Photography - Story

Demystifying People and World Through Her Lens- Barbara Weibel

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Why are you on this planet? What’s the purpose of your life? Do such questions ponder your mind? Well, you aren't the only one! Feeling better? There are umpteen number of souls, who daily wonder upon their existence and look for the purpose of their living. While many of us kill this question and move ahead in the rat race, there are few people who are unstoppable and find out their reason for existence. Presenting you Barbara Weibel, renowned photographer and the smart woman behind her famous blog - Hole in the Donut. We at Livingit connected with Barbara Weibel for the #IamLivingit series which is all about people living their dreams and passionately following it.

It all started with the question - What’s the purpose of my life? This question that made Barbara think quite often, yet she continued living her donut life - solid on the outside, hollow from the inside. But it was the chronic Lyme disease that deteriorated her health and pushed her to think what she wanted to do with her life? Fortunately, in 2007, Barbara recovered and went ahead to pursue her dreams. She united her first love - photography along with globetrotting and decided to journal her voyage into a blog. Let’s dive into her amazing story which is bound to inspire you. 

Livingit: Welcome to Livingit Barbara! We know that you have been traveling for quite a long time, but could you let us know more about you.  
Barbara: I've been traveling, taking photos, and blogging about my round-the-world experiences since I hit the road in early 2007. I've always had an intense curiosity about the people and cultures in far-flung places, and believe many of the world's problems would wither away if we only got to know one another. I often say that "The better we get to know one another, the less likely we'll want to kill one another." And so, it became my mission to demystify the people and places we see as "different." I do this by telling stories about and taking photos of the places I visit and the people I meet along the way.

Barbara Weibel


Livingit: How did photography become your first love? What first drew you to photography—and how did you discover it?
Barbara: When I was 11 years old, my uncle gave me an old rangefinder Leica camera. About the same time, someone gifted my father with a subscription to National Geographic Magazine. My father refused to throw out a single issue, so they stacked up in our front hallway. That was just fine with me. I rushed home from school every afternoon and sat cross-legged on the floor next to those stacks, flipping through the magazines and dreaming of one day becoming a travel photographer. I was, as they say, hooked. For the next few years, no one could pry that camera out of my hands. 

Barbara Weibel

Livingit: We would love to hear about your proud possessions- your camera and lighting gear. Also, at present which is the gear that you are hooked to?
While I remember that first Leica camera vividly, I'm afraid that much of what came after is a blur. At 65 years old, I've had scores of cameras. But I can say that over the years I had a Rolleiflex and a Hasselblad, both of which were large format (2"x2" and 4"x5" respectively, if I remember correctly). During my corporate years, I was so consumed with my career that I had little time to pursue photography. However, at some point my love for taking photos resurfaced. I honestly cannot remember what gear I started using at that point, but I do recall that I was quick to jump on the DSLR bandwagon when digital photography was developed. Canon was my choice in those early days, and I stayed with Canon until a few years ago, when their quality, reliability, and customer service began to decline. By that time, mirrorless cameras were making inroads. I dumped all my Canon gear in favor of an Olympus OM-D E-M1. Initially, I bought only the 12-40mm f/2.8 Pro M.Zuiko lens, and that combo became my walk-around kit. I've since added a Zuiko 40-150mm f4.0/5.6 lens, but to be honest, I almost never use anything other than the wide angle.

Livingit: Every photographer has a style of capturing photos. Could you tell us what’s your style?
Barbara: I shoot for high contrast and rich saturation, and my photos tend to be something of a cross between traditional travel photos and street photography. My aim is, whenever possible, to show people interacting with their natural environment.

​​Barbara Weibel
Varanasi Ghat

Livingit: We all have someone to inspire, what about you?
Barbara: Frankly I've always been sort of a "go my own way" person, so I can't point to any living person who has been a mentor. The strongest influences on my work were probably Ansel Adams, especially his work in Yosemite National Park, and William Henry Jackson, whose photographs helped convince Congress in 1872 to establish Yellowstone as the first national park in the U.S. And of course, there was the work of all those astonishingly talented National Geographic photographers who thrilled my imagination during my adolescent years.

Livingit: Wishes are endless, but what is the one thing that you wish you had? 
Barbara: If I could have one super power, it would be to speak, read, write, and understand every language in the world.

Livingit: What is your insight to the famous saying that- “A camera is just a tool; it’s the photographer who matters”?
Barbara: I absolutely agree. You can put 10 photographers in the same exact spot within moments of one another, and no two shots will be alike. We all see the world through our own unique filters, and that is reflected in our work.

​​​​Barbara Weibel
Barbara Weibel Photography

Livingit: What's on your must-have list? Something that you always take with you? Why?
Barbara: Well, I'm a digital nomad, so I don't "go on travels." I travel perpetually, since 2009 with no home base. As a result, I carry everything I need for all seasons with me, wherever I go. That translates to a 22" carry-on sized rolling suitcase, a small backpack that holds all my electronic equipment that can't be checked, and a small messenger bag that doubles as a day pack.

Livingit: Do you regret investing money on any gadget? If yes, then which one and why?
Barbara: LOL - yes, a tripod. I keep thinking I'll use one, so I buy one, pack it, then some months later, when I get tired of lugging the weight of something I never use, I sell it or give it away. I can't even count how many times I've done this. Also, in the early days, I bought into the idea that I needed all kinds of gear: water bottles with carbon filters, iodine pills for dirty water, silk sleep sacks, portable raincoats that crush down into a small pack, etc. Gradually, I got rid of it all. I rarely used any of it and it was just more unnecessary weight to carry around.

Livingit: It would be a delight to know about your work flow, the post processing tools.
Barbara: I work with a combination of Photoshop and Topaz filters. I really detest HDR photography, so I try very hard not to over-process, but digital photography does have its limitations. I start by removing any unnecessary noise with the Topaz DeNoise filter. Digital photography has not progressed far enough to be able to capture the high highs and the low lows in a single photo, so I shoot for mid-range exposure, then burn in the blown out whites and dodge the blocked-up blacks. Also, the nature of digital photography is to be soft, so I apply some sharpening. Finally, I crop for the exact size needed on the blog. The two photos shown here are an example of that precise process. The only change made to the original was to crop it, while the processed one has received the benefits of the steps above.

Barbara Weibel photography
Sadhu Woman in Kathmandu- Original Photograph
Barbara Weibel Photography
Sadhu Woman in Kathmandu- Post Production

Livingit: What is the one thing you wish you knew when you started taking photos?
Nothing. I appreciate the fact that I've learned over the years through experience.

Livingit: Unpredictable weather and location can be super challenging for a photographer, so how do you deal with these uncertain factors? 
I don't. As a travel writer, it's a rare instance where I can wait for the perfect weather or light. Many times, I'm on a press trip or a hosted trip with others who are not going to wait for me. Often, I arrive at a place at the worst time of the day, light-wise. But I still have to capture the spot. I've learned to embrace the conditions in the moment. Rainy, cloudy, stormy weather - they all have their own charms. Even flat mid-day light can be dealt with by stepping into a shadow to take the shot.

Livingit: If you had to pick color vs black and white, which one would you? And how different are the photographic process?
I prefer color, but if I were to work in black and white I would still shoot in color and then post-process to B&W, as it produces much better results.

Living It: Every photographer has one photograph that has a special place in her heart. Which one is yours and why?
Oh my goodness! That's an impossible choice. I have probably half a million photos and choosing one...well, I'll choose one that I particularly like, but there are so many others. On my last visit to Hungary, I visited Hortobagy National Park, part of the vast Pannonian plain, where traditional horsemen still herd cattle on horseback. These men and their horses are like one. They eat together, sleep together; they probably spend more time with their horses than their wives and children. So I was amused when I captured the attached photo of one of the herdsmen with his horse, where the horse seems to be mimicking the herdsman's smile.

Barbara Weibel Photography
Traditional Herdsman in Hungary

Livingit: Any words of wisdom for the budding photographers?
Barbara: Shoot every day, until the camera is an extension of your hand. Shoot in every kind of weather and all light situations.

Don't sit and envy other’s magical life. Instead, make your life magical by following your dreams and passion. If you feel passionate about your hobbies, then take the plunge and fulfill them. Don’t let your passion and dreams die because it is time to STOP existing and START livingit!

Inspiring stories for the passionate SOULS:

Lauren Bath's Boredom Fix - Quit Job and Live by Photography

James Kaiser: "Blockbuster Nature" Photography to Travel Stories