Photography is a powerful medium to express emotions, tell stories and influence thoughts. Travel photography is especially capable of doing so as it captures foreign cultures and customs, but also has the power to highlight that we, as a human species, are all one. It is also incredibly diverse in that it is able to show nature, civilization, and the photographer’s own personality.
I am woefully behind on updating this blog on my travels (two years behind, to be exact), so let’s delve into some of my favorite travel photos and let me explain what I like about them and what the story behind the frame is.
For simplicity’s sake, I will be sharing the photos off of my Instagram account (@linus_at). I have so many more photos which weren’t posted anywhere yet which I would love to share, but this is a good place to start.
The Lone Ranger
The weather was straight-up awful on this day of the “Airpower” air show in Zeltweg, Austria. Right in the morning, it had rained and in the cool and moist air, this meant that for the rest of the day, I was soaked. The humidity did, however, result in low-hanging clouds, creating a stunning scenery in combination with the mountains surrounding the military airfield. This small but colorful plane was receiving little attention from the audience in between the fighter jets, but in the end, it was became the subject of one of my favorite shots of the day. It conveys a feeling of absolute liberty and freedom, soaring above and between the clouds and beyond a mystic, foggy forest. The moment lasted one, at most two seconds – then the hectic schedule of the consumed me again. But in this brief moment, I felt absolute tranquility and peace.
The Minimalist House
Minimalism isn’t usually my preferred style – in cities, I often try to capture the electrifying atmosphere caused by the bustling about of thousands of people, cars, signs… but this one photo is an exception. Seldom have I seen a city more chaotic and lively than Naples, Italy, yet even in the most hectic of environments, one will always be able to find unexpected islands of peace and serenity. This particular corner of a house also reminded me of the bow of a cruise ship cutting through the blue of the ocean – but perhaps I was simply influenced by the ferry trip I had taken to the volcanic island of Stromboli a few days prior. The photo itself was a lucky shot, as I was sitting on the deck of a very shaky and fast-paced city sightseeing bus and had exactly one attempt at getting the photo the way I wanted it.
Okay, it’s a cliché shot and it has been done thousands of times. But Chicago’s iconic bean – which actually represents the shape a raindrop takes on in free fall – is an excellent photo motif. The symmetry of the bean and the almost-symmetry of the buildings in the background allow the picture to represent urban life very well – a mixture of structure and chaos. The people in the foreground only enhance the effect – and prove that Chicago is in fact not a “dying city”, as some people claim it to be.
Okay, so. I saw a volcano erupt. Many times. Stromboli is known for being one of the most active volcanoes in the world. And though I know a fair bit about geophysics and have visited active volcanoes in the past, nothing could prepare me for just how absolutely stunning the “lighthouse of the Mediterranean” would be. Here’s a thing I have never considered before seeing a Strombolian eruption myself: it doesn’t actually look like lines of lava – it only looks that way on a long exposure photograph. These are only the trails of the individual chunks of glowing rock. With the naked eye, you see individual chunks of lava being ejected from the crater, like in the photo below, taken on the same day but before the darkness of night consumed the scene.
A Life’s Work
Edelsbach bei Feldbach, Austria
Constructed by Franz Gsellmann, the eccentric head of a farmer’s family of rural southern Austria, the “Weltmaschine” (German for “world machine”) combines – in a spectacular display of colors, light and sound – elements from all around the globe. He was particularly fascinated with the World Expos and their messages, copying their slogans and guessing foreign language spelling of their host cities’ names. Though Gsellmann passed away in 1981, his machine still runs to this day and now attracts tourists to this otherwise sparsely visited part of the country.
It is difficult to capture the true soul of a work of art which lives from its being dynamic. From a variety of different shots, angles and crops, I finally decided that my best shot (no pun intended) at conveying the machine’s glory was to get as much of it as possible into the frame. Waiting for when it was in full swing, with all lights glowing, and illuminated a bit from the outside thanks to the open door, a wide-angle shot with my Canon 10-18 mm gave me the desired result.
Life goes on
Cahuita, Costa Rica
There are moments in travel photography that you just cannot plan in advance, moments that prove to you why you need to have your camera ready (and charged!) at all times. After a few days of heavy rainfall and occasional storms on the Atlantic coast of Costa Rica, I stopped in a roadside restaurant for a plate of rice with seafood. Looking over my shoulder at the road and the beach that lay behind it, I could not believe my eyes: a sailing yacht had stranded there, seemingly the night before (it certainly hadn’t been there the previous day). Nobody seemed especially surprised, there was no crowd of people that looked on, the locals went about their daily lives and didn’t even bat an eye. For me, though, it turned out to be one of my favorite shots of all time.
There is not very much to discuss in terms of technique here. I getting into the frame the kids playing soccer in the foreground as a juxtaposition between the unusualness of a stranded ship. Due to privacy, I decided to only publish pictures in which you were not able to see the children’s faces. A bit of retouching in Lightroom – the ship was very dark in the original photo because of the bright sky – and the photo was good to go. That’s why I always shoot in RAW: it gives you much greater freedom to adjust lighting and colors in post, with less loss to image quality than (the much smaller) JPEG files.
I was very tired when I stumbled across this colorful little street somewhere near the center of the Greek capital, the reason being that I had spent the previous 15 hours on a ship coming from one of the country’s thousands of islands. Nonetheless, my friend and I decided to set off right after we had dropped off our bags with our other friend (who decided he had too much work to catch up on as to be able to explore the city right away) and venture through the alleys of the city. With each turn, a completely new atmosphere awaited us, and we were soon captivated.
This particular place struck us because of the start jump from a run-down, graffitied neighborhood that we were coming from to the colorful, clean and artsy looking part of town that lay ahead of us. A thing I strive for in all my photos is to combine aesthetics with storytelling, which is why I decided to frame this shot in a way that one could still see the graffiti going on in the foreground, while the main attention of the viewer would be on the colorful, artsy neighborhood in the center of the photo. Another crucial thing for street photography: if you are going to take a photo in the middle of the street, make sure it’s actually the middle. There are few things more frustrating than having a photo that is just ever so slightly but noticeably off-center. The more symmetric the photo, the more important it is to be perfectly centered.
There really isn’t that much to explain to this photo. Hiking through the Swiss Alps, the weather suddenly worsened, and a layer of clouds formed, with their base right at the altitude we were currently on. It resulted in an interesting interplay of light and shadow, enhanced by the silhouette of the mountains in the foreground and the lush green of a valley in the background. Taking a photo I was happy with did require a fair bit of playing around with exposure and ISO settings, but in the end, the result was a picture I am quite happy with to this day.
2 for 1: Spice
AND Rabat, Morocco
I LOVE market stalls selling spices. Their typical bustle of activity, their smell and, especially importantly, their colors are just stunning. Whether in the country that civilization started in or Northern Africa’s only monarchy, spice vendors are always a welcome sight and almost guarantee good travel photos for me. Typically, I try to get as close to the market booth as I can without interrupting or intruding, and then use a wide-angle lens to really make the bags of spices or nuts in the foreground stand out and give the photo a good feeling of depth. If possible (see the second photo, but not the first), I work with what is already there – e.g. the room the vendor usually sits in – to give the picture a frame.
Books instead of Spices
Similar to the spice markets, book stores are often a great photo subject. The more chaotic, the better. In this photo, I tried to cancel out the chaos by centering on the door and creating a sort of a frame with the shop’s windows and also the neighboring buildings – key words: leading lines. The man in the center gives the whole thing a bit more of a meaning than if it were just a bookstore. Note also how again, you cannot see his face as I wish not to interfere with his privacy and did not ask for permission to take this photo, as you commonly can’t when traveling, either due to language barriers or physical barriers.
Arenal Volcano, Costa Rica
Wildlife photography is both exceptionally frustrating and extremely rewarding. The majority of animals in the tropical rain forests of Costa Rica are nocturnal, hiding from predators during the daytime and using the cover of the night to go about their lives. That makes finding them infinitely more difficult (which, I guess, is kind of the point). I’m therefore inclined to say that it is even more rewarding to find a tiny, partly transparent frog than a larger animal at night in the thick, convoluted biosphere of the forest. When taking photos of animals, it is of paramount important not to harm the animals. Don’t take photos with flash. Here, I used a flashlight instead – less bright and sudden, but still not great, so we minimized his exposure. We left the little frog go about his frog life right after this.
That’ll do for the first round of “My Point of View”. I am hoping to follow up very soon with more of my favorite photos, and more explanations. In the meantime, you can find all of my best pictures (and technical info in the captions!) on Instagram, at @linus_at