Laurence started his blog, Finding the Universe, in May 2010 after quitting the corporate life. What started as a ways to document his experiences and share his photos has since evolved into a place on the web where you can find honest travel advice, humorous tales from the road, and photography to inspire. In our interview today, we talk about the difference between travel writing, photography, and video, and he gives us some tips on post-processing. Enjoy!
Laurence, you run the site Finding the Universe. Tell us a little bit about why you decided to start blogging and what you’ve learned along the way.
I travelled around Australia for a year by four wheel drive back in 2009, living in a tent and mostly sleeping under the stars. I kept a diary for the whole time, and when I got to the end of that trip, I figured it would make sense to start keeping an online version instead of an offline version, as I had so many photos I wanted to associate with the stories I was finding.
I’ve learned since I started that whilst I really enjoy the writing side of things, it’s the photography that is really my passion, so I’ve started to focus the site on that. I’ve also brought Vera, my girlfriend and travelling partner on board, and I’ve learned that when it comes to running a blog, having two people makes it all a lot easier!
Tell us a little bit about the difference between writing and photography for you. How do you manage to find the time to do both while you’re on the road?
With difficulty? Hmm. And I’m about to try video too! In reality, it’s a balance. And it’s a tricky balance to find. Trying to run a blog whilst travelling is tricky enough just in terms of content, and then there’s all the extra fluff that goes with the core of producing content – the pitching, the social media – I’m sure you know what I mean.
For me, I find the time by travelling slowly. I need to experience a place, and then write about it, take the photos, and then edit them.
The other thing I do is to ensure I have downtime between trips, and use that time to schedule content in advance. I sometimes schedule content up to three months in advance – which means I can really experience a place in the moment without having to worry about getting content up there and then. It can be a challenge, particularly now that there are so many platforms to deal with, but it’s achievable.
As the industry continues to move toward digital technologies, how do you see your income mix changing over the next 5 years? 10 years?
The need for content is never going to go away, with more and more platforms and publishing opportunities coming online. I read recently that it’s estimated that within the next two to three years, we’ll actually be consuming more than 24 hours worth of content per person per day, due to the way we now often consume more than one content stream at a time.
All that content has to come from somewhere, and so being a content creator is a fascinating space to be in. Sure – there are lots of ways for publishers to get content for free, but I truly believe that really fantastic content is always going to be worth paying for.
I also think diversification is the key. A blog is a great platform, but it’s really just a way to showcase your style and your talents for content creation. I believe that going forward, my income mix will likely be even more diverse than it is now, with multiple little projects driving the overall whole.
On your blog, you talk about moving into a semi-nomadic lifestyle after three years on the road. How has that life transition changed the way you see your blog and your traveling?
I’ve always travelled fairly slowly, trying to focus on one country at a time. Hence the year in Australia, followed by a year in New Zealand. Then I spent three months in Thailand, and now I’m enjoying three months in Ecuador.
This longer time in a country means I’m not rushing around trying to see everything as fast as possible, and helps me to achieve the balance between travel and “work”. I often also have time to see places that aren’t necessarily well known.
Moving to a semi-nomadic lifestyle, where I’m based in France for around half the year (with small trips during that time to more local destinations), has given me more time to focus on the business side of the blog, which is a necessary part of taking it to the next level, from amateur to professional. It’s also given me time to focus on new ventures, such as the recently launched photography collaboration I’ve put together, Lightmoves Creative, where we offer photography services including workshops and bespoke, beautiful photos.
You recently led a workshop in post-processing travel photos at TBEX Dublin. Could you give our readers one tip you taught your participants?
There are two really. One – always shoot in RAW. Even if right now you don’t know what that is, or why you should be doing it – you need to be shooting in RAW.
As a quick idea of what RAW is – going back to the days of film – a RAW file is the unprocessed film, whereas a JPG is the final print. There’s not a lot you can do with a final print, but in the hands of a skilled professional, you can do a great deal with a negative. One day, you might want to start editing your negatives, and you’ll want the RAW files to do so.
The other tip is to learn how to do some basic post processing. It’s not as hard as you think, and the barrier to entry is low. There are heaps of free programs out there, with Picasa being a good example to start with. Even Adobe’s Lightroom – the industry standard, isn’t particularly expensive.
Back in the day, the cost of a full dark room and chemicals was prohibitive. Nowadays you can pick up a “digital” darkroom for around a hundred bucks. It’s worth investing in, it doesn’t take long to learn, and your photos will look ten times better!
You’ve already paid the money for your equipment, and post processing is 50% of the work. Don’t skip it!
Laurence Norah is a long term slow traveller, photographer and writer. He tells the stories of his travels and shares his photography, along with that of his partner Vera, on their travel blog, Finding the Universe. He can also be found on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram. Also, check out his new project, Lightmoves Creative.
Interview conducted in November, 2013 by Kristin Mock.