Photo © Richard I'Anson

Richard on assignment in Mongolia

Our Mongolia scholarship trip took Travel Photography Scholarship mentor Richard I’Anson to the far reaches of the Gobi Desert and into the colorful pageantry of the Naadam festival.


Scholarship mentor Richard I’Anson shares the highlights of his journey with Discover Mongolia, his thoughts on the benefits of our scholarships, and his tips for budding photographers.

1. How did you become a World Nomads Scholarship mentor?

I was fortunate to be invited by the World Nomads team in 2016 to become only the second Travel Photography Scholarship mentor. I was told the people in charge were aware of my work and interest in sharing my knowledge through my Lonely Planet travel photography book.

2. What makes Mongolia such a unique destination?

It’s a huge country with spectacular and varied landscapes including deserts, mountains, and vast steppes. Once you’re out of the capital city everywhere feels remote, so the sense of adventure is strong and enhanced by the long drives and encounters with Mongolia’s famous nomadic culture.

Spectators on horseback at a regional Naadam festival in Mongolia.
Spectators on horseback at the Naadam festival in Kharakorim. Image credit: Richard I'Anson

3. What makes World Nomads Scholarships such a fantastic opportunity?

The opportunity to travel on a private photography tour is amazing. The trips are 100 percent focused on capturing great photos, so it’s a rare opportunity to immerse yourself in an intense photography experience with people whose job is to get you to the right place at the right time and assist in all aspects of image creation.

4. What were the highlights of the Mongolia trip?

Every day produced memorable experiences and photography opportunities, but all three locations in the Gobi Desert and the regional Naadam festival at Kharakorim were the standouts for me.

Dramatic white cliffs in Mongolia's Gobi Desert.
Tsagaan Suvarga (the White Stupa) in the Gobi Desert. Image credit: Richard I'Anson

5. What were the challenges of the Mongolia trip?

Nothing out of the ordinary. We covered big distances so the drives were long, but that was more challenging for our driver from Discover Mongolia. The biggest photography challenge was the long days. Because it was summer, sunrise was around 5am and sunset around 9pm. Thankfully, there was plenty of time to nap in the car on the long drives between locations.

6. You run a lot of photo tours around the world. What is the most common mistake beginner travel photographers make?

Not fully understanding the technical aspects of photography (shutter speed, aperture, and ISO) and how they relate not just to correct exposure (which digital cameras can do well automatically) but how they relate to creative photography where the photographer is in control (not the camera) of the settings to achieve the look and feel in their images that they have in their mind’s eye.

Dancers at the opening ceremony of the Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.
Dancers at the opening ceremony of the Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar. Image credit: Richard I'Anson

7. What advice can you give someone who wants to break into the industry?

Learn the technical stuff (see above) so that using the camera becomes second nature, so that you can concentrate on the creative aspects of great photography, namely subject selection, composition, and light, so that you maximize the chance of capturing fleeting moments, which so often produce the best pictures.

Educate yourself on what quality photography looks like by studying the work of established photographers. Learn to step back from your own work and assess it dispassionately. This is harder than it sounds so seek the opinion and guidance of professionals and teachers where possible.

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