If you’ve missed our big news, we’re changing our perspective! With our new series #DTBehindTheLens, we’re celebrating the women behind the lens of the camera, just as must as those in front of them. Today, we’re honored and excited to share Erin Sulliven Of Erin Outdoors in our first spotlight of this series!
Erin’s work is incredible and her photographic eye leaves us feeling captivated. Today, we’re discussing Erin’s point of view, her story and why she’d like the travel industry to truly start celebrating female travel photographers.
Hi Erin! Could you give us a brief introduction to who you are and what you do?
Hi! I am a travel photographer and blogger passionate about the outdoors, wildlife, and learning about cultures around the world.
Before working professionally as a photographer, I was a wilderness guide and adventure trip leader around the world. Leading trips was a rewarding job that allowed me to travel often, and I eventually started a blog to share my experiences.
Since then, I am so grateful to have built a community both online and in the real world of folks who are interested in travel, meaningful conversations, and exploring what lies outside their comfort zones.
As we begin our new #DTBehindTheLens series, we’re aiming to spotlight female travel photographers who are not only artists in their field but also showcase more than just a female figure in a photograph. Why do you think it’s important for women photographers to be celebrated?
I think it’s important for any group that has historically not been in the majority to be celebrated. The group of people who have had the most access to photography (for a lot of reasons) is white dudes. Not a bad thing, just the facts.
Personally, as a kid I didn’t really know I could be a professional photographer because I didn’t see women doing what I wanted to do. I think female photographers should be celebrated, and not just women, but all groups who maybe did not have the access or privileges that other demographics had. So that’s women, but more specifically that’s women (and people) of color, gender nonconforming folks, people from marginalized communities, people who didn’t have a platform before due to the situation they were born into or how they identify.
I think it’s important to celebrate female photographers on social media because so often we just see women in front of the camera, as the subject–– and we all know that those images perform well. I still post those images from time to time! But… those images are often not the ones I am most proud of, to be honest.
By celebrating the work of a female photographer, we are celebrating more than her looks or whatever she is doing in the image. We are also celebrating her unique vision and creativity.
What change would you like to see happen in the travel industry?
I would like to believe that travel makes us more empathetic human beings. That it would help us listen to each other. That it would make us better communicators.
I want to see people getting out and traveling for good reasons that fuel their souls and inspires them to do well in the world. I’d like to see more conversations happening about culture and the “why” behind travel. I’d like to see stories that dig deeper. I’d like to see the perspectives of the locals amplified. I’d like to see more collaboration from unlikely partners, and more interdisciplinary work. I think we are stronger together.
Couldn’t agree more! What is one of the most enthralling experiences you’ve had while photographing the world?
One of my most memorable trips was a personal trip to Namibia with a friend and mentor of mine. It was a last-minute trip, and I didn’t have a particular client I was shooting for.
I was just driven to push myself in my work. Some of my favorite shots and experiences came from that trip. I arrived in the afternoon and immediately drove to the desert.
My first views were from a helicopter above Sossusvlei–– the biggest sand dunes in the world. It was totally stunning and surreal and gave me so much perspective and gratitude. That definitely makes the list.
Through your experiences, what has travel taught you? What lessons does travel bring to those who experience it?
Oooooof what a big question. I could write a book on this!
I became a trip leader/guide because I had always wanted to travel internationally, but never had the opportunity to. Working with teenagers over the years and facilitating group discussions and teambuilding activities taught me so much, and doing that in other places added even more depth to those learnings.
Travel has always taught me, and continues to teach me, that I don’t know much! I can only bring my experiences with me while being open to receive. Travel has also taught me that people are mostly good. As a kid, I learned to be cynical and skeptical of everyone.
My experiences traveling are constantly unraveling that programming. I am always so touched by the kindness of strangers. Overall, the world will teach you so much as long as you are open to it.
Have you ever faced any hard circumstances or issues as a female travel photographer?
Yeah, a few, BUT I do want to say that as a cis, white woman, I can’t pretend that things have been nearly as difficult as folks from other backgrounds. For me the gender discrimination I have experienced has been in a few ways, some are just annoying and others are more serious.
Early on, it was pretty common for male colleagues to start explaining to me how to use my gear. I still get that sometimes and find it kinda funny.
There have been circumstances when I’ve been offered less money than a male colleague for the same job. I know women in the industry who will email from a male alias so that people won’t try to take advantage of them simply because they are female. Sadly, I can also say I have dealt with sexual harassment in this industry, both online and in person. Some of it was really gross.
I hope women new to the industry will have to deal with this less and less as time goes on and more stories come to light. I am so grateful for those who came before me and those who continue to do badass work and pave the way. I am also grateful to all the men in the industry who have amplified the work of female photographers, and who try to do better. We see you!
What piece of advice would you give to new female travel photographers?
Do good work. The formula is quality + consistency + passion. Quality, because you have to be good. Know what is going on in the photo world, specifically the part of the industry you want to be in. Continually work on your craft. Shoot a lot. Practice even when you don’t feel like it. Consistency, because you need to do that good work consistently for a long time. This shows the world that you’re serious. It also shows you, yourself, that you are serious. And passion because honestly this stuff is HARD. It’s super hard, and you need a fire at your core that can withstand the challenging times. Creativity is hard, entrepreneurship is hard, travel is hard (even though Instagram will not show you that). But it’s also a tremendous, wild, beautiful ride. Have fun.
What is it that you aim to photograph during your travel experiences?
I aim to capture moments that are somehow compelling and contribute to the story of our world. I really enjoy shooting abstract landscapes, wildlife portraits, and images that share a part of someone’s culture. I think those areas are where my skill set is most effective. Hopefully that comes across.
Thank you so much for sharing your story and insight, Erin! Be sure to check out her incredible photographic work.
It’s time to elevate female photographers. Who’s work would you like for us to spotlight next?