7 Months, 19 Countries, 5 Continents, 1 Camera By David Szwarczewski

7 Months, 19 Countries, 5 Continents, 1 Camera

By David Szwarczewski

Dear Steve and Brandon,

Please consider my article for your site, having been an onlooker and admirer for quite some time I would finally like to enter my own contribution.

I am a long-term follower of your fantastic site, and I’m personally grateful for your excellent reviews as I chose my existing camera system almost solely on the basis of your review. At the time the camera was not yet available in my country and so I preordered it without ever having the opportunity of handling it.

I took an interest in photography in my early teens and have since explored a wide variety of photographic genres. As a keen traveller I would say documentary would be my favourite style of photography, perhaps compounded in the belief that this is a particularly difficult art to master. If an image isn’t captured perfectly that fleeting moment of aesthetic perfection may be lost forever.

Having recently graduated from University together with my girlfriend, I was fortunate enough to embark on a Round the World trip for 7 months last year. This was something that in one form or another I had been dreaming of for at least 10 years. Our trip was in a way quite extensive, considering the vast number of countries and areas visited in the relatively short space of time. Although in many ways we barely scratched the surface of what there is to see in each of the places we visited.

When setting out on the trip I had three things I desired to return home with: my passport, photos and health (not necessarily in order of priority). Consequently, all of my images were shot as JPEG’s. I wanted to be able to upload them to a cloud storage service (done via a smartphone connected to a card reader), the smaller file sizes allowed faster uploading when WiFi was available and I didn’t have the time or facilities to edit RAW files anyway. In fact, none of my images has been edited in any way, including cropping. This is partly because I like to think of myself as somewhat of a purist, preferring to get the image right directly through the lens; but this is also equally attributable to the slow and arthritic nature of my very aged laptop no longer being able to cope with editing software.

My weapon of choice was the OMD (EM-5) with Panasonic 20mm, Olympus 12-50mm and Panasonic 100-300mm. The relatively low pixel count was a big draw for me, as was the great IQ, good JPEG processor, small size and weather sealing. The 12-50 was chosen due to its versatility, weather sealing (useful for rainforest etc.) and macro mode. The 20 stayed on the body 99% of the time and is a great compact fast aperture prime and the 100-300 was essential for shooting wildlife. I also carried a pair of Swarovski CL Compact 10×30 binoculars (I adore them).

I hope you enjoy the images, thanks for looking.



Little India, Singapore


Taman Negara rainforest, Malaysia


Ko Tao, Thailand


Venice Beach, LA


Oaxaca, Mexico


My very cold girlfriend in the kitchen of a local family we stayed with in Peru (below freezing in the kitchen due to the altitude, 3600m above sea level)


The Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, Peru


Lama with Machu Picchu in the background


Cusco, Peru


Colca Canyon, Peru


Lago Verde, near to the Uyuni Salt flats in Bolivia


Uyuni Salt flats, Bolivia


Running down Dune 45 in Namibia (my girlfriend took the pic, I’m the one in the middle)


Elephant sick of having to look at tourists, Zambia


Female Leopard, Serengeti National Park, Tanzania


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  1. Congratulations on successfully completing your odyssey. Hopefully, some day you all can return to some of those places and find out how much they (and you) have changed. It will be an enlightening experience.

    I like most of your images. But the colors in many seem quite dull (lack “pop”) and could use some post processing. The E-M5 can give fully saturated colors and great contrast, but sometimes needs a little help after the fact. Here is what I was able to do with minimal experience with Lightroom:


    Also, your shots at Venice Beach and the salt flats are underexposed because the E-M5’s meter was fooled by the brightness of the sand/salt and exposed for medium gray thereby under-exposing the images. In those situations you have to INCREASE the exposure by one or more stops (I know, it is counter-intuitive) in order to make the salt or sand look white and properly expose the overall scene.

    Keep on practicing, improvement is always possible (even after 50-odd years of plugging along!). Good luck.

    Cheers, Richard

  2. nice stuff, david. i particularly like the playfulness, lines, and stop motion of the “Venice Beach, LA” photo. i just came back from 8 months away and took my omd em-5 with the 45mm f1.8 practically glued onto it. this camera is a gem and it’s great to hear others are still using it and loving it.

  3. Really nice captures. You have the exact same setup as me. Great combo. And it’s funny because I also had the same sentiment ‘get it right in camera with no post processing’ and ‘only shoot jpg’ for convenience and laptop/wifi limitations. Then I downloaded a trial of lightroom and played a bit with some old shots (jpgs not raw) and realised I was actually limiting myself so much. I could suddenly reduce over exposure and lighten/darken shadows and bring out the colours that I had seen and just could not capture in camera as I wanted to. I felt the end result was my photos were a little closer to the reality I had seen with a smallish amount of post processing.
    So now I aim for getting it right in camera 80% of the time and then the other 20% I will spend no more than a few minutes post processing per photo and never clone or remove things from the shot. It works for me anyways. But I respect your desire to stay away from post processing – but just remember even with film developing there is a healthy amount of ‘post processing’ when it comes to colours and shadows.

    • Thank you for your comments and input, I actually agree. PP would certainly be useful to save certain images and bring the full potential out of others. On this trip it was unfeasible though as my girlfriend and I took 20,000+ photos between us. I would rather some images were imperfect than having to deal with that amount of storage in SD cards and online (I used dropbox) and then edit when I got home. Also, the benefit for me while traveling meant that I could send JPEG’s directly to family members every once in a while. If I still wanted to do that I’d have to shoot RAW + JPEG and that would triple the amount of storage used. But I probably won’t have the opportunity to go on such a long trip for a while so it won’t be such a problem. It will be another thing for me to learn 🙂

  4. Great! But allow me just one question: you mentioned three things you desired to return home with: passport, photos and health. What about your girlfriend? Is she still on the machu picchu? Or at the lion-safari?

    (Just envy:) TC 😉

    • Haha, I would have had to have messed up pretty badly to return without a girlfriend!
      You raise an interesting point though, as my girlfriend looked after both of our passports so in that scenario I don’t think I’d be coming back at all 😉

  5. All different photos, all beautiful 🙂 BTW the best choice: spend little money on an honest, good camera, then the rest in travel!

  6. Great images!!! Just freom looking to the images one gets excited. Must have been even more impressive when being there.
    And a good proof that its not necessary to have tons of lenses and equipment to make good images.
    Did you also print some of them and how did they come out?
    Cheers, Tom

    • I printed quite a few actually, my girlfriend has quite a few canvasses whereas I have prints in frames (so I can change them up when I get bored). It doesn’t work for all photos but anything with interesting light or shallow DOF I would really recommend Kodak Metallic. It has given my photos a 3D pop that cannot be replicated on a computer screen. Although it is expensive (£9 per print in A4).

  7. My Dear Beloved Son, I have just seen all the photos (some of them you have never shared with us 😉 and all the people’s posts…. You are an amazing Adventurer & Photographer and everybody else (proof above) loves your work and what you are really good at… Funtastic!!! Also, so you know (and you would have already if we didn’t fall out over something really silly) you don’t have to work on your “very aged laptop” anymore… 😉 Come around this weekend and you will find out, why…. Loving DaD

  8. Ah to be young and with an adventurous heart! Isn’t post graduation the best time to embark on such travels?
    Great pictures (unbelievable JPEG quality from the OM-D) – especially the ones from Peru.
    I am sure the experience cannot be written down in words.
    I hope I can take a long sabbatical and begin a voyage around the world, although now with a 3 month old, it turns out to be impossible

    • Don’t be so sceptical, I saw an article about a Polish couple that went traveling around the world with a new born! I must admit this was a bit nuts 😉 but in a couple of years time it’ll be great. I saw many families with young children doing independent over landing trips in Africa. I don’t know where you’re based but a trip in a camper van or RV is fantastic. You can bring all of the amenities of home with you without worrying about carrying it all. You can travel spontaneously and never have to worry about not being able to find a place to stay. You can also keep costs down by cooking yourself.

  9. I was wondering about the costs ?
    How much was the transport and how much did you spent with the rest of expenses?
    i am asking you because i also want to make a tour of the world trip.

    • In honesty, it was a lot. Much more than I had anticipated in truth hence the need for my overdraft.
      The flights were about £3,300. Accommodation is difficult to estimate (I’ve never tried), but count at least $15 a night depending on where you travel. We spent 4 weeks in New Zealand which was about £2,000 for the camper, fuel, food and campsites which was split between 3 as another uni friend came with me and my gf. Our Africa overland tour was around £3,000 though much of this was the optional extra activities, I highly recommend G Adventures for this as they were great. The Inca trail trip was about $600 (well worth it) and we paid another $100 to have an extra day at Machu Picchu as my gf is fascinated by archeology and history and we wanted to take our time, the cost included an ascent of Waynapicchu ( cannot stress enough that if you are doing the Inca trail you must book 6 months in advance!). My gf and I stayed in private doubles 95% of the time and only in dorms when it was too expensive. We often found that sharing a double cost about the same as each of us paying for a dorm bunk. Spending money on good equipment is vital as well so factor this in to your costs. Particularly high quality clothing, backpack and shoes. I bought a steri pen which purifies water and I’m very pleased with its effectiveness. We didn’t get ill on the trip which I’m sure is partly attributable to the device. All in I would estimate the trip cost about £15,000 each. At this price we treated ourselves to nice hostels (not hotels) and good meals out including any activity we wanted (e.g. skydiving in NZ was pricey). If I had less money to work with I would prefer a shorter trip with a similar daily budget as constantly worrying about money is very draining and detracts from the experience. However, the best way to make it less expensive is to visit fewer places. The transport costs are the big one. Taking your time and seeing places more thoroughly would be just as good. Let me know if you need any further advice/info I’m always keen to talk about travel. I found Peru and Bolivia in general to be very inexpensive and we had an absolute blast there.

  10. Glad you visited Singapore ! (I’m Singaporean 🙂 ) Lovely shots that captures the mood and feel of the place.

    • Excellent place for street photography! I took a cool photo of the cable car at night from Sentosa to the mainland. I really should upload my pics to a photo sharing site so I can share more of them. Although I was shocked at some of the rules! Living in London it came as a big surprise that I couldn’t eat or drink on the metro!

  11. “Olympus is known for its lovely OOC JPEG”. Well; people who consider buying a m43 camera should really have a look at files at 100 % – on web pages (like Steve’s) all cameras produce nice IQ.

    • The leopard shot could have been a bit sharper (I’ve blown it up to an A2 print). But aside from the distant wildlife shots taken on the telephoto I have found the OM-D and in particular the 20mm to be pin-sharp (to my eye at least). But to me the JPEG engine had less to do with sharpness and more to do with colour reproduction. If the colour was too far out it would need adjusting in PP which would mean shooting in RAW and editing etc etc. I do not see myself upgrading for many years, I believe the gear is at present far exceeding my abilities and additional features, more pixels, focusing points would be wasted on me. And unless you are printing BIG it really isn’t necessary for the vast majority of enthusiast users either.

      • Well, I was kind of disappointed when using this camera for one week; but I guess pixel peeping is a stupid thing to do 🙂

        • With the (relatively) large sensor in M43 and 16mp you should be able to print fantastic photos up to A2. It mostly comes down to the lenses now, and there is a lot of choice. Sure a Nikon D800E has over twice as many pixels but the file sizes are HUGE. It’s nice that the photos upload quickly and don’t take up too much space. I remember being impressed when Sony released a digital camera with 3.2MP and that was impressive at the time!

    • Thanks 🙂 I must say I shot that in one go (no rapid fire shooting). And the guy landed it beautifully! I should have gone and asked for his email address in retrospect, I’m sure he would have liked to have the image.

  12. Travelling with your girlfriend around the world is the best investment you can make, maybe in some years you will have a baby and traveling to some of those countries will become much more difficult. Some years ago I also decided with my girlfriend (now she is my wife and mother of our 3 years son) to spend our savings in long trips all over the world each summer holidays. Never a regret! I am jealous about the picture of the leopard, I have made safaris in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa several times and never seen one! Congrats for the trip and the photos!

    • Definitely! We’ll see what time brings, though my girlfriend not killing me after 7 months of travel is certainly a very positive sign! And yes, we were very fortunate with the wildlife we saw. We spent 7 weeks in Africa travelling from South Africa across to Kenya so we were not short of animal spotting opportunities. I fulfilled a big dream by seeing 7 black rhino in just 24 hours! The leopards were just glorious though, we saw a mother haul a carcass up a tree for its cub. And this is my second consecutive trip to Tanzania when I have seen Cheetah as well which is always fantastic. Also saw some great hunts with the lions. Although I didn’t take shots of everything, sometimes it’s nice to just enjoy the moment and watch (hence the binoculars).

      • If you are keen to see leopard I have been told by a variety of sources that the Serengeti in Tanzania is the best place (where I saw them). The leopards are different there in that they are more territorial than usual for the species and they can often be found in a specific tree or area known to be a favourite spot of each individual cat. That is the way we saw this one. We drove to a tree where they had been spotted the previous day, we saw the leopard climb down from the tree and walk over to the log where my photo was taken into the evening sun.

  13. Good stuff. I have some pictures from Ko Tao myself from my visit 20 years ago. Some of the other places you visited too, as a matter of fact. I’ll have to get them out and enjoy the memories when looking through them one more time. Never ever gets old.

    • This was my first trip to Thailand and I must say I was quite disappointed at how damaged it has become from the rapid westernisation. Speaking to people who have been going for 10+ years they say it has changed beyond recognition. It’s a real shame as some of the scenery is stunning. Although I would like to travel to the North of the country so my view may still be subject to change.

      • People were saying the same thing 20 years ago. Exactly the same thing. But I really enjoyed it all the same.

        And I remember Ko Tao as the only place I’ve ever been where we could charge marijuana to the room. No police on the island at all.

  14. Beautiful stuff–that Llama one is just priceless.

    Congrats on doing what most of us only dream of: travelling and just taking pictures!!

    All the best,

  15. Great shots. But that lama/alpaga shot is fabulous! I already own a Pana 20mm and a 100-300 lens as wll as several other lenses and I was actually pondering which lens/camera combination I should take with me for my next trip. Your article definitely helped.

    • On shorter trips I have just been taking the OM-D + 20mm. I find it very liberating in fact, and just zoom with my feet 😉
      And thanks! I discovered in Peru that the way to tell apart a Llama and Alpaca are that Alpaca have fluffy faces. This came much to my surprise as it turns out an Alpaca farm in the UK I had told lots of people about was in fact a Llama farm.
      It very much depends on your style, but if I could afford it the Oly 12mm and Panny 20mm would make a superb set up for me. Although I may hold out and see what the new 7-14 f2.8 is like. Although if the Panasonic 7-14 f4 is anything to go by it will be eye-wateringly expensive…

  16. Oh my… what a lovely series of images. Thanks for sharing, some truly inspirational photography here, love all of them with the VW Beetle, Namibia dunes and the Peruvian ones being my favourites. Thanks for taking time to share!

    • Thank you for your comments. The VW photo was actually part of a project I planned prior to ever setting foot on Mexican soil. I took roughly 20 similar photos of as many VW’s as I came across (to the annoyance and frustration of my gf :P) these were all in different colours, varying condition and against different backgrounds. I then re-sized them so they were of uniform size and put 9 of my favourites into a 3×3 collage photo frame. It looks fantastic (even if I do say so myself), and made excellent gifts for car loving family members. Unfortunately it was print only and I have no means of sharing the photo collage.

      • An excellent idea! I’ve seen this done with front on views of VW camper vans… And as an owner of a 69 camper myself this appeals to on a double level of geekery!! Photography and old cars! Do you have a photo of that collage?

        • Unfortunately I don’t, I made two and gave them away. I’ll try and recreate it or perhaps ask the recipients if they could take a photo of it at some point. Nice about the camper btw. I came across a split screen on French plates in Argentina and I was very impressed/jealous with the quantity of foreign stickers it had accumulated on the back.

    • Unfortunately I don’t have any means of sharing more photos at the moment. This was the first time I have actually shown my images to someone other than friends and family.
      With regard to travel, I was fortunate to land a job with decent pay and I was able to continue living at home. My existing savings and 6 months of work funded the trip, plus a few thousand £’s on my overdraft which I have only just paid off.
      But I cannot recommend travel enough, and I’m sure that everyone on this site would agree. If you can find a way to go traveling, even working abroad then do it. I’m sure you’ll never regret it. ‘Normal’ life will always be waiting for you when you get back 😉
      It is by quite some margin the best thing I have ever done. I have also forged relationships with new friends that I’m sure will last a lifetime. Not to mention the strengthened bond I have with my girlfriend from sharing so many life experiences together.

  17. Great shots! Especially love the lama and the kitchen shot in Peru. I love the Oly em system. upgraded to the em-1 and it’s my primary travel camera kit now. I also love to travel! can check out my galleries at snagarkar.zenfolio.com . Thx for posting.

    • Thank you! I love your images, particularly the male lion! I was very pleased with my set up, but I found it lacking somewhat at big distances (over 100m) when shooting with the 100-300. I found the combo struggled to nail focus. Individually the lens is great and really sharp, as is the AF on the OM-D but the large focusing points let the camera down when shooting wildlife at distance that blended into the background. My girlfriend had a Canon G12 for the trip (recently upgraded to the Sony RX100ii) which was great when I didn’t want to carry mine.

      • I should also mention that the OM-D was brilliant throughout the whole trip, but given the limited choice of telephoto lenses it would not have been my first choice for safari. However, I wanted to do the whole 7 month trip with just one bag and that meant traveling really light. This was tricky as the hottest place was 45 degrees C (113 fahrenheit) and the coldest was -15 degrees C (5 fahrenheit) and we had to carry suitable clothing and sleeping bags for those and everything in-between. With all of my camera gear included my bag weighed 12kg (26lb) and even more impressively my girlfriends was 8kg (18lb).
        But I’m really looking forward to the Olympus 40-150 f2.8 and the upcoming Oly 300 f4. These combined with the 2x crop sensor could make a fantastic wildlife shooting setup.

      • “..the large focusing points let the camera down when shooting wildlife at distance that blended into the background..”

        The size of the (main, central, or wherever you want to put it) focusing point can be adjusted with an onscreen slider (to make it as small as possible) if you set the “Use touch-screen focusing” icon to “On” – that is an oval icon on the lower-left of the screen, which shows the index finger of a right hand pointing at four little right-angle corners!

        Full details here: http://tinyurl.com/p279f5j

        • Thanks! I knew this was possible, unfortunately in Africa I didn’t have access to the internet and I had previously thought this was something I could work out through the menus- although that wasn’t the case. This would have helped on safari, but you live and learn! It’s amazing how many things I still don’t know about my camera even though I’ve had it for 2 years and shot 23,000 photos on it.

  18. Wow! I’ll join in with the other commentary and say that I too, am jealous. I love that you were able to do this and that you kept it simple. Life-long memories!

  19. I…envy you…and your journey….and your pictures. Good choice of equipment if you just want to shoot on the fly without having to edit, Olympus is known for its lovely OOC JPEG, and when I look at your pictures, it makes me wonder if I have been tampering too much unnecessarily with my own photos. Good picture all of them, lovely look and very alive. Thanks for sharing.

    • Thanks. Unfortunately I am now back to reality, working (and secretly saving for the next adventure). I am quite keen to learn more about post processing. I have recently been learning to do some long exposure photography in London. But knowledge of PP would be helpful to save certain images, as well as bring the full potential out in others. I’m quite a fan of tastefully done B&W photography with a splash of colour thrown in. This tends to work well in the London with Black, White and red though is unfortunately very over done now…

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