Happiness by martin bennie

Have you ever caught yourself having a bad day and being in the worst mood, but then randomly feeling joy when talking to someone happy or someone that makes you laugh, putting a smile on your face? According to various studies, smiling is considered contagious. When a person is smiling, they are viewed as attractive, reliable, relaxed and sincere. When a person sees another person smiling, his or her orbitofrontal cortex is activating, which processes sensory rewards. So when a person catches another person smiling, he or she feels rewarded, which is a good feeling. Take a look at this woman washing her clothes in a Temple in Seam Reap In Cambodia and tell me you don't want to smile back?


I travelled to Cambodia on my own, in the middle of a personal crises, perhaps even a mid life one and I did it to see people smile. I could have gone anywhere in Asia, as in general, Asian people are happier then westerners. I chose Siem Reap because of the temple and images I had seen from here.

It took me perhaps two days to see the temples and the photo opportunities there, didn't fill me with any passion. I decided I wanted to go out into the jungles to the little villages and off the beaten tourists path. So I found myself a tuk tuk driver and paid him well on a daily basis to be at my beck and call.


The first place my driver took me to, was a temple on the outskirts of the town and it was here I found the trainee monks. Talk about natural smilers and these guys were living the dream I think. I m sure their life was not easy, but as soon as I appeared with my camera, the laughing and joking began.

Smiling makes people look and feel better. It is better for your health to smile more because of the good chemicals it releases in your brain. Next time you feel sad, surround yourself with people you know will put a smile on your face because unconsciously, smiles and emotions are contagious.

I left the temple with some great images of these monks and I felt better than I did before I arrived, as we joked and laughed with each other through the morning.


Where ever I have been in the world, poor people have the biggest smiles. I met this woman above in a small temple somewhere in the jungle outside Siem Reap and she just beamed this great big toothy grin and was more than willing to pose for me.


Once I hit the outskirts of Siem Reap, we ended up at the floating village and was instantly surrounded by laughing kids. With a pocket full of sweet bought from one of the village shops, I was the pied piper and these young boys followed me around the village as I snapped away. It didn't take long in their company to see their different characters emerge.


First impressions always count to me and when I met this dude, I liked him straight away. I have no idea what he did or why he was dressed like some type of delivery worker, but he had an air of confidence and looked happy as he sat on his doorstep.

They say The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.

I went to Cambodia to seek and photograph happiness, because at the time in my life, I had no idea what it was or how to find it. I spent 10 days there wondering aimlessly around on my own, while back in Korea, I had the person who could have made me happy, if I had let her. I lacked empathy for her, because I was lost in a grim world of what ifs and past life’s and general unhappiness. I thought happiness was something that just came. Ive since figured out after many hard years, that happiness can be practiced but its hard work some days lol.


The best image I have from Cambodia, is of this little girl and I snapped it off so quickly, as I just turned and she was sticking her tongue out, and I barely had time to focus properly, which is a pity as it would have been a stunner. I still love it, because her happy energy is written all over her face and when I look at it, I also feel happy.


What is happiness then?

The Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of happiness is a simple one: “The state of being happy.”

  1. Happiness is a state, not a trait; in other words, it isn’t a long-lasting, permanent feature or personality trait, but a more fleeting, changeable state.

  2. Happiness is equated with feeling pleasure or contentment, meaning that happiness is not to be confused with joy, ecstasy, bliss, or other more intense feelings.


Although the term is not used very often, “self-happiness” refers to a sense of happiness or satisfaction with one’s self. It is often associated with self-confidence, self-esteem, and other concepts that marry “the self” with feeling content and happy.

In general, it means that you are pleased with yourself and your choices, and with the person that you are.

So are you happy and if not, why not?.

Loch Muick by martin bennie


Loch Muick, the place i decided to try and capture photographically, over the last two years has all but worn me out. I walked around it many times with my 15 kg camera backpack laden on my sore shoulders and i took some images i was more than happy with during these years.

Its a 7.7 mile walk around the Loch and and nothing too strenuous, and the views on dark stormy days, especially with snow on the mountains of the far end of the Loch, are just beyond awe inspiring. I remember many times two years ago, when you could arrive at Loch Muick car park and find a space no problem. Nowadays its chock a block with visitors and most likely, there is just no where to park. Perhaps its my fabulous photos of this place that lurk on the internet somewhere that have attracted so many people? Perhaps its just the fact that we are all becoming more and more conscious of our health and heading to the hills and outdoors space on a regular basis.

One of the main places on the walk, is Glas-allt Shiel house. This fine property was built by Queen Victoria after the death of Prince Albert, and used as a quieter retreat from Balmoral Castle. Its no longer used and remains boarded up. I do wish they would open it up and invite passing walkers to come in for a look.


Then when you get fed up walking around loch Muick, you can tackle the mighty Lochnagar and although this is as far as i have ever got, as it was always so cold to go further up. I plan to do the top very soon, with full camera gear, which will be a feat itself, as this is a round 8 hr trip and im not sure if my poor feet can cope. I did it in winter snow conditions once with a friend and it was just stunning under the dark ominous skies. If your a city dweller and fancy a day in the country to boost your well being, then head out here, as its just stunning.

Life is like a landscape. You live in the midst of it but can describe it only from the vantage point of distance

Summer in scotland by martin bennie

On a dark stormy summers day, the beach at Aberdeen is always the best place to go to see muted contrasty colours, between the dunes, the sand and the sea. So looking at the sky this day, i headed towards where i thought the storm might go and ended up at Balmedie beach. Having walked along to the higest dune i know there, i turned and looked back towards Aberdeen in the far off distance.

My composition needed a 50/50 balance between the sky and land and i thought a long exposure would suit this contrasty day very well. So i set up my composition to run from left to right and placed the sand and sea, as near to the bottom left as possible, to draw your eye along this line, past the windmills and on, into the distance and Aberdeen. I fifted a Lee 6 stop filter, to help me blur the water, creating my water colour look i like down here and fitted a Lee 0.9 grad filter for holding back the skys exposure.


Having taken my exposure, the rain started as the big storm hit me and i packed and headed back through the wet dunes, down to the sand and along back towards the car.


As i was about to turn off the beach for the car, i saw the sun break through, just about where these kite surfers were, and decided to head back into the dunes for some height perspective, as the light just looked outstanding, with dark stormy clouds, rainbows and these guys kite surfing.


Im not shy when it comes to getting what i want in an image and having spoken to this guy called Ross, he agreed to do some posing for me. Low and behold, while im messing about with compostions, there appears a rainbow.

Having my neutral density filters on, i dont normally use my circular poloriser at the same time. So with some speed and trepidation and constant looking to see if the rainbow would last, i changed to my polariser, got Ross to stand in position and turned the polariser till the rainbow stood out.

A polarizing filter, if you dont know, simply filters out unwanted reflections from non-metallic surfaces such as water and glass in addition to light reflecting off moisture and pollution in the atmosphere and for rainbows, its the go to tool.


All in all, by the time id left, my shoes were full of sand, my jeans were soaking wet, but i had noticed none of this as i was so focused on capturing these guys having fun out there, on what was almost a winters day at the beach. But when you focus, you forget, because your in the moment and on days like this, with the fabulous light, i am glad i was the only photographer out there, seeing and capturing this moment in time for me and the other 3 people who were out there having fun.

Traveling to the gate by martin bennie


I decided one day, when i lived in south korea, that i wanted to travel through japan, first to go to Kyoto to see the famous bamboo road, take my iconic photo of it and tick off as many other famous places as i could from my dream photography locations list. Though my ultimate goal was to get to Miyajima island and to see the centuries-old Itsukushima Shrine and floating tori gate. This little island is opposite Hiroshima, which you can see in the background, where we all know what happened, back in the 2nd world war. I believe this was the gate used in Wolverine when you saw the atomic bomb dropped and he takes the Japanese officer down the man-hole to save his life.

The shrine and its tori gate are unique for being built over water, seemingly floating in the sea during high tide. The shrine complex consists of multiple buildings, including a prayer hall, a main hall and a noh theater stage, which are connected by boardwalks and supported by pillars above the sea.

Because the experience of Itsukushima Shrine involves the water over which it is built, it is good to be aware of the timings of the tides during one's visit. At high tide the shrine and its gate appear to float above the water, and this is certainly the time at which they are most picturesque. No one told me this and i never really researched it, just saw where it was and headed that way. I’m a spurious traveler and never make plans, i just go and sometimes this backfires on me. With a bit of planning, i would have seen the warnings on the site about the tide and about renovation work they were doing. I could have kicked myself for having traveled all that way to see it covered in scaffolding at low tide.

One thing about the island though, that doesn’t get much attention, is the very friendly deer that just hang out on the street corners and squares of the village.

Peace and stillness by martin bennie

I Worked and lived a life once in Korea, that was on the edge of insanity with stress and deadlines and where millions of dollars were at stake. The higher the stress, the more peaceful my photography became and i lived like this for almost 6 years. Looking back on the drink we consumed and the hangover i had, it was a wonder i even survived or had time for my photography. I wondered the south west coast of korea, and drove with no purpose, other than to see what lay at the end of the road i was on. Sometimes i turned left and sometimes i went right. I had no idea where i was going most of the time and i think this was in parallel with my life at this time. I had no direction, no goals and no meaning to my life. I was good at my job, i worked really hard and on my days off, i roamed, searching for something that i couldn’t find, because i didn’t know what it was. Its like leaving the house and thinking, shit did i leave the oven on


I searched for stillness in my life and its evident in all my photography, though i didn’t know this at the time. I just seemed to be at peace in some of the landscapes and managed to portray my feelings into my images. I turned off all my thoughts and in these moments that i captured, i found the stillness i saught. All of my images, when i look at them years later, give me back the feeling i felt, while standing watching the light change in the landscape i happend to be standing it. I don’t know how many thousands of miles i drove, but i saw more of korea than most foreigners or Koreans could possibly hope to see and i captured a country of such stunning beauty, it stuck in my soul and even 4 years after leaving, i miss it so much.


i once read a quote by Thich Nhat Hanh , the famous buddist monk turned teacher, where he said “Everything inside and around us wants to reflect itself in us. We don’t have to go anywhere to obtain the truth. We only need to be still and things will reveal themselves in the still water of our heart”

I wondered the country, taking long exposures of images, because i wanted to stand still and listen to the noise around me, but i didn’t know that, and i just remember the stillness and the escape from the constant chattering in my head of things to do with work, or things in my life that were not right, yet i didn’t know what to do about them. My photography is about calm, its about stillness and in most cases, there are no people in my shots, because i wish to escape people and feel the isolation off the moment.


Now i suffer no stress and my life keeps on giving me what i need and strangers i meet tell me to slow down, stop and listen. My ife gives me jobs, where there is little to do and no way of being stressed and i get to travel to exotic locations and see wonderful things. I meet people who help me through bizarre circumstances and i strive most days to keep my mind focused and never to worry. I yearn for south korea as if it was a person that had died and i feel pangs of jealousy, when i see others going back or living there still, and i feel sad, that my life will not take me back. But yet i know, that it is not my time and jobs i apply for there, seem to come and go and i have to learn to accept my fate. But yet even as i think this, i know i can not go back. Longing and desire are things i have yet to explore, and i certainly don’t understand them yet. I miss the past and i cant change until i let go. I have no idea where my life will go from now, but i accept all that comes my way and perhaps i will just take a look down this new road that seems to have opened for me.

travelling as therapy by martin bennie

Going alone in wilderness was used as practice for spiritual rejuvenation and clarity throughout human history by many historic figures. Depending on personal development and readiness, some reported experiences of luminous clairvoyance, state of oneness and intense transformation.

There are plentiful examples of Jesus of Nazareth, Sakyamuni Buddha, Tibetan yogi Milarepa, Greek Orthodox monk Saint Simeon, David Thoreau and great number of others throughout history that used time alone in the wilderness as a way to clarify meaning of existence, to connect to the source of happiness within and shine a light on a path of individual evolution of consciousness.


Going along in wilderness gives a variegated experience of space. Our habitually internalized relationship with our immediate environment has a tendency to subconsciously retrain our ability to envision new perspective on out universe and our place in it. Going into wilderness alone has a potential for a new possibility to see yourself in the world. 

External environment has a direct effect on our sense of well-being. As our mind makes sense of it internally through relational cognition. External space is a reflection of a space of the mind, which is experienced as awareness within which all appearances arising. 

"The environment and experiences change our brain, so who you are as a person changes by virtue of the environment you live in and experiences you have".

Going alone in wilderness with intention of nurturing yourself and opening to reality of inner experience as much as outer terrain will result in perceptual shifts. Spaciousness of outer expanse experienced by being alone in the wilderness will translate into softening of the edges of rigid relationship to conceptual definition of personal reality and a place within your universe. 

It may result in greater open-mindedness and more magnanimous attitude toward yourself and others. If you come away from a place of conflict or stagnation in not finding solution to whatever problem, being alone in wilderness may initiate a change. By nature of shifting environment it may cause you to abandon ardent attachment to focus on problematic position and let unexpected solution come. 


Your perception, which is governed by mental habits might shift along with a change in vastness and serene stability of a landscape. It will affect your interaction within yourself by the way of slowing your mind down to let it rest in its natural state devoid of input for habitual reactivity. 

When this happens you may see others in a slightly different light, more like diverse flow of events and not like single snapshots you chose them to see. It will give rise to mental spaciousness and tolerance. 

There is a new branch of neuroscience specifically aimed at study of malleability of the brain, called Neuroplasticity. What long-believed to be true that brain formation is finished in early childhood was proven otherwise by researchers at Salk Institute for Biological Studies at La Jolla, California.They shown that the adult brain can change its structure, its connections and functions. Which meant that we can voluntarily transform our experience, by changing our minds and brains through the choice of environment, way of life and mental activity which we engage.

Enriched environments experiment on rats at the same university showed that by placing lab animals in rooms with play and exercise equipment gave rise to neurogenesis — an increase and survival of new neurons. 

It was a striking discovery that exposure to an enriched environment leads to increase in new neurons by 15% along with improvement in behavioral performance

Going alone in wilderness for mental health has a positive effect of removing mental static, which is seeing yourself stuck in a particular situation. We get ourselves stuck by firmly believing and identifying with our particular mental construct of fragments of reality into a concrete view. Identifying with our view of life as truly existent reality, completely solid and unchangeable gets us stuck.

Going in wilderness alone may help to loosen up our attachment to our version of reality, our universe by offering an opportunity to quiet the mind and notice the stream of thoughts and emotions from a standpoint of neutral observer. It might happen through deliberate use of meditative technique or by being removed from environment that re-enforces our habitual way of being. 

This is the opening into awareness - nature of who you are. Power of awareness is such that it is liberating from self-imposed limitations. The effect of the awareness on your thoughts, emotions and desires is detachment. You begin to observe emotions and thoughts as events passing through and not an intrinsic quality of yourself. You are not identical to these mental activities. As rigid structure of perceiving yourself and your relationship to circumstances in a particular way begins to soften up, there is an opening to become free to move forward.


The border by martin bennie


The Col De Bessata is the border area between france and spain and has the most stunning drive from Pau, along the valley and up through the Pyrenees and into spain. There was once a border, but that no longer exists and now the only remain reason to stop there is for the duty free shops, who sell hugh bulk items at amazing low prices. The sking in these areas is now almost non existant and ski towns remain empty most of the year. These town are spooky nowadays as no one lives in them in some cases and just boiarded up windows and old signs remain to show you that once, these were bustling towns during the winter season.


A few people do come to this area during winter, mainly to walk into the fabulous mountains and pehaps find places to ski. Being in amongst so much snow, is on occasion, pretty odd, as everything is white and a sense of depth in the landscape is missing and there is nothing to focus when its white out conditions.

The contrast between the dark road here and white snow covered mountains, is just so appealing to me and to stand and admire nature in these conditions, just takes my breathe away somedays

Tuna fishing by martin bennie

I’d seen these boats on TV before, and with the lines of men along the boat, I knew right away what they were, but working offshore Brazil, i never expected to see them working so close to our vessel. After i spotted them casting their rods into the sea and pulling back time after time, with a big tuna fish on the end of the line, i dashed back for my camera. By the time i got back, they were just circling around and with the rough sea, overcast skies and pretty nice light, i snatched the only shot i thought might be worth viewing. Sometimes not carrying a camera around with you and seeing a moment like this, does frustrate you, but i saw them with my eyes and the memory will have to suffice for now. Every day now, i scan the seas, looking for my camera fodder, to show those who stay at home, what its like in our big bad world.

“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”