For Turkish filmmaker and videographer Özgür Çagdas, everything changed when the travel bug bit. Çagdas started out making corporate videos and working toward a career as a screenwriter and director. However, a series of twists set him on the road to producing stock footage around the world, and since then, he’s been to more than 40 countries, including 15 in a recent 90-day trip alone.
We caught up with Çagdas to talk about how he plans his long stretches on the road, learn more about what goes into capturing his amazing footage, and get his advice for others who dream of making travel a way of life. (Hint: start close to home.)
In your bio, you list yourself as a backpacker first, then a filmmaker and videographer. How important is travel in your life? How old were you when you first started traveling?
I started to travel while I was in high school. It was my dream to travel the world as much as I could, whenever I wanted. After I graduated from university, I entered the stock business mainly because of this. I feel it’s my chance to experience the world. For the last 4-5 years, travel has been my whole lifestyle. I’ve been everywhere from Vietnam to Norway — more than 1,000 cities around 40 countries.
When you’re shooting on the road, do you plan your shoots out in advance, or do you just try to capture what’s around you? What are your favorite subjects?
If it’s a city, I try Couchsurfing first. (It’s a free accommodation sharing site.) Most cities have enough hosts, so I can hang out with locals easily. In most cases, just talking with locals is much better than any guidebook. Sometimes they join me while I’m making videos.
I like shooting daily life — how people live, what they do, how they dress, how they work. For example, in Asia, I try to help NGOs by shooting their videos and photos. Once, I went to the slums of garbage gatherers in Cambodia. It was out of the city and quite a dangerous place to go with expensive equipment. I made the videos, and someone saw them on YouTube and decided to help them. Now those people have a slightly better life.
I also like to see local festivals or performances. Sometimes I hire models if I have time and a good idea. I don’t limit myself.
You recently embarked on a trip to 15 countries in 90 days. What were the most memorable things you saw?
Of course every place has its own beauty, but the nature in Norway; history in Rome; nightlife in Prague; the beers of Belgium; and the Nudity Festival in Switzerland made up my top experiences. I graduated with a psychology degree, so Freud’s home in Vienna was also very memorable.
What advice would you give to other videographers who want to make a living while seeing the world?
Health is the first thing. If you don’t have good health and stamina, go to the gym and work on your cardio. Bicycling is the best, because you will really need energy during travel.
Keep all expenses at a minimum. It’s the most important thing for sustainability. Don’t make investments that you can’t afford to lose. (Yes, you can lose everything on the road.) Take many backups — I usually make three backups to three different hard drives while I’m traveling.
And, most importantly, If you want to do travel videos, start with your own street first, then nearby places. Test your equipment and workflow. Then go further.
What kind of gear do you typically use? What are the biggest challenges you face with your setup?
I use DSLRs with many lenses and a tripod. I update my camera every 1-2 years as technology develops. Usually, I travel with 5 lenses — 3 prime lenses and 2 zoom lenses (14mm f2.8, 50mm f1.4, 85mm f1.4, 24-105mm f4, and 150-500mm f5.6). I use a powerful laptop with a 4K display to edit and color correct very gently.
The biggest challenge is to carry things. My electronics are more than 20 kg (44 lbs), so the total weight of my bags with personal items can go over 30 kg (66 lbs).
How long have you been shooting stock video and what initially attracted you to it?
I’ve been making videos for more than 10 years. Actually, first, I was writer. Then I learned about filmmaking. I tried to be a writer and director. I got support from the Turkish cultural ministry for my script. Then I was selected for the Berlin Film Festival’s Berlinale Talents summits.
I was trying to produce my movie when the 2008 economic crisis happened, and I couldn’t get financing. So I looked for video jobs that I could continuously learn from. When I first discovered the stock business, I was amazed by the freedom. I really like the idea of doing whatever I want without thinking about marketing. And the possibility of traveling the world was extremely exciting.
What made you choose video as your main medium? How many clips would you guess you produce in a typical year?
Right now, I have around 8,000 clips online. The first year, I barely produced 300 clips. Then the number increased every year as my experience increased. This year, I’m getting close to 3,000 videos (1,000 of them are already online, with another 2,000 set to be available later this year). At the end of year, hopefully I’ll have around 10,000 clips online. The biggest time consuming thing isn’t shooting, though. Taking video is just 10% of the work — preparation, traveling, editing, keywording, and distribution all require time.
Where would you love to travel that you haven’t been yet?
I’d love to travel whole world, but there are two places at the top of my list: Galapagos and Antarctica. Maybe if I live long enough and technology gets cheaper, I want to walk on the Moon, as well!