The Visual Advocate Blog


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February 2012 Wallpaper and a Thinktank Photo Streetwalker giveaway!

I have been meaning to get this wallpaper up for a couple of weeks, but have felt more inclined to write about other things. Nevertheless, I finally decided to just bite the bullet, so here it is.

I made this image early one morning in Varanasi, India while I was teaching the NGO staff I was working with to single out simple frames amidst the constant chaos and complexity of places like Varanasi, India. Enjoy!

Be looking for the giveaway of one fabulous Thinktank Photo Streetwalker backpack in the next week or so!

Also I wanted to let you know that in the next week-and-a-half, I will be giving away a Thinktank Photo Streetwalker backpack to one lucky and random winner thanks to my great friends at Thinktank Photo!

If you want to be included in this random giveaway, leave a comment on this post sometime over the next week-and-a-half and tell me why you think you deserve this stellar bag.

Good luck yall!

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What a difference a pack makes: A review of the ThinkTank Streetwalker Pro

The Thinktank Streewalker Pro

I have long been a fan of Thinktank Photo bags and on this last trip to India, I took a Thinktank Streetwalker Pro backpack as my main pack for transporting my gear from the hotel to the various villages in which we were shooting each day.

The Thinktank Photo Streetwalker Pro has comfortable straps, a great airflow channel and easily adjustable hipbelt which make it very comfortable!

Not only was the pack easy to load and access, it was super comfortable! Even when I had it full of gear and a full-size tripod on, it didn’t feel that heavy because of the comfort of the straps and the hipbelt.

The pop out Tripod cup on the Streetwalker Pro came in handy for carrying my large tripod.

While I didn’t always have my tripod with me on our shoots, there a few days that I threw it on the Streetwalker Pro. When I did it was so nice to have the tripod cup and straps which were just perfect for my Manfrotto Tripod.

The pockets on the Thinktank Streetwalker Pro are spacious and each to access

Another feature I loved was all the accessible pockets, both in and outside the pack. I used the pockets on the inside for things that I would need quick access to and the outside pockets for things like memory Cards, extra batteries and filters.

The Thinktank Streetwalker Pro is big enough inside to fit most 400 2.8 lenses and a pro DSLR. I used it two carry two bodies, a 16-35mm 2.8, a 24-70mm 2.8 and lots of other stuff!

The inside of the Thinktank Streetwalker Pro is very spacious and allows for lots of various configurations. During my assignment I carried two pro DSLR camera bodies, a 16-35mm 2.8, a 24-70mm 2.8, a 50mm 1.4, a flash unit, a car reader and other accessories. I loved being able to carry all my gear and still have room left over!

If you are looking for a mid-size pack that can carry a lot of gear, make sure to check out this pack! You won’t be disappointed. For those of you are wanting to purchase this or other ThinkTank Photo products, use this link to get get some free gear when you buy $50 or more!


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Getting high, down and dirty and everything in between!

They say those who can't do teach, but I had fun doing and teaching on this trip.

There were many enjoyable things about this last assignment to India. However, one the most enjoyable elements of the trip for me was getting the opportunity to train some of the staff of the organization I was working for to be better visual communicators and storytellers.

While everyone owned Digital SLR’s and had experimented a little with photography, none of them had ever given much thought to crafting images. Instead, like most people, they just walked around pointing their camera at things that caught their attention and taking pictures.

So over the two weeks we talked about a few core things over and over again that would help them create stronger images and visual stories. One of the things I encouraged them to do at almost  every one our nightly image reviews was to experiment with different points of view. As I did this I would highlight a series of images of one subject that I shot from a variety of points of view. Like most concepts that we talked about, intellectually they got it right away, but it took a few days of reminders from me for them to actually start varying the way they shot images.

For this image I had to literally get down and dirty. The Indian villagers watching us thought it was hilarious that an American would actually lay down in the dirt!

Even for me when I am in the heat of the moment I have to remind myself to not settle for shooting a scene from just one point of view. As much as I can I will experiment with getting up above my subject, getting down low (even lying in the dirt if necessary sometimes!) and everything in between. Then at the end of the day I can look through the images I created from the variety of points of view and choose which one I feel best expresses how I was feeling and experiencing the moment and what I was trying to communicate about my subject.

I created a number of images from different points of view of this particular scene. I liked this one shot from above because I was able to get their waving hands of the kids in front and still all of the kids in the frame.

So don’t be afraid to get high, down and dirty and anything and everything in between. I am confident if you take the time and initiative to mix up the point of views from which you are shooting images, you are going to have a lot more fun and create much stronger images.

Whenever I am creating portraits of children, I like to experiment with getting down on their level.


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India: Reflections on an assignment

I was meaning to write this post as soon as I got back, but alas the tyranny of more urgent things has kept me from it until now. In short, the trip was great!

I loved getting to eat with local Indians almost every day as we worked in their villages, I loved getting to make a total fool of myself to get my subjects to loosen up and smile, I loved getting to train some of the staff of this organization to be better visual storytellers, and I just loved the challenge of constantly trying to create the strongest and most visually and emotionally compelling images I could!

For those of you out there who long to do this kind of work, I wanted to share some things I was reminded of again on this trip:

  • Always bring back up gear-While I was doing some personal shooting in Delhi before the assignment began my 16gb card all of a sudden stopped working. Though I had back ups, I went bought two more cards just so I had back ups for the back ups! None of us like to think about the possibility that our gear will fail just when we need it most, but this does happen so plan ahead and bring back up gear.
  • Don’t take yourself to seriously-One of my traits that most came in handy on this trip was the ability to make a fool of myself to make kids and adults crack a smile and sometimes even almost fall out of their chair from laughing so hard (that happened once!). We all want to be taken seriously as photographers and look professional and all, but the reality is that sometimes we have to do the funky chicken or make faces to get our subjects to loosen up. So next time your subject is totally stoic, try breaking out your best dance moves or silly faces.
  • Use whatever local language you know-I am embarrassed to confess that after 3 trips to India I still only know about 5 Hindi phrases. However, when I am in India, I use those 5 phrases like they are going out of style and you know what…almost everyone I meet loves it! So many times on this trip I had people comment on how much they loved to see an American trying to speak Hindi.  So the moral of the story is learn the local language the best you can and use it as much as possible.
  • Know your equipment-Don’t wait until you are getting paid for an assignment to figure out what your equipment can do and where all the buttons are on your camera! The time to experiment with your flash unit or various lenses is before you get in the heat of the moment. So many times on this assignment things were happening so fast in front of me and I am glad I practiced changing every feature on my camera without ever taking my eye away from the viewfinder while sitting on my couch a long time ago.
  • Dot the I’s and cross the T’s before the assignment begins-This group I was working for on this assignment had never hired a professional photographer before. While this did not result in any big problems, there were times we had to have talks about the proposal I wrote up and delivered before the assignment began because they were just used to getting free images from volunteers. In the end everything worked out, but you need to make sure that you have your ducks in a row so that you are prepared when you have to talk pricing, image licensing etc.
  • Under-promise and over-deliver-There is an old saying “Fake it until you make it”, but it is not the time to fake it when you are telling your potential client what you  can do for them. Do you need to sell yourself? Yes, absolutely, but don’t over-sell yourself. Be realistic about your skills and specialties and if what you have to offer doesn’t line up with what the client needs or wants have the courage and integrity to send them elsewhere. I have never had a client who has not loved the images and stories I produced for them. A major reason for this is because I have put in the time to hone my craft. However, another big part of this is that I have been honest and realistic about what I can offer.

Those are just a few reflections from this past trip. I would love to hear from you about things you have learned or been reminded of as it relates to international assignments. If there are things I didn’t touch on that you have questions about feel free to comment and I will respond to your question(s).


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Creating images and relationships

Yesterday I wrote a post about whether we ought to pay someone in developing countries to take their picture. A few different people wrote in with different ideas. Some talked about carrying a portable printer and printing off a picture for the person right there, which is a great way to honor them and give back in a healthy way.

The Pogo Printer is a great option for photographers wanting to give back.

Another healthy way to give back is to take the time to honor this person with your time. In my travels and work internationally, I have found that when I take the time out of my shooting schedule to sit and talk with people about their lives, it not only results in a richer cultural experience for me, but it also can lead to opportunities to create stronger images.

So next time you are traveling internationally with your camera, try to be more mindful about leaving space in your schedule to sit for a while and drink tea with someone and find out what matters to them. I can’t guarantee it but I am pretty sure that if you do, not only will your images be stronger, but you get to see another side of the person and culture that would have missed if you had hurried off.

This woman and her family wanted me to come to a wedding. I had to turn down the invitation because I was leaving Delhi, but I did take the time to hang out with them and it resulted in some fun images!

The icing on the cake would be if you get a Pogo-Printer and print off their picture for them right there! Not only will you be friends for life, but I bet they won’t ask you to pay them either. Its a win-win situation.

Happy shooting


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To Pay or not to pay: Should we pay to take someone’s picture?

If you have traveled probably almost anywhere in developing  countries as photographer you have probably been asked by someone for money to take their picture. If not, then you are either not being bold enough in approaching people or traveling in countries where they have never seen tourists!

Anyway, on my last trip to India I was asked by so many people who I approached to be paid! Having traveled through North India pretty extensively I have just made it a rule that I never give out money, for a picture or otherwise, except on rare occasions. While I have been swarmed by street kids and been chased by a kid who was trying to throw small boulders at me for not giving out money, I still don’t do it today.

Now, as I said there are rare exceptions to this. On my last day in India I was shopping for some family members and I saw an elderly gentleman without legs pulling himself along the street with a stick while he pushed his begging can ahead with one of his arms. As I watched this man for a few seconds, and then looked around to make sure there were no swarming packs of street kids with small boulders in their hands, I bent down and placed the 20 rupees in my hand into his can.

The other time I gave out money on this trip was actually for a photo, which was first for me. Now again as I said, I rarely do this and was even hesitant this time. The story is I was driving from Jodhpur to Udaipur in a taxi with two South Africans and the taxi driver agreed to stop so I could take a picture of this Rajasthani guy that was hanging out on the side of the road.

The Rajasthani shepherd who my taxi driver insisted I pay 10 rupees.

The taxi driver insisted on walking over with me and while we did, he told me I should give the guy 10 rupees. At first I told him I don’t do that and even if I did, I didn’t have 10 rupees. He insisted and even gave me 10 rupees to give the guy. As I walked up and talked the man with the little Hindi I speak, the taxi driver began talking over me, rapidly reeling off some Hindi, which I gathered by the way the man eyed the 10 rupees in my hand, was a push for the man to take the money.

At first the elderly gentleman denied, but finally at the pushing of the taxi driver and his friend, he took the money. I was still uneasy about the whole thing, but since we were out in the middle of no where, I did feel a little safer at least. Whether I should or should not have paid I don’t know, I will leave that to others to decide. Will I pay again in the future? Probably not except in very rare situations.

Should those who are more fortunate pay those who are less fortunate to take their pictures? I don’t know. My gut is that it is not going to make much of a difference in the lives of those who have very little and it could probably cause more problems. But I could be wrong!

I would like to hear what you think. Share some stories of times you paid and it was the right thing to do and times you paid for pictures and it worked out bad. I am just one voice and I would like to know what others out there are experiencing.


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Looking past the obvious to find the best

Here is a post I started writing during my first few days of traveling through North India. I wanted to post it while in India, but alas I had no consistent internet for the entire three weeks! So I am posting it now! Enjoy.

I once had a non-photographer friend tell me India is one of those places where anyone can make great picture. As I have been traveling through North India for the last six days I have been thinking about during my shooting. While I understand what he meant, I have to disagree and here is why.

While it is probably true that just pointing your camera at the Taj Mahal or a woman in a colorful sari will probably result in a good picture for your scrapbook, it won’t result in a compelling image unless you think about what you are focusing on and why. Personally, as I have been creating images over the last six days in Old Delhi, Nizamuddin Dargah and now Jodhpur, I have been constantly thinking about what I am trying to communicate and why.

What has resulted has been me looking past the obvious blur of colorful humanity to find scenes that to me speak of the essence of the places and people I have been encountering. So the moral of the story is if you are serious about creating stunning images and not simply taking pictures then you need to look past the obvious to find the best. When you do this via careful selection and thoughtful intent there is a good chance, all else being equal, that your images will get stronger.

Here are just a few of my favorite images from the last 6 days:

Two young Muslim girls perform their Salat at Nizamuddin Dargah.

A Muslim family enjoys Humayun's Tomb in New Delhi as the sun prepares to set.

Sufi Muslims pay hommage at the tomb of the highly esteemed Muslim Sufi Saint, Nizamuddin Auliya.

Young Indian girls proudly show off their newly finished Mehndi.