Kerrick James, a highly skilled adventure and travel photographer, has been a full time travel journalist since 1990. He is known internationally for his stunning, beautifully composed, technically flawless images of destinations, architecture, nightlife and wildlife. But his most notable achievements are his breathtaking landscapes and compelling images of ecotourism. James has traveled the globe with his camera. His images have appeared on over 200 magazine and book covers. He’s also illustrated and written numerous feature stories for top travel magazines.
He has also written a number of books about travel, including the famous Route 66. He has also taught over 70 photo workshops at locations ranging anywhere from Alaska to Zambia. He enjoys assignments that involve him in active adventures such as kayaking, hiking and climbing, as well exploring wild places around the globe. He is an avid outdoorsman and has rafted in the Grand Canyon’s Colorado River 15 times. He also recently hiked 40 miles in Alps. His images are always compelling and capture his experiences. He calls the American West and Pacific Rim home and he lives in Phoenix, Arizona, with his three sons Shane and Royce.Photo courtesy of Kerrick James
James is an active member of Society of American Travel Writers, Through Each Other’s Eyes and North American Travel Journalists. He also teaches photo workshops at Arizona Highways Photoscapes, and for his company, KJ Photo Safaris.
Kerrick James was so passionate about traveling that it became his main focus and why did he choose to share that enthusiasm visually? He recalls that he long ago identified travel as his muse and it was the main reason he decided to dedicate his life and career to photography. As a child, I was a voracious reader and this inspired me to travel the globe. From college onwards, I knew that photography would be a challenge and a way for me to learn and experience other cultures and beauty around the world.Crescent moon and Venus over a teepee at the Wigwam Motel, Route 66, Arizona. (Photo by Kerrick James)Sailing at sunset over the Caribbean, from La Cabane Restaurant, Batt Rock Bay, St. Michael’s, Barbados.
He continues, “I believe in that the strength of that challenge,” and I can say that my extensive experience in the field has made me feel like I have never done my mission more well than I do today. It’s clear that I have been blessed to be constantly amazed by the people and places photography has brought me. Although it feels like I chose travel photography, “The Key”? The Key? I have never been bored by my travel photography choices and I doubt I will ever be.
“My life has been a constant search for beauty, both in nature and in people. I am always enchanted by the moments that illuminate and define my life.”
It seems almost inevitable that James would become a serious photographer and eventually turn professional. His father gave him a home full of cameras. He carried them around while he was growing up, hiking in the Sierras and Death Valley during high school. After graduating from Arizona State University, he studied art media and photography.Snorkeling in Emerald Cave, Colorado River in Black Canyon, Arizona. Stars and Milky Way over Sandpile Camp, Colorado River, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona.
He freely admits that he didn’t know how to turn travel photography into a profession after college. But he started out by photographing for magazines in San Francisco Bay Area. Slowly, he began to gain tourism clients as if he was roaming the American West. It was a slow process that required a lot of effort and sacrifice. However, there were more magazines back in the ’80s and ’90s and stock paid better. It was how I saw myself and photography became my profession. However, making a living as a professional photographer is not an option.
Kerrick James was a lover of the outdoors and spent countless hours exploring it while in high school. He always brought his camera with him. He discovered photography was a great way to bring nature back into the city. He was introduced to the history of photography and photographers working in different genres during college. This is what prompted him to leave behind his initial fascination with traditional landscapes.
He shot black-and–white street photos in San Francisco during that time, as well as a series about the Mexican border towns. His first major project was ‘Pacific Summer’. This black-and–white film vision of California’s beach is a public stage. He wistfully notes that he longs to return to the theme.Striped sandstone in Zebra slot canyon, Harris Wash, Grand Staircase Escalante NM, Utah. Sunset at Hovenweep Castle, Hovenweep National Monument, Colorado.
James has a Bachelor of Fine Arts (BFA) in Photography from Arizona State University. However, apart from having a broad aesthetic background, he does not believe formal education prepared him to make a living as a photographer.
He recalls that he studied the works of photographers such as Edward Weston, W. Eugene Smith and Henri Cartier–Bresson. But it was a chance encounter with Bernard Plossu, a French travel photographer, that gave him a jump-start, a literal visual jolt. His black-and-white images of Mexico, Africa and my beloved Southwest shot on Kodak Tri-X film opened my eyes to new possibilities and allowed me to see what I could create. He is a man I owe a debt of gratitude, wherever he may reside. American Photographer called him a “troubadour of the horizon” years ago, a phrase I admired but which I have always aspired too.Live music by the Fab Five at BeachLimerz restaurant, St. John’s, Antiga. Alcantara Vineyards, Verde Valley Wine Trail, Cottonwood, Arizona.
James has been working as a travel journalist for more than 30 years. His striking photographs of nature and adventure subjects such as kayaking and rafting are his most prominent assets. However, his current assignments and personal work combine all these genres into a unique visual mix that defines his style.
He says that elements of street photography are extremely helpful for features on, say, Portugal and China. “And I am always searching for that “plus” element that elevates images above just beautiful documentation of a destination and evokes an emotional response in the viewers. Travel journalism is a skillful profession that requires the ability to photograph architecture, portraits, food, nightlife, sports, and all of it with fine arts flair. That’s probably a good description of the constant challenge in my chosen field.Gondolas ply the waters of the Grand Canal, Venice, Italy. SF Giants pitcher Jeff Samardzjia pitches at Chase Field, Phoenix, AZ.
James has been a Pentax enthusiast his whole life. In the days before Tri-X and Kodachrome, then Fujichrome Velvia, he started to shoot. Pentax made a variety of medium and 35mm cameras. Pentax 67II medium format film cameras were used to shoot many of his 200+ magazine and book covers. He carried them even while backpacking and whitewater rafting.
He proudly states that he stayed with Pentax after they made digital, and he’s used every major Pentax DSLR while on assignment across six continents. Their gear is rugged and weather-sealed for many years. This is crucial for the type of work I do (15 river trips in the Grand Canyon down the Colorado River). Gitzo carbon-fiber tripods, Nanuk bags and Naneu backpacks are my favorites. My current cameras include the Pentax K-1 Mark II and KP with all their pro optics. I have never experienced better image quality. This is a golden age of image makers.A summer sunset lights up the teepees of the Wigwam Motel, and the vintage cars, on Old Route 66 in Holbrook, Arizona.
“When I shoot landscapes with my Pentax 645Z, I always have my beloved 25mm f/4 prime wide angle lens. It’s no more available so I now have the sharp HD PENTAX DA 645 28-45mm ED AW SR. This zoom is approximately equivalent to 22.5-36mm full frame and it is weather resistant. It is an indispensable feature for field shooters such as me. The HD PENTAX D FA645 35mm FL3.5 AL [IF] is also a favorite of mine. It’s close to the equivalent of a 28mm in full frame. This lens is lighter and more portable, making it easy to bring along on hikes to remote locations. These two lenses are the basis of most landscapes I have shot.
“I shoot most of my travel assignment photos with the Pentax K-1MKII DSLR. I also carry the sharp and pro-spec PENTAX D FA 15-30mm F2.8ED SDMWR and PENTAX D FA 70-200mm FA2.8ED DC AW zooms. To partially fill the gap between my long and wide zooms, I also carry the new PENTAXD FA 50mmF1.4 SDM AW. These lenses are AW, all-weather, and I have never had to stop shooting with them in heavy rain or hail. I don’t mind the extra weight or size penalty of zooms with maximum apertures of f/2.8 for maximum flexibility in low-light and maximum flexibility. I must mention, however, that I have made excellent salable images at ISO 25,600 using the K-1 MKII. It’s positively amazing!The Santuario de Chimayo, lit for the Christma season, Chimayo, New Mexico.
James uses Pentax cameras for different reasons. It all depends on the subject matter and the shooting conditions. He prefers the Pentax 645Z for landscapes, architecture, and cityscapes.
It’s the best field/landscape camera I have ever used. It has exceptional image quality, rugged weather-sealed lenses and body, excellent ergonomics and an amazing optical range. My 645Z and six lenses (ranging from 25 to 160mm) have been carried over forty miles in the Swiss Alps, along the Grand Canyon’s river, across Patagonia and New Zealand, as well as the incredible images that I take home. I bring the full-frame K-1 MKII or the Pentax KP to work faster and lighter. It has an APS-C-format sensor as well as lenses between 15-450mm. I select the lenses that are best suited to the story photo opportunities I will encounter, whether it’s wildlife, baseball, or kayaking in Emerald Cave. When it comes to preparing for any shoot, especially when you are on an international trip, experience is a great asset!Multi-colored homes cover the hills of Valparaiso, Chile.
James has won numerous photography awards from the Society of American Travel Writers, North American Travel Journalists Association (NATJA), as well as several other writing awards. He has been an Imaging Ambassador for Ricoh Pentax since 2007. He tests their gear on real assignments in the field and was profiled in Outdoor Photographer. His stunning images grace the pages of Nat. Geo Adventures and Nat Geo Books. Virtuoso Life. Outdoor Photographer. Sunset, Arizona Highways. VIA, Westways. EnCompass.
“I’ve traveled to distant places many times over the years purely because of one image that I could not forget. This is what I want my photography do.
He says, “I believe that I am known for my ability to use light, for finding new locations and unique perspectives and for photographing beauty — all these things contribute to images with an indefinable “Wow Factor.” People won’t read any of my words (or any writer’s) unless they are drawn to the images. That’s just a fact. Although I look for beautiful light, touching gestures, and the feeling of a moment in my travel photography, if that doesn’t happen, it’s a failure in my mission. To have fun, satisfy my curiosity, learn about the people and places, and create images that respect others and encourage them to travel there, are all things I strive for. Over the years, I have often traveled to distant places based on one image that I could not forget. This is what I want my photography do.Historic 1680’s view of Cinnamon Bay, US Virgin Islands National Park, St. John, US Virgin Islands.
He notes that he has been leading photo workshops around the globe and still finds great joy in seeing people see clearly and plan their images. Instead of shooting randomly and losing the creative spirit of the session, he says. “I love writing stories, both through words and pictures. Magazines now prefer to assign one person who can handle all the tasks at a high level. This is much more challenging than shooting the action. I have written and photographed cover stories about cruising in Portugal and China, Iceland, Galapagos and recently, a 1500-word piece on Grand Canyon National Park’s 100th year. This is one of my favorite places on the planet. I’m a travel photographer and cover almost every topic in my field, save for armed conflict. I am grateful for the support I get from my fellow news photographers when I go to shoot a story.
“It’s a storytellers life, but I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
Ask any creative person, and they will all tell you that they have to rethink their lives and do it every few years. He adds that this epiphany was when I began to teach photo workshops. It forced me to share and describe what I had been absorbing (assessing light, location, timing, etc. It was a great experience and made me a better photographer. Although I have always written occasional travel stories for magazines, writing only one to two per month is quite a different experience. Change is part of life. I am grateful that I can write and illustrate travel features. This has allowed me to flourish while traveling to places like Iceland, Costa Rica and Portugal as well as China. It’s a life of storytellers, but it’s something I wouldn’t trade for the world.