Josh Bender is the award winning travel photographer behind Travel with Bender. He is drawn to photography as it is a universal language that can be understood by young and old, literate and illiterate. With each photograph, Josh captures a sliver of life that he hopes inspires awe and fosters understanding of this wondrous world we live in. Read on to hear about how he got his start, how he travels with children, and gives advice to aspiring photographers.
What made you and your family decide to take up the nomadic lifestyle?
My wife Erin and I love to travel. We’ve taken regular holidays together since we were married in 2002. In 2007 we went on a 7-week round-the-world trip as our last hurrah before planning to have kids, but we quickly realized that we didn't have to limit ourselves when babies arrived. We continued on international family holidays when our kids were very young. However, each time we returned to Perth, Australia it required considerable time and cost. So in 2011 I brought up the idea of nomadic travel with Erin, and although she thought I was initially crazy, we eventually agreed on a plan in late 2011. Our kids were the perfect age at the time - 2 and 3. It took about 5 months to get everything organized, and we left Australia in May 2012 with a 1-way ticket to Bali and no plans to return.
Tell me about your blog Travel with Bender – why did you start it?
Erin and I initially started Travel With Bender simply to stay in touch with family and friends so we wouldn’t have to repeat the same stories multiple times. After a few months we realized that more strangers were reading the blog than people we knew, so Erin adjusted her writing style to be more informative and less personally focused. We found the blog also helped us, giving us a focal point through our ever-changing locations. It also helped us remember where we had been and the wonderful experiences we had had. And just in case our kids ever forgot, it acts as a sort of family album for them to reflect on when they get older. Since that point, it has snowballed into so much more. In the last 2 years we have visited over 45+ countries, and the site currently attracts tens of thousands of readers every month. We’ve been featured on numerous national television programs, newspapers, magazines and high profile websites, and also have won an array of blogging and photography awards. It’s been a real whirlwind ride.
Travel with Bender is filled with practical advice, great anecdotes, as well as your beautiful photography. When did you first dive into photography and what first made you pick up the camera?
I’ve always been fascinated with photography. My father taught high school photography, so when I was a child I’d spend time after school in his dark room fascinated by watching how film was developed. As I grew up I always owned an obligatory point-and-click camera, but in mid-2012 as our blog drew more of our focus I picked up a Sony NEX-F7. I wanted to ensure I was capturing good quality shots not only of my children, but also presentable photos for our blog. From that point on, I took a more focused interest in photography and spent time reading photography blogs and magazines, learning whatever I could. I also had a professional background which included graphic design and editing, so that was a natural fit with photography post-processing. In late 2013 my camera was stolen on a subway in London, so that fast-tracked my plans to upgrade to a DSLR camera. The weapon of choice was a Canon EOS 70D. This tool gave me more flexibility and control, which in turn further stoked my passion for photography. I just wish I had started using a DSLR earlier.
How would you describe your photographic style? And your creative process?
I see photography as an extension of myself. It’s a way I see the world and capture the essence of the places I visit. I’m a positive person who is constantly amazed at the beautiful planet we call home, so my photographic style is vibrant, honest and inspiring with a touch of whimsy. After all, I’m living the dream.
Travelling with young children also affects my photography. As they are really fast-movers, I have to keep up the pace rather than scouting out potential locations. Sometimes I’ll only have a few seconds to capture the shot before they run off. I try to be agile and make the most of what the trip throws as me. In terms of style, I blend a variety of styles - artistic, commercial and editorial. For our blog I capture raw, transparent scenes, not just the prettiest ones. We give our readers an honest impression of our experiences - both good and bad. It’s just like they’ve been transported on location with us, and readers appreciate that honesty.
As we have travelled at a relatively fast pace in 2014, time for post-processing gets squeezed in whenever and wherever I get a chance (sometimes well after midnight, and often on trains or planes). But I still ensure all photos are edited before they are published on our blog, even if it’s just balancing up the tones. I aim to convey a vivid feeling with each photo. Not only capturing the moment in time, but also expressing the sound, the scent and the energy.
What was your favorite place or site to visit so far?
We’ve visited so many amazing destinations, it’s hard to pick just one that stands out above the rest. If I had to pick a handful, they would be:
- Eastern Switzerland
- Chiang Mai, Thailand (for the Yi Peng festival)
- Kythnos, Greece
- Crater Lake, Oregon, USA
- Ambergris Caye, Belize
- Boracay, Philippines
At this moment, which of your photos is your favorite?
As you can imagine I have plenty of favorite photos, but this one would have to be one of the best. It was an incredible sunset on the island of Ios in Greece. I’ve never seen anything quite like it. And although this photo can’t do it justice, it does remind me of the incredible beauty we experienced in the magical Cycladic islands.
Having been witness to so many places and cultures, how has your notion of home, or belonging, been affected? Does photography help you (re)connect?
I realized early in our journey that wherever we are, that is our home. We don’t need a specific address or to be surrounded by particular belongings. I feel at home wherever my wife and children are; they are my gravity, my true north.
As a citizen of the world I feel a connection with every person I meet, regardless of culture, language, gender or religion. The more places we travel the more I see how similar we all are, and I look for those commonalities to build bridges whilst appreciating and treasuring the differences.
My love of photography helps to focus my energy, both artistically and professionally. It provides a tangible grounding, a familiarity even in unfamiliar surroundings.
What do you hope your children take away from the experience?
I frequently get asked what is the point of all the travel if my kids don’t remember it all. And in actual fact, my daughter remembers a lot more than I do (it’s almost scary). But regardless of their conscious memories, I know the experiences they have as we travel will shape them into who they become as adults. It will expand their horizons, help them to develop empathy, compassion and understanding, and empower them to shed their fear of the unknown. Overall, the travel will make them more responsible, more productive and more loving global citizens. To them, the world feels smaller and familiar, not daunting. They already have friends all over the world. My daughter recently reminded me to invite her pals from all corners of the globe to her upcoming birthday party—to her it doesn’t matter that one is in Guatemala and another in Bali and another in Australia. Already I’m seeing the fruit of our travels in their words and actions, and it never ceases to amaze me how much of a head-start they have received in life.
Any words of wisdom for aspiring photographers?
My advice to aspiring photographers is to invest in yourself. Read as many books, blogs, journals, and magazines about photography as you can to inspire and educate yourself. I will never stop learning and continue to invest time every day in honing my craft. I always push myself to do better, never resting on yesterday’s successes.
On a more practical note, shoot in RAW rather than JPEG. I wish I started doing that long before I did. Find the post-processing software that you’re most comfortable with and that allows you to express yourself creatively, and then develop your own process flow. This is crucial when working with a substantial volume of photos and will make your time so much more productive.
I would also suggest getting around other people who share your passion, whether it be a local photography club or perhaps getting together with other Instagrammers for Instameets. It’s the perfect environment to share tips and encourage one another. You never know what new technique you’ll pick up.