Matt Horspool is an award-winning travel photographer born in South Korea and raised by adoptive parents in Orange, NSW.
In 2009, Matt embarked on a 3-month trekking & teaching journey through South America where his passion for photography was born. He has been fortunate enough to live, work and backpack across 47 countries on all 7-continents and does not plan on stopping anytime soon.
His photos have featured in various print and online publications and have won multiple online awards. He has also written feature articles for major print magazines.
How did you start your career as a travel photographer?
My love for photography and travel stemmed from a solo trip to South America back in 2009. Armed with a small point and shoot, I realised that there was a special feeling that arose from capturing beautiful moments in equally stunning locations. This passion then continued on throughout my next 3.5-year journey around the world where I continued to take photos, purely for fun.
Upon arriving back in Australia in 2014, I was asked to fill in for a photographer at a significant charity event. Something that I’d never done before. It was a great introduction to the world of event photography. It gave me the confidence to photograph people in an entirely new environment.
I then decided to upgrade my camera to something much more substantial and delved into the world of Instagram. From here, I began reaching out and shooting with local photographers of all genres. I became inspired to push my creativity and technique beyond what I was initially comfortable with.
It wasn’t until 2017, when my good friend, Kel Morales and I, won a grant from Olympus Australia to fulfil a month-long personal passion project in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, that really accelerated my career and put me on other brands’ radars.
I continued to work as a full-time Special Education teacher in Sydney while balancing a semi-professional travel photographer career on the side. In 2019, I took the plunge and quit teaching to pursue professional photography. It was a whirlwind year covering 7 incredible countries, and now I’m pursuing video and film-making to round out my skills for future projects.
Why do you love being a travel photographer?
On a professional level, there is no greater job. Being paid to explore and document far-away lands and create content in unique and engaging ways, is a challenge that brings me great joy, before, during and after its completion.
On a personal level, it’s the real human connections you form away from the digital and social media-driven world that leave the longest-lasting impressions. What other profession allows you to immerse yourself into another culture and visually document it?
There are, of course, the breathtaking landscapes from remote lands that simply cannot be described in any other way than through photographs and film. I’ll often find myself in situations where, photographically, all the elements are aligning for an award-winning shot. Still, I simply have to stop and take it all in. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do.
Hardest part about the job?
If you ask any professional travel photographer (not influencer) this question, they will likely all tell you the same thing. It’s not as glamorous as you think. The perception of what it means to be a travel photographer is blurred by the generic and uninspiring influencer style images that saturate social media.
The days are super long, and I’m usually up before sunrise and on my way to a location to capture the early light. I’ll then spend the day exploring new areas and planning for a sunset location and mapping out routes to the next destination. After sunset, I’ll likely grab a quick bite to eat before going through my images to ensure there aren’t any issues. This usually means bed around 11pm and up again at 4am. This cycle can repeat for up to a month. Often there is the added pressure of conforming to a client brief with strict guidelines that may or may not be met due to unforeseen circumstances.
Then there is the time away from home. Being away from home is ok when the trip is 1-2 weeks, however, when the project lasts a month or more, it places pressure on relationships back home. Especially when I’m in a location that has very little mobile reception like Greenland. For that trip, I couldn’t make any contact back home for over three weeks.
What’s been your favourite destination so far?
The one question I’m asked the most. And there really isn’t one single answer as each destination brings with it a unique and fantastic experience that can’t be compared to anything else.
I would have to say though, that our Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan project would have to be my favourite location to work in. It was unlike anything I had ever done or seen before, and we had planned everything with very little online information. The project was carried out across insanely remote locations to the backdrop of 7000m+ mountain ranges, all with no other tourists in sight.
Of course, Antarctica and Western Greenland, are so far removed from being like any destination on Earth that they simple blew me away.
What’s the craziest thing you’ve done to get the shot?
In 2019, I spent a month in India documenting the country, and more specifically, the Holi Festival events for Olympus Australia. We had lined up outside the Banke Bihari Temple at around 7am, waiting to enter the infamous square temple for Phoolon Wali Holi. A 20-min festivity of chaos with masses of flowers and colour showered across thousands of wild revellers.
We received word that the entrance we were standing outside of was no longer going to open and that everyone must enter through another door. As the door opened, we got caught on the inside of the surging crowd and were pinned from all directions. We literally couldn’t move beyond where the crowd was pushing us. Unfortunately, this was up against a concrete ledge where it was near impossible to escape. The pressure was so high that it crushed my phone inside my pocket.
Once inside the spectacle, we witnessed was mind-blowing. Never before had I seen so much chaos, energy and passion from the human race. I managed to capture this handheld long exposure from the small balcony above the crowd.
What are your top tips to get a great photo?
Pre-planning is key.
- Make a list of screenshots and notes on your phone of potential locations to photograph so you can show people when you arrive and find out further information. Pictures are valuable because often the locals cannot speak English. Drop pins and stars on your pre-downloaded Google Maps and Maps.ME apps so you can quickly get to these locations.
- Plan your day around the best light: Aim to capture landscapes in the early hours of the morning and during sunset. Throughout the day when the sun is at its harshest is a great time to explore, photograph indoor locations and photograph people in the shade.
- Learn your camera system before you arrive: It goes without saying, you might have the most expensive, new, and flashy camera system, but if you don’t know how to switch between different settings, you are going to miss shots. Now is not the time to test out equipment, especially when in locations that have zero camera stores.
- Tell a story: Something I have come to learn over the years, is that while a single hero image is great, a collection of images that tell a full story is far more beneficial in the long run, for both yourself and clients. That means capturing a variety of images that portray what it means to be at that particular moment. Don’t forget the smaller details of a scene and look for unique angles and viewpoints that tell a full story.
Three things I can’t leave home without when travelling….
- Powercube – This handy little powerboard saves space, fits 4 Australian plugs and two USBs. Vital for charging my camera kit and laptop.
- Pocket clothesline and Drybag – Using an ultralight dry bag as a washing machine was a game changer for me. I could put a heap of clothes inside with some liquid detergent, knead with my hands and leave to soak overnight. In the morning, I would drain and rinse, then hang on my tiny elastic clothesline to dry. All of this takes up space the size of my fist and weighs absolutely nothing.
- Waterproof head torch – Navigating unfamiliar and sometimes dangerous terrain in the dark isn’t something you should do without a torch. Using a head torch frees up both my hands to grab onto things and secure myself should I slip. Make sure your batteries are charged before you head off!
Packing – are you a roller or folder?
I’ll be honest here, I do both. It really depends on how much gear I’m taking and what camera equipment I need to pack around my clothes.
For any button-up or stiffer cotton shirts, I always roll. And I initially roll all my other shirts and pants to pack them into organisers. Midway through the trip, I seem to get lazy, and things just end up folded and stuffed wherever they fit!
Best street food you’ve eaten is…
Every damn piece of street food in Mexico! Closely followed by India. I’m a big fan of street food and touch wood, have not been ill from it yet. I have, however, being horribly ill from dodgy restaurant food in the Philippines.
Do you prefer a sunrise or sunset photo opp?
In regard to ideal conditions, sunrise is usually the best time to photograph a location as there are far fewer tourists about. The downside is always getting up in the dark and praying for an excellent condition. Sunset is much easier to predict and plan for, so it’s usually the safer option.
I guess photographically speaking, sunrise has the better potential for great shots, but my body much prefers sunset!
Follow Matt on social media to see more of his amazing work.