Romania Trip & Romanian Models 2020

Photo Trip Blog Diary (Written March, 2020)

Summary of my first photography trip to Romania for model photography.

Leaving with mixed emotions..

After 2.5 days in Romania I leave the city of Cluj (Cluj-Napoca) with mixed emotions. Beautiful city and beautiful people but at the same time so difficult. Let me explain!

Cluj-Napoca visit

So after finding a cheap flight from my UK home airport I decided to visit Cluj-Napoca, Romania for the first time. That was the only criteria for choosing this city although it would be nice to now tick Romania off my todo list. It was my attempt at being more adventurous this year with multiple new destinations booked (Rather than Poland, Hungary, Poland, Poland, Hungary..!).

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Canon 35mm LTM Portrait

Cameras for Romania 

I would have happily shot only 35mm film for this trip but I had some new 120 film stock to try. That and a 6×9 folding camera to test out (which takes 120 film). My final camera lineup for the trip was –

Leica Minolta CL Camera

Running in Cluj

As you may have seen from one of my early YouTube videos, I enjoy running as a mode of transport when visiting new destinations.  I took my trusty hydration vest and running belt as shown previously, to carry cameras with and selected cameras that were small and compact to suit my needs. When I run in Poland I usually only carry one camera as I’ve been before so know what to expect. In Romania I ran with three cameras to avoid fear of missing out (“FOMO”)! I wanted the option to shoot both 35mm colour film and 35mm B&W film and 120.  


Part of this was to test new cameras or film stocks and partly the cameras were all so compact that just could carry 3.  (See the Patreon video I shared, shot live in Romania). The 6×9 Agfa Billy 2 camera was particularly impressive at how small it was. (Smaller than the 645 format Fuji GS645 and slimmer than a Leica M camera with lens is attached. 

Minolta Rokkor 40mm f2

I got up for sunrise both morning and went exploring.  After seeing photos of the city on Instagram I knew there was some high ground with a view across the city.  I checked the map and headed for the biggest hill.  This is what I normally tend to do anyway, wherever I am.

It reminded me a little of my visit to San Francisco and running up to the Twin Peaks for sunrise, but on a smaller scale.  Much less height to climb and a less grand view at the top, though nice all the same.  Once I was up on higher ground I needed something else to photo so I ran towards the railway station.  I seem to gravitate towards stations and railways as there is usually both infrastructure to photo and the potential of older things.  

Hasselblad Xpan Cityscape - San Francisco
San Francisco – Hasselblad Xpan

Like many photographers I think I much prefer old vs new for pictures. Urbex photography interests me but I usually do it to a lesser extent. I enjoy geometric shapes so railway tracks and platforms give me structures to work with. I much prefer this to being in nature where it lacks such structures.  I guess I like to photo old man made structures, in a nut shell. Not old as in castles but old as in war time or industrial.  I want to photo the old trains and structures before everything is replaced with modern.  In the UK we don’t really see the old trains so much, unless on a preserved railway.  Also security is so tight in the UK and Western Europe you often can’t get anywhere close because of health and safety measures. 

Leica iiia Photography

So I’m not a train spotter I just find railways a good source of old stuff to photo!  In EU countries most of the older cars are long since gone after countries offered scrapage scemes to incentivise replacing old with new. The cars in Romania were no different to the UK so there was no interest there in that regard. In contrast Ukraine is non EU so it still has it’s older cars and vehicles which I love. 

Russian Old Truck (ZIL-130)
Russian Old Truck (ZIL-130) shot in Ukraine

I tried my luck as a tourist and got really close to the railway in places that I should not have been. There were not fences but the signs seemed to indicate I was in the wrong place. On day one I was feeling quite confident until railway workers shouted at me from a distance.  I couldn’t see them so I took my photo anyway.

What pained me the most is I took this average photo looking in one direction then behind me I see two railway workers speeding past me in their DIY chopped off vintage van (road vehicle that had be re-mounted to a railway bogie!) (wheels to fit the railway tracks). Painted bright yellow and the guys pointing and shouting at me. They went out of view before I had chance to turn on the camera but what a great sight and gutted at the missed photo.

By day 2 I’d lost my nerve a bit so didn’t stray beyond no go signs. Disappointing as there was a whole playground of cool things to photo just in front of me.  Local dogs started barking as I got close raising the alarm of my presence so I gave up and headed back into the old town of Cluj for a few tourist photos. 

Nikkor H.C. 5cm Portrait

Getting out my comfort zone

After 10+ years of model photography it’s all quite easy now.  I use a wide array of analogue film cameras to keep it interesting for me.  I like to be always learning / progressing so I would really struggle if I shot digital only. The photography aspect is comfortable for me but so to are the places I visit.  I needed to get out my comfort zone that is Poland, Hungary, and to a lesser extent Ukraine. In these countries (or the specifically the cities I visit most – Gdansk, Budapest, Uzhhorod respectively) I have a pool of models, especially in Poland, so I love to visit to see friends/ acquaintances. I know the airports, the hotels, the bus routes and the trains. I have my go to grocery stores and everything is just very easy and familiar. That’s one reason why I visited Romania. To have new experiences.

Leica iiia + Shutter issues

Discovering new talent

In addition to working with familiar faces in my favourite mentioned cities I always try to find a few new people each trip.  I love discovering very talented and beautiful people, especially if they are not agency models and are relatively unknown in that regard.  I’ve managed to scout a few models over the years and get them placed with model agencies.  I seem to be able to spot strong talent easily from a crowd. 

Gene pool

Each country has their own common look with similarities with regards to certain features.  In some countries people are generally taller (the Netherlands), some countries blue eyes and blonde hair may be more common. Elsewhere brown eyes and darker skin perhaps.  Some nations are generally slimmer and others more rounded.  I love the look found in Poland and Hungary as it really suits my personal taste.  With that said, there may be beautiful people with features to my taste in other countries too so I feel it is good to explore.  If I never try new countries I could be missing out on a goldmine of model talent. This is why I want to try new countries.  If they are not as good as my listed favourite countries at least I know for future reference.

It is worth me noting for clarity that there are beautiful people in every country and every city.  What I am looking for is where those individuals that are above average beautiful and a higher percentage of pretty people from a total population.  Having one amazing girl in a city is no good as the chance of me working with them are minimal. When the average girl walking down the street in her day wear looks good and so do her friends and her friends friends then the likelihood of me finding people for photos is much higher. It’s simply a numbers game!

Lomo 800 Night Photography

Romanian girls 

I think it would be said that Romanian girls are generally attractive.  Some countries are famous for their girls, perhaps Russia or Ukraine and others it is never mentioned as a fact.  I think Romania is closer to the upper end of the ‘positive spectrum’. 

I find I can get some idea of this if I search a city hashtag on Instagram.  Local people will be tagged and it’s a way I search for models.  It was a little worrying at how difficult I found it to find people I wanted to photograph using this method in Romania.  Some nationalities use social media and specific apps less than others.  The French seemed to use Instagram very little so I really struggled when I visited France last year for photos.  Romania was going to be equally challenging but for different reasons.

Romanians are extremely cautious people 

From my experience and in this scenario I discovered Romanian girls to be extremely guarded and untrusting.  I spoke to perhaps 30-40 models before the trip and many showed interest in meeting at first. One by one they all exited the chat as politely as they could in their own unique ways. I couldn’t understand what was happening as I’ve never experienced this before.  When two courageous individuals did start talking with me at length I asked them.  They told me Romanian girls are careful and they themselves were worried to meet me but would do some research on me beforehand. 

3 Photoshoots in Romania

One girl who wrote to me asking for photos was a professional photographer and photographed people too. She kindly put me in contact with a model friend of hers so that gave me three models (including her) to work with. I always aim for as many girls as possible but in hindsight 3-5 was about perfect.  A good balance between taking photos with girls, often in the apartment, and me getting out to explore this new city.  

Minolta Rokkor 40mm f2 Bokeh

Big thanks

Firstly a big thanks to the three girls who trusted me enough to meet. They were the minority in Cluj, sadly. 

Of the 3 shoots one session was similar to how I often work in Poland. The girl was super relaxed about her body and with me so the photos came easily. Another girl was more cautious towards her clothing (verses her usual work) so tried to stay mostly covered but I still got nice portraits and headshots.  

The photographer girl was so careful she didn’t even want to step into the apartment and said initially she’d wait outside.  I’ve never seen that in 10 years of photos!  We had planned to shoot in the street anyway and lucky after a short time we were best buddies and had a great laugh. I love to meet new cool people in this way. The social aspect can be as fun and the photos themselves.  Sometimes it just clicks and it’s enjoyable just hanging out. I get the opportunity to learn about the city and local people from them and they often ask about the UK. 

Leitz CL Camera

Sad to see good talent miss out

What disappointed me the most in Cluj is how many attractive girls missed out on great photos.  I’m not bigging myself up saying I’m amazing but I know I can make people happy with my photos.  I don’t remember a model not liking their images. This confidence is what drives me forward so strongly.  As a natural introvert the camera gives me the confidence to approach anyone online with regards to photos. I know I could have made great images with the masses of girls that were too scared to meet. Why were they scared. I think some of my slightly sexy images on Instagram put them off even if I suggested outside photos only and to bring a friend for support. 

Leica iiia + Canon 28mm f2.8 LTM

Will I visit Romania again?

Until the final photo session I would say 100% no but then she was so good maybe a should. The city of Cluj is beautiful and easy to travel to for me. This is a plus.  I would just need to confirm models in advance if they reply once I have example photos from girls in their city.  I just don’t know if I have time to write to so many people again when I got such I low success rate.  In Poland I have more models than I ever have time to photograph (that I’m in contact with) so going there is just productive and positive.

Camera choice – Was I happy?

Digital Leica CL

I shot almost all digital image with the Leica APS-C mirrorless camera. It is such a great camera for travel being so small. Normally I pair the CL with a 35mm prime lens for a 50mm equivalent shooting experience. I posted mostly film images from the trip but here is a digital sample.

Canon 35mm LTM Portrait
Leica CL film camera 

The analogue Leica CL camera rangefinder is very poor for portraits due to the low magnification and that made it very difficult to use. For stopped down landscape photos it was fine but for portraits and street photography it was a waste of time. I did try both but I will wait to see if the portraits are in focus (at f4!). On the street I was missing 7 out of 10 opportunities and I couldn’t focus fast enough to get the image. Very annoying.

35mm Leica CL Film Portrait
Leica CL / Minolta CL
35mm Leica CL + Minolta Rokkor 40mm Portrait
Leica M3 + Kentmere 400 film

Tried and tested. The Leica M3 works great for portraits but is too heavy to run with as a lightweight camera.  (There are lighter options).

Leica + Minolta 40mm Portrait
Leica M3 + Kentmere 400
Nikkor HC 5cm Portrait
Minolta Rokkor-M 40mm Portrait
Minolta Rokkor-M 40mm Portrait
Leica iiia + Fomapan 100 film

Excellent camera with great rangefinder. Absolutely perfect for travel and running with, especially if fitted with the compact a Leica Elmar 5cm f3.5 lens attached.

Leica iiia Landscape
Leica iiia shutter issues

Being an old camera and probably left unused for years before I bought it on eBay it died mid trip. Not completely but the shutter was in some of my images. Top tip if you buy a vintage Leica. Get them CLA’s before any extensive use. I had my Leica iif and Leica ic cameras fully serviced so they will become my main users.

Leica iiia shutter issues - as seen on Youtube
Leica iiia shutter issues - as seen on Youtube
Barnack Leica Photography
Fuji GS645 + Lomography 800 film

Great lens and a useful 645 film format but not overly exciting to use and larger and heavier than other some other medium format cameras I own.

Fuji GS645 Portrait
Lomo 800 Colours
120 Lomo 800 Colours
Lomo 800 Night Photography
Agfa Record Billy 2

I really appreciate how compact the Agfa Billy 2 is, especially considering it is 6×9.  I have an older version of the camera with pop up framelines. I found this really useful to visualize a photo before opening the camera.   The same as how Leica framelines work without a lens attached. 

Sadly, although I bought a very clean copy of the camera it had focusing issues so was soft at all f stop. It made for some very vintage looking images and I will send it for repair soon. (When you turn the focus on the lens it spins on itself and changes nothing).

Agfa Billy Record II Photo
Agfa Billy Record II 6x9 Folding Camera

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