louis Montrose


 Travel PhotographerThe latest winner of the Travel Photographer of the Year competition should inspire late starters everywhere, as Geoff Harris discovers...

Do you sometimes worry that you might have left it too late to make an impact with your photography, or win any big awards? Then take encouragement and inspiration from California-based Louis Montrose, the current Travel Photographer of the Year.

While Louis has always been passionate about photography, he claims heonly been able to take it seriously”for the last eight years (retiring three years ago obviously meant he could devote himself to his passion for travel and documentary work).

"Ialways been interested in the visual world, and been fascinated by exotic places since I was a child, but I focused on the written word in my academic career as an Elizabethan scholar,”he explains. I can see parallels between my academic interests and interest in travel and documentary . photography —questions about history, the different ways people make and change cultures, and so on.”


For Louis, great travel and documentary photography is very much about recording different cultures, and how they are rapidly changing. "Traditional cultures are changing so fast at the moment, even in the most  traditional  places,”he explains.

"I find it absolutely fascinating to be able to record cultural continuity versus the forces of change and globalisation. My work

from China, for example, very much reflects this feeling.”

Louisstyle, characterised as it is by exquisite composition and subtle tones and colours, can be described as / and he seems pleased by this comparison. "Ittrue, I do strive for quite a painterly look, and this is also something I can achieve with Photoshop and the digital darkroom. I donhave a trademarkMontrose style’though; I prefer my style to come out of the image and subject.”

Key themes appear regularly in Louiswork, particularly images of people at work, and we wondered why this was. is a central component of all cultures, how people manifest their ingenuity and creativity —the dignity of labour, if you like. Inot trying to romanticise it though.

I also record the limitations of work, and how some people are simply trapped in demeaning jobs.”

Unlike a lot of flashy, lifestyle-orientated travel photography, there s a great depth and humanity to Louis s work. So it s not at all surprising to hear him cite seminal documentary photographers like Cartier-Bresson, Eugene Smith and Sebastiao Salgado as inspiration. "I d say that I am a pretty eclectic photographer and I m inspired by lots of different genres, not just travel.”Travel and documentary are his specialities though, and as previously mentioned, Louis was recently named Travel Photographer of the Year. s obviously a great honour, and has generated a lot of publicity for my work, which is great. Succeeding in big international competitions was one of the ways I gained in confidence as

a travel photographer, along with getting my work published in higher-end photography magazines.”


Louis finds himself continually drawn back to the ancient, but rapidly changing, civilisations of Asia and the Indian subcontinent.is an amazing destination for a travel and documentary photographer. It s a crazy, exhausting, fascinating place, a world unto itself with overwhelming variety and strangeness. The people are very open to being photographed, too, but you have to be the ground  to get original photos. You need to go off the beaten track and walk through the cow dung, in other words! This is one of the ways I keep my work fresh. I don t deliberately try to make my work different from that of other photographers, and even in a well-photographed place like India, there are still lots of great images to be had .”China is another place that keeps drawing Louis back. wife, who is also my travelling companion speaks Mandarin, which helps!”When it comes to portraits, Louis definitely prefers the naturalistic, candid approach, rather than deliberately posing his subjects. like people to be unaware of my camera, or at least forget itthere.”

Louis shoots 100% digital and cites the usual benefits of the format, such as instant feedback, good low-light performance and the ease of black and white conversion.

wouldnsay I am an excessively technical photographer, and I donlike getting bogged down in the process of shooting, but I did take classes in photography and read lots of books and magazines. Itimportant to know your camera. I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority mode rather than Manual, and prefer ambient light to using flash.”

Even a cursory glance of Louiswork reveals his careful and thoughtful use of colour —or the lack of it. do enjoy colour photography, but I also work against colour, as I believe oversaturation is a trap.

I donwant the colours to become too dominant. Also, I regard myself as an image maker, rather than an image taker. I shoot everything in raw and then work on the shots in Adobe Photoshop or Lightroom. Some of my shots need five minutes of work, some need hours —indeed, on some images I feel I am never finished with them.”

While Louis doesnhave a formula for his unique post-shoot look, he does focus on certain aspects of the image in Photoshop. tonality, the distribution of light and shade, ensuring moderate saturation... I also like to darken the edges to a subtle degree. I love black and white, too —ita

real challenge to create great monochrome images in India, where there is so much colour. The richness of colour can often lead to wonderful tonal possibilities when you convert to black and white.”

So where next for this intrepid travel photographer? next trip is to China. Igoing to the northwest around the old Silk Road region. Then thereIndia, Ethiopia, Myanmar... Ikeen to go back to Myanmar before the culture changes for good and it ends up looking like modern-day China.”

So is Louis planning to publish any books to chronicle his wanderlust? books, time is the problem. Iso busy travelling, I donhave time to do any travel photography books, which I guess is ironic!

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