My Camera Took Me across the World

By Lebawit Lily Girma in Washington D.C.

When I first stepped out of the hotel to walk around Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, I was struck by how clean the streets were and by how modern the city looked.

I could have been in Manhattan were it not for the hundreds of scooters whizzing past. The skyscrapers towering over Tao temples…the bookstores and coffee shops…the yellow cabs and the streets buzzing at night with vendors—Taipei’s appeal was obvious.

It was my first time in Asia and I was impressed by what I saw of “Ihla Formosa” (or Beautiful Island as the Portuguese settlers called it when they first set eyes on this land off the eastern coast of China).

I had one week to see as much as I could. In the end, I managed to tour 80% of the island. I stayed in four different cities. Traveling was a breeze—we took the high-speed bullet train and the Taiwanese proved friendly and happy to answer questions.

I sampled traditional foods and enjoyed diverse landscape and activities in each area. I sampled delicious Danzai noodles…marveled at the Confucius temple in Tainan…soaked in the mountain views in Nantou County and visited a tea farm. There’s enough in Taiwan to capture any traveler’s attention.

There was so much to photograph—from food shots to places—that I wound up having over a thousand shots in the first couple of days.

But I wasn’t just taking snaps for a vacation album—I work as a travel photographer. So my photos were paying for the trip.

The way stock photography works is pretty simple. When a company needs a photo for an advertising campaign…a travel agency needs images for its brochures…or when website or magazines needs pictures to go with their articles—they go to stock photography websites to find them. I upload photos to these sites and when a company decides to use one of them, I get paid.

One of my favorite experiences was staying in the Sun Moon Lake area; at a hotel tucked in the mountains and overlooking Taiwan’s largest body of water. Guests were provided with a Japanese robe and slippers to wear around the hotel—even to dinner.

Each room had its own mineral spring hot tub. At sunset, I sat on my balcony gazing at the lake.

The next day, I woke up at dawn and walked the trail around the lake, taking impromptu photos of fishermen at work. After breakfast, I took a boat ride across the lake, followed by a cable car ride over the mountains overlooking the Formosa Aborigine culture village. I toured the village, learning about Taiwan’s first inhabitants through traditional dances and model home displays. On the way back, I sampled Aborigine-style cooking, including rice cooked in bamboo and steamed President fish.

In one week, I saw more of Taiwan than anyone would as a tourist. That’s because the trip was planned and paid for by the Taiwan Tourism Board. I heard the Tourism Board was looking for people to come and photograph and write about their country, so I decided to apply as a travel photographer.

I was one of nine freelancers from the U.S. invited to go—all expenses paid. Before this happened, I didn’t know if or when I would ever get the chance to travel to Asia. It was a dream trip, and it all came about because I was willing to take some photos. Not a bad deal, if you ask me.

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]

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