Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Travelling to unchartered territory
Originally from Nigeria, Lola Akinmade Åkerström found her home in Stockholm, Sweden where she has set up a successful business as a best-selling author, travel photographer and award-winning storyteller.
But the road to becoming a successful travel photographer wasn’t always easy, and Lola’s mission to make Black women more visible in the travel photography world has driven her to become a brand within herself, exceling in multiple creative fields.
Discover how Lola worked her way into the industry, how she juggles all of her creative disciplines, and how she found a unique style in a field many dream of being able to make into their fulltime job.
Paving the way for Black female travel photographers
As a female of colour, Lola struggled at the beginning of her career to find a mentor that looked like her, to help her imagine the possibilities of being a travel photographer herself.
“I’ve always loved traveling and knew being a traveling storyteller was going to be in my future in some form,” she explained. “That final push into professional travel photography came when I didn’t see Black women travel photographers who looked like me experiencing various cultures and places, and reporting for high profile publications.
“That became one of my missions – to open up the space for the next generation of travel photographers.”
For Lola, equal representation in the photography industry means women getting more resources to create. “Encouraging more women into professional photography means providing us with support, resources, platforms, and respect.”
And over the course of her career, she has seen positive changes in the industry, and found support from groups which encourage Black women into the arena of professional photography.
“When it comes to professional travel photography, I am excited about and encouraged by the ever-growing wave of new women photographers, who are bringing fresh and dynamic eyes to their respective fields. My specific hope is to see more inclusion when it comes to the field of travel photography in particular, by supporting, spotlighting and uplifting more women of color within the space.
She added: “I would particularly love to highlight Polly Irungu and the incredible platform she has built called Black Women Photographers. It is a global community and directory of Black women and non-binary photographers, which publications and brands can use for find professional photographers.”
Finding a unique style in travel photography
Travel photography is up there with some of the world’s most exciting jobs. And while Lola faced challenges breaking into the industry, she found the best way to overcome them was having confidence in the quality of her work.
“Fighting to get my work in front of photo editors has been challenging.” She said. “But while it continues to be an ongoing challenge, I have been able to overcome it so far by trusting my visual voice, developing my skills, and continuing to actively put my work out there.”
That confidence has helped her to carve out an accomplished spot in the travel photography sphere – over the course of her career, she has travelled to 70+ countries and her work has been featured in National Geographic, New York Times, The Sunday Times, The Guardian, BBC, Travel Channel, Travel + Leisure, Lonely Planet, Forbes, and many more.
She describes her style as “…characterized by vibrancy and hope. My past as an oil painter can be seen in the way I compose and edit my work. My travel portraits are the visual manifestation of the words, ‘I see you’.”
This style was influenced by her oil painting past, as well as honing in on a focus that forms a red thread throughout her different assignments. “As a travel photographer, in addition to imagery that captures a sense of place, I focus a lot on cultural lifestyles and environmental portraits, and how people live their everyday lives against backdrops of grandeur.
“I hope people look into the eyes of my subjects and see them for who they are, see the connection there, and not judge them based on their environment.
“I used to be an oil painter so this can clearly be seen in the way I edit and compose my work. I love rich vivid colors and lots of contrasts and shadows.”
Turn to Instagram and you will find millions of travel photos and videos giving out tips on how to frame your images in a unique way. But for Lola, it’s more important to get to know the locals in order to navigate your way to the best locations.
“I travel with an open mind and seek out quiet moments of interaction – whether between people or between people and nature. I also try to go with the flow and listen to residents for their insider knowledge, while photographing those recommendations with new eyes.”
Becoming a ‘multipod’
Alongside working in photography, Lola has a number of other businesses and engagements she’s passionate about. Even in her spare time, she finds herself writing as well as taking photos. When looking to others for inspiration, she finds it inspiring to see them working, and excelling, in different creative disciplines.
“I love when artists dare to explore other mediums to stretch their creative muscles,” she said. ”I truly believe once someone is an artist or creative, they can easily move between mediums. I personally use various creative mediums to express my stories and more importantly, those stories choose how they want to be expressed.
“Sometimes, writing out a scene can evoke a sense of place more strongly than a photograph. Other times, simply capturing that scene through photography requires no words. Being a storyteller and photographer for me are skills that are so in sync that I couldn’t solely be one or the other.”
Lola believes each of the disciplines feed off each other to make them stronger. “I am what you would consider a multipotentialitie (or multipod) – someone who thrives on many creative interests and does them all well. Multipods tend to be wired differently in the way they approach their work. I don’t believe a creative needs to spread themselves thinly across multiple disciplines, unless they are true multipotentialities and can carry the load. But I do believe creatives should expand outside of their niches, so they can be challenged and can draw inspiration from other disciplines to continually inspire their work.”
Aside from Lola’s successful photography business, she’s also the author of books including the fiction novel ‘In Every Mirror She’s Black’ and the lifestyle book ‘Lagom: the Swedish secret to living well’. She also has a workshop program called Geotraveler Media Academy, with a number of courses to help budding photographers make the move to the professional world.
And she has some stellar advice for people looking to take their photography craft to the next level.
“Focus on honing your talent over technique,” she quipped. “You will learn the technical details later. The most important is developing your compositional eye and way of processing the world as a photographer first.
“Learn all you can about natural light and the way you can use and play with it to bring atmosphere into your photos.
“And start by focusing on themes and subjects you’re passionate about, not what you think people or publications want you to focus on. Working on more personal projects [is important].”
Taking travel photography a step further with Hasselblad
Lola is a recent convert to Hasselblad, and her initial impressions have so far been nothing but positive.
“As a long time DSLR user, moving to the Hasselblad X1D II mirrorless camera has been incredible in terms of the quality and dynamics of the photos I’m taking,” she said. “Working with mostly fixed Hasselblad lenses (versus, say my 24-70mm or 14-24mm lenses) without any zoom capability has allowed me to be more intentional in the types of images I am creating as a travel photographer who often has to move through assignments quickly.”
Using the words elegance, quality and efficiency to describe her Hasselblad, Lola was honored to be invited as a Hasselblad Heroine for 2022.
“It is a brand I’ve long admired. Beyond being connected to a fantastic community of inspiring women photographers, I will also be getting the support, resources, and partnership I need to continue growing and mastering my craft by being a part of the Hasselblad family.”