The Portfolio

Hunting with Golden Eagles in Mongolia with Travel Photographer Breanna Wilson

by Breanna Wilson
All photos by Breanna Wilson.

Travel photographer Breanna Wilson is obsessed with remote destinations and finding the world's most badass adventures. She splits her time between Georgia and Mongolia, where she went deep into the Mongolian Altai Mountains to witness the centuries-old tradition of hunting with golden eagles. The practice is passed down from generation to generation and outsiders often aren't typically privy to the ritual. She shares part of her breathtaking experience — and accompanying images.

Tell us a little about yourself

Besides writing and taking photos, I have an adventure motorcycle tour in Mongolia that uses Urals (motorcycles with sidecars) as a means to visit nomadic herders in the most remote parts of the steppe and travel around the Mongolian countryside for a week. We’ve had to postpone 2020's tour for obvious reasons, but we’re looking forward to one that will take place at the end of May 2021.

I first became serious about photography a few years ago when I was traveling full-time and realized I wanted to document what I was experiencing, as I was experiencing it. I am by no means the most technical photographer; I prefer to capture moments as they happen, and my images are more like travel memories than perfectly staged blogger photos (which I personally think are boring).

I’m often traveling solo and my style is to travel longer and embed myself as deeply into a culture as possible wherever I can. Mongolia and Georgia have been great for that. I shoot from the hip and as discreetly as I can to try to capture every emotion and natural facial expression possible. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. But it’s a fun process, nonetheless.

How would you describe your photography style?

I’m a very raw photographer. I don’t use lights. I don’t use lots of gadgets. I keep it simple and as light as possible since I’m often carrying my own gear and bags – which usually means one lens and that’s it. My images aren’t always perfect, but they are real. And that’s interesting to me.

What do you shoot with?

Canon Mark III, usually with a 50 mm 1.2. lens.

What do you appreciate about shooting close to home?

When I shoot in Mongolia and Georgia, where I consider home these days, I’m often with people that I know well. That means I know their habits, I know their angles, and I know how best to capture them as they go about their day. That also means that they aren’t as shy when they see me with my camera — and they won't give me a fake smile. Having that genuine connection comes across and always makes for a better photo.

What do you love most about photographing on the road?

When I’m on the road I’m capturing things that I’m experiencing for the first time. My photos are usually not as tight (blurry, not centered) but I don’t mind. My lens is capturing something I’m experiencing for the first time and that is exciting. I’ll often put down the camera to just live in the moment, and I won’t pick it back up until after I’ve experienced everything fully and completely. I don’t travel to capture everything – I travel to experience everything and to experience it the way it’s meant to be experienced.

When you put a camera in someone’s face it builds a wall between you and them – I have found that it’s better to build rapport first and then photograph later, or sometimes not at all. There are times when you don’t get the shot and that’s okay, too.

Any favorite places you keep returning to? Or places you are dying to see and photograph?

I was on my way to Iraqi Kurdistan when coronavirus came along and had other plans for all of us. I was really hoping to photograph the female militia there and experience a place that not many people know about. (Or maybe I should say, they don’t know the right things about.)

At the end of the day we’re all human and we all want the same things – to be loved, to take care of our families, to be happy – and I was looking forward to learning more about a culture that I think people forget or have the wrong idea about.

What are you currently working on?

These days I’m mostly working on the Meanwhile in Mongolia platform. The website is full of helpful information for travelers – from where to eat and sleep in Ulaanbaatar to how to go diving in Lake Khovsgol – and the Facebook page is a fun glimpse into a version of the country most travelers don’t know about (a Carhartt skateboarding documentary, anyone?).

There will (eventually) be a Facebook group where travelers can ask questions and get personalized recommendations and tips from other travelers, find people to travel with, and more.

The project is just starting to gain momentum, but it’s something I’m passionate about – I want to help change the way people see the county and tourism there. Right now, there’s no middle ground when it comes to traveling in the country – it’s either budget or super high end. I’d like to see the mid-range tourism sector grow.

Explore Breanna's Work

Website: breannajwilson.com

Instagram: @breannajwilson

Project: meanwhileingeorgia.com