Travel Photography: If It’s Not Muggers, It’s Monkeys

In The Life Creative, Thoughts & Theory, Travel by David

On my first (and to this point, only) trip to Russia, I was mugged. Rather, it was an attempted mugging.

A man approached my friend and me in a small underpass in St. Petersburg and asked for money. When I repeatedly told him I had none, he flashed a small safety razor blade at me and growled, “Your money or your life,” a line I never imagined I would hear outside of a dime-store novel. At the time, I was well-protected against the Russian winter and getting to flesh with his small blade would have required an act of extraordinary compliance on my part. I didn’t have that much time.

So somewhat rudely, we told him to direct his entrepreneurial energies elsewhere. Then he walked over to a wall against which artists had their art displayed, looked both ways, snatched a small painting, and stuck it under his coat. Walking back to where we stood, he flashed it at us and said, “You want to buy painting?”

What can I say? It was 1991, the Iron Curtain had just fallen, and the finer points of working in a free market were still a bit foggy in the former Soviet Union. You have to give the guy credit for not giving up easily!

That’s what I love about travel. No matter what happens, things go sideways, and that’s when the adventure begins. On the best trips, you come home with more than a few souvenirs; you come home with memories. Stories.

Like the time the monkeys got into my tent in Kenya and trashed the place. Or the time a very angry monkey chased me down the street in Old Delhi while I swung my camera bag at him. Or the time I tried to remove a monkey from my head in Peru and it bit me and I thought I was going to die of Ebola or something equally horrific. Come to think of it, many of my stories involve monkeys. The only thing I love as much as coming home with the stories is coming home with the photographs.

Whether it’s around the world or around the corner, exploring new places with my camera is one of my life’s great joys. I’ve seen so much of this wonderful planet through my lens, and the more I travel, the thirstier I become for the stories and the photographs.

*Update – This post points to videos that are no longer live because they are part of the launch of my Traveling Lens course. I’d be happy to put you on the waitlist and let you know when these videos and The Traveling Lens course is available again. Just add your name here.

On my last trip to India, I wanted to bring you with me by making some videos for you. The first, Have Camera Will Travel, is nine minutes long and explores three no-nonsense, no-gimmicks, no-BS pieces of advice for making the best possible photographs as you travel, no matter where that is. These are the important things. They’re harder than choosing the perfect camera bag or travel tripod, but they also affect your photographs much more.


If you love exploring new places and you want to make stronger, more intentional photographs as you travel, take a few minutes to watch Have Camera Will Travel. There’s a place to leave comments on that page, and I’d love to have a discussion about any of these ideas or, for that matter, any questions you have about travel photography.

The second video, More Than Snapshots and Postcards, will be released in a couple of days.  I’ll let you know when this and the third video, But What If I Bring The Wrong Gear?, are posted.

Travel is expensive for most of us; a trip to that magical place is a once-in-a-lifetime adventure. You’ll bring home amazing stories if you’re open to them, but if you want to bring home amazing photographs, it takes a little more than just bringing a camera with you. Let’s talk about it. Watch Have Camera Will Travel now.