Advice from an Award-Winning Photographer

Seattle-based Aaron Huey has photographed sharks underwater; scenes of poverty in America; the Afghan drug war; and the people and landscapes in such places as Haiti, Mali, Siberia, Yemen, and French Polynesia. He is a contributing photographer at National Geographic and a contributing editor at Harper’s and also provides images to the New Yorker and the New York Times. We asked him to share a few tips.

What’s the best camera for taking travel photos? The best camera isn’t [as important as] understanding what to put in the frame. I think the best photographs tell stories.

How do you tell a story with a photo?  By having a lot of layers and making viewers feel they’re in that picture. Sometimes, that means using a wide-angle lens and being right in the middle of a scene so that the person who sees that picture feels like they’re in it—not as if the photo was stolen from far away, like with a zoom lens.

How do you photograph people?  Whether it’s down the block from your house or in Yemen, the best way is to get to know them—sit down and have a cup of tea and take pictures after they know who you are as opposed to taking that image without any personal connection. As for equipment, there are lenses that give a nice portrait look or you can use a portrait setting on your iPhone that makes the background blur so the person is the focal point.

Is a smartphone sufficient for travel photography?  It depends. One of my friends shot a whole story for National Geographic with an iPhone. If you want to do star photography or underwater photography, most cameras can do that but not an iPhone.

How do you make landscape photos interesting?  I think some photographers tend to wait for a landscape to be clear of people. I like to have people or buildings in the frame because it adds another layer of complexity to the story and gives a sense of scale.