On the rare opportunity that Conor MacNeill gets a holiday, he often spends it exactly as he would one of his work expeditions — he just doesn’t get paid for it.
When you first hear that, it almost sounds depressing. But, the more you think about it, the more you realize that Conor is one of the few people in the world who has found the perfect career — who has discovered how to make a living off of the very activity he would choose when provided with an open schedule.
A freelance photographer who specializes in shooting landscapes and cityscapes, Conor travels the world and captures breathtaking images of wild countrysides and striking skylines. This results in a range of experiences — from getting flown to a foreign country in business class and then transported via helicopter to a luxurious shoot, to taking on a personal project that saw him waking up in a tent, alone save for the sound of a thunderous waterfall nearby.
Whether he’s perched 10,000 feet (~3,000 meters) up on the side of a mountain in Bhutan’s Paro Taktsang Monastery or exploring the abandoned sea fortresses off the coast of Liepaja in Latvia, every one of Conor’s trips is an attempt to capture certain images. But it wasn’t always that way. In fact, when he first started taking photos, his photography was a product of his travel, not the other way around.
His first major excursion came in 2010, when a friend invited him on a road trip to and from Istanbul, Turkey. They were living in London at the time, meaning the 12-day journey would bring them through at least 10 different countries. Conor agreed and, throughout their expedition, he was bit by that oh-so-wonderful travel bug, falling quickly in love with the experience of waking up every day in a new nation with its own culture, its own spirit. He wanted to chase that feeling, so in 2011 he resolved to visit a new country every month.
Embarking on solo adventures, Conor worried that he might occasionally face boredom. When he bought his first DSLR, it was basically on a whim, because he thought taking a few photos here and there might help him stay engaged. But by the end of 2011, all of his journeys had become photo trips.
He loved the way photography allowed him to physically capture the beauty in front of him, how he could create an image that would evoke in the viewer the same emotions he experienced in real life. He loved how he could work at photography as a craft, how he could get to a point where he was coming home from each journey with one or two spectacular shots as opposed to hundreds of holiday snaps. He loved how he could immerse himself in the majestic landscapes he was shooting, learning to relish the solitude and serenity he could experience away from the buzz of the cities.
Today, he continues to travel the world in search of those images that will inspire a similar sense of wanderlust in others. He’s been to over 60 countries and has taught photography workshops in both Iceland and the Faroe Islands. He’s enjoyed a cavalcade of adventures, from riding electric bikes around Bagan, Myanmar, to sleeping in the front seat of a Volvo deep inside the Arctic Circle.
He continues to wake up in new nations and experience new cultures, whether he’s getting paid for it or not. The bite of the travel bug lasts a lifetime — although it’s already been years since his first trip, for Conor, it feels as if his journey has only just begun.