Lalibela, Ethiopia

As I type this, I'm sitting in the Seven Olives hotel in the heart of Lalibela, Ethiopia. I've come here to photograph the special christian celebration Timkat.

It's been four years since I came here to photograph Meskel - a special orthodox christian celebration held each year in September. 

I remember my first visit well. I was a little overwhelmed by the people, who appear to dress the same as back in biblical times. Lalibela is after all one of the birth places of christianity.

Photographically speaking, I was also a little overwhelmed back then and today I'm finding nothing has changed for me. I seem to be going through a period of adjustment. Landscape photography may come easily to me, but I feel it takes me a day or two to settle into making pictures of people. Most of my adjustment period is due to an inner shyness that I have. I'm not really sure where the core of my shyness sits: I was very shy as a kid, less so as a teenager and I'm very open as an adult, but I think we all have that inner-core - that old-self still lurking within us. So I think my young-shy self is still there, but he only really comes out when I'm faced with something I really love. When it matters, as is the case when I see a potential beautiful photograph of someone, I can become quite unable to direct my subjects to get what I am envisaging.

I saw so many great compositions this morning on my first outing with my guide - Muchaw - who is one of the Deacons here. But I really didn't have much confidence to take my camera up to my eye at first. I guess I just have too much respect for others as I simply do not wish to offend and would be hurt if I knew I'd upset anyone. 

But my guide is a great help in this respect. He is able to break the ice where I could not and I think this is one thing that I have reminded myself of - it's always worth employing a guide when I travel, as they can help smooth the relations between the subjects I wish to photograph and me. Plus I also think that hiring a guide is good, because it's a positive way of giving some money back to the local economy.

It's only the first morning, but tomorrow and Tuesday are two full days of celebrations. I think there should be many photographic opportunities since my guide has got me access to the heart of the celebrations.

Looking back at my first visit in 2010, I remember being right in the heart of some dance celebration making photos and found myself staring out towards the surrounding crowd.  In that crowd, were all the tourists I'd gotten to know at my hotel, each of them with a bemused look on their face as if asking 'how on earth did Bruce get in there?'.

It was so tempting to take a digital SLR for this shoot. Many of the locations are in dimly lit churches, and it's something that I might have to reconsider for another time. It is High ISO territory for sure if you want to be able to shoot everything here. But I prefer to work with what I know well and love, and so I've brought two Contax 645 bodies and a few lenses with me. I have the 55, 80 and 140 which translate approximately to 35, 40 and 70mm. Film stock is Kodak Portra 160.

I feel this year is about making people pictures. It's about having a welcome change. It's also something I love very much as it gives me inspiration in ways that landscape photography does not. Even though I feel that portraiture is not something that comes as naturally to me I get a lot of pleasure out of the exchange with my subjects and often the photography is of secondary importance.