Travel + Your Camera = Living – By Scotty Graham

Travel + Your Camera = Living

By Scotty Graham

Steve has had a great deal of travel articles on his site lately, so thought one more wouldn’t hurt. This is not a review of the Leica M9…just a fun article about my last trip to China during Christmas and New Years (with my M9 and family)…

Life is short. I know this, and you know it too. 2002 was TEN years ago!! Ten years!! Remember that song, “Time” by Pink Floyd? The words of that song have stuck in my head since my college days…


…And then one day you find ten years have got behind you

No one told you when to run you missed the starting gun

And you run and run to catch up with the sun but it’s sinking

Racing around to come up behind you again…


There is nothing like travel to rid one’s “missing the starting gun”. If you haven’t done so yet this year, plan a trip. It doesn’t have to be a trip to a new country or to the other side of the world…it could be a weekend trip to the mountains or ocean, or a trip to a neighboring city to visit friends/family or just a day trip to a park…but plan one, and BRING YOUR CAMERA. Even planning a trip can be liberating. As they say on the Nat Geo Adventure channel, “GET LOST”…get adventurous and have a story to tell when you get back. That is living. If you do this often, the sun slows down and you won’t always be trying to catch up with it.


Travel + My Leica M9 + Family/Friends = A Ton of Fun = Living Life to the Fullest

I wanted to end 2011 with a trip somewhere, and I wanted to start 2012 on a trip. My destination choice was China…Yangshuo, China…located in the South of China. Good and bad choice. Good because it was low season, few tourists, relatively cheap, easy to get to (I live in Indonesia), and a great place for photography…bad because the weather completely sucked. It was cold and drizzly the entire time we were there…we didn’t see the sun for 10 days.

Photographically speaking, I was bummed (at first). Where was the sun? I knew it would be cold, but nowhere in my research on the net did I read it would be so hazy, drizzly and foggy. However, I am an optimist…I still went out everyday with my camera on long walks, and even managed to get seriously lost on a couple of occasions.

None of the photos below are HDR…hehe…Surprised?…AND no Photoshop was used. I did use Lightroom, and I used Nik’s Silver Efex Pro 2 to create the black n whites.

Side Note: One of the things that drives me crazy with the M9, and I should have mentioned this in my last article I wrote about the M9, is how dirty the CCD gets, and how easily it gets dirty. My most used tool in LR is the spot removing tool, and now you know why.

If you go to this part of China, take the cruise down the Li River from Guilin toYangshuo. Well worth the money!! Incredible scenery, and I mean incredible! Unfortunately for us, we could barely see the “karst” peaks as they were shrouded in clouds all day…BUT, the clouds did make for some “mystical” photographs. I was told the best time of year to come to Yangshuo is between May and October. I am sure the place looks totally different in the Spring…will have to go back, I guess.

My daughter, Kayla, bored with all the rain…


Need a hotel recommendation? We couldn’t have been happier with our choice,  The Yangshuo Mountain Retreat. It was located outside of the main town of Yangshuowhich meant taking a taxi into town, but it was so nice being out in the country. The scenery outside of our hotel was unbelievable, and the best part is you could walk out of the hotel and onto hiking trails to explore the countryside away from the tourists.

Yangshuo Mountain Retreat

The view from the front of our hotel


The charming little town of Yangshuo was just a 10 minute taxi drive away… lots of shops, cafes, and restaurants. Since the weather was so bad, the town was quiet. However, on Friday and Saturday night, the streets were packed with Chinese tourists…we saw very few foreigners…they were smart, I guess, and knew to come back in May.


Where are the customers?

Inside Lucy’s Cafe

Hard core shoppers only (like my wife)


The best part of the trip, for me, was getting out every day for long walks in the small villages near our hotel. Some of the buildings in the villages dated back to the early 1600’s. I had a photo walk every day, and it’s those walks that really make me feelalive…meeting the locals and seeing how the Chinese live their daily lives in rural China…great stuff!!



Taking photos of people in China is not easy. Here in Indonesia, people LOVE to have their photo taken, and they ask you to take their photo when you are walking around. In China, most people, especially the older people, don’t like to have their photo taken. I always asked before snapping shots of people, and most of the time, I got a nice smile, but a wave telling me, “no photo, please”…so, I would just move on. After a while, I just gave up and concentrated on the landscape and buildings…the three shots below were practically the only “people” shots I got the entire trip (except for photos of my family)…


a typical scene on the streets…men playing cards

this guy just happened to walk out the door when I was taking a photo of the wall and door.

This old guy guided me through a very old building in a remote village…I couldn’t understand a word he said, but he was very animated and proud to show me around. He reluctantly posed for me after I asked for a photo.

One thing I noticed quite often were photos and posters of Mao hanging in homes in the small villages I visited. I found that interesting and intriguing.


I would love to end this little article with a nice sunset photo, but…uh…no sun…so, here is one last shot of the incredible landscape of Yangshuo.



Hey, thanks for taking the time to read this. I hope you all have a wonderful 2012!! Take a trip…or two…or more this year, and of course, bring your camera. Live 2012 to the fullest cause before you know it, it will be 2022.

Scotty is an expat Photography Teacher living in Jakarta, Indonesia for the past 17 years. You can follow him on Google+ or his photoblog at

Scotty can be reached at


  1. Hey !
    Great photos, really.
    I wonder myself when will I go to such a place where taking picture is so natural and you want to take so many 🙂 … I even might get lucky and take good ones !
    … One question though : how do you find good hotels ?! from the different places that I’ve been to, it feels like I’m missing something, a trick, a contact or a secret website where I’d find such perfect place ! How did you do it ?

  2. Lovely work! I particularly love the spooky landscapes. Really amazing and they make me want to visit that place.

  3. Scotty: simply wonderful shots… These are really great landscape shots [the ppl shots too!!] I also liked the processing done on them. Looking at your blog, want to see more 🙂

  4. Thanks guys for all the nice comments….writing this on my iPad as I have no internet at home.

    @eric: as I mentioned in my article, I only used Light Room in my processing….I do like Niks filters but didn’t use them for these photos, except for the black n whites which I did use Silver Effex Pro2…. I am sure the vignetting occurred with the Silver Effex, but I happen to like it as It focuses the viewers attention to the center of the photo….you obviously look the time to really examine my photos…that must say something, heh? Thanks for your comment, appreciate it.

    Several people have written to me via email….I will answer every email, I promise, and feel free to ask me anything you want about the M9, my photos or anything else….cheers!

    • Hey scotty, thanks for replying to my comment. It does say alot about your photos… considerring that I’ve starred at them for a long time because I do believe they draw the user in…and it makes me want to travel to those locations. I believe your use of digital manipulation is valid, as ANY Digital manipulation is valid and up to the user, but I do think even things such as a Vignetting being applied without a users knowledge can be misleading to a viewer…even when it is not meant to be.

      I do hope to see more of your photographs and digital representations in the future.

    • O and incase you dont read my reply to Andreas…There are certain photos like china 12…that I LOVE….you have a very good eye for composition.

  5. Great work Scotty. You can’t change the weather but you’ve certainly made the most of what it gave you. Also I really enjoy that you’re prepared to mix up the processing and address each image on its merits. Thanks, Jason

  6. Dear Mr. Graham,
    Your photos are stunning and soulful!!! Thank-You so much for sharing the beauty of China!
    Maureen Engh

  7. Great shots but I am confused as to the inconsistent range of tons color, vingetting, the use of what looks to be “glamour glow”/daylight effect from the nik software suite.

    Unless I mis read you said you took these with an M9.

    The even distribution of light to heavily dark areas is not naturally occurring so there has to be post processing being done here whether its a neutral density filter….especially on the sepia looking photo.

    The last photo is not something the m9 would render like that….heavily processed heavily saturated with shadows bumped up.

    Also the wide bw shot of the mountains….the sky is far too dark….to be naturally occuring that way…

    This comment isnt meant to bash in anyway…I like the composition and feel of these…but I think there is more processing going on here then you intend to share. Or maybe your not aware of it?

    • Obviously you mix up art and technique. Anyway, your comment and some of the others here could be taken as a negative example of what happens when gearheads talk about photos. As if the usage of an M9 would intrinsically command a certain look. Hilarious.
      This is by far the best entry on travel and photography I have evey seen here. And Scotty, don’t even ponder over these M-religious comments, you are clearly an artistically feeling person, which comes through in your photos _and_ writing. And you should be grateful for that “bad” weather, because since you couldn’t photograph people so easily, you got some phantastic moody landscapes (I can imagine landscape shooters waiting a long time for such condidtions). Though even one of your three people shots is great (the card-players).

      • I think you have missed my point entirely Andreas…and there is no need to sound so defensive…or explain what is obvious…or categorize me or other’s as M people…how do you even know what we shoot with??…..Whether or not someone uses digital in their work flow is up to them…

        I really don’t care if someone HDR’s a photo….or says that they don’t but manipulates a photo to a point where levels/shadows/and shadow saturation have been adjusted beyond that of the normal scope of the camera is really the same thing…

        …and although I agree with the problems a “gear head” may bring into opinions about ones photos…as well as pixel peepers…this was not my concern…I’m not hear to bash scottys photos in anyway..nor judge the use of a computer to aid in the final representation of an image……A gear head I am not…although I guess that’s hard to say without defining what a “gear head is” …I don’t or believe I don’t discriminate in photography….I shoot digital, 35mm, and 120 6×9…and shoot with a PHONE!….I like to develop….and I like to post process….I have gear…I shoot people, places, events…and studio….and I like to understand the technology…as these are the tools we use to create/share/ and publish our photos….but my interest in photography is that which we share….the feelings we get while taking pictures….and the community when it’s at its best…sharing perspectives….ideas….disagreements. It’s hilarious/sad hearing people debate things like sensor size, megapixels, software manipulation…etcetc

        I do think it is a mis representation when someone makes a point to say “none of these are HDR…surprised???” when the same techniques to create an HDR like image can be made in Lightroom through lots of other adjustments…its like running competing in an event…winning first prize….and neglecting that you were the only one that has competed
        in this competition multiple times….
        I’m not saying Scotty is going out of his way to mis represent….but when you comment at the look of your own photographs and declare that the look without the use of a certain digital aid is surprising….well….there is an insinuation there…whether it’s meant to be there or not…not to mention the impact of sharing your photographs….

        people are entitled to their opinions….

        My favorite photos of the bunch are the ones that don’t have that over processed look…

        China 4
        China 12
        China 14

        these are pics I can imagine myself seeing or experiencing…

        Alot of the landscapes I can imagine in a fantasy movie…and I enjoy them!…these places really do exist in a fantasy sense beyond that which we see in city life.

        again…. scotty, I really enjoyed the story and pics….but if there is more going on in the post I believe it is the responsibility of the photographer to better explain how there final images appear.

        It can be as easy as…

        The following photographs have been digitally developed in lightroom and silverNX in various different ways and at various different levels.

        • Eric, don’t worry, I get what you are saying, and take no offense.

          I only wrote, “surprised?” because my first two articles for Steve’s site had some HDR photos in it, and I took some major abuse in the comments about the HDR photos. Seriously though, these photos had very little manipulation done. I did not add any vignette…I did use “fill light”, which lightens the center, and then when the blacks slider is used to compensate for the fill light, a vignette can occur….but it was not done on purpose. The clouds were very dark the entire trip….the black n whites, however, have more of a vignette which comes from the presets in Nik’s Silver Efex…so, yes, a vignette is there from the filter…cheers, mate…really do appreciate your input…

  8. Beautiful…I can’t imagine why you’d want sunshine. Well, okay I can. But I doubt the results would have been so ethereally lovely.

    Well you’ve nudged me out of my temporary Nikon V1 obsession and I’ll give my 9s some action soon. Thank you!

  9. SCOTTY, looking good mate!!! Mad trip and awesome photos! Went with the NEX-7, its going pretty good 🙂 hope your well, still keen for a mission sometime. Take care.. Lets get Steve to Aussie at the least………..

  10. Thanks for the photos Scotty.
    They are really amazing shots.
    If my kids are a little more grown up, I’ll bring them on a trip to connect to their heritage.
    I’m Singaporean Chinese and my family’s from China.

    • Great pics. It’s really a beautiful place to be. I’ve been there twice, in spring and late fall, with sunshine And much more water in the Li river.too much differences.

  11. I really like the shots, quite wonderful, a window to another world. The colors, contrast and the clarity without being cold is outstanding.

  12. Wow, Scotty, really spectacular stuff. Great article and levels shots.

    Thanks for showing this,


  13. Incredible shots of the countryside, I bet May-Oct would never have the feel of the shots you took in ‘such miserable weather’ with no sun.

  14. I really like your photos SG! They really give you a sense of time and place. Wonderful work my friend! BTW….is that a Nike bag in photo 12? Heh! Me likey!
    Stay Hard Scotty!

  15. gr8 photos steve 😉 i did a double take looking at the mountain pix and thought they were in 3D.. almost tempted to put on my 3d shades lol 😉

  16. Great pictures. I love your story. I have the same problem with the CCD getting dirty. I clean it myself using vswab & eclipse optic cleaning fluid. Works fine.

  17. I’m sorry but I can’t help wondering: why on Earth do you feel the need to add artificial vignetting to these $6k camera shots?

    • +1
      But in french we say : Tous les goûts sont dans la nature.
      Which means : You can’t criticize the other’s taste !
      Even though I like most of your shots, thanks Scotty

    • Hey Bob…thanks for the comment…hate to disappoint you, but there is no artificial vignetting…those are dark clouds, buddy…perhaps when I used the “fill light” in Lightroom, it makes it appear as vignetting as the center becomes brighter…but believe me, it was REALLY cloudy, dark and rainy my entire trip. Cheers, mate.

      • Sorry Scotty,
        I reacted before I read your article ! Shame on me.
        Anyway I like your photos and the way you take life.
        By the way, I leave for a travel on sunday for 2 weeks with my family and my M9 and I completly agree with you.

        My CCD doen’t get dirty because I never change the lens, (summiron 50).

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