Ami Vitale: Ripple Effect

Every so often I like to post something just to inspire my readers. Especially if it is from a friend. When I saw this video produced by MediaStorm on Ami Vitale’s Facebook feed I new I needed to share it with you. I love the very first line in the video.

I don’t think one image can change the world. But I definitely think you make little cracks in the foundation.
-Ami Vitale

I hope you will be as inspired as I was watching it!

The Amber Stepwell: The Progression of a Shoot

The Amber stepwell and three local “models”.


Ever since I saw Ami Vitale’s Nikon video I wanted to shoot the Chand Baori stepwell in the village of Abhaneri. It is said to be the the most impressive stepwell in India. The problem is when you are working with a group of people (or your family), 70 km in India is a long drive for a photo. Two hours up and two back for want might be two to three photos. I thought I would go easy on my family and just go to the Amber stepwell here in Jaipur. It was the right choice. Today, God smiled on us. Continue reading

There is Strength in Their Faces

The Matriarch

At 86 years old, this Gujjar Bakarwal woman still walks over 100 miles twice a year between the peaks of the Indian Himalaya to the lowland plains.  Her stories can be read in the lines in her face. To me, this photograph epitomizes the strength and beauty of the Gujjar women. Unlike the other photos in this series that were photographed wooden huts, this image was made in the canvas tent where she was cooking over an open fire.



Today I did something I never do, I entered a contest. I have been getting these emails from PDN about this contest they run every year. It is called Faces. As the name suggests, it’s a portrait contest. From environmental portraits to studio portraits–from animals to people it doesn’t matter; if it’s a photo of a face it can be entered. 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

PhotoPhilanthropy Activist Awards Judging.

My colleagues over at ran this video in a post yesterday. I thought it was so compelling that I needed to rerun it here. As a photographic storyteller you need to here what these judges say. This is a real glimpse into the minds of the judges and more importantly the realities of what makes a photo good essay. Watch this and take notes.

Rickshaw Pullers of Kolkata


I lived in India for thirteen years. In that time I only ever flew through Calcutta, or Kolkata as it is called today. This week I find myself in this amazing place.  It is significantly different than Delhi and other places I have visited or lived in India. For one thing the taxis are not like you find in Delhi, the old black and green striped Ambassadors. They are still Ambassadors, but a solid bright yellow. Yellow like a slick Italian sports car only old and with more dents in the body than… well, a New Delhi taxi.  The streets are more narrow and crowded than Delhi as well. But the biggest visual difference is the “pull rickshaws”. I have heard about them for as long as I have lived in India. People tell me that Calcutta is the last place on earth you can find them. I am not sure that is true, but then I have never checked either.

The pull rickshaws are the classic rickshaw image you think of:  the ones with the driver or puller flanked on each side by long wooden pole-like handles, much like you would see on a horse drawn carriage or chariot. Many of these pullers work barefooted on the fiery hot asphalt roadways, plying their way through dense traffic to get the riders to their destination. It seems inhumane and cruel. In fact, five years ago the local government here made the use of such rickshaws illegal. The pullers union protested and said they are willing to give up this work only if the government provides them with new employment. That has yet to happen and so the pullers continue to work and defy the court order. Interestingly enough, I have seen no young pullers. All seem to be over the age of 45 to 50 years or older, sometimes years older. So, the job might be dying out by itself. These men, and it is only men, often sleep in rented bunks in a crowded bunk houses or on the streets to save what small amount of income they earn. Most of these pullers don’t own their rickshaws, they rent them for around 30 rupees a day. They told me their income can vary from nothing one day to 500 rupees on a great day. Most of these men come from families that live in other cities or even states. They came to Calcutta 20 to 30 years ago to make money to send back home to their families. Yet, they never seem to save much. Like everyone else, they have the expenses of food, lodging, doctor bill and medicine. Two or three of the men n the bunk house I visited were not working that day because they had a relapse of Malaria.

I love the strength I see in these men.

Note:  One of the craziest coincidences I have ever seen, happened with this shoot. As I was talking to the men in the bunk house (there are 80 or so just like it in the city), they told me there was a lady photographer who came by and took photos of them.  I checked with Ami Vitale, and it was, in fact, her when she was working on her story for the National Geographic Magazine.  Small, crazy world!

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,

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,, 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.

Depth of Field: Ami Vitale

AmiVThis past September we where fortunate to have Ami Vitale as a guest instructor on our Ladakh Lumen Dei photo workshop. It was a great experience and I deepened a friendship. Hear me when I say, Ami Vitale is the real deal. She is a true, in the trench, get dirty photojournalist; And she’s one of the best out there. She’s tough, street smart and incredibly talented. But she’s also sensitive and very caring about the people she’s around. I don’t mean other photographers, though she is that as well. I mean, to the people she’s in and among photographing. I learned a lot from her over those two weeks. Ami taught me to slow down, and not just photograph the moment but to enjoy and savor.

Our paths first crossed many years at a Any Thing Mac, a local Mac repair shop in New Delhi.  Ami was covering Kashmir and I was living there and we both had Mac issues. I had no idea who she was. I thought to myself, this little lady is going to get her self blown up if she’s not careful. I think she was thinking something similar about me. This last September was the first time we actually got to shoot together. I certainly hope we get to do it again.

Ami’s work has appeared in all the top magazines; National Geographic, Newsweek, Time and more. She was named Magazine Photographer of the Year by the National Press Photographers Association, and Photo District News recognized her as one of 30 image makers of the future.

Visit her website and gallery HERE.

I hope you enjoy this interview with photographer Ami Vitale.

A Conversation With Ami Vitale

I first met Ami a few years back in New Delhi. We both were getting our Macs worked on at, what was then the only Mac repair place in North India. Not sure how we started chatting but I found out that she had just returned from Kashmir. I told her I lived up there and ran a trekking company. I think she found it hard to believe. Continue reading