The Travel Photographer of the Year (TPOTY) competition winners were recently announced with no fewer than thirteen 1x members receiving awards. I was quite surprised but I suppose I shouldn't have been.
The high standard of 1x attracts the best photographers in the world and some of those will obviously be travel photographers.
I had the good fortune to be one of those winners. My image was awarded in the 'Colours of Life' category and can be seen here:
I was shocked! This is the largest travel photography competition in the world attracting some 25,000 entries from 147 countries. I didn’t think that my images were that good: surely the judges had made a mistake? And then my friend Yvette Depaepe pointed out that some of the other winners were 1x members.
I counted them up. There were in fact 13 1x members who received mentions in the TPOTY winners. I was again surprised but I suppose I shouldn’t be. The high standards of 1x attracts the best photographers and some of those will obviously be travel photographers. So, now I’m just waiting for the phone to ring with that travel assignment in the Maldives. I’m still waiting ☹. But some people have asked about my photographic journey. How did I develop my skills and that got me thinking about what the useful experiences and photographic milestones were along the way. I also asked some of the other winners who are 1x members.
Firstly, as a benchmark, my own photographic interest started at school but that was a long time ago. I found film frustrating. You had to wait to have it developed, there was no opportunity to correct mistakes, exposure was inaccurate and focus was mostly a guess. Then along came digital and in 2003 with my first digital camera, a lot of those frustrations disappeared. I started to think I was making better pictures but actually I had no real idea.
I joined 1x in 2009 and was blown away by the standard. After many failed submissions I eventually had an aircraft shot with an artistic smoke trail accepted and this gave me some idea of the standard to aim for. In 2011, I visited the Sony World Photography event in London and paid for some critique of my portfolio. This was encouraging. They pointed out some good technique and some areas to work on but overall it didn’t really give a direction to follow. So, in 2012, I joined my local camera club and was able to listen to expert speakers and participate in local competitions. The speakers provided ideas and help with technique. The competitions gave me a much better idea of my own standard and mistakes to avoid.
Feeling reasonably confident I started to put my work forward for accreditation, gaining the Licentiate from the Royal Photographic Society (LRPS) in 2012. In 2015, I tried for the Associate level (ARPS) and was unsuccessful but in 2016 gained the Artist accreditation from the International Federation of Photographic Art (AFIAP) followed by the Certificate of the Photographic Society of Great Britain (CPAGB) in 2017. In 2019, I successfully gained the Excellence accreditation EFIAP.
Over this time, I began to realise that my main photographic interest was travel photography, including street photography, candid portraiture, landscapes and cityscapes. I therefore focused on learning better travel photography technique, particularly how to tell a photographic story and engage with people on the street. I also learned about researching locations in advance and pre-visualising shots. In 2018, I was lucky to live in India for 2 years, one of the most interesting and photographer friendly countries on the planet which provided the opportunity for a lot of practice.
So, to summarise, the key elements of my photographic journey have included:
1) gaining a understanding about what a good standard of photograph is;
2) being honest with yourself about where you sit relative to that standard and to keep testing that and pushing it forward through accreditations, entering competitions and indeed 1x curation;
3) developing a sense of which area of photography appeals most and focusing on that (don’t flit from genre to genre);
4) understand the skills required to make great images and really practice them (processing software, camera hardware, assignment preparation and practice in the field) and
5) always working on creativity, building on what others have done as a start point. (It’s very difficult to be creative without a context.)
So what do other TPOTY winners on 1x say?
was highly commended in the Islands category.
Luigi started his photographic journey in 1970 with an interest in bringing back memories from his travels but, he acknowledges at that time, very poor skills for doing so. Luigi decided to improve his photographic skills around 2005, when he took part in a pair of workshops with a renowned mountaineer, traveller and Italian photographer. He gained some awards for his reportage photography in international contests such as International Photography Awards, PX3 Prix de la Photographie de Paris, Venice International Photo Contest.
In August 2008, a summer trip to Iceland completely changed his view and way of taking pictures: he fell in love with nature photography and natural landscape in particular. Luigi joined 1x in 2011 but got few publications: he understood that landscape photography requires a lot of technical skills and realized that his were not adequate. As a result, he decided to attend some workshops with renowned Italian landscape photographers, to learn technique in the field and won an award in the 26th Memorial Maria Luisa competition. In 2020, he started to focus on his editing skills and submitted more images to 1x and other photo competitions including most recently Travel Photographer of the Year. Luigi now has 50 images published on 1x and an example similar to his highly commended image can be seen here:
received a special mention in the Landscapes & Earth Elements category.
Mohammad loves landscape photography from a drone and has taken a number of arial shots of the Ganges delta with many small islands of floodplain sediment called ‘char’ in his home country of Bangladesh. He loves to capture the light and looks for simple compositions in a panoramic format such as this one here:
He bought his first DSLR in 2013: a Canon 60D with the 18-55m kit lens. He remembers that at the time, the DSLR was a complicated piece of equipment with many mysterious settings. He had an extremely shallow understanding of aperture, ISO, shutter speed etc. and for a while, the camera went mostly unused. However, one lazy morning in late 2013, he took the camera and went out to some of the remote villages near his home town to take random photographs. He was hooked by the results and that provided the motivation to improve his understanding and technique.
In particular, he has come to recognize the mood, artistic appeal, loneliness, solitude, and tranquillity of the chars of Bangladesh which attract many art seekers. He has won several national and international awards and today counts photography as one of his greatest passions.
Serge only started his photography in 2017 during a travel to New Zealand and was mesmerized by the beauty of the place. As a diver he particularly wanted to capture the beauty below the waves.
In 2018 his underwater camera skills caught the attention of the director of France Nature National Museum who asked him for some underwater shots of the Wallis and Futuna coral reef for an exhibition. She saw his website and encouraged him to send some images to National Geographic. That same year, Nat Geo published some of his shark pictures including a school of Rangiroa barracudas. At that point, his photography became less about personal interest projects and more about preservation and showing cultural differences to a wider audience.
Serge says that he is not really interested in how his photographic skills developed: he wants to keep learning about our place on the planet. However he does recognise a change in his technique. Before he used to try to maximise the number of photographic opportunities in any given day but now he takes time and stays in one place and to ‘smell’ life around him. It’s this better understanding, he believes which can improve the originality of the travel shot and produce winning images.
A prolific publisher of images on 1x, Eddy describes himself as a literary photographer – a visual storyteller who aims to produce images which are ‘pure and poetic’, ‘misty and mysterious’, ‘sometimes balancing between realism and surrealism’, with ‘attention to detail’ and often ‘spiced with a touch of humour’. His images are never staged but always focused on the decisive moment. He says that he shoots with his soul, not with his camera and asks not to be put in a box.
Eddy studied literature, philosophy and art at university which would go some way to explaining his approach to photography. He bought his first digital camera in 2015 and joined 1x at the end of 2016. Between 2016 and 2021 he has held exhibitions in a number of galleries both solo and with other artists in countries including the USA, UK, Germany, France, Spain and his home country, Belgium.
A publisher of 5 photo books, in 2020 alone, Eddy has won several prestigious awards including the Finalist Passepartout Photography Prize (Italy), and the Life Framer Photo Contest (Theme: "Civilization") judged by Tate Modern's Curator of International Art & Photography. The American site ‘All-About-Photo’ selected him one of the best contemporary photographers worldwide. But how did he get there? Well, I don’t think he wants to be analysed!
Other winning images in TPOTY from 1x photographers can be seen here:
In concluding this article, I wanted to see if there were any common themes between the photographic journeys of the 5 photographers who have kindly contributed their personal details. Actually, in the detail, not as many as I expected. For all 5, their very keen interest in photography is relatively recent: within the last 10 years. All are driven by a clarity of purpose which goes beyond a particular class of image. For Luigi, his aim is to create dramatic natural landscapes. For Mohammad too, it is landscapes with simple compositions in a panoramic format and Serge’s interest is in showing preservation, particularly of sea life and, and demonstrating cultural differences to a wider audience. Eddy is a visual storyteller who uses a mixture of attributes to draw the viewer in to the picture, which are often simplified to monochrome. And I like to find distinctive features of other countries and cultures (both landscape and human) and capture them as a photographic story too. This sense of purpose does take several years to develop but these are not impossible timescales.
Mastery of technical camera and post production skills get some mention but for the most part, they are a given. All the photographers have found a way to understand what a good standard of photography looks like, many through competitions, others through accreditations, high profile publications and of course submissions to 1x or a combination of these. Together with that understanding, there is a willingness to look at one’s own performance or approach and make changes in order to improve, but that too takes practice and time.
For anyone reading this article and looking for a few shortcuts to improvement, I think they are here. Not in an instant, magic ingredient sense and nor is there a single approach to success: the journeys of these photographers are all quite diverse. If you missed it the first time, maybe read this article a second time and pick out what could work for you.
It would also be great to hear from you.
What have been the defining moments in developping your photographic skills?
What has been your photographic journey?
Please do reply back to this article. One line is fine, for example: 'getting published on 1x' !
Michel Groleau PRO
Congratulations for the prize and for sharing your story and your photographic evolution. Really interesting!
Thank you gentlemen for your inputs too.
Miro Susta CREW
Wonderful photos, congratulations to all authors.
Wicher Bos CREW
Congratulations to all winners! Wonderful photos :)
Serge Melesan PRO
Great article congratulations and thank you 🙏
Eddy Verloes PRO
Great job, Peter ! Congrats !