fbpx

May 2022 Newsletter

Newsletter
May 2022

Welcome to the May 2022 newsletter.

Spring is well underway and in some cases, it feels like it has already left us. Over here I’ve been travelling a lot for my own work purposes as well as commissioned work. Work that has taken me to new countries and experiences.

Added to my list of new visited countries this year is the Czech Republic; Georgia; Nepal and Turkey. So quite a variety of places and experiences.

If I look back at my schedule for this year it seems like I spent the best part of two months on the road. Waking up at times and wondering where I was. Yes, that does happen!

So let’s get up to speed with trip reports and future workshop dates for those that are interested.

Recent trip report – Prague

Charles Bridge in Prague
Charles Bridge in Prague

In early March 2022, I finally got to a city that has been on my list of places to visit for a long time. The city of Prague or, as it’s known by one of its other names, the city of hundred towers was a place that eluded me for a long time.

Panorama of Prague
Panorama of Prague

When I was heavily carrying out work to increase my stock photography, Prague had been on my list, but I never got around to going. This was in part due to the journey from the airport to the city centre being a pain in the backside but more recently I noticed that the famous astronomical clock was covered in scaffolding.

Last year I had made plans to visit Prague but a webcam showed me that the aforementioned clock was under scaffolding so again I put off any plans of going.

Fast forward to early January this year and I looked again at the webcam. This time the clock and main square were free from scaffolding. So I made travel plans to finally get to Prague and try to capture some of those one hundred towers.

When I visit a city one of the things I love to do is get up high and look over the rooftops. Thankfully a number of the towers in Prague are open to the public and so I was able to get my fix of rooftop views.

However, the hitch always comes in using a tripod so I had to make some hastily made contacts in order to get the requisite permission so that I get sharp images whatever the time of day.

Prague castle and cathedral
Prague castle and cathedral

My biggest regret with Prague is that due to time constraints I could only spend three nights in the city. A small amount of time given the huge variety of subjects to photograph. Add in the time of year and I only got one decent day of light. But then, of course, this always whets my appetite to go back again which given how breathtakingly beautiful the city is I would happily do.

Now despite the weather not being truly up to par I was able to come away with some imagery that I love. The fact that I was able to use a tripod up the tower adjacent to the astronomical clock meant that I could get a nice panorama shot over the cathedral that sits on the hill.

The other thing that I found pleasing was the night photography in the city. The main Old Town Square is a sheer delight for anyone who loves history. The stunning architecture that envelopes the square is breathtakingly beautiful. And when lit up at night it is truly a wondrous sight to see.

Astronomical clock in Prague
Astronomical clock in Prague

Georgia

In February an opportunity arose for me to go to Georgia. Not Georgia on the eastern seaboard of the USA but Georgia the country. The one next to Mother Russia.

At the time the current difficulties hadn’t quite kicked off and so I had begun making plans as to what I needed to do for an article that I had been commissioned to write.

When things did get hot I kept a watchful eye on the goings-on as the last thing I want to do is put myself in harm’s way. And certainly given the fairly recent war between Russia and Georgia some doubts did enter my mind.

Chronicles of Georgia monument
Chronicles of Georgia monument

However, those doubts proved unfounded and as such the journey was made over to the fringes of Asia to discover what turned out to be a beautiful country.

I’m not sure about some of you but at times you get in your head pre-conceived ideas of what a particular place may be like. Sometimes those pre-conceptions turn out to be true and thankfully in the case of Georgia, it turned out to be a place that I’d happily go back to time and again.

My commission revolved around two central areas of interest. The first was the landscapes of Svaneti and the second was the historical buildings that are deep in the fabric of Georgia. The specifics of this being the frescoes that are inside the churches of the country.

Having done some prior research on Svaneti there were varying reports of the area being an area to be watchful. I had read reports of foreigners being robbed of their valuables and all sorts of other things.

Again, these things proved unfounded and when you visit the area you find the locals extremely hospitable and welcoming.

Tourism in the area is definitely burgeoning but there are still some ways to go in some areas. But that’s never a bad thing and shouldn’t ever put you off a destination.

A few years ago I came across an article by the travel photographer David Noton who said that if you were to believe and act upon all the advice given by the foreign office etc then you would never travel anywhere. And I have to say he’s absolutely on the money.

It’s always good to proceed with caution but not so much that you never leave your front door!

Over several days the guide that was provided to me drove me from Tbilisi to Svaneti. The drive itself was at times both easy and extremely difficult.

The roads up in Svaneti very often become impassable due to the snow that falls on them. At the time of my travels, one of the major roads was blocked which meant that we had to take the long route. A route that took several hours longer than it would normally do.

Sunset over Svaneti in Georgia
Sunset over Svaneti in Georgia

Upon arrival in Svaneti, it become very clear that in some cases time had stood very still. The way of life here is very much stuck in the past which is of course part of the charm of the place.

Sat high up in the mountains the villages were covered in snow and for most of my journey there the days were blasted with the white stuff.

The area is famous for its medieval towers dating, in some cases, from the 10th century. Towers that in times gone by were there to ensure the safety of the family.

Darkness over Mestia
Darkness over Mestia

Only the men would know the entrance to the family tower. A secret so guarded that they were fearful of the women in their family marrying rivals who would give the secret away.

But it’s not only medieval towers that keep a watchful eye over the area, it’s also the many churches too. And inside these churches, you will find some particular stunning frescoes.

Some of these churches rarely get visitors and even my guide who had visited the area many times over had never seen some of what we saw. He told me it was because no one had any interest in seeing what wonders they held.

This, for him, was a complete eye-opener which for me is always a good thing. The fact that I as an outsider helps a local see a different side to their country or discover new things.

What’s special about these frescoes isn’t just that they are on the ceiling but they cover the entire inside of the church. They really an amazing sight to behold and I feel extremely privileged that I got to see them when they mostly are hidden away from regular visitors.

Frescoes in a Mestia church
Frescoes in a Mestia church

Nepal – A Journey to Upper Mustang

In the middle of 2021, I was contacted by a travel agent in Nepal. The enquiry went along the lines of would I be interested in hooking up and running photography tours in the country.

Initially, I looked at the email with some scepticism and I wasn’t sure how I should respond to it. Even though Nepal is somewhere I’ve wanted to go to for a long time now I wanted to exercise a little caution before responding.

But once conversations started with Nima it became evident that this was indeed a very real opportunity to work with an agent in Nepal who was extremely well connected. An agent that has been established for a number of years and absolutely knew what could be done to make things a success.

Over several months we talked several times and tried formulating an itinerary that would serve both what I wanted to see and do as well as being the basis of a photography tour to this remarkable country.

Nepal plays host to a myriad of things to photograph. From the obvious high mountains to the varying cultures that go to make up the country. Being a travel photographer each one held interest to me. I was also to discover when I got there that there are even more delights to put on the to-do list such as the western parts which are more in the domain of wildlife.

Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, Nepal.
Lo Manthang in Upper Mustang, Nepal.

So the conclusion came that my tour and the ensuing photography tour would centre around an area known as Upper Mustang. This particular area of Nepal has only been open since 1992 to outsiders and even now is heavily controlled.

Any foreigner visiting the area is subject to a permit fee of $500 which is mandatory. It is essential that your Nepalese travel agent arranges this for you. When you arrive at the limits of Mustang there are numerous police checkpoints and if you don’t have a permit then you can’t go in. It’s as simple as that!

Once you get beyond these checks then you enter into a land that time has forgotten. A land that hasn’t really moved in since medieval times as roads into the area are little more than tracks. There are even villages up in the mountains where are not even tracks and you have to spend several days walking in before you’ll even arrive at anything resembling a tea house.

The arrival point for most people is the small village of Jomsom. Here you’ll either have arrived by the early morning flight from Pokhara or been driven up by jeep along the dirt tracks. For me, it was the latter choice as there had been doubts over whether the flight was actually going to leave. The decision was made to drive up and I feel that it was a good decision as it meant that no real-time had been lost.

Jomsom sits at an altitude of around 2700m and my journey was to take me even higher up to Lo Manthang which is 4000m. An altitude that does start to gain the risk of altitude sickness if you’re not careful.

From a photography point of view, the mountains are incredible. The area sits in the rain shadow of Anna Purna and as such receives only around 300mm per year. yes, you did read that right! This makes it very dry and dusty but definitely doesn’t detract from its beauty.

The high mountain “road” that you travel along gives breathtaking views of the range and it’s hard to not want to stop your vehicle every five minutes to capture what unfolds around you.

The Anna Purna range from Upper Mustang, Nepal.
The Anna Purna range from Upper Mustang, Nepal.

Then there is the cultural aspect too that greets you as you make your way further and further into Upper Mustang. Seeing the tiny villages that cling to the mountains and their inhabitants who, in some cases, are untouched by the Buddhist culture that is so prevalent in Nepal. The people in some cases prefer following the Bon religion which pre-dates Buddhism. A religion that emanates from Tibet which itself borders Upper Mustang.

It is a fascinating area of the world to visit and a big eye-opener as you feel that you have very much stepped back in time when you walk around villages.

But something to be aware of is that the inhabitants aren’t always up for being photographed. When I first stopped in the village of Kagbeni I saw a guy who had the most amazing features on his face. Through my guide Babu, I asked to take his picture but he declined. His reasons were that he was not long of this world and that he was waiting to be taken to the next one.

A woman prays in her house
A woman prays in her house

Children too are another subject that can provide fascinating travel imagery but here you have to be very careful indeed. Parents in Upper Mustang can be very protective of their young ones and you MUST ask permission before photographing any children.

In the village of Ghami, I was made aware of just how sensitive people can be when a local came to speak to me. He recounted a story of how in 2021 a man came to their village to take photos. He took images that made the villagers look bad and is currently selling them in Kathamandu.

So in all cases just ask through your guide. If the person or persons say no to having their photo taken then just move on. Don’t cause a scene just accept that they don’t want to be photographed.

During my journey in Upper Mustang, and some of my time in Kathmandu, I was lucky to have been teamed up with a local guide named Babu. His knowledge of the area was deep and having lived all of his life in Lo Manthang he knew pretty much everyone in the village and was able to facilitate me getting some wonderful images of people.

Mustang Guide Babu

It wasn’t just my guide though that helped as my driver Prakash was also on hand to help when needed. Prakash was a great driver to have during my time in Upper Mustang. He ensured that I was where I needed to be and also let me drive his 4×4 which was great fun.

Back in Kathmandu, my eyes were opened even further to the wonders that grace Nepal. From the New Year festival (it’s currently 2079) to another festival called Sindoor Jatra. The latter is not one for those of you who don’t like getting covered in vermillion dust.

Although the New Year festival was great fun I have to say that Sindoor Jatra is on another level when it comes to photography. Yes, you have to be very careful with your camera but if you can manage to get up above the thronging crowds then you’ll be safely away from getting covered in vermillion.

My guide managed to get us up on a small rooftop and along with local TV crews and a couple of press photographers we avoided most of the mayhem that was going on below our feet.

The event lasted most of the morning and a little into the afternoon. The only major thing that I missed, and I’m not sure it’s my thing anyway, was the guy who each year takes a needle and pierces his tongue. Again, not really for the faint of heart this one!

During lunch, I sat with my guide eating. There was a deathly silence between us. Not because of anything bad that had happened but after the noise; the throng of people and whatever else it seemed an extreme come down. The buzz that we had experienced was gone. An empty void had been left and anything else just seemed to not come up to the same level. Or so it seemed.

After lunch, my guide took me to a temple called Pashupatinath. Or to call it by another name…the Temple of Death!

Pashupatinath is a Hindu temple where open-air cremations take place. The previous day my guide had talked about the temple but didn’t explain what I would be seeing. So being curious I searched for information and braced myself for what I was to see.

In the West, we treat death almost as a taboo. A subject that is to be hidden away. That we should not discuss. But here in the temple of Pashupatinath, it was on display for those who wished to cast their eyes towards what was happening.

It is a curious thing to see and not in terms of being voyeuristic but to observe a different culture. To observe that final act and in some ways partake in someone’s final moments on this mortal coil.

My guide had told me that if I wanted to take photographs then I was free to do so. But my own feelings are that it is not a line that I want to cross. I know photographers do take images of the events that take place here but for me, I would prefer not to.

But outside of witnessing the last rites, you can also engage with the Sadhu. These holy men who have renounced the worldly life that we live happily pose for photos with tourists. There are a number of them that live within the temple complex and are fun to be around.

A sadhu in Kathmandu
A sadhu in Kathmandu

With the help of my guide, I spent a happy afternoon photographing five of them. Taking each one, in turn, to be photographed in the best way that I could. The images that I achieved here took my mind away from the sadness and grief that was going on elsewhere.

The last place that I spent time photographing was Boudhanath Square in central Kathmandu. The stupa that proudly sits in the middle of it is several hundred years old. Each day thousands of faithful Buddhist followers circumnavigate the stupa three times in order to pay their respects.

I visited the square four or five times to truly get the best out of it and the opportunities it served up. My travel agent seemed somewhat bemused that I spent so much time there but you do find it’s a photographically captivating place.

Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal
Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu, Nepal

So after spending three weeks in Nepal I reluctantly left to venture back to Europe. But if you’re interested in the photography tour to Nepal and Upper Mustang then do get in touch.

Photography tour in Tuscany

In early May I headed over to central Italy to run a photography tour in Tuscany.

This beautiful area is known for its stunning rolling landscapes and if you’re lucky you can catch some misty mornings along with poppy fields in abundance. And this year definitely did not disappoint!

Over several days we were treated to beautiful conditions each morning of the photo tour. On one particular morning, the mist that lay across the Val d’Orcia was like something out of a dream. The low light coupled with the aforementioned mist provided the most sumptuous conditions that a photographer could wish for. When that sun came over the horizon our whoops of delight were very much in evidence given what we were witnessing.

Tuscany is a destination that I love returning to time and again. I never tire of those endless rolling landscapes that make up both the Val d’Orcia and Crete Senesi. Sadly due to a number of cancellations, it was just me and one other attendee. Those that cancelled definitely missed out on something special during that week.

Each year that I go, and it’s probably the seventh or eighth time I’ve been, I gain more and more in-depth knowledge of the place. I’m also lucky that I know a local photographer who has been willing to share with me some spots that are away from the crowds that frequent some of the hot spots such as the world-famous Il Belvedere farmhouse.

But don’t take my word for it, take a look for yourselves at those stunning conditions we had.misty morning val d'orcia
sunrise on crete senesi

Il Belvedere farmhouse in Tuscany
Il Belvedere farmhouse in Tuscany

Travelling in 2022

In 2022, travel is starting to open up again. Yes, travel into particular countries is a little challenging but certainly here in Europe and the UK things are far better than they were this time last year.

The travel challenges that you now face in some countries are in reality quite simple to overcome. It just means having the requisite paperwork then getting from home to your chosen destination. Yes, you are going to experience the usual frustrations at times with airports but then there’s nothing new there. Just have your paperwork and you’ll be fine.

For any overseas tour that I run I make sure that my clients are fully up to speed with what is required of them. Specific country’s government websites are checked frequently to ensure you know what you need.

So what do you need before getting out there and going back into the wild blue yonder?

COVID pass
A number of countries are issuing these to prove that you’ve been vaccinated. Some people have an issue with them but personally, I don’t. If it facilitates travel being easier getting from one country to another then so be it.

However, what I would say is that it’s also best to keep a copy of your vaccinations in paper form. Each country has its own form of the COVID pass and, as experienced back in October 2021, apps can go out of date on a particular person’s phone. Technology is wonderful until it fails so it’s best to be prepared.

COVID Tests
Lateral flow; PCR; PC-LAMP tests and whatever else that they throw at us. Depending on the country will depend on what you need to enter or return home. Be sure to check what it is you need in order to facilitate your travel. And also make sure of the timeframes between getting the results and being allowed to travel. Some countries ask for a test result 72 hours beforehand and some ask for one 96 hours before travelling. At its most extreme though you may have to provide evidence of one taken 24 hours beforehand.

Insurance
Initially, there seemed to be a slow response from insurance companies on how to deal with travellers who get caught up in things. If a border suddenly closed then you were pretty much left to your own devices. But this has now changed and insurance companies are offering specific policies that will cover you should something untoward happen in terms of a pandemic. And note that I said “pandemic” rather than COVID.

Recently, I renewed my own travel insurance. The specific wording that covers me in the event that something should happen is “pandemic” rather than COVID.

Before travelling to ANY country see if they specifically require insurance that will cover you. Some countries such as Chile are asking for this before you travel. There is also a specific amount that you need to be covered for too so make sure you’re covered!

Masks
From the arrival at the airport to the arrival at your destination then be prepared to wear a mask. This isn’t always the case though as some airports and airlines are now not requiring you to wear masks. They are now only advising that you should wear one during the duration of your travel.

Some airlines are however demanding it and some countries such as Germany require that you were a specific type of mask. Make sure you check the requirements before getting on the plane.

Depending on the length of your flight and also the airline you may get yours swapped out. When I travelled to Uzbekistan back in August 2021 I used Aeroflot for both flights. Each flight was 4 hours long and after 2 hours the staff came along and gave us new masks.

Country-Specific Tracking Apps
Certain countries are asking that as part of entry onto their territory that you download their tracking app. Again, make sure you are aware of any apps that need to be installed on your phone before travelling.

Conclusion
So, things aren’t quite back to pre-COVID time and yes it is a bit of a game which is maybe too much stress for some. But if you take a step back and work things through then you’ll find that in reality, it’s pretty simple.

What you normally find is that getting your country-specific vaccination QR code is the hardest part. Everything else is relatively simple in comparison.

I suspect that these restrictions are likely to be with us for a while so better get used to them now rather than later.

Borders opening up!

At the time of writing a number of countries have either opened up or they are in the early stages of doing so.

Because of some of the places that I run tours to I have to keep a watchful eye on what’s going on along with any entry restrictions that may be imposed on travellers into the country.

Out of all the places that I run tours to, the ones that have been slower to open to us are Norway; Mongolia and Vietnam.

Norway has now recently opened back up to most travellers. Looking on the government website it shows that if you’ve been vaccinated with one of the approved vaccines and can prove it then you should be fine. If you’re arriving from a specific country that is under one of their coloured restrictions then you’ll have to take a test on arrival.

Mongolia has just opened up. It’s been a long wait and I’ve been especially keen to see the country open as a number of people have asked me about the eagle hunter tour that I run. At the time of writing flights into the country are quite specific but as of the time of writing that is due to change again.

Vietnam is another one that has been slow to get tourism running again. As of 15 February 2022 you can now book flights into the country. It’s taken them a long time to get the confidence to open up again but a decree has been signed that says the country is to fully open by the end of March 2022.

2022/ 2023/ 2024 Photography Workshops and Tours

I mainly take small groups on my workshops to a maximum of 5 people. If I’m working with another photographer then it’s a maximum group size of 10 people. The best way of securing a place is to get in touch with me to register your interest.

Provence 26 June – 02 July 2022
Vietnam 27 August – 10 September 2022
Uzbekistan 29 September – 9 October 2022
Dolomites 15 – 22 October 2022
Japan in the autumn 07 – 18 November 2022

Glencoe and surrounding area in Winter  – 13 January 2023
Isle of Skye 29 January – 4 February 2023
Norway Winter Landscapes 18 – 25 February 2023
Mongolia Eagle Hunters 17 – 26 March 2023
Nepal and Upper Mustang 02 – 15 April 2023
Loire Valley 23 – 29 April 2023
Tuscany 06 – 13 May 2023
Vietnam 26 August – 09 September 2023
Dolomites 14 – 21 October 2023
Japan in the autumn 06 – 17 November 2023
Glencoe and surrounding area in Winter 22 – 26 January 2024
Norway Winter Landscapes 17 – 24 February 2024
Tuscany 11 – 18 May 2024
Dolomites 19 – 26 October 2024
Japan in the autumn 11 – 22 November 2024

1-2-1 Workshops

In addition to group tours, I also run 1-2-1 workshops. These are centred around the Loire Valley area where I live but if you prefer to have your lesson in your local area then this too can be arranged at extra cost.

During the spring and summer months, 1-2-1 workshops run from midday to dusk. Alternatively, you can request a dawn start. I do this because daylight hours in central France can be very long during the summer. In both cases, you’ll receive around 10 hours of tuition. We spend most of our time in the field to maximize any and all photographic opportunities. I can also review and critique some of your current work if you wish. In order to reduce the cost per person, I can also arrange one-day workshops for up to three people. For further information and available dates please email me.

One to one photography workshops in the Loire Valley and Beyond

Prices:
1-2-1 350€ (includes lunch)

Comments are closed.