Photographing the Last Tattooed Headhunters: Advice for Successful Travel Photography Trips

Photographing the Last Tattooed Headhunters: Advice for Successful Travel Photography Trips

Have you always wished you gathered the courage to dive deep into travel photography? It can be an unforgettable experience, but be cautious because you are highly likely to contract a "travel bug" for the rest of your life!

Not going to lie, I have always wanted to jump into travel photography myself one day but until I do, I will enjoy reading and looking through photographic stories of people who have visited and photographed breathtaking places all over the world. Which is why when I heard Lincolnshire, United Kingdom, based photographer David Huggett's story about overcoming personal difficulties and ignoring his self doubt, I knew his story will be inspiring for others, too.

Huggett has been involved in photography for over a decade now, but even more so after a life changing road traffic accident that occurred in 2007. This turn of events heavily affected Hugget's life with physical consequences, such as, only use of his right arm, lungs that inflate only partially up to 30 - 40%, chronic muscular back pain, chronic neuropathic phantom pain, and upper back and neck being fused, meaning it is not possible to bend or twist properly. This also means that he becomes fatigued very quickly, especially when walking uphill or using stairs, and carrying anything compounds the issue.

Off road in Nagaland

Travel photography can be physically demanding so make sure you're prepared.

Physical and emotional consequences aside, Huggett's passion for photography was still ignited and he joined the Guild of Photographers in 2015 after finishing a photography degree. After a year of giving in to self doubt and not taking part, Huggett pulled the trigger by joining a trip to Iceland, which was being run by one of the members. This adventure was fundamental in showing just how exciting and life changing travel photography trips can be. Feeling included among both amateur and professional photographers in the group, Huggett learned a great deal from the knowledge that was shared, and unsurprisingly so, another trip to Outer Hebrides, Scotland, was booked, followed by a journey to Netherlands.

During a trip to Myanmar, Burma, Huggett built up a friendship with Nikon Ambassador Mark Seymour, who was already planning his next trip to Nagaland, India, to photograph the last tattooed headhunters but wanted to scout the area first before running workshops there. Seymour suggested Huggett comes along if he is up for an adventure, and there is no way an offer like that could be refused, so both decided to split the costs and make travel plans. 

To ensure that they make the most of their trip, they hired a specialized guide in India who used his network of contacts to get in touch with the son of one of the elders in Nagaland and arranged to take both photographers there. In advance, they organized vehicles and drivers to take them to Nagaland, followed by a second vehicle to take them into the mountains. The flights took them to Guwahati in Assam, India, where they met up with the guide and began their photographic journey. 

An elderly man in Nagaland

A local man in Nagaland sat down

To make travel photography trips more comfortable, Huggett prepares well in advance:

  • If it's an organized trip, Huggett informs them of his situation and checks that they are aware and don't mind him joining the trip. Luckily, nobody has yet refused.
  • Although it may feel undignified, booking special assistance at the airport ensures that Huggett doesn't have to worry about dealing with baggage, which is very helpful at large international airports.
  • Regular consultations with doctor six months before the trip to make sure all appropriate inoculations have been taken care of.
  • Having valid travel insurance and medical cover in case things don't go as planned.

Young children in a village kitchen

Three young children from a local Nagaland tribe

When it comes to travel tips for photographers visiting new destinations all across the world, Huggett recommends:

  • Travel light. You don't need to bring a heavy bag of photographic equipment. Huggett prefers to travel light himself with a Sony A7riii, paired with a 35mm and 85mm lens, a circular polarising filter, and a reflector. For backup, Huggett brings his Fujifilm X-T1 with a 23mm lens.
  • A lightweight tripod may prove useful in some situations, and it can always be left in the hotel room if you don't need it every day.
  • Same applies to personal belongings. Huggett brings less than a week's worth of clothes; most hotels will clean your laundry or point you towards a local laundrette.
  • Doing brief research into your destination country's etiquette. There are plenty of resources online that will list things you can and should do and things you most certainly should avoid doing in these locations. Learning more about the local culture will prevent you from unintentionally offending people, which can be easy to do.
  • When photographing people, engage by talking to them. You will need to step out of your comfort zone to do so, but it definitely goes a long way. Learning few basic words or phrases in local language, such as thank you and goodbye, can be helpful.
  • If you want to take portraits, a simple gesture of looking someone in the eye, smiling, and saying hello will generally create a positive response.
  • In Asian countries, that Huggett has so far visited, he's experienced local people being willing to try their English knowledge, which is likely to spark up a conversation.
  • If people speak English, be engaging and if appropriate ask them where are they from, or ask them what are they doing.
  • Give them a simple and genuine compliment about how they look, what they're wearing, or how fascinating the scene is, and ask if you may take a quick portrait. Most people, wherever they live, like to receive a compliment, and it's no different when visiting a foreign country.

Currently Huggett is planning his very own travel photography workshops in Scotland and can be rarely found without a camera by his side. Whatever life gives us, the only thing you can do is make the most of it, and do it through passion and ambition. It can be easy to find excuses and miss out on opportunities that could potentially change your life for the better, and if that happens to be travel photography — go for it!

Have you always wanted to experience one but haven't gathered the courage yet, or maybe you are a seasoned pro? Let us know in the comments below! If it's the latter, how do you plan for travel photography trips yourself? If you'd like to see more of Huggett's travel work, visit his Instagram page or website.

All images used with the permission of David Huggett.

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4 Comments

El Dooderino's picture

Great article! If I won the lottery, I would do nothing but travel...with my cameras! I've been fortunate enough to do some overseas traveling, but I always want more!

Especially at a slow pace.

Dude in the header image thinks you've stolen his soul.

Having valid travel insurance and medical cover in case things don't go as planned.

Shooting head-hunters makes you hope they are not hunting your head. Insurance won't cover losing your head I guess.