I spent even more time sharing on Instagram in 2015.  More than 20 countries were featured out of hundreds of images I shot and shared from around the world.  So as 2015 turns to 2016, I thought it would be a good idea to look back and see what the cream of the crop (at least decided by good, old-fashioned "likes") rose to the top.

The top pics of the year all came from two unique destinations: Iran and Myanmar (Burma).  My Myanmar project has been going on for nearly 4 years now and is nearing its conclusion, while the decision on my next new project is still up in the air at this moment...

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#10 Fire Balloon Up Up and Away!

Tauzaungdaing (Fire Balloon Festival).  Taunggyi, Myanmar (Burma)
© Dustin Main 2015

For the second year in a row, I ventured up to the festival grounds in Taunggyi for Tauzaungdaing, Myanmar's second biggest festival, and likely its most dangerous.

This particular fire balloon, with its payload of thousands of hand-made fireworks attached at the bottom, won first prize in the 8 day competition and festival.  Dozens of these 9m (30ft tall) balloons were launched during the festival, some more successful than others.


#9 Sunrise Over the Patty

The glowing sun reflecting in the patties at Inle Lake.  Shan State, Myanmar (Burma)
© Dustin Main 2015

I've spent a considerable amount of time in and around Shan State over the past few years, and it's hard to top a sunrise at Inle Lake.

Capturing this one in November involved a 5am wakeup, racing down a narrow (and poor) road in a tiny car (it bottomed out hard on a dip) before sprinting up a couple hundred stairs to a mountain top monastery.  Gasping for breathe, I captured this seconds before the light became too bright. 


#8 Evening in Yazd

Amir Chakhmaq Mosque.  Yazd, Iran
© Dustin Main 2015

The square in Yazd is full of action, day and night.  From a market, to local prayers and events, and even a place for teens to hang out in the evening.

The following day, this same square was filled with carpets, as folks served tea and prayed as some soldiers who died in the Iran-Iraq war decades ago were returned home.


#7 One Last Bagan Sunrise

A glowing sunrise over the temples of Bagan.  Myanmar (Burma)
© Dustin Main 2015

My first trip back to Myanmar in 7 months brought me back to Nyaungshwe to rest after a whirlwind trip in the middle east with my Mom.  There was more rest and eating than exploring and photography happening, until the last day before I headed further into the country to work.

I've witnessed so many amazing sunrises in Bagan that sometimes I forget how magical they are.  This one, captured just as the rainy season was ending (and the landscape was still green) was one to remember.

Another Bagan sunrise photo was featured in My Top 5 Instagrams of 2014, and it's one of my favorite captures and memories of all time.  Check it out.


#6 Novice Gaze

Young novice monk at Indein.  Shan State, Myanmar (Burma)
© Dustin Main 2015

I'm not one for asking people to pose or stand still for me and for this young novice monk, I didn't need to worry about that at all.

Its customary for Buddhist boys to become a novice monk a couple of times in their life. Once, typically around age 7-10, and again around 20 years old. For a couple of days or a week, they'll stay in the monastery and live like a monk, learning more about Buddhism.

The event to get them there is called a novication ceremony, which is often a very public affair involving parades through village streets and food for everyone.

This day, I was invited back in January 2016 by a family I met in a nearby village to see their son's novication ceremony on the full moon.

And you can probably guess where I'll be...


#5 My Mom is a Travel Badass


My Mom Shirley at Tabātabāei House.  Kashan, Ira
© Dustin Main 2015


A few years ago, my Mom wouldn't take a flight by herself. She was terrified of getting stuck in an airport and not know where to go (among other things). When she took her first solo flight that involved a sleep in an airport hotel, she barely slept, fearing she would miss her flight.

But that has since changed. In the past few years, my Mom has visited a host of countries on several continents. From Thailand to Vietnam, Myanmar, Turkey and Jordan. Not your usual vacation destinations to say the least.

So it's should be no surprise that when I pitched her a trip to the middle east earlier this year (with the main attraction being Iran), not only did she jump at the chance (admittedly after about 3 min of convincing), she's since become an ambassador for others afraid to travel. When people told her not to go to Iran because she would get her head cut off or because of ISIS, she fired back with facts of how amazing (and educated) the Iranian people are, and the kind nature they were known for.

The world is not the scary place you see on the news. It's generally filled with 99% of humans who would give you the shirt off of their back if you needed it.

So thank you Mom, for being a badass and amazing travel partner. Here's to more adventures to come


#4 Persians Knew How To Build a Home

Persian architecture.  Tabātabāei House.  Kashan, Iran
© Dustin Main 2015

I had no idea what to expect on my first trip to Iran, but to be shooting so much architecture was certainly not one of the things on my list.  Coming face to face with the beautiful colors, lines and shapes, I just couldn't stop capturing them.


#3 Patterns of Life

Abstract at Shah-e Cheragh. Shiraz, Iran
© Dustin Main 2015

I spent my last night in Iran at the kaleidoscopic Shah-e Cheragh in Shiraz.  I was exhausted after my jam-packed journey, but still managed to soak in the experience, bright lights and colors.  A return trip is certainly in order.


#2 Harvesting the Floating Gardens of Inle Lake 

Cleaning the crops.  Inle Lake, Myanmar (Burma)
© Dustin Main 2015

The lush valley in which Myanmar's famous Inle Lake resides is a perfect location for growing crops.  And much of that is done in the lake itself. 

Coming down the little waterways in a canoe, between rows of tomatoes grown on the lake, it's easy to wonder how it all works.

The vegetables that are grown here are actually grown *on* the lake. Blocks of sod are cut from huge chunks, and floated on the lake in rows. At first, they will be attached to the floor of the shallow lake with a long bamboo stick stuck through it.

Eventually, it can be solid enough to walk on.


#1 Afternoon in Persepolis

Sunset at the ancient city of Persepolis, Iran
© Dustin Main 2015


This photo of Persepolis wasn't actually the most popular on my feed, but the re-shares it received numbered over 6500.  As it turns out, the Iranians love Persepolis, and its not hard to see why.

Do you have a favorite?  Let me know in the comments below.

Be sure to follow along on my adventures in 2016 on Instagram, and let me know what you think (and maybe where I should go next).



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