RTW Traveler

Berlinstagram’s Michael Schulz on Instagramming His Way Around the World

Berlinstagram’s Michael Schulz knows a thing or two about Instagram photos. He traveled around the world to get some of the best. (Photos: Michael Schulz)

“Instagram made me quit my job,” Michael Schulz says. That’s a pretty serious Instagram obsession. Schulz is the man behind Berlinstagram, cleverly naming his Instagram handle for his hometown and where this obsession began. But the serious business of turning this into a job has taken him well beyond Berlin.

“The last three years were really amazing,” Schulz says. “I’ve been traveling to so many different countries and destinations and I’m really grateful for that….Traveling became a job, which can be a bit exhausting but it is, for sure, a dream job!”

Schulz tells Marriott TRAVELER that he’s always on the hunt for new motifs to capture in his Instagram feed and he found plenty of inspiration on a recent continuous around the world trip with TRAVELER and Star Alliance that took him from Berlin to architectural dream destinations like Chicago, Budapest, Seoul and Singapore. Here, he shares his favorite stunning photos and tips for the budding Instagrammer.

instagram photos berlin michael schulz
View over the Donau River in Budapest, facing the Parliament.

How do you approach each new chance to travel?

With curiosity! I use more social media like Instagram and blogs instead of classic tourist guide information to get a first overview of a destination.

How does travel enrich your life?

It is enriching my life on so many levels. Each new place I visit feels like a new part of a puzzle to get a better understanding of the world in general. You have an image of a place, but actually seeing and experiencing it is so different.

Also, it’s especially enriching to meet locals in foreign places; hear the stories of their day-to-day-life and go to places they like. Because my Instagram account has such a global exposure, I am in the super lucky position that wherever I travel, I have many local people writing me. It’s like an extra social layer. But these days everyone can connect with other foreign people through online apps and services and I suggest everyone to do that!

Another thing is, that I’ve been able to go to places that I didn’t have in mind personally because of photography jobs. Québec City or Manchester, England for example, were cities I really found interesting, even though I never had those places on my bucket list.

Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), designed by Zaha Hadid
Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP), designed by Zaha Hadid.

What inspired the destinations that you selected for your RTW journey? What made you think of them in your quest to see architectural wonders?

I wanted to visit cities I’ve never been to before and cities that are not the most obvious. For example, I chose Singapore instead of Hong Kong, Seoul instead of Tokyo, Chicago instead of New York, Toronto instead of Vancouver and Buenos Aires instead of Rio. I did this out of curiosity to see new places and to shoot motifs that aren’t obvious or that everybody already knows.

When I arrived, I researched what things, in terms of architecture, would be the most interesting to photograph in each city.

Supertree Grove in Gardens by the Bay in Singapore
Supertree Grove in Gardens by the Bay in Singapore.

Which destination surprised you the most in its architectural style? What was most captivating about its structures?

For sure, Singapore and Seoul, because the architecture in Asia often differs from the classical Western viewpoint and that’s what it made it so exciting for me.

Singapore’s Gardens by the Bay and the surrounding Marina Bay area were my personal favorites. Sitting under the Supertree Grove’s tree-like structures at night was extremely surreal. My next favorite spot was Seoul’s Dongdaemun Design Plaza (DDP) designed by Zaha Hadid. The interesting thing about shooting these buildings is that they look so organic, so I didn’t really find a focal point to align my shot and to do a composition. It was really trial-and-error, shooting many, many photos until I found my favorite composition. These places are great for everybody who loves photography – they are basically public photography playgrounds. Seoul’s City Hall is another example that fits in here as well.

Had you taken a continuous trip around the world before? If you had it to do over again, what would be your RTW route? What are your recommendations to others who aspire to do a RTW journey?

This was my first trip of that scale. If I would do it again I wouldn’t include mega cities like Seoul or Buenos Aires and instead stick to smaller cities, because I think that you have to visit these super large cities on single trips. Also, because jet lag can be quite strong, you should consider visiting several cities in almost the same time zone. I did this with Singapore and Seoul, as well as Chicago, Toronto and Buenos Aires, so I only experienced jetlag twice during the whole trip.

Panoramic view of Berlin from Victory Column
Panoramic view of Berlin from Victory Column.

You’re based in Berlin. What places do you love to photograph in your hometown? How do you see these places with fresh eyes?

I’ve been photographing Berlin for six years now and I always try to find something new or take a photo from a different perspective, which is basically the same approach of many others in the core Instagram community. The longer I do this, the harder it gets to find something new. That’s why my own photography style shifted more in the direction of capturing the mood of the city. I’d say that now that I’m back from my travels with so many impressions, my passion is even stronger to see and try to capture the specific Berlin mood.

Inner courtyard of Boscolo Budapest Hotel, Autograph Collection
Inner courtyard of Boscolo Budapest Hotel, Autograph Collection.

What tips do you have for novice photographers, and architecture and design buffs? What are some unique ways to capture cityscapes and impressive buildings, bridges, etc?

  • Some basic concepts are useful for any type of photography: Rule of thirds for composition is the most important, activating the grid in photo apps and camera displays can be very helpful.
  • Less is (often) more, so I suggest to trying different crops of a photo. Apps like VSCO are making it quite easy to try different crops and quickly undo.
  • Keep your lines straight while shooting buildings and/or use perspective correction tools afterwards and look out if you can find symmetries in your motifs.
  • Try to include people when shooting architecture to get an idea of scale and make photos more candid.
  • Take hundreds of photos to get the one perfect shot!
Entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace
Entrance to Gyeongbokgung Palace.

Did you have a memorable encounter on this trip? Did you photograph something or someone unusual?

One of my most memorable moments was at Seoul’s Syeongbokgung Palace. There were many people in traditional Korean costumes that were using the palace as a background to shoot photos of themselves. For me this was awesome because I could capture many candid scenes of people in traditional costumes, while they were using modern cameras and gadgets like selfie-sticks to get classical looking shots of themselves. And I was the observer, documenting that process with my camera.

cloud gate chicago bean
Cloud Gate in Chicago, also known as “The Bean”.

Share the story behind one of your favorite images from your RTW trip. Why is this your favorite?

I took a couple of my favorite images of the RTW trip at Chicago’s Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) sculpture. I had been at that place some days before around noon and it was massively crowded with so many people. On the last day in Chicago, I decided to go shooting there at 6:30 a.m. in the morning to capture it empty. So I just slept a couple of hours, but the reward was awesome because I captured the sculpture with an awesome sunrise. It was almost unreal when the sun lit the surrounding skyscrapers in dark orange colors — one of my favorite moments of the whole trip.