Madagascar: From Morondava to Tuléar and Anakao

When you visit Madagascar you quickly realize that travelling around is not that simple, especially if you prefer round trips or off the beaten tracks. Distances are long and public transportation in rural areas is poor. Sure, it is quite simple to reach let's say Fianarantsoa from Antananarivo in one day, and the taxi-brousses on these roads, mainly Mercedes Sprinter, are quite comfortable. On the other hand, the trip from Tana to Morondava is an exhausting 17 to 18 hours drive, mainly at night, and sometimes when the car breaks down the trip can even take more than 20 hours. But there is no doubt - the real adventure starts where the public transportation ends!


Madagascar offers many opportunities for off the beaten tracks, particularly along the coast. A good example is the trip from Morondava to Tuléar. True, with your own 4x4 you can do the trip in 3 or 4 days via Manja. The nightly taxi-brousse from Morondava to Tuléar is only advisable if you can catch a seat in the driver's cabin of the truck. The real challenge is to follow the coastal line by a mix of pirogue, taxi-brousse and fishing trucks. However, if you choose this adventurous trip you better bring a lot of time! There is no continuous road along the coast, river crossing often requires a detour and public transportation only exists on certain part of the coastal road. Sailing pirogues strongly depend on the wind and fishing trucks, well, according to Bradt Travel Guide it is quite a "stinky journey", and after the trip in the truck you need an urgent laundry for your clothes as soon as possible :)

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Travel Photography: Tips and Tricks for High Contrast Scenes

It's summer, time for travelling and also peak season for nature and travel photography. Digital cameras are still getting better and better and easier to use. However, sometimes it is quite disappointing that a picture such as a historic city alley either is partly underexposed with huge dark shadow areas, or the roofs and the sky are extremely overexposed. Although it is possible to review the image immediately in the display on the camera, the problem can often only be addressed at home in the post-processing workflow, and then it might be too late to fix the image in order to get a beautiful photograph.


Many travel and landscape photography pictures have very high contrast. "Dynamic range" is the term for the range of light intensity from the darkest shadows to the brightest highlights and it is measured in "exposure values" (EV), also commonly called "stops". Our eyes are able to adapt to see high contrast scenes but the dynamic range of the sensor of a digital camera is limited. Unfortunately the dynamic range of monitors, photographic paper or print is even more limited. A dynamic range of an image of about 8 to 9 EV is usually no problem. Experienced photographers can handle dynamic ranges of 10 to 11 EV quite well with exact exposure settings and with the help of calibrated monitors. But what about high contrast scenes with a dynamic range of 14 EV and higher? In particular landscape photography offers a wide range of high contrast scenes: idyllic sunsets by the seaside, backlit photography or scenes in high mountain regions.

An important rule in photography is to avoid high contrast in the first place. Many professional landscape photographers shoot only early in the morning or between late afternoon and evening because the light is much softer. Long shadows can be avoided when the sun is at the back of the photographer. Foreground subjects in backlit photography should be placed in front of a dark background because the high contrast can only be recognized as a small light fringe around the foreground subject. Long shadows might be wonderful for creative photography, but the final picture should offer enough details in dark shadow areas as well. The dynamic range of a scene can be simply reviewed with the help of the brightness histogram on the rear screen of the camera or manually calculated with contrast measurement. If the dynamic range of a scene or subject exceeds 10 or 11 EV the photographer should probably try out one of the following approaches.

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Myanmar: The Taunggyi Balloon Festival

The Tazaungdaing Festival is a traditional festival and public holiday in Myanmar. It is also known as the "Festival of Lights" and it is celebrated on the full moon of Tazaungmon, the eighth month of the traditional Burmese calendar. The Tazaungdaing Festival marks the end of the rainy season. In Taunggyi in Shan State hot-air balloons lit with candles are released to celebrate the full moon day and the Tazaungdaing Festival. It is comparable to the Yi Peng and Loi Krathong celebrations in Thailand.


However, the Taunggyi Balloon Festival it much more than a public holiday. It lasts around 6 or 7 days and it is also a balloon competition and funfair at the same time. Traditionally the festival ends on the full moon day Tazaungmon with the announcement of the winners of the balloon contest. The balloons are beautifully designed and hand-made of traditional mulberry papers and bamboo. They are released day and night during the festival. The balloons for the daytime competition are smaller and usually have the form of pagodas, ducks, dragons or even elephants. The bigger balloons decorated with candles are released at the night time competitions, sometimes even with attached fireworks that explode into the night sky.

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