Want 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.
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.
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.
First, your itinerary was well-crafted to allow us to see as much as possible in the available time. We could tell that you had given considerate thought to maximizing our experience in Myanmar. I realize that there is always more one can see and that there were important sites that time and weather precluded our visiting. Nevertheless, we felt that we had a varied and comprehensive experience.
Secondly, we want to let you know that our guide, May, was wonderful. We have been on many trips and have had a number of good guides and others over the years. May is the best we’ve had in part because we didn’t feel as if we were just another pair of tourists to squire around. She made an effort to determine what we were interested in accomplishing (seeing the country, talking to and learning about the people and understanding the culture as well as using all the available time productively) and then working hard to make this happen. For example, she took us to umbrella factories, boat yards, tiny villages, school visits, medical clinics, orphanages, gold pounders, silver smiths, paper makers, palm sugar/moonshine factories, lotus thread weavers, private homes to name just a few extras. She even bought a decorated birthday cake for Adele. Most days we included several events which weren’t on the official itinerary. This was precisely the type of trip for which I was looking. We had many laughs with her and our drivers and were made to feel like part of the family.
Thanks again, Bill & Family
Bill and Adele embarked on a custom Asia trip, discovering Myanmar. Their custom itinerary was planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.
Just wanted to let you know we are having a fabulous time so far in Laos. Our national guide is absolutely delightful, knowledgeable, and a real pleasure to travel with. Our local guide today was also outstanding. It was fascinating to walk through the different ethnic villages and talk with local people.
We loved La Residence Phou Vao. It is spectacular. And we are enjoying Muang La Resort.
But I mostly wanted to thank you for arranging the command performance at the National Ballet Theater. Wow!!! We so enjoyed the production which ran 90 minutes. The main ballet was a representation of a Lao story that we happened to discuss at length the day before with Pon, as it was captured in a mural on a wall at Wat Xieng Thong.
Suffice to say that your careful attention to detail have been most
Susan and Lawrence embarked on a custom Asia trip, discovering: Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam and Laos. Their custom itinerary was planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Eric Kareus. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.
Our trip has been incredible! We are in Hong Kong now until 3/3, but we are
done with the whole part you helped plan. And I want to tell you that
everything you said was true. :-)
Having you/your company take care of all the arrangements was a major plus
factor, and as you had said, if we could afford it, it was well worth the
money. This type of travel, flying from point to point with passport
controls, hotels, languages, etc. is very wearying, and we feel that the
reason it was less so was because we were met in each country. This took
some of the foreignness out of the experience.
For us, having the cruise to break up the being on the move format was
delightful. Of course, the sightseeing was superficial being in each place
such a short time, but we mostly like the ship life of having everything
there and easy. We would have done better to have had you arrange for land
tours for us from the ship, as you suggested. Many of them were silly
stopping at different factories, etc.
Here is a little feedback, which I think you would want, but honestly you
are hearing from some EXTREMELY satisfied clients.
The guides were excellent; they were all such nice people, friendly, and
eager to please. The one in Myanmar, her name is Toe Khin Khin, was far and
away the best. And having her fly with us to Bagan (our favorite place)
made things so easy. She had lots of information, laughing and so much
fun to be with, sensitive about what her clients like to do, and the most
rare quality she has is fitting in with the exact mood that is called for.
For example, when we were in a temple and feeling spiritually connected or
watching a sunset, she laid back and just enjoyed that feeling with us. She
pointed out special opportunities that we just lucked into: seeing the
children’s novitiate procession in Bagan and also attending her coworker’s
Hotels were beautiful. One thing that amazes me is that none of them had
more than 2 dresser drawers for clothing. We sometimes had an additional
little cabinet brought to the room. Of course a cruise ship spoils us all,
since every nook and cranny is outfitted with more drawers and closets than
you could use. The pool in Siem Reap was fabulous – gorgeous, huge, warm -
although the room was quite tiny. The pool in Laos was not heated, and with
the 30 degree drop in temperature at night, it was unusable. The charming
manager Eddie said they have a plan to heat the pool in the future.
Tom, the choice of places to go, how much time to spend in each place, the
sequence of when to go where — was just about perfect. We appreciated your
info book encouraging clients to speak up and tell their guides what they
like to do best. When Toe told us that our second day in Bagan was going to
be spent on a 3-hour drive each way to Mt. Popa, we said NO WAY. We could
not tear ourselves away from the spiritual other-worldly experience of just
being amidst these pagodas. So we stayed in the area and found marvelous
things to do.
Thank you so much for the work you put into making this a trip of a lifetime
for us. We will never forget it and hope we have a chance to recommend you
to others in the future.
Lenore & Peter,
New York, NY
Lenore and Peter embarked on a custom Asia trip, discovering: Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Laos and Singapore. Their custom itinerary was planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick. This was their first trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys.
While in Vietnam we had an unexpected and amazing experience. Remember I am an ol’ hippie and draft dodger of the Vietnam War era. The famous Pulitzer Prize winning photo of a little girl running naked through the streets of her village after being showered with napalm has haunted me for decades, as it has many others. I’m sure you know the picture. She is called simply the “Girl in the Picture”. Well we got to spend the afternoon at her home with her family and learned all about what happened to her after that tragedy. Everyone in the house (me, MJ, and our guide) were in tears as we looked at albums and watched videos. Her name is Kim Phuc and she now lives in Toronto, after defecting there in the early 90’s. If you happen to be interested you can google her. There are info and you tube videos there on her site. My guide had never been there. I just asked her to take me to Kim’s village of Trang Bang after our Cao Dai temple visit (Trang Bang was about an hour out of our way, an advantage of custom travel) and we just ended up in Kim’s home talking to her brother’s wife and children. Her brother is in the photo in front of Kim. He was not burned.
She was burned over 50 percent of her body which has near a hundred percent mortality. The photographer who took the photo grabbed her and doused her with water then took her to the local clinic. The next day he went back to check on her and she was in the morgue. He promptly discovered that she was not dead and took her to a regional hospital where she was transferred to Saigon. She subsequently spent 18 months in the hospital and had 17 surgeries, many of them by a burn specialist from the Univ of Chicago. Many people took an interest in her and contributed to her ultimate survival and this is all chronicled on the video and how she has kept up with them over the years and vice versa.
After all this Kim decided she wanted to be a doctor but Vietnam had other ideas. The govt jerked her out of school to send her all over the country and world to talk about the American imperialists who did this to her. She obviously did not want to do this. In the early 90’s she landed in Toronto on one of these propaganda tours. She got off the plane and asked for asylum and was granted it. It took several years but eventually her mom was allowed to move to Canada and Kim met a Vietnamese gentleman and they were married and had 2 children. She went to the Univ of Chicago to lecture at the request of the burn surgeon and was the keynote speaker at a huge Veterans Day celebration in Wash DC at the Vietnam Memorial. It was here that she met the American pilot who had ordered the mission that dropped the bomb. The pilot who actually flew the mission dropped the bomb on the Cao Dai temple (where the children were hiding) by mistake. He was a South Vietnamese. Over the years she has met all of these people and made a lot of peace for herself and them. She is now a UNESCO spokesperson and is extremely gracious, lovely and articulate. The video showed a lot of this happening and you can imagine how moving it was.
You can google Kim Phuc if you are interested and see some You Tube videos about all this. They are short and not nearly as good as the one I saw which is black market. I would love to get a copy but I doubt that will ever happen. There is a book about all this called “The Girl In the Picture” which I bought and intend to read soon.
As you can imagine I have left much of the story out but this was one of those very special days which occasionally break up the monotony of life and really give it meaning. Kim’s story in complicated ways has helped me to deal with my own demons about the Vietnam War.
- Danny K.
This was Danny’s fourth trip with Asia Transpacific Journeys. On this trip, planned by Asia Travel Specialist, Tom Lastick, Danny explored Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Bhutan. To learn more about planning your trip to Asia, call 800-642-02742
An amazing extension you planned for us…we loved it.. Huot was a really good , sensitive and knowledgeable guide…he mother henned us and informed us and was open to talking abt Khmer Rouge days ..He was understanding of our need for rest and cooling down !!! Do submit our recommendation for him.
The Koh Ker Beng Melia extesion was a fantastic wonderful surprise…to feel like Henri Mouhot with no one , virtually there…. FANTASTIC !!!!
Connected with Thuzar tho all too briefly as the hotel botched up room numbers and left her sitting in the lobby. Alas. but got to see her wedding pix and cute crawler baby pix.
Our Cambodia time felt like a whole other trip …wonderful.
Many thanks for all your planning. We enjoyed the other couples as well though being younger they had a whole lot more energy.
Took in the Angkor theater also… very nicely done in air conditioned comfort.
Many thanks once more,
Sandra is an Asia Transpacific Journeys travel veteran. This was her eight small group trip, arranged by Asia Travel Specialist, Rebecca Mazzaro. We continue to look forward to helping her plan her next big journeys!
To learn more about travel to Asia, or to begin planning your journey with a Travel Specialist, please call 800-642-2742.
Howard and Miriam S. recount their experience with a custom Vietnam luxury travel package from Asia Transpacific Journeys:
We were very satisfied with the itinerary that you helped us develop for our twelve days in the country. Our days were very full. Most nights we fell asleep before 9 o’clock P.M., tired, satisfied and still a little jet lagged. I suppose we would have enjoyed the luxury of having a couple of half days with nothing scheduled so we could rest and catch our breath. Nevertheless the full days allowed us to see and experience many incredible things.
Our three guides, Lan, Hung and Vu, were excellent. Each man met us at the airport and took us where we needed to be without any problems. They were always on time. They were friendly, knowledgeable and spoke freely with us about all kinds of issues, including government corruption, the War, religion, family structure, etc. We definitely learned more from our guides on our custom trip than had we been part of a large group tour (of Vietnam).
Sometimes we enjoyed going off script with our guide. In Hanoi, we told Lan that we wanted to more closely experience life in the city. Lan took us on a meandering walking tour of the flower district near central Hanoi. That was a great detour for us. Then, at our request, Lan took us to a gritty local restaurant he knew well, that served some of the best pho’ in Hanoi.
We thoroughly enjoyed our brief stay at the Sofitel Hotel in Hanoi. The room was luxurious and the service was superior. We enjoyed waking up to the sumptuous breakfast buffet every morning.
While waiting for Lan to pick us up one rainy morning, we saw a taxi back up into a woman speeding along on a scooter. She appeared to be hurt but help came right away. Otherwise, we were amazed how motorists were able to maneuver around each other without regard to traffic rules, without running into each other. This is one of our lasting impressions of our Vietnam experience.
In our one full day in Hanoi, we saw Ho Chi Minh’s tomb, the One Pillar Pagoda, Ho’s home, the Museum of Ethnology, Hoa Lo Prison, and capped off the day with a wild cyclo ride in the French Quarter. The day was rainy and hazy which only added to the experience.
The next day we drove 3 1/2 hours through numerous small towns to Ha Long Bay. Our time spent at Ha Long may have been the highlight of the trip. We received a warm welcome from the Paradise Cruise people. We were escorted to our ship, the “Paradise Luxury,” which lived up to its name. The accommodations were luxurious, the food was wonderful. We thoroughly enjoyed a rowboat tour of a fishing village and the next morning enjoyed a hike through a large cave on one of the islands. The air was misty, just like every photograph of Ha Long that we have ever seen. We probably would have enjoyed spending one more night and day cruising around the islands of Ha Long Bay.
We flew to Da Nang and were met at the airport by our new guide, Hung. From that point we were with Hung for nearly five days. We enjoyed every moment with him. He exhibited a deep understanding of Vietnamese history and culture. He is an amateur photographer with a wonderful eye for beauty.
We were very satisfied with our accommodations in Hoi An at the Life Heritage Resort. We liked how we could take a few steps from the calm of the resort and find ourselves surrounded by the hustle and bustle of Hoi An’s marketplace. We found a nice Vietnamese lady who washed all of our clothes, same day service, for $5, whose business was three steps away from the hotel.
We have many, many exquisite memories of our time with Hung in Hoi An and Hue. The morning of our first whole day in Hoi An, Hung led us through a 16-mile bicycle loop past lovely neighborhoods, new beach front hotel developments, shrimp farms, pig farms, a spice village and finally, the center of Hoi An. Hung met us that morning, promptly, with excellent quality mountain bikes and helmets for everyone.
Along the way, we were fortunate to call on Rod Sims, an American Vietnam War veteran from Georgia who has returned to the Hoi An area to live out his days. Apparently Rod has lived with extreme feelings of remorse and guilt over his involvement in the Vietnam War. He expressed to us that he is now devoting his life to doing good deeds for the Vietnam people, including raising money for children with birth defects. We felt honored and inspired to spend 30 minutes with Rod in his home.
We spent a long day driving over 400 km to see some rather notorious historical sites associated with the Vietnam War. Hung noted that it was rare for Americans to ask to be taken to such out-of-the-way places. For many years I have wanted to visit My Lai. We drove a long way to get there. When we arrived, we viewed a short documentary of the massacre and toured the small museum, which did not shy away from presenting every horror that happened that day. We saw foundations of the homes that were burned to the ground which had signs listing the names, sex and age of every occupant who was killed. We are both so glad that we visited My Lai. We went inside the Vinh Moc tunnels (these are the ones where a person can almost stand up). We stopped at fire support base Camp Carroll and later visited the marine base at Khe Sanh. These were meaningful stops. We were able to appreciate the densely forested mountains that surround these places, which helped us appreciate where and how the War was fought. We crossed the rebuilt bridge spanning Hien Long River at Dong Ha, in the DMZ. It was incredible to stand where so much history has been made.
Hung took us to My Son to wander among the Hindu Temples. Apparently, the original 70 temples have been reduced in number to a mere 20. We arrived at My Son on a drizzly late afternoon after all of the tourists had left. I think we both felt a little like Indiana Jones. We both felt the magic that I have felt a few times in my life when standing in a sacred place.
We decided to drive over the mountain pass rather than through the tunnel on our drive from Hoi An to Hue. Glad we did. The views of the coastline were spectacular. We took a full afternoon to explore what’s left of the Forbidden City in Hue. While much of the site was destroyed and badly damaged at the Tet Offensive, what’s left still left us in awe. We wandered from building to building, through lovely ornate gates bearing images of dragons and the phoenix. We were able to sense the grandeur of the Imperial Court as it existed in the 19th Century.
A word about the Pilgrimage Resort where we stayed while we were in Hue: The resort itself is reason enough to visit Hue. The bungalow-style suite, eco-friendly landscaping and pool were beautiful beyond words. We would have been very happy to stay there for a few extra nights.
We felt particularly close to Hung, liked him a great deal and had a bit of an emotional farewell at the airport in Hue. We were met by our third guide, Vu, when we arrived at HCM City. We had a busy day shopping in the frenetic market place, stopping for lunch at Pho’ 2000 (where Bill Clinton also stopped for lunch), touring the Reunification Palace and visiting the War Remnants Museum. At this point, I think my wife, Miriam, had had enough of unexploded bombs, photos of human tragedies caused by the War, etc.. Still, these displays were informative (notwithstanding the propaganda) and deserve to be seen.
Our accommodations at the Caravelle Hotel were very satisfactory. We enjoyed the central location which allowed us to wonder away from the hotel for dinner and to explore the historic neighboring hotels, City Hall and a somewhat incongruous upscale mall.
We took a long drive west toward the Cambodian border with Vu to visit the fascinating Cao Dai Pagoda. We saw a religious ceremony in progress. We then visited the Cou Chi Tunnels. We could not resist the temptation of disappearing in the tunnels ourselves to experience real claustrophobia. As much as anything, experiencing the tunnels impressed upon us the strength of the Vietnamese people, their love of country and their will to survive.
We left HCM City for Phuket, Thailand, where we rested and relaxed for eight days. Our trip was a perfect combination of intense activity, followed by a chance to replenish ourselves.
As you know, I had had some prior experience visiting Southeast Asia in my trip to Burma in 1999. For Miriam, however, this was baptism by fire, because she had never before been to Asia. This was an unforgettable adventure for both of us. We felt as though we really saw and experienced a great deal, although Hung was quick to point out that we had merely “scratched the surface”. Still, we had a very rich experience indeed. We saw first hand, an ancient culture rooted in tradition which finally has a chance, in peace, to develop fully into a modern nation. Life in Vietnam seems to play out right on the street. Lots of contradictions, but a place that we would relish the chance to return to.
Perhaps we’ll talk in a year or two about planning an adventure to Laos and Cambodia. Our thanks to you, Lesa and your staff for orchestrating such a memorable and smooth adventure for us.
Howard & Miriam S.