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Before They Pass Away — a look at the world’s disappearing tribes

The encroaching modern world is making it harder and harder to sustain traditional ways of life. Here one photographer looks to capture the beauty of those living life on the fringes…


Living in a concrete box with hot water pouring from the tap, a refrigerator cooling our food and wi-fi connecting us to the rest of the world, we can barely imagine a day in a life of, say, Tsaatan people. They move 5 to 10 times per year, building huts when the temperature is -40 and herding reindeer for transportation, clothing and food.

Before They Pass Away, a long-term project by photographer Jimmy Nelson, gives us the unique opportunity to discover more than 30 secluded and slowly vanishing tribes from all over the world. Spending 2 weeks in each tribe, Jimmy became acquainted with their time-honoured traditions, joined their rituals and captured it all in a very appealing way.

His detailed photographs showcase unique jewellery, hairstyles and clothing, not to forget the surroundings and cultural elements most important to each tribe, like horses for Gauchos. According to Nelson, his mission was to assure that the world never forgets how things used to be: “Most importantly, I wanted to create an ambitious aesthetic photographic document that would stand the test of time. A body of work that would be an irreplaceable ethnographic record of a fast disappearing world.”

All of his snapshots now lie in a massive book and will be extended by a film (you can see a short introduction video below). So embark on a journey to the most remote corners and meet the witnesses of a disappearing world. Would you give up your smartphone, internet and TV to live free like them?

Source: beforethey.com

Kazakh, Mongolia


Himba, Namibia


Huli, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea


Asaro, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea


Kalam, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea


Goroka, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea


Chukchi, Russia


Maori, New Zealand


Gauchos, Argentina


Maasai, Tanzania


Check out more of Jimmy Nelson’s work and the complete Before They Pass Away project  here.

Aperture — what’s the focal point?

Want to take your photography skills up a notch? Here Holly explains the basic principals to help get you out of auto mode …

3. aperture

There are many advantages to using a Single Lens Reflex (SLR) camera over the basic point-and-shoot variety; the versatility of being able to change the lens, shooting in RAW format and a larger sensor are among the benefits of using an SLR. One of the most fundamental advantages of investing in a camera with real lenses is having control over shutter speed and aperture settings which control each picture’s exposure to light.

The word ‘Photograph’ literally means ‘writing with light’. Light enters the camera through the lens and lands on a photo sensitive surface (traditionally film but these days more commonly a digital camera’s sensor) thus creating an image. There is a very specific amount of light that is required to create a properly exposed photo; too much and the picture is too bright or ‘over-exposed’, not enough and it’s too dark or ‘under-exposed’.  A user can control just how much light enters the camera to create different photographic effects.

There are two ways to control the amount of light entering the camera: the shutter speed and the aperture size.

The camera’s shutter is the device that opens and closes over a measured period of time to allow light to enter the camera through a hole in the lens, known as the aperture.

Fast shutter speeds mean that less light that is let into the camera, while leaving the shutters open for longer periods allows more light to be absorbed. By manipulating the relationship between the shutter speed and aperture settings one can create interesting photographic effects, while still controlling the amount of light entering the camera to ensure correct exposure.


Getting creative with aperture at a set shutter speed

Aperture values are commonly referred to as the f-stops. Confusingly the aperture value increases as the actual hole gets smaller; for example an aperture of f/2.8 is very wide, while f/22 is tiny. The aperture value selected has a profound effect on the depth of field of an image, or the distance in front of and behind the photos focal point that appears sharp. One way to practice using this feature is to use your camera’s Aperture Priority setting — Av or A on your mode dial.

A shallow depth of field is generated by using a wide aperture (small f-stop number) and this creates the very pleasing effect of separating a pin-sharp subject from a beautifully blurred background – think of a portrait with a sharp face and an out-of-focus background. The larger the aperture (the smaller the f-stop number) the more blurred the background. With your camera set to Aperture Priority and a large aperture (small f-stop number) dialed in, your camera will automatically pick the appropriate (probably fast) shutter speed needed to guarantee a correct exposure in the given lighting conditions.

Now while a shallow depth of field works very well for certain subjects (portraits or wildlife shots especially) there are many situations when a wider depth of field is required; where the photographer desires objects both very near to and very far from the lens to be sharp.

The exact aperture required to do this depends on something called the ‘Hyperfocal Distance’.  This is the point of focus that allows for maximum depth of field.

In the image of Angkor Thom North Gate above the statue’s head was only around 2 feet from the camera, so a very a small aperture (large f-stop number) was needed to keep both the head and the gate in the background in pin sharp focus.

So how exactly does one determine the actual aperture value needed? Well, charts for this type of thing exist, but who wants to carry those around and look like a super geek? My advice would be – just guess! The luxury of this digital age is that photographers are able to instantly review and check pictures,  so the best option is probably trial and error, at least until you develop a feel for aperture settings.

Every lens has an aperture sweet spot, the f-stop at which the least diffraction occurs (an unwanted effect which makes images appear soft). This varies from lens to lens but is generally between f/8 and f/11 so ideally you need to use an aperture as close to this midrange point as possible while still achieving the desired effect.

Sound complicated? Well photography is mostly about artistic creativity, so set your camera to Aperture Priority and get out there and experiment!

Travel Photography: Should you post-process images?

Processing your images in Adobe Photoshop, or other photo editing software, can greatly improve your pictures but is it really necessary – or worse, is it cheating?


When glancing through feedback on photographs posted online, comments like ‘beautiful’, ‘nice capture’ or ‘great work’ can often be seen, but occasionally you may spot just one damning indictment: ‘Photoshopped!’ The meaning of course is that the image in question is just ‘too good’ to be real, or looks downright fake.

But if using image editing software with restraint allows you to realize the full range of tones and colors in your digital file, and in fact create an image closer to what your eye actually sees, is that wrong?

The oft-called ‘dark art’ of digital manipulation is seen as something fairly new but in fact image manipulation is almost as old as photography itself. ( By ‘digital manipulation’ I am referring to the adjustment of contrast, exposure and color, not adding frogs’ heads to chickens’ bodies!)

Digitally altering an image is no different to the process of developing a film negative as illustrated by the fact that the phrase ‘digital darkroom’ is now commonly applied to photo editing software such as Adobe Photoshop.

No-one ever accused Ansel Adams of ‘dark-rooming’ his photos, although he elevated the process of dodging and burning (making selected areas of an image lighter or darker) to an art form. So why then is it wrong to recreate similar effects with layers and masks on a computer?

All SLR cameras, and a few compacts these days, offer two choices of format in which to record your pictures: JPEG and RAW. While JPEG offers the convenience of being ‘ready’ to print straight from the camera, a RAW file contains far more of the original information and, if processed wisely will always give a better final result.

In simple terms – a JPEG is a file that has been processed for you by your camera (during the course of which a large amount of information is discarded) whereas a RAW file leaves the editing work to the photographer. In reality there is no such thing as an un-processed image, it just depends on whether the final result is human or camera generated.  Who would you prefer to make your creative decisions?

One of the wonders of photo-editing software is that you can achieve an image that you will never get straight out of the camera. Working with a RAW file, one can actually replicate an image that has highlight and shadow detail similar to that which is seen by the human eye.

The photo above of Ta Prohm is an example of this technique and, while the exact method used to create this image is beyond the scope of this blog, the result is a photo that is well balanced and accurately depicts the reality.

With so much potential power at your fingertips then, the main concern is keeping images looking real; the chances are that if your pictures don’t look quite believable then you have probably gone too far. As the saying goes, just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Travel Photography: the Golden Hour

Looking to explore the finer points of travel photography and give tips on how to make the most of your holiday pictures, we have tapped into resident photographer Holly to share her expertise. In this first installment, she talks about the best time of day to capture those unforgettable moments…


Known as the ‘Golden Hour’, the first hour after sunrise and last hour before sunset are generally considered by photographers to be the best times of the day for capturing outdoor images. If you’ve ever been inspired by a wonderful landscape or travel shot the chances are it was taken either early morning or late afternoon. You will notice an instant improvement in your own photos, regardless of what camera you use, just by taking your pictures at these times of day.

During Golden Hour a soft, warm light bathes the subject, and the sky takes on a deeper hue with colours that are saturated.  Why is this? Well the simple answer is that the light from the sun, which is low in the sky at these times, has to go through more dust and atmospheric haze before it reaches the scene in front of you. This filtering not only softens the light like a giant diffuser, it also scatters both the green and blue light of the visible spectrum leaving mostly the red; the part that provides that pleasing warmth.

As an added benefit this oblique sunlight produces longer and more pronounced shadows, giving photos increased texture and an impression of depth. Because the light is less harsh than at midday, these shadows won’t be as deep as those found at noon, making it easier for your camera to capture a scene without over-exposing the highlights.

The picture of The Bayon above was taken at around 7am and due to the great light that day very little post processing was needed. Personally I prefer mornings to evenings for photography, partly because there is something so magical about that first light, but also to avoid the crowds. So when travelling consider setting your alarm clock and getting an early night!