If you could photograph anything, anywhere, anyplace in the world … what would it be? Here’s one professional photographer’s Top 10 uber wish-list!
By Sergio David Spadavecchia | Outpost Travel Media
A few years ago, I moved from Italy to Canada, and jumped almost immediately onto Outpost’s magic carpet. Since then, I’ve had the honour of being chief photographer for several opXpeditions—from Newfoundland and Labrador, to Torngat Mountains National Park, Jordan, Nunavut, Taiwan, Canmore and Peru. Whether desert overlanding or Dead Sea swimming, exploring ancient cultures or Exploits River rafting, I’ve loved every moment behind my lens.
The world is an amazing place, so beautiful to photograph—it takes so little to discover it. If I had a photo wish-granting genie, I know where I’d want to go and what I’d want to record. Here’s my “must-shoot-in-my-lifetime‚” wish list. What’s yours?
Australian Butterfly Sanctuary
I love detail, precision, texture, depth. Shooting in extreme macro you can capture every single detail of one of the most delicate and colorful creatures on Earth—the butterfly. In Australia, where in a puff of genie smoke I’m flying over the intense red of Ayers Rock, past wallabies and giant bats and landscapes that stretch under the southern hemispheric sun, we head for Kuranda, Queensland on the east side of the country.
Waiting there for my magnifying lens is the incredible electric-blue Ulysses butterfly, the majestic yellow and fluorescent green Cairns birdwing butterfly, and more than 1,500 other species. If you have a full frame camera, you’ll enjoy the detail, depth of colour and texture of each butterfly. A challenge to photograph them all.
Wildlife in Madagascar
Don’t leave the macro home but don’t forget your super telephoto either—next stop on my list is Madagascar, one of the most biodiverse places on the planet and a photographer’s dreamland. From the lance-nosed chameleon to the ring-tailed lemur, century-old tortoises, giant baobab trees and landscapes that will make you believe you’re in a dream—like the stone forest of Tsingy de Bemaraha, made of sharp calcareous peaks, or the many mysterious caves, or the Manambolo River that ends on the immaculate sandy shores of a paradisiac coastline. Make sure you fill your memory cards with all the photos you can—there’s a regretful but strong possibility much of the ecosystem will be gone in less than 20 years.
Angkor Wat Temple Complex, Cambodia
Need I say more? Several movies have been filmed around this iconic place (Tomb Raider comes to mind), but I have yet to go there. I’m particularly enthralled with the Ta Prohm Temple, situated in a courtyard and surrounded by luxuriant vegetation, its stone structure enveloped by huge trees that have wrapped their roots around it in spectacular fashion, while beams of sun stream through branches above.
And the stone faces of the statutes have been chiselled serenely in prayer. Imagine a photo timelapse that captures dawn to dusk. Imagine an HDR (high dynamic range) of the peaceful praying figures while contemplating the Great Departure of Siddhartha. Sit in the lotus position, breathe deeply, check your battery, start meditating while humming the Om (the mystic syllable of the most sacred mantra), then wait for the enlightenment. Just remember to think to press the shutter, or you’ll miss the shot.
Making a wish with a Thai Lantern
Picture this: thousands of sky lanterns slowly floating up into a full moon night, colouring an otherwise cool dark sky with intense orange and yellows, as people stare up at this sea of jellyfish-looking balloons going ever higher. Simply breathtaking. You make a wish, hold it then let it go—you’re now part of a tradition that started around the third century BCE.
Although the hot air balloons were an invention of Zhuge Liang—a Chinese military strategist who ingeniously deployed them to send messages when help was needed during war—they’re now used in festivities to summon the gods and their favours. Make sure your lenses and sensor are sensitive enough to capture the low, warm light of the candles as they float by. I advise your wish be to get the shot—there’s no way to get the lanterns back if you don’t.
The Dakar Rally
In 1977, Thierry Sabine got lost (really lost) on his motorcycle in the Libyan Desert. That amazing adventure launched what is now one of the most incredible and tough off-road races in the world. Sabine’s motto? “A challenge for those who go, a dream for those who stay behind”—I love it. No longer limited to Paris/Dakar (its original route), the race has taken place in South America from 2009-2019—what more could you ask for? A great opportunity in a stunning setting to test how fast your camera can shoot and the speed of your lens. Think you have a fast 11 frames per second?
Great, because these drivers won’t strike a pose or hold off on the gas pedal for anyone or anything. And be assured, the thin desert sand becomes a wave each time a contestant crosses your field of view. I plan to get this shot, if I can. If you want to get it make sure you use a fast shutter speed—that’s how you capture tiny specks of sand flying off tires. You’ll get just one chance—unless you’re super human and can keep up with the cars.
Frozen lighthouses on Lake Michigan
My wish-granting genie is spiriting me from hot desert sands to very frozen northern water. To Lake Michigan, where the power of nature is on full display in the crystallization of every drip of water that washes over a stoic shoreline lighthouse during winter. The red column turns stark white as water freezes over it and turns into sculpted-like ice crystals right there on the shore. Seems like something created by the White Witch in The Chronicles of Narnia!
If you’re brave enough to face the at-times mind-blowingly cold weather, there’s no way your photo will be less than spectacular. Just be aware that Mother Nature has a sense of humour, and you may have to wait a while for the perfect opportunity. Patience, my fellow photographer, patience. Rum helps, too.
Rarest profession in Nepal—Honey Hunter
I love honey but am an admitted scaredy-cat when it comes to being stung by bees. I’ve seen hives as big as watermelons, and if you’ve never seen how many bees can swarm around a hive like that—well, it can be terrifying! If you think you’re brave—well, think about this: in Nepal, honey hunters hang off Himalayan mountains by rudimentary ropes, with no security harnesses, stealing (so to speak) honey from cliffside hives that are big like buses and built by thousands of Apis laboriosa—the largest honey bee in the world (referred to as “the Giant Himalayan honey bee.”)
Try focussing on aperture, shutter speed or ISO while trying to hold your full-frame DSLR still, and praying not to lose your grip or be stung to death. Difficulty level? I’d say 10, on a scale from one to five—which just moves it up on my photo bucket-list. If you ever get this amazing photo-op yourself take as many pictures as you can: these honey hunters are slowly abandoning the cliffs and the bees are dying. Here’s some photos from BBC Earth Unplugged of what a Himalayan honey hunter looks like in action.
Following humpback whales, New Zealand
Now to down-down-down under to follow the biggest mammals on Earth. Blue and humpback whales, singing and gliding under the ocean’s surface, ever so gracefully, even as their weight reaches 190 tons and their speed 50 kilometres an hour. Imagine you get lucky and they want to play, not scared by your neoprene skin, or the shiny housing of your camera. Any photographer lucky enough to have had this experience comes back changed—especially if you’ve had the chance to swim alongside one or stare one down, eye to eye. Maybe the toughest smile to catch on film, but isn’t that a good reason to give it a shot?
Tornados in the Texas Desert
We humans are small and powerless compared to the violence nature can express—in the case of tornados, an incredible force manifests itself in a tube of dust and wind, as if reaching down from the sky just to crush our collective ego. Photographs of these often-times devastating and awful events help us stay prepared, and shed light on how they behave. It always amazes me when one side of the funnel can show a sunny day, while the other, a dark sky with ominous clouds being pierced by sunbeams. That’s a phenomenon I’d like to photograph—hopefully without being sucked into it, though maybe I’d get some amazing aerial shots.
Planet Earth from the Space Station
This takes the cake—being 330 kilometres above Earth, looking at this one-of-a-kind little blue planet in the whole of the universe, our home. Even if you’re an amateur you can’t miss this jaw-dropping shot. If ever you get a chance to take it, do it with a wide-angle lens; the universe is gloriously expansive.
Of course, if you’re a pro, can you imagine doing time-lapses, long exposures, panning shots or even selfies from the space station? No, am not sure about how all that would—but bring a six pack and I’m in.
Sergio David Spadavecchia is a professional photographer and creative director (including for Outpost), who often travelled on assignment for Outpost. His photo (and travel) wish list first appeared in Outpost magazine and has been updated. See more of his photography on here.