Photography Tips for Your Trip

 Michele WestmorlandWant to take that perfect photo on your next trip? Renowned photographer Michele Westmorland shares her tips for capturing those memorable images.

1.  Ask permission when photographing people.

Respect will get you a long way when photographing people in foreign lands. Engaging a person and getting their approval is the cornerstone of cultural photography. Of course, with large crowds, that is not always possible, but when singling one person out,  just ask or move on.

2.  Pack light and review equipment needs.

Review all your equipment needs and make a list. Not only will this ensure you don’t forget any important gadgets but it will also help you to be selective and abide by airline weight restrictions.

3.  Lenses

I tend to select my lenses based on weight and needs. A wide-angle zoom lens such as a Canon 16-35 will provide the capability of photographing landscapes and large groups of people. A medium zoom, such as a 24–70mm, will give you nice portrait photos or detail shots. Then to finish, a telephoto zoom will provide the best results for wildlife, such as birds.

4.   Details

It’s easy to just focus on capturing the “big picture” but don’t forget to get the details. When taking portraits, focusing on interesting elements such as the hands, an interesting piece of clothing or jewelry or a musical instrument being played.

5.    Circular Polarizer

I never leave home without mine. A polarizer allows those rich forest images or puffy clouds to really pop.

6.   Back-Up Those Images

Don’t rely on just your laptop or viewing device—I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard about people losing their precious images from device failure. Small portable drives are inexpensive and can give you peace of mind that you will get all of your images home safely.

7.  Why RAW 

If your camera has the ability to shoot in RAW format—use it! RAW format this is like having a negative of your image—it allows you to post-process the images the way you saw the scene through the lens. JPEGs take up less space but they compress the image, limiting your post-processing options.

8.   Know Your Camera

Make sure you understand your camera. I am always happy to help sort out cameras but with so many cameras on the market it’s impossible to know the details of all of them. If you do not know the ins and outs of your camera, bring or download the manual—it will come in handy.

Experience Papua New Guinea with Michele this June on our “Through The Lens” small group trip. Michele Westmorland, a veteran of dozens of trips to Papua New Guinea with deep local connections, will facilitate wonderful cultural interactions and provide expert technical advice.This is travel as artistic endeavor, a deep immersion in the sound, shape and color of the world’s most kaleidoscopic land.

Asia Transpacific Journeys Explores Sacred Himalayan Kingdoms and Wildlife in India and Sri Lanka

Asia Transpacific Journeys  has introduced three new Asia tour packages, offering exotic winter getaways. These new packages offer travelers unprecedented access to sacred sites and centuries-old rituals, face-to-face meetings with formerly endangered wildlife and Asia’s secret island hotspot.

Indian Tiger

India: A Jungle Book Journey

India is famous for its dazzling cultural treasures. What is less well-known of the subcontinent is that it is home to some of Asia’s greatest wildlife. This extraordinary, 17-day journey departs December 3, 2011 and March 3, 2012. It features naturalist-guided travel by foot, elephant back and 4WD to three of India’s most important preserves; havens for the once nearly extinct, magnificent Bengal tiger as well as species as varied as one-horned Indian rhino, clouded leopard,  wild Indian elephant, jackal, fox, bison and myriad bird species. Additional features of India travel itinerary include:

  • Gorgeous eco-lodges and upscale hotels
  • Excellent chance of a wild tiger sighting
  • Elephant-back rhino safari
  • Access to remote areas of national parks
  • Special meetings and discussions with conservationists
  • Rickshaw ride through Old Delhi
  • Magnificent fortresses, mosques and UNESCO sites
  • Witness cultural performance within temple grounds


Sri Lanka: A Journey with the World Wildlife Fund 

In its new adventure to Sri Lanka, Asia Transpacific Journeys teams up with the World Wildlife Fund to offer a wildlife tour to Sri Lanka, a seldom-explored spot that is considered one of South Asia’s best-kept wildlife secrets.

Few destinations as geographically small as this island nation offer so many cultural treasures and such great wildlife biodiversity. Sri Lanka is considered a “super hotspot” for endemism and contains many unique plants, birds, reptiles and mammals. In fact, new species are still being discovered here. With a focus on the central and southern highlands, this March 2012 journey takes you to several national parks, and onto the calm seas off the southern coast.

This 14-day itinerary with departures beginning March 10, 2012 features the following components for a well-crafted wildlife tour of Sri Lanka:

  • Explorations of four national parks, including an in-depth visit to Yala National Park to search for the elusive leopard.
  • Several opportunities to see wild elephants.
  • Whale-watching expeditions to look for blue and sperm whales, which congregate in high concentrations along the Sri Lankan coast at this time of year.
  • Visits to important cultural spots, including the Rock Fortress at Sigiriya and the ancient city of Polonnaruwa.


Sacred Mountain Kingdoms: Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan

The mountain kingdoms of Tibet, Nepal and Bhutan, thousands of feet above sea-level, hidden amidst the world’s highest peaks, stand literally and figuratively above the rest. A trip highlighting three UNESCO world heritage sites is ideal for those seeking adventure and spiritual perspective.

Departures for this 20-day excursion begin April 5, 2012 and travelers will enjoy an itinerary that includes:

  • Tour leadership by an expert on Asian culture.
  • Meet monks in remote monasteries.
  • Sacred lake amid spectacular Himalayan vistas.
  • Drive along the Friendship Highway, border crossing from Tibet to Nepal.
  • Witness Hindu ablution ceremony at sacred river.
  • Medieval towns housing preserved temples.
  • Visit fertility temple where hopeful couples make offerings.


Learn more about once-in-a-lifetime trip to Asia by speaking with an Asia travel specialist today at 800-642-2742.

A Staff Postcard from the Field: Wild Eyes in India’s Jungle

The huge, penetrating eyes, staring into mine through the low brush of the jungle remain my most powerful memory.  Perfectly set in the striped-moon of a face, the tiger’s eyes froze on me.  Simultaneously astonished and paralyzed by fear, my mind raced.

Could the cat clear the short distance between us in a single bound?  Would it want to?  Could the unarmed rangers protect me from harm?  But, by the next instant all thoughts were pushed aside as I was captivated by those giant golden eyes.

We had been looking for game for a couple of hours in a national park in India not known for tiger sightings.  With only 10 tigers in a 500 square kilometer conservation area, there is rarely human contact.  It was not among our expectations to even catch a glimpse.  We had seen forest and savanna landscapes, Indian gazelles, antelope, sambar deer, langur, macaque and an astonishing array of early morning birdlife.  We were heading in for the day, satisfied that we had seen what the park had to offer.

Then, from a quick whisk of a tail, our guide spotted the big cat crossing ahead of us.  We sped up and caught the large female as she was stopped dead in her tracks to have a look at us.  As humans rarely see tigers, tigers rarely see humans and we were both equally riveted.

Wilderness and India are two words rarely found in the same sentence.  However, those in the know recognize India as one of the world’s leaders in conservation of  wildlife and in successfully integrating human and animal communities.

Panna Tiger Reserve is one such place. Deep in the heart of the monsoon forest of the Deccan Plateau, this huge area has been set aside for the preservation of wildlife populations.  To experience one of these parks is to experience an India far from the teeming crowds – an India of bird songs, clear skies, crystal rivers and starry nights.  And, to just possibly have the moment of a lifetime staring deep into the eyes of a creature both mesmerizing and profoundly terrifying.  An unforgettable moment, indeed.

– Marilyn Downing Staff, Founder and President, Asia Transpacific Journeys


Marilyn stayed at the Taj Safaris Wildlife Lodge, where she was able to experience luxury and extraordinary wildlife at the same time. If you want to see tigers for yourself, join our India – A Jungle Book Journey Small Group Trip, or customize your own India trip by speaking with an Asia Travel Specialist, 800-642-2742.

WWF Announces $2.8M Indonesia Debt Swap

Forests of Borneo
WWF joined The Nature Conservancy and the Indonesian and US governments to sign a debt-for-nature swap agreement that will result in a new $28.5 million investment to help protect tropical forests in three districts on the Indonesian side of Borneo (Kalimantan).

This achievement is the result of two years of hard work and persistence by a joint US and Indonesia team.  Special congratulations is due to our Conservation Finance team of Esteban Brenes and Eric Swanson, who provided superb guidance and unrelenting energy, and to the Heart of Borneo team here and in Indonesia, namely Ginny Ng, Adam Tomasek, and Wisnu Rusmantoro, as well as to the leadership and vision of WWF Indonesia’s Budi Wardhana and Nazir Foead.

Other parts of the WWF network also contributed signficantly. WWF-NL and WWF-Germany joined with us to co-invest $2M as WWF’s aggregate contribution and co-financing of this program.

The funds from this debt swap will address the threat of deforestation and help reduce carbon emissions in Indonesia. It will invest in improved land-use planning to direct development toward already degraded lands; in improved management of protected areas, and other critical measures to reduce forest destruction; and also in supporting “green” Indonesia travel initiatives, other economic development opportunities, and local communities.  The swap will focus investment in three critical Districts, Kutai Barat and Berau in East Kalimantan and Kapuas Hulu in West Kalimantan province.

Notably, this swap also sets a major precedent, as it is the first debt swap under the U.S. Government’s Tropical Forest Conservation Act (TFCA) to have a major and explicit focus on averting climate change through tropical forest conservation.

Congratulations to all!

Tom Dillon
Sr. Vice President
Field Programs
World Wildlife Fund (WWF-US)


Asia Transpacific Journeys offers several trips to Indonesia and Borneo. In June, Asia Transpacific Journeys teams up with WWF for our Into the Heart of Borneo small group trip. Learn more about travel to Borneo by contacting a Travel Specialist at 800-642-2742.

National Geographic: India’s Grassland Kingdom


© Photograph by Steve Winter, National Geographic


100 tigers, 2,000 one-horned rhinos, 1,800 wild buffalo … Kaziranga National Park is India’s Grassland Kingdom

By Douglas Chadwick
Photograph by Steve Winter

Fewer than 200 were left in the north Indian state of Assam a century ago. Agriculture had taken over most of the fertile river valleys that the species depends on, and the survivors were under relentless assault by trophy hunters and poachers. Kaziranga was set aside in 1908 primarily to save the rhinos. It held maybe a dozen. But the reserve was expanded over the years, given national park status in 1974, and named a World Heritage site in 1985. During the late 1990s it grew again, doubling in size (although legal issues remain to be settled). Now Asia’s premier rhino sanctuary and a reservoir for seeding other reserves, Kaziranga is the key to R. unicornis’s future.

A thundering conservation success story, the park also harbors almost 1,300 wild elephants; 1,800 Asiatic wild water buffalo, the largest remaining population anywhere; perhaps 9,000 hog deer; 800 barasinghs, or swamp deer (it’s a main enclave of this vanishing species); scores of elk-like sambars; and hundreds of wild hogs. Read more…

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A Staff Postcard: Elephant Hugs from Thailand

Simone Farbus, Air Travel Manager at Asia Transpacific Journeys was a guest of the Tourism Authority of Thailand and China Airlines recently.

I was hugged by an elephant in the Land of Smiles!

The Land of Smiles is a designation that the Tourism Authority of Thailand has adopted as its motto.  It’s a nickname the country has deservedly enjoyed unofficially for decades.

My first trip to Thailand was in 1978 with a couple of friends—taking a Spring break from our busy government jobs in Hong Kong.  For years I said it was the best vacation I had ever been on.  I had never before traveled to anywhere quite as captivating or welcoming as Thailand.

Almost exactly 30 years later I returned this year, happy to find that the people were still smiling, the food was even better than I recalled, and the country as diverse and unique as I remembered.

It’s easy to fully decompress in Thailand.  I watched elephants paint better pictures than I could, spent an afternoon with tigers, sampled a dozen different fruits in the orchards where they grew (including the famous odiferous durian fruit), and watched the sun set over a still ocean, all in one day.  Nowhere else can you get quite the variety of activity.

I traveled from the north to the south of an amazing country, captivated by its music and dance, its flora and fauna, its tastes and smells. When I returned with my many photographs my children asked me what the best thing was.  “Being hugged by an elephant,” I replied.

Travel to the Philippines, the Undisputed Whale Shark Capital of the World, on a Trip We Deveolped with World Wildlife Fund

Lee Poston
 from the World Wildlife Fund shares his experience with whale sharks.

Over there, over there! Get your masks and flippers on!” the interaction officer, Embet Guadamor, yells. He’s standing high on the mast of an outrigger pointing southwest to what looks like open ocean. But it’s not open ocean to his eagle eyes. He’s spotted a dark, spotted mass under the water, and it can only mean one thing: We’re about to enter the realm of the whale sharks.

We quickly put on snorkels and masks and wait for his order to jump in. Once underwater, a swirling mass of bubbles, flippers, algae and plankton give way to an ominous sight. A giant hulking mass is heading straight for us, like a bus on a collision course. We wait a couple of seconds longer and then the mouth, wide open, comes into view. Like the opening scene in “Star Wars,” the massive, hulking body slowly and silently floats by in what seems to take minutes.

As we get to the end of the body, I realize that the tail is coming a little too close for comfort. I need to get out of the way quickly because getting swatted by the tail is about the only way to get hurt by what must be the most inappropriately named animal in the world.

The whale shark is the world’s largest living fish species, and it is just that … a fish. Whale sharks are filter feeders that eat plankton and algae and are about as likely to attack a human as William Hung is to win a Grammy. Little is known about their behavior, feeding patterns or reproductive habits. Because they range over vast areas, we don’t even know how many there are. And perhaps most importantly, they are classified as threatened by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

I traveled in the Philippines with a crew from ABC New’s “Nightline” – Correspondent Bill Weir and Producer/Cameraman Almin Karamehmedovic. They wanted to document one of the most successful conservation stories in recent history – how a sleepy fishing village was transformed into the undisputed “whale shark capital of the world.”

It’s a 40-minute flight, followed by 1 ½-hour drive to Donsol. But it’s a world apart from the traffic-choked streets of Manila. You are met at the airport by spectacular views of Mayon Volcano, the world’s most perfect cone volcano. And once you arrive in Donsol, it doesn’t take long to enter an underwater experience that should be ranked as one of the Seven Wonders of the World.

It wasn’t always this way. While the locals have known about the whale sharks for more than 100 years, the scientific world didn’t find out about them until 1998 when local scuba divers captured the first video documentation and alerted staff from WWF-Philippines. WWF then worked with the community and other conservationists and scientists to begin developing a scientific and ecotourism program.

Now the fishermen, who had previously been afraid of (or even hostile) to the whale sharks, are reaping major benefits and they are the whale sharks’ fiercest defenders. Thousands of visitors from around the world descend on Donsol every year to snorkel with the whale sharks, leaving behind millions of Philippine pesos that are shared equally among the community, boat operators, whale shark interaction officers and others.

Over the course of two days, we swam with around 10 whale sharks, including a 25-foot behemoth that stayed with us for almost five minutes. We were careful to follow the guidelines written by WWF staff to ensure the safety of swimmers and the conservation of the whale sharks. No scuba gear is allowed – only snorkels – because WWF wants to limit time spent with whale sharks, and bubbles from scuba gear may disturb them. And we have to maintain a respectable distance from the fish, mostly for our own safety, but also so they stay near the surface. Getting too close usually results in them diving for deeper water.

WWF is documenting the sharks through a simple, but effective tool. Every day, WWF researcher Dave David dives with the sharks and photographs their gills. He then enters the photographs into a global whale shark database and compares each photograph with others by carefully aligning the gills and then comparing the spot patterns.  He then determines if it is a new sighting or an existing one because a whale shark’s distinctive spots are like a human fingerprint – no two are alike. In fact, anybody who photographs a whale shark can enter their photo into the ECOCEAN database.

David also works with scientists from around the world to satellite tag the sharks to help determine their behavior and migratory patterns. They can travel thousands of miles and very little is known about where they go, so by attaching satellite buoys on thin ropes to their bodies, we can get priceless data that will help determine how best to protect them.

It was hard to leave Donsol, its whale sharks and its people behind. I wanted to keep diving past the point of exhaustion because each encounter was unique and exhilarating. During one encounter, I was eye-to-eye with a whale shark who simply stared at me with an almost perplexed look, probably wondering why in the heck I found him so fascinating.

We hit a clear, plankton-free patch of water and sunlight just poured in and lit up the spots on his immense body. He stayed with me for about 45 seconds and then gently peeled off into deeper and darker water. While for him this encounter was probably like hundreds of others he’ll have in Donsol during the season, for me it was 45 seconds that will last a lifetime.

Visit World Wildlife Fund’s site for information on group travel to the Philippines with WWF or contact Asia Transpacific Journeys to create a custom, private trip to the Philippines just for you and your family or friends.