Minority Nomad | World Travel from a Minority Perspective
I'm Erick! Photographer, Philanthropist, and World Traveler. On a quest to become the first African American to visit every country in the world. 92 Countries DONE!!! Follow my journey and all of the amazing places I've seen and people I've met here.
The more I travel the harder it is to impress me. I find myself a bit jaded at times and it truly has impacted how I’ve viewed different destinations. But, a few years ago I realized what my problem was. Travel had become a race to tick places off instead of traveling to experience the wonders of the world. The “listicle”/Buzzfeed side of travel had gotten me.
Many travelers miss things that make travel so special when religiously following these clickbait lists or unbending recommendations. We get so wrapped up in being in a place we forget to explore and experience it. I can’t tell you how many “travelers” I meet that have gone to some of the worlds most amazing destinations but didn’t actually see or learn anything about the place. Myself included. So I’ve decided to make a drastic shift in the way I travel. Merging travel into my personal life goals.
What I’ve created below is a set of things I would love to do in my lifetime. The order doesnt matter nor does the time frame. But what matters is I enjoy my travels again by experiencing the cultures I’m exposed to. By trying to consistently be a better traveler and person in the process.
Handmade 100% Buckweat Noodles in Japan (Japan)
Any foodie will tell you just how amazing Ramen is. Japan takes it to another level. With some Ramen shops actually having Michelin stars in Japan. While I’ve eaten some amazing noodles during my time stationed and traveling in Japan and Korea, I haven’t had a chance to try the 100% Buckwheat noodles. Claimed to be the best in the world. Japan has a culture which cultivates Masters. People that truly take pride in their crafts for a lifetime. And the chance to experience that mastery of food is high on my list. Check out this piece on Ramen.
Attend a Mascarade Ball (Austria)
I studied Medieval European history in college. Actually, I was obsessed with it. At one point I could tell you how every major Monarch is related to another. Sidenote, A LOT are cousins at least. With Alexander Dumas being one of my favorite authors, I’ve always wanted to attend a proper mascarade ball. And I’m talking the full set up. Medieval outfits and everything. Unfortunately, there aren’t many left in the world but I know the one in Venice Italy is supposed to be amazing.
Live in London and NYC for 30 Days (USA and UK)
I’m a city boy. I love the energy, diversity, architecture, and opportunities that exist in major cities. Not to mention the shots I can capture as a street photographer. NYC and London have been two of my favorite destinations for years. But I’ve never had time to really dig into either. By spending a month in each i’ll be able to really dig into each city and explore beyond the tourism centers.
Take Mother to Asia and EAT (Thailand)
My mother is the very definition of a foodie. While I’ve seen her eat and create some amazing dishes, she hasn’t had the opportunity to truly explore other cuisines. And I figure I would take her to the most foreign place I can think of. Asia. I’m also pretty excited to see the things that will freak her out.
Hike Patagonia (Chile and Argentina)
I’m not a nature guy. But there are some places which are magnificent enough to shake off my aversions and get me on the trails. Patagonia is one of the few natural wonders that’s always called to me.
Go to the Olympics (Anywhere. Japan 2020)
I believe the Olympics are the greatest example of international comradery and respect. And Japan happens to be one of my favorite countries. This is one of the few time specific things I want to do. So I need to get on this one ASAP. You ever thought of checking out the Olympics?
Win a Photography Award
While I don’t rely on the validation of others, I’m always working to better my skills as a photographer and visual storyteller. And the world of photography has shifted quite a bit. With images being manipulated to the point of fantasy. I want to capture the world in a way to educates and inspires.
Learn 10 songs on Piano in Austria (Austria)
Playing an instrument well has always been a goal of mine. While I can strum a bit on the guitar and place my hands in the right place on a piano, I would love to actually learn how to properly play. Austria was home to some of the best musicians of all time. Mozart, Schubert, and Strauss all called it home.
Have an Exhibit of my Photography for Charity
There are a lot of causes I care about. And I’ve been blessed with the ability to explore the world in a way many can’t. With my growth as a photographer has come the ability to make a living at it. But I also want to give back. Having a gallery exhibit of my work has long been a goal of mine. And using the proceeds for charity has also been on my mind.
Road Trip through New Zealand ( New Zealand)
Some destinations tend to top many photographers lists of places to explore. With New Zealand’s natural landscapes topping that list. In all my travels I’ve rarely come across kinder and more welcoming people than Kiwi’s and I’m excited to finally visit their home country. Anyone want to come?
Learn to Cook 20 Local Dishes in 20 Countries
Cooking is probably what I would call my hobby. And the more I travel the more I discover amazing dishes I had no idea existed. And what better way to share that experience than learning how to actually cook them. I come from a family of cooks and have been cooking for as long as I could remember. I would likely be a chef if I wasn’t a travel journalist.
Spend the Night in a Castle
Like I mentioned above, Medieval European history is a passion of mine. And I’ve always wanted to stay in a castle. Complete with all of the traditional accommodations afforded to guests during the medieval times. Think I’m going to use this list for reference.
Train BJJ for a month in Brazil
Brazilian Jiu Jitsu has been a part of my life since I was 20. Being my go to form of physical fitness and self-defense for years. Unfortunately, my lifestyle makes it difficult to keep up with my training. So I want to visit the birthplace of BJJ and truly immerse in the culture. BJJ has given me a LOT and I hope to give something back. Here’s a cool documentary about why many of us fall in love with this amazing sport.
Photograph the BIG 5 (Africa)
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wanted to take an African safari. But it never felt like the right time. From cost to health reasons, I’ve never been able to pull it off. Unfortunately, I’m not sure how long the Big 5 will survive with the current state of poaching and global warming. So I want to see them in their natural habitat before it’s too late. And maybe raise awareness to whats happening.
Pay For A Strangers First Trip Abroad
The higher my profile becomes the more people reach out to me for travel tips and advice. And it breaks my heart when I meet and chat with people that I feel truly deserve a trip abroad. I want to make that happen. While I’ve focused on getting kids abroad for years, I want to help adults as well.
Dive El Museo Subaquàtico de Arte (Mexico)
Diving is one of the most enjoyable things I’ve ever done. The silence and tranquility underwater is second to none. Especially in areas that are protected from our ridiculous habits as humans. Hopefully I can raise a bit of awarness to the devastation in our oceans as well.
Fly on a Luxury Private Plane
While I’ve flown on private planes before, it’s never been as a civilian or in a personal capacity. This is just one of those once in a lifetime kind of things that has always appealed to me.
Fluency In Another Language (Spanish likely)
I speak several languages terribly. I have a great deal of respect for those able to communicate in multiple languages. While I’m a bit old to be starting, it’s definitely a personal mission of mine. The languages will likely be Spanish or Thai as these are the languages I can actually study.
Become a Tea Expert
I’m a BIG fan of coffee. Unfortunately, my stomach isn’t. Which is why I’ve transitioned over to teas and happier for it. Tea is one of the few drinks that I can actually tell the difference between the flavors. Did you know a tea expert is called a Tea Sommelier?
Everywhere in the Secret Life of Walter Mitty
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty was a film that truly sparked a fire under my ass. It was a movie that didn’t feature the cliché destinations that most “travel” films do. Paris, Bangkok, Bali, South Africa, India, etc etc etc. Instead it highlighted not only alternative destinations but truly immersing in the transformative experience of travel. And unfortunately, many of the places featured I haven’t visited or haven’t as a civilian. The destinations are Greenland, Afghanistan, Iceland, and Yemen
Play Poker in Monte Carlo
I was a pretty serious Poker player in my early to mid 20s. Playing a LOT in Vegas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, and Mississippi. To the detriment of a lot of personal relationships. But I’ve always wanted to try my hand in Monte Carlo. More so for the atmosphere than to try and win a Euro.
Singles Cruise in Carribbean
I’m single and ready to mingle!!! And I’ve always wanted to attend a singles cruise for some reason. Cruises have never really felt like my thing. Always thought of families and old people. But I’ve heard some singles cruises are putting on amazing events.
Become a Wine Sommelier (France, Spain, Italy, Moldova, Argentina)
I have zero desire to ever work in a restaurant. But I’ve always been fascinated by Wine and the culture around it. Unfortunately for me my palette is terrible. I can barely tell the difference between a $5 bottle and $5000 bottle. Not drinking until I was 29 has resulted in me having a fresh liver to destroy. lol. Wine is actually the reason I started drinking alcohol. Damn you Argentinaaaaaaaaaaa.
So that’s it for me. This is one of those things that should always change and evolve. I’m not the same person as I was 5 years ago and hope I’m not the same 5 years from now. As I complete these things I’ll add a pic to this original post. So tell me, what travel experiences do you hope to complete in your adventures?
From the outside looking in, two narratives are primarily presented regarding the Kumbh Mela depending on ones monetary or political motivations. On one side you have the romantic spiritualism of washing away all your sins in the Triveni Sangam. The holiest spot in India at the confluence of the Ganga, Yamuna, and mythical Saraswati rivers. And on the other, HEYYYYY look at the naked, pot smoking, dreadlocked Naga Sadhus. The truth? It lies somewhere in the middle of the two. But honestly, I don’t care and wasn’t particularly moved by either of these aspects of the Kumbh Mela. But what did interest me, the people.
People make the place. And the Kumbh Mela is the perfect event to experience the brilliant tapestry that is Indian culture, history, and identity. This Mela is known as a Prayag Kumbh Mela which happens once every 12 years. Making it one of the largest and most important events in India. Not to mention the fact that it’s the largest gathering of humans on the planet. This year, it attracted 50 million on the day I visited. Making it a photographers dream.
During my time at the Prayag Kumbh Mela 2019 I was blown away by how welcoming, kind, and hospitable people were. Inviting me to talk, drink, eat, and smoke with them. Not expecting a thing in return. Another level of hospitality that many could learn from. Could it be the spirituality? Could it be an effort to impress foreigners? Could it be culturally ingrained to be kind? Whatever the reason it resulted in one of my favorite travel experiences of my life and inspired me to share the less publicized faces of the Kumbh Mela. Beyond the Pagentry.
This woman was selling water jugs. Many family members can’t make the trip to the Kumbh. So those that can take some of the holy water back to their homes/temples in these containers.
Special shout out to Indian women. They are the bedrock of Indian society and are some of the strongest people I’ve ever met. Heartbreaking the issues they have to deal with. I’ll be discussing this more soon.
This woman observed my colleague taking a portrait. At times, we became the center of attention at the Kumbh. Making it quite interesting when you’re trying to “blend in”.
This was a waiting line for one of the many free kitchens set up throughout the Kumbh. You’ll notice that men sit on one side while women sit on the other.
Once service begins, it’s similar to a processing line. Volunteers each have a different dish. They walk down the line and place a designated amount of food on each plate.
India gets a very bad reputation for it’s water quality. While I wasn’t brave enough to test the claims, I can say there were plenty of tap and filtered water stations around the Kumbh.
Many pilgrims are from poor villages. Without the resources to stay in more luxurious accommodations at the Kumbh. One way they save money is by hand washing their cloths and leaving them around the Kumbh to dry. This resulted in a beautiful kaleidoscope of saris and scarves all around us.
While we were housed in luxurious tents, these were the kind of accommodations where most pilgrims stayed. A stark contrast that I hope to discuss later. But beyond that narrative, humbling.
I have to be honest, I’ve never seen so many naked men before in my life. But what I found beautiful was the fact no one cared. Like at all. Which in itself is liberating. The Naga Sadhus would be the spiritual equivalent to monks.
Sadhus come in many sizes, shapes, colors, genders, and states of dress. The most common are like these men. You’ll see far more Sadhus like this than the naked ones.
YES!!! There was a lot of weed and hashish being consumed at the Kumbh.
Consumerism is alive and well at the Kumbh Mela. With plenty of vendors selling food, jewelry, and religious artifacts. I was impressed that pretty much everyone was charging extremely fair prices. No gouging at all.
This made me VERY uncomfortable. And I think it’s something that needs to be discussed. When children are being used to entertain people in return for “donations”. What threw me off was the mothers demanding behavior and absolute terror in that girls face. Suspended about 12 feet in the air with not net or harness.
Prague is getting harder and harder for me to enjoy. When I first visited, around 2004, I thought it was one of the most incredible places I had seen in Europe. The perfect combination of modern and Romanesque architecture which has drawn so many to the city. But fast forward 15 years and what I fell in love with has also given rise to a mass tourism “problem”.
Prague has become one of Europe’s most popular destinations. With a firm spot on backpackers and retirees travel bucket lists alike. Inexpensive drinks (once upon a time), beautiful architecture, and a strong tourism infrastructure have made Prague an easy sell. BUT, with that comes the crowds, scammers, and seasonal price hikes. Not to mention the negative shift in locals attitudes towards tourist.
So Erick, why do you keep going back? Well simply put, Prague is stunning. Which is why people keep going. If you know the city you know where to stay and when to visit, which ill cover below. Prague has quite a few cool secrets that mass tourism hasn’t yet destroyed. Plus if you make local friends your visit will be infinitely better. Prague is the perfect example of tourist ruining tourism.
What Was I Trying to Capture?
Like many cities, Prague during the early morning hours is almost entirely deserted. Making it perfect for architecture photographs. This was during the spring so the lighting was perfectly diffused by early morning fogs. It was my mission to capture sunrise on Charles Bridge hoping there wouldn’t be many tourists around.
I prefer shooting in this direction, away from the old town. I find the background buildings to be far more impressive. This is Lesser Town Bridge Tower (Malostranské mostecké věže) which leads to Lesser Town. Essentially the bottom of Prague Castle Hill.
Instead of taking a longer exposure or editing to remove tourists I decided to leave them in. People provide scale. And it shows the reality of the atmosphere. I’ve seen far too many people posting images with all the tourists edited out.
Hand Held or Stabilized: On a tripod. Exposure: 1/60th/F16 Focal Length: 60mm ISO: 1000 Lighting: Sunrise Body: A7S Lens: Kit 28-70
Prague Czech Republic Travel Tips and Guide
Prague is a relatively small capital city. Especially if you look at it in terms of where all of the attractions are located. Which isnt truly that much. Charles Bridge, Old Town Square, Lennon Wall, and Prague Castle are quite close to each other. Staying near these areas can make your life easier BUT that convenience comes with a price tag. Czech business owners have developed a quick understanding of tourist behaviors.
One thing I think you should definitely do is take a cruise on the river Vltava. The perfect way to end a long day. Highly recommend the JazzBoat Cruise. Only costs around $35. One of the least expensive cruises.
Prague doesn’t have a shortage of hostels. So backpackers are in luck. I’ll break this down into three areas. Party, Convenience, and Best overall Party Hostel: The Madhouse Prague. This place is INSANE. It’s flatout designed to get you fucked up and keep you that way.
Convenience:Hostel Ananas. This place is one of the best values in Prague when it comes to hostels. A 12-bed dorm is about $7 while a 6 bed is about $9. And it’s located directly in the city center. NOT old town center. The actual city center.
Best Overall:Czech Inn. One of the best hostels I’ve stayed in. It’s perfect for anyone that doesn’t mind staying in a locals area and enjoys a bit of quiet with their turn up. Also, it’s down the street from a delicious pizza joint. YEAH I SAID IT. Pizzburg.
I was honored to be invited to TravelCon 2018 to give two photo walks in Austin,Texas. I also want to go ahead and announce I’ve been invited to return for the 2019 edition in Boston and gladly accepted.
In the time we had in Austin, there was just no way to impart as much information on these brilliant students. So I made a promise. I would create a blog post with my top tips and resources they could use. It’s my pleasure to present my views on travel and street photography. With some tips and tricks that I’ve learned over the years shooting in over 90 countries.
While not meant to be a complete guide, this is a solid look at how I view this beautiful art form and how my mind works when I’m out shooting. Feel free to reach out and let me know your method and thoughts.
Ethics of Street Photography
Damnoen Saduak Thailand
Let me start with a controversial POV. Get comfortable with asking peoples permission to take their picture. People tend to fall in one of two camps on the “ethics” of street photography. You ask permission or you don’t. Personally, sometimes I do and sometimes I don’t. But I have a personal code which I adhere to which I’ll cover later.
No matter where you fall on this subject the simple reality, you’ll have some amazing opportunities to shoot people when you ask for permission. Not only are you likely to get smiles and posing, but you just might get access to their lives which you wouldn’t have had otherwise. Here are a few tips.
1. Compliment them. Especially those who look “eccentric”. Places like NYC, Tokyo, and Berlin are the perfect place to approach people that are dressed outside of the norm. They usually are extremely receptive to having their pictures taken.
2. Patronize first. In regards to street musicians and vendors, always tip or purchase something. It doesn’t have to be anything big. Just a mutual show of appreciation goes a long way. Buying something from a food vendor is a great way to grab some candid shots of them preparing your dish.
3. Thank them if they say yes or no. There is no hard rule to this game. But one thing I personally believe should be is respect. Appreciate when they say yes and respect when they say no. Both with a sincere smile and thank you.
4. Ask for a Selfie. Selfies are the ultimate icebreaker. I’ve never been denied a portrait after taking a selfie with someone. Being different has its advantages.
5. ALWAYS SMILE. I can’t street this point enough. Your smile is extremely disarming. Play the role of the happy and oblivious “tourist”. It’s disarming and can open up some opportunities.
PRACTICE TIP: Pick an interesting spot in your city. Visit that spot at three different times of day. Early morning or sunrise, midday, and at sunset. And just shoot. Approach people. It’s FAR easier practicing in a city you know and speak the language than abroad.
Composition Is King
Siem Reap Cambodia
If there’s one thing you can do to instantly improve your photography it’s learning and mastering composition. Cameras and software have gotten extremely good at masking mistakes like exposure and focus. But no software can save bad composition. Composition is what makes photography special. It’s why I, Matt Karsten, and Laurence Norah could shoot the exact same location and come back with different images. Composition is where photographers truly show their artistic vision.
As you develop your skills remember, you should learn the rules before you break them. The Rule of Thirds is the perfect place to start. Here are a few concepts you’re going to need to study.
1. Rule of Thirds (9 Block Grid)
2. Leading Lines (Lines that move eyes through an image).
3. Foreground and Background focus (Making elements of the foreground and background the focal point)
4. Filling the Frame (Entire image is filled with your subject)
5. Negative space. ( Empty space around your subject. Essential for those looking to post on Instagram)
These are just a few examples of composition rules/techniques. There have been entire books written on this subject alone. That should tell you how important it is.
PRACTICE TIP: Search Google images for shots of a popular building, market, or landmark in or near you. Now go and try to recreate that shot. Once you’ve recreated it try and put your own artistic spin on it.
My Three Shot Strategy
As you grow as a photographer this strategy might become asinine and a hard drive space hog. But as you’re learning this technique can not only help you learn better composition but how images work in certain mediums. Not every image you shoot will crop well on Instagram for example. These are the three shots I take of pretty much every subject. Ensuring I can display them in different ways and capture various elements of focus. So when I’m putting together a photo essay or choosing for a campaign, I have options.
1.Your subjects environment. Where does it live? Here you capture the subject in it’s “natural habitat”. For buildings, this would be the skyline or up a boulevard. For people, this would be where they live, work, or play. For art, this would be a wide shot of the gallery for example.
2. Fill the frame. This is where you can highlight the details of the subject. One of the most common techniques in portraiture. Here you want to fill the entire image with the subject. Limiting the amount of negative space or distracting elements around it.
3. Scale/Personality. Here you want to highlight the size of your subject. This isn’t always necessary. For landmarks, architecture, and landscape photography you’ll want to do this more so than not. For people, not really. Humans are the perfect tools for scale because we can easily relate to them in relation to say a building. Cars also are great scale subjects. The human brain will automatically make the correlation.
PRACTICE TIP: Pretty simple. Go and get these three shots of a subject. Create your own photo essay. When I haven’t had a chance to go out and shoot for a while I’ll go to me “Idea List”. It’s 100 random words that I use to build an essay. Some words on the list include blue, pain, space, focus, and natural. Create your list and use these types of shots to build your essay.
Manual vs Auto
It’s baffling to me why experienced photographers constantly tell new and aspiring professionals to only shoot in manual. WE DON’T. I’ve met very few street photographers that only shoot in manual. Simply put, it’s a pain. Technology has evolved to a point where shooting in manual is actually a hindrance in many situations. Conditions change quickly and the time it takes for you to adjust your settings could mean the difference between getting the shot and not.
I shoot about 80% of the time in AV or aperture priority (A for Nikon). Basically, all you have to do is adjust your aperture and the camera does the rest. As time goes on you’ll learn when to adjust between shooting modes. And YES you need to know all of the shooting modes on your camera. But aperture priority will help you hit the ground running.
PRACTICE TIP: Put your camera on a tripod or sturdy surface. Take a photo at the lowest aperture. Then take it at the highest. And compare the images. You’ll instantly have an idea of what this setting does. Make sure to take note of the settings. Now do the same thing at night.
What’s the Best Gear?
The best gear is gear you know how to use. A $3000 camera is almost useless in the hands of someone that doesn’t know how to use it. While amazing images continue to be captured with decades-old technology. I’ve personally shot Canon, Nikon, and now Sony professionally. The differences are minor at the higher ends and come down largely to personal taste.
If you’re looking at making street photography your career then you’re going to want to look at future proofing yourself. Meaning most “mid-range” cameras that have interchangeable lenses should last you until you get to the point where your skills supersede your gear.
PRACTICE TIP: I’m the king of buying and selling. The most important piece of gear is your glass. AKA the Lens. The first thing you should invest in is glass. Depending on your camera system this can be expensive. For example, I shoot Sony. Glass is expensive and not very diverse. I used to shoot Canon. Glass is extremely affordable and diverse (I miss you so much Sigma). I recommend you rent your lenses first to find out your shooting style. Some will say 50mm is best for Street work. I hate shooting 50. I prefer 35mm in my prime and 24-105 as my zoom. But that’s after trying dozens of lenses over the years. I recommend LensRentals.com and BorrowLenses.com.
Learn How To Manual Focus
Orhei Vechi Monastery Moldova
While modern cameras have gotten damn good at autofocusing, sometimes it’s too good. Unless you tell it where to focus your camera will focus on what it thinks you want. So, in the beginning, you have to learn how to work with different camera focus settings. This is going to depend on your camera so I won’t go too deep into this one. But look up tutorials on Youtube that discuss your model. Also, pay attention to minimum focus distances of your lens.
PRACTICE TIP: Turn off autofocus and get out there and shoot. Not only will you gain a greater appreciation for AF, but you’ll have the skill to solve complicated focus issues before they happen in the field. Don’t get me started on low light focus problems.
If you’re going to make this art form your career you have to put the time in by studying the work of those who have already made it a career. Especially those who have left a lasting impression on the genre. Not only will this give you ideas when developing your style and subject matter, but it will also give you some idea on how to actually develop a career with longevity. In regards to the modern photographers you admire don’t be afraid to reach out. I can’t tell you how many impromptu photo walks and classes I’ve given just because someone reached out and showed some love. We’re all people.
PRACTICE TIP: Don’t only study the work of photographers in the style you like. Study those in other areas of photography as well. While I believe street photography is one of the most demanding and diverse genres, other genres have elements I love to observe and adopt. Like wedding and product photography.
Shoot Whatever and However YOU Want.
Cape Town South Africa
Photographers are a judgemental and arrogant bunch at times. We tend to think our way is the best way and polarization is deep in the photography community. Don’t get me on the Nikon vs Canon vs Sony debates. This can be stifling to new photographers because you haven’t learned how to tune us out yet. Here’s the reality. If you ask 5 random street photographers to shoot NYC we all will come back with very different photo essays. Take criticism with a grain of salt. It can be hard but you’ll have to learn how to weed out the constructive criticism from the hater/elitist BS.
PRACTICE TIP: Follow your heart and shoot what you find interesting in the way you want. There’s always going to be someone that doesn’t like what you do. Focus on the voices offering constructive criticism and showing love.
How To Create A Photo Essay
Georgetown Penang Malaysia
Pick 5 things that make that place special. My Austin Texas list would be something like Food, Music, People, Architecture, River. Then break each of those things down into 3 things you can shoot. For example, in Food, you can shoot food trucks, famous BBQ places, and fine dining. While you’re unlikely to capture all of the things you have on your list it’s a good outline for any photo essay. You have 15 different subjects to shoot. That’ll keep you more than busy.
Also, location scout if possible. I can’t stress the importance of knowing where the lighting is, how crowds move, and simple when things start or stop. Location scouting can really make or break an assignment. Especially when you’re on limited time.
PRACTICE TIP: Create several photo essays close to home. This will give you an idea of how this list technique works and your personal energy and focus level. Travel/Street photography is HARD. Mentally and physically. And you have to prepare for it like any other job. Things will go wrong. You might get hurt. Gear might break. But through practice, you can mitigate these things and overcome them when they do arise.
Have a Photography Code Of Conduct
There’s no barrier to entry in photography. Especially in today’s world with high-quality camera gear that’s affordable, a culture starved for photography, and ample travel opportunities. But what comes with this openness are the pitfalls of privilege. The disregard for the human condition and a sense of privacy. I’m not going to tell you what to do and not. I’m going to invite you to think about your action and develop a personal code of conduct. 5 things you keep in mind at all times when shooting.
1. Never shoot children without the parent’s permission or showing them the images.
2. Always patronize homeless people and vendors you shoot.
3. Never invade someones personal space when they have a reasonable expectation of privacy like in their homes.
4. Take no for an answer. If they say no, smile, thank them, and leave.
5. Never sell images when the person is identifiable without their permission.
PRACTICE TIP: Start with something simple. This is something I wouldn’t want people doing to me or my family. From there branch off to the areas of legality. Then go into the realm of creative expression. This is entirely subjective but a solid place to start.
Gordon Parks said, “The subject matter is much more important than the photographer”. As a photographer, I’m stuck between two generations. I grew up in a darkroom processing images. Shooting on 35mm film. Smelling chemicals and having my heartbroken discovering I overexposed the perfectly composed shot. I’m also a product of the digital age. The days of 64gb memory cards and burst shooting. Built-in light meters and grids. Of the “follow me” and curated color palettes of Instagram. And it’s coming from these two worlds that give me my perspective on photography.
We all have a story to tell. In your work, you get to decide what that story is. From the beauty of the Thai Islands to the pain of Skid Row Los Angeles, the world needs diverse perspectives. Let’s give it to them.
Note on these resources. This is NOT meant to be a complete listing. I have hundreds upon hundreds of sites, videos, articles, books, and courses I’ve gone through over the years. Many I still refer back to. The key is ALWAYS continue learning. Trying new techniques and styles. These are some recommendations to get your started on your journey.
Exploring museums in London is one of my favorite things to do. And the notoriously bad weather in London can make museums one of the best places to people watch. While a bit dated in my opinion, the Natural History Museum is a great place to see and capture families exploring the various exhibits. It’s part of the “Museum Trifecta”. The three major museums on Exhibition Road which includes the Science Museum and the Victoria and Albert Museum. All combining for an interesting day of historical exploration.
It’s an interesting place to photograph as Hintze Hall, where the whale is on display, has stunning natural light pouring in. This is one of the challenges of shooting in a museum. Either you have to expose for the windows or the subject. And since tripods aren’t allowed, it’s almost impossible to take a bracket shot. Making it an interesting scene of timing and luck.
What Was I Trying to Capture?
SCALE SCALE SCALE. This was the main thing on my mind while trying to properly frame her. I wanted her to be centred with people on multiple levels to show just how massive shes and the room are. I was lucky that the light from the windows started to hit at just the right time. If you look in the background you’ll notice several people on the stairs giving her the perfect scale.
I went purposely during the midday. I knew that the sun would be high and if the clouds broke I would get some nice glow from the windows around the museum. You might recognize this space as home to Dippy. A Diplodocus skeleton that was removed and put on tour in 2017, replaced by Hope. This has always been one of the museums most popular rooms. Given the two iconic residents and it’s stunning architecture.
Hand Held or Stabilized: Hand Held and propped on a railing
Focal Length: 28MM
Lighting: Natural light from ceiling windows
Body: Sony A7S
Lens: Kit 28-70
London Museum Travel Tips and Guide
If you’re a museum buff like me then you’ll love London. London has over 250 registered museums. Many of which are free and home to some of the worlds greatest treasures. I recommend staying in one of two districts. South Kensington which is home to the Natural History Museum, Science Museum, and Victoria & Albert Museum. Or Holborn where you’ll find the British Museum, Transportation Museum, Sir John Soane’s Museum, and Somerset House.
Images like this a relatively easy to learn how to shoot. The key is timing and understanding the flow of crowds through museums. If you’re shooting something like this for your portfolio I recommend you head there mid-day and mid-week.
While I believe environment impacts personality, I believe character is developed through exploration. Particularly in places you aren’t familiar with. Which is why moving abroad is romantic. Well romantic in the ways it’s being presented these days. With the “Quit Your Corporate Job and Travel the World” advocates taking up all the headlines. Some part of me agrees with those presenting this narrative. And I honestly believe it’s well-intentioned. But rarely do these adventurous pieces of content delve into the reality of moving abroad. Personal, Financial, and Cultural scenarios need to be taken into consideration before making this leap.
I have a firm belief that most people aren’t born in the place they belong. As I prepare to leave my adopted home I’ve decided to address one of the most common questions I receive. Where do I think a good place to live abroad is? This is such a personal question that it’s almost impossible to answer. So, I’m going to go into a bit more detail about the trials and tribulations of moving abroad. This post is specifically for those looking to move overseas to a set destination or a couple of destinations for long periods of time.
You Need to Gauge Your Sensitivity to Microaggressions and Fetishization
Lets go ahead and light this fire with gasoline. If you’re a marginalized person in your nation of birth, you’ll want to find out how your experience will change (or stay the same) in the place you choose to move. An unfortunately, there aren’t a lot of resources out there for marginalized peoples because…….well, we’re marginalized. And that doesn’t necessarily change a lot depending on where you go in the world. This realization can be extremely hard for those that come from western nations with specific protections covering race, gender, sexuality, or physical disabilities. The reality is, these protections are NOT globally universal and you need to be aware of that.
To a slightly lesser point, at least in my opinion, you must gauge your level of tolerance for fetishization and microaggressions. I’ll admit this baffled me. I’m an extrovert. I tend to talk to anyone and as a travel photographer naturally engage with people. And that comes with a lot of attention. But for those who aren’t used to that it can be overwhelming. From people staring to physically touching you. Not to mention dating. Especially for people of color that have been depicted as sexually inclined by the media in general.
Dating Might Not Be Easy
I feel like this is something a lot of people don’t consider when choosing to move abroad. Especially to places where you’re an ethnic minority. Human nature tends to push us to date/interact with those who come from a similar background as ourselves. This is especially true of largely homogenous places. So a lot of times either you won’t find anyone from your background or locals won’t want to date you. And this can be extremely frustrating.
On top of that you’ll have to deal with the reality of fetishization. Fetishization is something that happens for a variety of reasons. Socioeconomic status, skin tone, nationality, or body type can make you more desirable to people around the world. And some cultures accept this more than others. It’s perfectly acceptable to date someone for their money in some cultures for example.
Navigating the cultural norms and dynamics when dating abroad is something any single ex-pat will have to contend with.
Learn About Work Opportunities and Laws
Not every potential home will have work opportunities in your career field. Some countries, like Thailand, specifically prohibit foreigners from working in certain industries. And this practice makes sense in a lot of ways as economic protection for locals. This is unfortunate news for potential ex-pats in certain career fields. This is probably the most important thing you need to research before making a move. Cash is king globally. Pretty much everything else on this list can be solved or mitigated with cash. And if you can’t find work where you’re looking to go, your opportunities will be vastly limited.
There’s been a growing trend of “digital nomads” riding the edge of immigration laws. While this might be fine for them given their transient nature, it’s far riskier and potentially costly for those looking to stay in a place. Immigration law can differ drastically between countries. For those of us from western nations these laws tend to be rather liberal. And honestly, easy to get around. BUT this also depends on where you’re looking to go. Western nation to western nation moves can be a lot trickier. Especially with international situations like Europe’s refugee crisis, Brexit, and President Trump………..being President Trump.
You’ll Miss Your Loved One’s Lives
No matter your intentions, you’re going to miss quite a bit of your loved ones lives. Even those who really aren’t doing much. Technology has made it easier to stay in touch but nothing can replace actually being present. Births, promotions, birthdays, baby steps, holiday gatherings. You’ll miss quite a few things that might have been extremely important to you before. And this can put a strain on your relationships with friends and family. Particularly if you had a close relationship prior to leaving. This is an unfortunate reality you’re going to have to deal with. While you can plan to visit during the “important” holidays, your new life might have other ideas and those visits become fewer and further between.
You Actually Might Not Like It
Trial and error is also something that has to come into play when looking for a new home. You can do all the research you want but the reality is, some places just aren’t going to be for you. For example, a lot of people love Chiang Mai Thailand. I personally hate it with the fury of a thousand suns. But that knowledge came from actually spending quite a bit of time there.
I know it seems I criticize the “digital nomad” culture a lot but it’s becoming more and more of a necessity. Unrealistic perspectives of places are being presented largely positively without giving people the level of context and information they need to make these life-changing decisions. And the last thing we should be advocating is people spending their resources to move to a place where they’ll possibly be miserable.
I spend about 10-11 months a year outside of the U.S. And I love it. I’m built for it and have created an amazing life. However, this isn’t for everyone and you have to look beyond the romantic notions and dig into the realities of leaving your home country. In the end, it’s you that will have to deal with the consequences/benefits of your move.
This is NOT a complete list of things you need to know/consider before moving abroad. Every destination has extra steps you’re going to need to take. Not to mention the personal ones. For example, unlocking your phone, finding a healthcare provider, or finding a place to live. Here are a few resources you can use to make life a bit easier and feel free to reach out with specific questions.
Minority Nomad started with one simple goal. To inspire and help kids from marginalized communities travel the world. So programs like ScholarTrips is something I can fully get behind. Allianz Travel Insurance started the ScholarTrips program in 2004. Since then they’ve awarded over $150,000 in scholarships to US students. A substantial amount when it comes to studying abroad. Today marks the first day of their 2018 campaign. And I’m happy to bring it to you.
Programs like ScholarTrips gives people a chance at travel when they normally might not have the opportunity. Particularly for those from less fortunate backgrounds. While many schools have grants which cover some expenses of studying abroad, many could use a little extra to cover additional costs.
Apply to ScholarTrips 2017 (from Allianz Global Assistance) - YouTube
Each year ScholarTrips has a different prompt for students to answer. This years question is “If you could take any TV or movie character with you on your trip abroad, (animated, animal, or human), who would you take and why?”. The ability to answer in essay or video fun opens up a lot of creative possibilities. So seeing this got me to thinking what my answer would be.
One of my favorite movies is the Secret Life of Walter Mitty. I think it would be kind of fun exploring the world with Walter. But I don’t think he would be my first choice. My travel partner has to be someone fun but reliable. Monsieur Gustave from the Grand Budapest Hotel would be my pick. Me and that guy would tear the world up…….in style.
Check here for the official rules. But the main one, this scholarship is for US based students 14 years and older. So if you’re finely aged like myself pass this on to a student or two that you think could benefit from studying abroad. And lets be honest, isn’t that everyone?
For those applying, good luck. Show Allianz Travel Insurance and the world the creativity and passion for travel that you have. Win or not, this is an excellent way to prepare yourself for a life of exploration and travel. Putting yourself out there is the first step. And for those that can’t apply, help us create a new generation of global citizens by sharing programs like this and telling your story of studying and traveling abroad.
Disclaimer: I work as an ambassador for Allianz Global Assistance (AGA Service Company) and receive financial compensation.
While I love pretty much all Markets I visit, one of my favorites is in Taipei. This is Shilin Night Market. Easily one Southeast Asia’s largest and most popular night markets. Talk about sensory overload. Neon lights, pulsing music, tightly packed crowds, and food. Ohhhhhh the food. As an American and frequent European market visitor, I’m used to being able to identify pretty much everything. Well that goes out the window here. I couldn’t tell you what half the stuff here was. And that’s part of the fun. Shooting cities for the first time always gets me excited.
What Was I Trying to Capture?
This was my firt visit to Taipei. When first exploring a city I try to capture to tourist and local essence of a place. Which tends to be two entirely different things. Where each group eats, shops, and congregate tend to be different. Taipei is a bit different. The night markets here aren’t only popular tourist destinations, but their an integral part of local life. With locals often leaving work and heading over to these markets all around the city.
Vendors like this woman have helped sustain markets like Shilin since 1913. Shilin moved to it’s current location, Jihe Road, in 2011. It’s estimated to have nearly 600 different stalls selling everything from blowtorch cooked steak to the famous Stinky Tofu. This shot has been a mystery to me for years. I’ve asked friends living in Taipei as well as Taiwanese friends. None can identity what she’s preparing. And she had a line of dozens waiting for whatever this is.
Hand Held or Stabilized: Hand Held
Exposure: 1/80 sec at F/5.6
Focal Length: 63MM
Lighting: Florescent light. Night Market Lighting
Body: Sony A7S
Lens: Sony FE 28-70
Taipei Travel Tips and Guide: If I’m being perfectly honest, I didn’t find Taipei particularly exciting. The city itself didn’t have much to offer me outside of food. Now don’t get me wrong, the food is amazing and affordable. But overall the city itself doesn’t have much to offer beyond a few days. With that said, I would recommend a visit for the food culture alone and definitely some day trips.
Taipei has a wide range of excellent accommodation offerings. Meander Taipei is where I suggest any backpacker stay. Comfortable beds and a really good vibe. While Taipei hotels aren’t as affordable as places in say Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, they are a pretty good value. There’s no reason to spend more than $200 a night on the high end and you can find some great deals around $50. On the higher end, The Gaia Hotel. I’ve heard it’s getting a bit expensive but I absolutely adore this hotel. On the lower and I highly recommend Swiio Hotel.
Angkor Wat Temple Complex, aka Angkor Archaeological Park, is easily one of my favorite places to photograph anywhere in the world. The temples preservation, the people, and the culture all come together to create the perfect storm for a travel photographer. My good friend had never actually been to Angkor Wat despite living in Thailand his entire life. So we decided to grab a $40 flight from Bangkok to Siem Reap. This was during rainy season so the crowds were relatively sparse. The rains added another layer of character to the complex which I really enjoyed capturing.
What Was I Trying to Capture?
This specific shot was more of a right place right time kind of situation. I think everyone has a certain view of Monks. Partially created by western media. Monks represent a bygone era of simplicity and calm. So, when I saw these two young monks playing with a smartphone I was a bit surprised. Granted, I’ve seen monks at malls and electronics stores shopping quite a bit while living in Bangkok. But never while out and about on temple grounds. I was actually trying to capture them standing but couldn’t get an angle which showed the device. They started walking and the phone became clear and I think the image still works.
Hand Held or Stabilized: Hand Held
Exposure: 1/320 sec at F/5.0
Focal Length: 105MM
Lighting: Natural Light. Mid Day
Body: Canon 7D
Lens: Sigma 24-105 F4
Angkor Wat Travel Tips and Guide: The Angkor Wat Temple Complex is located just outside of Siem Reap Cambodia. Where you’ll likely be staying. To be perfectly honest, there isn’t much going on in Siem Reap. It exists almost exclusively to serve tourism to Angkor Wat. Prices are a bit higher than other parts of Cambodia and the quality of food isn’t necessarily up to the regions standards. And be ready for a rough ride as the streets are terrible and extremely dusty/muddy depending on the season. With that said, you’re going to get some excellent accommodations and meet some great people.
Angkor Wat Temple Complex is one of the few places I would highly recommend you hire a car/guide for the day. You can easily find them in Siem Reap. Either a car or a tuk-tuk will be on offer. TAKE THE CAR. Smoother ride, air conditioning, and not much more expensive. A registered tour company will charge you around $70 for a one day tour of Angkor Wat. This does NOT usually include the complex ticket which I’ll list below. You can find an independent guide/driver. Negotiate him down to around $40 for the day. DO NOT pay them upfront no matter what. I always treat my guides to lunch.
Angkor Wat Temple Complex Prices are as follow:
1 Day 37 $
3 Days 62 $
7 Days 72 $
I recommend grabbing the 3 day if you’re looking to explore and do the sunrise visit. Personally, I explore two full days and I’m good. And don’t lose your ticket/id. The fines are around $100. Also, children under 12 get in free. So would you like to explore Angkor Wat? Have you ever been?
Sunsets can be unpredictable at times. Sometimes you get nothing but an sliver of orange as the sun crawls behind the horizon. And other times you get this. Where the air around you seems to glow with the most unnatural shades of red, orange, and purple. And given the religious connotation of St. Peters Square, it makes this shot even more interesting for me. I’m not a religious cat, but I do believe there are things in nature we just can’t fully predict. And scenes like this remind me how special just being in the moment can be. Right place, right time.
What Was I Trying to Capture?
Now this shot wasn’t entirely unplanned. My years in the travel industry has given me a working knowledge of how tour groups work. In popular cities like Rome, tour groups tend to operate between 9am and 4-5pm. Outside of those hours you’ll almost always have the major sites wide open. Especially places like Vatican City which attracts and older crowd. So sunset, or Golden Hour, is the perfect time to photograph St. Peters Basilica. Vatican City is kind of alone. There aren’t really any other landmarks of note around so this area gets very quiet in the afternoons.
I wanted to get some stock images of St.Peters Basilica for my portfolio. No matter what, some cities and landmarks ALWAYS sell. Rome and Vatican City are near the top of that list. So whenever I’m in places that are extremely popular I work to ensure I have updated images in my portfolio.
Hand Held or Stabilized: Hand Held
Exposure: 1/15th at F5.6
Focal Length: 24mm
Lighting: Golden Hour Natural Light
Body: Canon 7D
Lens: Sigma 24-105
Rome in general is like a living museum. There aren’t many places in the city where you won’t accidentally run into some landmark. But for tourists planning to stay 2-3 days in Rome, I recommend you stay near the “tourism” center.
Before recommending exactly where to stay, let me explain something about Rome out the gate. I think their cost benefit range for hotels is insanely bad. What you pay compared to what you get is terrible. And I honestly feel Rome (well Italy in general is a problem) has some of the worst value when it comes to hotels. BUT you’ll still need a place to stay regardless. So, I recommend Hotel Rome Pisana and Hotel Cosmopolita Roma. Both offer great locations and relatively good value.