It’s a tee. It’s a dress. It’s the new Graphic T-shirt Dress.

John Mitchell, Photo Journalist

I became involved in photography by accident – fairly typical for me because I rarely plan ahead, and everything happens to me accidentally.

My daughter, Mia, who lives in Melbourne, Australia, was over in our hometown of Adelaide in early 2005 and when she arrived, she asked how our planning was going for a trip to Vietnam. We had aimed to become geriatric backpackers in 2006 and celebrate our 60th birthdays and 35 years of marriage by wandering around Hanoi and Saigon, and all places in between. We had been dreaming about the trip for about 12 months.

Sadly, about two months before Mia’s arrival, we had gone to Bali for the fourth time…and for the fourth time my wife, Julie, had a savage attack of Bali Belly.

“We aren’t going,” said Julie to Mia. “My stomach won’t stand it.”

“Great,” screamed our daughter joyously, as she gave Julie a cheeky look, “you and I can go to New York instead! We’ll spent 10 days shopping there, cool our heels in Las Vegas, and do the mopping up shopping in Los Angeles on our way home!”

I was clearly not included in this apparent all-female burn-the-plastic-buy-athon.

“And what will you do?” both females chorused at me, as an after-thought.

I grumbled to myself and muttered that I would go to Vietnam on a solo journey. And I did.

But not having travelled solo before meant that, inwardly, I was terrified. So began about eight months of planning, and because I was worried I may become boored wandering the streets of Vietnam alone, I decided to let a digital camera become my travelling companion.

I spent weeks searching the internet for a modestly price digital camera, scouring , and various Australian online camera stores. Eventually I decided on a Panasonic Lumix FZ5 because it had a 12 times optical zoom and a Leica lens. It was also described by the National Geographic website as an outstanding and well-priced camera with good reach and a great lens. Besides, at around $450, I could actually afford it.

I went to Vietnam in March of 2006 – adding a cruise aboard the RV “Mekong Pandaw” along the Mekong River into Cambodia – and had a fabulous time. I was away for three weeks, and during that time visited Saigon, Siem Reap, Hanoi, Halong Bay, and Hoi An.

Throughout the trip I used the camera for landscapes, temples and ruins, portraits, doors, windows and shutters, and general scenes. I took about 1,000 shots.

On my return I sold three travel articles – one to The Adelaide Independent newspaper, and the others to Get Up and Go and Cruise Passenger magazines – and best of all, my photographs illustrated each story.

Clearly, I decided, I had a good eye for photographic composition, and opened my own website at , put up my best Indo China shots, and was staggered at the number of hits and the comments I received (the page views are currently stand at more than 300,000).

However, for the next trip, a year later, I wanted to at least look the part, so I determined to purchase a good quality prosumer dSLR.

I set a price limit at $2,000AUS and eventually purchased a Pentax K10D and two kit lenses – a Pentax DA 18-55mm F3.5-5.6 and a Sigma 70-300mm F4-5.6 APO DG Macro. The glass was hardly brilliant, but I felt it would do. I tried a Canon in the same price bracket, but it felt too small in my hand, and the Nikon that fell into the price range had only 6 mega pixels compared to a little over 10 for the Pentax. The Olympus’s viewfinder was too small and dark.

Two months later, and armed with my camera and lenses, my wife and I set out for India where we spent four nights at a jungle lodge called Bansbari, near the border of India and Bhutan, and did a 7-night cruise along the Brahmaputra River. We then flew to Delhi for an overnight stay before travelling by train to Agra and road to Jaipur.

The trip was highly memorable, and in Assam (apart from the other 9 people on the cruise) we didn’t see another tourist.

On my return, I again wrote travel features for the same publications as before, and again had them published – with photos.

By now, I was feeling more confident, and actually started taking photographs in and around Adelaide. I even attended a photography course, although it was extremely basic. But it taught me how to use the camera manually – something which previously I had no idea how to do!

Last year – 2008 – we decided to go to Burma, and cruise the magnificent Irrawaddy River aboard one of the Pandaw cruisers, and I again took my camera and the two kit lenses.

The start of the cruise was hardly a good sign. We boarded the “Pandaw IV” at about midday, and cruised upstream, stopping at a village before continuing upstream towards Mandalay. Prior to dinner that night we went to the vessel’s saloon for a briefing at 7 pm.

At about 7.15 pm the ship was hit by a freak hurricane estimated by the captain to be about 150 kph, and because the Pandaw has a very shallowed draft it was thrown against a mud island in mid stream. As the vessel threatened to capsize – it was heeling at an angle of about 40 degrees – we abandoned ship and stood about 50 metres away in ankle deep mud and torrential rain watching as the wild winds played havoc. Deck furniture was blown away and a massive shade tarpaulin disappeared.

I stood in the mud and driving rain cursing the fact that my camera was still on board the vessel, but at one point, after about an hour, I managed to scamper onto the “Pandaw IV” and grab it. It was saturated, for the rain and wind had forced open the cabin door with the result our luggage was strewn over the floor. Luckily the Pentax body was weather proofed, and I managed to scoot back onshore and get some photos, although the rain played havoc with the camera-mounted flash.

We reboarded the vessel after about 90 minutes to find total chaos. The saloon was also a mess, with broken bottles and glassware everywhere and the dining room was littered with broken crockery and broken furniture. A number of passengers and crew had also suffered severe bruising, cuts and lacerations.

In Mandalay the next morning we stopped for two nights so that repairs could be completed before continuing on. The remainder of the voyage was uneventful, and we visited numerous villages and markets, and cruised through the first and second Irrawaddy defiles. In Katha saw the home where George Orwell had lived when he was a police officer for two years during the 1920s. Orwell used his experiences in Katha for his book “Burma Days”.

When we returned to Adelaide, I again wrote several articles, and they – together with my photos – are appearing in Get Up and Go and Cruise Passenger towards the middle of this year.

Our trip this year – 2009 – will be reminiscing in Hong Kong for 9 nights. I used to work there as a journalist 36 years ago, so it will be interesting to see how much it has changed since we lived there.

Towards the end of the year we are tossing up the idea of visiting India again, or doing another cruise along the Mekong. I shamelessly promote my writing and photography prowess, and my published articles, with the result that we have been offered from free trips in both places, although we have to pay the airfares to get to and from the start points.

Needless to say, I will take my camera with me. I have recently purchased a Pentax FA 50mm lens, and prior to leaving I want to buy either a Pentax DA 12-24mm or a Sigma 10-20mm lens. I also have a LowePro Photo Runner camera bag, tripod, mono pod and a small 120 gig Vosonic hard-drive onto which I download my photos each night white we are away.

I wish I had discovered photography when I was considerably younger. These days I am able to promote myself as a photo journalist (I used to work for newspapers and was a foreign correspondent with AAP-Reuter in London), and this combines quite well with my own public relations enterprise.

I joined Red Bubble about March 8, 2009, and love it.

John Mitchell, Photo Journalist

John Mitchell

Kyneton, Australia

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I became involved in photography by accident – fairly typical for me because I rarely plan ahead, and everything happens to me accidentally.

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