Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 51: FACES OF MYANMAR

If asked what I liked the most during my recent 12 day photo-adventure around Myanmar (Burma), it isn't the amazing sunrises over Bagan or photographing the Inle lake fishermen at sunset; it is the overall experience of photographing a few hundred people during my travels.

Now that the largest part of the image editing is completed, I can now formally launch a new "personal project" called: The Faces of Myanmar". The gallery which contains over 100 different faces, is a tribute to the people of Burma, which after have been suppressed for all these years, seem never to loose hope! 

I'm presently working on a slideshow with the 30 or so strongest images of the collection. Once done, I'll post a link here. I'm not sure which direction this project will further go to, but I've been playing with the idea of a self-published book. Time will tell!

Even though, some of the ladies can initially be somewhat shy, the large majority of the Burmese people just love to be photographed. Something I've rarely seen anywhere else...

To represent the whole collection, I elected to make a diptych of two images that best represent the personal project and that work well together...

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The first one of the little girl, was shot on a farmers field between the villages of Aungpan and Pindaya in the Shan state. I will never forget the experience; the child which was patiently sitting against the wheel of an ox-cart while its parents were harvesting wheat. She looked up to me and immediately give me this natural pose. Being in a remote part of Burma, I'm pretty sure that this was not something trained by tourists! It looked like her mum was as surprised as I was about the pose!

The second one which I titled "Non for life", was shot at the Pho Wing Taung cave pagodas near Monywa. 

Given the two extremes in age, I find that the two images are complimentary to each other.

Image 1 details (girl on farm field):
Fujifilm X-T1 with the Fujinon XF50-140 f2.8
ISO 500, 110mm (166mm full frame equivalent), f5.6, 1/250s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.7
Nik ColorEfex pro for contrast enhancement

Image 2 details (non for life):
Fujifilm X-T1 with the Fujinon XF50-140 f2.8
ISO 320, 140mm (210mm full frame equivalent), f3.6, 1/250s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.7
Nik ColorEfex pro for contrast and detail enhancement

For the ones that missed it, make sure you check out the three part series I blogged about the trip: part 1, part 2 and part 3.

It is no secret that part of the high quality of most of the Faces of Myanmar images comes, from the amazing new XF 50-140 f2.8 lens. To check out my "in the field review" on the lens, click here.

I would like to finish with a quote of the most famous lady in Burma, Aung San Suu Kyi, "You should never let your fears prevent you from you think is right".

Happy shooting,
BJORN









Monday, December 15, 2014

Myanmar (Burma) - Travel photography paradise - (Part 3 Bagan and Inle lake)

When planning my travels, I'm often try to have the most spectacular and interesting places towards the end of the trip and this how it worked out again during my latest photo-adventure to Myanmar (Burma)! I often find myself needing a few days to fully "get into the zone" during these longer photo-adventures.

BAGAN
In the last part of my Myanmar blog-series, we first will be visiting the ancient city of Bagan (Pagan); From the 9th till the 13th centuries, the city was the capital of the Kingdom of Pagan, the first Kingdom that did unify the regions and that would eventually become modern Myanmar.

Moonrise over Dhammayan Gyi Temple,  Bagan

During the height of the Kingdom between the 11th and 13th century, more than 10.000 temples, pagodas and monasteries were built in the plains of Bagan. Today over 2200 remain in a surprisingly good condition! 

Bagan at dawn

I briefly explained in my "Pic(k) of the week 49: Balloons over Bagan" post how balloons have almost become a synonym to Bagan... 

Balloon over misty Bagan at sunset

The mystique atmosphere, as one is climbing a temple in the pitch dark, in order to be ready to shoot at first light, is something that will stay with me forever. If at all possible try to witness the beauty of Bagan in silence! This is exactly what we did on the second morning, when we went to a place which had very few tourists till well after sunrise.

Bagan silhouette at sunset

Once the best light is gone and the early morning mist clears, there are plenty of other great photo-opportunities in the neighbourhood; markets and daily life all scream to be photographed!

Collecting food for the cows near Bagan

Having tea at the local cafe in Aungpan

After two full days in this magical place, we flew to Heho, the gateway to Inle Lake. The first night in the Shan state, we stayed in Kalaw; a small hill station which used to be popular by the colonial British who wanted to escape the heat. And yes, with night temperatures below 10C, we surely needed a jacket during the early morning hours!

Playing with fire near Kalaw

INLE LAKE
Beside Bagan (Pagan), Inle Lake is the other must see place in Myanmar! As the second largest lake in Burma, this mountain lake (880m/2900ft elevation) is especially known for its one leg rowing fishermen.

Balancing act by Inle lake fisherman

The vast majority of the fishermen now use classic fishing nets, but a few still use the old cage fishing technique. We did manage to photograph a duo at work just before sunset on the last day we were there.  

Inle lake fishermen at sunset silhouette
The technique consists of lowering a cage into the shallow waters and then using a spear through the top hole in order to finish of the catch. 

CONCLUSION
The one hour boat ride across Inle lake at dawn, the morning we left Myanmar (Burma), was a perfect time to reflect on the last 12 days... 

A misty morning on Inle lake

As I explained in part 1 of the series, Myanmar has been high on my bucket list for a long time. Even though there is much more to see, the two weeks allowed us to see a big part of the country. Even though not cheap, it's definitively a photo-adventure I can recommend to all travel photographers. You are better off doing it earlier than later, as the country is clearly at the start of a big transformation!

For a country that has suppressed its people for such a long time, the friendliness of the people is really what made this experience so special. Expect an announcement of a personal project around this, in the next few days! 

Having done a total of 7 flights, staying in 7 different hotels; it was a busy two weeks. I obviously have only blogged the highlights here. For a more complete experience, please check out a gallery with over 160 images of the trip here.

Remember: "The World is a book and those who do not travel, read only one page" - St Augustine

BJORN

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Pic(k) of the week 50: Oxen plowing in Mandalay (Myanmar)

When I blogged part 2 of my travels through Myanmar earlier this week, I left one image out of the blogpost on purpose... 

On of my favourite images of the few days we photographed in the Mandalay region, is the one below of a farmer plowing a field with an oxen team. I particularly like how the early morning sun falls on his face, while two ladies are patiently waiting on his side. To me it completely reflects the peaceful and relaxed feeling I had while making the image! 

Oxen plowing in Mandalay (Myanmar)

Image details:
Fujifilm X-T1 with the 50-140 f2.8 lens
ISO 400, 102mm (153mm full frame equivalent), f5.6, 1/250s
RAW development in Lightroom 5.7
Nik ColorEfex Pro4 for contrast enhancement

Remember: "You will never plough a field by turning it over in your mind" - Irish saying


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Myanmar (Burma) - Travel photography paradise - (Part 2 Mandalay)

In part 2 of the Myanmar photo-adventure series, we leave Yangon (Rangoon) and fly 750km North towards Mandalay; the second largest city and often referred to as the cultural capital. 

Stupa entrance at Palaik

One of the first places we stopped at, after our 1hr early morning flight from Yangon, was Palaik. With over 300 stupas dating back between the 9th and 11th century, the place had a bit of an Angkor Wat feel; I was far more interested in the ruins than the somewhat cheesy "Snake Pagoda".

I don't know what exactly it is that gives Buddhist monks this mystique feel, but it is hard not to make an image if one comes across one... 

Queuing at Mahagandayon Monastery

Even though, we actively tried avoiding the places that were packed with tourists, the Mahagandayon Monastery at Amarapura close to Mandalay was the exception. Around 10h30, over 2000 monks all stand in line to have their last meal of the day. An impressive sight but because of the hundreds of tourists not really my cup of tea!

Buddhism is very much present all over Myanmar and the Mandalay region was clearly no exception. A lot of the Buddha statues (they call them images), are being made in the region. 

Making a Buddha

Because the head of Buddha has very different expressions depending who is paying for it, it is often the last thing that is done! Overall some serious craftsmanship!

Marble buddha waiting for a head

The most photographed bridge in Burma is without doubt, the U Bein bridge; a 1.2km bridge built around 1850, which is believed to be the longest teakwood bridge in the world. 

Monk crossing the U Bein bridge

It is an important passageway for local people and a place where people just hangout.

On the look-out at Ubein bridge

While photographing close to the river at Mandalay, we saw a ship being loaded with gravel. I was surprised about the large amount of females taking part in this all manual hard labour! Clearly male and female are equal in Burma!

Loading a ship at Ayeyarwadi river, Myanmar

The absence of tractors and machinery is something else that stands out from what we are used to see in the more developed countries. Somehow it felt like going back to the thirties back home... 

Oxen working a field (front)

Even taxi's were a bit different...

Mingun taxi at work

Much more interesting than the one we visited on the morning of our first day in Manadalay, was a visit to the small wooden Bagayar monastery at Ava. I hang around for quite a while and only once the young novices were used to my presence, I started photographing them. Once I saw the window light falling on this little boy studying, I knew I had a keeper! He seemed so concentrated that he didn't even notice me making his image.

Novice stuyding at Bagayar Monastery

I'll conclude part 2 with an image from the Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya temple in Monywa; half a million Buddha images in one place!

Thousands of Buddhas at Mohnyin Thambuddhei Paya in Monywa

In the final part of the blog-series we will visit the most known places of Burma; Bagan and Inle Lake...

Till then,
Happy shooting,
BJORN

Saturday, December 6, 2014

FUJIFILM X-SYSTEM USERS GUIDE - FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER

A few months ago, I got an email from US photographer Bill Fortney; with his 45 years of professional photography experience Bill is no lightweight! Beside being a great photographer and pilot, he's also a writer and highly sought after presenter in the photography circuit.



His most famous books, such as The Nature of America, America from 500 feet I and II, are all on my photography bookshelf. Having sold more than 150.000 copies of his books, he is one of America's best selling photography authors!

Anyway, back to the email... Bill was planning on writing an eBook about his switch to the Fujifilm X-series system and asked yours truly, to be one of the featured X-series photographers in the last chapter of the book... Would I be interested? Of course Bill! 

To be featured next to top class photographers like Jack Graham, Tony Sweet, Zach Arias, David Hobby, Brad MikelRC Conception and more; what an honour!

Yesterday, the 207 page eBook which has some great photographs and useful info, was launched. For under 10USD, the Fujifilm X-system Users guide is a bargain and definitively worth checking out; whether you are an existing X-shooter or somebody interested in what the system can do for you!

Here are my four pages of fame in the eBook:






Thanks Bill!