Exclusive Interview With Travel Photographer Kirsten Alana

A man wearing a backpack riding on a bike in front of an old building with a gate.

Step into the world of Kirsten Alana, a photographer whose passion and purpose is capturing the beauty of travel.

Inspired by her love for storytelling and fueled by a deep-rooted fascination with travel, Kirsten’s lens has taken her on extraordinary adventures around the globe. Her photography reflects a unique blend of observation and appreciation for the small, overlooked moments that others often miss. Through her work, Kirsten aspires to transport viewers, allowing them to experience the essence of each place she visits.

Influenced by iconic photographers such as Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, and Henri Cartier-Bresson, Kirsten draws inspiration from their mastery of the craft. Additionally, she finds herself captivated by the work of modern photographers like Jamie Beck, Tanveer Badal, and Charissa Fay.

Kirsten’s photographic style is fluid and versatile, capturing a wide range of subjects with an eye for detail and composition. While she embraces the unpredictability of travel, she also seeks to showcase the unique beauty of each destination without romanticizing or distorting reality.

Read on below for this exclusive interview.

Brandon Ballweg: How did you get started in photography?

Kirsten Alana: I took film photography classes in high school and college, learning to develop and print my own photos. I was hooked pretty immediately; and began taking engagement photos for my fellow students in college with my boyfriend, at the time, who was also into photography. From there I never really stopped doing engagement and wedding photography but eventually turned my lens to travel much later in my career and have now been doing that ever since. Along the way I also made the switch from shooting film to digital. And I’ve been pretty amused by how it’s now “cool” to shoot film again.

A man playing a flute while sitting at a table.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: What drew you specifically to travel photography?

KA: I’d had an interest in travel from a very young age because of National Geographic and relatives who made travel a big part of their lives. I think it was the storytelling that hooked me. And the chance to “hide” behind the camera as way back when that long before social media as it is today, you never needed to be the story. Photographers weren’t expected to also be influencers. A divorce in my late 20s finally prompted me to make a big switch and follow my dreams, not just in terms of lifestyle but with my camera as well. It hasn’t been easy or nearly as lucrative as I’d like but it’s far and away the best decision I ever made. And I couldn’t be more grateful for everywhere I’ve been able to go and everything I’ve been able to experience as a result.

Three horses in front of a landscape.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: Do you have any influences in photography?

KA: Too many to list! From when I was growing up it would be Ansel Adams, Annie Leibovitz, Dorothea Lange, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Steve McCurry, Edward Weston, Sally Mann, and Vivian Mayer.

In terms of photographers shooting now, I completely adore Jamie Beck. I believe she will be one of this time in history’s most famous photographers one day. And I admire how commercial she’s been able to make her career while retaining a soul to the actual work that is nearly incomparable in its depth. We met while both living in New York but she now resides in Provence, which is her muse. I also really admire Tanveer Badal. Not just because his photographs are stunning but because he’s managed to make a lucrative career doing what I always wanted to: shooting primarily for the pages of print magazines. It’s a nut I’ve never been able to crack but that I’d still like to see happen. And lastly, I think Charissa Fay has managed to slay both travel photography and product photography in a way I can only aspire to. She has a great eye.

People riding camels in a desert.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: Are there any photography books that inspired you or that you learned from?

KA: Anything and everything that highlights or showcases the work of the photographers in my answer to question three is probably in my collection or on my “must buy” list whenever I’m searching at a used bookstore. I periodically add to this list to try and keep track.

Perhaps my current favorite is Beck’s “An American in Provence” which is probably the most beautiful book I’ve ever seen on life anywhere in France. It has photography tutorials that are so generous and inspiring.

BB: How would you describe your photographic style?

KA: I don’t think I have one, yet. laughs nervously I’m such a generalist, and not a specialist, that I’ll shoot almost anything and am usually most inspired in the moment. Which is why I love travel, because the subject matter can vary from day to day and trip to trip.

I will say I never pass up a chance for leading lines, I love using reflective surfaces, prefer shooting others over myself, and I’m definitely drawn to observing the small moments others tend to overlook.

A recent favorite image is just two nuns at work washing windows in Prague. I’ll probably never win any awards for that photo but the pleasure it gave me to observe them and then create the framing to memorialize them in photographic form can’t be measured.

Two nuns doing work on the side of a building.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: I really like your photos of your visit to the Ossuary in Brno, Czech Republic. Normally, when I think about things like death and skeletons, I get an uneasy feeling, but your photos didn’t bring out any of those fears in me. What’s your process on putting together and choosing photos for a project like this?

An ossuary with skull bones.
©Kirsten Alana
Inside an ossuary in a dark cave with dramatic lighting.
©Kirsten Alana
The walls of an ossuary lined with bones lit by candles.
©Kirsten Alana

KA: Thank you. I’m so glad you like that story and its photos! It’s another recent favorite.

That’s a perfect illustration of what I mean by I am generally most inspired in a moment that comes as a surprise. When I knew the visit to an Ossuary was on my itinerary for Brno, I felt unsure how I’d feel and what I’d photograph during the tour. But like you in viewing the images, I didn’t feel uneasy when I was in the Ossuary. Instead, I felt quite at peace and inspired. It was a deep calm that settled over me. After merely looking around for the first part of the tour, and listening to our guide, what struck me most from a photographic standpoint was the drama the candle light created, and the soft edges of the worn stone and ancient bones. I used my body as a tripod, and a few times sat on the floor shooting really low, to take longer exposures that emphasized the light and focused on the details that I thought communicated some type of beauty more than anything macabre. I didn’t want the photos to feel voyeuristic. Luckily, with my Tamron 18-300mm f/3.5-6.3 zoom lens I could create a set of images that were sometimes wide and sometimes closer up to a detail that I thought was significant. And then, in the editing process, I tried to use the photos that matched how I was feeling when I was in the Ossuary; a collection of the close up and the further away images, some lighter, some darker.

Even my Reel about it seemed to resonate with people. So I’m grateful I could achieve that.

BB: What inspires and motivates you to create?

KA: The process of creating photographs is the thing that brings me more joy than perhaps anything else in life. I’m constantly chasing that dopamine hit.

But I won’t deny social media has also created a little monster in me that needs a type of – for lack of a better word – validation, too. Not for the sake of the numbers. But it’s heightened my people-pleaser tendencies because I want people to find joy in my work. That increases my own joy. It makes me feel like I’ve been of service when people like what I create. In a world that can be so dark at times, I remain convinced that art is what makes life worth living. And photography is a form of art.

A cityscape during a storm.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: What would you like viewers to feel when they see your work?

KA: I’d like them to feel like they’re somehow right there with me. But I’d also like them to feel inspired to go out and explore themselves. I don’t ever want to give everything away or repeat the same cliché [images] they can see anywhere. I want there to be some mystery left on the table for them to discover on their own. Like my images are the starting point or the mad libs and they still have to fill in the blanks to make it a complete story.

Men of an African tribe with a man in front jumping high.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: In what ways has your photography evolved over the years, and is there a particular style that you’re gravitating towards?

KA: I think, and hope, it’s matured. I know it’s become more varied as I have traveled to more and more places. I believe I’m gravitating toward a style that doesn’t romanticize places to the point it makes them seem different from how they really are if someone following me visits the same place later on. But yet that paints enough of a “rosey glow,” to hopefully inspire people. Meaning, I’m not going to photoshop out hordes of people. But I will recommend, through my images, that people get up early so they see locals coming and going or they pace themselves so they don’t get too tired and miss the way late afternoon light makes a river sparkle.

A desert landscape with a person standing on a trail.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: Is there anything I haven’t asked you that you’d like to share?

KA: I think I’d just close by saying that there’s a lot of advice in the photography world about what gear to buy and what setups are right for this or that. But Chase Jarvis said it a long time ago now and I agree, that, “The best camera is the one that’s with you.” If you can’t afford a certain camera or type of lens, don’t let that hold you back. Take photos anyway. It’s only practice that makes perfect. You don’t get better at photography by wanting to do it, only by actually doing it. With whatever gear you can get your hands on!

Also for goodness sake, stop defunding art programs in schools. I was a suicidal teenager and photography saved my life at one time. I don’t doubt that there are still kids out there, like me, who don’t fit in anywhere other than a photography or art class. Please don’t take that away from them because of prejudice and performative morality.

A silhouette of people riding camels in front of a sunset.
©Kirsten Alana

BB: Where can people find your travel photography work?

KA: On my blog and portfolio sites, and everywhere on social media @kirstenalana.

A man walking down a dark alley with shops.
©Kirsten Alana
A person wearing black crouching down in a corner of clay-colored buildings.
©Kirsten Alana
An artisan painting designs on an umbrella.
©Kirsten Alana
A black and white image of a bridge on a foggy day.
©Kirsten Alana
A balloon above an African field filled with zebras.
©Kirsten Alana
A table with steaming food.
©Kirsten Alana
A park next to a body of water and a bubble up close.
©Kirsten Alana

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