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Technical

Lucie Debelkova:
living for the dream destination

© Lucie Debelkova

May 2017

Top travel photographer and Canon Explorer Lucie Debelkova lives for the thrill of new horizons. She reveals to CPN Editor David Corfield her motivations and vision and how social media, Canon’s EOS 5DS and three EF zoom lenses help her discover and record what she sees...

Lucie Debelkova is always on the move. From her base in Kuwait in the Middle East she travels around the world in search of gorgeous destinations that most of us only dream about. Adept at travelling light, she chooses her equipment very carefully and limits herself to just a couple of bodies – the EOS 5DS and an EOS 5D Mark II as backup – and three L-series zoom lenses. Having used the EOS 5DS for over two years now, she believes it’s the nearest she will get to DSLR perfection.

© Lucie Debelkova
© Lucie Debelkova

Desert goats surrounded by sand dunes under Jabal Hafeet, UAE. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 73mm; the exposure was 1/160sec at f/10, ISO 100.

“From the Canon range, the EOS 5DS is the perfect camera for me,” she explains. “The 5D-series body is the best and the handling is so intuitive. And that is important as a travel photographer when you sometimes have to record moments that happen really fast.”

The quality of files Lucie is now getting has totally opened up her world to new and ever more creative possibilities. As has the addition of an EF100-400mm lens; which is giving her a different view of the world. “I usually tend to shoot with wide-angle lenses,” she reveals, “but there have been trips that I’ve been on recently when I’m enormously happy that I have had it with me; such as in Tuscany last year when I needed to record the distant hills, and in Morocco when I could capture a small camel caravan on a distant sand dune, and so on.”

Space for gear in Lucie’s kitbag is prime real estate and room is therefore always at a premium, so her choice of lenses is limited. “For me I use the 16-35mm f/4, 24-105mm f/4 and 100-400mm,” she explains. “This is a great range for travel photography and the quality of the L-series glass is perfect for what I do. Occasionally it would be nice to have an amazing prime lens with me but these are the three lenses that I would now never work without.”

She continues: “For me, the 100-400mm focal length range is great because I can zoom in on details that are further away. And with the EOS 5DS I can do that plus crop the image and still get a high quality file. But you need good light for that long telephoto lens. If the light falls you realise the limitations of a smaller aperture [f/4.5-5.6] and that is when a tripod becomes essential.”

© Lucie Debelkova
© Lucie Debelkova

Architectural monument built from four large granite boulders, Iberian Peninsula, Portugal. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF100-400mm f/4.6-5.6L IS USM lens at 400mm; the exposure was 1/500sec at f/5.6, ISO 250.

Intuition, ideas and the power of the Internet

Lucie works for various travel magazines and agencies and when she isn’t working on a commission basis likes to explore her own ideas. “I had an experience recently where I finally had the chance to capture frozen bubbles on a high alpine lake in Switzerland after a mountaineer friend tipped me off. He sent me a picture knowing I had wanted to photograph them for a long, long time but I had no idea that they could be found in Switzerland. I’d seen the phenomenon taken by photographers in Canada but I didn’t know I could find them closer.”

Lucie is well-connected thanks to the power of social media and many of her online friends often tip her off on great places to visit. This was just such an occasion. “It certainly saves time researching when you have friends who know about special places. He knew exactly where the bubbles were in a very specific part of the lake which saved me a lot of time when I finally got there; I could have spent a whole day looking for them had I not been told about where to go first.”

She shot the captivating scene (below) with the 16-35mm lens and the EOS 5DS using a very small aperture to keep the entire image sharp; from the bubbly foreground right through to the pinprick of sunshine peeping over the mountains in the distance. “It was tricky light as I was shooting into the sun and I wanted to retain detail in the shadowy foreground. The bubbles went so deep in the lake so I knew I wanted to keep everything in focus. I shot so many different angles and at various times of day as I knew this was a golden chance for me.”

© Lucie Debelkova
© Lucie Debelkova

Lago Bianco (White Lake), with deep frozen bubbles, Switzerland. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 6secs at f/22, ISO 100.

Curiously Lucie found that her social media comments helped direct her to the strongest image from that session, as she explains: “I did find that the comments I got from followers when I posted the pictures gave me valuable feedback. It always helps. I might love one particular image from a trip but another image might get much more of a reaction. So it’s a great democratiser in that regard.”

As to her favourite social media platform, Lucie reckons Flickr is the best. “I must admit I haven’t used Instagram for a few months now and prefer to use Flickr instead (where she has over 21,000 followers). But you really have to be active on all social media channels these days and that takes a lot of effort. You have to build a following and that takes time.”

Future projects and destinations

With a busy schedule over the summer, Lucie is looking forward to mixing up her compositions with a selection of wide-angle and telephoto views. “This year I am travelling to Ireland, then back to Morocco and then Spain before I then head to Minsk in Belarus. Every destination is different and that’s the great buzz for me: the variety.”

In quizzing Lucie on the topic of adding people to her landscapes, her response is typically honest. “I have to find them interesting. The problem I have with images of people in Europe is that I don’t find people interesting enough. In the Middle East I find the locals fascinating: their clothes, their faces... there I have no problem and indeed you can find a lot of people pictures on my website. For me it is all about connection. If you have the right kind of person in a landscape then without a doubt it can add to its mood.”

© Lucie Debelkova
© Lucie Debelkova

Bait Al Safah, a living museum in old Oman, Middle East. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF16-35mm f/4L IS USM lens at 16mm; the exposure was 1/80sec at f/4, ISO 1000.

“But indeed finding the right location in the first place, before you even go anywhere, is the real secret for the way I work, regardless of whether you are shooting people or trees. I do a lot of research and that saves me a lot of time wandering around when I hit the ground. It’s all about that preparation. And indeed, once I am at a location the composition just comes to me automatically. I don’t think about it much; it’s just intuitive. I have a technique and a style and I stick to it. My workflow is very tried and tested.”

She continues: “As is the EOS 5DS, actually. These 5D bodies can certainly take the knocks and I had an occasion last year when a pre-production body I was using got blown off my tripod on a very windy shoot; when it hit the ground the screen cracked but I could still see the image and the camera kept on working. The durability is very impressive and that’s why I love the 5D-series.”

So what would she like to see in future iterations? “I would love greater dynamic range and a touch screen, though, so maybe I need to look at the EOS 5D Mark IV now! In-built GPS is also a huge advantage to me too as I always end up adding the GPS data retrospectively, which can take time.”

She concludes: “The feel of the EOS 5DS is identical to my old EOS 5D Mark III and the placement of buttons have become so familiar to me over the years that they have become an extension of my eyes. And as a travel photographer, that’s the ultimate compliment I can give to Canon.”

Biography: Lucie Debelkova

Lucie Debelkova

Lucie Debelkova was born in Prague, Czech Republic, and regularly travels to all corners of the world on various photo assignments. She covers subjects such as special destinations, ancient or modern cultures and food features for a variety of clients. Her philosophy is to take positive photographs highlighting the best a place has to offer, whether it’s the vibrancy of the landscape, the architectural grandeur of ancient monuments or modern architecture or the warmth and friendliness of the people. Lucie’s work has featured in many publications around the world including The Sunday Times, The New York Times, Wanderlust, Lonely Planet, Digital Photographer, What Digital Camera, Outdoor Photography, Vanity Fair, Saudi Voyager magazine, East & West as well as several in-flight airline magazines.



Showcase

Hungarian Parliament Building on the eastern banks of the River Danube, Budapest, Hungary. Taken on a Canon EOS 5DS with an EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM lens at 28mm; the exposure was 8secs at f/22, ISO 100.