Globetrotter: Destination meets Robert Michael Poole
By Hannah Barnard on 17th October, 2018
This week we met writer, photographer and social media influencer Robert Michael Poole. Having visited almost 150 countries, his globetrotting adventures have been well documented by several media sources, including CNN, the BBC, and National Geographic. We caught up with Robert to chat about his passion for adventure, photojournalism and travel tips.
Robert Michael Poole in Curaçao exploring the ABC islands
Where does your passion for travel and adventure come from?
It’s a natural instinct, and has only grown as time has gone on. Like opening a Pandora’s Box, my curiosity for learning about the culture and the human condition as experienced by the different peoples of this world has only grown with each adventure. I could say it began when I went to be an exchange student in Joensuu, Finland, which is where I first realized that like almost everyone else, I was just a product of the society I was born in to. I wanted to know who I could be, and how my life experience and worldview would be different if I was born elsewhere.
How did your career in photojournalism begin?
I began writing for my University newspaper in England writing CD reviews, then doing interviews with then Britpop artists. I picked it up again when I moved to Tokyo for a local free magazine, Metropolis. I then contributed to Japan Times and eventually joined CNN. Now I contribute occasionally to the BBC, the Guardian and international airline in-flight magazines.
What has influenced your photography style?
Recently the biggest influence has been Instagram itself. I used to shoot images that I imagined seeing in a magazine double-page spread, with vast landscapes and tremendous detail. Now I’ve adapted my style to the small screen, shooting mostly vertical and working within the framing of Instagram’s restricted format, and also placing myself or other in shots in order to give a human presence and atmosphere to each shot.
What camera and equipment do you use?
I use a Sony a6300 and a series of four lenses for macro, portrait, and long lens shooting such as my safari series. I also use GoPro and a telesin dome for the underwater shots in the Pacific, and a DJI Mavic Pro for drone aerial shots.
What are your top tips for taking stunning vacation photos?
The 3 most important things for me are – framing, lighting and timing. The first is a natural instinct, knowing where the edges of any shot should be – look for symmetry or at least balance each shot evenly, it is always more visually appealing. Only take any shot when the light is perfect – if it isn’t, consider when it will be, and come back, it will make all the difference and no editing can replace natural light. And be patient. If you want a shot with no-one in it, or a safari shot with action, or the perfect wave in a beach shot… take your time and wait, once you’ve got the shot it will be worth the hours you spent.
Trinidad and Tobago
Do you use filters or presets on your images?
No, none. I know these days presets are all the rage and many people sell them, but I think each image is unique and requires its own attention. I use Lightroom for editing, but the process is long so I prefer to try to nail the shot without needing much additional work.
Robert Michael Poole in Anguilla
You seem to be constantly traveling, where do you call home?
I gave up my Tokyo apartment since I am indeed traveling all the time. I was going back twice a year and leaving it empty at other times, while also considering a move to another part of the world to build a new base. But I concluded a base wasn’t necessary, and “home” is more of a concept of comfort, which I can bring with me fairly easily.
What advice would you give someone who is thinking of going traveling?
The world is MUCH safer than you think, people are MUCH friendlier than you think, everywhere you go, so don’t be afraid, just get out there and have fun exploring and letting go of the things familiar to you.
What are your suitcase essentials?
Nothing much out of the ordinary, I use packing organizers, little bags for each clothing time, to keep every tidy, and pack lots of simple white t-shirts – they pop in photos and look good whether in the deserts of Turkmenistan or a fancy Caribbean hotel.
The good life in The Bahamas
What’s your favorite Instagram picture?
I caught two little girls at sunset walking towards the Avenue of Baobabs in Madagascar. It was unexpected that they would walk in to shot and so it combined perfectly the 3 concepts I mentioned earlier, they stepped into my frame, the timing was perfect and could only work at the precise moment, and the light was majestic. Unplanned shots are always more rewarding than anything pre-planned.
What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced as a photojournalist?
Creating a business out of Instagram is a challenge for most people. I’ve found my own way of shooting for clients, so I remain free to post on my account anything I like. Within journalism, the challenge is that print media has been struggling for a decade or two now, and staff change more quickly than ever, so maintaining relationships is tougher now than ever before. That’s why I prefer to work freely through Instagram, and only occasionally write for international media.
Robert Michael Poole meets the people of Yap, Federated States of Micronesia
Where should everyone visit?
Anywhere further beyond their neighboring countries. If you are in the US, try visiting China or India. If you are in Europe try visiting Africa or the Middle East. Wherever you are, go more than one step beyond your own country to see the world from a different perspective, but just make sure the destination isn’t just a holiday destination full of your countryman. If you go to Indonesia then try Sulawesi or Sumatra, not Bali, if you’re going to the Pacific head to Micronesia not Hawaii etc.
What’s the best experience you’ve ever had traveling?
My favorite recent experience was Afghanistan, discovering a country where few get to see what it’s really like, with people curious and open to the outside world and with such immense, distinct and rich history. I can’t wait to go back. I could see a country that’s changing before our eyes, where one generation follows strict Islamic societal rules, and another is opening up, faces uncovered to the world, showing their smiles, and all celebrating the beauty of religious sites like the stunning Blue Mosque in Mazari Sharif. The best experiences are always those shared with other people, and in Afghanistan, the local people are incredibly friendly and welcoming.
Robert Michael Poole explores the Marshall Islands
What’s your favorite guidebook or travel website?
I mostly read BBC Travel, who go out of their way to seek unusual travel stories, rather than the usual “Top 5” type pieces. I am often inspired to visit places I otherwise barely knew.
What are the top 3 destinations you would like to visit this year?
Next up for me are North Korea, then I would love to explore the South Pacific islands, it may take me many months but I’d like to island hop from Vanuatu to Kiribati via the Solomons and Nauru and on down to Niue, the Cook Islands, and Tahiti. Maybe I’ll need a boat?
For more travel inspiration and beautiful photography check out Robert Michael Poole’s Instagram channel.
Read more: 5 minutes with…Instagram sensation Katerina Stavreva