Travelmates: Asia

When you’re backpacking, a lot of time the photos you that you share are missing a vital part of the picture – your travelling companions. By looking through my images from the last five years, you’d be forgiven for thinking I am a lone traveller exploring by myself. But of course although I am very independent, I still enjoy having travelmates and meet loads of people during the course of my travels, many of whom become great friends.

To show a different side of the story, here’s a collection of the better pictures of some of the fellow travellers I met in South East Asia. I don’t normally like to take photos of travelmates – mainly because they aren’t there to be my model! But occasionally I would force them in front of my lens for a quick snap!

Travelmate Backpacker Writing Diary Slow Boat Laos

It’s great to have like-minded people to share your experiences with and I met so many great people along the way, the backpacker circuit in SE Asia is a good way to meet travelmates, as limited hostels and popular transport routes naturally bring backpackers together.

Travelmate Backpackers Boat Thailand Khao Sok

I ended up travelling with some of them for months and now have a network of people dotted around the world who I met on my travels. Travelling solo is a liberating experience but sometimes sharing it is even better. Here’s to travelmates – miss you all! Check out the gallery below, click to enlarge.


Tenganan Cultural Trip – Bali


My last trip to Bali was focused on learning more about the customs and daily life of the people of this religious island – and what better place to see this than the ancient village of Tenganan. I was eager to return to this cultural highlight after doing a photography workshop there with international photographer Suki, you can read about that trip and see the photographs from the workshop by clicking here. I was also able to put some of the portraiture skills I’d learned to good use on this second visit.


I hired excellent driver Ketut to take me on a photography day from Ubud, who proposed the itinerary for my last day in Bali. We departed in the early morning in darkness, arriving at the tourist beach of Sanur for the sunrise – where a number of other tourists and exercising locals were already waiting to enjoy one of Bali’s classic sights. We grabbed some chilli-filled breakfast at a local stall and some strong Bali coffee to wake up in a firey fashion, before Ketut drove me to a salt farming beach further along the coast.


Here we wandered down through a small settlement to find flattened sand on the dark beach, and an old man going back and forth between the sand “fields” and the sea, filling buckets of sea water and then sloshing them out methodically over the flattened area. The purpose of this is to saturate the sand with salt water, where it then dries. The sand is then collected and filtered to extract a second batch of salt water, which is then left to evaporate in wooden troughs, leaving behind rock salt deposits.



It’s an old farming method which is still viable today due to the demand of salt in the country. Ketut chatted to a lady who was covering the troughs, telling me that they had experienced a poor season thanks to adverse weather – wet and cloudy conditions were thwarting the evaporation methods. On busier mornings you can find many salt farmers collecting the sea water, but close to dawn as the work is done early to avoid the harsh daylight heat.


Our next destination was Tenganan, the culturally significant village I’d visited before. This settlement retains many old customs and buildings which have been lost elsewhere in Bali. We were lucky enough to arrive on a ceremonial day, a coming of age celebration for young men and women in the village. The following days would see a number of large ceremonies, and the streets were full of the ladies of the village making ornate decorations from palm leaf and flowers in preparation. Other villagers prepared vast amounts of food, and a pig slowly turned on a spit over open coals in the town square, smelling delicious. There weren’t many tourists today and I wandered around taking photos of the friendly villagers.




We met a number of other Balinese photographers who had come to witness today’s initial ceremony, where the men of the village would tour the village elder’s houses on a bonding ritual involving body paint and plenty of alcohol. It was great to meet them, one guy had come all the way from Java to see the village and was lucky enough to arrive on this special day with his vintage Polaroid camera, another was a professional wedding photographer sporting a superb Lecia camera and there were a few others who were more interested in cultural learning and documentation, including a professor from Japan who has lived in the village for over 6 months, still trying to make sense of all the unique customs in Tenganan.




The men finally appeared, in traditional dress, and went to the village leader’s house on the main street to receive a reception of food and alcohol. We were welcome to go inside and watch, a friendly gesture – the people of the village are happy to share their customs. I chatted to the wife of one of the participants, her English was good and she was able to explain to me more about the ceremony and I took some photos of her and her friend in the craft shop in the front of the compound, matching many of the other houses on the main street – Tenganan being famous for its weaving and other handicrafts.



alanstockphotography-07766After an hour or two, the already rather inebriated men, in good spirits (boom tish) and now covered in body paint, moved on to the next elders house and we had lunch at an alley stall. It was getting quite late so I popped in to get some last photos of the men and graciously received an offer for a cup of strong rice wine, no wonder they were so merry! The Japanese professor had also been roped into the proceedings and was sporting a massive grin as they plied him with booze! I said my thanks and made my way out.


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But as I was leaving, I first spied an amazing old lady resting under one of the communal rest shelters, who was happy for me to take a photo, although she didn’t speak any English. I also ran into a man I’d met during my last visit, a friendly weaver who specialises in Tenganan’s unique double weaving technique and got a few shots before I had to leave. I also enjoyed watching the kids playing on the big traditional wooden carousel – safety standards be damned – as they swung round and round.



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As it was my last day in Bali, I was gutted to miss out on the evenings celebrations, when the true ceremony began, and the festivities of the next few days. But one day I hope to return to this wonderful village and witness more of their unique ceremonies – if you visit Bali, be sure to visit Tenganan and be whisked back in time, and don’t be afraid to chat to the friendly villagers and learn about their special culture!

Here’s a gallery of more photos from the day, click to enlarge.

Bali Portrait Photography Workshop with Sebastian Belaustegui


During my visit to Bali in June I did a private photography workshop with excellent photographer Sebastian Belaustegui (no, I can’t pronounce his sirname either), who specialises in low light portraiture and has work published for major institutions like National Geographic, Time and UNICEF. I met Suki (his nickname) when he was filling in as instructor on an earlier workshop that week. It’s not every day that you run into such a talented and experienced photographer so I asked if I could do a private workshop with him, and luckily for me he agreed. The first day of the workshop he reviewed my portfolio and gave me some enlightening lectures, and on the second he took us into the field for some photography. I should note straight away that although I took these photos, they’re the really the work of Suki, who made the connections, set the scenes, found the light and directed me throughout.

Sebastian Belaustegui, or Suki, to anyone that knows him!

Sebastian Belaustegui, or Suki, to anyone that knows him!

After reviewing my portfolio, Suki rightly identified that my weakest area was portraits, so on day two he took me out to the very traditional settlement of Tenganan which is full of friendly locals who are happy to get their photographs taken. Tenganan is a heritage site and is made up of two small villages. Its one of the only surviving places in Bali which preserves the old architecture and traditions making it a popular cultural tourist attraction. Suki had visited before and had printed off a bunch of photos to give to the people he photographed last time, also giving us an easy way to break the ice and open the door for us to take more photographs.


When we arrived at the smaller of the villages, which is much less touristy, we walked around the back streets and Suki found the first house he wanted to visit, inhabited by a friendly lady who owns a craft shop and her mother. Many of the mid-generation in Tenganan speak English but the elders don’t, so we had translation help from the daughter and our handy driver. The grandmother was happy for us to take photos of her and Suki showed me how to search for good natural light inside their house – which here generally don’t have glass windows, instead using shuttered openings, allowing the sunlight to stream in and creating a nice ambience in the darker corners.


Watching Suki work first of all, I watched how he carefully directed grandma’s pose and angle to the light. She’d changed to a more traditional outfit for us. The faces in Tenganan are so expressive and have a lot of character, it’s a joy to photograph these people. Then it was my turn, and I followed Suki’s lead by directing grandma and practicing different angles. I was using fully manual settings, which is something I’m still getting to grips with, and was careful to underexpose in order to create the required moody effect and darken the background to isolate her face. The tricky part is getting focus right on the eye, as you’re using a very low aperture its easy to get the focus slightly off.


Bidding farewell to the friendly ladies and wandering the village on a scorching day, we visited another house that Suki had been to before. The elders of the family were again happy to help and we went inside their dark kitchen to get some dramatic light. Suki is a master at finding perfect lighting and in a minute can position his models in just the right spot. The friendly grandmother was well humoured as I experimented with different angles and positions and her blue top made for a striking contrast to the dark lighting.


The youngest generation watched us with interest and I managed to snap this shot in the doorway when they were distracted.

The youngest generation watched us with interest and I managed to snap this shot in the doorway when they were distracted.

One thing I was conscious of is that because I was playing with settings and worrying about getting good shots, I would pay less attention to the composition and small things I could do to improve the shot. Suki is very good at iterating on what he starts off with, making minor changes to the model, whether its clothing, accessories, position, pose and quickly reviewing and changing again until he gets a perfect shot, something I can learn from.



The grandfather then came in and I had quite a bit of time to pose him as I saw fit – taking inspiration from Suki’s style I tried to get him in darkness with highlights which I think worked well.



The villagers throughout the day were very patient and great to work with – it was hard to banter with the elders as they don’t speak English but I think through politeness and smiles you can still somewhat cross the communication barrier. Suki is a very friendly and likeable guy with a lot of energy and immediately connects with people. He’s completely unafraid to approach strangers and strike up a rapport and they’re usually happy for him to take photos, especially in such a friendly place as Bali. This is a guy who fearlessly went out in his early twenties alone into the middle of South America to live with tribespeople for months. He’s also respectful and not pushy which I think is an important quality with this type of photography. Placing an emphasis on education and cultural exchange rather than exploitation aligns with my own views. For me, his ease with people is an inspiration, I definitely struggle when approaching and interacting with strangers in this kind of scenario and whilst taking photographs it can be hard to engage with your models when you’re focused on the practicalities. However, I’m getting better and watching someone like Suki at work dealing with these issues with ease was a good experience for me.



After some lunch we then went to the main Tenganan village, which is usually very touristy. However we were quite lucky in that it was really quiet that day. This is a beautiful place centred around the main street full of red stone homes in the traditional Balinese style which also double as craft shops. Tenganan is famous for its double-weaving textiles with colourful patterns – but there’s plenty of other craftmanship here such as wood carvings, paintings and stonework. We began by visiting a friendly weaver who speaks good English and showed me how the weaving process works. Double weaving is very time-consuming with some pieces taking months to make, but they are popular among collectors as it’s unique to this place and fetches good prices. Suki picked the kitchen once again for some portraits and the weaver removed his top for us for some dramatic humanity shots.


By now I was grasping the low light techniques better and it was easier to have a model who could understand my directional pointers, whilst Suki as ever reviewed my shots and made suggestions for improvement.


As we continued onwards, Suki spotted another woman that he’d met, and she invited us to come to a birthday ceremony up the road. We followed her to a side street with a marquee and many locals dressed traditionally for a boy’s coming of age ceremony. The clothes were colourful and there were plenty of Balinese snacks on offer, including some sticky sugary concoction in a long bamboo wrapper which coiled off in a spiral, an ingenious idea (once the girl helpfully pointed out that I was doing it wrong!). We got chatting to a beautiful girl there, who was the birthday boy’s sister. She spoke good English too and had an amazing outfit so we asked if we could take a few photos. She works in a lab yet lives in this very traditional place, one of the many strange blends of ancient and modern you’ll find in this village. Inside her parent’s shaded compound next door, Suki found some good light and we got some good shots, and then I hunted for some other locations and found a spot where the strong sunlight was diffused a bit and the light was perfect (the last photo in the post). We thanked the girl and the hosts and headed off to our last stop.

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We dropped in on another weaver who Suki knew, a really nice fellow who’s considered one of the best weavers in the village and does pretty well for himself. Like many of the other craft shops, the walls were adorned with colourful material for sale, which made for a nice backdrop. I hunted down some good light and again Suki asked the man to remove his top for a more authentic look than the usual branded t-shirts that most villagers wear. I also took the opportunity to get a few shots of my teacher!

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It had been a long day and we headed back to Ubud to review the photos and Suki picked out the ones you see here today as his favourites. These haven’t been post-processed either which is testament to how good he is at getting the right light. Gentleman that he is, he even invited me to join him and his daughter for dinner out that evening which I happily accepted. It had been a great few days and looking at these photos, I now have a high benchmark to aim for with my portraits. I also learned a lot from seeing how Suki works, both with people and spotting good light – it really raised my awareness on what light creates dramatic portraits and how to use it well. I learned ways to improve my compositions and model posing too, if you look at my other portraits you’ll notice a tendency for front-on photographs of people – since the workshop I’m exploring more interesting angles to work from. Suki is a real inspiration for me with his passion, outlook and talent and it was a pleasure to study with him, maybe one day I will eventually be able to reach his level! I also felt a lot of gratitude to the wonderful people of Tenganan who are some of the most friendly and hospitable folk that you’ll ever meet, very welcoming to strangers and eager to please. Great experience, one I will grow from as a photographer and I won’t forget!


Suki runs photography workshops in exotic locations over the globe every few months, check out his Facebook page for details.  I can definitely say you will learn a lot both practically and from his great outlook with other cultures (and no, I’m not being paid or anything to plug him, he’s just a top bloke!). Also, be sure to check out the amazing photos on his website, what an inspiring photographer!