Aged just 22 and fresh out of a degree in fashion communication in Newcastle, specialising in photography, Victoria Campbell upped sticks and moved to Minnesota, where she started to build a career in food, fashion, textiles and editorial photography. But travel was always her first love, and the wild landscapes of this Great Lakes state claimed her heart and fired her image making ambitions and direction.

After four years based in the States, she’s now based in London. We catch up with her to find out more about her journey – both photographic and physical – one that’s taken her from the legendary Nikon F6 film camera to the multi-award-winning 45.4 megapixel D850 DSLR and halfway round the world, including to New York for her recent collaboration with Nikon and travel company Secret Escapes.

You can view more of Victoria's images on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/vicsjcampbell/?hl=en


You’re from the UK but you’ve just returned from several years in Minnesota – what took you there in the first place?

My American husband! We met in Nice six years ago while I was still a student. I’d gone backpacking in the summer before my final year, and he was teaching English in France. We met on the last but one day of my trip, simply because he’d missed a coach to Spain the night before, so had jumped in a taxi and asked them to find him the nearest youth hostel, and he ended up staying at mine. We spent my last day together, and then for the next year we did the whole long-distance thing, but he couldn’t get a UK visa, so after graduating in 2012 I moved to Minnesota, his home state, and we got married six months later. We only intended to stay there for a year, but I fell in love with it and we stayed for four. Minnesota’s seasons are extreme and amazing to document, and the landscapes are so different, and my love of landscape and travel photography really took off there.

…and what brought you back to the UK?

Family and friends, and wanting to do more travelling; it’s something we both love, and we’re lucky because at this stage in our lives we’ve got no major ties, so we have the flexibility to travel and live anywhere. We fitted in a few months in Southeast Asia between leaving the US and moving to London.

Have you always loved to travel?

I’ve been travelling for as long as I can remember – my parents were always taking us to different places, so they obviously passed the gene on to me – and photography has always been a huge part of that. What completely changed things for me was a trip to Ecuador with school when I was 18. We were there for a month; my first time outside the West. We saw the Amazon and lived with a tribe for a week working on a building project, and I wanted to document every part of it. That was a real turning point.

What’s your favourite destination?

There are still so many places I want to go to. I’ve been to Southeast Asia three times and keep going back to Vietnam – I’m absolutely in love with it. But my favourite place so far to travel and photograph is Boundary Waters in north Minnesota; it’s unlike anywhere I’ve ever been before. It’s a protected wilderness area, over one million acres, and a fifth of that is water – more than 1,000 lakes, and hundreds of miles of rivers. There are no roads, so you hike or canoe to get around. You can go days or weeks without seeing anyone; it’s so peaceful, so otherworldly, with more wildlife than I’ve ever seen before. When you’re taking pictures, there’s nothing to think about other than the moment. It takes your breath away.

Do you have a favourite image?

I’ve got three. The first is my absolute favourite, the Grands Marais lighthouse in northern Minnesota. It’s not my best shot technically speaking but I love the moment I was able to capture. Between the birds flying south and the hazy silhouettes of two figures climbing the lighthouse ladder, I felt like I was caught in a moment of time. I love it so much I’ve had a tattoo done of it!

The next was taken on the train tracks in Hanoi, Vietnam – I already felt drawn into the scene, and then this guy walked into the middle of the frame, which made it really special.

My third is of four women in bright red saris walking along the wall of Promenade Beach in Pondicherry, India; I was worried that they might yell at me when they saw me taking their picture, but they all started laughing. It was great fun.

Any shots that have been really tricky to get?

That would also be in Pondicherry. I decided I’d like to see a local fish market. It was insane – people were shouting and screaming at each other, there were fish flying everywhere, and the stench was overwhelming. I had to buy a wodge of fish just to be able to escape with one picture!

Tell us a bit about your collaboration with Secret Escapes in New York…

It came about due to social media. I’d been posting my travel pictures on Instagram and a girl who worked at Secret Escapes, who I knew from high school, got in touch to ask if I’d be interested in working with them and Nikon on a travel project. I was still living in Minnesota at the time, but when she contacted me I was actually over in London for my brother’s wedding, so I was able to meet the teams and it all went on from there.

The idea was for me and Secret Escape’s managing editor for Italy, Marianna Sgherri, to spend four days capturing New York life; me with the Nikon D850 and Marianna, who’d never used a DSLR, with the D7500, the 18-105mm f/3-5.3 and the 70-300mm f/4.5-6.3. I’d actually never used the D850 before, so I was sent it to try out a couple of days before the trip, along with the 20mm f/1.4, 14-24mm f/2.8, 24-70mm f/2.8 and the 70-200mm f/2.8.

We went out there in October, and we started shooting as soon as we arrived. It was great fun, and the best project I’ve ever worked on. We were up at five every morning to catch the sunrise, and then shooting in the late afternoon light. Mariana was the fastest learner I’ve met in my life; within a couple of days, she was up for doing night shots and got some great results. We stayed in China Town, so when we weren’t off exploring, it was a great place to hang out and get documentary shots of the locals, which is something I love doing. I’ve had a lot of people reaching out to me since the website went live – it was my first major commissioned project, and I loved doing it (except for hearing my voice on the video; I’m convinced I sound nothing like that!).

What did you think of the D850?

It’s the best camera I’ve ever worked with in my life. For me, the main thing is the huge ISO range – 64-25,600 – because I love shooting in low light. I also like the silent shutter, especially as I do a lot of wildlife work. The AF system is outstanding, with 153 focus points and in Live View you can pick out the exact focus points you want. The quality of the RAW images is outstanding, too. Cityscapes, landscapes, portraits… it works with everything. It’s not too heavy, either, and it’s user-friendly. I love it!

How did you get into photography?

It was an accident. I’m not that academic, and at 16 I was going to drop out of school, but my parents suggested trying photography, and it was my saving grace. I did photography A level on my Stepdad's Nikon F6, and I’m so glad I started out on film. Technically speaking, you learn so much with a film camera, and the whole process of developing your images prepares you for post-production with digital. My next step was a fashion communication degree at Northumbria University in Newcastle, specialising in photography, and I quickly realised I didn’t want to go down the fashion route when I graduated; although I loved fashion, my passion was photography.

When I moved to Minnesota, I got my first job at a heritage woolen mill (Fabribault Woolen Mill) styling and taking photographs for their lookbooks and social media, and I steadily built up a US client base, mostly through social media – as well as photography, I’m an art director and stylist, and I also do web design and digital marketing. I love doing anything creative, although I have to admit that I get a local company, Fine Art Solutions in Chessington, Surrey, to make my prints for my print-sales business. They are amazing, and the quality is insane. Prints are so personal, so it’s really important I can trust them to people I know; and as everything I do revolves around community, I always want to support local businesses, too, so it works on different levels.

How has your style been shaped by your film experiences and your travel photography?

When I started out professionally, over in the States, I was shooting mainly food, fashion and lifestyle; my travel photography was purely for me. At first I didn’t know how to blend it all together, but as you gain in confidence you develop your style, and it became a natural transition. I’m drawn to images that aren’t “perfect”, the ones that make me look twice, and I love the nostalgia of film, that grainy feel; I want my digital images to have that nostalgia, so I tend to shoot in low light and crank up the ISO.

What’s your advice for making the most of travel photography opportunities?

Social media can be hugely important. I have a love-hate relationship with it like everyone else, but my print-sales business is all down to posting my travels on Instagram – that’s where people starting asking me if they could buy them. And I’ve got a lot of work through social-media networking, including the Nikon-Secret Escapes project. Another thing I’ve learned is to not be afraid of taking yourself outside your comfort zone. When you’re shooting in unfamiliar places, you need to find out about the culture you’re visiting and really engage with people. And, thirdly, you can’t go into travel photography to make money; you have to do it because you’re passionate about it.

For more information visit www.victoriasjcampbell.com
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