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.
Thoughts on Travel, Photography and Life from Ian Lloyd
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.
I had been warned. Coming to a bottle neck in a street opposite the famous onion domed Church on Spilled Blood in St. Petersburg Russia, I was suddenly accosted by two young men trying to sell me postcards and blocking my path. I was carrying two cameras but I was aware this could be a dangerous situation so I had my hands firmly on each camera body. Sensing something might be amiss, I headed off quickly in the opposite direction. The whole transaction took about ten seconds and when I lifted one of my camera bodies I realised a lens had been stolen without me knowing. In the space of a couple of seconds the thieves had pushed in a release button and removed the lens from beneath my hand on the camera body and made off with it into the crowd. The whole operation had been so swift and fast that I had to grudgingly admire their professionalism. Reporting the theft to the police proved an impossibility as special tourist services who could have helped me make a report in Russian were closed for a long holiday weekend. In the end I got a letter from my hotel for insurance purposes and decided to replace the lens in Finland. I think the thieves probably had my $1000 lens up for sale on eBay within the hour. A couple of months later with my insurance money in hand, I saw the thieves technique captured on a YouTube video by a tourist bus camera. Travellers to Russia beware!
The huge Vatnajokull Glacier in Iceland covers 8% of the country's total land area and is visited by photographers throughout the year hoping to catch its serene beauty. It’s an amazing site to see a lagoon filled with icebergs as well as a black volcanic sand beach sprinkled with clear ice that was formed thousands of years ago.
Unfortunately glaciers are melting and disappearing almost everywhere on the planet and Iceland is no exception. This will almost certainly cause dangerous sea level rises in the future as photographer James Balog's brilliant 2012 documentary Chasing Ice shows. The sad truth is that global warming is causing all this and we must act soon to prevent a global disaster.
I’ve been visiting New York City since I was a freshman studying photography at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) in upstate New York. As a Canadian from across the border I was considered a foreign student and my American friends took great delight in warning me about muggings, subway violence and other Big Apple dangers. The city has became a lot safer since then and is a fabulous place for a photographer to seek inspiration on so many different levels. During a recent month long stay in the East Village I divided my time between between taking photos, visiting galleries and catching up on the latest trends. This is what I found.
The City as Subject: New York is the street photography capital of the world and just walking around presents a myriad of photo opportunities. Everyone is an artist (or wants to be) so using a camera or iPhone is not seen as unusual. A good place to start is by walking the 51 blocks (4km) of Central Park - a city within a city with lakes, woods and meadows. Down in Lower Manhattan the recently completed High Line gently snakes its way through the city beside elevated gardens that give glimpses of busy street scenes below. Another great photographic walk with fabulous skyline views is to cross the Brooklyn Bridge and head back over the Manhattan Bridge into Chinatown.
Inspiration: This what New York offers in spades. The Metropolitan Museum of Art and MOMA are great places to begin and although their photography collections are classic their art is really not to be missed. On this last trip I went to the MET five times and still didn't seen it all. The International Centre of Photography (ICP) is always a good place to view photography exhibitions as are commercial galleries like Rotella in SOHO, Aperture Gallery in Chelsea and even the Gagosian and Pace/MacGill galleries on the upper east side.
Gear: B&H has always been my go-to place for equipment and spending a morning in their cavernous store is like having multiple Christmases all at once. Surprisingly, having a play with every known camera on the market and all the associated gear ever made for photographers can bring about a strange state of calm. Sometimes you just come to the realisation that shopping is just a powerful distraction from the simple joy of actually taking pictures.
I had the good fortune to be commissioned to do photography in Burma (now known as Myanmar) in the mid nineties before tourism really took off there. Travelling there at that time was fraught with difficulties and things never seemed to go as planned. One particular job was .... well, unusual.
I was shooting a balloon specially made for the inaugural launch of a ship cruising down the Irrawaddy River, run by the Orient Express train people. After careful planning and a recce, I got the balloon crew to launch it with hot air on a short tether near a couple of famous pagodas. A small army of helpers was there at dawn complete with a hired ox cart and horse and trap. The sun rose on the towering balloon and the monuments and pagodas looked great. I had only taken about half a dozen frames, when disaster struck. One of the tether ropes suddenly snapped and a gust of wind blew the balloon into the sharp steel spire of a nearby pagoda that ripped two of the panels! The mammoth balloon immediately started to deflate into a heap on the ground and as it did so it spooked a horse nearby who in turn kicked a poor young girl innocently watching the whole scene. It was a disaster all around for the photography but fortunately nobody was badly hurt. I suppose we had not done enough to placate the spirits of the place. It is, after all, the 1000 year old resting place of the ancient kings of Myanmar.
For the next three days I hung out in Bagan shooting photos for myself and exploring every temple in sight while the balloon crew tried frantically to get the rip repaired. In desperation they flew the balloon back to Rangoon and got the Burmese airforce parachute repair experts lined up to help sew spare replacement panels that were flown out specially from England. The frustration and problems mounted though as these new panels got held up by overzealous customs officials in Rangoon. And so in the end, I never did get my photos of the balloon rising majestically at dawn over the ancient plains of Bagan.
As a footnote though, that first disaster didn't stop a thriving ballooning industry from developing. Bagan is now one of the best places in the world to take a balloon flight.
The Day of the Dead Festival is famous for being one of Mexico's most visual celebrations. It honours, mocks, satirises and sanctifies the dead in a way that ultimately seems healthy and life affirming. In places like Oaxaca City the celebrations really come to life with schools organising parades of children dressed as zombies dancing to Michael Jackson's 'Thriller' and adults mocking the status quo with plays turning religion on its head. Corrupt popes, lasciviousness nuns - no organisation is spared the mockery of death. The dead are remembered and celebrated in a festive, not morbid way and ultimately I think that's a good thing.
I had my doubts about Mexico. It had a reputation for drug wars, crime, violence, poverty and pollution. It turned out that all of that was exaggerated. Media reporting had focused on the northern states near the US border. Mexico City and Oaxaca where we spent our time felt safer than anywhere we had visited in South America. Quelle surprise! On top of that, the food was good. No - better than good - actually extraordinary. Mexicans were friendly and easy going and they had a wealth of culture to explore that I knew very little about. Aztecs. Mayans. Archaeological sites. Artists. Frida Kahlo. Diego Rivera. Orozco. Galleries. Museums. Festivals. And the best haircut I have ever had.
In fairness, Mexico City was probably strongly influenced by staying at the incredible Red Tree House. Having spent my life travelling professionally, I've become averse to 5 star sanitised business hotels. Boutique accommodation with character, style and friendly knowledgeable staff are what I now seek out. For more discoveries have a look here.
Quito sits right on the equator, or Ecuador as they say in Spanish, so I was expecting hot tropical weather like I experienced in Singapore for over twenty years. However, from the brand new airport to our recently restored boutique hotel in the old town, we travelled through about four climatic zones in the space of an hour - starting with snow and ending with what I would describe as balmy summer in Sydney weather. Not quite what I was expecting.
A travel writer friend once described Quito as 'the most underrated city in South America' and for the most part I think he's right. Its always good to have few expectations when travelling to a new destination. The world has become homogenous with global brands and culture but its always a pleasure to experience a place that stays true to its roots without turning into a theme park overcrowded with tourists
Most visitors are usually enroute to the Galapagos Islands or the jungles of the interior of Ecuador so Quito often gets overlooked or becomes a quick transit stop at best. Exploring the city and nearby mountains is a special treat.
A lot has been written about Peru but most travel articles skip over the capital Lima for the famous tourist stops of Cusco and Machu Picchu. Lima is a tough sell. Its got three distinct areas to it - old, new and residential - stretching for miles along an unattractive rocky coastline. Numerous people approached me on my first day to warn me to be careful with my camera as thieves were about. Not a good sign or even very welcoming for that matter. I decided to to ignore all the warnings though and explore the old city centre on a Sunday when perhaps even criminals might be on their best behaviour or perhaps even in church. I will admit I wasn't hopeful when my taxi came to a halt in a traffic jam and let me out blocks away from my destination. My despair disappeared though when I walked straight into a parade of a dozen marching bands accompanying hundreds of women dancers in twirling skirts and men dressed up as gangsters. Amazingly, there were no tourists and even locals seemed bemused by all the hoopla. Visually it was fantastic and changed my whole idea of Lima. I went on to explore the old town centre and came away with a really good feeling about Lima. As the sun began to set though the worried looks and warnings about being careful with my camera began to increase and I called it a day when a police cruiser pulled over to give me the same warning.
On a more positive note, the major redeeming attribute of Lima was the food. Its renowned through-out South America and Brazilians are known to fly in to visit their favourite restaurants. Visit here for more images of the festival as well as a trip to the Sacred Valley and Cusco.
Rio de Janeiro is a study in contrasts. Mountains and beaches, glamour and slums. The haves and have nots. And yet, somehow it all comes together with a samba backbeat. Maybe it's the humbling democracy of both rich and poor parading near naked at Copacabana or Ipanema beach. Or maybe its Corcovado Mountain with Christ the Redeemer standing in judgment above them all. Whatever it is, Rio rocks.
I'm not really impressed by waterfalls. I rate them alongside sunsets as photographic subjects that are nice - but usually boring. I was born near Niagara Falls and have seen a lot of water falling over cliffs including Victoria Falls in Zimbabwe. I must admit I wasn't expecting much of Iguazu Falls when I stopped over on route from Buenos Aires to Rio. But oh how wrong I was!
The Falls lie on the border between Argentina and Brazil inside a world heritage protected national park. For a visitor the choice is to stay on either the Argentine or Brazilian side but my recommendation is to stay and explore both sides. In Argentina you walk on suspended walkways with tons of water tumbling beneath your feet while on the Brazilian side the view pulls back to sweeping panoramas enhanced by atmospheric mist and rainbows. You may recall that Iguazu was the setting for the 1986 film 'The Mission' and I half expected to see a Jesuit priest tied to a cross tumbling over the falls at anytime.
My advice is to stay at the two hotels right inside the park to take advantage of early morning and late afternoon light as well as to enjoy the peace and tranquility of having the place to yourself before busloads of tourists arrive later in the day.
The last few years have not been kind to Buenos Aires. The Argentinian bankruptcy in 2002 and a currency crisis of late have made life challenging for Portenos - as the locals are called. The city that invented the tango though still has a great spirit and can put on a fantastic show to entertain and delight.
The northernmost part of Patagonia in South America stretches across a series of spectacular lakes and mountains from Puerto Varas in Chile to Bariloche in Argentina. It's an area rich in the natural rugged beauty of the Andes that can be crossed by a series of boats, buses and hotels between the two countries. A short video on this amazing journey can be seen here.