A Conversation with Susan Portnoy 

A Conversation with Susan Portnoy 

Susan Portnoy's journey from Public Relations executive to full-time photographer is a fascinating story.  We recently spoke on what inspires her and were she is traveling next. (all photos are Susan's unless otherwise stated)

Susan Portnoy with a few penguins and the Kiboko 2.0 Camera Backpack (photo by Richard I'Anson)


What are some of your favorite places to photograph and why? 

Wow, that's such a hard question because there are so many destinations that come to mind. 

I love Mongolia, Cuba, Bhutan, Mexico, Myanmar, Kenya, and Morocco for photographing people.  In each country, much of their traditional cultures still exist, which I find fascinating. 

For wildlife, any African safari makes me giddy. I’ve been fortunate to visit South Africa, Botswana, Kenya, and Namibia, and I hope to make it to Rwanda to photograph the gorillas. South Georgia Island in the Southern Atlantic is spectacular. I spent a few days mingling with a quarter of a million king penguins, and it was mind-blowing. 

The Great Bear Rainforest is beautiful and mysterious and has some of the most dramatic landscapes I've ever seen, as well as the rare Kermode Bear and whales galore. 

I could go on and on.

What are you shooting with these days?  If you had to pick one lens, which would it be? 

My everyday camera is a Canon 5D Mark IV.  If I only could have one lens, it would be my Canon 24-70 f/2.8. It's a fast lens, and it would deliver some flexibility in the field. 

Who are some photographers that have inspired you and/or continue to? 

Many photographers inspire me across multiple genres: street photography, photo-journalism, wildlife, landscape, portraiture all have their place in travel photography, depending on the destination. A few of my favorite artists are: 

Steve McCurry 

Cristina Mittermeier 

David Alan Harvey 

Timothy Allen 

Catherine Karnow

Christopher Michel

Alex Webb 

Ben Lowy

Rory Doyle 

Jimmy Nelson

Ed Kashi

Piper MacKay  

Marlon du Toit 

Oded Wagenstein 

What or where inspires you next? 

I am captivated by wide-open spaces and remote locations, places with spectacular wildlife or traditional cultures, so future trips will have at least one of those elements, if not all three. 

Recently, I've fallen in love with the polar regions. I want to see more of the Arctic––Svalbard, Baffin Island, Northwest Passage, Norway, Nunavut, and Nunavik.

South America is big on my list. Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Bolivia all come to mind––not to mention Patagonia. 

How did you get started in photography? 

My interest in photography ignited on a solo trip to Peru. (At the time, I was a Communications and Public Relations executive; I didn’t care about photography to tell stories; it was was purely for documentation. Light, composition, angles be damned.) Friends bailed on me at the last minute, and though I'd never done it before, I decided to go by myself. I was very self-conscious about traveling alone, and my camera became a crutch, something to keep me busy and give me purpose. Not unlike how we use our phones today to distract us in uncomfortable situations. The end result is I really enjoyed it. From that point on, my interest in solo travel and photography grew. 

In mid-2013, I met Arianna Huffington, and she asked if I to blog on The Huffington Post. Sure, I thought. Why not? I wrote about a trip to Botswana I'd taken and included my photos. My articles attracted attention from travel-related outfitters and tourism boards. By then, I was a consultant full time, but I worked on travel projects when I could. In 2014, I bought my first DSLR and launched The Insatiable Traveler.

By 2018, I’d hit a wall. The communications industry had gone through many changes, and most of them not for the better. After some serious soul-searching and many sleepless nights, I decided to leave my safe existence to photograph and write full-time. Since then, my work has appeared in Newsweek, USA Today, U.S. News and World Reports, The Globe and Mail, and Adventure.com, among other publications, and I continue to post on The Insatiable Traveler.   

What do you look for when creating a photograph? Do you go in any order like "light, subject, composition, action," or is it a different process? 

There are no hard and fast rules. It starts with my gut, an emotional reaction to my surroundings. If I'm shooting for myself, the light or the subject are interchangeable. Either could come first, depending on my environment. What's most important is that craft a photo that will emotionally connect the viewer to the person, place, or thing in my images. 

How would you define your style of photography? 

My goal is to create images that evoke curiosity and wonder in viewers and hopefully inspire them to seek adventure, explore the world and connect with the incredible people and places in it.  

What are some of the most interesting changes in photography that you've observed over your career?

My career hasn't been that long, but there's no doubt social media has its pros and cons. Social platforms offer a wonderful opportunity to speak directly to the public, but they are also responsible for a glut of images, making it harder to break through the noise. 

Where can we find more of your work? 

The Insatiable Traveler is the best place to view my images and tales from my travels. You'll also find my work in traditional media. For images only, my gallery site is best. On social media, Facebook and Instagram are where you'll find my work updated most frequently. 

Can you tell us about the project(s) you're currently working on?

I'm looking forward to a few trips later in the year, assuming the pandemic continues to slow down and the world opens up. After a long while, I'm feeling very optimistic about the future.