A chat with Christian Kober
Nomadic travel photographer Christian Kober has built up an impressive portfolio in more than 100 countries. His subjects range from adventure tourism to bustling markets, cityscapes and festivals, and his photos have been published in hundreds of magazines, books and newspapers worldwide.
Where are you from and where do you live?
I’m from Cardiff in Wales but spend my time between the UK, France and Bulgaria where I have some ‘holiday’ properties.
How long have you been a professional photographer?
15 years but I’ve really only been making a living from it in the last 10 years.
How did you first get into photography?
My first real interest came in 1996 from a one year trip around the world just after graduating from a Business Management course in Manchester. Going to all the fantastic places it was hard not to be inspired and think about a life of travelling and taking photos. After that I went to Japan and taught English for 3 years but also met a Japanese photographer who encouraged me to pursue my hobby more seriously. Apart from that I was self taught, continually trying to improve my technique and style.
Where are you now and what are you shooting?
Right now I’m in Madagascar working on my wildlife skills which I’ve rarely done before, and hope to hone, before going on to South Africa for some big safari trips in September.
What are your favourite destinations to photograph?
My favourite locations are Scandinavia for the northern lights and crystal clear air, and Japan for its landscapes and culture. Seeking out the northern lights is one of the most challenging, frustrating but also rewarding subjects I’ve ever photographed. I’ve been to Scandinavia to see them three times now but still a long way from being satisfied with the images I have.
The first trip was to Iceland where I had 14 days of cloud, rain and snow out of the 16 days I was there. The second time was in Lofoten, Norway where I had similar weather but managed to get a few minutes of decent lights. On my third trip, in Sweden, I finally got to see what all the fuss was about with some incredible displays dancing all over the sky. I’d like to go back again this winter and if things work out I may be leading some Northern lights workshops in Abisko National Park, Sweden.
Japan has so much to offer – unique landscapes, friendly and photogenic people, ancient history and culture and some great modern architecture, not to mention the food and hot springs. After living in Japan for 3 years and being able to speak Japanese, discovering the country and interacting with the people is so much more enjoyable than if I couldn’t speak the local language.
How would you describe your style?
Although the subjects I photograph are quite varied – landscapes, people, festivals, architecture, adventure sports – I try to capture bold images with a lot of colour.
Can you recall a favourite experience on your travels?
The best experience I’ve ever had on my travels was learning to scuba dive in Australia 20 years ago, jumping in for the first time to see a dolphin staring back at me. Shortly after that I was snorkelling with whale sharks. Seeing unexpected nature is always a great treat. My favourite photo experience though was going to Haiti a week after the earthquake and seeing the pride and resilience of the people whose nation was almost totally destroyed overnight. I was lucky to be able to photograph some incredible people during the month I stayed there.
Can you recall a particularly challenging experience while taking photos?
I climbed Mount Everest in 2012. Its the most physically challenging thing I’ve ever done and unfortunately had to turn back 150m from the top. Carrying a DSLR all that way probably didn’t help things. I’d like to go back again one day but need at least a few more cover shots for that to realistically happen. I was also mugged by 3 people in Buenos Aires a few years ago and lost my camera, three lenses and Gitzo tripod. That was quite sad, especially when my insurance didn’t pay up.
What cameras and equipment do you use? Do you have a favourite piece of equipment?
I’ve been using Nikon equipment for almost 20 years but recently moved over to Canon so I could use their 17mm tilt shift lens, I love Nikon but they only have the 24mm and for architecture and landscapes the 17mm is great especially with the 50 megapixel 5DS R I got to go with it. They also have a neat 40mm pancake lens which is almost invisible and weighs nothing compared to the professional lenses I normally use. My favourite lens at the moment though is the latest 100-400mm Canon. Its surprisingly light and sharp for the price and is really bringing the wildlife shots up close for me on this trip.
What are your tips for taking a good photo?
Do your research – look at local tourist websites, check out where the best subjects are so you don’t waste time searching when you get there. Then make sure you’re there at the right time of day and right time of year to get the best images.
What advice would you give for young photographers starting out?
In this day and age I think its more and more important to specialise and perfect one or just a few subjects. Picture buyers are sourcing their images from around the globe so to stand out you really need to be the best at what you do. There are very few real general travel photographers these days, more like architectural, landscape and people photographers who travel. Take your time to perfect one thing before moving on to another subject.
What are your future plans?
I’m hoping to be in Sweden for the winter, taking tourists on aurora workshops. If that falls through I’ll probably be in the alps again and spend some time re-doing my website which is long over due!