We feature some of the brightest Instagram storytellers in the Passion Passport community through our Instagram Spotlight series. This week, Tom Shu (@tom.shu) takes us on a worldwide tour through some of his most beautiful photos.

Cartagena, Colombia

Cartagena was the most recent trip I took, and it was by far one of the most enriching experiences I’ve ever had. To be honest, after booking our trip to Cartagena, I became more and more hesitant to visit Colombia. When I told family members and friends about my upcoming trip, they referenced travel warnings, news of violence, and other dangerous scenarios we might face.

All these concerns were reasonable given Colombia’s history, but I can confidently say that, after spending a week there, we didn’t feel unsafe at any point. In fact, we felt safer walking around Cartagena at night than we do in many major U.S. cities. My travel advice to anyone looking for a culturally rich experience, friendly and hospitable people, and mouth-watering food is to visit Cartagena before the influx of tourists that is sure to come soon.

Cartagena was colorful, vibrant, fun, energetic — more so than we ever expected it would be. From the moment we met our driver at the airport to the last taxi ride, we felt welcome.

Other than the fairytale-like avenues of the Walled City, the trendy streets of the Getsemani district, and the contrast between modern high-rises and Spanish colonial buildings, what surprised me most was just how beautiful the sunrises and sunsets were. It’s hard to explain in writing or even in photos, but the sun created rich, yet soft, pastel-like colors. There was also a haze in the atmosphere, which would allow you to look straight into the sun without sunglasses and would light up as the sun rose or fell. It made for some epic photographic opportunities.

Iceland

When I think of our trip to Iceland, a few words come to mind — barren, moody, sheep, and of course, unbelievably beautiful. Honestly, before our trip, I didn’t know what to expect. I had seen thousands of pictures on Instagram, but they don’t really do Iceland justice. In a picture, you’re not able to truly feel the power of Skógafoss waterfall, the serene magic of Jökulsárlón at sunrise, or the peacefulness of driving the open roads with no worry except yielding for sheep crossings.

And although it is nearly impossible to truly capture Iceland the way you experience it in person, you can try to capture an essence of those feelings — which is exactly what I attempted to do.

We started our trip, like most, in Reykjavik and slowly made our way to Höfn, on the eastern coast. Along the way, we stayed up all night in order to make the 4 a.m. sunrises, battled the birds who saw our drone as an intruder, and took shot after shot after shot in an attempt to capture all we could.

In the end, I felt the series of images we left with really did capture the beauty Iceland has to offer in the summertime.

Oahu, Hawaii

Hawaii, and more specifically Oahu, is my second home. I am Asian-American with family roots in Taiwan, and the family bond, culture, and warmth of the people in Hawaii reminds me a lot of spending time in Taiwan. Each time I visit, I’m surprised by something new. You can hike the same trail or watch the sunset from the same beach, and each experience will be completely different.

For my most recent trip to Oahu, I really wanted to capture the diversity of the different landscapes and show off the dream-like colors you see when you’re there in person. At the same time, I wanted to keep my photos original, even if shooting at a well-known location.

My favorite shot that I’ve ever taken was from this trip — it’s the lighthouse shot you see below! Before getting to the location that day, I had an idea of what I wanted the shot to look like in my mind. I knew I wanted to get the lighthouse against the backdrop of the mountain range’s vibrant oranges, contrasting against the blue ocean waters.

I also knew that if the clouds didn’t get in the way, the setting sun would light up the mountainside and bring out the colors even more. Thirty minutes before sunset, I used my first drone battery to scope out the area and to see if the shot was even possible. Then at sunset, I took the drone up with my second battery and snapped the shot I had envisioned. I was able to clearly capture the shadows and highlights in the scene by using my drone’s auto exposure bracketing feature. This feature takes three to five shots at different exposures, which you can merge into an HDR image in post-production. Definitely a good feeling when you end up with a shot like this one!

Sa Pa, Vietnam

This was one of the most hectic and memorable trips I have ever taken. It was my first solo trip, and not to mention my first time in Vietnam, so I packed my short five-day schedule with a lot. The plan was to fly into Hanoi and, on the same day, take an eight-hour night bus to the mountains of Sa Pa.

Unfortunately, I caught a stomach bug and the rains were relentless, so many of my plans fell through. But I now realize this unfortunate chain of events was actually the reason why the trip was so memorable — because I was forced to slow down and enjoy the natural rhythms of everyday life in Sa Pa.

I took a tour of the rice terraces, walked alongside farmers on their daily commute to bring their water buffalo to work the rice paddies, shopped the local markets, and even took a motorcycle out to explore the windy mountainous roads.

On that motorcycle ride, I experienced the moment I remember most clearly.

When I ran out of gas, after 30 minutes of riding straight into the mountains, a local farmer saw what happened and came over to help. He signaled for me to roll my motorcycle down the mountain with him to his farmhouse and then proceeded to cut a hose from his house and siphon gas from his motorcycle to mine.

In those hectic but memorable five days, I saw that, although life was simple, peaceful, and beautiful in Sa Pa, it was also hard. I wanted my photos to reflect the same, which is why I chose to capture the bright vibrant greens and yellows of the rice terraces contrasting with the farmhouses of Sa Pa. It was pretty hazy over the course of the five days I was there, so I didn’t have to worry much about getting good light. The haze acted as a natural light box, which allowed me to take awesome photos throughout all times of the day.

Related:  #RoundAboutUSA: On the Road Part II
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Tom Shu
Tom Shu is a US-based photographer and filmmaker. He was lucky enough to start traveling at a young age and has had a camera by his side ever since his trip to the Galapagos Islands six years ago. He plans to move to Taipei, Taiwan, at the end of this year in order to rediscover the land of his ancestors and to share Taiwan's untold stories through his photography and films.