Selling Dreams

Throughout his varied career, travel photographer Neil Buchan-Grant maintains “travel photography is really all about selling dreams”  In his words, “A good travel photo has to make you want to be there”. 

A keen hobbyist from his teenage years, Buchan-Grant’s creative journey only got underway at the advanced age of 39 after winning a travel photography competition in The Independent newspaper. It was  run with the help of Insight Guides, one of the worlds largest publishers of travel guides and owner of Berlitz. His first prize was a paid commission to shoot a guide book for the Italian Riviera which he did over two fortnights in the region. He had used Canon digital SLR’s since the launch of the 3mp D30 and was using the 5D at that time. His work was well received and led to more commissions over the next 5 years where he shot destinations in Spain, Eastern Europe and more in Italy. 

During those years he added more equipment to help including the Canon 1Ds and several pro lenses. But with the growth of stock image libraries, the cost of sending photographers to shoot guide books became prohibitively expensive for travel guide publishers and the commissions seemed to dry up. Neil’s photography continued and he became more interested  in the slow and considered pace of shooting with rangefinders and the image quality that only fast Leica glass seemed to offer. More personal travel to the far east and Australia with his Leica M9 and a handful of lenses, only confirmed that this was the right choice. 

Then out of the blue, after three years of silence, the phone rang asking if he would like to spend a month shooting the island of Sicily. His answer was of course ‘yes’ but he also knew this would require a lot of work. Guide book shoots can require about 10,000 - 15,000 images from which the publisher cherry picks the best for the book and use the rest in their image library. That workload and the kind of varied editorial shots required could not be easily achieved with a rangefinder kit with a focal length range from 28mm to 75mm.  To do this job would require a lot of equipment he could not afford as he was heavily invested in the Leica brand. 

Fortunately this was the dawn of mirrorless cameras and he had read of some clever folk who were adapting Leica glass to be used on mirrorless cameras. The Olympus EP3 stood out as a prime contender and after a chance meeting with the brand’s marketing director, he offered to loan Neil all the gear he would need to complete the shoot. This incredibly generous gesture led to a long relationship where Neil became one of the brand’s ambassadors  creating images which would be used to promote their cameras and lenses over the next 5 years. The Sicily shoot was a huge success, and won Neil the British Travel Press Photographer of the Year award. Another image taken with the diminutive EP3 won him the  prestigious AOP Open award.

In the years that followed his work has broadened to include more portraiture and this interest has helped his travel photography immensely.  “Selling a destination is as much about the people that live there as it is about the landscape”.  When on a commission in Cuba he found the people were the country’s biggest asset. “The locals of Havana could not have been more forthcoming, they really wanted to help sell the island” 

His travel commissions have also led to shooting more stylish and opulent interiors. He was asked to photograph a multi million pound Meribel ski lodge built for one of the world’s most successful photography agents whose clients included Steve McCurry, Annie Lebowitz and Elliot Erwitt. His photographs were made over 3 days as the interior designer was adding the finishing touches.  Neil used portable studio flash equipment to give the images the fresh, bright look the client had requested.  And no, the owner didn’t sign him up to her premium photo agency but his pictures were well regarded. 

Another commission took Neil to New York city where he was tasked with selling the romance of the destination, not a difficult task, but one made slightly harder due to the sub zero temperatures he encountered.  Fortunately the low winter sun came in useful allowing Neil and the model couple he hired to make a series of glamorous, high contrast, black and whites images.

A shoot to promote an upmarket resort complex in Portugal’s Algarve region became more interesting when the client asked for some ‘definitive’ pictures of the areas iconic vistas to use in the company’s brochures. One of the resulting images of Lagos’s many azure beaches was chosen for the cover of Olympus’s monthly magazine.

During his career, regardless of the assignment, Neil has usually tried to accommodate some form of location portraiture where a sense of fashion or beauty can be blended with the distinct nature of a location.  Working with models brought from the UK and with local models has enabled him to expand his style of shooting and his understanding of mixing available light with portable strobes.

Neil’s career has given him opportunities to share his knowledge and experience with other photographers and travelers from the users of Olympus cameras to clients of Kuoni where he has run a series of Phototours to destinations such as India, Vietnam and Russia. This has led  directly to Neil’s latest venture, creating photographic content for May Travel Content and Marketing, a new company run and staffed by several of Kuoni’s most talented people.  The travel industry has undoubtedly had a big setback during the corona virus pandemic, but it’s already showing signs of recovery and its success will only be aided by inspirational words and pictures to sell the dream.

Using Format