Photography Tour of Bhutan 2015

Taktshang Monastery

Taktshang Monastery

All photos by Robert van Koesveld

Photography Tour of Bhutan  18 September – 2 October 2015

Leaders Matt Brandon, Robert van Koesveld and Libby Lloyd. Suitable for all levels of adventurous photographers & travelers.


Twice I have been able to shoot with Robert van Koesveld in extreme locations.  The first time was on the overland trip from Lhasa to Kathmandu, the second was last month in Ladakh, India and each time I was amazed at both his patience with people and his ability to draw people out in a conversation. This last trip to Ladakh Robert was joined by his wife Libby Lloyd. Robert and Libby are experts on Bhutan and it’s culture and thus quite knowlegable about Buddhism as well – always handy while traveling in Ladakh. You can’t travel with these two without hearing of their many travels to the mystical land of Bhutan. In fact they have published a gorgeous book on Bhutan titled, Bhutan Heartland. If you have ever travel with me you know Bhutan has been on my bucket list for sometime. So it is with great excitement that I announce the Photography Tour of Bhutan 2015 co-lead with  Robert van Koesveld & Libby Lloyd. Continue reading

Hipstamatic’s New TinType App Rocks

Ladakh boy

Ladakh boy – photographed by Mike Alexander on the Ladakh 2014 Workshop.


Screenshot 2014-10-23 14.38.41 Screenshot 2014-10-23 15.20.06


I have been a huge fan of tin type photography since, well… forever. In fact my very first Depth of Field wasn’t a podcast it was a written post on Robb Kendrick and his use of tin type in the 21 century on assignment with the National Geographic Magazine. So it is no wonder that when I got an email today from Hipstamatic informing me they have a new app called TinType that takes your iPhone photos and does it’s digital magic on them and make them the closest thing to a real tin type you can find digitally. The App is ¢.99 in the US App Store and if you like this kind of effect, it is well worth it.
This app is simple to use. Simply load a photo from your photo library or take a photo. The app starts the tin type conversion immediately. You have some options to choose from once it is loaded. You can choose from B&W or color under Style and then you are given two options for cropping; a standard crop or a square crop for Instagram. The next option is a slider that gives you a variation of the “Plate Grain”. With the Plate Grain you control the amount of distress on the photo, as in how much scratches and fade you want. Next is a “Frame”. It is just what you’d think: Frame allows you to choose from a couple of frame options. The frames are really variations of distressed borders. Next come “Eye Intensity”. This does really crazy things to the eyes. It super sharpens them and brightens them. At first I didn’t like it. But when I thought back to some of the real tin types of old, the photographers seemed to dodge and sharpen the eyes. So it kind of fits. Lastly you have Depth of Field, an option to control the amount of blur in the photo. Of course it is not real depth of field, it is more like a type camera effect, but works nice.

I really enjoy this app. I am not sure how long something like this will keep my attention. But I can see using it every so often for fun. I can also see using it on images taken in an environment that looks old. It really adds a nice touch to the finished product.

 Click any image to view it larger.

The Instagramish square crop just crops it down to the center of the frame. It worked this time.

The Instagramish square crop just crops it down to the center of the frame. It worked this time.


This is the full from a photo that was imported to my iPhone using Fujifilm's Camera Remote App.

This is the full from a photo that was imported to my iPhone using Fujifilm’s Camera Remote App.


I quickly found several things that I would like Hipstamatic to add in the next version. Here is my short list:

  1. I wanted to use this app to transform some of the photos I took on the set of Indian Summers. But when I tried to import them into my iPhone they never showed up in the “Choose Portrait” option in the app.
  2. I am very confused about how the app modifies the photos. Depending on the photo, it will either ask users to make a duplicate photo then then save a copy. Other times it changes the original photo in the library without making a duplicate. Yet, on the photo of the Indian lady below I cropped it to put on Instagram. Afterwards, I remembered I wanted to use it un-cropped in this post. It was then I noticed the edit button on the top let of the screen. When I hit the edit option it took me back to the editing screen where I could recrop the photo and save another version. So there must be an original image saved somewhere. But I can’t say where. Why not just save a fresh copy of any photo it changes to a new folder?
  3. The option to crop square works great if you’ve centered your subject in the image. But I rarely center my subjects unless I am shooting for Instagram. So it keeps cropping my subject in half. I would like to be able to move the crop square.
  4. It would be nice to allow users to fade the amount of color. Right now when you choose the color option, depending on the image there can be too much color and there is no way to dial it back.
  5. I wish there were more variation of the frames. After a while they start to duplicate as you can see in this post.


Still, I was so excited with this app, I wanted to review it right away. This is really a fun addition to my photo apps. Lets see where Hipstagram is going to take it in the versions to come.


A smaller size image brought into the iPhone from my X-E2 using the Fujifilm Remote App.

A smaller size image brought into the iPhone from my X-E2 using the Fujifilm Remote App.


This black and white images is stunning. Compare it to the color version below.

This black and white images is stunning. Compare it to the color version below.


I am not as fond o the color version. It reminds me of a Cibachrome print from a color transparency.

I am not as fond o the color version. It reminds me of a Cibachrome print from a color transparency.


Again compare this to the color print. Both are nice, but I like the b&w better.

Again compare this to the color print. Both are nice, but I like the b&w better.


Another example of the color option in the TinType App by Hipstagram.

Another example of the color option in the TinType App by Hipstagram.


If your subject is dress in period clothing it helps bring authenticity to the image.

If your subject is dress in period clothing it helps bring authenticity to the image.


This is an iPhone shot.

This is an iPhone shot.

This is one of my favorite conversions. I think the angle of the subject help ed pull of the faux depth of field along with the slight motion blur.

This is one of my favorite conversions. I think the angle of the subject help ed pull of the faux depth of field along with the slight motion blur.

Top 10 Reason *Not* to buy the 5 Day Deal



There are a lot of reasons I can tell you why to buy this photography deal. But I want to give you 10 of the top reasons why NOT to buy it. Here we go…

  1. This bundle makes learning too easy and enjoyable. Let’s face it, you’ve always enjoyed a struggle.
  2. 95% off just isn’t good enough of a saving for you.
  3. You have all your shopping done for Christmas.
  4. You are saving up your money to buy a Game of Thrones Iron Throne for $30,000.
  5. Because $89 USD is equivalent to 1,081,795  Indonesian rupiah and that means you’re a millionaire. And you didn’t get to be a millionaire by spending your money!
  6.  70 plus  hours of training video is too practical. You rather spend that amount of time watching cat videos on YouTube.
  7. You want to be able to slap yourself on the forehead and utter a “d’oh!” like Homer Simpson when you realize it is too late to purchased this bundle.
  8. There is not enough material in this bundle to help you with your photography. Yeah ’cause 23 contributing photographers and companies, with a total of 42 products, all different from the previous bundle isn’t enough.
  9. Success always scares you. You don’t want to grow in your photography. You know that if you buy this bundle you risk the high probability that you will get much better at your craft and you like being where you are.
  10. You don’t like helping charities. Over the past four and a half days the associates of the 5 Day Deal have raised over $160,000. and this bothers you for some reason.


Let’s be serious for a moment. None of these are good reasons. The fact is you want to grow in your skill as a photographer, that’s part of why you read this  blog and others like it. I could list numerous reasons to buy this bundle but frankly I just don’t have time because the sale ends today. In fact it ends in:



So let me conclude with these few facts.

  1. There are 6 products in the bundle that are worth over $89
  2. The average product price in the bundle is just under $50
  3. There are 42 different products included in the bundle
  4. Over 70 hours of video training is included in the bundle
  5. There are 5 different products that teach about lighting techniques
  6. All of my personal proceeds from this sale are being donated to the On Field Media Project. A charity that teaches other non-profits how to tell their story through photography, video and social media.


It’s your call, the Iron Throne or $2,000 worth of photographic resources for $89 and help several charities at the same time.



$2,000 Worth of Photography Tools for $89… Really!

Blog Post Image – 600 x 500

This is not a joke. This is one of the best deals in photography since.. well since ever. Seriously, this is not one of those events where some site is selling a piece of software that is on sale more than it is full price. $2,000 is the real value of this offer. Not only is it financially a great deal – it is product produced from the industry’s best. When I say the industry’s best I mean names like Darlene Hildebrandt, Zach Arias, Gavin Gough, Alex Aoloskov, Lindsay Adler, Trey Ratcliff, Nicole S. Young and more. Check out the list below of resources offered in the bundle.

But there is a catch to this deal. It is limited to 5 days. That’s right, you have 5 days to purchase (check out the timer)! So don’t wait too long.

As a reader of this blog, I have never asked you to support me financially. But I am, today. If you purchase this amazing bundle through the link here or in my social media links, you will be supporting the On Field Media Project. When you purchase this deal, as an affiliate, I receive a commission. I will give 100% of that commission to the On Field Media Project. OFMP is the charity that I started last year. We teach non-profits how to tell their story through photography, video and social media. But you are not just supporting OFMP, $8.95 will be donated to one of four charities of your choice. You can choose from Flashes of Hope, Mercy Ships, Camp Smile-A-Mile or Bethel.


This Deal Expires on




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    • Designing an Image

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    • Midnight In Paris

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    • Take the Mystery Out of Lighting

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    • Mask it Like a Pro

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    • The Photographer’s Post-Production

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    • Compositing Bundle

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    • Portrait Lighting on Location – your guide to using natural light and off-camera flash

      Darlene Hildebrandt


    • One Light 2.0

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    • The Created Image Video Series Vol.1

      David duChemin


    • 10 Common Photography Mistakes (and how to fix them)

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    • Photoshop for Photographers + My Full 2014 Workflow Bundle

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    • Chasing the Look

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    • Drawing the Eye

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    • Light and Process – Landscape Photography

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    • Time Is On Your Side ebook and Preset Bundle

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    • Mastering Photography

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    • Mastering Lightroom: Book One – The Library Module

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      Andrew S. Gibson


    • Mastering Lightroom Book Three: Black & White

      Andrew S. Gibson


    • Bokeh – Creating Shallow Depth of Field

      Christopher O’Donnell


    • The Golden Hours and Exposure Blending

      Christopher O’Donnell


    • Tack Sharp: A Step By Step Guide To Nailing Focus (3rd Edition)

      James Brandon


    • Fashion Posing Guide

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    • Great Eight Preset Bundle

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Ladakh Photo Trek Part 3


f/9, 1/280 sec, at 18.8mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Nubra Valley is being developed with guest houses and luxury tent accommodation. It is a good idea to visit it sooner rather than later.


After the official workshop ended, as often, we offered an extension on the trip. The planned extension was to Srinagar Kashmir and the surrounding valley But as you might know the Kashmir region was faced with unprecedented flooding and there was no way we would be able to lead a workshop in such surroundings. So Piet, Alou and I had to put our heads together in a hurry and come up with an alternative for Kashmir. The obvious choice became the one we went with: the amazing Nubra Valley.

f/9, 1/30 sec, at 25.4mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

A sign posted at Khardung La.

The Nubra Valley is located Northeast of Leh over the Khardung La (Khardung Pass). The Khardung La is touted as being the highest motorable road in the world at 5,602 m (18,379 ft). Frankly I doubt that. Our GPSs all came in closer to 5,334 m (17,500 ft). Nevertheless, it is high! So much so there is a sign posted in all caps that reads, “STAYING FOR MORE THAN 20-25 mins CAN BE HARMFUL TO YOUR HEALTH”.

Once over the pass you drive a windy (winding?) road to a city called Diskit then on to another called Hundar. It was in Hundar we stayed the night in luxury tents. These are tents with permanent concrete flooring with carpet and a huge king size bed. Also each tent has a toilet and shower with hot water (on call). It was also in Hundar that we found the two humped bactrian camels.  In Diskit we visited the Diskit Monastery, the oldest and largest Buddhist monastery in the area.



Interested in what gear or settings I used. As always just click the photo and you will find the EXIF data.

f/4, 1/320 sec, at 70.5mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

Hundar was the home to the two humped bactrian camels.

f/5.6, 1/2000 sec, at 104.9mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

A man and his camel silhouetted against the Karakoram range.


f/5.6, 1/640 sec, at 74.1mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1


f/1.4, 1/1500 sec, at 35mm, 200 ISO, on a X-E2

An old man walks his dog in the small village of Diksit, Ladakh.

f/1.4, 1/600 sec, at 35mm, 800 ISO, on a X-E2

A monk at the Diskit Gompa prepares offerings made of yak butter.


f/10, 1/20 sec, at 35mm, 6400 ISO, on a X-E2

A local man prays to the Buddha as sunlight is shining into a small gompa in Hundar.


f/9, 1/600 sec, at 115.9mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

Next to the Diskit Monastery sits this 35 meter statue of Maitreya Buddha or the future Buddha.


Given we only had three nights in Nubra,  there was plenty to photograph. Speaking of… this will be the last of my images of this trip. In the next post I want to post a few of the participants’ images. We had a talented group and as always I want to share with you their visual take of this trip.

Ladakh Photo Trek Part 2



f/3.2, 1/125 sec, at 23mm, 200 ISO, on a X-E2

A early morning view of Leh, Ladakh from the Khardung La road. The peak sticking up is Stok Kangri 6,153 m (20,182 ft) (click for a larger view).


On arriving into Ladakh, India our photo workshop participants needed most of the first day to acclimatize to the altitude. Leh, the main city of Ladakh, is at 3,524 meters (11,562 ft) and at that height most of us lowlanders’ heads spin if you stand up to quickly. Heck, just walking up a single flight of stairs will take your breath away. Another thing this kind of altitude does is to give you wild and vivid dreams. Trust me, it’s not the dal & rice you had for dinner, it’s the altitude.  But acclimatizing didn’t mean doing nothing. Late in the day we drove to the Shanti Stupa and photographed the Leh Palace and the Namgyal Tsemo Gompa or monastery. You saw a couple of these shots in the last post. Below is one more. The light was just right for some stunning images.


f/16, 1/480 sec, at 141.3mm, 1000 ISO, on a X-E2

The Namgyal Tsemo Gompa viewed from the Shanti Stupa in Leh.


The next few days were spent touring local attractions and monasteries around Leh. After Leh we traveled the 4 to 5 hours by jeep to one of my favorite locations in Ladakh, the village of Lamayruru. A quaint little farming village overlooked by a large and impressive monastery or gompa.


f/3.5, 1/2500 sec, at 55mm, 200 ISO, on a X-T1

The monastery stands watch over the small village of Lamayruru.


f/14, 10 sec, at 11.5mm, 200 ISO, on a X-E2

Lamayruru Monastery


f/9, 1/180 sec, at 10mm, 320 ISO, on a X-E2

Piet Van den Eynde photographs the village from the top of the monastery.


f/1.4, 1/680 sec, at 56mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

An old man walks around the large prayer wheel at Lamayruru.


f/4.2, 1/45 sec, at 121.8mm, 2500 ISO, on a X-T1

Two young monks at Lamayruru seem to be passing secrets during their prayer time.


f/8, 1/600 sec, at 24mm, 200 ISO, on a X-E2

A young monk runs to do his chores.


f/14, 1/680 sec, at 121.8mm, 400 ISO, on a X-T1

Here is Piet again, this time photographing the back side of the the Lamayruru Monastery.


After two nights we made a slow return to Leh where we did laundry and rested. Piet and I went for a walk around the city and ended up at the Soma Gompa just off the main bazaar road. It was here we saw several old men sitting and just watching the world go by. They nodded to us, so Piet and I walked up to them and gave them our hardest, “Julley!” the local greeting. We asked them if they would like a photograph. Not can we take a photograph, but would they like one. They each smiled so Piet, our resident off camera flash Guru began setting up his lights. While Piet was setting up I sat and chatted with them and got their names and ages and where they lived. They were all in their late 80’s and all had been farmers. It was about this time that someone made a crack, “I hope you are going to pay them royalties!” It had begun. It seems like every workshop we find some tourist that is upset with us for taking photos. Never mind that we ask. Never mind that we get to know many of them (granted not everyone). Frankly in my little conversation with these men I learned much more about them that this guy knew, I am sure. The tourist made another disparaging remark and wondered off. One of the old men named Sonam asked me what was his trouble. I said he didn’t like us taking their photo. Sonam then said, “It’s our photo, not his. He should not care.” Good point. ‘Hit and run’ photography is not my thing: whenever possible I like to get to know the people I am photographing. I also like to give prints out to as many people as I have the time and money to do so. Each of these men got a small Instax print of their own that we printed from our Fujifilm instax SHARE Printer SP-1. Each of them beamed when we gave it to them. Each of them thanked me. I’ll never sell this image. I might let Fuji use it on a blog, like any of my photos. Rarely do I sell an image of the people I photograph. When I do sell an image, I pay them a model fee and have them sign a release. These men are not models, they’re men who shared a little part of their life story with a me and demonstrated the hospitality and friendship of their people.


f/14, 1/125 sec, at 15.9mm, 250 ISO, on a X-E2

The gentlemen from the Soma Gompa. Sonam has the fedora on. (We have the same taste in hats ;-)


By the way, we still have a few spots left on the Rajasthan workshop in Feb 2015.


2014 Ladakh Photo Trek…WOW!


Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, Leh, Ladakh

Namgyal Tsemo Monastery, Leh, Ladakh


Piet Van den Eynde, Alou and I just concluded what might have been the hardest workshop I have ever ran. Not because we didn’t have fantastic participants. On the contrary, we had great participants, many of whom were repeat clients. Not because they were not all really talented photographers – they all were – even though that is not a requirement to participate in one of our trips. It was because so many things just happened. Like God looked down and said, “I think I’ll give you a little run for your money, Matt. You need some new stories to tell!”

It started when one participant emailed us the night we arrived to India and explained that her aircraft she was flying had one of their engines go bad and they had to make an emergency landing in Toronto. She explained she might be late. Talk about scary! But she made it and joined us a day late. Then within hours of that email I get another from another participant that said he had visa issues and maybe be several days late! When it rains… He made it two days later.

While all this was unfolding, we received news that there was major flooding in the Kashmir Valley where we had planned to run a four day add-on to the Ladakh trip. The flooding was so severe that we decided to cancel the Kashmir add-on both for our sake and in respect of the people experiencing the flooding. Frankly, it would be dangerous as well as tacky to visit as a tourist while people where struggling for their very lives.

If that was not enough, while camping at 15,000 ft one of the participants had issues with altitude and was evacuated to lower altitudes. But wait… there’s more. As a result of the flooding in neighboring Kashmir all communications with the outside world was relegated to visits to a local phone booth. Yes, they still have phone booths, but only one or two were operational for the whole city of Leh in Ladakh. Can you say, “lines of people”?

But we managed. We carried on and had fun, made friends and took some amazing photos. We replaced the Kashmir add-on with a trip to the Nubra Valley and I thinks folks were happy with the choice. I am pretty sure participants walked away with stunning, unique images to add to their portfolio. That’s one of the good things about leading workshops in India – photo opportunities are low hanging fruit. It doesn’t mean anyone can take a good photo, but it does mean everyone has the chance to.

If this has got you thinking of  joining a workshop (or in fact, if this is scaring you from joining one), know that we also have a more luxurious workshop in Rajasthan in February 2015, for which there are still a couple of places available.


Camping for several night was both exciting at 15,000 ft and cold! (click for a larger view)

Camping for several night was both exciting at 15,000 ft and cold! (click for a larger view)


Participants stop on a drive around Tsorak Lake, Ladakh to photograph the mountain light.

Participants stop on a drive-around Tsorak Lake, Ladakh to photograph the mountain light.


Tsokar Lake is a salt lake with many huge salt flats that the local nomads take advantage to harvest salt for their livestock.

Tsokar Lake is a salt lake with many huge salt flats. The local nomads take advantage of this to harvest salt for their livestock.


Alou stand on what looks like a mirror, Tsorkar Lake.

Alou stand on what looks like a mirror, Tsorkar Lake.


In Lamayuru, Piet gave participants lessons in off-camera flash.

In Lamayuru, Piet gave participants lessons in off-camera flash.


What trip with Piet Van den Eynde would be complete without using our Fujifilm Instax printer to pass on photos to our new friends?

What trip with Piet Van den Eynde would be complete without Fujifilm Instax prints being passed to new friends?


Mike Alexander shooting in a dark monastery in the Nubra Valley.

Mike Alexander shooting in a dark monastery in the Nubra Valley.


France Leclerc prepares to photograph Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass).

France Leclerc prepares to photograph Kiang (Tibetan Wild Ass).





Video Blog #10 Photo Interview with Fernando Gros and more…



Yes, it is true, this is a video blog post. I know you thought it was dead and gone. Well it was only sick. ;-)  I have tried breathed into it new life. Well, I least I hopes to.

This Sunday I am off to Ladakh, India for a two week workshop. After Ladakh the group heads to Srinagar, Kashmir. Then in February, 2015 I head back to Rajasthan. The question begs answering are photo workshop worth it? Are they worth the time and the financial investment? So this issue we will look at the benefits of photo workshops. To do this I have an interview with Fernando Gros from Continue reading