Writing about your travel adventures and snapping shots of exotic locales is a dream job for many – but a hard career to break into. For Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a keen eye for a capture and a passion for geography helped her sculpt this dream into a reality.
Born in Nigeria, Lola now calls Stockholm home, and as you might imagine, has clocked up some serious air miles along the way; her travels have taken her from the Seychelles to South Africa, to the spice markets of Istanbul and beyond. We caught up with this globetrotter – camera and notepad at the ready – to hear some travel tales and pick up a few technical tips for good measure.
Where was your last trip?
I just got back from the Lombardy region of Italy where I was exploring the Unesco World Heritage sites of Sabbioneta and Mantua (2016 Italian Capital of Culture) as part of their year-long #inLombardia365 campaign (365.in-lombardia.com).
Where is your next trip?
What is your first travel-related memory?
I was born in Nigeria and got my first passport stamps before turning one. But I think my earliest travel memory was as a toddler and I believe it was somewhere in Italy. I vaguely remember being carried by my mom and a local was interacting with me in a playful way as you would with a cute baby.
Aisle or window seat?
If it’s a quick puddle-jumping flight, I prefer the aisle seat. But for journeys longer than two hours, you’ll mostly find me glued to the window.
Do you have any travel habits or rituals?
I always summarize all my plans into a one-pager in the same format as the one I leave at home with my husband before every trip.
I always have a toiletry bag filled with everything from cold drops, lip gloss, mints, lotion and feminine supplies on me (even when I’m not travelling). And besides my camera, I always carry a black journal with several thin marker pens.
Favourite city or country or region?
I don’t have a specific favourite city or country because so many places offer so much, I can't be superlative about it. I do have a massive crush on Edinburgh and a soft spot for the Balkans but I am in love with Stockholm, my current city. I love going back home to Nigeria as well because for me, Nigeria means family.
What has been your most memorable travel experience?
I’ve had so many memorable travel experiences – from photographing the Northern Lights to exploring KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa on assignment for the National Geographic Channel – but the most memorable would have to be spending three weeks traversing each inch of Fiji as a volunteer with the Eco-Challenge Expedition Race back in 2002. I was working as a field reporter following the competitors as they hiked, biked and kayaked across the country.
What has been your favourite place, person or landscape to photograph?
I love photographing people who are passionate about what they do – whatever it is. Whether they are vendors in a busy market, fishermen pulling out their catch for the day, or artisans crafting and preserving centuries-old traditions.
Can you talk us through your favourite photograph?
Oh, so many to choose from! But along the lines of photographing passionate people, this photo of fishermen Jerry and Leopold taken in the Seychelles is one of my most memorable images.
I went out with them on their boat to go pull up fishing traps. I learned how to truly love what you do from these Seychellois fishermen – even if it means starting at 6am on the gloomiest of days.
What is your top tip for taking the perfect travel photo?
Have a point with your image. Sweeping landscapes and sunsets are overdone but what you want is to compose something that communicates your own vision as a photographer.
Whether it is isolating certain elements in the landscape or focusing from a specific angle, the best travel photos are ones which transport the viewer there while still telling a story.
What drew you into making a career out of travel?
I’ve always had a strong passion for travel and come from a family of avid travellers. I used to be a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) programmer for many years and I loved geography (still do). But I knew someday I was going to combine that love for travel with something more tangible to make it into some sort of career.
Today, I work as a full-time freelancer (writing, editing, and photography) and I’m one of the founders behind NordicTB (nordictb.com) – a collective of professional digital storytellers and travel influencers in the Nordics.
How do you think writing about a place, or photographing it, changes your perception of it?
It’s very easy for photographers to only bring back their own view of a place or a person. Sometimes the way we portray a person is not necessarily the way the person wants to be shown to the world.
I often use this example of an elderly man in Lagos, Nigeria, who still works as a security guard and is very proud of his job.
It would have been easy for me to convert his photo into a black and white portrait, edit and sharpen it into oblivion so his age lines pop out more prominently. To objectify him for the sake of my art. But what justice would I be doing him?
Seeing the pride with which he wears his uniform and the duty with which he has performed his job so diligently for years, I’m sure he’d rather not be an etched out black and white version of himself. One where the focus was solely on age lines snaking across his face as opposed to a more complete picture of him as a person.
What is the best or worst piece of travel advice you’ve received?
The best: seize opportunities (within reason) when they arrive. Nothing in life is guaranteed and if you travel with an open and positive heart, the world will open itself up to you as well.
What is your best or worst travel souvenir?
My best travel souvenirs are edibles from within the local culture. Think traditional balsamic vinegar from Emilia-Romagna or a selection of spices from Istanbul.
The only catch is that I run out of them quickly and have to start plotting return trips to restock.
Quick, an asteroid is going to hit the earth in one week! Which is the one travel dream you’d rush to fulfil?
Pack up my family and head over to the South Pacific to island hop around the region.
What advice would you give a first-time traveller?
You’re in for a royal treat so relax, keep an open mind and go with the flow. You’re a lot stronger and resilient than you give yourself credit for.
To find out more about Lola and to check out more of her amazing photography visit her blog at lolaakinmade.com.