Tag: people

A Taste of Burma: My Adventures as a Photographer in Myanmar

If you asked most people to locate Burma (Myanmar) on a map they wouldn’t be able to. I fit into this category and visiting this country had never even crossed my mind. I knew nothing about the country, culture or what to even expect. This all changed when two of my friends who are currently learning Burmese asked if I wanted to join them for a week to visit the countries capital, Yangon. I immediately booked the ticket without even doing any prior research. Little did I know it would become one of my favorite places that I’ve had the pleasure of visiting in Asia.

The Atmosphere

When visiting most major cities you can immediately sense the influence of western culture. You can see how it affects the way people dress, the way people act and their food. It’s almost like many cultures have lost a sense of their own identity as a result of the far-reaching effects of western influences.

When I landed in Yangon, I was expecting to see this right after I landed at the airport. To my surprise, I didn’t. The way people dressed, the food and the way the people acted impressed on my mind that they were, in fact, a unique people.  A people that still had an understanding of who they were apart from the rest of the world.


The first thing that stands out is the way they dress. Both the men and women wear a traditional type of clothing called a Longyi. They come in a variety of different materials and patterns. It is a very respectful yet beautiful style in my opinion, especially on the women. Both men and women dress in this manner even when they are spending leisure time with their families or doing normal daily tasks.

As an example, I took a local 3-hour train ride that went through the countryside. The train was mainly filled with farmers and monks but most of them still seemed to be dressed as if they were on their way to a special occasion. We would stop at a random farmers market in the middle of nowhere and they would still be dressed like this. It seems to be standard procedure.


The next thing that stood out to me was the food. It was beautiful blend of Indian and Asian flavors. Around every corner, you could smell something that would make you hungry, even if you’ve already eaten. As a general rule of them, even if you know nothing about the area, find a place that’s packed with locals and you’ll be in for a treat.

How to Photograph People in Burma

People in foreign countries usually love it when a foreigner puts in the effort to learn their local language. Usually, it will end up in them wanted to give you some pointers or in some instances them wanting to actually give you food or a gift of some sort. The goal is to show respect and to try and elicit a smile. Once you’ve got these two things you’re golden.

With that being said, the first thing I learned in Burmese was, “Can I take your picture?” I would walk up to people, smile, show them my camera and repeat the phrase until they could understand me.

Most of the time they would smile and laugh as if what I was asking was some sort of privilege for them. Sometimes they would even grab their friends or ask someone for advice on how they can pose. After a photo was taken I would usually show them the photo. It was almost a way to say thank you and they always seemed to appreciate it.



Thinking back, I think I only got turned down twice the entire week I was there. I can’t state it enough, the people are so incredibly kind. Their kindness comes across even without speaking to them, it’s quite amazing.

If you’re looking for more candid natural expressions, one method that gets consistent results is using your flip out LCD on your camera if you have one. Find a very crowded area where you won’t stand out. Keep your camera below your face and look down at your LCD screen and just shoot as people pass by. No one seems to mind or even notice you. They think you’re either looking at your camera settings or photographing something else.


If you ever get a chance to travel to this part of the world don’t hesitate! Get out there and try to soak up as much as you can from this wonderful and interesting place known as Burma.

Keep learning and have fun!


The Power of Seeing Monochrome: Tones of Black and White

Colors have a way to give you a bright and cheerful feeling. There is just something about a photo that speaks colors. It brings out that energy and brightens up your day with it. Did you know that even photos in Black and White/Monochrome can intrigue you?


Black and White definitely gives you a retro feeling of the olden days, when photographers like Andre Kertesz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Fan Ho created wonderful artistic memories. At the same time, in current times you will find many photographers including myself, trying to experiment shooting or even editing in Black and White to create a different moment with a touch of the past.

How do we find the right photo to edit in Black and White? Or maybe capture a moment in Black and White?

In a recent assignment titled “Cities in Black and White” on National Geographic by Matt Adams, I tried to experiment and submit to the assignment. We were allowed to edit photos into black and white. In the assignment, Matt gave us a guide as to what to see or how to find the right photo to edit. It was not easy to choose the colored photos to transform them in Black and White yet, it was a fun learning experience. It has also continued to help and guide me to keep improving and trying out various edits to get the right tones of Black and White.


Seeing through black and white can be a challenge but it can be simple. We have been quite accustomed to having the option of shooting in color that when looking at black and white it feels too plain. It is in that simplicity that many great moments have been created in the past and even today.

The photo above has been shot in pure black and white. There was the “Weekend Hashtag Project WHP” on Instagram at the time titled “Shadows and Light” if I recall correctly. This project helped me to experiment capturing in black and white. I saw the chair and the sunlight during the day was pretty good to create a shadow effect. From a particular angle, I captured the shot, to portray the serenity of the moment using the chair as my object.

We now turn to comparing between color and monochrome photos to see how editing and conversion can also bring out a good black and white tone to photos.



This prominent red colored photo of an art gallery brings the moment to life with the red, the artwork and the structures. I chose this photo to transform it into black and white. As you will see once transformed, there is a completely new sense of the moment. Everything is the same the artwork, structure, and perspective. We can’t say that color is missing as the essence is the same. It is now just a matter of personal preference.



In this photo, the raindrops with the bluish green background bring the raindrops to life with every detail of it. After we convert it to black and white we can see not just the raindrops are alive but every single aspect of the photo is visible. There is complete clarity. The black and white is my personal preference as it defines what I wanted to capture the moment.



Walking around Patan Durbar Square, Nepal this scene was quite pleasant. The details of the wonderful palace building with the sunlight blue skies and people walking around created a lovely moment. Capturing this in color and after a while transforming it to black and white, made the moment feel more captivating. The details of every aspect pop out more through monochromatic tones.



The insides of Patan Museum, Nepal was a feast for the eyes. The architecture and intricacy kept me fascinated looking for various aspects to capture this royal beauty. As we entered, without thinking I just clicked this scene of the girl standing and people sitting around. After completing the National Geographic assignment, I tried experimenting by converting this image to black and white and turns out the transformed version is much better. It focuses completely on the girl standing thus, creating a complete moment around it.


This moment was another pure black and white capture inside a Cathedral. The lighting inside was perfect to bring out the details and the black and white tones defined this moment entirely.



Lastly, through this patterned inside ground of Istiqlal Mosque, we can see how the colors combined with the skies form symmetry. Patterns can help to define black and white tones in moments more. Changing the image to black and white gives it a refined touch where all the lines and structure come in harmony together.

There is no perfect combination or formula to doing it right, just simply practicing. Fan Ho said, “it was always his goal to wait for the lighting and composition to fall into place when photographing.” That could be our benchmark when capturing in monochrome. As for editing, there could be many things we can take into consideration like patterns, structure, architecture or even people. It really all depends on finding the right balance and tones to convert it. Requires a lot of trial and error to get what you are looking for in the photo.


Monochrome will continue to be something we experiment on as we do not have the limit of films and that is what makes it a challenge. The questions of how did they do it in the past? How did they learn the balance of composition? The simplicity and limit enhanced their creativity to get it right. They were able to capture the essence of what composition is not quickly, but smoothly. With color, it can feel like we have more distractions when focusing on an object or moment. Both has its positives, eventually, the choice is ours to make and create photos to share and inspire.

Discussing the beauty of portraits with photographer Bluewaterandlight

Ben, also known as bluewaterandlight, is a talented portrait photographer from Germany. His interest in people is very evident in his images, which vary from heartwarming portraits to emotional works of art. In this interview, Ben talks about his working process, how he feels about human interactions, and what he believes aspiring photographers should know. Please enjoy this fascinating conversation.

Tell us a little about yourself and what you do.

Hey, my name is Benjamin, but I prefer Ben. I’m a portrait & people photographer from Germany. I wanted a new toy to play with, which I couldn’t understand directly, so at Christmas, in 2014 I decided to buy a camera. And the journey began. Since I got this camera I knew I wanted to photograph people, but my introversion and shyness made it impossible. But with every little step, I noticed more and more that I must photograph people and not landscapes, so I spent time with other people and I found the most interesting thing in our world: humans.


Landscapes are really beautiful but without people they are dead. I’ve learned to see the beauty in every little piece of God’s nature. The beauty is there, everywhere. But unfortunately, most people can’t see it. If every earth inhabitant could see this beauty, we would not enslave and destroy our nature, but live in harmony with it.

Photography for me is the best therapy and way to express myself. When I am sad or full of anxiety I create a picture of myself or another person with these feelings and put all my sadness and anxiety in the picture and then my heart is ready for happiness and love. I love people and I think this gives me the power to work hard and follow my dream, to be a worldwide working photographer.

Your portfolio is filled with gorgeous portraits. How do you make your models feel comfortable in front of your camera?

I start my photo shoots with a hug for my models to create a friendship. I’m really interested in people and this is one of the reasons my pictures look so natural. During the shoot, we talk a lot about life, love, anxiety and other things. My shoots look like this: two friends talking about their life and creating “a few” pictures.


In addition to being sharp and well-lit, your photos are beautifully edited. What does your editing process consist of?

My editing process begins during the shoot. I alway try to get the perfect exposure directly in the camera. Great make-up is also very helpful. At home, I import my pictures to Lightroom and choose the best pictures, if I didn’t do that already at the location together with the model. Then I import my/our favorites to Affinity Photo to edit the skin and if necessary, I remove distracting elements. Then I go back to Lightroom and edit the color, brightness, etc. Here I use my own or the VSCO presets.

Many of your images were shot using a limited amount of light. What do you think is the most important thing to consider when shooting in darker locations?

Shootings at dark locations are really hard because my Canon 6D’s autofocus isn’t good, and at dark locations, it’s extremely bad. So I mostly focus with manual focus and focus peak (Magic Lantern). Often, I use a reflector or even a flash. Many people don’t like noise/grain, but I love it because it gives the portrait a bit of a painting and creates a symbiosis between the model and the background.


Are there any photography genres you’d like to experiment with more?

In the future, I want to take more “Fine Art” pictures because I want to tell the world what’s in my mind. I want to travel more to talk with people all over the world and take pictures with them. And I would love if I find a model to take pictures of her/him crying, it’s one of the strongest feelings.

What do you find most challenging about portrait photography?

For me, people photography is the masterclass of photography. It’s extremely hard to make people familiar with you and your work and make them trust you. In my preparation for a photo shoot, I listen to my “power playlist” to give myself certainty that the photo shoot will be awesome. You should create your own “power playlist” filled with songs which give you energy and self-confidence.



If an aspiring photographer asked you for advice, what would you tell them?

  • Follow your heart, don’t give a shit on what other people think.
  • If something doesn’t work, wait a bit, try it later and get some rest. But never give up!
  • Use music to make the emotion more intense (a mobile music box with Bluetooth and battery is helpful.) Classic music, for example, can slow down the space around you and help you see through chaos.
  • Write down your ideas and thoughts in a notebook. If you don’t, you will forget them.
  • Don’t look at cameras, lens or other gear. It’s not important. The image in your mind, your ideas and people are important.

You’re a fan of black & white photography. What do you find most appealing about it?

Black and white photography is the origin of photography and the most natural photography. It puts my focus on the model/subject and away from color. For me, it’s the essence of photography. It makes the light and structure more important.


If you could meet your favorite artist and ask them 3 photography-related questions, what would they be?

  1. What’s your story?
  2. Why do you do your photography the way you do it?
  3. How do you handle anxiety and depression?

What has been your most challenging creative obstacle so far, and how did you overcome it?

Every single time, it’s hard to transfer the image from your mind to the reality. My most challenging picture was the picture of my best friend Ante. I was inspired by the pictures of “omerika” (https://www.instagram.com/omerika/).

The act of sleeping fascinated me all time because during sleep you solve problems you can’t understand in the real world. During sleep, you can be every person you want. You can be an astronaut, race car driver, a bird and even the doctor (knock, knock. Who is there? Doctor! Doctor Who? Correct. 😛 ) In this picture I wanted to create a symbiosis between a sleeping girl and mother nature. First, I tried to use a tree as a symbol of “mother nature” but then I didn’t like the picture. So I put it away for a few days, and later I decided to use a forest and merge it. It was so beautiful. I love this image.



A few last words from the photographer:

Don’t do what other people want you to do. Do what you love and never give up!
“The limits in photography are in yourself, for what we see is only what we are.” -Ernst Haas
Good light and great ideas,
With love, Ben 

You can find more of Ben’s work on his website and Instagram.


Shooting a portrait in 15 minutes – Gear Overview

A new beginning

The wonderful people at Sleeklens have invited me to share my thoughts and experiences as a freelance photographer working in London. I will endeavor to do this several times a month, and for my first correspondence, I thought I would introduce myself so you will hopefully get an idea of what I love about photography and how my life as a working photographer unfolds.

My name is Matt Writtle and I’ve been working professionally for over twenty years. I have been seen quite a lot of changes, from bulk loading Ilford HP5 film and shooting with an old Nikon FM2, to shooting most of my work now on a Leica M (240) digital. I prefer digital now, controversial I know, but I have never been the most patient of people and the majority of my work is to shoot portraits and features for newspapers such as the Daily Telegraph and London Evening Standard.

To describe my work succinctly: I have to produce a studio quality portrait on location, in a venue I have never been to before, in less than thirty minutes.

Portrait of actress Andrea Risborough at the Mayfair Hotel, Piccadilly, London. PHOTO MATT WRITTLE Picture commissioned exclusively for the London Evening Standard. Use in another publication will require a fee.

Ninja Turtle

Nearly all portrait shots are time allocated and controlled by the public relations officer or “PR” for the subject. Consequently, time is tight and closely monitored. I normally get fifteen minutes, thirty if I’m lucky, so preparation is key. The best way to prepare is to correspond with the PR in advance of the shoot, and then arrive early. Thirty to forty-five minutes before the shoot is a good amount of time to recce the venue, mostly hotel rooms, lobbies or a theater, and ascertain how much available light there is and what set up to use.

Budgets are tight, photographic assistants on newspaper shoots are rare, and as technology has advanced so has the demise of manpower, so, I have to travel alone with all my equipment on my back. I wheel it all around in Think Tank Airport Security V2.0 and additionally, I now carry a 22inch beauty dish in an extra large drum cymbals case on my back, very useful case and vastly cheaper than photographic equivalents. I look like a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle going on holiday!

My two main light attachments are the dish and a Photek Softlighter II 46 inch. Presently, I use the dish as my key light, and should I need any shadow fill I use the Softlighter II (brolly box). I have to be mindful not to have too much darkness and contrast in the image as newsprint doesn’t reproduce blacks very well. I also have to consider house style: newspapers don’t want their images to be too moody and gloomy.

Commission May0066291 Assigned Portrait of former X-Factor contestant and pop star Fleur East at Sony BMG, High Street Kensington, west London. MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2015. Picture commissioned exclusively by the Telegraph Media Group. Use in another publication will require a fee.

War and Peace

On most shoots, I walk around the location and try to imagine how the subject will look in a scenario befitting of the angle of the interview. I tend to ask the PR to stand in for a light test. Exposure and mood created, I wait. Many people don’t consider how different each individual will look in the same light, and often, I have to modify the light to accommodate the star.

This was the case when I photographed actor Tom Burke (BBC’s War and Peace) recently for the Daily Telegraph. The shoot was at London’s Hampstead Theatre he was performing in, so, stairwell and lift lobbies were my backdrops. Ten minutes recce and he appeared. I keep things simple. The more complicated you try to make things, the more time you waste.

Set up one was at the top of some stairs with framed posters of previous actors who’ve starred at the theatre. I was thinking hall of fame and he was being inducted. Beauty dish key light, with a basic backlight to add mood and light the framed pictures.

Commission May0068723 Assigned Portrait of Actor Tom Burke who is appearing in Reasons To Be Happy at Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, north London. MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2016. Picture commissioned exclusively by the Telegraph Media Group. Use in another publication will require a fee.

Set up two was in a darkened lift lobby, but as Tom Burke is known for his brooding characters, I thought this quite fitting. Again, beauty dish key light, with a gentle amount of fill for shadows with the brolley box, all of which shot on my Leica M (240) with a 35mm f1.4 and 50mm f1.4 aspherical.

Commission May0068723 Assigned Portrait of Actor Tom Burke who is appearing in Reasons To Be Happy at Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage, north London. MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2016. Picture commissioned exclusively by the Telegraph Media Group. Use in another publication will require a fee.

‘Goodnight Mommy’

In addition to the technical, you have to get a famous or notorious person inside to produce the image you want. I would say it’s a challenging and tense situation. For those fifteen minutes, I channel my adrenaline, whilst being friendly and keeping the subject happy. At the same time, I make sure the image is focused, composed, exposed and the lighting suits the mood of the character, all while a PR is standing behind you counting down how much time you have left.

It can be frustrating, but only because you have unique access and often not enough time to do it justice. But when there is a connection, the shoot sparks into life and that’s when the magic happens.

This was apparent when I photographed the Austrian actress Susanne Wuest who starred in a horror film “Goodnight Mommy’ which has received critical acclaim. We met at her penthouse apartment at the old Arsenal FC football stadium, now flats. Having modelled before, I was optimistic the shoot would be successful. She was as enthusiastic as I and we connected on what we both wanted to achieve, which took place on her terrace against a beautiful blue early spring sky.

Set up one was just natural light shot on my Leica with a 35mm.

Portrait of Austrian actor Susanne Wuest at her apartment in Highbury, north London. MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2016. Picture commissioned exclusively by the London Evening Standard and ESL. Use in another publication will require a fee.

Set up two was on my Canon 5d mark III with a 24mm-70mm zoom. I metered for the natural light and then placed two Elinchrom Quadra heads, one with the beauty dish, one naked, at 45° angles to her and boom! I got my favourite shot.

Portrait of Austrian actor Susanne Wuest at her apartment in Highbury, north London. MUST CREDIT PHOTO MATT WRITTLE © copyright Matt Writtle 2016. Picture commissioned exclusively by the London Evening Standard and ESL. Use in another publication will require a fee.

Hope this guide has been useful for you as a brief panorama of how do we photographers suit our gear to match the different scenarios we may come across during our daily job. See you next time!