'I travel a lot and I'm used to waking up at dawn, so I do that at home. It's a productive time for me. I didn't get into this game to be chained to a computer, so I have an office manager who takes care of business. Most of my time at home is spent with my wife and daughter. New York is home, but I spend about six months of the year on the road. I have an apartment in the city that I share with my wife and daughter, and a studio in New Jersey. I'll work out at the gym in the morning because mine is a physical job and I like to keep in shape. Writing, editing and looking through pictures take up my day. It's the opposite of what I do in the field. It's sedentary, which is hard for me, especially when I've come back from a trip. It takes me a while to get back into the rhythm of home. What might sound boring to your average person is pleasurable for me - like grocery shopping. I'm there [in the supermarket] in the mornings and I love going up and down every one of those aisles. I enjoy loading the dishwasher. I do all the cooking and become this stay-at-home person. Maybe at the weekends, we'll see friends, but when I'm home, I like being at home. I'm a freelancer, but I've been working with National Geographic magazine for 25 years on many of their Far East stories. For the past two years, I've been working on the Zheng He project - magazine article, book and documentary. I'm shooting in the 11 countries he visited between 1405 and 1433, but unlike on my first trip, when I shot for the magazine, I've got a film crew with me. I do the research, which means reading everything there is about the guy, then once I've identified the countries and made up a shoot list, I'll methodically go down the list looking for the places and things he talked about. I first heard about Zheng in 2003, when I read [Gavin] Menzies' 1421 [The Year China Discovered America]. Until then, he had been buried under history. In the west, we see things from a Eurocentric perspective and he slips through the crack. We are so focused on explorers such as [Ferdinand] Magellan and Vasco da Gama discovering Asia that no one thinks about the Chinese point of view. The joke at Nat Geo was that we were doing a story on the world's greatest explorer who no one had ever heard of. Everybody thinks I have this job where I just wander around looking for stuff to photograph, but it's never like that. Occasionally, it's serendipity: out of the blue a picture appears and you are there to grab it. However, most good pictures come from searching and knowing what you are looking for, so I've seen the subject and already have the picture [in my mind's eye] before I take the shot. I work with a fixer in each country. That person's job is to be my guide, interpreter and sometimes my driver. I rely on local expertise and I'd say to Ming, my fixer in Malacca, 'Here's what we're looking for - indigenous Chinese.' So we'd visit certain temples or go to a graveyard and I'm sizing up in my brain what is going to make a picture. I'm usually taking notes rather than shooting. The real work comes when you zero in on what that subject's going to be and find it. I was in Oman and had great hopes because it was a major dhow-building area in the 15th century. If you read the guide books, there are all these ancient ports and frankincense and myrrh comes from there. When you go up to the Strait of Hormuz, at the tip of the Persian Gulf, you can look across and see Iran. But because of all the oil, it's very wealthy and they have ruined their history by knocking it down then rebuilding it. So those ports are now replicas of what was real at that time. It was tremendously disappointing. I'm trying to recreate the feeling of what it was like to visit there 600 years ago and there are electricity and telephone wires everywhere; cars and garbage collection. It ruins the picture. After wasting a lot of time looking for what I wasn't going to find, I went to Yemen. Yemen is a photographer's dream in that nothing has changed - as far as I could tell - from the 15th century. Every male has a big curved dagger in his belt and the women dress as Zheng described. In Yemen, I really went to town; there was nothing you couldn't point a camera at - I went wild there. The worst moment I had on the Zheng film project was when the crew and I were in an horrific car accident in Bali. That was a shock - especially because it was in Bali. I've been to Iraq and Afghanistan and I had an easier time there than I did in Bali with that accident. I've spent 25 years perfecting my look and knowing what the film in the camera is going to deliver. I like the fact you have a finished product. What bothers me most about digital [photography] is the use of the computer. I'm not interested in spending any more time in front of a computer than I have to. In a typical day, I'll shoot about 10 gigabytes. That's going to take a long time to download and that's time I should be spending in a good restaurant. I can shoot in low and unusual light situations with digital, but I still love film and I will continue to use it. I'm a fireman. There are volunteer fire departments in all these small towns in western New Jersey, where I have my studio. I take a lot of pictures as a fireman in the community. If there's a place where I do the testing of new equipment, it's on family holidays in Tuscany, in Italy, or Maine, where I hold summer workshops. At the moment, I'm writing my book on Zheng. You have to do the writing because these books are personal, so you're the only one who can do it. I can't say I like writing; it's a necessary evil. Fortunately, I have a very good editor, Elizabeth Bibb, who also happens to be my wife.'