Julien Capmeil: Photographer Spotlight

Julien Capmeil: Photographer Spotlight

Our commercial photographer spotlights continue with travel photographer Julien Capmeil. Julien’s work has appeared in numerous publications including GQ, Mens Journal, Oprah, Japanese Vogue, German Vanity Fair and an impressively long list of Conde Nast Traveler covers and editorials. Born and raised in Sydney, Australia, Julien now calls New York City home.

What was your first camera and what interested you about photography?

It was a Pentax K1000, a great startup workhorse. The camera itself was so novel at the time. I mean you had your standard Nikon’s and Canon’s then, but this was totally workable and it ran me through the basics of photography. It’s kind of amazing how far photography has come in such a short amount of time. If someone has a desire to be a photographer they don’t have to sit there and spend $50 making a contact sheet anymore, or film and darkroom costs. A lot of the expenses are removed, so the entry barrier is much lower. And I think that’s a good thing.

The fact I couldn’t draw annoyed the hell out of me so photography was the next best thing.

I still wish I could draw though! A friend of mine was taking a photo class and he was going into a theatre to take a photo of a show that was going on, and it had a cinematic feel and it was so easy to see it all come together (as supposed to drawing) and it was a way to speak visually, but still in a manner I could do and interpret. With photography you’re given a technique and an ability to communicate with people on different levels and that’s great.

How long have you been working as a professional photographer? How did you make the transition to full-time?

I would say it has been about 7 years. I was a full time assistant for a great friend and mentor, it was such an amazing job that it was hard to leave. In the end I started door knocking just to test the water and the work trickled in. Eventually I had my foot enough through the door that it was time to leave assisting behind. Thankfully it was a fairly fluid transition considering.

The woman I was working for, did a couple stories for Conde Nast Traveler, and she told me to go see them. It was almost like having the door opened for me, I showed my book to a few magazines and the Photo Director at Conde Nast Traveler said she’s like to use me. And it just goes from one job to another and builds like that. It was a slow process, but I don’t think you want it to go fast. You want to absorb everything and make sure you’re doing a good job and learning from each one, getting better. You don’t want to overload right away.

Take us through an average day or week. What’s your routine, or non-routine?

It really depends on the week, there is no average unfortunately. Seeing as so much of my work is location based I am either away shooting or back in the office editing, billing and catching up on all the loose ends. It makes things quite bi-polar to be honest.

It’s usually a little too much of one thing haha. But that’s travel photography. I think it’s different as more of a studio based photographer, but most of my planning is done on the fly. I’ll get a brief outline of the story and what I’m doing and then it’s piecing it together. If it’s a story with luxury you have to figure out how to get all those elements together to work with the journalist.

Where do you find inspiration? What’s your creative process?

I find NY endlessly inspiring, from riding the subway and looking at the human diversity to the abundance of art, new and old, that is available for public viewing. The city helps recharge your creative batteries in a way.

I find a lot of inspiration in landscapes and people. Just seeing how they actually live and get by and really live happily with so little. In comparison with us so many people have nothing, but they welcome you in to their house openly. And just how they present themselves. I went to South Africa and they just have these amazing aesthetics, but really minimal, and it let’s you appreciate what we have. The discrepancies in how people live across the world are huge. For example, in Varanasi, India there is this crush of humanity. Just stuffed to capacity and people are living blissfully. It’s remarkable to see how happy people are in these overcrowded conditions. The spectrum of people is amazing.

You travel around the world quite a bit. Do you enjoy jet setting and working in different countries?

I really enjoy it! What appeals to me most is the discovery of a new place or culture and interaction with locals. Everyone is willing to open their doors, share their secret spots and introduce you to someone “You just have to meet.” There are always challenges but somehow they make the experience richer and the images more memorable for me. You would never know what went into getting the shot sometimes but that is part of the fun.

What are you looking for in travel imagery? What helps tell the story of a location?

That really depends on the tone of a story. I think you can interpret a location in so many different ways. Time really only allows me to pick up the main threads that are appropriate to the writing and readership of the magazine, which is a shame because often there are other equally interesting elements that I am not able to cover.

For instance I did a story in New Zealand that was a wine story. And all you’re really capturing is that, even though there is so much else in the area, but that’s the job you’re there to shoot and the story you have to tell. Some times you feel there are other stories left untold. You have to interpret what you see and at the same time capture what the journalist is writing and get what the readership is expecting.

Do you think the printed magazine will ever disappear? What should photographers look for in the future?

That is a tough question, I think print will always retain its allure and magazines pride themselves on their printed issues. That said the digital world opens up so many interesting user experiences that creative publishers and advertisers want to capitalize on.

Conde Nast has been very forward thinking in their approach to digital media, developing Apps for many of their magazines, broadening content and allowing readers to optimize their digital devices.

So I can see the two co-existing for a while and readers benefiting by being able to flip through their glossy magazines and then delve deeper on their iPads. I imagine that video content will become more important to magazines, the ability to embed it will give stories another layer of interest and photographers another medium to express themselves.

How can our readers better their own photography?

Without sounding cliché, I would say keep on shooting, experiment and more importantly critique your own photos. Identify the ones that you like and try to understand where their appeal comes from; is it the composition, the subject, the light? By continually examining your work you will nurture a style and improve your eye.

I think so often people will take the same photo. It’s the idea of changing your crop or angle, shoot however you want first, look at it, and then just do something different while keeping the subject the same. Change your perspective. Then look again and do that critique. I think people just shoot, shoot, shoot, then pick the best of that one image from the same perspective. I think it’s better to change your perspective and find a really different but unique shot.

I haven’t done a lot of workshops personally, but I think that would help people different levels. The main thing is to find something that will pull you up. To shoot something you wouldn’t normally shoot.

Any secret principles to success? What does it take to make it as a photographer?

I do not think there are any secrets and no set path. You don’t necessarily have to study nor assist, though in my opinion both give you invaluable experience and nurture your creativity.

Regardless there are so many factors but determination and tenacity are definitely high on the list. The desire to produce work and the courage to show it to people are what sets photographers apart. So keep on shooting and keep on sharing your work.

Where can we hear more from you or see more of your work?

Feel free to look at my website www.juliencapmeil.com or pick up a current issue of Conde Nast Traveler, they actually published two of my stories in the same issue which is a first for me.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Matt Dutile is a New York City based travel and lifestyle photographer. He recently launched a Kickstarter campaign to produce a book on Mongolian nomads. Check the page out to learn more. You can view his website or join in on his Facebook page as well.

Some Older Comments

  • arun April 5, 2011 10:16 pm

    I try to read up on many interviews to finally answer my own "Y's" on my Photography - this being a person very similar to myself, a Landscape & People person, just the way I would like to think of myself as well.

    Quite frankly, I've been trying to understand if there's even the chance of being a Professional in the Landscape territory, coz, it's got mostly to do with Travel stuff, and unless you're one of those few who are already part of magazines, I'm not sure where/how you can sell your stuff/services. Unless you've got a compelling story/theme to shoot for, all you got is a place to travel to, and capture some of your thoughts and moments for yourself...

    Now, the question -
    Take for instance, a popular place like the Taj Mahal or Grand Canyon - would someone like to hire me to shoot it again or would they prefer to dig up archives? I know the answer would be on the likes of - 'it depends on the story/editor/what not' but I'm trying to understand the width of this spectrum.

    I've got one more, if I were to travel to locations and shoot them to make a story, can I take them to the next level by approaching editors of magazines? Or would I be better to work closely with existing professionals to get the aid of networking?

    I know there might not be answers to these, but I'd like to see some thoughts! Thanks.

  • chew April 5, 2011 11:26 am

    great photos. and inspirational too. thanks.

  • Kiran @ KiranTarun.com April 5, 2011 04:13 am

    Awesome shots and interview. I like when she said "we are our own critique" :)

  • Jean-Pierre April 5, 2011 03:55 am

    Great interview. We can all benefit from a more introspective approach to photography. Awesome photos too!

  • Dennis Vella April 5, 2011 03:27 am

    amazing tips just what one needs when having a good slr camera and free time to take photos unfortunately I stil havent bought my slr thus the images on my blog are taken with a simple point and click camera.

    Feel free to leave any comments on my blog

    thanks :)

    keep up the good work