Category Archives: Photography

Things Here Jump

A gecko catches a bug in mid air in Andringitra National Park.

NOTE FOM JONAH: This is part of a series of photographs and thoughts from Madagascar. To see earlier installments of this series click here. As always, click photos to embiggin.

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When looking at Madagascar, its hard not to be fascinated by the variety of jumping things found on this island. These things come in the shapes of lizards, mammals and lemurs.

This is reason enough to make the long journey to Madagascar.

A Sifaka jumps through the air in UNESCO World Heritage area Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park.

But photographing them is an entirely different story. Here’s how a lot of “lemur photography” works:

You go to a national park. You hire a guide and set out on hikes on relatively well maintained trails. As the guide leeds you he is listening and watching the canopy of the forest. Then, in one quick moment he says “wait here” and then darts off the trail into the thick forest. Standing there you wonder what prompted his actions but you can assume he heard or saw something.

From top left clockwise: A centipede, giant slug, multicolored grasshopper and mongoose — some of the things you'll encounter while trying to photograph leaping things above you.

Then from within the forest you hear him “ok, come here.”

Pushing through the wet trees and spider webs you just hope that you dont accidentally grab something poisonous, or worse, that something poisonous grabs you. But eventually you find a small space between the trees where the guide is. He points his finger directly into the air and says “there.”

Ring-Tailed Lemur Tail
The tail of a Ring-Tailed Lemur hangs from a tree.

And this is where you start. In a dark, wet, jungle looking directly up at a backlit small monkey-ish type animal who is just about as quick as a bird when it wants to be.

Getting images to come out in this scenario is quite tricky. The equation is simply not productive to making good pictures: fast moving objects, uncomfortable environments, strong backlight contrasting with a dark subjects. I found using any type of automatic setting would essentially ruin most photographs. But even using a complete manual mode the backlit condition made the autofocus far too slow to be effective. Putting the camera to manual focus means you are essentially guessing where the lemur will jump and what the lighting condition will be in that spot.

Dancing Sifaka
Example of how Sifaka jumps on two legs staying vertically aligned, even when on the ground level.

And jump they do.

My favorite of these jumping creatures is the Sifaka. An amazing lemur that stays upright as it jumps — even on the ground. This essentially means when its on the ground it hops on two feet without the use of the hands to crawl. This gives the lemur a kind of dancing motion as it moves across the ground.

Climbing Chameleon
A chameleon slowly climbs a tree in Andringitra National Park.

However, the real challenge was to photograph these animals in mid air.

The first step to not having backlit photos was to create a level orientation between the subject and the camera. i.e. you can’t be shooting up, you have to be shooting across. And while I’m not the best tree climber, the better practice here would be to have the patience till the animal comes to a lower height. This is the key word: patience.

Two Ring Tailed Lemurs climb a tree.

After spending some weeks in the jungle making bad pictures of these animals my appreciation for real wildlife photographers came back. It must be one of the most unglamorous jobs in the world.

While I think there is a lot of technical challenges in wildlife photography, its really a very difficult mental challenge. Sitting in a buggy place waiting for an animal to do just the right thing at the right moment. And then of there wasn’t enough chance in that equation already, you have to be ready with a camera when that happens. This is the challenge of wildlife photography.

Lemur Photography
Left, Indri lemur. Right, Sifaka Lemur.

And as the jungle wears on your patience, cameras become heavy. Mosquitos bites become more itchy.

The one thing that can make this even more difficult is — the night. Many lemurs are nocturnal including one of the more interesting ones I saw — the Mouse Lemur.

Lemur Photography
The golden bamboo lemur (Hapalemur aureus) Ranomafana National Park. Right, Mouse Lemur in Kirindy Natural Reserve.

This little creature is about the size of your hand but has the ability to jump two to three meters almost spontanouslly.

The mouse lemurs are nocturnal lemurs of the genus Microcebus. Like all lemurs, mouse lemurs are native to Madagascar. Mouse lemurs have a combined head, body and tail length of less than 27 centimetres (11 in), making them the smallest primates

Think of this lemur, like a bouncy-ball that you threw inside of a small confined space. They jump from tree-to-tree frantically catching insects in the air as they jump. The speed at which they jump is truly amazing, as the fact they seem to be able to propel themselves great distances with zero light. Taking pictures of something this small, this fast and in the dark — is not so easy.

Like all lemurs, Sifakas are found only on the island of Madagascar. All species of sifakas are threatened, ranging from vulnerable to critically endangered.

Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to have any discussion of the lemurs, without discussing the state of their habitat.

Like many lemurs on the island, the Sifaka (directly above) is threatened due to deforestation. As Madagascar’s forests have rapidly disappeared, so has the wildlife population. Many reports now claim over 90% of Madagascar’s original forest has been cut.

This has had a direct impact on the lemurs and for the most part, you won’t really see them unless you are in a national park or protected area.

A lemur jumps over a photographer.

The impoverished population has had no choice but to turn to the forest for survival.

More on this in next post …

Nothing about Madagascar is Convenient

Although the Baobab has become a symbol of Madagascar it is also found in the mainland Africa, Arabian Peninsula and Australia. Six of the eight species of baobab are found in Madagascar.

NOTE FOM JONAH: This is the start of a series of photographs and thoughts from Madagascar.

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Nothing about Madagascar is convenient.

Even getting to the world’s fourth biggest island can take days. It took me three to reach it from Beijing. The island, which is almost twice the size of California is almost void of roads. 100 kilometers on a map, might be an entire day in a car. If you happen to be using public transportation that day: visualize yourself as a human sardine, riding in a likely-to-break-down van, only driving over large pot holes, while holding a heavy backpack on your lap.

But locals here don’t seem to be bothered by it. Author Clifton Paul Fadiman once said “When you travel, remember that a foreign country is not designed to make you comfortable. It is designed to make its own people comfortable.” This is certainly true here.

But for those that are willing to leave the comforts of their home behind, this is one of the more interesting places on earth.

A Sifaka Lemur (with enormous fingers) waits in a tree. Sifakas remain vertical while moving, in trees or on the ground.

Jumping lemurs, camouflaged chameleons, granite mountains, limestone karst, sprawling savannas, empty white beaches: there are enough possibilities of adventure to last a life time in Madagascar. And in 2012, I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to visit this incredibly rich and diverse country in the Indian Ocean.

It would be my second time traveling in the Indian Ocean this year; and for the second time, I would be surrounded by strange fauna and a culture none like I had seen before. At this point its becoming a bit of a habit: finding what I consider to be a strange place and simply going.

Storm clouds form over Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. The limestone formations, known as tsingys are karstic plateaus, formed from groundwater and erosion. The park is an UNESCO World Heritage Area.

Every time I do this the world seems to get a little smaller. As humans, our differences become less important but the way we live our lives seem more unique. Little things can seem big and big things can seem small. How a person counts money, the way they describe a color or what taste they consider to be “plain” seems infinitely interesting while the fact we speak a different language, have different religions or what we consider to be comfortable seem less important.

In my three weeks on the island I was confronted with abject poverty and stunningly beauty landscapes (often at the same time) — although they were ordinary to the locals around me.

Four women, with four straw hats sit at a market in Vangaindrano.

I saw endemic wildlife just feet in front of my face, that before only existed for me in a Disney cartoon and national geographic pages.

Standing at the Allés des Baobabs a postcard became real. I always find this very interesting with the world’s most iconic spots. You might be standing at the Taj Mahal, the Forbidden City, the Chocolates Hills or any other heavily photographed place but to see reality on the ground verses the represented photographic reality produced over and over, shows a truth to a place.

Malagasy Bag Fisherman
A fisherman captures shell fish in a bag on the Tsiribihina river.

Understanding a place like Madagascar as a tourist is a bit difficult. Environmental, social and economic issues are complex as are the environmental origins of this island and its inhabitants. I felt very fortunate to have some friends on the island as well as some work resources to help me understand the issues Malagasy peoples face.

While in Madagascar I visited Vermonter and Peace Corp volunteer Emily Sillman as well as a a Swiss based NGO Association pour le Développement de l’Energie Solaire (ADES). They gave me great excuses to get off the tourist track and visit some real families and also talk about some real issues those people face.

Fellow Vermonter and current Peace Corp Volunteer Emily Silman outside of her house in Madagascar.

As much as 90 percent of Madagascar’s original forest is gone. At the same time, 90 percent of the population has no electricity. Due to Madagascar’s isolation from the rest of the world, evolution occurred a bit differently here. In fact, 80 percent of the animals on Madagascar are found no where else on earth.

While its closer to Africa than India, the place reminded me of South Asia a bit more than Africa. At the same time, the architecture of the island is more similar to Southeast Asia (most reflecting Borneo) than its closer African neighboring countries.

Enormous granite cliffs rise out from behind a village near Andringitra National Park.

With so many issues and so many inconveniences, its no surprise most travelers don’t make it down here. And this is part of the reason, the place is so great to travel in. Avoiding the crowds is easy.

While the blog has been focused on work, video and technical thoughts, this is the beginning of a travel series from Madagascar. Photos and entries will talk about Madagascar’s natural features as well as social, environmental and economic issues.

Where I Am Now, Is Where I Need to Be

Jonah M. Kessel Showreel 2011: China, Tibet, Nepal, India, The Philippines from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

NOTE FORM JONAH: This was originally a guest blog, written for Camera Obscura. Read that post here.

For years, all I wanted to do was take pictures. I traveled to far off places and met strange looking strangers.

After I was hooked, I decided to go study visual journalism. While working on my degree I shot for a local paper as a stringer. I was tenacious and willing to do anything if people would pay me to take pictures. Back then I didn’t really care what I was taking pictures of. A baby, a bar or a blueberry: if people were paying me, I was shooting it.

After university, I applied for jobs at newspapers. Hundreds of them. Once in a great while, I would get an offer from a paper smaller than my college publication in someplace horrible for an embarrassingly low salary. But for the most part, I was happy when people bothered to even write me rejection letters. And there were many …

A Changing Landscape from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

When I finally got my first staff job at a newspaper, it wasn’t as a photographer. It was as a designer. But, I was one step closer.

As soon as a staff photog couldn’t make an assignment I would volunteer. On my day off, on the weekend, at 2 am — it didn’t matter. I pushed and pushed until I weaseled my way into the photo department from within the paper.

Things evolved from there. They got a little easier, but not easy. But my energy to shoot never really died down. Which, was good because for the next couple years I got work shooting, but I had to always do something else, too. I was a photography and design consultant; I was a creative director who infrequently was unleashed from a desk; I was an interactive art director who acted as a photo editor, but not so much as a photographer.

HOPEFUL from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

Some years later I look back on that period and find it funny that I was willing to do so many things — just to take pictures. Even more funny, now I make my living with a camera, shooting what I want to shoot, being where I want to be, and making enough money. But after all of those years fighting to shoot, now ironically, I don’t take that many pictures.

I’m not sure what it was: market demand, technology or me — but somehow, I became a video journalist.

I still shoot with a DSLR, but I’m not part of the daily grind. Although I’m freelance, I’m accredited with the New York Times who I work with regularly out of China where I’ve been for over three years. I do still take stills for newspapers and magazines but the large majority of my mind is obsessed with video now. I shoot editorial, nonprofit and commercially oriented videos.

Word Crimes from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

And I love it. I live it and breath it everyday. Literally, 7-days a week work and life are one thing.

Being a freelancer means every job represents me. This equates to never worrying about my hours I’m working, never accepting something that’s not up to my standard — and making sure my standard is always raising. Everything I do I critique to hell. As soon as I finish a project I think: if I were to do it again, this way would be a better way. Hindsight is always a lovely thing.

And although my primary medium is video, I actually still think of myself as a photographer — or when people make me label myself, I say visual journalist.

If You Want to go Far, Go Together from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

Working primarily as a video journalist in recent years has actually changed me as a still photographer. I’ve become much more calculated. I think about a still picture and think about the events that would happen before or after the frame. I think about what my subject is hearing. I think about the place the photo will be published as I’m taking the photo — a double-truck, a magazine page or maybe an advertisement. I think of still frames as part of a sequence that will be unseen by the audience. Growing up shooting, so much of it was natural, or instinct.

At the same time, my still photography impacts my video style. Some of my friends who are cameramen, DPs or were native to video tell me they can tell I was a still guy when they see my videos. This always makes me smile.

But maybe that makes sense. When I shoot video, I look at frames as still pictures. I set them up, how I would a still photograph but with the anticipation of movement.

Just Because: Tricycle Calligraphy 水书法器 from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

However, what I find the same about both of them, no matter what I’m doing: designing, photographing or making videos: I want my images to tell stories that matter. And while I worked myself to death getting to a place where I’m finally not doing one thing, in order to do another, I believe all of those places I was in, shaped my vision for what I’m doing now.

Some of those places included: Vermont, New Orleans, Oregon, Hawai’i, California, Nevada, New Zealand, Fiji, Australia, East Timor, Algeria, Greece, Turkey, France, Italy, China, Mongolia, Tibet, Nepal, India, Malaysia, South Korea, the Philippines — to name a few … for every good place I’ve landed, there’s been an equally difficult place. For every good job, there’s been an bad job.

But one thing I am certain of today: where I am now, is where I need to be. And that has been true all along the way.

A Stranger in Paris from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

In an over saturated media environment, in an era where digital cameras find homes in every single person’s pocket — our paths as photographers are not always straight just as our destinations are not always clear. Shooting pictures of houses for real estate ads, designing pages of parade photos on community newspapers or taking the 6th-grade basketball team’s portrait was never part of the plan, but all of those experiences got me to where I am now.

And while I’m not exactly sure where that is, I do know, I’m happy here, creating images and telling stories.

I also wonder, if my current obsession with video and past obsession with photography have actually converged into one thing or if they are morphing into something completely different.

The Fate of Old Beijing: The Vanishing Hutongs from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

I get a couple emails a week from young photographers asking for advice. Funny enough, I don’t think I should be giving it. I’m just figuring it out as I go along. I was writing the same emails no so long ago. But I think the main thing they are missing, and I was too, was all those places we have to go to get what we wan’t shape us to be better photographers. My career as a designer, made me a better photographer. My career as a photographer, made me a better videographer. All of those careers shaped my way of storytelling today.

Looking back at the past decade of having a camera in my hand: I do know, where I am now, is where I need to be. That’s been the case the entire time. As photographer’s our paths aren’t exactly clear or easy. But if you trust in your passion, I believe you will find yourself someplace meaningful.

I have.

Products Making My Life Better: Sachtler Ace Tripod

Sachtler Ace Tripod System

As a group, photographers and filmmakers might spend more time thinking about the tools we use to do our job than almost any other profession. Every single job has a specific set of tools which will be the most effective tools for that job. Having the wrong tools can result in uncomfortable days and poor results. Given the amount of competition in the creative world, I try to stay away from having poor results. That’s not rocket science, but anything I can do to make my job easier and in turn produce better results, I do.

Before I go to a shoot there’s always this seemingly silly, but often anxious, thought process in trying to decide what I should bring and how I should bring it. Which camera, which lenses, which microphones, which stabilization devices, etc. But the questions don’t stop there. How many bags does it require to bring X amount of gear, previously decided on? How many of those bags can I hold without killing myself? If there’s a lot of bags, how many people does it take to carry them? Is the car big enough for a Pelican case six feet long? How do we get the tripods on the plane? Does that rig break down? Can we rent it there? And so on …

The questions build and over time the answers to those questions result in owning a lot of gear. This is necessary in order to do the best possible job in every possible scenario. However, in my arsenal of gear, certain products are becoming more universally relevant regardless of what I happen to be shooting. These products often have a huge impact on my life and in many ways — make life a little easier. I wanted to dedicate some space and time to thoughts to products who I feel are currently making my life a little better.

Sachtler Ace Tripod
Sachtler Ace Tripod

The first in this series being the Sachtler Ace tripod.

Coming from a still photography background, I owned a lot of tripods before I moved into the video world. And for the first year or so, those tripods worked ok.

However, over time as my ambition grew so did my need for proper video tripods. While I needed fluid movement ability, none of my cameras or rigs were actually that big that warranted 80% of the tripods I was using.

Jonah Kessel moving Jib.
Jonah Kessel moving a Jib too big for his camera.

For example, in this photo I’m using a jib with a fairly heavy tripod — but throughout the day I was using the tripod with a DSLR on it. The tripod probably weighed around 8-10 kg (it needed to be big enough to carry a 4 meter job). For cameramen with bigger payloads, this is necessary. However, as a DSLR shooter it was a bit over kill, even if my camera was completely rigged up.

For awhile I felt a bit stuck. I had to make the decision to either have a tripod that was too big or one that didn’t perform well enough. While it might be easy to say — simply take the one that’s too big, if you’re the person carrying that tripod around and you have a lot of air travel involved, this isn’t always the best option.

Then, I was approached by Sachtler — a German company making tripods outside of Munich. They told me about a new product called the Ace System — a tripod system made for DSLR or small HDV camcorders. They claimed the system would be light weight, but perform with functionality and ability of a much larger tripod. This summer I tested their claim working on the road in Mongolia, Italy and France.

A Changing Landscape from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

On all of these assignments, I consciously tried to push the tripod, shooting on uneven surfaces, small spaces and experimenting with the friction controls. The result of me pushing this tripod was quite a bit of pan and tilt movement throughout the videos. You can see the results above and below. But from the user side, I thought it was fantastic.

For DSLR shooters who travel a lot, often without big budgets, this tripod fits like a tailored suit.

One thing similar about all of these assignments: we had to move locations throughout the day, everyday. There was a schedule, but no shot list in terms of shooting. This meant I was frequently packing up my bags and unpacking them. In Paris, Italy and Mongolia, I was also on foot a tremendous amount of the time.

These are all attributes I would normally try to avoid: not planning, no shot list, frequent location changes … actually it sounds like a bit of a filming nightmare.

Jonah Kessel shooting during Can't Forget Italy.
Jonah Kessel shooting during Can't Forget Italy.

In these scenarios the Ace was perfect. It gave me enough support to have a my rig on it with fluid control, but it wasn’t big enough that it weighed me down. While my setup changed slightly from place-to-place, I was shooting with the Ace combined with a Canon 5D Mark III and Shane Hubert’s Master Cinema Series ManCam from Letus Direct. I used a full set of Canon glass with the heaviest lens being a 70-200 f/2.8 L USM. The cage also often had audio and external monitors on it.

A Stranger in Paris from Jonah Kessel on Vimeo.

As far as the construct of the tripod, the Ace system has a counterbalance dial as well as a 3-point drag controls for vertical and horizontal movements. At 3, on the drag control, the movement is fairly resistent and gives you the ability to easily follow a moving person or object. The system also is equipped with locking levers for vertical or horizontal movement.

Movement Controls - Ace Tripod.
Movement Controls - Ace Tripod.

The tripod weighs in at 4.4 kg (roughly 9 lb) with the fluid head weighing 1.7 kg (3.7 lb). This is great for air travel, when other tripods of similar ability can take up a high percentage of your legal weight limits. The tripod itself is built from a light weight aluminium while the fluid head built from a fiberglass reinforced composite.

Sachtler Ace System

The two-stage tripod has a maximum height of 173 cm / 68.1 in with a minimum height of 57 cm / 22.4 in. In the height departement, looking at what could be improved with the tripod, I do wish the tripod went a bit lower. The minimum height is still a bit high in many scenarios.

Furthermore, while the tripod is good for lower payloads, if you are shooting on a C300, Sony F3 or larger traditional camera this probably isn’t the right tripod for you. The manufacturer says it maxes out at 8.8 lb (4 kg). However, for solo shooters with DSLRs and smaller cameras, this product is fantastic.

One of my big questions, was how it wold do traveling. Going in and out of 6 different countries this summer with it — its still functioning as it did when it was new.

Canon 5D Mark III on Sachtler Ace Tripod System.
Canon 5D Mark III on Sachtler Ace Tripod System.

And the real kicker is — the price.

Its cheap. I might even call it — real cheap.The head and tripod come together and are priced at $550 from B & H. There’s simply not so many (if any) options that function this well, at this price range.

For me, this is the right equation. The right balance between size, weight, functionality and price.

In short, this product is making my life a little better.

DISCLAIMER: Sachtler did supply me with this tripod for user feedback. However, I was not required to write this review, and was free to voice my own opinions.

Instapiphany – Part II: Actual Experience vs Representation of Experience

NOTE FROM JONAH: This is a two-part series looking at Instagram. To see part one of this post click here.

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Recently I had a job in Italy. I flew from Beijing, shot for seven days and then returned home to China.

Following up last post “Instagrampiphany – Part I: A Photographer’s View on Instagram” I thought, it would be interesting to compare the Instagram experience of this trip vs the experience represented with professional camera equipment.

Above, you can see my digital diary of Italy. This was created with quite a bit of camera equipment, including: a Canon 5D Mark III, a Canon 5D Mark II, a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8 L USM, a Canon 300mm f/4 L USM, a Canon 100mm f/2.8 Macro, a Canon 50mm f/1.2 L USM, a Canon 24mm f/1.4 L USM, a Canon 14mm f/2.8 L USM, a Kessler Crane Pocket Dolly v.2.0 Traveler Size, a Camera Motion Blackbird Steady Cam, a Sachtler Ace System, Rode Stereo Video Mics, Redrock Micro, Jag 35 and Genus rig parts — to name a few of them.

The idea behind this video was to create a digital diary that paints a picture of the region as well as my experience there (hence me being in the video).

Now, here is that same experience represented by Instagram, with some annotated captions. The equipment list for this only includes: an iPhone 4. Click to embiggen.

Instagram Representation of Trip
I would bring a Canon 5D Mark III to Italy on a shoot. I packed my bags and one Pelican case.
Instagram Travel Representation
I got on a plane that happened to have my initials on the front of it in a gray Beijing and got off in Italy with blue skies. That night, I met with the other filmmakers.
Instagram Travel Representation
The first day of the shoot we walked through Trieste and ate prosciutto. One of the filmmakers would proceed to do follow cameras on people's silverware for the next seven days straight.
Instagram Travel Representation
The next morning I woke up at a vineyard and explored a northern Italian city.
Instagram Travel Representation
We drank wine at lunch, beer at dinner and saw some Italian street performers.
Instagram Travel Representation
The next day we went to the beach and filmed kite surfers. That night, we ate pasta.
Instagram Travel Representation
The next day I went to an island on a boat and looked out over the Mediterranean onto Croatia and Slovenia.
Instagram Travel Representation
The next day I continued to film. We went into a deep cave and I ate an amazing roast beef at night.
Instagram Travel Representation
We ate prosciutto almost every day, stayed in some lovely hotels and then went hiking in the Italian Alps.
Instagram Travel Representation
We wined and dined, took some timelapses of the mountains and saw a great sunset.
Instagram Travel Representation
On the last day we went to the beach. One of us had a funny sweatshirt. And at night we had one last goodbye dinner.
Instagram Travel Representation
I packed my bags again, border the worst airline I have ever experienced (Alitalia) and arrived home to a very polluted Beijing.

Fin. End of story.

While the video above clearly has a polished version of the trip, the Instagram version shows the events that make up the product. In many ways, this is more of a real representation of the trip, than the actual diary.

Anyone who follows me on the photographic social network, actually saw the events and content of this video, as it was happening. They saw the scenes in between the scenes. They saw the images that didn’t make the final product. But most people — just saw the polished video later.

However, these Instagram images are those that make up the actual experience, not the representation of it — which is largely what we do as story tellers.

Sure, your cell phone images are also a representation of reality but the nature of cell phone photography is of a less composed nature. A less manufactured nature.

As a photojournalist it pains me to think that my cell phone might be recording “truer” images than my camera, but I’m willing to admit that its possible. As Instagram adds 5 million new users a week, its interesting to see the collective reality being built on the Facebook owned application.

Furthermore, it pains me to think about the cost of each of these stories. The equipment list from the video vs the Instagram story is not even in the same ballpark. In relativity to real time story telling, it might soon make sense for photojournalists to be taking pictures with cell phones, if in fact — time becomes the most important factor for that photographer. In a media market where getting information online as quick as possible is one key to survival, then I wouldn’t be surprised if we start seeing Instagram-esque photojournalists working for newspapers.

There will always be a place for quality photojournalism and in depth photo projects. However, as cameras develop it might make more sense for companies to adapt to the social market a bit. If we could post to Instagram from our DSLRs … well, that would be something …

Currently, we have wifi enabled compact flash cards which give us the ability to have pictures transmitted to a computer nearby the photographer. This means, a two-person team can be shooting and editing simultaneously. However, I don’t think we are too far off from being able to see a real time streaming photographs as they are taken. Furthermore, the demand might be there.

While people debate Instagram’s financial value and if Facebook paid too much for it — to me it is clear there are some inherent qualities of the app that have an intangible value.

— Follow me on Instagram here.
— See part one of this post here.

Instapiphany – Part I: A Photographer's View on Instagram

Instagram Photos

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The photojournalist in me hates myself for saying this; but, lately Instagram seems like the most effective way for real time story telling.

When Facebook bought Instagram for one billion dollars, I really didn’t think too much of it. My impression was that Instagram was similar to Hipstamatic — a gimicky app that simply put vintage filters on cell phone photos. But like so many others, my curiosity got the best of me and I decided if Zuckerburg that it was worth a billion dollars, the least I could do was download the free app.

And like millions of others, I became instantly hooked. Today, Instagram is adding 5 million users per week with a user community comparable to the United Kingdom.

In some ways, it was like an epiphany: its like Facebook, without the words. An Instapiphany.

Jonah Kessel Instagram Thoughts

Ok, so there’s some words. You can comment and chat with people — but all the chatter is about photos. There is no Farmville, birthday requests or other nonsense to sort through. Simply put: photos and captions only.

For visually oriented people — this is fantastic.

Furthermore, I’ve noticed me reaching for my cell phone rather than my DSLR for many pictures I would like to share, but know beforehand that I have no need to take a 25 megapixel shot of it. Or that I know in advance I don’t want to spend anytime on post production and that the image will have no potential licensing value to me in the future.

In the past, in this same scenario if I wanted to share the image that I knew would have no potential income for me, I would shoot it with a DSLR and later in time, edit it and share it on this blog, Twitter or Facebook. This required time and effort — but I still did it.

Jonah Kessel Instagram Thoughts

However, after my Instapiphany I saw a real culture shift in my behavior.

I began to see cell phone photography differently, almost like a different medium. It became a new art form that raised some questions to me — philosophically and technically. What can you achieve photographically given the limitations of a cell phone? How is reality being represented photographically speaking on cell phones vs. traditional or digital cameras.

A search through Instagram will show you both good and bad pictures — but what you are seeing is a very true depiction of the little and big moments that make up people’s day — all in real time. Looking at real time communication, the apps ability to integrate into my Twitter feed, Facebook pages, Weibo (!!), Flickr, Foursquare and Tumblr makes it the most efficient way for me to connect to all of my social networks from one place. And an extra bonus for those in the Middle Kingdom, its not blocked by the firewall — pushing comments and photos to places that would otherwise require a VPN.

Jonah Kessel Instagram Thoughts

One thing that used to annoy me as a photographer was the gimmicky effects often seen. Now I see these as part of the medium. I think the filters and tilt shift effects are a bit over used sometimes, but the nature of the medium allows for a much more stylized representation.

Perhaps most importantly, as a photographer, I feel like Instagram has allowed me to reconnect with consumer camera culture. We all have the same tool (差不多) and simply taking pictures of life as it passes. Ironically at the same time, as a professional photographer, I feel some anxiety that people will see my cell phone pictures — and think they are my actual work. I’ve noticed a pattern of photographer’s Instagram profiles labeling the photos as all cell phone photos, which makes me believe, I’m not alone in this fear.

Nonetheless, the picture these images collectively create, stylized or not, in my life seems more accurate in telling all of the story than the professional images I create, although they might not be as pretty.

Part II of this post — will examen this: representing reality through Instagram.

— Follow me on Instagram here.

A Venetian Toy Story

Toy on Campanile de San Marco, Piazza, Venice

As always, click to embiggin.

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In the drawing room of Europe, on the shores of one of the world’s most romantic cities, is a tall tower.

Nearly 100 meters tall, the Campanile de San Marco rises out over the ancient city of Venice. For a few euro tourists can take an elevator to the top for amazing panoramas of the ancient city in the sea. Last week, I was one of many who did this.

Looking out over Piazza San Marco and the Basilica, four barred windows face out of the tower. The bars seem to be in place to protect the crazies but don’t stop you from seeing. But for those who always need to have your camera one foot beyond the legal limit, the bars aren’t so tight you cant get your hands and a camera through them. Does it matter? Can that extra 6-inches really get you a better picture?

In the Piazza San Marco, the answer is, yes.

Bars on windwos in Campanile de San Marco

While on top of Venice, I squeezed my hands, a Canon 14mm f/2.8 and a Canon 5D Mark III through the barred window in attempt to have a slightly terrifying look down with the distorting wide angled lens.

What I didn’t know was one meter below the barred window, was a ledge, out of site from anyone in the tower due to the perspective. And on this ledge, was a toy.

I didn’t notice it when I took the picture, since I couldn’t see through the viewfinder. But later when looking through the pictures, a doll appeared in the foreground on a the ledge, almost represented proportionally as same size as a person in the piazza 100 meters below.

I was astonished.

Piazza San Marco

How long has that toy been there? Who did the toy belong to? Did a child drop it out of the window and the parents search for it below, only to be disappointed in its disappearance? It didn’t look like a modern toy, but its hard to believe the toy hadn’t blown off from the wind or rain.

I had been working in Northern Italy, making a short video the two previous weeks seeing many amazing sites, but this single picture got me more excited then all of those previous. Not because I thought the picture was so well composed, or that I was so lucky that I happened to stick my hands past the bars using a wide angle lens — but because the toy elicited so many questions in my mind.

I think it may have to do with the fact that this happened in the city of Venice. Its so ancient that a world of possibilities seemed realistic. Perhaps a builder left it there after the tower was reconstructed in 1912. Perhaps the earthquake of 1902 jolted it out of a child’s hand and it had been sitting there for a century. Perhaps someone had just recently dropped it there an hour before I got there. But how many people had seen it? How many people have photographs of this toy?

I went home and checked with my old friend Google: “toy venice Campanile” … nothing. “toy on ledge, venice” … nothing.

Was it possible I was the first one to capture it there? Its almost impossible to take a picture of something that has not been pictured in some way before. Especially in a place like Venice where tourists show up with map and camera in hand. This would be amazing. And while I still have no answers to any of these questions, as Google seems to have nothing about it, I will make up the following story of how this toy ended up with the best view in Venice.

The Toy With The Best View in Venice

By Jonah M. Kessel

Ventian Boy

On the first day of spring an 8-year-old boy wearing a blue and white striped shirt named Marco went to see his dad at work.

Marco’s dad was a construction worker in the great Piazza. Hoping from his uncle’s boat, Marco’s feet hit the cold stone ground that his home city seemed to float on.

Marco went to school by way of boat. His mom would also bring him to the grocery store on the families tin boat. And once a month, when he went to visit his grandfather in the Friulian countryside, he would also — go by boat. In many ways he felt more comfortable on the boat, than on the ground.

Toy Story - Venice

When Marco’s feet hit the ground he lost his balance for a moment.

“Land legs …” he thought to himself. His dad had always told him he had better sea legs than land legs. He never once became sea sick, but would often get a tummy ache from eating to much ice cream. However, Marco would blame the land for his sour stomach, rather than the ice cream.

As he got used to the stable ground he noticed he had dropped his toy figurine.

The toy was given to him by his Uncle on Christmas when he was six-years-old. Marco had carried it with him nearly everyday since then.

Venice Toy Story

Made from cloth and stuffed with cotton, he gave the toy the name “Marco,” after himself, of course. Marco and Marco would do everything together, and therefor Marco never felt lonely.

When kids at school would make fun of Marco for having a doll, he would pretend not to mind, but he did. He would fend the bullies off by telling them that Marco the Doll was made for land and Marco the boy was made for sea. He assured the bullies that two of them were necessary in order to confirm Marco could be everywhere.

When Marco reached the Piazza he first stopped to feed the pidgins, as if he often did when visiting his father. The Piazza was full that day.

Playing with Pidgeons in the Piazza

From nuns to cafe sipping romantics, people strolled across the rectangular square at a leisurely pace.

Inside the Piazza, Marco felt like he was not in Venice. “So much land in one place,” he thought.

In the Piazza, Marco’s father was working in an enormous tower. Neither Marco or Marco had ever seen a building so tall. His father had been working on the tower for over a year now. But today was different. Today, Marco’s father was putting the final touches on the roof of the tower.

Looking up from the square, Marco caught a view of his father in the window. He screamed up as loud as he could “Dad! Can you see me!?”

But his father didn’t respond.

Starring blanking up, he wondered what his father could see, that he couldn’t see from the ground. The only way to find out, he thought, was to climb the tower stairs.

Campanile de San Marco - Toy Story Venice

“88, 89, 90 …” Marco counted the stairs as he climbed higher.

“165, 166, 167 …” The tower seemed to go on forever. He had never been this high before.

And then at stair number 304, although he may have miscounted by 4, he reached the top. His father was sitting in a window, overlooking the Piazza.

“Can you see me now dad?” Said Marco.

Marco’s father looked down, delighted to see his son. “Come see the view Marco.” He said lifting him up to give him a view over the Venetian Sea and the Piazza.

Campanile de San Marco - Toy Story Venice

For a few minutes Marco stared out of the ancient city and water that went into the horizon.

“Where does the water end?” He asked his dad.

“The water doesn’t end son,” he responded.

“Well, whats beyond the horizon?”

“I’m not sure son,” answered Marco’s dad.

Campanile de San Marco - Venice Landscape Aerial

“I think I will find out. I will go beyond the horizon so I can tell you what’s there,” Marco decided.

“But what about Marco the doll, he doesn’t have good sea legs?” His father mentioned.

Thinking long and hard, Marco decided his father was right. It wouldn’t be fair to bring Marco the doll out to sea, when he didn’t have good sea legs. It was then and there when he decided it was best for Marco the doll to stay in Venice, overlooking the sea and the city. They had spent some years together, but this would be the time for them to separate.

Marco looked down and noticed a ledge below the window where he and his father were sitting, legs dangling out over the floating city.

Toy on Campanile de San Marco, Piazza, Venice

He leaned forward, his father holding him by the shirt, and dropped Marco the doll on the ledge. Now, Marco would be everywhere.

Years later, Marco would explore the world, traveling by sea to chart out what was past the horizon and eventually the entire globe. While he explored, Marco the doll would watch over the city of Venice, watching with the best view in town.

Marco’s sea legs expanded the map. And Marco’s land legs kept Venice afloat.


This post is part of a series of blog entries from Northern Italy — entitled Can’t Forget Italy. The series includes travel photos, camera and gear reviews as well as the video above.

Seven people, from seven different countries were flown to Italy to create a series of short videos. These videos would be combined to create a digital diary of Friuli–Venezia Giulia, a region in Northern Italy bordering Croatia, Slovenia and Austria. I was one of those seven.

To learn more about the project click here.

To follow the project in still pictures, follow my Tumblr here.

What A Fucking Cool Place

Sana'a, Cityscapes

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Please excuse my language … but once in awhile life just brings you to a place that is simply jaw-droppingly cool. So cool, that cursing becomes necessary to even begin to emphasize its uniqueness in this crowded world full of iThings, Gagas and Balis. This place, allegedly, is the oldest city in the world.

When I arrived in Sana’a, I had some reservations.

Sana'a, Yemen, Cityscape

After all, the six-weeks leading up to my arrival everyone I talked to had told me not to go. This included my friends and family, embassies and consulates. The general opinion was that if I were to go to Sana’a, Yemen’s ancient capital, I would most likely be kidnapped, blown up by terrorists or if I was unlikely — both. Media reports from the area only exacerbated the building fear that I wouldn’t come back if I set foot in this city whose history dates back to Genesis, Chapter 9. But, perhaps against my better judgement I went anyway.

But, I was not kidnapped and in case you were wondering — I am not writing this from beyond the grave because I did not get blown up.

Sana'a, Yemen, Cityscape

In fact, all I did was leave thinking “what a fucking cool place.”

This is Sana’a. Its history is complicated and appears in the Koran, the Torah and the New Testament. People in Yemen believe the city is the oldest in the world . They say it was founded by Noah’s son Shem, although I think proving this is a bit of a challenge.

Laundry in Sana'a

While we can’t really verify that Shem (Noah’s son) started the city, we can verify that it is very old. UNESCO tells us:

Situated in a mountain valley at an altitude of 2,200 m, Sana’a has been inhabited for more than 2,500 years. In the 7th and 8th centuries the city became a major centre for the propagation of Islam. This religious and political heritage can be seen in the 103 mosques, 14 hammams and over 6,000 houses, all built before the 11th century. Sana’a’s many-storeyed tower-houses built of rammed earth (pisé) add to the beauty of the site.

Just to emphasize — 6,000 houses built before the 11th century. These 6,000 houses are crammed together in the old city to form a maze that is just about impossible not to get lost in. Its actually the only place I’ve been that made Varanasi, Old Algiers or Kathmandu seem easy to navigate.

Sana'a, Yemen, Street
These houses come stacked one on top of another, towering into the sky. Yet, just meters away from these tall stacks of leaning houses, are other equally tall stacks of houses. Almost like a card castle, where every layer stacked hire, could topel the entire infrastructure. These stacks create narrow alleys that for the most part are the width of a car, or less. The stacks have been here so long, most seem to have shifted greatly over time and appear to be tilting left or right … or simply, about to fall over.

The lanes don’t go north or south and rarely do you see a straight line. Instead, the alleys seem to be constantly curving and turning. As your visibility is completely limited by the height of the buildings, and the alleys are always turning, without a compass I would find it very hard to figure out which direction you are facing.

Sana'a, Yemen, Cityscape

These houses were not made from common bricks. They were constructed from pisé. If you aren’t familiar with it — pisé is a type of “rammed earth:”

Rammed earth, also known as taipa (Portuguese), tapial (Spanish), and pisé (de terre) (French), is a technique for building walls using the raw materials of earth, chalk, lime and gravel … Rammed-earth walls are simple to construct, noncombustible, thermally massive, strong, and durable.

The pisé gives the walls a unique texture and on a mass scale (6,000 houses) the city made pisé, combined with the Architectural and artistic intricacies of the ancient Arabic world is simply stunning. A bit of a visual overload at points. Everywhere you look — seems to be interesting. A door. A wall. An alley. A tower. A mosque. A window. Everything looks interesting. Everything looks ancient — and at some point in time, I’m sure all of these aspects of the city have had a story surrounding it.

Sana'a Street Scene

As an outstanding example of a homogeneous architectural ensemble reflecting the spatial characteristics of the early years of Islam, the city in its landscape has an extraordinary artistic and pictorial quality. Its many-storied buildings represent an outstanding response to defensive needs in providing spacious living quarters for the maximum number of residents within defensible city walls. The buildings demonstrate exceptional craftsmanship in the use of local materials and techniques. The houses and public buildings of Sana’a, which have become vulnerable as a result of contemporary social changes, are an outstanding example of a traditional, Islamic human settlement.

But what makes this place truly special is the combination of ancient architecture, the history you can still feel in the walls and the modern culture that still strives within it. Today around 1.5 million people live in Sana’a, although what your seeing here, is just the old city.

Hanging in Streets

Following the unification of Yemen, Sana’a was designated capital of the new Republic of Yemen. It houses the presidential palace, the parliament, the supreme court and the country’s government ministries. The largest source of employment is provided by the governmental civil service. Due to massive rural immigration, Sana’a has grown far outside its Old City, but this has placed a huge strain on the city’s underdeveloped infrastructure and municipal services, particularly water.

This is the capital of Yemen and if you can find the right vantage points — it sure makes for some cool cityscapes.

Sana'a, Market

And I now add it to my growing list of amazingly cool ancient cities that one should get lost in at some point in life.

Sana'a Nightscape

Next post on the blog, on ground level from within the walls.

The Day I Became 'World Famous'

Jiuzhaigou National Park

NOTE FROM JONAH: Before I begin this tale, for those not from New York or New England — please re-read the headline above in your most sarcastic inner monologue.

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In front of me was a perfectly still and prestine alpine lake. There was no trash floating in the water, the sky was clear of pollution and I couldn’t hear a single car honking its horn. This was not your average Chinese landscape.

Then, when the Chinese man in the tight suit said “Jonah Mathew Kessel” I walked forward on a red carpet in front of the amazing landscape. As I walked forward one of the theme songs to Star Wars began to echo across the alpine lake behind me. Trying to keep my composure and not laugh at the choice of music used for my introduction, I gave an unrehearsed speech describing the beauty of Jiuzhaigou National Park, found in Sichuan Province on the Tibetan Plateau.

Behind me was a circa 10 meter red banner that read “World Famous Photographers Focusing On The Fairyland — Jiuzhaigou.”

Jonah Giving Speech

I introduced myself in Chinese and quickly switched to English in my speech to a large Chinese crowd of nature lovers and photographers. As I spoke in English a translator would repeat after me, giving me time to look around and reflect upon the situation. I gave one of the most generic thank you speeches anyone has ever given and then watched as a flood of cameras and cell phones snapped photos of me shaking hands with the man in the suit.

As hundreds of people took the same picture of me, I looked at the sign again. It read “World Famous Photographers … “. While I didn’t know it when I woke up, this would be the day, someone decided myself and 11 other colleagues were “World Famous.” (Again, if you aren’t from New York or New England, please re-read the last sentence using your sarcastic voice).

It was one of the stranger moments of my three years in China … But let me rewind and help explain how and why I got to this stunning place.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Two Months Earlier

Two months earlier an art gallery called and asked if I would be interested in going to photograph Jiuzhaigou National Park. They said I could stay for as little as three days or longer if I wanted and it would be like a “paid vacation.” For going to the park, saying a one-minute speech, and giving them 20 photographs — they would give me 10,000 RMB ($1500) and cover all of my expenses.

The circumstances were a bit fishy but I decided to give it a go. I agreed to their terms and hung up the phone. Minutes later they called back and asked “By the way, do you know any other foreign photographers in China?”

If you throw a rock at a foreigner in Beijing, you are most likely going to hit either (a) an English teacher or (b) a photographer. Having thrown many rocks at foreigners in Beijing, I happen to know a lot of photographers (and a lot of pissed off English teachers). I asked them why and they told me they needed many foreign photographers to go. I asked how many they were looking for, and the woman replied — about 12 or 15.

And this is when I realized, I had just signed up for my first “white guy job.” If you are unfamiliar with this term — in China, some foreigners get jobs, simply because they are foreign, not really from any merit, skill or ability. Also important to note, “white” in this sense refers to anyone, not from China.

My friend Mitch Moxley is actually writing a book about this right now. His book, tentatively titled “Tall Rice” details some of the funny jobs you can get in China, just by being foreign. Mitch uses these experiences to talk about greater topics from China.

Journalist Mitch Moxley’s TALL RICE: The High and Low Adventures of a Foreigner in China, inspired by the article “Rent a White Guy” in The Atlantic, chronicles Moxley’s outrageous adventures in Beijing, from fake businessman to Chinese propagandist to low-budget music video star, a young man’s search for identity in the most unexpected of places, to Katie Salisbury at Harper Perennial, by Stephanie Sun at Weed Literary (World English).

Based upon some of Mitch’s earlier writings on the topic we can definitely expect a fun read from this one due out in the summer of 2013. Check out some hilarious experts already published by the Atlantic Monthly here:

While I had heard a lot of tales from Mitch and others about jobs like this, I had yet to really take part.

Foreign Photographers

Although this was a bit of a “white guy job” — it was certainly a “white photographer guy job.” I called some friends and got a few signed up to either (a) endure or (b) enjoy the trip with me, pending on how it would go. Amongst photographers who joined me were the immensely talented Chi Yin Sim, Peter Carney, Jeff Lau, Keith Bedford and Jasper James.

While some of our foreign group were indeed photographers, a couple others slipped in — including some architects and some Italians who seemed to be more interested in smoking cigarettes than taking pictures.

Miss Jiuzhaogou 2012

The group was carted around for a couple days attending some very stereotypical Chinese events including an enormous banquet featuring traditional song and dance accompanied by a fog machine, bubble machine, snow machine, laser light show and a completely out of place psychedelic backdrop.

Our group was also given front row seats to the 2011 Miss Jiuzhaigou Finals. Hundreds of others crammed in behind us to get a look. But hey — we were now world famous. World famous photographers only sit in the front. The competition was hot, but in the end contestant number 9 took this years crown, although I was really rooting for number 6.

And just to put your mind a rest, in case you were wondering — in a Tibetan beauty pageant, there is no swimsuit contest.

Following these exciting events, we heard countless speeches by low level officials from … well, I’m not exactly sure where they were from.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Back at The Gorgeous Lake

Back at the gorgeous lake I was not the only one who had become “world famous” — the architect, the businessman, the smoking Italians and my five photographer friends were also now “world famous.”

When the ceremony was finished the large crowd dispersed. The group of world famous photographers would then spend three days photographing this amazing spot. Throughout these days, people who had seen the ceremony would continually stop me asking to take my picture or to talk to me. This was a strange juxtoposition.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

On one hand, I was photographing an amazing place. There was countless half frozen waterfalls, amazing walking paths surrounded by fields of moving water and clear lakes everywhere.

In a place like this, I think its actually hard to take bad pictures. And while the scenerio was beautiful, on the other hand, I felt a bit foolish being there. Knowing that it wasn’t the quality of my pictures that mattered, but the color of my skin that was important.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

A beautiful picture by a Chinese photographer, would not have been wanted. While China is certainly booming in some areas, in other areas there still seems to be so much value put on image — that all logic is forgotten.

While this did bother me, the place itself is simply fantastic. This I suppose, is the dichotomy of the “white photographer guy” job.

For more information and photography from Jiuzhaigou National Park — see last week’s post here.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Not Your Average Chinese Landscape

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

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Mind-boggling. Exciting. Funny. Diverse. Contradictory.

There are so many words one can use to describe China. But one word I would not necessarily use is beautiful. While China is often stunning, it is rarely stunningly beautiful.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

In my three years in China, I’ve traveled to about 25 provinces. And after going to all of these place, very rarely would the word beautiful come to mind when describing them. Sometimes I end up in beautiful villages, however they are usually extremely poor and trash is almost inevitably scattered across the landscape. And when you do see stunningly beautiful areas in China, you are usually surrounded by 20,000 of your closest comrades.

Interesting, exciting, funny, diverse — sure. But beautiful — not necessarily.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

However, last week I had the opportunity of visiting Jiuzhaigou National Park on the TIbetan Plateau in Northern Sichuan. And after three years in China, this marked the first time for me that I found a place — stunningly beautiful. Although I was not alone, compared to visiting the Forbidden City, this place was like visiting a ghost town. While in the summer, crowds soar here, in the winter it feels much more like the Sierra Nevada than China.

The national park, which is indeed a famous tourist attractions in China, is also an UNESCO World Heritage Area. UNESCO describes the area as:

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Stretching over 72,000 ha in the northern part of Sichuan Province, the jagged Jiuzhaigou valley reaches a height of more than 4,800 m, thus comprising a series of diverse forest ecosystems. Its superb landscapes are particularly interesting for their series of narrow conic karst land forms and spectacular waterfalls. Some 140 bird species also inhabit the valley, as well as a number of endangered plant and animal species, including the giant panda and the Sichuan takin.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Although the park does get crammed full of tourists in the summer and fall, during winter — for the most part this place was extremely empty for Chinese standards.

The road through the park gives very good access to countless waterfalls and lakes. The fauna and landscape are perhaps the only place I’ve been in the world that reminded me of Yosemite National Park. I’m not sure if the rock climbing crowd has truly explored this area, but even from the road, it looks like there is an endless amount of untouched surfaces to climb.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

For me this was a great change of pace and it reminded me — there are still pristine areas left in China not completely over run by tourism, pollution or enormous sky scrappers. The facilities that were there, were actually very nice. There were a few resorts scattered around the park and within the park hundreds of kilometers of walking trails — many of which are on very cool wooden paths surrounded by waterfalls on all sides.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Photographically, getting to this park in the winter was truly a treat. Waterfalls, ice and gray skies make some longer exposures during day time hours pretty easy. At f/32, ISO 50 I could get a lot of exposures up to 1.5 seconds and create some nice motion blut. If I were to go back, I would surely bring an ND filter. I saw a couple Chinese photographers with ND filters shooting 30 second+ exposures, which I would love to see how they turned out.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

Beyond long exposure waterfall photography the color of the park is very cool. The alpine lakes remind me of those I had seen in New Zealand and in volcanic areas in Hawai’i. Unique minerals in the area create some amazing colors in the water. Combined with some stunning visibility, the colorful lakes contrast very nicely against the white snow and green trees.

Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province

According to Wikipedia:

Seven of the nine Tibetan villages are still populated today. The main agglomerations that are readily accessible to tourists are Heye, Shuzheng and Zechawa along the main paths that cater to tourists, selling various handicrafts, souvenirs and snacks. There is also Rexi in the smaller Zaru Valley and behind Heye village are Jianpan, Panya and Yana villages. Guodu and Hejiao villages are no longer populated.

While we did visit some of the villages, like many Tibetan things I’ve seen, the areas seemed a bit fake and people were scarce. However, our guide told us we could rest assured “The Tibetan people here are both very happy and rich.” Sadly, the current series of self-immolation monks is just around the corner from this area … The propagandized statement was just one of many our guide would make.

Oh yes … my guide. The circumstances in which I was being guided around this place is a story in itself.

And while the story itself is not nearly as beautiful as the park, it is a pretty entertaining and includes me walking down a red carpet to the music from Star Wars.

Ill tell that tale next …

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Juizhaigou National Park - Sichuan Province