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One on One with Travel Photographer Kirsten Alana

Insider info and insights on travel photography straight from one of the pros.

by Attit Patel Posted on 03 April 2012

It's funny how social media has really made our world even smaller. Five years ago or so (for me that's), the only way to actually meet people was in person, imagine that. Interacting with someone face to face!

So of course, when a little birdie came along and allowed us to follow, interact, and even meet new people, this changed a lot of things. This is how a Kirsten Alana came on to my radar. Never, and still to this day, meeting her in person, and interacting with them over the interweb is still a bit of an issue for me (now, that's just me). But, having a few mutual friends, and a passion for what we both do, it kinda made some sense (just a little) to reach out to Kirsten for the next installment of One on One.

Kirsten is a photographer, traveling writer and new media consultant from NYC (jealousy raising). She has a minor (cough, MAJOR, according to her) obsession with: iPhoneography, capturing, editing, and processing of photographic images with an Apple iPhone and it's many photography apps. So here we go, One on One with Kirsten Alana...

A.P. How did you get into travel photography?

K.A. My earliest memories of photography involve travel. I remember black and white images of Germany and other European countries taken by my father who was stationed there in the army; I remember Steve McCurry and his National Geographic photographs from places like India. Dreams of travel and photography were, hand in hand, an escape from my tumultuous home life. I ran from both for a long time because I feared neither represented a stable income. In my 30's, I care more about pursuing my passion and less about a stable income -- so I travel and take photographs!

La Tour Eiffel, taken w/ 5D mII
La Tour Eiffel, taken w/ 5D mII

A.P. It's always nice to be able to turn your passion into a career though eh?

K.A. It is nice. I wouldn't go back to a job I hate, just for the money. The thing that a lot of people don't know about pursuing your passion and being your own boss though, is that you work harder than when you're working for someone else! So it isn't easy, even though I think it is better.

A.P. What's the most amazing thing you've shot during your travels?

K.A. People! I travel as much to learn as I do to pursue a passion. I'm always fascinated by the fact that there really isn't much separating all of humanity. We have the same basic needs and urges. The way we each live those out, from country to country, differs. However, the most majestic landscape in the world is nothing compared to the human spirit. Unfortunately, I am better at capturing subjects other than people. So, it's a work in progress for me.

RISD artist in Costa Rica, taken w/ iPhone 4S
RISD artist in Costa Rica, taken w/ iPhone 4S.

A.P. What's your go to gear?

K.A. An unlocked iPhone 4S so I can work on the go in any country I travel to and the Canon 5D mII with L-series lenses like the 50 mm f/1.2!

A.P. Where's the one place you'd like to shoot but haven't yet?

K.A. India!

A.P. What is it about India that makes so many people want to go? I guess you can't speak for everyone, so what is it about India that make you really want to go?

K.A. I'm motivated by those Steve McCurry images of the country that I have been looking at my whole life. I want to capture the drama and color for myself.

Up in the Air, taken w/ iPhone 4S
Up in the Air, taken w/ iPhone 4S

A.P. What are your favourite apps for Iphoneography?

K.A. Hipstamatic - their Loftus Lens and DC film makes mobile food photography completely addicting. I also love the Hipstamatic makes me feel like I am back shooting with film again since ultimately the end result is always a bit of a surprise. Instagram - because the social element is just the best of any photography app out there and I have to try not to overuse the simulated tilt shift. Filterstorm - for adding text to images and very quick re-sizing as well as surprisingly detailed edits that even include layers and masking. Camera+ - for clarity and filters like Contessa, Nostalgia, Silver Gelatin, Ansel, Color Dodge, Diana and Cross Process. ProHDR - for getting that perfect shot in really tricky lighting, I love that the sliders enable you to downplay the obvious and irritating look of HDR. Diptic and Frametastic - these apps make for great collages that work really well for blogging as you travel.

A.P. You'll be speaking at TBEX this year. What does that mean to you? Any sneak previews about what you'll be talking about?

K.A. TBEX is always a riot and we travelers love to have fun! As a teacher, I don't get the same amount of time to hang out with fellow travelers but I really love teaching people more about photography and it's one of the largest gatherings of travel people, so a great audience for a teacher. I'll be speaking on the basics of good photography, how to be a better photographer as a travel blogger and how mobile photography technology can really aid us all in doing our jobs better.

A.P. Any advise for aspiring travel photographers?

K.A. This isn't a job one pursues solely for fame and fortune. If you're interested in travel photography - be prepared to work hard, always be learning new things and constantly experimenting. Jodi Ettenberg is a great example of this in the recent post she did, Istanbul through a Pinhole. So don't pay attention to what everyone else is doing -- blaze your own trail and take pictures that are different. Sometimes this requires laying down on a dirty sidewalk or standing atop a railing so that you can capture a different perspective. Do what it takes to get a great shot and let your work speak for itself. If it's good enough, it will - and so will others, for you. Don't assume a dSLR will make you a great photographer, some of the worst images I have ever seen were taken with professional cameras. Invest in a camera you can master, not in a camera that is made for a master; good cameras do not take great photographs, great photographers take great photographs.

A.P. What's up for Kirsten next? Any big travel plans?

K.A. On April 10, I leave NYC for the UK, Italy, Turkey, South Africa and Mauritius. I may visit a few other European countries along the way. In Italy, I'll be teaching at TBU and when I return to the states, I'll be teaching at TBEX in Colorado.

A.P. I'll see you at TBEX!

To learn more about Kirsten or even get into one of her workshops check out her site,

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