A silly combination of hubris and fear kept me from going to photo festivals in the past. What a waste of time. I just got to spend five days in Siem Reap meeting other documentary photographers from around Asia. It was totally worth the eleven hour motorcycle ride up there.
A few things I learned: the Phillipines has a bunch of great young photographers, I already make more money than most people do from photography, my own work is poorly lit, and that Alex Webb should probably be the photographer I work to emulate short term. (I’m watching these videos of him in Korea now).
My main advice came from an excellent portfolio review with Justin Mott who has in the past contributed to the New York Times travel section and makes some amazing art but has also found a method to make money. If you’ve never had a portfolio review I strongly suggest getting one. This one was free but there’s a good chance I’ll pay for workshops in the future.
I thought it would be good to have a travel writer review my stuff and I’m glad I made that decision: Justin understands business better than most photographers. He actually makes money in this game and spent the first 10 minutes of our conversation picking my brain for context. With this context gathered he only needed to look at 5 or 10 photos before giving me correct but burning criticism.
The feedback: Stop shooting in bad light. Only shoot at sunrise and sunset from now on and spend the rest of the day either doing other stuff or planning. Bad light ruins even a photo with amazing content.
With Justin’s feedback in mind I feel less lost today. I went to Siem Reap without a laptop, fully absorbed the festival for a few days, and then shot pictures at sunrise and sunset every day after the festival. I have a clear guideline now that there’s only about one hour of good light per day and focusing on that, optimizing for that, is giving me me a much greater sense of control over my work.
Here are a few pictures life in by the river in Siem Reap. Siem Reap is a much richer and more pleasant town than Phnom Penh. I’m half considering breaking my lease to move up there because it’s so peaceful, the people are so friendly, and the weather is cooler. Phnom Penh is a crowded, dirty, poorly managed city in comparison. I’ll keep the idea of moving there in the back of my mind for a few weeks, but surprisingly most of my Cambodian friends are encouraging me to do it.