Some people travel on the sidelines. Others roll up their sleeves and dig in. London-based photographer Michael Charles Sheridan captures the many moods of people and culture as he travels as far and wide as Nepal and Sierra Leone on behalf of non-profit organizations and local charities. You can also find his photographs in Lonely Planet, National Geographic, and Lodestar Anthology, among other places. We asked him to share his shooting preferences and travel style.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I live in Brixton, South London, and I first picked up a film camera sixteen years ago for a school photography project, but it took another twelve years of trial and error to develop a passion for it. It was a move to study abroad in Malaysia that was the real catalyst, as I tried to capture the sights, sounds, and smells of the incredible country.
My first photography work came while traveling through India and Nepal, taking photographs for charities and their participants. This was shortlisted for an EU photography award, which gave me the confidence to explore photography more professionally upon my return.
My travel habits are quite predictable in the sense that even if I know nothing about the destination, I look to do similar things in each place. I love becoming so familiar with a destination that I develop a routine there. Hence, my favorite moments are often quite mundane — walking through the neighborhood to buy breakfast, using public transport, and finding a food market to explore. If possible, I'll also try and attend a local sports match, as I believe all of these mini adventures give you a chance to meet people and provide a really honest window into local life, which is what it's all about at the end of the day.
How would you describe your photography style?
A colorful yet honest representation of local life. Narrow alleyways, smiling faces, and lively food markets make it onto my shot list for most destinations. Minimal editing to convey a true sense of the atmosphere is important to me.
With charity photography in particular, conveying the subjects in a dignified manner is so important. My approach is to highlight people's skills and hobbies as well as shoot from low angles to create powerful compositions.
What are you currently working on?
The past year hasn't been a great time for travel photography work, to put it mildly. But it has given me much needed time to refocus on what I do with my images. I've recently joined Getty's photography network, brushed up on my editing and pitching skills, and have taken writing courses to improve the storytelling aspects of my work.
What do you shoot with?
I've recently switched to my first full-frame mirrorless camera, and I am trying to trim down the amount of gear I have so am currently sticking to only one (very versatile) lens: Sony Alpha A7II and Tamron 28-200mm, f/2.8.
What do you appreciate about shooting close to home?
I very rarely take my camera out around my hometown London, which is a trait I think is all too common among photographers. However, the pandemic, along with the good fortune of living in a part of London with a brilliantly vibrant community, makes exploring the famous Electric Avenue and Brixton Market a joy. Many of the things I love about shooting abroad can be found down the road from my flat: mixtures of languages, world music, and fruits and vegetables I don't recognize.
What do you love most about photographing on the road?
To the frustration of friends of family, I completely zone out when taking photographs. I think this feeling of losing yourself and being completely absorbed in a foreign land is really meditative. I don't need to think of activities to entertain myself when I have my camera. Just walking out the door is enough, and more often than not, my walk turns into a mini photography project.
Additionally, the photography I have do for charitable organizations gives me the chance to spend considerable time with people and families from cultures I would not otherwise get to learn about in such depth. Having the opportunity and time to build relationships with people who may not even speak the same language is something I'm very grateful for, and the charities I've worked with so far have done a brilliant job of enabling that relationship and connection, which ultimately leads to much better photographs.
Any favorite places you keep returning to? Or places you are dying to see and photograph?
Perennial favorites are India are China. India for its magical orange-tinged light that makes it the most photogenic place on Earth. And China for making me laugh each and every day through something strange and inexplicable. I am so fascinated by China that I've started Mandarin lessons, and will surely have to go back to practice. I would love to visit Iran and Pakistan one day. Partly for photography, but also because I've heard such glowing reviews from travelers.
See More of Michael's Work