In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog April 25th, 2009

Bridge, River Khwae Yai / Colour Profiling Your Monitor

China Hotel Guide
Sovereign Hotel Yangshuo
Air Plaza Hotel
Pacific Hotel Yantai
Center Hotel Yantai

Feature Photograph

This last week’s events and location visits haven’t left my mind. I’m constantly running the things I’ve seen and learned through my mind over and over again. Sometimes I do this when I’m trying to place myself in someone else’s shoes, or like this week in someone else’s shoes over 60 years ago. Last week I visited Kanchanaburi and viewed the Bridge over River Kwai, the war cemeteries, and the excellent Death Railway Museum and Research Centre.

This picture is significant for several reasons. First, I think it’s a good strong image with an extremely strong dynamic range that pushes the limits of actual prints and definitely exceeds that of the monitor you’re viewing it on. In the background is the bridge as it passes over River Kwai.

Further significance is that I was suffering from what I’ve found out to be dysentery and after four days of such I was extremely weak and not in good shape at all. We’d arrived in Kanchanaburi in the late afternoon and a quick drive by the bridge with all the tourists and vendors let me know I wouldn’t be getting the images I wanted that close in.

So.. we drove down the river and started turning in small dirt roads and between simple Thai river homes and asking for permission to walk to the river front and see if we “found the view” we were after. An hour later we found the perfect place. The bridge is distant enough so you can’t see the throngs of tourists, yet prominent enough in the frame (with a large print) to clearly see the bridge and its supports. This view lets us see traditional wooden walkways and local flora much as you’d have seen it over 60 years ago.

Standing there amongst what many westerners would consider the “wreckage” of a simple Thai home, chickens threatening us, raw sewage seeping, cooking fires starting up, and feeling my stomach turning and feeling my weakness.. I think I could almost see and feel, very briefly, what the prisoners of war saw and felt every minute of every day. In my case when I was finished I was able to climb into my air conditioned SUV and head back to my hotel to rest. In their case they could only look forward to the end of the war and their release, or like more than 100,000 men.. an early death in a foreign land.

This is a good example of using split toning to achieve the effect of a vintage print. A modern locomotive as it passes over the River Kwai on the bridge. I like the way the light plays off the top of the engine, its front windows, and the top arches of the bridge. I can look at this image and almost imagine one of the old time engines steaming across.

In the coming weeks we’ll be visiting the war cemeteries and in a special treat I’ll take you inside the Railway Museum of Death and Research Centre courtesy of Mr. Rod Beattie. You’ll learn more about this man in the coming weeks.

Bridge, River Khwae Yai

The Thailand – Burma Railway was built by the Imperial Japanese during the second World War using allied prisoners or war and Asian laborers. The railway ran 415 km from Ban Pong in Thailand to Thanbuyuzayat Burma, now known as Myanmar since 1989. Many still prefer to call it Burma. It is also known as the Death Railway.

I started researching the bridge, railway, and the involved history and quickly realized I could spend months learning enough to be accurate, years to truly understand. To cover this subject/location with any meaning is beyond the scope of this column. Instead I’m going to cover it as a first time tourist to the area and give you my initial observations and feelings.

My first impression of the bridge was that it was like any tourist area, totally overrun with picture taking tour bus riders with absolutely no interest in the actual history beyond showing their family and friends a few blurry photographs and telling them “I was here..”

The bridge was so full of tourists I knew I wouldn’t get the photographs I wanted from this location so I spent the new few hours scouting out a more scenic location where I captured the Feature photograph.

I decided early on the best way to capture something so historical was in toned black and white images. Walking the area we came up with several vantage points that provided decent but not good views.

I must say the sky and clouds provided a welcome addition to the scenes.

The construction is not unlike many old bridges I’ve seen dotted across America.

If you think the throngs of noisy and disrespectful tourists lend a bad flavor to your experience you haven’t seen anything yet. It seems like every major hotel has “party barges” which assault your ears and senses.

These party barges have huge speakers blaring out the worst karaoke you’ve ever heard, and as they draw close to the bridge the drunken antics of the partiers can be seen from the shore.

The abuse continues into the night. I don’t understand what would motivate people to come all this way to such an important historical site and then spend their time singing in terrible Thai, Korean and Chinese.. getting drunk and shouting and fighting, and generally making supreme asses out of themselves.

I’ll be going back to properly capture the bridge during different times of day, weather, and light. I see a lot of photographic potential in this location and I must say I was enthralled with the locals in Kanchanaburi and the people I’ve met along the way.

Next week we’ll visit one of the war cemeteries.

Color Profiling your Monitor

Sunday evenings I look forward to reading Stickman Weekly and I’ve watched with interest as Stick puts his new Canon 5d Mark II to good use capturing some really great low light images. I must admit there is a touch of jealousy involved when I see what that camera can do. However, until the new 1ds Mark IV comes out I’ll stick with my five year old 1ds Mark II.

However, some of Stick’s images gave me pause. Is Stick color blind? Nah, some of his images look correct, but others looked out of whack in the color department. I’ve seen this before. I think I can help. Composing an email I write “Stick, your colors suck, find some time to come visit and we’ll fix you up..” Probably not the encouragement he was looking for.

A week or so later Stick shows up laptop in hand and admits he’s had several questions about the color in his photos for a while now. He’s not alone. Probably 99% of the people with digital cameras and who post them on the web have the same issues, most just don’t have the eye or experience yet to notice. I’m going to take you through the basics of why and how we color profile using Stick’s case as an example.

This is a complicated subject but I’ll try to simplify as much as possible. The web (internet) and your local photo stores that make your prints all use the Srgb color space/gamut. A color gamut is like a box of crayons. Some boxes have 256 colors, some 128, all sizes and shades. In the crayon world Srgb is a pretty big box of crayons, but not the biggest.

A computer monitor is only capable of displaying a percentage of those crayons/colors at any one time. The very expensive imaging monitors can display beyond Srgb and approach the gamuts of Adobe98 and ProPhoto RGB, the most common gamuts used by professionals who run their own prints. Standard desktop monitors can display roughly 80-90% of Srgb, and laptops often are in the 30-40% realm. So when I told Stick that his vintage laptop was probably only showing him 30% of the colors of his images he was surprised. This doesn’t mean that his jpeg files only showed 30%, just his monitor. Someone with a better monitor viewing the exact same files would see more of the gamut/colors (up to the limits of their monitor) and probably see them differently.

Further, if your monitor is not “profiled” to a set standard, what Stick was seeing on his monitor was probably not what everyone else was seeing on their monitors as they looked at his images while reading Stickman Weekly. The differences can run from small to extreme, usually the difference is split.

The solution? I’m afraid there isn’t a good one. The best we can do as photographers is to profile our own monitors, and then when we post our images on the web/internet we know for sure the colors in our images are what we intended them to be, in reference to the Srgb web/print standard. This means that if Stick’s monitor is profiled, and he posts an image in his weekly, that using my monitor which is also profiled to Srgb.. we’ll be seeing the same colors. HOWEVER, because he has a vintage laptop screen capable AT MOST of only 30% of the Srgb color gamut.. and I have professional image monitors capable of 100% of the Srgb gamut.. that I’m seeing much more of the image than does he. And the parts I’m seeing might or might not be as he as the photographer intended them to be.

I’ll be frank, laptop monitors for the most part really suck as image monitors. I have a $4000 USD mobile graphics workstation with the very best graphics card and (until last month) best screen. Yet, the monitor is not as capable when it comes to color and color accuracy as a $200 desktop LCD screen. Laptop screens are great for traveling, business needs, etc, but they’re very limited for image processing. At least if you’re at all interested in other people seeing the same image you see.

The easy solution is to purchase a reasonably priced desktop LCD and run it from your laptop (assuming you only have a laptop) and to use it when processing images. A $200 USD desktop LCD is not a professional imaging monitor, but its light years ahead of a laptop monitor.

There is a problem with this. When you profile a monitor, the profile contains a set of values that are loaded into your graphics card Look Up Table (LUT), and the values tell the graphics card which colors/contrast/brightness to output. This is great until you realize that you have only one LUT and two monitors. Each monitor profiles differently and will require different values, so technically each monitor needs its own graphics card/LUT. Unfortunately laptops only come with a single graphics card.

Don’t let this be an issue. Just use your laptop monitor for your tools and the such, and have the image on the second (profiled) monitor. If you have a desktop, consider adding a second graphics card so you can have both monitors profiled.

Okay, so we’ve determined that you want your images to be the same as our web reference Srgb. You want to know that your monitor is profiled so that the image and colors you see on your monitor, is the same others will see IF their monitor is also profiled to the Srgb standard. How do we get there?

This is the easy part. The hard part is understanding why you need to profile. This is what I use. It’s simple, relatively inexpensive, and works with laptop and desktop LCDs. You’ll need to check your profile every month, LCDs dim with age and when they dim the colors shift.

Here’s some additional hints to help you achieve the best color.

  1. Always work in the same ambient light. If viewing the same file, the colors your eyes see with daylight coming through the windows WILL NOT be what you see in the evening with the house lights turned on. By working your images in the same ambient light you can be assured you’ll always see the same colors.
  2. After profiling your screen may appear to have a slight yellow tint. Don’t panic. This is normal. The ambient light is affecting how you see colors. The yellow tint won’t be visible when you’re in ideal ambient light, and it will become more visible as you move into more inappropriate light.
  3. A cheap desktop LCD is much better for imaging than the most expensive laptop monitor.
  4. Srgb is the WWW standard. It is also the standard all consumer print labs use.

The colors of Stick’s images are looking a lot better lately. I’m still seeing “more” of his images than he can see using his vintage laptop monitor, but perhaps some day he’ll purchase a desktop LCD for his imaging work and we’ll be on the same page.

I used Stick as an example because you all know him and perhaps you can relate. In the last three weeks I’ve helped profile the monitors of nine individuals and every one of them couldn’t believe the resulting difference. This really is important. At least if you want others to see your image the way you intended.


Photography News of Interest

Be careful what you take pictures of on your next visit to London. An Austrian tourists images were deleted by police for taking pictures of buses. You can read more about it here.

New firmware updates are available for your Nikon D40 and D40x. You can get them here.

A crowning achievement for photojournalists is the Pulitzer Prize. St. Petersberg Times and the Miami Herald newsrooms both were honored. You can read about it here.

The newspaper industry has been giving away a lot of free meals lately. You can see a list of them here.


Readers' Submissions

Steve

How are you doing? I hope the problems are not effecting you and your wife. From your prospective what the heck is going on? I got a book on Lightroom and have started to read it and am trying to figure out what is going on with the program. One shot wasn't enough to drum it into this old head so need to work with it a lot to have it get comfortable. I have been taking pictures since I got back and I am sending a couple back to you. One is of the moon rise over the valley. I saw it coming up and knew it was time to stop and get out the camera and the tripod. I worked on the moon [not all that well] in Photoshop. I was shooting in f-11 and got the second moon in the picture. I read that you need to shoot in a lower f number to stop that situation. Of course the conditions have never gotten back to the way they were when I shot the shot.



The next is of a California Golden Poppy that is growing in my back yard. I was down on the ground with the tripod with my wide lens in f-4 but still had to crop the hell out of it to get this one.



I will send you a candid that I took at the ball game also.

If you have some time please let me know what you think and what I can do better about them as well as the others I sent a few days ago. I would appreciate the criticism.

Please stay well and healthy.
Mike

Hi Mike –

The protests are mainly in the downtown area and don’t affect us at all. Thanks for asking.

I hope you find the book useful. Certainly it takes some time to really get the hang of the program.

I like these shots. They’ll make great readers subs.

I hope you’re doing well back in the golden state.

Steve

Hi Steve,

Here are some snapshots from Petchaburi I'd like to share from my Thailand vacation a few months back. With the help of a friend, I hired a driver for the day for the sole purpose of taking pictures. Your tripod you generously offered to loan me would have come in handy in the cave, but the driver had no idea how to get to your place. It was his first time working as a hired driver. The original driver was booked so he asked a family member (or family member's friend?) to cover – the Thailand way of doing business? Spoke excellent English as he is an ex-Atlantic City casino card dealer. Photographs were taken with the classic 5D and 85L / 24-105L lenses.

Jim

Hi Jim –

The images are great!

The 135/2 is a splendid lens. One of the real bargains in fine lenses. I love mine.. but I find they excel in different uses. The 85/1.2 for portraits, and the 135/2 for everything else that requires the focal length, faster (much) AF, and still requires a shallow DOF and sharpness.

Steve


Steve,

No problem. By all means use them in your weekly.

Work's been keeping me very busy. Haven't had a chance to drive down Olympic Blvd to see the Weldon sign. Been mainly shooting my beautiful aging 17.5 year old dog with the 135L lately. I love that lens – even more so than the 85L. Hope to spend more time post processing and printing.

Jim

Jim

I understand about work..

You reminded me of my dog Jimmy.. He died at 17.5 years old just weeks after the attached picture was taken with my son. Its been years but I still miss him. This was from a disposable camera I think.. one I used to carry around in the glove box of my car.

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

Hi Steve,

Thanks for all the tips on the landscapes. The remark about DOF being both in front and behind the focal point got the message through. Silly how something that obvious doesn’t register until someone points it out :p. I take it that in your favorite photo of deception pass your focal point was one of the logs on the beach? By the way, if you did these handheld AND HDR, how did you get the 3 or 4 shots you needed? Shutter bracketing, or just very careful positioning before and after adjusting the shutter speed?

Koen


Koen –

Yes, the small log in the middle. I’ve learned to manipulate my camera controls by feel. More, I know that every “click” of the wheel I use to adjust shutter speed equates to a certain value. So, by bracing carefully against a solid object and employing good technique, I can manually capture the required images. In Av mode I can also bracket and get the shots all at once at my max frame rate. Only three, but newer models can bracket up to five values/shots. In the future I will look for at least 5fps, preferably 8fps, to assist in capturing the images I need for handheld HDR.

Steve


Hi Steve

When you mention ultra wide angle, is that the Sigma lens you let me use at the Sanctuary of Truth? For now I won’t be buying any new lenses soon, but if I do the next one will probably be a wide angle. How does the Canon 10-22 compare to the Sigma? The canon seems to be the better option of these two, being both faster and wider no? The price is about the same.

Koen

Koen –

Yes, the same lens. The Sigma is a full frame 12-24mm.. which means it’s a real 12mm on a full frame camera, or 19mm on a APC-S camera like the 40d or 50d. The Canon 10-22 is a lens designed for APC-S bodies. It will not work on a full frame camera. So yes, on an APC-S camera it will be wider, but.. if you’re even considering the possibility of a full frame camera in the future then it’s hard to go wrong with the Sigma 12-24mm.

Steve

Steve

About the filters, I did put on a cheap filter as advised by the shop, one of the clear ones just to protect the glass. I don’t mind spending a few bucks on a better filter, but the thing is that I don’t really know what they do :o. What different kinds of filters are there? I know of polarizing and UV filters, but that’s it. I also don’t know what they’re used for really. Is it purely protection or is the image affected as well? From the link you sent me for the UV filter I guess it is. If you screw on a UV filter like that, do you always leave it on or are there circumstances where you would not want to use that filter? Makes more sense to buy a good filter if I know what to use them for :p

Koen

Koen –

Ah, the great filter debate. Professionals around the world argue over Filter or no Filter.. I personally don’t use filters in the studio or in very clean environments. However, when traveling and out in the real world I do use filters as a protective measure. In such cases I use UV filters or Skylight 1b filters. Both provide very mild, barely noticeable, improvements when cutting through haze and help render true colors.. so these are perfect for protection uses as they hardly change anything at all. I find I like UV filters in hot climes, and Skylight filters in the climes you’d expect to experience in North America. Very small differences either way. What is important is to buy the very best filter you can so as not to degrade the quality of your lens. I would rather spit on my lens and wipe it clean with a shirtsleeve, than to put a cheap filter in front of it. I always leave it on when not in the studio.

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

As I recover from this rather serious stomach bacteria I’ve stayed close to a restroom and my workstation and managed to process five new galleries. I’d like to share them with you.

Death Railway Museum and Research Centre

Bridge over River Kwai

Changkai War Cemetery

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Old Trains, Railway of Death


Infocus Blog

Self Medicating

Thailand is great in some respects. One respect is the ease with which we can walk into any street side pharmacy, tell them our medical woes, and walk out with cheap antibiotics or whatever else we need within reason.

During a visit to Chinatown week before last my friend and I had lunch at what we were told was the best Chinese restaurant in Chinatown. All three of us ate the same things. Is it any wonder that 24 hours later the two westerners were glued to a restroom with severe stomach distress while our Thai friend felt fine? Iron stomachs?

After a few days we both still felt poorly but decided to head down Kanchanaburi way during Songkran anyway. Several restroom breaks later we arrive in Kanchanaburi and check into our hotel rooms, both feeling like our stomachs had been severely abused.

Hours later I’m not feeling any better so I asked our Thai companion if she would be so kind as to visit the pharmacy, describe my symptoms, and bring me back some good drugs. My friend overhearing said “can you get me some too?” Desperation.

A few days of antibiotics later we’re both feeling better, but not completely recovered. A few more days pass and my friend is fully recovered and I think I am too. I discovered I was not! Now, several days later I’m back into full distress mode and have scheduled a visit to my doctor in the morning.

I’m hoping she can diagnose and treat me correctly the first time around. Should I have gone to her first? Probably.. but this isn’t the most glamorous sickness and the promise that 80 baht’s worth of antibiotics could cure me sounded appealing. In fact, it did cure my friend.

I suppose the moral of this story is that self-medication carries risks. It’s possible I could be totally cured as I write this, instead of being in pain and making sprints to the bathroom. Honestly, if it happens again I’d probably do the same thing.

Sometimes we never learn.

Until next week..