Traveling is a great thing. Personally, it is one goal of mine to explore as much of the world as possible. Instead of seeing all these beautiful places on the earth only in TV or photo albums, I want to discover them myself. I want to experience these places with my own eyes. Speaking with the people and see how they live and what their goals in life are.
Photography is a great way to capture these memories. To share every adventure that I experienced and to tell the stories that I witnessed first hand. It doesn’t matter if You are traveling and doing some photography on the side, or are actually a photographer and are searching for a great project abroad.
Both activities support each other and enhance the experience. Obviously, for a photographer traveling is great to have a little change of environment and have new locations to explore from a photographer’s perspective.
Traveling is much more than changing some locations and it is one of the most efficient ways to become a better photographer. Moreover, traveling will not only make You a better photographer but also let You grow as a person.
Instead of spending money on some equipment, gadgets or faster cars, I would always prefer to invest it in experience. All the gear or objects You have will lose its value really fast. The memories that You gather while traveling will last You forever. In combination with photography, You will have more tangible ways of storing these memories.
Photographing at home at the same location every day can be quite exhausting. Even in a big city like Berlin, I find myself tired of walking the same streets every so often. Whenever there are other photographers outside Berlin visiting us, it is great to see how they enjoy the city, whereas I can only think that I have photographed the same subjects already.
Changing the location is a great way to rekindle Your inspiration. It doesn’t have to be a foreign country, sometimes not even a different city. There are a lot of places to discover when You take some new routes.
Nonetheless, I believe that traveling is a great way of finding inspiration. Finding Yourself in a different culture will open Your eyes and mind to many new things. The mindset has a big influence on Your inspiration and it has been shown, that trying new things will keep Your mind fresh.
One danger of being a photographer is to fall in a rut. Street Photography or any kind of photography that involves just the minimum of creativity relies on being inspired. Doing the same things over and over again will get your mind bored. We live already most of our day in a kind of auto-pilot where we aren’t really present in the moment.
We have all kinds of routines starting in the morning where we have breakfast and then commute to work. At work, we often have the same mind-numbing tasks that don’t require to find new solutions or think creatively. During the day, we spend most of our time doing the same tasks or “habits”. This kills the inspiration.
Traveling will get You out of this daily routine. Even if You are trying to follow roughly the same schedule every day, You will notice that it will be quite impossible. Things seldom go as expected and You will be forced to get out of the daily routine.
Doing a Project
While traveling, You not only can wonderful Street or Travel Photography, You can also search for a personal project that seems interesting to You. When I planed my travel through Southeast Asia, I had already one place in mind that I wanted to use for a personal project. Thus, it became one of the main focuses of my plans, but not the sole purpose of my travel.
Doing a project, apart from the usual Photography style has a lot of advantages.
For me, Street Photography lacks the cohesive story. It is great that we are able to tell a story in a single picture, but at the same time, I feel that there is always some greater story missing. Of course, You are able to do Street Photography under a certain topic and then You can group these pictures. Yet again, they will fell quite disconnected and aren’t able to tell a complete story.
A Documentary project works in a completely different way. Instead of focusing on the single image, You are trying to tell the story of Your subjects. You are dedicating a lot more time working in the same locations.
In contrast to Street Photography, the people also don’t have to be anonymously. To complete the project, You can interview them and often I find it quite refreshing to write about the projects in addition to having the images only.
So if You are traveling, I would try to find something that You are interested enough in, that it would keep You busy for a week. The subject doesn’t have to be in the social documentary work. A lot of photojournalism work is dedicated to poverty or the living conditions of the poor. Instead, You can also focus on the sports that the people are playing, the work they are doing, the culture in general.
One of the most important aspects of documentary projects that are lost in the regular Street Photography is the editing. During the editing process, You are selecting all the images that You deem important enough to tell the story.
The key aspect is not on the power of the single image, but how they fit in the general narrative. With including and excluding pictures and especially the arrangement, You are able to tell completely different stories.
This will teach You what is important for a good story. How You can introduce the characters, built up tension and then present the final solution.
Another thing that is important, especially for us candid photographers is to be creative in finding a solution. We are working in an environment that we aren’t really able to influence ourselves. Everything that we are photographing is candid and should not be influenced by the photographer.
Therefore, we have to find creative angles to get a good composition and overcome other difficulties. Finding creative solutions is one of the main characteristics of a good Street Photographer.
While traveling, You will be threatened by a lot of problems. You can plan Your travel as thoroughly as You can and there will always be problems, whether they pose rather big threats such as problems with the visa or a missed flight, or are more minor like getting lost in the city.
Finding Yourself in a different environment, You have to overcome those challenges Yourself. That’s also why I would recommend traveling alone. You are not able to rely on a different person to help You but have to be completely on Your own.
Of course, You can always ask locals or other people for help, which You should if You can’t find a solution Yourself. But even then You are just seeking for tips and still have to take the consequences Yourself.
Meeting Local Photographers
One of the best things about traveling is meeting other photographers. In the early stages of Street Photography, I was quite engaged in the community aspect. I used Facebook and other social media platforms very extensively. Although this has kind of tuned down now, I still love the aspect of meeting other Street Photographers while traveling.
It isn’t a secret that meeting local people can have a lot of positive effects in experiencing the place. Locals know much more than any city guide that You can find online. From the best food to the accommodation and photography spots. Whenever I can, I try to reach out to local photographers to meet them in person and walk with them through the city.
But it isn’t only about the insider tips. Meeting new photographers, especially when they are photographing in such a different culture can be very interesting.
When I went to Jakarta, to meet a group of local Street Photographers surrounding Chris Tuarassia and Sam Bara, it was very refreshing to see their approach to Street Photography. While in Germany, everyone is more distanced and it is rather difficult to strike up a conversation, Chris and Sam are very open to meet new people.
Especially Sam is very outgoing and likes to get to know the story of the people. He is very dedicated to working a location and because of his natural personality, he doesn’t seem like an “outsider”.
Then again, Indonesia and Germany are very different places, but I believe it can be still positive to use some of their ideas of Street Photography. Getting some new perspectives by meeting other photographers will help to think about Your style and which direction You are heading.
Now You might be totally inclined to travel and I hope You will make Your plans come true sooner than later. One big question that is always raised when I talk about traveling is about money.
Money is not much about status for me. I don’t really care about my possessions and I have no problem traveling only with hand luggage for a few months. Yet, I can’t deny that money is a very important topic when it comes to traveling.
The good news is that traveling doesn’t have to be expensive. Especially when You are going to Southeast Asia, You can live quite comfortably with only a fraction of the cost at Your home.
For the accommodation, I would refrain from staying at a hotel. Their rates are rather expensive and if they aren’t the quality is often lackluster. Therefore, I prefer AirBnB or similar platform where I can book a room or an apartment that suits my small budget. As an additional tip, I can recommend booking a homestay. Maybe not for the full duration of Your trip, but only for a few days. You are living with a local family and are experiencing the local culture in a way that wouldn’t be possible otherwise.
We can try to minimize the cost of traveling and if money should become an issue, we can also try to earn some, while being abroad. Through platforms like Upwork, You can earn money online without many qualifications. If Your English is good, You should find some opportunities to extend Your travel budget.
If Your mother language is English, You can also search for teaching jobs. In a lot of places in Southeast Asia, parents are putting a lot of emphasis on their children to learn English. There are a lot of schools that are offering programs where English is taught. Due to the high demand, the job is also relatively well paid and put You way above the average salary in this area. So if You are seeking not only for a short travel but maybe a one-year change of places, You can apply for teaching jobs abroad to earn some money, if You don’t want to work as an online freelancer.
Since money was a sensitive topic for me and I didn’t want to spend too much, Western Europe and North America were canceled from my plans. This wasn’t a big problem for me since I wanted to go far away anyway and had in mind to visit a completely different culture anyway.
Therefore my choice was Southeast Asia. Other alternatives would have been in South America, but ultimately my choice fell on Southeast Asia because I wanted to photograph the sulfur miners of mount Ijen there.
When searching for the right destination, South America or Southeast Asia offer a great mix of being inexpensive and offering relatively high standards of living. I never had any problems while being in Southeast Asia and the people are very welcoming to tourists.
When searching for a good travel destination, You should also consider a few things.
The weather was one important aspect of my travel plans to Southeast Asia. Since I was planning to escape the winter in Europe, the warm temperatures of the Southern hemisphere were a good alternative to the rain in Europe. If only there wouldn’t be the rain season. Instead of having four seasons, some climates have only a distinction in the rain and dry season. Before making any plans to travel, inform Yourself about the climate to not face any surprises. Although the temperatures are very constant throughout the year in Indonesia for example, the rain isn’t.
Another aspect that I found to be important was to have at least one contact person that would understand English. For me, this meant that it would either be the person from AirBnB I rented the apartment from, or any other local photographer who I knew before. Being lost in a foreign country without speaking the local language and having no idea where to begin with can be quite intimidating. But having at least one contact person in case of emergency will ease Your mind a bit.
Also be warned, that people regard photographers very differently. The places that I visited were very open to photographers and most of the people were very curious. Often times even people were approaching me to take a picture of them. This is very different to what I am used to experiencing as a Street Photographer in Germany.
On the other hand, there may be places where photographers aren’t really welcome. Either because they are not very open to tourists, or because they have other prejudices. Inform Yourself not only of the general opinion of photography but also of the laws.
Lastly, be aware of local culture and religious influences. In Indonesia for example, the country is very different during the Rhamadan. A lot of local food stalls are closed and in the evening the traffic is very overwhelming. From a tourist’s point of view, this may be interesting, but also might limit Your travel experience because life is a lot different during this month.
The Right Gear
As a photographer, there is also often the questions which camera one should take or which gear, in general, is recommended.
I prefer to travel as light as possible and to minimize the gear I use. Instead of carrying a heavy camera and multiple lenses, I use a mirrorless camera which is a lot smaller and lighter but can output the same quality.
Essential on my gear list are only the X100F, some spare batteries and a plug strip to power the chargers for my laptop, batteries, and phone.
As a travel backpack, I use the Lowepro Pro Tactic 350 AW and so far it works very well. When buying a backpack, make sure that it does comply with the hand baggage regulations. A lot of photography backpacks are bigger and are normally not allowed as cabin luggage. Since I don’t want to give away all my gear to the check-in luggage and risk of losing everything, I make sure that I can put all my important electronics in the camera backpack.
For my travel cameras, I chose the X100F, because it has a high quality and the 35mm lens does work very well for me. With my style of photography, I don’t feel any limitations, but it does give me the chance to focus on photography alone.
As a second camera, I use the RicohGR II. It is very small, yet does produce good quality images. I use that camera in difficult situations, for example during the rain, where I don’t want to risk losing the X100F.