The stories behind 6 photos of one of the most fascinating countries on earth.
Myanmar is beautiful and fascinating country with friendly and welcoming people. It’s hard to beat Myanmar as a photography location. It’s stunning, and people are generally happy to have their photo taken. They often asked if they could take my photo in return. I could write at length about the fascinating aspects of Myanmar culture that I observed, but this post is focused solely on photography.
Photo 1: Buddhist Nun on a Bench
This is my favorite photo I’ve taken. There are so many things I like about it: her shaved head, her bright colored garments, the symmetry of her sitting position, and most of all — the way her fingers are pressed against her mouth as she watches a video on her phone. It creates a certain tension and mystery. Her traditional clothing and her smartphone symbolize modern-day Myanmar in a beautiful way.
I took this photo as I was waiting to catch the circle train in Yangon, back to the neighborhood where I was staying.
I saw this woman and snapped a bunch of photos with my Fujifilm XT10 in burst mode. I really didn’t have a chance to compose the shot, I just shot a bunch from the hip and hoped for the best. On the train home I was looking through the photos and instantly fell in love with this one.
Because I didn’t have time to compose the shot, the original did not have this dramatic, symmetrical composition. It was a much wider shot (and was pretty crooked). Luckily my XT10 takes detailed photos, so in Lightroom I was able to crop it to a much tighter shot that brings more focus to her expression, and highlights the symmetry. I was also able to straighten it so the various horizontal lines in the composition — the bench and openings in the concrete wall behind her — would be aligned to the frame.
There are plenty more details I like about this photo, but I’ll let you look at it in your own way.
Photo 2: Sunset at U Bein Bridge
This shot was taken from the famous U Bein Bridge outside of Mandalay. It was dreamy sight with the orange glow and the boat cutting through the water. There had been a monk crossing the narrow path you see cutting across the water, but I wasn’t able to get him in my shot.
Although this wasn’t my favorite shot, it was recently featured on Unsplash and has been viewed over 60,000 times, which was a happy accident.
Photo 3: San Francisco Guy
“SAN FRANCISCOOOOO!”, he yelled at me from across the street. I was so confused. How did he know I was from San Francisco? I’m not even wearing flannel and Warby Parkers. Better go talk to this guy.
He’s clearly been drinking some dark liquor out of the ‘Life’ water bottle you see in the picture.
I walked up and told him I was from San Francisco. He said “I know! You are my friend!”, and then started to get really excited, cheering and talking in Burmese. We had a confusing but playful exchange for a while, and I asked if I could take his photo. That’s when he got really animated. He was yelling and cheering, and just having a great time as I snapped a few photos.
I still have no idea why he yelled “San Francisco” at me.
Photo 4: Jo Jo
She said her name is Jo Jo. This photo was taken before she realized she was being photographed. I have another that was taken after she realized and started smiling, but I think this one feels more earnest.
It’s a simple photo that offers one thing: make eye contact with another person.
She sells jade bracelets to support her kids.
Photo 5: Little Monks
I visited a monastery where there were roughly 60 young monks. My notion of a stern and pious little monk was thoroughly shattered as these kids wrestled constantly, showed me their favorite super-hero moves, and shouted the names of famous soccer players at me as a way of saying, “look, we have something in common”.
The young monk who is looking at the camera in this photo was one of the most energetic. Somehow he was constantly being wrestled by the other kids, and he thought it was hilarious. This shot was another product of burst mode. It’s such a great way to catch the perfect expression.
I was a little disappointed that his eyes have some motion blur on them, but I’ve stopped caring about aesthetic perfection in my photos as much. I’m learning to embrace imperfections and sometimes even draw them out. This one was unintentional, but put me on the track to celebrate imperfections more in photography — something that has made it a more fun and honest endeavor for me.
Photo 6: Sad Boy on a Pagoda
To me, photo albums are much more interesting than individual photos. While a photo album may not have a plot, it inevitably tells a story. We can play with ranges in mood, texture, color, and more. It’s a format that uses the space in between each photo as much as it uses the photos themselves.
I love this shot because it isn’t happy. This kid is upset, just like we all are sometimes. I have no interest in taking 50 photos of myself smiling in front of various landmarks. I find it much more interesting to try to pull real human emotions out of the environment and into my camera. For me it’s a practice of developing empathy for the people in the environment I’m photographing. I’m aware of people’s moods and body languages. I don’t always feel right photographing vulnerable moments, but when it feels right it can create an image that builds a bridge of empathy between the subject and the viewer.
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