Can you believe it, folks- we’ve got another great interview today. This one is with Jon Ortner, who has created a tremendous career for himself as a travel photographer. Jon told me how he balances his commercial and personal work, and what spots on earth are most photogenic. It’s not to be missed, have a read!
How did you first begin to combine travel and photography, and where were your first trips? Which are the places you continue to return to?
Right out of High School I first traveled to India, Kashmir and Nepal. I went on my first trek into the Himalaya and that journey changed the direction of my life and sparked the beginning of my photographic career. For more than 20 years I continued to travel and photograph in the Himalaya. I worked mostly in Nepal, but also worked in Bhutan, Ladakh and Tibet. Some of the trips were longer than four months, and I went on treks into the mountains that extended over 50 days, walking more than 500 miles.
As I became more interested in the spiritual traditions of Hinduism and Buddhism and the art and architecture they inspired, I widened my photographic interests to include Southeast Asia. I went on repeated shoots in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, Bali, Java, India, and China, and continued to express my photographic passion. I created several books related to those areas, which can be viewed in the publications section of my website.
I still have plans to continue working in Asia, but more recently, especially over the past five or six years, I have been concentrating on the canyons and deserts of the American Southwest. Shooting with a Fuji 6×17cm Panorama film camera, I have just come out with my new book Canyon Wilderness of the Southwest. It has been reviewed by National Geographic, and just won the Gold Award for Book of The Year by Foreword Magazine.
How do you choose your gear- how have your choices changed since the rise of digital?
Since all of my books have been about outdoor destinations, I still hike very long distances and carry huge amounts of equipment to create my images. Film Cameras, Digital Nikons and accessories, plus food, water, maps, first aid kit and everything else you might need to travel and shoot in the wilderness. The recent desert shoots have been especially demanding because of the amount of water you need to carry (and it’s concurrent weight) and the long distances that must be hiked in intense heat.
What features are most important to you in a tripod? (do you have particular needs for something great for long exposures, or that can flip upside down for macro shots)- which Induro tripod do you like most?
Of course, a sturdy tripod ends up being one of the most important items to have along. As soon as I got to see and handle the Induro Carbon Fiber models, I was sold. Extra stable and light, the two magic words. I have shot all over the world and know how rugged the Induro actually is. Unlike other models that have failed on me in the most inconvenient places, the Induro has served me faithfully in the worst sand storms, submerged in deep muddy water and frozen with ice and snow.
They are almost impervious to sand and water, but the real beauty of Induro, is that if you have to, they can be disassembled, cleaned, and put back together quickly and easily. I use the Induro especially for long twilight exposures, and the legs allow you to also shoot low to the ground for macro as well. I am currently favoring the small light C214 for hiking, and the C413 for closer to home and studio jobs.
What projects are you currently working on? How do you continue to balance commercial and personal projects?
Canyon Wilderness was such a large project, not only in terms of the time and effort it took to shoot, but also in terms of the extraordinary care and effort that was put into the layout, printing, and design. It was all done with color, so I have been in the mood to do something visually different.
For many years I have also been shooting in Black & White, in both medium and large formats. I have been very excited, and have created some some of the most unusual and fulfilling images of my career. I will eventually produce a book on American Wilderness.
Balancing commercial and personal work has always been a challenge. Money means freedom, so the bigger and better the commercial jobs, the more freedom I have to shoot in expensive places like Bhutan. Every time I am stuck doing a mundane, commercial, real estate job, I just close my eyes for a moment and I am back in Bali, Kauai, or in some awesome slot canyon in Utah.
Having said that, many of my commercial jobs have also brought me to great locations, with creative and enjoyable shooting. So I am one of the lucky ones– to have it both ways. Because I love what I do, I shoot with the same passion whether it is for a client or for myself.
Which location that you’ve traveled lends itself best to photography (if it’s possible to choose)….
Hard to choose one, so here’s a few of my all time favorites:
The Island of Kauai in Hawaii
Shwedagon Pagoda, Yangon, Myanmar
Trekking anywhere in Bhutan
<all images copyright Jon Ortner>
Thanks, Jon! I want to go on a trek myself now…