My name is Paul Walters, a UK-based photographer, and videographer working within the travel industry. I create still images and short video guides for Hotels, villas, and travel destinations. This is my full-time job which I’ve been employed for the past 35 years.
My work is featured on two main platforms:
The YouTube channel hosts all my videos which are embedded on my main website.
Before getting into photography, I was a musician (bass player) since the age of 14, working in various rock bands in the North of England. My father was an established industrial and commercial photographer who worked internationally. He asked me to assist on a European assignment in ‘87 which took us on a ten thousand-mile journey around Europe, from Sweden down to Italy. I joined his company just after, having gained an interest in traveling (and getting paid for it).
Unfortunately, he suffered a stroke a few months after I joined him. He carried on working as much as he could and managed to teach me the important parts of how to produce an image (and how to light a large industrial interior) before I took over running the business in the early 90s. I carried on working with industrial clients for a while and visiting some interesting projects such as the (then) new airport in Hong Kong. One of my last assignments with my father was to produce the images for a new Guide book to Athens, which sparked my interest in travel work and paved the way for my career.
Around ‘94, I set up my own company ‘Worldwide Photography’ which was more in line with the work I wanted to produce for travel company clients.
The “primeguides” name came much later and is basically the name of the website I operate and feature videos I’ve produced for clients. The original name for the video production side of the business was ‘Moving Picture-commercial and leisure’. It took a while to come up with a company title that took in all the aspects but unfortunately, this turned out to be the same as the production company that produced the James Bond films so I thought it would be a wise move to rename. Primeguides also seemed to cover the direction I was going, so the Worldwide photography YouTube channel was renamed primeguides to keep everything consistent.
It has to be remembered that photography (until the introduction of digital) was a much different marketplace to today. There were much fewer operators and you really had to know what you were doing. Working with 12 frames on one roll of 120 meant that you had to have a salable ratio of 50%. Anything less and you had to justify why you were charging £10 per roll with little return. We didn’t use polaroid or much 35mm as everything we shot was either going to be used in printed brochures or large display prints.
Back in the early 90s, I shot all my travel work on 120 formats using Hasselblad cameras (the best you could get back then) and a couple of Metz flash guns for the interiors. Everything would be shot and then processed when I returned. A frightening thought these days when you can check everything instantly on digital.
As my work gradually transferred from Industrial/commercial to purely travel, I drew some influence from wide-angle photographers such as Greek photographer, George Mais. I was fortunate enough to work in the same locations as many of the images he produced. I was always an architectural photographer at heart with an obsession to keep the verticals vertical with a spirit level permanently attached to the hot shoe.
To be honest, around 2000, I was getting a little weary of the photography side of things and was looking for a new challenge. I’d done a lot of work on the original (iPix) panoramic images and spent a lot of money investing in early digital cameras (the Fuji S1 was the first main contender for me). Video cameras were heavy and not particularly suitable for travel work whilst the video produced from SLRs was either non-existent or very bad. Tape was where it was at and having invested in a Sony unit I set out on my vision of being a one man production unit with the intent of producing short promotional video for hotels and destinations. This was good in theory but at the time, there was no budget in place for production and many of the UK tour operators were notoriously bad at new ideas.
I’ve been working closely with Thomas Cook (one of the UK’s largest tour operators) for many years and was one of their main suppliers but with YouTube being a relatively low key platform at the time, there wasn't much inclination to invest in this new concept. Fortunately, one of TC’s subsidiaries, Flexibletrips was sympathetic and gave me the title ‘head of video production’ which enabled us to develop the idea.
A lot of the costs were offset by the hotels so we were able to produce some paid-for content. It was around then that I set up the Flexibletrips YouTube channel which was generating a lot of interest for the hotels. A major restructuring of Thomas Cook led to Flexibletrips disappearing into the main structure of the company. The new Director, fortunately, recognized the value of video and gave me the job of producing the content for all of the northern European companies which kept me busy in the summer, whilst I managed to produce work for Ski operators in the winter months.
This all meant that all the hotels which had paid for content to be featured on the YouTube channel now had no exposure (I had been instructed to close the Channel down) so these were placed on the new primeguides Channel which is still running today.
Villa Vasso-a villa shot recently in Corfu, Greece
I tend to approach video production in the same way as I would when producing still images. If I’m producing a hotel or villa video, for example, I would look at the selling points and arrange the content to keep the interest of the viewer. I aim to produce a video of around 1 minute 30 seconds, as at this point, viewer interest can subside and they'll move on to the next one.
Scenes are shot with (around) an 8-second duration which is placed into the editing program as a 4-second clip. When the music is added, this will then edit down to around 2.5 secs which is a good duration to show what you need to. I use drone clips sparingly as I think they're more effective that way. I’ve started using longer clips for destination videos as you tend to have more freedom with these as you don't need to cram so much into the presentation.
After titling, I can usually put together a video in around an hour and a half, with lead-in and end titles being prepared earlier in a jpeg format. When I’m on an assignment, I always aim to produce the finished video on the evening of shooting as everything is fresh in your mind and you can go straight to the scenes you need to include. With the volume of work produced, getting a backlog isn't an option as it can take days to clear!
This all means long hours of course and a typical day starts with getting out of bed around 7 AM and working straight through until around 10 PM. I like to finish shooting around 3:30 PM as (with my most recent shoot in Corfu in Greece) I’ll have a few hours titling and editing before I’m happy with the result.
I overheard a hotel manager in Canada having a conversation on the phone once. He said ‘It's a hotel so it needs doing now’. It's a phrase I always think about and try to apply to my work.
With editing programs, I tend to keep things simple. The Pinnacle programs give me all the tools I need for production. I like to shoot things old school so I like to get things as right as possible when shooting rather than spend hours in post-production. There's very little color grading, just a few corrections on the levels to get things running evenly.
The music I use is mainly from Smartsound which is computer generated and finished up to the length of the video. Choosing the right track can determine the mood of the video and can greatly affect the length as I always match the scene changes to the beat. I’m using more computer-generated voiceovers these days. Amazon Poly works well but you have to be careful with your punctuation to get the phrasing right.
These days, I use Panasonic units which produce outstanding 4K video. The Lumic cameras are light and versatile and have a comprehensive range of features. I shoot properties mainly with a GX9 on a 40cm slider which will give me a good 8-sec slide at the right speed. These will also produce excellent still images.
I generally upload content on a Thursday as it seems to work ahead of the weekend. I usually google it as soon as it goes live (seems to help with the search engines) and I promote it on some of the Facebook groups on a Sunday. Apart from that, I tend to leave them alone as almost all of them are hosted on behalf of the customer so I like to put some responsibility on them to promote it. I never use third parties to boost viewing figures as these need to be a true representation of the interest in the product. I’m really skeptical of travel videos that show ridiculous viewing figures so I tend to leave them to it.
Five days in Milos-produced with an Amazon poly computer-generated narration
I’ve always been a pretty impulsive kind of person. If I get an idea I believe in, I tend to go with it. When I started out in photography it was with an established company with a large client base. With video, it was really an unknown quantity outside of the established film production units. I was told it was 5 years too early, which was probably true but it's given me the opportunity to travel throughout Europe, the States, and places like India.
I never got so many negative comments, just clients who want to do it their way. Right or wrong, if they're paying you have to keep them happy.
When you're producing for travel, the work can be seasonal so it has to be uploaded when it's shot. I like to get the work out as soon as possible as it needs to be working for the customer.
Destination video can come later as a lot of the material is shot over a period during the visit. I shoot a lot of material so some more specific videos can be produced later. During lockdown in the UK, I had so much material on file I was able to produce a video a day for around a month.
The primeguides.net brand is quite an established name now and the main challenge is to expand the content into new areas. I work mainly in Greece, and Corfu is where a lot of the content is shot. The Cycladic islands such as Santorini and Mykonos are probably of more interest to American visitors so I have to organize visits to these areas to expand the content.
Naxos, Greece-Agios Prokopios and Agia
The marketplace was very different when I started out in photography. There were no camera phones or digital imaging and you had to work on film and get everything right unseen. Back then, you were treated with a lot more respect than you are today now so many people claim to be a ‘visual storyteller’. Quite often, I would just call up a few tour operators, say I was going to be in (for example) Bulgaria or Egypt, and get a full week's work. Now there are a lot fewer tour operators and not many of them answer emails. My advice would be to get some content filmed so you have some examples of what you can produce. You have many tools today such as websites and YouTube channels which you can use. If you want to be serious, get yourself a specialist area like architecture if you want to shoot hotels, etc. I got into video in my 30s. If you're starting out, take advantage of the education system and get some qualifications. It's a competitive world out there so at least you’ll have the option to work for someone else if you have these.
The Amira-located in Skiathos, Greece
I have a friend who played in a rock band back in the 80s. He was constantly traveling and this looked like the lifestyle I wanted. My own music career didn't work out so photography and then the video was a great alternative. Working with many of the UK tour operators kept me busy and gave me a good contact base for later years.
Destino Blue-one of Corfus high end hotels, videoed on the first day it opened after lock down
Probably the biggest obstacle was the lifespan of travel companies in the 90s. Acquisitions and takeovers were commonplace and you could find yourself without a major account if you weren't careful. I was fortunate as many of the companies I worked for ended up under the Thomas Cook Umbrella until the company folded due to mismanagement.
I’ve always been careful to spread the work over a few companies though and keep the work flowing. Fortunately, I also have an understanding wife who doesn't mind me being away. I’ve had narrow escapes for sure. In the days before drones, I would regularly get strapped to a parachute (towed by a speed boat) to get aerial shots. I’ve parachuted tandem from a mountain top in Turkey and flown in an Auto Gyro in Bulgaria. There have been times when I’ve had guns pointed at me and I also got arrested at Barcelona railway station (allegedly I looked like a drug dealer). Probably the low point was turning the rental car over in Spain at which point I learned to take things more slowly.
In both my field of work, both as a photographer and videographer, I managed to get access to places others can't, and I was able to visit places I wouldn't have normally visited. Over the past years, I’ve managed to photograph the construction of Hong Kong Airport, produce videos of tours around India, and had private tours of houses belonging to people as diverse as Shakespeare and Elvis. We’ve taken travel agents to Singapore, Phuket, and Vegas, and all this in addition to my ‘regular’ work in the Greek islands. One of my most memorable experiences was flying from Kenya where I was shooting some safari material and then flying the next day to Canada to shoot the ski area in Banff. The jetlag canceled itself out, which was useful.
To be honest, the primeguides brand evolved naturally. It was set up to host and be a platform for my client's products. It's not monetarized as it's not helpful for my videos to get adverts for other travel products running on them. I earn my money from the fee I get to produce the content so I don't really need to earn any more from the YouTube uploads.
I get many emails (mainly from India) offering to ‘buy’ views and likes but I prefer to see what the interest is naturally and get a better understanding of what the viewers are interested in.
I promote mainly through specialized Facebook groups which are relevant to the areas I’m featuring. The primeguides brand usually gets these accepted as it is promoted as a non-profit and impartial website. Hotels and villas with specific tour operator names can be more difficult as it looks more like advertising (which it is). Some get posted and some don't make it.
I don't have too much branding showing apart from on the videos. Any branding shown on the website or the YouTube channel relates to the companies that are paying for the videos.
In real terms, the value of a content creator has been driven down in the past few years and as I recall, video content creators were classed in a LinkedIn survey as one of the worst in the business. In my busiest times in the 90s and 2000s, I was on and off planes each week and it was normal to have £2500-£3500 invoiced and waiting for payment.
The marketplace is a little different these days and I wouldn't really want to be that busy again. As it’s travel, it's difficult to come up with a monthly figure as the work is seasonal. It's also an industry that's suffered massive losses with the pandemic but it's still possible to achieve a daily fee of $360 on contract (multiple days of work). More for a one-off day fee depending on the size of the hotel or product.