From Condé Nast Traveler to Harper’s Bazaar and El País magazine, Michael Marquand has followed the light for more than a decade.
In that time, his snaps – with their focus on color, light, and graphic compositions – have appeared in a wide variety of outlets, from Condé Nast Traveler and Huffington Post to Harper’s Bazaar and El País magazine. You might also spot his images scrolling through a Lonely Planet photo gallery or a Getty Images page. Marquand works with both.
Marquand grew up in Seattle but has lived on both coasts of the United States, moving from his hometown to New York City when he was starting as a photographer. For him, the difference in the photo industry in the two cities was marked: “In Seattle, people have more of a tendency to dabble in different things and everything is more laid back. Working in New York is kind of like photography boot camp,” he says. The intensity of New York photography let him hone his skill set before he went on the road.
The first trip that got me hooked was a trip I took to India. I came away from it with higher quality work than I’d ever produced while traveling and I wanted to do more of it.
Marquand is based in New York, but some of his most stunning image collections come from trips he’s taken across the world. He describes a slow build to his travel photography.
Last year, Marquand spent two months shooting in Bhutan, making it one of the places he’s photographed most intensely. “It’s the longest I’ve spent in one country outside the United States,” he says. The Himalayan mountain kingdom has long been relatively inaccessible to the outside world (and gained cable TV only in 1999).
Marquand cites Bhutan as a unique place where he was able to document stunning and intimate moments without disrupting the scenes with his camera. “People were very friendly and willing to be photographed, but they wouldn’t pose or react to the camera very much,” says Marquand, a tendency that made it easier for him to take portraits.
Like any photographer, Marquand ends up snapping a lot of frames for every perfect final photo. “I have a lot of almost-good portraits – shots where I had my camera on someone and they looked right at me with a genuine expression for a split second and then smiled or looked away or reacted in some way. Because I clicked the shutter half a second too late, they just became throwaway shots.” Despite his ease behind the camera and his portraiture specialty, Marquand hates having his picture taken. “I’m fine with not having pictures of myself anywhere.”
When photographing people, Marquand strives to build rapport with his subjects. “Either I start out shooting from far away and move closer if they don’t seem to mind or there is at least some form of eye contact or a polite gesture so it’s not as aggressive as me just sticking a camera in someone’s face unprompted.” He finds that people relax over time, allowing him to fade into the background. “If I’m in one area shooting people for more than 10 minutes people tend to forget I’m around and act naturally.”
While in Bhutan, Marquand worked with other local and foreign photographers and videographers. “It was interesting to see different photographers covering the same places with totally different processes and totally different results,” he says. The agency that brought Marquand to Bhutan worked closely with the royal family, a connection that gave him access to places he might not have otherwise been able to visit.
The road poses challenges for a photographer. The biggest challenge lies in anticipating the necessary equipment ahead of time. “It sucks to be in a situation where you don’t have what you need to get the best shot and it’s just as annoying to spend a week lugging around equipment you haven’t used,” says Marquand. His standby travel toolkit includes his digital camera, medium- and wide-angle lenses, a small tripod, and an ample supply of batteries and memory cards.
Beyond travel, Marquand specializes in food, interiors, culture, and people. “People and culture came naturally as they’re just topics I’m drawn to when traveling,” he says. “Once I got a feel for shooting food, it became easy to integrate it into my travel work. It also became a more interesting subject for me as I started to think more about the culture surrounding food and how they’re integrated.”
Marquand is a professional food photographer in the era of Instagram, a trend that has changed the game. “The annoying thing about Instagram is that it is actually easy to make a shot look good,” says Marquand. “Photographers love to trash it, but in a way Instagram is raising the bar because it takes so much of the technology and editing work out of the equation.” Just the same, Marquand argues that the one thing this kind of simplified process can’t replace is an eye for composition, including lighting and color. “I guess the one secret is to train your eye, and it doesn’t hurt if you have beautiful food to shoot.”
Such was the case in Bhutan. Since leaving, Marquand has missed not just the look of the food, but its taste. “Their cuisine is delicious and totally unique,” he says. “I’ve gone to a couple of Bhutanese restaurants in New York since then and they’re great, but it’s not quite the same.” He may yet be returning to the mountain kingdom this winter, focused this time on photographing the southern part of the country.