Tag Archives: Travel photography

“A great photograph is a full expression of what one feels about what is being photographed in the deepest sense and is thereby a true expression of what one feels about life in its entirety.”

― Ansel Adams

17 amazing travel photography tips I learned while traveling solo around the world

At the end of 2014 I had the life changing opportunity of leaving my job in exchange of a salary package which I decided to use for a trip around the world. Ever since I traveled in India with a photography tour I became more and more passionate about photography. By now, I already photographed on all 7 continents, during rains, snows, very cold or very hot weather, in dusty environments, I carried my camera when trekking to shoot amazing landscapes, even on top of mountains for breathtaking astrophotography, I captured portraits and moments otherwise gone.

Traveling solo around the world I discovered the passion for photography and travel and as I saw how they go perfectly hand in hand I decided to start over from scratch and build a life around my main passions. I dream about building a community of creative people passionate about travel photography and story-telling through photos.

“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.” Ansel Adams

So here are the photography tips I learned while traveling solo for last two years:

1. Learn how to use your equipment before starting your trip: you don’t want to get in front of an amazing landscape and just try to figure how your camera works and how to make your settings. Some people buy all sort of new equipment and accessories before traveling just to be sure they have everything they need, but most of the time is unnecessary. If you feel like buying a new camera for a trip, get familiarised with it before boarding your plane. In any case, always have a copy of your camera manual saved on your phone.

2. Don’t take too much equipment in your travels: I think about photography equipment in terms of a triangle of the compromise between the way you want to travel, the type of photography you want to make and how much you can physically carry with you. Of course, during my last years I experimented a lot, inclusively going to the limit of what I could carry, having two cameras, 4 lenses, one tripod, and so on. And ultimately, I decided to travel light with one full frame camera and one lens with a polarising filter, 5 memory cards, one extra battery and one shutter release cable.

3.  Always take more shots for the same subject and never delete many of the shots during the next days: many times we shoot a subject once and when we see later the photo we can figure a better perspective or composition, but it’s too late, the moment is already gone. Also, we can take many photos but then delete most of them after because we think they are bad. That’s a mistake, a photo may appear bad to you today, but if you look at it after few weeks you may have a different opinion.

4. Wake up early, be it a place that gets overcrowded at day, be it a place in nature with beautiful sunrises, the morning hours offer you some of the best opportunities for great photos: this worked perfectly for me when I woke up super early one morning in Bangkok to photograph the Buddhist monks on their morning alms walk and one of the photos from that morning was chosen for an exhibition. The best natural light for photos is during the early mornings and evenings.

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Morning alms in Bangkok

5. Make backups of your photos, at least in one place and at least once per week if it’s not possible more often: this is simple, you don’t want to lose your photos. I carry a hard drive with me in my travels and whenever I have the chance of good wifi I upload my work on my cloud account.

6. Keep your equipment clean, dry, protected: one of the advantages of using one lens is that you won’t get dust on your sensor while changing lenses. Consider buying a dry bag for very wet environment and always clean your lenses. Although you can later edit the dust spots why spending time doing that instead of forming the habit of keeping them clean?

7. When taking photos of people don’t be shy but be respectful: I missed so many opportunities of beautiful portraits just because I was too shy to ask. This was a skill I learned on the road, because I really wanted to capture stories with people, with their cultures and smiles. There are places where people are really happy to be photographed and places where they are offended, you have to be aware of their culture, their reactions and respect them if they refuse you.

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Vietnamese woman in a village near Sapa

8. When the sky is clear you better stay up late: one of my favorite things to do is night photography. Clear skies are not everywhere, so when you are lucky enough to experience starry nights with clear skies in nature you should capture them, don’t let those chances go.

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At 2505m altitude, Omu Peak, Romania – no tripod used

9. Always have your camera at hand: you might have a heavy camera and not be very inspired some days, but worse then that is not to have the camera at hand when you need it.

10. If your camera is heavy use your backpack straps to keep it tight to your chest: this was so helpful for me as my camera is really heavy and my neck and back were in pain so many times. The backpacks have those chest straps and although inspiration to do that came late it was such an amazing change, as it’s making the access to the camera much easier and much more comfortable.

11. Try different perspectives – turn your back at the most photographed subject: this one is tricky. But remember, fortune favours the brave. Of course you want to photograph the subjects you saw on postcards or on internet, the landmarks and from the most famous angles, but is so rewarding to find a different perspective and create an unique photograph.

12. Be a storyteller through your photos: the most beautiful part of travel photography is the ability to tell a story of the place, of the community, situation or person, to capture a momentary reality from the life of one person. Away from the photographic cliché of mass tourism which I dislike very much, a good photographer can serve as example and recommendation of responsible travel, where you learn about cultures, customs, traditions, but also the reality of war, conflict, and poverty. Also, make photos people will want to see many times, not just once, and without a story to make them dream is hard.

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Young lady weaving in a village on Inle Lake, Myanmar

13. Show realities not noted otherwise: don’t look where everybody looks, go away from the crowd, walk the streets and capture subjects you haven’t seen on other photos or media. Behind the nice church might be an opportunity to tell a story which will show more accurately how is the life of that town or city.

14. When people sit on your way try to use this to your advantage: due to mass tourism there are some places where is impossible not to capture people in your photos, especially when you don’t visit early. Try to use this in your advantage searching for unusual perspectives.

15. Don’t rush – there are places where you won’t come back again, if you are inspired and have ideas don’t waste the opportunity: if you rush to make a photograph because you know you don’t have time there aren’t many chances to make a very good one. Sometimes photographers are lucky, but most of the time you have to imagine the composition and wait for the right moment to press the shutter, you have to try different angles and perspectives, or different settings. If photography is your number one priority and you travel mainly for it then you can plan to go to a certain spot, and you can plan the best times to shoot.

16. When trekking or climbing mountains don’t leave your camera behind. Actually, never leave your camera behind: the camera is heavy, the backpack is heavy, but the effort is worthy when you can photograph the starry night sky, or the sunrise over the lake near your tent.

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Torres del Paine, Patagonia

17. Take candid shots: sometimes when people see your camera they will pose and it might ruin the story. While for portraits best is when people look at you, there are situations when the candid shot is the best and it adds life to your photography.

The world is full of stories waiting to be photographed, just take your gear and go out! I hope this comes as an inspiration for you!

“A journey, after all, neither begins in the instant we set out nor ends when we have reached our doorstep once again. It starts much earlier and is really never over because the film of memory continues running on inside of us long after we have come to a physical standstill. Indeed, there exists something like a contagion of travel, and the disease is essentially incurable.” ― Ryszard Kapuściński, Travels with Herodotus

Volunteering in a community in the Bolivian Amazonian Jungle

My first experience as a volunteer, although it was just to photograph the Real Beni community and just a bit of hands-on help, it was by far the most significant experience in terms of culture contact of my trip in South America. My idea of volunteering was different but as I’m passionate about photography I couldn’t say no to this opportunity.

The first thing we did when we arrived at Real Beni was to meet doña Cupertina, our host, the grandmother of almost all the young people from this small community and the mother of Baldemar, the guy who brought us there. We went to find a place to camp, we cleaned the area of branches and leaves, we set our tent and went up the hill, where she had an improvised place to cook, to eat lunch. We cooked food on the fire, fed corn to the chickens and after lunch Baldemar took the boat and went back to Rurrenabaque, where he is running a travel agency, BOA.

So there we were, me and Katerina, curious and a bit overwhelmed. Katerina found this opportunity for us to volunteer while she was searching for a place to paint. She’s an Argentinian art graduate traveling and painting in exchange for board and food and sometimes money. I met her at the hostel in Rurreanabaque and as I was telling her I want to do some volunteering and to have more authentic experiences, and as she saw I’m passionate about photography she thought this opportunity will suit me just fine. Baldemar had this idea of creating a different tour in the jungle, one in the community where he was born, where tourists would meet the people, with their traditions and beliefs, with their customs, their music and eat their traditional food. As this isn’t an isolated community and people go regularly to Rurrenabaque to sell fruits and vegetables this idea seems helpful for them and could be a good cultural exchange. Our part in this was to spend five days with the kids, speak with them about recycling and good practices, and photograph them so that Baldemar can make a presentation of the community back at his travel agency where he had some other volunteers working on a website for him.

From the beginning, I was amazed how kind and open doña Cupertina was, always smiling and always calm. She brought us cocoa pods and we ate the skin of the beans and put the beans to dry to be made powder for the cocoa drink. It was the first time I saw cocoa in the natural form, not in a box already processed, so I was really excited. Next days I experienced the same excitement with the sugar cane we chewed, the pineapples I saw in every stage of growth, the yucca roots which I learned to peel and clean and I wanted to eat each and every lunch.

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Later that day we met some of the kids from the community, first timidly but after we spoke a bit with each other they became very open. We watched the sunset together and they showed us their dog Colita. Those days in the jungle there were mostly about them, about the kids.

First night in the jungle we went to sleep early, mosquitos already were feasting from our blood so we searched relief in the tent. But we couldn’t sleep right away as we heard music from the other community across the river. Next day doña Cupertina told us there is a three-day celebration of a catholic saint across the river, where people pay respects and offer gifts at the feet of the saint statue and then spend the evening dancing. One of the things that amazed me in Bolivia was the strength of the catholic belief of the people combined with their old belief in Pachamama.

At evening, soaked in mosquito repellent, we went with our host to the river and sat there under the clearest sky, with faint music and jungle noises in the background. Doña Cupertina sang two songs for us while smoking a cigarette and told us she likes to sing and dance. One of the songs was about a girl from the jungle falling in love with a boy her parents disagreed with. She has to make a choice and although she loves and respects very much her parents she decides to go deep in the jungle with her lover. Years are passing by but the girl is always thinking about her parents and yearns to see them again. I recorded her and next day when I met one of her sons I asked him to listen. He was impressed, had tears in his eyes when he listened and he sang the same song using his flute. As doña Cupertina is the oldest person in the community I imagined the song might be about her, although I didn’t dare to ask.

Later that evening one of our host’s nephews came to the river to take a boat to cross it to the other side. All three of us went with him and I got a taste of a dancing evening in the community. Doña Cupertina was shining and everybody wanted to speak and dance with her. It was a very joyous evening.

First thing in the morning we woke up hearing the ducks picking at our tent and making noises. When we were getting out from the tent the kids were already somewhere around. Every morning we were trying to wake up earlier than them but with little success. We were eating breakfast together although for them was already the second one and the rest of the day was spend together, going to swim in the river, fishing with worms, playing football, playing with their monkey pet. A big part of the beach was planted with beanstalks because sand is a good place to plant them and it was always an adventure to make sure the ball won’t hit and break them. They showed us the school and brought a world globe and I pointed to where I’m coming from and where I’ve been before coming to the jungle.

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Because this isn’t an isolated community usually when the kids are of highschool age they are going to one of the cities at school, live with a relative there or at a dorm. Until then they have a teacher coming at the community Mondays and leaving Fridays. The kids are separated in two intervals of age thus forming two classes. I asked them what they want to do when they will become adults, not many saw themselves still in the community, some wanted to be teachers or doctors. These types of communities will start to disappear across the world, and with them also their traditions. It’s hard to find a balance, pursuing a good education, a more safe and comfortable life but going back to your family community where your life experience might not mean that much anymore, developing a community but keeping traditions intact.

Some afternoons, when resting after lunch and staying in the shade to hide from the sun, our host was showing us how to make artisanal fans from palm leaves to use when it’s too hot, the type she used to blow the wind on the fire when she was cooking. Each day there were 2-3 tourists coming to make sugar cane jus using a wooden tool she had there. She was bringing the sugar cane plants, then showing them how to use it and helping them. In exchange, she got a small sum of money. After tourists were leaving the jus left was ours to share with the kids.

Saturday was quiet as all of the kids were helping their family to pick food and prepare to sell it in Rurrenabaque on Sunday: rice, coconuts, bananas, cocoa, sugar canes, beans, yucca were some of the cereals, fruits and vegetables they sold at the Sunday market. Although they were excited to spend time with me and Katerina the kids had also responsibilities and were serious about them. By the time we were waking up Brenda already cooked for her brothers the fish she took from the net she had set the night before and Mireja was taking care of her younger brother. Life in the jungle is hard but nobody was complaining. Sometimes at night they were starting the electricity generator to watch a movie from the DVD player. One night they watched Titanic, for the tenth time, they said, and I could hear laughter and giggles from the room the entire family used as a dormitory. Outside, the adults were playing instruments singing songs they passed from generation to generation orally. We made a payment to Pachamama that night, Baldemar brother dug with a machete a small hole in the ground where we put coca leaves, alcohol, and cigarettes, all the good stuff. Seems like Pachamama likes all the vices.

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Saying goodbye was hard, we really had a great time there, and although mosquitos were cruel we enjoyed every moment of those days.

More photos from the Real Beni community here .