In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog August 2nd, 2008

Histograms, Sanctuary of Truth

A great choice of discount hotels in Tunisia:
• Djerba Hotels
• Monastir Hotels
• Gammarth Hotels
• Hammamet Hotels

Feature Photograph

This weeks feature photograph was captured by accident near Hua Hin. I was at a beach in Pranburi with my assistant and decided to drive around sightseeing. When I tell her I’m “sight seeing” she knows exactly what I mean. I’m in the mood to take an interesting photograph and I might spend hours driving up and down roads and highways looking for the perfect composition of scenery, color, and light. This particular shot was an accident. I saw the scene, stopped the car with other cars impatiently behind me, leaned out the drivers window, and with my Canon 1ds Mark II in aperture priority mode quickly snapped this image. At the time I wasn’t sure why I wanted this picture, but I’m sure at several levels the scene and the afternoon light were screaming at me to take the shot.

As shot the image looks rather ordinary. Even though it was overall properly exposed, it lacked contrast and color saturation. This is an example after using basic adjustments in Adobe Lightroom.

I’m “test driving” Adobe Lightroom 2.0 Beta. We’ll discuss Adobe Lightroom in more detail in coming columns, but one of the interesting features of the 2.0 Beta edition is the “localized editing” feature. At the RAW data level this feature allows you to “select” components of the frame and adjust the basic levels separately from the rest of the frame. Using only “exposure” I made eight localized editing points in this image and finely tuning the exposure only, produced the feature photograph. Normally this sort of work would have been done in Photoshop using 8-9 different layers and would have taken a solid hour. In Adobe Lightroom 2.0 Beta I spent all of five minutes producing this image.

Weekly Photo Outing

This week we travel to Pattaya and the awesome Sanctuary of Truth. You can visit their website here for more information including visiting hours, tour prices, and some nice photography. Sanctuary of Truth (embed this link here:

I’ve visited the Sanctuary of Truth many times, each time concentrating on a specific area. Built entirely of hand carved wood this extraordinary structure rises in a hugely distorted perspective right next to Pattaya Bay. Huge by any standard, the structure is constantly under construction to both increase its size and to repair the constant corrosion caused by its very close proximity to the ocean. Scores of artists work in a nearby tent churning out piece after piece of beautiful hand carved art, each piece designed to become a component of the larger theme. On-site you must wear the provided hard hat and you’re welcome to tour the temple alone, or pay a relatively small “tip” to one of the many knowledgeable guides.

You will be seeing more of the Sanctuary of Truth in future columns as I cover different places to capture her from, the artists who build her, and the surrounding attractions on the site such as the dolphin show, speedboat rides, elephant rides, pony carriages, and the fine on-site restaurant. For now, allow me to share are few more exterior views and several interior shots showing a few of the spectacular carvings.

Basic Histograms

Basic Histograms

Every digital camera these days includes a basic histogram display as an addition or option to the preview image on the LCD. The histogram is a VERY useful feature to judge exposure. There are several components to a histogram and in future
columns we’ll cover all of them in depth, but this weeks lesson will cover a very basic view so you can immediately start to use your histogram to achieve more accurately exposed images.

Please keep in mind that there is much terminology, camera mechanics, and the such to cover before you can understand everything there is to know about histograms, but for the purpose of this weeks column we’ll assume you can look
in your cameras manual and learn how to use “exposure compensation” to vary your exposure within the automatic program mode. Exposure compensation is adjusted in “stops”, usually in increments of stops of 1/3rd and
½, and 2/3rds, and 1 or more.

A basic histogram on your cameras LCD is 3 stops “wide”, or from side to side. Looking at this histogram example you can see its marked 0 – H along its bottom axis. Most histograms are divided into 256 vertical segments,
so close together they look bunched up to form a sort of curve or “shape” showing where most of your scene was exposed at. If most of the vertical segments are bunched up to the left, the image will be underexposed as it is in this
sample histogram.

This next example of a histogram shows the vertical segments bunched up to the right indicating overexposure. If the segments touch the furthest right side then the image will be over exposed.

This final example of a histogram shows the vertical segments all between the 0 – H (both sides) and as far to the right side as you can get without segments actually touching and/or going over the right side of the histogram. This would be “just

In future columns you’ll see me attach histogram samples from time to time when they vary from the “norm” so you can get used to seeing what they look like for instance in night time scenes, sunsets, indoor with flash, etc. The histogram
is the single most important exposure indicator available to the digital photographer and learning to read and apply it properly is essential to producing good images. Today’s automatic program modes will get you close, but through the
use of your histogram and exposure compensation, you can fine tune the exposure to your individual scene, and produce much better results in many cases.

Photography News of Interest

This last year has been exciting times for Nikon and their loyal users. The full frame 12.1 megapixel D3 professional DSLR was released to the delight of loyal Nikon shooters and has quickly become the photojournalism and sports benchmark upon which to judge all others. A superbly ergonomically correct and user friendly body and user interface, stunning images at ISO’s previously unheard of, and extremely quick autofocus and frame rates mark the D3 as a force to be reckoned with in the Canon camp.

This week saw the release of Nikon’s new full frame 12.1 megapixel D700 DSLR and is now in camera stores everywhere. This promises to be a hugely popular body because it has “exactly” the same sensor and image quality as the popular D3, but it comes in $2000 USD’s less expensive at $2999.00 USD. This camera has the same autofocus, 5fps frame rates, 8fps using the optional portrait/battery grip, and compared very favorably in most every way to the D3’s 9fps. The D700 is roughly 95% of the D3, at 60% of the price. The D700 makes the most sense for anyone desiring a lighter and small professional body, high image quality, full frame, weather sealing, professional features, and who doesn’t want to lug around the extra size and weight of the D3. I predict this camera will become an industry icon.

The D700 takes aim squarely at Canon’s 5d full frame 12.1 megapixel DSLR. The Canon 5d is three years old and its replacement is due to be announced any day now, for sure before Photokina in September. For the last three years the Canon 5d has been the only consumer level and priced full frame DSLR and has delighted photographers with its stunning images. At the time the Canon 5d produced the cleanest high ISO images of any DSLR period. Now the D3 and D700 claim the low noise at high ISO crown. HOWEVER, many reviewers in side by side comparisons show the low noise of the D3/D700 comes at the cost of ‘some’ image detail. The Canon 5d consistently provides more image detail up to ISO 1600, even with its three year old technology.

With current rebates you can still buy a Canon 5d for approximately $1700 USD and this is an excellent deal, a full $1699 off its original retail price at which it sold tons of 5d’s. No one knows what the 5d’s replacement will be, I’d guess a full frame 16 megapixel sensor, improved weather sealing, and greatly improved autofocus and exposure modes, at least if they don’t want to be soundly trounced by Nikon’s D700, but no one really knows for sure. I will keep readers updated when we do.

Readers' Submissions

This week a popular submission writer who turns out some of the best travel pieces I’ve ever read joins us for a look at several of his images. Please welcome Akulka.

Akulka is what I call a modern photographic minimalist. His main goal is to travel and see the world, and in doing so record his travels with quality photographs while not burdening himself with loads of heavy gear and lenses. A while back I mentioned that Olympus was coming out with a nice update to it’s long zoom lens line, the SP550UZ. This is a small user friendly camera with a 28-504mm (35mm equiv) zoom range and is idea for his travels.

Akulka was generous enough to write a fine narrative to accompany his photographs so I’ll just cut and paste below:

El Nido – Palawan – The Philippines

A bangka, a Filipino style outrigger boat, jacked up on a couple of large rocks in a sheltered bay at low tide somewhere in El Nido archipelago, with a fisherman staring at the setting sun.

The magnificence of the sunsets at El Nido on the far northern tip of Palawan Island in the Philippines is legendary. Yet it’s not only the spectacular colors that make them such a sight to behold, but the calm and peaceful setting in which one is able to enjoy them.

Camera: Olympus SP-550 UZ, Exposure at 1/500; f/4.3; ISO80, Aperture priority, multi-zone metering.

Ratchadapisek Road – Bangkok – Thailand

This photo was taken short after midnight on a late November day from the pedestrian bridge in front of the Emerald hotel on Ratchadapisek Road, just around the corner from Huay Khwang market. The building on the immediate right is the Swissotel, a bit further in the distance one can make out Caeser’s, one of the large massage parlors this area is famous for. On the left hand side of the road there’s another string of similar establishments.

A tripod was used to stabilize the camera, an Olympus SP-550 UZ. The exposure was set at 5 seconds; f/5.6; ISO64. Aperture priority, multi-zone metering

Pura Besakih – Bali – Indonesia

A group of worshippers is descending steps from the main courtyard at supremely holy Pura Besakih, the largest and most important temple on Bali, also know as the “Mother Temple” of Hinduism. Perched high on the Western slopes of Mount Agung at about 1000 meters above sea level the mountain top setting gives it an almost mystical quality.

Pura Besakih is named after the Dragon God believed to inhabit the mountain, and is said to be the only classless, casteless temple on the island where Hindus of any caste can worship. Its 35 shrines and halls dedicated to Shiva, Brahma, and Vishnu draw devotees from all over Bali in massive numbers each year, making for a very lively and colorful affair and therefore offering an unlimited opportunities for people watching as well as photo shooting alike.

The downside is that Pura Besakih unfortunately has also been a tourist trap for the longest time now already, plagued by touts, pushy guides, and scammers.

This photo was taken at midday with a Sony H-1 at 5 megapix, exposure 1/160, f4.0; ISO64, Program mode, multi-zone metering.

THANK YOU Akulka for the fine photographs and excellent narratives. 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

1. There is one question that’s actually relevant for me these days. Maybe you remember that I asked you for advice about buying a compact camera when we met last. Well, I’m still looking. It is meant to be a backup while I’m travelling, in case my main camera breaks or gets stolen, or also just to have one that fits into my shirt pocket when going out at night. Despite being a compact, it would be nice if it still allowed for manual settings and worked well in low light environments. It should also be small and light, zoom being of not as much importance. I’ve been browsing but the choice is just overwhelming. Maybe you can suggest one or two from your own experience, or talk about what features one should look for in particular.

This is perhaps one of the most common questions, and one with a hundreds of possible answers. The compact digital camera market is huge and we have hundreds of choices. I stayed away from this landmine of a question for years, but a few years ago I submitted a readers submission giving a review of Fuji’s F30 compact. At the time the F30 stood way out from it’s competition due to it’s low light performance and long battery life. I predicted this would be a very popular camera, and as it turns out the Fuji F30 and it’s almost identical replacement the F31 sold out quickly and are now extremely hard to find new, and they even break the rules by selling used at 3-4 times their original price. They’ve become sort of a “cult” camera, in high demand by professionals who want to sometimes carry a very capable low light compact. If you can get one of these then great, but I suspect most won’t be able to.

There are currently no other “stand outs” on the market that makes one compact significantly better than the other, so we tend to shop by which kinds of flash cards it takes, zoom range, size/weight, and how many shots we get per battery charge. Truthfully there isn’t that much variance in image quality in this range, and while all provide acceptable quality in good light, none provide enough quality to be concerned with “image quality.”

With that said I plan on regularly reviewing any compact that looks appealing for whatever reason. For today I can offer this. If you can accept the slightly larger weight and size of the Canon G9 compact, it has several features that set it above its competition and has quickly become the camera of choice for professionals wanting to carry a capable “good light” camera. RAW capture, hotshoe that accepts full size Canon flashes, large/bright 3 inch LCD, same batteries as their popular entry level DSLR Rebels, full manual control in addition to many automatic controls, and an excellent zoom lens makes the Canon G9 a very good choice.

In the more “compact” realm I’m looking hard at the Fuji FD100. In fact, a reader is bringing one over this weekend and will leave it with me so I can review and compare it to my Fuji F30. So far it looks promising and I’ll bring you a full report on this comparison soon.

2. What do you recommend for carrying a compact digital camera while traveling?

There are several things to think about. First and foremost I recommend keeping it on your person or in your carry-on bags when traveling. I read somewhere recently that over 580,000 laptop were STOLEN from checked bags in the United States in 2007. That’s a lot of laptops, and if this figure is correct you can assume more digital cameras were stolen because they’re much more common.

I also recommend the cheap technology of large freezer class Ziplock bags. I find these invaluable for many reasons, and I always travel with 20-30 of these in my luggage. Anything I want to keep dry goes in a ziplock bag. I got in this habit during my military days when we’d have a large vacuum bag sealer. I’d prepare my ruck by sealing each change of clothes in it’s own vacuum bag. This not only kept things dry after a day of snow, crossing rivers, swimming in ocean, etc.. but it also condensed the size and put everything in easy reach. I’d do this for travel documents and plane tickets as well. You never know when your carry on will get dropped in a puddle or creek, or just get heavily rained on. Even though my hard cases are guaranteed waterproof, I put each lens, body, and flash in a ziplock bag before traveling on a plane or boat. You can also use the bag to shoot through in the rain. You’d be surprised on how good the pictures will turn out when shooting through a ziplock.

Other than that I only use a thin drawstring cinched bag for my compact digital. I want the camera to be easy and fast to retrieve and put into action, so I don’t want it all zipped and buttoned up and hard to get to. I put it in a ziplock, in the thin drawstring bag, and inside my knapsack. I can pull it out and be shooting through the bag within seconds.

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

It’s been a normal slow summer with a drop in business as expected. During the heat and monsoon weather many choose to not travel to Thailand, and those who do tend to not plan around outdoor activities. To compensate I’ve taken on some “fact finding” photo assignments which have taken me this week to Hua Hin, Bang Chang, and tomorrow Rayong.

Wedding season is coming on fast and I’ve already been booked this week for three January weddings! A new tenant in my building drove home a spanking new Nissan GT-R and I’ve been asked to take some “glamour” shots of his baby.. J

As the season picks up I’ll be adding on new workshop dates and if there’s interest this year I hope to add at least two luxury travel workshops which will combine luxury travel and accommodations with some very interesting photo opportunities.

Mirrored Blog

I update the blog on my website inconsistently, from 4-5 times a month, to only once a month. I don’t blog for the sake of blogging. However, when something catches my attention or a relevant topic arises I’ll often find myself at the keyboard adding yet another blog entry. When I find an entry suitable for the purposes of this weekly column I’ll duplicate it here for the Stickman readership. I hope you enjoy.

Which Flash Memory Size?

Filed under: Uncategorized, Technique, Computer Hardware,
Accessories, New Cameras & Equipment — bkksteve @ 11:21 am

A common discussion topic on photography forums is “should I buy two 4gb flash cards, or one 8gb card?” Or some variation thereof..

I just placed an order for flash memory so I thought I’d share my views on this and because all types of memory is available cheaper than ever before I’ll be visiting each type of storage I use over the next week or so.

The question: “Is to buy two or more flash cards to equal a certain amount of storage, or just one large one to equal the same amount?”

My answer: Generally, I’m of the opinion you’re better off buying the largest size flash card that provides the speed and reliability you want, at the most economical price per unit.

Why? Price being constant per unit of memory, I’d much rather only have to deal with a single flash memory card than several. I’ve been using flash memory for over nine years now since the Olympus Smart Media cards. I’ve had exactly
three flash memory cards fail.

1. In 1998 a 16mb Smart Media card failed after going through the washing machine. These were very flimsy cards and not waterproof.

2. In 2005 a 4g Lexar Pro CF card failed, but was recoverable, when used in my Canon 1dMarkII. Lexar later admitted the fault was in their firmware, unique to the Canon 1d series DSLR’s, and recalled all the cards replacing them.

3. Three months ago a 4g A-Data SD card came unglued! Yes, the two plastic halves of the shell came apart causing the read/write nub to get lost. The card can still be read from, but I can’t write to it without jury rigging the write protect nub
in some way.

That’s it. And I’ve purchased and used the heck out of maybe 150-200 flash memory cards. I still have several Smart Media cards in working order from 1998, I even used one in an obscure picture frame LCD I purchased for my grandmother and
after a year of her watching my slide show in her 7inch LCD.. it’s still working fine. I’ve given away to family members countless flash devices and they’re still using them, or have passed them on to others.

In my humble opinion, I’ve MUCH more likely to lose a loose flash memory card, than to have one fail. I might not even lose it, but it could go through the wash as countless others have after I’ve stuck them in shirt of pants pockets.. or
get lost between the seats of my car, or under the foam of my case, reappearing months later in some mysterious way. Thank you very much, but I’ll take the largest card I can economically buy in the hope it will be able to stay in my camera
and not get lost.

What kind and size of flash media cards do I use?

I use the largest, fastest, most reliable, and most economical flash memory cards available. They are in order of cameras and devices:

Canon 1dsMarkII: Sandisk Ultra III 16gb CF card, and Sanddisk Ultra II 16gb SDHC card. I use Sandisk exclusively in my professional cameras. I find them, through hard lessons, the most reliable cards available. They might not always be the fastest or cheapest or largest at any given point in time, but if not today they will be tomorrow. With 32gb of storage in my 1dsMarkII I can capture approximately 1800 RAW files. This is more than enough for even the largest wedding, fashion shoot, day out shooting wildlife, or anything else I do. And yes, I carry two more sets in a small hard case chained to my belt loop, and carried inside my pocket. The hard case IS washing machine proof.. :)

Canon 1dMarkIIn: Same as above.

Canon XT350 Rebel: Sandisk 8gb Ultra II CF card. I’ll often use the XT350 in the portrait booth during a wedding to capture guest portraits. I’ve never come close to filling up even a single 8gb card, 450 guest portraits is my record.

Canon 5d: Sandisk 8gb Ultra II CF card. I’ve never filled one on this camera. Let’s face it, unless it’s a 1d series camera I won’t be shooting it enough in a single day/outing to fill up a 8gb CF card. If shooting that much I’ll use a 1d series DSLR.

Canon G9: Transcent 8gb SDHC card. I’ve yet to fill up half of this card. Speed isn’t an issue with this camera, and for casual travel stuff the best cards aren’t necessary. I’ll get the cheapest per unit cards for point and shoot cameras and so far they’re doing fine.

Fuji F30d: Olympus 1gb XD card. I once filled up half of this card after a full three days of shooting in Singapore.

Palm TX PDA: A-Data 4gb SDHC card. No fast card needed here either, but i do appreciate the 4 gigabytes of storage space for television shows and movies.

Garmin Nuvi 350 GPS: I use the best Sandisk cards of the size I need for the map sets I’m using. I depend heavily on my GPS and it sits in the hot sun, gets stored in hot cars, and I need the very best cards to ensure reliability. Also, when the maps run from the card and not internal memory the speed of the card becomes critical. I use Sandisk Extreme III SD cards in my GPS.

My wife has her PDA, GPS, digital voice recorder, camera, and computer, and I equip her devices using the same criteria above.

I hope you’ve found this helpful.