Published on May 16th, 2014 | by Geckos Tales Team
How to shoot like a pro: tips from photographer Maja Zonjic
Read time: a bit over 3 minutes
Maja Zonjic is a documentary photographer and filmmaker, which means she’s a pretty good person to ask about the finer points of travel photography. So that’s what we did.
Pull up a chair, get comfortable, and prepare yourself to be schooled. Whether you’re a budding, amateur, or seasoned photographer, Maja’s got you covered.
Tell us a little bit about yourself. Who are you and what do you do?
I am a documentary photographer and filmmaker based in Toronto, Canada, but working globally. I am passionate about social justice, equality, environmental issues and animal welfare, and am currently working in different facets of various creative industries.
What is your favourite place in the world to photograph?
I don’t think I have been to enough places in the world to come up with a firm decision. If I had to choose, I would definitely go with Guatemala. It is an amazing place, rich with culture and the people there have by far left the deepest impressions on me. From a practical perspective, there are so many different parts of Guatemala one can photograph – from waterfalls, street markets, lakes, Mayan ruins, colonial architecture etc- that any traveller is bound to find something of interest.
If you could give the common traveller on tip to improve their travel photography what would it be?
Work on it every day. Go through photo books to see what has been done before and appreciate it. But really work on your own skills and develop your own style. For example, challenge yourself to figure out difficult light scenarios instead of shying away from night photography.
Forge your own path and find your own style. Everyone else is shooting the Temple of the Jaguar in Tikal from the ground? Find the highest vantage point, climb it and compose your shot. There are six photogs doing close-ups of the exquisitely prepared 5-star restaurant meal? Go out into the street and strike up a conversation with the lady that is selling baleadas and then ask her permission to photograph her making them. You get my point.
Do you need an expensive camera to take good travel photos?
Not at all. I’m a firm believer that owning the most expensive gear won’t make you a better photog – if anything it might actually hinder your technical progression. Realistically, anyone with a slight sense of composition and a high-priced DSLR camera can take an OK picture on the auto setting. But in situations where they have to manually adjust their aperture or shutter speed, these photogs will inevitably fail because they’re not familiar with their equipment or simple photography basics.
Can you give us some tips on how to photograph people naturally while still being respectful?
Travel photography comes with ethical considerations that many people don’t unfortunately recognize. Consider leaving your telephoto lens at home or in your hostel. Seriously. Unless you’re really into wildlife photography, there is no reason for you to lug it around.
Always ask for permission – I have never taken a photograph of a person I was not allowed to take. Talk to the locals. If you don’t speak the language, make an effort to memorize 10 sentences – these could go a long way in the way people perceive you. You will find that the more effort you make, the more people begin to open up, which will definitely show in your photographs.
I make a habit of printing 4×6 images of people in case I return to a place I previously visited so I could give them to my subjects if I come across them again – it’s a simple gesture that people really appreciate. You would be surprised to find out how many of these people not just remember me, but remember my name, or our conversations.
Respect your surroundings and leave positive footprints, or don’t leave any footprints at all.
What is the one place on the planet you’d like to photograph but have yet to have the chance?
Having visited Guatemala, Cuba and Honduras on several occasions which has allowed me to get a good grasp of Spanish, I really want to embark on a two-year Central and South America road trip where I visit and photograph each country in the region.
More about Maja: Maja Zonjic is a documentary photographer, filmmaker, designer and researcher currently practicing in Toronto. Her artistic concerns are largely influenced by her background and predominantly focus on the impact of globalization on marine-based economies and the contemporary representation of war and conflict. She has exhibited, screened, and published works across several venues in Canada and has been short listed twice in a National Geographic Photography Contest.