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PAN Q&A: Photographer Jonathan Stokes on his latest shoot for National Geographic Traveller

National Geographic Traveller June 2024 … ‘I was also pleased to make the cover of the issue with one of my images, from the top of one of the cities most famous landmarks …’ Jon.

All images @Jonathan Stokes

From the National Geographic Traveller Paris shoot ©Jonathan Stokes

Mid-shoot Paris -Jon: ‘I shot all of this on my Nikon D850 – a real workhorse camera, it’s exceptional.’
Photographer Jon Stokes on a shoot-break coffee considering his answers to the PAN Q&A

PAN spotted one of our readers, photographer Jonathan Stokes, had been published in the June edition of National Geographic Traveller magazine so we thought this would be a good opportunity to find out more about Jon and this latest shoot.

Jon on the shoot: ‘In the build up to the 2024 Olympic Games in Paris, National Geographic Traveller wanted to do a major feature on the city. This commission involved visiting both familiar and not so familiar spots, under the theme of the Best Outdoor Experiences. I have shot in Paris a number of times, so it can be a challenge to see things in a new way than before; which was part of the fun on this occasion. However you try though, the Eiffel Tower and a croissant and coffee petit-dejuner are always likely to feature when visiting this amazing city.’

PAN: Hi Jon, congratulations on your recent shoot with National Geographic Travel (NGT) – how did this come about?
Jon: Thanks, I have been working with NGT for just over a year, I’ve had quite a few assignments with them now. It’s a great team to work with, and I feel very fortunate; there are not many magazines commissioning these kind of travel features anymore.

PAN: What was the brief from the photo editor at the magazine?
Jon: I worked with Ben Rowe, he’s a great Picture Editor at the mag, who briefed me. We shot at the end of Summer 2023, knowing that Paris will be a particularly special destination for the 2024 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, but due to lead-times you often have to shoot these things in advance. The brief of the feature was to highlight many different outdoor spaces to enjoy during Olympic and Paralympic Games, from bars and restaurants, activities and sights. I really like this variety of shooting landscapes, interiors, portraiture, food, street photography … Also in the brief, to capture a few of those iconic Paris details and incidentals for mood – think Eiffel Tower and croissants. In such a recognisable city like Paris, the challenge is also to take something different, and new perspective. I think it’s the most photographed city in the world, so it’s not so easy to be unique.

PAN: How long were you in Paris for this shoot?
Jon: I was staying in Paris over the summer as my wife was working so it was a good opportunity. The shoot was spread over 5 days; luckily I could be a bit flexible, as so often happens in Northern Europe you can’t rely on the weather to be great all week long, even in summer …

PAN: Main camera gear you used?
Jon: I shot all of this on my Nikon D850 – a real workhorse camera, it’s exceptional. I have since upgraded to a mirrorless, keeping the D850 as backup. I think 90% of my current portfolio was shot on it, over the 6+ years i’ve had it I’ve recorded just under 300,000 frames (284,367 to be exact at time of writing) … Although technically surpassed (long ago), it’s a very impressive bit of kit I’d recommend, and definitely still viable now.

For this kind of work, in my bag I’ll always have 3 zooms – 16-35mm / 24-70mm / 70-200mm – camera with battery grip (for larger battery and for better ergonomics of shooting). ND and Polarising filters also important, and some kind of reflector can help.

PAN: Did you have the help of an assistant on this shoot?
Jon: For travel features now there is not space or budget for assistants unfortunately. On this assignment it was just me – usually I travel with a writer but in this instance they had already prepared the article with a few different contributors. It’s more fun working alongside a writer, but on this occasion I was stomping the streets solo, making laps of Paris and having long days. But usually you meet people where you are working who are happy to help and be involved.

PAN: How much pre-shoot prepping were you involved with or was all arranged via the magazine?
Jon: The main shot list was given to me, and the magazine helped with some scheduling, making appointments where necessary (at restaurants for example where we had the chef prepare food to be featured). Otherwise I organised my time as I thought, which I’m happy to do. This meant I could be where I wanted to be at the right time of day, for sunrises and sunsets for example. Some of this shoot relied on places from my own experience of Paris, some lesser known places, that I wanted to make sure to cover to deliver a lot of options to the editors – in total I covered 20 different sites.

PAN: Best travel destination to shoot?
Jon: What I love most about my job is the variety. Recently I was photographing a luxury hotel in Dubai, and 48 hours after leaving I was doing lifestyle advertising in a forest in Bourgogne, France. I find it really stimulating. If I had to pick one, east-African safari is a lot of fun and I’ve been lucky to do it a number of times. Getting up before sunrise, capturing amazing wildlife (you never know what you’ll get), shooting like crazy for a few hours then having a rewarding bush breakfast … it’s hard to beat. Or … anywhere in India, it’s magic. Or … Tokyo, it’s almost another world from my UK European perspective. It’s a hard one to answer!

PAN: What travel accessory could you not do without on a shoot location?
Jon: Probably, sad to think, a good portable battery which can be used for phones and camera batteries as a ‘get out of jail’ card. Similarly, the introduction of e-sims is a bit of a game changer as for very low cost you can still be online while out on location, which on one hand is a little unromantic to the idea of travel, can be incredibly useful while on assignment. Probably the next two essentials are sunscreen and coffee …

PAN: What do you like to do straight after a long day on location?
Jon: Usually the most important thing at the end of the day, is to download and back up the days work. This used to easily add an extra hour or maybe two to the end of the shoot – when I started, a 16GB CF card took about 30 mins to download and another 30 mins to back up … – nowadays I have very fast CFExpress and NVME SSDs which take only a couple of minutes. One thing hasn’t changed though which is a bit of a ritual, after spending what are usually very long days outside, having a cold beer usually strikes the right note, signalling time to relax, before heading for dinner.

PAN: Do you license your images/photo archive with any photo libraries? If so, who?
Jon: I don’t have my images with a stock library, but I license directly with clients. I was interested at one point but I wasn’t very impressed with the feedback and the deals that seemed to be going, particularly with the big libraries. They only seemed interested in Royalty Free, and were much more interested in quantity than quality. Royalty Free sales are at such low rates, with the Library taking the top end % – my feedback was about 80% : 20% in favour of the agency. I am open to stock libraries and see their value to customers who don’t commission, but I don’t think this model, a race to the bottom, is doing the industry any favours.

PAN: What’s next in the shoot diary?
Jon: At the end of June I will be in Iceland with a writer for a week, looking forward to experiencing the very long summer days there. After that I am heading to Corsica to shoot a hotel for a week, and then staying on and being joined by my family for a holiday. Its a very beautiful place.

PAN knows there will be a few photo agencies wanting to offer Jon a correct licensing split – you can drop me a line for a direct intro or find him via his website email me if you would like a personal intro [email protected] or view/commission/contact Jon via his website here.

From the National Geographic Traveller Paris shoot ©Jonathan Stokes

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