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Shooting Travel Photography with Pro Photographer Lauryn Ishak

Go behind-the-scenes with pro Offset photographer Lauryn Ishak and explore what it’s like shooting travel photography as a woman.

From Germany to Singapore, Indonesia to New York, we caught up with photographer Lauryn Ishak to ask her about shooting travel photography as a woman, her work in print publications, and her experience as an Offset contributor. Frequently found bouncing around Asia and beyond, Lauryn’s known for her airy and feminine editing style, warm hues, and beautiful compositions that are a perfect fit for the magazines she shoots for. From architecture to portraits, mountain climbs to bowls of soup, you can find it all in Lauryn’s well-curated portfolio of work.

Indian Food & Local Women in India by Lauryn Ishak

We shared a few words with Lauryn on her work as a photographer, her take on shooting travel photography as a woman, and her experience shooting for magazines and stock. Here are a few shared words with photographer Lauryn Ishak.


Photographer: Lauryn Ishak
Specialty: Commercial, Editorial, and Travel
Offset Collection

Lauryn Ishak

Tell us a little bit about yourself. How did you get started in photography?

It was a bit by design and a bit by accident. It started when I was in high school in Singapore. My dad was a hobbyist photographer and said to me one day, “Why don’t you just take a class?” So I took a class and really loved it. I ended up applying to a photography major at the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. By some stroke of luck, I actually got in.

When you’re eighteen you don’t really know what you’re going to do with your life. I think kids nowadays are a little bit better versed in how things work compared to when we were younger. I’ve always wanted to travel, but really I just wanted to get into photojournalism. That’s what I concentrated on more than anything else. After graduation, I went back to Singapore and started working from there.

Prague Castle, Czech Republic by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

That’s really interesting. I feel like travel photography and photojournalism work in tandem. Did you realize in school that you were shifting towards travel photography?

Well, it started when my father passed away during my sophomore year of school. Photojournalism is one of those really hard areas of photography where you really have to be based somewhere where the action is going on. I’m an only child, it’s just me and my mom, and I couldn’t really do it to her. She’d worry about where I was if I was safe, so naturally, as you said, it moved into travel. It allowed me to be out there while being there for her.

[sstk-pullquote align=”full”]I’m not under any illusion that what I do is changing the world, I shoot pretty things. But I suppose it gets me out there. It gets me to meet people. It’s always different.[/sstk-pullquote]

It sounds like your mom had a pretty big influence on your career.

My mom would have never wanted me to change. If I would have run it by her, she would’ve been like “no, no do you” kind of thing. There are other avenues to do this, and that suits.

Does your mom ever get to join you on any trips?

She does! She really enjoys it. I get to do some pretty crazy stuff, and she has a really good time doing it. She knows how to work, she knows how to assist, and she’s stopped asking questions. She just goes along, whether we’re hiking a mountain or something else.

Namibia Trees & Namibia Dunes by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

You mentioned some crazy experiences. What experiences are those?

Maybe crazy isn’t the right word. More like adventurous. The ones you don’t have a specific plan for. You arrive at a place, you have a loose brief, and you just wake up and see how the day goes.

Tell me about what it’s like to be a photographer in Singapore. Is travel photography a big industry there?

That’s an interesting question. There’s not a huge travel industry here. When you are used to working for Western countries, let’s say out of New York, where your clients are based, it’s a very different world than Singapore. I’m very used to it. Whereas I’d say most photographers in Singapore are quite Singapore-bound.

I’m not really sure where I sit as a travel photographer in terms of how much I travel. Whether it’s a lot, whether it’s just right, or whether it’s not a lot compared to others. But the remark from a little of Singapore-based photographers is that I’m always traveling, and never around. Which is true. The market in Asia, in general, is smaller than what you’d find in the United States. In terms of travel photographers, there’s a few based in Singapore and a lot in Bangkok. For most of us who are in it, most of our clients are generally Western publications supplemented with regional commercial clients.

So because you are in the market in Asia, are most of your assignments based in Asia?

Mostly Asian based. When I started out, the norm was to fly a photographer from New York to Asia to cover a shoot. But as the budgets and industry changed, a lot of us started getting work that would’ve typically been covered by someone who’s flown in. So a lot of our jobs tend to be Asian based.

Goats of India & Rajahstan Landscape by Lauryn Ishak

You’ve lived in a lot of places, and speak three languages. What’s that like?

So I’m originally Indonesian, and my parents studied in Germany and so I was born in Germany. Because they went to school there, they had to learn the language and so when they moved back to Indonesia, they decided to keep speaking German to me as a way of not forgetting the language. I went to a local school in Indonesia because as an Indonesian you actually weren’t allowed to go to an international school at that point. I learned both languages and English along the way.

Do you think that international experience influenced your desire to shoot travel photography?

Probably! My dad loved traveling, and my mom does as well in her own way. They are both really adventurous, so I think that fueled it in a way. What I like about it is that it’s always different. You meet all sorts of people, and that really makes it what it is.

Amazing. So you shoot everything from portraits to architecture, do you have a favorite genre you like to shoot?

That’s a tough question. Not really, actually. For me, it’s about storytelling. It’s being able to get a story. It doesn’t matter what the brief or client is. There’s always some sort of story to be told that can be told through a certain lens. The satisfaction comes from being to illustrate the brief in a creative way, while still speaking to it.

On Safari in Botswana & Elephant by Lauryn Ishak

Is there a way that you storyboard a new experience? How do you prepare for that kind of shoot?

I spend the first day just wandering. Just arriving. I do a lot of research, looking up all the places I need to shoot and forming an image bank in my head. I see what’s out there, I see what Google has, I see what other photographers have done. I have that in my head, and I think of where I can take it differently this time around.

That’s a great perspective to have. That brings me to your work in stock. Your portfolio on Offset is incredible. You have such a unique take on well-known locations. Tell me a bit about the work you have on Offset.

It’s a bit layered. The things I have on Offset are curated to what I’m able to release, and what I’m not. You see a lot of landscapes, a lot of still lifes, and generally not much portrait work. I know what I’m able to submit on Offset, and what I’m not. The landscapes are easy to upload, so I stick to that.

Your landscape and architecture work are stunning. You have a very consistent look and feel. Has that style of editing been shaped over time?

I think so, but I also think it changes. Recently, I read an Instagram post by another photographer who said that it’s interesting how your style changes over the years and I think that’s very true. I sometimes look at my older work, and it’s almost unrecognizable. It’s not something I would shoot today. It’s not the style I’d illustrate something with. You look back at your work and think “What happened?” It’s all about seeing.

The clients also shape how you frame things. I know what will run and won’t run. I tailor a little bit to certain clients but I definitely have a preference to warmer tones. To slightly overexposed, shoot into the sun, slightly more feminine look.

[sstk-pullquote align=”full”]I see things a certain way. You can give me and three other photographers the same brief, and we’ll all do it differently.[/sstk-pullquote]

Sossusvlei, Namibia by Lauryn Ishak

I can absolutely see the femininity in your images. Do you think that feminine tone has been shaped while shooting travel photography as a woman?

I think it’s always been there. As a person, I like a warm and airy feel to things. So I think it’s generally shaped by that preference, as much as I do deviate from that at times. I’ve experimented with certain clients, using a darker and more moody approach if the location fits that style. And it works.

It can be nerve-racking to test different styles. Do you ever experience that?

Oh definitely. With publications I shoot regularly, I know what will run and won’t run so even if I experiment, I still have that in mind.

Earlier this year, I was shooting for a hotel in Sri Lanka and everything was done pretty on the fly. I shot it almost at eye level as a guest, where you’re seeing curated hospitality photography. Still storytelling. A glimpse into the hotel. You see someone making a drink. Carrying dry cleaning up to the rooms. And that was a bit of an experiment. It was nerve-racking, but it turned out well. So I’m happy about that!

Red House & White Church in Iceland by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

Sounds beautiful. In terms of gear, do you have a go-to travel photography kit?

It’s a very interesting time right now. I’ve been shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III for my entire career, generally with primes and a couple zooms to cover my bases. I’ve learned how to travel lightly. However, I’ve recently started switching to Sony. Brand new. Two weeks in. And so I’m navigating that. I love how small it is. So I took the plunge, and we will see.

I can’t wait to see some of your work!

It’s nice because it’s a lot less intimidating for people. I like how small it is. I like that I can carry less in general. That’s a really nice thing.

I imagine when you’re shooting portraits or street style or wanting to blend in that that would come in handy.

Absolutely!

Sea Trout & Oysters by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

So let’s chat about shooting travel photography as a woman. It’s a pretty male-dominated industry. What’s it like to be a woman in the industry?

For the most part, I don’t think about it. It is what it is. I’m not going to pretend that it doesn’t matter, because it really matters. As a woman, generally as a woman, it can get dicey at times. Safety is always an issue. When I talk to my male friends about this who are also photographers and I say things about thinking about the safety, the hotels I’m staying in, how I get in and out, and if it’s safe to walk around. You are always going to need to have a pretty good head on your shoulders in order to do it. And, a lot of them would remark that they’ve never thought about it, and I don’t blame them. Of course they don’t. Because they are men.

A lot of travel photographers in Asia tend to be white males, at least the ones I know. So as an Asian female photographer, I take it a few notches higher. I’ve been very lucky. I don’t think, at least in my definition, that I’ve been harassed. I don’t think I’ve overtly had someone look at me and think “you can’t do the job.” But have I felt so? Yeah, at times. People look at this tiny person carrying all this stuff, thinking can I do it? But you just keep your head down and keep working.

[sstk-pullquote align=”full”]I’m not here to argue or prove a point. I’m just here to work, and you let the work speak.[/sstk-pullquote]

On the flip side, it’s great! No one has ever weighed my luggage!

Venice Canals & Tramezzeni by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

Fly under the radar a bit!

I’m not going to presume one way or another, but you know, I’m carrying 40lbs of camera gear in my carry on in a non-photographer way and no one has ever bothered! So while some can get away with things that I can’t, there’s a flip side to that.

It works differently for everyone. Is there a line? Yes. But that’s how the world works, nothing’s fair.

It’s interesting because you almost don’t notice because you know you’re going to do good work. I think photography can really empower women in that way.

I think it’s nice when you don’t have clients who see gender as an issue because you become just a person. I’ve been generally very lucky to be able to enjoy that. Most of my clients don’t look at it as a gender thing. We all get along, but I also know that there is a line to how friendly you can get with a client generally in a male-dominated industry.

If I’m hanging out with a client who is a male, the idea of going for a drink professionally may sound like just a drink but obviously, it’s going to look different if you’re shooting travel photography as a woman rather than a male. Optically, it just looks different. And it could be taken out of context. I’m very much aware of that.

Switzerland Lounging & Swiss Alps Cablecar by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

I agree with that. Do you think that influences how you are able to strategize those relationships with clients?

I’d be lying if I’d say it didn’t. It definitely does. Whoever says it doesn’t is lying.

While it may not influence the story you tell, it may influence the clients you choose to work with.

Yes absolutely. I don’t think it should ever shape the stories you are able to tell. Because that’s the work you’re doing. I can comfortably say it’s never influenced the way I shoot things, but yes, it does influence the way I deal with clients. Making sure everything’s always clear and on a professional level. Have some of my clients become friends over the years? Yes for sure! But that’s not everyone.

That’s a great professional outlook on it. Do you have any advice for women looking to progress in the photography industry?

I actually think it’s a great time to be in it. The art is flourishing, even if maybe the industry isn’t. It’s a weird time to be in this industry. It changes quickly, it definitely isn’t the same as when I started ten years ago. Where I am today isn’t necessarily where I thought I’d be which is great. But also, you have to do things that I never thought I’d have to- like social media.

[sstk-pullquote align=”full”]Business models are changing because of social media. Because of that, it makes it easier to get noticed.[/sstk-pullquote]

The traditional way was knocking on doors, showing work, and a lot of people aren’t as familiar with that nowadays. Everything’s on social media. Everything’s on Instagram. And if you do it right you are on your way. If you want to get into this, I’d almost say don’t go to art school. Get a business degree, and intern under a photographer.

Diving & Sri Lanka Landscape by Photographer Lauryn Ishak

That’s a fair point. Work can instantly flourish, so if you don’t have the business mindset it can be tough.

I’m all for the art, I’m okay with the business side because I’ve had to pick it up along the way. In order to survive, you need a basic business foundation. And I can’t stress that enough.

Any last remarks?

It’s just an interesting time to be in this industry. It’s not good or bad. It’s quite fluid, I don’t know where it’s going to go. People say print is dead, maybe a bit. But there’s still some great print out there. It’s an exciting time to be here.

Top image by Photographer Lauryn Ishak


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