Instagram Feature: to.the.lees

From your Instagram account it is clear that you are an avid traveler. What about capturing beautiful images during your adventures do you find so rewarding? Do you find that capturing an image of an incredible place you’ve visited allows you to hold on to the memory forever in a way?

Wanderlust is one of the most powerful impetuses in my life. I feel the most alive when I'm exploring. I feel this acute sense of awareness, knowing that the place where I am will never again be as it is in that instant, nor will I. Photography is about capturing that unique moment. When we visit a place we have never been before, we're experiencing it for the first time, with an unfettered sense of wonder. Nothing is familiar and nothing is taken for granted. I think the more we do this, the more it becomes a skill that we can apply to everyday life: looking at our environments with a fresh perspective. A photograph can be a beautiful image, but also an ephemeral time capsule. Looking back on my travels I tend to remember impactful moments, perhaps taking in a breathtaking landscape or an architectural icon. But I look back at photos to remember those quiet in-between moments that aren't inexorably etched in my mind. For me, that is the magic of photography.

When shooting a nature scene like a waterfall in Iceland vs. a cityscape scene like in Amsterdam, how do you try to frame your photos differently? Do you have different goals in mind when capturing these scenes on what you want to be felt when someone looks at your photo?

When taking photos, I try to capture the essence of the moment. I want someone viewing it to get a hint of what it was like to be present at that very moment. I think about what I'm trying to express in a shot, so depending on my location I take different things into consideration. For instance, the waterfalls in Iceland are stunning. The mist literally washes over you while the sound thunders in your feels entirely dwarfed by nature. I really wanted to convey that scale, so I took a lot of low-angle shots to emphasize the magnitude of the waterfall as well as shots with people in the foreground, contrasting human's scale to nature.

In a city environment, I tend to think in terms of familiar and unfamiliar. I want to capture the idyllic scene in your mind's eye, but also capture sights in an unexpected way. It's about the environment, but it's also about the details that might otherwise go unnoticed. The warm glow of the sun, intricate stonework, an eye-catching bunch of flowers while waiting for your third espresso of the day. You can see something 1,000 times, but view it in a different and perhaps surprising way, and you'll really see it for the first time.

Do you find that seeing other people’s images of a certain place or tourist destination as one of the major draws to get you to travel to the same place? How do you feel that travel photography on platforms like Instagram is motivating young people to get out and see parts of the world they may not journey to otherwise?

That's definitely part of it. I'm currently drooling over the Faroe Islands, which weren't even on my radar this time last year. Instagram makes destinations, remote or not, seem more accessible. It has the power to pique curiosity and spur action. We live on such a beautiful and ecologically diverse planet, it's amazing to be able to make new discoveries in the palm of your hand. 

I believe that travel is the only thing you can spend your money on that makes one richer. It opens our eyes to other people, their cultures, beliefs, and values. I think Instagram is a portal to that. It's powerful that a photo can motivate someone to get up and go somewhere they've never been before, gaining new insights and experiences they otherwise might never have in life. I think understanding and empathy are two qualities our world can use more of, and travel is an invaluable method of not only acquiring, but learning to value them.

What has been one of the most beautiful places you’ve ever traveled to, where it almost felt impossible to capture the true essence of the place in a photograph? And on the flipside, has there ever been somewhere you’ve traveled to that you’d seen beautiful photos of before, but were a bit underwhelmed with the place in reality?

Norway! I was absolutely blown away by the awe-inspiring landscape. Literally everywhere. I snapped photo after photo of the same subject, trying to capture the majesty of the country, but I just couldn't seem to do it justice. The photos came out great, but they don't compare to being there in person. 

Now for somewhere underwhelming...that would have to be the Cliffs of Moher. It was one of the sites from my trip this past summer that I was most looking forward to, but when we got there it was just fog! Jokes aside, (I know it's a gorgeous view and I'm looking forward to returning) I can't say I've ever felt exceedingly underwhelmed by a destination. I think that has to do with perspective. You can arrive somewhere and not get that "ahhh" moment you were hoping for, but you need to adjust your viewpoint. There is a bit of beauty and magic everywhere if you know how to look for it.

How do you balance taking photos while traveling and also making sure you are present in the moment and exploring the many destinations you’ve visited?

Oddly enough, I find that taking photos helps me to be present. Before I take photos, I try and really root myself in the moment. I take in my surroundings, acknowledge what it feels like to be standing there—I always take mental snapshots before digital ones. This practice makes the moment, as well as the memory, more tangible. On a personal level, it adds another layer of meaning to the photo.

What do you enjoy most about sharing your gorgeous photos on Instagram? Do you ever print out your photos to display in your home or in an album? Do you find that editing and curating which photos to post or print is a fun part of the process, or does it sometimes get overwhelming?

Instagram is such a robust platform for people to share their passions. Through it, I've been incited to visit new places, learn new skills, and step out of my comfort zone; that's something I want to pay forward. I hope that I'll inspire someone to do the same.

I've had this ongoing plan to create photo books of my travels, but the trips themselves always seem to take precedence over my time (I always have one on the horizon). I have such a ridiculous amount of content that at times I don't know where to begin. It can definitely be overwhelming, I have pictures from last year sitting on a hard drive that I haven't touched yet!

Editing is a double-edged sword. I love flipping through images after a trip, reveling in the adventures past. It's how I kill much of my spare time. I'm endlessly fiddling in Lightroom Mobile, while standing in line for coffee, riding the metro, avoiding folding name it. It's definitely a daunting task when I return from a weekend with hundreds of photos, but curating is the hardest part of all—I hate making decisions! 

What’s the next place you’d like to travel to that is yet to be officially on the books? If you could take photos of any place in the world you have yet to be, where would it be and why? Once a trip ends, do you find yourself planning the next one? 

Banff. 100%. I get emoji heart eyes every time I see a picture of Lake Louise. My dream road trip starts in Banff and hits Glacier, Yellowstone, and Grand Teton National Parks on the way to Jackson, Wyoming. But if we're talking anywhere in the world, I would love to photograph Morocco. The souks of Marrakech, the blue walls of Chefchaouen, the seemingly endless dunes of's a storied country with a vibrant culture so different from anything I have experienced to this point. I've only ever heard wonderful things. 


To see more of Billie's gorgeous travel photography, check her out on Instagram.




Billie Heitzman

Billie Heitzman is a graphic designer residing in Los Angeles. Originally from Arizona, she has a soft spot for the Southwest, easily evidenced by her collection of desert plants. When she's not traveling, she's searching for the best Manhattan in LA, scouting out new restaurants, or cooking at home.