Photo Escapes – AKA young robertharding shooters, Matthew Williams-Ellis and John Alexander – have been creating films designed to take you with them on their photographic journeys and inspire you to get shooting. We talked to the pair on a rare moment between their epic photography trips.
Can you introduce yourselves?
Matthew Williams Ellis: I am a freelance travel, documentary and landscape photographer, based in London. I love spending as much time on the road as possible, both on assignment and photographing personal projects. Last year I had my biggest achievement, receiving an award in Travel Photographer of the Year.
John Alexander: I am a freelance photographer and cinematographer based in Oxfordshire. I’ve reached the final stage in the Travel Photographer of the Year twice but Matt beat me to the final exhibition stage, which he reminds me of every day!
What is the idea behind Photo Escapes?
MWE: We want to create cinematic photography films that bring people along on the journeys we go on to capture our images. We hope to inspire people to get out there, helping people get into the mind-set of being a photographer without being too ‘techie’ – there is enough of that out there already!
JA: My personal aim is to show everyone that I am a better photographer than Matt! ‘Photo Escapes’ is an idea which has evolved over years of photographing amazing locations around the world with Matthew. Being a huge fan of Top Gear throughout the years, I wanted to make a photography version of their exotic road trips in far off locations.
The aim is to produce behind-the-scenes photography films for commercial clients, be it photographic companies, travel companies or automotive companies. It can go in so many directions which is really exciting. For example, we travelled to Hong Kong to film an episode for a charity focusing on plastics in the Ocean. I was really excited about the episode but worried how we were going take good photos of essentially rubbish, but that is all part of the fun isn’t it?
Our joint aim is quite broad, as we are still in our early stages, but we would really love to get the show commissioned. We also want to create content for some of the big brands out there such as Nikon or Land Rover. The great thing is, that dependant on the tone of the piece, we can make it focus more on travel or photography.
How did the project come about?
MWE: We have known each other a while now – I am actually best man at John’s wedding later this year. Slightly awkward, as he probably only just makes my top ten! We used to go on a lot of travel photography trips together anyway, and it basically grew from those. We both love running workshops and teaching photography, and combined with our desire to learn about the destinations we visit and ability to talk non-stop infinitely, we thought it might be worth trying to teach people about photography in an entertaining way.
We also both really enjoy videography, so it gave us a purpose for shooting the most epic footage that we could.
How do you plan where you’re going to and what you’ll shoot?
JA: We try and plan our trips so they include many genres of photography, from landscapes, portraiture and wildlife. There also needs to be sense of adventure. This usually means the more uncomfortable and miserable the journey is, the better it is for the film!
We plan certain locations to shoot but we like to leave time for unplanned trips. Sometimes the film goes in a completely different direction depending on what we find when we are there! This spontaneity I think really adds to the film too.
MWE: Personally, I like a bit of an adventure or something that will really challenge me. Quite often we will just start brainstorming and see what we can come up with. I am particularly excited about an idea we have had for Iceland, but I’m afraid I have to keep it under wraps for now.
We both love visiting anywhere though to be honest, so it is great when others invite us!
How do you manage to juggle filming and taking amazing pictures?
JA: This is the main problem we have! Its incredibly difficult to film and photograph at the same time, especially if you want the production value to be as high as possible. We now have a quick squabble on location to decide who is going to be the photographer and who is going to be the videographer then we are good to go! It actually works out really well as we love doing both!
MWE: This is honestly the most challenging part of Photo Escapes. The mind-set for shooting videos and time-lapses is very different from shooting stills, so often we will dedicate mornings to one or the other meaning we have to visit a location on two or three occasions to get everything we need. But we still need to be on the ball to grab a quick clip when photographing. It can be quite a struggle getting up at 5am for the third day in a row to visit the same location!
The other issue is carrying all the equipment. Five cameras, three mics, two drones, two tripods, two go pros, a steadicam, a cripplingly embarrassing selfie stick, numerous filters, and I’ve no idea how many lenses – it all adds up to a literal pain in the neck, a tangle of wires and almost a guarantee that something will be forgotten each time we leave the house!
We sometimes use an assistant in the UK, but don’t tend to take one abroad with us. We are looking for someone for future trips – but the challenge is finding the right person who has great camera skills, who can run on three hours’ sleep a night, who we want to spend time with, and the biggest challenge; can put up with us.
What are the advantages and challenges of teaming up with another photographer?
MWE: I definitely think that by working together we both improve our photography. We share ideas for new shoots, and thrive on giving brutal, and often offensively honest opinions about each other’s work! Our competitive nature also means that if we are both shooting the same subject or location, we put in extra effort to win bragging rights for taking the best photo.
JA: It’s a love-hate relationship. The advantages are that we both know what we need for the film and its great to have someone who is as passionate for the film as I am. Photography can sometimes be a solitary profession so it’s such fun to have someone to share your adventures with. The disadvantages are we have to sleep in the same double bed almost every night to save costs, Matt can also sleep anywhere which is an admittedly an incredibly important skill for a travel photographer but I can’t so I spend the majority of my time hating him. Before you think I do actually hate him, he’s going to be my best man!
What are your favourite places you have photographed, and your favourite episodes?
MWE: One of my favourites was a recent trip to Kerala in India. There are a few episodes from this trip, but I absolutely loved the final one in Munnar, where we ditched most of our luggage, hired scooters and drove into the Western Ghats, where the mountain sides were covered in tea plantations. I also really enjoyed watching John get drenched by a wave in one of our first episodes from Portland in Dorset.
JA: We have photographed some amazing places so far on Photo Escapes including Northern Ireland, Guernsey, Costa Rica and India, but our most recent adventures in Kerala was absolutely epic. We had such a fun time photographing India. It has everything a photographer needs, plus the food is incredible.