As I write, I’m looking back on my 36 years as a professional photographer with fondness and gratitude. I chose this profession because I wanted to travel and earn a living while doing so. It’s been an amazing three and a half decades and I’m still excited every time I walk out the door camera in hand. I’m looking forward to the next three decades! I travel in anticipation of serendipitous gifts; the unknown encounter. My camera is my passport to the world – a world I would not have known without that camera.
Growing up in a small town, I remember devouring every National Geographic magazine that arrived in the mail. Like many photographers, I always dreamed of working for National Geographic. The real dream began in 1995 when I got the call from Tom Kennedy (at that time Director of Photography) at NatGeo. Eventually, I would photograph five books for National Geographic in the U.S., Canada and in eight African countries.
The most valuable thing I learned from travel was not about photography or cameras, it was about engaging with people. I have lived and worked as my mother taught me, to always treat people with respect. My travels to more than 45 countries showed me that despite different clothing or cultures, everyone wants to be happy, prosperous and to provide a better life for their children. I believe we humans are more alike than we are different.
Often I’m asked to name my favorite place, which is like asking a parent to name their favorite child. I’ve been so lucky to have been to so many places and to have had so many wonderful experiences, any list would be incomplete. Here are a few of my unforgettable moments and their photos:
- Floating down the Mekong River on a former rice barge in Vietnam:
- Having tea with Tuareg tribesmen in the Sahara desert:
- Sitting in a tobacco shed with a 75-year-old Cuban farmer as he rolled a cigar for us:
Travel has made me a better person: teaching me patience, making me realize that I am a citizen of the world, and reminding me of my good fortune. Fortunately, my photographer wife also lives to travel. I’m lucky to have what every good photographer needs – a partner, a good editor, and a caring critic.
Our love of travel took us to three South American countries while I wooed her. Nothing like being together 24/7 for three months to see if you are compatible. We’ve now called Mexico home for six years. It’s where we got married and then started a destination wedding photo business. While we photograph weddings in different parts of Mexico and in the U.S., we realized that we were missing travel “for us”. So, we started a photo tour/workshop company emphasizing Latin America; primarily Mexico, Guatemala and Cuba. Now, we’ll take people where we love to go and share our excitement about a few hidden gems.
Don’t get me wrong, I love using a good camera with a beautiful lens (I’m drooling over a mirrorless system as I write). However, I believe that your most valuable equipment is an open heart and an inquisitive mind. When you combine those qualities with the right camera and lens (or three), and an understanding of how to use them, then a memorable travel experience is unavoidable.
This guest post was contributed by Michael S Lewis. Michael has been a professional photographer for more than 35 years, first as a staff newspaper photographer and eventually working as a photographer for magazines and National Geographic books. He and his wife, Jennifer, operate a destination wedding photography business and a travel tour business from the Caribbean island of Cozumel.