Beautiful abstract colors. Can you tell what this is?
Fantastic details are all around you. But they can get lost, particularly when you are traveling, particularly at tourist sites, and particularly when you are freezing your you-know-what off.
This photo was taken at the El Tatio geysers in Northern Chile. There are 70 geysers at El Tatio, one of the highest fields of geysers in the world, containing about 25% of the world’s geysers. Lots of hissing steam – early morning steam that condenses in the bitterly cold morning air. The steam plumes disappear as the air warms up. And at 4200m (about 13,800 ft), the air gets darn cold. -8ºC (17 F), to be exact.
But the ground near the geysers and bubbling pools of smelly arsenic are some interesting things. If you look closely, you can see some amazing textures and colors. The details.
When I showed the above photo to my friends, some thought it was a satellite photo. Some thought it was taken in an industrial setting. And some did guess that it was some sort of hot pool or geyser.
El Tatio Geysers, Atacama Desert, Northern Chile
Equipment: Nikon D90, Nikkor 50mm f1/4 prime lens for the bubbling detail shot, Nikkor 18-200mm VR lens for the geysers with a Tiffen circular polarizer.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. Photo by Ken Lee of http://www.kenleephotography.com. This is a scan from a 4×6 print from a $100 CanoScan, so please cut me some slack! This photo has appeared in several magazines and was used for years for the Burma Forum Los Angeles website, a Burma democracy support group.
Like Meeting Gandhi
Meeting Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi in 2000 was like meeting a modern-day Gandhi. Because of the front page headlines of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton going to Burma (Myanmar) and meeting Aung San Suu Kyi, I was inspired to post this photo and recollection of meeting “The Lady”
Memorable But Terrifying
Meeting Aung San Suu Kyi was both memorable and frightening. This is what I wrote in my Eleven Shadows Burma and India travel blog in 2000:
Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Prize winner, leader of the National League for Democracy, and the democratically elected leader of Myanmar. After being under house arrest for six years, she now has limited freedom but cannot leave Yangon. Her father, General Aung San, was the first leader of Burma’s independence movement and was assassinated in 1947.
While returning from the Martyrs Day events at the Arzani Mausoleum commemorating General Aung San’s death, we saw a large crowd outside a building adorned with large red banners with Burmese words and English words saying “National League for Democracy”. Intrigued, we wandered over and were told that Aung San Suu Kyi would be arriving in fifteen minutes. The crowd enthusiastically waved us in, and we were seated in white resin seats just behind ambassadors from the United States, Britain, and Japan, and in front of members of the international press. Many cameras warily followed our every move.
“The Lady” arrived to much commotion. Several speakers gave speeches in Burmese, and Burmese literature was handed to us. Paula managed to talk to Aung San Suu Kyi briefly – an incredible opportunity, given her limited freedom.
After the meeting, as the gravity of our situation continued to sink in, we walked out with one of the U.S. embassy employees to make ourselves feel safer. “I have no control over what happens here,” he had said. “We have no diplomatic relationsip with this country.” We knew that, nodding glumly. As we exited the meeting, many people with cameras started taking photos of us, their cameras following as we walked.
We quickly flagged down a taxi. However, a man in a white car followed our every turn. We changed directions several times, but the car continued following. We finally asked the terrified driver to drop us off at the U.S. Embassy, eagerly scrambling inside to report to the Marine on duty that we were being followed. He said that others had reported being followed before, but remained stoic.
After some minutes, we left the Embassy. The man in the white car was still there, and rolled behind us on the street slowly, ominously. We decided to walk to an expensive hotel called The Strand, ordering mixed drinks and burgers to calm our nerves. We walked back out, looking around. We no longer saw the white car. Where was he? Why did he drive off? Where others following? We walked the wrong way down one-way streets and traipsed through stores to exit the back side, trying to make certain that we were no longer being followed.
The next day, Paula left. However, her phone call from Singapore several hours later, in a sort of “code” that we had agreed upon before, left us in cold shock. The airport officials, who had her name on a list, had demanded to search her belongings, confiscating all her film, books, and cassettes. Luckily, she had not been detained. But we thought, “If the Burmese military identified her, surely they’re on to us!”
I wanted to escape with at least a few rolls of our film. I purchased ten rolls of film, shooting one or two pictures in each before rewinding the film. I then placed these rolls in my lead-lined bag as a decoy. Lisa and I hid the rest of the film in every crevice of our backpacks, including dirty socks, aspirin bottles, shirts, shoes, artwork. I even jammed a roll in each of my shoes, which caused great pain as the day wore on. “What if they get really upset that we’re hiding this?” Lisa asked. But still we did it. We had nothing of value, nothing inflammatory, and felt odd to hide such innocuous photos from the military. I locked my backpack several different ways and hoped for the best.
Still completely dark, we arrived early that morning at the dimly-lit airport, checked our luggage in, and sat nervously in the waiting room for two hours watching Bon Jovi videos. We couldn’t relax until the plane had lifted off the ground, one of the most beautiful sounds I’ve ever heard.
“You have no idea how happy we are to be in India!” I exclaimed to the Indian immigration official.
Postscript: A month after we left Myanmar, the military prevented Aung San Suu Kyi from going to an NLD youth rally only 30 km from Yangon. Aung San Suu Kyi remained in her car for about 11 days—the fourth such stand-off in the last ten years—before finally being forced to return to her house. The military then raided the NLD headquarters, carting away documents. Burma continues to be one of the most brutal regimes in the world while the world stands idly by, issuing endless litanies of diplomatic terms like “deeply concerned,” “closely watching,” “monitoring the situation,” “turning a new page,” and “forcefully urging dialogue.”
Equipment: Nikon N70 film camera, 70-300mm Nikkor lens. Fuji Velvia 400; scanned from a 4×6 print on a $100 CanoScan scanner.
This father and daughter in the Atacama Desert of Chile were joking, having fun, goofing around. I chuckled, and they smiled at me. After a while, we had developed a rapport, and they were only to happy to continue the clowning while I took their photo. Nikon D90 with an 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens, 18mm, 1/125 second, f/3.5.
If you make a connection with people, you’re likely to have them agree to have their photos taken. You’re likely to get really great photos. And you just may make a friend or have memories you’ll treasure, whether you take their photo or not. And much of this is almost a “how-to” on how to have more fun when you travel or even explore your own area!
Smile and Ask First
Sneaky shots and far away shots don’t always come out so well. If you are exploring a market, at an athletic event or concert, walking around a city, and you see someone that you’d like to photograph, it’s better to smile, make eye contact, and ask first. It’s more respectful, and people usually respond to that. And if they don’t, then they wouldn’t have wanted their photo taken anyway. If you want to photograph their kids, who are often more willing to pose for photos at first, ask permission first. If you don’t speak their language, that’s okay. The universal pointing to your camera and a smile does the trick. Show them the photo if you have a digital camera. Some photographers will offer to send them a photo or bring a camera that allows them to print photos, such as the Polaroid PoGo, a digital camera with a built-in printer. Great ice-breaker. Consider shooting with a compact camera first. Some people find these less intimidating. Then if you wish, you can move to an SLR or DSLR later.
Show An Interest In People and Their Culture
Good manners and respect for people and their culture goes a long way. When people see that you are respectful of their culture, they know that you put in the time to learn some of their ways. That shows respect. That shows understanding. It shows interest in who they are. If I don’t know about a certain routine, ritual, custom, or whatever, I find out in a guidebook, ask a local, or stand and watch for a while so I can see what others are doing. This also allows me to enjoy the moment and not rush through everything as if it were simply a display.
A sure ice-breaker is to join in on the fun. What’s going on? Attend a local church or temple service. Join a game. Go shopping at a market. Watch a local football match in person. Go rafting, take lessons, do something. I’ve gotten some of my best people photos when I’ve joined in. I’ve made friends with sadhus in the Himalayas when I we hiked up to a temple together for three hours. I’ve met people while getting a shave on the streets of New Delhi. I’ve helped plant tomatoes and dry food on rooftops in Kashmir. I’ve tried to learn local dances in a small village in Peru. I couldn’t speak more than a few words with any of these people, but that was okay.
Don’t be afraid to look silly. If anything, that only helps break the ice. People don’t expect you to do everything well or be able to dance their traditional dances perfectly. But joining in and trying can create memories that will last a life time and make for fascinating stories to tell your friends or family. And those interesting photos that you take back will remind you of those amazing times.
Going to temple or a concert or standing in line or wishing someone happy birthday when they are celebrating or eating at a restaurant are all enjoyable, and all are further opportunities to establish rapport. I was waiting for food at a budget restaurant in the Atacama Desert in Chile. I saw a father playing and joking around with his young daughter, making funny faces and having fun. I chuckled, and they looked up and smiled. That was fun. We had also ordered similar food, and asked each other how it was. We started a conversation. I took photos of them together, still joking around, still having fun. This photo still brings back great memories. I’m not always looking to take photos of people, but I don’t like to pass up great opportunities either!
Learn a Few Words in Their Language
Learn the language of the country you are visiting, or at least a few words. This will often earn respect of people, particularly if it’s a more obscure language, and serves as a wonderful ice-breaker, helping you to connect. I’ve had people invite me to their homes, their temples, or their place of work simply because I learned a few words in their native language and they were touched. Making these connections will help you capture the spirit of the people, achieving far better photos…and maybe making a friend.
Think, Know, Plan (Okay, This Is Basically a Sixth Tip!)
You need to work quickly to be spontaneous. Therefore, you need to know your camera and equipment well. If you fiddle faddle with your equipment, adjusting settings, messing with this and that, you risk losing the spontaneity of your subject.
Before you approach your subject, think about what you’re going to do. Plan your shot. Think about the lighting at hand, your composition, focal length, viewpoint, and the position you wish to shoot from based on how the light falls on your subject.
Equipment used for photo: Nikon D90, 18-200mm VR Nikkor lens