In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog October 18th, 2008

DOF for fun, Doi Suthep

UAE Hotel Guide
• Al Bustan Hotel Sharjah
• Al Salam Palace Suites Hotel
• Sharjah Rotana Hotel
• Oceanic Hotel Khorfakkan

Feature Photograph

This week's feature photograph was captured in Ang Thong. This image is significant for several reasons, reasons that all work together to lend impact to the final result. First, I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect color in the background. The pastel blue/green is about as attractive a color for a portrait background as you’re likely to find on the side of a house. The two tall plants in the background perfectly frame the secondary subject (lady laying down) and the primary subject is practically centered between the both of them. This plants being in almost any other arrangement would have zapped the synergy at work in the background.

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The main subject (the child) has such cute expression of curiosity and wonder and the secondary subject (mother laying down) looks on with pride. It’s a portrait taken in a natural attractive setting, the subjects are totally relaxed and natural in appearance, and to top it all off the afternoon light came in over my shoulder making their skin glow, their eyes light up, and even their teeth whiter.

Perhaps the most significant is how I “saw” this image. I had been driving around in rice fields and agricultural environments all day and we were hot and covered in dust and the car which is normally black was covered in several layers of mud. We’d been shooting all day and getting little back in the way of quality images. One of the very last learned innate abilities of a photographer is the ability to see light, and subsequently to see an image the light is creating. Looking for a quality image becomes a natural part of your “seeing” process and you start doing it without thinking. You’ll know you’ve reached this stage when all of a sudden you’ll stop thinking about whatever you’re doing and say to yourself “that would make a great image!” You weren’t looking for it, but you saw it anyway. Out of the millions of images going through your mind that day, this one stood out and screamed at you to pick up the camera. When this one screamed at me I stopped the car, backed up a few meters, reached for the camera with the attached 70-200/2.8 IS lens, leaned way out of the car window, and yelled “yim” at the mother/daughter as they laughed at the dirty tired farang with the big camera.

Weekly Photo Outing

This week we’ll take a brief visit to Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep in Chiang Mai. Doi Suthep is the way this temple is often referred to, and is the name of the mountain on which the temple sits. You’ll immediately notice a long and winding drive up the mountain. Once as far as the car takes you, you’ll discover you have to climb even more. There is a nice set of brick steps for those who like really exerting themselves in 36 C heat, but the rest of us will appreciate the nice tram cars that carry you to the top in air conditioned comfort in just a few minutes.

This temple is at the very peak of Doi Suthep mountain. As you walk around the circular area the temple sits in you’re greeted with commanding views of Chiang Mai and the surrounding areas in all directions. On a nice day the view is spectacular, or so I’m told. In over ten visits the best I’ve seen are cloud tops. Perhaps next trip..

One of the first things I’ve always noticed are the musicians seated under umbrellas earning money for their cause.

Once in the main area visitors remove their shoes and climb even more stairs to “Chedi” where a monk will bless them and tie a string around their wrist. There are also many interesting statues to photograph, each with their own purpose and story. I’m just going to show a few images of the statues/shrines and bells, and in a later column I’ll dedicate a lot more time and space to properly document this special temple. I hesitate to fully cover Doi Suthep at this time because I’ve got some really great images to share, but at the time I took them it was after hours in restricted spaces and I promised not to use them commercially. I’ll sort out these ethical boundaries on my next visit in December and get back to you then.

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I think you’ll really enjoy the extra time, physical effort, and expense necessary to visit this exceptional temple. My favorite times to visit is either in the early morning, or very late afternoon.

Depth of Field For Fun

Most of the effort in this weeks column is going in this very important section of using depth of field for fun. Most photographers never learn to control DOF and it really shows in their relatively boring and lackluster photography. I’m going to concentrate on the many choices involving a single subject (the sunflower) and then show some of my choices and explain why I made them to produce the sample images.

Above you can see the same subject captured at different apertures, and the resulting DOFs achieved. There really is no “right” way of selecting DOF, it’s purely a creative process of the composition. Take a look at the bokeh (defocused background) of each of the three images. Which one do you find more pleasing? How much of the background do you want to remain recognizable? Look at the center of the flower and notice how the seeds are more/less in focus depending on the aperture used. The aperture for each example is marked in the lower left corner.

Now we’ll examine each shot more in detail. With the larger image you can more clearly see the differences. The above shot taken at F2.8 clearly exhibits a smoother bokeh and you really can’t tell what the background is. The seed area is half in focus, half out. The seeds in focus are sharp, but not super sharp. Look at the leaves on the stalk, some are in focus, some not.

Above we can see how at F5.6 the bokeh is not as creamy and smooth and you can start to see what the background is. The background actually appears “busier” because of the smaller aperture and increased DOF. The seed area is certainly sharper, and more of it is in focus. More of the leaves on the stalk are in focus as well.

Now you can tell the background is just green foliage and it starts to appear rough as it competes with the foreground subject (flower) for your eye. At the same time the seed area is razor sharp as are the leaves on the stalk. You can see the flower much more clearly and sharp than the version at F2.8, but at the expense of also seeing the background more clearly and losing that extra isolation a very shallow DOF provides. Which version would you choose for display?

Bells are always fun shots, even more fun if you can get interesting light bouncing off of them and a decent exposure at the same time. Adjust your DOF for a nice sharp center bell, and slightly defocus bells to the side and you start to get a fun and interesting effect.

How an anyone resist photographing a pretty little girl? All smiles and she still has her baby teeth. I adjusted the DOF to isolate her from the background, but not enough so you couldn’t tell there are trees behind her. The sun is shining through the trees, the trunk behind her but the branches clearly overhead filtering the light as it splashed across her face.

These last two were a lot of fun, but probably more fun for the visitors to the butterfly exhibit watching a farang with a big camera chase the butterflies all over the place. Ideally you’d capture butterflies and other insects with a macro lens which excels at magnifying small objects with a sharpness so fine normal (non-macro) lenses can rarely achieve. You set up on a tripod, external shutter release, tie off all the branches so the wind doesn’t move them, and wait hours for a butterfly or insect to land in your frame. All I had was a Canon 70-300 DO IS compact zoom on a Canon 5d body. I handheld these shots, capturing the butterflies as they landed for a second or two and then took off again. I took care to focus on the wings and to use a shallow DOF which also allowed for a much needed faster shutter speed. By focusing on the butterfly wings they became sharp in the frame, and the shallow DOF nicely blurred everything else outwards. I like this effect. Out of about 50 images only 4-5 were actually in focus (those butterflies are very fast..;o)), and because it was a regular lens these images are just very small crops of the original, about 1/20th of the entire frame. I simply got the most enjoyment from the simple gear I was carrying without worrying about dragging along a bag of lenses.

Photography News of Interest

The Nikon 18-200 AF-S VR lens has become hugely popular. This is a crop camera lens (APS) which means on a 1.5x crop Nikon its really a 27-300mm (35mm equivalent) which is a very useful travel or walk around lens for people who don’t want to carry more than one lens and appreciates small size and weight. The problem as Canon users saw it was they didn’t have an equivalent lens to use on their Canon DSLRs. Canon heard them and released their version of a 18-200mm crop camera lens. It looks like Nikon and Canon users can now enjoy a small and light wide range travel lens. You can read the review of the 18-200 Canon here.

This week Adobe released its new Creative Suite 4 product line. I’ll talk about this in the new Infocus Blog below.

Readers Submissions

Hi Steve,

These images were taken in Luang Prabang province Laos in Jan 2006 using a Canon Powershot S2 IS. The first is of a taxi stand at the morning market, the second of cargo boats on the Mekong at sunset, the third & fourth at the morning market (Talaat Vieng Mai) the last two were taken at Kuang Si falls about 30km outside of town.

Regards Khunklit.

Khun Klit –

Thank you! Wonderful snapshots with lots of color and interest. It's always fun to see images from peoples travels through Thailand. I look forward to more!


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

Hi Steve

I am currently in BKK and interested in purchasing a Nikon D300. Can you recommend a couple of shops that have a balance of a cheap/reasonable price with quality service/ reliability

Many thanks


Jeremy –

Yes, I can recommend a place where you can get a price pretty much the same as you can find in the states. This would be the camera shop in Mall Bangkapi on Ladphrao. You can’t miss it, its right by the elevators next to the Sony shops and the place is full of all the latest model cameras. For the life of me I can’t remember the store name (I’m thinking it’s “Photo Solutions”) but it’s the only place in the mall even close to this place in size and scope. Its on the floor one up from the very ground floor.

I’ve talked to these guys many times and they’ve always been knowledgeable and helpful (as far as camera store staff go) and willing to work on the price. Don’t be afraid to ask for a bit less than the first price they offer. They have almost everything in stock, and if not they’ve always said they could get the requested item the next day.

But then there is the Thai retail concept. Once you buy it, if it breaks or isn’t working as expected, no returns or refunds. This is all of Thailand. Instead, you simply take it back to the local service center. So.. have them power it up, take shots in the store, take your time, make sure it’s working well.

If you do require service its no big deal here. I’m not familiar with the Nikon service center but I am with the Canon service center and it’s first rate in every way. You can walk in and get most repairs/adjustments done while your wait, if not under warranty the cost is less than 1/1oth of stateside prices, and they’re very good. For instance, a complete cleaning and adjustment of a lens or body is baht 400. This includes the sensor if it’s a body, filters if it’s a lens, and matching the lens to the body as far as autofocus goes. My lenses haven’t looked that good since new.. outstanding service.

There would be one caveat. Make sure you can get warranty service in your home country. Otherwise you’re taking a risk. You can always mail it back here for service.. but know what you’re doing when you make the choice.

I hope this helps.


Many thanks for this advice Steve. I really appreciate you taking the time to give me such a comprehensive reply. I'll go and check them out tomorrow.



Thanks Steve. I went there and bought the D300. Can't wait to try it out (upgrading from the D80). Would have loved the D700 but as it is the D300 has probably broken my budget … 🙂



Jeremy –

Enjoy! I had a chance to use a D300 over the last few weeks and really enjoyed it. I’m sure you will too.


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

Another slow week. It’s obvious the economy is affecting tourism to Thailand in a big way. While things are slow I’ll simply shift my business model to different areas of photography and keep myself busy until the tourists return.

Infocus Blog

So far I haven’t had the inclination to sort out my previous blogs issues so I decided to just start a new weekly blog here. In this Infocus Blog I’ll be covering any photographic issue on my mind at the time I write this column. I’ll be writing for all levels of photographers so keep checking back and maybe you’ll find something of interest.

This week I want to discuss Adobes new Creative Suite 4. Adobe annoys me. Any photographer or design specialist in the industry uses their products and there’s no question they make the best products out there. What annoys me is that Adobe thinks so highly of themselves that they can charge near $2000 USD for their average suite of products for a single license user.

Lets take the suite I personally use, the $1699 Web Premium version of their Creative Suite. You’d think that after laying out $1699 USD for a piece of software that Adobe would support it for at least a number of years, and that they would upgrade it to work with the latest camera models. The problem is when Adobe upgrades a product you’re already purchased they charge a very steep upgrade fee, in the case of CS4 Web Premium that fee is $599 USD! Adobe’s upgrade product cycle is roughly every 18 months and once they release a new version they no longer support the old version. This means that every 18 months or so you’ll need to shell out another $600-$900 USD (depending on which suite you own) for the upgrades and continued support.

Lets be clear about this. It isn’t like their upgrades are major version changes. They’re simply tweaks to existing features and occasionally a few new features are added. Mostly, the upgrades take advantage of new hardware options like multi-core CPU’s and upgraded graphics cards, and they support new camera models in their ACR RAW image module.

I suppose you could keep using a version Photoshop, a computer, and a camera all purchased at the same time.. for years to come. Nothing is stopping you. However, if you want to upgrade the computer or camera, you’re required to upgrade to the latest version at a very steep cost. And is far too many cases this follows closely on the heels of first time buyers shelling out nearly $2000 USD as a first time purchaser of the original product! Adobe really loves themselves!

This subject is closely linked to piracy of Adobe products and in a future blog I’ll explain to you how it is exactly Adobe’s plan to charge you these very high prices, so they can intentional “give away” the product to other countries through piracy channels knowing full well what they’re doing, even as they complain to the world that piracy is costing them tens of millions. The fact is, without piracy Adobe would have a really tough time being the “imaging professionals standard” software provider. Look for my take on this in future blog entries.

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