Simone Anne started out her photography career in the wedding world, even though travel had always been her biggest passion. She had hiked the 220-mile John Muir trail solo, visited five continents, and documented her journeys through Cuba, South Africa, and Cambodia — and she was determined that those adventures would only be the beginning. She would someday connect her love of photography with travel.
Fast forward to today, and the Bay Area-based photographer has done just that. Though Simone still shoots weddings, travel has slowly become the major focus of her work, and her lively, colorful style has landed her commissions from clients like United Airlines and CLIF Bar. Hoping to learn more about her experience transitioning out of wedding photography and the challenges that come with balancing work and travel, we caught up with Simone to ask her a few questions. Here’s what she had to say.
When you switched your focus to travel photography, was it intimidating to approach strangers and ask to take their portraits?
Oh, absolutely. Depending on how specific the assignment is, it always takes a little bit of time to feel comfortable with a new place, and it’s scary to ask people such a personal request. In fact, it’s extremely common to get no’s.
While portraits are one of my focal points, and one of the things I always come back to, photographing the food, capturing the essence of a place, and sharing its local art are all equally important to me, and they are things that tell a compelling story as well. So, I’d say, if starting with portraits seems scary, jump in with the others first!
Were there any lessons that you learned from shooting weddings that you’ve been able to apply to travel photography?
Definitely — wedding photography taught me to think on my feet. And work fast. The moment only lasts a moment, no matter where you’re shooting. When I approached weddings, I wasn’t setting up shots. I did portraits, but I never tried to recreate a moment. I never tried to make something happen that wouldn’t naturally happen. I focused solely on bringing out my subjects’ personalities and telling their story. This was something that I had to learn, though, and I believe it’s applicable to any type of photography.
Vibrant color seems to be something that’s consistent in your portfolio photos. How do you think about color when you’re shooting from a technical standpoint?
I don’t think you should really think as you create photos. But I absolutely love color.
There’s this UNESCO World Heritage site in Vietnam in this little old town, and it’s all yellow. The whole town is marigold yellow. It’s so cool. And there are bright-blue doors everywhere and pink bougainvilleas on top of the roofs, which only cause the yellow to pop. When I visited, I literally came to a screeching halt because everywhere I looked was beautiful, vibrant color.
I believe that photos need color. They need an element of surprise. Sometimes all you need is a bit of color to hold the viewer’s attention.
You mentioned that you do a lot of personal travel as well as traveling for weddings and other commissions. Do you approach photography differently if you’re working on commission and have a specific assignment as opposed to just traveling somewhere for fun?
It really depends on the client. I often work with clients who give me access to a place so that I can tell a specific story. For example, I’m being sent to the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, where they release hundreds of hot air balloons and people from all over come to celebrate. I’ll be working with the media team there, as well as a few publications that I’ve pitched this story to, to figure out what it is about this year’s festival that’s going to be unique.
If I were just going for fun to do personal work, I would just go and shoot it, have a good time, and talk to whomever I wanted to. I’m an extrovert, and I’d want to go, so I’d mainly focus on making friends and come away with unique portraits and personal stories.
But since I’m going and pitching the story to clients, I’ve had to reach out to people who are connected on the ground there in hopes that they’ll introduce me to the people I should photograph and help me figure out what stories would best fit my style. I’ll also be coordinating with the people I want to photograph strategically so that I’ll have portraits of them in the best possible settings with the best possible light. None of that tends to happen with my personal work.
Do you have any advice for people who are just starting their photography careers and are interested in pitching stories?
I’d say, get ready for a lot of no’s. Once you’re in the door with somebody, it’s a lot easier. I think that the process can be really disheartening — you have to learn to be someone who’s willing to put in the hustle and keep pushing. You just have to keep going.
I would also say to make sure that the photos that you’re offering are good enough. I don’t want anybody to get discouraged at the beginning of their careers, so if you’re not a professional photographer yet, just keep putting in the time. Shoot a ton of personal work. Organize your friends. Shoot local. Shoot a lot. Practice, practice, practice. You’ll know when you’re ready.
I look back at work from six years ago and I’m like, Whoa, that’s not stuff to be proud of. But as a photographer, you have to work through that. Don’t get discouraged if you look at something you did and feel like you’re not up to par. Just keep going.
The other thing I would say is that the editors you’re pitching to want to see consistency. You need to be able to produce consistent work. They have to know what they’re getting if they’re going to work with you. Having stories that are more than just disjointed images is going to help with that a lot. But, yeah, I’ve sent so many cold emails that didn’t work out — trust me. But when they do, they can certainly be the start of a wonderful relationship.
How do you use your website to get clients, and how does your website figure in to introducing your work?
My website is critical — it has to be there to back up my work. I think a lot of clients do find me through other jobs, but then they visit my site. I have a few different categories in my portfolio, and I think that they help drive people to the thing that is more applicable to them. For example, I have a travel section and an editorial section, which are slightly different. The editorial section is where I tell more complete stories and organize photos that are more subject and trip specific. It’s destination-based, absolutely, but it’s also story-based. I often think that if I’m pitching a destination at a travel company, they’re looking at that first category. They’re going to click on that section of the site and they’re going to find everything they need right there. The travel section of my site is more applicable to people who work for web magazines or print publications. They have a subject or a specific story in mind that they’re excited about and they want to be able to tell that story in an impactful way, through imagery.
I didn’t always have these separate categories, but I worked hard to create a website that showcases the kind of work that I do and that I want to do. Sure, it’s fun to pull all of your favorite headshots together, but you need to have a digital portfolio that highlights what your clients are looking for. It’s critical to show off exactly what it is that you can produce and what you love to create.