Join Nick Onken for an in-depth discussion in this video In depth: Phototrekking, part of The Creative Spark: Nick Onken, Travel and Lifestyle Photographer.
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So, Photo Trekking was birthed out of the travel photos that I've taken over the last few years. And as I shot for the non- profits and on vacations and from living in Paris and doing different things, I'd gather this pretty good-sized travel photo library and I had put together some little promo books that I was sending out. And my consultant that I was using at the time, she was kind of using them as a case study in one of her seminars. And there happened to be a photo, a book editor sitting in the audience, and she got it and she's like wow, this is really cool.
I wonder if this guy would be interested in doing a book. So, she basically got in touch with me. And the travel stuff that you're seeing here, I've never really been paid for. It's more, you know, non profit, working with charities, or shooting my own personal work on vacations, or going to visit friends and I'm walking around with a camera, that kind of thing. You never know. It could turn into a book. That's kind of what happened. We took about six months. And I had to create an overall table of contents, kind of outlining all the categories that we'd talk about and kind of create a kind of sample excerpts, which were kind of easy, because I was able to pull those almost straight from the blog of things that I've already written.
Every photo in the book has a little caption and some technical specs of what camera I shot it with, which lens, which focal length, ISO, and shutter speed. The travel journals are just kind of a little bit more in depth into one specific country or area that I had shot in and kind of a story around it. At this point, I've been to 45 countries and the first few, probably the first ten or fifteen were just kind of exploring, experimenting, and after I've done it for a while, it's kind of given me a good stride and really helped me to understand how to operate in different countries, how to relate to people, how to kind of walk around and blend in with the surroundings. And part of how I shoot as a photographer is very moment-driven.
I see like, natural moments and I try to catch those. So I guess this is the tips section. This is a shot taken in Thailand, so a rule of thirds will to be kind of, put the subject in your, one of the thirds of the frame, the right or the left third. Juxtaposition. This is a great shot just because you've got a monkey with a cat; it's like very contrasting. Pattern and textures. I love going out and shooting stuff that has repetition and then creating a pattern out of it.
That was definitely kind of something that I discovered along the way. It's good to be in print. It's good to have a book, especially published by a major publishing house. It's a good PR piece. It's good creditably for getting other jobs, or you know, people will tweet at me and say they found my book in Thailand and they're super excited. You know, another person says, "Oh I just read it, I just read your book cover to cover on the plane going somewhere. It really helped me travel, plan for my travel or my trip." So yeah, it's definitely got a lot of great feedback.
Nick was originally educated as a graphic designer but ultimately found that making images with a camera was more fulfilling—and you can see that he didn't leave his design skills behind when he picked up the camera. We follow Nick around New York City as he meets with Cosmopolitan's photo editor, photographs a fashion model, and returns to his home in Brooklyn to share his story with us. We also meet the founder of Pencils of Promise, a nonprofit organization that builds schools in underdeveloped countries, and uses Nick's photographs as the centerpiece of its fundraising efforts. Then we're off to Guatemala to watch him create his magic.
Nick shows us how he has evolved as an artist and how the business of photography has changed—for example, using an online portfolio as opposed to the traditional "book" that art directors review. He's energetic, motivated, and talented. We've captured him for the lynda.com Creative Spark series but it was no easy task getting him to sit still.