Making the Monotonous Memorable by Lee starnes


I hear it all the time, “I’m bored of shooting the same old stuff.” Most of the time its from my own mouth and I’ve said it more times than I’d like to admit.

As photographers, we want to see new things, shoot new locations, create new art. That’s all well and good, but there is so much beauty in the seemingly mundane that we could shoot the same location for weeks on end and still find something unique and interesting. We just need to shift our perspective. Coming up with something fresh and different is a challenge, but shooting repeatedly in the same location pushes us to dig deeper, look closer, to slow down. It allows us to become intimate with a place and its people. “Seeing old things with new eyes” can add layers into a story that perhaps a first look had missed.

If you’ve been reading here long, you’ll have likely heard me go on and on about the importance of slowing down. It has enabled me to enjoy the sheer act of shooting. It’s a ticket to exploration, to meeting new people, to getting to know my neighborhood better. Half of the images below are within a block or two of my apartment and all of the images are from places I’ve been to many many times before. Taking the initiative to shoot around my immediate surroundings left me immediately annoyed with myself for not recognizing the beauty in what had become monotonous after living on the same block for 5 years. Going to locations I’ve shot over and over again challenged me to look further, to ask more questions and look for subtleties previously overlooked.

Even if the resulting images never see the light of day, merely shooting and being present serves as good practice and while many say quality over quantity, but quantity equals practice and practice leads to quality. If you look at your daily outings as opportunities for practice, the quality will come far quicker than if you just wait until you “have the time” or “have the perfect location” or any of the other myriad of excuses we all tell ourselves.

Leave an image or comment down below showing us how you find beauty in the mundane and push through creative ruts!

Central Vietnam Workshop and Tour Roundup by Lee starnes


We just wrapped our most recent central Vietnam photo workshop and tour for Pics of Asia and we couldn’t have been happier with the students, locations, and the endless supply of coffee we had this year. Starting off in Hoi An, we ventured a bit south to one my personal favorite fishing villages before heading back up north to Hue to explore the old capital and the surrounding countryside. Striving to keep things interesting, we discussed travel, portraiture, street and landscape photography. Whether we were photographing frenetic wet markets or peaceful sunset vistas, we always came back to the importance of slowing down, enjoying the moment, being prepared for when the shot presents itself, and forming relationships with the people we came across on our journey. What we lacked in sleep, we certainly made up in spades in the form of unforgettable experiences. In case you haven’t checked out my article on the importance of slowing down and breaking bread, click here!

Here are a few images from the tour and then a gallery of some behind the scenes of all the locations we shoot. If you’d like to come along, it just so happens we have another 3 day tour in August that we still have a few spots left - hint hint hint. We’d love to have you along and shoot in these stunning locations.

Behind the Scenes

click on each photo for a full size pop up!

Slowing down: Building Relationships through Photography by Lee starnes


Last week, I headed back out on the road with Pics of Asia for another workshop and tour in Central Vietnam. We expanded our tour this year from 3 days to 5 days and included stops in the former capital Hue, the ancient town of Hoi An, and their surrounding countrysides. One of my favorite tours of the year, we explore serene lagoons, energetic markets, dabble in street photography, witness incredible sunrises, and drink far too much coffee.

On our final day, we visited a craft cooperative where workers make handcrafted items from bamboo. Throughout the course of workshop, we talked over and over about slowing down and observing the surroundings before picking the camera up and snapping away. Upon entering the workshop, workers warmly greeted us, proudly presented their wares, and made fun of my Vietnamese. Men carved bits of bamboo before women completed the baskets. There were so many people at different phases of the process; it was a bit overwhelming to narrow it down to one subject.

Spending a few minutes walking around the workshop, it didn’t take long for it to become obvious as to what, or rather who, I wanted to photograph. Light dictates much of what we capture in travel photography, so as I came across a group of gentleman in a pool of soft light coming in from their left, it was a no brainer. Any one of these gents could have been a fantastic portrait, but one man in particular had a larger than life personality and I knew I had to know more. As I said hello, he grabbed me and asked me all the usual questions - my age, where I’m from, am I married, do I have kids… Upon the last question, I answered, “My dog is my child.” Apparently that was the funniest thing ever as he let loose a contagious laugh. We then sat down together and he showed me his craft. The cigarette hanging out his mouth, his calm, cool demeanor and the ease in which he carved the pieces of bamboo were all so photogenic - it was the impossible cool.


It would have been quite easy to snap a single portrait and walk away. He was engaged, we chatted about life, work, and having a beer at the end of the day. The walls came down between us. Though I was happy with the first shot above, letting things unfold brought on the good stuff. He continued to work and chat with me as I tried to capture his process, different expressions, and little details along the way.

At the end of our chat, he shook my hand, placed his hand on my shoulder and wished me luck. I felt like I hadn’t “taken” anything; instead, I documented our time together. I also realized I was going to be spoiled for choice picking the one image I’d release out into the wild. Looking at them side-by-side, though, I soon concluded I didn’t need to pick just one. The body of work spoke much more than a single frame. Not only is the narrative more dynamic across multiple images, but I know the next time I get back to Hue, a warm embrace and a big smile (and possibly a cold beer) will be waiting for me. Scroll through below for the entire body of work.

This slow approach helps not only making more compelling images, but it also gives us a chance to break bread, form bonds, and give a piece of ourselves as much as the people with whom we come in contact give a piece of themselves to us. As travel photographers, it should be at the forefront of our thinking to not merely take photos, but rather make relationships and build bridges wherever our travels take us. The power of the camera as a unifying force and tool for telling stories has often been more meaningful than the resulting images from my encounters with so many unique people all over the world.

If you’re interested in pushing your travel photography to the next level and meeting some incredible people, we’ve got another workshop coming up in August and we’d love to have you explore central Vietnam with us. Head over to Pics of Asia to sign up and don’t miss out on some of the most picturesque areas of Vietnam.

Catching Up: Dalat over Xmas. by Lee starnes


Over the past few weeks, as you may have noticed, I have been a bit off the radar. Partially voluntary and partially by sheer logistics. The lunar New Year, or Tet as they say here in Vietnam, brought a much needed respite and a bit of digital detox was in order. I’ll have plenty of images up here in the coming days (Indonesia was incredible!) so check back for those. That said, I had such a backlog of images and I wasn’t quite sure where they would live, so I’ve decided to use this space to show some of those.

Over Christmas, we headed up to the highland outpost of Dalat, around 6 hours north of Saigon. Historically, Dalat served as a getaway for French colonialist due to it’s cooler weather and “European” feel. French villas, pine trees, lakes, and crisp evenings made this place a slice of home I suppose. These days, while Dalat is still known for its cooler temps and outdoorsy activities, its also the home of where most of the organic produce is grown in Southern Vietnam. Farms dominate the countryside, and little food stalls seem to be every few meters.

While I love Saigon, it was literally a breath of fresh air getting up into the mountains. Here are just a few shots from the weekend. Those of you who live in Saigon, where is your favorite weekend getaways? We’re always looking for new places to explore, let us know in the comments below!