Film & digital. Light & dark. A photo adventure in Burma.

Editor’s note: Lowepro product developer Ryan Hetzel recently returned from a trip to Myanmar. We asked him to share what it was like getting ready for this type of ‘adventure of a lifetime’ and if the experience met his expectations. Here’s his trip report.


“As I planned a break for this winter, I decided I had a need for adventure. The chance to see a distinct and relatively fresh culture led me to Myanmar, a country recently opening up after years of rigid government control. I was curious about the effects of slowed development on this country – a little like traveling back in time to how more mainstream destinations (such as Thailand) were 10 to 20 years ago. The people of the countries I visit fascinate me, and with this trip. I looked forward to observing relatively intact traditional lifestyles.

_DSC9591For the trip, I took a Nikon D700 digital camera with 20-35mm lens for documentary-style photography. The wide-angle zoom allowed me to capture the landscape and people as I saw them in everyday life. The 20mm is ultra wide so I was able to include a fairly large scene easily. And the 35mm is close to what the human eye sees (closer to 50mm), so it captures a more ‘normal’ view.

I also took a Hasselblad film camera with 400 speed black and white film. I used it to create more refined images where I paid more close attention to the finer details, especially when shooting portraits with 80mm lens. This lens (around a 50mm equivalent focal length compared to my Nikon) works really well for tight portraits as well as landscape compositions.

img480Finding a bag that offered great protection, a perfect fit for the equipment, and also was subtle about being a camera bag was tricky. Looking around and after trying different bags, I ultimately chose the Stealth Reporter D200 AW as it fit all the gear and has a bunch of handy organization. The bag worked fantastically well; in fact it exceeded my expectations as it proved to be versatile, flexible and durable over and over during the trip. All my gear fit well with enough separate pockets to allow for great organization.

As I prepared for the trip, I considered only shooting film – no digital. Part of me wishes I did. The style of shooting that film creates for me is very rewarding. I’m drawn in to pay very close attention to every detail, and then I still don’t know if I got the shot until I develop the film. Also I spend a lot of time in the darkroom, so having more negatives to print from would have been equally rewarding. Digital is great, but black and white film images are always a closer match to how I originally saw the scene.

_DSC9125Looking back, I learned a lot about the quality of light and how big a part this plays in a successful image. While exploring ancient temples (just like Indian Jones!), I noted the nuances of light, and in my later review of images, saw dramatic differences in the outcome of these subtle changes. I gained a fair amount of confidence and efficiency in composing on the fly.  As the Hasselblad is a slow camera and people don’t necessarily have all day to wait for you to take a picture, there is need for efficiency in exposure, focus and composition. The biggest thing I forgot was the complexity of everyday life back in the US. Life on the road – especially in Myanmar – was simple, full and rich.

Now that I’ve returned to my everyday life, I’m still developing film. It’s exciting to pull the developed negatives out of the can and view them for the first time. I recount the moments and adventures I had in Myanmar and smile every time.”

Are you inspired by Ryan’s adventure? Leave us a comment and tell us about a recent photo adventure you’ve had or where you’d like to go next.

Katrina Neill

About Katrina Neill

Katrina was the Senior Editor & Communications Manager for Lowepro.

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