The Truth About Nepal


Bhaktapur, Nepal,
Bhaktapur, Nepal,

I arrived in Kathmandu after 4 flights, 33 hours, and sleeping on a seat tray, yes the one you eat off of.

Stumbling off the plane from China, clutching my Nepal visa on arrival, yes it’s all worth it to be back here again!

This is my 5th visit to this remarkable country. Twice I’ve traveled here solo to see my friends and help out but the real reason I discovered Nepal is the fact that my son has lived here for 10 years empowering women in one of the poorest countries in the world.

In 2005 he asked me to visit him so I closed up my apartment, took a 3-month break from Palo Alto, put my Van sneakers on, packed 50 rolls of film, and flew to Asia for the first time in my life.

When the earthquake hit Nepal last year, it was a huge re-set for the country, but people make things happen fast here and now things are changing for the better in many ways.

The best thing I’m doing besides walking around the ancient UNESCO world heritage site of Bhaktapur, gazing at temples and drinking up the people who live here is going to the women’s shelter and kicking ass on cleaning, cooking, and organizing alongside the women who live there.

The water installation is nearing completion so the young ladies can take hot showers rather than use a bucket with cold water.

In Nepal you have to live with slow wifi, no electricity at times, and the fact that you may not be able to find things you need to buy like trash bags. But this makes it even more amazing to accomplish things here.

After the earthquake, Beyond the Four Walls built a women’s shelter for displaced girls who were living in tents. They opened the California Cafe serving locals and tourists, employing Nepali girls and it’s now opening in a new location in a garden setting.

The foundation helps girls make empowered choices so they don’t fall prey to child marriage and sex slavery.

Wolf Price, founder of Beyond the Four Walls
Wolf Price, founder of Beyond the Four Walls

It’s exciting to see the water tank go up today. It’s been difficult to get experienced plumbers as so many people need re-construction, but that’s the benefit of having a network of local people in Nepal, knowing people makes things happen faster.

Kind donations from loving people in USA have created the shelter, cafe, and provided schooling for the girls here – it has changed their lives!

You can help this amazing foundation continue it’s work here.

Check out the foundations work here:
Check out the foundations work here:

This lovely young woman came to the shelter this week and is all ready cooking with gas, working and radiating her positive attitude. She faced big challenges in her family when her husband left but she now has a job at the shelter and is happy to be here.

Changing lives in Nepal,
Changing lives in Nepal,

This vibrant girl has been living at the shelter for a year and is managing and assisting on all projects, going to school and translating Nepali to English as needed. She was rescued from a domestic abuse situation and when I met her 3 years ago was a different girl than you see here. She is confident now and happy to be free.

I’m blown away by every day here. I appreciate electricity and water a lot more than I used to. But the thing that keeps me coming back is the people.

They show me how to slow down and connect to what’s important.

I’m going off grid for a bit to an incredible monastery, Kopan, high on a hill overlooking Kathmandu, no wifi but plenty of love and peanut butter. I’ll get to read books on Buddhism, go to dharma talks, and meditate.

Write and let me know what you would like to know about Nepal.

Temple in Bhaktapur,
Temple in Bhaktapur,

Mary Bartnikowski, author, photographer and educator is in Nepal until Sept 15, 2016, read reviews on her book she wrote in Nepal, Kitten Heels in Kathmandu, Adventures of a Female Vagabond.

Donations for Beyond the Four Walls

You can sponsor a girl for $10 a month, check it out.


Secrets of Sea Turtles

Sea turtles are wise.

They look like dinosaurs. They swim fast.

If you spend time with them, you’ll see their scratched up shells they carry around with them.

How brilliant to carry your home on your back.

They’re patient as they lay on the sand resting from the tumultuous ocean.

Suddenly I see that if sea turtles like to sleep here on Poipu then it’s perfect for me.

This is how I fall in love with a place. I follow the endangered species and see where they like to go.

That’s why I moved to Hawaii Island, to be with the wild dolphins, in 2014.

Big Island,
Big Island,

You have to wake up early to see these wise beings, looking all pre-historic in the blindingly beautiful sunrise each morning.

Poipu Beach Park,
Poipu Beach Park,

Secret: if you get up at 3AM and walk down to Poipu Beach Park you’ll see 5 or more turtles sleeping on the sand, from babies to enormous mothers. As soon as the navy blue sky lightens up between 5AM and 6AM, they slowly drag themselves off the beach and back into the sea. Reluctant to give up their beds on warm sand.

I feel the same way in the morning.

But lately I’ve been drinking my coffee with the turtles. I notice how they wake up.

I’m grateful sitting with them. And happy to point out to people not to get closer than 20 feet while flashing them with their cameras.

Don’t be this guy. Back off. Turtles are protected, and this is not Disneyland with fake animals. These turtles are real and wild.

But the best thing is that nature opens her arms and holds me like a baby swaddled in a blanket, swinging in the high vibrations of big love on the beach, big turtles, and the ocean lapping on the shore.

Yes, it helps to swing in a hammock while contemplating the fact that sleeping soundly, eating well, exercise, and meditation is what works every day of my life. If I do all 4 of those, my day flows into goodness, surprises show up, and I’m happy inside my skin.

And the 14 days of turtle bliss definitely freshened up my perspective.

It all started on the full moon.

The moon was so bright it knocked my eyeballs open and jolted me with an adventure. The message was — get to the beach and check out the turtles. It was 2:30AM.

It was dark.

But yes there were 7 turtles on the beach having a pajama-less party. The moon glinted and sparkled on the ocean shimmering the turtle shells so I knew they were not rocks.

After the excitement of seeing them I went back to bed and returned at 5AM – most had left but there was still the big mama turtle.

So I sat with her, a respectable distance away. She lifted her head and then rested it back on her sand pillow.

Never had a better cup of coffee in my life.

Mary Bartnikowski, invites you to discover Kauai’s power places. Relax, recharge and get the most bang for your buck in 3 days of incredible experiences, shooting amazing photographs with any camera and optional daily yoga and meditation. Learn More.

Contact me at or call me at 808-542-4566

Suddenly I’m in Mount Shasta


Mount Shasta,
Mount Shasta,

Flying from 80 degree weather on Kauai to 40 degrees Fahrenheit in Mount Shasta was challenging.

I could see my breath.

I saw actual snow floating down on Mount Shasta in angel white brilliance.

Hadn’t seen snow in years.

I wore a jacket with 2 sweaters under it. And a scarf, hat, and finger coverings to keep my flesh from freezing.

But the mountain is magic. It truly is a portal to another world. Maybe it’s the lost Shangrila that people look for in the Himalayas. Maybe we were looking on the wrong continent.

Lake Siskiyou, Mount Shasta,
Lake Siskiyou, Mount Shasta,

Mount Shasta shakes you to the core and makes you wake up. The lakes, snow, community, and sparkling fresh water from the head waters of the Sacramento River jolts you. It was the best water I ever drank and I was sure the best water was in Hawaii.

Nope, it’s in Mount Shasta.


I hadn’t been to Shasta in over 6 years and the brain cells in my head were jolted when I drank in the mountain.

My time was spent shooting Shasta from different angles, going to Stewart Hot Springs, the oldest hot springs in California and eating steak, drinking espresso, and at night red wine.

Stewart Hot Springs,
Stewart Hot Springs,

I ate apricots, cherries, crisp apples, salads, and steak. We had a lot of barbecues.

You tend to do that when you’re freezing.

A forty degree difference in the temperature on your skin is like slowly going into a cryogenic freeze, suddenly you notice that parts of your body are ice. And you better get some hot coffee and get under the covers now.

But if you have someone to get under the covers with, it’s all good.

Falling snow is romantic.

Here’s what I loved. Lake Siskiyou. Walking at the shoreline every morning gave me a power boost for the rest of the day.

Shasta Abbey – a Zen Buddhist Abbey filled with Zen masters (most of them women) who give retreats to us beings on the outside of the abbey and advice on how to live life.

View from Shasta Abbey,
View from Shasta Abbey,

They teach meditation and give dharma talks. I stayed for 5 days with them and will go back again. I found family there.

Shasta Abbey, gathering place in the pine trees,
Shasta Abbey, gathering place in the pine trees,

Seeing Mount Shasta from my friend’s hot tub, from the town center, and from my bedroom was comforting. Shasta is out there watching over us.

There are stories about how Shasta is an energy vortex. You do feel differently when you’re up in the mountains in the high ethers of snow and unlimited sky.

At 4500 feet high, Mount Shasta City is in a high vibration. It’s a difficult place to leave. It wraps its arms around you and gives you a cozy, warm feeling.

There is a distinct connection between Kauai and Mount Shasta. The energy of Kauai is a blossoming world millions of years old and the feeling in Mount Shasta is ancient and calming.

Shasta Abbey Temple,
Shasta Abbey Temple,

I met people in Shasta who want to live to Kauai and people in Kauai who feel called to Shasta.

Mount Shasta is known as a world power place. If you’re going, check out my recommendations.

Spring and fall are incredible times to visit. Go and feel the power, let me know what happened.

Stay: Strawberry Valley Inn

Eat: Best Western Treehouse, Lily’s Restaurant, Wassayaks

Go: Stewart Hot Springs, Shasta Abbey, Lake Siskiyou

Mary Bartnikowski, author, award-winning photographer and educator, has written 4 books, check it out here.

Discover Mary’s photography in 32 countries here.


How to Travel Solo and Fall in Love With It

RIshikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram,
Rishikesh, India, Parmarth Ashram,

Myth: it costs a lot to travel.

Yes it does if you stay in $400 a night hotels like I used to do.

It was fun.

The truth is I love to travel solo.

I don’t have to wait for a friend to break up with her lover, leave their job, or save enough money to go with me.

When I want to go to Nepal, Colombia, or Sardinia I put on my Van sneakers and go!

I can sit in a fancy pants bar/restaurant like I am now and write. And enjoy a superb glass of red wine and be at ease and comfortable.

You never have to negotiate where to go based on money.

I was backpacking in the Himalayas solo in 2009 in Sikkim, India and realized I was spending less money per month than I received for renting out my apartment in Palo Alto, California.

I was spending less than $300 per month to stay in guesthouses eating home made Tibetan soup and momos, traveling by share jeep in the Himalayas, and having a blast.

I came home from that 10-month trip with money in the bank.


Don’t go over your budget on lodging. Yes you can splash out for a few days. But you can also get budget accommodation and live it up at the upper crust lounge/restaurant like I am now.

Secret: you can often work/write in 5-star surroundings enjoying the incredible views and then go back to your Airbnb room, campsite, or rented home.

You’ll discover that having a set amount to spend on lodging will keep you kosher.

I often times suggest a lower price on a room when the price suggested is too high.

It’s called rich foreigner tax. Many countries, like India, have no set prices on their rooms, the price is whatever they can get.

So haggle wisely, you’re still most likely paying too much.


One of the best things I ever did was travel twice around the world with no itinerary buying one-way plane tickets along the way.

If I felt like staying in Bali another month I could, no discussion.

If I wanted to explore Burma for a month, I went.

First time I went round the world I spent $2900 on plane tickets, the 2nd time I spent $1800. No I didn’t buy a RTW ticket, it doesn’t give you freedom on your journey.

For example I decided to stay in Cambodia for 4 weeks when I couldn’t stomach the thought of leaving.

I was falling in love with Siem Reap, where Angkor Wat is located and so I stayed.

No heated arguments. I found an incredible local guesthouse: Rosie’s guesthouse. And another one, Ou Malay where the Cambodian owners and I had a love fest of laughing and daily camaraderie.

It was $7 a night, no wifi but so what?! We loved each other!

Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse Siem Reap,
Cambodia, Ou Malay Guesthouse, Siem Reap,

You meet so many people!

When you’re solo, there’s no one to listen or talk to. You can be alone with your own thoughts and then Bam! you meet someone seriously interesting who lights up your world and you wonder how you ever would have met them if you were with someone.

This has happened to me more times than I can count. And I’m still in touch with many friends I met traveling from Spain, Korea, Australia, Nepal, India, Germany, and Argentina.

They shook up my world and invited me into a new portal of love and friendship. I never would have met them if I wasn’t solo.

Being solo you have to reach out. It can be intoxicating.

Traveling solo, I mention my thoughts to whoever is standing by, I don’t take offense if they don’t respond, I’m simply radiating aloha which means, I’m spreading good will and happiness which is what the Dalai Lama advises but I didn’t realize until living in Hawaii that this means Aloha.

Pay attention. You might meet your soulmate, best friend ever, or meditation master around the next corner.

Suddenly you’ll be in a new world that you had no idea even existed.

Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon,
Burma, Shwe Dagon Pagoda, Yangon,


Yes you can be safe but you have to trust your gut. Don’t negotiate with the red alert warnings your instincts tell you. Pay attention.

Your body knows before your mind. Listen.

And while you are at it: don’t tell people you’re traveling solo. Don’t advertise your solo status by flagrantly drinking and carousing. Really.

Do make friends with families and women. Volunteer with humanitarian foundations that are educating and changing lives. Don’t be afraid to talk to people and smile.

A smile is universal. Yes it works in every country. Try it. It works.

Change Your Life, join Mary on Kauai July to December for a 3-day luxury private retreat, learn yoga and photography on the best island in the world.


First Trip to India

Photo: Wolf Price
Photo: Wolf Price

I had no desire to visit India until my son asked me to go.

He was living in Nepal and ready for a fresh adventure after volunteering in Kathmandu.

I had missed out on Morocco when he asked me to go with him and a friend when we met in Spain (I had to go to Italy for the first time) so no way was I going to say no to India and a chance to let my son lead me to a brand new country.

So I jumped in with no prior knowledge of India except for seeing the movie Gandhi.

That first trip to India and Nepal changed my life, turned me upside down, and electrified my bone marrow. I was never the same again.

The photo of me above was shot right after rafting down the Ganges River in the winter; drenched with icy waves over our heads as we paddled to stay afloat.

Of course we had to volunteer for the front paddling positions in the boat which means you get the worst of the waves over your head and the rest of the passengers just get sprayed.

But I never felt so alive in my life.

My son pushed me to go.

I just wanted to read a book that day.

India blasted open my spirit, forcing me to leap way out of my comfort zone.

Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai_Lama in India
Photo: Bartnikowski, Dalai Lama in India

I was cold in the Himalayas, I got deathly sick, but I also ate tasty delectable food, was immersed in a multitude of religions, saw the Dalai Lama teach at his home in Dharamsala, had my eye balls seared with women’s colorful clothing, met gurus, saints, and friendly elephants!

There is nothing India doesn’t have but order.

Amritsar, photo student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching
Amritsar, India photo credit: student from Miri Piri Academy, during the class I was teaching

There aren’t any rules in India: you can have bonfires in the street with cows who want to get warm in the high ethers of the Himalayas.

People drive recklessly. Watch out crossing the street. You don’t want to get mowed down by a motorbike or attacked by a monkey.

Some monkeys are mean in India, one stole my new dress off the clothes line and I didn’t find it until 2 hours later in the dark with my flashlight.

I’ve since been to India 4 times solo. And as soon as I left that first time, I wanted to go back. I found myself in Bali which seemed awfully tame compared to jolt your eyes open India.

What made me buck up and get strong?

The fact that yes I’m deliciously free and can make all my own decisions.

This is a huge opportunity for possible risk but it was also a leap into the unknown, an adventure beckoning, a bewildering array of options, food I couldn’t identify and stumbling happily through a language I didn’t understand.

I tried to learn Hindi and the Nepali language.

“Sundar” means pretty in Nepal. And meeto-cha means this food is yummy. That’s all I learned and actually I didn’t need to know anymore on that first trip.

After traveling with my son for a month, we went solo on our own paths. And boy did my India adventure change.

Being solo is misunderstood in India.

Local people from India wonder why you’re not traveling with your in-laws, 7 children and two sets of grandparents. Really.

Many people want to help you in India, some are scammers, and some are saints. Both will approach you especially when you are solo.

Here is what I do now. I surround myself with a shield of white light and send out the message with my mind, you will not approach me unless I invite you.

It works.

Do you remember the Beatles White Album? Much of it was written in Rishikesh, where I shot the photo below.

The Beatles stayed at a now defunct ashram with Maharishi on the Ganges River while they learned meditation and wrote songs.

Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski
Rishikesh, India, Ganges River_Photo: Bartnikowski

What I did was I was lay on the marble floor of this gorgeous “ghat.” (a river side temple, dock, or bathing spot)

The nightly puja was happening.

My tripod was only 6 inches high, one of those tiny jobs that don’t extend, but even though a policeman’s foot was inches from my head, I got this shot from a unique angle.

My body commanded me to capture it.

That’s the real secret of how I get the money shots. My body tells me to shoot and I listen.

So this was our happy hour of prayers, offerings, songs, and chanting.

Puja persuaded me to stop drinking wine when I hadn’t decided to give it up.

But Rishikesh is a holy town in the foothills of the Himalayas; you can’t get booze there.

I was not going to get on the boat, cross the Ganges, and go into town to purchase low grade wine or spirits.

I had spirits at the puja so instead of a cocktail I joined the young Hindu priests, the head swami, and countless tourists from India and worldwide.


I was in heaven.

Afterwards we would meet with Swami for a blessing (darshan) then I’d walk back to my room at the ashram, or go hook up with Skype, being careful not to step in the cow flops along the path.

Yes India has the internet. And this was in 2006.

But India is the mothership. All roads lead to her.

You don’t have to go to the Himalayas to turn your world upside down pineapple cake but it was just what I needed after living in Palo Alto, California, the epicenter of Silicon Valley for 29 years, not knowing that outside this comfortable bubble of technology, splendor, and genius, there was a world named India that whispered to me, Just Do It.

So I did and I thank my son for inspiring me to do it.

I took 3 months off from life in Palo Alto, turned down work, closed my apartment door, paid the rent which was significant, and set out for India, Nepal, and lastly, Bali.

If you ever hear the call to go to India, do it. Your life will never be the same.

Wolf, my son, and me.
Wolf, my son, and me.

Mary Bartnikowski is an author of 4 books, award-winning photographer in Palo Alto, Hawaii, and worldwide for 29 years.

She has led programs at Apple, Stanford, Intel, and globally.

Join Mary and Escape to the Best Island in the World, Relax, Recharge, learn yoga and photography on Kauai, in a private luxury 3-day retreat, fall asleep to ocean waves at the Islander Resort, and explore the power places of Kauai, for one or two participants.

Learn More or call 808-542-4566

Change Your Life

Suddenly your gut says one thing and your mind says another.

What to do?

Looking back over the last 10 years of world travel I see that when I trusted my gut and didn’t over analyze a decision the path opened up before me and sometimes it was even lit with sunshine.

Thinking didn’t get me to the source of my own wisdom. It appeared as a tiny nudge in my gut, or a soft whisper in my heart.

One time a voice woke me up and told me Go Home! I was living in San Francisco, 35 years ago, and was wondering if I should go back to New York where I was born.

Clearly I got my answer and was startled by the dramatic way it came to me.

So I bought a one-way ticket and crossed the entire country by train, California to New York. It took 4 days but I knew it was the right thing.

I had connected to my own divine guidance.

You can’t look in a Lonely Planet guide book for it. You can’t ask someone else what to do.

No it wasn’t comfortable and it wasn’t easy but leaping out of your comfort zone isn’t pleasant. It can be messy going into the unknown.

But every time I’ve done it, my life opened up in a way I never would have predicted.

I used to try and meet up with my son Wolf, who has traveled in 50 countries, I’ve only been to 32, and it was difficult to pin him down to one country.

Then when I went on my first round the world no-itinerary global adventure, I couldn’t be pinned down either.

Learning how to let go of planning made me wake up.

And thats how I got to Hawaii. By trusting my gut, what I call waiting for my instructions from Grand Central God.

But you can call it anything you want.

You can test it out by asking your gut little things through out your day. Which way to drive to work, who do I need to get in touch with right now?

I love how when I trust it, I get to a place that I would not have envisioned being in.

The other part of it is to stay positive and focus on a remarkable result but without being attached to the outcome.

I’m still practicing that one.

But every day brings new opportunities to let go and see what your divine guidance says to do.

The more you listen to the layer of truth under your reasoning mind the sharper it gets.

Sooner or later you won’t be able to ignore it.

Recently I found a little cottage to rent here on Kauai and everything checked out but there was just one thing. My gut said no. I wanted my gut to say yes.

I have a strategy for hearing my guidance. When I go to bed, I present the issue or question and I know as soon as I open my eyes in the morning the answer will be there, shining on the inside of my eyelids, in my heart waiting to tell me.

The answer was no. And I immediately felt relieved.

This is all the evidence we need to trust our guts.

Trusting your gut changes your life.

Was there a time in your life when you didn’t listen to your thinking mind and went ahead and acted on your own inner guidance?

Do you want peace of mind, a room of one’s own, and a battery re-boot?

Learn Yoga and Photography on Kauai with me in a 3-Day Private Luxury Retreat. Relax and Recharge. Have the best rest of your life being lulled to sleep by ocean waves all night long. Learn More Here.

Burma, One Woman’s Love Affair

One of the best countries to travel solo is Burma, AKA Myanmar.

I spent 31 days boating and bussing across this incredible, new to the Western world, country and I was amazed.

Warning: Don’t listen to any media news about this isolated and remarkable country. Ask a person who has actually visited Burma.

What did I love?

The non-stop devotional people who are kind caring and told me where to get off the city bus in Yangon before I asked.

This is the mark of a compassionate culture.

I didn’t want to leave, everywhere you looked, more lovely souls.

Example. My passport fell out of my camera bag in the taxi from the airport and I didn’t know it until I was checking in at my guesthouse and noticed I didn’t have it.

The smiling taxi driver returned it within the hour, without being asked to.


The Hidden Places

I’d never heard of Pyinoolwin before arriving in Burma, but this place soothed my soul, the orchids and flowers in the botanical garden got me awake and strolling at 8AM in the morning.

I met kind women gardening who painted me up to look like them.

Yangon and Bagan are filled with little known temples, markets, and beckoning Buddhism that doesn’t make you feel like you have to be Buddhist. It’s serenity on tap, a simpler life than what most people are used to. It’s in the air and the soil.

Maybe even in the water but I didn’t drink any. I buy bottled when in Asia.

Burma has everything, kind people, holy places, simple tea shops selling noodles, and markets where the farmers will talk with you as they slice their fish, put out their wares, and haggle over price.

I didn’t feel unsafe at all. Yes I know what happened to Aung San Suu Kyi, but she’s off house arrest and things are beginning to change in this amazing country. Political prisoners are starting to be released and Burma is waking up to the fact that tourism can be good.

Don’t wait. Go now. You will never regret it. 



Want to see more of Burma and discover the highlights of my 31 days exploring this mystical country?

Check out my Myanmar issue of Vagabond Travel Mag in the itunes store. It’s for iphones and ipads.

Everything you ever wanted to know about Burma but didn’t know anyone who had the answers.

Here is the link.

Vagabond Travel Mag

See my gallery of photography from Burma here

Mary Bartnikowski is an award-winning photographer, author, educator, retreat leader, and lover of world travel. She has led programs at Apple, Intel, Stanford University, and globally. Come say hello at and get a free ebook, Secrets of Stunning Photographs.

#Kauai: Yoga and Photography on Kauai

I love helping people discover this stunning island, that I finally found after searching the world for it.

Suddenly I floated down into paradise when I got off the plane, the first time I arrived.

The truth is I feel that way every time I come home to Kauai.

I just led my most recent private luxury retreat here, for my amazing couple from Australia. They came all the way from another continent to learn yoga and photography with me. Lyn will tell you how she felt about the retreat better than I can as she actually did the retreat and didn’t want to go home.

Check out the video above.

The best thing is seeing your delight when you finally get away from your busy life and breathe in the jaw drop amazing nature here, the sparkling clean air, and the papayas and starfruit that make your palate sing.

Don’t put off your own peace of mind and relaxation. It makes your life richer to have had a recharging and rejuvenating time in a powerful place. I didn’t do this so much when I lived in the center of Silicon Valley working 18 hours a day.

I didn’t notice I was impossibly pushing myself. I loved what I was doing – shooting and writing but when you don’t get to the ocean and you live 30 minutes away – that’s just criminal!

Now that I swim in the ocean daily, I can’t even get my mind and heart around the idea of not doing it. The ocean is all the medicine you’ll ever need. It makes everything new again.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit:

Discover what people love about Kauai that words can’t describe, the sacred quality, the amazing food, the mesmerizing turquoise of the water, it’s all here.

Join me on Kauai to get a new lease on life. Learn more here.

Photo Credit
Photo Credit:

Why I Love People Photography


The truth is, if you go back to your childhood days you’ll discover what you loved.

I was given my first camera at age 7 by my grandfather from Poland. It was a plastic Diana brand camera and I was smitten. I immediately started taking secret shots of my family. They frequently wouldn’t know I was photographing them.

I felt powerful catching them so candidly, their faces remarkably real.

And it was ultra fun! And to magically get the photographs returned in prints holding each one in my hot little hands to see and study was a miracle.

And now 5 decades later I’m still at it.

I started shooting professionally in 1981 in Palo Alto, California. It was a heady time to be in the center of Silicon Valley.

Apple Computer was exploding, Facebook was not even an idea, and Google was just getting financed by my next door neighbor.

Steve Job’s girlfriend lived across the street. He’d pick her up in a convertible and one time I got a picture of them kissing with my telephoto lens. One day I’ll publish it. He later married her.

When I think of Steve Jobs I see him kissing his future wife, not selling computers. 🙂

So yesterday I shot a family portrait at the ocean here on Kauai and it was so much fun that they had to remind me about getting paid.

I’m so grateful to do what I love. And this is after 29 years of being paid to take photographs. I’m still jazzed about it.

All 13 people yesterday were at ease with me immediately and ready to try my ideas and express their ideas too.

The thing is when I’m asked to take a milestone photograph of a family, I absolutely know that this is a historically magic moment in their lives. We won’t pass this way again, not quite like this. It’s bordering on the mystical as it makes me see how temporary our lives are.


It took me many years to learn how to photograph a child. I’ll save you the learning curve, here is the secret.

You wait until they relax into the moment and then you pounce and capture it fast. That’s how I got the first photograph of the girl in the tree above. I waited. 

I’m not all that patient but photographing people educates me on how to be patient. Perfect timing has to do with waiting and pouncing. You have to be fast to get that magical second when she won’t look that way again, this is her moment in the tree, and she’s happy.

No one told her to smile or pretend to be happy to get some ice cream, this was real.

You might only have one chance so you have to go for the gusto at the same time you’re waiting patiently.

It takes practice.

I remember the moment I realized that my finger snapped the photograph before my brain suggested it.

I was photographing a wedding at Stanford University and I was waiting for that perfect photo of the bride being walked down the aisle by her father.

I discovered that the magic moment is quite often before they take the first step down the aisle not while they are walking.

Dad and daughter looked at each other for a fleeting second. Boom, I got it.

They didn’t even know I took the photo they were so caught up in the moment before Dad would give her away. Love poured out of them and I was crying too. But crying doesn’t keep me from getting the shot, it only adds to it.

So my family wanted a fun ocean shot before going back to the mainland. I loved that the grown-ups were even more excited than the kids about it.


See more family photography here.

One thing I’m grateful for is the amazing people I’ve met from doing photography all these decades.

I’m still friends with many of the people I’ve photographed. Most of the 722 weddings I shot in Palo Alto, those couples are incredibly still together.

Shooting weddings renewed my faith in humanity. True love does happen.

And if you’re ever unsure of what you love to do, go back to your early days of childhood and remember what put a smile on your face.

Mary Bartnikowski, award-winning photographer, and author for 29 years has led programs at Apple, Intel, Stanford University and worldwide. She daily has her toes in sand, swims in the ocean, and laughs often. Join Mary for a private luxury retreat to learn photography and yoga on Kauai, details here.

#Kauai: Helicopter Tour

Absolutely the best thing I’ve done on Kauai!

I’ve lived on this magical island for 2 years. But this opened my eyes all the way to my toes.

Soaring over the plunging velvety emerald cliffs and mesmerizing turquoise waters was a jolt to my soul.

How could all this amazing enchantment be sparkling in the now moment and I’ve never seen it?

I fell more deeply in love with this 25 x 33 miles tiny island. But no, it’s not so tiny. The power of the landscape made me tingle for hours, it was like having a crush on a hunky man turn into true love.

I was floating. My eyes grew new nerve endings, I could see more clearly and my heart busted open in gratitude.

Wonder and awe guide my life now. And I’ve never been more grateful that I sold my belongings, explored the world, moved to an island, and decided to be happy.

You can change your life. It all starts with that whispering in your spirit that says, yes go that way or no that is not for you.

Listen to it, even if it doesn’t make sense. Logic is not final wisdom.

Would your friends and family tell you not to move to another country or convert a used shipping container into a home? I am considering this.

Don’t live anyone’s life but your own.

It’s enough to do that one thing in your life. Truly live what is in your heart.

Yes courage takes practice. But there’s no other time like right now to start practicing.

Kickstart your motivation here, in my new video on the beach in Poipu.

Mary Bartnikowski, is an author, award winning photographer, and speaker. She has led programs at Apple Computer, Stanford, Intel, and worldwide.

Stay in touch with Mary and get her free ebook, Secrets of Stunning Photographs.

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