Leaving Something Behind: Creating Community with Photos

March 24, 2014 Peter West Carey

Giving back while traveling can be one of the most rewarding experiences any of us receive when getting off our couch and heading into the vast, exciting world. As a photographer, I look for ways in which my skill and trade can help benefit the world through which I travel, and that is why I have experimented with an idea that you might find helpful on your own travels.


The concept is simple. – I call it “giving a picture.” How many times have you asked, “May I take your picture?” Something about that phrase – one I have requested many, many times – bugged me until I realized it was the word ‘take’ that didn’t sit well with me. Here I am, a guest in another country and all I am doing is taking photos; of people, cities, mountains. Never giving.

I turned that around on a past trip to Nepal with the help of a portable printer. My printer was made by Polaroid (yes, they are still around) and was created with the traveler in mind. It would connect to any camera with a USB cable and came with instant ink (ZINK) paper that functions much the same as the classic Polaroid instant film from days of old. It has an internal battery to allow it to be used away from outlets.

The older model of the printer had some quirks (the battery life was horrid) but it worked well enough for me to snap and ‘give’ some photos while on the trail in the Nepali Himalayas. Checking updates for this post, I see Polaroid has a new model of an instant, portable printer called the GL-10 which creates a larger image (3″x4″) and works with Bluetooth devices (but not iPhones). More info on the printer can be found on Polaroid’s site. As a disclaimer, I have no connection with Polaroid and there are likely other printers on the market that are just as good.

Why go to the trouble of bringing along another electronic device while traveling? For me, it is about sharing the experience while meeting new people and places. How many of us carry pictures of loved ones or our home country when we travel so we can share who we are with the people we meet? This is an extension of that concept.

Also, to people in certain areas of the world, a photo is like gold. While camera phones are making inroads to the far-flung corners of the globe, physical photos are still cherished by an older generation. It’s something tangible that doesn’t need electricity to view. It’s always there – a reminder of loved ones while they may be away from home. It’s a moment in time that can bring a smile to the heart of the viewer. It’s also a gift, something that nearly any of us would be happy to receive in an age when less and less photos are being printed and handed to friends, families, and strangers. It’s a way of building bridges between locals and visitors, especially when there is a language barrier involved. Photography is the perfect medium to reach across that barrier and connect. And isn’t that why we travel – to connect with someone or something new?

The next time you travel with a camera, consider bringing along a portable printer. You will still take home the amazing photos you desire and you’ll leave behind many new smiles and new friends along the way.

Tips On Portable Printer Use

  • As mentioned, I have not used the newest version of the Polaroid printer but from reviews on Amazon.com, it seems like a big improvement over the old unit I have.
  • The unit is only one pound in weight but a little too big for a pocket it seems. If you have a purse or backpack, this shouldn’t be a problem.
  • Bring plenty of paper and test the unit before you leave.
  • Be patient. The prints take a minute to print out (but you don’t have to wait for them to expose, as you did the old Polaroid prints).
  • You can print directly from a point and shoot camera, mirrorless 4/3rds or DSLR, but you have to shoot in JPEG mode. Most cameras that shoot RAW allow for dual mode shooting and this is an excellent use of that feature.
  • The USB cable to connect directly to cameras is standard in case you forget/lose yours.
  • Put the date and maybe your contact info on the back of the print as a point of reference.
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