Alaskan photographer Nicole Smoot has a passion for the wildest of frontiers.
ALASKAN PHOTOGRAPHER NICOLE SMOOT EXPLORES THE WILDEST AND REMOTEST OF PLACES, WITH A PASSION FOR ANYTHING OUT OF THE ORDINARY.
Where are you from originally and where are you based now?
I was born in Southcentral Alaska, and am still based there at the moment.
What camera do you usually shoot with (and why if applicable)?
I shoot with a Canon 5DS-R. I made the decision when leaping to a fullframe camera to go with the 5DS-R because of its performance in low light as I spend a lot of time shooting the aurora and astrophotography, but I also needed a good all-round camera that was durable and fared well in many settings. I use three lenses: the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 for shooting the night sky and architecture; the Tamron 28-75mm f/2.8 XR Di LD for the majority of my landscape shots; and the Tamron 70200mm f/2.8 Di VC USD telephoto for wildlife.
How did you get into adventure travel?
The interest has always been there, and growing up in Alaska didn’t exactly curb it either. Most of my
travels were not anything out of the ordinary when I started out: eastern Europe, the Balkans, Southeast Asia. But shortly after my 27th birthday I found myself in Yemen and Socotra and I’d have to say that is where it really started. Travelling in a country seen as a failing state, camping in the open under the stars, catching fish for dinner and seeing that people still carry on with their lives even in cities that are often under attack by militant and terrorist groups.
Can you tell us a little about the travel expeditions you’re working on at the moment?
At the moment I am currently working on some new venture-leading tours. The first one will involve me taking a small group to Iran to explore ancient Persia; the second will take another small group on an expedition in the Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan, the Silk Road cities of Kashgar and Tashkurgan, and onto the northern territory of Gilgit-Baltistan in Pakistan. They are slated to take place 24 May through 3 June and 9 June through 24 June of 2018, respectively.
As far as personal expeditions go, my future plans include more thoroughly exploring the eastern third of Tajikistan, further exploration into Afghanistan, and visiting the remote island of Astola in the Arabian Sea. Not so much an expedition but an exciting thing that will happen for me next fall will be the first international exhibition of my photographs at the Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam in the fall of 2018.
What’s an absolute ‘wow’ destination you’ve visited and what was it that made it so special?
That’s difficult to answer with just one response as I’ve been to so many ‘wow’ destinations. If I had to name a few they would include Tajikistan for its stunning mountainscapes and mirror-like lakes; the Afghan Wakhan corridor for its incredibly warm and welcoming people; the dramatic Hindu Kush with the Big Pamir mountains cutting it off from the rest of the world; Socotra Island in Yemen because of its unique trees and wild, remote beaches; visiting Peru’s Vinicunca before it was even on
any tourist’s radar; cruising between ice floes in the middle of the Ross Sea and coming face to face with a leopard seal on my expedition to Antarctica earlier this year; and finally Alaska. Even though it’s home it still never disappoints me to stand inside ice caves, have wildlife just off my front porch and the many mountains and lakes that keep me occupied year after year.
Can you tell us a little about your favourite subject to photograph – people, animals or places?
I’d have to say my favourite subject would be places. I love to show people places that may have never been on their radar, or that they’ve likely never even heard of.
Top photography tip for beginners?
The only way you’re going to figure it out is to go out there and try.
You don’t need a giant expensive camera and you don’t need a degree in photography, there are great photographers who only use an iPhone and have zero formal education in photography. My number one tip is to figure out composition and how to work it into your style of photography. No camera, lens, filter or editing program is going to teach you that eye for composition.
What’s your top travel tip?
Prepare for the worst, hope for the best, say yes to an adventure and don’t forget to pack Loperamide.
What is it about being “beyond the beaten path” that inspires your travels?
It’s probably all due to a complex that Alaska instills into every kid that grows up there: most of us can’t handle crowded places. I have a friend who grew up here and moved to Sydney five years ago, and she still has struggles at times with the sheer volume of people in the city, even though she absolutely loves it. There’s something special about trekking somewhere and only meeting a
shepherd or two on the trail, visiting a perfect lake in a bowl of mountains with no one else in sight, having a beautiful beach completely to yourself, or getting to sit down for tea with someone in a rarely visited country who is over the moon that you’re there to experience their lost land, nearly forgotten traditions, and then go back home to share a piece of them with your family and friends.
Which shot in particular really means a great deal to you and why?
I think one shot in particular of myself with a dragon blood tree on Socotra Island. The photo was taken long before I ever considered becoming a photographer, let alone a travel photographer. It means so much because it resonates with how long I had wanted to visit the island and what a series of incredibly difficult life events lead to me ending up out there. Then of course anything shot in the mountains of Central Asia, because they signify the length of time I had spent dreaming of visiting the place and the resilience and strength it took to reach some of the places.
What location is still on your bucket list to visit?
A few to start would be Syria, Iraq, Gabon, Somalia, Western Australia, Madagascar and New Caledonia.
A final inspiring travel quote for our readers?
“The man who goes alone can start today; but he who travels with another must wait till that other is ready.”(Henry David Thoreau)
So many people are flabbergasted at the places I’ve gone, and in complete shock when they find out that I’ve gone to most alone. This quote explains exactly why.
PREVIOUS PAGE Vinicunca, aka The Rainbow Mountain, deep in the Andes Mountains, Peru
CLOCKWISE FROM BELOW Dragonblood Tree in the Dixam Plateau, Socotra Island, Yemen; Bactrian camels in the Kyzylkum Desert, Uzbekistan; Khafrazdara Lake in the Bartang Valley located in the Central Pamir Mountains of the Gorno Badakshan Autonomous Oblast, Tajikistan; Kyrgyz Cemetery near Lake Issyk-Kul, Kyrgyzstan