I was reminded of the difference between perception and reality recently while in the Southern Alps of New Zealand. The area around Queenstown in the South Island is truly magical with snow capped peaks reaching right down to lakes and ocean fjords. The air is crystal clear and the light is quite special. The trouble was that I was surrounded by fantastic views which can make a photographer feel a little overwhelmed. How to capture all this beauty in one shot? My first instinct was to put on a really wide angle lens or use panorama mode to include it all in one frame. But then when you review these images later all this majesty gets reduced down to a tiny image that somehow misses the reality of just how big all those peaks were. The solution is to selectively photograph mountains with a telephoto lens. I often use a 150-200mm lens and don't even try to include the whole vista. I select a small part of the scene that has some sense of scale included like trees, hills or sheep etc and frame that dramatically in front of large peaks. I also try to minimise or even eliminate the sky as it can often be unnecessary or distracting. Good composition in the end often boils down to eliminating and simplifying what is in your field of view. As the saying goes...less is more.
Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd
Croatia has become such a big tourism destination lately that it wasn’t until I was talking to a young hotel receptionist near Plitvice Lakes that the impact of the Yugoslav Wars in 1991 hit home. He casually mentioned that as a young boy he remembered his mother handing him out a window to a waiting relative below ahead of invading Serbs looking for Catholics. That was the beginning of 5 years as a refugee for him. It seemed that all Croats on both sides had sad stories from the war. Now, 25 years later, the country was at peace and except for a few bombed out buildings there was little to no evidence that this region had been a major conflict area.
Dubrovnik along the Dalmatian coast was booming. So much so that the streets and walls were packed with visitors. Smaller island towns like Korcula had a more intimate feel with local ‘Plaka’ singers charming us with their a capella harmony practice in the town square one evening. Further north the port of Hvar had become the darling of the European yachting and party crowd with its crystal clear waters and historic town centre.
It was good to see prosperity return to the region though after such recent troubles. I didn’t think much more of the war until I was visiting the hill town of Motovun and looking for an elevated spot to photograph a sunrise from. I had been driving around local farms when I spotted a wooden tower that looked perfect. In my excitement I raced through a field and climbed up to a makeshift wooden platform only to discover it was set up as a sniper's lookout post from the war. At that point I remembered land mines and very very carefully retraced my steps back through the field to my car.
Matera in southern Italy is one of the oldest cities in the world with 9000 years of continuous human habitation. Situated along a steep river valley Its stone cliffs became cave dwellings and also churches for early Christians. By the 1950s though, its residents were living in abject poverty without electricity or sanitation and often sharing a living space with farm animals. Photos from that era are pretty grim and the world was appalled. In its shame, the government of Italy with help from the typewriter millionaire Olivetti, initiated a plan to move the inhabitants to new apartment buildings and then boarded up the caves.
Squatters and artists slowly returned in the 1980s and redevelopment began. By 1993 Matera became a UNESCO World Heritage site while archaeologists continued to uncover ancient churches and cave paintings. With the return of services, the cave dwellings known as ‘sassi' were redeveloped as art galleries, restaurants and hotels. This amazing troglodyte settlement also became the perfect backdrop for biblical era films such as Mel Gibson’s ‘The Passion of The Christ’.
Today, restoration is still underway and visitors are invited to explore Matera’s streets and tunnels whilst perhaps staying in an historic cave B&B.
Puglia or Apulia as it is also known, is situated in the heel of the boot shape that is Italy. It is often overlooked for more famous Italian destinations in the north such as the Amalfi Coast, Rome, Tuscany, Florence, Venice and Milan. That in itself is a big plus as towns are smaller, tourists are fewer, and driving is easier. Its warm, coastal and is at the heart of a huge olive and wine growing region. Flying in to Bari, Puglia’s capital city, I had no idea what to expect. That evening Bari’s Old Town came alive with families strolling through the delightful rabbit warren of tiny streets seeking out restaurants, bars, hidden piazzas and some of the best ice cream shops in the country. Further down the east coast Polignano a Mare with its crystal clear waters was a relaxing tonic after a great deal of previous travel. From there Alberobello with its round white ‘trulli’ houses was like stepping back into a different age and nearby Lecce was in itself a baroque architectural wonder. Rounding the boot we came across unspoilt seaside villages and stayed in the delightful town of Gallipoli on the west coast. Foreign tourists were few in Puglia as it just wasn’t on their ‘Italy in 7 days’ itinerary. I’m hoping it remains that way for a long time to come!
When my wife and I decided to spend a month in Sicily recently I imagined a dry barren island with rampant Mafia corruption and ordinary Italian food. I was wrong on all three counts. The food for a start was superb. It was always fresh and exciting and invariably was accompanied by delicious local wines. The Mafia does indeed have a long history in Sicily but the local ‘addiopizzo’ anti-Mafia movement has been effective and we certainly felt safe. Sicily can get hot and dry in mid summer, but in May when we visited, spring wildflowers and farm crops carpeted the hillsides in a riot of colour. This was not the Sicily that we had expected - which to me is what makes a truly memorable travel experience.
Sicily’s history is arguably the most interesting of any place on earth. Being located along a trade route in the middle of the Mediterranean, it has has been run by everyone from the ancient Greeks, Romans, Egyptians and Arabs to the Normans, Spanish, Austrians and French. All of whom left their monuments, architecture, food and cultural influences. There are four wonderfully preserved ancient Greek and Roman cities to explore and towns like Ragusa, Noto and Syracuse abound in fabulously preserved Baroque architecture. Food markets offer fresh Mediterranean seafood and local produce - including over a dozen different varieties of fresh tomatoes alone.
Looming above all of this though was Mount Etna, a perfect cone volcano that you can drive and walk right up to its crater rim.
I always advocate doing research before travelling to a new destination and Sicily is one place where reading will really enhance your enjoyment of the area. My recommended books are:
1. Historical Perspective on Sicily: Sicily by John Julius Norwich
2. Classic Sicilian Fiction: The Leopard by Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa
3. Classic Sicilian Film: The Leopard by director Luchino Visconti (1963)
4. Sicilian Crime Fiction: The Day of The Owl by Leonardo Sciascia
5. Modern Sicilian Non-Fiction: Midnight in Sicily by Peter Robb
6. General guidebook: The Rough Guide to Sicily
As a travel photographer I am often asked what is my favourite destination. Usually, my immediate answer is that it is the next place I am traveling to. But I do have favourites that come to mind. For remote rugged beauty - Bhutan. For food, scenery and art - Italy. But perhaps my all time favourite is Bali. I’ve been going there for almost 40 years now and yet this small Indonesian island continues to fascinate. Yes, it has changed a lot. Australians in droves and European party goers have invaded the south coast beaches of Sanur, Kuta and Legian. The road system is clogged. Mass tourism is straining resources. And yet…the Balinese are still among the friendliest people on the planet. They have a strong family based Hindu culture that binds communities together celebrating life’s rituals. Foreigners are welcome. Smartphones are common. But for a temple festival, wedding, cremation or one of the many other cultural events, every Balinese in the area will attend and will dress respectfully in a sarong. A Balinese waitress, driver or accountant will always take time to participate in these local rituals to appease the gods. To not show up would be rude and looked down upon by all the other villagers.
Over the years I’ve been to Bali countless times on assignment, enjoyed many vacations there with my family and have photographed five books on the island. On a recent trip with my wife, I rented a villa among the rice terraces north of Ubud and planned to spend a month relaxing with friends and leisurely enjoying the local culture. I had no assignments to do, no books to produce or deadlines to meet. But I had forgotten how hard it is to ignore the visual spectacle of Bali.
On our second day there a friend advised we attend a cremation ceremony. A high priest had died and to send him off thousands of Balinese paraded a huge bull and funeral pyre through the streets to the accompaniment of thousands of musicians, dancers and long lines of women with offerings on their heads. That was just the start. The next day was a three hour temple festival, followed a few days later by a wedding and then a baby celebration. I wasn’t looking for photo opportunities, they just happened to be all around and irresistible not to photograph. On another day I visited a spectacular world heritage site of rice terraces, and an amazing traditional village - both of which I had missed on my many previous trips. On top of that there were three huge public art galleries with traditional and modern Balinese art to explore. I’m not going to even mention the world class restaurants, all day spa treatments and Balinese entertainment in the evenings. I think you get the picture.
From my ‘restful’ vacation I came back home with hundreds of new images of Bali and a renewed sense that the island was indeed one of my favourite destinations.
My wife Elizabeth normally books our travel accomodation spending a considerable amount of time getting us rooms in unusual boutique hotels, small B&B’s or interesting AirBnB apartments. But for some trips all these options are impractical and going mobile is the only way to experience a destination. In outback Australia renting a mobile home is a great way to experience the bush without having to buy a ton of camping gear or laying out the cash to buy an RV that you might use only once or twice a year.
Companies like Britz, Maui and Apollo in Australia and New Zealand offer a variety of fully equipped vehicles complete with bedding, utensils, toilets and even showers. All you need to bring is your clothes and cameras, then buy some food on the way and you are all set for an extended outback adventure. Australia has some very good quality campgrounds or you can choose to head off road and try free camping wherever you like.
Driving is easy with automatic Mercedes and Volkswagen vans and the real thrill kicks in when you realise you can stop anywhere for coffee or lunch or even for a few days. Being this self sufficient is akin to being a turtle carrying your home around with you at all times.
For a recent trip from Darwin to Alice Springs and on to Uluru (Ayers Rock) this combined accommodation and transport proved ideal. We were able to camp out in style in the middle of nowhere and also meet a variety of interesting fellow travellers. Nothing beats watching a night sky full of stars after enjoying a home cooked meal and then retiring to a cosy bed.
Scotland is one of the rainiest places on earth. My Scottish taxi driver told me he had never visited the nearby Isle of Skye as he always headed to the Mediterranean for his holidays just so he could experience some sunshine. But Scotland can very beautiful too so patience and pre-planning your accommodation is required.
I’ve written about weather planning before in a previous blog, but another hedge I use is to book hotels near the centre of the action and a room with a view. This might cost a little more but I’ve found it is well worth it. Recently in Glasgow I experienced three days of almost continuous rain which I heard was not unusual. The hotel where my wife and I were staying was located right in the centre of town and anticipating the gloom of its sunshine starved guests the hotel management offered a free bar service in every room to lift our spirits.
Late one afternoon, I was about to begin self medicating with a wee dram of Scotch when the clouds parted and golden sunshine revealed a city I barely knew existed. I sensed this was a very limited time offer so I grabbed my gear, took a few frames from our balcony and headed out to cover the city centre in the thirty minutes of light filled grace I had been granted. I knew all the locations having visited them previously in the rain. As I raced around like a madman possessed with two cameras around my neck, I was amazed at how beautiful the city had become with so much spectacular light and shade on view. It didn’t last long, so about 200 frames later when the rain resumed, I knew that I had the best coverage of the city I was ever going to get. I returned to my hotel room, thanked my wife for her prescience in booking such a convenient hotel room and then celebrated with that wee dram of Scotland’s finest.
Ireland has some fantastic sights but The Ring of Kerry on the west coast offers photographers a range of spectacular possibilities in a relatively small area. From highland lakes and a national park near Killarney to fantastic rugged coastlines and charming rural settlements it seems to embody all the variety of visual possibilities we imagine when we think of Ireland. Its that good. But like most things these days that means a lot of tourists. Fortunately its usually a bus trip in the middle of the day for most, leaving the area relatively uncrowded at other times.
Here are some things to keep in mind for your visit. First off, it rains a lot in Ireland so plan your trip with seasons and weather in mind. Allow 2-3 days in the area so you can wait for that break in the drizzle. If you can afford the time, stay at one of the small towns along the way. Better still, wander off the main track to stay at places like Portmagee or Ballinskelligs and you will have the place to yourself.
A car will give you flexibility but the single lane roads make stopping difficult at times. Meeting an oncoming tourist bus hell bent on making its daily schedule can be a white knuckle experience and getting stuck behind several buses can be just as bad. The solution is to drive early and late in the day and complete the circular route in a clock-wise fashion as the buses travel anti-clockwise. It also goes without saying that renting a small compact car will make life a whole lot easier.
Travel has changed. Thanks to easy airline connections, places that were once exotic and little visited are now on everyone’s bucket list. The internet has taken the guess work out of travel with recommendations from Trip Advisor, accomodation available on sites like AirBnB and even translation apps de-mystifying a foreign language. What’s more we all carry maps, books and sophisticated cameras in our pocket in the form of a smart phone. As a result, wherever you go these days, countless tourists are already there taking millions of photos.
So when I visited London recently I wasn’t surprised by the huge throng of visitors that swarmed around every famous site and took more pictures in a few seconds than I could take in a whole year. As a professional travel photographer I research destinations before I go to get an idea of what I can expect to see. Sites like Pinterest, and stock photo agencies such as Masterfile and Corbis oblige with carefully chosen and expertly crafted images from all over the world. What was particularly intimidating in London though was to come up with unique arresting photographs that somehow were different from everybody else’s.
My recipe for doing this was to block out all distractions and imagine myself seeing a landmark for the first time - albeit with the memory of a million photographs previously taken in the back of my brain. What magic could make this well known landmark seem captivating, beautiful and new? The ingredients I had to work with included time of day, light, perspective, angle of view, details, colour and finally, happenstance. Mix all these together and throw in a pinch of minimalism to eliminate distractions then stir slowly with a lot of patience. With time and a dose of luck it usually works. That's the exciting challenge I love about travel photography in the internet age. Nothing is guaranteed, its all made up on the spot with what is available out there. And there are always plenty of other photographers trying to do the same thing - some literally standing right beside you.
When I mention Tallinn Estonia to people I often get blank looks as they desperately try to place Estonia somewhere on a mental map and figure out what little they know about Tallinn. I sometimes mention the Singing Revolution of the early 1990s whereby spontaneous mass night-singing demonstrations peacefully led to independence from the USSR. But that usually gets a blank stare. Surprisingly, what often is best known about Estonia is the creation of Skype. Not something you would expect in a Soviet satellite nation but that really is the point.
Nothing is expected in Estonia. Not a highly developed tech economy from just 1.3 million people. Not a perfectly preserved Old Town with tastefully restored buildings. Not an eclectic photography museum and gallery with fascinating exhibits. Not some of the best fine dining restaurants in all of Europe. And certainly not a bustling cruise ship destination.
Perhaps that’s why I liked it so much. Nothing in travel these days comes as quite a surprise as Tallinn did.
One of the best trends in cities throughout the world is the availability of bikes for visitors and locals along with miles of dedicated bicycle paths to ride around safely. Its easy to rent a bike in Copenhagen and the flat terrain is perfect for sightseeing without too much physical strain. As a cyclist you use dedicated lanes that everyone from young to old uses and if you make a wrong turn the tolerant Danes are very forgiving. Its the perfect way to see a city.
Things just work well in Finland. For a small country with only five and a half million people and bitterly cold winters they have surprisingly been world leaders in mobile phones, cutting edge design and high speed transportation. No wonder Newsweek rated it the best country in the world in 2010.
Having just had a lens stolen in Russia I was heading back to Helsinki from St Petersburg hoping to buy a new one and catch a high speed ferry to Tallinn Estonia all on the same day. The whole trip required precise levels of timing that I thought only the Swiss could pull off and my expectations for something to go wrong were running high.
The day started at 6:45am after boarding the Allegro train in St. Petersburg and by 9:15am we were pulling into Helsinki station. The lens I wanted to replace needed to be obtained from a professional camera store and as luck would have it, the best one in all of Finland, Rajala Pro Shop, was located just 200 metres from the train station. With my wife guarding our bags at the station taxi rank, I bolted into the shop, told them in rapid fire English about having a lens stolen in Russia which they nodded all too knowingly about, and then asked for a replacement - quickly. Ten minutes later we were in a cab speeding off to the port and managed to be the last passengers boarding the 10:00am ferry before the gangway was pulled up. At 12:00 noon I was in my Tallinn hotel room. The Estonian weather forecast predicted that in the afternoon I would get the only good weather during our stay, so by 1:00pm I was out photographing the city with my new lens.
I would love to say that this kind of efficiency happens to me all the time on my travels, but alas, its the exception rather than the rule. Thank you Finland.
For visitors to Norway with little time on their hands there is a journey between Oslo and Bergen on the west coast coast that involves a series of trains, buses and ferries that is aptly named Norway in a Nutshell. It offers a little taste of everything from breathtaking fjord views to winding rail journeys through the mountains. I just knew this would drive me crazy as there is nothing more frustrating for a photographer that not being able to slow down, stop and explore a landscape. I therefore opted for a rental car and spent 3 weeks instead of 3 days discovering this beautiful and spectacular area.
With so many fjords and mountains the Norwegians have adopted an unusual way to connect scattered towns and villages. They just tunnel through mountains everywhere. Most of these tunnels are long. Very very long. One was 24 km (15 miles) long with bright blue disco lighting to break the monotony. To go over a mountain took a certain amount of effort to find an alternate route to the tunnel but it was always rewarding. These mountain routes are being upgraded now with architecturally designed lookouts and eco sensitive facilities. Perhaps the most famous is the Trollstigen National Tourist Route into Geiranger Fjord. Everything in Norway by the way has a troll association and the little wooden blighters are everywhere just begging you take a photo with them.
The small mountain towns and villages make the most of their isolation and are a delight to explore. Tiny Utne has one of the oldest hotels in the country opened in 1722, while Flam is gateway to the famous Flam Railway and the meeting of two spectacular fjords. Even smaller is Mundal in Fjaerland that prides itself as a book town with various shops and self service book displays scattered along the main street.
When I mentioned to my friend Roff Smith that I was going to Norway he immediately wrote back that I should go to the Lofoten Archipelago. Roff is is a National Geographic writer and cycling enthusiast. We spent a considerable amount of time together when I photographed him bicycling around Australia for a three part story in National Geographic which he eventually also turned into a book called Cold Beer and Crocodiles. I trust his judgment so I made the extra effort to fly into this area on the remote north west coast of Norway. He was right. It was an amazing place.
The Lofoten Islands have been the centre of the cod fishing industry for over 1000 years. Their remoteness and isolation was assured until recently when a wealth of oil money brought much needed infrastructure in the form of new roads and bridges to the main islands. Isolated fishermen’s huts have recently been converted into rustic and cozy tourist accommodation and now all of the main islands are linked to the mainland by a series of tunnels and bridges.
The scenery includes jagged mountain peaks, fertile valleys, a rugged coastline and traditional fishing villages reflected in the still waters of protected harbours. The light in summer is spectacular with the midnight sun providing 24 hours of continuous illumination from May 25th to July 17th. In winter the strange dance of the northern lights lures visitors from all over the world.
Photography tours to this extraordinary area are just starting to become popular and like Iceland I predict it will eventually become a mecca for landscape photographers from all over the world.
For most of my professional life I have lived on the equator. Singapore, my home for over 20 years, was always hot and humid but more importantly, it doesn’t have seasons and the sun sets at almost the same time ever day of the year. And even more predictably the magic hour, the holy grail of all photographers when the outside daylight is balanced with interior lighting, lasts a mere 7 minutes there. That’s 7 minutes to capture the exquisite golden light that makes everything look beautiful. 7 minutes for skylines with lights on, interiors looking both inside and out and for capturing the delicate balance between say fading sunlight and a 60 watt bulb. That’s 7 minutes of fantastic light that I had to be in place and ready for. That 7 minutes didn’t allow for multiple locations, technical failure or too many long time exposures. I had to nail the shot quickly and then call it a day.
Last year that all changed when I crossed the Arctic Circle and landed in Tromso Norway at the height of summer. I was vaguely aware that the sun wouldn’t set but I hadn’t anticipated that my 7 minutes of golden light would extend for hours, every day without fail. My hotel room came with a spectacular view looking out over a harbour that the explorer Raold Amudsen had used as a base for his Arctic expeditions.
I was eager and prepared and awoke one morning to a fantastic dawn, with still water and boats reflected in a golden sunrise. My watch said 6:30am so I hopped out of bed, grabbed my cameras and left my still sleeping wife as quietly as I could. Outside it was photographic heaven and I spent an hour shooting snow covered mountains, fishing boats, and a striking modern cathedral all covered in an amazing golden light. An hour later I returned to my still sleeping wife happy and hungry for breakfast. When I tried to rouse her she grumpily informed me that it was 1:30am! I had read my watch upside down mistaking 12:30am for 6:30am. I closed our black-out curtains and crawled back into bed thinking that my 7 minutes of magic light in Singapore was nothing compared to this.
After seeing my images from a recent trip, a photographer friend commented to me that I seemed to always get great weather. I wish! The trick I’ve found is to plan for all eventualities and improvise on the fly. Don’t get me wrong, bad weather has its place. Overcast conditions and light rain are great for photographing gardens and the soft even light of cloudy skies makes for wonderful portrait lighting. But for most travel subjects great sunlight can turn a dismal scene into something spectacular. As the English landscape painter JMW Turner said on his deathbed: “The sun is God”.
I once spent 10 days on assignment for an airline in Mauritius and 9 of those days were spent in post monsoon drizzle and I didn’t do anything but look around, take notes and worry. On the last day the sun shone through and I was ready. I scurried about the island to all the places I had scouted out beforehand and shot the entire assignment including posters, brochures and advertising in one day. That’s not luck but good planning.
If I am a week in a destination I assume at some stage the weather will be less than ideal. I’m thankful for that as I can relax, visit galleries, enjoy restaurants and even take a rest day which I have found is essential once a week to keep interest levels high. I have lists of good and bad weather activities and just shuffle them around according to what I see outside on any particular day. Weather forecasting is now reasonably accurate and apps like The Weather Channel break each day down into hours so I know when I should be outside experiencing great light and when to cool my heels indoors. For this reason I often book accommodation in the centre of cities so I can immediately take advantage of quick changes in the weather or spectacular light that might appear after a heavy storm.
In Stockholm recently I had a number of bad weather days during which I was delighted to be able to take the time to see Sebastião Salgado’s brilliant Genesis exhibition at the huge Fotografiska museum. The next day I knew from forecasts that I might get a small window of good light before the rain returned. When the sun appeared, I was out of bed before the crowds emerged and managed to capture in a matter of hours a city I had walked around for days beforehand.
There really is no such thing as bad weather when you travel though - just opportunities to look at destinations in different ways.
In 1996 Roff Smith, a young American writer living in Australia, set off from Sydney to bicycle 10,000 miles around Australia. National Geographic magazine liked his epic tale and assigned me to cover various parts of the journey. The final story appeared in three parts and launched the writing career of Smith with the National Geographic Society. 19 years later Roff and I met up again in Sydney to catch up and share stories from that first assignment together.
This month I am featuring an interview I recently gave to Stacey Waspe of Masterfile. She writes:
Ian Lloyd is an award-winning professional travel photographer. Born in Canada, he started taking pictures when he was 14. Educated in New York and California, Ian owned his own publishing company and stock photo library in Singapore for 25 years prior to moving to Sydney, Australia. A prolific shooter, he captures striking landscapes and people pictures during his world travels as well as breathtaking scenes of the natural world. He has worked on assignment for several magazines and publishers, including National Geographic, Condé Nast Traveler and Time.