In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog May 2nd, 2009

Chungkai War Cemetery/Photo Critique Sites

Denmark Hotel Guide
Comfort Hotel Atlantic Arhus
Mercur Hotel Aarhus
Adina Apartment Hotel Copenhagen
Clarion Collection Hotel Mayfair

Feature Photograph

There is a small display of vintage train engines used on the Death Railway and even though the sun was behind the horizon I wanted to take a few photos. Kanchanaburi in April is sweltering hot like the rest of Thailand, so hot that even a few hours outdoors saps your strength. An advantage to being out when the sun dips below the horizon is an immediate and significant cooling of temperature. Photographically it’s a mixed bag. Without the sun for lighting you need to get more creative.

This image is significant because it’s a vintage train engine that actually ran on the tracks of the Death Railway, and because it’s a good example of using available light through a long exposure. In this case the sodium lights used to light the display. Bracing carefully I was able to shoot a 1/10th which coupled with a 400 ISO and f4.5 aperture allowed just enough light to fall on the subject. Because the light temperature from sodium lights is quite different from the natural light in the background I masked off the train and adjusted its white balance separately. I think the results are striking despite some significant artifacts from the level of post processing needed to pull it off.

Captured about 30 minutes earlier this is the actual Japanese truck modified to run on the rails and used during the construction of the bridge and other parts of the Death Railway. You can’t see in this particular image, but the open engine bay still houses the original engine complete with external shrouded pushrods and individual cylinders (similar to a Harley Davidson motorcycle engine). This truck is an icon in its own right. I think it’s amazing that it’s so well preserved.

ChungKai War Cemetery

I’m not sure why I’m starting with the Chungkai War Cemetery over the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery which you’ll see next week. Perhaps it was the quiet calmness void of tourists or the more lush environment which allowed the shrubs and plants to grow larger and more colorful. Mr. Rod Beattie who is the caretaker for the Commonwealth managed war cemeteries recommended we make the effort to see the Chungkai War Cemetery and provided us exact directions. A great recommendation!

During the construction of the Burma-Siam railway it is estimated that nearly 100,000 civilians and 13,000 prisoners of war died and were buried along its course outside the work camps. Later the remains of Allied prisoners were moved to three cemeteries, Kanchanaburi and Chungkai in Thailand, and Thanbyuszayat in Burma now known as Myanmar.

Chungkai was an actual work camp and had a hospital and church built by the prisoners. The prisoners themselves started Chungkai War Cemetery which mostly contains the remains of the men who died at the hospital. 1427 Commonwealth and 314 Dutch prisoners of war are buried here. 1741 Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen. 1691 are marked with names, rank and service. 50 sets of remains have yet to be identified. The Americans repatriated the remains of their men.

I’ve been almost everywhere in Thailand and I’ve never seen a more precise and carefully cared for piece of land. I remember sitting outside the Kanchanaburi War Cemetery before going inside and thinking out loud said “there is no way the Thais are responsible for the this cemetery.” There was something about the precision and feeling that just wasn’t Thai. The attention to detail. I was right. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission is responsible and Mr. Rod Beattie is the manager/caretaker. I used to think the Queen Sirikit Botanical Gardens in Chiang Mai were the most beautiful and well maintained grounds in Thailand. Now I know they are not.

Each row is precision lined, each grave marker inscribed and polished. Each marker is flanked by colorful and attractive live flowers and shrubs, each carefully pruned and sized. The grass is perfect, better than the best greens in Thailand. Old trees are splendid in size and shape. Walking into the cemetery the temperature significantly decreases as the flora cradles you in comfort. I’m not sure it’s possible to build a more fitting resting place.

I’ve already mentioned I was very sick and weak on this trip, but something about these grounds comforted me. As my mates walked and had a look around I took a seat near the top of the rows of markers and took in all that I could while I rested. From this low perspective I made a few captures that those standing wouldn’t see.

Most grave markers are inscribed with the name, rank, and service of the fallen. Some have personal inscriptions I’d guess were placed at the request of family members. An ongoing challenge from any war is identifying unmarked remains. Chungkai is no exception and each marker which designates an unknown is inscribed with “A Soldier of the 1939-1945 War. Known Unto God.” Fitting. Mr. Rod Beattie the caretaker of the Commonwealth Cemeteries and Owner/Director of the Death Railway Museum has been responsible for identifying unknown remains and his efforts continue today.

Looking back at the entrance you can get a feel for the beauty of the cemetery and the painstakingly careful guardianship.

Despite feeling terrible I tried my best to capture not only the details and perfection, but the design and feeling. I know I could never do this place justice, but I plan on returning as often as necessary until I feel satisfied I did my very best. How could I not?

This tree struck me as particularly beautiful. Flowers blooming in the upper canopy, and the matching fallen petals on the ground. Framed by a blue sky and green grass it stood out in a way only something made by nature can.

At the very end of the cemetery, furthest from the entrance, is this large cross. When the sun strikes it just so the small crosses on the markers also glow.

Photo Critique Sites

Want to have some fun and learn in the process? Then perhaps a photo critique site is for you. This week I’m going to talk a bit about my experiences with photo critique sites and how to get the most from them.

A photo critique site is simple in concept. You upload and post a picture, fill out the requested information, and it goes into a gallery that other uses of the site can view. Based on a thumbnail your image will be viewed by a percentage of the viewers, and based on the image itself a lesser percentage of viewers will take the time to leave comments/critique.

Why would you want to do this? For many just starting out they don’t yet know what makes a good image, what makes people click on a thumbnail, and what parts of the composition are weak or strong. A photo critique site will help you learn.

Others are simply after self-validation. Perhaps in a way we all are. However, those who find self-validation the most necessary are often the most disappointed.

The key is to take the useful parts of the critiques, and leave the parts of no use. How do you know which is which? Here’s a rundown of the top five in importance.

  1. Total number of views. This will be the number of people who have clicked on your thumbnail. “Thumbnail art” is very important in our modern on-line world and it’s imperative you understand what makes a viewer click on a thumbnail.
  2. Total number of comments/critiques. Photography is about inspiration, motivation. How many feel motivated to leave a comment is a good indicator of the power of your image.
  3. How your image impacts the viewers. Read your comments/critiques. Does your image convey the message you intended?
  4. Unexpected comments/critiques. A lot can be learned from these. Pearls of wisdom can be found.
  5. What isn’t said in the comments/critiques. Listen carefully to what isn’t said. If you expected a certain response and didn’t get it.. pay attention.

Also know there are different “types’ of people who leave comments/critiques. Some types often advice of gold, others are simply laughable.

  1. Junkie: This is the type of person who lives on the forum who seemingly has no life other than to comment on every single image. This person might or might not be a photographer. Usually, this type of person has learned “the lingo” of the site and feels very good about himself/herself using it.
  2. Agitator: This type of person delights in pulling your chain. Don’t let them. Their critique is sometimes useful, but when you consider their motivation it’s best to take their advice with a grain of salt.
  3. Know-it-All: This type of person somehow knows everything about anything. Sometimes they’re worth listening too.
  4. Mr/Mrs Awestruck: This type of person just discovered a camera/website/computer and is having a lot of fun participating. You can learn a lot by paying attention to why they picked your image to comment on. Take a look at their critique history.
  5. Norm: This is the person you want to listen to. Good old Norm. He/she doesn’t comment on every image, doesn’t know it all, isn’t trying to rattle your cage, and isn’t addicted to the site. They’ve simply seen your image and felt motivated to comment on and the reason why they felt motivated is invaluable to you.
  6. Mr. Pro: You’d be surprised by the number of very good and very accomplished photographers who visit these sites. After all, they need recreation too and they probably get a certain amount of satisfaction helping others enjoy their passion. Critiques from Mr. Pro are worth their weight in gold.

Don’t be fooled into thinking that because someone knows some terminology that they know what they’re talking about. A few weeks on a photo site and you’ll know your share of terminology too. There is nothing more irritating than someone like this who doesn’t look at the over all composition, but nitpicks relatively insignificant points and thinks they’re the final authority on photography. Sure, the small points are important. But keep the overall “picture” in mind.

Don’t be goaded into anger or returning harsh comments. It’s never worth it. If someone is a jerk, rest assured that everyone else knows it or soon will. You’ll do much better ignoring such comments.

Yes there are cliques! My are there cliques. Every photo site has them. They often control the overall tone and feel of the site. Understand they’re there, feel sorry for those with nothing else better to do, and take what valuable advice you can from them. If you’re a clique type person, then by all means sign up. Just be careful which one you climb aboard.

Don’t get discouraged if you post images and get no response. If you’re not a member of a clique, and your images aren’t really good, you often won’t get many comments/critiques UNLESS you take the effort to leave a lot of comments/critiques yourself. The very best way to get feedback, is to give feedback. Don’t be lazy, contribute. After all, you’ll learn a lot this way as well.

Photo critique sites can be a lot of fun. You can learn a lot. Mostly, you’ll learn what makes people look at thumbnails, why they like certain images, what common mistakes not to make, and how to cater to a certain audience. The latter becomes extremely important if you ever plan on going pro. You need to learn to recognize your client and how to please them.

Almost all photo critique sites have a “front page” or a gallery where those with the most views, points, or critiques rise to stardom. Sometimes you’ll look at these images and agree they should be there, sometimes you’re left scratching your head (think cliques). It can be quite rewarding to reach the front page and see your photo there. It can also be very frustrating getting there.

True story. A small group of fellow pros and I used to frequent a certain photo critique site. We’d learned the ins and outs of how the site worked, what motivated the viewers, and basically were very comfortable. One day we thought it would be fun if we all submitted images which were “front page” material and we all had our images up on the front page at the same time. Well, we did it. We also didn’t rate each other's images. We got there honestly by submitting good images and letting others rate them. However, we chatted about it in a semi-private forum where we were the only regular participants. It turns out one of the less talented forum members got all chuffed about this and posted links to our discussion on the photo site forum. For some reason our “plan” riled many of the photo site members. They didn’t care that the images were good and we got there honestly, they only cared that there was some sort of conspiracy. Lesson learned. Now we have fun in different ways. ;o)

Some of the sites I’d recommend to get your feet wet are listed below. You’ll find some truly spectacular images on these sites. Enjoy!

Photosig

PhotoPoints

Photo.net

Photography News of Interest

Are you ready to be emotional? Did Slumdog Millionaire make you cry more than you laughed? Do you want to be impacted through photography in a way you might never have been before? Do you cry easily? Zoriah Photojournalist hosts Guest Photographer/Photojournalist G.M.B. Akash. Topic: Child Labor in Bangladesh. WARNING: Extremely powerful imagery. View here.

A fun type of consumer point and shoot camera is the “Super Zoom” category. Sony has been a player in this genre for years now and their latest SuperZoom point and shoot is the DSC-HX1 with a 28-560mm (35mm equiv) lens. It’s really a fine example of the genre. You can read a review of the DSC-HX1 here.

Photography Contest anyone? HP and Magnum Photos is sponsoring a contest titled “The Magnum Expression Award” which was established to inspire change and increase awareness through the photography medium. Do you think you have something for one of the categories? You can read more about it here.

Another creep off the streets! Tim Huot accused of taking improper photos and possessing child pornography has been arrested and charged. He worked as an Athletic Trainer in Cleburne. You can read more about it here.

Readers' Submissions

Steve

I hope you don't mind but here is one of the reasons I like my new lens. While in Australia I traveled to Townsville and visited my sister's family, my nephew is a real clown and I was able to take some great photos of him, anyway this is one of those. Nikon lens 50-150 f2.8G, Focal length = 50mm, shutter speed 1/400, F stop f6.3, ISO 100.

Charles

Charles –

I really like the images of the kids playing in the pool! This is exactly the reason most people buy cameras, to capture family pictures. Really nice!

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

Steve

I have 1 more question though. During the trip I tried several times to shoot birds of prey in flight, with varying levels of success. I soon discovered that I was more successful by changing to TV instead of AV to get a guaranteed high shutter speed, but the biggest problem is getting the bird clear against a bright sky. I read in your report on Buang Boraphet your remark of adjusting your exposure when doing such shots. I assume that you meant increasing the measured exposure by 2/3 to 1 stop or so? This did improve the pictures somewhat, but still I didn’t get the results I was hoping for. Do you have some tips/pointers for shooting this kind of shot? I included an example of one of my efforts, slightly sharpened in Lightroom and cropped. It’s shot at 300mm, F5.6, ISO 100. I still think that the bird doesn’t stand out enough, and the wing tips are still slightly blurry, even at 1/400s exposure. What do you think?

Love your images of the bridge by the way. I’ve been there many times, but never saw it like that! Is the feature photograph HDR?

Best regards,

Koen

Koen –

I’m excited to see images from your trip to Africa. I think the readers will be too.

About your questions. You’ve done very well by switching to Tv (shutter priority) when Av (aperture priority) wasn’t giving you the shutter speeds you wanted, and by increasing the exposure 2/3’s to a full stop. These are the “recommended” techniques, but from here you’ll need to go on experience and your observation of light. Let me explain.

You want the flying birds to stand out from the sky. Proper exposure doesn’t seem to do it. This is because, like everything else in photography, light is everything. When I went to Beung Boraphet I was in the company of very seasoned bird photographers who seemed happy to shoot anything with wings. I suppose I was a bit different because I was after the “photography” more than the bird itself.

This means that in addition to looking for birds to photography, I was also looking at direction of light. Birds will stand out much more if the light is falling on them, instead of behind them. Birds sometimes fly straight, but often they turn and swoop and move across the horizon and different backgrounds. Before shooting with your camera, observe with your eyes. Watch when the light strikes him in such a way that you can see him easier, where more detail is exposed, and where he stands out from the background more than the rest. After such observation, use your camera to capture the best light, background, and perspective. This is all I did at Beung Boraphet.. I didn’t get nearly the ‘number’ of bird shots as the rest, but I got shots I personally liked and I think they turned out okay.

As to your second question, no the feature photography of the River Kwai Bridge was not processed in HDR. I did use localized editing in Lightroom though. Mostly it was just one of those images where nature was very cooperative. Sometimes we just get lucky.. ;o)

Can’t wait to see your shots from Africa!

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

I would like to say I was productive this week, but I cannot. Besides trips to the doctors office and taking some exercise outdoors trying to feel better I haven’t done much other than answer emails, work on my new site design, and process images that I’d been holding back on for whatever reason.

Next week should be much more productive. I’m charging batteries, packing bags, and getting set for a week up north in Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mai Sai. By the time you read this I should be on my way home.

Infocus Blog

Control

This week's blog is half analogy, half common sense.

Are you afraid of heights? I am. I am not.

What? How can this be? It’s about control.

You see, my past profession required being comfortable with heights of all kinds. Secretly, inside, I was terrified of natural heights like when I had to climb mountains and rock climb, but I was extremely comfortable rappelling down a tall building or jumping out of planes.

Too many times I was on a mountain trail or clinging to the face of a big rock and all I could think about was “what if.” What if it was nature’s time for the big rock to let go of the mountain? What if the ice cracked. What if the trail face was weakened by underground runoff? Way too many variables were out of my control and the loss of control terrified me. Sure, I sucked it up, hid my feelings, but the loss of control and resulting fear were real.

On the other hand when I ran my line down the side of a man made building and jumped over the edge I was very comfortable. I’d inspected the lines, I knew the building was built to code, and basically I felt like I was in the driver’s seat. I had control. Jumping out of a plane with a chute that I personally packed was a piece of cake. Hanging out the side of a helicopter was as comfortable as climbing out of bed. Because I had control and input every step of the way.

Photography is much the same. Some parts we have control of, others we don’t. The more control I have the better I feel. I have control of my equipment, my camera settings, and how I use the camera. This can compensate for many things.

Other parts of photography we have no control over. We have no control over the weather, the seasons, pollution in the air (that creates color in sunsets), and many other variables.

So how does all this relate to photography? Control is nice. Control is learned, practiced, and earned. Control puts you on a certain level of photography and it’s very nice. But there’s more.

Your knowledge of the variables you can’t control, and those you can, will allow you to reach an even higher level.

You might not have control over the sun, but you have control over which direction you point the camera from the sun.

You might not be able to make the cloud cover go away or make the sun move from the background, but you can adjust your white balance and use bokeh to compensate.

You might find all the tourists at a site more than a bit annoying, but you can adjust the camera to make them mere shadows which enhance the scene rather than distract from it.

Through your knowledge of control, and your manipulation of what you can’t control, you can sometimes make some very nice photographs.

Learn to use everything around you, learn to control that which you can, and to ‘use’ that which you can’t. You’ll be a better photographer for it.

Until next week..