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Travel photography tips from Carla Coulson - be inspired!

Live the dream

For many of us in the Nomador community, a passion for travel and a passion for photography go hand in hand. Perhaps it’s because we’re so excited to be discovering amazing new people, places, pets, homes and communities – and we want to share that experience with everyone we know!

But, as many travel photographers will attest, there’s a lot more to taking a great photo than simply the old point-and-shoot. Often, it’s the atmosphere or personality of a place or person that makes them special – not simply how they appear at face value. Capturing this is the trickiest part of photography, but if you can master it, your photos will never be the same again. 

We’ve already been inspired by Carla Coulson’s experiences as a photographer: how her new-found passion turned into a full-time career, and how that career has allowed her to encounter people and experience places in a whole new way. So, if you’re feeling inspired too, it’s time to get started! 

Step one: pick an expert’s brain on what makes a great photographer, grab your camera, and get shooting. So, what gear does Carla use? How does she approach people to photograph? And what’s the best way to improve? Let’s find out…

The camera you use: I use a Canon 5D, and I’ve got a mark 2 and a mark 3. I’m also a Leica fan!

Favourite lens: I’ve always loved the 50mm lens, because it’s simple and quick.

Film or digital: I’m using digital now, but there’s something so extraordinarily magical about the whole film process, and it definitely gives something else to the image. 

Favourite country: It’ll have to be in Italy, because I’m different in Italy and I find that Italians are more open. 

Favourite city: I’d have to say Rome, or Venice. Now I know it’s so cliché and all that…

Favourite location in this city: I love the Castello in Venice. It’s just the local area where all the people live, and they string their washing over the canals - it’s just where real Venetian life goes on.

Favourite time of day for photography: There’s something about the morning light for me. I go for a walk every morning, and recently I’ve been taking my camera. The winter morning light in Europe has an unbelievable angle. 

Having said that, I think there’s a light for every place. When I was in Bruglia, in Southern Italy in June, all the photos are taken at midday. It just looks better in this midday, bright, white light, instead of a pretty, morning light.

How do you approach someone to take their photo?

You have to tread very, very carefully. I never get my camera out the first second I’m going to photograph someone. You know, I’ll ask them a question, or I’ll talk to them about something, and feel whether they might allow me to take a photograph. It’s not always that people want their photo taken. I never push it - I never want the photo that bad.

In June I had a travel workshop in Puglia, and that was the biggest problem with the photographers – they didn’t want to go up and chat to people. Of course it’s really confronting shooting people, and shooting people in languages you don’t know. A lot of people avoid it!

I tried to show my students how to chat to people - and nobody said no to them! So they all had this extraordinary confidence. I think that’s the thing, having the confidence to do it.

What tips would you give to someone looking to do more of the sort of photography you do? 

I think one of the big things everybody does now is to get a camera and they just think ‘I’m going to take a photograph’. I think, for anybody, with anything in life, learn the basics - go and do a course. Because once you have the key elements you can do what you want with them. 

So I think the most important thing is just to really know the basics well: how to compose a great photograph, what you can do with light, what shutter speeds do - it sounds like the most basic information. But a lot of people have these wonderful SLR cameras that take beautiful photographs and they could actually be taking amazing photographs if they could drive the thing.

The next greatest thing a person can do is just experiment. You just don’t get good one day. You don’t pick up a camera and you’re Sebastião Salgada. Sebastião Salgada, he can take one frame and get it right, because he’s taken two million frames. The guy has done the work. I think putting yourself under pressure and just taking photographs, you end up with skills that you know you can take your photography to a new level.

With this advice under your belt, there’s nothing stopping you from becoming the next Sebastian Salgada. Inspired and ready for step two? Start living your dream now: find a house-sitting opportunity on Nomador, or put your own home into the trusted hands of our house-sitters!

More about Carla Coulson and her inspiring story on our blog: Be inspired by travel photographer Carla Coulson.

And for those just starting out as a photographer here are some more hints from Carla on her blog: Starting out as a Photographer - Overview.

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