Elia Locardi is a professional photographer who spends his time snapping pics of some of the most incredible places on the planet. He and his wife have been location independent since March of 2012, meaning they have a 100 percent mobile lifestyle — no home base! He began traveling full-time in 2009, and to date, he’s been to more than 55 countries and flown more than one million miles, collaborating with major companies and tourism agencies. He offers tutorials and recommendations on his photography blog, BlameTheMonkey.com.
Brit + Co: When did you first become interested in photography?
Elia Locardi: Though my major was in Media Arts and Animation, with a specialty in motion graphics and post-production, my interest in photography began while I was in college and started working as an Adobe Photoshop artist and retoucher in 1999.
Diving head first into image editing, color correction, and digital retouching really gave me a strong appreciation for the art and craft of photography itself. It was also a great way to see the extent of what was achievable in post-processing. Believe it or not, I still use some of the same techniques I learned all those years ago today.
B+C: What are some of your favorite places that you’ve visited and photographed so far?
EL: That’s always the million-dollar question and probably the most difficult to answer. Every place we visit ends up holding some meaning for us, but I’d have to say the ones that keep us coming back again and again are probably Japan, Italy, Bhutan, and Greece. Those are probably the top four I’d pick if pushed to name favorites, and the ones I think we could spend a lifetime exploring and still barely scratch the surface.
B+C: Was it frightening to take the leap into full-time photography and location independence?
EL: Definitely. Any big changes you make in your life can be a little scary. There are certainly a lot of unknowns when you’re going into the unexplored territory of a new career or new way of life. But throughout our lives, we’ve never allowed fear to hold us back. My wife, Naomi, and I tend to follow our instincts and intuition when it comes to big life decisions, and so far, our hearts have never steered us wrong.
Any path you choose will lead you somewhere, and wherever that somewhere happens to be, you’re guaranteed to have new life experiences along the way. After all, in the end, the journey is always more important than the destination.
B+C: Have there been any challenges in being location independent?
EL: The short answer is yes, and likely the biggest challenge to being location independent is maintaining a connection. Having a stable connection to the internet while trying to run a primarily online business is an absolute necessity. For example, have you ever tried to upload images by sharing an “E” internet connection to your laptop from your iPhone while sitting on the side of a mountain above 3,500 meters in altitude? Or have you driven around for an hour to find one bar of signal so you could send an important email before a deadline has passed? These are issues with our lifestyle that we like to call “first world problems,” and we tend to try and make light of them.
However, it’s not just connection to the internet. The lack of connection with our family and friends can also be difficult. Sure we use Skype, FaceTime, and Facebook as a means of staying in touch, but coordinating time zones for a call with family and friends who also live busy lives can be very challenging. Sometimes months can fly by without any real contact.
All that being said, even with the challenges we face, we’re lucky to have each other and we remind ourselves regularly of the amazing opportunities this lifestyle has afforded us and how worth it any trade-offs are in the larger scheme of things.
B+C: You and your wife have spoken about how having a house and nice cars didn’t bring you happiness like you thought it would.
EL: There’s this long-standing concept of the “American Dream” in the United States, and it’s so embedded in the social paradigm here that I’m not even sure people realize how much it impacts their way of living. There’s this underlying sense of obligation to go to college, build a career, and constantly work toward a perceived idea of success. In the process, you’re not left with an abundance of time to stop and reflect on what you actually want out of life.
We worked extremely hard for many years and it seemed like success only came with status — a better job title, a raise, a promotion, or a nicer car. In truth though, none of those things really equated to success.
True success can only come when you’re living a life that has some sense of purpose, when you wake up each day with passion in your heart, when you feel inspired to do more, be better, live, breathe, and experience everything you do fully. That’s success in my mind, following your heart and living a life that you love.
B+C: What would you say is the real key to happiness now?
EL: I think true happiness comes from doing what you love and following your passion and inspiration, no matter where it leads. Relationships are the key to happiness in both life and business. It’s very important to spend time with people who inspire you, people who motivate you. It’s in that way that you can help elevate one another.
I feel incredibly fortunate to have met so many wonderful people throughout my journey as a travel photographer.
B+C: What are some tools (apps, software, hardware) that you can’t live without?
EL: Of course, you can’t be a travel photographer without a camera, and for the past few years, I’ve primarily been shooting all over the world using Fujifilm cameras and lenses. For aerial photography and videography, I rely on a few different DJI Drones. DJI makes some of the most exciting technology in the industry.
Supporting the mobile lifestyle, Think Tank Photo makes amazing bags that help me transport everything around, whether that’s just on a flight or on the side of a mountain.
Camera support is also very crucial for being able to capture a tack sharp image. With a combination of lightweight aircraft aluminum and carbon fiber, Really Right Stuff makes the best tripods and accessories in the world, in my opinion.
On the software side, I’ve been relying on products from Adobe since 1999, and nearly all of my portfolio images have been created using a combination of Lightroom and Photoshop. More recently, Adobe made raw shooting and editing available with Lightroom Mobile. This is really exciting as it gives me the ability to immediately work on my final images on my iPhone and iPad while I’m on the road or in the field. Speaking of iPhone apps, for logistics like sunrise and sunset positions, star charts, Milky Way positioning, and long exposure calculation, my favorite app is PhotoPills.
B+C: What advice would you give to budding photographers? To aspiring travel photographers?
EL: Years ago when I first started surfing, I had no idea what I was doing. I would paddle out into the ocean almost every morning and eventually met my neighbors who were professional surfers. From day one, they were incredibly encouraging to me, and I remember watching them tear it up on even the smallest of waves. I’d say to them, “I wish I could learn to do that!” and they’d reply, “Don’t worry too much about it and just have fun. The best surfer out there is the one who is having the most fun.”
That’s the same way I think about photography. Follow what makes you happy and do what you want to do. Don’t do it for other people or change your work because somebody says they like it better another way. Work to develop your own style and have as much fun with it as you possibly can. Everything else will simply come with time.
B+C: What is your dream location to photograph?
EL: It’s interesting to think about the concept of a bucket list — a list of destinations or experiences that you check off after they are completed.
When I first started traveling, I imagined that my list would start to shrink in a similar fashion as I scratched off certain places in the world. I quickly learned, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth. It turns out that for every location I scratch off, at least 10 more get added in its place.
As a result, I end up visiting locations over and over again to have the opportunity to fully experience them. So, sometimes my dream locations are places I’ve already visited but want to photograph in a different way.
A great example of this is Tiger’s Nest in Bhutan. While I really love the photos I’ve captured of this extraordinary location, my dream is to have the opportunity to photograph it covered in snow. Snow is rare in Paro and only happens maybe one day out of each year, so you have to be extremely lucky.
On a more distant level, and with the risk of exposing how much of a geek I actually am, my biggest dream as a photographer is to photograph our planet from space. However, I don’t think NASA is hiring astronauts with art degrees. ;)
B+C: What inspires your work? Is it the people? The place? Nature?
EL: It really is a combination of everything a location has to offer. The place takes on meaning for me because of the people, the food, the experiences I have when standing there. All of these things factor into the feeling of the place. Once I understand the feeling, the emotion, I try to communicate it visually.
The challenge as a photographer is trying to convey the feeling of the place by invoking an emotional response from the viewer — all of the things I felt when I was standing there and taking in the world around me. To achieve this, I photograph only the most beautiful times of day, and I pay close attention to the way the colors and light interact with a scene. Composition, balance, light, shadow, tonality, and a strong sense of depth are the tools I use to convey the inspiration I’ve felt from everything around me.
B+C: What do you think defines art?
EL: Art is such a subjective thing really, but I guess I’d say it’s defined by a focusing of attention, passion, and love in a certain direction, no matter what that happens to be.
In my opinion, everyone is capable of being an artist. You can take an artistic approach in the way you run your business, build relationships, or even simple things like how you organize your office.
Above all, life is art, and it’s our purest form of artistic and creative expression. And just like art, life is also a constant work in progress.
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(Photos via Elia Locardi)