Lola Akinmade Åkerström, a Nigerian-American based in Stockholm, Sweden, is an award-winning travel photographer and writer. Her work has appeared in major international publications, such as National Geographic Traveler, Travel + Leisure, CNN, BBC, Lonely Planet and many others. She is also featured on National Geographic Channel in a South African vignette called “Through the Lens.”
As editor-in-chief of travel website Slow Travel Stockholm, she encourages in-depth exploration of the city through articles, photo essays, videos, and event recommendations.
I met Lola at a travel conference in Canada, where she gave a well-received presentation on photography. I wanted to know more about her storytelling approach, most memorable assignments, and what role being an expat plays in her projects. Here’s what she had to say.
At what moment did you realize that you could combine your three passions – travel, photography and writing?
I’ve always been a writer since my pre-teens when I used to write dozens of short fiction. I also come from a family of travelers with an affinity for the geosciences so I’d always been infected with wanderlust. Photography came because, as an artist, I used to paint from quick snapshots I took while traveling.
The moment I realized I could combine all three came in 2012 when I worked with an expedition race as a field reporter in Fiji. I took photos, wrote up short travel narratives, interviews, and press releases, as well as traveled all over and explored Fiji deeply.
How have your experiences living as an expat shaped your writing and photography?
I often say that expats are keen observers. Mostly because they inhabit that space between mere tourist visiting a place and a born-and-bred local. So expats are good at observing the nuances locals often take for granted. This directly translates into my writing and photography. Because of my innate curiosity, I’m always observing, always listening, and always isolating.
What do you try to convey through your images?
I try to capture those fleeting moments of joy and contentment. When people and moments just exist without pre-judgment and prejudice. I try to make the mundane interesting and worth taking a second look at.
What are your favorite subjects to photograph?
I love working with and interacting with people in their natural day-to-day lives as well as environmental portraits of food and the process. I also love studying how light interacts with its environment.
Tell us about your most memorable photo shoot.
I have so many memorable shoots that it’s hard to be superlative about it all but I would count my brief time in South Africa as some of my most unforgettable moments. The impressions, the experiences, the people, smells, sounds, culture – all rich, all memorable – have left so many imprints on me.
What advice do you have for travel photographers who are just starting out?
It’s a rough industry right now but that doesn’t mean you should be discouraged. Above all, be passionate about photography because there will be long spells of frustration. Start building your own exposure and portfolio. Work on personal projects. Don’t wait for someone or some iconic brand to come calling. Start blazing that trail yourself. The right people will come knocking at the right time.
What equipment do you travel with?
I usually travel with my Nikon D700 (full frame) and two lenses – 24-70mm and 50mm. Depending on what I’m trying to accomplish or the nature of the job, I can take an extra camera body (my backup Nikon D300) and a wide angle lens.
What projects do you have in the works?
I’ll be working on more personal portraiture projects in 2015. I’m also in the process of building and uploading thousands of images into my image bank, as well as my Nat Geo collection. I’ve got lots of ideas for local human stories in Sweden as well as some travel on the horizon. So in other words, I’m just going with the flow.
When asked about a dream photo shoot, Lola couldn’t pinpoint just one. “So many,” she said. “From island hopping around the South Pacific, documenting the unique yet similar cultures amongst the Islanders, to following a reindeer migration with the indigenous Sami in Sweden.” She would also like to return to Africa and travel across the continent “in search of inspirational everyday stories.”