Social Media Spotlight: Finding Beauty With The Insatiable Traveler Susan Portnoy
Photos courtesy Susan Portnoy
You never quite know when your life’s passion will find you.
This week we had the absolute pleasure of exploring the photography of Susan Portnoy, who many of you might know as The Insatiable Traveler.
Color us fortunate, because the gifted photographer is here to lend a great deal of wisdom for those with a hankering to capture their beloved travel moments with brilliant pictures.
This is as close as you will get to a crash course in photography from someone whose images are downright fascinating.
Portnoy has a real gift in bringing moments to life, especially capturing the mood and vitality of the people that make up communities around the world.
Hopefully, these crucial tips will have you traversing the globe with camera in hand; ready to snap off a few treasures of your own.
TravelPulse: What got you traveling? What was the impetus that sparked not only a love of photography but of seeing the world?
Susan Portnoy: Honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to travel. I’ve always had a passion for adventure and a low threshold for boredom. Travel is a perfect response to both.
My love of photography I found later in life. The seed was planted eight years ago on a trip to Machu Picchu, my first solo trip. I hadn’t planned on going alone, but friends bailed on me at the last minute. The first couple of days I was out of sorts and I found myself using my little point-and-shoot as a prop. If I felt awkward or lonely, I looked for something to photograph to keep myself busy. The first two days I shot A LOT. By the third day, I’d settled in and was having a great time exploring the ruins, and, surprisingly, getting a kick out of making photographs. What had started out as a crutch, had turned into something exciting. It took a few years before it became an essential part of my life, but that’s where it all began. It was a slow burn that’s now taking on bonfire proportions. Today, photographing my travels is just as important to me as the journey.
TP: One of the most overlooked aspects of travel are the people you meet. You have an amazing ability to not only capture the moment but also the people that pepper throughout your travels. Is taking portraits especially important to you as a photographer?
SP: To me, a portrait is so much more than the final image. It’s a vital link to the people I’ve met, learned from, and had the privilege to get to know all over the world. The process inspires conversation, breaks down personal barriers, and leads to experiences I would never have had otherwise. Those moments, no matter how short, have enriched my travels beyond words.
TP: What tips do you have for novice photographers for capturing images they will cherish a lifetime?
SP: Go out and photograph for a few days before you hop on a plane. It will get your creative juices flowing and reacquaints you with your camera so you’re not fiddling with your settings in the moment. Nothing’s worse than missing a perfect sunset because you can’t remember what button to push.
Look to other people’s work for inspiration, and experiment with elements that grab your attention. If you like a camera angle, try it. If the composition is unique, try it. I have a coffee table piled high with photo books and I thumb through them before every trip. I like to see how other photographers approach an image, how they use the light, or compose a scene. One of my favorite resources is National Geographic’s “Your Shot,” a community where amateur and professional photographers post their photos from around the world. Everyday, Nat Geo editors showcase 12 of their favorite images in the “Daily Dozen,” and talk about why each image is worthy of attention. You’ll be surprised with how much you’ll learn, and how it will open your mind to “seeing” the world differently. Then take all that creativity on the road with you.
TP: What tools do you use: camera, editing software and the like?
SP: Cameras: My go-to cameras are my Canon 5D Mark iii and my iPhone.
Post Processing: Ninety-nine percent of my post processing is done in Lightroom CC, it’s easy and powerful and gives me an enormous amount of control. Occasionally I use Nik Software for black and white conversion, but recently I was introduced to Replichrome and I love it.
Lenses: I have a four different lenses, but what I use depends on the final look I’m going for and the environmental conditions, namely, is there enough light? In a recent trip to Cuba, I mainly used my 16-35mm f/2.8 because it’s a fast lens (meaning it works well in low light and we had a lot of cloudy days), and the wide angle was perfect for Havana’s narrow streets and interiors, and when I wanted to make a portrait I could shoot it at 35mm. For times when I wanted a little more reach, I used my 24-105mm f/4. For wildlife, I rent or borrow a longer lens such as the Canon EF 200-400mm f/4L with an internal 1.4x Extender.
Bags: I use one of two camera backpacks by Gura Gear for big trips. For most trips I use The Kiboko 22L, but for times when I need to bring the kitchen sink, or a big lens, I use the Bataflae 32L. When I’m walking around the city I carry the Lowepro Passport Sling Camera Bag. If I want something that’s small but can carry my tripod, or an additional lens, I’ll use my Lowepro Pro Runner 200 AW Camera Backback.
TP: What places would you like to visit in the future?
SP: Hmmm… it may be easier to ask where don’t I want to go.
Lately I’ve been dreaming about Antarctica. I love exploring places that are light years from what I’ve experienced in the past. I want to photograph the tribes in Papua New Guinea and visit the Pyramids in Egypt. The Omo valley in Ethiopia is high on my list as is Rwanda for the Gorillas, and I’d like to see Madagascar while it’s still relatively untouched. I’d like to plop myself in New Zealand for a few months and just bask in the spectacular landscapes. India and Nepal fascinate me. I’d like to visit Iran. I want to see first hand what the country is all about. I also want to go to Banff. Lately, every time I’m floored by a gorgeous landscape on Instagram the image ends up being from somewhere in Banff—I think it’s a sign.
TP: Being an expert global traveler, are there any general tips you have for the occasional traveler out there?
SP: Let serendipity play a part in your adventure. It’s good to have a basic plan, but be open to the unexpected. Chat up a few locals and ask them what to see and do—don’t get caught up in the friends and family bubble. Turn right, not left, just because. It’s also important not to over schedule yourself. Who wants to be run so ragged they need a vacation from their vacation? On the more practical side, invest in travel insurance. It may seem like a waste of money until something goes wrong and then you’ll wish you had. At the very least, make sure you’re covered for medical and evacuation if you’re going to a foreign country. A friend of mine broke his back after slipping on steps in the Amazon. The air ambulance alone cost $50,000, and that was just a fraction of the total expenses he incurred. His travel insurance saved the day. Lastly, open a separate bank account for travel and contribute to it every month. Even if it’s a small amount you’ll be amazed how quickly those dollars add up. I’ve funded the majority of my trips that way.
TP: What's the most rewarding aspect of your life abroad?
SP: The gift of perspective. I love America, and I am grateful to have grown up here but it can be a vacuum. It’s been important to me to discover other countries and cultures first hand and to learn about different religions and ways of life. It gives me a greater appreciation for what I have and a deeper respect for what others endure.
TP: Lastly, is there anything you think our readers might like to know about you and your vibrant work?
SP: My goal for The Insatiable Traveler is to be immersive and inspiring. I want to give my readers a strong sense of a place by concentrating on the extraordinary moments that shape our memories. My focus is less about flight deals or where to shop, as it is on the heart and soul of an adventure.
I also share my passion for photography by introducing readers to new photographers and their images in a feature I lovingly call, Photos I Wish I’d Taken. They’re Images I covet, and that encourage me to up my game. And lastly, as a veteran New Yorker, I celebrate my city in reoccurring piece entitled, Rediscovering New York.
You can see my work in a variety of other media including The Huffington Post, Today.com, TakePart, US News & World Report, Yahoo! Travel, and Mashable, among others, and I look forward to new collaborations in the future.
TP: Do you have any NYC tips? I always love hearing about off the beaten track things to do if you have them.
SP: These may not be necessarily “off-the-beaten-track” but here are a couple things I think the average visitor may not know about.
If you’re hungry and you find yourself in Midtown Manhattan, check out Burger Joint in the Le Parker Meridien on West 56th Street. It’s the forerunner to the Shake Shack craze and the burgers are delish. It’s concealed behind a big red velvet curtain off the main lobby. When you step inside you’ll feel like you’ve been transported to a 50’s roadside dive.
The Metropolitan Museum is on most visitors’ must-see lists, but many don’t realize that on Friday and Saturday nights it stays open until 9pm. There’s appetizers and drinks available at the Great Hall Balcony Bar and live music. It’s wonderful way to relax, chat with friends and you can’t beat the room.
Here’s one for your sweet tooth: If you’re visiting the city and have a craving for delicious homemade goodness, Insomnia Cookies will deliver them to your hotel until 3 a.m. $6 minimum.
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