Before we set off on a road trip to the Belogradchik Rocks, I quickly fix a healthy breakfast: banana pancakes (prepared without flour or milk, just a 1:2 ratio of bananas and eggs) covered with yoghurt, cinnamon, flax seed, mint leaves and a sprinkle of rum baking essence. It’s filling and delicious and it gives Stef all the energy he needs to deal with what’s ahead: driving a car full of girls for several hours. Poor him 🙂
Assembling the task force
We pick up the ladies and we are ready to go: the distance from Sofia to Belogradchik is not so big but the road is in a terrible condition and there are many steep turns in the woods (with people driving like crazy in the opposite lane) so we take our time.
Horror movies, photography, how our grandparents met and fell in love (respective grandparents, not mutual grandparents): the topics flow carefree as the rock music on the radio.
Saturday trips are my favourte! Sometimes we plan them way ahead of time but most of the time we like to improvise: we brainstorm the type of locations we feel like visiting and then choose one pretty much at the last minute. It takes more planning when you travel on a motorbike, but car trips provide a lot of freedom. So here we are: sleepy and chillaxed on a Saturday morning: making our way to the Lovech province.
Our main goal for the day is the Devetashka Cave: one of the biggest and most beautiful caves in Bulgaria. If you are somewhere in the area- definitely don’t miss it. It is impressive to be there and the place is full of intriguing history going back to the Middle Paleolithic period.
My fascination with portraits, landscapes and imagery in general was initially fueled by my unrelenting love for fine art (and growing up with a grandfather who used to paint and adorn the house with all kinds of beautiful images whenever he had the chance).
But it wasn’t until I started to travel actively that I discovered the passion I had for photography.
The travel mind(re)set
My lovely mother took me on my first trips during my teenage years and without exaggeration: I haven’t been the same since then. Seeing new things, exploring new cultures, meeting completely different people opens your mind and breaks the boxes inside of it.
You become more open and more curious about people who have nothing in common with you. And let’s face it: people create stereotypes quite easily when they stay inside the comfort zone of communicating with others who are as similar to them as possible. Travelling challenges this and helps you discover unknown sides in your own self and become more self-reflexive, more aware, more flexible and less willing to see things in a clear-cut, simplified way.
What does this have to do with photography?
I have witnessed (and participated) in many discussions about what “real” photography is. Some people claim that nothing shot on a digital device is real photography: you have to go analogue, develop your shots in the dark room and that’s when you can call it a “photograph”. Others go to the other extreme and say: any image you take, no matter how technically imperfect, has the seed of creativity in it and deserves to be considered a form of art.
I stand in the middle and more importantly: I firmly stand on the content side of the debate. Digital or analogue, amateur or professional gear: these are just the technical means, the carriers of information. The real photograph for me is the content: the moment you are trying to capture, the story behind it, the sincerity, atmosphere, essence of what is being shot. After all the word “photography” itself means to “draw with light”. So if you have the right lighting conditions and the right “drawing” in your mind that should be enough to capture a great moment.
Of course: if you have an intriguing subject AND the technical means to accentuate it in the best possible way: the photo will be even more compelling, even more visually captivating. But the opposite is true as well: even if you have photographic gear for thousands and thousands of euro, if you shoot cliched and highly staged images: they can be less impressive than a photo taken by a mobile device camera.
And what does it have to do with travel photography?
Well: everything. Travelling around the world inevitably presents you with amazing opportunities to take compelling images. From the portrait of a particularly interesting local person to a landscape shot of an amazing natural phenomenon: travel is a fascinating visual experience.
However, it can also be quite limiting: some trips just don’t allow you to carry a lot of heavy luggage with you so you have to replace your DSLR gear with light version mirrorless cameras. And sometimes your camera battery dies, or you have to be so quick (and discreet) so taking out a huge lens simply isn’t an option. In such cases you have to use your mobile phone: out of convenience or necessity.
The black and white photos above are taken with the first camera I bought with my own money. It is a mirrorless Panasonic Lumix which is far from professional gear but it is a perfect camera to take with you on the road: relatively light, with quality Leica optics and zooming capabilities (when it is impossible to get close enough): my Ancient Lakes hike was shot on it as well as a later trip to Oslo which was became the travel story of the month on the Bulgarian Nat Geo website.
I’ve been so happy with the brand that I later had another Lumix camera (the old one was bought in 2007 and it had served its time) with monster zoom options: the FZ45. It has the flat image issue of mirrorless zooming but nevertheless: when shooting in good light conditions it has produced some delightful results as the photos in The longest hike and this craaazy closeup of the moon (see below) which would never be possible without the 45x zoom. Of course the image is grainy and doesn’t have top resolution but hey: how often can you see the moon in such details without a telescope?
I am quite tired by the whole Canon/Nikon debate. This is simply a marketing war in which many photographers fall victim to brand loyalty and not to cold technical objectivity. Any thorough technical comparison shows both brands are a close tie on many features and in general: to become such rivals, both are extremely good and you just have to pick the one which suits your own needs (without being obnoxious about it).
I have shot with both but I personally prefer Nikon and I love my D5300: I got it for a fantastic price for a camera with this range, it is light, I can get great lenses for it, I am absolutely delighted with the quality and it also has perks like WiFi connection over which I can send and backup my photos on a tablet or computer when I am on the road. It offers remote trigger via an app on my phone which gives me a lot of freedom for shots where I would like to be in.
Sometimes you have to work with what you are given. I love street photography but it requires you to react extremely quickly to what happens around you. Sometimes until you reach out for your bag, take the DSLR out and shoot – the moment is long gone. So some of my travel photos are taken on my phone and frankly: it is getting harder and harder to make a difference between mirrorless cameras and mobile shots: if they are done properly and in good lighting conditions.
I have been a long term fan of Leica for years (all Lumix cameras I’ve used (my father had 2 and I have 2) had Leica optics so I trust the brand a lot. That’s why I was very intrigued by the new Huawei P9. To be more precise, it turned out that the optics are not made by Leica: they are manufactured by Sunny Optical Technology (CN) and the module was certified by Leica but the phone’s dual lens technology peaked my interest nevertheless.
I will be testing the phone camera for the next two weeks in an experiment how good can your travel photos be if you rely only on your smartphone gear. Stick around to see the results and share your thoughts on the quality of the images. I’d be happy to hear your feedback.