The moment I realised I would go to Nepal was very clear,” remembers Tolis Fragoudis, “I was in India doing a film, travelling for a few months, and I ended up in this little town in the foothills of the Himalayas. One night I came home over a little suspension bridge with the Ganges river flowing beneath. It was 1am and I was watching this wind come off the mountains, and I felt I was feeling the breath of the Himalayas touching me. It was a moment of just seconds, but now it had a huge impact – I had to go there and document it.
Tolis was an experienced traveller by this point, having roamed through Mexico and Central America, with photography becoming part of his journey. It was an organic thing, he says. “I had no plan to make money from photography and I rejected the idea when people asked. It was just something I enjoyed, just part of diving into these other worlds.”
This has had a great impact on his shooting style, which he says relies simply on his creative flow. “I let go of everything,” Tolis tells us, “no requirements or expectations, I just take my camera and flow. That’s how I find I can catch the essence of a place, a landscape, or the people there.”
To flow, you need to be free, and part of the appeal of his Sony cameras, according to Tolis, is how easy it is to move with them. “Cameras like the α7S II and the α7R II that I used in Nepal are powerful,” he explains, “but light. Weight is always a factor because of all the hiking you have to do, and so you try to get rid of every gram possible. I also take a tripod, drone and gimbal for my video work, so it all adds up. And don’t forget that weight is even more important when you’re 5000m up in the mountains, and every step takes a breath. The camera is doing its job and getting great shots, and it’s you that needs to keep up!”
Another thing that helps Tolis’s flow is that his Sony gear isn’t intimidating in the way that some larger DSLRs can be. For instance when shooting characterful portraits on his Nepal trip, he found that “people act more naturally compared to when you use a larger DSLR,” he explains, “so you know you’re getting something less posed. You don’t get recognised so much as a pro, and you can be more anonymous, disappearing into the reality of the moment.”
Tolis’s stunning portrait of an orange-clad sadhu at the Pashupatinath temple in Kathmandu is a great example of this. “They come from all over India and Nepal on pilgrimages,” he says, “and some of them can be a bit fake and ask you for money, especially if they think you’re shooting professionally. But I was talking to this guy, and we connected, so he was happy for me to take his picture.”
Shooting portraits on his trip, Tolis needed the advantages of the α7R II and α7S’s superb focusing and exposure features, as well as being able to react and adapt to fit his free flowing style. “The portrait of the woman was shot in a small dark hut,” he tells us, “where I’d been invited for dinner. Like all my travel shots, it was only natural light, coming from the door, so I shot at ISO 3200 and f/1.4 on my FE 35mm f/1.4 ZA for the right exposure. But the α7R II is so good at controlling noise you can hardly see it.”
Adaptability is also important to Tolis for contrasting scenes, as: “I always just want to stay in the moment, not think too much about the camera, and just be confident in what it can do.”
Take for instance this scene of the Boudhanath temple in Kathmandu. “I stayed near the temple for three days,” Tolis says, “so that I could wait for the light. I love to shoot against the light as it’s a great tool for conveying emotion, so I have to be confident in my kit. I knew that the dynamic range of the α7R II could cope with the sun behind the temple, keeping the structure in highlights and shadows, whereas with another camera it might be dark or burnt out.”
Tolis also wants his travel projects to help the idea of conservation flow into people’s minds. “There are different ways to create awareness,” he explains, “but for me, I travel to create and tell the stories of these landscapes and people that make this planet wonderful. I’m convinced that humans do not want to destroy something that’s so beautiful; it stimulates your mind and wellbeing.”
And how does Tolis think that photography can help with this conservation? “I believe the more awareness I can spread of beauty on this planet, the more likely people are to preserve it. We are connected to everything and our wellbeing is dependent on it.”
"My only goal is to live my life in my fullest potential"