The Travel Series: Top Photo Adventure Locations
I am a founding member of Photo Quest Adventures, an international travel company specializing in deluxe photography workshops and unique cultural experiences around the globe. Here are my Top Ten favorite photo destinations.
Cuba is known for its gorgeous Spanish colonial architecture, white-sand beaches, hand-rolled cigars, vintage cars, and out-of-this-world mojitos. When American travel to Cuba was reintroduced in 2011, I leapt at the opportunity to visit this remarkable island, and I have tried to schedule annual trips ever since. It is especially incredible to travel to Havana to celebrate New Year’s Eve at the epic celebration hosted each year in the Plaza de la Cathedral.
This portrait of a Cuban man in Havana captures the aura of the locals on the island. I used a 24-70mm lens and an off-camera flash to balance the light on his face with the ambient light outside. I am also really fond of titling the camera to fill the frame in a unique way—in this case, I was able to include both his hat and his scarf without losing the great architecture behind him.
Easter Island, during the Rapa Nui Festival, in February
Easter Island is particularly special because it is not overly touristy. Traveling to Easter Island during the Rapa Nui Festival is remarkable because visitors can bear witness to incredible traditions and competitions between the locals. The festival includes banana races, a triathlon, dancing and singing contests, a beauty pageant, and nightly concerts. Moreover, there are Moai statues all over Easter Island, and they are great to photograph—especially in the open breaths of the morning when the stars are still visible in the sky.
While I was there on a recent visit, I made this portrait of two men dressed for the Rapa Nui Festival. Locals are especially friendly and beautiful and Easter Island is a great place to make unique portraits. For this image, I put a warm gel on an off-camera flash and set the white balance on my camera to incandescent—this really helps me make the colors “pop.”
I love to travel to Kenya because it is an ideal place to make incredible wildlife photographs. The species diversity is incomparable to any other location on Earth.
To make this image of three lions, I positioned myself in a spot with a good vantage point and a picturesque background. Then I waited. One of the most important things to remember when photographing on a safari (or photographing any wildlife scene), is to be patient and to be quiet. The animals will come to you.
Morocco offers huge diversity: while visiting, one can stop in at the famous Rick’s Café in Casablanca, be awed by the overwhelming rooftop views in Marrakesh, or learn about leather dyeing in the famous tannery in Fez. Morocco is truly unforgettable and, while visiting, you must take a sunrise camel ride through the Sahara Desert and sleep in a tent camp under the stars.
I photographed this local in the desert with a long lens to flatten and abstract the landscape. I wanted to distort the viewer’s sense of scale and make the desert look endless and inescapable. This feeling of all-encompassing nature is further emphasized with the deeply saturated orange. Color is a great way to provoke a mood or a feeling, and I pay a great deal of attention to the dominant palette in my images.
Namibia is incredibly luxurious and offers deluxe lodges, a variety of wildlife safaris and beautiful desert vistas. One of the photographic highlights in Namibia is certainly the access one has to the Himba Tribes. Himba women paint their bodies with red okra and braid their hair intricately.
Because Namibia is so huge, I recommend traveling between destinations via chartered flights. This can serve as a picture-making bonus as well because aerial views lend themselves to exciting landscape photographs.
This photograph of five Himba women was shot from the ground. I got down on my stomach to shoot—different angles really stand out and make your photographs exceptional. I also used a wide-angle lens to capture all the women against the incredible landscape. This photograph also takes advantage of the incredible sunsets in Namibia—rather than fighting the natural light and harsh shadows, I used the time of day to my advantage and exploited the lens flare to accentuate the women’s silhouetted bodies.
Nepal is my new number-one travel destination. A land of Himalayan snow peaks, Sherpas, yaks, yetis, monasteries, and mantras, Nepal is home to the kindest, most generous people in the world. I love to take aerial flights over Mount Everest, visit the jungles to see tigers and rhinos, and photograph the beautiful medieval city squares in Kathmandu, Patan, and Bhaktapur.
I made this photograph of the Nepalese landscape on a recent trip. It is so important to take advantage of all types of weather and lighting scenarios. Own the opportunities given to you by the environment, the weather, and the time of day. I wanted to make an image that was all about the light and the mountains, and I achieved this by exposing for the sky and letting the foreground fall into shadow. I love that the image is in color but looks like it is almost monochromatic!
The Netherlands, during Flower Season, in April
I am a Dutch native and it is always special to revisit the locations in which I grew up. The Netherlands is wildly visual and I love to photograph the tulips, windmills, rambling canals, world-class cheese markets, and iconic wooden clogs. Most importantly, every photographer must take an aerial flight over the flower fields while they are in bloom. The views from the sky are compelling landscape abstractions that are exploding with color and shapes.
I love to use the Lensbaby when photographing in the Netherlands because it helps me to draw attention to different portions of the landscape. Colors, textures and shapes can be difficult to organize when the entire landscape is so saturated and the Lensbaby lets me play with focus and detail. It is also a great tool to break up my shooting habits and experiment with a different photographic look.
Thailand, Bangkok, and Chiang Mai
Bangkok is ideal for photographers who want luxurious accommodations because there are incredible five-star hotels for very low nightly costs. Furthermore, Bangkok is known for amazing service and inexpensive, delicious food. The best place to photograph near Bangkok is the Damnoen Saduak Floating Market, a bustling commercial area where the locals sell their goods. You must arrive early—6:00 a.m.—as the location quickly fills up with tourists and gets to be too crowded to photograph.
Chiang Mai is an incredible location to photograph the Long Neck Tribes. Located in the northern part of the country, the Long Neck Hill Tribe is one of the most well-known tribes in all of Thailand. Long Neck Hill women stretch their necks to epic proportions with metal hoops that are put in place when they are as young as five years old. I made this portrait of a traditional Long Neck Hill woman while visiting Thailand on a recent trip. It is incredibly important to make sure that your subjects have a catch light in their eyes, whether you are using natural or artificial light. The catch light is the “spark of life” that articulates the spirit and magic of your subject. I also desaturated this image slightly in order to lighten and smooth her face and emphasize the metals and fabrics in the frame.
Turkey has great landscape diversity, more so than any other European country. Some of the most photographable sights and spiritual experiences in Turkey are the whirling dervishes in Istanbul. Visitors can also visit the famous Blue Mosque at sunrise, and historical Hagia Sophia. Also, I strongly recommend a breath-taking hot-air balloon ride in Cappadoccia. From the air you can photograph the stunning structure of the spiraled landscapes.
I made this photograph of the Hagia Sophia in the minutes before sunrise. It is incredibly important to think about time of day and shoot when other photographers might still be in bed. Also, think about ways to make images of iconic subjects (like the Hagia Sophia) your own. In this photograph, I wanted to emphasize the architecture and take advantage of its cross-cultural recognizability by making it a silhouette.
Venice, Italy, Especially during Carnival
Carnival is an annual festival famous for incredible pageantry costumes and makes. Dating back to the middle of the 12th Century, the festival is steeped with tradition and boasts nightly entertainment and awe-inspiring masked parades filled with musicians, acrobats, and theater troupes.
I made this photograph using a portable Ranger Quadra to fill in the light on the performer and let the background fall off. The Quadra is super small and lightweight—perfect for travel photography.
My essential gear list includes 2 Nikon D4 bodies, a 20mm lens, a 24-70mm lens, a 70-200mm lens, 2 Nikon SB910 flashes, a Nikon SU Commander transmitter, a Gitzo travel tripod and lots of memory cards.
My philosophy regarding gear is LESS IS MORE! Many people tend to over-pack camera equipment, but I find that three solid lenses is more than enough. Also, make certain that your camera bag is durable and comfortable to carry.
I always shoot in RAW because it offers greater flexibility during post-processing. Of course, this means that I need to travel with a lot of high-capacity memory cards. I am also in the habit of downloading my images every night. There is nothing worse than running out of storage part of the way through a trip and being forced to delete images or miss a shot.
Photo Quest Adventures was founded five years ago by Mirjam Evers and Najat Naba. Together they created a company that offers once-in-a-lifetime photography adventures to the most interesting and photogenic corners of the world. PQA distinguishes itself by offering workshops geared for small groups of all skills levels, taught by highly respected professional photographers, to ensure individual attention.