Nigel's Journey in Travel Photography
We caught up with Nigel Riches to learn more about his journey as a travel photographer, travelling all over the world to capture natural beauty on camera in what might just be the best job on the planet.
What do you do that gets you outdoors?
"I’ve got the incredibly lucky job of being a travel photographer. I’m probably one of those guys who everybody meets and says they would love my job. It is amazing and it involves people taking me all over the world. I travel from the tropics to the arctic and although I’ve never quite made it all the way to the Antarctic, I’ve pretty much shot on every other continent and have had the pleasure of working with the people in those places as well. I always try to express to everybody that it isn’t always the places that they would naturally think of but at the end of day, I never forget the fact that I do a job which takes me to some of the most beautiful places in the world.
For me, my work is everything. That’s what gets me outdoors: yes, it is my job, but if I was to stop doing this job for a living, I would continue to be in the outdoors and would continue to do what I do. "
Have you ever had a job indoors?
"Only once. My passion had always been to become a pilot – my father was a pilot and I wanted a job which gave me some sort of freedom to travel. Flying was obviously incredibly exciting to me: it was all about weather and the outdoors in many ways. But when I found out that I couldn’t be a pilot because I had a colour vision defect, I worked in an office for one year. I think I was like that kid at school who just stared out of the window every single day, wanting to do something else. I’ve never worked indoors, and I never really want to!"
What inspired your passion for photography?
"Like a lot of people, I’d always struggled to work out what I wanted to do. My grandfather was a very keen photographer and although that wasn’t necessarily the driving force behind it, once I found out I couldn’t be in the air force, I just knew there was nothing else for me but to do something that would be exciting, something that really made me want to get up in the morning. And I have to say, in nearly 40 years of doing this, I actually still want to get up in the morning and go and take pictures. But that’s not just because it’s photography, it’s because of where I take them."
What’s your favourite thing about being a photographer?
"I’m super lucky in my job as a photographer because you can’t cut it as an outdoor, travel and lifestyle photographer unless the people you work with are like you. Invariably, if they’re not like you, they fall by the wayside and they probably never become your friends. The good thing is, the people you do work with and who do get it, become your friends and are your friends for life. They’re not there purely to support you because the outdoors will bite them as hard as it bites you and not everyone can tolerate it. But if they do endure - see the funny side of the unexpected, sharing a joke and the life experience - you genuinely reminisce with these guys for years and years. It’s almost a little bit of a club. The guys that do this stuff are those kinds of people. They are there and will be there always."
Do you have a favourite destination you’ve travelled to and/or photographed?
"This is an interesting question because it’s the one that most people ask and the one that most people expect you to have answer for! I probably do have an answer but if you asked me tomorrow, it would be different. On a winter’s day, I could quite happily say that I love shooting in a beautiful exotic location with mountains tumbling down to the ocean and tropical beaches. But ask me on a summer’s day when I’ve had 8 weeks’ of beautiful weather and I’ll tell you how wonderful Iceland is - shooting on the glaciers, on a dreary day when the ice is creaking and you’ve got these beautiful aqua colours through the glaciers – then I’d say ‘that’s the coolest place I’ve shot’.
It’s like music isn’t it? Depending on your mood, everything is beautiful and inspires you as much as it did the first time you went out. There is no quintessential answer except the one right at that moment."
Do you have anywhere that’s particularly close to your heart? And why?
"I would have to say that Cape Town is my second home. I’ve shot there many times and although it has become somewhere that I’m very familiar with and a lot of photographers shoot there - so there’s an element of repetition that we all aspire to try and avoid - it’s hard not to love Cape Town. I’ve got some amazing friends that live there who will always be my friends, that’s the kind of people they are. I will always have a bit of my soul sitting on a beach in Llandudno or in the Karoo. It’s hard to say you don’t love that place. It is in your soul once you’ve been there a few times."
Do you always try to photograph something different?
"When I go outdoors to take pictures, I’m always photographing something different. I have no choice in the matter because I have no control over the elements. I have this wonderful lifestyle that takes me to places where the light changes almost by the minute, I have no control over the weather, the wind, tides, or sea – anything you think of that affects you day generally affects mine ten times over! Every single day I go out, I have to adapt to that environment, and that’s what makes my work (hopefully!) really inspiring.
It doesn’t matter if two people book me for the same job, they will never get the same pictures! Sometimes that can be disappointing because they’ll see examples of my work in the most amazing light and they absolutely love it. I have to be totally honest with them and say, ‘you can’t have exactly that because no one can have exactly that again, but I can do something like it’. I’ve learnt over the years that a foggy day also has the most beautiful light; if you know how to use lenses and understand colour, you can still use the most inclement weather to product the most beautiful photographs. It’s come from years and years of being out in different light and different weather to understand that."
What kind of kit do you wear whilst shooting, travelling and enjoying the outdoors?
"My kit is kind of as utilitarian as I can make it. I’m quite clothing savvy so I do still like to wear trendy stuff – although I’m sure my kids wouldn’t necessarily agree with that! When I’m shooting, I still want kit that I think looks relatively cool, but I also need it to be practical. If I’m shooting in the Scottish Highlands and it’s pouring with rain, a trendy new pair of jeans and a pair of sneakers just isn’t going to cut it! You’ve got to wear professional kit because the outdoors can make you miserable, especially in my job, if you allow it to do so by not wearing the right kit."
And what do you hope to achieve through your work?
"I suppose all photographers like to think that they’re going to have books published and have recognition from their peers and they’re all going to aspire to be you. And I think that as a younger photographer, that was definitely my vibe. I really wanted to have that whole fame and fortune from it. Now, I just really like people who like what I do, understand what I do and really want to work with me. That’s the dream: to keep inspiring others to want to come and work with me. I want to take them to some of the places I go because I know it will amaze them because they still amaze me.
For me, photography should be about trying to make people feel that if I can do it, they can do it: why not? There’s nothing special about what I do; I am purely somebody who loves what I do. If my work can make anyone think, ‘wow, I’ve got to try that, I’ve got to go and see that’, I’m happy. I’m not going to the moon, I’m not going to places that are unobtainable, I’m going to places that you can go to. A lot of my work is in the UK - it’s down the road, it could be in town near you - it doesn’t have to be so complicated. The outdoors is exactly where it is – outdoors. That can be just a few feet away from where you’re standing – go and try it!"
What does it mean to be able to turn your passion into a vocation?
"It’s everything to me. If you genuinely thought about life and said, ‘I’d like to make my hobby my job’, that’s me. What more could you ask for out of life? That the thing you want to do if you weren’t working, actually is your job."
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