In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog August 30th, 2008

Aperture, Siracha Tiger Zoo

Vietnam Hotel Guide
• Nha Trang Lodge Hotel
• Que Huong Hotel
• Vien Dong Hotel Nha Trang
• Vinpearl Resort & Spa

Feature Photograph

This weeks feature photograph was taken in the far south city of Pattani. This photograph is significant in several ways which came together and helped place this same photograph in more than a few publications during the height of the Iraqi War. At a time when the western press was villanizing Muslims and Islam in general about the only “images” we had of this group were scruffy looking bearded men in Muslim garb carrying AK47’s or RPG’s. Muslim women were painted as oppressed, unhappy, and made to dress in a drab way.

In contrast stands this compelling image of a beautiful young Muslim girl modestly hiding her huge smile and glee at being photographed. The bright colors of her garb almost hide her “accessories” which are a school ring and a Hello Kitty wrist watch. Subsequent images showing entire families in colorful clothes, flowers, streamers, and even graduating classes composed entirely of females and receiving degrees stood in stark contrast to what we normally fed on the news.

Ironically only a couple of the publications pointed out the images were from another country, and those that did made mention of the Southern Insurgency and other problems in the south.

The feature image was captured with a Canon 1dsMarkII using a Canon 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens (a photojournalist's main lens). Using the full reach of the lens (200mm), and a F4 aperture, and by getting fairly close to the subject, I was able to throw the background out of focus into a pleasing bokeh.

Weekly Photo Outing

This week we visit the Sri Racha Tiger Zoo in Chonburi about 20 minutes north of Pattaya. This is an interesting place for several reasons. First, they have more tigers than I’ve ever seen in one place and second they have almost as many different tiger shows. It’s a big complex and can take a lot out of you walking the entire place on a hot day.

This is the only place I’ve been where a photographer is able to photograph tigers as they run, play, and splash through water without some sort of glass barrier or fence between you and the tiger. To be more accurate, in the entire complex there is only one such location and it can be a bear to find, especially when loaded down with a tripod, big glass, and everything else you need to capture the quality photographs of the tigers you’re sure to want.

A fellow photographer turned me on to the place and I haven’t stopped going down there every month or so since. Nearby there are several other types of zoos which I’ll cover in future columns, but if you plan the day properly you can easily visit 3-4 such attractions during the same outing. Our “day trips” often choose this destination when there is a high level of interest in wildlife or animal photography.

I would be remiss in not mentioning that I think the conditions in Thai zoos, especially this Tiger Zoo, is horrible. I’m not an activist, but it really hurts to see these magnificent animals kept in such austere environments. To be fair I’d have to say with the exception of zoos in Japan and a few in Korea most Asian zoos I’ve seen are on this level or worse. We should be able to do better than this for those we take from their natural habitats.


Aperture is one of the least understood camera terms, but perhaps the most important. An aperture is nothing more than a hole. The size of the aperture refers to the size of the hole. When cameras first came to be they didn’t have lenses, instead they had wooden boxes with a ‘pinhole’ that you’d put a piece of tape or your finger over and allow light to go through the hole and project an image onto the film medium. The “perfectness” of the hole and the distance of the aperture from the film plane was what made the image it projected sharp vs. blurry.

Where most people have problems is visualizing the aperture being big or small in relation to it’s “f-stop” number. Lets make this easy, the bigger the number the smaller the aperture/hole. A F1 value on a 50mm focal length lens meant for a 35mm camera would be roughly 1 inch around. A F22 value would be at the other end, and maybe 1/32 of an inch around. F2, F4, F8, F16 would get progressively smaller from the 1 inch opening to the 1/32 inch opening. You’ve heard the term “stopping down?” This means that you’re increasing the F-stop (aperture) and at the same time closing down the hole/aperture. The aperture/hole is formed by closing from 5-11 blades (each lens has a set number of blades, usually 7 or 9) leaving a opening in the middle.

How does it work? When you’re looking through your viewfinder and composing a picture your lens will be all the way open. When you take the picture the camera will automatically close the aperture down to the selected value for that instant of exposure. If your shutter speed is 1/60th of a second, then your camera will close the aperture from say F4 (assuming it’s an F4 lens) to F16, hold it there for 1/60th of a second, and then open it again. It happens so fast you can barely see it happening in the viewfinder of a SLR or DSLR. You’ll only see it with a SLR or DSLR because these are the only types of camera where your viewfinder looks through the lens vs. a separate viewfinder window. Older cameras would use a mechanical lever to pull the aperture blades closed, modern cameras use an electrical motor.

As a “general rule” the ‘wider’ the aperture the more light it lets in, and the softer (less sharp) the image. The ‘smaller’ the aperture the less light it lets in and the sharper the images. Smaller only makes the image sharper to the point of diffraction which is usually at about F11. Smaller than this still lets in less light, but results in a less sharp image progressively as the aperture gets smaller. Expensive lenses such as the Canon 85mm F1.2 lens ($1200) helps break that rule a bit, providing a still sharp image even wide open. In comparison a 50mm 1.8 lens ($50) at F1.8 wouldn’t be sharp at all wide open. A Canon/Nikon 300mm F2.8 lens (about $4000) is almost as sharp wide open (F2.8) as it is closed down, and these lenses are designed to be shot wide open using all the light they can.

For now it’s just important to be able to visualize the blades in your lens opening and closing the aperture at the time of exposure, and that the bigger the aperture the smaller the number (F1) and the smaller the aperture the bigger the number (F22). AND, when you see a lens labeled for instance “Canon 200mm F2.8”, this means that the “maximum” aperture of the lenses is F2.8. The minimum aperture will be in the specifications, but never the actual lens title/name. This is because its much more expensive to manufacture a 85mm F1.2 lens (about $1200) than a 85mm F1.8 lens (about $400), or a 50mm F1 lens (about $1800) vs. a 50mm F1.8 lens (about $50). Will a F1 lens take a better picture for $1800 than a F1.8 lens for $50? All other aspects of the lens being equal (they rarely are) only if you need that extra light to capture that particular image. Because a wider aperture lens is more costly to manufacture, the manufacturers will almost always make the entire lens of a higher quality as well.

The selected aperture plays a very important role in setting up your camera to capture a composition. The aperture interacts with the ISO, Shutter Speed, Focal Range, and Focal Distance to give you a certain look or capability for the image. We’ve already covered ISO and now Aperture, and in coming weeks we’ll cover the others and finally we’ll put them together in various ways to show you how to control the image you capture.

Photography News of Interest

In the run up to Photokina next week the new Canon 50D was leaked and subsequently announced to the public by Canon as a form of damage control. This camera is VERY significant and will compete directly with Nikons hugely successful D300 but at almost $500 less. The 50D descends from the very popular 20D, 30D, and 40D amateur DSLRs.

Looking over the specifications and features I predict the new 50D will not only sell well to new Canon users, but will also have those with older models finding enough about the new model to warrant setting aside their perfectly good working 20D/30D/40D and upgrading. Look for excellent deals on EBay on the 20D/30D and 40D’s.

Significant new features will be the 15.1mp sensor offering even lower noise than before. The 50D brings you 14 bit processing, a self cleaning sensor, ISO extensions to 6400 and 12,800, two new reduced resolution raw modes, 6.3fps frame rates, a HDMI TV out, 3” Clear View 920,000 pixel LCD, new live mode focusing modes, and FINALLY for Canon an Auto ISO mode. I’ll talk about some of these features and why they’re significant in future weeklies. The new LCD triples the resolution in direct response to the rave reviews the new Nikons have received from the industry since introducing their own 920,000 pixel LCD’s, the new live mode focusing modes includes face recognition making the Canon 50D the only DSLR offering face recognition period much less in live view, and the 14 bit processing will over more tonal values throughout the range resulting in my lifelike, and film like images.

Also announced was Canon’s 18-200mm F3.5-5.6 IS compact telephoto lens. Once again in direct response to Nikons very popular 18-200 lens. This is an EF-S lens which means it’s designed for use on crop sensor cameras such as Canon’s popular Rebels and 20D/30D/40D/50D DSLRs. This gives it a 35mm equivalent focal range of 29-320mm! I’ve said before that the greater the zoom range the more compromise in image quality and this is generally true. However, among amateurs especially who would rather not carry a bag full of lenses while on vacation our out with the family, a “general purpose” lens such as this becomes more attractive for the weight and space it saves, than for relatively small image quality sacrifices. I’ll be keeping track of how this lens performs during testing reviews.

And if you’re looking for a point and shoot instead, Canon has announced three new Powershots, a new SX Powershot, Olympus has announced a budget SP-565 UZ with a huge 26-530mm focal range, and Olympus has announced a whole slew of new point and shoots.

Agreeing to shoot a wedding is a big responsibility. Choosing the wrong photographer will ruin any chances you have of properly documenting some of your most important memories. I can’t stress enough how this is not the time to save a few bucks, choose your wedding photographer with great care only after seeing samples of his/her work and accessing their character. In this case couples are still waiting for this company to produce what they were paid for.

More about the Lightroom sponsored “walks” of your city.

Readers Submissions


I have attached a pic I took during roi katung festival in Bkk a couple of years ago from some friend's 29th floor apartment. It was my new Olympus camera and I am not a photographer by any means. I realised after firing off a few shots the big screen TV was reflecting on the glass !!!!!!

I took it with my Olympus SP-500UZ. As I never got into "formal" photography I just used the "candlelight" preset and sat the camera on the window sill because of the longer exposure time. I just kept firing the camera every few seconds through the whole fireworks display.

Anyway, I haven't touched it in any way.


Gary D


Thank you Gary! A fun photograph for sure. It’s always nice to receive this kind of photograph because it reflects how most of us use our cameras.

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:

Readers Questions

Hey Steve; What is the big deal with Auto ISO? I just read the new Canon 50D announcement and noticed it as a new feature, don’t all DSLRs have this feature?

Thank, Joe D.

Joe – Thank you for the question and it comes at a good time with the recent announcement of the Canon 50D. Traditionally “Automatic” modes in cameras would automatically adjust a single variable of the main shooting variables of shutter speed, aperture, and ISO. An “automatic” camera in “aperture priority” mode would automatically adjust the shutter speed to match the user selected aperture, or a camera in “shutter priority” mode would automatically select the optimum aperture against the user selected shutter speed. With the advent of DSLRs and with every camera having a CPU built in, we then had “P” modes or “Program” modes that would select the best combination of BOTH shutter speed and aperture for the desired scene.

Traditionalists lamented the loss of control and “dummy modes” and wouldn’t complain too much when they showed up on entry level consumer level DSLRs such as the Rebel series, but took great exception to their inclusion on the more professional level DSLRs. This kept “Auto ISO” regulated to the point and shoot market.

Recently Nikon started offering “Auto ISO” on their newest DSLRs separate from all the exposure modes save for the “P” modes where it was automatically included. What does this mean? Let’s take a sports photographer shooting a football game. He’ll want to set his camera on “Shutter Priority” mode with say a minimum shutter speed of 1/500th of a second considering the speed of the players and that he’s probably using a 300mm lens or greater. This means the DSLR will automatically select the appropriate aperture for the shutter speed for him. Great, now he can concentrate on the action and taking pictures and not settings. But what happens if the sun is setting and the player he’s capturing at 8fps (frames per second) runs from a sunlit area of the pitch to a shadowed area of the pitch and there’s not enough light for his selected shutter speed, ISO, because the aperture can only go so low? What would happen is the camera would stop taking pictures and he’d miss the shot. Now, say he starts at the sunlit side of the field at 1/500th, ISO 100, and as he follows the player the aperture is being adjusted F5, F8, F4, F2.8 maintaining proper exposure. But now he hits the shadow area and F2.8 no longer provides enough light for proper exposure the ISO will automatically change to ISO 200, 400, or whatever is needed to maintain the desired/selected shutter speed of 1/500th.

Astute professionals have asked for an AUTO ISO feature for years, only to be drowned out by the traditionalists in the photography forums and marketing listened. Recently Nikon saw the light and with the option available professionals and amateurs alike have discovered what a useful tool AUTO ISO really is. Canon resisted, but with the 50D offers AUTO ISO for the first time. Personally, I’ve very glad to see it. As long as we can still easily select the ISO manually, an AUTO ISO model only adds to the bucket full of tools the modern photographer has to draw from.

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

A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Week in Review

During our second week off we’ve been hard at work further refining our website.

Now you can view ALL THE IMAGES IN THE GALLERIES AT THE SAME TIME via a very cool 3D interface by downloading the Cooliris plug-in/add-on for your favorite browser. This is a very cool
and worthwhile plug-in/add-on that will also allow you to cruise the images/movies/slideshows on many popular websites for news, entertainment, research and more. I recommend downloading the plug-in/add-on here,
but be sure to make my site the first one you cruise.. ;o)

We continue to process and sort images to include in more galleries as we only have a few hundred images up at this time. We’re determined not to put up any more galleries until the images have been properly processed and selected for interest and impact. Hopefully from now on we can add a new gallery each week.

Mirrored Blog

There will be no blog entry this week because I broke my blog! If there are any WordPress experts out there and wouldn’t mind helping me figure out where I went wrong I’d much appreciate it. A lot of work and information is no longer accessible until I figure this out..