Matt Brandon Vlog 13: Photographing Iconic Scenes

In this video I look at my struggle to photograph the iconic Tak Bat, alms giving ceremony that takes place every morning in Luang Prabang, Laos. The inherent problem with photographing something that has been photographed millions of times is there is very little chance of making a unique photo.

In this video, I explore my struggles at photographing an event that has been happening every day for who knows how long? This was not an easy task, and frankly, one that I think I failed at. But we learn from our failure, and this is why I am sharing the experience. The big difficulty is the culturally sensitive limitations that are put on the visitor during the Tak Bat, and rightly so. Here are just a few are:

  • Keep your head below that of the monks.
  • Don’t touch a monk.
  • Don’t use flash
  • Keep a distance from the monks.
  • Be respectful of the devotees.
  • And a few more.


This was my first time to watch this event. We choose to go out where there were not tourists. It was an area that my host knew and had relationships with the devotees. We check with the devotees if we could sit where we sat. They granted us permission. Honestly, I was extremely tempted to use flash, but I resisted and did not use it. Granted, I did push the boundaries on proximity to the monks and in looking back, I probably wouldn’t do that again. But in my defense, we asked, and we got the locals devotees approved. I sat on the ground, so I was never above even the smallest monk. I say all to help you understand the extent we went to be both culturally sensitive and still get the photo.

In this video, I also give photographers a quick tip on how to better view your vertical (portrait) images on the back of your camera’s LCD.

Below are the images that appear in this week’s video.


Here I was literally sitting in a drainage culvert to get this angle.


This was close to what I imagined. But without using a flash, the morning clouds proved why too bright and overpowered the scene. My attempt to burn in some sky was useless and did more harm than good.


By switching locations and shooting across from the procession I focused on the devotees rather than the monks. This was better but I don’t like her hand in front of her eyes.


This is perhaps the best image as I manage to arrange all the element close to what I want.


Later that same day we stumbled on a gathering of monks. It was like a school assembly.


Children get bored with assemblies no matter what the culture.


This photo is my favorite image of the trip. So much emotion and life in this photo.


Here is one of those images that you see a setting and you wait for someone or something to enter the frame. That is just what I did here.


Early the next day we went back out to my host’s neighborhood and saw a group of local monks leaving the local Wat (temple). Knowing they would return in 30 minutes or so I set up across the street and got this.



Interestingly enough, this image was taken at the precise moment the florescent light in the archway was going off. Thus the yellow glow and the lack of light. It also gave it the best look and feel. The only real issue I have with either of these photos is that I have lost the story. These pictures don’t tell the story of the Tak Bat. These are just images of monks walking through a gate in the early morning.


Kuang Si Falls, another location that is practically impossible to get a unique photo of.


Downriver of the falls is this water wheel. I used off camera flash to light the wheel. Alou acted as my VALS (Voice Activated Light Stand).



Matt Brandon Video Log #11

Once again I attempt to start my VLOG. In this episode I talk about what I want to accomplish in these The new reboot of my video log. A small rant blog comments, a look at the Fujifilm X-T2, being a photographer and dyslexic/ADD and more.

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The On Field Media Project, Teaching NGOs to Tell Their Own Stories

Digital Storytelling.001

“Photographs are the portal to one’s first impression of a non-profit’s mission via their website. Having amateurs do that work is always a serious compromise. The staff might know the stories but that doesn’t mean they can translate them into effective visual narrative. Just my opinion.” This was a recent comment addressed to me on Facebook after I posted about our recent On Field Media Project training in Africa. I left this persons name off the quote because they deleted the comment, I am not sure why. Maybe they had a change of heart. But I know there are other photographers who feel this same way. To me, this is old, classic, and somewhat colonial thinking. It’s a antiquated mindset that has to be challenged. Continue reading

PetaPixel Playing With The Truth




In a recent blog post the tech/photography site PetaPixel suggested a workaround for getting more camera gear on your next flight. The solution is, just lie. Forge your own press credentials and say you are with a media service. Apparently the major airlines have deals for traveling media professionals and will allow extra baggage for just $50 a bag. As a traveling photographer always worried about weight,  I read through the PetaPixel article with interest. That is until I reached the bottom of the post when author DL Cade quoted Canadian photographer Von Wong (another Fuji x-photographer) who said, just make your own credential. “Boom. Instant proof.” Seriously?  Continue reading

I Don’t Know


On the set of Indian Summers.

On the set of Indian Summers.


Recently, I listened to a Freakonomic Radio podcast by Stephen Dubner and Steve Levitt. This episode was titled The Three Hardest Words in the English Language. So what are these three words? Not “I love you” and not “floccinaucinihilipilificationpseudopseudohypoparathyroidism and pneumonoultramicroscopicsilicovolcanoconiosis“. According to Dubner and Levitt they are “I don’t know”.  I think I agree.

Why do we have such a hard time saying these words? I can only assume it is because we don’t want to come off ignorant. Everyone wants to appear competent. Fair enough. Let’s face it, we do need to be good at what we do. We need to put in the many hours it takes to become an expert or at least well qualified in our field. Then do we risk coming off as ignorant and incompetent if we say I don’t know? I guess to some people we might. Continue reading

Just because you can, should you? The ethics of images sales.

A Taoist man lights a candle at the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. Does he care what I do with his image?

A Taoist man lights a candle at the Goddess of Mercy Temple in Georgetown, Penang, Malaysia. Does he care what I do with his image?

I’ve been ruminating over some ethical issues.

Recently, I had a business ask to use several of my images, and they were willing to pay a decent amount of money. It’s not like I’m rolling in the dough (who is?) and I can afford to turn business away. But in this case, that’s exactly what I did. I turned them away for one simple reason: I did not have a model release, and there was no way I could obtain a release on those images; therefore I felt I could not in good conscience deliver the images for this business to use to generate revenue.

Continue reading

Does your world view influence your art?

How do you view the world?

How do you view the world?


There is a question that pops up every so often about how much does world view influence our work as photographers? To answer that we need to define world view. One dictionary puts it like this:

world view: world·view  (wûrld’vyü)
n. In both senses also called Weltanschauung.
1. The overall perspective from which one sees and interprets the world.
2. A collection of beliefs about life and the universe held by an individual or a group.

I can work with that. Continue reading

Ken Burns, “All story is manipulation”

Ken Burns: On Story from Redglass Pictures on Vimeo.

This is a short, but challenging film with Ken Burns, one of the premier documentary film maker of today. In it Burns says, “All story is manipulation”. As a visual storyteller is this something I can buy into? Do I believe this? When it comes down to it and I am honest with myself, I think I agree with him. Continue reading

Photography: What’s real, what’s not and does it matter?

This may be bad timing as I am preparing to leave tomorrow for a week in Banda Acheh, Sumatra, Indonesia. I’m not sure if I will have Internet access to be able to respond to the comments. But here goes– I want to address some flak I got on Facebook about the previous post. I received a comment from a reader or two stating they felt that what they saw in the produced images was not real. Continue reading