Focused Women Travel
"I can't imagine traveling without a camera," says Mirjam Evers, a Dutch photographer who specializes in environmental portraits, travel, documentary, and adventure photography. "Even when I'm just walking around New York City, where I live, I take pictures."
Mirjam is one of the co-founders of Photo Quest Adventures, a travel company with the mission of making a difference in the world through photography. For this piece, we met with her and co-founder Najat Naba, both of whom run the company as well as lead small photography workshops (groups of 12) all over the world.
While the photography trips are for both men and women, Mirjam tells us that more women are signing up. “When we started out—in 2007—it was mostly men, now we are seeing more like 50-50.” In fact, the company has added a couple of women-only trips. “Women seem to really enjoy traveling with other women. They become friends, stay in touch and often go on future trips together.”
“On so many levels, photography is gratifying to women,” says Mirjam. “The women who travel with us are artists—not just average travelers. When they travel with us, they tap into that side of themselves. They become more observant travelers and see on a whole new level. When they return home, they have something to show for it.”
Below, Mirjam and Najat share their tips for anyone trying to improve her (or his) photography while on the road.
• See how other photographers captured the location you’re going to. In advance of your trip, take the time to look at images by travel photographers and read everything you can about the destination. It’s important to understand local customs and traditions. Otherwise, you run the risk of being rude or offensive to the locals.
• Dress like a local. Familiarize yourself with the local dress code. In some places, typical American women’s attire (such as a belly-showing shirt) may be offensive to local women and an invitation for a come-on from the men. As a photographer, if you want to connect with the residents, it’s important to take the necessary steps to fit in. Even buy and wear local clothing if you can. Don’t wear clothes that make you stand out and stay away from bold colors, logos and definitely anything sexy.
• Avoid looking like a rich Westerner. Leave the jewelry at home as well as clothing that screams “money.” As it is, you are traveling with expensive camera equipment. You don’t want to be a walking billboard for thieves. And rather than carry a purse, wear a fanny pack or backpack.
• Ask permission if you want to photograph someone. Engage and try to make a connection with someone before taking pictures. Learn how to say “hello” and “May I take a photograph” in the local language. Obviously, a language barrier can make it difficult to engage in any kind of conversation, but a gesture asking permission, or an exchange of any kind, will help. Once you do take a photograph, show it to them on the back of the camera.
• Capture the Catch Light in the eyes. If you choose to photograph your subject looking head on, try to capture the “spark,” the life and the magic in their eyes.
• Think outside the box. Shoot from the floor with a wide-angle or fish-eye lens. Climb a tower and shoot from above. Wait for dawn or dusk, mount your camera on a tripod and slow the shutter speed. Images shot differently from the rest, stand out.
• Check local sunrise/sunset times. Easiest way to do this is by having an app that tells you. Before leaving home, be sure to buy one along with an alarm clock app. And while you’re at it, load a currency converter app.
• Pack camera-equipment light. Take one camera body (unless you have the room for a spare), lots of memory cards, a lightweight tripod, portable storage device, a flash and a selection of lenses in a durable camera bag.
• Keep your equipment safe. It’s worth investing in good locks for your bags for travel anywhere. Also insure your camera and equipment if it’s expensive.
• Shoot in RAW. Shooting all your pictures in RAW will give you greater flexibility for post processing, but this will mean you’ll have to travel with several high capacity memory cards.
• Back up devices. No one wants to have to delete pictures along the way because the memory card is full. Be sure to pack a small netbook, external drive or other storage device so you can back up your images throughout the trip. Get in the habit of saving them every night. Take twice the amount of cards/capacity than you would expect to need.
• Choose lenses carefully. If you only have the room or budget to select one glass, opt for a fast zoom such as an 18-200 mm or 28-300m. If you have extra room or would prefer a wider choice, consider a portrait prime lens (e.g.85 mm), a wide angle lens (e.g. 10-24mm) and a telephoto (e.g. 70-200mm). Mirjam usually brings one wide zoom lens (24-70 mm f2.8) and one small prime lens (usually a 20mm f1.4 lens). That allows her to take wide shots that capture landscapes and buildings, but also carry a light portrait lens that doubles as a low-light lifesaver.
• Pack a power strip. This way, you can charge your computer, camera battery, phone and anything else at the same time. Be sure to take the correct power adapter plug, which you can find at electronic stores.
• When shooting, use a wide aperture. Unless you care about the backdrop, give as much focus as possible to your subject by using a wide aperture. The lower the”F” stop, the wider the aperture on your camera, and the less depth-of-field you get. Letting in as much light as possible with a low F-number will blur the background and cause a subject to pop more in the photo.
• Get off the beaten track. Wherever you go, consider going a little bit further, a little out of the way. Explore neighboring regions. Find somewhere where the locals aren’t used to seeing tourists. Not only will your photography improve, but you’ll learn something new about the world.
All photographs by Mirjam Evers.