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Picking up Your Camera Every Day – a Perfect Formula for Success

During our November 2014 photo travel tour in Nicaragua, it was my pleasure to become acquainted with photographer Jana Allingham. She and nine other photographers joined me on our second tour of Nicaragua and it's my pleasure to interview her about her experience with photography and the trip in general.

Nicaraguan girl in a red dress sleeps on the street
Nicaraguan girl in a red dress sleeps on the street

Why did you decide to go on this photo tour of Nicaragua?

I had been dreaming of taking a photo tour for the past few years; as my photography interest piqued, and my desire to travel flourished, a tour with a professional photo guide was very enticing.

However, I am not usually a group tour sort of person, and I knew that we could only afford for me to go, so I was putting off taking the plunge.

I have traveled in Mexico, Central and South America, but always with my husband.

When I came upon this opportunity to go with you I felt an extra pull to jump.

I have been following your work – your web blog Digital Photo Mentor and work with Digital Photography School – for two years now, and have high regard for you. You present your topics in a simplistic way, and always seemed extremely confident, knowledgeable and approachable.

I bounced the idea around, mulling, humming, debating…I really wasn't super keen on Nicaragua; however, I was in love with the opportunity you were offering of community volunteer work and bringing down supplies to distribute to the children.

Furthermore, I REALLY wanted to do a photo tour! I was imagining how much I would learn and improve my skill.

So all of these factors combined I decided that I would take a leap of faith and go!

Young Nicaraguan girls on the street
Street scene – Young Nicaraguan girls

Tell us about your experience with photography prior to going on the Nicaraguan photo tour:

I have never had any formal classes, I am completely self taught using internet and books.

Previously, I did a one day, four hour, workshop this past year here in Edmonton, but did not take much home from it.

I have been doing photography as a serious hobby for seven years. I have always enjoyed taking/looking at pictures but when I got my first DSLR about about seven years ago I fell deeper in love.

I practice out of the pure love and joy of taking the pictures, and working with them in Lightroom.

Do you think the trip was set up in a way that you could improve your photography?

Men on the stoop
Men on the stoop

How could one not learn?!

Just simply stepping off the plane is a learning opportunity.

But with regards to photography, I think the one big thing is that is is not your camera size, editing abilities, courses you take, books you study that will make you a better photographer, it is picking up your camera EVERY SINGLE DAY and shooting it.

My skills and confidence improved significantly; I believe that with the combination of having your presence and attention, having a group of like minded people around, and shooting everyday was a perfect formula for learning and success!

Woman in silhouette
Woman in silhouette

Technically speaking I definitely benefited and honed my skills.

Composition is huge part of making or breaking a picture, and I learned how to analyze my shots more closely and keep the shot clean. Zoom in more, and remove all the unnecessary clutter from my story. I worked on improving getting my focus cleaner by using tips you provided.

Lighting has always been difficult for me, and during the tour you gave a great lesson on how to differentiate and use the light available.

I became more confident with the exposure, and now shoot in aperture priority on your suggestion.

With this advice I was able to grasp the “triangle” more clearly and efficiently.

With this, I learned too to SLOW DOWN! This was a very important lesson for me…

I also became more aware of the use of my tripod and more comfortable with shots related to its use. In that, I also learned that I am not a fan of night photography!

Best Friends
Best Friends

What did you learn about the world or yourself?

I have seen poor countries in my travels, so Nicaragua was not a shock to me in that regard.

I had heard that Nicaragua was unsafe and horrible to travel in. However, I learned that it is a beautiful, safe, poor, country and its people are united in their struggle to improve and better it.

It was humbling.

Previously in my travels I was a mirage; but this time I felt immersed in the culture and community. I saw the joy and not just the pain, and I learned that they want to help themselves as much as we want to help them.

Also, kids are kids no matter where or how they live! The kids were the best 🙂

I also learned I am a far more patient person that I gave myself credit for but saying that, I do have to work on my self confidence in photography and in life.

I also learned to not tell everyone that I'm horny.

Editors note: Nicaragua is 12 degrees from the equator and it's a hot country. Jana found out she was using the Spanish word for “hot” incorrectly with unexpected results. “Estoy caliente” while literally translated is correct but takes on a slightly different meaning here, as in “hot” in a different way.

What was your favorite image from the trip?

Jana's favorite picture from the trip
Jana's favorite picture from the trip

It is the one that haunts me the most, and evokes a really strong emotion; my heart swells and pumps just a little bit harder.

It speaks to me.

I have this thing with my pictures though, if I can't feel it in black and white, it's not talking. Also, getting the light just right and this happened for me here.

I see this shot as a metaphor for the country – content as one, but better with others around to help.

What style of photography do you enjoy most?

Nicaraguan men sewing
Nicaraguan men sewing

I am a wannabe street photographer.

My love is of the abstract and funky, candid and original, black and white, and throw in some non-traditional landscapes and macro.

I absolutely was able to have the opportunity to shoot all of these areas – to the ninth degree while on this tour. Tons of occasions and varying locations and settings to shoot; the local markets in Nicaragua are filled with so many possible shots that is is sometimes overwhelming.

You have really thought out every little detail when it comes to shooting opportunities.

What was your most lasting memory or moment from the tour?

Girls watch as their Polaroid photo comes alive
Girls watch as their photo comes alive in front of them

One of the partners of the group, and non-photographer, brought along a Fuji instant camera with her to take pictures of the kids amid our travels. I really didn't think much of it when she told us, but golly was I mistaken.

It became the highlight of trip to see the faces of the mothers and older children as the photo slowly materialized in front of their very eyes…so moving and unforgettable. This was probably the first and only photo they will ever have.

I will now travel with an instant camera full of film.

I would also like to mention that the friendships I formed on this trip will be ones that will reach far beyond this tour. These people were a huge part in making the trip the success it was, so much laughter and fun! That in itself was worth the trip in my opinion.

Sand dollar on the beach in Jiquilillo
Sand dollar on the beach in Jiquilillo

What would you say are the benefits of joining a photo tour over a regular tour, or just going by yourself?

Looking out on Leon from the cathedral
Looking out on Leon from the cathedral
  • Being a photo tour you have the advantage of the professional instruction and feedback, and you also have other like-minded peers to extract info and tips from.
  • Also, you have the benefit of the photo tour guide knowing when and where would be the best place to shoot, and the opportunity to improve on any issues you may having right then and there.
  • You don't feel the need to “hurry up” when you want to stop every odd minute to shoot something.
  • Everything is done for you so you can just go out and shoot, how can that not be six ways to wonderful?!
  • And finally, again I must mention the opportunity to form lasting friendships, who wouldn’t want that?

If you have a love of photography, travel and have a decent understanding of your camera, GO! It is for any level of photography in my opinion, you are simply there to learn more than you knew before you arrived, and I can guarantee you that it will happen!

I'd like to thank Jana for taking the time to answer a few questions and select a few images to share. It was a pleasure having you along on our tour.

Our current photography challenge “use your camera every single day for a month” is still active now closed, but you can still participate on your own. Check out the challenge page for more information.

In keeping with the Nicaraguan theme in this article I just wanted to end with this video from Marc Anthony. By the time this is live I will have done this song at karaoke night IN SPANISH! My friend Christine was doing karaoke (in English) for the first time and as an act of support I agreed to do a song in Spanish if she completed her mission.

Until then,


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