Jon Reid - Magical Travel

Jon Reid is a freelance photographer based in London.  With over 30 countries under his belt (and counting), he took time out of a rare down-time day to talk travel.  Jon is one of the lucky photographers who makes a living from travel photography with regular work for Expedia and Flight Centre, and you can see why by even just a second on his website where you’re greeted by magical looking landscapes. Here he talks about how he got into the world of travel photography, scary experiences and a surprising well-being initiative in Chile.


Jon. Hello! You’re originally from South Africa but now based in London right?  What prompted the move?

My wife and I were happily married, living in a house we had just bought, 5 minutes from where we both worked. It was an idyllic setup for someone who wanted to settle down, but for us, we had gone straight from school to uni to work without experiencing anything else. We were not ready to settle down, so we moved to London.

I love living in London. It is a centre for media and design, so there is always something interesting happening and it is full of creatives. In between travel jobs, London offers a massive variety of photographic options, so it is also a good base for personal work.


It sounds like you have a dreamy life getting paid to travel.  How did this come about? 

Being paid to travel is a dream come true that was about 10 years in the making. I started photography with the intention of sharing my experiences as I explored the world around me. I had no idea that it could lead to a career. At the time, I was a school teacher and I used all my holiday time to travel. Initially, in South Africa, all my travel was local, but once I moved to London, the world opened up. 

Experiencing foreign travel for the first time in my life at age 26 caused a massive momentum shift in my photography. I have always photographed out of a sense of wonder for what I'm seeing, so when I experienced these new places for the first time, that sense of wonder was a constant. It was out of this experience that my style emerged.

I spent another 5 years working as a school teacher in London whilst traveling in all my holiday time. In that time, I had built up a stock library at Getty Images which was paying for my travels but not nearly enough to live on. I had also built up a web presence and it was through Flickr that an advertising agency found me and asked me to do a travel shoot. I took that opportunity and overshot it. The net result is that I now spend at least 200 days a year doing projects for this agency.

Even though travel photography can encompass everything from portraits, to landscapes and scenery to events, do you find yourself drawn to one side more?

Most of the commercial work that I do specifically excludes people as it is too difficult and costly to get the required releases. This means that I'm usually covering scenes, details and architecture. Because I spend most of my time covering this sort of thing, I'm drawn to candid scenes with people in everyday situations. For example, yesterday in Venice, between subjects that I was commissioned to cover, I set up in a deep passageway and photographed people as they walked past, using the scene as a makeshift studio. It was a welcome break from art galleries. 

Looking through the photos on your website, there is definitely a sense of otherworldliness especially your ‘scene’ collection.  There’s a lot of mist and slow shutter speed going on.  It feels like you’ve taken the best out of a place and laid it out for us. 

The way you've described my work makes me really happy as you've pretty much described my intentions. 

When I'm traveling and feel a sense of wonder for what I'm seeing, and I feel a responsibility to try and capture that wonder. Using elements like atmosphere helps to emphasize the dreamlike quality of a location. Using a slow shutter speed smoothes out textures in elements like water and sky, which helps focus attention on the main subject. 

Lately, I've been approaching composition by isolating my main subject, excluding everything that isn't my main subject and then looking for one or two complimentary subjects that enhance my main subject. It is all in an attempt to capture the wonder that I feel for what I'm seeing.

Can you tell me a bit about companies that you’ve worked for?

Since working professionally, all my work has been for an agency that specializes in the travel industry with clients like Expedia and Flight Centre. Technically, I'm a freelance photographer, but this agency books up all of my available time, so I don't work for any other clients.  


Have any of the countries you’ve gone to been completely different from your expectations? 

This mostly happens when I have bad expectations. When I covered South America, I expected to be underwhelmed by it. It turned out to be the most incredible experience with every country being an absolute dream to see. Probably, the biggest surprise was Chile. I expected to see a developing country with the usual economic disparity between rich and poor. Santiago turned out to be a first world city with first world problems. For example, one of their problems is how to get people to exercise. The solution is to shut the main streets on Sundays, give out free bicycles for the day and supply refreshments to everyone taking part. I also saw a park that was for the exclusive use of dogs. In a city where everyone's basic needs are met, the residents are able to concentrate on activities like art and music. It was completely unexpected. 


Tell us about an interesting experiences you’ve had on your travels?

On the day that we were due to fly out of Iceland, a volcano erupted stopping all flights in Europe. Absolute chaos ensued. No cars were available for rent, taxis were being hired to drive from Barcelona to Calais at £2500. The second hand car market had a boom day. To make matters worse, French rail went on strike. We made the trip overground back to London in about 30 hours.

And a scary incident?

The scariest incident happened recently in serene Switzerland a few weeks ago. My wife is pregnant and was experiencing severe morning sickness. I took her to two doctors and the hospital in Geneva and no one would look at her, even though we have comprehensive travel insurance. Eventually, we got so desperate that we flew back to London. When my wife arrived at the A&E, they immediately put her on a drip and diagnosed her with dehydration. She spent the night in hospital taking 5 drips, whilst I looked after our 1 year old at home. This was all taking place whilst I was supposed to be working in Geneva. 

I've had a couple of situations like that incident. When you get sick or injured in a foreign country, everyday problems can become scary and serious very quickly.

How have you made sure you've been visible in an internet full of photographers?

A travel photographer gave me the advice to photograph the things that interest you. With a global audience through the web, someone else is likely to find it interesting too. 

I've lived by that principle when choosing subject material and also in choosing what to share via the internet. It was a slow path to being discovered, but for someone who is a bit shy, a better option than trying to meet agencies with my book.

Ah that’s good advice.  So where’s next for you?

Over the next 3 months, I have trips to Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Russia, Bulgaria, Romania, Croatia, the Canary Islands, India and the Caribbean. I've been travelling non-stop since February, so by the time those countries are covered, I'll need a long rest. 

To have a look at more of Jon’s dreamy photography check out his website: