Very few things in the world compare to stepping off of an airplane onto the Tibetan plateau in Lhasa. Going from just above sea level to around 13,000 feet, coupled with landing in the famous Yarlung Valley surrounded by 20,000 foot peaks, literally takes ones breath away… mostly from lack of oxygen.

Try to walk 100 feet – you’re tired.
Try to breath – you’re tired.
Try to talk – you’re tired.
Simply exist – you’re tired

A few times I noticed people start a sentence – stop, catch their breath, and with hands on knees struggle to get the rest out.  Yeah. It’s that kind of place!


Though oxygen starvation demanded it, I’m absolutely horrible at resting. I was bad at it as a child, and I’m bad at it as an adult. Sitting still is just so … boring! Call it “Restless Photographer Syndrome.”  Call it whatever you want.  But slowing down hardly seems natural.  However, there is real value in resting.  Slowing down.  Simply observing.

As photographers we should try to see the long-term benefits of slowing down and observing a new culture.  Think about it: What can we intelligently and accurately photograph seconds after we get off of a plane?  The risks of telling inaccurate, ill-informed, and incomplete stories is real if we don’t slow down just a bit and think about our approach.

Research only goes so far as to inform our photography.  Observation can fill in the gaps that research often leaves. Observation develops questions, which in turn creates interest/intrigue, which in turn creates well-thought-out compositions as well as informed and culturally accurate photographs. There are rich stories that we can miss if we don’t spend the time to look for them.  Beyond that, we can miss out on actually just experiencing a place when we don’t get the cameras out from in front of our faces.

So with observation in mind—as well as the need for some oxygen—we intentionally took the first day to simply soak in the culture. Now don’t get me wrong: This doesn’t mean we didn’t spend some time taking pictures. But on this day I took about 25 percent of the photos I took on the other days—and I believe it made all the other photos better.

Join the conversation.  What benefits have you noticed from slowing down, resting, and simply observing.

Workshop: Lhasa, Everest, Nepal – Day 1 – Images by Brian Hirschy