Who Says That Travel Photography Is Not A Contact Sport?

Written by: Colby Brown / 7 Comments

Iceland_Tent_Glacier_Photography_Colby_BrownWhen it comes to travel photography, I am not all that surprised that many emerging and aspiring photographers have a somewhat over romanticized notion of the challenges many of us face in making a career out of this profession. In all honesty, I was just as guilty nearly nine years ago when I purchased my first DSLR and decided that this was going to be my path. Like many people, I had a love of travel and figured that photography would be the glorious means in which I would be able travel to exotic locations, meet amazing people and of course…take photos of gorgeous scenery all day long. Who wouldn’t want that right? 🙂

Reality is of course, much different. While I know that wedding, event, studio and portrait photographers all face their own challenges, travel photography is a different sort of beast. Have you ever wanted to travel to places like India or Bolivia? You are almost guaranteed to get food poisoning of some sort. Want to photograph the amazing Northern Lights in northern Canada? You better be prepared to work in -38 degree weather. What about going ice climbing or photographing adventure sports? You better get accustomed to the inside of hospitals and medical clinics while traveling.

What is amusing about these “myths” and romanticized notions surrounding travel photography is that they are perpetuated by the vary people that do this for a living…such as myself.

The Building of the Myth

As a travel photographer, it is hard not to get sucked into the stories and experiences you have as you begin to travel the globe. The human species tends to prefer to focus on the positive, rather than the negative. The epic scenery surrounding you while you capture a sunrise rather than the fact that you have been lying on the floor of your “hotel” room (notice the quotes) for two days as you try to figure out what is attempting to claw it ways through your digestive system. When you follow a photographer such as myself on social media, you tend to see images such as this one…

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This is me in the Narrows in Zion NP. Photo by Casey McCallister

or maybe this one…

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Me in Jökulsárlón, Iceland. Photo by Michael Bonocore

or what about this one?

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me in Karijini National Park in Western Australia

These photos and experiences look great right? Epic scenes. Beautiful colors. Wonderful marketing content. While they certainly serve a purpose for my various businesses, the reality is that they only tell a faction of the story. In fact…probably a fraction of a fraction of the story.

The Physical Realities

The reality of travel photography is that it isn’t easy. Between the jet-lag, questionable food, sleepless nights, unpredictable weather and physical nature of the job, there are allot of things to overcome. And no matter how much you prepare, or how trained you think you are…”bad” things can still happen.

Last fall I spent 10 days exploring the gorgeous state of North Carolina. From the epic waterfalls to the grand landscapes to the amazing fall colors, I had an amazing time and came away with some incredible photography, such as this image of the the Blue Ridge Parkway just after sunrise one morning.

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Fog rolling over the Blue Ridge Parkway in Fall

What many of you might not know is that when I took this shot, I had blood tripping down my arm after I slipped on a rock while using forearm to brace my fall (instead of my camera). The result was 7 stitches and a fun trip to the local emergency clinic, after I finished photographing the gorgeous sunrise of course 😉

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The results from a slip on a rock while photographing sunrise from the top of a mountain in NC

Last week I was in Iceland with a few friends, focusing on capturing the Northern Lights and the Ice Caves found in the south of the country. As many of you can assume, Ice Caves are typically located on glaciers, which require professional equipment (crampons, ropes, ice axes) to safely explore. One morning we headed out onto one of the glaciers with a guide and all the proper equipment to photograph a particular ice cave, which turned out to be amazing.

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Ice Cave in South Iceland taken with a Nokia 1020

However as we began descending into the area where the cave was, my crampons caught one another and I began to slide on a fairly minor slope for about 15ft. Normally this wouldn’t be a big deal, but I had placed my ice axe in my harness to free up my hands to hold the rope. As I was sliding, the tip of the ice axe caught a lip of ice and the flat part of the axe jettisoned into my right rib cage, instantly knocking all the air out of my lungs and delivering a loud internal “popping” sound. Turns out that I have a pair of lateral fractures on my 9th right rib, which should be fun to deal with for the next 8 weeks. Of course during that time I have project I am working on in the Canadian Rockies, a return trip to Iceland and two weeks on the Big Island of Hawaii. Have you ever traveled let alone done physical activity with a cracked rib? Let me tell you how fun it is!

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X-Ray of my rib cage. Good times 🙂

And imagine that this is just in the last few months. I won’t even get into the number of bugs I have picked up over the years or how many times I have had food poisoning. I mean who has had the giardia parasite 4 separate times. Oh ya…me 😉

Why I Love What I Do!

A logical question to come up with after reading this blog post is why do I still do it? After hearing about cracked ribs, trips to emergency clinics and travel sickness…who I their right mind would want to do this for a living? The truth is that many of us that do this for a living, wouldn’t have it any other way. It is not that we enjoy the pain of having an ice axe jam into our ribs, it is that most of us do everything we can to prepare ourselves for the work we do, but we also accept the inherent risks of the profession. Not everything on this planet is easily accessible or attainable. One has to be aware of these challenges if they also want to enjoy the “spoils” of being a travel photographer.

For me personally, my biggest driving force is the notion that I can share in these experiences with my family. One day soon I will be able to show the world to my son as he joins me on these trips…and that alone is enough to help me get through the “unpleasantries” of my adventures.

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My little adventurer!

Do you have any tales from the road from your own photographic adventures? Share them below!

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