Ori Guttin is a photography buﬀ and the co-founder of ViewBug, host of the world’s best photo contests and an international community of photographers. With over 50 million photos submitted and over a billion votes from members, ViewBug has an unparalleled global reach that continues to encourage photographers around the world. He tells us about his own journey and experience with photography.
In the family
My grandfather was a painter and my mother a sculptor and a photographer. Since I grew up surrounded by the arts it just seems natural that photography would become an important part of my life. We talked about art around the dinner table, which made it feel normal and like something I could do too. But in the beginning, I never realized how much it would inﬂuence how I experience the world and the direction my life would take. As a teenager, I started borrowing my mom’s camera to capture the world around me. At the time, my world was pretty small and most of my photos were from family vacations and other small but special events.
From backpacker to photographer
After high school, I took a gap year and traveled the world with a few friends. We spent four months in Europe then went on to Israel, Jordan, Kenya, and Tanzania. Besides my backpack, the only other thing I took was (my mom’s) camera and it changed my life. It was the turning point when photography became my passion. I shot literally hundreds of rolls of ﬁlm with my 35mm camera — a lot of landscape photos, but also portrait and street photography. I like to meet local people and build relationships with them and with my camera in my hand, it was normal to then ask if I could photograph them. Photography made the whole trip richer.
I waited a year to see my photos
With no way to see what I’d shot or to edit my photos with the 35mm camera, I learned a lot of patience. I was constantly on the move with only a backpack, so it didn’t make sense to print them and haul them with me. So instead I shipped the rolls of ﬁlm back home and didn’t see my photos until my return a year later. I could only aﬀord to develop and print them in batches but it didn’t matter. When I experienced that year again through my photos, it was magical. Seeing the photos, I relived my adventures almost as if I were there again. But this time I could share them with my family and friends.
From contests to a community
At the time I was studying computer science at the University of San Diego, while also taking photography classes. Whenever my mom came across an advertisement for a photo competition she’d send it to me and encourage me to send in this or that photo from my world trip. Sometimes I did, but a lot of the online contests seemed sketchy. I didn’t feel comfortable sending my photos to an untrustworthy site. With fellow-photographer Jimmy Lozowski, I started ViewBug as a trustworthy photo contest website to oﬀer fellow photographers a safe way to participate in contests. But very quickly we realized that it is more than just contests. As a photographer myself, seeing all the photos submitted made me want to learn from the photographers who made them. Who is the person behind that photo? What is the story they’re telling? Building a community around the contests was natural because each contest is a learning opportunity and we learn best from each other.
Continuing to grow
If it weren’t for photography, I may never have left my hometown. It gives me passion to explore the world and leads me to incredible adventures. Simply planning each trip is an adventure. I want to keep growing as a photographer, which is why I take photo trips and try diﬀerent types of photography. Beyond the landscape, street and traditional portraits, I’m now doing a lot of spontaneous portrait photography, with often my two daughters as the subjects.
When ﬁve senses are not enough
For me, landscape photography is like meditation. It’s a time to be away with myself.
We took a photography tour to Iceland with the ViewBug team and the nature is unbelievable. It’s too much to take in with only the ﬁve senses. I purposely moved away from the group, letting myself get lost in the landscape. I wanted to be alone with myself and my camera. Somehow when I see beauty through my camera lens, I experience it more completely. The experience goes beyond the known senses and becomes part of my memory.
You’re crazy if you don’t do it
When I was on a photo expedition with ViewBug to the archipelago of Lofoten, oﬀ the northern coast of Norway, my family and close friends weren’t with me.
It’s often like that for photographers. The landscape is incredible but I was perhaps even more shocked to see people surﬁng my great other passion. It seemed crazy but the arctic water with its arctic swells called to me. I phoned my wife, looking for a second opinion, and her reaction was spot on: “You’re crazy if you don’t do it.” I ﬁgured out where to rent a board and a wet suit, feeling so nervous that I forgot to zip up my suit before I jumped in. It was so cold I couldn’t feel my face. But it was amazing. Without photography, I never would have gone there or had that experience.
Experience to remember
One of my favorite photography memories is from hiking in the Himalayas in Nepal. Heading toward Mount Everest, I suddenly heard a group of ﬁve to six-year-old children speaking English. I peeked into the school where they were studying and ended up being invited to teach English to this group of twenty students. I was enjoying myself so much that I didn’t even think of my camera. I did come back later and took some photos with them, but it wasn’t so much the photos as the experience that made it so special.
We are humans, a community-based species. As photographers, we shoot and then we want to share it. The sharing makes it complete and that’s what it’s all about. When I got home from Norway, I shared the experience with my wife and others via a large wall print of me surﬁng. That print closes the circle, transforming that trip into a complete experience.
“Somehow when I see beauty through my camera lens, I experience it more completely.” -Ori Guttin
“Amazing Photography” — the book
Every other week a new photo and the story behind it will be published here on Photofocus. Clemens and Ivan have made copies of “Amazing Photography” available for the cost of shipping — $8.99 alone. The book retails for $29.99 regularly. Here are some highlights …
- More than 100 breathtaking photos by professional and hobby photographers
- 13 personal stories from pro’s and hobbyists such as Albert Dros (pro-photographer), Laura Vink (pro-photographer), Andre Kuipers (astronaut and photographer), Ori Guttin (co-founder Viewbug) and Evgeny Tchebotarev (co-founder 500px)
- 4 practical photo guides to help you enjoy your photos to the max
- 7 DIY quick fixes for unexpected photography situations
- World’s top 15 under-the-radar spots for stunning photos
- Would you rather …? A hypothetical photography game for friends
- The science behind how your photos can affect your happiness and well-being.