Sam Antonio first began his travels in the dry pages of an encyclopedia, but the pages of his life have since been filled with color – and he’s shared it across the world as an Instant Collection contributor with Fotolia.

We spoke to Sam about his life, his pictures, and his methods.

Fotolia: Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, where you’re based and your journey into becoming a photographer?

Bamboo Train Cambodia

Sam Antonio on the Bamboo Train in Cambodia

Sam Antonio: Absolutely! My name is Sam Antonio and I reside in San Diego, California. My passion for photography began at an early age where, because my family wasn’t often able to take vacations, I’d immerse myself into Collier’s Encyclopedia. Reading this would transport me to a new world, a place of foreign cultures and exciting lands.

What began as a love of travel documenting each trip around the world in emails and journals progressed into a love affair with photography when, in 2001 on a trip to the Philippines (the birthplace of my parents) I brought a Canon Powershot S100 to capture the trip. It was a real eye opener as I was able to see the exact images captured on the tiny screen on the back. People were happy to see their faces when I’d taken images of them, too.

I realized at this moment the power of photography as a medium to explore creativity, personal expression, and bring a smile to people’s faces.

Fo: What, in your view, are the ingredients in creating a fantastic photograph?

SA: The quality of the light is of the utmost importance. Photography is ultimately the ‘drawing of the light’ as derived from the two Greek words ‘photos’ (light) and ‘graphos’ (drawing).

The connection between the subject and the photographer is also extremely important. Understanding, for example, a city’s history when shooting aspects of it, or empathising with a person’s emotions to really capture it. You have to understand them as more than just a subject in your photo.

Keeping up to speed with your equipment is also very important. You need to be aware of emerging photography trends and also be conscious of developing yourself as a photographer.

Fo: What or who motivates your photography?

SA: When I first started photography I enjoyed taking landscape shots. I was influenced by the work of Ansel Adams and because of my love to shoot in colour, the work of Galen Rowell and David MuenchBob Krist sparked my interest in travel photography and, in the last couple of years, Steve McCurry has been responsible for directing my photography in portraits and photojournalism. David duChemin and Chase Jarvis are the ultimate in cool and are truly exquisite photographers.

Fo: How did you become aware of Fotolia’s Instant Collection App and how have you found using it so far?

SA: I was already a Fotolia contributor when I received an email last year talking about this exciting new opportunity for smartphone photography. I spent most of 2012 photographing in Southeast Asia and Mexico and even though I shoot with a full frame DSLR camera in the Canon 5D Mark II, I found that I was photographing more with my Apple iPhone 4S because of its portability, simplicity and ability to be creative with my composition.

Since I have been contributing regularly to Fotolia’s Instant Collection App my sales have increased dramatically and stock photography has been made fun again.

Fo: What places have you visited that have photographic poignancy in your mind, and what places are on your ‘wish list’ to photograph?

SA: Even though Thailand markets itself as “The Land of Smiles,” I would have to say Cambodia embodies that slogan. Everywhere I went I was always welcomed with a warm smile and gracious hospitality, taking into account the country’s tragic history (under the regime of the Khmer Rouge communist party, from 1975-1979 two million people perished due to the genocide), I found this truly amazing. The Cambodia of today stands strong. With one eye looking back at its sad history and the other full of optimism.

I have yet to travel to India, but it is on my shortlist of places to experience. India with its flavors, culture, people, history, and rich colors is a photographer’s paradise.

Fo: What advice would you give to someone looking to buy their first camera and take up photography as a hobby?

SA: The person behind the camera is much more important than the camera itself. You can take great photographs with an expensive DSLR, a compact camera, or a smartphone. Invest in your photography knowledge by reading books, video tutorials online or taking a photography workshop. Photograph with passion and creativity and that will be evident in your images.

Surfers' Sunset

Surfers’ Sunset

Fo: Can you give us a bit of detail on your Instant Collection image Surfers’ Sunset?

SA: That photograph is a perfect example of photographer Chase Jarvis’ philosophy of The best camera is the one that’s with you. I had just mounted my DSLR with a telephoto lens on my tripod as I was preparing to photograph the sunset at the Oceanside Pier in the north county of San Diego, California. These surfers walked into my frame and I did not have time to switch out to my wide-angle lens, so I grabbed my Apple iPhone 4S and managed to get only one shot off.

I never imagined this “snapshot” would be one of my best selling images on Fotolia. Great images are around us all the time, we just need to be prepared to make them!

Fo: Thanks so much for your time, Sam!

Check out more of Sam’s amazing work in his Fotolia portfolio , as well as on TwitterFacebook and G+

Want to upload your photos to the Instant Collection? Here’s how: http://en.fotolia.com/instant