You could easily say that Christian Heeb has ‘been there – shot that’. This Swiss born photographer, living in the US for the last 20 years, has photographed in over 70 countries and has over 140 books credited to his name. His photography has also appeared in hundreds of publications across the globe including Outside, GEO, Conde Nast Traveller, Grands Reportages, and Rolling Stone.
Despite difficult times for professional photographers in business and the challenges with international travel, Christian and his wife and partner Regula, continue to hopscotch across the globe photographing new books, publishing a series of calendars, teaching international workshops, selling lots of stock, and simply thriving in this business.
Curious how he photographs and runs a successful business, Christian agreed to tell us how he does it.
You have been shooting for over 25 years and started in Switzerland before coming to the U.S. Please tell us about your journey, how you got started and how you eventually came to the U.S.
Well my main objective in 1986 was to come to the US and photograph Native American Culture and their lands. A 1.5 Year Journey through North America turned into a full blown photography business based on travel. Initially we started shooting for German Book publishers and and grew this to an international client base heavy weighed to Europe.
After shooting a Guide Book on the Pacific northwest Regula and I decided to move to Bend Oregon in 1996. We were always doing what we wanted to do and followed our passions which kept us going for years. I try to follow my dreams instead of looking a the business aspects of what I do.
I see you shoot quite a variety from travel to people to nature, but has travel photography always been your mainstay or passion?
Well we both started out as Architects in Switzerland but then I got into Photography and shot Fashion and portraits for kicks. That lead to my Native People subjects which lead to travel and it now has come back full circle with our new studio in Bend. Right now I am shooting Fashion and Portraits locally as well as everything in between. I keep shooting Nature, Landscape and Travel too. It all depends on the client and frankly I love shooting a large variety. As much as I love Nature, I get bored by too many flowers and scenic mountain vistas. I will go from doing that straight to a model shoot in a urban environment.
You have traveled and photographed across the globe. How many countries have you shot?
Something over 70. I stopped counting and I do go pretty in-depth so I don’t have that many places as other shooters. I pretty much traveled to my dream places but still have a few spots left that I want to see or revisit.
Which country was your favorite and which was your least?
Argentina is my favorite. Can’t think of a least favorite.
What challenges do you find today when traveling and photographing the globe with bags of gear?
The usual fuss with the airlines and hiring good guides can be challenging in some places.
What type of gear do you travel with?
Nikon D700,D800,D300S, Lenses from 12 to 500. Standard 24-70mm 2.8 and 70-200 2.8. 3 Nikon Flash Units, Pocket Wizards, Diffuser and Reflector, polarizer…….it depends on the trip. Africa I bring big glass…city stuff I keep it down.
Is there any moment you feel defined your career and success?
My first calendar published by Photographie in Switzerland in 1988.
What about a magic moment? Is there any event that happened while out shooting the resulted in a top selling image, or a narrow escape, or something you will never forget.
There are so many moments…having a beer somewhere out on the Amazon where there’s only local people and parrots..or or maybe being stuck in little hotel on the Border in Sonora while the Drug trucks drove through in the middle of the night and we just hoped nobody would hide drugs in our car.
Do you have an all time favorite image you have shot? Please tell us why this image is it.
Usually my favorite images are the recent ones. I come up with new stuff all the time. My best selling images are not always my favorite images…One top sellers is this image from Rio and and one of my favorites is this fun shot I took of my wife in Vegas:-)
You shoot assignments as well. What types of assignments do you do and do you stack projects while on the road?
Stacking (projects) is life in my world. I always combined Book project with Magazine articles and I keep an eye out for stock. You name it.
Some photographers have realized that licensing stock images and being published in calendars and editorial publications is no longer as prosperous of a business model as it once was in today’s markets. Do you feel the same way? You have a lot of products out there right now from books to calendars to stock and workshops. Please share your thoughts here.
The market has change dramatically. I am changing my business model of course. Still the combination of many things pays the bill. It be very hard these day to be a stock photographer only. We probably work double as hard now and still make less money than we used too. Fortunately I invested the money during the hay days so I am not as exposed as other shooters.
Marketing and self promotion is critical to any business and especially photographers. Today, everybody is doing it differently from printed promotions to social media. What do you do to keep earning business and stay so busy?
I keep in touch with my clients on a personal level and I keep in touch with my fans on Facebook. I create my own projects and I am constantly at work selling myself and my images.
You have had a long and successful career and no doubt have been asked by others how to succeed in professional travel photography. What advice would you have for them?
I would not recommend to go into travel photography at the moment. The market is so saturated but hey If you can get into Conde Nast or National Geographic somehow its worth a shot. But better be very good.
You teach some fabulous workshops in some incredible places. Can you tell us about a few and what you have coming up?
I love teaching and traveling with people. There is no better way of learning than go out and shot and that’s what we do day after day on these trips. America in March and a two week trip I southern utah as well as sveral smaller Workshops from Provence to Oregon. Check out www.ccophoto.com
Please tell our readers where they can learn more about you.
If you have any thoughts please leave a comment.