February 25, 2019
Travel & Photography: A Discussion with Nigel Barker
I conspicuously started off like many other people do; as a tourist. Growing up in rural Selma, AL, I never thought much about other places, but that changed in January 2012. I was planning my first international trip (Paris, France) and my mother was nice enough to gift me a Canon Rebel T3 (at the time I worked as a Civil Engineer, I had no camera equipment). I took that camera to Paris and was blown away...by how awful my photos were.
I thought about all of the iconic photographs of Paris and how photogenic everything seemed, but nevertheless, my photos were garbage. From that day forward I thought of photography as a challenge and not as a hobby or skill.
Six years later, and now working as a full-time photographer, I still think of photography in the same way. If I have to decide on one factor that drew me to photography, it's the challenge.
I look for inspiration in the strangest places, and when I say strange, I mean it literally. Anywhere I'm unfamiliar with, any environment that I'm uncomfortable in, any action that surprises me, that's where I find inspiration.
I once heard a photographer say something along the lines of "If you're ever out shooting and you see a scene that makes you uncomfortable, not only should you photograph that scene, you must photograph it" and it really stuck with me. I'm still not a great street photographer, but street photography in strange environments is where I draw my inspiration.
My favorite photography project was more of a personal experiment than a project. In 2015 I was unhappy with my career, my life, and my environment, so I decided to do something rather cavalier. I quit my career, sold most of my possessions, packed my camera gear and started backpacking.
I shot and edited every day for 16 months. I camped, bused, hitchhiked, scootered, and couch-surfed my way across 40 countries with the goal of developing my photography enough to become a professional. If it weren't for this personal project I probably wouldn't be writing this today.
I mainly shoot with a Sony A7iii, Fuji x100t, Canon 6D, and iPhone X. They all have their strengths and weaknesses, but my favorite camera is the one I have on me when I need it most, and that's usually the iPhone or Fuji.
Print is more on my mind now than it ever has been. I shoot 99% digital and do absolutely nothing with 99% of my images except put them on Instagram/in my portfolio. This has recently started to weigh on me. I now have a personal goal to pare down all of my photos to my favorite thousand or so (*this goal will probably never be met). After that I plan to print them in photobooks and large scale prints.
The constant internal struggle of whether or not my work has any merit.
If your technical skills are already adequate, my advice would be to network. In today's world cameras and photographers are everywhere; there are expected to be 45 billion cameras on the earth by 2022 (and 12 on the moon, thanks NASA). If you want to make a living doing photography networking is paramount. This is sort of a you-can-lead-a-horse-to-water scenario though, because I detest and often do not network; I'm sure it has cost me many jobs.