It’s a great honour to present this interview with the one and only Clint Burkinshaw. He is a talented Travel & Landscape Photographer with an incredible portfolio. Thank you Clint for taking the time to make this interview happen!
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your passion for traveling?
First of all, thanks very much for featuring me on CaptureLandscapes – it’s an absolute pleasure! Ok well, to keep a long story as short as possible; when I was 21 years old, I had started working full time in an IT career that I’d previously studied for. While I was happy with the work I was doing and enjoying the job, I found myself already asking “there has to be something else other than living the same week 52 times a year for the next 60 or so years…”. This was when I first looked at a world map and started to wonder.
Before too long, I had booked a several month long return trip to Europe, where I grabbed my backpack and just bounced around until my time was up. I’d fallen in love with travel, and the freedom of the open road. Not long after coming back, I’d resigned from my job, sold most of my possessions, and purchased a one-way ticket to South America with no end date. Best decision I could of ever made. Here I spent a year drifting around Latin America and falling even more in love with life on the road. This place ultimately changed who I was and concreted a new direction I was to then pursue.
Since that year in South America, and a decade later, I’ve been on the road virtually non-stop, pausing periodically only to top up the travel funds. I’ve now travelled to and visited over 65 countries, covering regions of North and East Africa, the Middle East, Central and south East Asia, Europe, and returned to Central and South America. I think it’s safe to say… I’m addicted!
In another interview you say that the passion for photography came after you began traveling. What triggered this interest?
While I had probably enjoyed photography slightly more than the average Joe, I never really took any great interest in it until several months into my first South America stint I mentioned above. I was roughing it with just a small backpack, so there was only a limited number of souvenirs and memories I could carry (so to speak), and I found myself concentrating on my photos for my main source of ‘momentos’ (so to speak). Admittedly it was just a 5MP point and shoot, but I enjoyed playing with it.
One day in southern Colombia, I stayed at a hostel where the owner was a very talented photography enthusiast. He had framed a series of wonderful images from around Colombia, and placed them in his hostel. These photos blew me away, and the urge to want to be able to do what this guy had done, lit a huge fire within me. Since then, I’ve never looked back!
What, if anything, is different about traveling as a photographer compared to “just a traveler”?
I think one of the main things about travelling with photography as the main goal, is that there’s a potential for destinations to be selected based on photographic desires. This is entirely true of my upcoming trip, in which I’ll get onto shortly. I think when you travel somewhere purely for travel purposes, you’re solely after an experience, whether it be nature or cultural. Photos would be a take it or leave it in this circumstance. Conducting “travel photography” means you have to ‘create’ that photo. It’s more than just a slice of time captured in a single frame. It should tell a story, represent that location, convey emotion and pull the viewer into the shot.
I understand that you recently made the switch to a mirrorless camera. What was the reason for this and has it had any impact on your travel photography?
I did indeed make the switch to a mirrorless setup – and what a treat it has been! At the beginning of 2012 I had all of my camera gear stolen while tour cycling through Europe. Devastating as it was, it did allow me to make a transition to a whole new setup for my upcoming trip later that year. This made me think back to backpacking across the Saharan desert in north Africa, and having to lug several kilograms of dslr gear on my shoulders, in the extreme heat, for months on end. It wasn’t pleasant. So late 2012 before I took off again, I took the dive and went mirrorless.
The NEX-7 was the latest and greatest at the time, so I decided to go down the Sony path, and not once have I looked back. I travelled west around the globe for a year and a half with that setup, and it was an absolute pleasure the entire time. The camera was in my hand much more, and I was able to get images I never would of been able to otherwise. Now a generation on with mirrorless technology, my A7R will be accompanying me for my next trip. Can’t wait to see the results.
Many travel photographers focus mainly on the people and cultures, but you tend to go towards the landscapes. What is it about landscapes you find appealing?
I’d definitely agree with that. If you run a search for “travel photography”, there’s a similar theme that reoccurs, which is as you mentioned, more people and cultural based. While I do dabble in those style of photographs, it’s not something I concentrate on, and it’s not the main thing that pulls me to a location somewhere halfway around the world (well, sometimes it has). But for me, getting out there amongst a grand landscape that I’ve never seen before, surrounded by mother natures finest, speaks to me like nothing else. There’s something I find really serene about it. This urge (or need) of mine has sent me to all corners of the globe
I guess I could be dubbed more of a landscape photographer that travels. However, my entire world revolves around travel, and so does my photography, and I guess this is why I place myself in the “travel photographer” category.
Going on a trip without necessarily knowing where we will end up is challenging for most of us. Do you have any advice on how to overcome this fear and realise your dreams?
This is a great question, as I find conquering that fear you describe is something that people struggle to achieve. I’m not going to lie, when I first took off on that one-way ticket and was introduced after a week or two into a ‘scary’ environment that I was not comfortable with. I thought I’d made a huge mistake with this travel ‘thing’ and wanted out. But I shook it off and pushed on. I’ll never forget that moment. I think what people need to realise is, the world is not a scary place. Sure it’s unfamiliar, bizarre, and often quite different. But that’s all it is.
If you honestly give it a solid go – expanding that comfort bubble we all live in, life becomes very different. Peering over the hill at the neighbouring valley is wonderful experience and gives you a new perspective on things. I’ve never met a single person that’s taken a good leap out of their comfort zone to travel, and regretted it. It’s hard, I won’t deny that, but once you take a deep breath and take that first step, I promise you’ll never look back.
On your website you write about a trip to Erta Ale where you hired a personal militia. Why did you choose to visit at this time, even though it’s known for its violence towards tourists and ongoing conflicts?
Contrary to my answer above, yeah, there are some dangerous places in the world. This happens to be one of them. But keep in mind, I purposely seeked this experience out, and is impossible to just stumble into. Another long story short, when my wife and I were in Tanzania, we learnt of an mind-boggling, almost unreal permanent molten magma chamber in the eastern region of the Congo. However, travelling through Rwanda and getting within a few kilometres of the Congo’s border, we had learnt the region was completely over run with Guerilla groups, and it was a death trap. Simply – it was impossible. Finding someone that could get us in, but not out, was a deal breaker for us.
Down and out we moved on, up into Uganda, where we happened to stumble upon some information that there was in fact another one (the only other one that can be reached on foot)! This time in northern Ethiopia, bordering Eritrea. The caveat was that it was too, dangerous, and often in the territory of Guerillas. A terrible tragedy several months prior to us arriving there also testified to how serious these situations can get. But, potentially recklessly, our sense of adventure got the better of us and we decided to push on. Hiring a small army of 10 militia of our own (for protection), was our only option.
Delving into the void, into what is (on average) the hottest place on earth, the Afar Depression, we travelled for four days. It was probably the most uncomfortable and difficult journey of my life. But spending a night next to Erta Ale, staring down into what the locals call “the gateway to hell” was one of the most mesmerizing experiences of my life. It’s a place I could never return to again, but something I’m really glad I managed to do. I knew that if I actually made it, and stood there overlooking the persistent magma chamber, all my struggles would be worth it. And it certainly was. That being said – I’ve never recommended anyone to follow in these foot steps…
I can imagine that during your years of traveling you’ve had both good and scary experiences. Can you tell us a little about your most frightening and rewarding moments?
In addition to some of the moments on the expedition described above, I’ve had several other “scares” over the years. Back in ‘08 I spent a year travelling through Latin America. Aside from getting to/from islands, I prohibited myself from taking a plane. This meant I had to land cross the border between Colombia and Venezuela, which is strongly advised to stay at least 100 km’s away from due to the tension between the two countries. Upon crossing the border, I was taken at one stage by a military guard, pushed into a tiny room, forced to strip down to my underwear and had a gun pointed right between my eyes in which he then pretended to fire. It may have seemed funny to him, but not to me.
But by far my most scary moment was when I was taken hostage by several soldiers in the deserts of Sudan (some of them child soldiers). Part way through the night, while trying to deal with the extortion that was going on. I was convinced that this was the end point for me and I’d never see morning again. Pure luck let me come away unscathed.
Though I’ve had some scary experiences, the sheer number of amazing experiences and magical moments I’ve experienced, far outweigh the bad. From jungles to snow capped peaks, remote islands to deserts, and volcanoes to glaciers, it’s been stuff dreams are made of. To name a few, I’d have to start with eloping at over 5,000 metres up in the Himalayas. There wasn’t another person within many miles. I was all alone with my girl, sitting on the side of a glacier, overlooking some of the most amazing snow capped peaks on the planet, when we tied the knot. For us, it was a fairy-tale wedding! Another one of my favourite memories started deep in the Bwindi Impenetrable forest, south east Uganda, bordering the Congo. Here we trekked for several hours through extremely dense jungle, hacking our way with machetes up a mountain until we found what we came all this way for, a family of 6 Mountain Gorillas. I can’t begin to explain how beautiful that experience was, and how elegant and placid these creatures are. A day that will forever be remembered!
What are your top 3 tips to a beginning travel photographer?
From a travel photography point of view, which let’s say is; taking photographs of other cultural location, as well of people and landscapes. One of the things that will grab you more decent photos, is to be kind to people. Ask them permission to take photos of them, and if feasible, make a donation for their troubles. You’ll find kindness and respect goes a long way.
Another great tip is to research your upcoming location. The more familiar you are with the scene you will be photographing, the more likely you are to grab a great shot. Simple steps to researching locations is to do a simple Google Image search of what other photographers have done. Look on google maps (this is especially true for landscapes), as understanding the geography will help you setup your composition in advanced. Never forget to chat to locals about some hot spots, as local knowledge is often the best.
The third, and potentially the most important pieces of advice I can give people, is to be familiar with your equipment. Knowing what your equipment can do, and what it can’t do, will work wonders. Know your gear like the back of your hand. Sometimes those ‘kodak moments’ come and go within a few seconds, and if you can’t respond in time, you’ll miss it. So know your gear, understand what environment requires what settings, and go in prepared. This way you’ll be able to respond appropriately and capture that moment forever.
For those interested, I’ve written an ebook titled “Travel Photography, a Guide for the Beginner and Enthusiast”, which covers everything you need to know from a beginners & enthusiasts perspective, on how to successfully take photographs while travelling or on holiday. After all, memories fade, but your photos will last forever.
Last but not least, where will Clint Burkinshaw go next?
Haha, I like this one, as it’s happening in just a few weeks! Late April, my wife and I take off again on a one-way ticket. This time we will be landing in Estonia or Russia, in which we will put together a couple of push bikes, and start cycling south for several thousand kilometres across eastern Europe. Long difficult days, tiring nights camping in forests will be all a part of the challenge. We have no idea where we’ll end up, but ideally we’d like to do it for at least a few months. Perhaps we’ll end up in Turkey. Maybe Portugal? Wherever it is, when we reach it, we’ll first celebrate, and once recovered, pack our bikes up and ship them home, as the second part of the journey is about to commence.
The second part of the journey will be all about those stunning landscapes high up north. We’ll be spending several months roaming around the Arctic Circle. Ever since I first visited Iceland back in ‘09, I’ve fallen in love with the magic the Arctic offers. Also, failing to see the ‘green lady dancing’ in the sky back in Iceland, I’ve been dying to get back. This time, Norway, Greenland, a return trip to Iceland, and perhaps even Svalbard is on the cards. Spending months smothered by amazing landscapes is the goal here, and I can not wait to capture them!