In conversation with Lucie Debelkova

 travel landscape

Czech-born photographer, Lucie Debelkova, has built up an impressive online following for her stunning travel and landscape imagery. She explains how her social media presence has grown and how modern technology helps her cope with life on the road

In this age of celebrity culture, there are many fast track ways to gain your place in the spotlight, from appearing on reality TV shows to uploading crazy videos to YouTube, but few of these routes offer truly enduring fame or recognition. Perhaps strangely, one of the trustworthiest measures of a personstanding is how they fare in a Google search.

The Google algorithms are no admirers of singing ability or silly stunts; they only seek to show how popular your presence on the internet is with others, especially significant others. So, when travel and landscape photographer, Lucie Debelkova, challenged me to Google only her first name, it was amazing to discover that tapping in ’did in fact bring up both her own website and her Flickr site on the first page of results. Now, that is mightily impressive!

Lucie is one of the new era photographers who has successfully harnessed the immense power of the internet and social media platforms to drive her photography career, though she is the first to admit that it has been as much an organic process as a planned strategy. I started out as a photographer, I used to put some of my work on a website called TrekEarth, where you could only post one photo per day. I thought it was so annoying, as I wanted to immediately upload hundreds of my pictures. It was a good limitation, though, because people were then encouraged to give proper feedback on the pictures, not just the ’or shot’comments that you often see elsewhere. When I saw the positive feedback on some of my pictures, I suddenly started to think; ok, that one works. In the beginning, it gave me a purpose, and it made me think more about the pictures I took. It was from these online postings that I got the first enquiries from people wanting to publish my pictures. Initially, I was just happy that someone wanted to publish them, even though it was for free. Now, of course, itdifferent; I dongive my work away.

The statistics behind Lucieonline following make for impressive reading; 15,000 followers on Flickr, 6,000 Facebook fans, and 26,000 people having her in their friendship circles on Google+. Although it is Lucieown website that comes out on top in the Google searches, it is the social media platforms that are the most active. She says, is looking at Facebook and Flickr. I doneven look at the websites of my friends anymore, unless they tell me that they have put new pictures on there. And I donexpect people to do that with my own website either. Itfine if people find me for the first time via my website, or if editors check images there-each online presence has a different purpose.’Such success and popularity does not happen overnight, though. Lucie recalls that I moved from TrekEarth to Flickr I had already built a small following, but Flickr was so large that I didnknow where to start. I realised that you can put the most amazing picture on Flickr and you can be the best photographer in the world, but if nobody knows about you it is pointless. It takes time and effort to build a following on any media. Everything is very time consuming and you have to use your time wisely. I normally tend to post one photo on Facebook or Google+ every day, or when I remember, then I upload a picture on Flickr every second day. It is best not to overdo it; I could post ten pictures on each site every day, but then it might start to annoy people!’

 Google Earth

With such a large and active following, it is hardly surprising that Lucie occasionally finds her photography style being influenced by the feedback she receives.  Sometimes, one of the hundreds of comments will stick in my mind. My style of playing with the kelvins in low light to create blue hour  images was sparked by someone on Flickr. I didnadjust the kelvins when I was shooting cityscapes during twilight, and one person commented that the lights were too yellow. At first, I thought, well, yes, it is a yellow light! But then I began to think, well, what could I do with that? So, I started to play with adjusting the kelvins, purely as a result of that one comment that initially annoyed me.’Although Lucie has been quick to adopt the very latest in online technology, it is refreshing to hear that her approach to photography in the field relies heavily on more traditional creative approaches. She says, ‘always try to get the pictures perfect in the camera, which is why I use Lee Filters graduated neutral density filters. I take lots of pictures and I donwant to then spend hours working on them at home on the computer. On my travels, the filters often attract a lot of attention from bystanders and other photographers who donuse them, so I can now give a small explanation about how they balance the light in five languages! I canunderstand why photographers would want to spend lots of time working on images later when you can achieve the same or better results by using filters on location. Also, you cannot always achieve good results by taking multiple exposures and merging them afterwards; especially with long exposures, where you have problems with moving elements in the picture-the water moves differently, the people move differently, the traffic moves differently. So, you might not get the same picture twice. I dondo HDR at all. Only a few people I know can do it really well. Most people seem to overdo it so badly that it doesnlook like a photograph at all. I want to see the perfect picture in my camera, not only because I donwant to spend the time working on it later, but also because I want to see in the field that I have taken a picture that I am happy with. This is something you can never do with HDR technique, because you have three to nine variations of the same picture and you canknow if you took the perfect picture until you get home. Being there, fully being in that moment you take a picture is important. I have to feel a connection to the places I photograph or it doesnwork for me. Trying to get the perfect picture in the camera helps me do that.’

Lucie is originally from the Czech Republic, but is currently based in Kuwait. Her restless spirit, though, means that she is on her travels for most of the year-she has been to 89 countries so far. have always loved to travel, but I have no idea where that desire comes from.

I grew up under the communist regime, so opportunities to travel were limited to other communist places. My parents took my brother and I to places in the south of the country and to other places where we were allowed to go, but my brother doesnhave the desire to travel at all. My first real trip was to India; I was only 18 and had never travelled on my own before, but I just bought a plane ticket and the Lonely Planet guidebook and went off for months. I think my parents thought it was the last time they were going to see me!’

On that first trip, Lucie was stopping off every few days or so in towns where she could make an international telephone call home, just to let her parents know that she was alright. Nowadays, though, as you might expect, Lucie goes travelling armed with the very latest technology to assist her in her photographic missions.

have a smartphone with GPS, so I can use Google Earth and the internet all the time. It is amazing the information we have at our fingertips now and how communications have changed so dramatically. I think it is a good thing, but it depends on who you are as a traveller. As a travel photographer, I am very happy about it all. Right now, Iin North Wales and wanted to go to Snowdonia, but couldnfind anywhere to stay because it is a bank holiday. So, now I am heading to the coast on Anglesey, instead. I can look at all this on Google Earth and, although they are very poor satellite images, I can roughly work out what I might be able to do with the place photographically. I use The PhotographerEphemeris app, so there is constant information about the sunset and sunrise, and I know exactly what is happening with the tides; all that makes my life so much easier. I canimagine driving all the way to the coast just hoping to find an amazing place to photograph. I guess if someone still wants to discover everything on his or her own, then just donget the smartphone!’

Luciepassion for what she does and the lifestyle that goes with it shines through clearly in both the positive energy she exudes and her infectious laugh. She admits that it would be impossible to maintain her career without the passion, it is really demanding when it comes to effort and time. Sometimes, I wish I was a regular tourist, but if I am in a place without a camera I feel guilty about not taking pictures as soon as I see the light changing. People say your first 10,000 pictures are your worst, so good photography comes with the mileage. If you donhave the mileage behind you then it is just something that you have to go through; nobody is going to help you with that.’Despite being the consummate travel and landscape professional, Lucie admits that, occasionally, the relentless pace of life on the road catches up with her. Just that morning, she had woken at 5am in her hotel in Llandudno with the intention of going out to shoot the sunrise over the townpier. Having just arrived in Wales, following an exciting but gruelling assignment photographing the aurora in Iceland, where the sun barely sets at this time year, tiredness finally got the better of her. looked out of the window and the weather was okay, but there was huge cloud cover on the horizon. I thought, I donreally have to do this. I donneed another pier photo, I just need some sleep. I was the naughty one today!’

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