Tag Archives: choices

Not pure enough? Not Photoshopped enough? Not your problem. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Cut the CRAP – just take pictures

A friend of mine was down the other day—he’s a great photographer who takes photos that tell stories, but he’s facing a lot of negativity lately, and his online presence seems to have reached a plateau, according to what he told me.

We all have days when it seems we should just chuck the camera out the window, flush down dreams of publishing or selling prints, and just move to Tahiti and lose ourselves in the depths of mango daquiris.

Like all arts, photography has loads of aspirants, and like all arts, it breaks the heart when no one seems to appreciate what we produce.

We all want appreciation, if not accolades.

But there’s some things we can keep in mind to help us keep going and not give up. First, we have to remember that what gets us down is CRAP. CRAP stands for the four things that slam us down and try to keep us there.


Many people are afraid to put their photos online for fear of criticism. I remember one of my favorite images being dismissed in an online forum as a “Mills and Boon” cover—a reference to a series of short romance novels that entertained millions of mostly female readers in the 1970s but which had shallow, predictable plots. When this happened, instead of reacting negatively and dumping my romance with the camera, I began to think of it as an inspiration. What if I could tell stories with my photos? What if the stories were not cliché and predictable, but surprised or elicited discussion? Rather than let the criticism get me down, I struggled and broke through with personal projects that explored the idea of narrative photography.

The image that began my passion for storytelling was criticized. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


One of the best ways to get better is to enter competitions or to submit photos for critique. It’s not easy to do this, because there is always the fear that the work is not good enough, and there could be unflattering things said about the photos submitted. But let’s face it—we are all learning, at this craft. What matters is the feedback.

Recently, I submitted a photo for a critique, on the theme “Solitude.” Not a landscape photographer, but one who is trying to learn this genre, I submitted a photo that I admit only approximates the landscape genre. It was a photo I took because of the values (black and white and shades of gray in between) and not for the composition or content. So of course when I submitted it, one of the editors told me that it was a good attempt, but it was not a very good match for the theme.


Rejection can bind us, but it can also strengthen us. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This is by no means the hardest rejection I’ve had to face. I’ve submitted a series of photos to an editor I’ve worked with before, and she’s told me in very polite sentences to “submit excellent photos next time.” Rather than cry over it, I went back and tried to see my submissions with an editor’s eye. What I learned in that reflection is probably something that will help me do better at future assignments.


Yes, there are assholes in our world. For some reason that is esoteric or egoistic, there will always be someone for whom your work is not ‘pure’ enough, or not Photoshopped enough.

That’s not your problem.

Not pure enough? Not Photoshopped enough? Not your problem. Copyright Aloha Lavina.


Finally, the P in CRAP is for pressure. Pressure can come to us through an assignment, a deadline, a contest, a critique, a creative problem. It could even be the limits of our equipment.

One thing that’s comforting to know about pressure is that with certain amounts of it, creativity can flourish.


The secret is to just take pictures. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We’re all equipped with skills, more or less, and when the bar is raised to produce from these skills, we can use that added pressure to add to those skills. A bit of pressure gives us new challenges that will bring new learning, so it’s good to embrace this pressure and allow ourselves to relax. Relaxing can lead to openness, and openness increases the chances of getting into flow.

If we just cut the CRAP, we’d be able to do what we really want to do, any way: just take pictures.

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Peekaboo, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Is RTW right for you?

Sometimes when I completely fall in love with a place, I want to stay indefinitely.

Standing in the Sunday market in Bac Ha, Vietnam, my senses are overwhelmed by the colors.  My camera is on overdrive. I am in heaven.

But I spend exactly one day in Bac Ha, leave the North of Vietnam, fly back to Hanoi then Bangkok, bringing back some images and the intention of going back.

Black Hmong tribeswoman at Bac Ha. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

I’ve only been to Luang Prabang a total of five days. My first time in Bali, I spent five days there. First time in Myanmar, seven days. The Rajasthan in India, a week. But each time, I was able to bring back some wonderful images and a sense of the place. I didn’t have to stay indefinitely.

I know people who quit their jobs and became travelers full time. One of the most famous of these is Jodi, also known as Legalnomads. Another is Matt, known to everyone as NomadicMatt. They both quit corporate type jobs to do RTWs, or round-the-world trips. There are a lot of full-time RTW travelers: on Twitter alone, @solotraveler, @BKKMichael, and even an entire family, @GotPassport, who have sold everything they owned and relocated to Chiang Mai, Thailand just over three weeks ago.

Sometimes, when I completely fall in love with a place, which happened in Burma last month, I wish for a moment I too could just make like Gaugin and run back to the place I was from the place I am.

But is RTW the right answer for everyone? Does short travel make you less of a traveler? I’ve thought about these questions a lot lately. Here are some thoughts.

1. Short travel is OK if you are already an expat.

I’ve lived in Thailand and other countries. I haven’t been in what most people would consider “home,” really, since I was sixteen years old. Wherever I am at present is “home” to me. So I am a full-time expat. What I love about being an expat in Bangkok is that I am able to use all the conveniences I would have back home, and (seriously) there is a direct flight to five continents from this city. So when I have the time, I can fly somewhere with my camera and notebook, and then fly back home. In 2007, for instance, my busiest year thus far, I flew 47 different times to 17 different places and was back on Monday for my full time job.

Faceless portrait, Luang Prabang. Photo by Aloha Lavina

2. You have a job you love.

The people I know who quit their job to travel did not really enjoy what they did as much as they enjoyed travel. Shamelessly, I can talk about my profession for a whole day and never tire. I teach high school English and design curriculum, and I love it. I love the possibility that is in each life of each child I teach; I love the light that happens in their eyes when they understand something, when they learn. And I love that at the end of the school year, I am able to look back and appreciate that my hard work has made someone love learning.

I thought about quitting teaching to engage in my other job, freelance commercial photographer and journalist. But in all these years of being busy both Monday to Friday with school and Saturdays and evenings with photography and writing, I honestly cannot say I would be happy without either. So I am both.

Arm akimbo in Rajasthan. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

3. Your travel needs you to lug heavy equipment around.

I travel so I can create images. The lightest equipment I take somewhere includes a DSLR, at least two lenses, four camera batteries, a storage viewer which can hold up to 160 GB of photos, a notebook (paper based tool I can carry in my pocket to record snatches of thought).

Girl with offering, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

I also budget my reading when I travel, because when it’s too dark to take photos, I usually don’t ‘go out’ in the conventional sense, so I read. On a recent eight-day trip to Bali, I read the three books I brought in five days, and I had to buy Eat Pray Love and The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest for the three days left plus the plane ride.

And, sometimes I have to carry a tripod and a laptop.

If I had to lug this equipment around on my back for a whole year on an RTW, I think one of a few things would happen:

3a. I will run out of storage space for new photos. On an average day on a photo trip, from pre-sunrise to sundown, I take around 24 GB of photos. Do the math—even if I delete the mediocre ones nightly, I would still end up with at least some 12 GB of photos a day. That makes 160 GB last for an average of 13.33 days, nowhere close to a year. Of course, I could bring more than one storage device, thereby sentencing myself to a lifetime of back problems. (All this equipment on my back every day weighs 16 kilograms which I carry while chasing images.) 3b. I will spend lots of money on books. 3c. All of the above.

4. Budgets are easier to handle.

I generally like nicer hotels. And because I often travel more than 200 kilometers a day from the sunrise location to the sunset, I have to hire a car. When traveling, a nice room and a reliable car often are my two biggest expenses.

5. Every day is full of action.

Tom Swick of World Hum wrote that traveling is “creative hanging around.” For me, that doesn’t mean sitting. As a rule, I am constantly in motion when I travel. On my feet at a location, I can explore ways to make better images than if I sit somewhere and wait for a shot to walk by.

Of course, I also do hang around. I have to make friends before I make photos—that’s another of my rules. So a lot of time is spent socializing with the

Peekaboo, Ubud, Bali. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

locals, eating with them, visiting their families, and a lot of time is spent working with the camera. The rest of the time is slow eating and sipping good coffee while writing down my thoughts. Days and days of this, then I go home and process both the photos and my thoughts.

I like being able to live episodically when I travel. It demands that I pay attention to the present, every single minute of every single day.

And it works for me. How about you? Is RTW right for you?


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