Traveling with Intention: Visual Storytelling Around the World with Lola Akinmade
Traveling the world opens us up to unique experiences, new cultures and important lessons that can often change our outlook on humanity. Add a camera to the equation and it’s incredible to see just how far these stories soar.
For Lola Akinmade Åkerström, photography and storytelling are two very special components to her travels. After all, she is an award-winning travel photographer and international bestselling author.
Last year, she was named a 2022 Hasselblad Heroine, adding to her list of well-deserved accolades, which also includes 2018 Bill Muster Travel Photographer of the Year, with featured work in National Geographic, BBC, CNN, The Guardian, Travel + Leisure, New York Times, Travel Channel, and many other publications.
We caught up with Lola to hear about her recent trip to Mongolia, her top takeaways for busy globe-trotters and aspiring travel photographers (practice self-care!), how she uses PhotoShelter on-the-go, and more.
We’re also highlighting Lola’s work this week on Instagram! Head over there to see more of her vibrant travel photography and environmental portraits.
The following interview has been lightly edited for clarity and length. Cover image by Lola Akinmade.
Last year was a big year for you. In addition to signing a new book deal, you were named one of Hasselblad’s Heroines. Tell us about that experience and how you’ve enjoyed working with Hasselblad.
LA: It was an incredible honor to be invited to be a Hasselblad Heroine. It’s a brand I’ve long admired. Beyond being connected to a fantastic community of inspiring photographers, I will also be getting the support, resources, and partnership I need to continue growing and mastering my craft by being a part of the Hasselblad family. This means I have access to Hasselblad cameras and lenses I need for assignments and projects whenever I need them.
Traveling around the world for your photo projects and workshops has become commonplace for you. Tell us about your recent trip to Mongolia. Why did you decide to visit this country in particular? Any takeaways?
LA: Mongolia has been a place I’ve long been fascinated by. Its history and how it seamlessly blends both modern and nomadic lifestyles has always been a big draw from me. From the Altai mountains in the west to the Gobi desert southeast, its topography is as rich and complex as its traditions and people as well.
I travel with an open mind and seek out quiet moments of interaction – whether between people or between people and nature. I also try to go with the flow and listen to residents for their insider knowledge, while photographing those recommendations with new eyes.
How do you plan where you visit with a photographic lens in mind? What kind of research do you do? What does a typical itinerary look like for you?
LA: As a travel photographer, in addition to imagery that captures a sense of place, I focus a lot on cultural lifestyles and environmental portraits, and how people live their everyday lives against backdrops of grandeur. I hope people look into the eyes of my subjects and see them for who they are, see the connection there, and not judge them based on their environment.
I love people who create and craft with their hands. People who are passionate about what they do – from fishermen to textile weavers – and people who are working to preserve traditions and cultures for the next generation. Their passion is intoxicating and contagious. This drives my work and fuels my creativity in terms of sharing their stories.
This means I travel slowly and with intention. So I always research what the prevalent lifestyles and cultural traditions are of the place I plan on visiting. My itinerary is usually very loose, with lots of visits to bustling markets and space for serendipity.
As someone who can certainly be described as a Jill-of-all-trades, with a very busy schedule, how do you find time for yourself? How do you balance it all and what’s your outlook on self care?
LA: I am what you would consider a multipotentialite (or multipod) – someone who thrives on many creative interests and does them well. Multipods tend to be wired differently in the way they approach their work and rest.
I don’t believe a creative needs to spread themselves thinly across multiple disciplines, unless they are true multipotentialites and can carry the load. I often say keeping up with a multipod can be a frustrating experience because they can accomplish a lot with less resources and in less time.
I do have a lot of downtime as well as teams I work with behind various initiatives including helping manage my social media accounts and Geotraveler Media Academy.
I schedule weekly self-care massages when I can and often take most of August off. Beyond that, I consolidate my meetings between Tuesdays – Thursdays. I barely get anything done on Fridays and I rest most weekends to catch up on my stacks of books to read.
Tell us about your gear. What cameras, lenses, tools and programs do you typically use during travels or throughout your workflow?
LA: As a long time DSLR user, moving to the Hasselblad X1DII mirrorless camera has been incredible in terms of the quality and dynamics of the photos I’m taking. Working with mostly fixed Hasselblad lenses (versus, say my 24-70mm or 14-24mm lenses) without any zoom capability has allowed me to be more intentional in the types of images I am creating as a travel photographer who often has to move through assignments quickly.
My favorite Hasselblad lens right now is the XCD 65mm.
What are your top tips for aspiring photographers? What have you learned over the years that others would benefit from?
- Focus on honing your talent over technique. You will learn the technical details later. The most important is developing your compositional eye and way of processing the world as a photographer first.
- Learn all you can about natural light and the way you can use and play with it to bring atmosphere into your photos.
- Start by focusing on themes and subjects you’re passionate about, not what you think people or publications want you to focus on. Work on more personal projects and topics that naturally pique your interest.
Do you have any favorite features on PhotoShelter? How will it help with your creative workflow and/or your photo business in the year ahead?
LA: I’m a longtime user of PhotoShelter and absolutely love the feature where I can quickly create password-protected sub galleries tailored to a specific client or publication from existing galleries. This means I can quickly do this in the middle of the jungle somewhere with spotty wi-fi without having to actually upload images, and simply send them a link.
This is hands down my favorite part of PhotoShelter. Now I just need to find time or hire an intern to help me properly SEO-optimize all my images.
If you’re looking for a one-of-a-kind photography experience, Lola is offering two international workshops this year.
Learn how to elevate your travel photography, improve your landscape photography, take incredible portraits of strangers, experience wonderful traditions and cultures, and get one-on-one lectures and mentorship from Lola herself.
Her Croatia experience is taking place from May 20-27, 2023.
And her Mongolia experience is from September 26-October 3, 2023.
Visit Lola’s website to learn more, and don’t forget to follow along on our Instagram this week as we highlight more of Lola’s fantastic photos!