PSIPOOK | features | Richard I'Anson



Veni, vidi, snapped it
An interview with Lonely Planet's Richard I'Anson
Chris Page
This article first appeared in Kansai Scene in 2004



Travel the world, take photos, get paid. For some this is a dream. For Lonely Planet's Richard I'Anson it is reality. KS probes the man himself to find out how to get that perfect shot.

"I just love to travel." Ask Richard I'Anson how he got into travel photography as a career and the answer comes without hesitation. "The connection between travel and photography is obvious. Everybody knows it instinctively. But it really clicked for me, and I came back from [a] seven-month trip and thought 'this is really the direction I'd like to head in.'"

I'Anson's career is now more than 15 years old. His work is perhaps most closely associated with Lonely Planet, the travel book publishers — his photos have appeared in roughly 300 of their publications — but his work has also appeared in Wanderlust, Escape and Condé Nast Traveller and his images have been used by several other well-known publishers. He has put on photography workshops and courses and helps to produce travel photography tours. He also helped set up and run Lonely Planet's photo library Lonely Planet Images.

But from the point of view of many travellers, perhaps his most welcome contribution to travel photography is his how-to guide, succinctly titled Travel Photography.

It is clear from I'Anson's photographs that he is an artist — the technical mastery of the equipment, the colour, the light, the composition, the unnervingly good eye for a subject are all there. But when you talk to the man about the development of his career, you see underpinning this an enormous pragmatism. We talked about how he got started in the business. His first trip, although adventure, was also partly working: "As a working photographer I couldn't help looking for opportunities as I traveled to sell some of the pictures".

However, it was his second major photography expedition that launched I'Anson's career and the key in making the most of the trip was the meticulous preparation and very clear goals. "So I worked pretty hard for the next two years while I was at home learning an awful lot about my photography from that first trip and what I could do to improve it. It was then that I started to make contacts with potential clients and finding out what they needed. Two years after I got home from the first trip, I set off again for two more years the difference is the second trip, the two-year trip, was very much photography focused, the whole itinerary was aimed at shooting material that when I got back I could then market and sell and would be relevant to the clients that I had made contact with."

The hard work paid off. "I did that trip '88, '89, '90 and that trip set me up to this day for what I do now, because it was so intense photographically, I produced so much material and by the time I set off on that trip, I sort of knew what I was doing ... and, yeah, I'm still selling a lot of pictures from those days."

While on the road, other travelers on learning I'Anson was a photographer were full of questions and cries for help over their own imaging needs. From this experience I'Anson saw a need and along came the book.Travel Photography was first published in 2000 and following up on its success, this year sees the second edition, with an expanded text and a lot of new photographs.

Travel Photography is not aimed at professionals — although working photographers may be able to pick something from I'Anson's experience. The book is designed for anyone who wants to get the most from their travel photography and therefore includes advice on a range of cameras from point-and-shoot compact types to top-end SLRs and includes new sections on digital photography. The book includes extensive information on just understanding the camera — presented in a common sense way for everyone to get a grip — and advice on composition and creative tricks.

Most of us will never equal I'Anson's competence, but the book is inspiring: On opening the book for this article, my own SLR came straight out of mothballs and is now with me whenever I go out.

Travel Photography is also revealing about some of the non-technical qualities a good photographer requires. You need good social skills to get the trust of people you are photographing, but also an ability to work alone. From the tales of hours of vigil on windy mountain tops and wading through Himalayan rivers, you realise you need tenacity and patience to get just the shot you are looking for.

How about that crucial advice for photographers?

"Ok, If I can say only one thing, I would say fill the frame with the subject so that the viewer is in no doubt about what this is a picture of. One of the common mistakes that a lot of people make is that they just don't get close enough and so you are not sure if this is a picture of the person in the shot or if its a picture of the statue they are standing next to or if it's a picture of the bag they are carrying or whether it's meant to be a view of the whole city ... the picture should have a main point of interest."

And what of the future? Has the man who has traveled the world feel that he has been there, seen it and done it? I'Anson's appetite for his work is undiminished. He hopes to publish a book on Nepal, which has been 19 trips to the country in gestation. He looks forward to projects about India and his native Australia. I'Anson is a man with energy and a lust to wander, we will be seeing a lot more of what he has seen.

Nerd's corner: the hardware

So, when setting off on his travels, what does Richard I'Anson pack besides his tooth brush?

I'Anson: Basically, I take the same stuff everywhere ... I use Canon EOS (ch) 1V film cameras. I carry two of those. I carry a 24 to 70 mil Canon F 2.8 L-series lens, a 70 to 200 2.8 Canon L-series lens — and it's the image stabiliser one, which I just love. I have a 300 mil F4 Canon L-series. So that's my standard 35 mil outfit. I carry a Hasselblad X10 which is the panoramic 35 mil film camera — it's almost like a back up. It's sounds a bit weird but it's like a third body which I often don't walk around with, so I often leave it in the hotel room. So let's say I had everything stolen, I would still have a good camera. Plus sometimes if for some reason I know I just want to walk the street and I don't need all the gear I'll take that back-up camera so I've got something. I carry a Gitzo carbon fibre tripod. And that's about it.

KS: That's sounds a serious weight, actually.

I'Anson: It is. I lean over — I lean to the left.

And what about digital?

I'Anson: "I think the saving in weight in not having to carry film is completely balanced by all the other gear that you have to take with you to deal with digital files on the road, so I think that the weight and the space saving is actually balanced out. I can't see people who are really keen on their pictures traveling with just a couple of memory cards. I really think they are going to have to consider how they are going to look after those images on the road, how they are going to protect them, how they are going to back them up ... they will find they need to take portable storage devices, they will need to be burning CDs or DVDs ... film in itself isn't particularly attractive to thieves, but portable storage devices are … [another disadvantage] is the amount of computer time you need when you get back from your trip to deal with the images to manage them so that you can find them again ... and then to get prints made. I think that's something people are underestimating…"

Note: I have not used any of Mr. I'Anson's photographs here because of the obvious issues of copyright. To see his work, visit his site — the URL for that and Lonely Planet are given below.

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