In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog June 13th, 2009

East African Photography Tour, Part II/Flash Card Memory Basics

England Hotel Guide
New Linden Hotel
Duke of Leinster Hotel
Russell Hotel
Waverley House Hotel

Infocus Readers;

This week I want to ask something of you. Please read the request by Gary Van Haneghan below, and if you see fit, please send in some full size images (or any size you have available) of the regions (SEA) children. Don’t worry about their quality, with your permission I’ll finish process them myself and forward them on to Gary to use for his worthwhile charity.

I’ve been in contact with Gary for several years and met him in person a few times. Gary is real and his motives are genuine.

I’ll be supporting Gary’s projects personally as much as I can. I really believe in what he’s doing.

Once we collect the pictures I’ll be making a photo collage to include all the images, and running a special with the collage and the progress Gary has made in this column. The special will feature his progress, the collage, and a selection of the most interesting children’s portraits submitted by our readers. I’ll also put the individual pictures together in an on-line flash gallery and post a link so everyone can enjoy them.

Thank you.

Steve

Hello Steve,

As you know, I run a small grass roots project called Thailand Orphanages/ Poor Children. My projects basically help orphan children in Thailand (Karen, Akha, Burmese, Cambodian, Lao and Thai) and a small amount in Cambodia with nutrition, eyeglasses, clothing, computers and education. My original intent was that I would fund the projects with my own money. As time has gone on, some close friends have begun contributing, which means that I can do more and help more children. Recently, friends have decided to run some fund raisers for the children.

I thought that if you had any readers or students that would be interested in donating a high quality photograph or photographs, that I could make prints and enlargements of their photos and sell them at these fund raisers. ALL of the funds received would go directly to help the children. I cover all of my own expenses and all administrative costs of running my program.

Photos could be of landscapes, monuments or children. Something that says ‘Thailand’ as I’d like to use the photos to give the spirit of exotic and beautiful Thailand. If they could provide them in full size it would make quality enlargements possible. If the photographer would like to include a blurb or website about themselves, I’d make copies and include them in the photo package. While my website is not in the ‘current’ condition I would like it to be, they can check it out at:

www.ThailandOrphanages.com

Any help that your readers can offer is very much appreciated. Thank you as always for you kind assistance.

Best Regards,

Gary


Feature Photograph

Another Chiang Rai landscape. I’ll never have enough of these. Properly captured and processed they make some of the most memorable photographs I’ve taken in South East Asia. Last weeks Feature Photograph was also a Chiang Rai landscape which I told you I captured while driving down the road and observing light. I’d left my friend sleeping while I stepped out of the car and made the capture. 30 minutes later we came upon this scene and I made just enough noise, jerked the car just enough, so he’d wake up and see this splendid scene and share it with me.

This capture is significant because the aged toning fits the scene perfectly. In this landscape time stands still, small lakes which have been here for generations remain unchanged, and a traditional fisherman in his hollowed out boat fishes for his families evening meal.

We’re all familiar with the term “there’s a time and place for everything?” When processing images and applying toning techniques this couldn’t be more true. Toning can set the period and mood of the image. Does it make sense to apply a tone that was common 100-130 years ago if something in the scene has only been around for the last 20-30 years? In most cases the answer would be no, but you’ll often see an aged toning applied to an image that just doesn’t look or feel right. If you look hard enough you’ll discover that a technique common a century ago just doesn’t look/feel right on an image of a modern bus going down a modern street. Toning must fit.

The composition is solid. In the right hand bottom of the frame there is a foreground for reference. Try to image the scene without it. Could you estimate the distance and scale as well? Without the foreground element the image would be much weaker, yet it’s just a small patch of dirt. The mid-ground of the fisherman and marshes is obvious, but what about the mountains in the background? Would the composition be as solid without the mountains? I don’t think it would. All elements in a composition must come together if you want a really solid image.

I probably could have applied the same toning technique to this landscape as well, but the effect would have been lost. With the picture of the fisherman there wasn’t a lot of color creating interest in the scene, toning only improved it. With this image the color and light play wonderfully and a monochromatic toning would distract. Notice the bright green rice fields, the light hitting the straw roof, more light on the tops of the trees to the right? And the contrast of the dark cloudy sky to the side lit foreground and mid-ground?

There is a foreground in this image. The rice. But since it blends into the background it doesn’t stand out nearly as strong as a something that stood alone. A tree trunk, wagon, big rock, almost anything else would have anchored the foreground in a much stronger way. This is why this landscape is relatively weak, even though it’s an attractive image.


East African Photography Tour, Part II

KVW first made my acquaintance last year when he contacted me to see if I could take some photos of him and his fiancée for their wedding invitations. We made arrangements for the shoot and I had a lot of fun meeting and photographing a fun young couple. Periodically we kept in contact through email as KVW developed an interest in photography and I was happy to answer all his questions.

When I learned he was planning an extensive vacation to East Africa and was purchasing a new DSLR I recommended he find time for at least a one-day workshop. One day of instruction can make a heck of a difference. During our workshop it was easy to see he not only had an aptitude for photography, but a keen knowledge of the computer side of things that would serve him well. When he sent me this two part series I couldn’t have been more pleased! Not only was he able to maximize his use of his new DSLR and effect some really good captures, but it sounded like both him and his wife had a great time doing so. This is what life is all about. I keep preaching that photography should be fun, and so it should.

Great job KVW! Thank you for being so generous and sharing your fine work with the readers. If you have any questions about his trip to Africa or his photography you can contact KVW via email at: [email protected]

Thank you

Steve

Ngorongoro Crater

Time at the Serengeti went by way too fast before we had to leave for Ngorongoro. The crater formed around 2 to 3 million years ago when a giant volcano exploded and collapsed onto itself. The resulting caldera is about 13KM across, with a saltwater lake in its center. The vegetation is a mix of acacia forest and lush grasslands, and the crater is known for its large concentration of zebra’s, wildebeest, and elephants. It is also a prime place to spot the highly endangered Black Rhinoceros.

View of the crater while standing on the rim.

The crater is home to a fair amount of lions. However, because so few lions from outside enter the crater, there are apparently a lot of problems with inbreeding within the resident population. Nevertheless, they still look majestic! Just look at that male!

The crater provides a home for many zebras. You can see how predators might have trouble picking out an individual, looking like a moving barcode!

The saltwater lake in the middle of the crater contains a large population of Flamingos. At one point they all started flying at the same time, but inexperienced me didn’t get the shutter speed right, so the photos are disappointing. Nevertheless, I was quite happy with the shot above.

At the local picnic site where most visitors stop for lunch you will see many of these black kites roaming the skies. Anyone brave enough to have lunch outside the vehicle runs the risk of seeing his or her chicken leg fly off in the talons of these thieving raptors. If you look close you can see that this one has a plastic bag with a sandwich between its claws.

No safari in Africa is complete without seeing elephants. This large male was happily feeding on some vegetation next to the road. Judging by his “5th leg” he’s clearly, ehhh, enjoying himself….

The crater is known as one of the best spots to observe black rhinos. We’d been seeing them in the distance throughout the day but could never get close enough for a photo. But at the eleventh hour, just as we were about to call it a day, this big girl decided to grace us with her presence. Woohoo!

This great sighting sadly also marked the end of our safari. From Ngorongoro we drove back to Moshi, from where we took a flight to Zanzibar. A safari is far from a relaxing holiday, and as much as we enjoyed ourselves, it really was exhausting. A few days on a tropical beach was just what the doctor ordered.

Zanzibar

Living in Thailand really does spoil you when it comes to tropical beach holidays and as far as service is concerned (If you think Thailand is bad, don’t underestimate Africa). Our own resort was a little disappointing, but we did find a lovely guest house further down the beach where the food was great and service impeccable (thanks Dina!).

Besides the beaches there are other things to do on Zanzibar. Stone town, which is the old part of the capital city, is a good place for a day trip. We also managed a visit to the Jozani Forest which is the only place in the world where you can find Red Colobus monkeys. Apparently it’s also an excellent spot for snorkeling and scuba diving, but the weather and the currents prevented us from trying that.

Our guide in the forest spotted this little green snake. Even after he pointed it out, it still took us a few minutes to actually find it, so good was its camouflage!

These Red Colobus monkeys were so close that I actually had to change from my 70-300mm lens to my 17-85 mm. You could actually touch their tails!

This Cathedral in Stone Town marks the location of the old slave market. Until the early 1900’s Zanzibar was the main point of transfer for most of the African slaves destined to the Middle East and Asia.

Even though the population in Zanzibar is 98% Muslim, they live peacefully side by side the Christian and Hindu minorities, as this picture demonstrates.

This character apparently always carries his entire shop along on his back and shoulders. He wanted some money in return for his picture being taken. Normally I don’t pay for such things, but in this case I couldn’t resist.

We felt that the beaches in Thailand are generally nicer, but the water just off the beach here showed a magnificent spectrum of colors.

Tanzania really is a photographer’s paradise. The landscape, the animals, the locals, they all make for great subjects to capture through your lens. While it’s not next door to Thailand geographically, it really is well worth the travel. This is especially true if you’re into nature photography.

It was one of the best holidays we’ve ever had, and I’m extremely happy that I went the extra mile and bought the DSLR and telephoto lens. It really was worth it. Thanks Steve, for guiding me to use it properly!


Flash Card Memory Basics

This will be a short but very valuable learning topic. I often get questions on this topic, yet I’m surprised by how many people I run across who aren’t asking questions and really don’t understand why their cameras buffer takes forever to empty, so they can continue shooting. I know people who were actually planning on buying a new camera because they thought the reason the memory card took so long to clear the buffer was only a function of the camera.

Memory cards for our PDA’s, GPS’s, and other personal electronics can be near any speed or quality and we won’t notice that much. But put an inexpensive slow card in your camera and the bottleneck will stop you in your tracks!

There are two main variables that affect the speed of data transfer between your camera and your memory card. The camera and your memory card. The camera is limited. There is a maximum transfer rate the camera can handle and it will top at this maximum no matter how fast your card is. However, perhaps 95%+ of the time, it’s the flash memory card which is the bottleneck and not the camera. The camera can almost always accept data faster than the memory card can provide. So let’s concentrate on memory cards.

There are two speeds you need to be concerned with. Write speed and Read speed. Most memory card manufacturers rate their cards 150x, 200x, and so forth.. but what does that mean exactly? Here’s a big hint. If the memory card manufacturer rates their cards in this way then the chances are they’re not a top quality/speed card. Write and Read speed should be listed in megabytes per second. (Mbps) Here’s another catch. Write speeds and read speeds will NOT be the same on these cards. Write speeds will be dramatically slower than read speeds. This means manufacturers, especially ones of dubious quality/value, will only list their read speed, but won’t tell you it’s only their read speed. Confused yet?

Write speed is critically important because ‘writing’ is exactly what your camera is doing to the flash memory card when it’s ‘saving’ an image to the card. It’s ‘writing’ the image to the card. If you want to overcome that bottleneck and get back to shooting as fast as possible, then its WRITE SPEED you should be concerned with most.

Read speed is what you should be concerned with when it comes to how fast your memory card sends your images to your computer after the fact. Read speed is important, but frankly I can wait while my computer reads my card and sends my images to my hard disk, but it will cost me valuable photo opportunities in the field if I have to wait too long for my camera to write to my memory card.

I’m often asked how I choose which memory cards I personally use. First, I am very skeptical of any brand which advertises their speeds in the “150x” format. Especially if they are inexpensive. These cards might be great if the speed of the card isn’t your priority, but for me speed is a priority. The only greater priority is reliability. Unfortunately the brand which advertises their speeds in the “150x” format tends to be the least reliable and offers the least warranty. By far.

Instead, look for the brands that offer their speed in mbps. If you see 30mbps being advertised then great, but do realize that with a 99.9% certainty this speed is the read speed. The write speed will be considerably less, often by as much as 2/3 or more.

So how do you find the real write speeds? I search sites that test the cards before buying. Rob Galbraith’s site has been testing the memory cards of most interest to photographers for years and you can count on him being accurate. He’s compiled a database of SD and CF cards that you can look at here. He might not have tested the very latest/newest cards (yet), but chances are if the brand isn’t listed in this database then the card probably isn’t a good choice for photographers. He actually tests the cards IN DIFFERENT CAMERAS so the cameras speed is also part of the equation. He even rates the speeds from jpegs and raw files separately because file size affects the speed. This is the best site I know of for finding such information.

Notice that he only lists the write speed? This is the main concern. Also, if you start at the bottom of his list you can see the inexpensive brands and how slow they are. At the top of the list are the SanDisk and Lexar brands. These are the two brands professionals use the most because they are the fastest and most reliable. Notice for instance that the 6th card down, the SanDisk “Extreme III 30mb/s edition 8gb” has a read speed of approximately HALF the speed it lists on its packaging? The packaging won’t tell you the speed plastered on it is the read speed, or that there’s a difference, unless you read the very small print. And I warn you its very tiny print.

I’ve personally had bad luck with the Lexar brand and I stopped using them. The bad luck can be attributed to a certain series of cards in a certain camera, a defect that Lexar cleared up. Finally. Still, it was the only time I actually lost images because of a memory card and I didn’t care for the way Lexar handled it at the time. This was when I switched to SanDisk and have never looked back. I’d only look back if at some point SanDisk cards caused problems for me.

The price differences between the best and worst brands can be significant. For instance, a 32gb Transcend CF card can be found online for as little as $89 USD’s. That seems like quite a deal. Until you put it in your camera and it takes forever to write a file to the card, and as the card fills it gets slower still. At the same time a 16gb SanDisk Extreme IV CF card goes for $199. More than twice as much for half the capacity. Many shoppers who don’t know the finer points of memory card basics will choose the lesser expensive higher capacity card, never realizing what a huge difference there is in speeds between the other brand. Not to mention warranty and reliability.

If you examine the cards carefully you’ll also see differences in construction. Last year I purchased a cheap Delkin card for my PDA because speed didn’t matter. It was a SD card and after only two months the card’s outer plastic shell split in half and the write protect nub got lost, and the card became instantly useless! But I saved $19..

If you buy quality Lexar or SanDisk products for your DSLR you will not be disappointed. But do pay attention to which models within the brands you choose. Even Lexar and SanDisk sell inexpensive slow cards because there’s a market for them, and people will choose them over the other cheap cards because of their name. With Lexar you want the Professional Series, and with SanDisk the Extreme series. You won’t be disappointed.

Photography News of Interest

The Superzoom category has long been popular with hobbyists. Now we have a new generation of "compact" superzooms and they look very interesting. Digital Photography Review did a group test of the current models you can read about here.

Famous photographs are few and far between. Remember the photograph of the helicopters taking US Citizens off the roof of the embassy during the fall of Saigon? The Dutch photojournalist Hugh Van Es captured this memorable photograph. He recently died. The story is here.

Have you been waiting for Fuji to make that underwater housing for your F200EXR compact available? How about other Finepix accessories? You're in luck! Fuji just introduced a new line of useful accessories that you can read more about here.

I don't usually advertise the competition but since I can't be everywhere at once I see no harm.. ;o) Canon's Learning Center now has "Canon Live Learning" featuring Photography Workshops and Classes. Maybe you'll find these of value? Read more about it here.

Readers' Submissions

Hi Steve

First of all thank you for introducing us amateurs and even professionals in the photo-art all possibilities.

I enclose some pictures from a strange place. It is from a Temple Park near Korat. There is no technical features of the images. They are all taken in Auto mode with a Fuji F45. The weather was not the best, crisp sunshine mixed with shadow. I have never before seen anything like it in Thailand. Lots of horror figures made of cement. The children should be prohibited to visit the Park. I have tried to ascertain the purpose of the park but have not succeeded. There are several images from the strange place on my website under the link if you are interested.

If you are in the vicinity of the Korat, I think you will visit the park. You can certainly create interesting pictures with your experience and professionals equipment.

The red arrow on the map shows approximately where the Park is located. I know, unfortunately, not the name of the Park.

I look forward to next week's lesson.

Regards/Sune

Hi Sune –

First, thank you for the images. I’ll run them in the Readers Submissions area along with the link you provided and your narrative. I think many will find it interesting.

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

Have you heard or tried this software from Mediachance. its called ReDynamix HDR and it's a plug-in for Photoshop, it's designed to work with only one file, but I've found that I can use up to 4 files. Any more than this and it doesn't work well. cost is US$16

They do make a stand alone program called Dynamic Photo HDR 4 for US$55.

Charles

Charles –

I’ve heard about this product.. not good things..

Photoshop has a built in HDR feature. It’s pretty good. The only one I know which is better is Photomatrix from hdrsoft.com

It’s the one I use.

Steve

Hi Steve,

Got a quick question. I want to put some of the photos of our holiday online for friends and family to see. As I don’t have my own domain, I was wondering if you can recommend a good photo hosting website. If possible, a website that makes it difficult to download the photos, as I don’t want other people to use them. I think some of the images could be used for commercial purposes (only a few, I’m not pretending I’m that great :p). Any ideas?

Is it possible to embed a copyright on the images when you export them from Lightroom?

Please let me know your thoughts on this.

Thanks.

Best regards,

Koen

Koen –

This would make a great learning topic.

You’d be surprised how many people think because the image is on the web they’re free to use it without regard to copyright. I’ve had images stolen on a regular basis and the last time I checked (several years ago) my images were being used without permission in over 600 instances! Many on professionally built websites for commercial use where web designers just copied them instead of going to a stock agency and paying a fee. For a person whose livelihood depends on copyright this can be more than annoying.

True story: Yahoo has an African Grey parrot user group. I decided to check it out once because I have African Grey parrots. On their opening page is the flying/attacking African Grey shot of Caesar in black and white. I joined the user group and asked the guy running it where he got the picture. He replied he took it! It has my watermark and is clearly my image. He took it from my Pbase account. I called him on it and he stuck with his position. Giving it some thought, this was only a group of 35-40 individuals and they’d never pay for an image anyway. It was when this happened that I just accepted a certain amount of my work could be written off to theft.

Keep in mind that anyone can “print to screen” (ctrl, print screen) which copies the entire screen to your clipboard. Then, when you open a new document in Photoshop it will automatically be sized for your clipboard. You then select “paste” and the entire screen is now in Photoshop. Crop around the image you want and you have it. If you can see it on your screen there is nothing you can do to stop someone from taking it. Nothing. You can only make it more difficult so others can’t do the “right click” and “save image” easily.

Flickr doesn’t allow right click. Smugmug protects them as well. I personally think their fees are too high so I’ve used Pbase for years now. Since I purchased my own domain I’ve thought of shutting down my Pbase account but I’ve developed other uses for it that I can’t do on my own domain. When I do the learning topic on photo hosting sites I’ll cover these.

I hope you’ve found this somewhat useful. I’m sorry more can’t be done to protect your images. I recommend keeping them as small as possible to discourage use off the web, watermark them, and compress the heck out of them to keep the quality down. I know this is contrary to showing off your images for best effect.. but this is why I limit my images in the weekly column the way I do.

Take care

Steve

Steve

When I buy an SD card it comes in a small plastic protective carrier. I never throw those away. If I change the card in the camera I take the new SD card out of the carrier and put it in the camera and then put the old card I the plastic "box". I have never lost one.

regards
Jan

Hi Jan –

Thank you for the feedback. I’m glad this works for you.

For myself, I use my camera and flash cards almost daily. I’m not sure the OEM plastic cases would be very helpful in my case.

There are other options along the line of your thoughts. Several companies make flash card holders with larger cases, small chains to secure to your belt loops, and other such conveniences. I have several of these and on each occasion I lost a SD card I wasn’t using the device. Mostly I found them inconvenient for casual use, although very useful for formal use.

Thank you for your response.

Steve

Hi Steve

First of all thank you for introducing us amateurs and even professionals in the photo-art all possibilities.

After your evaluation of the Fuji F30 I decided to purchase the camera. But I was too late. It was not in the market longer. So I bought a later model Fuji F45FD. Now to my question, is the successors worse than the F30. You are talking about pixel race as if it were something bad, is it the case.

I look forward to next weeks lesson.

Regards/Sune

Hi Sune –

The Fuji F45FD is a very nice compact. In some ways it is superior to the F30 or F31. The F30 and F31 however stands alone in low light performance. Even the new F200EXR which comes very close, is not ‘quite’ as good in low light.

Your personal style and needs will dictate which features you need the most and which to place the value on.

And yes, in many ways, especially in the consumer market, the “pixel race” very much misleads consumers. Sure, more pixels are always welcome and all things being equal are ‘better’ than less pixels. However, when you “chop up” a sensor of a certain size into smaller and smaller pieces (more pixels) then those smaller pieces become less capable than a larger piece would be. Their ability to gather light, show tones, render color, and more becomes severely limited. What you end up with is a high pixel count camera (say the F45d) that shoots brilliantly in bright daylight or within the distance limits of its flash, but performs poorly at lower light levels. Of course all cameras perform more poorly at lower light levels, but it’s a matter of degree.

I’ll also say this. In the last few years the “improvements” in low light capability seen in some of the finest DSLRs such as the Nikon D3, D3x, and D700 and the Canon 1dsMarkII and 5dMarkII, are about 80% clever noise reduction in the firmware, and only 20% improved physical sensor design.

I hope this helps

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

Busy Times. Lots of travel and many images to process.

Infocus Blog

How Do You Carry It as Carry-on?

The topic of camera bags would probably, and will probably, take a multi-part learning topic and in the future we’ll cover that. In the interim the question has come up several times on what I use to “carry-on” my cameras.

First, if at all possible I won’t check my cameras or other valuable electronics. In today’s world of high security checks we’re most often told to leave our luggage unlocked. If we do lock it we’re told to be prepared to find they’ve cut the locks during security screening. I can easily insure my gear and I do, but if my gear disappears on my way to an assignment, or in the case of an expensive vacation, the insurance won’t cover the loss of my job of the cost of my vacation. If I can’t carry my gear as “carry-on” then I carefully pack it in military grade hard cases, use the best locks, and FedEx it (heavily insured) to my destination.

If I can carry-on my gear I want a bag that will be easy to transport through airports, is secure, and protects my equipment. Wouldn’t it be nice if it had wheels? Wouldn’t it be nicer if I could easily pile my regular luggage on top of my camera case and easily pull it through the airports as easily as a luggage cart? There is such a case.

PorterCase makes a model with nice padded camera dividers, big 4” poly wheels, and a near indestructible construction. I’ve wheeled this case, with my checked luggage on top, through airports, hotels, and all over Thailand as it’s the bag I pack when I work from my car.

Yes, it’s expensive. But I’ve tried many other products and my storage room is a testament to how many I’ve tried. Nothing works as easily and as well as a PorterCase.