Category Archives: Travelogue

People-watching in India

The Traveler's Photography Website; India's Best Images Revealed (J.L. Tyler)

Anyone who’s read an entry or two in this site knows I’m pretty passionate about India. Over the years I’ve peered into the sub-continent (both India and Nepal) six or seven times, and managed to gather a few good shots (“India Travel Photography”) and a few good stories (“Failing to Trek” or “Two Weeks in India”).

The Traveler's Photography Website; India's Best Images Revealed (J.L. Tyler)

I’m sure every India traveler gets asked “why?” particularly by people who have never been there themselves. I can’t easily answer that in a single blog, or in a single image or sentiment. It’s the people, the land, the animals, the atmosphere,… pretty much everything.

The Traveler's Photography Website; India's Best Images Revealed (J.L. Tyler)

So I’m going to start off this little series with some people shots. In the eyes and expressions and demeanor of a few select Indians, I hope you see some of the things that I see. These people are (one reason) why I love India.

The Traveler's Photography Website; India's Best Images Revealed (J.L. Tyler)





More Portraits

JL Tyler PhotographyAs I was building out this next round of portraits, I realized that was a lot of luck involved in capturing most of these. As I read more on portraiture, though, I see there are unifying elements that make a portrait a strong portrait, and some of these elements are caught in the photos below.

Any photography website or tutorial will tell you there are a few key techniques a photographer must consider when creating a portrait. The eyes of your subject, for example, need to be sharp and show life; some detail such as hair or clothing needs to be sharp and clear; the texture of the skin, depending on the look you want to achieve, needs to be smooth and well-lit (flattering modelesqe look) or coarse and gritty (real-life look); and the lighting needs to be flattering and emphasize whatever it is you want the viewer to focus on. If you have control over your subject, you can also use posing techniques, but my level of street photography doesn’t allow this.

JL Tyler PhotographyI’ve got a mixed bag of six portraits included in this post, and each of them relies on one or more of these details to make them appealing. The above two shots, the pepper vendor and the biker, don’t necessarily rely on eyes to make the shot; the pepper vendor is squinting and the biker is wearing shades. I think the critical element in both of them is texture and detail. You can see the texture in the pepper vendor’s forehead as well as in the well-oiled tracks of his hair (he had a cool top-knot in the back). With the biker, the texture of the leather is more dominant than his face, and that seems to underline the “biker” nature of the portrait. The fact that he just looks tres cool, and has a background detail of a manly eighteen-wheeler barreling in from camera left, is a bonus.


The next two photos, Woman with Cat and Two Sisters, both rely on eyes. The highlight of the former is, of course, the beautiful almond shape of her eyes framed by the elegant eyebrows, as well as the finer set of cat’s eyes ready for comparison on the right. There is also a liveliness in the woman’s eyes that seems enhanced by, or as a result of, the hug she is giving the cat.


The Two Sisters on the other hand shows, in the older sister’s eyes and overall expression, pleasant bemusement, perhaps due to the photographer standing outside her window or by the antics of her younger sister playing in shadow. While her younger sister’s eyes are closed, the joyous child’s expression is no less winning. There is also much texture in this shot. The chipped nail polish  on her fingers gripping the window sill are a dainty counterpoint to the roughness of the wood and corrugated tin of the room’s exterior. The slight scratch on the older girl’s nose brings out her character as well, speaking to, perhaps, some rough-housing fun.

DSC_2959_JTHR_NikSFX_borderSanta in Bar and Man with Tuk-Tuk are the final two of this series. I think “detail” is the unifying element of these last two (along with the beards and fantastic, groomed moustaches of each of the men). Santa was actually sitting inside the bar, behind a heavy sheet of plastic to keep out the cold (you can see the warp of the material to the right); it is the detail of the plastic and the way it frames Santa’s face that make this shot interesting.

JL Tyler PhotographyAnd finally the Man with Tuk-Tuk. Arguably there is too much going on in this shot; I might have blurred the background better (either in-camera or in Pshop) to defocus the detail and therefore focus on the man himself, but I really like the tuk-tuk approaching (you see them on any and every street in India), both for its intrinsic character and the receding depth it creates. The detail of the man himself, such as the fine needlepoint flower on his shawl, the wrapped shape of the shawl itself, and his forehead and pompadour hairstyle, all combine to create a solid street portrait of a seemingly interesting soul.

A Graveyard for Boats

JL Tyler Photography

Japan is an island, and water is a large part of the culture. I’ve gone on many trips in-country, and was never far from the oceans and rivers and the people that live and thrive nearby. Fisherman are a recurring image in my photos, but the fish themselves are fewer and further between; they tend to show up frozen on a dock, with a gaggle of bidding buyers flailing above. Boats are represented as well, but are usually moored, their character somehow subdued.

JL Tyler Photography

I came upon this boat graveyard in western Hokkaido. Sunk in a field of grass, in an out-of-the-way section of pier, lay a score of abandoned fishing boats. As I walked through the field and noticed the detail of broken mast, punctured hull, twisted netting and bows asunder, I realized these workhorses of the fishing trade had not lost their glory or their bearing. They were not subdued; in fact, they were very much full of expression.

JL Tyler Photography

The smooth slope of hull is as graceful on land as it would have been at sea; you just feel it’s misplaced. The mooring posts still appear strong, as if they are wanting that corded rope to wrap itself around them again. The lines and characters of the names painted on each hull are smudged, faded, but they still feel as if they are providing identity. And the tilt of each boat is no less dignified for it occuring midst the waving grasses. There is still grace and beauty in this field. There is still voice.


Shooting Silhouettes

JL Tyler PhotographyEvery time I see the sun in all its warm, full-bodied glory, I want to photograph it. But without a bunch of ND filters and a lot of gear preparedness, I try the shot and end up with a splatter of white in the frame. What I look for then is something to put in front of the sun, to block it and deliver a resulting silhouette at the same time. This is almost as rewarding, and is definitely more dramatic.


Yuma, where I’ve been lucky enough to spend few days each winter for the past few years, has given up some great images.  Each time I visit I come away with something new. Something about the thin, warm air and quality of mid-winter light, especially at sunrise or sundown, that brings out the best photos.

These photos are all handheld, with only a CIR POL filter in place. I shoot in RAW exclusively, and tweak in Pshop. In the vertical-oriented cactus shot, you can see a good level of detail in the cactus needles. I chose to not darken the shot (levels or curves adjustment) because I like the texture the extra detail provides.

JL Tyler Photography




To travel to Shikoku and Kyushu, the southern-most islands of Japan’s main archipelago, is to never be far from water. Whether you take the train, fly or drive, water is beside, under and around you. Outside of the urban, concrete corridors of Tokyo, past the monumental and majestic Mt. Fuji, and just beyond the ancient, wooded expanses of worship in Kyoto, you travel across land but you are thoroughly within this world of water.

Some time after returning from a recent trip, I read an article in B&W Photography entitled “How to Shoot Water.” Unfortunately, they don’t have a website of their own (!) nor a link to the article, but the photographer, Lee Frost, does. His suggestions ranged from “work in overcast light” and “use a ND filter,” to “use a wide angle lens to fill the foreground with reflections” and “use long exposures to turn water to milk.”


I can’t say that I followed all the technical advice, since I was more interested in subject matter than technique: what I was after — and found — was images of wide open spaces and singular individuals. These two visual aspects are rare in densely-populated Japan, but they exist; you just have to travel to find them. On the ferry from Honshu to Shikoku, a crane sat  in the water like a rigid but fluid, well, crane. In the backroads of Shikoku, a solitary fisherwoman found foothold in a moving stream. From a bridge in Kyushu, I spotted kayakers navigating the dimpled waters like leaves in a creek.


The beauty of the water, in the backyard of Japan, is undeniable. The quiet expressiveness of the scenes you will meet on this type of trip are thoroughly enjoyable. Sitting and gazing is not unknown in Japan; admiring the beauty of a rock garden or a sumi ink painting is a still pleasure many foreigners have heard about even if they haven’t had the pleasure of experiencing it themselves. But to be able to do so in the not-so-vast outdoors of Japan is a treat you should not put off. Come on in, the water’s fine.


The Ephemeral Cherry Blossom

[this post was originally written in 2011 just after the Fukushima disaster, updated here in certain senses.]

Here in Shimoda, along the southern coast of Japan about three hours south of Tokyo, we’re still a ways from spring, but we’re still on the verge of the most beautiful of seasons: that of the cherry blossom.


Though it is only February, this coming weekend marks the first real blossom-viewing weekend for us in Shimoda. We are blessed here to be home to the early-blooming variety of blossom called variously “mountain cherry” or “Kawazu cherry,” which blooms in February instead of April. This weekend, given the warm weather, will bring out the first large scale blooming in parks and along water ways, and will be the first of maybe three weekends where we call friends, meet in large groups of those we see regularly and those we don’t see often, and drink and tell stories and gaze at the flowers.

From all these trees

in salads, soups, everywhere

cherry blossoms fall

I like the image of this haiku, of blossoms falling into your soup or salad. Basho’s words, written 320-odd years ago, reveal a very modern sensitivity. With my friends it is much more often a glass of sake or beer that gets hit, but this is no less a pleasant experience. I get the feeling Basho would have approved.


The oak tree stands

noble on the hill even in

cherry blossom time

The image I see here is stoicism, a trait many people in Japan have to exercise regularly. The oak tree, long a symbol of strength and longevity, is also now a symbol of the Japanese person up in Fukushima, Miyage or Ibaraki, who has been uprooted, shaken to the core, and now, in the brightest of seasons, must stand stoic and deal with that which nature has wreaked.

No blossoms and no moon,

and he is drinking sake

all alone!

This is a sad one. In a time of catastrophe, how can you see the beauty of a flower when your friends or family may be gone? How can you appreciate a new season when you can’t even imagine what the next day will bring. Those people now forced to live in refugee centers, surrounded by others, crowded together,..  yet some of them, irreversibly alone.


The cherry blossom is a symbol of beauty in Japan, particularly because of its frailty and ephemeral quality; it only lasts a few short days before it is gone. In this season of change, the concepts of ephemeral and poetic cherry blossoms and the people of Japan are tied tightly together. This season, let friends gather and laugh and appreciate the cherry blossoms,… and a moment later grow quiet.

Italy Apologia

DSC_9415_JTHRF_sfItaly Apologia

Italy, as any writer who’s been there can attest, is a dream location. Interesting locals, weird tourists, astounding buildings and cities, a history that befuddles the mind trying to comprehend its events…. I spent an insignificant amount of time in Rome, Naples and Pompeii, and from this cursory glance, wrote a series of stories.

  1. Apologia
    We were woken by a swishing, muffled roar. I opened the shutters of the hotel and looked out into the pale light of our first morning in Italy. The highest floors of the buildings opposite were bright with sunlight and shadows hugged the corners down below. The lane was narrow. The buildings across were uniformly five and six stories, and created a canyon of brick and slowly descending light. The cut stones of the lane below were coated slick and dark with the slithering trail of a street washer now passed. The rumble and swipe receded as it crawled down another gorge.
  2.  The Secret of Service
    “You go there.” He was young and not young. A head of black wavy hair, crisp collar on his white linen shirt, an apron, still clean, covering black trousers with a thin silk strip down the outside of each leg. His five o’clock shadow looked unintentional; I imagined him telling the younger waiters to go home and shave when they showed up looking the same. But it gave him a casual authority over the tables. We followed his finger to the wall.
  3. Trading Places
    “Let’s take a walk to the Pantheon, just to say we’ve seen it, then find a restaurant for lunch.” H. has a practical approach to the trip. She wants to see and appreciate the art and culture and history Italy and Rome offer, but she has accepted more readily the schedule we are on. She is making the necessary trade-offs.
  4. Opening Doors
    A single question kept coming to mind as I walked the streets of Rome: how old is this? With monuments and noted buildings, histories are readily available, down to the month and day, but on the street there are no answers. When was this wall put up, this dark imposition with iron bars embedded into its windows and a layer of soot coating the top half of each brick? Or this road? The cobblestones are evenly separated and spaced as if by modern design, but the surface is worn smooth by time, much time.
  5. A Tale of Two Cities

At first glare Naples had nothing that was natural or organic, no subtlety. The only free movement was a shirt sleeve blowing in the wind. In the Quartier Pendino, a valley of grey apartments ran five blocks long and seven stories high. Blotting out the sunlight that fought its way down the narrow canyon was a tangle of tablecloths, towels, shirts, sheets, underwear and black-netted stockings, tied and strung across from building to building. A web of trapped insects straining to escape.