My Top 10 Instagrams of 2017

I had a busy year on Instagram this year, which has proven itself to be a great place for me to share what I'm working on quickly while I'm in the trenches (aka, on the scene).  The ability to share shorted micro-stories has really become a joy, even if it has meant less has made it to the blog.

In 2017, my following grew past 20000, with my images of Myanmar and Iran once again proving to be most popular on the service. 


So let's take a look at the Top 10 (as chosen by my followers on Instagram at least)


#10 Lighting the Way

U Aung Soe, at his workshop in Nyaung U, Myanmar

© Dustin Main 2016

U Aung Soe (47) learned the craft of building and painting parasols from his wife's family in Pathein, a place famous for craftsmanship.  After moving to Nyaung U a few years ago, his business had been slowly growing with the influx of tourism to the town, and he had been settling into life there with his wife and their two children.

Everything abruptly changed for them in mid 2014, when his wife Daw Kyi Kyi Win (47) suffered a stroke, leaving her partially paralyzed on the left side of her body.  This has placed a great strain on the family, both financially and emotionally.  In the first six months alone, $2000 was spent on health care, including hospital visits, traditional Myanmar medicine, and massage.  This is a huge sum of money for the family, who must now depend on U Aung Soe’s work only.  In addition to their usual monthly expenditure: $300 for food, water & electricity, $15 for mobile phone service, $100 for private school, and $40 for their rent, his income must also cover $300 of health care costs.

It’s also been hard on the children, and their grades have suffered due to the stress at home.  However, U Aung Soe is insistent that they stay in school and get a proper education. 

So, every day at sunrise, and then after dinner, U Aung Soe alone helps his wife outside and supports her as they walk the length of the street.  It's been a tough road to recovery, but, with each day, things are slowly getting better.

This image and story are part of the documentary photography project "This Myanmar Life"


#9 Float to the Farm

High above Inle Lake, Myanmar
© Dustin Main 2017

The floating gardens are a big part of Inle Lake, supporting hundreds of families on and around it.

For the farmers, the day starts really shortly after sunrise. Picking the crops (often tomatoes) early in the morning to get them across the lake to the Nyaungshwe jetty and then off to the market.

This is a bird's-eye view from a hot air balloon. It's quite the experience, one that begins about 4:15am... one I'll have to write about on the website soon.


#8 Myanmar Festival Extravaganza

Tazaungdaing Fire Balloon Festival in Taunggyi, Shan State (Myanmar)
© Dustin Main 2017

Few experiences can prepare you for the Taunggyi Tazaungdaing celebration known as the "Festival of Lights"

In the back, the festival grounds. Human powered ferris wheels decked out in neon, sketchy carnival games, and music blasting loud enough to make your ears ring as you try to get to sleep later.

In the front, something new. Those white lines you see sticking up from the crowd are the screens of mobile phones. Everyone wants to capture what's happening. Only 3-4 years ago there were almost no phones here. 

And in the middle, the fire balloon. This 9m tall balloon is taking to the sky, lit by giant spotlights for the crowd and the TV network. This is what everyone in the country who can't be here is watching. And below it, that's fireworks... Thousands of them, handmade over the course of the last few months. And they're already raining down on to the crowd.

Read more about the Fire Balloon Festival in Taunggyi.


#7 That Myanmar Light

Diane posing in the light in Bagan, Myanmar.
© Dustin Main 2016

This is a throwback image to my first Un-Tour to Myanmar.

After working in Myanmar for more than 5 years on my documentary photography project "This Myanmar Life" I had a group of people eager to experience the country with me. So the Un-Tour to Myanmar was born just over two years ago: A tour for those who wanted to dive deeper into the country, and try to learn how this fascinating and rapidly-changing place works.

See more from the wrap up of the first Un-Tour To Myanmar.



#6 Fade To Bagan

Temple silhouette at sunset in Bagan, Myanmar
© Dustin Main 2017

A lovely Bagan sunset with the sun setting perfectly behind a temple. This was a view shared with Stephen from Bohemian Traveler, David from Travel Worn Satchel, and the rest of the Un-Tour to Myanmar crew. Oh those colors and fields...


#5 Another Knock-Out Sunrise in #Bagan


Golden sunrise with hot air balloons in Bagan, Myanmar.
© Dustin Main 2017


Before sunrise, the air is a little cool, just enough for a light jacket. The sky has some blue, then purple tones. Here, it changes minute by minute.

As the sun pops over the horizon, you can immediately feel its heat. Those cool colors are now replaced by warm yellows, oranges and reds.

Jacket off, sunscreen on. Continue adventure.


#4 Tied to the Sky

Soe Aung collecting grass for his cow on the edge of Inle Lake, Myanmar.
© Dustin Main 2016

Everyday, Soe Aung drives his motorbike down from his mountain village of Taung Ka Maunt to pick grass near the fertile waters of Inle Lake for his two cows to eat.  The 30 minute journey each way and 1 hour spent picking takes 2 hours of his day. 

Soe Aung (24) and his wife Shwe Oo (23) grew up in the same Pa-O ethnic village, where her family owns the land his family's house is built on.  While in school, they would go to festivals together and visit tea shops on trips to other towns. Through spending this time in each other’s company, their bond grew stronger over the years.  He described it like this: "When you fly kites close together, they dance.  The strings will play and tangle.  They will become one.  This made love for us."

It's a custom in the village that when a young man and woman want to get married, they simply run away together to another village for a couple of days to live together.  When they return, the parents understand they want to be married and plan a small event where they offer rice and curry to guests.  So, when he turned 21, that's what they did.

As for the two cows, it's his hope that after 5-10 years he can sell one for $1000 and use the money to buy a smaller cow, with some money left over

This story and image are part of the documentary photography project "This Myanmar Life"


#3 A Simple Equation

Kyaw Myint leading a trek in the Shan Hills, Myanmar.
© Dustin Main 2016

Up until a few years ago, Kyaw Myint was a tutor, helping students who were looking for a little extra schooling than the sub-par government school systems could provide.  The salary wasn't great, bringing in $50-$60 per month, which, with his young family, didn't go far.

So, in 2012, he made a change and decided to become a trekking guide for tourists, following in the footsteps of his brother, who had been one for the past 10 years.  Trekking tours in the Shan Hills near his home of Kalaw had begun to take off in the last year or two, and it seemed like a good opportunity. 
At first, the pay was poor.  He would charge his clients about$12 per day and could take only 1-2 clients at any one time.  After the expense of hiring a cook, the food from the market, the villagers homes in which they would sleep, and his bus ride home after the three-day trek, he'd be left with just a few dollars.

However, by 2015, business was excellent.  While he could only work 5-6 months a year as a trekking guide, due to the low and high tourist seasons, he was busy during much of that time taking 5-6 clients on each trek.  Not only that, but as soon as he arrived back to his home in Kalaw, there would be another group ready for him.

In Myanmar, it’s not taboo to talk about how much money you earn.  So, when asked about how much money he made, he said it was about $120 per month.  This amount seemed awfully low, considering how busy he was.

When pressed, he explained that when he thinks about how much money he makes, he doesn't think of his income from clients, or the profit he makes after paying for their expenses, such as food and accommodation.  Instead, he takes his income from his work and subtracts the food and rent for his family.  He then takes out the money he spends on fuel for his bike, his children's school books, and all other expenses for himself and his family.

To Kyaw Myint, the most important thing is the amount of money left over at the end of each month.  How much money he makes is how much he saves for the future.

This image and story are from the documentary photography project "This Myanmar Life."


#2 Hustling on the Lake


Ko Saw Ngwe defies the laws of physics on the edge of his boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar.
© Dustin Main 2017


I've known fisherman Ko Saw Ngwe for a couple of years, and he lives much of his life actually on the lake.

He's been a fisherman for years, making 3000-4000kyat / day ($2-$3 USD) as well as bringing home a bit extra for the plate. But with mouths to feed (he had 2 sons), that just isn't enough.

So in the heat of the day, when the most action is on the lake with dozens of motorboats zipping back and forth and scaring away the fish, he's putting on a show.

For boats (locals and foreigners) who stop, he'll show how one of the traditional fishing methods works around here. It also happens that this makes for one of the iconic shot of the country. And he's good, and he really puts his all into it. Though the tourism season here is short (4-5 months) the extra 2000k-8000k a day really makes a difference for his family.

And that's a double win.


#1 Inle From Above


A boat leaves the village and heads through the floating gardens of Inle Lake (Myanmar) after sunrise.
© Dustin Main 2017


We took off as the sun began to peek over the mountains to the east. As we climbed higher, we saw more of the sun's rays start to burn off the fog sitting atop the lake.

Alternately floating lower, then higher, we had amazing views as the boats began taking off in the warm morning light. The view from above gives a totally different perspective that you get from ground level, with the floating gardens looking like soft moss lined up on the edges of the lake.

This photo was featured by Passion Passport


Honorable Mention: A Rare Self Portrait


Self Portrait @ Vakil Mosque - Shiraz, Iran

© Dustin Main 2017


It's not all that often I get a photo of myself, but on my last morning in Iran, I returned to Vakil mosque.  With my camera propped up on my Shan Bag, this was the last image I photographed in Iran.

And just like that, 3+ weeks in the bag here in Iran.

For the past 2 years, I've been waiting for the right opportunity to return, and I'm glad I did now. What a great experience to witness the lead-up to Ashura, and share it with so many great people. So many interesting stories of change and transition here. Fascinating time.

I haven't been on the top of my game here (health wise), and hopefully it's just allergies. I missed a few opportunities for photography, particularly in the mornings, but when I look back at my photos, I still have so many amazing images captured to share in the coming months.

Thanks to all of the great people I've met along the way, and all those who reached out to me on IG. The community here really is great.

Looking forward to being back again soon.


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

Be sure to follow along on my adventures in 2018 on Instagram, and see what I'm seeing, and live updates from my tours and photography workshops.