In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog April 18th, 2009

Sticky Songkran/Point and Shoot Possibilities

China Hotel Guide
• Shan Hai Tian Hotel
• Kempinski Hotel Sanya
• Orient Bayview Hotel Sanya
• Seal Hotel Sanya

Feature Photograph

It’s been a memorable Songkran this year. We’ve had the red shirts protesting and military armor rolling through the streets of Bangkok and the streets have mostly been empty of Songkran observers. Looking for fun a couple friends and I packed up the car and headed for Kanchanaburi!

mens clinic bangkok

This image is significant for a variety of reasons, but to tell you the reasons I’ll have to share some background. A couple years ago a young man working as a civilian contractor in Iraq took R&R in Bangkok and signed on for four days of my workshops. He didn’t know much about photography at the time but he was planning on seeing the world when his time in Iraq was over and he wanted to photograph his travels to share with family and friends. We spent four very intensive days and covered a lot of material. He didn’t get a chance to use his newfound skills in Iraq in the following two years, but through correspondence I knew he was surfing the web, reading photo blogs, and in a way finding the style he preferred.

His time in Iraq is over and he made plans to come back to Bangkok for several months and offered to work as my assistant so he could be close to photography and learn and develop his skills. This week in Kanchanaburi he was showing me the day's take and the above picture caught my eye.

It’s a perfect Songkran image! It’s also a great street image that tells a story. It’s got color, water, story, and a ton of emotion as it caught the real spirit of Songkran in the best possible way. The technicals were perfect as well. Immediately I wished it was a image I had captured.. but on another level I’m even more satisfied because maybe I had a tiny part in things.

This image isn’t as strong, but in the same style and the motion helps make it exciting!

Good work Troy!

Sticky Songkran!

This week's photo outing was generously submitted by Stick. He’s been really proactive in putting his new 5d Mark II to good use and was out there this week taking snaps of Songkran observers. I really enjoy his work and I very much appreciate his contributions to this weekly. Thank you, Stick!

wonderland clinic

Songkran may have its fans but in the time I spent outside photographing the madness I am sure that motorbike riders aren't amongst them.

There are many times as many motorbikes in Thailand than cars and they are the only means of transport for a good number of the population.

The motorbike is in effect the equivalent of the family car and it is not unusual to see the entire family sitting on the back of the bike as Dad points it in the right direction and tries to deliver the family to their destination safely.

Wandering around the neighbourhood today, I watched as revelers actively attacked those on motorbikes with buckets of water. Not a small sprinkling, but an ENTIRE BUCKET! Water was not thrown at other vehicles, although the odd tuktuk did come in for a bit of attention.

It really does raise question marks about just why they are doing it for their can be only one reason – to cause the bike riders such discomfort that they come off their bike. GBH? Attempted murder? Am I being extreme? I mean, look at the faces on some of the riders here – their eyes are closed and in some cases they are looking off to the side!

It would be so easy for them to collide into something, veer on to the other side of the road, fail to avoid a child running out on to the road or any of a zillion other hazards.

Perhaps the picture that says it all is this last show which at first glance is much less dramatic than the others. But then you need to remember that this is Thailand and people drive on the left. Well, notice that white road marking behind bike which shows that this guy zoomed all the way right across to the wrong side of the road to avoid being a target, a very dangerous manoeuvre.

Point and Shoot Possibilities

I get a lot of email from people dissatisfied with their compact point and shoot camera asking if upgrading to a much more expensive DSLR would improve their photographs.

Certainly a camera capable of higher image quality and with more features could be put to use in ways a point and shoot compact could not. However, it is often the case the person emailing in hasn’t learned to put their current camera to its maximum use. Often, what they have is perfectly capable of satisfying their photography needs. In this week's learning section I’ll show some images from various point and shoot compacts I own and discuss where each one was taken, the conditions, and anything different I did to achieve the results.

This image was captured off my balcony this week after a morning rain. I saw the blue sky, rare for Bangkok, the extremely clear air where you could see all the buildings downtown, and the great light. My pro gear was already packed in the car for my trip to Kanchanaburi so I reached in my knapsack and pulled out my point and shoot. The resulting image is tack sharp, has great color and contrast, and provides a great view.

Last year we were on a workshop at the Sanctuary of Truth in Pattaya and because I was instructing the only camera I had on my person was a compact point and shoot. Carefully framing the image in the LCD and holding the camera very still I captured this highly detailed image. Holding a point and shoot steady is a real challenge. The natural point and shoot method of holding it out at arm's length where you can see the LCD creates a very poor shooting stance and usually results in blurry pics. Try bringing your elbows in and bracing them against your ribcage. This makes it harder to see the LCD, but will help you stead the camera and you’ll find all the sharpness you need in most any point and shoot compact.

A few months later during a different workshop at the Khon Keow Open Zoo I once again found myself with only a point and shoot compact on my person. Extending the zoom to its maximum range I captured this image. This is only a very small crop of the entire frame, but perfectly fine for web use!

During another workshop at the Grand Palace I took this image of a mural on a wall, under an awning, where it was dark. I think the scene is represented very well

Several years ago at the Patpong Night Market I saw these decorations. I pulled out the compact and was rewarded with this colorful and interesting image. Have you noticed so far I haven’t used flash in any of these images? No flash, a steady hand, and proper exposure. Nothing else is required.

A friend and I were enjoying a quiet dinner at a river restaurant and I was admiring the bridge. A party boat came into the frame and resting the camera steadily on the railing (wrist strap on!) I snapped off 3-4 images and this one was perfectly focused and turned out well.

This image is hilarious! Taken in Radio City in Patpong of the Thai Elvis. Notice the position of the girls hand and that her partner appears to be watching her hand? In such venues with colored stage lights that rotate colors, you simply time your shot with the right color light and you’ll get the right color balance. If you’re not sure snap off a few as the lights rotate and you’ll quickly learn when the time is right.

Late one night in the Thong-lo district friends and I were sitting outside talking and listening to music when I saw this scene.. at first I didn’t include the feet, but then I decided the feet helped set the mood.

Last year at the Kantoke Theater in Chiang Mai. Taken with the zoom fully extended and holding it up over my head where I could barely see the LCD.

None of these images were taken using flash, most all were taken at ISO 1600-3200, and all will make great snapshot sized prints and a few of them will make very large prints. My point is, I’d guess you would be very happy with your current point and shoot camera if you used it to its maximum potential and pointed it in the right direction. Keep it with you all the time and experiment with its capabilities. With a bit of practice (and the flash off) you’ll end up with some great images!

Photography News of Interest

The new Canon EOS 500D/T1i Rebel entry level camera sure has people excited so its no surprise that Nikon tries to match them by announcing their own D5000! HD movie mode, impressive features, entry level price. You can read the hands on preview of the new Nikon here.

Nikon also announces a consumer class 10-24mm F3.5-4.5G ED lens. This will be great for owners of APC-S sensor cameras who desire a budget wide angle zoom. You can read about it here.

From the Art Daily comes an interesting article about the Smithsonian’s Blog. I really enjoyed reading this one as it covers the perspectives of curators, photographers, historians, and how they relate to the impact of photography. You can read more about it here.

I hate reading about this sort of thing. The owner of a photography studio was arrested for child porn. This really gives a black eye to the industry.. You can read more about it here.

Readers Submissions

Steve –

I have been in the Bay area for the past five days working on my daughter's house and going to a couple ball games. Went to the preseason between the Giants and the A's and then went to the opener with the Giants yesterday. Almost got rained out on that one.

Thanks for the encouragement. It is appreciated. Need to go back to basics with both programs and get more out of them. I have sent for a couple books on Lightroom. Hope it will help to get me back on track with that one.

Here are a couple more that I have started to work on. The first is from across the Mekong river back at Phnom Penh and the second is of a street scene in Phnom Penh. I like the way the bike rider came out in the second one.

The other two were shot at Fort Point under the Golden Gate bridge while I was there on Wednesday. It was cold and rainy. Sorry about that. I fooled around with the wave a bit but the shot of SF was only cropped.

I ended up hiking that hill at Angkor twice. I did it the first day I got there and then climbed the temple. Now that was quite a climb. I enjoyed the work out.

I took some shots of the full moon coming up over the Sierras tonight. Had some oak trees in the background and should be some interesting shots. I was focusing in on the moon and ended up getting several shots with a double moon or some type of reflection on the shot. I did get one that looks like it has a corona around the moon. I am anxious to see how that one turns out.

Again Thank you for your help.


Mike –

Thank you for the submissions. I think others will find your images and explanations very helpful. I’m glad I could be of help. Please keep asking questions and I’ll do my best to answer them. Your enthusiasm is contagious!

Thank you


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,

Question: I have a bunch of L lenses and each came with a lens hood.

I have never used a lens hood and am wondering just when I should use it. I know this might sound amateurish but I really don't know when it is needed to be used! I guess in bright sunshine to keep flare out – but even when shooting in the sun, I have zero problems with flare that I think a lens hood would solve.


Stick –

Lens hoods have several purposes.

1. Depending on the individual lens design flare could be an issue as light enters the lens at certain angles. I can tell you from experience that it’s very hard to predict when this will happen looking at the light around you. I never was very good at geometry..

2. Lens hoods protect your expensive investment. Of all my lenses, if I damaged my exceptional 24-70 I think I'd cry. I can replace the four times more expensive average 300/2.8 IS (they're all great) or my more expensive 85/1.2.. but my 24-70 is freaky sharp and we're best friends.

That said, you should realize that a soft pliable plastic lens hood will bounce off doorframes, tables, food vender carts and the such as you walk through crowded areas. Even when fiddling around the studio it's easy to knock an unprotected lens on a table edge and ruin the lens.

Of course you're careful with your lenses and have probably developed techniques for safe carrying in such situations, we all have. Some techniques are better than others. Still, if your lens isn't protected by a hood then it's just a matter of time until you lose your best friend.

I hope this helps.


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

This week was spent in Kanchanaburi collecting material to use for my stock photography. Every once in a while I go out to a place I’m interested in and spend a few days trying to build up some nice galleries to share and some of the nicest images never make it into the galleries, but instead are put up as stock.

Infocus Blog

Thai Protests and Colorful Shirts

I know very little about Thai politics, but like everyone else I can’t help but watch on as the protestors wearing different color shirts block traffic, take over airports, and appear on the news channels almost 24/7 over the last year. There is already much written about these issues by people who understand the situation much better than myself, but I would like to offer an observation.

In the course of my travels I’ve spent time in Mexico, South America, Northern Africa, and many parts of the Mideast. All areas with severe poverty. I’ve also spent much time in the three southern provinces of Thailand (Pattani, Yala, Narathiwat) and of course the north and northeastern provinces. These areas are often just as poor and the people struggle just as much as these other areas. Education is marginal at best, food is scarce, living conditions extreme, and the people exploited.

Would it be any wonder at all that a savvy politician turn to these people for votes? Not much would need to be done as they all look forward to anyone willing to help them from their plight in even the most simple ways. Cheap votes.

And would it surprise anyone that if you take away the first politician who has, in their eyes, shown them the first signs of compassion and help from the government.. is it any surprise they would respond in extreme ways?

I’ve long said in this weekly and my other writings that Thailand needs to do much more for its poor, for its young workforce, and for those without the resources to adequately do for themselves. In my mind, this would be the most simple way to ensure a stable government and happy people. Too simple minded? Perhaps the old adage “keep it simple stupid

See you next week…

nana plaza