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Behind each great travel photo: Little sleep, early mornings, heaps of effort

By World Photography Organisation | 1 year ago

We are pleased to announce Witold Ziomek as our final monthly winner (December) in the 2018 Sony World Photography Awards. His image of a waterfall in Iceland, which was entered into the Open competition, caught the eye of our editors. 

Ziomek was born in 
1993, and now lives in Krakow, Poland. At the beginning of 2017 he grabbed the camera, and embarked on his neglected passion for photography. He says, "I don't like the hustle and bustle of big cities, I prefer to explore the wilderness. I like to be in many places at the same time - that is the way I try to compensate for the lost years of my youth. An hour spent at home is a lost hour." 


Hi Witold. Congratulations on winning the final monthly prize in December! Tell us about you and your photography

Thank you! It's very nice, I didn't expect it. I'm excited about the results of the competition, although I am aware of the very high level of competition.

I became interested in photography at the age of 13 or 14. Then it was based on photographing flowers in the backyard garden, then friends at the skate park. In high school, whilst sleeping during lessons, I dreamed of being a war photographer and, in the meantime, I accidentally got an internship in a local newspaper. My dreams collided with reality and I completely gave up taking any pictures for almost 6 years. I grabbed the camera again at the end of 2016, when I spontaneously stated "Hey Homie (that’s what my last name means in Polish), you've always dreamed about traveling, maybe just ... start traveling? The camera is just an add-on". Well, that's how it's been going to this day and I hope it will be over the years. I proved to myself that I can combine full-time work with trips once a month. It is also interesting that, somehow, I have never been particularly interested in this type of photography, moreover, these are not classic landscapes. Sometimes it simply means photographing beautiful nature in its own way, and sometimes using nature to create something completely different. I still lack some coherence in my work, but I think it will take shape with time. Anyway, I do not consider myself a photographer, I am a seller of "souvenirs". 


Tell us more about the winning shot... how, when and why did you take this image?

I took the picture in July 2017, on the first day of my trip to Iceland. We hired a comical little car for a week, so we were able to drive only the main road, catching all the typical tourist spots. Next to the Skogafoss waterfall, there was a lot of tourists, it was hard, taking into consideration that I had to photograph from a suitable distance. I fell into the whirl of shooting, I took 400 photos in a few minutes. My mate Patryk Morzonek, who was my model, got soaked after a few seconds, so a few minutes more did not make a difference. Thanks to Patryk!

Quite a few people have made a similar photo, I just did it my own way. I was also lucky because it was the only sunny day of our entire trip. However, we started complaining: "hey, what is it, where is this climactic, hazy Iceland ?!". The sun, which was already quite low, illuminated the silhouette on the left. Finally I was happy with my editing in Lightroom, and spontaneously out the photo on Instagram. There were quite a few comments among my friends, which surprised me, because usually, it was not like that. Later on it was featured by National Geographic, and I was shocked with the response.


Why photography? What does the medium mean to you?

Why photography? It makes me wonder, gives my travels a higher goal, not just a nice time. People think that looking constantly through the viewfinder does not make one focused on the traveling, but I'm of a different opinion. I find a place deeper in the memory when I am taking photos. Photography is a diary for me. Photography inspires me to get up at early in the morning. It gives challenges and disappointments. But this teaches humility. 

Tell us about your most memorable shoot, and your most challenging shoot

I remember making most of my photos, although there is not so many of them. I was spending time with great people, sometimes doing stupid things. Choosing from 11 different trips from this year, I would take two weeks in Georgia with my two friends, photographer Alex Bogdanski and filmmaker Pawel Klempka. We spent the time without a plan, carrying the 25kg each on our backs. We were walking through the mountains, sleeping in tents. For 12 days I did not take any picture, and I carried my entire photo set. On the 13th day, we arrived late in the afternoon to the Koruldi lakes near Mestia, in the center of the Upper Caucasus mountains. By accident, we met Marek, a Pole living in Australia, who made a tent next to us. In the morning it was a great sunrise, among wild horses and cows, and I took two photos of which I'm pleased, what is a rare thing, but that's what made our adventure in Georgia - the whole trip was not to run for the pictures, but simply to travel. Georgians are great people and Chacha is great Georgian alcohol that makes people closer.

A photo that was the biggest challenge? Behind each picture, there is little sleep, early mornings, and heaps of effort. But I love it!


What advice would you give those wishing to combine travel and photography more? 

I haven't experienced enough to be in the position of giving people advice and to teach. There are lots of great photographers who spend months and years traveling, and they can certainly answer this question. I can say how it usually works for me. One thing is certain - the cost of one all-inclusive holiday is equal with 2-4 low cost trips. I am looking for friends who would be happy to travel in this way and cut costs. Almost always (except Georgia) we rent a car or go with our own. Hotels? Forget it. We sleep in tents or in the car. We do not care about camping bans. Food? The cheapest - eating instant soups for a week is not so bad. Before we go somewhere, I look for some good photos on the internet as a starting point trying to find places that are worth to spend the night to get up to the sunrise. But each trip is different, it is not always possible to submit to these rules. In the case of further directions like Asia, Africa or South America, it will be different and I know it, despite the fact that I had just one distant trip. I went back for Christmas to Burma and Thailand, where I went alone and the last thing I had thought about was to take a tent and sleep in the wild.

To conclude - the basics are good research of locations, trying to put them on the schedule in a way that will give you the best possible conditions to take the photo you expect to get. There are many factors that do not depend on us, above all the weather. But we are on a trip, we go further, you cannot afford to wait in place for a few days. This irritates me most. That's why I plan to set out on a journey for a few months to feel calm. But not yet.


Do you have a photographic philosophy? 

I do not like to create a philosophy for the pictures. I associate it with weak pictures that someone tries to catch up with a text that no one understands. Of course, the situation looks different in the case of reportages, where there are strong, imaginative pictures with some context outside the frame, and with the text, you feel like someone hits you on the head. I broke out of my routine life and I hear all around "eh, Ziomek, you live beautifully." Maybe this is the way I try to show people "hey, look how beautiful nature is, why do you need a new car, a big house? It does not mean anything. See it with your own eyes, feel it with your own senses". Because it is possible to travel cheaply and more often than once a year - and I just want to take nice pictures. That's all.




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