Varanasi Mark Seymour 0001 Varanasi Street Photography Workshop

Varanasi Street Photography Workshop

Varanasi Street Photography Workshop .... A place like no other 

About Varanasi . One of the seven holy cities in India

Mark Twain famously said “Varanasi is older than history, older than tradition, older even than legend, and looks twice as old as all of them put together.”

Varanasi is truly unlike any other place in the world. One of the world’s oldest and holiest cities, you can really feel this in its atmosphere. The holy river, the ghats filled with life, the chaotic spirituality and more make this a city you can’t forget. From early morning to night, Varanasi is one magical place.

As Mark twain said everything here is full of character, feels like its been there forever andis a photographers dream as every corner you turn there are new and great photographic opportunities.

Id recommend staying at a hotel within walking distance of the main ghats so each the atmosphere in the morning can be savoured and at first light you can witness all the characters that are here on a daily basis such as seeing people bathe, street hairdressers, locals wahing laundry and clothes, kids playing with kites and cows walking around aimlessly.

Most people agree  that Varanasi is both magical and mysterious with rituals of life and death taking place in open view, whilst the sights, sounds and smells along the Ghats are something which you’ll never forget

Places we visit on a Varanasi Street Photography Workshop

The first rule of photographing Varanasi on a street photography workshop is get up early and be at your location  before first light . Its a purley magical time of day and even more so in this truly religious and cultural epicentre of India . It really is an exprience you want to live, and document as a street photographer.


Travel to the other side of the river Ganges. Take a boat across the other side, its almost like you are on another place and almost desert like in its apperance. Here you will find religious sadus and other nomads leading the most simple life. Its a must to get there before the sun rises.

Ganga Aarti Evening festival. This takes place every evening on the main Dashashwamedh ghat. According to Hindu mythology, Lord Brahma created this ghat to welcome Lord Shiva.As a photographer id normally visit here two or three times to really document the festival well. You can both hire a boat and witness the ceremony from the river which gives you a great view and then the second evening do this from the banks capturing the key moments as you now have an idea of what is happening.

The Ghats alongside the mother Ganges river. There are over 88 seperate ghats that are mainly used for bathing. The main ceremonial ghat is the Dashashwamedh ghat The main group contains around 25 of them, and it extends from Assi Ghat north to Raj Ghat. The ghats date back to the 14th century but most were rebuilt, along with Varanasi, in the 18th century by Maratha rulers.

Its def worth taking a boat one eveing or a stroll in the day down to the burning Ghat also known as the Manikarnika Ghat where you will see piles of wood for the fires line the Ganges. The fires continuously burn with a constant stream of dead bodies wrapped in cloth and carried through the old market lanes on makeshift wooden stretchers

The Tulsi Ghat is worth a visit again one early morning to witness the Mud wrestlers. The day always starts with a short prayer session at the tiny alter inside the mud ring which are devoted to Lord Rama Many men train here under the tutelage of doyen Siyaramji. You will see them doing many exercises such as pull ups, squats whilst some will swing around a gadha expertly around their heads, lift weights before getting into the ring to wrestle.

The Old markets, that include a small intimate goat traders market in the old muslim dominated area and the vegtable and small chicken markets . This is a great walk for street phortographers starting out at The goat maket and wandering the old ancient streets and ending up at the vegtable market . After the Veg market Id normally take a Tuk Tuk to the main train station looking for the older style trains with the open bar windows with station food sellers offering their wares to passengers. The fish market is just a short walk from the main Dashashwamedh Ghat.

The Old Town Just a short walk from the main Ghats where you will find life around every corner you turn with lots of photographic opportunities from shpos, temples and local characters. Id recommend using a wider lens here as the lanes are so narrow and they are often quite crowded with no sense of order you'll see cows, rickshaws, dogs motorbikes and people all tyring to navigate the tiny streets.
The old Town is also home to several temples including the Kali temple and the Golden temple however both normally have long queue's. A couple of places worth visiting for a pit stop are the Blue lassi Shop and the Dossa Cafe right next to the Vishwanath Gali.

A great Time to Go !  Dev Deepawali

This festival is a major attraction, with the sight of millions of candle lamps lighting both the ghats and river Ganges its a breathtaking sight. Thousands of devotees from the holy city of Varanasi and surrounding villages, gather in the evening on the Dashashwamedh ghat to watch the Ganga Aarti.

The Dev Deepavali (“Festival of Lights of the Gods”) is where Kartik Poornima is celebrated in Varanasi. It always happens on the full moon of November / December fifteen days after Diwali. The steps of all the ghats on the riverfront of the Ganges River are lit with more than a million small earthen lamps and the gods are believed to descend to Earth to bathe in the Ganges on this day. .

During Dev Deepawali, houses are decorated with oil lamps and coloured designs on their front doors. Firecrackers are burnt at night, processions of decorated deities are taken out into the streets of Varanasi, and oil lamps are set afloat on the river.

The main rituals performed by devotees consist of taking a holy bath in the Ganges and offering the oil lighted lamps to mother Ganga in the evening. The Ganga aarti is also performed in the evening.

Over 100,000 pilgrims visit the riverfront to watch the river aglitter with lamps


Sarnarth is well worth a visit as its just 6 miles from Varanasi as It is one the four main holy sites of the Buddha. The other four being where Buddha was born (Lumbini), reached enlightenment (Bodhgaya), gave his first sermon (Sarnarth), and where he passed (Kushinagar). Its well worth 1/2 a day to go and experience and get some great people photographs.

You will see many Buddhists Monks from around the world practicing their various ceremonies on the lawns and around the main temple which is a giant domed shaped brick sculpture called a stupa apparently where Buddha gave his first talk.

Places Ive used

Hotel . The ganges Grand

we also ate here most evenings.. good value food



Holy Chopsticks

Great food but no Alcohol

Barbeque Nation 

Dolphin Restaurant .

Blue Lassi Shop

No website but easy to find in the old town.


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Kolkata 2018 059 1 National Geographic Photographer

National Geographic Photographer

Special assignment by Mark Seymour on Kolkata

How the project came about

Becoming a Nikon Ambassador has certainly opened many amazing doors for me but non greater than being given an opportunity to have my work published as a National Geographic Photographer in this iconic magazine that we all see in many receptions around the world.

Three years ago Nikon approached me and asked as part of my street and travel photography courses could I do a presentation at the National Geographic Traveller show in London giving a talk on how to get into travel photography, how to prepare your trip and what to do once you are there along with talking about various techniques to make your images varied and more interesting.

Lady Luck

As they say luck always plays a huge part and today was one of those special days ! The co-ordinator from National Geographic that was going to be present during my talk turned out to be the key person within the organisation when I found out after asking 'So who is responsible for the allocation of photographic projects within the magazine'  .... to which I received the reply... 'Its me' I was kinda knocked of my feet and immediately knew that this was one of those opportunities that when presented you grasp with both hands!

The room was packed with over 150 paying photographers wanting to hear how I had managed to make this my career and to develop themselves into this genre of travel and documentary photography. The rest as they say is history with a meeting quickly set up at their London publication office to discuss shooting a furture project and for me to present my portfolio of street photography from around the world. My work was highly praised by the picture editor but with the caveat that although the imagery is more than good enough there is not enough detail and scene setting pictures to make a great magazine article.

We'll be in touch

Some fifteen months later and several meetings I finally received that call asking if I could shoot a seven page feature for April's issue on Kolkata, as a National Geographic Photographer, a place I knew extremley well.

The brief came through with a journalist assigned to me to word the article along with some must have shots , some ideas but overall to give me artistic licence to shoot my style of images.

The Shoot

November came and I was fortunate to tag the National Geographic shoot onto the end of one of the street and travel photography courses I was holding for Nikon Uk in Kolkata that I have now been holding for five years. Included in the final images given to the magazine to select from I included many of my favourite photographs of street scenes in Kolkata along with images specifically photographed for the commission of some of the iconic buildings and locations along with small details that people would encounter on their personal travels when the visit Kolkata.

The seven page featured in National Geographic Magazine


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India 59 Nagaland Headhunters

Nagaland Headhunters

Nagaland was always on my bucket list as a place to visit of the beaten track so I finally decided to go and recce the place and try and make contact with the tribal people as they are amongst the lat headhunters in the world today ( they abandoned this parctice in the mid 1970's )

Nagaland is not the easist of places to get to with a limited road network and basic roads so I decided to firstly fly to Gurwhati airport in Assam and after spending a couple of days there photographing around the Kamakhya Temple which is very old Hindu temple where Godess Kamakhya is worshipped we started the journey through Kazingra park and into Nagaland with my guide and fixer.

As we travelled thru Assam we stopped of spending time with the Maya tribe photographing most of the village people on a tobacco lastolite background.

Once we entered Nagaland through an old checkpoint reminiscent of days gone by the roads were really quite bumpy and mainly without a tar surface . It took us two days to reach Mon where we spent the day with the Mon tribe both photographing them and just spending time in their huts with a large open fire drinking freashly brewed coffee.

The following day we started or asscent up into the Nagahills to Longwa to spend time with the Longhwa tribal people staying overnight in the only hotel in the vicinity which I can safely say was the most basic accomodation I have ever enjoyed with no running water and no heating !

In the morning we made our way to visit the tribesman wher we spent a long day with them witnessing their opium ceremony , firing their muzzel loaded rifels and drinking home made coffee over an open firepit. It was just one of the best experiences that Ive so far had.


Click on the video to see




Nagaland  in the north-east of India It borders the state of Assam to the west and Myanmar to the east. Nagaland is mostly mountainous except those areas bordering Assam valley.

Nagaland is inhabited by 16 main tribes - Ao, Angami, Chang, Konyak, Lotha, Sumi, Chakhesang, Khiamniungan, Kachari, Phom, Rengma, Sangtam, Yimchungrü, Kuki, Zeliang and Pochury as well as a number of sub-tribes.Each tribe is unique in character with its own distinct customs, language and dress. Two threads common to all, is language and religion - English is in predominant use and Nagaland is one of three states in India where the population is mainly christian, with conversions starting in the British Raj era.

The Konyak tribe is one of the many Naga tribes. But what sets them apart from the rest of the tribes of this northeastern Indian state was their headhunting history, which was part of their strong warrior tradition. Territorial conflicts between rival tribes and villages were resolved through warfare and Konyaks were feared for their headhunting skills. This stopped in the late sixties


The Kamakhya temple

Guwahati and the famous Kamakhya temple. A very popular pilgrimage site for Hindu's The templeit was built to symbolise and honour the deity Kamakhya and represents the female power of Shakti and celebrates a woman’s ability to conceive. The temple doesn’t have an idol of Kamakhya to worship but a yoni (vagina). According to legend it marks the site where Sati’s womb fell.

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