“This career has given me more than what, as a child dreaming of becoming an explorer, I ever imagined.”
When Victor Englebert was growing up in Belgium, he dreamed of discovering lost tribes and exploring the unknown reaches of the world. But he soon found out that there wasn’t much call in the world for explorers anymore.
But photography was the next best thing. So in 1957, he grabbed his camera and quit his waiter job. He traveled the length of Africa, from the Mediterranean coast to Cape Town, on a Vespa scooter, snapping photos on the way. His next adventure found him traveling with the Tuareg nomads of the Sahara Desert. The photos he sold financed his trip, new equipment, and there was profit left over. In the next several decades, he traveled by donkey, camel, and canoe across 40 countries working as a photographer for National Geographic, Smithsonian Magazine, Paris- Match, and the London Sunday Times, among others. He’s also published 17 books of his work.
Q: What are your “secret weapons” for success as a Barefoot Photographer?
I was photographing the people of a village in the Belgian Congo when I realized my small Leica camera could be my key to the world’s wild places. So I learned the art of photography. And I had my specialty: documenting the lives and cultures of more than 30 indigenous peoples on three continents.
As I have always traveled alone and far from the modern world, I was the only one who could tell my stories. So I also learned to write. I did not always know whether my writing had sold my photography or the other way around, but to be able to handle both was priceless.
3. Working fast
During the decades before cameras and lenses became automatic, I learned to judge distance and light by eye, which made me fast enough never to lose a great picture. Even though with modern cameras it’s not necessary, I think it’s still a useful skill.
Q: You’ve probably seen colleagues come and go. What sets the successful travel photographers apart from those who struggle?
- Shoot what moves and excites you. You’ll be happier and much more successful.
- Analyze great photography and compare it to your own. Learn from your bad pictures.
- Never believe anyone telling you that you have no talent. If you have the will and the passion, you will acquire talent and succeed against all odds. Never doubt it.
- Market yourself and network with editors and other photographers. I didn’t do enough of that, and I paid for it later.