Spectacular Lijiang

Photo © Bob Krist

We’ve caught a bit of a weather break in Lijiang, in western China.  What a beautiful area this is! In the foothills of the Himalayas, it’s one of the gateways to Tibet, and it’s being promoted heavily as a destination for Chinese tourists by their government.

Here, the lives of acceptable ethnic minorities like the Naxi and the Mosos are celebrated (as opposed to the minority in the T-word country, which as you know, is not being celebrated).

Yes, tourism is king here. I used to joke with my brother Gary, a writer with whom I’ve worked on countless stories, that if we had a nickle for every hotel folklore show we’ve sat through, we’d be millionaires.

But as jaded as I am in that department, nothing prepared me for the 500-man spectacular show called Lijiang Experience. It is the mother of all folkloric shows, and was directed by the same gentlemen who directed the opening ceremonies for the Beijing Olympics.

Gadzooks! I knew I was being fed a company line on the way all minorities get along together, but just like the Coca Cola Disney (thanks to reader Peter for pointing out the error in sponsorship attribution)  “It’s a Small World After All” exhibit did at the New York World’s Fair in the early ’60’s, this show just captivated me. What can I say?

Sometimes, despite the 45-or-so years that has passed since I saw “It’s a Small World” out in Queens, spectacular visuals still sway me and help me overlook glaring script inaccuracies. I guess that’s why I’m a shooter and not a writer!

But, despite the slickly-packaged tourism product available in Lijiang, we did manage to capture some slices of real life, including photographing a couple Dongbas, or holy men, doing their thing.  To see a few of them, plus a few more of the show pix, hit the jump.


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Vietnam Views

Photo © Bob Krist

Okay, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but if I had the kind of weather karma I’m experiencing on this leg of the trip earlier in my career, I wouldn’t have had a career!

I mean, how many times can you reach into the sepia toning, or the tungsten WB bag of tricks to add some tone or color to gray haze? It’s getting to be ridiculous.

We spent a day in Hanoi, and then went down to Ha Long Bay, seen above, which could be, in even half decent weather, one of the most picturesque places I’ve ever seen. I’m just going to have to come back.

Actually, the hazy overcast wasn’t too bad if you were close to something or somebody, and you cut out the sky. But damn, seeing all these great places in crappy weather is beginning to wear me down.

Will Lijiang, China, our next stop, offer a meteorological respite from all this hazy horror? Jeez, I hope so, because if this keeps up, I’m thinking of becoming a writer instead. Those guys never have to worry about the weather.

So stay tuned, because I’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, hit the jump for more Vietnam views, including a psychedelically lit limestone cave!


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Cruising in Cambodia

Photo © Bob Krist

When we left Java, the humidity was low, the sun was shining, and the clouds were puffy and white. I hoped that our weather woes might be behind us……but noooooooo.

The triple threat of haze, humidity, and high temperatures made Cambodia a gray, hazy steambath. So much for my sunrise over Angkor Wat! It was more like gray haze over Angkor Wat.  But you do what you can, and the Vivid setting with a Fluorescent WB helped put a tad of color in the pre-dawn scene when there was just a hint of pink clouds in the sky.

But the best shots of this brief stop came on the water. The above shot, on the moat around Angkor, is just a cleaning crew. But I liked the way the trees reflected in the water. Later, we went out on Tonle Sap Lake, the largest in Southeast Asia, and cruised among the boat people for some more shots.

My connection here in China is glacial, but I’ll upload whatever photos I can after the jump. Next stop: Vietnam!

I’ll keep you posted.


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A Perfect Storm

Photo © Bob Krist

The next leg of our trip, called Sacred Places of Asia, began in Java with a visit to the legendary Borobudur Temple.

This was a stop I was really relishing, since I’d never been here before. But after a sunny afternoon arrival and a quick visit to a minor temple, a perfect storm of photographic complications gathered today as we visited the main site.

First, it was dark, stormy, and pouring rain. That might have been enough to do me in, but then it happened that today, thousands of Javanese high school students were to overrun visit the site, swarming all over with their bright colored umbrellas and ponchos.

And as the photographic coup de grace, there was crew on top of the temple cleaning the stupas with high pressure hoses.

Oy! What did I do in a previous life to deserve this now? What must my karma must be to catch such a break?

Well, I did my best to avoid the kids (until I embraced their presence), and then hid the guy with the high pressure hose behind a stupa (those round pointy things) and just got the discharge from his hose. Kind of looks like fog, doesn’t it?

Add a little monochrome sepia treatment with the D90’s Retouch Menu and, damn, the picture is almost presentable!

For a look at more of Java, a batik factory, a couple of other temples and a faux HDR, hit the jump. (more…)

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Buddhist Bhutan

Photo © Bob Krist

We landed without incident in Bhutan and that day, our group had a chance to actually photograph some chanting monks in a small temple in Paro. No flash allowed, and totally backlit. My histogram would have made a certified Photoshop guru weep.

But what can you do? You get the picture with the glow of enlightenment coming from behind them (yup, that’s what I’m calling it….you more technical types may call it “a ton of blown highlights”) or you don’t get the picture.

And of course, I had to shoot a couple of video clips too, so in the few minutes we had, I was busier than a one-legged man in a butt-kicking contest.

What is it about red (or orange) robed Buddhist monks that so fascinates us? Photographers, myself included, can’t get enough of them.

Photo editors, on the other hand, have had enough. My friend Dan Westergren, senior illustrations editor of National Geographic Traveler, says he just glazes over when he sees a preponderance of  monk pictures in a portfolio.

The thought being that these are often “how can you miss” situations, and don’t really illustrate your talents in tough situations. In other words, it’s easy exoticism.

That is a pitfall for us travel photographers, the tendency to rely on the exotic nature of the subject matter at the expense of working the situation for moment, composition, and all the other qualities that make can make pictures shot in Bayonne (the one in New Jersey) as compelling as those shot in Bhutan.

I’ve worked long and hard years (including a five-year stint covering Bayonne, Union City, and Hoboken), so I relish the occasional pitfall and feel I’ve earned my monk’s robes.

(So if you’re reading this post, Dan, I’m hoping you’ll remember me for my hard-working pictures of more mundane stories, like Driving Pennsylvania’s Scenic Route 6, and forgive me my exotic lapses:-)).

For more monks, though, hit the jump. (more…)

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