Travel Photographer Stephen Govel

This post is by David VanArsdale, one of our contributors.

One of the frustrations of traveling is trying to explain your experience when you return home. It can seem like a hopeless task. Which is why Iʼm envious of our current artist of the week, photographer Stephen Govel. All he has to do is show you a slideshow from his recent trip, and youʼll get it.

Stephen Govel has the heart of a backpacker and the eye of a photographer. And itʼs this balance that weʼre most interested in. If youʼre a traveler, youʼll look at Steveʼs work and realize that heʼs is driven by the same wanderlust that makes you grab your passport and go. And itʼs damn refreshing to see someone capturing the kind of images that backpackers can relate to.

I met Steve 5 years ago in Brisbane, Australia. And what Iʼve always found a bit surprising is that heʼs a hostel sleeping, street-vendor eating backpacker who also makes a living as a professional wedding photographer. Itʼs like meeting a rapper who also sings opera. Two very different spectrums. But thatʼs what you get with Steve. You get something unique and thatʼs hard to come by. Heʼll nail those photographs that youʼll frame for your living room: the perfect sunset at the beach, or that view from the top of a mountain. But itʼs the totality of his work, from start to finish, that keeps me coming back. That photo of the green Converse about to land in a puddle. The honesty in the faces of not only the locals—but of his fellow travelers.

But Iʼll shut up now. That way you can start reading our interview with Steve—and more importantly, get your first looks at his photography.

When you’re looking through the lens, how much are you concerned about creating the nicest looking picture versus capturing the moment? Or is that the same thing?
When I started it was always about being technically perfect for a particular shot. As I progressed, the moments became most important because technical stuff is great to nail but if the moment you caught isn’t captivating to viewers, it isn’t going to matter if you nailed the exposure or not. The light and composition are the two most important things behind the moment because they make or break photo.

How much has growing up near the beach in Manasquan, NJ* affected your photography?
Growing up at the beach gives you an appreciation of your surroundings and the earth unlike growing up in a city. Water is a huge part of my life, and shooting from the water has grown my passion for photography immensely.

You see a lot of countries through a camera lens. Ever been somewhere that you thought “Damn, this picture still won’t do it justice.”
I always think there’s moments that can’t be captured through a lens. You can come close but sometimes trying to digitally capture a particular scene
or culture won’t ever do it justice. Some things are best left as moments in your mind. Traveling through northern Vietnam I had some of the best experiences, and most are left only as visuals in my mind.

Unrelated to photography. What is it about traveling that makes you so anxious to grab your backpack?
Traveling, more specifically backpacking, breaks the routine of an everyday ordinary life and opens your mind to the world. The anticipation and thrill of experiencing a new culture can’t be replicated.

You’ve had your work posted on the Nat Geo website and been featured in galleries. Do you have one place you’d really like to get published?
I really want to get published in Nat Geo magazine or Nat Geo Traveler Magazine. That’s probably the only publication in the world that won’t compensate you for using your photos, and everyone’s OK with it. To me, as a photographer and traveler, it’s one of the highest honors.

Tell us about shooting with film. Learn any valuable lessons from that experience?
I started digitally because I didn’t really get into photography until college. My fiancé is big into film, and I never really understood the fascination with the older technology today. That is till she bought me an F5. I shoot totally different with film. You’ve got to be so much more careful with exposure, composition and capturing moments, but the reward is so much greater when it all comes together.

It seems like everyone and their mother is into photography these days. But what advice could you give to the person who actually aspires to make photography their living?
The best thing someone ever told me that helped me get to where I’m at with my career is to be different. Everyone can see what the subject of something interesting is, but capturing it in a way with light and composition that not many see is what sets you apart. Also, once you have the money and camera expertise, pro series lenses are the best investment to take your photography to the next level.

To see more of Govelʼs work, visit: stephengovel.com. DISCLAIMER: Do not explore Steveʼs site at work because we do not want to be blamed for your lack of productivity— we predict youʼll be exploring his site for at least 30 minutes. Also, you can expect: frequent chills, oohs & ahhs, and other people to start hovering over your shoulder.

*Govel currently lives and works out of Manasquan, NJ. In 2012, he will be switching hemispheres and living in Sydney, Australia.

-Q&A by David VanArsdale

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