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Published on April 30th, 2015 | by Geckos Tales Team

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Into the wild: a photographic journey through Borneo (with Melissa Findlay)

Read time: a bit over 4 minutes

Some travel photography jobs are more challenging than others. So when we were looking for someone to trek to the summit of Mt Kinabulu (4,095m) in Borneo, at the same time as capturing all the action and carrying their own camera gear, we knew we would need someone with some serious mettle. 

Melissa Findley, Brisbane-based photographer, had long been on the Geckos radar as a travel photographer (@Melissafindley), and when we proposed the challenge to her, she didn’t think twice before committing. Her work as a photographer has taken her all around the world and gained her a large, loyal following of fans. And Geckos is one of them.

We won’t lie to you: climbing Mt Kinabalu is hard as hell. But this girl is tough as nails and even ran the last 1km to the summit (in the dark, carrying her gear) to make it before the sunrise to set up a shot. (Imagine running UP an escalator that is going down, in the dark, with 15kg of camera gear in your backpack. You’re there.) Without crushing too hard, she is a tiny, tough, soulful, spirited, creative with a unique and authentic perspective of the world, and one that we think is pretty cool. Here’s what she thought about Borneo.

(All photos courtesy of Melissa Findley)

What attracted you to Borneo in the first place?

When Geckos originally contacted me for the opportunity to visit Borneo, I was really excited. I was fortunate enough to travel to Borneo the first time at age 16 with my parents, and I remember how beautiful it was then, which made me even more excited to head back.

It’s really interesting for me that 10 years earlier, I was there with my parents panoramic 35mm attempting to capture the Orang-utans and how that came full circle to this opportunity. It was amazing to be able to be there, as an adult and see it again with new eyes.

What was the highlight for you?

Hmm that’s a hard one. A tie between seeing the Orang-utans again or the feeling of finally reaching the summit of Mt Kinabalu and watching the sunrise. Incredible!!

Did it meet your expectations, or was it different to what you thought it would be like?

It exceeded my expectations, I’ve been talking non-stop to anyone who will listen to my about how much fun I had on the Geckos trip and how beautiful and diverse Borneo is. From the jungle and the wildlife to the mountains – it is really a beautiful part of Malaysia.

What was the highlight for you, as a photographer? 

Waking up to my alarm at 1:30am (in the hopes the cloud cover had cleared slightly) and standing out in the freezing cold, capturing the night sky from Laban Rata, Mt Kinabalu. There was not another person in sight, a very surreal and peaceful feeling.

A few hours and a 2.5hr hike later I found myself at the summit watching the daybreak above the clouds. A morning to remember that’s for sure!

Do you have a favourite shot you took during the trip?

I always find it really hard to choose favourites…

One particular morning in the jungle, the light rays filtering through the trees were incredible. I really loved that image.

What were the challenges you faced as a photographer?

I would probably saying being able to capture just how incredible the 360 degree views from Mt Kinabalu is and convey the feeling of actually being there, into a still image. Something anyone heading to Borneo needs to witness for themselves.

What’s your favourite thing to shoot when travelling?

The landscapes and the people, of course.

How was it shooting during the Kinabalu climb?

The climb itself was through the most beautiful, dense green forest I found it hard not to stop every 10 minutes and want capture the surrounds. Around every corner it seemed to just get better and better.

Was the trek what you expected? 

It was a lot harder than I expected being my first time at any kind of altitude, but in saying that it was definitely so rewarding! The feeling standing on what feels like the edge of the earth whilst there, is more than enough to forget the aches and pains of the journey prior. I guess that is what makes it all worthwhile right?

What advice would you give to traveller interested in visiting Borneo?

Just go. Explore. See!

Spend a night or few sleeping in the jungle, trek Mt Kinabalu, experience everything Borneo has to offer – you wont be disappointed.

Oh, and don’t be tricked into smelling a Durian fruit before you try it (unless you have a really strong stomach) 🙂

What advice would you give to budding travel photographers?

Look for the opportunity that presents a story in that moment. I find that when I’m travelling I really want to convey a sense of the place and what makes it unique. I would suggest thinking about that and the story that you’re trying to create through your images.

Be in the moment. Stop, slow down take your time to tell that story.

In saying that though, sometimes those magic moments that just happen right before you and that can sometimes be the best storytelling, so be prepaid to take those opportunities too.

Explore Borneo with Geckos Adventures, and check out more of Melissa’s photographs below. 


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About the Author

We run awesome trips around the world. But when we're not on the road, we're sitting here and writing loads of travel-related insights, tips, information and advice. Geckos Tales is your go-to source for whenever you need to find something out about pretty much anything.



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