Holger Leue is regarded as one of the world's premier travel photographers. His work has been published in more than 100 books, travel guides and calendars, as well as in countless magazine features.
He is regularly commissioned by a variety of publications and publishers, tourism boards, cruise lines and tour operators. “The well-being that I experience on location,” he says, “is reflected in the quality of the imagery.” To date Holger Leue has completed photographic assignments in more than 100 countries.
A majority of his work is represented by the leading stock agencies Getty Images and LOOKphotos.
When I'm about to embark on a photographic project in a distant land, sometimes even my good friends send me on my way with a cheeky “Have a nice vacation!” I appreciate the sentiment, and I understand that what I do might look like play to someone who doesn't know me, but I think to myself that they should know better by now. After all, I've been a professional travel photographer for more than two decades, and I'm driven by a strong dedication to capture the essence of a destination in my imagery. It's exciting, it's challenging, and it's rewarding. And I feel extremely privileged to be able to discover so many aspects of this wonderful world through my viewfinder, while meeting fabulous people along the way.
At the age of six I snapped my first picture: of some swans during a family vacation in Holland. To be honest, it was only half a picture, for I opened the back of my first instamatic camera so that I could place the cartridge back it into the compartment of the kit it came in (which even included a flash bulb). I made this mistake only once and grew up with the camera a constant companion.
I eventually studied photojournalism at the University of California at Santa Cruz, spending a majority of my time working for the award-winning campus newspaper City on a Hill among other daily and weekly newspapers. After documenting the tragic aftermath of a major earthquake, I realized that news photography was not my cup of tea, and that I would endeavor to earn my living as a travel photographer.
With a couple hundred rolls of film and much optimism I headed to New Zealand, purchased an old car and some camping equipment, and spent three delightful months discovering and documenting Aotearoa (as the Maori call the “Land of the long white cloud”). The results appeared in a German travel magazine, this then led to a book project, then to a major commission for a tourism board. My diligence paired with good fortune and the risk paid off.
Usually my trips are between one and three weeks long. During that time, I'm always on: I scout the location for the most illuminating imagery from the crack of dawn until well past sunset. Sometimes my journeys are commissioned projects, other times I work on a speculative basis and try to market the imagery afterwards. Long days and short nights are the norm, and it is not uncommon that near the end of a tropical island project I realize that my toes haven’t touched the water yet.
But the time I spend on location is only part of the overall picture. For each day out in the field, it takes at least one day in the office to complete the follow-up work: viewing and tightly filtering the results, optimizing RAW files with the Lightroom program, and meticulously labeling and systematically archiving the processed images. And then there is the marketing…
Prior to each journey, careful planning with much logistical work is essential. I cooperate closely with the tourism industry, which is beneficial in cutting travel costs. The resulting stays in five-star hotels or aboard cruise ships are a nice perk, yet I feel equally comfortable in a tent or campervan under five million stars.
Recently I've pursued numerous projects for high-end cruise lines, capturing imagery for their brochures and travel guides. Although challenging at times (I generally have only a few hours during port calls, and often during daytime only), it does permit me to cover a lot of territory in a limited amount of time. But more importantly, these ships have taken me to parts of the world which are not so easily accessible otherwise: Antarctica or the Amazon, for instance. Yes, I confess that sailing the seven seas by luxury liner is very enjoyable: a comfortable cabin (no need to lug suitcases around), the pleasant company of fellow passengers and crew, fabulous food, let’s not forget the Gin & Tonics made with ice cubes carved straight from an iceberg floating by.
Flexibility and mobility are extremely important in realizing successful travel photography. This includes manageable equipment. Currently I work with Canon EOS R5 and Canon EOS R mirrorless cameras with 14-35 f/4, 35 f/1.8 macro, 24-105 f/4 and 70-200 f/2.8 original Canon R lenses. I also use a Sony RX100 iv compact camera with a fast f/1.8 Zeiss lens, a DJI Osmo Action with an underwater dome and a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. The equipment fits into a Tamrac Nagano 16L photo backpack, which is comfortable and also safe thanks to the inner zip. Add to this a professional Manfrotto carbon tripod, a powerful MacBook with multiple backup drives, and quite a bit of cable clutter. The “flying camera” has also been essential for a few years. I use two Mavic 2 Pro and one Mavic Mini 3 drones (only one at a time, of course). And since “moving imagery” is now an important part of the repertoire, I work with two DJI Pocket 2 gimbals (of which I'm happy to give one to someone for supplemental shots). Voila: the tools of a travel photographer!
I have always viewed photography as a craft, and as with all crafts, one improves, becoming more efficient and artful with each project. As a perfectionist, I always endeavor to achieve the best result, yet I also bear in mind that in addition to technical perfection, an image needs to have soul in order to fascinate.
When not traveling the world in search of the finest light, my home base is in the German countryside, where I accomplish all the follow-up work. Home is very important for this part-time vagabond, but the feet remain itchy and the desire to discover and document the new is omnipresent.
A while ago I was asked to name five adventures I haven’t done yet, but hope to discover before too long. After some thought, I've come up with the following: I’d like to see the Taj Mahal at dawn, visit the famous Tokyo Fish Market, watch South African wildlife from the basket of a hot air balloon, explore Paris (once I’ve met the woman of my dreams – but then only with a compact camera) ... and one day I would like to look at Earth from space.
“And I think to myself, what a wonderful World ...”