Cambodia in 20 Instagram Photos

I’m currently hard at work sorting through the 4,000+ images I snapped during my visit to Vietnam, Cambodia and Thailand. However, while the final “National Geographic Standard” shots are starting to go up on flickr (view them here) I’ve been posting Instagram edits taken during the trip. For those that follow my photography, for Instagram I post unique images, a blend of dSLR and iPhone 6 captured shots and/or HDR edits of the photos you’d see on flickr in a more true-to-life format. So, without further delay, here are 15 of my favorite Instagram shots from Cambodia.


An old Cambodian gentleman resting in front of Aangkor Wat.

A photo posted by Alex Berger (@virtualwayfarer) on

Summer Sun – Weekly Travel Photo

Copenhagen in June

For Danes and their expat guests alike summer is a special treat. It comes as a reward for those who have survived the long dark winter months and while Denmark is not nearly as cold as one might imagine, days with more than 17 hours of near complete darkness can be a hefty challenge. So, it is with an unusual zeal and zest for the sun that Danes embrace the spring and summer months where the opposite occurs.  With less than four hours of darkness at the summer’s apex, there is ample time to bask in the warmth of the sun.

This creates an incredible sun-centered summer culture in Denmark where locals flood the streets for no better reason than spending a few relaxing moments outdoors. Visitors often note a certain level of surprise at the hundreds of Danes lounging along the city’s many bridges, wonderful outdoor cafes, and the thousands of Danes that add color, vibrancy, and the scent of BBQ to the city’s many parks.

I snapped this photo while meandering my way through Christianshavn’s back streets. The Christianshavn part of town lies in the heart of Copenhagen and is crisscrossed by a series of small canals.  It is a wonderfully historic district, full of beautifully painted old buildings and sagging cobblestone streets.  The building’s walls are decorated by thousands of leaning bicycles, while doorways are often framed by blooming rose bushes.  In the photo above, I captured a Danish woman relaxing in the sun while chatting on her phone. Half lost in conversation and half distracted by the afternoon’s warmth. For me, it helps showcase the charm and spirit of summer in Copenhagen – something that everyone should experience.

Make sure to head over to flickr to see the rest of the album.

Would you like to see previous Weekly Photos? View past travel pictures here. This photo was taken on a Canon T3i (600D) Camera.

Crash Course Advice For Travel Photography

Traveling Boots - Isle of Skye - Scotland

A huge chunk of the travel photos I see on a daily basis are horrible. Not just amateur shots from friends and strangers, but also from semi-professional travel bloggers and established travel brands.  It always amazes me how many photos are horribly grainy, low resolution, blurry, crooked or nonsensical.

There’s a reason that people dread that moment when a friend or family member returns from a trip and is eager to share the 3,000 photos they took over the course of their two week vacation. About 10% of the usual photo show is interesting, well-composed, and speaks to the audience.  The remaining 90% should have been sorted, filtered, deleted, or saved for personal use.  As my friends and loved ones can tell you, I still have issues with this one.  We all do.  So, don’t view this post as an absolute do/do not, view it as suggestions and guidelines to aspire towards.

Alex Photographing Elephant(Photo by Ed Berger)

Four Types of Travel Photos

First things first.  It’s important to understand that you shouldn’t just be shooting one type of photo.  Far too often people aim for the “postcard perfect” photo while deleting everything else.  Or the “in the moment” type of photo that captures the spirit of the moment.

The reality is, that you should shoot with two to four potential uses in mind.

1. Record Memories – Believe it or not, you can and will forget some of the most amazing and magical moments experienced on a trip unless you document them somehow.  For some people writing a journal works.  For many of us, we’re visual and taking a photo is a huge help.  This means that you should be taking a lot of photos and that many of these photos should be for you and you alone.  These are small things like a cafe where you had coffee along a small side street, your first Argentinian steak, or a photo of the random local you swapped stories with in a tiny Irish pub over your first pint of Guinness.  For years I either wouldn’t take these shots or I’d delete them as random garbage that didn’t meet the “postcard perfect” standard.   I now keep these photos and like to go back through them a few years after returning from my trip.  It is amazing the things they bring back to mind.  The majority of these photos should be kept private.  Outside of particularly flavorful photos, these shots are likely boring to others without the richness that was added by actually having experienced the moment.

2. Postcard Perfect Shots – These are the photos that you will want to share.  These are the photos where you composed it beautifully, where the sharpness is excellent, there’s not too much ISO noise and you have a share-friendly image.  For every 200-300 photos most of us take, we’ll get 5-10 of these types of photos.  These are the shots where all of the photography guidelines and best practices are extremely useful.  Things like the rule of thirds, good framing, balance, lighting etc. are all important.  There are thousands of how-to guides for improving general photography and I suggest reading at least a couple before taking your trip.

3. People – There are portrait shots and then there are people shots.  A good portrait shot falls in the “postcard perfect” category.  What I suggest for the third type of travel photography is general people shots.  Travel is a social experience.  You meet other travelers, you spend time with traveling companions, and even have some great conversations with local folks along the way.  Take photos of those people. Even better if those photos capture them being natural – relaxing, playing, eating, chatting – you name it. It humanizes the trip and it provides fun photos to document the social side of your experience.  It’s also a great way to keep in touch.  A few years back I explored the power and value of facebooking travel photos in my post “Personalize Your Travel Photography”   and it is more true today than it was in 2009.

4. Utilitarian Photos –  As a travel blogger there’s a whole subset of photos that I need to take that will help me visually convey the things I write about.  These photos are not works of art by themselves, rather they’re illustrative tools that help enhance a post but are too weak to be shared or consumed on their own. It’s important that I take these photos, edit them and upload them but it is equally important that I don’t confuse these shots as the types of shots I want to showcase and highlight.

Each of these four potential types of photos should be sorted during your post-trip photo editing.  Go through and ask yourself where each photo you’ve decided to keep belongs and then sort them into separate folders.  Once that’s done, choose how you want to share each one.  Remember, for your travel blog or journal you can always pull from the different folders simultaneously.  But, I always find the act of having to sort my photos and having to categorize them is incredibly helpful when deciding what I should keep, what I should share, and what I should publish.

A Social Polar Bear

The DO and DO-NOTs

DO NOT use digital zoom – All digital zoom does is crop the photo in the camera.  It will make your photos grainy and decrease the quality on anything larger than your 3″ camera screen.  Have to zoom in? Zoom to the max mechanical zoom your camera has and then take your shot.  You can do your own digital zooming in post-editing if absolutely necessary.

DO NOT post crooked photos – The way we hold cameras is awkward.  As a result, most of our photos end up being slightly crooked.  That’s a natural part of photography.  BUT, there’s no excuse for not rotating and cropping your photo before publishing it. It takes 5 seconds and is essential for creating a decent photo.  The only exception?  When you’re intentionally being really creative and meant to have a crooked horizon or photo. Be honest though, were you being “artistic” or were you just standing on a slight incline?

DO edit your photos in Picasa or Lightroom – There are great photo editing solutions available now that streamline the photo editing process. Picasa (free) is good for absolute amateurs while Lightroom ($75-150) is fantastic and used by most semi/professional photographers. They make processing and work flow MUCH easier and faster.

DO use automatic presets – Not a veteran photographer shooting in RAW and familiar with the details of AV/TV/P/M settings? The modern point-and-shoot camera is really smart.  Even the dSLR presets for those who are still learning but not completely comfortable fiddling with things like aperture, white balance, and ISO work well.  Shooting fireworks?  Use the fireworks setting.  Landscapes?  Use the landscape setting. Sunset?  Definitely. These presets will adjust the colors, exposure, and speed to help take really rich photos. Auto is great, but the scene and auto-presets are even better!

DO NOT keep blurry photos – A blurry photo is blurry.  Yes. It REALLY sucks you missed the moment. It doesn’t matter. To everyone else your photo looks like a blurry mess. Would you watch a blurry movie?  No. Want to avoid blurry photos?  You’re shooting digital.  Take multiple photos of particularly memorable or beautiful moments. Never be afraid to delete photos later. Just make sure you are actually willing to delete them.

DO be interesting – When taking photos of people or posing for photos try and be interesting.  Be silly, flavorful, active, or engaged.  Otherwise you’ll have what looks like a mugshot that’s been photo-shopped in front of a bunch of beautiful places.

DO wait 30 seconds – Take the extra 30 seconds to make sure there aren’t an army of other tourists in your photo.  It always amazes me how often people post photos of themselves from their trips and the photo is a close up of them, and a bunch of tourists in the background that detract from your main subject. People will move. Just be willing to wait a few seconds to set up a shot properly.

DO NOT upload low resolution shots – Whatever you upload to the web should be at least 1024 px wide. AT LEAST. Do NOT upload low resolution versions of your shots to the web. Worried about people stealing them?   Fine.  Upload a medium-resolution shot.

DO NOT over watermark – You’re proud of your photo.  You don’t want people to steal it.  Fine.  If you absolutely must add a water mark, then make it SMALL and SUBTLE. Think of a watermark as an advertisement.  Would you go see the Mona Lisa if it had an ad for a website semi-transparently painted across her forehead?  No. You’re sharing your photo, so share it.  If someone steals it, then you can deal with them on a case-by-case basis.

DO be aware – When framing your photo constantly ask yourself, how much of this is what my eye sees, and how much of this is what the camera can see and capture?

DO buy an extra memory card and batteries – There are few things worse than accidentally deleting photos or not being able to take photos because you’re out of memory.  Similarly, even the best photographer in the world can’t take a photo with a dead battery.

Remember – travel photography is a work in progress. Anyone can take amazing shots, some just have to work a little harder at it.  I still have a lot to learn, and my photography (and post-processing) is constantly improving.  Following the simple suggestions outlined in this post should help you make major advancements in your travel photography without having to get too deep into the technical minutia of advanced photography.

If you’re in the mood to hunt for Lightroom, extra batteries or an SD card – I’m an Amazon affiliate and you can help support this site by clicking this link.

A Photographer’s Late Night Musings

Zambia's Children

As I start this post it’s 2AM on a Friday night.  I’ve opted to stay in, distracted – or dare I confess lost in editing photos from my recent trip through Zambia.  I’ve got a half empty glass of 15 year old Scotch and find myself deeply effected by the faces staring back at me from the screen. Outside my 4th story window I can hear the sound of Danes diving headlong into the usual revelry and mayhem that marks a a carefree Friday evening here in Copenhagen. It’s an odd contrast to the scenes which slowly work their way across my computer screen.

It’s a strange thing really.  These photos, some of them strangely personal each tell a story.  Some may convey elements of that story more powerfully than others but each (at least when they’re in focus) is potent and resonates with me.  True, there’s the added impact knowing I was there and because of that I can recall bits and pieces of the context they were taken in, but those are only abstract, fragmented shards.

Obama Tshirt in Zambia

These were photos taken in passing. Some were quite literally snapped out of the window of a moving car.  Others such as those of young Zambian village children clowning for the camera were more personal and came with handshakes and exchanged smiles.  Even in these cases though I was still in a transient state.  In a few minutes, an hour, a day or two I’d be moving on once again to the next town, the next experience, and the next photo.  This transient and disconnected sense was magnified in part by the language barrier.  Though Zambia is technically an English speaking nation the children and adults in the villages where I took many of these shots only speak their local regional language, which in this case was Bemba.  Culture also plays a large role and unfortunately so does race.  As one of the only white people many of the children and some of the adults had ever met I was a novelty.  Something exotic. Something interesting, but also something different….a curiosity. It bridged some gaps by drawing them to me, but created others steeped in generations of racially bound class warfare, and the simpler and more innocent challenges that come with early interactions with people who seem somewhat alien and different from us.

Photo by David Berger

Still, as I think back on my time in Zambia language and race were not really the barrier.  Sure, it was a great excuse and granted it’s difficult to get someone’s name or a piece of their story from a moving car…but I wasn’t always in a car.  No, quite often I was there in the midst of a boiling group of Zambian youths eager for the excitement of interacting with a mzungu – a white man – and excited for the opportunity to see their photo on the camera after I had fired off a quick shot. Yet despite their openness, warmth, and glowing smiles I can only tell you a few names.  I can’t tell you much about their stories, or almost nothing about their dreams.  I can’t even tell you how old they were and tragically it’s quite possible that several of the wonderful, glorious people I met will die before the year winds to a close.

This was driven home recently by the following sorrowful message which my brother (who is a Peace Corps health volunteer and who we stayed with for several days) posted to facebook.  It hit me hard because it brought to mind so many of the wonderful children I had met during our visit.  The update noted,

“Well, Zambia wins the day again. 2 year old admitted to the clinic, who I saw this morning died this afternoon.
Dehydration from malaria infection that was treated too late. Another life claimed by poor transport and delay.”

This message came crashing home again tonight as I came to a photo of a young child.  David (my brother) had just finished showing us the spot along the local stream where water is collected.  We were walking back towards his hut when we came upon a small boy.  He was shy, dressed in a yellow hoodie, jeans and nice shoes.   In his hand he held a tattered piece of folded paper.  As we approach he smiled and waved.  We smiled, and waved saying “allo!” the local variation of hello.  My brother leaned down and gently took the piece of tattered paper the child held.  It turned out it was his health report card.  Basically a chart to document his weight and nutrition over time.  With a quick glance and a gesture he explained that though the child was doing much better now he was an orphan that had been taken in, and that when he was younger had suffered severe malnutrition and been terribly underweight which had stunted his growth.  At the age of 2 this young child had already suffered more than most westerners do in 20 years and yet there he stood sheepishly smiling at us with a childish grin.  It’s almost impossible to know as an outsider but I hope that based on the state and quality of what he was wearing (eg: the mere fact that he had shoes on), that he’s found a family to take care of him who can afford to get him the food and safe drinking water he needs.  Ultimately though, it’s impossible to know – and I can’t help fear that the two year old David wrote about might have been him.

A few photos later I sat staring at another shot.  This one was of a young child squatting in the dirt beside the road.  In the photo he’s in a tattered beige shirt, black shorts and sitting sideways in profile.  His right arm is resting on his knee and his left is lifted to his mouth chewing on something filthy.  What it might be given the dirty field he’s perched in the midst of, I dare not guess. There’s what’s likely dried snot on his cheek, and what looks like a fly resting just below his left eye. His gaze is piercing.  Powerful.  The whites of his eyes clearly visible as he looks my way, face partially obscured by his hand. The photo echoes hints of Kevin Carter’s crushing photo of a starving young child collapsed in a field and being stalked by a vulture in the midst of S. Sudan.  Carter’s photo rocked the world, but ultimately also embodied the suffering he had seen which eventually led to his suicide. Luckily the child in my photo and the photo itself is far less dire. Still, the photo resonates elements of that same bleakness and despair.  The air of tragedy that goes with it embodies the sense of injustice and internal tragedy that accompanies seeing young children facing profound threats, challenges and harm.  With this in mind and in light of the daily tragedies which mark life in many of these villages I find myself torn.  On the one hand I know it has the power to resonate with people….to convey the risk and tragedy of deaths like that of the two year old David wrote about.  On the other hand, I can’t help but feel it is also slightly disingenuous, insincere and a disservice to the wonderful Zambians I met to focus and convey almost exclusively these types of images.

You see, there were other moments – moments that I’m frustrated with myself for not capturing. These were wonderful moments which showed these same children at their very best.  These were the moments which were profoundly inspiring.  The moments when these kids would scrub away the caked on dust, set aside the tattered shirts and torn pants they had been wearing, and don their school outfits.   Dressed in their school finery, these kids will sometimes walk for miles without complaint all for the chance to attend somewhere between 1 to 3 hours of school….if, that is, the teacher decides to show up to class.  There’s a beauty to the way they carry themselves and their eagerness to learn.  There is a pride and dignity which is part of what makes the Zambians I met so wonderful.  It’s also a side of life in rural, impoverished Africa which you don’t usually get the chance to see when clicking through photos or reading reports from westerners discussing their visits.

At the end of the day it bothers me that I don’t know each person’s name or more about their story. It’s an odd feeling to know that even if I tried to seek out information about them, there’s no way I could find it.  I also wonder how they would feel and respond to the way I’ve captured and conveyed them. Would they appreciate it?  Enjoy it?  Be angered?  Embarrassed? I suppose what I’m really asking myself is, “how honest is this photo?”.  Then there’s the what if side of it.  What if I did learn their name, their story, and we spent days, weeks, or months together? At a certain level I’m not sure that’s an emotional weight I’m willing to bear and i’m still not sure if that’s a fact I am content to accept or if it’s something that shames me slightly.  Then again perhaps despite it all it is the interaction or the moment itself which is what is valuable and important.  I suppose in some ways it really is just enough to be there and to capture a moment which can be shared.  At the end of the day though, there’s also a certain responsibility  to be honest to the moment that comes with taking those photos.  It’s a responsibility which isn’t widely discussed – oh, sure people talk about model release forms and the how to cover their ass in case they want to sell or publish the photo – but that’s not what I’m talking about.  I’m talking about something beyond that.  Something far less certain.   I suppose I haven’t really answered any questions with this post but perhaps, just perhaps, it will help you to better understand my photos, travel photography, and I hope your own experience as a photographer abroad.

If you’ve got any insights, reflections, or personal thoughts to share – I’d love to hear your take.  For my part, the Scotch has run out and if I dally much longer I’ll be nose to nose with the rising sun.

You can read David’s blogs from Zambia at


7 Super Shots Photo Game

I recently had the pleasure of contributing a photo to the launch of Hostel Booker’s fun travel photo game which showcased 7 exciting travel photos across 7 categories from 7 different travel bloggers. Now, it’s time for me to dive into my archives and to pull out 7 photos before nominating 5 of my fellow bloggers!  Please enjoy, and let me know which is your personal favorite?

A photo that…takes my breath away


Plitvice Lakes Croatia

Located about halfway between Croatia’s Capital, Zagreb and the coastal town of Split is Plitvice Lakes National Park. I had the opportunity to visit the day before first snowfall and quickly fell in love. A UNESCO world heritage site, the area is easily one of Europe’s most beautiful national parks. While the main waterfall featured above was impressive, the 6-8 hour hike along the river as a whole was filled with incredible beauty.

A photo that…makes me laugh or smile


Penguin Island in the Beagle Channel - Tierra del Fuego, Argentina

I find penguins hilarious.  They’re odd, inquisitive, horribly awkward on land and generally fairly adorable.  Which is why  I can’t help but grin and chuckle every time I see this photo from a small island in the Beagle Channel in Tierra del Fuego, Argentina.  Located just a few hundred miles north of Antarctica and in the world’s most southern continental region, Tierra del Fuego is a fascinating land full of amazing wonders and highly entertaining inhabitants.

A photo that…makes me dream


A Dog Resting Atop Sharkstooth

Taken in the summer of 2011 this shot is from the back side of Shark’s Tooth Pass in southwestern Colorado deep within the San Juan Mountain Range. Every time I see this photo i’m reminded to dream of new adventures, of new accomplishments, and to close my eyes and remember the wonderful adventures already experienced.

A photo that…makes me think


Cherry Blossoms & the Tidal Basin - Washington D.C.

The FDR monument in Washington, DC is one of my favorite monuments in the world. It is powerful, compelling and offers amazing quotes based in great wisdom. I snapped this shot of a random woman in front of one of the quotes during a visit in April 2011.  It always causes me to pause and ask myself – what have I done to help those who need it today?

A photo that…makes my mouth water

Outdoor Market in Dublin - Food

Outdoor markets are one of the things I love most about traveling outside of the US. During a recent visit to Dublin I swung by a wonderful little market square located just outside the heart of Temple Bar. Once I stumbled upon this booth I couldn’t help by sample several of the wildly different offerings – each of which had a strong, delightful taste the memory of which makes my mouth water to this day.

A photo that…tells a story

Warehouse Row in the Old Harbor - Bergen, Norway

One of the things I love about travel is the opportunity to stumble upon delightful moments that capture the imagination and tie into our inner self. It can be a reminder of our childhood curiosity, simple delight in every-day things, or a sense of wonder at things we would otherwise be blind to. During a trip to Bergen, Norway I was lucky enough to have my camera out during one of these moments as a young boy wandered away from his parents to boldly march up to a doorway that had piqued his curiosity. For me, this shot embodies my perpetual re-connection with my inner child while on the road.

A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

Hiking Perito Moreno Glacier - Patagonia, Argentina

There’s something about this photo that just moves me. It is of a random photographer in-front of the Perito Moreno Glacier in the Patagonia region of Argentina after an all-day glacier trek. Despite being snowed and rained upon for most of the trek the clouds lifted and the rains paused long enough for me to capture this special moment. In particular I like how it conveys that sense of wonder that strikes from time to time – causing even the most committed photographer to lower their camera, pause, and take in the wonderful beauty that surrounds them.

Join the Game

1. Choose 7 of your own photos, one for each of the following categories:

  • A photo that…takes my breath away
  • A photo that…makes me laugh or smile
  • A photo that…makes me dream
  • A photo that…makes me think
  • A photo that…makes my mouth water
  • A photo that…tells a story
  • A photo that…I am most proud of (aka my worthy of National Geographic shot)

2. Write a short description for each image.
3. Write somewhere in your blog post: ‘I am taking part in HostelBookers 7 Super Shots‘.
4. Tell us you have participated and tweet the hashtag #7SuperShots
5. Nominate 5 other bloggers by including a link to their blog in your post.
We will be retweeting and sharing the best posts from participating bloggers.


I would love to see the fantastic photos the following bloggers come up with, so to each of the following I nominate YOU to post your own 7 Super Shots.

Head on over and see the 7 Super Shots guidelines post which features a number of fantastic photos.