The dream travel photography project

Imagine you're asked to photograph at one of your favourite destinations. It's for a company you really like. You get to use a camera that’s not even released yet and you’re given plenty of creative freedom. On top of everything, you get paid well too. 

Sounds like a dream project, right? It was very real though. I was fortunate enough to be involved in this project last summer. Yes, that’s almost a year ago, but it came to fruition only a few months later. By then I was on the road. Travel, long blog posts and and decent internet connections just don't seem to mix.

In this post I’ll tell you all about the travel and the shoots. You’ll see where all the material ended up. I’ll share what I took away from my experience too. I’ve written this for those of you who are simply curious, but perhaps even more so for those who aspire to do travel/documentary photography for a living. I’m always imagining myself when I was starting out when I create content like this. I would read posts like these to get ideas. I'd learn what’s possible and how the people who are doing what I want to do approach their work. 

My dream travel photography project DEtails 


My dream travel photography project was for the launch campaign of Panasonic's Lumix G80/81 camera. I was to go to Romania to create the kinds of images that I usually make. Travel/documentary stuff focused on people’s everyday lives, culture and traditions. 

I would also be the face behind the camera for this campaign. I didn't realise how (literally) big this was until I saw the posters of my face with the camera at Photokina. There would be video of me shooting too and this meant that I’d have another person filming me using the camera in various situations. That person would be Jacob James, my young friend from the UK. 

How I got he project – life can be very weird

It began with me becoming a Panasonic Lumix Europe ambassador. I blogged about that HERE. During a talk with one of the managers I was asked "What would be your ideal contribution as an ambassador? What's your dream project?" So, I said it. I wanted to shoot a campaign for a camera launch. I always thought that would be an awesome thing to do. 


I told my mum that I had become a Lumix ambassador. She didn't quite understand what it all meant. I joked with her and loaded up the Panasonic Lumix website with a large image of photographer holding a camera. I said "This will be me." 

Life is very weird sometimes. About a month later I got a call. They offered me the campaign and asked if I felt ok having my face in brochures and on posters. I'd end up exactly like the photographer in the image I showed my mother (that's the image above). I'm a pretty skeptical kinda dude. I value science over talk like "just think positive and great things will happen – bla bla bla." However, this seems to have been the story of my adult life so far.

Why Romania?

I flew to London, to meet up with Jacob and Brave – the creative agency that worked with us on the project. We sat around a table and brainstormed ideas. The creative reigns were handed over to us for most part. However, we did need to make sure that the footage and the photos would demonstrate some of the camera's key features. Part of the meeting was about how we'd get that across. The other part would be about where we'd go. 


Jacob and I had both been to Romania. We both did some of our favourite work there. Specifically in the Maramures region. In fact, my Travel Photographer of The Year award-winning portfolio that I did a VIDEO COURSE on comes from there too.

So, we were both familiar with Romania. We loved it and, it's in Europe (this was for Panasonic Europe after all). The final factor was that Jacob had befriended a great translator/fixer that could sort out any of our needs. Having someone proven, that you can rely on would be crucial with the limited time that we'd have. 

Our journey through Maramures, Romania

Paul (left) & Ruslan (right). Real characters these two.

Off we went. Me, Jacob, Paul – the translator and fixer and Ruslan – the assistant. Later we had another driver and translator named Ilie. A team from Brave and the marketing director of Panasonic Europe came out for a few days too. Everybody was taking a chance on us. It was only natural that they wanted a bit of reassurance. To make sure that we wouldn’t royally screw everything up. 

With great images you have leverage with future clients/employers. If you have nothing that you’re proud of – you’ve wasted an opportunity. 

We had 11 days to shoot. Myself – the photos. Jacob – the video. I came a couple of days earlier. I wanted to make sure that the people and the locations that Paul had set up were exactly what we needed. Thankfully Paul was right on the money and I could focus on doing some extra scouting. 

One thing that's important to note for any aspiring photographers. Never look at a project as simply work and a way to get paid. Your photos are you. They're what you'll be judged by. If you need to arrive at a location early (even without pay), if you need to not sleep a couple of days to get the photos – that's ok. The photos are what matters. With great images you have leverage with future clients/employers. If you have nothing that you're proud of – you've wasted an opportunity. 

the photographs

I preferred to keep things as real, as documentary as possible. However, there was filming involved and at times we also needed very specific images. In these situations it's inevitable that you'll have to stage shots. So there was a mix – documentary and staged. Even so, the idea was to make everything look real.

One of the first shoots was in the mountains with the shepherds. Most of these scenes were completely real. I was just observing, running after them, trying to get photos.


My photoshoot during a church service was fairly spontaneous and unstaged as well. We drove through some villages on a Sunday. Sundays are all about church in Maramures. We saw people coming in and out of churches everywhere. At one of the bigger churches I decided to go inside and see if I can come up with something decent. We came in and I quietly went around getting some candid photographs. 

Thankfully the people in Maramures are incredibly welcoming. Instead of getting annoyed at a stranger with a camera they urged me to go to the front to have a better angle. Not too many places where this happens. 


There were a couple of families that had the characters who we felt would be particularly good for the campaign. We'd come to them and ask –  what would you normally be doing now? One of the families was working in the fields, stacking hay. We asked if we could go and shoot that. 


My philosophy is that you’ve got to milk every opportunity as much as you can. You just never know which image will be the one.

We also followed some of the members of this family around while they did their everyday chores. Every now and then I interjected for a portrait. Jacob would film. Other than that we tried to stay out of the way and gave them space to do their thing. Below are some photos I made while the young girl – Mariutsa and her grandmother tended to the animals.

My philosophy is that you've got to milk (no pun intended) every opportunity as much as you can. You just never know which image will be the one. This goes for my normal travel photography, as well as a project like this one. In this case I also wanted to give Panasonic as much stuff to choose from as possible. 


The few instances where we did stage scenes were when we needed to show off a specific camera feature. Mariutsa and her father – Ioan would take hay to their home every evening, right around sunset. We felt that footage of me shooting from a moving horse cart was a good way to demonstrate the camera's stabiliser. So, one evening we went back and forth in the horse cart. This would allow Jacob to get footage from different angles. I didn't mind, since I got more chances to capture strong stills.


Creatively the biggest challenges were to showcase the 4K photo mode and the post focus. It's wasn't hard to come up with the ideas. It's just that we didn't want to repeat what had already been done. Below you see two images representing the post-focus feature. With post-focus the camera shoots for a few seconds, automatically recording different focus points in a scene. You can choose where you want the focus after. Pretty insane idea, even if I don't use it much personally. 

For the 4K photo we had a grandma from another family pretend to be bashing around clothes in a traditional washing-machine-like contraption. You don't see these much outside of Maramures (maybe not at all).

We wanted to show how you can freeze the moment with 4K photo – all the splashes, the motion. I got the camera wet while shooting and this helped us kill two birds with one stone. We also demonstrated that the weather sealing works well. 

The Adventures and misadventures in Maramures

Once we captured the core photos and footage, we drove around to get more bits and pieces. I wanted to make sure that I had something special and that there would be a broad enough selection of photographs to use. 

We hit the village streets. I photographed everyday life and made portraits of the folks who I found particularly photogenic. 


A funny (somewhat dangerous) thing happened

The recurring theme of shooting in the countryside in Maramures were shepherd dogs. I love dogs, but these creatures – they're something else. One wrong move and – say good bye to a piece of your arm, or leg. Well, at least that's how it felt. We had a few very close encounters. None of them closer than the one with Ilie – the other translator/driver. 

Here's how it happened. One of our searches for shepherds, led us way off road. Our "mighty" Dacia Duster could go no further. We needed to get out and walk. The problem? Very aggressive dogs guarded the flock. They didn't let anyone anywhere near it nor near the shepherds.

Suddenly Ilie had some very pissed off, snarling beasts ready to tear him to pieces.

Ilie decided that he'd had enough of being bullied by the vicious canines. He got out of the car and ran directly at two or three of the dogs. Gutsy move, even if it was completely insane. To our surprise the dogs momentarily disappeared. Ilie was ready to celebrate victory, but then came a bigger surprise.

Six or seven more dogs appeared out of nowhere. It seemed as if the ones that he chased away simply went to get backup. Suddenly Ilie had some very pissed off, snarling beasts ready to tear him to pieces. They were coming for him from different directions. Out with the bravado, Ilie ran for his life, just making it back inside the car.

Thankfully the shepherd and his nephew came soon after they heard all the barking. They called the dogs back and invited us over. The hassle was worth it, as I got some photos and Jacob got usable footage.

The biggest challenge

From a photographic point I was given the green light to do what I normally do, so nothing tricky there. The being on camera part was challenging in one sense. I had to do certain things for the camera and re-do them, instead of shooting 100% of the time. But the biggest challenge during this project came from something very simple. 

Summertime in this part of the world meant 5 am sunrises and very late sunsets. If we wanted to shoot in the golden light, which we did, it meant getting very little sleep.

Some people don’t need much sleep to function. I can function, but I need loads of coffee and eventually a siesta. Every day I'd drink ridiculous amounts of coffee. Then I'd completely pass out around the midday hours. A few consecutive days of this and getting out of bed in the morning only got harder. I made it, but I did a lot of catching up on sleep when I got back to my family.

After the shoot

I needed to send the photos to Brave ASAP. Since I had already worked on some while I was still in Romania – no drama there. 

There was another trip to London too. This time to have my photo taken for the campaign and to do some voiceover recording. Having a stylist brush my hair and beard and powder me to avoid shine was unusual to say the least. I think the shoot turned out well. I look much better than I do in life in the poster and isn’t that what advertising is all about? :) 

This is a very geeky kinda thing, but it was cool to do the voiceover in a proper sound-proof room. A much better alternative to recording a voiceover in a bathroom, covered by a blanket. The room/studio is on the right, the young lady is Jasmin from Brave. 

When it all came together

To see the fruits of our work we’d need to wait a few months. It all came together at Photokina. Seeing a large board of my head was… surreal.

The image was everywhere. I wasn't very recognisable, since my eyes were covered by the camera, but, I knew it was me and that was enough to make it surreal for me. The camera being in the middle of my face is a concept by the Panasonic Europe marketing manager. Some friends have made fun of it, saying I look like Cyclops from X-Men. But, I think the idea is actually quite brilliant. When we look at a face we naturally gravitate towards the eyes, but here, instead of the eyes – you see a camera. Makes a lot sense when your aim is to advertise one. 

If you click on the left photo below – that's part of the Photokina Panasonic booth. Much more pleasing to see my photos from Romania printed large than to look at myself. I've included some more places from Photokina where I'd be greeted by myself.

What else?

The photographs from the campaign were also used for Panasonic’s social media stuff, other expos and they printed a brochure, which is better than most photo books I’ve seen. Unfortunately I don't have a photo for that. You'll have to take my word for it. 

The videos

Below you can see the videos that Jacob shot. They'll give you a better idea of the bigger picture of what we were doing. Basically, they're all about giving life to the camera – making it more than a lifeless piece of technology.

What I took away from the experience

The main point of having me shoot the campaign was that I had done this sort of stuff many times. While I didn’t necessarily learn anything new, there were a few mental notes/takeaways from the experience. Here they are. 

You’ve got to be open to new things or you’ll simply miss out

Being in front of the camera is something that seemed pretty daunting. For a second I even thought that this isn’t something for me. But then I thought of the bigger picture. Did I want to be seen as someone who’s not open to anything new? As someone who can’t venture outside their comfort zone? Nope. I’m excited about great projects. Send them my way. That’s the message I wanted to communicate. 

Having your team on the same page is awesome

This is only the second big commercial project that I’ve done in a team. It might be too early to call this a trend, but it seems that when you’re working on high-level stuff, the people around you actually want to be there. They’re enjoying the process, coming up with ideas and contributing something. 

It's very important to have competent fixers/translators

I can’t emphasise this enough. A proper fixer isn’t always affordable on a personal shoot, so I really enjoyed this luxury in Romania. You can assign tasks to a professional fixer. Paul (our fixer) did the research, found great characters and sorted out all the logistics – model releases, car rental, hotels – everything. I could just focus on my role. 

You’ve got to be ready to work your ass off

This is nothing new, but always applicable. I didn’t love waking up at 4 am, but I loved every minute of being in the field and shooting. Even walking back through kilometres of mud in the rain during one of our scouting days was fun. It felt like an adventure. You have to look at the entire “package” that you are presented. Decide beforehand if it’s worthwhile to bust your ass for it and go all in if the answer is “yes”. 

Panasonic Lumix really took a chance on us

This was the first project of its’ kind for Panasonic. Generally their commercial shoots have been much shorter. There’s a larger team of people and the photographer doesn’t have much creative control. The agency calls the shots. Yes, I’m an ambassador for the company now, but if I didn’t appreciate their very open-minded approach, I’d simply not write anything here. Feels good to have been a part of something exciting.


I hope this little insight has been interesting/useful for you. I believe there's a lot of value in going behind the scenes of others' projects. This sort of stuff has been key in me growing as a photographer and finding a way to make a living from what I love. 

Want more behind the scenes content?

I mentioned in this post that I made an entire video course with the photos that I shot in Maramures, Romania. They won the prize for the best portfolio in people/culture category in the Travel Photographer Of The Year a year ago. Going behind the scenes is one of the best ways to learn photography. I felt compelled to create this course because it's something I would have loved to have access to when I was starting out.