Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer whose clients include Endless Vacation, Islands, National Geographic Traveler, Lonely Planet, DestinAsian, American Express and Livestrong. Passion Passport caught up with him recently to get a glimpse into his life as a pro travel photographer and to hear all about his most recent trip to Morocco.
How did you get started with this career path?
I’ve been shooting professional for a little over five years now. It started out as a crazy hobby and passion, and a little under two years after picking up a camera I left my desk job and struck out into the world of commercial photography. It was definitely a rough start, but you keep at it every day as you continue to refine your craft and build up clients.
How often are you on the road?
It depends on the year. I think I spent around six months on the road last year. This year is starting out a bit slower on travel related shoots – maybe only a month so far. It really goes up and down per year. Optimally around three months of the year (in bits and pieces) is a good medium for me.
What is your favorite part about being a travel photographer?
You get to see and experience some incredible things as a travel photographer – really it has to be one of the best jobs in the world. You’ve got a lot of access to opportunities on the road when you’re working with a publication that you wouldn’t normally get. I’ve been able to swim with whale sharks, dine on sardines and fresh pasta on the cliffs of Cefalu, balloon over the temples of Bagan, ride a camel through the Sahara, pray with monks in Luang Prabang, hike the sacred Ausangate range of Peru, share bread with Tibetans in Shangri-La, and countless other experiences. It blows my mind recalling some days.
When you’re shooting for a client, how is that different than shooting your own personal projects?
It really depends on the angle of the story or shoot – and how much creative license you are given. Commercial advertising shoots tend to be a lot more plotted and scheduled. We have a tight vision we’re going for, and my job is to interpret that pretty close to the mark. Some editorials I follow a pretty scheduled itinerary (one location at 10am, another at 2pm, a third at 5pm, etc) and others I’m given the story the writer has put together and told to go forth and make it look good. Both can be nice – though I really enjoy the time to create a story just as I see fit.
Personal projects are just that – they’re personal. I’m pouring my artistry (what meager amount it may or may not be) into a shoot and really trying to shape an idea. They can be both incredibly fulfilling and frustrating, but always worthwhile. I encourage everyone to make time for personal projects.
What are 3 key things to keep in mind when shooting commercial travel images?
- The light is your first and foremost consideration. Good travel photography is firstly about good light. That means pre-sunrise wake-ups, and scrambling during golden hour afternoons. I try to be outside shooting environmentals during those times, and working portraiture, food and other elements in shaded locations during other times of the day.
- It’s important to keep the focus of your story in mind, and the type of imagery the magazine you’re shooting for publishes. Generally speaking they’re going to hire you because they like the look you’ve created, but I still approach a shoot differently depending on the publication.
- I have this cheesy saying about travel photography. Good travel photography is about the people you meet, what you eat and where you place your feet. You want to cover all those elements in your own style to really show the destination. It can be polished food plates or messy dining scenes, evocative portraiture or slices of cultural textiles, and unique street scenes and architecture. Composition and that intangible sense of being in a place are really key. You know it when you see it, and with practice you get better at creating it.
You recently were in Morocco! Tell us about your trip.
I was in Morocco for about a month. I covered a good chunk of the country – from Marrakech to Fes and Meknes, Chefchaouen in the north, and Ourzazate and Merzouga in the east, and Imlil in the High Atlas. There’s so much more to see, but it was a good variety.
What was it like interacting with locals while you were there?
It was a bit of hit and miss in Morocco. Most people don’t enjoy having their photos taken, so it requires a lot of extra effort to get the images you want. You really have to coax people into it – and often find something to offer them in exchange. I carry a small polaroid with me for such purposes.
That being said, Moroccans can be incredibly hospitable, and I very often found myself sitting down with people over a cup of mint tea. I met a group of young people working at one of my riads and was able to spend a few hours with them just hanging about – getting to know them and the culture. It’s refreshing when you can do this and discover all the similarities in the way you live – and how they’ll help shape the face of Morocco in the future.
What was one of your favorite moments on the trip?
Watching the Milky Way rise above the Sahara is a pretty incredible experience. Without city lights anywhere around to dim the stars, it’s an enchanting view. There were also a number of kids I joked around with in Chefchaouen and let them capture some photos of their own with my camera – those kind of experiences are always fun for both of us.