Exploring the world of travel photography with Karen Catchpole

[Kealie Mardell | Print Editor]

More than 70 million people use Instagram every day. Of those pictures, over 38,000,000 are tagged #travel, and almost 100,000 with the more specific #travelphotography. When everyone armed with a smartphone and an Instagram filter thinks they’re the next big travel photographer, are we losing the art of travel photography?

One person who certainly doesn’t think so is Karen Catchpole, a soon-to-be photography graduate who found her passion for travel during a study abroad year in Perth, Australia.

“Before I’d done a lot of fashion, portraiture and wedding photography, all people based,” she said. “I never really liked landscapes at all, and then I went to Australia and found all this inspiration. I got loads of pictures and the travel bug hit me.”

The Pinnacles | Western Australia
The Pinnacles | Western Australia

While some might struggle to find photography inspiration in England, Karen has done most of her photography here, and found study abroad as a way out. Since then, she has also travelled to New York, and plans to make Dubai one of her next stops.

“I’ve not really had the chance to jet off anywhere yet,” she said. “But I’ve been looking at around the world tickets for after graduation.”

For a travel photographer, that ticket abroad can be a dream come true. For Karen, that dream journey would be a road trip of America and Canada, but it doesn’t end there. The places she would most like to visit range from India, the Maldives, Thailand and San Francisco.

Explore the unexpected

While Karen found a love for travel photography in Australia it wasn’t initially her first choice.

“I’d never really thought about going to Australia,” she admits. “Everyone goes there, so why would I want to?”

But taking that risk paid off in more ways than she could have imagined. She also went in the ocean for the first time and became a certified scuba diver. When asked what her favourite places were in Australia she laughs: “There’s so many!”

Great Barrier Reef
Great Barrier Reef

“I did a road trip from Perth to Exmouth. All along that coast was like my photography heaven. I also really enjoyed Queensland, where I did a helicopter ride of the Great Barrier Reef. That was insane and I got some really nice pictures there.”

Behind the lens

So what happens when a travel photographer sets out to take a photo? Is there something in mind, or does inspiration strike?

“I kind of have this place in mind and that’s the aim of the shoot,” says Karen. “But on the way I detour and get side tracked a lot, taking more pictures of everything else. I’ve got this aim of where I want to be, but it’s getting there that’s even more fun sometimes.”

Memories and a sense of adventure can make shoots worthwhile, yet it takes something more for that to become art, to become a career.

“I take all my photographs mainly for me and I’m in the throes of creating a travel book with all my photos from Australia and New Zealand,” says Karen. “But then I’ve got friends in Adelaide who’ve had about 10 to 20 of my pictures printed onto canvas. They’ve got this whole wall with all my pictures, like a little gallery. So I suppose it’s for other people to enjoy as well.”

Flinders Ranges | Australia
Flinders Ranges | Australia

While it was unexpected that people were willing to spend money on her work, Karen shared that it’s an amazing feeling when someone wants it on their wall to look at every day.

She describes the typical shot of a New York skyline and a yellow taxi, and how much more valuable it is for someone to want something a bit different and more personal. With this in mind, she advises aspiring photographers to travel to the places that other people don’t go to.

“Find the more distant places that people haven’t been to. Find new photography opportunities that give you more of a unique style and will make your photography become more interesting for other people,” she says.

Stand out from the crowd

The latest search results from UCAS show over 150 courses in photography. While many people ask why you would get a degree in photography, Karen says there’s a lot more to it than just picking up a camera.

Through her degree she feels she’s learnt a lot and made valuable contacts, but that it’s also crucial for photographers to develop an online presence, making the most of social media and networking.

“It’s not just about taking a picture, it’s what you are going to do with it,” she says. “If you want to make a career out of it you have to promote yourself, make people know who you are and remember you.”

Malpas | South Australia
Malpas | South Australia

While Karen describes herself as fun, bubbly and different, what makes her photos different is what’s behind them.

“I like to talk to people. I like stories to go with my pictures,” she says. “It’s not about standing at a distance and taking a picture of a landscape, it’s getting the story behind it and learning something new. I think that really adds something.”

Her final words of advice for future travellers are to make the most of it: “Speak to people, learn the culture. It becomes a lot more interesting.”

For more from Karen, visit www.karencatchpole.com.

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Exploring the world of travel photography with Karen Catchpole