Tag Archives: Travel

Floating mosque, Penang. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Let the Rain Help Your Photography

After months of monsoon rains in Asia, we have grown tired of the water.

But there’s always a positive side to everything, and rain has a positive effect on photography.

In Penang for a break from the stress of flooding in Thailand, I was in the Ko Si Lak temple when it started to pour. You could see the rain in sheets from the high vantage point, drenching Georgetown below the hill.

Later near Tanjung Bunga, storm clouds threatened ominously in the horizon while I watched a couple of fishermen replace a defective rotorblade on their boat.

Stormy weather can help add drama to photographs.

Rain clouds over Georgetown, Penang. Copyright Aloha Lavina.The itinerant photographer can use the signs of an impending storm to capture this drama in their photography.Storm approaches near Tanung Bunga, Penang. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Here are some things I’ve learned about shooting in the rain:

1.  Protect the camera and lens the affordable way.
While cameras and lenses are supposed to be weather proof to some extent, it’s best not to risk destroying them in your quest for great rainy day shots. Protecting your camera and lens using a plastic bag, tied at the opening with a rubber band, is a simple way of waterproofing your gear.

2. Get a waterproof bag for the rest of your stuff.
Kata and Lowepro which I have used, have these nifty raincovers that fold out over the bag. I pull them over the bag at the first sign of a drizzle, to protect the lenses and other equipment in the bag.

3. Watch out for lightning.
Great shots are good to go after, but not if you put yourself in danger. If you’re photographing in open space, say a field with little shelter, you might want to leave that place at the first sign of lightning.

4. Wipe down your gear as soon as you get back to your home or hotel.
To avoid getting moisture in your equipment, wipe down your camera and lenses with a cloth as soon as you reach the hotel or your home.

5. Keep a rain parka, or a large trash bag in your camera bag.
A rain parka is not expensive and can be tucked away in your camera bag. Similarly, if you’re winging it in a foreign country where it rains a lot, you can get large garbage bags and tuck a couple into your camera bag. If you desperately need to keep dry, you can cut a hole in the sealed end for your head, a couple holes for your arms, and you’ve got a ready rain poncho.

Floating mosque, Penang. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Floating mosque, Penang. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you stick around while it’s raining and wait it out, you will enjoy an aftereffect of rain on the place where you are taking pictures. Water over a surface actually increases the saturation of its colors. This is beautiful to behold and even more beautiful to capture.

So don’t leave at the first sign of rain. If you hang around, you’ll have plenty more shots to make.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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15mm lens portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

How Different Lenses can Help You See Creatively

Watching Zack Arias’ video blog for the Kelby site inspired me yesterday. One of the questions Zack asked in the introduction of the video is, “What do I bring to the table that countless others have not already served up on this massive platter of visual pollution that we create each and every day?”

Zack’s question is probably something we ask ourselves as we try, each and every day, to get better at our craft. How do we interpret a vision with the tools we have? There is no button that says, “Joe McNally” on our dSLR that we can push if we want a photo worthy of a National Geographic feature.

A teacher once told me, When you’re in doubt about something abstract, go back to the concrete. I’m still trying to follow that advice; it’s helped me learn daily.

When we think about seeing creatively, and creating from that vision, it’s such an overwhelmingly large topic that we need to break it down into concrete modules, things we can do today that adds to and strengthens that vision.

We can begin with our tools.

The lens you have attached to your dSLR is an extension of your vision. Through that lens, you can create an interpretation of what you see before you. This interpretation is your vision, the way you say things that you see. How does the lens you use affect that vision?

1. Your lens determines how you frame an image.

Your lens can help you include things in the frame, or exclude things from it. Try going out with a couple of lenses to photograph a single scene. How does a wide angle’s inclusiveness change the story? How does the story change when you photograph the scene with a telephoto? The differences between what we can include or exclude using different focal lengths of lenses determines a lot of the story we present in a resulting frame.

2. Lenses change your point of view.

Because the focal length of lenses can include or exclude, using a different lens to take a photo changes your point of view. A lens that sees the same way the eye can see, namely the 50mm ‘normal’ lens, allows you to take photographs that echo what you see without the camera pressed to your face. A wide angle, say a 24mm lens, gives you a wider view; you can see more background, more foreground. The environmental details around your subject that you capture with a wide angle lens changes your point of view because you now have the ability to use these environmental details to add to the story.

Manila Bay at 50mm Copyright Aloha Lavina.

At 50mm, the lens 'sees' the way our eyes do. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Different lenses affect an image in different ways.

At the different edges of the spectrum of focal length effects, different things happen in your frame.

A wide angle lens like the 24-70mm can distort the subject. For instance, if you use a wide angle lens for a portrait where the subject leans toward you, their face shows up much bigger than their hands. Wide lenses can ‘see’ what’s closer as bigger, and what is farther as smaller.

15mm lens portrait copyright Aloha Lavina.

15mm lens renders visible distortion in a portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Telephoto lenses, such as a 70-200mm, tend to ‘flatten’ elements in the frame against each other. When you’re stacking elements in a frame deliberately, this helps you to create planes that the viewer can easily identify, and with good light, you can create a photo that has depth.

Inle Lake at sunset copyright Aloha Lavina

Long telephoto 'flattens' elements. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

4. Some lenses can render tilt better than others.

Tilting lenses while taking photos is a great way to discover what happens to the image when you change the way you point your camera.

Some tilt can be done on the same plane. What this means is, tilting the camera left or right, but keeping the lens pointed on a plane parallel to your subject. In the photo below, I tilted the camera to change the background, but the camera lens is parallel to the model.

Natalie Glebova for June Fifth copyright Aloha Lavina.

Tilting the lens without changing planes. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Other tilting can use distortion to effect. Here, with a wide angle lens, the camera was tilted to change its plane relative to the subject. I tilted the camera lens down and produced the effect of the clouds ‘marching’ across the sky. This sort of tilt helps you create perspective and depth in a shot.

Balinese sunset copyright Aloha Lavina.

Tilting the lens so it is pointed at a different plane than the one parallel to the eye. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Note on tilt: if you are using a normal lens, or a long telephoto like a 70-200mm, tilt doesn’t work for effect that well, since the focal length gives you a very narrow field of vision.

5. Lenses can help you use depth of field creatively.

portrait in f/2.8 copyright Aloha Lavina.

Shooting at a wide aperture renders the background blurry. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We’ve all seen stunning images that use depth of field creatively. Lenses with large apertures (f/1.2 all the way to f/2.8 for example) produce very shallow depth of field in the images. Portrait photographers love to use very wide apertures because of the ‘creamy’ effect it produces in the background. If you use a very wide depth of field on a portrait with a forest as background, the background is rendered a blurred blob of soft green without much detail. This de-clutters the background and gives a pleasant dreamy quality to a portrait.

You can also use this effect for the foreground.

using blurry foreground for creative effect. copyright Aloha Lavina.

Shallow depth of field can be used to blur foreground for effect. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Seeing creatively—an abstract concept—can be made concrete if you begin practicing it through a concrete tool, like the lens you have on your camera right now. With these simple tips, you can build a visual collection that hopefully, doesn’t “pollute” but beautifies your portfolio.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That!

If you like what’s on the blog, let us know by commenting! Even if you don’t like what’s on the blog, leave a comment any way, but please keep it nice. 🙂 To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage. It would also be cool to be friends with you on Facebook, or connect with you on Twitter.

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article on Canon Photo You by Aloha Lavina

So You Want to be a Travel Photographer…What’s in it for you?

This post was written for Ying Huang in Scotland, who emailed me about the essence of travel photography. Thanks Ying for inspiring this post and the last one!

Although travel photography is long, lonely, hard work, there are a lot of benefits.

You Get Great Experiences and Learn a Lot

I traveled a lot as a kid, missing a lot of school. But for this, I have to thank my parents, who were global nomads while they raised me, for the experiences I’ve had first hand could not have happened to me in a school room. I’ve come face to face with a beached whale, played magnetic Scrabble in a boat pitched violently by a storm, learned how to sleep on a bus, a boat, a Toyota Land Cruiser…the list of cool stuff I learned from traveling is long. The point is, without being able to travel, the learning I gained from wandering around the globe would not have happened.

Travel is a masterful teacher. It’s helped me to be persistent when things don’t work out. To respect cultures different from my own. It’s helped me to see people without first focusing on differences because as a traveler I’ve had to look for similarities first, to find a friend. This openness has helped me as a travel photographer.

Sometimes you get a story that stretches your worldview. A recent memorable one is when I went to Bhutan to shoot and write a story for Canon PhotoYou Magazine (Check out the Summer 2011 issue!). In Bhutan I met anatomically detailed giant penises painted on walls as charms to ward off evil spirits. Then I learned that the paintings were related to a local hero, so I sought those stories about him…and found he was a prophet and saint whose most repeated stories challenged the hypocrisy of local religion and all involved sleeping around…even with his own mother. Oops, did I really want that much information? I had to process these stories as part of my experience in Bhutan, and it was a challenge to separate myth from fact and get to a story that would work, especially as my editor cautioned me against being ‘too mystical’. In the end, I realized the story was the mix of fact and myth, because that was Bhutan.

article on Canon Photo You by Aloha Lavina

Learning about a country firsthand is a great benefit to a travel photog.

Travel will make a photographer uncomfortable at times. But remember that this discomfort is a sign of learning, so be open to it, and it will reward you with insight.

You Meet Lots of Cool People

I am fortunate to count so many people all over the world as ‘friends,’ not in a Facebook sense, but in the sense that once, we shared a day or a moment as human beings. I’ve enjoyed noodles with the entire roster of residents in an old folks home in Burma’s heartland. Another time, in another village, I spent a night watching a soccer game with the whole village on the only television in that place. In Da Lat, Vietnam, I met a man who was the first person in his village to graduate high school. From his last email, I learned recently that he’s started a cooperative for the tribes in Da Lat to regulate the production and sale of their crafts—something that will help them both find appreciative markets and preserve their traditional arts. In Cambodia, I met a shoe shine boy whose dream was to be able to afford going to school…I can’t list all the inspiring people I’ve met while traveling in this blog post, but in every place, there have been people who have again and again restored my faith in humans.

Burmese dancer copyright Aloha Lavina.

I've met lots of cool people as a travel photog. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

You Learn to Live Simply and Resourcefully

As a traveling photographer, you learn how to make do. It makes you appreciate the small things, like the banana a local matriarch gives you for breakfast while you wait for the sun to rise and the fishermen to come in on a lonely stretch of volcanic beach in Indonesia.

You also know that you have to travel light, so you become more resourceful. While in Burma during Thingyan, the water festival, I was on a long sampan in a waterway, flanked by locals on the banks ready to douse the boat tip to stern with a fire hose. But my camera bag was dry, wrapped in a large plastic garbage bag—something I now carry with me everywhere, along with some rubber bands—a low cost, light waterproofing solution to wet locations. In Borneo last April, the plastic bag became a raincoat, keeping dry both my camera and my clothes while I scouted for orangutans along the Panabangan River.

Being a travel photographer means being able to bring home images that will give someone insight into places they may not ever visit. It gives you a chance to teach an audience, to tell stories with your images that many people will enjoy. It also means taking home some intangibles, like insights and friendships, and new learning that make you better appreciate your world.

Few people make a fortune with travel photography, but the experiences you gain as a travel photographer are priceless.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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early morning light in Batanes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Three Simple Tips for Sharper Handheld Photography

I was on a mountaintop last week, trying to take these shots without a tripod. The strong winds in the Batanes archipelago, in the Northernmost tip of the Philippine Islands, just knock tripods down, so I didn’t have much of a choice.

In situations where you have to take shots handheld, there are a few techniques you can practice to make your shots as sharp as possible.

1. Watch how you breathe.

Breathing can cause slight camera shake. But you can apply a rhythm in the way you breathe while you’re shooting that helps you keep your cam steady. It’s always best to finish exhaling before pressing the shutter. Practicing this breathing technique can seem distracting at first, but mastering it will help you get those handheld shots sharper.

batanes storm coming copyright Aloha Lavina

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

2. Watch how you hold your camera.

Combined with your new breathing technique, you can stabilize your camera using your body. Digital Photography School has an excellent illustrated roundup about various positions you can adopt to hold your camera steady with your whole body, instead of just your hands. The bottom line is, use your body to steady the camera, and the closer you hold the camera to the core of your body, the more stable it becomes for you to take that sharp shot.

early morning light in Batanes copyright Aloha Lavina.

Copyright Aloha Lavina.

3. Watch how your eyes move.

This is a tip I learned from golf. Even after you have picked a focal point and locked on it, you need to keep your eyes on that focal point while you are taking the shot. Moving your eyes to a new focal point on the viewfinder means your hands will move.  Keeping your eyes locked on target will make sure your shot is sharp.

What are your techniques for handheld photography?

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Shoot Themes When You Travel

Spice up your travel photography tip # 5: Use themes to shoot your travel stories!

Travel photography is about telling stories about places through your photos. Usually, a photographer travels somewhere and tells the story of the place they are visiting using some common themes, like landscapes, portraits, documentary, night, and wildlife. The variety of images that you can shoot to show what a place is like is as wide as the range of human activity in any country. But how can you avoid shooting the same scene, over and over, only in a different place?

The answer to this question may rest not in the exotic and most far away place you can afford and access. It may not rest in the type of equipment you own and can lug around when you travel. Maybe the answer rests in how you approach the image making.

The way you think about what you are shooting could be the most important set of decisions you could make to spice up your travel photos.

Going out on different days intending to shoot different themes is a way I’ve spiced up my travel photography. While I am open to opportunity and do not let the day’s theme limit what I capture, I try to keep the theme in mind as I walk about, and attempt to tell the story through the theme, throughout the day.

In Vietnam recently, I spent a day photographing how Vietnamese transport things from one place to another.

Vietnam, Hoi An, travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Vietnam Hoi An motorbike travel photographer

Vietnam theme: ways to transport things. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In Burma, I looked at how the Burmese work.

Burma worker statues Mandalay

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma temple cleaning worker Myanmar

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Burma worker river boat old car

Burma theme: work. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

And in Bali, it was a natural choice to look for the Balinese sense of balance.

Balinese women balancing eggs. Bali Indonesia

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Panning technique for travel images, travel photographer, Bali, motion

Bali theme: a perfect sense of balance. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Looking for images that follow a theme can be a creative way to look at cultures from a novel perspective. With a bit of forethought, you can spice up your travel photography and maybe even understand a little more about the place and people you’re visiting.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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food photography travel photo

Eat Lots of Colors

Spice up your travel photography tip # 4: Eat a lot of colors!

Some cultures, notably the Japanese, say that to eat healthy, you have to eat a lot of colors. I often remember this advice when I travel, not because I’m a foodie so much, but because food images can help spice up travel photography.

When I travel, I like to eat a lot of colors. Having colors on the table helps you to add some spice to your travel photos. (And you just might be eating healthy, too.)

Here are a couple of things I’ve learned about food photography while traveling.

Open up—wide apertures are better.


Use a wide aperture to give your photo a beautiful blur. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

A shallow depth of field as a result of a wide-open aperture helps you keep food looking yummy in a photo. Compare this colorful scene I took with an iPhone with the one below it taken with a dSLR and a 50mm lens at f/1.4. First of all, the iPhone photo is colorful, but the details in all the food makes it look more like a snapshot. Because you want your travel photos to matter as artistic as well as documentary expressions, you want to play a little with what you can control. Playing with a wide  aperture helps to produce attractive blur in the images, and the blur helps to remove the clutter of background and brings some artistry into the images.

Lots of colors, but not too artistic.


food photography travel photo

Blur is beautiful. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Eat beside a window.

You could take out a flash unit to light your food, but that may not go well with the other restaurant patrons or the owner. So it helps to sit by a window so you can at least light your food and bring out the colors.

Restaurant light can help make a shot appetizing.

salad photo food photography

Rocket salad in warm restaurant lighting. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

This rocket salad is too green, I know. But in the orange light of the restaurant where I had it, it looked nice. I helped accentuate the orange light by using the Cloudy white balance setting on the Nikon I was using. Using warm colors to photograph food helps get more yellow-orange-red in the image. I find that using Auto white balance produces more of a blue tinge in the food with the indoor lighting that most restaurants use, and blue food is something humans just don’t find appetizing.

So there you have it, some simple tips to add some food images to your travel photos. Next time you go somewhere, pay attention to what you order; ask what’s in the dish, and spice up your travel photography.

Up next: Spice up your travel photography by shooting themes, right here on Imagine That!

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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A Changing Story

A primer on travel photography themes, for my friend Mary, who just got her first dSLR

Travel photography is like a timelapse video, except the subject is always changing. Arriving at a new place, your attention is on overload—look at that! The temptation is to snap everything in sight, gorging the memory card with content. It’s fun to be trigger happy on a trip, but it can also be overwhelming. Even if your goal is to make images for the family slideshow, there are some themes that will help you organize your travel photography so you can more fully tell the story of a trip—a story tipsy with content and composed with beautiful imagery.

Reaching a balance between being open to the unexpected and staying true to your themes can produce a travel photo collection that includes a full range of imagery, a complete account of a changing story.

Night photography

I have a friend who puts away his camera as soon as the sun is sinking. But most cameras made after 2007 have really good ‘vision,’ meaning their sensors are able to ‘see’ in the dark and record clean enough images that can spice up your travel photo montage. So don’t put away your camera just yet when you see the sun setting. You might just get some amazing shots.

1/2000 @ f/11, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.


30s @ f/22, ISO 125. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.


Photos of people are some of the most interesting and memorable images of a place. It may be a little intimidating, but try taking photos of strangers, and when you do, try to tell their story. It helps to include a detail or two that contextualize the portrait: What are they doing? Who are they with? The charm of a portrait is in its details.

1/200s @ f/5.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.


1/250s @ f/5.6, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.


1/200s @ f/4.5, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

Fauna and flora

Animals and flowers are great story bits. I was in Ayuddhya and visited the elephant camp there. As soon as I entered the camp, I spotted a young elephant jogging around the compound, and then caught him when he was tired, plopping down and bathing himself in early morning sun.

1/800s @ f/5.6, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

At another place in tropical Bangkok, there were these lilies all in a row, graceful and delicate in a shallow depth of field at a wide-open aperture.

1/160s @ f/3.2, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.


Images that record events give a depth to travel photography. The story of work, for example, tells a lot about a place. What people value and how they interact with their environment are often revealed when we learn about how they work and live.

1/500s @ f/8.0, ISO 200. Copyright Aloha Lavina 2011.

When we make travel photos, we also make our memories of that place tangible, a story captured that will withstand the passing of time.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Photography Doesn’t Fix Everything

for Jodi

I reread this post, about long term travel not being able to fix everything, over at Legalnomads, and thought, that sounds familiar. Last summer I took two months to travel to Burma and then Bali, thinking I needed to get away for some quiet time. Travel for me is a way to get inside my head and de-clutter; I wrote to Jodi the other day, I travel “to get away from my nine to five when it becomes too loud with worry that I can’t hear myself.”

I go away to listen, to remove the white noise that is other people’s needs, and find the voice that’s mine. I need very little really, to be happy, just a lot of silence and space, time to make photographs and write. But sometimes, I get caught up in work that is separate from my passion; more and more of this dislodges me from myself, and I float, an untethered balloon full of nothingness.

That’s when I want to get away. Being away brings a new reality. It reminds me of very early memories when every thing I learned seemed momentous, bright and shiny things I could gather and hold close to examine.

I’m not a sophisticated traveler. I don’t have the brave body of someone who climbs volcanoes or rides on rooftops of buses. Yes, I’ve been stuck in Europe because of an ashcloud, but hey, I was in Paris. Being stuck in Paris did not make me suffer. True, I was caught in a flashflood in the Philippines, but I was ten or eleven years old; it was an adventure full of floating refrigerators, bamboo rafts afloat above city streets, and ignorance about water born diseases. And yes, I live in Bangkok, the center of several coups d’etat and colorful politics. But last May, the closest I got to the burning of Bangkok was through Twitter apart from the days when the redshirts were still partying at Rachadamnoen. No, I’m not the Indiana Jones type of traveler.

What I do have, though, is a camera. I lug sixteen kilograms of equipment across all sorts of terrain, and I build my travel day around making photos. When I’m with my camera, composing images that tell stories of places, nothing can touch me. Words cease. You could speak a whole dissertation to me and think I am the rudest companion; the act of making an image fills me, engages me beyond any other experience.

This is flow, a state when a person is so engaged in something that time and space seem to disappear.

The problem is, you can’t stay in flow indefinitely. When I return to reality, I realize a few things.

Cold and dusty in Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan.

1.     Not everything is beautiful.

With the camera in front of my face, everything is a matter of design. The chaos of lines can be organized into a composition using other things, like point of view, values of light and dark, framing. As a photographer, I can move and things get a little bit more harmonious in the frame. Not so in life. Moving around a problem, I can’t recompose a better image, I only postpone dealing with a mess. I can’t freeze moments that are beautiful and take them out when things get ugly.

2.     Light doesn’t change the way things are, just the way they look.

If the light is bad one day, I can always pack up and go somewhere else, then go back to the landscape when the light is ‘right.’ But in life, things don’t always look better in the morning light, or at sundown. Sometimes things look the same for days, weeks.

A few hours before the first snowfall, Paro, Bhutan.

3.     You can’t Photoshop it out.

In Photoshop there’s a Clone Tool, and it helps the photographer get rid of distracting spots and other things in the image. You just sample one area of the photo, then click over the area you want gone.  If only it were that easy for the little things that distract us in our lives. Countless times I’ve wished for a clone tool to stamp out the little demands that keep me away from my photography.

The closest I’ve come to complete irresponsibility is traveling, especially alone. I love to wake up earlier than the sun, feel the nip of dawn air as I hurry out to Kusumba to catch the sun rising over the fishing village. There is no schedule, there are only images to make, people to study, expressions to savor through a viewfinder.

4.     You can’t just crop.

Similarly, I can’t just crop. Things in my life crowd into my focal point and want to be in the line of sight. No matter how messy, how utterly unphotogenic something is, life doesn’t have selective framing. Unwanted elements seem to find their way into the experience, and I just have to deal with them.

Holding down the roof with stones, Punakha, Bhutan.

5.     Your batteries run out at some point.

Nothing frustrates a photographer more than being unprepared with extra batteries, and there’re lots of pictures left to make. On very good days, I shoot thousands of photos and have to change the camera battery once or twice (especially with the early digital Nikons, whose batteries lasted less than a thousand shutter clicks when I used a Vibration Reduction lens on them).

I work a lot, seven days a week, sometimes 18 hours a day. I have to; if I don’t I can’t do this photography thing and the other things I have to do. So I plod along, and most of the time, I get enough sleep and have time to watch a movie or read a book from cover to cover, for pleasure.

Other times, I feel like I’m standing on a barbed wire fence, looking out over a vague landscape, and although my hands hurt from clinging to the barbed wire, I can’t let go or I’ll fall off.

Hanging on a barbed wire fence, near Thimphu, Bhutan.

It’s not that I’m into self-inflicted pain though others would argue; I just have obligations to fulfill, and I also have a passion that feeds my soul. I cannot run out of batteries, because I must always find strength for one or the other.

When I wrote to Jodi the other day, I said, “the Balinese are so talented at balance, and that was something you needed, and something I craved. So here you are again, ready for more surprises. I hope the basket stays on the head, even when you’re dancing.”

Maybe I was also talking to myself.




Taking Home the Intangibles

My friends from faraway have exactly 36 hours before they have to go back home, and they know it. In the department store tonight, they race through their shopping —buying a camera, two mobile phones, a wristwatch and a year’s supply of eyeliner and mascara in the space of an hour, and they still need to get the LCD TV and the extra suitcase. The shops are about to close; it’s almost 10 pm. We get back to my place where they’re staying, we cook a meal, and by midnight, the day has finally ended. At home, they sit on the floor discussing how to pack, surrounded by stuff.

I used to buy souvenirs from places I’d been. I have photo frames from Sydney, a “Yak Yak Yak” t-shirt from Nepal, a capiz shell fruit plate from Cebu. Scarves from Bali, a couple of Burmese lungi, a kameez salwar from Rajasthan, the kind with mirrors on the hem. In my closet there are three umbrellas from Chiang Mai, a tie-dye shirt that says “Koh Samui” in fading letters, and fisherman pants from Had Yai. The list goes on of items that I grow tired of keeping. They sit in my closets, unused.

I don’t buy souvenirs any more. But I still have the memories.

There is nothing else like the tinkle of those old tokens we used in New Zealand to buy fresh milk. It was my job every evening to drop a token into each empty glass bottle and place the bottles beside our mailbox in Island Bay, so in the morning the milkman could come by and replace them with bottles full of fresh milk, the kind that leaves froth on your upper lip after a long cold sip.

When we travel we are perpetual strangers, and maybe experiences in a place compel us to buy those souvenirs, little bits of an experience, tangible things we can take back with us and maybe use to recreate what we felt.

Maybe I just like taking home the intangibles.

Scale. 1/800s @f/8, 17mm, ISO 125.

Like values humans share. The photo of a Muslim girl learning about the intricate relationship between monarchy, religion, and nation at the Thai Grand Palace is precious to me. It speaks about scale—the comparison between two things of different sizes. The size of the idea of culture, and the size of the idea of one person’s joy.

Scale and Isolation. 1/800s @ f/5.6, 28mm, ISO 200.

From Burma I take back contrasts. A worker hard at his carpentry repairs the wooden beams at a temple: a man laboring in the heat for a few kyats amidst a glittery splendor.

In another town, I sip the bland loneliness of a tree, flanked by chedi containing stones proclaiming the secret to life.

Perspective. 1/2500s @ f/5.6, 17mm, ISO 200.

On a boat in the Shan State, with no stores for hundreds of miles, I float past the isolation of a humble house in the middle of water and storm clouds, summoning a forgotten but beautiful sentimentality.

Isolation. 1/2500s @ f/5.6, 19mm, ISO 200.

Some moments are like gems in a secret pocket, worn close to the heart.

I sit with my friend Ye Myint. We’ve been telling each other stories all day, for several days. On this day before I fly to another city, we sit on the roof of an abandoned temple in Bagan. Silently we watch the sky release its chorus of light above the pagodas lining the landscape. All I have from that moment is the song the sky sang, for a few minutes uninterrupted, shared, frozen in a photograph.

1/160s @f/6.3, 70mm, ISO 200.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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Making Eyecandy

Like everything in photography, shooting in color is a decision. That sounds weird, right? After all, the world is in Technicolor and we can’t really turn all the color “off.”

Color has emotional content. We use it a lot in the ways we express our feelings. “Red as a beet” for both embarrassment and anger. “Blue” when we’re sad. “Green with envy.” Our perceptions of color reach far beyond just what color something is. We can add impact to a photo when we use color effectively.

Green is a soothing color.

Farmer and beautiful ricefield, Vietnam.

Some colors are cool—the blue-green part of the color spectrum. These colors are usually soothing. Photos that are mostly blue or green, such as this photo of lush forest around a beach in Krabi, Thailand, exude a sense of calm. The second photo, of a farmer walking across a rice field in Vietnam, is mostly green, and the blue shirt of the farmer gives the color palette in the photo unity. The yellow, although it should intrude on the cool color palette, instead serves to punctuate the blue and green and it also helps give the photo a three dimensional feeling, acting as a gradient running from foreground to background.

A limited color palette can work well in a photo.

The other end of the spectrum—the red-yellow part, are the warm colors. Reds, yellows, oranges are fiery, aggressive colors and we associate them with like feelings. This photo of a swami in Rajasthan, India, is full of red and yellow. The walls, the clothing of the swami, even the ground have reds in them. I think this image works because all the elements in it contain similar hues. This harmony then allows the content of the image to pop out—the humor in the pose of the swami, and the self-deprecating smile on his face, playing with the photographer and the situation.

Morning light at Angkor Wat, Siem Reap.

A sense of harmony in this shot from Siem Reap comes from the narrow color palette. The browns and yellows give the photo unity, and since everything is golden from the early morning light, even the green leaves in the photo are tinged with yellow.

But we can’t always photograph still objects, such as Angkor Wat and fallen leaves. A lot of travel photography is of people. One of the most used “tricks” of shooting travel portraits is to find a great background, wait until someone interesting walks past it, and shoot. Usually this strategy produces some gems. But after finding this wonderfully colorful wall in Saigon, Vietnam, I waited and sure enough, a girl in the traditional ao dai dress walks by. Click. Now I look at this photo and think, would it work better as a black and white photo? The clash between the purple tinge on the girl’s dress and the red, yellow and green of the wall might be distracting and does not add to the photo.

Girl in traditional dress in Saigon, Vietnam.

Another photo I think might work better in black and white is this one of a boy surrounded by his family at a market in Siem Reap, Cambodia, and they are all wearing striped shirts. The stripes on their shirts frames him, and I originally shot this in color but again wonder if the color does not really add to the photo at all.

A photo that might work better in black and white.

Sometimes, when the most compelling elements in a photo are lines or shapes, it works better as a black and white image.

Making a color image is a matter of decisions the photographer makes. Since the goal of capturing an image is to create order out of chaos, to somehow arrange the elements of a scene into a harmonious design, we can’t ignore the fact that there are ways to use color in achieving an image.

Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:
Shooting the Most Beautiful Woman in the Universe
The Beginner’s Guide to Photography’s Holy Trinity
The Man at the Window
11 Ways to Build a Better Photo
10 Online Resources for Photography Enthusiasts
How to Stay Creative

Photo Equipment Part 2: What’s in the Bag

Some people take photos because they travel.

I travel so I can take photos.

One of the very first times I traveled with equipment, I brought more than I needed, or I brought the wrong lens, or I ran out of storage and had to shoot Inle Lake in Myanmar with basic JPG (which is not entirely a bad thing, but shooting RAW would have been better).

As I traveled more, I learned which equipment works for me, and now I often pack only what is really essential on a photography trip.

Most of my trips last three weeks at most, and the trips I like are the ones where I am constantly on the move. Arrive in Delhi at 9 pm, get into a car at 10 after customs, drive for 9 hours to Bikaner, and shoot all day. That sort of thing. So I do not want a lot of equipment that will be cumbersome or too heavy and prevent me from moving a lot.


Loading boats at Kusumba, Bali. Photo (c) Aloha Lavina.

2007 was the year when I first racked up more than 80,000 miles traveling with my camera, so that was when I found out what I needed. Bare essentials for me on a trip are one DSLR, a wide lens such as the very affordable Sigma 10-20mm f/3.5-5.6, a middle lens which stays on the camera as the default lens, which for the Nikon D3 is the 24-70mm f/2.8 NANO Nikkor, and a long lens, my favorite being the Nikkor 70-200mm f/2.8. These zoom lenses are fast lenses with the widest aperture zooms come in. I find that using these fast zooms gives me a lot of confidence that while on the move, I am able to get images that are sharp and bursting with color, the way I like my images.

Just last December I was offered an assignment and a sponsorship by Canon, and they sent me a 60D, a new prosumer model with video, and the flexible 18-200mm f/3.5 lens. I found that Canon really produces a blue sky, and that the combination of the camera body and lens were lightweight (great because the trip had a lot of trekking) and flexible. The lens covered all the subjects I needed to shoot—closeup portraits, environmental portraits, landscapes, still life, low light detail, and action shots of black necked cranes and vultures swooping around flapping prayer flags.


I also have the following in my bag:

  • Spare batteries – the new batteries these days boast longer life, up to 1500 shots. For the D3 I find the batteries do last around that long, and that is usually what I shoot on a really good day.
  • Memory cards – I bring up to 48 GB of memory on a weeklong trip because I am a trigger happy girl and can usually fill up to 16 GB easily in a day, shooting RAW.
  • Storage viewer – I bring the EPSON P-5000 or the P-7000 on my travels. The P-5000 has 80 GB of storage and the P-7000 has 160GB of storage.

    The EPSON P-7000 has a 4 inch screen for viewing photos and stores up to 160GB.

    They both have a 4” LCD screen for viewing photos in common camera formats (RAW for both Nikon and Canon, as well as TIFF and JPG). I use this device to back up and store my images and free up the memory cards for the next day. Also, at night I spend time editing my photos, deleting photos that obviously do not work, marking the ones I really like. The EPSON allows you to “star” your favorites) and saving them into a separate folder called “Favorites” to help me get started with processing when I return from the trip).

  • Cleaning equipment – I have a great blower brush and microfiber cloth, and I use them often. When I am indoors, say for lunch or a coffee break, I’ll often clean the camera and lenses I have used so far, before heading out again for more image hunting.
  • Filters – I attach a UV filter to every lens. More than something that will affect my color or image, the UV lens is basically to protect the lens glass. I also bring a polarizing filter (sometimes).
  • Lens hoods – all Nikon lenses come with a lens hood, and I absolutely make it a point to use them. Not only do they block out unwanted light, they also protect the lens from bumps especially in crowded areas.
  • Tripod – I have a Chinese made Benro tripod that I use in places where I might take some landscape shots or long exposures. If the trip is long enough and I do not have a deadline for portraits, I bring the tripod. On most of my trips though, I have to confess, the shots are all captured handheld.
  • A couple of pens and a small notebook – writing equipment is always part of my camera bag. You never know when an image brings with it a story that uses words.


For trips where I have to edit and process photos before returning home, I bring the 15” Macbook pro. I prefer Apple products because they are intuitive to use, and I do not have to calibrate the screen too often.

For post-processing work that I do at home, I use a 27” iMac with 8GB RAM. I need it especially to prepare files that are really really big, like billboards.

I use Adobe Lightroom 3.3 and Adobe Photoshop CS5 to prepare my images for publication. I sometimes use Adobe Illustrator to prepare files for print publications which specify this file requirement.

For storage, I use three different external drives as backups which I clean every year. Clients’ photos in the original RAW format are kept in the external hard drive for a year, and then I delete them and only keep the ones I use for my portfolio.


All things considered, I am pretty happy with the equipment I have, for the work that I do. However, if I had the some dispensable cash to invest in more equipment, I would probably go for the following juicy bits.

1.     14mm f/2.8 lens – this lens is great for tight spaces—markets, temples, festivals. It’s fast and it’s wide enough for travel and street photography.

2.     Macbook 15” i7 core –at the moment I can only run CS4 on my Macbook Pro which is two generations older. With this new, faster MBP, Adobe Photoshop CS5 and Lightroom 3 could run without the issue of overheating.

Desert Lines

We drive all night from Mumbai airport, stopping only for warm chai to wake up, at a tea shop with a dirt floor and truck drivers clutching cups of chai, swarmed around a 14-inch television showing city soaps. In the morning, we are in Rajasthan. In the early morning mist, a camel and his mahout stop as the sun rises, a silhouette in the dust. We stop to negotiate for some camels to ride into a village in the Thar desert, East of Pakistan.

Mahout and camel, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

The saddle of my camel has raw pieces of silver in its horn, where the metal stuck to the pommel has peeled off in jagged edges. As the heat rises, shambling along the sand, I notice my hands begin to bleed from cuts. I think of tetanus briefly, but it is a distant notion, and I give it little thought as the sun climbs higher and the heat seeps through my scarf and alights upon my nose. A camel in the group has a cold and sneezes into my friend’s backpack.

In the village, the children crowd around us and our cameras. A girl with hair stiff from the dust and too little water stands leaning on a wall and stares brazenly into the camera. They are curious, and we do not share a language. Their chatter sounds like a hypersonic version of the ghazals I’ve heard on CD—literary in its cadence, almost like a song, with whispers of a prayerful love. I bask in the poetry of noises I do not recognize but strangely, understand with my heart.

Later the mahouts wave us over for lunch. Onion and potato curry over rice.

Women gather firewood, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

“Does the rice taste crispy or crunchy to you?” asks Karin. I nod, perplexed. The curry is hot and delicious. Just that strange crunch with every bite.

After lunch, one of the mahouts gathers the dishes and cleans them with sand. We put away the dishes and drink some water, taking care not to waste a drop.

A woman comes out of one of the earth houses and grabs my hand, chattering. I follow her with my camera and she takes me to her mother, her blind mother, gestures for me to take her photo. I don’t know if I can send them a print of this shot—do they even have addresses, here in the desert without streets? I take the photo, show it to her whole family. I get happy smiles in return. They want to see the photo over and over.

My male companions have to stay outside because they aren’t allowed to enter the women’s section of the compound. They stand around with the men, smoking cigarettes, laughing over something they didn’t need language to understand. When I join them, the men want to see the photos of the women, and I oblige, showing them the photos from inside the women’s compound. Somewhere a baby begins to cry, a woman coos to it.

Blind matriarch, Rajasthan India. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

We pile back on to our camels and begin to trek again. The camels have a mind of their own. Sometimes they want to stroll, and each step feels like forever punctuated with a bump. Other times, the camels jog, and talking, our teeth clack against each other. My friend and I sing syncopated love songs on our camels to pass the time, laughing at all bits made strange by the camels’ rhythm. Soon, the sun is almost gone, the breeze has come, and the temperature change is evident in the way we have gathered our winter coats around us and fallen silent.

The moon rises over the Thar Desert, and we camp out, in the middle of all that sand, no street signs to tell us which way was Pakistan and which way was India. The dinner feels gritty, the water is sweet, and the men sing like poets.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

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The Umbrella Story
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The Man at the Window

The man at the window, Myanmar. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

He was at the old wooden temple with his family, but they were somewhere else in the building, in another room. He sat by the window, deep in thought.

It was my first trip to Burma, and I had a D200 with the Nikkor 17-55 mm 2.8f lens.  From inside, I saw him sitting by that circular window. All wrinkles and warm colors, seemingly the same textures as the wood.

I ran downstairs to get this shot.

To get the shot: I zoomed the lens as wide as it could get and angled the shot so that the wood would distort.  I saw the planks at the bottom of the shot, leading to his hand. I abstracted the window by cropping it above and on the right, so his face would float in the dark background. To get the colors to pop, I used Aperture priority and compensated for exposure by underexposing three quarters of a stop.

In post processing, my goal was to enhance the underexposure and separate the man from the shadows around his face. I also wanted the textures accentuated.

Most often my exposures are subjective, so I did not do a levels adjustment with Photoshop CS2 as I was quite happy with the underexposure. The more dramatic the contrast, the better, for me. Instead I wanted the skin tones to remain the chocolate color of the man’s real skin. So I used Channels, using the blue channel for the wood to give it more grain or noise, and the green channel for the man. I blended the two channels using the Multiply mode, which effectively darkens the whole image. Then using a layer mask, I brushed back the color, using a very soft brush and around 30 percent opacity. Later, on a separate layer, I used the dodge and burn tools to achieve more pronounced textures in the wall. Lastly, I sharpened the whole photo using Unsharp Mask and Fade Unsharp Mask combinations, with the aim of increasing the already dramatic contrast.

And that was how this image was created.

This photo is special to me, one of my favorites, and the reason why I fell in love with the stories of Burma.

NOTE: This post was written for LightStalking, who asked me this question on Twitter. Thanks for inspiring this blog post!


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:

Su Mon in the City – a Closeup of Life in Yangon
The Umbrella Story
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A Small Place to Meander

I wrote this piece for @getoutmysuit, who will be starting her RTW soon and asked about the “off the beaten path” places I’ve been. Thanks for inspiring this post!

Dumaguete is officially labeled “The City of Gentle People” and has been described as a “sleepy little town” and also often called a university town by people who’ve been. Sightly bigger than Luang Prabang, and much calmer than Siem Reap, for me, it’s the best place to meander.

How to get there

If there were a way of getting to Dumaguete without passing through chaotic, noisy Manila, I would take it.  Cathay Pacific has a flight that leaves Singapore for Cebu, the island next to Negros Island, where Dumaguete is.  From Cebu International Airport you can take a Ceres bus all the way to the jetty that services Maayo Shipping, the regular ferry service between Cebu and Negros islands, docking at a place called Tampi. From Tampi, it’s a short bus ride to Dumaguete.  The downside of this route is that the flight from Singapore to Cebu is expensive (around $1000) and the whole journey takes a day and a half.

There are two direct flights from Manila to Dumaguete, one early in the morning and one at midday. Cebu Pacific and Air Philippines both fly to Dumaguete. Cost is variable, but plan on spending around more or less $300 for a round trip ticket.

Walkabout Number 1: The old and famous

Dumaguete grew around Silliman University, established by Americans in 1901, and remains an institution with one of the most sought after diplomas in Philippine education. It’s worth taking a walk around the campus, at the gate of which you have to exchange a picture ID for a visitor’s pass. While on campus, check out the huge acacia trees, a signature feature of the sprawling campus. Walk up the slight hill from the base of Hibbard Avenue where it begins in the Piapi district, and meander through tree-lined Hibbard Avenue, stopping at old wooden bungalows which house some university faculty.

Also check out the small kiosks where students hang out to eat their snacks in between classes. I would recommend tasting the “banana cue,” a trio of sugar coated ripe bananas on a barbecue stick, which remains one of the favorite cheap snacks in the city.

If you are in the city on August 28th, you might witness Founders Day, a few days worth of fair, shows, beauty pageants, and cheering contests. I suggest catching the cheering contests. It’s basically a large group of people chanting and cheering in unison, with clapping and other choreographed sequences, complete with acrobatic cheerleaders! And groups win trophies and prestige, so they are very competitive and do a phenomenal job.

Sunrise at Silliman University. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

When you’ve walked the length of Hibbard Avenue, the long street that flanks departments of the University, head south along Perdices Street, the downtown, where you will see a movie theater, some boutiques, a bookstore, and a smattering of restaurants including the popular McDonald’s near Quezon Park. At the intersection of Perdices Street with Colon Street, turn right and follow the street to the main market area. Here you will see the fresh market. Check out activity in the fresh market early in the morning, before the heat picks up.

On the very short Sta. Rosa street, there is a corner bakery making some heavenly things—try the “star bread” which is a star shaped bread with a sugared top and aniseed baked inside. Star bread goes really well with some coffee. Which leads us to…

…Walkabout Number 2: Coffee and cake

Speaking of coffee, if you’re in the mood to hang out creatively, head out to a coffee shop with your journal or laptop or a good book. Some coffee that’s worth your walk is at the following cafes.

  1. Cafe Antonio is on the second floor of the Spanish Heritage Bldg, San Juan Street corner Sta. Catalina St. When I went, I ordered a latte and sat around reading a textbook on curriculum. The staff were very friendly, and around the area where you sit are some paintings and other art to look at. They even have a blog! From Café Antonio, you can walk east toward Rizal Boulevard.
  2. Sans Rival Pastry and Coffee Shop is a little café on Rizal Boulevard which makes the sans rival dessert. This is a cream log filled with custard and other good things dessert devils like. A slice of sans rival cake is about a gazillion calories, so I never have it any more when I visit Dumaguete, but I think if you are a first time traveler in these here parts you should partake of this even just once. Trust me, you will not forget the experience. Oh, and the coffee is just an excuse to get to the cake.
  3. Ana Maria Bakeshoppe is the home of the chocolate monster. That is, a chocolate cake that is rumored to “simply melt” in your mouth. Again, here the coffee loses its potency with the sugary goodness you encounter with every chocolate bite.

Author’s NOTE: I would not go to all these cafes all on the same day, especially if you are trying to read and write afterwards. Just sayin’.

Walkabout Number 3: Don’t blink or you’ll miss it

For this walkabout, I recommend a printed copy of the FREE Dumaguete Map.

Since you are full of sugar and caffeine, you can seriously get into a walkabout that burns all those calories and that nervous energy. This walk starts at Rizal Boulevard and ends at the Angtay Golf facility on Rovira Road. At meandering speed, it will take at most 2 hours.

It’s best to see Rizal Boulevard at sunrise, around 6.15 am, so start at the southernmost point of the street, where you might see fishermen come in from the night’s fishing, their small bancas or outriggers, loaded with mackerel, bangus and tiny fish fry which the locals make into ginamos, a dip made from pickled fish, vinegar and salt. Walk North along the boulevard and you will see a statue of Paulinian nuns, who came in 1907 and established their mission

Statue of Paulinian Nuns, Dumaguete. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

in Dumaguete including a university at your destination, Rovira Drive. On the other side of the street, you will pass Don Atilano’s, a well appointed café where upper middle class residents are often found dining on its Italian and fusion dishes. At the end of the boulevard before it curves right into a dodgy area known as Barangay Looc, you will see the end of Silliman Avenue. Turn left at this street, and walk until you see the intersection with Silliman University. Cross the street so that you have National Bookstore on your right, and continue walking west until you come to a large intersection and the North Road highway. Turn right on North Road.

On North Road, you will see on your left just beside the Provincial Capitol building and park, the Negros Oriental State University. If you want, you can walk in and around the U shaped road that leads you to the provincial capitol building. If you are walking on a Saturday, you’ll see the Negros Oriental High School marching band practicing just past the capitol building, and another of those ubiquitous banana-cue vendors. Follow the road out onto North Road and keep going.

You will pass Barangay Daro. Daro is a village where most of the clay work is done in Dumaguete, so you will see stacks and stacks of baked clay pots along the Daro strip of North Road. You will also see some interesting sari-sari stores, or stores selling all kinds of retail items such as bags of Tide detergent hanging on a string alongside chicharon, or pork rinds. There are also some very picturesque old wooden houses in Daro, especially in morning light. You may, like me, be distracted into taking photographs here.

Passing Daro, you will arrive at the Provincial Nursery and agriculture office, then Negros Oriental Provincial Hospital. Across the hospital, you will find some stalls selling steamed rice and common dishes.

On North Road, past the hospital, you will see a sign pointing you to a bowling alley. This may be the only bowling alley in the entire province. It’s open until late.

Main street, Dumaguete, with McD's. Photo by Aloha Lavina.

Passing the bowling alley, you come to a short bridge spanning a canal, at the intersection with Rovira Drive. Turn right at Rovira Drive. On Rovira Drive, you will have St. Paul’s University on your left. Past the north gate to the uni that is almost always closed, you will see a clearing with trees and a small road that leads to what a sign calls the “Angtay Golf” facility.

The Angtay Golf area has a flat nine holes with an interesting layout. There are numerous water hazards and sand traps in this not so easy course, and it’s very affordable if you want to play. They also have a driving range, at which you can hang out and order food. The restaurant at Angtay has some mean fried chicken and Chinese style dumplings.

After your break, you might want to meander some more down Rovira Drive, but this is a mainly residential area and there is not much to see. After this walk, you might want to take a pedicab, actually a small four seater cab attached to a motorbike, and go back to the city center.  Fare from Angtay to the city center is 7.5 Pesos.

Top Five Excursions Outside Dumaguete

With Negros Island not being as popular a tourist destination as Cebu, Bohol or Boracay, you can travel around relatively inexpensively. Here are some highlights around Negros Oriental Province.

1. Twin Lakes, Balinsasayao, Sibulan

Sibulan is the town north of Dumaguete and is only a few kilometers away from Rovira Drive. In fact, as soon as you pass the airport, you are already in Sibulan town. AT the center of town is St. Anthony’s Church and a park. The lakes are around 45 minutes from Sibulan town through tropical jungle, and ideal for a day trip out of Dumaguete.

2. Bais Dolphin Watch

Another day trip from Dumaguete, the town of Bais is around an hour away. The city itself organizes these trips and it includes a seafood meal on the boat.

3. Near Bais: Manjuyod Sand Bar

Manjuyod is close to Bais. On the white sand bar, some cottages on stilts are for rent for the day or overnight. Picturesque, it’s a great place to wake up and watch the sun rise over clear, clean water.

4. Bacong Town

Bacong is south from Dumaguete. You can take a bus there from the central market area near Santa Rosa St, or you can hire a pedicab to take you there for a minimal fee for which you have to bargain. (Recommended: ask your hotel for what it would take to go from Dumaguete to Bacong on a pedicab.)

Bacong is definitely out of the way, but it’s a delightful day trip from Dumaguete. Get off at the market and meander through small streets toward the beach, passing the Bacong Church, a very old, very beautiful stone structure with moss on the walls. Also check out what is reputedly the oldest altar in the province, inside.

On the way back from Bacong, you may want to pass by Santa Monica Beach Resort, where you can have a Filipino lunch to the music of the surf. Highly recommended is the “boneless bangus” (milk fish) dish with carrot and radish pickle, steamed rice and a mango shake without sugar (tell them not to add sugar).

5. Apo Island

Further down from Bacong, you will get to a town called Zamboangita. From its central market, you can buy a boat trip to Apo Island. All the prices are posted on a notice board, so you do not have to haggle for the price. Apo Island is best for snorkeling and sunning for a day trip, or if you have more time, you can explore more of the island on a two-day trip.

A warning though: the trip to Apo is wet, so if you have electronic gear, it’s best to keep it in a waterproof bag. My solution for traveling with a camera to Apo is wrapping all my gear including bag in a strong, industrial grade plastic garbage bag tied tightly with rubber bands. It works and can be reused.

On Apo, you have to pay the fees that go toward keeping this marine sanctuary clean and well maintained not only for its human inhabitants but especially for its marine ones. For a more comprehensive look at Apo Island, visit the Dumaguete Info site.

If you are looking for a place “off the beaten path,” Dumaguete is not a tourist destination and is perfect for you. Most of the expats who visit Dumaguete, though, end up staying, so be careful.  Don’t fall in love with the place. Well, maybe just a little.


Welcome back and thanks for reading Imagine That! To keep updated with new posts, subscribe to Imagine That! by clicking on the RSS Feed button on the upper right of the Homepage.

You might also like:

Su Mon in the City – a Closeup of Life in Yangon
The Umbrella Story
An Unkindness of Ravens
The Good, the Bugs, and the Ugly
That Beautiful Longing

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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