The Visual Advocate Blog


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June Wallpaper and India workshop update

Udaipur is known as “The Venice of the East” and will be just one of a handful Indian cities we will be exploring on the workshop in November.

As I have been planning for the Photo workshop in India I have been thinking back to some of the great cities that we will be exploring. One city I have enjoyed in the past is Udaipur, which is called “The Venice of the East”. Now I don’t think it quite measures up to Venice in the sense of waterways and ambiance, but it is still an amazing city, which is why I chose to have the June wallpaper be of this great Indian city. To download the wallpaper, click here.

I also wanted to give you a quick update on the Photo workshop to India. The workshop is going to be from November 1-9, 2012. That means we will have nine days together of shooting and the total length of the trip will be 11-13 including travel time to and from New Delhi, depending on where you are coming from.

We are still working on nailing down the final price but we will get that to you as soon as possible. Here is an itinerary of the trip so far:

Day One: Old Delhi
During our first full day we will take some time to get to know each other, discuss the itinerary, philosophy and details of the workshop as well as venturing out to begin exploring Old Delhi.

Day Two: Old Delhi and Nizamuddin Dargah
We will spend the morning of our second day continuing our exploration of Old Delhi. After lunch at Kareem’s, a famous lunch spot in Old Delhi, we will head to Nizamuddin where we will spend the afternoon and evening wandering through this neighborhood and shrine.

Day Three: Jodhpur
Our journey to Jodhpur, “The Blue City” will begin with a quick flight from Delhi. We will spend the rest of the exploring this wonderful city filled with blue houses, great markets, forts and more.

Day Four: Desert Safari
Leaving early in the morning, we will spend the day on a desert safari, exploring the desert landscapes around Jodhpur and enjoying local Rajasthani food and hospitality.

Day Five: Jodhpur to Udaipur
We will leave Jodhpur early in the morning to make the full day’s drive to Udaipur. Along the way we will stop to explore the beautiful Ranakpur Jain Temple, admire the incredible beauty of the Aravalli mountain range and the wonderful countryside of rural Rajasthan. In the evening we will explore the city of Udaipur at night.

Day Six: Rural Udaipur
Leaving early in the morning, we will venture south of Udaipur where we will spend the day exploring the picturesque landscapes of Rural Udaipur and village life.

Day Seven: Udaipur
Known as “The Venice of the East”, Udaipur is home to many waterways, ghats, palaces, temples, markets and more. As we wander through this wonderful city we will enjoy an early morning boat ride and a tram ride to the top of a hillside fort at sunset affording us wonderful panoramic views of Udaipur.

Day Eight and Nine: Jaipur, The Pink City
We will end our adventure together wandering through the wonderful markets, mosques and more of Jaipur which is known as “The Pink City”.

You are not going to want to miss this trip so mark off the dates on your calendar!


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March wallpaper

On this past trip to India I only had about two hours to shoot on the famous Ganges river in Varanasi. Nevertheless, even in that two hours I had some great fun. If you have never been to the Ganges it is really like no where else. There is constant motion and noise, but it is still possible to single out quiet and simple moments like this one of a boat captain inspecting his boat.

I hope you enjoy this month’s wallpaper. To download it click here.


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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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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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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.