Melbourne Diary 2016

What’s in my bag for Melbourne/Sydney

Dear friend,

I wanted to write you a little diary entry from Melbourne. I just got here a few days ago, and have been suffering massive headaches (severe caffeine withdrawals from Vietnam) and mild food-poisoning (think I ate some bad eggs on the flight over). Yet it has been some of the best few days ever.

Most livable city?

I think you can live well in any city — as long as you have one good cafe, a good group of friends, and loved ones closeby.

Melbourne has been voted ‘most livable city’ 6 years in a row or so. And I don’t doubt it. Just this year they implemented a new law where the tram (in the city) is totally free! Furthermore, you can’t beat the coffee here (it is seriously the best coffee in the world), the great food scene, the friendly folk, fair weather, and ‘chillness’ of lifestyle. It actually reminds me a lot of SF (except not as expensive — perhaps getting close though).

You have a lot of cool and hip people in Melbourne, yet nobody seems pretentious. You have a lot of students, a big Asian population, lots of families, and everyone just looks pretty happy throughout.

Street photography

Melbourne, 2016
Melbourne, 2016

I just finished my 2-day conquer your fear of shooting street photography workshop in Melbourne, and it was glorious. One of the best groups of students, I was happy to see it equally split around 50/50 for men and women, and everyone was so eager to learn with a ‘beginner’s mindset.’

Some of my favorite street photography in Melbourne was in the city (CBD, or central business district) in Federation Square, near the Melbourne University, as well as new the big H&M in downtown.

The city is extremely walkable, and there are lots of diverse people from all over. The sidewalks are a good size where you can walk in and out quite easily, shoot layers in street photography, and I haven’t had any negative incidents (except for that one time a few years ago, when a lady called the cops on me).

Photo community

My buddy Nick Chen
My buddy Nick Chen

The photo community in Melbourne is strong. They have Michael’s camera which is a reputable dealer who helps the community. There are a lot of film shooters too (there is a group called ‘film never dies’ which is a community-group which provides photography resources, free coffee, a place to hangout and scan film, and to share the passion for photography).

There are a ton of other photo-related groups I don’t know about, but the place is popping. You will see lots of street photographers on the streets, and lots of great energy and vibes.

I also am starting to realize more with time how important having community is. Without a community it is hard to stay motivated, to connect with other photographers, and to share a passion. We need a community to thrive, share our work, and to be a human being.

Being away from Cindy

Melbourne, 2016
Melbourne, 2016

I love traveling, meeting my friends, catching up, shooting, having coffee, exploring, discovering new places— but my heart still longs for Cindy. Even a few days away from her makes me feel distant.

But at the same time, I know these are great growth opportunities for us to both be away from one another. In these moments, I know that we learn to be more independent, to spend time on our own, to reflect, meditate— and I think our relationship becomes stronger.

I’m still counting down the days until I see her— but I do believe distance makes the heart grow fonder.

Street portraits

While here in Melbourne — I’m mostly focused on ‘street portraits’ (like I am in the states). I have been shooting them all on my Ricoh GR II, P mode, ISO 800, and center-point autofocus, in macro mode. I try to fill the frame with them, and capture the most emotional photos I can.

I’m starting to realize more and more — just how fascinated in people I am. Most of all, I am drawn to faces, conversations with other folk, and building an authentic connection with others. I think I’m really less of a ‘candid’ photographer — I prefer interaction, talking with others, hearing their life stories, and sharing my life with them as well.

I’m still working on getting my colors to look the way I want them to do (one of the downsides of shooting digital— when shooting Kodak Portra 400 they always looked good), but I still prefer the convenience of traveling light on this trip (just my backpack, laptop, smartphone, camera, and two changes of clothes).


Melbourne, 3016
Melbourne, 2016

Always when I’m doing workshops the question of cameras, gear, and equipment come up. Looking at the current landscape of cameras today, I would still say for street photography I would recommend either the Ricoh GR II or the Fujifilm X70. The Ricoh GR II is smaller and has better ergonomics and handling, and makes better black and white files. The Fuji x70 is slightly bigger, has worse ergonomics, but makes better color files.

So I would recommend either.

I’m also starting to realize— more megapixels, more problems. Being a blogger, having smaller file sizes are always preferable to share online. And seeing everyone share most of their photos on social media and on Instagram — how big do we really need our photos, if we are just going to see them on 5’’ devices?

What I’m also discovering is that my post-processing skills certainly aren’t as good as I would like them to be. I think often when we want better ‘image quality’ we want to upgrade our camera sensors and lenses. But honestly, I think if we can learn how to post-process our images better, we wouldn’t need to. Furthermore, the importance of having good light in the first place (that is why I almost always shoot with a flash nowadays, to get the best exposure, especially when shooting in unfavorable light situations).

Travel plans

Group photo of my Melbourne Conquer Your Fears of Shooting Street Photography Workshop 2016
Group photo of my Melbourne Conquer Your Fears of Shooting Street Photography Workshop 2016

I’m in Melbourne for another day or two, leaving to Sydney on Wednesday, doing another weekend workshop, then back to Hanoi on Monday. I’m looking forward to shooting more, meeting more interesting folk, and re-connecting with past people. I always rebuild energy from the enthusiasm I get from my workshop students, and always more encouragement to continue blogging.

I’m starting to get more and more excited for my Hanoi to Sapa week-long travel workshop in 2017, and happy to teach alongside my manager and friend Neil (and Cindy will join us too!)

I also am pumped to go again to Singapore, Tokyo, and Kyoto — some of my favorite Asian cities to visit as well.

Life is good, coffee is good, friends are good, and photography is good. What else do I need in life?


Melbourne, Monday, Oct 3, 2016 @ 10:33am (with a lovely ‘short black’ — what the Aussies call an espresso—which makes a lot more sense)