TravelTraveler Magazine

Behind the Lens: Pete McBride Seeks Nirvana in India

Photographer Peter McBride followed in the Beatles’ footsteps on a recent trek into the foothills of the Himalayas to heal his ailing back in Rishikesh, India and wrote about it for National Geographic Traveler. One of Traveler’s photo editors, Krista Rossow, interviewed Pete about his experience in “the yoga capital of the world.” Here’s what he had to say.

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Pete loved this image of horses nuzzling. (Photograph by Peter McBride)

Krista Rossow: You both wrote and photographed the feature story, “Here Comes the Sun,” for Traveler’s latest issue. What are some of the advantages and challenges you encountered while fulfilling both roles?

Pete McBride: Wearing both hats of photographer and writer is challenging. The general belief is that in order to do both, one role will suffer. I think, however, that the two can actually benefit each other — if you’re disciplined about it.

The process pushes the photographer in me to dig further on how to visually illustrate my story. And in order to get unique shots, I’m challenged to explore beyond my usual boundaries [as a writer], which often gives me new twists and gems for my narrative.

Like most things in life, the key to accomplishing your goals is patience and persistence.

And, in reality, it was three hats since I shot video as well.

KR: India seems like a photographer’s dream. Any photo tips you’d give to an amateur photographer traveling there for the first time?

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One of McBride’s favorites: Boys practicing yoga at dawm. (Photograph by Peter McBride)

PM: India is truly a photographer’s haven. Around every corner there is a new spectacle of color, soft light, and exploding culture. That wondrous, messy vitality, however, can be overwhelming at times and even hard to shoot — mainly because there is so much to cover.

My general advice when shooting abroad is to always make conversation and be friendly before making any pictures — especially if you are shooting people up close.

I never greet people with a camera lens first. I always lead with humanity and often a smile. Sometimes I even ask people to take a picture with my camera to help break the ice. Making a human connection first leads to better photos later — whether it’s with a sadhu in India or a portrait shoot in my home town.

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High above the Ganges: A moment etched in the photographer’s memory. (Photograph by Peter McBride)

Secondly, it’s always helpful to work with a simple system you understand. I see many shooters drowning themselves in equipment that occupies their brain more than the subject itself.

KR: Did you have any unique experiences while you were there that just didn’t fit into the feature story?

PM: Honestly, the entire trip was so rich and rewarding, it’s hard to highlight any experience above another. But, about 90 percent of the journey was outlined in the story.

Getting an aerial image was a logistical challenge involving many meetings and emails — which ultimately led to one magical evening flight up the Ganges with views of the entire Himalaya stretching east and west.

That was not included in the story, but it will remain etched in my memory chest.

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Rishikesh through the handlebars of McBride’s motorcycle. (Photograph by Peter McBride)

KR: So, now that you’re home, are you practicing more yoga or doing any more motorcycle touring?

PM: I actually own a Royal Enfield motorcycle now. I found someone who imports them from India and couldn’t resist. On occasion I ride it to a yoga class, but would say I need to practice yoga and ride my green “bullet” more often.

All in all, I don’t worry about it as much, which is one of the greatest lessons I learned on the trip.

See more of Pete McBride’s work on his personal website.