Behind the lens: an interview with travel photographer, Ryan Bolton

written by Intrepid Travel January 15, 2021
Ryan Bolton at Machu Picchu

To help us all feel a bit closer right now as we adjust to the new normal, we want to celebrate the work of some of the industry’s greatest travel photographers.  

The ones who capture the travel moments that take our breath away  –  from the sunrise that looks too magical to be real, to the shared moment of spontaneous laughter with a stranger.  

We were thrilled to chat to Ryan Bolton (@ryanbolton is where you’ll find him on the ‘gram), one of Intrepid’s favourite travel photographers. In fact, if you’re familiar with our website and social channels, you’ll probably recognise a bunch of his work that we’ve featured! He let us in on his most memorable experiences capturing moments on the road, and which cuisine he would happily eat every day for the rest of his life. 

Q: When did you first pick up a camera and discover your love of travel photography?  

A: I was 21-years-old and had just finished my undergrad degree. I travelled to Ghana to work as a journalist trainer in a Liberian refugee camp called Buduburam. I was there with Journalists for Human Rights to help local journalists tell the stories of what was happening in the refugee settlement. I was helping them publish a newspaper and I started taking photos using a basic Olympus point-and-shoot camera – and I couldn’t stop. It changed how I saw the world, how I connect with the world and my photography started to get noticed after that trip.  

Q: Where is your favourite shoot destination and why?  

Berber family Morocco

Hanging with the locals!

A: That would have to be Morocco. As soon as you step into Marrakesh’s old city market, Jemaa el-Fnaa, you’re instantly transported into a new world. More than this, it was on an Intrepid expedition into the Atlas Mountains with a nomadic Berber family that changed me. For nearly a week, we hiked with the family through ancient migration paths, walked with their herd of sheep, goats, and four camels, slept in ancient caves and didn’t see any other souls for that week-long trip. Life-changing is a good word to use here.  

Q: How did you turn your passion into your career? What advice would you have for budding photographers?  

A: By doing. And maybe a little bit of obsession, truth be told. You need to want it more than anything else, and to put in the work. Resilience needs to go hand-in-hand with your passion, to see it through the constant ups and downs.  

Q: What are your top tips for amateur photographers?  

The magic of South-East Asia.

The magic of South-East Asia.

A: Just shoot, non-stop. And experiment with your shots, take the time to explore how manual modes on your camera work. The best way to learn, especially with photography, is to do. Over and over again and your style will naturally emerge.  

Q: Which photo or series that you’ve produced are you most proud of and why?  

A villager in the highlands of Lesotho.

A villager in the highlands of Lesotho.

A: That’s a tough one. Ultimately, probably some of my photography throughout Africa. It’s my favourite continent to shoot in and I’ve been 10 times now, from Egypt to Kenya to Ghana to Morocco to South Africa. The people always warm my heart, there’s something new to explore, and Africa fills the soul.  

Q: What’s the most memorable interaction you’ve had with a local on the road and why?  

A: It would probably be the amazing Berber family we stayed with in tents and caves in the mountains of Morocco. There’s a bond that’s formed when traversing harsh land in harsh temperatures and daily pushing yourselves for over a week, together. It was full of connection. That family and their bond (the mother is a widow with two daughters) will stay with me forever.  

To be sure, this connection happens on every adventure of this nature. When I did the Inca Trail in Peru, we spent four-days and four nights in the clouds… It’s equal parts grueling and beautiful and that will bond any group together. We still have a What’sApp group chat going with that group. Hola!  

At the soup kitchen in South Africa.

At the soup kitchen in South Africa.

Another moment was along the Wild Coast of South Africa, when a group of us took an afternoon to volunteer with the local soup kitchen for a day. The kids were hilarious, we played soccer, were part of a music video and helped make lunch for the local kids.  

Q: What is your dream shoot destination that you’re yet to visit and why?  

A: That’s a toss-up between Japan and Antarctica (totally different adventures to be sure). I was actually supposed to travel to Japan last May with Intrepid for a food tour ahead of the Olympics in 2020. It was a blow when it was cancelled for obvious reasons related to COVID-19, but I will make that trip eventually with Intrepid. Positive vibes.  

From a young age, I’ve always wanted to get to Antarctica to take photos. There’s nothing like it, it’s far from easy; the challenge and adventure draws me in. I had a taste of it while in Iceland with Intrepid at Jökulsárlón this unreal Iceberg Glacial Lake. It looks like a totally different world, it’s intoxicating.  

Visiting Jökulsárlón Glacier.

Visiting Jökulsárlón Glacier.

Q: If you could only eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would it be?  

A: Pad Thai. Hands down. Every meal. Let’s go!  

Q: What is the biggest lesson you’ve learned from travelling?

Connecting with a local boy in South Africa.

Connecting with a local boy in South Africa.

A: That, ultimately, we’re all the same. Humans are naturally community-based, and at our core, we all yearn for the same things: love, family, experiences, respect. The more you travel, the more you see this. In a world that at times seems polarised, travelling helps make the world feel smaller, more connected.  

Q: Any final words of wisdom?  

Cappadocia, Turkey - at sunrise.

Cappadocia, Turkey – at sunrise.

A: More than anything, I’m grateful. It’s not lost on me the opportunity to share the beauty of the world in photos. This world is spectacular. In order for it to thrive again, we need to take care of this planet, its inhabitants and its environment. That we, more than ever, need to unite. Here’s to more moments down the road. Stay safe. Stay adventurous. See ya out there.  

See more of Ryan’s incredible work on his website.

All images c/o Ryan Bolton.

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