A few months ago I was notified of the fact that I’d been selected as a finalist for the 2015 Travel Photographer of the Year award (TPOTY.com). I was among an elite group of photographers, many of whose names I recognized as colleagues in the travel photography industry, either as tour organizers and workshop leaders, or editorial photographers who have and do shoot for a variety of news outlets and/or news agencies and publications.
In order to be considered for this prestigious award we each had to submit a portfolio of four images from anywhere in the world, ones that told a story. I chose to submit a series I’d made the year earlier while on a scouting trip to Romania in September 2014. My local tour operator and guide, Daniel Rosca, asked me if I’d like to visit a family of sheepherders in a small village, just outside of the postcard town of Sibiu. Of course I always jump at the opportunity to meet the locals and learn about their way of life and so we made our way along both paved and dirt roads to visit this wonderful family made up of parents Dinu and Ileana, along with their teenaged sons Gabi and Nicu.
The light was absolutely gorgeous at this time of day, which just so happened to coincide with the time the family was gathering the sheep in a large pen to be milked. This structure is locally referred to as a “sheepfold.” The sheep were expertly herded into the sheepfold by Gabi and Nicu, along with the help of their extremely talented dog, and then Dinu and Ileana would let one sheep at a time filter out to them while they sat with a bucket between their legs and quickly milked each animal.
Once all the sheep were processed, Nicu and Ileana held a bandana over another bucket and Dinu poured the milk they’d gathered through the bandana and into that bucket to filter out any large impurities. Later Ileana would make sheep’s cheese out of the milk, and when they invited me into their humble, two-room home, she generously cut large slabs of cheese, and poured a glass of milk, for me to try, which of course I’m always open to doing.
The house essentially consisted of two rooms, a kitchen and a small bedroom with two beds. The boys slept in one and their mother in the other, while Dinu would sleep outside in a small, corrugated tin box just big enough for a man. This box was situated in the field where the sheep grazed and lived, so that he and their dog could keep away any predators from their precious animals.
Being introduced to this wonderful family and to learn about their way of life was an experience I won’t soon forget, and this is the exact kind of experience I look for when scouting my trips. I look for experiences exactly like this so that I can bring my groups back and they can have the same experience, and potentially the same feelings that I did, and we did exactly this when I brought my group back in September 2015 to enjoy a picnic with delicious lamb stew, homemade palinca (the local fire water everyone seems to brew) and big slabs of bread. Dinu and his brother-in-law also provided entertainment playing wind instruments, and singing traditional songs.
Back to the Travel Photographer of the Year award…unfortunately I didn’t win, but I can certainly take solace in the fact that the judges thought enough of my images to short list me among a group of very talented artists. I can also take comfort in the fact that I lost out to National Geographic photographer Marsel van Oosten of the Netherlands, who’d won this award, and many others, before.
I’m planning to enter the TPOTY awards again this year, and I continue to look for short stories when I’m out shooting, ones that might make for a nice series of images to submit in the future.
Do you look for short stories that you can tell with your photography? Please leave your answer in the comments below.
If you have an interest in traveling to Romania and meeting this wonderful family, please consider joining our Rustic + Rural Romania tour in September 2016, but as of this writing we have just two spaces left on this trip.
About the Author
Ralph Velasco is a U.S.-based travel photography instructor, author and international guide, as well as President and CEO (Chief Experience Officer) of PhotoEnrichment Adventures. He’s led tours to Lapland, the Baltics, Egypt, Morocco, the Adriatic, Turkey, Central Europe, Iceland, Bhutan, Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, Spain, Mexico’s Copper Canyon, Romania, and other locations. He’s also organized and participated in over a dozen Humanitarian and People-to-People programs in Cuba.
Ralph is an award-winning travel photography blogger and public speaker, as well as the creator of the My Shot Lists for Travel app for iPhone, an organizational and tracking tool designed to help travelers of all photography skill levels to bring back a more well-rounded set of images of any destination or subject (available free on iTunes).