SATW Member Spotlight: Kerrick James

SATW member Kerrick James is a travel journalist and photographer with more than 200 publications under his belt. As the 2020 Muster Award Photographer of the Year, Kerrick is one of the most recognized and respected photographers in the travel industry. An SATW member since 1997, Kerrick continues to hone his professional skills. He recently took some time to share insights on his next endeavors and the tools and resources he uses to stay ahead professionally.

A couple sentences about yourself and your work for people who may not know you:

Based in the American Southwest, I’ve shot and written stories from China to Portugal and Venice to Chile. I love active adventures, and have more than 200 magazine and book covers for clients like National Geographic, VIA, EnCompass, Outdoor Photographer, and more.

What does the 2020 Muster Photographer of the Year award mean for you?  

To be recognized for working in the top tier of professional travel photography has long been a driving goal for me, and this award is a public validation of the dedication and work I’ve done over the years. And of course it’s an award to leverage, gently, when introducing myself to new clients and destinations. It simply helps in gaining access to doing better stories, my chief goal.

Define what you do for your professional work and particular specialties:

Although I’ve long been known for images of wilderness and active adventures worldwide, in truth I photograph and write about all aspects of travel; cruising (ocean and river), culture and events, art and food. I also shoot commercial travel assignments to subsidize my editorial addiction, (hotels, trains, CVB library stock), and for years I’ve taught photo workshops around the globe, (70+, from New Zealand to Switzerland, Panama to Alaska, all around the West and Pacific Rim). I love teaching photography.

What has been the key to your professional growth? 

My keys are native curiosity, physical and intellectual energy to pursue beauty everywhere in people and places, and a bit of luck along the way. Joining SATW fairly early in my career was a real boon, due to the super tourism contacts, mentoring, and straight up learning how to create better professional work and how to sell your vision.

What is your next professional milestone? 

I enjoy speaking and sharing travel photography with groups and would like to expand that outreach. As editorial markets shrink I hope to find new venues to publish stories of value to people who care about our planet and our shared futureMy lifelong goal in photography has been the pursuit of beauty, in both the natural world and in all of us. That idealism has taken me far beyond any early dreams, but is that enough toleave as a legacy for my sons? I do wonder about that.

How do you think photography will change in the next 5-10 years?

This is a crystal ball question and based on how much photography has changed over the past decade I’d be foolish to think that small mobile cameras won’t continue to explode in quality and capability. Ours is dominantly a visual world, but the right words still matter, and as travel journalists we can always improve our skills with both.

I love being able to mount specific specialized lenses on my DSLR’s and knowing what to choose and when to do so. Plus, knowing how to artistically process these amazing image files will help us to remain valuable in a market flooded with ‘good enough’ images.

What impact will that have on professional photographers?

We, as always, cannot rest on our past laurels, but must learn new techniques for both image capture and how best to use those great images for promoting our clients and ourselves. The learning curve is vast and endless, potentially, and that can be daunting. Yet we’ve never had more potential to make superb story-telling photographs, with image quality I never dreamed possible just a few years ago. I can shoot in near darkness, by moonlight, even starlight, or I can shoot the world in 360 degrees.

What is the destination that has had the biggest impact on you and why?

I would say that the Sea of Cortez for me has it all, beauty, history, sea life, the vision of John Steinbeck, cruising, kayaking, camping, the Spanish language, real adventure, when you drive the 1000 miles from the California border to Finisterra, Lands End.

What professional advice do you have for other photographers and visual storytellers?

First, look at a huge variety of pictures, study those that fascinate you, decipher why they do so, and then create your own distinctive images. Photography is a medium and a skill that is endlessly challenging, really for a lifetime, no matter how much we ‘master’. 

There is always more to learn and reveal and joining professional organizations like SATW opens up a vast arena of knowledge and opportunity to grow. I’ve also been a member, since 1999, of a photographer’s group in Arizona called TEOE (Through Each Others Eyes), which does in depth photo exchanges with the sister cities of Phoenix. That’s been a wonderful experience too, to do an immersion trip in a new culture, without an imperative to produce anything beyond personal story images. And we also teach photography to school groups of all ages, and make school portraits for local homeless children, a very rewarding gift that goes both ways.

What are some of your best professional tools or resources?I’ve been a Brand Ambassador for Ricoh-Pentax since 2007 and presented for them at CES and Photo-Plus East. Surprisingly, teaching photo workshops has been a prime learning experience because my students often share new software and even techniques they’ve seen, which I have not. They have more time than I do to experiment and test! And I’ve used Adobe’s great software since the beginning.

Contact information
Facebook: /kerrick.james.5
Instagram: /kerrickjames5