George Tapan: Beyond Travel Photography

George Tapan defines the essence of travel photography

Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

EMBODYING A RAGS-TO-RICHES STORY, George Tapan didn’t let his rough start in life hinder him from pursuing what he loved most: photography. Winning not only one but two Pacific Asia Tourism Association (PATA) Gold awards, his determination to sustain his passion lives on to this very day.

It all started when he submitted “Into the Green Zone” — a breathtaking shot of a rainbow on the horizon of the clear blue sea — to National Geographic and won. After this life-changing event, Tapan has continued to amaze others with his photos, making him the legend that every photographer aspires to be.

“Into the Green Zone” by George Tapan. National Geographic 2011 Photo Contest Winner for “Places” Category I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Years later, his eye for photography still inspires many to consider a career in photography. Balikbayan Magazine had the opportunity to sit down with him and delve into the depth of his passion.

Q: What inspired you to pursue your career in travel photography?

A: To help the country, because the Philippines is a very nice country. We need to show the world through visuals that the Philippines is more than meets the eye.

Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: How do you get the subject that is in front of the camera onto the film, chip, or paper in just the way you want?

A: All the pictures that I wanted to take, I’ve studied first. Whether it be through books or publications. I’m thinking of the future! Not only the present, because all pictures are part of history. Photos aren’t just for Facebook, that’s why my concept portrays beautiful and timeless shots — not the postcard type.

Barrio Scene I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: What advice would you give to upcoming or young travel photographers who want to improve in travel photography?

A: You must love your career or you must not think only about yourself but for your fellow countrymen. Cameras are only tools, you can take good pictures using good cameras but the important thing in photography is your concept — your idea. Just because you have a good camera doesn’t mean you’ll take good photos. You need to put your soul into the shots that you take.

Yolanda I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: Which photographers influenced you, and how did they influence your mindset towards your career in photography?

A: My father is a photographer who lived in a small town. In our Quezon province, we would accept gigs for different functions like baptisms, graduations — just to sustain our family. Though, those gigs didn’t hinder me from growing as a photographer.

I would browse through National Geographic, Life Magazine and other famous publications in America to inspire myself. The character of the Filipino is to study first. You cannot become an outstanding photographer overnight by just taking pictures.

Gentle Butanding I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: Where were you able to find the National Geographic magazine that changed your life? Was it given to you by your father or did you find it at a store?

A: I love going to bookstores, that’s how I found National Geographic. National Geographic had very nice photos. I loved looking at photos of people, places, culture, and just about everything! I love the things that inspire me. I also enjoyed looking through Life Magazine at the time. In Life Magazine, there were a lot of photo essays — telling your story through pictures. My dream was to become a photographer for those kinds of photos.

Fishpen I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: What message do you want your photographs to convey? And how do you get your photos to do that?

A: I want the people who view my photos to feel something. I want people to feel the soul of each picture and be moved. A photo that will keep people thinking [about] how I was able to capture the subject without depending on the quality and price of a camera.

Sunset in Dipolog I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: How did you get from being an aspiring photographer to making it a full-time job for a living?

A: If you get on the right track of photography in the Philippines like me, you will be able to earn more than a CEO of an important company. For example, I was able to buy a house for capturing just one photo and this is one of the main reasons why photography is important. It is a full-time job for me.

Puerto Princesa I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: What technology/software/camera gear do you use to keep focused on what you do best?

A: Technology is in the camera. I’m not a man of technology. But I mainly use Nikon D800 and Fujifilm XPro for digital. I also have Leica and Hasselblad film cameras.

Climate Change I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Q: Do you have Instagram or any form of social media?

A: I’m planning to. I would like to make my own Instagram account. Many people have advised me to post my photos through this form of social media.

Tabacco Albay I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan


Fishing in the Lake I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan


Fashion in Lahar I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan


Hong Kong Landscape I Photo Courtesy of George Tapan

Follow and support George Tapan’s National Geographic profile at
For inquiries, contact George Tapan on Facebook at

Editor’s Note: This interview was first published in the August & September 2016 Issue of Balikbayan Magazine

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