ARTICLE

Young Photographer: how to get started in travel photography, with Annapurna Mellor

Travelling by train around Puglia in southern Italy, professional photographer Annapurna Mellor shared expert creative and business advice with up-and-coming photographer Henry Jay Kamara. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 24mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO100. © Annapurna Mellor

Travel photography, by its very nature, is rarely static, but it's possible to capture the essence of a destination in a short trip. For the second Young Photographer collaboration between Getty Images and Canon that champions up-and-coming image-makers, two travel photographers showed how they made the most of 24 hours on a whistle-stop tour of southern Italy, harnessing the versatility of the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.

British travel photographer Annapurna Mellor, together with emerging talent Henry Jay Kamara, began their photographic journey at a lively fish market in Bari, a port city in Puglia, filled with bustling Italian life and fresh catches of the day. After photographing men playing cards, fishermen and colourful boats at sea, the pair boarded a train to Matera, to document the rustic city.

Travel is in Anna's blood – her parents named her after the Annapurna mountain range in Nepal, which they visited while cycling around the world, and she grew up in different places around the globe. After university she spent a year travelling, writing and photographing, and was scouted by Getty Images after the agency found her blog. Since then she has shot for travel heavyweights including National Geographic, Lonely Planet and Intrepid Travel and founded ROAM Magazine to encourage new travel narratives.

A global outlook is also core to Jay's work. With a background in shooting commercial work for brands such as Nike and Puma, his photographic renaissance occurred on a spontaneous trip to Sierra Leone to uncover his family history. This inspired a deep dive into identity, heritage and the African diaspora and his work now reflects the personal storytelling he focuses on through his imagery, with a growing interest in travel.

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"I love travel photography in the sense that you're within a community to capture the essence of it," Jay says. "When you go somewhere you've never been before, everything is fresh and exciting, so I didn't put my camera down."

Gastronomy took centre stage in Matera, as the duo photographed traditional Italian cooks in a family restaurant at dinner and bakers in the town's oldest bakery. "Matera is famous for its bread, so we photographed the people running the bakery," says Anna. "They were classically Italian people; happy and laughing together, so I took some nice, energetic portraits."

Traversing the winding streets, they shot a mix of street-style photography, landscapes and the sunrise illuminating the city panorama. "The vibe of Matera is quite different to the vibe of Bari, but it works nicely as a story because you get two different sides of Italy," says Anna. "Matera is a very traditional town, Bari is more like a modern city and the fish market is a traditional place within a modern city."

The sun sets over a mountain and lake, turning the sky and water violet and blue.

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A versatile workhorse – the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

For both photographers, the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens proved to be a true workhorse, rising to their demands time and again. "This lens is very versatile," says Anna. "You can take portraits, landscapes and street scenes with it. The aperture opens up to f/2.8. It's the lens that I use 90% of the time, because it's amazing for everything. With travel you're shooting a real mixture of scenes and this is the best all-round lens."

"You try to only carry the essentials," says Jay. "With a lens like a 24-70mm, you know you can capture wide shots and good portraits without needing to change lenses, which is ideal, as you need to capture things quickly."

He put it through its paces when shooting the rapid sunrise over Matera from a nearby mountain, starting inside a cave. "In the caves I shot pictures looking out at the city on 24mm," he continues. "Then when I stepped out of the cave, I wanted to capture more specific scenes in the cityscape, so I would zoom in to, say, 50mm or 70mm to capture a particular area."

Photographers Henry Jay Kamara and Annapurna Mellor in Italy.
Jay and Anna exploring the winding, cobbled streets of Matera in Italy. © Dan Dennison
Italian men in a travel street scene. Photo by Annapurna Mellor with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM.
"You can take portraits, landscapes and street scenes" with the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM, says Anna. "With travel you're shooting a real mixture of scenes and this is the best all-round lens." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/250 sec, f/3.5 and ISO100. © Annapurna Mellor

Having an all-rounder also helps when you're working with a single camera body, as Anna often does. She says, "People can get a bit suspicious if you're carrying two massive cameras around. As a travel photographer, I'm trying to show the good aspects of a country, not the negative, but people don't know that. If you look like a journalist, people are more likely to say they don't want their picture taken."

Prime for portraits, telephoto zoom for landscapes

When focusing on portraiture or details, Jay turned to a Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens. "Portrait photography is a real favourite of mine – I love having conversations with people and capturing them authentically," he says. "The Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM lens was incredibly sharp, with great latitude, which gave me a lot of dynamic range to go in and edit."

Also, using the Canon EOS 6D Mark II body married convenience with quality. "I think that ease of being able to get great quality shots without needing to compromise too much on size and bulkiness is the main benefit of the 6D," he says.

Golden sun lights up the sandstone buildings of Matera. Photo by Annapurna Mellor with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens.
Anna used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM to capture this sunrise shot. She loves that the shadow across the bottom half of the cityscape produces an image containing "a contrast in light, but all the layers of the city." Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens at 200mm, 1/200 sec, f/8 and ISO400. © Annapurna Mellor

For Anna, the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV offered similar qualities to her usual body, a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, but with added benefits. "The dynamic range is greater, so colours look better," she says. "It's sharper and works much better in low light – I could tell just by looking at the screen that there was less grain, even when I was shooting at ISO8000 in the bakery. I wanted fast images of bread being taken out of the oven, but I didn't want to lose the light, so that was really helpful."

She used the Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens for photographing details across the cityscape, including at sunrise. "You get the light halfway through the photo, and then shadow – a contrast in light, but all the layers of the city," adds Anna. "You can get really sharp detail in landscapes and even see people walking through the little narrow alleyways, which I loved."

Opening the world

Throughout the shoot, Anna and Jay shared their knowledge and tips of the trade. "Jay's really accomplished at taking portraits – he can see how the light hits people's faces and can get the right expressions," says Anna.

"From working with me, I hope he thought more about how to put together an overall travel narrative. Magazines don't want 20 portraits; they want maybe three or four, as well as pictures that set the scene. If you put a strong portrait next to a landscape or detailed shot, someone will get more of the sense of place, which is so important in travel work."

A large sandstone church is lit at dusk, overlooking mountains. Photo by Annapurna Mellor with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.
Anna taught Jay about the business side of travel photography, such as the need to capture "hero images" like this one for magazine commissions, alongside other images that help tell the story of a place. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 55mm, 1/60 sec, f/4.0 and ISO6400. © Annapurna Mellor

Jay says: "What was really interesting about this project for me was the mentor-mentee relationship, because I want to learn, and I also think we're always both a mentor and a mentee. Anna shared a great deal about her journey, how she got her work in the right places and the significance of one's approach as a travel photographer. We also had some really good conversations about our purpose as photographers."

For Anna, such purpose is clear. "Travel photography can change a person's view on a place, cause them to re-evaluate their beliefs about a culture or religion, or simply inspire someone to experience the world themselves. For those of us with the privilege to travel, it's the primary way we learn about other people. For someone who can't experience it first-hand, photography can open the world."

A wicker basket of fresh fish in an Italian fish market. Photo by Annapurna Mellor with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.
Anna's shots of Puglia's thriving food scene help to reveal the character of the place in a way that a cityscape can't convey. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 39mm, 1/1250 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Annapurna Mellor
Artichokes in bundles are stacked up at a market. Photo by Annapurna Mellor with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.
Anna recommends practising the art of narrative photography by submitting your work to small online publications at first. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 70mm, 1/400 sec, f/2.8 and ISO100. © Annapurna Mellor

Anna's travel photography tips

1. Build a narrative through your images
"When building a narrative, you need to think about how an image will translate to a person through Instagram or a magazine page. You need to think about the sense of place – what does it feel like to be there? What makes it unique? You need to get a wide variety of pictures: firstly the 'hero' images, which are the main focus of the article, but also the pictures that might not look like much on their own, but that create an instant story when put together with other images."

2. Know your kit inside out
"Whatever gear you have, you're carrying it possibly for months around the world, so it needs to be light and versatile. Have a camera that you feel super-comfortable with and that you know inside out, because a lot of travel photography involves getting pictures quickly. If you can't afford both a high-quality lens and camera body, invest in a high-quality lens. I maintain that the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens is the best lens you can buy, the ultimate travel lens. A Canon EF 50 mm f/1.2L USM lens is small, so it's not much more to carry for low-light situations, or times when you want to take a better portrait."

3. Showcase your storytelling ability
"Travel photography is an extremely competitive industry, so you need to get your work into the world and in front of the right people. Have a strong Instagram collection and portfolio showcasing your best work. You can also write for small online publications that accept submissions, because that helps you put a story together. If you show a magazine or brand your Instagram, it's not showing them how you can create a narrative. But if you show them a story, it instantly says what you can do for them."

A man’s hands are seen as he holds them out. Photo by Henry Jay Kamara with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens.
Jay is particularly interested in photographing people and in telling stories. Taken on a Canon EOS 6D Mark II with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 55mm, 1/400 sec, f/8 and ISO3200. © Henry Jay Kamara

Jay's travel photography tips

1. Put subjects at ease
"Be aware of why you want to take photographs. If you are unsure, it can have an effect on the subject. Being completely comfortable in your understanding of why you want to take that photograph aids your ability to put someone at ease. Then it's just about your ability to communicate. With portraiture it's 80% conversation, eye contact and your relationship, and only 20% technical photography skills. Some people warm up quicker, some slower, and it's really about being open enough to want to listen to different types of people."

2. Seek out the shots that tourists aren't taking
"As a travel photographer, you have to do your best to capture the city in ways that other people might not. It's always worth waking up early to get the shot that most tourists won't normally take, such as sunrise. You can also become occupied with looking at the larger images, but then you can walk past a door and there might be an interesting message on it, or a different texture on the handle. Thinking about things like colour, light and shadows is key."

3. Stay true to your own story
"Don't become obsessed with what other people want to consume, or you'll be operating in a system where you are creating to fulfil another person's purpose, and that's not why we create. My photography started to become unique to me when I went to Sierra Leone. I visited the villages where my mum and my dad came from, started to become more aware of my heritage and tried to understand my diaspora. I think the best photographers, or the most successful ones, are the ones who are able to marry their perspective in their personal life with the story they tell through their photography."

Yazar Lucy Fulford


Annapurna Mellor's kitbag

The key kit pros use to take their photographs

On a table sits a Canon DSLR, two Canon lenses, a passport and travel diary.

Camera

Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

Designed to perform in every situation, the EOS 5D Mark IV is beautifully engineered and a thoroughly accomplished all-rounder. "The dynamic range is greater [than the Mark III], so colours look better," she says. "It's sharper and works much better in low light."

Lenses

Canon EF 50 mm f/1.2L USM

A lens that allows fine creative control over focusing and depth of field. "The Canon EF 50 mm f/1.2L USM lens is small, so it's not much more to carry for low-light situations, or times when you want to take a better portrait," says Anna.

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