Lebawit Lily Girma

Lebawit Lily Girma is a travel photographer, writer and author of two Belize titles for Moon Travel Guides. She has also contributed writing and photography on the Caribbean and Central America to outlets such as CNN Travel, American Way, BBC Travel, AFAR.com, MorningCalm Magazine and New York Magazine. Born in Ethiopia, raised in Côte d’Ivoire and later residing in Washington DC, Lily had a passport by age six and spoke four languages–including French and Spanish–by age 12. A former attorney who ditched the office for the road in 2009, Lily favors all things culture and adventure, and never goes anywhere without her Nikon gear.

How would you describe your style of photography?

I capture what makes my heart smile when I’m exploring a place, and I aim to make my viewer feel as if they’re right there with me. My images are almost always inspired by culture– people, music, food, rituals. I love to show movement and action, bright colors and emotions in my photos. Landscapes and the outdoors also inspire my work–showing how people relate to and seek out Mother Nature. I also love shooting in low light–music photography is still one of my favorites.

Can you share the backstories behind these two photos?

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This photo embodies what I love to shoot: culture, color, movement, dance. It’s vibrant, happy and it makes me almost hear the loud Carnival music. I was in Belize City, working with the Belize Tourism Board as a travel writer and photographer for three months–and I was lucky enough to have been there during the country’s September independence events. One of those is the Belize City Carnival. It was scorching hot that afternoon and the sun was harsh. But I love light and movement challenges and the energy of the dancers kept me going. I really went in on this shot – I was a few seconds away from the dancer’s arm swinging at me, and more dancers coming my way. I had to move fast, squatting a lot in between and capturing what I could at that speed. It still makes me smile when I see this image.

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This photo reminds me that great effort leads to great results, in photography and in life. It was taken after I hiked for almost two hours in the rainforest–one of the most challenging hikes I’ve ever done. Once we were at the top, I wanted to capture other tourists rappelling 300 feet into the rainforest. My guides were awesome–they hooked my harness to a series of ropes secured around a tree trunk (I think it was), and let me lean over until I had captured my shots. The down side is that I got to see just how low I had to go as well! But I love what this image shows–Belize’s incredible natural wealth, which is one of the main reasons people visit here.

What are your dreams as a photographer?

I have many! My biggest photographer’s dream was to inspire others to travel and see the beauty of the world; and to know I’ve already done this is a blessing. Other photographer’s dreams I have yet to realize: to have a major Belize photo exhibit, to capture my native country Ethiopia, and to have my photos published one day in a National Geographic outlet.

And last but not least, it would be a dream to lead a NatGeo photo and travel expedition to Belize (or another Caribbean country).

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The “Snapshot” series are mini interviews with fellow black travel photographers to inspire others and myself. As I’ve navigated the world of travel photography over the last few years, I’ve found very few fellow photographers of color who are also doing this professionally with a heavy focus on travel documentary. So this inspirational resource of professional travel photographers of color is a way for people to always find us. Please get in touch if you’d like to be featured or know of others to feature.