Bluebird Chic ambassador Monika Hanley of internationelle.org shares her perspective on adventure, facing your fears and embracing the unknown!
Sometimes adventure isn’t bungee jumping, paragliding, whitewater rafting, or rock climbing. Sometimes adventure is just the thrill of facing the unknown. Immersing yourself in an experience that might change you and your perspective of the world forever.
One definition of adventure is “an unusual and exciting or daring experience”. Another is “an undertaking usually involving danger and unknown risks”. I prefer the etymology of the word from 12th century French, meaning “wander, travel; happen by chance.” And anyone can have an adventure.
It’s a type of meditation, being out of control of your surroundings and letting destiny take a hand. So often in our lives, we are able to control most elements – from food to schedules and entertainment – and not being able to do that feels amazingly freeing. But also scary. And that’s the adventure part. Giving up a bit of the knowns of your normal everyday life, and seeing what happens.
Little micro-adventures can go a long way toward sparking your daring spirit again. After all, when is the last time you got on a plane with a true sense of adventure instead of mostly cramped annoyance. Trains are a micro adventurers’ best friend and a photographer’s dream, no matter where you are in the world; from the iron needle of Amtrak, stitching America together from coast to coast, to the Trans-Siberian, weaving east and west into a kaleidoscope tapestry of cultures and landscapes.
Of course, train photography is its own tricky thing. You’re combining landscape (and sometimes wildlife) photography, while moving at high speeds with variable light. Improving train photography can be as simple as having your lens right up against the glass, getting a back seat to have the widest panorama, using image stabilization, and definitely get well-acquainted with your higher shutter speeds (unless you want to capture “movement” in the form of beautiful blurs).
There are some who don’t take photos when they travel in order to be “present in the moment”, and that’s fine. But what I also know is that preserving those moments will last a lot longer in a photo than they will in your head. So take photos! But don’t forget to get out from behind the camera and breathe in the moments for additional emotions and context when you look at the photos later.
You don’t even have to go very far for adventure! I love using sites like Atlas Obscura to find hidden and interesting places right in my own town, and I definitely check it first before I go to any new city/country.
The first adventure I had after getting my first DLSR camera involved traveling by train from Moscow, Russia, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to document villages where people were deported to during World War II. A heavy subject to be sure, but the people we met along the way, along with the natural beauty in Siberia and the architecture are all so moving and memorable. It was the first place I learned to photograph people and children and learned to be a bit bolder in my subjects. Adventures can not only help develop your own confidence, but your photography, as well! I learned to think of my camera as my third eye, something that saw things that my other two eyes maybe couldn’t, and I was never anywhere without it again.
After returning to the U.S., I fell in love with America’s trains and was inspired by both the people and photographers’ works I had seen.
Sometimes the greatest adventure is to be free from outside influence. Just you versus your own thoughts. As I have written before, from outside Spokane to Minneapolis, there is utter quiet from the demanding world. Only you, your three delicious square meals a day, and whatever you choose to do with your time. Discover the secrets of Amish yarn dying? (check) Befriend a 94-year-old Coast Guard veteran/Dr. of Mathematics who transported planes across the Atlantic in World War II? (check). And that’s just breakfast.
From there and for the last 13 years, my life has devolved into a spiral of adventures (big and small) and taken me across the planet, from Swaziland and Morocco, to Armenia and China and many places in between, photographing everything I could.
There’s that saying out there about how one should do “something every day that scares you” sometimes attributed to a poignant part of a book by Eleanor Roosevelt, in which she states, “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face.”
And while I will defend micro-adventures all day long, facing your fears and overcoming something you thought you couldn’t do is tremendously empowering. No one HAS to jump out of a plane or go deep water diving to explore a shipwreck, but if you’ve ever dreamed of doing that and fear is what’s holding you back, take steps to get there. I promise it will feel more rewarding than any material thing because it changes who you are as a person. Your fear doesn’t control your actions, nor should it. If the idea is too daunting, start with a 30-day challenge facing fears or developing your photography skills!
The same can be said for photography fears. Some people stick with the same style or subject because they are afraid that, if they branch out into something more complex, they might fail. I love seeing new photographers go from newborn photography, to maternity shoots, and then evolve into being wedding photographers (scary!) and doing amazingly.
All photographers face some fear. Fear of rejection, fear of taking pictures of people, and a fear that they just are not good enough. I would say a form of adventure, of stepping out into the unknown, is exactly to get on these fears! It will embolden your soul, enhance your courage, and make you a better photographer, for sure.
One of your first steps for being true to yourself, your journey and your adventure? A Bluebird Chic camera strap. The feeling of “yes, THIS is me” when I started using my first strap in peach blush with world landmarks on it made me feel so much more authentic as a photographer than just carrying a name brand uncomfortable black strap.
And once you’ve gotten to the point where you feel comfortable doing what you once feared?
Go further. Send in your photographs to contests, to galleries, start an Instagram, take your first client, and get your work out there. If you were adventurous enough to capture those images, I guarantee it will spark adventure in others.