In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog April 4th, 2009

Singapore and a P&S/Thai Weddings!

Belgium Hotel Guide
Ibis Liege Centre Opera Hotel
Ibis Namur Centre Hotel
Royal Astor Hotel
Best Western Premier Keizershof Hotel

Feature Photograph

Last week I promised more of a focus on people and street photography. This weeks feature photograph is significant not only because it’s one of my long time favorites, but because it’s also received a ton of attention in sales and circulation. It’s simple, plain, and in my view elegant.

This image was captured in Cambodia almost three years ago on the grounds of Angkor Vat. At the time I was in the company of several other photographers and instinctively we all knew this small child on a large bicycle would make an interesting photograph We had less than 2-3 seconds to raise our cameras and capture her as she road by mildly interested in what we found so interesting about her.

Later that evening we sat around the dinner table with our laptops and shared our version of the capture. Everyone but me had zoomed in on her face, or her face and shoulders, and granted she has a nice and interesting face.. but was that really all there was to the composition? Me? I zoomed out. I wanted the story. I wanted the composition. I didn’t center her in my frame, but instead left her all the way over on the right. I had already been noticing the light and knew she’s be lit from the side and I wanted the shadows of her bicycle. And of course, I wanted the expression and mood.

Looking at the image later that day with all the colors of her clothes, the bike, the grass, and the temples in the background.. I felt the colors distracted from the composition. They cluttered the composition unnecessarily without giving anything back. I toned the image for black and white and all of a sudden she jumped off the image and drew my eye where before she was merely part of the background. This image shows not only another cute Cambodian child, but a child with an intent expression, riding a bicycle down a dirt path, temples in the background, and best of all.. direction of light. I had captured a relatively rare strong people composition that not only showed the person.. but told her story.

Does this image tell any less of a story? I think it tells less. It’s not a bad photograph, but they’re obviously posing for the camera and the light isn’t adding much to the scene. I like it, but it’s not nearly as strong.

Another posed people picture. Usually you don’t intend for them to look at the camera, but unless you use very good technique or a very long lens, they almost always will notice the camera and given a chance will go cheesecake on you. On the other hand I’ve always liked this shot because of the story it told. A mom and her three daughters, and no room for the oldest daughter of rather large size. Maybe I like this image because of the part of the story it didn’t capture, but I remember. The love and ease which with all four of these ladies treated each other, the acceptance of limited space on their transport, and the absolutely remarkable attitude of the large daughter who showered me with smiles and positive energy. And the undisguised look of sadness on the face of the youngest daughter as she was forced to leave her sister behind.

Singapore and a Point and Shoot

Like many professionals I know, when we travel for recreation and leisure we most often don’t travel with a bunch of heavy photo gear. Most of us have different size “kits” with different capabilities prepared, and depending on how interesting the photo opportunities promise to be, we select one. On this trip back in 2006 I had just picked up my brand new Fuji F30 compact. I wanted to run these pictures because today I just picked up the first compact which has interested me since, the Fuji F200EXR.

I hope by this time next week I will have completed a brief but meaningful review and comparison of the new Fuji F200EXR, Fuji F30, Fuji F31, Canon G9, and the Canon DSLR Rebel XT350. These are my small cameras I use when not shooting professionally. I want to see how much progress (if any) has been made in the three years since I bought my first F30, and then compare the low light capability and dynamic range of all of these travel kits.

The Fuji F30 was very unique in the world of compact point and shoots. It could capture fairly high quality high ISO images in the 1600-3200 range that were leaps and bounds better than ANY of the competition in its class. It even rivaled the small APC-S sensor DSLRs. Shortly after testing one I predicted that professionals the world over would make the Fuji F30/31 their personal compact and this indeed happened. At least 35 individuals emailed me after reading the review in the Readers Submissions section to let me know they also purchased one. If you can find a F30/31 now on the used market (long discontinued) they’ll often bring 2-3 times their original price. Will the new F200EXR be as good?

I’m just going to show you some samples from the Fuji F30 from 2006 and discuss why I included them and what I’m hoping to see from the F200EXR.

I turned the flash off on this compact. I’m not a big fan of small flashes on compact cameras and I really don’t care for the look of the resulting images, or the looks from people who know I’m taking their picture. I wanted a compact camera I could should in normal nighttime conditions and achieve decent image quality from. This shot in the hallway of my hotel was taken at ISO 1600, no flash.

ISO 1600, no flash. Lobby of the Orchard Hotel in Singapore.

The side of a moving bus (about 20-30kph) at ISO 1600, no flash.

We had dinner at the Black Angus in Singapore. ISO 1600, no flash. The noise is very good, but I wished for more dynamic range to bring out the dark shadow areas.

ISO 400, flash. I wanted to test the camera with skin tones and my son was losing his patience with me. I think the flash cover was even, and the resulting skin tones very natural. Btw – NONE of these images have been touched up. Other than resizing and the white border, no adjustments or processing has been done.

ISO 1600, no flash. The lighted sign is exposed perfectly. The lady you can barely see walking towards me is severely underexposed. I’m hoping with the new F200EXR the expanded dynamic range will make a real difference.

ISO 1600, no flash. The side of a building.

ISO 1600, no flash. This is a place I intend to check out further some day. Expanded dynamic range would benefit this shot as well.

Singapore is a good place to renew your visa or take care of other business. ISO 1600, no flash.

ISO 1600, no flash. A very good balanced exposure.

ISO 3200, no flash. Taken in darkness with the EV pumped up a stop.

ISO 3200, no flash. Taken in darkness with the EV pumped up three stops.

ISO 3200, no flash. Captured on the Nighttime Safari. It was pitch black when I took this shot. Sure, there’s some noise, but not even close to how much you’d see from a normal compact under the same conditions. This image is actually usable.

ISO 1600, no flash. Gift shop at the Nighttime Safari.

ISO 1600, no flash. Small figurines at the gift shop. The lens focuses close up nicely.

ISO 3200, no flash. Back at the airport on the way out. The small level of noise in this ISO 3200 shot in remarkable.

ISO 1600, no flash. I’m hoping the auto white balance will be more accurate than what you see here.

Can you believe all these images except for the one of the boy, were all taken at ISO 1600-3200 and from a compact? I’ve used my Fuji F30 for three years now while out and about with friends during the evening hours, never used the flash, and I have thousands of good quality snapshots. The Fuji F30 was well ahead of its time and is still a very desirable camera today!

Thai Weddings!

Thai weddings are wonderful events full of traditional dress, customs and great food. The people are great, the mood elevated, and the entire neighborhood invariably gets in on the act. Everyone should get the chance to experience a Thai wedding.

Thai weddings are also the single most difficult event I’ve ever photographed. Because most of them start in the darkness before sunrise, and from there the sun rises rapidly with totally unpredictable lighting changes, you need to be prepared with many lenses and even more lighting styles. It doesn’t matter if it’s dark or if the sun is bearing down directly, the wedding couple expects good quality images of their wedding. You need to be prepared for all the different lighting conditions, weather conditions, and environments you’ll encounter. Also, be sure to drink lots and lots of water to avoid heatstroke.

I’m going to show some images and briefly talk about the challenges of each.

This is a bride and her immediate family. The wedding took place in a rural home in a very dry drab environment void of color, with the sun beating down on us. I chose to light them with a off-camera strobe for fill and then tone the image to look like an old-fashioned image and hide the drab environment.

Same drab environment, same techniques plus one. By putting the couple at ease you can shift the focus of the image from the environment to the couple where it really should be. Their playfulness and affection make this image!

It must have been over 40c and they were under a green plastic cover. Everyone was green! By directing in a full amount of off-camera strobe I lighted them with a quality external light source and didn’t need to accept the green cast. You must be prepared for this sort of thing.

This portrait of a lovely Thai bride was taken during the very early morning hours before the sun had come up. By lighting her with a quality off-camera strobe I was able to draw attention to her glowing skin tones and pretty smile.

Within a few short minutes the sun was up, the ceremonies inside the house over, and now we could shoot without external light.

Look for moments of playfulness and affection between shots. This wasn’t posed, I have many of those. This was a break in emotional protocol that in my eyes, really revealed the love and spirit of the wedding couple. Again, by now the sun was up and no external light source was needed.

Look for unusual perspectives. I climbed up to the second flow and selected this perspective showing the groom paying his way through the gold chains to gain access to his bride.

This was taken earlier inside. Usually these homes, no matter how large, are totally filled with people and there’s no room to move around. Lighting the interiors of such homes is like trying to evenly light the inner tube of a paper towel roll. Using a telephoto and a shaped light I was able to capture this from the doorway and avoid the guests inside.

This couple had just been delivered to the wedding house during darkness. You can tell where I used a quality off-camera strobe to evenly light them as they exited the car and headed towards their guests.

The sun had just started to rise, but it was still mostly dark requiring the use of the off-camera strobe. I loved this capture of the bride and her mother in law, same expressions on both.

Don’t forget to get the traditional shots. The grooms father (his hands) are shown pouring the water over his daughter in-laws hands.

This traditional high-key portrait was taken outside during the worst natural lighting possible. The sun was very bright making any sort of quality shot next to impossible. I stopped down my lens, decreased my ISO to 50, and directed in some off-camera light for the sake of modeling.. and then processed the image in high-key. I like the results.

Oh, for the relative ease of a western wedding in a typical western setting, held at a time of the day where the light would hardly change during the entire event.

Always keep a watchful eye out for opportunities. You never know when the bride and groom are going to sneak off for a bit of quiet time and you’ll be able to capture a tender moment using a very long telephoto lens!

Thai weddings are very hard. This is why most Thai photographers take the wedding pictures days or even weeks before the actual wedding! They get you to come in and pose in the studio, then take you during the prime times of the day to certain locations for “outside” captures, and it’s why they all end up looking the same. And, you also need to dress up twice. I understand why they do it, but I’d much rather capture the wedding in real time even if it requires much more work.

Photography News of Interest

I ran this last week, but you’ll want to read it again because by the time you read this on Saturday you’ll still have a day and a half left to go enjoy the show!

This is one you won’t want to miss! PIX 2009 is said to be the biggest photographic equipment display in Asia and this year it will take place at the Siam Paragon from April 1st through April 5th. They’re estimating over 500,000 people and 1 billion baht spent. There will also be some exhibits like “The Early Photographic History of Siam” and even some workshops where you can learn new techniques. If you read Thai you can read more about it here. I’ll see you there!

For you Canon shooters out there who love Zeiss lenses (and there is a lot of you) you’ll be very happy to hear that Zeiss is releasing their 18mm F3.5 lens in a Canon mount and it should be out in the next month or so. Zeiss will also release this lens in the Nikon and Pentax mounts later on. You can read more about it here.

How would you like to get $62,500 USD’s for one of your images? I sure would. You might not be alive to enjoy it though. This just goes to show the important of safeguarding your images and passing them down to your heirs. You can read about the sale of this rare photo of NYC here.

As a native of the City of Angels I can’t count the number of times I’ve enjoyed a wonderful afternoon at one of the areas two J. Paul Getty Museums! It was in these two museums, in particularly the Pacific Coast Highway location in Malibu where I’d check my surfboard and bicycle at the front door, and where my love for photography and art in general first started. If you ever get a chance to visit these locations you won’t be disappointed. Currently they’re presenting the work of Master Photographer Paul Outerbridge. You can read about it here.

Readers' Submissions

Steve

I have been working on a couple shots and I hope that they come through. I keep on trying.

Thanks again

Mike

Mike –

Nice! I hope to see more from your trip.

Steve

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

Hello Steve,

Can you tell me why do you convert RGB to SRGB. I just save all my files in Adobe RGB and then for web use to JPG. Is there an advantage of saving to SRGB.

Charles

Charles –

This is a good question. I’m guessing that there are many out there with the same question and I’m thinking of doing a learning topic on color spaces (gamuts) in the near future.

Color space awareness is a big topic. How to profile your monitor, set your programs to the same color space, your camera, etc.. is critical for the best results, and so others see the same image you’re seeing as the creator.

First, Windows PC browsers are not “color managed” and default to SRGB. SRGB is the default color space for the web, and it’s also the default color space for most imaging programs, color profiles, and photo print shops where you get your images printed. Firefox has a add-in to make it color managed, but few people know about it. Mac browsers are color managed.

Everything, from your default profile, your imaging program, your browser, all of it needs to be set up the same. Otherwise you won’t be getting the results you expect.

If you have your DSLR set to Adobe98 and its saving to jpegs, this would be counterproductive. Jpegs on the web should be SRGB, print houses print jpegs in SRGB, and unless you own and print to a Adobe98 compatible printer.. you’re not accomplishing anything.,

If you have your DSLR set to Adobe98 and are saving to RAW files, then your RAW files simply default to Adobe98 inside the raw converter. The raw files are simply “tagged” by the camera to let your raw converter know you desire Adobe98 as your color space. RAW files are in fact raw data, and can be converted to any desired color space.

What happens.. is that many people import their files into Photoshop, or Elements, in Adobe98, and perhaps even have Photoshop/Elements set up to convert all imported files to Adobe98. If you process the files in Adobe98 and fail to convert the files to SRGB before saving as jpegs.. the files will look flat. They just won’t look right.

There are so many variables involved in this.. that it’s impossible to cover them all in an email. You would either have to ask me very specific questions and build from that.. or bring your PC in so we could go over it together during a workshop. Most workshop clients do bring their PCs in just for this purpose.

The best advice I can give you at this point, is to just go to SRGB for everything. Set your camera to SRGB, Elements, all of it.. and chances are that then your saved jpeg files will in fact properly represent the SRGB color space. There will still be the chance that an odd setting in one of your programs will off-set your wishes.. but this is the best I can recommend at this point.

If you’re shooting RAW.. then you’ll lose nothing by doing this. You can always go back and reprocess a raw file into any color space you wish. If you’re shooting jpegs.. the color space should be SRGB anyway.

Why do I use ProPhoto RGB? Because when I process a file in Photoshop I process a Tiff. So, I use a 16bit Prophoto RGB file to retain the largest color gamut and the largest amount of data in the file as possible. Tiff’s also allow you to save your layers open for future adjustment. Jpegs do not.

If I’m making the print myself I’ll print the Tiff file directly to my compatible printer.. which is a high end printer.

If I’m having an outside print house make my prints, and it’s a normal place using the standard Fuji Frontier system, then I’ll convert my 16 bit ProPhoto RGB Tiff files to 8 bit SRGB jpeg files. The prints will be perfect.

Some high end professional print houses have equipment to take advantage of my 16 bit ProPhoto RGB Tiff files and know all about color spaces.. but these are specialty places and you have to know what you’re looking for.

Whatever you do, you need a consistent color space (gamut) across your workflow.. or your images will not look as you intend them to look.

I hope this helps

Steve

Steve,

I have calibrated my monitor with the pantone spider, but I've notice that my monitor driver is set to a gamma of 1 (which is the default value) or should I set this to 2.2 which is the windows default, or should I uninstall this feature so that the spyder does all the work?

This is the first time I've seen this feature on a monitor.

Charles

Charles –

I’m not that familiar with the Pantone products.. but I can tell you that I set my monitors to 2.2..

Profiling software doesn’t need to be active to work.. it doesn’t work that way. What it does is create a monitor profile and places it in your windows/system32/xxx/xxx/xxx folder.. so that when you boot the system picks up that profile as a default. It might also install a reminder and splash screen in your startup folder.. but once the system is booted the only thing loaded is the profile.

So what you want to do.. ideally.. is make a proper profile and have it boot as the default. The profile should be what works for you in the way of white point, gamma, and luminance. The standard would be 6500/2.2/120. I run mine at 5500/2.2/90..

Steve

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

Its incredible how much administrative and maintenance work goes into running a business. This week I’m chasing down a part for a camera repair, and have just completed rebuilding my personal servers and upgrading their capacity. This has taken the full week!

And lets not forget all the time spent at the Photo Show PIX 2009 at the Siam Paragon!

Infocus Blog

Why We Do It, and What We Do It With

Sitting in front of me are five compact point and shoot cameras. One (Fuji F200EXR) is in it’s box new and unopened. The cameras in order of purchasing are the Olympus C-5050, Fuji F30, Fuji F31, Canon G9, and the new unopened Fuji Finepix F200EXR. The Olympus and Canon are not “pocket compacts”, but in their day both were/are very capable as a sort of “knapsack” camera. The Olympus C-5050 was used for years in an Olympus waterproof underwater case with two Ikelite strobes when diving to take great underwater shots.

A few rooms away is my camera room, some would call it an office. In this room I have several DSLRs and more lenses than any sane person should consider owning. Also, studio strobes, light stands, many light modifiers, and accessories galore. These are the tools of my trade.

I make three kinds of images.

  1. Images for professional use
  2. Images of the family/travel/outing variety for personal use
  3. Images of professional quality for my own enjoyment and recreation

When selecting our equipment we need to be very honest with ourselves why we want this equipment. Professional equipment is very expensive and all DSLR bodies have a working life of only 2-3 years before they’re obsolete and should be replaced by a newer model to stay current and competitive in the field. DSLR bodies can cost upwards of $8000.00. Before we purchase one we need to ensure we’ll get a suitable return on our investment whether that would be monetary or just pure enjoyment.

When we pack our bags for a vacation, get in the car to attend a family outing/dinner, or just take a walk through the park.. we need to be very honest with ourselves what type of pictures we expect to take and what equipment is the wisest to bring along

A few years ago I traveled from Bangkok to Illinois to attend and photograph my sons wedding. All through the checkpoints, security scans, planes, terminals, and so forth.. from Bangkok to O'Hare.. I hand carried, in addition to my luggage (which was packed with lighting equipment and a suit), two military grade hard cases on wheels and my personal knapsack. The hard cases weighed in excess of 20kg’s each. Even with wheels, it was a major physical exercise moving these cases through my travels. Not to mention the security and in one case the extra costs involved.

Was it worth it? Yes, to photograph my sons wedding it was worth it. Do I want to do it for a family vacation? Heck no! I want to enjoy my family, my time, my vacation. I don’t want the hassle or worry of bringing along professional gear for personal use on such trips. I’ve been offered to be a co-instructor on an Antarctica expedition next year. I’d love to go, and on such a personal/professional expedition then bringing along such gear would be well worth it.

It used to be that if we wanted quality images we had to use larger and heavier gear. Compact cameras were okay, but the quality suffered. Not today! Wisely selected you can make very high quality images with a camera that fits in your pocket! We live in great times.

So I continue to stare at the unopened box containing the Fuji Finepix F200EXR. Normally I’d already have tore the box open, charged the battery, read the manual (yes, sometimes men do read manuals), and already been trying it out. Not tonight. Tonight I’m working on this column and I won’t think about opening the box until I pen the last word in this blog.

I’m really hoping that next week I can tell you the Fuji Finepix F200EXR meets my expectations.

Until next time…