Travel Talks: Focus on Sandra Jordan
Loosely defined, travel photography specializes in introducing or exhibiting the culturally significant, historic, informative, or just plain awe-inspiring aspects of destinations and locales and the people or creatures who inhabit them. There are many sub-specialties - adventure travel, documentary travel, architectural, etc. - but it all comes back to visually telling the who, what, why, where, and how of a place.
To kick off an early Summer (or Winter for those down under), I interviewed Sandra Jordan of www.sandrajordanphotography.co.uk to get her thoughts on the art of travel photography. You can also follow Sandra on social media via
www.facebook.com/sandrajordanphotography and www.twitter.com/SandraJJordan.
Tell me a little about what drew you to photography in general and travel photography specifically.
I have always been interested in travel and different cultures as I used to travel as a child a lot with my family. I had dabbled a bit in photography when I was younger but it wasn't until 2007 when I embarked on a 3 month train journey from London to South Turkey when I got totally hooked on photography. The two seemed to be a natural combination for me and I don't go anywhere now without my camera!
What type of travel photography do you specialize in? e.g. Editorial? Documentary? Advertising or stock? Fine Art?
I specialise in fine art travel photography, mainly monochrome although I do like colour as well.
Do you have a philosophy about travel photography you want to share? How would you describe your style? Is having a narrative crucial?
I suppose my narrative, and what I hope runs through all my images, is that I like to find the peace within an otherwise quite hectic world.
You mentioned being drawn to different cultures from a young age and enjoying working with people but quite a bit of your portfolio reflects a focus on landscape and architecture. Would you say that your interests are evolving? Or is it just a different way of discovering people via where they live? Or something else entirely?
...I guess my work is evolving somewhat. My external hard drive broke at the beginning of the year and I lost 10,000 photos which I was gutted about, but it gave me the opportunity to sit down and look at the work that wasn't lost and without much judgement just pick the photos I liked to include on my new website and I have definitely noticed that a new style has developed.
I do still really enjoy taking photos of people but my trips for the last two years have been to Morocco where that isn't really an option a lot of the time so I started to move more into architecture and long exposures. Also my trips to the Arctic are in the winter when there aren't many people around so I get more involved in photographing the landscape and the aurora.
Describe your camera kit. Any must haves and favorites? Do you travel "heavy" or "light"?
I wish I could travel 'light' but unfortunately for my big trips that never seems to happen.
I work with the Canon system, a Canon 5D mk II with both prime and zoom lenses ranging from 17mm to 200mm. I use an Epson P7000 for storage and my MacBook Air. Although I wish I didn't have to, I always travel with a Manfrotto tripod. I also have some ND filters and a Lee Big Stopper which I use for my long exposures.
I have actually recently bought a Fuji XE-1 as a 'carry at all times' camera for when I do very short trips, it is so light and am sure my neck and back are all the more thankful for it, but for my next trip back to the Arctic I'd take my Canon.
Any special tips for those Arctic / cold weather trips and shooting icebergs?
I have been up to the Arctic twice and the most important thing for me is to be properly clothed. There's nothing worse than finding an amazing spot to stay in to photograph and be really cold, it ruins the experience.
It's all about the layers, at times I was wearing 7 different layers plus an arctic parka (which was more like a portable duvet). I'm still on a search for the right gloves for the cold weather -that are also suitable for photography - a lot of them are too thick so you aren't able to press the shutter button. It's important to keep your head warm as you lose a lot of body warmth from your head and to have waterproof, warm boots.
I take extra batteries with me as they tend to run out quicker and the one thing to really be careful of is taking the camera in and out of the cold into the warm. I leave the camera in my camera bag for a couple of hours to 'warm up' to room temperature, otherwise you may get condensation in the lens.
Describe your average day while on the road / in the field. (e.g. workflow, schedule, preferences, etc.)
I like to get up early (so no-one else is around) so I tend to shoot in the morning and then again at the end of the day, unless it's cloudy and then I can do long exposures all day. I actually prefer the stormy moody days as opposed to the bright sunny ones. If I am doing a lot of long exposures (and some of them are about 6 minutes long), I bring a book with me so I can read while the camera is capturing the moment. I tend to get totally immersed in my work so have to remind myself to stop and go and get a bite to eat or a hot drink (it can get very cold standing on beaches in winter for hours on end!). When I get back home I load my files onto my computer and then leave them for a couple of weeks before I look at them, then I can 'see' them with fresh unbiased eyes.
Top three things a travel photographer shouldn't leave home without.
Well for me it would be:
1 my iPhone - I have many apps I use on it - weather forecasts, solar monitor (for Aurora photography), long exposure calculator, etc.
2. cleaning cloth and liquid - being on the coast a lot the lens glasses [front element and/or filters] get covered in salt spray from the sea
3. My Kindle - for reading whilst making long exposures
Best destination you've shot and why.
Without doubt the Lofoten Islands in Arctic Norway. It is an absolutely stunning place to spend time in, whether you are a photographer or not. Sculpted by glaciers and the extreme elements of the Arctic, the Lofoten landscape is one of the wildest and most visually stunning spots in Norway. With picturesque villages, traditional wooden fisherman’s cabins, fjords, sheltered inlets, white sandy beaches and the wide open ocean there are no end of photographic opportunities!
Worst (or most challenging) destination and what you learned from it.
I can't say it was the worse as I loved my two months there (I was teaching photography to disadvantaged teenagers and they were an amazing bunch) but I found Morocco challenging. I had lived in Turkey for two years so [I] was used to living in a Muslim country but I found being a single Western woman living in the medina [of Morocco] very challenging at times!
I love photographing people and this was near to impossible there. I was told it was due to a belief that the camera 'steals' the soul but not sure if that is correct. I asked a woman if I could take a photo of her goat once and she said no to that too. I saw so many amazing faces that I wanted to capture but couldn't, it was like being in a sweet shop and not being allowed to have any!!
[also see Hortencia Cisneros' reflections on Morocco]
Considering the well-publicized instances of violence towards women travelers in the last year or so, have you made any changes to the way in which you work or travel?
No, I haven't made any changes in the way I work or travel, for me it has always been about being respectful of the country you are travelling in.
For example, in a Muslim country I would always dress conservatively and I am very careful about how I interact with the men in those countries so...nothing can be misconstrued. In Morocco, as I mentioned, people do not like having their photo taken. I did ask often, but if the answer was no I didn't push it and I didn't ever take a secret photo of someone either, that is something that does not sit with me well. I am very lucky that I get to travel as much as I do but I am very aware that I am a guest in their country and abiding by the way that they live is just second nature to me.
For approximately half of the year I am a travel & fine art photographer and for the other half I work as a freelance production manager making TV commercials, which I have done for the past 15 years - my financing comes from the commercials.
I would rather spend more time travelling and photographing but I think it is very difficult to make a living from it (well certainly for me at the stage I am at).
[On Morocco] I was looking to combine it with a bit of volunteering, I felt something was missing in my life and I wanted to do a bit of 'giving back'. I started looking on the Internet for volunteering jobs that involved photography and I came across a company called FairMail. They use volunteers to teach disadvantaged teenagers photography in Peru, India, and Morocco. The company then turns the childrens' photos into greetings cards and sell them worldwide. 50% of the profits [from] the child's card goes back to that child for them to spend on their education. As soon as I read about it, I knew it would be the perfect project for me and I have to say it was amazing, definitely one of the best things I have done in my life. If anyone had two months free and wanted to combine their love for photography but also do some good in the world, I would highly recommend this.
How do you prepare for assignments? Shooting on spec? Both?
I do a lot of research on the places I want to visit - what's in the area, best times to visit, when it's the least busy, I use Google earth to look at places too. I also look at a lot of other images from those places so as to ensure [that] I try for ... something different.
I tend to do about 2 big trips a year, about 2 months at a time, and as I like to move around a lot, the logistics take a lot of forward planning but once I am there I try not to plan too much, it's the spontaneous moments that often offer up something fruitful.
Do you develop a formal shot list or work more intuitively? Which do you prefer?
I have an idea of what I want to achieve beforehand, for example on a recent trip to Norfolk on the UK coast, I knew I wanted to do a lot of long exposure seascapes but I don't have a pre-defined shot list, I find photographs evolve from just walking around and seeing what is there. I think I would feel too confined if I had to work to a formal shot list.
What role does post-capture processing play in your work? HDR?
I use Lightroom 4 for my post processing but mainly I like to do the majority of the work in camera. Personally I am not a big fan of over processed images or ones that don't look 'real', I like to show what I saw at the time. So mainly I just check the levels, take away any dust spots, maybe do a bit of 'dodging' and 'burning' and convert to monochrome.
Oh there are SOOO many places! I am drawn heavily to two areas - cold, snowy, deserted places and also middle eastern warmth and architecture so my list includes:
South East Turkey
but then I also love the beauty of long exposures so anywhere with water works for me!
What (travel) photographers inspire you? Who are you watching?
There are many photographers that I admire but the ones I go back to time and time again are Vincent Munier (France), Joel Tjintelaar (Netherlands), Josef Hoflehner (Austria), Bruce Percy (Scotland), Michael Levin (Canada), Ebru Sidar and Nuri Bilge Ceylan (both from Turkey) - their portfolios always amaze and inspire me.
Where to next? What are you working on right now? Is there anything else you would like to add?
I really want to go and photograph icebergs so have been doing a lot of research into Greenland. It's not the easiest country to travel around in so I'm still looking at the best way possible to do what I want. I found a ship that goes from Germany for 25 days that travels up the coast of Greenland which looks great, but whilst researching I saw a video of it caught in a gale force 9 storm in the North Atlantic with waves reaching up past deck 5 and it has sort of unnerved me a bit! Winter 2013 shall see me return to the Lofoten Islands where hopefully I can catch the Northern Lights again and I am also planning a trip to Venice [Italy] for some long exposures.
Thanks Sandra for sharing your time and passion!
Publications and Awards
The Andrew Emond Trophy, Best Landscape Print, The Postal Photographic Club
Finalist, Global Arctic Awards 2012
The Half Plate Challenge Cup, Best Picture in the Travelling Exhibition, The Postal Photographic Club
Winner People's Choice at The New Artist Fair 2011, London
The Jack Cowper Tannadice Trophy, Best Monochrome Print, The Postal Photographic Club
Keywords: hortencia cisneros, image editing, mentorship, photographer interview, photographer's tools, photography equipment, Sandra Jordan, self-assignment, tips, travel blog, travel photography, volunteerism
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