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

Depth of Field: Esther Havens

Esther Havens and Moses in Rwanda



In this Depth of Field I speak with Esther Havens. Ether Havens is a Humanitarian Photographer. She captures stories that transcend a person’s circumstances and reveal their true strength. For many years she has worked on social-awareness campaigns with organizations such as charity: water, TOMS Shoes, Concern Worldwide and A Glimmer of Hope. Continue reading

Wallpaper: June 2011


I think you will enjoy this wallpaper this month. It is one of my favorites. This was shot in Shigatse, Tibet’s second largest city at a monastery called Tashilhunpo. These workshops are really a joy to run and I as you can see below our participants really feel they get their money’s worth.


Adventure of a lifetime…another notch in the bucket list! Matt, Brian, and Jamin were knowledgeable, approachable, and perpetually concerned about everyone’s well being. This trip was an incredible value in all parameters, I would highly recommend entrusting your hard-earned vacation dollars with this trio. ~ Jim M.

This trip was everything and more. Learning so much about photography, mechanically (in all situations of lighting and fast paced street moments) and humanly (connecting with the locals) in such an incredible landscape and culture, such as Tibet will be hard to top… A true trip of a lifetime, which will always leave me feeling warm and rewarded. Thanks is not enough! ~ Simon S.

Brian, Matt, and Jamin provided us with a such an amazing, perhaps “once-in-a-lifetime” experience that will not soon be forgotten. Bottom line: I wouldn’t go to Tibet with any other folks, folks. The expertise on the area, the choice of accommodations and food, the willingness to help when needed, and the overall friendliness of these gentlemen made the trip. Thank you again, guys, and maybe I’ll see you next year! ~ Nicole R.

But more importantly, I believe I learned and improve and I thank you both. I think that it is important to note that all of you saved no effort to make it a great trip and I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart. I believe your approach and attitude positively affected the group in its formation and the overall friendly environment. One “small” request – can you add some greenery to the plateau’s desert? All the best and thanks again. ~ Ruti


These are the typical of the responses we received about this workshop. If you would like to join me on a workshop this year, you have one last chance. I will be teaching with three heavy weights Karl Grobl, Gavin Gough and Marco Ryan July 11- 25th at Angkor Wat.  Angkor is one of the most culturally and visually exciting places in the world. I love shooting there. In fact Gavin Gough is at Angkor right now and is posting some amazing images. Check out his posts HERE and HERE.

Let me introduce you to the talented instructors that I will be teaching alongside.


Karl Grobl is a humanitarian photojournalist specializing in the photographic documentation of relief efforts and development work of NGOs worldwide. His images have appeared in publications such as Newsweek, CNN, Geo, Town and Country magazine and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, but the largest majority of his photos appear in the annual reports, newsletters and communications materials of his humanitarian organization clients. Karl’s non-NGO work is represented by Zuma Press, the premier international editorial picture agency and wire service. His 2005 Haiti photo-story “City of God” was nominated for a World Press Photo Award.


Gavin Gough is an independent, freelance travel photographer. Originally from England, Gavin is currently based in Bangkok, Thailand, from where he travels extensively, working on assignment, on commission, creating stock images, writing and teaching. He has been commissioned by a variety of NGOs, humanitarian and charitable institutions and has completed commissions for organisations as varied as Sony, Vanity Fair magazine and the Vietnamese Tourist Board.


Marco Ryan is originally form the UK but moved to live and work in Cairo in 2008. He is a lecturer and author on Digital Media and how businesses need to react to the increasing disruption caused by the web and digital media. He is also a passionate photographer. He founded the popular Cairo Photo School and is the joint owner of the Cairo Photo Studio. His love and passion for travel and humanitarian photography has taken him all around the world, and he has a vast network of Professional photographers, editors and enthusiasts that he regularly keeps in touch with through social media and his blog.


The Angkor Photo Workshop is limited to 15 participants and we only have three spots left! This small enrollment provides each and every participant plenty of face time with our 4 instructors during the workshop portion of the trip and with 3 instructors during the “road trip” portion of the tour. This workshop is unprecedented, you will have one-on-one with four of your favorite photographers.  If your interested and would like more information about this workshop you can simply visit this link HERE. You will find all the information you need and email links for even more. Join me, Karl, Gavin and Marco for a great time at Angkor Wat!

Depth of Field: Marco Ryan

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, His speaking and consulting give Marco plenty of opportunity to travel use his photography.

His passion is for travel and reportage photography, especially recording the more humanitarian aspects of life. Being based in Cairo has allowed an unparalleled and privileged view into the lives or ordinary Egyptians. This led Marco to follow the work of many humanitarian photographers like, yours truly, David duChemin, Gavin Gough and others. Once hooked by the humanitarian side of photography, Marco quickly saw the problems. He saw very talented photographers unable to express their vision. Not being called on by NGOs, that actually needed these photographer’s images. He wanted to both help the photographer as well as help the NGO. So, Marco along with his friend, Loren Roberts, decided to go out on a limb and start a grant organization that would provide photographers with the needed funds to provide a leg-up in the field of humanitarian photography. This was the beginnings of Focus For Humanity. You will be hearing more on this in the interview below, as well as in next Fridays blog post. I know you will find this interview as interesting and challenging as all the Depth of Fields. In this interview Marco not only speaks about Focus For Humanity, he also give us a free seminar on marketing and SEO for the photographer. This is a valuable listen.

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When We’re Simply Human

By Brian Hirschy

Occasionally in the life of an NGO photographer things can hit too close to home.

On April 14th at 7am my wife woke me up with the news that there had been a series of powerful earthquakes in and around Yushu, a town 500+ miles southwest of where we live and work. An earthquake in this area is significant. Not only was my Plateau Photo Tours partner living in Yushu at the time, but most of our friends, co-workers, and employees are from this area – not to mention we had two Lumen Dei tours planned to this area this summer.

Events like this have the ability to transcend a person’s identity as a photographer. The moment my wife told me about the quake(s), I felt entirely human – I wasn’t a photographer or business owner. At that moment I was just human – freaked out, sad, and changed. Immediately all my human effort was put to use in the form of helping with initial medical supplies, medical teams, and setting up channels for proper communication with the earthquake zones and our NGO headquarters.

As days past and the death toll climbed, reports of close friends losing everything started to come in, my identity as an NGO photographer was further pushed to the back of my mind. For the first 10 days I was more than willing to let the press photographically cover this story, not knowing if I had the capacity to even point a camera at something so uniquely personal.

Two sleepless weeks after the quake, my brain was ready to merely entertain the powerful impact a photographer can have on a situation like this. It was no small task for me to even pay attention to the media coming out of this area – seeing destroyed restaurants where I had enjoyed butter tea with close friends less than two months earlier, seeing pictures on the internet of my friends homes in ruin (literally), seeing a place that I have covered photographically in one form or another for almost 8 years suffering – all covered by photographers that I’m quite positive, with no real fault of their own, couldn’t have cared nearly as much as I did.

Whether it was true or not, I couldn’t help but feel that most of the photography coming out of Yushu was coming from photographers that were there simply covering a story.

Simply covering a story. Simply covering the story has to the the antithesis of what we as humanitarian photographers desire to do. You see, It’s easy to show up in a disaster area and instantly nab compelling pictures of tragedy in motion – it’s a different mater entirely to let it effect you. I think we must believe that the art of sensitive and dignified photography comes from buying into what is happening on an some emotional level – however personal or close to home that may be.

The lesson I continue to learn is that the pictures I take are almost always of situations, people, and places I can walk away from – and that they mean so much more to those personally impacted by such things than they do to me. How easy is it for us to separate ourselves mentally and emotionally from the subjects we cover? It is impossible to detach humanity from photography so why do we so often detach ourselves? This thought, at least to me, is a compelling argument to approach our photography with an overly sincere amount of sensitivity, professionalism, and dignity.

Matt’s note: If you are interested in the relief work in Yushu and the NGO Brian works with, please visit and  Brian is a friend and a fellow humanitarian photographer working in Western China.  While working as a humanitarian photographer, he also helps arrange Lumen Dei and other photo tours and workshops to the Tibetan Plateau.  You can see his work at  Be sure and check out his latest photo series:  The Face of Relief.

I’d encourage you to visit and see what you can do to help those suffering in Yushu. With the quakes in Haiti, Chile, and now Western China, many people are becoming “compassion weary.”  I understand this. But the folks at Yushu did not have a choice to the the first, second or third in the line of disasters. is the best place to get money directly to the field through a foreign and trustworthy NGO making a difference on the ground.
Please help.