What a great interview! It’s always nice to learn about far away places through someone else’s eyes. And when that someone happens to have a camera in their hands, all the better.
I’d like to introduce a very talented traveling photographer named Joan Carroll. Joan is a Texas resident who has moved around quite a bit before landing where she now calls home. An avid traveler, having visited a good number of locales around the world, Joan specializes in architectural photography with inspiration stemming from urban scenes and urban architecture. As you’ll see from the photos Joan sent over with the interview below, she truly has a flair for telling a story through the images she captures.
Joan, thank you for allowing us to learn about some of your adventures through your photography and for allowing us to get to know a bit about you. You are a brilliant photographer and someone who’s work is definitely worth following.
1. Can you please tell our readers a bit about yourself?
Life has not been a straight line for me. My undergraduate degree was in Anthropology and I think that interest in other cultures was probably an extension of my wanderlust! I realized on graduation that the world was open to me and that I could live anywhere I wanted. I picked the Caribbean and luckily someone there picked me back so that I could get a work permit! For the next seven years, I was a charter sailboat crew member, a cook on a private 110′ boat, and a scuba instructor. Then I did a turn, went back to graduate school in exercise physiology and called academia home for about 25 years. During that time, I also learned to fly and held and instructor’s certificate. The recession of 2008 found me without a job and no inclination to spend any more time in academia. Photography had always been there on the sidelines of my life, and the circumstances came together at that point to allow me to pursue it full time. So photography has been my focus for the last 7 years. When I look back, I realize that I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the sum total of where I have been.
2. Where do you call home?
No matter where I have lived, I always tend to call ‘home’ where I am at the moment. Right now, that is Fort Worth, TX. I grew up in NJ, went to school in NY, spent 7 years in the Caribbean, and lived in Florida and Mississippi before moving to Texas in 1998.
3. When did you first realize that you’d been bitten by the travel bug and what was it that prompted you to incorporate photography into each of your trips?
I ran away from home “for the first time” (according to my mother) when I was a month short of my 3rd birthday. Clearly, I wanted to go places from early on! But I also remember, early in life, an enchantment with airports, on the rare occasion when we would go to one. Airline travel was still exotic then. I also loved the adventure of taking the bus from our small town in New Jersey to “The City” (New York City). When I was about 11 or 12, I went on a trip with my mother to Colorado, Utah, and Arizona, part of which was a train trip on the California Zephyr from Denver to Salt Lake City. The Instamatic Camera had recently been invented and we brought one along. It was so easy to change out those 126 film cartridges, so I could easily indulge a budding interest in photography. In college, a friend introduced me to 35 mm photography and also to the photography of Ansel Adams. I got a Nikkormat camera and what a thrill that was! We also decided on a hitchhiking trip across the country the summer after my freshman year, destination Yosemite. Of course nothing I photographed remotely resembled Ansel Adams’ work, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. After college, I always looked for something adventurous in travel and always took a camera along. Back then, it was film so you had to anticipate whether you’d want black and white or color, and what ISO you might need. It was not unusual to have 50 rolls of film along for a week’s holiday!
Fast forward to 2008 and a trip to Beijing for the Summer Olympics. I had just been laid off from my job. I came to realize that finding another job in the same field was not in the cards. At that time, I was also exposed to some very inspirational places in Beijing, Chengdu, and Shanghai (China) and Lhasa (Tibet). Despite having only a point and shoot camera, I came home with many wonderful photos, and some were even good enough to sell! That started me on a new path in life.
I had always had a camera with me on travels, right from the start with the Instamatic. Maybe it was the fascination with that easy-load 126 cartridge that took away the great mystery of getting film in and out of the camera! It made photography accessible to everyone, much like advances today first with digital cameras and now with cell phones. But starting way back then, a trip just didn’t seem complete without a camera along.
4. How do you go about deciding on where to travel to next, meaning, what sort of inspiration does a location have to offer for it to be included on your list of places to go?
There are emotional/inspirational as well as practical reasons why I choose a place to travel to. Sometimes, there is an indefinable ‘something’ that prompts me to choose a location. A few years ago, I was reading about various cities in Italy. I thought I wanted to go to Venice, but as I was reading, I wasn’t feeling inspired at that time. But when I started reading about Rome, it instantly felt right. I think you have to be ready to accept when the inspiration strikes to visit someplace.
On another level, I enjoy places that seem to have a history and an organic growth. This is the sense that you get in many cities in Europe, particularly those that suffered less war damage.
On the practical side, places that are accessible are also on my list, since I often travel alone. Dealing with a lot of complicated travel arrangements is easier with a companion. When I’m by myself, I like to keep the travel arrangements simple. I love the trains in Europe and usually find myself somewhere where the trains go.
5. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of photographing while traveling?
Nowadays, the first major challenge in traveling by air is packing light while still including photography equipment! When I travel by air, I travel only with a carry-on bag and a backpack so some hard decisions have to be made on what to bring! I want the freedom to move about easily, not only during the transit portion of the trip, but also while I am ‘on location.’ Too much luggage or too much equipment gets in the way of the sweet freedom of travel. Making the best of the weather conditions that you are presented with is also a challenge and requires studying the weather to plan what days or times might be good for the photos you are interested in. Crowds and costs are two other issues and off-season travel helps with both. Finally, safety is a concern, particularly when I travel alone and/or when I photograph at night. Common sense and global awareness are important in that regard!
6. From reading through the “About” page on your website, I see that you’ve covered a wide variety of locations. Which would you say is your favorite and why?
I can honestly say that I have loved every place I’ve been to! There is always something to engage you wherever you are, if you remain open to it. That being said, I do love Budapest and Prague. Both of those cities are so exceptional that we have made multiple trips to each, including visits during the Christmas Market season in Europe. Part of the charm in both cities has been the absolutely fabulous B&Bs that we were lucky enough to find. The proprietors of those places made our visits exceptional! I also have a fondness for Spain and keep going back to visit more places. I’ve visited Toledo, Granada, Sevilla, Segovia, Barcelona and Madrid. You can tell Spain’s a favorite since I have nearly 200 photos from there in my portfolio! No matter what city we visit in Spain, the last stop is always a night in Madrid in order to fly home. And we always spend that night at a little hostel where they now know us pretty well. Closer to home, I love visiting the Spanish Missions, near San Antonio, TX, the lesser ones more so than the Alamo. And Cadillac Ranch, up in the Panhandle of TX, is a must-see tourist attraction Route 66!
Hungarian Parliament at night – Budapest, Hungary
Prague Castle and St. Nicholas Church – Prague, Czech Republic
Rowboats at the Plaza de Espana – Sevilla, Spain
Chapel at the Mission Concepcion – One of the Spanish Missions in San Antonio, TX
Cadillac Ranch – Amarillo, TX
7. While browsing through the photo galleries on your website, I noticed many types of stunning photography. What types of things do you love to shoot the most and why?
When I first became interested in photography, I was enthralled with Ansel Adams and wanted to shoot landscapes like he did. But over the years I have found an affinity for architectural photography. Maybe my background in science makes me more attracted to the lines and angles of architecture. But you can really tell some great stories with architecture. Architecture speaks of its time and place and if you spend some time studying the details, you become fascinated with the social and political history surrounding its creation. I love the quote by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe: “I call architecture frozen music.” Music has a beauty and a flow and so does beautiful architecture.
8. Which is the worst place you’ve ever visited and what made it so bad?
I can’t say that there are cities of places that I would consider a ‘worst place.’ What I can say is that if a place is not to my liking, I need to rethink my liking! I can also say that when I have had what might be viewed as a ‘bad experience,’ I will try to articulate to myself what I learned from it. Maybe it’s an uncomfortable truth about myself that caused me to have that bad experience. When I am traveling, I try to stay open to possibilities so that if I’m not having a stellar day, I can move on to something better.
On the other hand, a bad isolated experience often makes for a good story later on! I stayed, with my husband, in a B&B in London where the room was so small that only one of us at a time could move about. The ‘breakfast’ part of that B&B was a small basket that had some granola bars and other awful snacks in it. We took pictures of ourselves sitting on the bed with our feet practically touching the wall on the other side. But with a sense of humor, you can make a good story out of it. We probably tell that story of London more than anything else we did!
Another not-so-stellar experience was visiting the Sistine Chapel in Rome. I know…one of the world’s premier sites…but it’s absolutely awful to visit. We bought our ticket online to avoid the lines outside, but we were totally unprepared for the line inside. You get to the Sistine Chapel through the Vatican Museum and it was so crowded that we literally shuffled along in sync with the crowd through the various halls and hallways. We hardly looked at a thing in the Vatican Museum, it was too difficult to get out of the crush. Then, once in the Sistine Chapel, there is not supposed to be any talking. However, if you pack 500 people in a hall and only some of them whisper, there would be a low rumble of voices. The guards were constantly bellowing “SILENCIO” and yelling at people not to take photos. If anything, the guards ruined the atmosphere more than the talking. We snuck out the ‘back door’ with a tour group and were happy to get outside again. Normally, we travel on the cheap, but this is one thing I would absolutely pay to see in peace and quiet if we ever go to Rome again.
9. What type of camera(s) do you shoot with? What’s your favorite lens?
Currently, I have a Nikon D7100. Most often, I use the Nikon 18-200 f 3.5-5.6. This allows me to do most everything I need to without changing lenses and helps keep my baggage lighter! I often can’t resist taking another lens on my trips, thinking ‘what if…’ but end up rarely using it.
10. What is your favorite photography accessory?
When I travel, there isn’t room for many photography accessories. One essential, however, is a tripod and cable release! I won’t travel without them! A flashlight (with a red or green light) is essential for night shots. An umbrella can do double duty to block floodlights often found around historic buildings at night. And good for shielding the camera from the sun when it’s at the wrong angle.
11. How important is Photoshop or other image editing software in your final images?
VERY important! It’s been said that the best way to get great location shots is to live there! However, when you visit, you have to make do with the weather and conditions that you are presented with. Night shots, shots in the middle of the day, blown out skies, the wrong sun angle, rain, fog, haze, no clouds, too many clouds, they all make for challenging lighting conditions. Shooting brackets and then using digital editing to bring out the best from those images is essential. I use Photoshop, onOne software, Nik software, and Topaz. As I have become familiar with each of the programs, I am more easily able to choose the best tool for what I am looking to create.
12. Do you plan on purchasing any new equipment and if so, what are you on the lookout for?
I am not an equipment junkie, not someone who always wants the latest and the greatest. I also know that the best equipment is inside your head. That being said, I’d love a full frame sensor camera someday 😀
13. How do you stay motivated to keep photographing your travels?
It hasn’t been difficult to stay motivated to keep photographing and traveling since I love doing both. I am usually going someplace new or back to a location where I really want to spend more time, so there is always some excitement. I’ll look at photography or travel websites to get an idea of different places to go or different vantage points for a particular scene. Sometimes I set myself a ‘theme’ that I want to pursue that day, like looking for interesting doors, windows or balconies, while I am walking from ‘here to there.’
14. What advice could you offer someone who would like to break into the world of photo travel?
Well, you have to love travel, of course, and love to learn about new places. If you are traveling outside of the US, embrace the idea that things will be different. Money, food, customs, it’s all different. It’s not better or worse, just different. Don’t stay in an international chain hotel, do travel the public transport, do shop in the local grocery stores. Get off the main tourist drags. Eat in a hole in the wall establishment. Stay more than a day in a city, get to know more than the big attractions! Don’t ride the red tourist hop on – hop off buses. Sure you’ll see the highlights, but nothing insulates you more than spending your day with a bunch of other tourists. Learn the money! Don’t hold out a fist full of change and tell the clerk to take what they need! Respect the local people and customs. Travel light. It’s hard to navigate the metro or public bus with a gigantic suitcase and camera bag. And after you travel light a few times, you will wonder what the heck you ever carried before that required a bigger suitcase!
15. Do you regularly visit any photography or travel related websites for inspiration or learning? If so, which ones?
For inspiration, I will check out location-specific photography and travels sites before I travel for ideas of what and where to photograph. I will also read travel books to learn more about the location so that I can have a better appreciation of the place I am to visit. For learning, I find it very helpful to participate in webinars hosted by various software companies that help you learn the software better and inspire you to try new things. I check out videos and courses from photographers such as Jimmy McIntyre, Blake Rudis, and Phlearn for new processing techniques.
16. Are there any areas of the world that you’d still like to visit and photograph?
WOW, yes! We have traveled a lot in Europe, but when I look at a map, I see how tiny Europe is in the context of the entire globe. I’d love to photograph some elephants in Africa, love to visit New Zealand’s south island, love to return to Lhasa Tibet, love to see Uluru in Australia. Eastern Europe, along the Adriatic, Cuba…lots of places are calling. I have yearned to go to Antarctica for decades, having read and reread the adventures of Scott and Amundsen, and some of the misadventures of Ernest Shackleton. I’m not sure I’ll make it to all these places but I’ll keep dreaming!