When I signed on to this trip, I didn't even know where Albania was.
And even while we were on the flight over the Atlantic Ocean I still wasn't 100% sure where Albania was. But there I was, a late addition to the team after someone's health issue had unfortunately forced them to back out of the trip.
We were flying to Tirana, the capital, to partner with a church called ICF Tirana. This was the first team that Genesis Church had taken to Albania so I wanted to get a lot of good footage and photos to use for promoting future trips.
Ironically the best lighting that I got the whole trip was before we even left, at the Indianapolis Airport. Those big walls of windows combined with an overcast day gave an irresistably soft light on our team, and gave me two of my favorite shots I've ever taken of our Lead Pastor, Paul Mumaw.
One of the members of our team was a recently-retired professor of photography, and one of the coolest guys I've ever met. He has the wisdom of a retired professor but the grace and passion of someone who has only been at it a couple years. I was looking forward to gleaning whatever I could from our conversations.
After the long flight to Rome and then finally to Albania, my first two impressions when we pulled into the capital city were 1) The weather is really nice here! and 2) There are a lot of old men on bicycles and mopeds!
My experience in New York City shooting with my 85mm f/1.8G played a major role in my decision to make that lens my walk-around/street photography lens. Shooting at f/1.8 means high-risk, high-reward...and since I didn't need any of these photos, it was worth it to me to just go for it and hope I ended up with some great shots. I've shot a lot with it ever since I got it, and I think that knowing it well helped me with my timing and framing as I walked around.
I love the 85mm f/1.8G for street photography for three reasons:
1) The longer focal length means you can keep a more comfortable distance and not make people uncomfortable while still framing them well
2) The longer focal length and wide aperture means you can get really shallow depth of field, making shots feel more like portraits, a look that I like
3) The lens itself is relatively small, smaller than the 24-70mm and definitely smaller than the "Beware Of Me, I Get Paid To Do This" 70-200mm. It's really interesting how the general public responds to different lenses based purely on their physical size. Basically they equate larger lenses with worse intentions.
4) The autofocus is fast, which allows me to quickly raise my camera, frame a shot, focus, snap the shutter, and keep walking all very quickly.
On our first day we visited an ampitheater where scholars believe the Apostle Paul once visited and maybe taught.
Outside of the ampitheater I had probably my favorite photographic interaction of the whole trip. Two men were sitting on a bench together against a brick wall--basically asking for a photo, right?!
I had asked Altin, the pastor at ICF Tirana, how to ask for a photo in Albanian. I walked up, smiled, and said "Tellutem nyah photo?" I apparently said it 95% wrong because they looked at each other, confused. After a brief exchange in Albanian to each other, they looked back at me and one nodded. They both then began to make slight adjustments to their appearance--straightening their jackets, a quick comb through the hair, correcting their posture a bit. I was absolutely delighted.
I stepped back and framed the shot, then held my left hand in the air and gestured "3, 2, 1", and snapped this shot.
The one on the right gestured for me to come over and show him the photo, and I got nervous that he might find some reason to ask me to delete it. Instead, upon viewing the photo he nudged his buddy with his elbow and they both grinned and started chuckling. As the one in the hat laughed he looked at me and nodded, which signaled both his approval and the completion of our interaction. I walked away with a great photo and a great memory. I loved that we'd actually had a small, face-to-face connection, and it empowered me to be more courageous the next time I wanted to ask for a photo.
We next visited a city called Durres, which is apparently a nice, vacation-y part of Albania.
Here we had another fun interaction where strangers became friends. Brad saw a young man posing for a photo being taken by a friend, and went up and offered to take a photo of them both. I think he also tried a low angle or something because I remember when he showed it to them they were impressed.
I asked if I could take a few of my own photos of them, and they were glad to oblige. I then surprised them by putting the photos right on my phone using the WiFi feature on the D750, and I used AirDrop to give them the photos right there on the spot. We couldn't say much to each other but one word came out that we all understood: "Instagram". Kledian, the one in the hat, posted the photo of himself and gave me, @camsprink, photo credit. Well, I assume that's what he said. It was, "Albanian words Albanian words @camsprink Albanian words Albanian words."
My favorite shot was the one with his arms outstretched, looking up. It was a bold and youthful gesture that I never would have thought to ask for, one he did confidently, unprompted. It didn't occur to me later that his shirt had an American flag on it, of all things!
Across the street from the building where the church was, there was a restaurant owned and run by a man who told us to call him "Jimmy". He was very sweet and the food was really good.
The lighting inside was really nice and soft during the day, and I got a neat shot of another girl who was eating there. I liked how the room divisions naturally framed her. When we'd leave the stairwell downstairs had really nice lighting too, so I asked Amanda, a fellow Genesis Church staff member, if I could get a portrait of her there and she kindly obliged.
The first night we were there we went ICF Tirana and began to prepare the programming for some events we'd be putting on later in the week. Afterwards some of the young men offered to show Brad and I around the city at night. We didn't know these guys very well yet but were honored that they wanted to spend additional time with us, so we were excited for this opportunity.
At one point we passed a shop that was casting some light through its storefront windows, and if you stood out by the street the light falloff was enough to create a decent key light for a portrait. I think I asked Nickson first, and then the other guys.
Nickson's shot came to mean a lot to me as I got to know him and hear his story, because he told me about how he "used to be a bad man", but came to know Christ at ICF Tirana and it turned his life around. To me his story aligns perfectly with this portrait of him, because in it I see a hint of a "bad man" scowl mixed with the gentle eyes of someone who has been forgiven. And the way he looked right at the camera reflected his direct and honest approach of telling me his story the first night that I met him.
The boys took us to the top of this pyramid-ish monument where you could look out over the city. It was really neat.
At one point our team took a trip up to the mountains, and we rode this lift to get up there. On the way down I rode alone with Altin, the Pastor of ICF Tirana. It was a great chance to hear more about his heart for his people, and I love these shots of him looking down over the city that he loves.
I think it was on Thursday or Friday of the trip, I had a rough night of sleep and woke up not feeling well. I missed the meal with the team and slept in, and later wandered over to the restaurant by myself. I saw a little table on the balcony and asked if I could sit there.
It was a neat little spot and a great slice of alone time for this introvert who needs alone time to recharge. I looked over and saw Nikson on the roof of the ICF building and he waved, and it made the scene all the more cozy and comforting to me. Shortly afterwards our Lead Pastor, Paul Mumaw, came up to check in on me since he knew I hadn't been feeling well. It was a fun moment in our friendship, having an intimate conversation with a friend in such a wildly different setting.
I took a timer selfie so that I could remember what that moment felt like. I'm glad I did.
At the end of one of our sessions at ICF Tirana I had them tell everyone that I would love to take a photo of each of them if they'd let me, and to meet me outside in front of the church. Everyone filed out of the building and when I got downstairs to the front steps I was thrilled to see a good crowd of people who were sticking around to get their photo taken!
I had a great time connecting with them as I took their portraits. For each person I would take a couple photos, and then I would take a ten-second video clip at 60fps that I could later stretch to 40% as a slow-mo clip.
Later that night I gave the photos to ICF Tirana and they posted them on their Facebook page for people to download and share. Many of them were grateful to have a nice portrait of themselves and it was also a great way to create a positive and generous association with ICF Tirana.
Poor Brad got food poisoning and spent the last couple days there lying in our hotel room bed, lit by this blue LED light that was in our room. He was pretty miserable.
Our last day in Albania was a rainy one. It was a Sunday, and ICF Tirana's services were in the evening, so we spent part of the late morning/early afternoon walking around the city a bit.
This is the entrance to ICF Tirana's space, which is on the second floor. I loved the meet-them-where-they-are visual of having a church entrance side by side with a mechanic's garage where some guys were playing cards. I had Nikson ask them if I could take portraits of them and they said no. But Nikson and our other ICF friends were always up for a photo, so I got some neat ones in the alley on the other side of the entrance.
And here's the resulting video! Some of the shots were shot with Brad's DJI Osmo, a few iPhone shots as well, and the rest were shot with my Nikon D750.
I loved my time in Albania, and I can't wait to go back one day.