Monochrome in Nepal

Two years ago when Maxby and I mooted the concept of a two days workshop followed by a week long photo hunting safari in an exotic location, our aim was to try and help raise the standard of photography of PhotoMalaysia members. We called the unique joint learning experience the PhotoMalaysia PhotoSafari Experience, or PMPE for Short.The rationale was simple enough.

Artists spend years in Art School learning their craft, but photographers tend to simply throw money at expensive equipment, and then they muddled through the learning process, making bad photos and big mistakes for years before they begin to see the light.

The PhotoMalaysia PhotoSafari Experience was intended to help dramatically compress the photography learning process by equipping participants with a better and deeper understanding of Photography, and providing them a secret recipe, and mental templates, for shooting exquisite pictures. At the two days workshops we elaborate on tips and tricks which Photography proes use to shoot pictures. We discuss Frame Dynamics, eye flow, and frame structure. We teach digital post processing and image archiving strategies. We go deep into how to compose pictures, how to shoot the different genres of photography like Street Shooting, Travel Photography, Landscapes, B&W, in-studio Portraiture, Sports, etc., and how to create mental templates for shooting compelling photographs.

More than 500 PhotoMalaysia members have benefitted from the PMPE, and you can view online, their superb photos in the Coffee Table Books we publish and print on demand online to showcase their work after each photosafari. To encourage PMPE participants to shoot better pictures, starting from PMPE7 we have initiated a closed photo competition among participants of each PMPE. The best photo from each PMPE can win really valuable prizes such as Leica Cameras, Gitzo tripods, iPads, iPods, etc.. The Leica camera sponsored by Schmidt as the prize for the PMPE7 competition was won by Khair Mahfar. You can see the pictures submitted for this competition in this YouTube Video.

Last week we completed the 8th Edition of the PMPE in the Annapurna Range of the Himalayas in Nepal, and I’d like to share a few of my humble pictures from that PMPE here. You can see more pictures shot by participants of the Annapurna Trek HERE.

Nepal and the Himalayas is one of the places that everyone should go to at least once in their lives…..for its scenery, its culture, its people and of course its challenges. You need a strong heart and an even stronger mind to complete a trek in the Himalayas. Under the stress of a tortuous climb, many people learn things that they didn’t know about themselves. But standing in awe in the shadow of one of God’s greatest creations, such as Mt Annapurna, the 10th highest mountain in the world, you cannot but realize how small you are in the overall scheme of things. And the Kathmandu Valley is an amazing historical treasure trove for photographers. I shall be posting more pictures but in this initial tranche, I’d like to share a few of the hundreds of pictures of Nepalis I shot. Many Nepalis know Malaysia intimately as there are thousands of them that have worked in Malaysia. If you say you are a Malaysian, chances are great that you’ll be greeted with a very warm Apa Kabar greeting instead of the more usual Namaste.

I shot this thirsty boy who asked a sidewalk tea seller for some water to drink. When prowling the streets for photos, I try to be alert to these kind of moments.


The wealth of religious architecture in Kathmandu is stunning. There is the Hilltop Swayambhunath Temple in the west of Kathmandu while Pashupatinath and the huge Bodhnath Stupa are just east of the city. At all these temples there are prayer wheels which devotees turn as they pass. Apparently these prayer wheels contain thousands of incantations on holy paper, and the act of turning them is supposed to amplify a devotee’s own prayers. I caught the hand of this child, in his mother’s arms, turning a heavy prayer wheel that is even bigger than himself.


This monk made a ghostly appearance as he emerges from bright sunlight into the many passageways that radiate from the Bodhnath Stupa.


This is a pilgrim at the Bodhnath Stupa. In the Temple, many pilgrims wail and cry as they ask for forgiveness probably for sins committed in the past. I was captivated by this woman’s worried expression and I wondered what could possibly be in her head as she passed by a majestic statue of the Buddha looking down at her..


She probably didn’t like me taking her picture, but the light and her expression were priceless, so I went ahead and shot her picture anyway. As photographers we often agonize about shooting pictures where it is not allowed or where its not ethically right to do so. But I have a photographer’s heart beating inside of me, and ethics is relative. Its only a photograph, for goodness sake. Bigger crimes against humanity have been committed by the past and present presidents of the US and their lap dogs Prime Ministers in the UK and elsewhere. My policy is to shoot first and deal with the consequences later. If they insist that I erase the pictures I’ve shot, I will happily do so in front of them. And if I want the pictures bad enough, every digital-savvy photography knows that deleted images recovery software is free. Just remember that once you’ve erased the images on your CF or SD card, put them aside. And in the comfort and privacy of your room, you’ll be able to easily recover 110% of the images you’ve deleted. If you have reservations about these kind of moralities then Street Photography is probably not for you, and you should simply stay at home and continue shooting pictures only of your kids and your ma-in-law.


When out shooting I always advise participants of the PMPE to shoot in both a horizontal and vertical format, and to shoot in RAW. That way, when you are back in the comfort of your house, you can mull over which format will suit the scene better. If you are thinking of selling your photos and you want a chance to make the front page of a magazine cover, a portrait or vertical format is better, and you should shoot loose so that the magazine editor will have some flexibility to place copy within your frame. I cringe a little when I hear many old school photographers somewhat disdainfully proclaiming that they like to get it right in the camera. We all do too, but unfortunately not all of us are blessed with the skills necessary to do that all the time. In the days of transparencies and film that was what separated the skilled from the not so skilled, but these days with RAW and 25 Megapixels common, and 60 MP available with Medium formats, and Potatochop at your beck and call on your PC/Macs at home, its a slightly more level playing field. You no longer need to shackle yourself to the old school of thinking. Post processing tools are God’s gift to modern photographers. Although you should try and get it right in the camera, you should also shoot with specific intent to post process for those occasions when its impossible to get it perfect in camera, or when the scene begs for photo-stitching. We are so blessed these days, compared to the unfortunate film shooters of old who had to live and learn to cope with Neanderthal photographic technology. As I’m not very good at composing on the fly, I find shooting loose and shooting the same scene in both Vertical and horizontal formats, and shooting with stitching or cropping in mind, gives me much flexibility to consider several framing possibilities in the unhurried comfort of my study. In fact for some special scenes and subjects, I even regularly shoot 30°Overlap vertical and horizontal panoramas, including bracketing. Here is the same scene shot in both vertical and horizontal formats.


Our eyes will often find comfort in a photo when the photographer has seen, and has used divisions, flow, structure and graphic elements within a frame. If you arrange your content within graphic shapes such as rectangles, squares, triangles or circles, you can help organize your composition and your viewer will respond well to such familiar shapes. This picture has an old man on one side juxtaposed with a life like mannequin of a little boy on the other. They are enclosed within rectangles and there is good flow between them. I liked the reflections of the buildings across the street in the shop window where the boy mannequin is located. If I didn’t explain they were reflections, I would imagine my viewers will pause a while to try and make out how the image of the buildings came to be there behind the boy. In an image, one of our objective should be to try and catch a viewer’s attention such that he will pause a while trying to figure what is in our image. When he discovers what it was that puzzled him, it gives him a bit of satisfaction, just a bit more than what a straight forward picture usually does. When he discovers our intent, that is the moment of remote contact we’ve established with him. Its what separates an unthinking snapshot from a planned and carefully executed perspective. The ramp also serves as a good lead in line towards the man on the right. The stairs in my colour picture of the Boudhanath stupa in the next post also does the same thing.


This is a frame within a frame. I spotted this father and son in bright sunlight as I was walking out of the darkness of our lodging house high up in the Annapurna range.


And this is a shot of a very, very tired Khair as he trods along the track high up in the Annapurna Range. Khair shoots with a Leica M9 and he says in these rarefied atmosphere, even the Leica seemed to weigh a ton. The brighter path with the Rhodendron shrubs on the right and the darkened shadows on the left gives this picture a good structure and flow line. If you want good Black and white images with your digital camera, you have to see a scene in actual B&W at the time of shooting. I’ve found that it helps a lot if you switch your camera’s LCD monitor to display in B&W, so you can actually see the tones, the structure and the subtle shades of light and shadows while shooting, instead of trying to imagine and to guess what it couldd be like in B&W.


These are just a few of the 130 Gigs of pictures I shot during PMPE8. I’ll try and post some more when I’ve had time to look through my Hard Disk. But I’m going to be quite tied up the next few months.

Next week PMPE9 will go to Pachu Jawi in Sumatra to shoot the Bull Race there. PMPE 10 in June will be on Komodo Island to shoot the famed Komodo Dragons. And PMPE 11 in July/August will be a photographic safari through Kazakstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, with PMPE 12 in October 2011 being held once again in late autumn, in Northern Xinjiang Uyghur, and the Taklimakan Desert along the Old Silk Road. We are also mulling a PMPE 12 into the -20°C winter in Harbin.

Later this month on 24th April I’m off to Africa for just under three months, to drive a 4×4 for 14000 km from Cape Town to Cairo where I’m also the OP tasked with shooting pictures and writing a book on that adventure. Its an 80 days expedition and I’ll only be back in July. While in Africa I’ll take the opportunity to also do a recce for a PMPE 13 or 14 in Africa next year. It would be great to give PM members a chance to shoot the daily drama of life and death in Kenya and Tanzania, in the Serengeti, the Masai Mara and the Ngorongoro Crater where the annual wilderbeest migration is probably one of life’s most awesome spectacle to see and to shoot… Most of the animals in the Game Parks of South Africa, such as the Kruger National Park, the Mfolozi, the Hluhluwe, etc have already been eaten by tourists frequenting exotic meat restaurants in South Africa, so we wont do a PMPE to those Game Parks where well heeled tourists go.

Trekking in the Himalayas in Nepal is not for the faint hearted, but if you can train yourself to survive the Trek, you will be rewarded with amazing Himalayan vistas and compelling human subjects. And of course Street shooting in Kathmandu and Pokhara can also very rewarding. You’ll have to wait till the Coffee Table Book for PMPE8 is ready to see the best photos from the participants of PMPE8.

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