Travel Photographer Interviews: Wendy Connett

by Lola (Akinmade) Åkerström Jul 6, 2010
Wendy Connett

All photos courtesy of Wendy Connett

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

NEW YORK BASED travel photographer Wendy Connett‘s work has appeared in various travel publications such as Travel & Leisure, The Guardian, The Times, Rough Guides, Fodor’s, Time Out, and Frommers in over 25 countries.

She primarily photographs people, landmarks, celebrations and lifestyles for guidebooks and stock agencies. Her stock photography is represented by Getty Images, Robert Harding, Alamy and Agefotostock.

Matador editor and photographer Lola Akinmade caught up with Wendy fresh off her recent trip to Mexico to discuss her stock photography and current assignments.

How long have you been a professional photographer?

I was signed by my first agency in 2003.

What – or who – got your initial interest going in terms of photography?

My background is print journalism and photography became a natural extension. I have more than 20 years journalism experience and spent 17 of that as a finance editor/journalist.

I spent all my free time traveling and photographing the destinations. I was able to spend a few months a year overseas and also lived and worked in London for a year. London is one of the best travel hubs in the world.

For me, there is no greater joy than exploring a city for the first time with camera in hand. I have been a freelance journalist/photographer for more than a year.

Wendy Connett

A colleague who worked at a stock photography agency in a former life suggested I pursue sales via this route. That was in 2002. I took a long hard look at agencies, the types of photographs they had, what they required and my own photographs and spent the next year shooting with a very different eye before submitting photos.

What were your first photographic experiments or experiences?

At the age of 10, I attended a school that offered a photography class and had a darkroom.

How would you describe the work you do now… Obviously there’s a strong travel editorial element, but are you involved in the world of commercial photography?

I aim to capture a well-rounded view of a location: the iconic, landmarks, street scenes, food, markets, festivals, people and every day life.

I also specialize in night photography of cities. My images sell for commercial use through stock agencies but assignments so far have been editorial.

You sell a lot of stock photography. How has your experience been?

Stock is a numbers game. You need to distribute through several outlets without spreading yourself too thin.

It takes patience and years to build consistent sales. Fortunately my business continues to grow despite the recession and plummeting prices of images.

Wendy Connett
What 3 tips would you share for amateur photographers who are interested in pursuing your style of travel photography?

1) You don’t need to spend a ton of money on travel to start out.

Start shooting in your own back yard. No matter where you live, how small or off the beaten path, there is always travel related subject matter. It could be a scenic view, quirky attraction or festival.

You will also have the advantage of shooting at different times of year, capturing the perfect light and local knowledge on the best or unique views etc.

2) Study photographs published in all mediums to get a sense of what photo editors may be looking for.

What your friends and family think is postcard worthy isn’t necessarily something that will sell. Take a look at what some of the top travel stock agencies have of subject matter you shoot.

Are you able to photograph it better or in a unique way?

It’s easy to take a photograph of the Taj Mahal on a sunny clear day. It’s difficult to capture a unique view.

3) Make sure you have a professional Web presence with a strong, well edited portfolio. Edit your photographs ruthlessly. Less is more.

Wendy Connett
You’ve photographed for some guidebooks like Time Out. Do you like this type of dedicated photography? What are the benefits/challenges?

My entire professional life has been about deadlines and I enjoy the adrenaline involved in meeting them. Being a versatile photographer and working on a tight deadline is key to shooting a guidebook. In one day you could be photographing a museum, nightclub and portraits.

Each requires a different set of photography skills. Photographing architecture, for example, is very different than photographing people.

The Time Out commission took me to all five boroughs and to places I had never been despite being a native New Yorker. I really enjoyed that aspect and saw my own city with a fresh eye.

Which other photographers – old or contemporary – inspire you most?

There are many. A few of the old include Robert Frank and Walker Evans.

In terms of travel stock photographers Glen Allison comes to mind. In his 60s he is currently on his second non stop round the world trip for the next 10 years.

I also admire the work of photojournalist Ami Vitale.

Wendy Connett
When you are approaching subjects to shoot, how do you set about it? Do you chat and explain what you’re doing? Or shoot first, ask questions later?

I engage with people first and am always surprised at how many come up and ask to be photographed when you least expect it.

What’s the craziest or most inspiring encounter you’ve had in general?

Among the most inspiring has been photographing overnight vigils in cemeteries during the Day of the Dead or Día de los Muertos in Oaxaca and Patzcuaro, Mexico. Day of the Dead is a mixture of pre-Hispanic beliefs and Catholicism.

It is believed that the souls of the dead return to earth one night a year to be reunited with loved ones. Death is not viewed as the end and it is not a mournful experience. People were happy and proud to share the experience and talk of their loved ones.

One of the craziest was being stampeded by cattle in New Mexico. I was photographing a herd on ranch land near an old abandoned adobe building. The light was perfect and the cattle were grazing. Nearby a large raven or crow began squawking, flew over my head in a circle as if it were signaling the herd and the cattle stampeded me.

They stampeded a few times but fortunately ran around me and I lived to tell the tale without a scratch. I’ll never underestimate cattle or crows again.

Wendy Connett
What kit do you use / carry with you / can’t do without (camera make, lenses, flashguns etc.)?

I carry a Canon 5D Mark II as my primary body and a 5D as a back up. My main lenses are Canon’s 28-70mm f 2.8, 70-200mm f2.8 zoom and IS 24-105mm f.4.

The latter is my workhorse. I carry a tripod for night photography and low light situations.

I rarely use a flash and prefer natural light.

Finally, what else are you working on right now and what are your ambitions for the future in terms of your photography work or anything else?

Pursuing multi media and video. I’ve already started down that road. Media as a whole is in major transition mode and offers many new possibilities.

I recently returned from Mexico and earlier this year India and need to catch up on editing while plotting my next trip.

Community Connection

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