Ready, set, shoot: photography on the road with JB
We chat to our travel expert Jed on the most photogenic & instaworthy destinations in the world...
When you’ve been to 52 countries and counting, you’re going to have a few travel photos to show off. For Universal Traveller consultant Jed Buencillo, he’s gone to some pretty epic lengths and unique destinations, and it’s safe to say his photos are better than yours.
We chatted to Jed about his love for the lens, his most inspiring travel destinations and why research is key to every good trip. Plus, he gives a few tips for budding photographers out there.
Universal Traveller: What came first, your love of travel or photography?
Jed Buencillo: Photography, then travel and now they’re intrinsically linked! [laughs] Around 13 years ago I got my first DSLR camera—I was just playing around and shooting random things, and then I put my camera down for a while and actually stopped taking photos for about 5 years. I picked it back up again when I started travelling and that’s when I got into learning how to edit photos and work on the composition.
UT: You have a very good eye—have you ever taken a photography course?
JB: No, I’m completely self taught—it all comes with practice too (some of my older photos I cringe at!) [laughs]
UT: When you’re travelling, how do you get 'the shot' but still chill and enjoy your holiday?
JB: I’m really intentional about it. I’ve made that mistake before—shooting too much and not really enjoying the moment which, looking back, kind of ruins it. Now, I’ll set aside time to shoot—maybe half an hour, then put the camera away and really take it in and see it with my own eyes.
The places I’ve been lucky to shoot are ridiculous bucket-list places, so I’ve learnt to take a step back and appreciate it for what it is instead of just the image.
UT: Tips and tricks for starting out with travel photography?
JB: A few practical things…
Don’t shoot at midday—always shoot towards the start or the end of the day when the lighting is less harsh.
Your gear—ask yourself how serious you want to get and how much you want to spend?
People always ask ‘what do you shoot with?’ Only commit to a DSLR if you’re prepared to carry it around, and learn to edit too. My camera isn’t the best ‘travel camera’ (it’s heavy!) My backpack is loaded with 10kg of gear, but it’s what I need for the photography I love doing. If you just want to capture a good image, there’s plenty of easy point-and-shoot options out there. My biggest tip is don’t spend the money and break your back lugging around a full-set up if you’re not going to really utilise the camera.
3. When it comes to composition, I think a lot of rules in photography are meant to be broken, as lame as that sounds.
There’s the rule of thirds (aligning the subject) but at the same time, with Instagram, the size formats are different—your best bet is to make sure the photo stands out ALOT. People are scrolling through instagram so fast, you want an image that will really make people stop and look.
4. Make it clean
An eye catching photo is a clean photo. If you have a person in the photo, make sure there is nothing around them to distract from the focal point (or remove anything in post if you’re editing skills are up there). It’s easier said than done and sometimes you’ve just got to go for it and learn as you go!
UT: How far have you gone for an epic photo (and experience)?
JB: In Norway we made it to Trolltunga—which takes a 21km return hike plus a 4-hour drive in each direction, and to top it off, we were flying out the next morning at 6am. We also went on the hike at the end of September, which isn’t exactly the recommended time of the year as snow starts to fall (on the plus side, the benefit of not doing it in summer meant it was less busy). We actually saw massive pieces of ice that had fallen off the top of the mountains. It was safe for us to hike, but because it wasn’t summer anymore the sun was setting around 6pm, so we had to complete the hike before 6pm because there’s a massive descent and it’s dangerous in the dark. That hike was insane, I want to do it again!
Then there’s the Faroe Islands, located between Iceland and Norway. I don’t know anyone else who’s been and I always wanted to go because no one really knows about them. The best way I can describe it is ‘Europe's best kept secret’. There’s this place called The Slave Rock and it’s literally a lake perched on a cliff over the Atlantic Ocean. There’s no official hikes or signs, just sheep trails! You’ve just gotta figure it out for yourself. You really feel like you’re on another planet, I’ve never seen mountains like that.
Iceland is also a favourite. It’s getting a lot more popular now, but it is still one of the best places I’ve ever seen. I would recommend people spend 10 -14 days in Iceland because it’s worth doing the whole Ring Road—there’s so many crazy shots you can get there, it’s unbelievable. We took a 4WD up the central part of Iceland, there’s no one out there—it feels like you’re on Mars or something!
UT: So you’ve been to 52 countries and counting, are you running out of places to go?
JB: No way, not in our industry. I know people in the 3 digits! My list just gets weirder and weirder.
UT: What’s next on the bucket-list for you?
JB: So many places! Mongolia and the ‘Stans’ (Kazakhstan, Tajikistan), Antarctica, Patagonia, Alaska…
UT: What are some of the most common misconceptions about your job as a travel agent?
JB: Booking with an agent is more expensive (not true!)
Friends and customers have started following my travel photography, I book so many people the trips I’ve done after I’ve done them… just ‘cause they’re like “I want to do exactly what you did” [laughs]. Often things you find online are different to the recommendations I’d give and honestly know by going… and I usually have a cheaper option too.
UT: What about tours over independent travel?
JB: Sure, tours can sound more expensive, but the thing is for some destinations, you don’t know how to do it independently unless you've been there. It would be way too hard. As an agent we can tailor trips to your needs—maybe part tour and part independent. I find out the travel the customer has done before, what kinds of trips they like to go on and go from there.
UT: Back to photography, tell us some more hurdles you’ve encountered ‘getting the shot’?
JB: Africa—safari camping in the middle of the Serengeti, getting pretty close to the animals, that was a big one.
Sossusvlei—sand dunes in Namibia. We had to camp out in the desert and there was this random storm, the worst they’d had in 10 years! It started hailing in the desert! It lasted for 12 hours, our tents where being blown away and you know things are getting real when the tour staff are starting to freak out! Lucky to have travel insurance for those random events!
Cuba—I’ve been sailing through the islands off Cuba, it was the most unique experience ever, to see the real off-the-beaten-track Cuba. We visited remote islands with no people and the most stunning clear blue waters. Our skipper was a former Cuban navy captain and would help us dive into the water and catch fresh lobsters. I got those perfect beach shots without a soul in sight.
UT: We know you’re constantly researching trips for your clients. Before a big trip for yourself, how long do you spend researching?
JB: I spend weeks and weeks researching. For me, it’s about aspirational travel—you don’t just want to go there, you want to really see it. I draw on the wealth of information within the Universal Traveller community, there’s always someone who’s been there and can give you the inside information. We basically crowd source our travel plans, and we do the same for our clients.
These days, a lot of people get their travel inspiration from sources like going places you’ve seen on Instagram—which is cool, but then you might end up missing the rest of the unique things in that destination. I tell people about the main attractions, but I’ll recommend other things worth checking out to connect the dots.
UT: Ultimate travel tip?
JB: Never pack heavy—make the mistake once and you won’t make it again!
When it comes to photography, I bring a powerboard and travel adaptors, drone, remotes and laptop to edit, so I have to be very lean with my personal items.
UT: How do you cope with being offline in remote areas?
JB: I like to disconnect. In Cuba my phone fell into the water so it forced me to be offline, and just use my camera.
UT: Lastly, what European destinations would you recommend for the budding photographer?
JB: Turkey definitely, then Norway, Iceland and Switzerland are all beautiful to shoot. For streets and cities—Berlin, Amsterdam and Venice—Italian cities are especially amazing for architecture. And Santorini in Greece, you can’t get a bad photo of Santorini! I dare you! [laughs]
If you’re looking for a local travel expert who can find you the world’s most interesting and Instagrammable places —speak to JB or one of your local Universal Traveller experts. Follow JB’s adventures this month on Instagram via @universaltravellerau
Jed’s A-Z travel list… 52 countries and counting:
Bosnia and Herzegovina
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