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Interview with Jim & Lisa Engelbrecht – International Travel Photographers

written by: •edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 5/7/2010

We’ll step inside the minds of international travel photographers, Jim and Lisa Engelbrecht, to find out what travel photography is all about and seek advice from the professionals.

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    Lisa & Jim Engelbrecht - International Travel Photographers Ever wonder what it’s really like to be a travel photographer? Is travel photography something you’ve considered learning, but still have questions and concerns? Owners of Creative Sparks Design, Jim and Lisa Engelbrecht, are about to help us better understand the challenges and advantages of travel photography, and share with us their top 5 tips that any aspiring travel photographer should consider.

    (Click on images to enlarge)

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    Who are Jim & Lisa Engelbrecht?

    I’ve asked Jim and Lisa to provide me with a brief bio on who they are and where they come from. Here’s what they had to say:

    Jim: Born in Chicago, IL in 1953, I grew up in Cincinnati, OH. After high school, I went to Rochester Institute of Technology in Rochester, NY. After 10 years in Rochester, I moved to Boston. I have worked in advertising as a designer and at Parker Brothers as an art director (where Lisa and I met). I then became a creative director in the travel industry – hiring photographers till I found that “I could do that", instead of sitting in an office.

    Lisa: I was born in Louisville, KY in 1959. I moved around quite a bit before I went to college at Endicott College in Beverly, MA. After graduation in 1979, I settled in the Boston area and have been there ever since, working as an illustrator, graphic designer, art director and photographer. I live with my husband, Jim, and we work together out of our house.

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    Travel Photography
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    The Interview

    Bright Hub (BH): How did you get started as a photographer? Did you go to school or take any courses?

    Jim Engelbrecht (JE): I first took to photography in high school. I saved my money and graduated from a Kodak Brownie to a 35mm SLR Nikkormat, so I could work on my high school yearbook. I also took a part time job in a photo studio’s darkroom (remember those?). I majored in photo illustration and communication design in college, but took a job as a designer and art director. I art directed hundreds of photo shots over the years and hired photographers for travel assignments. Starting in 2004, I decided I wanted to shoot assignments and get out from behind a desk. Having worked on the inside of the travel industry, I had made valuable contacts and had learned what photo editors were looking for.

    Lisa Engelbrecht (LE): Photography has always been a hobby of mine; I took photography classes in college. I started to include photography as a service for my graphic design business, which later expanded into doing on-location shooting for travel companies who required photographs to be included in their marketing brochures and catalogs.

    BH: Obviously, as an international travel photographer, you’ve seen a lot of the world. What has been your favourite place to visit and why?

    JE: Because I love to travel, every place has been an adventure and I have loved them all. One place that really stands out, and I’m sure Lisa will agree, is Croatia. It’s such a magical place. An African Safari is at the top of my list also.

    LE: Yes, I loved Croatia for its natural beauty, the quaint coastal towns, the friendly people, the food and the old-world charm that is very apparent today.

    BH: As a travel photographer, who are some of your clients and what did you do for them?

    JE: We have focused on the major direct mail travel tour providers, as they have a large demand for images to support their marketing efforts. We photograph the passenger experience, which is very different from how a photographer might photograph an editorial assignment. We also photograph resorts, hotels, restaurants, events and will be bringing our travel and event expertise to the wedding market. In this changing economy, we need to expand our client list. We also have stock photos on

    LE: We have worked for Vantage Deluxe World Travel, Tauck World Discovery, Viking River Cruises, Grand Circle Travel and GWV Vacations. We went on the trips with their passengers, photographing the scenery, the iconic landmarks, the people, the culture and the passengers having a great time. We often photograph the interiors of the riverboats or hotels also.

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    African Safari by Creative Sparks DesignJim & Lisa Engelbrecht - Travel Photography
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    Next page...

    Please continue on to page 2 to learn what photography equipment and accessories Jim and Lisa consider an essential part of their travel photography. You'll also learn what the greatest challenges and advantages of travel photography are, and so much more.

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    On page two of this interview with professional travel photographers, Jim and Lisa Engelbrecht, we'll discover what the greatest challenges are to take great travel photos. We'll also learn what the essential camera equipment and accessories are for every travel photographer.interview, travel photographer, take better pictures, travel photos, camera equipment, accessories
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    BH: I imagine that travelling from place to place, day after day, you learn to pack only what’s necessary. So, what are the “must haves" of your camera bag?

    JE: We shoot with Nikon equipment. I pack to have all my primary equipment in my carry-on bag. I may carry too much, but I want to be flexible if I need something for a special shot. Here’s what’s in my camera bag:

    • Two D200 bodies (upgrading to a new D700 soon)
    • Fisheye lens
    • Wide-angle zoom
    • Mid-range zoom
    • Telephoto zoom
    • 50 mm 1.4
    • Four SB-800 flashes
    • Apple laptop with Aperture software and external fire-wire hard drive for back up

    LE: I try to keep it light because carrying heavy equipment for 8-12 hours a day is no fun. Here’s my list:

    • D70 Nikon camera with a 18-200 telephoto lens
    • Lens cloth
    • Flash
    • Battery back-up
    • Extra flash cards
    • Model releases
    • Pen and business cards
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    Travel Photography by Creative Sparks Design
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    Travel PhotosInternational Travel Photography
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    BH: What are the greatest challenges you encounter from being a travel photographer?

    JE: The speed at which we are required to work – it is not unusual to work 18-hour days and rush from location to location. Most of our assignments require us to shoot in the instant moment and move on. I would love an assignment where I could plan and shoot a scene over time.

    LE: We are usually on a guided tour with passengers so you have limited time in each location and it may be at the wrong time of day with the wrong light on the “must have shot".

    BH: What do you like the most about being a travel photographer?

    JE: I love to experience new cultures and having a whole new visual world open up to me, and meeting new people, learning about their lives and their food.

    LE: I love being able to experience different cultures and seeing through my own eyes all the beautiful things that I had seen in books or movies. We have met some wonderful people on our journeys and now have friends around the world.

    BH: What’s the worst thing that has happened to you on the job?

    JE: I had to shoot interiors on a mega yacht in rough water. Being below deck with the boat rocking; I had to do everything I could to complete the job and keep from getting sick.

    LE: I was riding in an open-air jeep in South Africa; I put my camera in my camera bag and set in on the floor. Bad move! The ride was so rough over dirt roads that the constant movement rendered my camera useless. We still had 3 days left of our trip...3 days without a working camera. Luckily, I was able to get it repaired when we returned home for $200, but lost out on many great shots those last few days. Jim now carries an extra camera body.

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    Next page...

    We've saved the best for last! Continue on to page 3 to find out what the professionals consider to be the top 5 tips that any aspiring travel photographer should know. You'll also learn what Jim and Lisa's favourite travel photos are, and where they get their ideas and inspiration from. Valuable contact information can also be found on the next page...

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    This is page three of an interview with international travel photographers and owners of Creative Sparks Design, Jim and Lisa Engelbrecht. Here we will learn what the professionals say are the top 5 photography tips any travel photographer or beginner photographer should follow. We'll also see what Jim and Lisa's favourite travel photos are and what makes them the best. Finally, we'll find out where their photo ideas and inspiration comes from and how we can contact Creative Sparks tips, advice, learn travel photography, interview, Engelbrecht, Creative Sparks Design, best travel photos
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    BH: What are 5 tips you’d give to somebody who is just learning travel photography?


    1. Train your eye – it’s your most important equipment.
    2. Research the location, study guidebooks, and see how it’s been shot before.
    3. Engage with the location and culture.
    4. Tell the story of the location and people.
    5. Know what the client is looking for and be sure to deliver it.


    1. You need to build up a portfolio before you approach clients, so go on some of your own trips and shoot scenes and local landmarks around you to get experience.
    2. Shoot early in the day and late in the day. Beautiful light is very important.
    3. Think about what a town/city is known for and try to capture that in photos (the art, culture, people, famous places, etc.).
    4. Don’t just shoot big scenics - try shooting details too.
    5. Shoot destinations in a way that shows all aspects of the place so that someone who has never been there gets a sense of what it is really like to be there.

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    BH: From your portfolio, what are your two favourite photos, and what makes them your favourite?

    JE: I was photographing an African woman weaving a mat. When I sat on the ground, foot-to-foot with her she looked at me and smiled – I loved the connection we made.

    I was in Iceland and saw a church in the middle of nowhere at the base of a glacier capped volcano. I loved the scale and how the red of the small church draws your eye from the immense volcano.

    LE: I shot a table and chairs in a courtyard at a chateau in France that had an incredible view of the autumn vineyards. Every time I see that shot I can picture myself sitting there, enjoying the view while drinking a cup of coffee or glass of wine. Every woman I have shown it to has the same reaction. It transports you.

    The photo of the Russian countryside from the water was a result of being in the right place at the right time. It had been raining all morning and the sun came out for about 5 minutes, as we passed this beautiful scene, I was lucky enough to be there with camera in hand. The sunlight makes the autumn colors glow.

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    Jim & Lisa Engelbrecht's Favourite Photos

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    BH: Where do your ideas and inspiration come from?

    JE: I grew up with National Geographic and always admired the great photographers that worked for the magazine. I was transported to every location they photographed. I want to capture that same quality with my photos.

    LE: No matter what the language, a smile and a camera can open many doors. I can get overwhelmed with a big busy scene so I often take many detail shots to warm up (close-ups of architecture, flowers, food, art, etc.). This inspires me because it helps me grasp the essence of the scene and then I can shoot the whole scene and get a better shot.

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    Creative Sparks Design - Travel Photos
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    BH: Where should people go to see more of your work, or to contact you about your services?

    We will travel anywhere; around the world or right in our own backyard to photograph an assignment. Travel assignments, events, resorts, your name it, we’ll shoot it.

    Call Lisa for more information about our services and availability: 781-942-0682

    Our travel photography portfolio is a small sampling of the different trips we have taken. For a more in-depth view of our work and recent photo assignments go to For more information about Jim’s background you can visit his LinkedIn profile.

    I want to thank Jim and Lisa for taking time away from their busy schedule to answer everything we ever wanted to know about travel photography. Thanks!

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    Travel Photography
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    Coming Soon...

    Did you find this interview helpful? In the next month, we’ll be talking to several professional photographers who specialize in specific areas of photography. Want to learn what commercial photography is all about? How about nature photography? Perhaps you’ve been thinking about becoming a spa photographer but would like more information...

    Keep checking in because we’ll have these topics and more covered in the near future.