Creative profile: Jeff Colhoun, photographer

This story first appeared in Vacations & Travel magazine, winter 2019, issue 111

This Californian-based photographer and cinematographer talks about discovering, through his lens, the culture of off-the-beaten-track destinations.

Creative profile: Jeff Colhoun
Image: Anne Carney

Where do you live?

Right now I am based in the San Francisco Bay Area. I split my time between San Francisco and Lake Tahoe. I don’t see myself moving any time soon.

What are the most memorable locations you’ve worked on?

The most memorable locations I have filmed in so far have been Mongolia’s Darkhad Valley and Ethiopia.

Creative profile: Jeff Colhoun

How would you describe the style of images and videos you capture and what stories you try and show through your lens?

Most of my work is documentary.  Whether it’s a documentary film for a non-profit or covering a subject for a travel publication, I find myself trying to tell the story of what it’s like at that place, in that moment.

With your work, what do you believe defines the ‘culture’ of a destination and how do you seek it out when photographing and filming?  

The culture is defined by the people living there. I always try to avoid tourist attractions or ‘what everyone likes doing’ when they travel somewhere. Instead, I prefer finding scenes from everyday life in locations very far off the beaten path. 

Creative profile: Jeff Colhoun

When photographing people, what etiquette or ethics do you consistently use in your approach, given that photographing people (including children) poses different issues as opposed to photographing landscapes or architecture?

The best way I have found to approach photographing people (especially with a language barrier) is to hold your camera up when someone sees you and you will either get a nod or they will shake their head.  Taking a photo of someone is taking something from them, and every creative should remember that.

Could you tell us about some of the not-for-profit organisations you actively work with and what causes you are passionately supporting?

My most recent project was with the non-profit Operation International.  They are a group of surgeons who offer medical aid to adults and children in impoverished countries. I travelled with them to the Ivory Coast in West Africa where they outfitted the hospital with new equipment and performed 76 surgeries. The documentary is coming soon.

As a photographer actively using social media, what types of content do you view as inspiring and examples of best practice, and conversely, what content sometimes leaves you shaking your head?

I’m inspired by imagery with a story behind it from places that are hard to get to or access. I have a hard time connecting with imagery when I have seen the place photographed 100 times before. I can’t get inspired if I know the photographer just checked a box on their vacation itinerary.

Creative profile: Jeff Colhoun

What do you love about working with video as a cinematographer, and where do you see the future of video heading with regards to travel and tourism? 

What I enjoy most about video is that it’s a medium which allows you to expand on the story you want to tell. It’s also more challenging than capturing photographs but I think as cameras keep getting smaller and editing software gets more user-friendly, we are going to see a lot more travel videos.

How can creative people help educate and inspire travellers about the cultures of the world?

Travelling has a way of shifting your perspective. The best way to teach people about the cultures of the world is for them to travel the world.  Creatives can help by inspiring them to go somewhere, try something new and experience other cultures first hand.

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