

With the economic downturn and so many newspapers and magazines and stock agencies tightening their belts, many professional photographers are scrambling to re-invent themselves in the digital age.I am fortunate in that sense that I am still able to shoot what I want because I do not depend on photography to make my living.

Where are you heading next? Any new projects in the works?

I am still working with SEVA Canada to document their eye care projects around the world. I have a continuing series on the Underbelly of Kathmandu about the new slums in the area and also I have a continuing project on Tibetan culture. In 2010, I am looking to be putting out my first photo book. I have a solo exhibition at the Charleston Center for Photography in March and an exhibition in Madrid in conjunction with receiving the humanitarian photo-documentary award.

Community Connection

Please read our other recent interviews with Travel Photographers.

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