Irix USA recently had the opportunity to interview world-renowned photographer, teacher, author and adventurer Richard Bernabe in regard to his thoughts on photography, his work and workshops and our products. Richard’s expertise and creative eye provide him with a lifestyle that many readers will find enviable: traveling the world in pursuit of his passion and sharing his experiences and knowledge with others. We’re delighted to bring you the contents of the interview and a few examples of Richard’s inspiring work.
Opening image: Small shapely iceberg on the black sand beach at Jökulsárlón in southern Iceland.
All photos ©Richard Bernabe, used with permission for this publication only.
Richard Bernabe is a world-class wildlife and nature photographer and conservationist with a list of national and international clients that includes National Geographic, Time, Audubon, the BBC, Canon, Apple and Microsoft, to mention only a few. He is a Contributing Editor for Popular Photography and the author of several books of and about photography.
When I have a wide-angle composition in front of me, I always reach for one of the Irix lenses…
As a highly-regarded teacher and public speaker, Richard accepts world-wide invitations to educate audiences on the subjects of photography, travel and nature. He offers several photo workshops per year in some of the world’s most picturesque and exciting locations. (Find out more about Richard and follow the links to his images, books and calendar at the end of the interview text.)
You can’t expect to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself…
Hi, Richard and thanks for taking a few minutes to answer some questions for Irix USA and our readers. Can you start by giving us a short version of what led you to a career in nature and travel photography?
A love of the outdoors and nature is what led me to photography in the first place and ultimately led to this career. It’s still my number one passion and photography is just the means I use to share and express that passion.
In addition to being a photographer, you’re a published author. Was this a natural transition from your photo work or was writing a separate passion?
Writing is not a passion of mine. I wish it was and I wish I was better at it. It’s a skill set that I am competent enough with to allow me to get published and it’s extremely useful in my work, but it’s torture most of the time. I like the Ernest Hemingway quote where he says, “There’s nothing to writing. You just sit at the typewriter and bleed.” Substitute a computer for a typewriter and that pretty much sums up my feelings about writing.
What about the transition to photography teacher?
Anything that inspires me and gets me excited is something I want to share with other people. Having a student of mine “get it”, right before my eyes is akin to getting a great shot in the field. It’s the same feeling of euphoria for me.
…hard work, persistence, and luck is what’s required.
You’ve worked with some of the editorial clients that even many pros only wish they could, like National Geographic and National Parks. Is there any particular secret you can share about getting a foot in the door with the “big guns”?
I wish there was a “secret” but there isn’t. This is going to sound boring (and perhaps depressing to some) but hard work, persistence, and luck is what’s required. And those things I mentioned are hardly secrets.
Travel is obviously a big part of your profession. For those considering a similar career, what would you consider to be the major pros and cons of that aspect of the business?
The pros are fairly obvious. Seeing and experiencing some of the most beautiful places and amazing natural spectacles on Earth is an amazing way to live your life and would be even if I were not taking photos. The ability to share my experiences with people and have them see and feel what I experienced is incredibly rewarding. Getting to these places – the actual act of traveling – is not nearly as fun. Being away from home for long stretches of time is also difficult.
Namibia is a photographer’s dream.
The list of workshops you offer is incredible, to say the least. Do you have a personal favorite?
Patagonia in southern Argentina and Chile for many years was a favorite and it still is. I also love going to Africa as well. Namibia is a photographer’s dream.
As a professional whose work inspires so many, can you give us your thoughts on the adage that “gear doesn’t matter?”
Well it does matter, to a point. Just try to do photography without photography gear! Also, for those of us who need to travel to some remote places around the world for our work, I absolutely need my camera gear to be reliable and rugged enough to endure the rigors of rough travel and always work properly when I need it to work. I think the phrase “gear doesn’t matter” is relevant during the learning process.
When learning to create compelling images of nature, wildlife, travel, and anything really, the gear choices are probably the least important factor, yet it is always the first question amateur photographers ask when they see an image of mine that they like. So, it’s a bit disappointing when that question comes up. They love the image yet they never ask the most interesting question: “What were you thinking when you created this?” No, it’s always the gear question. Was it camera brand X or camera brand Y? Who cares really?
How do Irix lenses fit into your “arsenal” of photography gear?
The Irix lenses are small, compact, and very well built so I have no qualms about taking these lenses to any remote corner of the world while knowing they are going to produce for me. When I have a wide-angle composition in front of me, I always reach for one of the Irix lenses in my bag because of that reliability and they are super sharp.
[See Richard’s review of the Irix 15mm f/2.4 Blackstone on his blog, here.]
Go find your passions and pursue them.
Last question, and it’s one that we always ask for our readers: What advice would you offer to amateurs aspiring to become professional photographers?
It’s the same advice every time I’m asked: follow your passions in life and they will guide your photography. Mine have been nature, wildlife, and travel so my camera leads me to those things. If you’re ambivalent about your subject or subjects, don’t bother to waste your time. You can’t expect to inspire others if you’re not inspired yourself by what’s in front of your lens. Go find your passions and pursue them.
I’d like to personally thank Richard for taking the time to share his thoughts and his work with us and our readers. I’d also like to encourage readers to visit the links below to experience more of his awe-inspiring work. If you’d like the opportunity to learn from one of the best, I highly recommend signing up for one of his amazing workshops in some truly awesome locations. Here’s the current calendar: https://www.richardbernabe.com/workshops/
Books by Richard Bernabe:
Spirit of Africa