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Globetrotting with International Travel Photographer Christian Heeb

August 27, 2012 Profile & Interviews, Travel 4 Comments

Written by: Charlie Borland

You could easily say that Christian Heeb has ‘been there – shot that’.  This Swiss born photographer, living in the US for the last 20 years, has photographed in over 70 countries and has over 140 books credited to his name. His photography has also appeared in hundreds of publications across the globe including Outside, GEO, Conde Nast Traveller, Grands Reportages, and Rolling Stone.

Despite difficult times for professional photographers in business and the challenges with international travel, Christian and his wife and partner Regula, continue to hopscotch across the globe photographing new books, publishing a series of calendars, teaching international workshops, selling lots of stock, and simply thriving in this business.

Curious how he photographs and runs a successful business, Christian agreed to tell us how he does it.

My neighbors house in Baja. we got a small house south of La Paz. My neighbor build a pretty house in front of me. I love the different triangles. the colors say Mexico.

You have been shooting for over 25 years and started in Switzerland before coming to the U.S. Please tell us about your journey, how you got started and how you eventually came to the U.S.

Well my main objective in 1986 was to come to the US and photograph Native American Culture and their lands. A  1.5 Year Journey through North America turned into a full blown photography business based on travel. Initially we started shooting for German Book publishers and and grew this to an international client base heavy weighed to Europe.

After shooting a Guide Book on the Pacific northwest Regula and I decided to move to Bend Oregon in 1996. We were always doing what we wanted to do and followed our passions which kept us going for years. I try to follow my dreams instead of looking a the business aspects of what I do.

The Matterhorn in my Native Switzerland. i never shot it until after living in the states I went there and decided to go get my photo. I took the train up the mountain and stayed up high so I could catch sunrise with the mountain lighting up.

I see you shoot quite a variety from travel to people to nature, but has travel photography always been your mainstay or passion?

Well we both started out as Architects in Switzerland but then I got into Photography and shot Fashion and portraits for kicks. That lead to my Native People subjects which lead to travel and it now has come back full circle with our new studio in Bend. Right now I am shooting Fashion and Portraits locally as well as everything in between. I keep shooting Nature, Landscape and Travel too. It all depends on the client and frankly I love shooting a large variety. As much as I love Nature, I get bored by too many flowers and scenic mountain vistas. I will go from doing that straight to a model shoot in a urban environment.

Doing a book on the best Hotels in Mexico we shot in the Yucatan. In this Hacienda I asked them to bring out a guy with his Horse in early light. I let him walk past so I got some stunning photos.

You have traveled and photographed across the globe. How many countries have you shot?

Something over 70. I stopped counting and I do go pretty in-depth so I don’t have that many places as other shooters. I pretty much traveled to my dream places  but still have a few spots left that I want to see or revisit.

Tourist riding through the Dunes at Merzouga in Morocco. But it looks like a Caravan of Arabs. It works and I kept the people marginal to stress the size of the desert.

Which country was your favorite and which was your least?

Argentina is my favorite. Can’t think of a least favorite.

Cuba is one of these places where there is stuff to shoot everywhere. this gentleman waits for tourists so he can pose. Never the less I paid my one dollar and took some photos. This was still a Fuji Velvia shot at 40 ISO.

What challenges do you find today when traveling and photographing the globe with bags of gear?

The usual fuss with the airlines and hiring good guides can be challenging in some places.

Shooting for Globo Magazine I drove down Baja for the first time in the early nineties. We ended up in Cabo and one day I shot this guy with his Sombrero from Jalisco in front of a resort. The image keeps selling.

What type of gear do you travel with?

Nikon D700,D800,D300S, Lenses from 12 to 500. Standard 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. 3 Nikon Flash Units, Pocket Wizards, Diffuser and Reflector, polarizer…….it depends on the trip. Africa I bring big glass…city stuff I keep it down.

This Crow Kid I photographed on Fuji Velvia a long time ago. this images was on so many covers. The look in his face, the hair flying. It all came together and it keeps selling.

Is there any moment you feel defined your career and success?

My first calendar published by Photographie in Switzerland in 1988.

We went to the Desert for three days during a production for my first book on Morocco. At sunrise when the Bedouins buildt their first fire I got some shots. Later we had to give a french girl a ride up north because one of the guides kept harassing her.

What about a magic moment? Is there any event that happened while out shooting the resulted in a top selling image, or a narrow escape, or something you will never forget.

There are so many moments…having a beer somewhere out on the Amazon where there’s only local people and parrots..or or maybe being stuck in little hotel on the Border in Sonora while the Drug trucks drove through in the middle of the night and we just hoped nobody would hide drugs in our car.

Rock art in Arnhemland Australia. Here you get great reflected light from the sand hitting the paintings in the shade. Really a simple photo.

Do you have an all time favorite image you have shot? Please tell us why this image is it.

Usually my favorite images are the recent ones. I come up with new stuff all the time. My best selling images are not always my favorite images…One top sellers is this image from Rio and and one of my favorites is this fun shot I took of my wife in Vegas:-)

Rio De Janiero

Las Vegas

You shoot assignments as well. What types of assignments do you do and do you stack projects while on the road?

Stacking (projects) is life in my world. I always combined Book project with Magazine articles and I keep an eye out for stock. You name it.

Classic Americana in Illinois. We drove all of Route 66 in our 1962 Caddy Convertible for another book. These guys were too friendly to pass off.

Some photographers have realized that licensing stock images and being published in calendars and editorial publications is no longer as prosperous of a business model as it once was in today’s markets. Do you feel the same way? You have a lot of products out there right now from books to calendars to stock and workshops.  Please share your thoughts here.

The market has change dramatically. I am changing my business model of course. Still the combination of many things pays the bill. It be very hard these day to be a stock photographer only. We probably work double as hard now and still make less money than we used too. Fortunately I invested the money during the hay days so I am not as exposed as other shooters.

Floating Market Thailand. Not easy these days. I was waiting to get a sot with no tourists and found my frame. Nice reflected light on the woman in her canoe.

Marketing and self promotion is critical to any business and especially photographers. Today, everybody is doing it differently from printed promotions to social media. What do you do to keep earning business and stay so busy?

I keep in touch with my clients on a personal level and I keep in touch with my fans on Facebook. I create my own projects and I am constantly at work selling myself and my images.

The hands of a Tarahumara weaver near the Copper Canyon in Mexico. Getting closer is always good. Get to the point.

You have had a long and successful career and no doubt have been asked by others how to succeed in professional travel photography. What advice would you have for them?

I would not recommend to go into travel photography at the moment. The market is so saturated but hey If you can get into Conde Nast or National Geographic somehow its worth a shot. But better be very good.

Trooping the Colors in London. There is so much color its really all about framing the shot. From the Photographers booth you just need to aim your Tele photo and boom.

You teach some fabulous workshops in some incredible places. Can you tell us about a few and what you have coming up?

I love teaching and traveling with people. There  is no better way of learning than go out and shot and that’s what we do day after day on these trips. America in March and a two week trip I southern utah as well as sveral smaller Workshops from Provence to Oregon. Check out www.ccophoto.com

This Glacier in Argentina can be shot from a little deck.

I like shooting food. This was shot in the Caribbean in St.Lucia. The colors and the fruit cry Caribbean.

On the Chobe River in Botswana you get great shots of Elephants drinking. I just lead a Photo tour there and we will do another in 2014. I Photoshopped this image a lot and it got very kitschy but people keep buying it.

Please tell our readers where they can learn more about you.

My sites are Www.heebphoto.com  www.ccophoto.com

If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.

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Currently there are "4 comments" on this Article:

  1. Fran Gallogly says:

    Great article!

  2. Dotty2travel says:

    These are simply stunning photographs. The dunes in Morocco certainly do look as if there is a caravan passing through. The floating market in Thailand brings back some great memories of my last trip there. I was unfortunate to have left my camera at the hotel so I didn’t get any pictures.

  3. […] Posts: Globetrotting with International Travel Photographer Christian Heeb, Photographing The Elusive African […]

  4. Bella cruse says:

    WOW! such a nice photography. All the photos are really stunning. Well travel is all about trying different food, visit new places and try some crazy stuff. I am a traveling freak guy but i haven’t seen the above beautiful places ever. I am planning to go on a family holiday tour so i think the above places are suitable for that.

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