Feb 2017 Varanasi Lighting Workshop

Here is a quick look at the recent Master Class in Lighting and Portraiture that Piet Van den Eynde and I led in Delhi and Varanasi, India, this past February.  I gotta say, the workshop went off close as planned, and that’s pretty good for a workshop ran in India. In India, anything can happen and usually does. There are always a few hiccups and bumps along the way in any field-based photographic workshop. In spite of that, I feel that I walked away with some really stellar shots and I saw some amazing photos by participants as well.


Varsha Dasgupta poses as the god Ganesh.


Era Dogra looks through the veil in this kathak pose.

We started the trip off with two days in Delhi. This gave us just enough time to visit some of our favorite haunts.  But the highlight of our Delhi time for me was the model shoot we worked out. A few years back while visiting Humayun’s Tomb in New Delhi, we met some very fun and quirky young ladies. They asked us to take their photos and of course “friend” them on Facebook. I soon came to know that one of the young ladies was a traditional kathak dancer. One thing led to another and soon we had a photo shoot of beautiful Indian dancers for our New Delhi portion of the workshop. What a great way to start the trip!

After our time in Delhi, we took the night train to the holy city of  Varanasi. Here we had previously arraigned photo opportunities as well as models for the group to photograph. To call a few of eccentric holy men models, might be a stretch. But we did work it out with several to be our photographic subjects aka model. Together, we photographed them on the river bank, in buildings, around temples and even on boats.

Below is a set of a few images from this trip. I hope you enjoy them.



Of course, we didn’t set everything up. You can tell from the selection of photos above, we did a lot of walking around flower markets, fish markets and even visited a traditional Indian wrestling club where everything was spontaneous. We were lucky, this time at the wrestling club, they didn’t have Piet and I strip down to our skivvies like the last time we visited.

When is the next workshop?



Overall it was an amazing time and one that stretched all of us to try new things and come up with new and exciting images. If you want to join us for the next workshop, we will be offering it this coming Nov 26th through Dec 3rd. But this time we will be replacing Delhi with Kolkata! What an amazing city. Did you know that Kolkata is the last remaining place on the planet where you can still find and photograph hand-pulled rickshaws? It’s true! If you are interested in joining us, be sure to sign up so you know when registration for the workshop goes live. Last time the workshop sold out in an hour. You don’t want to just check your blog feed and hope you time it right. We will be letting subscribers to our newsletter know in advance the day and time when registration will go live. This past workshop I asked participants who they got in on the registration so quick. almsot every one of them said they set their alarms. As such I will give you a hint, we move the timing so folks from the U.S. all they way to Asia will not have to wake up in the middle of the night. But you will need to sign up now so we can let you know the timing. You know what they say, “Timing is everything!”

Don’t miss the next Master Class because you were sleeping. Want to know in advance when registration will go live? Then, remember to sign up for my newsletter if you want to be notified first. 

Postcard from New Zealand

Kawhia Beach with Karioi Maunga behind. The heather looking grass is actually an invasive weed, called pampas grass. Much of New Zealand's native species are being over run by outside species. This is exactly what conservation organizations like A Rocha are at work to combat.

Kawhia Beach with Karioi Maunga behind.

I have been in Raglan, New Zealand for the past two weeks teaching several classes for the On Field Media Project. Our host is a Christian Conservation organization called, A Rocha (read my past post on A Rocha here.). A Rocha New Zealand’s main project is the restoration of the habitat of the many seabirds around a mountain called Karioi Maunga and it’s coastline. It is a fascinating project and one in the days to come I want to tell you more about. Continue reading

Guest Post: Instant Gratification

SX-70, Sun 660, expired type 779, Orange County, CA.


Today’s guest post is by Stephanie Watkins. Stephanie has a creative eye and an artist spirit and it shows though in her work. I met Steph through her husband Nate, who you can see lurking in the back of my latest Vlog post (vlog #6).  Her Polaroid work is stunning and I wanted to give it a platform. I miss film and have found digital lacking something tactile in it. Enjoy these images and welcome Stephanie to the Digital Trekker.

My love affair with photography started four years ago when I bought my first DSLR. I was obsessed with my dreamy new camera and could not put it down. And as any new photographer usually does, my camera stayed on the ‘green box’ and I shot mostly flowers and my parent’s dogs.  With the combination of many long nights spent on Flickr and frequent trips to the local camera store, I became aware of another side of photography, some weird thing called ‘analogue’ and ‘film.’ Now film itself was not something all together foreign to me, but in this digital age, I did not see it as anything of importance. Who needed film or a medium format camera when I had a DSLR? Mind you, I had no idea how to properly use the camera, but I had it, and that’s all that mattered. Little did I know that I also had another camera back in my closest that would   end up changing by life and the way I viewed art and photography as a whole.

Someone had given me a brand new Polaroid Onestep a while back. It was a great novelty gift, but I really did not think much about it. But after playing around with my DSLR, I became more intrigued by my Polaroid camera and started using it. The more I used it, the more I discovered a whole other world of photography. That Onestep was my gateway drug to more analogue cameras. I soon became obsessed! I bought old Polaroid Land Cameras, SX-70 cameras, medium format cameras, and even plastic cameras, anything that took film I wanted. And the more I worked with film, the more I learned about photography in general. Thanks to film speed, I quickly understood the importance of ISO. And thanks to many ruined rolls of film, I figured out shutter speed and aperture too. Film rounded me as a photographer and made me more of an artist. The more Polaroids I took and the more rolls of film I developed, my breadth of understanding and love of photography grew and grew.

There is something so wonderful and special about film photography. Maybe it’s the fact that every picture you take really means something. Film is so expensive these days, so you take your shots carefully. Maybe it’s the wonder of holding a tangible Polaroid picture that developed right before your eyes. It’s instant gratification. Or maybe it’s the magic of peeling apart some pack film to see an image that looks even better then the real thing. Over the past few years, my relationship with photography has changed and grown in so many ways and has taken me all over the world. Yes, I still use digital and have even upgraded my gear. But using and working with film, will always have a very special place in my heart and will keep my love affair with photography burning strong.

See more of Stephanie Watkins work at her flickr stream HERE.


Land Camera 103, expired ID-UV from ’06, along highway 10, CA.


Countdown 70, expired ID-UV from ’02, Cabazon, CA.


Land Camera 440, expired type 689, Lone Pine, CA.

Guest Post: Richard Tulloch

When I first started this blog my intent was to write about photography as well as culture and travel. I admit that the majority of the postings have been about photography. But, if you are one of my regulars you know that I often write about how the photographer interacts with the culture they are photographing. I have always been fascinated with cultures. To me, culture is the personality of a city or country. Recently, I ran across Richard Tulloch’s Life on the Road. I loved how he handles the stresses of travel and culture in a both witty and pragmatic way. Richard Tulloch writes for children and teaches writing around world.  Richard is an Australian who lives part of the year in Sydney and part in Amsterdam. His writing for children includes 151 episodes of the popular TV series Bananas in Pyjamas as well as numerous successful plays and books.

He travels the world ‘on wheels and legs’, teaching writing workshops, performing his solo storytelling show, and along the way contributing articles to newspapers, magazines and websites. His own popular blog is: Richard Tulloch’s Life on the Road.

I’m excited that Richard has agreed to contribute today’s post.  ~ Matt Brandon

The Ducky Potty Man

~ Richard Tulloch

As soon as I caught the vendor’s eye through the car window I knew I’d made a mistake. I was new to Nigeria. I’d just arrived in Lagos that morning, less than an hour ago. I’d shown a flicker of interest in what he was selling and now he expected me to buy it – a toddler’s ducky potty.

I didn’t mean to stare. I know that in these potentially awkward situations it’s best to hide behind sunglasses and feign blindness, or to speak loudly into a cell phone so you look like a busy man on a mission. After several stints in Asia and four whole weeks in Africa, I was an old hand at smiling politely and brushing away zebra necklaces, phone cards, Ladysmith Black Mambazo CDs and Rolex watches as if they were troublesome flies.

But this was new to me – a young man in a traffic jam (‘go-slows’, I was soon to discover they’re called in Nigeria) trying to sell ducky potties to passing motorists. I mean, when you’re caught in a traffic jam, in the heat and oppressive humidity, it’s possible that you might develop the need for a bottle of cool water, or an orange, or a bag of nuts, or a newspaper, or even a phone card if you have to let someone know that at this rate you won’t make it to the office for another five hours. Other enterprising vendors were already selling these items. It seems totally improbable that you’d suddenly experience an overwhelming urge to buy a ducky potty.

Who is this ducky potty man? I wondered.  What made him decide to sell potties by the roadside? Are they his potties, or is he an agent for someone who’s found a large batch of toilet items fallen off the back of a truck, and who now needs help to offload them?  How many potties does he sell in a day?  In a year? How much profit margin is there in selling a potty?  When he was a kid, did he aspire to be a potty vendor when he grew up?  Do his parents talk proudly about ‘our son who’s in Lagos doing something very big in potties’?

Is he hoping this potty business will be a temporary phase in his career; something to tide him over in hard times until a more glamorous and lucrative job turns up?  Is he maybe an actor between engagements, or a student putting himself through college?

The point is; the ducky potty man has no choice.  If he could do anything else in life, he wouldn’t choose to stand in the heat and the traffic fumes, hoping against hope that someone in the next car to inch past might just want a ducky potty.  If he had any say at all in what he could sell, he’d go for something with a bit more commercial oomph than ducky potties.

We fill our lives planning what we’d like to do, where we’d like our careers to take us, what our children will be when they grow up, deciding where to go on our next holiday. Such decisions cannot possibly be a part of the ducky potty man’s world.  There are an awful lot more people in his situation than there are in mine.

I raised my eyebrows at him, trying to indicate amused incredulity that he might think a big grown up boy like me might still need a potty. He put on his best pleading expression.  I shrugged. I didn’t even have any local currency yet, so I couldn’t even make a donation. The ducky potty man gave up, grinned broadly and gave me a cheerful wave.  I had to admire him. If I had to swap places with him, I don’t think I’d be grinning and waving very often.

The car crept away from him, and his place at the car window was taken in turn by vendors selling dog leashes, magazines and dartboards. ‘American International School‘, said my driver, pointing into the middle distance. I looked out the window, hoping to catch a glimpse of the place where I would be working as a writer in residence for the next week. All I could see was a group of nondescript buildings surrounded by other groups of nondescript buildings.

’How long until we get there?’ I asked.

’Depend on traffic,’ he said, ‘we must take long way round, then come back. This street, only driving one way.  Maybe a half hour more.’

The cars in front were still barely moving. My plane out of Nairobi had been cancelled the day before and I’d been awake all night waiting for the next flight to leave.  I was expecting to work that afternoon, so I’d boosted my consciousness with a few cups of coffee on the plane. Now the third and fourth cups were working their way to my bladder. There was nowhere for the driver to pull over. We were in the middle lane of a highway in a built-up area, maybe even within sight of the students and parents and teachers from the school.

I crossed my legs and wished I’d been able to buy a ducky potty.

Guest Blog: Marco Ryan

I’m going to go down a bit of a rat hole. I’m even going to give it a name: value.

You’ll already be wondering why a post that begins “I’m going down a bit of a rat hole” might have anything to do with Focus for Humanity – a newly launched foundation aimed at giving grants to aspiring photographers and to help under-funded NGOs afford world class photographers  – but stay with me for a couple of paragraphs and hopefully you’ll see why.

I’ve never quite understood why photographers struggle to sell the value that they bring to organizations. Well perhaps it would be more accurate to say I have never really understood why organizations won’t pay for the value that photographers can bring to their organizations.

That’s value with a capital “V” by the way – the intrinsic benefit that we recognize that great images can bring to a brand – and also value with a small “v” – because I think most photographers are undervalued and charge too little for what they do.

Why is it that an organization will pay an IT technician $70 an hour or a lawyer $200 an hour but not pay a photographer $100 an hour?

Perhaps it is because there is an association between complexity or certain required qualifications or proven experience and a market price.

Or perhaps it is that, for a profession such as a photographer, the need for creative vision, emotional intelligence and expressive story telling often outweighs the need for bachelor, graduate or professional qualifications. Yet because those qualifications are optional it becomes – especially for the uninformed buyer – more difficult to arrive at that market price or critically, to measure the value delivered.

It is of course further complicated by the proliferation and pervasiveness of digital cameras that mean many organizations don’t even to begin to create a business case for an assignment because its just too hard, right? Instead that same organization will thrust a Canon Ixus into the hands of the nearest intern and say, “get on with it”. (though I’ve nothing against Interns or Canon Ixus’!)

Now let’s add a layer of complexity. Let’s go further down that rat hole.

Imagine now that you are a business that is underfunded or does not make a profit, like an NGO. How do they afford someone like Matt Brandon or Gavin Gough? Or what happens if you are a talented semi-pro photographer looking for your first proper client and someone approaches you. How much do you charge without losing that first job or undermining that all-too-difficult-to-judge market price?

Many of the larger more established NGOs have multi-million pound marketing budgets and regularly use the likes of Karl Grobl, Matt Brandon, David duChemin or Ami Vitale on highly structured and well funded assignments. And long may that continue.

But the issue is more with the new, fledgling or underfunded NGO and also with that individual semi-pro photographer who is wanting to make the leap to full time – both of whose activities are more localized or more specific to a particular campaign.

Often, that new NGO’s need is greater, but their budget is smaller, resulting in a prioritization of funds away from hiring that top photographer. In the case of the semi-pro, they opt for doing pro bono work in the hope that it will strengthen their portfolio, but all that happens is that it undermines their value with the client going forward.

The first stage of resolving this is that the NGO needs some form of Damascan road experience to help understand how to budget and monetize the value of the photographer’s work and the semi-pro photographer needs the courage to value their own work and stand firm on their price so as not to undermine the market.

So how do we break this vicious circle? How do we climb out of this rat hole?

Well, one answer it to try and remove the barriers that are stopping each of them. In the NGO’s case that barrier is usually a lack of funds. In the semi-pro photographer’s case it is often a mix of lack of confidence, lack of knowledge in how best to price or a lack of experience with customers.

And this is where an organization such as Focus for Humanity (FFH for short) starts to make a difference. We see our role as bridging these two communities who have shared needs and common goals but perhaps different perspectives.

So as to not leave you hanging, here is a brief summary of how we tried to create a solution to help everyone climb out of that rathole!

Focus for Humanity created assignment grants to allow underfunded NGOs to win the services of established photographers such Matt Brandon, David duChemin, Gavin Gough, Karl Grobl, Jeffrey Chapman or Edoardo Agresti. For free. The NGO gets a full assignment undertaken by a world-class photographer with no strings attached. Well, actually a couple of very minor strings, like agreeing to budget for the following years for similar services; being willing to take some mentoring from FFH on digital marketing and acting as a reference for future NGO applicants. The established photographer gets a new client and is paid the right market rate for his work.

And for the semi-pro looking for that final leap to full time photographer?

We have an annual scholarship that provides the funding to allow them to work with their first client – probably an NGO – and to be mentored into how to approach and further educate clients in the value of images. In addition the grants cover travel, upgrading their equipment and some project expenses.

And for those of you still a few years away from being ready to apply for this scholarship there will be a series of mentoring and workshop grants that will help you to work on your craft and vision.

We fund the Foundation solely through donations, and we run the organization as a virtual online foundation to minimize the costs. Our current target is to allocate 93% of funds into grants each year.

But we can do with your help in three ways:

Firstly tell everyone one about it. Add a blog badge to your site HERE, follow us on twitter HERE, join us on Facebook HERE but, most importantly, become our advocates within your own network and get others to sign–up or donate.

Secondly we need your pledges and donations and those of your friends. It can be a one-off donation of $10 or a monthly recurring donation of any amount you like. But if, for example, we got a thousand of you to give, say, $50 each we would then be able to meet all our commitments for this year. So if you want to help, then help us to reach more than a thousand people willing to give just that little bit.

Thirdly, If you work for a company in the photographic industry then you can help with sponsorship too – although we prefer to use the term partnering as we believe that this is a two way relationship and we need to give those partners equal benefit in return for their support. Every lens, body, bag, filter, tripod, plane ticket or item that we don’t have to buy for our grant winners, is money that we can re-allocate into another grant. We’ve got great ideas on what else we want to add to our grants in the coming months and years, and sponsorship or partnering is one way of making that happen.

“Be the change you want to see in the world”, said Mahatma Ghandi. Perhaps you can help us make real change in how NGOs and other organizations value the work of photographers to help humanitarian causes.

Our thanks to Matt for allowing us the platform of his blog to reach out and share with you all about Focus For Humanity. Thank you for reading this far and for showing an interest in what we are trying to do. You can read more detail about Focus for Humanity, our grants, how to apply and how to help by checking out our website, http://www.focusforhumanity.org.

Marco Ryan was born in the UK, but now lives in Cairo, Egypt with his wife and young family. His professional career as an eCommerce Strategist, Digital Marketing expert and speaker is covered on his work blog, www.marcoryan.com, but it ensures endless travel but sadly insufficient time for one of the more creative forces in his life – photography. Contact him through this blog for commissions or prints.

Damn the elephants! Full speed ahead!

By Shiloh Lane

I almost got torpedoed on the way to work today. True story – sort of.

To be completely accurate, a pile of torpedoes almost sideswiped my friends and I as our car vied for on-ramp space with a flatbed truck carrying said weapons and an army jeep. Strapped to the truck with a few cables, they sailed past my window just close enough to make me a pacifist.

As the truck passed us, we stared at the little propellers shrinking in the distance and wondered about whether or not the driver ever saw us and about local weaponry transportation regulations. I imagined what would happen if one of those cables snapped and all those heavy cylinders tumbled onto our black Corolla. Think of the call home from the hospital:

Mom? Hey, it’s Shiloh. I’m in the hospital, but I’m fine. Just a skull fracture. We had a minor collision on the highway. Fortunately, the torpedoes weren’t armed, so no one died in an engulfing tidal wave of fire and shrapnel. It’s all good.

However, to be honest, nearly dying  – or at least being party to the ruination of a perfectly good paint job – in an entirely unique way made me feel cool. I think that if you have to die or pay for property damage, why not go all out? Why not involve yourself in a highway torpedo collision in Asia? It sounds like a swell idea, and if the event results in an obituary, at least it’ll be a real page-turner.

I moved here for many reasons, one of which involved stories. I love to write them and photograph them, but I want to live them, as well. A tale has to be lived before it can ever be written, and I don’t want to miss out on my own just because I get wrapped up in those of other people.  Asia’s a good place to find the kind of stories I want to write and live, and I’m sure all the other travelers out there can identify. Since I moved here, I’ve consumed a fried cricket, watched elephants amble down the street and celebrated Christmas Eve harnessed to a zip line that flew me through the jungle. As of today, I’ve also survived my first, almost assault with deadly weapons.

One of my ultimate goals is to be the kind of grandmother who tells stories over dinner that are so enchanting, her grandchildren refuse to leave the table hours after they’ve finished their pot roast. I’m a lousy cook, so this plan had better work. If the kids can’t stomach the beef, maybe the torpedoes, crickets and elephants will make up for it. I might be underestimating the atrocity of my culinary skill, but I think the stories will be enough for them. Therefore, I must thank the whole of Asia and the wonderfully interesting culture it has born. It has done my hypothetical descendants a service. It has done me a service, as well.

A Culture of Strangers

by Shiloh Lane
I grew up in a very small town in Kentucky; I went to college in another very small town in Kentucky; and when I went to “the big city” to go shopping, I really just went to a slightly larger small town in Kentucky. It suffices to say that I didn’t meet a lot of strangers growing up, and when I did, chances were high that I would see them again eventually – probably at a high school ballgame.

That’s partly why I find traveling so interesting – strangers flit in and out of my life as easily as fireflies danced in and out of my grasp when I was a kid. People become a blip on my radar, and then they’re gone forever, which  sometimes makes the relationship between the general populace and myself unpredictable.

I’ve discovered that people do crazy things when they don’t plan to see you again. More often, though, I’ve discovered that I do crazy things when I don’t plan to see you again – like forego social grace in pursuit of a photograph. My mother will be mortified to read this, but I find that dignity can get in the way of some really great shots. A few days ago, I was shooting at a crowded Buddhist wat, or temple, and I stumbled across a shot of discarded shoes lying on a mat as a line of worshippers knelt barefoot in the background. In a few seconds, my chin and my camera were on the pavement while my butt stuck straight up in the air. I should have probably been more lady-like, but I got the shot and I made people laugh.

I also love the stories my brief encounters create, the weird little tales I use to make my roommate smile. That same, sweltering day, I was taking a break from shooting while chugging water. My skin was slick with perspiration and my hair looked like Richard Simmons’ curly mop does after 30 minutes of Sweatin’ to the Oldies. Yet, for some reason, one man thought I was a great photo opp. He told his wife to sit next to me and smile, which she reluctantly did. She must have really loved him because I stunk badly. Although it was strange, I like to think that 20 years from now, their family album will hold pictures of his wife with opulent statues of Buddha, his wife in front of gorgeous temples and his wife next to The Random Sweaty Girl. I feel privileged to be that sweaty girl.

It’s really memorable, though, when someone you don’t know does something that makes them feel like family. When I left America, I sat next to two elderly women on one of the three planes it took to get to Southeast Asia. I didn’t know their nationality; I just knew that they were from Asia and that I didn’t speak a lick of their language. Yet, they still grew very concerned over my eating habits. When I didn’t feel like consuming the food, they insisted I do so, and a few hours later, they kindly offered me vegetables in a sandwich bag.  When I tried to sleep, they made sure I had a blanket. They reminded me of my own grandmother, only with healthier snacks. I miss them a bit.

I feel like traveling creates it’s own culture, one in which people often care less about what they do because they will never see you again and one in which generous actions mean so much more for precisely that reason. I’m not trying to philosophize or say anything particularly meaningful, I just found myself mulling over the moments we create with each other and contemplating whether or not any of those people will write about me in their blogs. I also wonder if my airplane grandmothers are flying right now, adopting more kids fresh from college who could use a few good vegetables doled out from sandwich bags. I hope they are, anyway.

A Whiff of Progress and Pad Thai

MB:  I want to introduce to you a young lady who will be guest blogging here every so often; Shiloh Lane.  I started reading her blog and realized this young lady had a talent and passion for words. I think you will become a fan of hers as I have.

A Whiff of Progress and Pad Thai

Considering the fact that you have no idea who I am, I’m not exactly sure how I should begin this post. I guess, to be completely cliché and obvious, I’ll start with: Hi, my name is Shiloh.

I’m a writer and photographer who’s lucky enough to be working in and traveling through the world of rice and geckos known as Southeast Asia. Matt asked me to contribute to his blog.

I love it here.  The landscape is exotic and gorgeous, the people are generally kind and I can get an hour-long massage for $8. I never thought I’d say it, but I’d pay an Asian woman to dig her knuckles into my calves any day.

However, four months ago when I first landed, I wasn’t a fan. Believe it or not, Asia is different than America. No, really. I think there might be 30 public trashcans in my city, which kills me because, as a twenty-something programmed by liberal media to think the fate of the world depends on the ultimate destination of my plastic water bottles, I don’t litter. I also had to get used to paying for toilet paper in public restrooms and prying the Chaco’s off my feet every time I walked into a house.

What really got me, though, were the smells. I never thought they would bother me so much, but you learn a lot about yourself when you uproot your life and move to the opposite side of the planet. I learned that I’m a picky smeller.

Asia has a smell, just like a person’s house has a specific odor. It’s a mixture of spicy food and pungent incense with a slight tinge of musk. It’s not bad – just strong – and it made my roommate throw up on her first day.

There’s also an absence of smells such as the warm, comforting fragrance of cinnamon candles like the ones my mother burns around Christmas and the scent of vanilla body wash. Apparently, Asian people prefer flowery bath soaps. Therefore, my apartment smelled weird, I smelled weird and the country smelled weird.

Strangely enough, though, my hypersensitivity to odors has become a testament of my acclimation to this place. Flower-scented soap isn’t such a big deal anymore, and I haven’t smelled the continent since the first month. It’s like I’m practically Asian, except for my curly hair, pale skin and propensity to prop my feet on furniture.

But seriously, my dulled nose is a sign of progress. It means I’m more comfortable in this country and with this new, world-traveling version of myself. I’m an overseas writer who has just learned one of her first lessons in a foreign land: that a place is home when you can’t smell it anymore.

-Shiloh Lane