Interview with Asian Photography Magazine

Pro-Profile: Jacob Maentz
Conservationist by heart and a Photographer by passion

Jacob Maentz is an American travel and stock photographer based in the Philippines. He came to the country as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer in 2003. Jacob’s two year service gained him an admiration for their culture and different way of life. He grew up close to nature and has an academic background of Wildlife and Conservation Biology. It was this interest that led him to purchase his first camera. Jacob fostered a strong inclination towards international conservation work for a long time and this is reflected in his pictures. The images with human elements almost always represent them in their natural environments.

Jacob wanted to share the beauty and places that he witnessed and photography seemed like the best medium. The photographer plans to work on more assignments related to conservation and the positive developments that have been coming from this field. In this interview, we ask Jacob about the preparations required before embarking on a travel shoot, how photo editors can be approached with photos and the debate of great locations versus the photographers perspective.

Q. How did you get started in photography?
Photography started as a hobby when I was a college student in Colorado. My interests in the outdoors, travel and conservation all contributed to me purchasing my first camera.  I wanted to share with others the beauty and places I was so fortunate to see and photography seemed like the best medium.  In college, I worked long summer hours to save money for trips I wanted to take abroad. Before graduation I had spent almost six months traveling around Latin America. It was during that time where I think my passion for travel photography really got seeded.

Q. A lot of your work seems to have been done on the Asian continent, can you tell me what brought you to Asia?
I came to the Philippines right out of college in 2003 as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer. At the time I had very little knowledge about the Philippines and Asia in general. It was during my two year Peace Corps service that I began to grow a deep appreciation for culture and different ways of living. Because of this experience, I now have a strong personal connection to this part of the world.

Q. Could you elaborate on the line from your biography – “My images often reflect my bio-ecologist background and sensitivity to the human condition.” – What are your views on nature conservation being a pressing need of our generation?
I grew up close to nature as a boy in the northeast United States and I eventually got a degree in Wildlife and Conservation Biology.  For a long time I wanted to have a career doing international conservation work.  During my few biology/conservation jobs I learned to be very sensitive to stakeholders needs and listen to their opinions about controversial issues. I try to carry this over to my photography where I approach my subjects with a certain openness and try to let go of any stereotypes I may have.  Likewise, my images often reflect peoples interactions with their natural environment.  One of my hopes is to eventually photograph more topics related to conservation and the many success stories that are out there in the world.

I believe conservation of our worlds resources, including our biological and cultural diversity is a very urgent need worldwide. In a time when the world is so interconnected and more demands are being placed on our limited resources, conservation strategies need to be put into place so future generations can enjoy the same resources we have.  People are doing great work on the front lines, but more needs to be done.

Q. Are you a fulltime photographer? Or do you balance it with other work commitments?
I would consider this a full time profession even though I am still on the road to becoming an established travel photographer.  I still shoot events, weddings, portraits and take the occasional odd job to supplement my income from travel images.

Q. When you are out on a travel shoot, can you tell me what your day looks like?
Every shoot is a little different, but there are some common practices I have for most locations.  1. Preparation. Work begins long before I even get to a location.  I will research the subject and place I plan to shoot for background information, special customs, contact people, etc. This is an important part of the process because it helps give me some vision in the story I plan to shoot. Having a local contact can not only save you time but they can show you places you wouldn’t have found on your own.  2. Shoot a lot of frames. Sometimes I go over board with the amount of images I take of the same subject, but I find this to be helpful. Each shot will have subtle differences and I like to be able to select when editing. Additionally, many times the images I don’t think will work for a story are the ones that turn out to be best.  Never delete images until you look at them on a computer.  3. Try something new. I will always try and push myself and try something new for each shoot. It could be something simple like approaching a person I might not have before or more complex like playing with light in a new way.

Q. What mindset do you carry during a photo-shoot? – Do you aggressively search for pictures or do you calmly look for them?
I probably fall more on the aggressive side. When on location, I’m normally out before sunrise to catch the first light and stay out all day until after sunset. I actively look for subjects, but sometimes I will slow down and sit back to wait for something special to happen.

Q. How much time do you dedicate to a location? Do you set up camp outdoors during shoots?
This also depends on the type of shoot I am doing. If the shoot is more documentary in nature I will spend some time getting to know my subjects before shooting. However, most of the time I only have a few days at a specific location. When I don’t have the luxury of time I spend most of my available hours shooting. If I want to take a portrait I usually approach the subject and simply ask them if it would be ok to take their picture. It always helps to know a little of the local language to make them feel more comfortable–or to laugh at your pronunciation.

Q. Do you believe that you need to be in great places to get great pictures as opposed to the importance of the perspective?
Of course pictures have more impact with beautiful scenery and colorful people, but I feel it’s important to go beyond the typical postcard photo and offer a fresh perspective from a location. Many times even in the most beautiful locations you have to get off the beaten track. I often find myself in some very interesting places that many people would consider an unpleasant environment, but thats where I tend to find great pictures and where I feel most comfortable as an artist.

Q. What keeps you going in photography?
It’s the challenge to create great images that really keeps me going. There are always obstacles in life that can make it difficult to get out and shoot, but eventually the excitement and challenge of creating a great image always gets me out the door again. When I’m struggling with my creativity and motivation I will look at hundreds of pictures by other photographers and that usually always inspires me.

Q. Do you travel to the locations chosen by your clients or do you shoot a particular location and then approach prospective clients with your images?
Generally I find locations that are interesting to me and go from there. However, I always take into consideration particular locations that might sell better than others and balance my travel that way. I get the occasional assignment from a client for travel to a specific place.

Q. Could you advise our budding photographers, how photo editors are meant to be approached?
From my own experience it is very hard to approach photo editors when starting out.  I used to go through the “Photographer’s Market” guide and submit images to different publishers and editors, but 98% of the time I never heard back from them.  Most of my published work has come from editors finding me online and contacting me directly. I put a lot of time into SEO for my website and getting my images out there for editors to find. There are many ways to go about contacting photo editors, but this is what I found worked best for me. I now have a growing list of contacts that regularly come back to me.

Q. Can you tell me about the equipment that you use?
I like to pack light when I’m on the road.  There’s nothing more of a headache than having to shuffle through a lot of gear when you are trying to take a picture on the go. I also like to keep a low profile when I’m shooting and not draw a lot of attention to myself. I feel that I can get the most authentic images when the subject doesn’t feel intimidated by me or my gear.  This can sometimes be hard when you are in a country where your height and skin color stands out, but having a lot of gear just brings more attention to yourself. I use a Nikon D90 with an arrangement of lenses including Nikons 35mm 1.8 for some nice bokeh, Tokinas 11-16 2.8mm for wide shots, Nikons 80-200mm 2.8, 18-70mm 3.5-4.5 and a 60mm macro 2.8.  I will pack an SB-800 with a Photoflex LiteDome XS and two PocketWizards (for off camera flash) with a tripod depending on where I am going to shoot.

Q. Will you continue staying in the Philippines or do you plan to move to another country and continue shooting there?
I find the Philippines to be a good central location for getting around South East Asia and I’m beginning to make a lot of friends and contacts here as well. I will most likely be here for the next two years and then I’m open for anything.