In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog August 16th, 2008

ISO Explained, Grand Palace

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• Djerba Hotels
• Monastir Hotels
• Gammarth Hotels
• Hammamet Hotels

Feature Photograph

This week's feature photograph was taken about 20 kilometers south of Chiang Rai. My assistant and I had been holed up all night in a inexpensive hotel waiting out a severe thunder and rain storm. We got back on the road heading north on Highway One towards Chiang Rai and the rain was still coming down. The scenery even from the highway in this area is spectacular. Kilometer after kilometer of lush green rice paddies, mountains, trees, and canals overflowing from the rains. The problem as you’ll find every where, is that the power and telephone wires follow the highways. I’ve lost count at the number of times I’ve wanted to stop and take a picture of a grand sunset or some other wonderful scene, only to notice heavy and ugly power lines in the frame. In some areas you can walk 20-30 meters past the lines and take the picture. In other areas you’d have to swim through ditches, wade though cow stuff, climb fences, or navigate some other obstruction.

When I saw this scene I wanted it no matter how much effort it took. I found a small side dirt path and aimed the vehicle up the path toward a clearing right before the rice paddy. Did I tell you it had been raining all day and all night? I felt he tires sink in the deep mud as I pushed the lever into the 4×4 position and heard the hubs lock in. I kept it moving until thankfully some tall grass which has been beat down by the force of the rain was laying flat exactly where I needed to stop. I stopped on top of the grass and my assistant looked at me and said “are we in trouble?” I lied. “Nah, that’s why we have four wheel drive, lets take the picture!” She didn’t look convinced as her new white tennis shoes slipped deeper into the mud so I took her picture to reassure her.

I set up the Canon 1dsMarkII on a Gitzo tripod and mounted a Sigma 12-24 wide angle zoom. Set at 15mm which on a full frame DSLR is quite wide I was able to capture the entire scene. By the time I had everything set up I was excited to see a patch of blue sky appear through the clouds in the foreground and as I sat there admiring the view another patch of clouds behind me opened up and let the sun shine in over my shoulder providing the most wonderful directional light,. It was like I was given control of the weather and sun to create the most perfectly lit scene possible. I took the pictures, stowed the gear back in the car, and still feigning confidence that we weren’t stuck in the mud climbed in and started off. Miraculously the car spun on the wet grass 180 degrees on a dime, and them moved forward exactly the way we came in. My assistant remarked “They sure teach you to drive well in America.” Indeed…

Weekly Photo Outing, The Grand Palace

This week we’re not going far. I’m going to go out on a limb and say something that might not sit right with many people, but at the same time I’m sure some will nod their heads in agreement. With few exceptions, if you’ve seen one temple you’ve seen them all. Even fewer exceptions are because the temple is significantly structurally different than the last one, which would be the case with the Sanctuary of Truth, Doi Suthep, and very few others. Most differences are because of what the temple features, whether it be tigers, fish, the reclining Buddha, the golden Buddha, or the emerald Buddha. With that said, a tourists travels would not be complete without a trip to the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew..

The Grand Palace is located on the banks of the Chao Phraya river in Bangkok and used to be the Kings Residence before the move to Chitralada Palace. The Grand Palace is a complex of buildings containing Wat Phra Kaew which is where the Emerald Buddha is on display. The Emerald Buddha isn’t really made of a big giant emerald like many first believe, but instead of green jade. The Emerald Buddha has an interesting history we won’t go into here, but it is significant to know that cameras/pictures are not allowed inside the wat where the Emerald Buddha is displayed.

Chakri Mahaprasad Hall and the other important structures inside the complex have recently completed renovations that took years to complete. The landscaping is immaculate and combined with the renovations makes for a very impressive presentation.

In addition to the main buildings there will be several ornate smaller structures as well. Each is lavishly decorated and many have statue figures which make for interesting photographs.

Do take note that once you enter the complex there is no water or other refreshments available until you are through most of it. I recommend carrying your own water, as the walk is long and it can become very hot when you combine the hot sun and reflective surfaces. If you’re interested in vintage artillery you might enjoy the armory which has rows of cannons neatly lined up for view. Several of the resident historians are interested in other vintage items.. J

ISO Explained

Remember years ago when you purchased film and it was marked with an ASA number? Different people would tell you that ASA 200 is the best, someone else would tell you that ASA 100 was the best, and someone else ASA 400. Who was right? It depends. ASA was a measurement used with film to let the user/buyer know how sensitive to light the film was. Each increase, 25 to 50, 50 to 100, 100 to 200, 200 to 400, 400 to 800, 800 to 1600, 1600 to 3200 increased the sensitivity to light by one stop. A “one stop” difference, means the value would double, or half, depending on which way you were going. ASA 100 film is half as sensitive to light as ASA 200, or one stop less sensitive. ASA 200 is twice as sensitive than ASA 100, or one stop more sensitive. ASA is the measurement used for film, and ISO is the measurement used for digital cameras. ISO values correlate to ASA values directly. If a film camera using ASA 100 film requires a shutter speed of 1/60th and a aperture of F8 for a proper exposure, then a digital camera set at ISO 100 will require a shutter speed of 1/60th and a aperture of F8. ASA equates to ISO.

The first question people ask, is if ISO 200 is more sensitive than ISO 100, why not leave the camera set to ISO 200 all the time, or better yet the highest ISO the camera can be set for? Good question. The mechanics of photography is nothing more than the compromise of variables to achieve the desired composition in the active environment. ISO is a variable. Generalizing usually is fraught with peril, so if you do generalize it’s best to qualify the generalization. In the explanation below explaining why you would choose one ISO over the other, assume we’re using the same camera. Different digital sensors react to different degrees to a change in ISO, so one digital camera set at ISO 800 could very well perform better in a certain area as another digital camera set to ISO 800. You must review the models side by side, or against a base reference, to be able to compare their ISO performance against each other.

Lower ISO settings generally mean:

  1. Less noise
  2. Cleaner image
  3. Requires more light and/or a larger aperture and/or a longer shutter speed.

Higher ISO settings generally mean:

  1. More noise
  2. Less detail in the image
  3. Requires less light and/or requires a smaller aperture and/or allows a faster shutter speed.

Noise in digital camera produced images can be directly equated to grain on film images. The more noise, the less clean the image, the less detail in the image. The less noise, the more clean the image appears, and the more detail in the image. Ideally you want the cleanest most detailed image possible. Depending on available light, compromises in ISO settings are required. During outdoor photography in bright sunlight ISO 100 would be possible and would produce clean detailed images for a given aperture and shutter speed. During outdoor photography on a cloudy day, ISO might be required, and produce somewhat less clean and detailed images.

ISO, shutter speed, aperture, focal length, and focal distance are the five main variables a photographer most often balances for optimum results. In this weeks column I briefly explained ISO. In future columns I’ll briefly explain each of the other four variables. Once we have a working knowledge of each variable, then future columns will discuss balancing these variables for the best results in your desired composition.

Homework assignment. Take your digital compact camera out of the automatic ISO mode, and take a series of pictures of the same subject at the same time, but varying the ISO from the smallest value to the largest value. Do this on several subjects. Once completed, view the pictures on your computer monitor where the picture fills half the screen, where it fills all the screen, where it would fill two screens, then four screens. Keep zooming in at different levels until you become very familiar with each ISO setting for your camera, and how big you must view the picture until you notice the noise (grain), then bigger until the noise becomes objectionable and you notice a loss of detail. Each camera will be different, compact cameras will produce much more noise and much less detail at a given ISO value than will a DSLR. Learn your camera. This information will help you select the most useful variables for your composition.

Photography News of Interest

As we draw closer to Photokina manufacturers will start announcing their newest products. The way this normally works is the lesser anticipated products will be announced first, and as the time grows closer the products everyone is waiting for are announced to keep the publics interest keen. One of the this years most highly anticipated products that has everyone holding their breath in anticipation is the replacement for Canon’s hugely successful 5d DSLR. Until then, we’ll have to settle for learning about all the cool new point and shoots Nikon will be releasing soon.

Changing the tone of a subjects skin, whether it be a model or a celebrity, has long been one of the many tools used to send the “message” of the publisher. Photographers generally aren’t involved in this (though there are several techniques which can be employed during capture), rather it’s the publishers who use the photographers images and alter them in post processing. In this case Beauty giant L’Oreal is accused of turning Beyonce Knowles a whiter shade of black to promote their products.

Often the technology of one product leads to the development of a new product of huge importance. This might be the case with digital cameras. A “stretchable” silicon camera might lead to artificial retina replacements in the future. You can read about it here.

Readers Submissions

Submitted by Steve R.

I look forward to future columns. I am attaching two images from my trip to Burma in March. The first is from a market day in Kalaw, a former British Hill Station in the Shan state. The second is silk weaving at Inle Lake. We left about three weeks before the cyclone. One nice thing about Burma is the relative coolness of the hills. We didn't miss air conditioning in the Shan state even though we were there in the last week of March. Kalaw is at 4500 feet and Inle Lake is about 3500 feet. It is just as well we didn't miss air con because electricity is only available five or six hours a day.

I suspect the readers submissions will be a highly anticipated section of this column and I encourage anyone with photographs and travel accounts they’d like to share to please send them to me at: [email protected]

Readers Questions

I was asked by a Thai couple I know to photograph them. Nothing unusual in that but they anted me to do nudes. They have seen some of my photography and like that they saw although I have never done that style before. I was reluctant to do this for them for a couple of reasons. The reason I gave them is that I didn't want to take such shots because I was concerned that somehow the photos might leak. Maybe my computer would be hacked or stolen or something and their private pics would be out in the public domain. their control of them gone. The second and the real reason was that I was just nit possible being in the presence of people I know while they are nude! My question to you is who do you overcome that. I wanted to do this for them, but I just could not get my head around seeing them nude, to say nothing of the fact that seeing a male nude is something I find most unpleasant.

I would be remiss if I didn’t heavily caution you concerning Thailand’s often enforced laws on pornography and the rather narrow definition often used to label what most of us from the west would consider harmless photographs. This is a topic by itself, but for now I’d like to go on record advising caution all around.

Computer security is always a concern. I recommend processing sensitive photographs on a PC never used on-line. Again another topic question, but to make things simple and as fool proof as you’re going to get at an amateur level I’d recommend never putting these types of photographs on your hard drive. Instead, keep them on a read/write media such as a CDRW or flash memory device, and using a PGP encryption routine you can find free on the internet, encrypt your files after processing, add some unencrypted harmless photographs, and then store the media amongst your regular media. Most authorities searching media will probably not notice the encrypted files, and if they do you can claim that part of the disk must be corrupted.

This is really an area where it would be inexpensive insurance to pay a professional to teach you the more intricate techniques of computer and data security. There is also the legal aspects of releases, who owns the images, and how to advise your clients to avoid embarrassing situations. If the demand is there I will include these topics in future columns.

About working with nude subjects and the subject of comfort. What most people don’t realize is the technical demands of nude photography far exceed that of say traditional portraits. The job of the photographer is to make the subjects comfortable and make pleasing images in the process. Have them bring robes or drapes to wear after changing from their street clothes. Once you have the set ready for them run them through a few poses while wearing the robes and take some test shots. When you’re sure the technical’s are correct simply ask them to resume the poses without the robes and photograph them as you did before, making sure you monitor the technical’s while keeping an eye on their eyes and faces ensuring they smile and/or give the desired expressions. You will be so busy with the technical’s and directing the poses and facial expressions that their nudity will likely be far from your mind. Keep things moving along, maintain charge of the set, and engage in the normal banter you’re used to with portrait photography. Before you know it your first nude session will be finished and you’ll see that it really wasn’t that much different from a portrait shoot. Subsequent sessions will have your involvement with the scene increase naturally with your comfort level.

Keep in mind that nude photography isn’t for everybody and it certainly isn’t like photographing your girlfriend or someone you’re already intimate with. It’s helpful if not mandatory to ensure the ground rules are understood by all prior to the shoot, and that you never allow anything that would make you uncomfortable. Provide some art books on nudes to help them choose the style and poses, or to provide them on their own, and then don’t deviate from the agreed on plan. This might not be an area of photography you’ll ever be comfortable with, or it could be an area you enjoy very much. Never push your comfort zone, but instead allow it to expand with your experience. It would also be helpful to find an experienced photographer who will let you help on the set of a nude shoot, or who is willing to guide you through your first time.

Please submit your questions to [email protected] All questions will be answered and most will show up in the weekly column.

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review

This week and next week I have nothing scheduled so I’m going to be rebuilding my website. Currently it was designed by a professional and is nice enough, but it doesn’t offer “easy” editing and updating. I need to be able to easily and quickly add galleries, edit reviews, add pages, menu choices, etc. Even if I was willing to pay the money for a professional to do this for me on an ongoing basis I’d probably spend more time getting him to understand what I need than if I learned to do it myself. The million dollar question is, what software allows a totally inexperienced website builder to create a modern and nice website with a minimal investment in time to learn? I think I have an answer and over the next week or so I’ll be replacing my current site with one much more suited to my needs as a photographer.

Mirrored Blog

About Laptops For Image Processing…

Filed under: Uncategorized, Computer Hardware, New Cameras & Equipment, Musings, Workshop talk — bkksteve @ 3:38 am

A very common question from a popular photography forum:

I’d like to replace my desktop with a 17″ notebook so that it will be portable around the house (useful for babysitting the kids). I’m debating on the screen. I have a 24″ 1920×1200 on my desk so I’m thinking a 17″ 1440×900 screen would be enough since I’d edit photos with my 24″ monitor anyway.

For the hard drive, people say 5400 isn’t that much slower. The 5400 drives are cheaper and bigger so I’m leaning towards that.

Any other advice? I’m thinking of a Dell Inspiron. We have one in 15″ which is not bad. Just too small and slow to be my desktop replacement.

My response:

As a professional user of laptops (photographer) I’ll offer you some suggestions based on experience, but it’s up to you to do the research to fill in the holes. I’ll start by saying I currently maintain seven different Dell laptops for my business. I use Dells for several reasons. 1. International warranty (I’m often in some strange country) 2. I can order it the way I want..

1. I’ve owned Inspirons… many in fact. Now, I will only buy from their Small Business lineup which includes Latitudes, Precisions, and XPS’s. Why? Because they include a standard 3 year next day on-site warranty at no charge, and these units are built tougher than their consumer line which is important to me. Also, tech support for all of these is North American based.. much better than dealing with some guy in India without authority to do anything but make you jump through hoops.

2. Check out the Dell Outlet. I buy almost everything from the Outlet now and have been 100% satisfied with the products. I can’t tell them from original new and I’m pretty damn picky. If you’re astute and watch the Outlet site for a while you can save much more than a casual Outlet user.

3. For most photographers most screens when properly calibrated will be fine. If you’re a product photographer and/or it’s important to get the different shades of the same color perfect.. then consider the finest desktop monitors. I’ve only had one laptop out of over 40 I’ve owned (total throughout the years) be this accurate. This was the Precision M90 17″ 1920×1200.

4. The same exact spec’d Dell, same model, same specs, etc.. could possibly come with screens from 3-4 different manufacturers. There are some on-line charts somewhere (forgot where) that will let you use the information gleaned from your service tag and Dell Support site (which will provide you the manufacture and part number) and then compares them against the others.

5. It’s ALWAYS worth it to pay for the graphics card upgrades. On some it will add $20, on others over $1000… It will give you thinks like increased performance, more accurate colors (contrary to popular wisdom), and more functionality when running external monitors, HDTV’s, DLP projectors, etc. Great option to spend money on.

6. Hard drives: Check the reviews on sites like for performance stats on drives by model number. They do vary and there is no hard and fast rule that one type will perform better than another type just because of it’s rotational speed, seek time, etc. “In General” 7200rpm drives outperform 5400rpm drives. However, a newer 5400rpm drive with a SATA II (3gps) interface will outperform some of the older 7200rpm drives with SATA (1.5gps) and all older PATA drives.. and do it much quieter, and with less power.

With that said I’ve been popping in WD’s new 320gig SATAII Scorpio drives in my laptops to replace older 100g 7200rpm Hitachi HDD’s and have noticed no degradation in performance. I have noticed longer battery life, less noise, and much more capacity. I have noticed a big performance gap between these 7200 drives I’m replacing and older 5400 drives of the same era.

Know the specs and performance reviews on each separate hard drive you consider if speed, performance, reliability and capacity are important to you.

7. System performance: Mother board architecture and design IS important. I have two like systems, a Latitude D620, and Precision M90. Latitude, 14.1″ 1440×900, 7200rpm Hitchi HDD, 2.16 Core 2 Duo, 2gigs of 667 RAM. M90, 17′, 1920×1200, same HDD, processor, ram, etc. The main differences is the screen size, graphics cards (Latitude has the Nvidia 128mb option, the M90 the 512mb Nvidia Quattro Pro option), connectivity (inputs/connectors).. same LAN’s, some WI-FI cards, etc, etc..

The M90 processes circles around the D620. I’m talking HUGE circles. Both are using Vista x32 Ultimate, latest drivers, etc.. but these differences were also present using XP pro. My opinion.. the motherboard architecture, graphics cards, and intended design of the unit makes a huge difference. The M90 is made for high-end graphics application and is ISV certified to run them perfectly. and it does.

8. Consider docking station support, both hardware and software. Both the Latitude and Precision (not sure about the new Inspirons) have bottom docking station connectors which work great. Powered up you can lay it on the docking station, take it off, etc.. and the software accommodates with no issues. Connectors DO wear out and cause issues, so if you’re constantly using your external video/USB/LAN connectors you WILL wear them out or break them. Docking connectors are built much tougher and by design are more reliable.

Also, different docking stations have different capabilities. One of the Dell docking stations I have accepts optional video and/or PCI cards.

Here’s a rundown of my main use laptops and where I use them.

M90 Precision Mobile Workstation: I use this for local workshops and corporate presentations when I need the best in speed and connectivity and I can easily handle it’s 8.5 pound weight. It’s a wonderful machine and to date the only one that profiles accurately enough to use for product photography. Even it’s built in 5.1 audio system (including sub-woofer) is very impressive. The matte screen will blow you away, even if you’re used to the fake and punchy look of glossy (truelife, trueview, etc) screens.

D620 Latitude: This is my primary travel laptop that I drag through airports and use on assignments where I travel on assignment and will be the only one using/viewing from this laptop. It’s under 5 pound weight and relatively high performance makes for one tough potent package. I've banged it around from one end of the world to the other. It’s 14.1″ optional 1440×900 matte screen powered through the 128mb Nvidia graphics card profiles out well and I’m comfortable turning out portraits, weddings, and most general work ‘when I must’ from the road. This (and the D630) replacement is possibly the best “general purpose” laptop I’ve ever used.

Inspiron 1720. Great budget laptop. Core 2 Duo, 2gigs RAM. Nice big 1900×1200 screen ran through the 256mb graphics card option. It even holds two hard drives. Big, heavy, and almost as tough as the M90.. but at less than half the cost. I use these for students at my workshops.

Inspiron M700. Old Pentium M, 1.5gigs or RAM, 12.1″ “Truelife” glossy screen, small and only four pounds with the big battery. Very handy when size/weight is more of a priority and only light/occasional image editing is anticipated. I find the glossy screen sometimes useful for outdoor use, the high contrast lets you move it around to an angle where you can see it (barely) in bright sun.

If I was looking again today.. I’d look hard at these models.

XPS M1330. To replace the D620. Smaller, lighter, maybe a better performer.

D630 Latitude. To replace the D620. Same basic tough package, but upgraded platform. I’d also look into the “ruggedized” XFR version for at least one of them.

D430 Latitude. A sub-three pound 12.1″ screened notebook built along the rugged specs of the Latitude line.

Precision M6300. This is the replacement for the M90, it looks great but I’d compare it to the 17″ XPS Small Business version as well.

The top three considerations I’d stick with:

1. Small Business line for both warranty and support.

2. Shopping at the Dell Outlet to cut costs.

3. Know the individual screens, hard drives, and other parts used.

Hope this helps;