In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog August 15th, 2009

Samut Songkram Boat Yards II /Balancing Light

July 25, 2009 Photography Workshops in Bangkok Thailand. Exotic workshops and professional photographic services.

Feature Photograph

Captured outside of Canadian Dave's small restaurant

He Clinic Bangkok

I knew when I was standing there in the rain looking through my viewfinder that if I made this capture correctly I'd have an interesting image because of the ominous clouds and the sun breaking through providing some direct light in an otherwise dark scene.

This image is significant because it does just that. I captured the mood, which is a rainy dark street in Mae Sot. But the image also took on a third dimension due to the light forming on the building on the right and the street where the motosai and police truck are.

This is the sort of image that stands out from others taken in like circumstances simply because I was paying attention to the light and adjusted my exposure to show the break in the clouds to the best advantage. Yes, the picture is ordinary, but it's an excellent ordinary picture.

CBD bangkok

A brightly painted green klong home stands alone

In contrast we have the above image captured in Samut Songkram which was evening lit and balanced well with the sky. The interesting shade of green contrasting with the blue sky and white picture frame windows and door makes for another pretty picture. Even so, to me it's just not as interesting as the dark street shot above.

Samut Songkram Boat Yards II

This week we take another look at the Samut Songkram Boat Yards. A few weeks back I took you through a workshop experience through the student's eyes/camera and the ultra-wide angle lens he was using. This week we'll take a look at the exact same location and time but through my own camera using a 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens. The student was using the ultra-wide to capture objects and entire boats, and I was using the 70-200mm mostly to capture the people working at the boat yard. The resulting images couldn't be more different.

wonderland clinic

An immigrant worker grinds rust off the rudder frame in 42c heat

When making such captures try to avoid the straight on shots that are all too common. Try to find a unique angle or catch the subject doing something unusual and interesting. Don't be afraid to zoom in close, but be mindful that you capture enough of the scene to tell the story. People photography, no matter if it's on the street or in a boat yard should tell an interesting story with each image.

The same immigrant worker from another angle

This is the same worker but from a more common viewpoint. You have the exact same elements in both images, yet they're very different because of the angle to the subject.

An unremarkable shot made slightly interesting by the lighting

The worker below is a woman. They're often lifting heavy loads while balancing on nothing more than a narrow scaffolding without the benefit of any sort of safety gear.

A middle aged lady lifts a board while standing on a narrow scaffold.

Often an image is germane to the shoot simply because of the look on the subject's face. The expression can be one of annoyance, concentration, anger, or even contentment. Captured emotions make the image stronger.

Taken unaware this worker expresses annoyance

A painter concentrates on his footing

Shots of workers completing specific tasks add interest, especially if a lot of concentration or straining is involved.

Workers struggle to leverage a rudder into place

Less than 20 meters away an old man with his sampan kitchen cooks hot meals for the workers. Unfortunately it's very difficult to depict smell in an image. All the images in this outing were close enough to the sea water so there was always the stench of a stagnant harbor overpowering the more common boat yard smells of paint, grease, diesel, and other smells.

An old man cooking and selling food from his sampan

In a boat yard there are all sorts of angles. Perhaps the most common is the common horizontal view of workers on the ground level, but a close second place would be the more vertical angles as you capture workers elevated on boats, scaffolding, and masts.

Four men scraping paint

Three ladies adding paint

Transformation and contrast adds interest. The boats come into the yard very beat up and looking like wrecks and leave looking like new. Thousands of man hours go into each build and its obvious the workers take great pride in their work. The differences in mood between a new intake being torn down, and the almost celebration going on with the workers completing the final painting of a finished boat can and should be captured.

An old sea ravaged fishing boat comes in for overhaul

A completed overhaul gets final touches of paint

Balancing Light

It's very common to end up with images that have a very bright background and a dark foreground due to an overpowering sun and/or not well lit foreground. An image can have its composition greatly upgraded to "interesting" and possibly "unusual" simply by balancing the light in the foreground and background.

In the past we've talked about using HDR, ND filters, and other techniques to accomplish the balance. However, the very best way to achieve balanced exposures is simply to capture them that way. This will involve keeping your eyes open and gaining some experience in reading the scene so you don't miss such opportunities.

An outside passageway that runs under an awning

As you look down an aisle or corridor try to visually estimate if the background light at the very end is balanced with the interior. It would be like taking a picture inside an apartment, looking out the window, and trying to make this capture when the room lights are balanced with the outdoor sun. This isn't hard to do, but it does involve waiting until the sun is mostly gone for the day and using a long exposure. You can do the same with an outdoor situation. The use of a tripod and longer shutter speeds are often necessary.

A covered outside event area

Sometimes the light from the background can 'come in' to the foreground because of the direction. It's very easy to walk past such shots, but if you are actively looking for these opportunities you'll find them more often than you think you might.

Inside a lumber mill, lit by a skylight

Directional light from transparent roofs, skylights, and the such can come into an otherwise dark scene and make for a very interesting capture.

It takes a great deal of experience to "see" these sort of shots, but they present themselves often enough that you shouldn't have any trouble finding them several times on a typical outing. They key is to actively seek out such photo ops.

A family store on the klong

You can also 'stretch' these opportunities of light by increasing the exposure time well past what you would normally use which will require the use of a tripod and the use of ND filters, And of course you can always resort to bracketing your exposures for HDR and blending techniques, but don't you agree these naturally balanced scenes are much nicer than the ones you force?

Photography News of Interest

They took my Kodachrome away! It took them 74 years, but they went and did it! What will Paul Simon ing about now? Unfortunately only the finest emulsions are surviving. With Kodak now receiving about 70% of its revenues from digital I suppose we can’t blame them. You can read more about it here.

Do you have the gadget buying disease? This is a fun look at how we sometimes look at these "must have" items using Olympus' new EP-1 as an example. You can read about it here.

Adobe Lightroom 2.4 and Camera Raw 5.4 were released in late June. Sorry if this comes late, but I got ahead of myself a few months so I could spend time with my son. Starting next week the news will be more current. The links for downloading these updates is here.

Would you like to be featured in Popular Photography Magazine, receive a 2-night stay in New York City for a photo excursion and tutorial with a Popular Photography editor? Maybe Lightroom's contest is for you. You can read about it here.

Cooliris is more fun than a barrel of monkeys! I’ve had my website Cooliris enabled for a long while now, and they just keep upgrading and improving and making the search for images more fun. Check out the latest version V.1.11 of Coolirus and have fun playing! Get it here.

Readers' Submissions

Steve –

Here are a few images.


Eyal –

Thank you! As always you come up with some unique and interesting images.


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


Is this a good camera to get started with? Link.


B –

It is.. and the price point is very attractive.

This is a 4/3’s size sensor.. and this is becoming more and more popular.

If you could stand the small size increase either the Canon or Nikon entry level DSLRs can be found refurbished as well.. and these offer a bigger APS-C size sensor and both accept system lenses that you could later transfer to a bigger more capable body.

The 4/3’s system is ideal if size/weight is your primary concern.

It would help if you could tell me what you think you’ll be using the camera for?

Steve –


Using mostly for the smiling faces of Thailand


B –

If used mostly in good light the Olympus you asked about will be fine.


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

What a summer! I was fortunate to spend most of my summer working with my son who always stays the summer months with me in Thailand. We had a great time traveling around Thailand on assignments.

The Infocus Weekly is going through some growing pains. As you might have noticed a few weeks ago we added a great review by Craig Lamson on the Helicon Focus software product? Our numbers are up and software developers are asking us to review their products so I've put together a review team of professionals with different experience sets. When we get a new software product in it goes into a pool and the person best suited through experience for that particular product will become the leader reviewer. 1-2 of the others will then follow up the review with notes of their own experiences using that product.

I hope to have at least two professional reviews completed each month and in the beginning it will be more. As we gain experience turning out great reviews I hope we'll become desirable for hardware reviews. Until then, if there's a piece of photo software you'd like to see a review on, let me know, and I'll contact the developer and request the materials necessary to do a review.

We're also trying to improve the format of the column past the very basic look we've been using. Proper fonts, line spacing, the effective use of attributes, all contribute to a higher degree of readability. If you have any ideas for improvement send me an email with your suggestions.

Infocus Blog

It’s About Being There

You’ve heard the saying “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey of getting to the destination?”

Really, in ‘life’ it is about the journey. Last month some friends and I piled in the SUV and headed off to Nakon Sawan and the Beung Boraphet wetlands roughly 3-4 hours distant. We talked, we laughed, we discussed photography and the on-going Tour de France. We stopped and filled the tank of the SUV and quenched our thirst.

It didn’t stop there. We arrived at the final coordinates on the GPS, got out of the SUV, stretched our legs and gathered our gear, and then headed out on the lake aboard a guided flat bottomed boat. So far we’d had a great time, but we weren’t there yet. Heading out on the lake we soon stopped as our guide noticed a small colorful sparrow sitting on a pole.

Silently lest we scare the bird to flight we checked the settings on our cameras, looked through the viewfinders and composed our images, and at that exact moment I had a revelation. We were there!

Yes, we’d finally arrived and when it comes to photography the rules change and it becomes about being there. Being there at that exact moment in time when the sparrow lit upon the pole, when the light illuminated his colors, and when he stayed put just long enough to fire off a burst of frames before flying away. Perhaps to never be photographed again. That moment of time belonged to us. We were there.

Until next time..

nana plaza