How I got the shot: Richard James Taylor on capturing the landscapes of New Brunswick

The Restigouche River, in New Brunswick, offers the traveller some of the most wild and remote terrain in Canada. On his latest assignment, photographer Richard James Taylor explored the region, discovering its places and its people.

By Richard James Taylor
photographs by Richard James Taylor
Published 18 Jun 2020, 08:00 BST, Updated 22 Feb 2022, 13:39 GMT
Shots from a camping trip along the Kedgwick.

Canoeing along the Kedgwick, the main tributary of the Restigouche River.

Photograph by Richard James Taylor

On assignment for National Geographic Traveller, photographer Richard James Taylor shot the photo story, Following the wooded waterways of New Brunswick, Canada.

What drew you to this story and location?

The great outdoors! Spending time canoeing, camping, exploring and meeting the locals in Canada was very much up my street. I love to discover new places and travel off the beaten track, and the Restigouche is the perfect place for that. There’s a growing realisation that, as travellers, we can’t continue to visit the same overcrowded locations — which are generally unpleasant for tourists and locals alike.

New Brunswick is a beautiful place with incredibly friendly and warm people and provides the sort of authentic travel experience that’s increasingly hard to come by. The opportunity to experience somewhere new and undiscovered was too good to miss.

On location, what elements are you seeking out for a successful shoot?

When shooting a travel feature, it’s important to remember that the images should be more than just pretty pictures. They should be a visually cohesive set of images that illustrate the story you’re trying to tell, preferably in an original and interesting way. It’s crucial to find an image that will act as a scene-setter; something that has an immediate impact to interest the reader and sums up the main subject matter of the feature. This should be followed by a varied selection of portraits, landscapes, interiors, perhaps some food depending on the shoot, and generally lots of local colour. 

Personally, I’m always on the lookout for an interesting portrait. For me, it’s always the people you meet along the way that live longest in the memory once home. A good portrait is always a challenge too — sometimes they don’t really work out, but when they do and you get a good connection with your subject, it’s a great thrill.

Alain Clavette, one of Canada’s premier ornithologists, and canoeing guide Marie-Christine Arpin relax after a long day paddling through the region’s pristine wilderness.

Photograph by Richard James Taylor

What were some of the highlights of capturing this story?

The Restigouche is a fantastic location for finding interesting characters. Along the way, I met one of the world’s most eminent fly tiers, Bryant Freeman, who’s been making fishing flies since 1946. I also photographed traditional canoe-builder Gilles St-Laurent and his beautiful Alsatian, Chico; Acadian whiskey maker Sebastien Roy; and one of Canada’s top ornithologists, Alain Clavette, who talked me into appearing on his weekly national radio show to discuss the shoot and the region’s bird life.

I was particularly fond of André Arpin, one of the pioneers of adventure canoeing in New Brunswick. Having worked as a guide in the Yukon, he realised that the Restigouche was just as beautiful and far less crowded, so he returned home and started his own business in the early 1990s. Starting small, with just six handmade canoes, he built up a sustainable adventure business that still operates today, run by his daughter Marie-Christine.

Was this shoot a typical assignment for you as a travel photographer?

Yes, I’d say so. I love shooting features where there’s the freedom to shoot the story in my own way and in my own time, in order to give myself the opportunity to do the best work I can. The freedom of time obviously helps when the weather doesn’t play ball, but also allows for the possibility to make deeper connections with the people I meet along the way. Spending time with the locals usually helps me to better understand the story and also results in more authentic experiences, and I’m always happy to talk to anyone I come across. I’ve been fortunate enough to shoot photo stories for National Geographic Traveller on the Addo National Park in South Africa, the Mekong in Laos and, most recently, on the Laufskálarétt horse corral in the north of Iceland, all of which have allowed me to immerse myself into the heart and soul of each culture.

What do you take into account when packing a kit?

The type of shoot I’m doing will dictate what I pack. On a shoot like this, there tends to be a lot of hiking and activity, so weight can quickly become an issue. I have to make sure I can cover a lot of different subjects, though, so I always like to be prepared. I usually pack three or four lenses, a couple of bodies, a filter kit, reflectors and a tripod, then, once on location, I just try to take the relevant kit for what I’ll be mostly shooting that day. If I’m shooting a City Life feature for National Geographic Traveller, however, I’ll take a roller bag, which I tend to fill up with everything I have.

Moose caller Nancy Boucher mimics moose calls, amplified through a cone.
Photograph by Richard James Taylor

Where are you finding inspiration during lockdown?

I’ve rediscovered my love for travel literature. I used to read a lot, especially back in art school. I’d devour anything travel-related. In recent years, I’ve found it more difficult to get into a good book — there always seems to be some project to get finished and another one to prepare for.

I’m back on it now, however. I’m a big fan of Paul Theroux and William Dalrymple, both experts in the art of slow travel in unfamiliar surroundings. I’m currently reading Alex Kershaw’s Robert Capa biography Blood and Champagne and Salgado’s autobiography, From my Land to the Planet. Both are just as inspiring to me as looking at travel photography.

Where’s next on your wishlist, for when we can travel again?

I love Asia. I was lucky enough to complete a shoot in Myanmar just before the lockdown began and I’d love to get back, maybe to Laos or Bhutan. I’ve also got a hankering to visit Central Asia. In the book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, Paul Theroux travels through Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. I’d love to retrace his steps and get off the beaten track once again.

See the photos from Richard's shoot in our gallery, below.

Richard's latest ebook The Art of Shooting Travel Features for Magazines is available to download now, with advice covering shooting on location, editing, post-processing and more.

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