Cynthia Bil

When I was growing up in Knokke, a small coastal town in Belgium, I always dreamed of far-away countries.

At some point I even wanted to become an expeditioner. I had a small tent which I pitched in the garden during the summer holidays and I would stay there for hours, traveling through the world of my books.

I was 11 years old when I went on my first big journey.

I went backpacking with my mother, stepfather and sister in Malaysia. I still remember that my backpack was almost as tall as me.

I absolutely loved the feeling of being on the road, taking local trains and buses to travel around this foreign country and seeing all these beautiful places.

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When I was in my early teenage years, my mom and I moved for a little while to South Africa. I think that was the moment when the travel bug really got me. This experience opened a new world to me and even when we had to return to Belgium due to visa issues, my life wasn’t the same anymore.

I didn’t really fit in during my high school years. My peers thought of me as ‘alternative’ or even ‘weird’ as I often was with my head in the clouds.

Whenever I had some free time, I loved to take my bike and cycle to the woods. I could binge-watch documentaries for hours in a row and loved looking at pictures in travel magazines like National Geographic. I always had a love for photography but back then it was more admiring beautiful photos than taking them myself.

That all changed in 2010.

9 years ago, after having lived the “conventional life” and working as a special needs teacher for a couple of years, I decided to go for a couple of months on a solo trip to Ireland.

Little did I know that this trip would be the start of a new life. Traveling in Ireland and spending a lot of time in the woods as a volunteer at Temple Grove, a small retreat in Sneem, felt like coming home. It was also the first time that I found a love in taking photos.

Back then I had a little cheap point-and-shoot camera (I can’t even remember the brand).  Although I was lacking proper photography skills, I genuinely enjoyed going on trips in the Irish hills and taking many photos of the stunning landscapes and nature.

After my experiences in Ireland, I decided I didn’t want to go back to my “normal life” in Belgium. I worked hard for 6 months and was able to save enough money to go on a one-year trip around the world.

That 1 year has turned into 8 years now and I’m still not planning on settling soon.

I met many photographers on my travels and all of them taught me new skills. I also dove into online tutorials and practised as much as I could on the field. You could say I’m a self-taught photographer.

My work has now been published in several magazines and I even became a brand ambassador for Panasonic Lumix.

If you would have told me 10 years ago what I would do and achieve nowadays, I probably wouldn’t have believed you. My biggest dream now is to have my work published in National Geographic.

My camera gear

Because I’m a full-time traveler, I’m restricted on size and weight so my gear needs to be light and compact. That’s one of many the reasons why I prefer to work with hybrid cameras.

I focus mainly on landscapes and documentary photography during my travels so each item has to be as versatile as possible. I love to go off the beaten path and when I spend many days in the mountains or desert, I often deal with the unpredictable elements of nature so my equipment also needs to be weather-resistant.

For my travels in Central Asia and Morocco last year, I used the Panasonic Lumix G9, which is a great weather-resistant camera and ideal for landscape photography, and the Panasonic Lumix GX9, perfect for documentary and street photography.

I recently switched to the Panasonic Lumix G90, the newest camera of the Lumix G-series, which has the best of both my previous cameras. I consider this one as the perfect camera for travel photography.

Not only is it a very compact and light camera, it’s also very easy to use so amateur photographers who aren’t that tech-savvy will quickly understand the handling of it.

The G90 has a weather-sealed body so I can keep taking photos in rainy weather or in dusty environments.

With the 5 axis dual in-body image stabilisation my images are always sharp, even on rough terrain. This means that I don’t need to carry a tripod with me, except for when I want to take photos with exposures longer than 0.5 seconds and starry night sky pictures.

As a travel photographer, I like to capture life on the go. With the optimized high-speed autofocus and fast shutter burst, the G90 can also grab sharp shots of fast-moving subjects. This compact camera also has fantastic video quality so I sometimes use it to make short 4K or Full HD videos.

Thanks to the USB charging function I can charge the camera directly from any power bank, which comes in handy when I’m stuck for days in the mountains without electricity.

The Panasonic Lumix 14-140mm f/3.5-5.6 is the lens I use most often when I’m on the road. It’s small,  light (265g) and weather-sealed and it covers a big focal length (28 – 280mm equivalent) so it gives me great versatile zoom capability, perfect for shooting near and far.

I also travel with the Panasonic Leica 8-18mm f/2.8-4 which I mainly use for landscapes and the Panasonic Leica 25mm f/1.4, a great 50mm prime lens ideal for portraits and shooting in low light.

To capture people from a distance on the streets or during cultural events, I use the Panasonic Lumix 45-200mm f/4-5.6.

For being a telephoto zoom lens that covers a wide focal length (90-400mm equivalent), it’s a very compact and light lens (380g). I’ve seen many photographers walking around with giant and heavy telephoto lenses covering the same range as this one.

I carry all my gear in a small Case Logic Era DSLR Shoulder Bag. It fits the Lumix G90, the 4 lenses, spare batteries, cleaning kit and battery charger.

I even have space left for my Tolino e-reader (I’m still a huge book lover and don’t go anywhere without this e-reader) and my Lacie 2TB Rugged USB-C, a shock and rain-resistant hard drive to back up all my photos.

What else is in my day-pack?

I’m all about minimalism because I constantly need to carry everything wherever I go. I don’t have many fancy accessories, just practical things I need on a daily basis.

When I’m on the road, I put my camera shoulder bag in my day-pack in which I also carry my refurbished Lenovo Thinkpad T430. Despite being a powerful mobile workstation, this laptop is a bit on the heavy side so I never take it with me if I go hiking or on multiple-day treks in the mountains.

I occasionally have the Manfrotto BeFree Travel Tripod (not shown on photo) with me if I’m planning on shooting long exposures or astro.

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Another “accessory” is my Lifestraw Water Filter Bottle. This advanced water filter bottle protects against bacteria, parasites and organic chemical matter so I can safely drink water from rivers, springs or even taps that look a bit dodgy. Another advantage of this water bottle is that I don’t have to buy bottled water which helps the environment.
| @journalofnomads


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