“Found Nouns is the people, places, and things we discover along our travels”.
This is the way in which the Californian designers Rashi Birla and Nicklesh Soni introduce their travel photography project to the world. Based in New York, they tell us how this hobby ended up becoming a passion, and how it improves and complements not only the way they see the world surrounding them, but also their design skills and understanding.
Where are you from and how did you meet?
Nick: We both are originally from California. I grew up in San Diego, and Rashi was raised in the Bay Area. After meeting in the Design program at UCLA, we eventually made our way to Brooklyn, New York, where we now live.
When did you start taking pictures and why?
Rashi: I remember taking pictures with my parents old Canon film camera when I was 5 or 6 years old. Whenever we traveled as a family, I was always bringing that camera along with me. I actually used to get in trouble because I would always take pictures of scenery and objects, meaning there would barely be any of my family from the vacation.
As I grew up, photography was something I casually dabbled with, and I became more serious about it when I started traveling as an adult. When we decided to take this sabbatical 6 months trip, we both made a commitment to become better photographers and really develop our skills. That’s how our travel photography project, Found Nouns, was born.
Nick: My parents gifted me my first SLR in high school, but I never really invested my time in photography until I started traveling abroad. Travel and photography became inextricably linked in my experience on both, and my first iPhone only reinforced that feeling in my daily life.
It has made me pay attention to my surroundings and to always look for beauty; it has been a wonderful way to appreciate better my travels. Of course, it is easy to over-do it, so I am always treading that line of being present and, at the same time, capturing.
Do you implement photography into your designer job? If so, how?
Rashi: Totally. There is a large intersection between photography and design —color, composition, and storytelling, for example. Understanding photography better has helped me solve problems as a designer in a much more compelling way. Most branding projects I work on start with mood-boarding exercises where I predominantly use photography to help me understand the brand. Further into the design process, I have seen a lot of brands and projects really come to life once we start defining the photographic style for the brand.
Nick: Photography has become a huge part of understanding my role as a designer and art director. It is a way of expressing tone, mood, and style when pitching an idea or making a website compelling. There is so much subtle power in photography, and practicing it myself has made me more aware of how to design better experiences.
How did you start this 6 months trip, what was the main reason? Did you have any difficulties?
Rashi: Visiting new places with each other has always been a part of our relationship, and we knew traveling was going to be a priority in our married life together. We have always wanted to take time off to pursue long-term travel, and after saving up the money we needed, we decided it was a good time for both of us to leave our jobs and enjoy a few months of pure traveling. Asia and Oceania was a part of the world that was new to both of us, so we focused our 6 months trip in that region.
We booked a one-way flight to Tokyo and already knew that we wanted to end up in Australia, but everything in between was decided on the fly. Researching, planning and booking the trip along the way wasn’t an easy task, but it allowed us to be spontaneous and discover places we had never even thought visiting.
Can you tell us about your best memory so far of this trip?
Rashi: One of my favorite memories was a morning on the island of Teshima, Japan, for the Setouchi Triennial Arts Festival. Teshima is quite hilly, so we needed to get there really early to grab one of the limited electric bikes they rent on the island.
We took the first ferry to Teshima and we were one of the first people on the island. We enjoyed a wonderful morning bike ride, passing wildflower fields and persimmon gardens on one side, and the Seto Inland Sea on the other one. It felt like we had the whole island to ourselves.
Nick: My favorite moment was getting lost in Bagan, Myanmar while searching looking around for one of the many ancient temples. It was around 5 am and we were zipping around on scooters in the dark, trying to reach this temple in time for the sunrise.
After driving into a couple bushes and skidding down dirt paths we eventually made it just on time. We climbed to the top of the temple, where we caught a peaceful sunrise and hot air balloons floating directly over us. It was a quiet and special moment shared with friends that stick with me.
What is in your backpack? Or, at least, what photography gear do you carry?
Nick: Let’s start with the important stuff. We always carried a Fujifilm X-T2 with the XF 18-55mm and Fujinon XF35mm F2 R WR lenses. Extras include five SanDisk Extreme PRO 64GB memory cards, three batteries with a charger, and some cleaning tools, which all fit in a small Tarmac SLR case.
We used the crazy portable 12-inch MacBook to edit and upload on Lightroom, with a Western Digital 2TB portable hard drive to back up pictures. We sometimes used a GoPro HERO4 for underwater moments and an iPhone 6 and Nexus 5X for mobile shots. It all fit comfortably in a Fjallraven Kanken backpack (15” Laptop version) which doesn’t draw too much attention while on the road.
Where are you headed next, and how can we follow your journey?
Rashi: We are actually back in New York and are going to keep Found Nouns going —both with places we discover in this wonderful city and all of our future trips. We are still posting stories from the last one! Next will be Cambodia and the Thai islands.
An independent magazine inspired by the pictures and stories of emerging and established Fujifilm photographers from all over the world - Learn more