Kicked off 2018 with my first workshop of the year the other week. It’s going to be an exciting year with workshops in Tuscany, Iceland and Italy, as well as trips to Lofoton, and possibly more, planned so far. I always enjoy meeting new people and sharing locations and photography tips with workshop participants is one of the best parts of the job. This time it was a local workshop with some time spent shooting on the west coast, a sunrise at Vasco da Gama bridge and then some street shooting around the old neighbourhood.
Back in the autumn Teresa and I spent two weeks in the Dolomite mountains amongst some of the most beautiful landscapes in Europe. The gateway airport is Venice, a 2 hour drive away from Cortina d’Ampezzo, and it seemed silly to pass through the airport and not spend any time in the city. I’d never actually spent any time there, and Teresa had been there back when she was inter-railing in her 20s, so we booked a few nights in a hotel there after we returned from shooting in the mountains.
Street photography is for me one of the most trickiest aspects of photography to do well. It’s one of those things that seems so simple until you try to do it. The best street images create curiosity in the viewer, there’s the suggestion of a narrative; who is this person, what are they doing, etc, and also there’s a clarity and simplicity of composition that’s incredibly difficult to achieve when photographing complicated and dynamic city streets.
Back in February, Hugo and Mauricio from Fuji X Passion joined me for a day of street photography in Lisbon. The plan was to spend a day, from sunrise to sunset recording a film while exploring and photographing in this beautiful city.
I wanted the film to show what an amazing place Lisbon is with its atmospheric neighbourhoods, winding streets, steeps hills and views across the river, so I planned out a day where we would see as much as possible, starting with sunrise looking out across the rooftops towards the river, and finishing with a sunset, again above the river, but this time next to the beautiful modern architecture of MAAT.
Lisbon's newest museum opened recently and I've been there a couple of times now to photograph it and see how it would work as a location for street workshops. I've walked and cycled past the site many times since it's been under construction and it always looked as though it was going to be a fascinating building. The sweeping curve of the roof, and it's location right next to the Tejo river within sight of the 25 April bridge really are perfect for photography, and facing south it works both as a sunrise and sunset location.
It gets pretty busy, so it's a great place to photograph people, but also it works well for long exposures with moving clouds, or to do close up architectural abstracts. It's a great place to shoot, and somewhere I'll be returning to in future
When Portugal played France in the Euro 2016 final, win or lose, there was no way we could stay at home when half the city of Lisbon would be out cheering on their team. We walked through some of the main squares and thoroughfares of the city, as well as stopping off at a couple of bars and locals tascas to soak up the atmosphere with the tiny X-T10 and a couple of prime lenses. <!--more-->While the majority of people were congregated infront of the huge screen in Praça do Commercio, we ended up watching the extra time when Portugal scored the winner in a small square with an outdoor kiosk and lots of packed tables. By the end of the evening it was too dark to properly capture the action, and besides, by then I'd got so completely caught up in the game that I kind of forgot about taking any photos.
Despite having lived in Portugal for around 17 years I've spent almost no time in Porto, and as one of my plans for this year is to spend more time shooting different parts of my Portugal Teresa and I decided to spend a few days between Christmas and New Year in the second city.
I wanted to pack as light as possible, and this meant taking a minimal amount of photography kit. Fortunately with the X Series it's really possible to travel light as with my old dSLR system just a camera body and two zooms (a wide angle and telephoto) along with a tripod would already start to take up a lot of space and add a fair bit of weight. I took the X-T1 body instead of the X-T10 because of its weather resistance as I expected rain and also planned to do a sunset on a local beach.
Lello & Irmão bookshop in Porto was voted the third most beautiful bookshop in the world and the beautifully elegant gothic staircase and carved ceilings make it easy to see why. It's also become one of the most popular tourist attractions in Porto, thanks in part to the story that JK Rowling conceived the idea for Harry Potter whilst passing time in the café there. It's a tiny place and is constantly full of people, indeed you actually have to queue to get in, which makes photographing it quite problematic.
I've just returned from 25 days in Indonesia, my first trip with Fuji cameras and my first trip without a large dSLR. We traveled the entire length of Java and Bali overland so it was important to me to have a camera that wouldn't feel heavy and cumbersome to carry around, but also one I could completely rely on to produce excellent image quality.
The experience of traveling with Fuji cameras has been a revelation! Not only in how much lighter, smaller and easier to carry around it all is, but how I've not once missed my old Nikon in terms of image quality or autofocus in any of the many situations I've encountered, from fast moving street scenes to dynamically lit landscapes. They've been brilliant, reliable and a consistent pleasure to use.
Ubud is the cultural capital of Bali, an artist's town set amongst the rice fields and hills of central Bali. It's a place we planned to unwind and catch some culture like Balinese dancing, and although I had a couple of locations researched I wasn't really planning on much photography here.
One of the things that Ubud has is a wide range of incredibly stylish, sophisticated, but affordable accommodation. We'd booked 5 nights in a place called Alam Indah, on the outskirts of Ubud next to the famous monkey forest. It didn't disappoint, the room was beautiful with great views out over the forest and proved to be a fantastic place to relax (and write this blog).
I'm proud to announce that my book on Photographing Burma is now available for download at the iBooks store. If you’re wondering which temples in Bagan are the best for sunrise and sunset, if you want to know what’s the best way to shoot sunrise and sunset at Golden Rock, or if you just want to be inspired by beautiful images of Burma then you’ll find plenty in this book to help you plan your trip to Burma.
Alongside over 120 images I’ve tried to pass on as much of what I learned while photographing this breathtaking country as possible with advice on photogenic places to visit and tips on some of the practicalities like when the locations are best photographed and how to get there. With every image I’ve provided a description of where and how and, where possible, why the image was taken and what I was hoping to achieve when photographing the scene.
While by no means a definitive guide to every location in Burma, the book nevertheless is a great starting point for any trip to Burma, and with that in mind I hope that both the images and information here will provide inspiration and some solid advice about visiting and photographing this truly wonderful country.
Ngapali, in Burma's Rhakine state on the west coast of the country, was our last stop on our trip around Burma. We'd chosen it because we thought that after 2 weeks of traveling around Burma (as well as Bangkok) it would be great to just unwind on a beach next to the ocean for a few days.
It wasn't just about doing nothing though. We'd chosen accommodation at the very southern end of the long beach right next to a local village, giving me the opportunity to photograph the fishermen and villagers bringing the fish in at sunrise and sunset.
The flight in, on perhaps the smallest plane we went on throughout the trip, took us over huge swathes of the forest of Rhakine state. It's a fascinating, but troubled part of the country which has seen conflicts between the state army and local separatists who've disputed this area for years. The area is also home to one of the largest undisturbed forests in south east Asia, which runs for almost a thousand kilometers to the border with Bangladesh in the north.
The name itself evokes images of exotic places, far away lands. It's one of those magical names like Sahara, Amazon and Himalaya, which when I was growing up seemed to belong to places so distant and foreign and alien that they couldn't really exist.
Of course, as I got older, and as my fascination with travel got stronger and deeper, I realized that these places are all real and that with a little will power and dedication it was perfectly possible to actually go there and see them. Even so, Mandalay is a place name that everyone knows (thanks mostly to Kipling's poem, Road To Mandalay but I knew very little about. As I researched it for the trip, I began to realize more and more that it would be a fascinating place to spend some time, the spiritual heart of Burma, more monks and nuns as a ratio of the population than anywhere else in the country, three former capital cities in Mandalay, Amarapura and Inwe (two suburbs/towns to the south) and a city with a huge amount of traditional craft and trade.
After leaving Yangon, we flew to Lake Inle in the highlands of Shan State. It was one of those places that when I was researching Burma, couldn't believe really existed. A huge lake populated with floating villages, entire communities living on the lake, it looked amazing. Of course, there are already plenty of photographs of the lake, and in particular, the fishermen who make their living there with their distinctive style of paddling with one leg, but I hadn't really seen much photography that gave me a clear impression of the different communities that lived there.
We arrived on a small plane from Yangon in late afternoon. Internal flights in Burma really are an experience, your luggage is wheeled onto the the plane in a small cart, and then on arrival at your destination, it's wheeled into the arrivals hall and pretty much dumped on the floor. Getting your luggage can be a bit of a free-for-all, and this was our first experience of it. By the time we left Burma, we'd made 4 more internal flights and were pretty much used to it.
Golden Rock on the top of Mount Kyaiktiyo was a place in Burma I was determined to get to as soon as we decided to go to Burma. I'd seen Steve McCurry's photo of it years before and it just fascinated me, and even though it was pretty awkward to get there with the limited time we had in Yangon, I thought it would be worth it.
Of course, to see it at it's best you have to be there for sunset and sunrise, and that means staying overnight at the top, which proved to be easier said than done. There are a couple of small hotels next to the temple site, but before going we'd pretty much exhausted every means we had of booking a room. We couldn't contact them at all via the telephone numbers and email addresses we had for them, but eventually a local travel agent (who we'd originally got in touch with to arrange internal flights) managed to arrange a room for us.
We'd been planning the trip to Burma for almost a year, and during that time had looked at hundreds of photos of different parts of the country as we attempted to plan out an itinerary, but nothing could have prepared us for the reality of the country. By the time we left, we were both convinced that it was without a doubt the most beautiful country we'd ever seen, populated by the warmest, most graceful people we'd ever met.
Our first view of the country was from the plane as we flew in from Bangkok. Looking down, the country seemed incredibly rural, full of fields and woods, and every few kilometers, scattered with golden temples. The stupas, covered with gold leaf, are dotted everywhere throughout the landscape, and they were to be a repeated motif throughout our journey across Burma. The place is deeply religious, and in one of the poorest countries in South East Asia, the people still dedicate so much of their time and meagre wealth to building and maintaining the temples.
We've just returned from our trip to Burma. What an amazing place it is!
I've never been to a place which not only lived up to expectations, but consistently exceeded them. A beautiful country with a wonderful people, we had so many fantastic experiences there and the trip left us feeling richer and sad to have to leave.
There will be plenty more blog posts to come as I sort through the images and try to combine them into coherent photo essays that communicate the essence of each place we visited, but first up is Bangkok. If you're flying into Burma from Europe, Bangkok is by far the easiest connecting point, and we decided to spend a night here getting over jet lag from the long flight east before making the small hop to Yangon.
There's something about traveling that just inspires photography. It's wrapped up with the excitement of exploring new places and the sense of being on an adventure. Returning to familiar locations is a good way of honing technique, but for me it's the thrill of encountering new places that really gets my creative juices flowing.
So tomorrow I'm off to Burma for 2 weeks, and I'm really excited. Excited to be experiencing a new culture and excited to be seeing some amazing new places.
Why Burma? Well, lots of reasons really.
First of all, I wanted to go somewhere that wasn't just about landscapes. My last trip to Iceland was fun, and I enjoyed shooting the amazing landscapes there, but when I compared it to trips to places like Morocco, it seemed a little...I don't know, unsatisfying.
I realized that the reason was that I'd really missed street photography, capturing images of people and immersing myself in the culture. That's why I fell in love with traveling in the first place.
After three days in the Sahara, it was time to head back north to Chefchaouen, a small town in the Rif Mountains, in the north of Morocco. It was going to be a long journey, and we'd decided to break it at the Roman ruins of Volubilis, near the city of Meknes.
Even so, the drive was still a marathon. On our last day in the Sahara we awoke in a berber tent in the middle of the dunes, got up to photograph sunrise, then had the hour long camel ride back to the kasbah we'd used as our base. A quick shower, change and breakfast, then we hit the road back north across the middle Atlas mountains. We'd been so blown away by the changes in scenery on our way down, that we thought it would be a nice idea to film it using the video recorder on the D90. So at various points of the journey, we filmed the passing scenery, towns and people, with the idea that I could edit all the short clips together to make a brief film that shows the changing of the landscape and culture across the length of Morocco. We kept the idea up all the way until the port in Tanger, and at some point when I have time, I'd like to sit down and get to work on cutting it together.
Fes was fantastic, but when the germ of the idea of coming to Morocco first took root in my head, it was to photograph sand dunes in the Sahara. Looking at the map, it seemed perfectly feasible, over to Morocco, a couple of hours down to Fes, and then it was just another 500 or so kilometers to Erg Chebbi, where the Sahara starts. How hard could it be?
<!--more-->As it turned out, it wasn't particularly difficult, but it was long. Driving 500km in Morocco takes a long time. The roads are generally pretty good, there's not that much traffic on them and contrary to my expectations, people on the roads were cautious and completely unaggressive. It was rare to see someone breaking the speed limit.
No, it takes a long time because what little traffic there is on the road, is generally slow moving trucks, and the road up into the middle Atlas, across the plateau at the top, and then down again on the other side at Errachidia, is often relatively winding
Like the Amazon, it's size and age, and the fact that humans are utterly insignificant in the face of it, barely scratching it's surface, leaves a deep impression