By Maan D’Asis Pamaran
Imagine traveling to different locations all over the globe and getting paid for it. That is a dream job held by Ayan Villafuerte, a photographer who is on call by travel website TripAdvisor to give the rest of the world a taste of wanderlust.
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His journey surprisingly started in the kitchen, working as a cook in a Doha (Qatar) hotel after graduating from a culinary course at the Asian School of Culinary Arts. Prior to this, he had already been bitten by the travel bug, owing to hours spent watching the Discovery Channel as a child, and DiCaprio’s The Beach as a young adult. He started going on trips around the country and taking photos only as his keepsakes, befriending photographers so he could learn from them.
With his OFW earnings, he was able to purchase his first camera, which he hazily recalls as a Canon 1000D. He went home in 2012 to apply for work on a cruise ship, then he was brought into event photography by a friend. It was not panning out, though, so he kept planning to go back to the kitchen. “I almost went back to cooking work in 2014, then TripAdvisor’s offer came,” he says.
He applied for the TripAdvisor job, bringing with him the confidence he got from being chosen as a finalist for a KLM Airline photo contest, and a portfolio of poignant black-and-white shots he took while on a trip to India. That month-long trip to the exotic destination was actually a soul-searching journey for him. “It was bucket-list stuff. One of my goals was to figure out what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. My events photography work was not bringing me closer to my dream of a career in travel photography.”
He says that at first, TripAdvisor was hesitant to engage him under contract. “I did not have any experience shooting architecture. They commissioned me to shoot one hotel, then three, then five. After my tenth shoot for them, they asked me to sign up,” he grins. Just in time, he also recalls borrowing a friend’s camera for his shoots. “Their requirement is full frame and I only had a crop sensor at the time. I promised my friend that I would buy my own camera after I sign a contract. Which I did, after taking out a loan from my parents,” he shares.
He remarks on how competitive his field is. “For every job, there are a hundred photographers who are willing to do it.” His advice to newbies is to keep shooting in order to develop a personal style. “Even from the beginning, I tried not to look at the work of other photographers. This being an art form, you have to develop your own style. There is going to be a tendency to copy if you look too much at what others are putting out there.”
He asks, “Is subtlety a mood? Because I think that is what my photos portray. They are generally quiet and poignant, with a focus usually on the details.” His own mood, though, should not affect his photos. The travel photography pro says, “I think it’s similar to other things like in sports. The moment you step in the court, it’s game time. You forget about everything. You focus on the game. If you let something bother you, you lose.”