While there are many attributes necessary to becoming a successful photographer, perhaps the most important of them all is an abiding passion for one’s craft. There is no shortage of talented photographers in the world. There is a shortage of the impassioned perseverance it takes to find success though, and those who have it are the ones most likely to make it. This bodes well for emerging travel photographer, Sina Falker. The road from enthusiast to emerging to established photographer is riddled with difficulty, but along her way Sina’s passion and determination have only grown stronger.
Of course she loves nothing more than to travel and photograph, but like most if not all emerging photographers she still maintains a day job. Fortunately her work in the marketing department at a German mechanical engineering company incorporates her photographic skills, including industrial photography, business portraits, and events. She also has her own small photography business doing individual and family portraits, as well as the occasional wedding. None of these are where her travel photography heart lies, but are nevertheless a valuable part of her photographic evolution.
As much as she enjoys Southeast Asia, Sina is especially drawn to Mexico and Latin America. She speaks fluent Spanish (as well as English and German) and even calls Mexico her ‘second home’. Unusual and dramatic landscapes, people and portraits, street and night photography, and scenes of cultural and indigenous expression are her main interests. In fact one of the highlights of her Mexico photo tour is documenting the last of the Lacandon Mayans living in the jungles of Chiapas.
Wide recognition for Sina’s image making took off in 2018 when she won a first prize at the Siena International Photo Awards for her gorgeous image of a floating market in Indonesia. That was followed up earlier this year when she became a double finalist at SIPA for a street scene taken in Cuba, and a dance festival in Mexico. Nat Geo has recognized her outstanding work several times, including a nomination for Travel Photographer of the Year. In recent months she’s had three exhibitions in Germany – a solo at Calumet Photographic in Essen; a permanent exhibit at Apostore & KHT in Gelsenkirchen; and a showcase at the 20th annual Weltblicke Festival of internationally known travel photographers and adventurers.
Below is a broad selection of 24 Sina Falker photographs we hope you’ll enjoy. We were interested to get some insight into her approach and how she works in the field, so we asked her to tell us the backstory on half a dozen images of her choosing. She gladly obliged.
Lok Baintan Floating Market – Borneo, Indonesia – (1st Prize at the Siena International Photo Awards 2018, Nominated for National Geographic Travel Photographer of the Year).
Sina Falker: Lok Baintan Floating Market is one of those off-the-beaten path locations I discovered while researching my trip to Indonesia in 2016. It’s one of the largest floating markets in Asia, and has been taking place for around 500 years. To reach the village I took a small boat from a small town for an hour, leaving my hotel at 4:30 am. The trading starts before sunrise at the prime gathering spot, and from there the market floats down river to sell its wares, spreading out as it moves along. As we neared the prime location that first morning, we saw that the market was already heading our way. We were too late, and soon it was passing us. My heart sank.
There was a silver lining though. I had not been aware of this before, but the prime location was a little upriver from an old suspension bridge. Perfect! The overhead image I imagined for the next morning burned into my mind. It kept my spirits up while we drifted with some of the ladies in their wooden canoes and took photographs. I was able to get some pretty nice shots, but it was the bridge angle I wanted most. Tomorrow would be my second and last chance, as I had already booked an evening flight out.
Next morning we set out half an hour earlier and arrived while it was still dark and a bit foggy. I took my position on the bridge and worried about the light. When motorcycle traffic on the bridge started, I quickly realized I had another problem – a seriously shaking bridge! No way to get a sharp shot. At least not in the light I anticipated, which would need a slow shutter speed and a high ISO. Then my boatman chimed in with another issue. The current was faster than normal this morning. Great, this was going to be over almost before it started, with the heart of the flotilla passing under my lens in very short order. I was getting quite nervous about missing the shot I had been imagining for the last 24 hours.
All I could do was stay alert and hope that fortune would smile. A big, broad, beautiful smile. A smile that would burn off enough of the lingering fog, create the right formation of the right boats, and stop motorcycle traffic all at the same time. Fat chance, right?
I will always be grateful to that moment. The shot you see is the only one that worked!
The Eldest & Happiest of Mai Chau, Vietnam
Lone Palm – Tulum, Mexico (published in the National Geographic assignment, Startruck, February 2019)
Lacandon Mayans in Dugout Canoe – Chiapas Jungle, Mexico
SF: I am particularly fascinated by indigenous people and their cultures, which is why I am always searching for interesting groups to photograph. Before another long trip to Mexico in spring 2018 I ran across the Maya Lacandons, which are also referred to as, The Last Mayans.
A main reason they are the “last”, is their remote location deep in the Chiapas rainforest of southern Mexico. This was a remoteness that kept them from being discovered and pillaged throughout the Spanish colonial era. In fact, they were not discovered until the 20th century, with their culture and traditions entirely intact. To this day – even though the pristine rainforest is stunningly beautiful with flora, fauna, rivers and turquoise waterfalls, very few travelers venture there. The biggest threat to the vanishing of their culture at this point, is not the outside world coming in, but younger Lacandons going out. Less than 1,000 remain in the forest today. I am very much looking forward to returning and deepening my work with them in the near future.
Maya Ceremony inside a Cenote – Valladolid, Mexico
Male Flamingos in Meeting – Northern Yucatán – Río Lagartos, Mexico
Fireflies – Tlaxcala, Mexico
Pink Lagoons – Las Coloradas, Mexico
The Traditional Dress of the Guelaguetza – Oaxaca, Mexico
Dessana Chief – Amazon Rainforest, northwestern Brazil
SF: It took a lot of doing, but after many refusals and outrageous money demands, I finally found someone who knew an indigenous tribe in the Amazon who might be open to receiving a photographer guest for a couple of days. Turns out there was an interesting tribe called Dessana, located about 45 minutes by river from the Amazonas capital of Manaus. A dozen years earlier they had relocated themselves from the deep rainforest closer the modern world. The idea was to take some advantage of modernity, but still be able to preserve their traditional lifestyle.
When I got off the boat alone and headed toward the village the chief was there to greet me warmly. He spoke to me in Portuguese, which is close enough to Spanish that we could communicate pretty well. He gave me the grand tour of the village and surrounding rainforest. Who knew a certain variety of ant worked as an effective mosquito repellent!
I consciously was not taking pictures at this time. I feel it’s important to establish friendly relations in these types of situations, because they will likely lead to better photos later. After a while the chief smiled and asked what kind of photographer doesn’t take photos? I took this as an invitation and showed him my camera. He seemed impressed and the photography began. When we were finished I asked about his daughters, who were watching several meters away. They were smiling and seemed interested, but much to my surprise, he refused! I tried to change his mind, but he would not relent. I was very frustrated, but tried to smile through it. Then I remembered the boat would not return to get me until day after tomorrow. What to do?
Dessana Girl – Amazon Rainforest, Brazil
SF: That evening I sat with the chief’s three daughters and their children in front of their hut. They were quite charming and we got along great. When the subject turned to my photography and their father’s refusal, there were wry grins and looks all around. Something was up. It was then the youngest told me that their father went to Manaus once a month, and as it so happened he was leaving tomorrow! As soon as he left the village, they would gather a few people together so that I could take photos with them in the jungle. Suffice to say the next day we had great fun photographing together. I was and am very grateful to these three women for their understanding and support. Whether the chief ever found out about our mischief, I do not know.
Afterglow in Pelhourino – Salvador de Bahía, Brazil
Bumba Meu Boi – São Luís, Brazil
1001 Dunes – Lençóis Maranhenses, Brazil
On the High Road to Chile – Western Bolivia
Lone “Volcano” Flamingo – Bolivian Highlands
A Cholita at Semana Santa Festival – Copacabana, Bolivia
Offerings to Maximón – Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
SF: Maximón is a deity worshiped throughout the highlands of Guatemala. Guatemalans of all classes bring offerings to the wooden statue and ask for his blessing. Maximón usually “lives” in the home of a member of the cofradía, a Mayan religious fraternity. Every second year he moves to a different place to maintain the balance of power in the village.
When I reached Lake Atitlán, I went to the village of Santiago Atitlán to search for Maximón. After having asked my way through the village, I ended up in the house of a Mayan family, where I also met Maximón. Entering the house I found an intriguing ambiance. A shaman of the village was sitting next to the god’s wooden figure, which was wrapped in colorful silk scarves. Maximón is constantly guarded by the inhabitants of the village. They worship him, sing for him and administer offerings, which include Coca Cola, Payaso cigarettes and Venado rum! The deity himself was standing in front of me with a glowing cigarette between his wooden lips. It was nice to see the Shaman had a sense of humor. A neighbor brought offerings in. For a donation of 10 Quetzales I was allowed to take a few photos.
Calling Home – La Habana, Cuba
Approaching Thunderstorm – Laguna de los Siete Colores, Bacalar, Mexico
A ‘Flower Hmong’ girl at a mountain market in northern Vietnam. The mountains of Vietnam are among the last areas of Southeast Asia where traditional dress is still commonly worn among numerous different tribes. Many of them (not the Hmong) are considered ‘vanishing’.
Candle Seller Helper – Hoi An, Vietnam
Blue Net Sea – Bac Lieu, South Mekong Delta, Vietnam
SF: Before my trip to Vietnam I had already discovered some fascinating pictures of women who made fishing nets by hand. I learned that only in the small fishing town of Bac Lieu were these blue nets still being made. I arrived first in the large delta town of Can Tho, where by chance I met a young Vietnamese student who spoke very good English. As luck would have it, she was from Bac Lieu! She did not know where the nets were made, but agreed to take a trip home and help me find out.
Once in Bac Lieu we rode around on a scooter for hours in search of the blue net makers. We asked anyone and everyone, but to no avail. Was I too late? Had machines in Saigon taken over the job? Finally, in a very small village on the coast we found some women still performing the task. It was not in the large building with a small ocean of flowing nets I had imagined, but it was close enough. In a narrow space standing on a chair to get a better angle, I was able to get a shot that we were all happy with.
Angkor Before the Dawn – Angkor Wat, Cambodia
Sina Falker: Angkor Wat is most attractive to most photographers and tourists when the sun is rising behind it. For that reason the site opens at 5 am. Even then there are hundreds of visitors waiting for the gates to open. You know immediately who the more serious photographers are, because they run to get the best spots to set up their tripods. Upon seeing the breakout, I joined them! Crazy.
Tripod all set up in the front row, me and everyone else waited for sunrise. It was then that an idea hit me. I had never before tried any star or night photography, but what better time to give it a try than with the incredible Angkor Wat standing before me?
After a few minutes Angkor under the stars appeared on my screen and my neighbors were visibly impressed. When I zoomed in though, I could see that is was way out of focus. Tried again – similar result. Infinity focus did not occur to me at the time, as I’d never used it. I never got a useable shot before the sun rose, but I could see the potential and was determined to get it figured out. That night I went online to get some tips, and practiced from my hotel balcony.
The next morning at 5.00 am I was back at the gates of Angkor, running with the others for the best positions. I remembered the steps – deactivate image stabilizer, turn on noise reduction, use widest aperture, set with manual focus to infinity, first image with high ISO and an exposure not more than 25 sec to avoid moving stars, second image with long exposure (3 minutes) and lower ISO (400) to capture the temple without image noise, with the idea to merge them together in Photoshop afterwards. I employed various settings several times in the effort to beat the sun and get a sharp, correctly exposed image. The last shot was by far the best. I was so happy I scarcely bothered to shoot the sunrise, and left long before anyone else. My love for photographing historical structures under the stars began then and there at the legendary Angkor Wat.
Sina Falker is an award winning travel photographer from Essen, Germany. Her main area of interest is Mexico and Latin America, where her fluent Spanish, personable nature and insatiable curiosity often lead her to unique photo opportunities off the beaten path. To follow Sina on social media, please join her on Facebook. For more images and details on upcoming events, you can also visit her website.
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