Lu-Hai Liang

thoughts from a freelance foreign correspondent

Archive for October 2018

Doing the location independent thing

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Dear reader,

I am writing you from Hoi An, Vietnam.

Last week I was in the Philippines, taking in El Nido, Palawan, and Manila. I am currently in Vietnam, having stopped in Hanoi and Da Nang. Next stop will be Malaysia. From there it might be Cambodia next, once we reach November, but I haven’t made up my mind yet.

I am working while on the road, traveling with a regular-sized backpack and an H&M carry-on. Vietnamese 4g is excellent by the way.

I’m not rich. The flight ticket from Beijing to Manila was cheap. From Manila to Hanoi, it was just over half that: about £60.

I’m currently staying in this hotel, and it costs £20 a night for a double room including breakfast (and the pool of course).

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For October and November I will be traveling and making money with my location having nothing to do with my work.

But I’ve been able to make this change due to having spent a large amount of time accruing value and contacts in Beijing. That is my foundation.

Beijing is a massive metropole that is connected to international companies and the global economy. It is the capital city of the world’s second largest economy with many brands and businesses hoping to tap into such a large consumer base. It is a good place to make contacts, whether friendly or professional (they can often be the same thing), and a large enough entity to find valuable professional niches.

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being a tourist in hanoi

I have a like-hate relationship with Beijing, but I’ll always recommend tapping into the commercial opportunities inherent in such a large, dynamic, and globally connected city that’s a spearhead of a developing nation.

I migrated to Beijing in 2012 looking for adventure and new experiences. I learned a massive amount in six years. This is what many young people do: migrate for work. It’s a rite of passage for many citizens of the world. Whether it’s trying out Manchester or London; or going further afield in Berlin, Budapest, or Bali, there are opportunities available across the world. All it takes is a little courage.

Location is both important and not important. The modern knowledge economy is based on technology: the Internet to be exact. But having some expertise — how to market to Chinese consumers, or the language, for example — gives you greater value. That’s why I think accruing some sort of expertise before you start blogging your way around the world might be a good idea, or traveling with that mindset to begin with.

But I don’t have all the answers. Next year I’ll probably try the location independence thing longer term, with an emphasis on journalism. One of the great things about freelance journalism is traveling with a sense of adventure and mission; to discover new things that might not look so photogenic on Instagram, but that is often more rewarding.

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The adventurous life of a freewheeling photojournalist

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Although primarily a freelance writer; I’ve also made money from photography, selling photo galleries to CNN, Aljazeera, Dazed.com, etc, as well as printed in two editions of Marie Claire using this Canon S120.

What if you could travel the world in search of hidden sights; uncovering secret stories, and journeying to places few have ever seen? What if you had to tough it out bumping on rocky roads for hours on end, drinking vodka with lairy locals, and sleeping in godforsaken places, but always lit inside by the spirit of adventure?

This is the life Amos Chapple wanted. Amos Chapple is a New Zealander, somewhere in his 30s, and lives in Prague, Czech Republic.

Many photojournalists, however, travel. Over the years I’ve gotten to know a few. I once interviewed a photojournalist who I’ll never forget. I interviewed Nicole Tung who went into Libya during the civil war in her early twenties. Even over Skype, the preternatural confidence of someone who decided to venture, unassisted and of her own volition, into an active conflict zone, was clearly audible.

So why did this Amos chap intrigue me? It was because he did something different. It was because he decided to head into the field with a small, Micro Four Thirds camera (M43), rather than a large, full-frame DSLR.

M43 cameras use relatively small sensors (although still much bigger than the sensors found in smartphone or most compact cameras), than compared with the full-frame sensors found in professional-class DSLRs like Canon’s 5D series.

But they make up for this by having much smaller camera bodies and lenses.

In Chapple’s own words, they are, apart from not so great low light performance, all good: “The dainty size that no one is bothered by; the lightning-quick focus; the USB charging port that allows me to disappear into the wilds for days on end with just two batteries and a powerbank; the early adoption of Wi-Fi for zippy filing to social media and backing up pics on the run; the pop-up flash (I’ve never understood the aversion); the rock-solid reliability (ten years of full-time shooting and I’ve only had one camera fail in a rainstorm).”

And the results he gets are spectacular, with a filmic quality that lends itself to a documentary style. His photos have been published in most major news titles and before he went freelance he shot fulltime for UNESCO, traveling around capturing World Heritage Sites.

You can check out his stuff here, here, and here – including the story of how, at 27, he decided to transform his life to commit to a freelance photojournalist’s life.

I emailed Chapple to ask about his choice to shoot full-time with such a camera. Here is what he said:

I chose M43 because it’s IMO the best compromise between image quality and physical size. Maybe I could get cleaner photos on a bigger sensor but would I have enough stamina to go as far as I can with a tiny camera? Would I be able to get into the same intimate, touchy situations that the discreet cameras allow me to? Probably not, so I’m prepared to use a camera with a max usable ISO of 3200!

Good stuff!

Here is another example of a photographer who thought outside the box, and another story I felt inspired by.

Written by Lu-Hai Liang

October 9, 2018 at 3:50 pm