Image of the day

Getting up at 5am to shoot images is always a risky business...  What's the weather going to be like? Is the light going to be any good?  Could I just sleep in another 10 minutes?  All these questions and more are there as valid reasons why you might decide to put the alarm back onto snooze.


Kaziranga national park in Assam is one of the best places in the world -  well in fact one of the only places in the world - to see the Great Indian one horned Rhinoceros, but it does mean getting up early.  Clambering onto an Elephant before breakfast is a great way to get the day going - 2 hours later when you clamber off and realise that man is not designed to sit astride an Elephant is not so great.  Having your legs that wide for an extended period is to put it bluntly a painful experience.  But it's worth it..

In the light of a beautiful dawn with dew still on the long grass and the chill of the previous night still lingering, Kaziranga is a magical place.  Within 15 minutes of setting out we were sitting 12 feet up looking at Rhinos wallowing in water holes totally oblivious to our presence.  Yes, missing a few hours sleep is definitely worth it.


I love people that are passionate about their art - whether it's writers, artists, photographers or cake bakers, I don't care what it is - but passion is important in whatever you do.

I recently visited an event in North Cornwall - it's held most years and celebrates the art and passion of surfboard shaping.  Shapers are an interesting bunch - as eclectic and varied as the boards they meticulously coax out of foam and fiberglass.  This years event brought together shapers from throughout the UK to discuss their passion and talk about rockers , concaves and rails with similarly obsessed people.

I originally thought of doing a set of portraits against black but the venue was a little restricted on space to set up a background so that idea quickly went out of the window.  I ended up shooting most of the series of images with natural light against a blank wall outside the pub where the event took place.  The images were ok as a set - nothing outstanding individually but a nice record of the event and the character that make up the surfboard shaping community.  Having done some basic lightroom corrections I then imported the set into my Iphone for processing using a variety of apps to enhance the images - its seems a strange thing to do perhaps, to purposefully degrade the images but the end results are arguably more interesting than the originals.


Iraq: then and now.


Every day the news from Northern Iraq seems to get worse.  The militant Islamic group ISIL seem to be gaining more momentum as each day passes, spreading fear and carrying out horrific attacks as they push ever forward in their campaign to establish a strict Caliphate throughout this ethnically and culturally diverse region.


I feel extremely very lucky to have visited northern Iraq when I did - a mere two and a half years ago in February 2012.  The visit was memorable for several reasons, not least of which was the extreme hospitality with which we were greeted and the kindness of the Kurdish people.  Barely a day went past without finding that someone had paid for our food or drinks before we could or that we were invited to join total strangers over a cup of tea.

I traveled through the autonomous region of Iraqi Kurdistan for about 10 days with another photographer/writer friend and a French film maker and came back with nothing but positive things to say about the region - how different it must be today, only a couple of years later.

One of the interesting and overriding messages that sticks with me was the fact that people in the region identified themselves not by religion saying I am a Christian, Sunni, Shia, Yazidi or any one of the other religious groups that can be found in the area - they considered themselves first and foremost to be Kurds and were very much against being characterized by religion.  Seeing the images on the TV each evening and reading the news online is very distressing - it's easy to dismiss this area of Northern Iraq as a disaster area but it's not the case.  The regional capital Erbil (also spelt Irbil, Arbil) is a thriving city full of modern amenities and at times you would be hard pressed not to think you were in a European city.  There are shopping malls, ice rinks, cinemas, playgrounds for kids and now to add to this there are refugees fleeing the seemingly unstoppable advance of ISIL.



Until several weeks ago, the Yazidi sect, an ancient esoteric and historically persecuted religious minority group concentrated in northern Iraq, was relatively unknown. But in recent weeks the entire world has been watching as this tiny group of less than a million people became the latest targets of ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) extremists, who launched a campaign against “heretics” that resulted in the slaughter of hundreds of Yazidi men, women and children and the flight of tens of thousands more to arid Mount Sinjar, where their situation rapidly escalated to a humanitarian crisis.

The beautiful and tiny mountain village of Lalish is about 36 miles North East of Mosul in northern Iraq. It is the location of the tomb of Sheikh Adi ibn Musafir, the main figure of the Yazidi faith and is considered the spiritual home of the Yazidis.  It is appalling to think that this group of people who have been repeatedly persecuted for hundreds of years is once again on the run in order to escape the extreme brutality of ISIL.



Northern Iraq has already had it's fair share of bad times. the Kurds were notoriously persecuted by Saddam Hussein and now once again the region is in turmoil, this time because of religious differences.  Overseas forces ousted Saddam and after years of occupation left the region in a vacuum allowing movements such as ISIL to flourish.  Of course it's not just the Yazidis who being persecuted by ISIL - it's also any other religious group who does not adhere to their strict beliefs.  The historic Mar Mattai monastery, some 20km from Mosul, is administered by the Syrian Orthodox Church and home to a handful of monks.  I wonder what has happened to the smiling Abbot who greeted us so warmly and talked of the many times the monastery had been the subject of attack over the course of it's history



TPOTY 2013. Private view at the RGS

Last night saw the preview of The Travel Photographer of the Year 2013 exhibition at the historic Royal Geographical Society in Kensington, London.  I was lucky to have an image selected for the exhibition having been awarded a 'Special mention' in the 'Vanishing and Emerging cultures' category.  It was a lovely experience to see an image of mine on display in such illustrious setting and being enjoyed by so many people.

Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.41.55
Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.41.55

The quality of images on display this year was extremely high with the main award for Travel Photographer of the Year 2013 going to the extremely talented Timothy Allen who received his award live on a video screen from the inside of a Ger in Western Mongolia - such is the life of a travel photographer!  One of Tim's award winning images is shown below.

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Screen Shot 2014-07-10 at 10.52.09

This was the first time I have entered the competition and was pleased to find that 2 of my 4 image portfolios had been selected as finalists in different categories - I'm already looking at entries for this years event.

Many thanks to the various sponsors for helping support such a great event - special thanks to Chris and Karen Coe for organizing the competition for the past 11 years, lets hope it continues to inspire for a long time to come.

The following portrait was the image of mine chosen to be exhibited - taken in the tiny village of Kibish in South Western Ethiopia.

Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM
Ethiopia © Toby Adamson / AXIOM

on getting involved

_X2A1400One of the biggest joys of being a travelling documentary photographer is the fact that it gives you a reason to get involved in things that you might otherwise not do.  This image is a typical case in point.  On holiday in Java a few months ago I came across fishermen on the beach hauling their nets.  I guess that most casual observers would just look on with interest for a few minutes, maybe stand back and take a generic picture and then move on and go for a beer or something.  But I love these opportunities, it's what keep things interesting.  It doesn't matter that this was not a paid story or assignment - and it doesn't matter that I was there on holiday, what does matter was that I could see that there was a human interest story that caught my attention and I could see that there were images there to be made given a little time and involvement.

A bit of interest is all it takes to get involved - within minutes of arriving I had dropped my bag off in one of the boats and was joining in hauling nets up the beach with the rest of the crew.  This was all the passport I need in order to get good pictures -  suddenly you are accepted by everyone and images come freely.  Show a few images around and soon everyone is happy to be photographed.  After 10 minutes of ordinary pictures with people smiling and waving you soon blend into the background and this is when good images start to appear.  No longer do people look into the lens and no longer do they behave in an un natural way.  On paid assignments this time to relax with people is often something you don't have the luxury of, ideally it would be great to spend hours with people before even considering taking a picture.

I returned to this little group of people several days in a row - helping to pull the nets, shoot a few pictures, help some more.  Launching the boat, one of the fishermen gesticulated for me to get in and go with them as they cast their nets - I had no idea whether it was going to be a 5 minute or 5 hour trip but jumped at the chance to get more involved.  I'm heading back to Java again next week and will go and see the fishermen again taking some prints with me to give as a thank you - and no doubt I'll spend more afternoons with them helping to pull the nets and shooting  a few pictures but above all just sharing a few minutes with people that you might otherwise not meet.

The opening image has very recently been used by a major broadcaster in a conference presentation on the art of storytelling.

Subsistence fishing - Lagos

Life for a lot of people in Nigeria is difficult - no, let me re-phrase that, it's very difficult. In the port of Apapa - across the water from the bustling city of Lagos - fishermen in tiny leaking boats cobbled together from hardwood planks, tin sheet and anything else that will keep out the water fish for whatever they can catch.  Dwarfed by the rusting hulls of large commercial trawlers from far away countries that long ago hauled their last nets, a fisherman slowly works his way along the quayside line fishing for anything he can catch - two small fish is all he had to show for the morning.

As a documentary photographer these are the sort of places and stories I'm drawn to - juxtapositions of ideas, places and lifestyles, the tiny precarious leaking fishing boat next to the huge rusting trawlers and the messages that could be symbolised by the positioning of one next to the other.

Nigeria fishing

Millions of people around the world live this hand to mouth existence, I've seen fishermen exactly the same as this in just about every single African country I've visited -  doing the only thing they know in order to put something on the plate.  It seems fishing is a tough way to make a living pretty much everywhere you go.

Iphone images as Stock photos

Stock picture agency Alamy have fairly recently announced their new smart phone App aimed at those of us shooting images on our Iphones.  The app - called STOCKIMO - allows anyone with both an Iphone and an Alamy account to upload images direct from their phone onto the Alamy site.  So all those amazing images we shoot with our Iphones now have route to market with Alamy.

STOCKIMO works like this...  You shoot an image. You think hey that's a great shot, someone must be able to use that in an advert or an article.  Load the app on your phone and upload the image to Alamy adding caption and keywords as you go and that's it..  The images are then reviewed by a number of editors and rated out of 4..  As long as the image has an average rating of mare than 2 then it's accepted and joins the millions of other images on sale with Alamy.

These were the first few images of mine to go up - I guess they take a couple of minutes each to caption and keyword properly. At the moment there is no facility or procedure to batch upload/caption/keyword or upload from anything other than Iphone or Ipad which makes the process a bit long winded.  Great for doing the odd image here and there as you shoot but for uploading your back catalogue, hmmm that might take a bit of time.

Alamy is also an enormous library so chances of getting your images seen is pretty low but nevertheless worth a go if you've got nothing else to do on a long journey or whilst bored in the dentists reception.  I know I will be slowly loading up images one by one for a while - I might not get rich doing it but at least those lovely vibrant images get to see the light of day.

Iphone photojournalism - NZ letterboxes

My new Apple Iphone 5s has a really great camera - ideal for general day to day snapping when there's no real need to carry around a big DSLR.  On my recent travels to New Zealand I became fascinated by the Kiwi's personalization of their letterboxes - every one seemingly different and each showing something of the character of the owner.  This was a great opportunity to just use the ever present Iphone loaded with Hipstamatic and shoot a series of images as piece of simple photojournalism.  As always with these series each individual image is not necessarily great - often very quickly composed from the window of the van as we passed by - but as a piece of documentary photography they show something of New Zealand's quirky character.

Hipstamatic is a really useful app although having shot the images you are pretty much stuck with the lens and film styles you've selected.  The great advantage of it is though that it's instant - the images processed and ready to go straight away.  With more time available I would probably choose to shoot in something such as VSCO camera which gives the option of having easily controlled focus and exposure rather than the automatic features in Hipstamatic.  Export the images from VSCO into a manipulation app such as Snapseed and suddenly you have full control of the image.  To be honest though there is something very satisfying about the immediacy of Hipstamatic that is hard to beat.

Iphone 5s as a valid documentary photography tool

I've always been a great fan of the Iphone for day to day personal photography.  The apps that are available make image manipulation very straight forward and the creative options are pretty much limitless and improving week by week. Images out of the new Iphone 5s are a very respectable 3264x2448px and given the right shooting conditions and light, images can really be very good.

Processed with VSCOcam

Straight up images from the standard camera app are ok, but nothing special.  Shoot via an app such a VSCO and suddenly you have independent control of exposure and focus point - something currently not available with the standard camera.  Images take/processed with apps such as Hipstamatic or Snapseed suddenly take on whole new dimension and have the ability to sometimes make the ordinary image extraordinary. OK, so maybe a client might not look favorably on you turning up on a shoot with just your Iphone in hand, but as a backup or second camera in certain situations it can produce some very printable images.  As a discrete tool for documentary work the iphone is fantastic - everyone these days has a smartphone and no one thinks twice about people shooting images with your phone.  Produce a 5d mklll with a large zoom lens and people immediately know you are meaning business and these days, even in remote areas, that can be met with suspicion.  I now often break the ice with the Iphone camera - showing people the images and developing a rapport.  Once this is established the main camera can be brought out and used.

My current favorite workflow is to use Snapseed for image manipulation and output - having first shot in either VSCO or standard camera mode.

The following show image sequence was shot recently in Java with images processed through the Snapseed app.