OH! WHAT TO TAKE?!?!?

It’s one of the travel photographer’s greatest mysteries! In a few days, I’ll hop on a jet and will find myself, 22 hours later, beginning a journey to Siem Reap, Cambodia, Luang Prabang, Laos and to tiny towns and villages I have yet to hear of. And I have no one to carry my luggage!

Oh! What to take?

I have a prescribed concept and shot list for the Cambodia Academy in Mongol Borei: photos of the school, students, fun and academic life, cafeteria, parent support, teachers, etc. I’ll surely want photos of the two children David and I sponsor. I’ll be visiting two homes of students who will travel to the States next year to speak as ambassadors of the Academy…video and photos of their home life. The rest of the time in Cambodia is largely unplanned…how the hell do you decide which gear to carry for that?

Then there’s Laos.

I’ll be spending a few days of my time with Monk Phan and seo companies, who will be my “in” for a Buddhist temple where he teaches English to the novices, for whom I am taking two donated laptops to help with their studies. I will be able to chant with them twice a day and ask LOTS of questions about Buddhism and their lives in and out of the monastery. I hope to be able to photograph them just being young kids and teenagers…not your usual photos of monks!

Monk Phan and I will visit the village where his family lives and he tells me I will receive a Baci ceremony from them….more on that in a later post, because I have no idea what it is. I just know that it involves home-brewed LaoLao whiskey!
Add to that, some donations of t-shirts, a jacket and a pair of hiking boots…oh.. and my clothes….hmmmm. Any other variables? Hell, yeah! Some of my travel will be in tuk-tuks or on scooters. You will need web design wilmington nc.

So, now let’s consider what I must have and what I think I’ll need to get the job done and not break my back schlepping too much gear around.

Must haves:

Canon 5D Mk II

Canon 70D

50 mm, prime 1:1.4 (nifty-fifty) low light, street, portraits

24-105 mm 1:4 (my go to lens) general, street action, lifestyle, video

16-35 mm 1:2.8 (wide angle) tight spaces, landscape, “Villagescape”

100-400 mm zoom… well, I’m a bird watcher, so I’m going to take this… it’s just so damn heavy! There will be lifestyle scenes across fields as well.

Manfrotto travel tripod

One flash unit.. leave one at home

F-stoppers flash disk

Two pocket wizards for off camera flash… I’ll train Sout and Phan

One diffuser to catch portraits in the VERY bright sun at the Academy (the kids will get a kick out of helping with this one)

Computer for some sharing and processing

batteries and chargers

(this is getting heavy)

lens cleaning kit

extra data cards

OK… so.. I’ll leave behind a flash unit, reflectors (I’ll improvise with bright walls, shade, etc.), the rest of the pocket wizards (no high fashion or studio shoots planned), all stands, the 8 mm 1:3.5 fisheye (though I was tempted).

Luckily on the scooter days, I can scale way back and get everything in a shoulder bag.

Now…. where to put that extra a pair of clean socks!

And Oh! The Places You’ll Go!

Travel photography and remote cultures, far from your own.

That’s the stuff that life-changers are made of. As I continue my journey in Cambodia, I was privileged to visit the Cambodia Academy in Mongkol Borei. It is a school for first through ninth grade children in a very rural area. VERY RURAL! In amongst the rice paddies and pastureland sits this tiny school.

Having driven west from Siem Reap (perhaps the scariest part of the journey I’ll make), Sout and I turn on to an impossibly worn and bumpy road that leads to the school. As we round the corner, there are the children, all 340 of them in their uniforms, standing in single file lining both sides of the road. As I get out of the car, they started applauding and waving and calling out, “Hello, Mister Hank!” Two of the older girls ran up and presented me with a silk scarf as a welcome gift.

As I walked up that road, I had tears in my eyes. These children are so incredibly poor, yet are so warm, loving and grateful. To top it off, they’re just kids too! As I reached a table they’d put in the shade for me and sat down, the kids broke rank and ran, screaming, towards me to watch the older girls perform a traditional dance, in full costume, for me. Again, my eyes welled up as I watched the kids looking on with such attention as the dance was done.

With all that pomp and circumstance, I felt more honor and humility than I think I have ever felt. Then….lunch break…Mister Hank…old news! Kids!

I spent the rest of the day photographing the kids in classes, listening to them sing many of their lessons, and playing with them during their breaks. They all loved having their photos taken and practicing their English with me. And all of them had plans for their futures. Imagine that…plans and hope for their futures out here where if they can’t find work or raise food, they don’t eat. Wonderful, generous teachers and wonderful, generous donors who provide hope for the their futures.

All the planning about what gear to bring, how to get here, struggling with a twelve hour time zone change, and then having these experiences is what travel photography is about. Sure, go ahead and get those post card images that everyone in the world has. Those are important. But more important is to get out into a remote culture. Discover the warmth and joy people share just by living their lives the best they can. Accept their kindness toward you and realize that at our very essence, we are all the same. Yeah, I know. That’s been said a lot, but go and experience it and carry it with you.

See the cultures foreign from your own and photograph them the best you can. Then share those images with the people in the photos. Let them know what they mean to you as a person and an artist. Appreciate who they are.

And on the way home, start planning ahead.

And Oh! The Places You’ll Go!