My Top 10 Instagrams of 2018

Once again, I did a lot of my storytelling on Instagram this year. I really love the fact that I can share so quickly when I’m on the ground and as the stories are coming together for me right then and there.

This ability to share shorted micro-stories has really become a real joy, even if it has meant less has made it to the blog.

In 2018, my following grew past 32000, with my images of Myanmar once again proving to be most popular on the service. On my feed alone, my images accumulated more than 180000 likes. The number doesn’t mean a whole lot to me, but it reminds me that a lot of people are being exposed to my work, and maybe even some new perspectives from another side of the world from the one they know.

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

#10 The Shifting Light on Inle

Silhouette of an Intha Fisherman on Inle Lake through the haze shortly after sunrise.
© Dustin Main 2018

I'm been fortunate to photograph all around Myanmar at several different times of the year.

I find it fascinating seeing how not only the light changes through the day, but even through the seasons. By mid January at Inle Lake, the fog and haze sits on the Eastern side of the lake well after sunrise, creating a pair of dramatic effects.

The first you can see a couple of days ago on my feed. The light is diffused by the moisture in the air, giving a flattering and even bit of light to the fisherman. However on the other side, you see a bright white background, with the mountain fading completely from view. In some parts, you can barely make out the surface of the lake from the background beyond. It all fades together in a soft white.

As they say, timing is everything, or in this case, it's half. The other is the direction you look.

#9 A Dying Art

Nawi, one of the few surviving people to play the nose flute. Mindat, Chin State
© Dustin Main 2018

Nawi learned to play the nose flute, a traditional instrument of her Chin heritage when she was 17 years old. Now, at 92 years of age she's the last of her generation and one of only two people who can play the unique instrument in Mindat.

When Nawi was 18, she was subject to an arranged marriage to man 2 years her junior. She was abducted by 6 people in his family, and fought them off with everything at her disposal, even throwing her urine at them to try and keep them at bay.

In the end though, she fell in love, and was happily married for 72 years.

She used to play music with her husband until he passed 3 years ago. Now when she plays, she feels like he is near. As she says this, her gaze drifts and she smiles.

#8 Seeing It Again In a New Way

The colors of the floating Ywama village shortly after launch during a hot air balloon flight over Inle Lake.
© Dustin Main 2017

My hot air balloon flight over Inle Lake gave me a new perspective to see this place I've spent so much time around in the past 6 years.

Not only was the view stunning, but the colorful houses shined and stood out in a new way, one that I just didn't notice at ground/lake level.

And that speaks to more than just hovering above in a basket dangling from a giant balloon. Search out new ways to view the things you think you know, ones that challenge your ideas and beliefs.

Because perspectives matter, and adding new ones can only help you grow.

Read more about my Inle Lake hot air balloon experience.

#7 A Bridge Between Two Times

Crossing the Goktiek Viaduct over the valley and jungles below.
© Dustin Main 2018

This wasn't my first time crossing this bridge. In fact, nearly 7 years ago, I crossed the Goktiek Viaduct on my very first big trip to Myanmar.

Opened at the turn of the 20th century and measuring nearly 700m long (and over 100m high), it was quite the marvel of engineering in its day. Still, you can imagine that building it today up in the Shan Hills would be quite the feat.

I recall the first time crossing the bridge as part of a 12 hour train journey that day, low on energy as I was slowly recuperating from a nasty intestinal illness. At the best of times, the train rarely moves at a speed anyone would recognize as fast, but as we near the bridge, the train slows to the speed of a literal crawl.

I recall hanging out of the train as we crossed, with my fingers wrapped around the handrail as I dangled out the door, trying to get a good angle as the train curves at the beginning of the bridge. From what I recall, the pictures were good that day, though most of the rest of the journey was a blur.

I had been eagerly anticipating this journey back here again as the plans came together. And as the train neared the bridge now more than 6 years later, I wanted to capture passing over it again.

But in time, things change. I no longer shoot with a camera strap, preferring to hold my camera with the grip only. This makes my movements with my camera feel deliberate, like an extension of myself, and I think it had been great for my work.

As we approached, I could feel my hands getting sweaty, and for the first time, the grip I had on my camera didn't feel so rock solid. I'd wipe my fingers and palms on my longyi, and even try to "dry" the rubber of my camera grip, but it didn't seem to accomplish all that I needed.

When the time came to reach out of the door to nab my shot as before, that grip on the handrail didn't seem as solid as I would like. As I held my camera in the other hand, reaching out with my body and arm, trying to keep it level, I could feel it slipping ever so slightly. I took a couple of frames before the grip on my camera loosened enough for me to call it, and I pulled myself in.

I wiped my sweaty hands on my longyi again and contemplated the difference between my experiences. Was it because I knew the bridge from my past experience, including witnessing how tall it is with my own eyes? Or because I didn't use a camera strap this time, meaning my grip on my camera was extra important? Or was it that as someone who is now 38 instead of 32, with those extra years of life experience, was less comfortable hanging out of a moving train with one hand, where the drop is more than 330ft down? The answers aren't clear, but I still wonder.

#6 The Caregiver

Daw Tin Tin Hla cares for street animals when no one else will.

Daw Tin Tin Hla cares for 4 puppies near her home in Mawlamyine.
© Dustin Main 2014

Daw Tin Tin Hla (50) sews for a living, but lives for animals.

In the city of Mawlamyine, hundreds of feral cats and dogs roam the streets. While most are afraid of humans and keep their distance, they'll often resort to fighting each other for the bits of food they are able to scavenge. It's a hard existence, and it's not unusual for a fight overnight to result in the wounded or worse left lying on the road in the morning.

Daw Tin Tin Hla sees these animals in another way, and has taken it upon herself to give them a better life. While she is unmarried and has never wanted children herself, she feels as though the animals are her children. Growing up, her father loved animals, and they had several cats and dogs around their home. In addition to her Buddhist faith, it was his example that she followed to care for other living creatures.

So, every few days, she'll buy dried fish and crackers from the local market and walk around town to feed the animals. She even carries an injectable medicine to treat the dogs and cats against common fungal infections found here. Whenever she finds an animal she can't treat, she'll call the local veterinarian and pay for the treatment herself. "Even if they can't speak, I can understand their expression."

When she discovered four young pups in the street by her home, they were starving and barely alive. Over the next two months, she woke up early each morning to bottle feed them back to health. As the months went by, they would often come to the entrance of her home in the evening to sleep in safety, bringing a huge smile to her face. A year and a half later, the son of a rich man took two of them for himself. She was devastated, and her grief left her with trouble sleeping. Soon afterwards, the local authorities threw meat laced with poison into the streets overnight, killing the other two and dozens of other animals.

There are many sad times, but she's resilient. Being around the animals makes her feel happy, and they need all the love and caring that they can get.

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

#5 Lunar Eclipse in Bagan

The lunar eclipse beside the nearly 1000 year old Htilominlo temple in the plains of Bagan.
© Dustin Main 2018

As a space nerd growing up, I was always about staying up to watch a lunar #eclipse... Even if it meant that it was more often not in the dead of Canadian winter. That's the way I choose to remember it at least.

So when the opportunity came today to capture one in Bagan, I was happy to give it a go. Even though it's currently winter here... It's not quite the same.

Even if my brother Aung Ko Myint was wearing 4 layers, “double trousers” and a toque.

#4 Another Morning in Bagan


Another stunning sunrise over the plains of Bagan.
© Dustin Main 2018


I share a lot of Bagan here. First off, it's incredible, and even after many months on the ground there, it's still as exciting as ever for me. But I've also been working on a big project there over the past 4 years.

Either way, I think it's pretty easy on the eyes. The haze is bonkers!

#3 Reflections on Bagan

Reflections of the newly renovated Ananda Temple in Old Bagan.
© Dustin Main 2018

"Now you can see why I spend so much time here."

It's what I quietly said when sharing the sunrise with my Un-Tour To Myanmar guests just a few days ago. They quietly nodded in understanding

My history with Bagan is a curious one. I avoided this, the most famous place in Myanmar, for the first 6 or 7 trips to the country "Too hot" I told myself.

"Too many tourists I bet!"

"Not my sort of place."

But when Bohemian Traveler came to the country and wanted to go, it finally made sense to make the trip.

And it was amazing. Riding down random paths, discovering temples and pagodas hidden away, each having their own unique look, light, and story. It didn't take long and I was hooked. We called our little adventure "Burmese Nights, and the Electric Motorcycle Diaries." Hah.

For the past few years, I've spent many months in the country, compiling data and photographs for an upcoming book. It can sometimes seem like I've seen all the gems that this place holds... but another view of the rising sun as the colors in the sky shift, or the reflections in the reservoir, and I'm reminded once again of all that this place holds, and gives.

#2 Good Mornings

Warm colors take over the streets of Yangon shortly after sunrise.
© Dustin Main 2018

It's a struggle, particularly with late nights spent working on spreadsheets, editing, and other blah tasks. But I rarely regret getting out early to shoot photos.

As long as there is a nap of some sort later on.

Good morning from Hoi An, where I've recently moved myself to from Danang. With busy birds tweeting outside, and a view of a rice patty out my window, as long as the internet connection holds out, we should be just fine. I have a lot of spreadsheets to work on.

#1 The Intha Way

Intha fisherman balances on one foot as he rows across the shallow Inle Lake.
© Dustin Main 2018

Inle Lake is a special place. The lake gives so much to the people who live on and around it. It's a place to live, with villages dotting the shores and floating above the water. It's a source of food, with floating gardens and fishing. And it provides a way to get around, as everyone here can operate a long boat or a canoe.

But it's a delicate balance. The floating gardens have been expanding, and more fertilizer is creeping into the water. More people living on the lake means more boats, and more human waste. And in recent years, the water level has dropped, raising alarm bells about what would happen if something wasn't done to reverse the trend... and quickly.

But the Intha people native to the area are a strong bunch, and there are a good group of people looking out for the long term interests of the lake. Someone's got to... The lake won't save itself.

Honorable Mention: A Rare Self Portrait


Dustin Main - Self Portrait. Chin State, Myanmar
© Dustin Main 2018


It’s a rare when an opportunity comes along that I can step away from the camera and find my way onto the other side of the lens.

So when I came across this lovely waterfall in Chin State, I decided to take the opportunity to capture myself in the frame for a change.

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

Be sure to follow along on my adventures in 2019 on Instagram, and see what I'm seeing, and live updates from my tours and photography workshops.