Telling a story

If I do manage to get to Israel (help me out here for the crowdsourcing project) then I will do a few things. Other than, of course, the purely mechanical.

First, of course, I will constantly remind myself that I am neutral. For any photojournalism to be worth that name, it has to be impartial. Now, I am going to cover a particular story, of course. But that does not imply bias. Sometimes, journalists have to remind themselves they are there to observe; they are not activists. Of course the very choice of subjects implies an agenda, but it can be an impartial agenda (“in search of justice” rather than “in search of justice for party X”).

Second, I will make this a story, and arrange shoots to show that story. My story really here would contain  the following elements:

  • Who’s who? Newspaper readers may think “Israel”: is one unit.. but Israel consists of various types of Jews, various creeds of Muslims, and of Druze, Bahai, and many more. Informing would be good. Showing how these groups live, who they are, how they interact.
  • Show people under the daily threat of violence. The sign above is not unusual. Imagine being confronted with such things daily.
  • Show who is getting on which whom, or if not, why not. The byzantine nature of Middle East politics is not easy to explain in a few photos, but I can shed some light on it no doubt.
  • Show, if possible, both problems and resolutions.

And all this has to be storytelling.

This particular photo assignment may or may not go ahead (depends on you, kind pledgers—only four days left..please help if you can); but what matters more is that the principles here apply to pretty much all photojournalism.

And no, photojournalism makes no-one any money. Most photojournalists, as an acquainted newspaper photo editor just reminded me, make a loss. As will I: consider it my volunteer work.


Photojournalism Israel: Help me fund!

I set up a kickstarter link… ready to take your pledges now. And your other help, ideas, contacts: you name it. Go here:

Click and read, and let me know any questions. I have allowed one week only. This is so that I can book tickets and guide, and prepare interviews, locations, etc.

I look forward to seeing this spread widely, so the trip can go ahead.



I am going to plan a trip to Israel, late September, to do a freelance photojournalism project. A few words about that project here (and I am asking for your help.)

Israel. You cannot mention this name without emotion. Pro or con, there’s always opinion and emotion. But alas, not enough fact.

The extant conflict in Gaza is an example. It is being well covered, but when I say “well covered”, I mean that Gaza is being well covered. No lack of stories about human interest, dead and injured Palestinian civilians, and so on. And those stories do deserve to be told.

But so do others… and I see very little coverage about Israel. About what its citizens have had to endure for years. And I wonder about this: what must it be like to know that your children will spend years in the army—and not an army that sits and peels potatoes, but an army that gets in harms way. What must it be like to know you are 30 seconds away by missile from hostile countries around you. What must it be like to rarely be able to go to a restaurant without having to be checked out by an armed guard at the door. To have buses, night clubs, and cafés blown up regularly. To know that several towns are under daily missile attack. To see automatic rifles around you all day. To even have repairmen show up with a handgun on their belt. To have to go through metal detectors everywhere. To see teenagers walking in the streets day and night with their automatic rifles.

“Collective guilt”, you say? First, that notion is debatable, but more importantly, that is irrelevant. Ordinary people, in my decades of experience in over 40 countries, want ordinary lives. They want a Toyota to drive, a spouse to make love to, kids to raise, and a house to live in. And in the circumstances above, I wonder if that is easily done. And I wonder if this kind of living under constant threat is not psychologically harmful.

I see very little media coverage of this, and as a pictorial storyteller, I really want to help redress that balance. I see this as an area where I can make a contribution.

Surely that all sounds like you are partial, Michael?

Perhaps it may sound like it to you, but I am not. Let me explain.

First, I think I have a few advantages here:

  1. I know Israel a little, having been several times, and having toured extensively both times.
  2. I know the Middle East: I have spent plenty of time in Iraq, Jordan, Saudi, Qatar, Bahrain, Libya… years altogether. So I know what undemocratic governments are like, too.
  3. Most importantly, I have, as they say, “no dog in this fight”. Being neither Jewish nor Israeli nor Arab nor Palestinian nor anything-else-involved makes it easier for me to get the message across, because I am perceived as being more neutral.

Which I am. A detached view, as one who is not involved in any way, is essential for good journalism. I have an agenda of sorts, of course. I think that Israelis as a whole have endured way more than they should have; but this feeling comes out of an objective look at the situation, and the message will very definitely be photographed with an objective lens. Having a viewpoint born out of experience does not make one partial.

I am certainly also neutral in the sense that I have no personal interest here at all. The interest of Justice, yes. The interest of wanting to see a rarey democratic country in the region at least be given the honour of being heard: that too. Am I partial? No. War and fighting are horrible, and dead civilians are a tragedy, whatever side they are supposedly on. But looking at the experiences of both sides is part of that.

Also, it is very important for me to point out I am not making any money here: I am charging zero for my time. Photojournalists like me often shoot weddings to eat, and then we do the important work out of our own pocket.

So the trip will be 8-10 days of photojournalism. Late September, because that allows me to fund and prepare. If the current conflict is over then, no matter: the story is the constant drip-drip-drip low level threat and actuality of violence that Israelis deal with.

How exactly does photojournalism differ from ordinary photography? In several important ways:

First, I am an observer when shooting. When I am working as a photojournalist, I may not affect the picture in any way. I cannot ask people to look at me. Or to step this way, or that. Or to wait. Or to do anything at all. I need to shoot what there is; the moment I affect what there is, I am not longer an observer.

Second, the picture must represent truth. I cannot edit a picture, other than cropping, colour/WB/B&W conversions, colour space choice, and minor exposure adjustments. Possibly lens adjustments, but only automatic ones (eg to get rid of barrel/pincushion distortion for a given lens). Beyond that, each newspaper has its own policy, but I err on the conservative side: I do nothing beyond what I mentioned there. I will allow myself on-camera adjustments, just like I could choose a film type in the film days, where some had more contrasty pictures, some more subdued.  But beyond these basics, what you will see is what I shot. And about that… I must try to be objective (It is not OK to crop in a way that distorts reality, for instance).

Once I am back with the photos, and even while shooting them, I will contact media to see who is interested. Beyond that, there is the Internet, and there are books, exhibits, and so on to consider.

So now the help. Where does this come in?

If you, like me., believe this story should be told, then help me by part sponsoring the trip. I am doing this on a budget plus my time is not being paid for, so the cost is low: perhaps $8,500 for the entire trip, and that will include everything, including flight, accommodation, food, daily guide, and transport. If you are interested in sponsoring part of this trip, please contact me privately. You will of course get a signed copy of a book I will do of the work.

Now to start preparing.


Travel Photography Opportunity

This Saturday, 12 April, 10AM in Oakville I present “Travel Photography”. A three-hour workshop about, um, travel photography.  Go to to book: seating is strictly limited: no more than five people. This is your chance to learn how I do it, and to immediately improve your photography. What to bring? Composition tips. People tips. Technical requirements. Lens choices. Storytelling tips. All this and more!

Here’s Fremont Street, Las vegas; January 2014

Night shots mean that you either carry a tripod, which you probably will not, or you:

  • Expose carefully and know how you are doing it. Night is not always dark!
  • Carefully handle the differences between light and dark, which can be extreme.
  • Use wider angles if you want to keep things simple (you will learn why).
  • Stabilize yourself (I will teach you some techniques).
  • Choose an appropriate ISO value.

All these are simple things once you know how, and night shots are often essential to really capture a place. Do not put your camera away when the sun disappears!


It’s Springtime. We Travel. We Come Back With Photos.

But are they Any Good? Relax. In a three hour lesson this Sunday, I teach you how to ensure that they will be good:

  • Camera settings for each situation;
  • What to bring;
  • Travel safety for you and your equipment;
  • What lenses to consider;
  • Composition basics;
  • Common mistakes-and solutions.
  • Practical composition tips;
  • Storytelling, and Using an B-Roll;
  • Post-production tips;

This seminar will allow you to do pro travel photography quickly. You will be amazed at how much better your shots are upon your return!

What you need: Basic camera knowledge, a camera, preferably but not necessarily with DSLR capabilities.

BOOK NOW: LIMITED SPACE. Go to and select your travel course. This is a small seminar, max 6 students.

Back to the grindstone

I am back from Aruba (the roundabout way, via Caracas, Bogota, and back via Panama City, Orlando) and I am blogging again. About, of course, travel photography; what else.

When I shoot some pictures (an this was not a picture trip: rather, a vacation with some pictures), I think “what is the character of the place”. So I think, when I think of Aruba, things like “the trip”. I will spare you all the photos, but it is important to get these “B-roll” photos: the ones that tie together the photos of the trip. Travel Photography is storytelling.

So you include shots like this, of Bogota, Colombia, by the airport (I travelled to Aruba via Caracas and Bogota):

And of Aruba arrival:

When I get to my destination, I think “beach”:

..and I think “sites”: the lighthouse…


Charlie’s Bar, San Nicolas:

Dutch heritage:

The way ordinary people live:

And yes, of course I do also think of sunsets:

And one more thing—I am always happy to offer the people I meet a memory, as well. Like the young couple in Charlie’s Bar:

And the couple next door:

…I mean, why not? They can’t take photos like this, so I’ll do it for them. A very small effort, but it does require some equipment (bounced flash in the first one; off-camera flash with a Honlphoto softbox in the second one).

More about this trip, and in particular about its photography, in the future, but now to unpack my stuff. A week of 31C, now followed by freezing again. But the photos last, and that of course is why we like to take them.


Let it be told…

My last evening in Las Vegas; old Las Vegas, Fremont East, and I shall let these pictures tell the story. I like this part of Las Vegas more than the strip, for all its glitter.

The last image there is from the Heart Attack Grill (where you get the “octuple bypass burger”, and if you weigh more than 350lbs your food is free).

Want to do the same? You can. More storytelling techniques in the new Impactful Travel Photography book.



Through a haze, clearly

Here is the city I shall leave again when the airline has seats in a day or two:

You will notice some technique here:

Haze and foreground: I made the two houses in the foreground part of the picture. Anything hazy is OK is there is something sharp in the foreground. (I discuss this in the Impactful Travel Photography book, of course).

Panorama: I cut off the top and bottom to emphasize the strip, and to use the Rule of Thirds. (This too in the Travel book).
Enjoy your day. I am about to enjoy the last day of Nevada before I try to get on a plane, which is proving surprisingly difficult.



Yesterday’s trip was to the Valley Of Fire, Nevada. Just an hour outside Las Vegas and the most stunning landscapes I have ever seen–and I have been around the world countless times. I can only compare it to Ayers Rock (Uluru) and the Olga’s (Kata Tjuta) — except better (sorry, Oz friends) and bigger.

I have never regretted not having two cameras as much. Every other shot needed a lens change. The above shot was taken with the 70-200 lens. This one with the 16-35:

That National Geographic “wrapping around me” feeling that only a wide lens can give you.

And the crisp, undistorted feeling a long lens delivers:

What was critical in the shot above? Yes, time. I had a few minutes. In 30 seconds, the sun was gone. What happens in mountains under a clear sky.

One more from the wide lens:

And the sun eventually sets.

Not that the fun stops after the sun sets. Beautiful colors come out:

And here finally is the native gas station that I drove a Korean college student, her mom, and her two kid sisters to yesterday, after they had a flat tire in their Kia rental. And I am here to tell you that those “temporary fix” kits they use now instead of a spare tire do NOT work. (the kits that comprise a compressor plus some substance). After the “fix”, 6km later it was flat again. Fortunately, I had a van so was able to drive them 15km to the gas station, where they waited for the rental company.

I could spend a week in that park and only scratch the surface. Instead, I use photography and I am quick.

This country is so beautiful, I am thinking more and more I belong here, the southwestern USA.Now all I need is a green card and an income…


More travel photography tips: Get my e-book Impactful Travel Photography today. Need to learn your camera? Then buy Mastering Your Camera too.