Recently, Lightroom hosted the Around the World with Lightroom Photo Contest, which asked our community to share travel photographs and stories on our Facebook page. After a panel of judges selected five finalists, members of the community voted Courtney C. as the winner of the grand prize: a photo expedition to Chiang Mai, Thailand with award-winning photojournalist Steve McCurry.
Courtney recently returned from her travels to Chiang Mai and we got a chance to ask her some questions about her trip.
How did you get involved in the Lightroom travel contest? What compelled you to submit?
Courtney: I was actually somewhat new to Lightroom when I entered the travel photo contest. I have used Photoshop for years but I had wanted to learn Lightroom, not only for faster editing, but also for organizational and storage purposes. I believe I first saw the contest on Lightroom’s Facebook page. I was in the middle of sifting through three months of travel photos, and I had just returned from living in Asia for more than three years, so I knew I had plenty of photos to submit. Based on previous viewers’ reactions to my work, I felt that perhaps I had a chance at winning. I was quite consistent with submitting a photo every day from the first day I had entered.
How would you describe your style of photography?
Courtney: I have a very distinct style of photography, and it is far from traditional. I love photography that has design, often with a lot of negative space, but also photography that has soul. I love capturing people. If a photograph has both of these things, I am sure I will like it. I love documenting life as it unfolds in my distinct photojournalistic style, and some of my favorite photographs are ones I’ve taken of my friends while we’re hanging out on a rooftop or just meandering through Seoul or Chicago streets. I love film, and my winning photograph was snapped on film. If I shoot digital, I often try to emulate the look of film during post-production in Lightroom.
What types of activities did you do while in Chiang Mai? What was your favorite?
Courtney: We had a very busy schedule in Chiang Mai, and it always kept me on my toes (and up and out before it was light outside)! We would spend our mornings shooting monks collecting their morning alms in the streets, monks at their temples and elephants. We also got to photograph a long-neck hill tribe, as well as a community preparing their adolescent boys for a coming-of-age festival. We even had the opportunity to shoot at a water buffalo market. My favorite activity, though, was the opportunity to shoot at a Thai tattoo festival. We were very fortunate that the festival took place while we were in Chiang Mai. During the festival, hundreds of tattooed people waited in line to be blessed by Thailand’s tattoo master. At the end of the festival, those who participated showed their tattoos to the sun and became “alive.” In other words, whatever animal they had tattooed on their bodies, they became that animal in spirit. It was very fascinating, and if I’m honest, a little bit frightening.
What was the most important lesson you learned from your trip?
Courtney: I think the most important lesson I learned was to be true to my style. Not only was I surrounded by the master Steve McCurry all week, but also some other amazing photographers from all around the world. It was intimidating, and often humbling, showing my work to the like. Now, I need to do my style and perspective well, but it is so important to stay true to who you are. The second most important lesson I learned was to take multiple shots of the same scene. Often, when I am traveling, I am with friends and others, and just take a snap or two as I am passing by. Sometimes I wait for a scene to play out as I hope it would, but I often only snap two or three frames. If you watch Mr. McCurry work, you will notice he is snapping away and away at different angles. I also realized that it is okay to work more in-depth with a person when you are taking their portrait. In the past I was shy about asking to take a portrait, and often would just snap a larger scene. I not only ask now, but I am also not afraid to reposition them slightly in order to achieve the best lighting and backdrop possible. I learned lots of great technical information as well, including a short, but VERY informative Lightroom tutorial with a professional sitter. My mind was blown! The best part of the trip was getting the opportunity to watch Steve McCurry work. That opportunity in itself was invaluable!
How do you anticipate your trip to Chiang Mai will change your photography?
Courtney: I have already begun to take what I’ve learned and put it to use, all while staying true to my style. I also used to worry that I didn’t have the proper equipment or enough equipment to compete with the professionals. But it’s great to know that such a master as Steve McCurry goes to work with just one camera and one lens. I think I will worry less about equipment and really get the most out of what I have at the moment.
What was your favorite photograph from Thailand?
Courtney: There are many photos that I really enjoy from Thailand, but I think my favorite is from the last day of shooting when we walked around the water buffalo market. There was a boy sitting in the front seat of a run-down red pickup truck. I asked him if I could take his portrait (with hand gestures), and he agreed. What turned out was an image that Mr. McCurry called “soulful” and those are the kinds of images I try to take.
What piece of advice would you give to other Lightroom users based on your trip?
Courtney: I would say that no matter what kind of equipment you have, you can turn out great images. Wait patiently, snap multiples on each frame, and really learn how to use Lightroom to its full capacity. You will be amazed with how much you can do with what you already have.