In Focus, Bangkok Photography Blog December 24th, 2012

Is It All About Planning?/Dana Unplugged, The Interview/Use Your Illusions/Water Proof Camera Bags


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Is It All About The Planning? *menu

In response to recent correspondence with another writer who expressed satisfaction with one of my favorite images:

Angkor Vat Cambodia main temple view

One of my favorites.. And there's a short story to go with this. I showed up at this exact spot every morning at 0430, in the dark, to get there before the other tourists to make sure I secured this spot. It was deathly quiet, and as the light would slowly appear you'd be surprised by the hundreds of other tourists who somehow took position all around you without your knowing. Alas, the light was dreary and I snapped a few to say I was there and left.

Come sunset there I was back at this spot hoping for the right light that would light the temple as only God could. But again, nothing. This went on for nearly two weeks. Then one afternoon I almost didn't go because of the rain storm, but putting on my Gortex I was soon out there with my camera on a tripod, shutter release in hand, temple framed, settings set.. praying for the light. All of a sudden from behind me I could feel the warmth, and then the crowd gasps, more warmth, and then a warm light rose from behind me shining on the temple as only nature can do a few times a year on her most revered treasures. Perfect light, something I'd only seen once or maybe twice before. My finger automatically went down on the shutter release as the crowds around me snapped away. As quickly as it came, the light extinguished as the rain suddenly came down almost angrily.

Everyone around me packed up and left. I was standing there alone. I wasn't thinking about the image in my camera. I was thinking of all the LCD screens on $150 compact cameras I'd just seen with the temple bathed in a once in a life time perfect light. But the tourists had no idea what they had, they didn't work for it. They weren’t standing there with me morning and night for weeks. And they didn't need the $12,000 in camera equipment I had. It was true what I'd been saying, it's not about the gear . It's about being there.

I stayed there in the rain another 30 minutes hoping for an encore. None came I packed up and trudged through the soggy fields back to the main road where my driver watched for me. After two weeks I'm sure he thought I was crazy. I'm not. I'm just a photographer that had the picture I wanted, the picture I planned, in my head. And was willing to do anything to get it This one shot costs me two weeks of time, expenses, and patience. It would have cost me more had I failed.

Until next time..

Dana Unplugged, The Interview *menu

BKKSteve: Dana – There are few names associated with the Thailand Expatriate more recognized and/or controversial than yours. Bernard Trink comes to mind, Stick seems to slowly moving into his receding shoes, and then there's the prolific and sometimes gifted writer who everyone gets to know through their stories or in the case of Phet (another exceptional expatriate writer) the saga of their personal lives.

Considering this, it seems we get to know Dana as we would any shock jock, you writing is sometimes wild, sometimes provoking, other times you write visions our minds eyes cannot help but develop and many find those visions disturbing. But what I like is when you write a single piece that six different people would swear means something different to each of them. Can you tell us what you're really trying to do?

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Dana: Well, I guess the primary thing I am trying to do is have fun.

To entertain. It varies. If it is an essay then it is more about presenting a view or being informational. I write fiction, nonfiction, faction, essays, point-of-view, song lyrics, poetry, science and science fiction, autobiography, one act plays, criticism, etc. So what 'I am trying to do' varies according to the form. But regardless of the form or the intent if I am not having fun writing it, it does not get written. Approximately 500 of my efforts appear on the host website Stickmanbangkok.com under the franchise name Thai Thoughts and Anecdotes. Much diversity of content.

Perhaps I am like a word photographer open to any idea within the Thailand arena.

I do not get paid or receive stringer or columnist directives from publishers. So, I am only writing when I want to write, and what I want to write. This tends to weight the motivation heavily towards having fun. There is no plan. Ideas burst into my head like asteroids, I write them out word for word in my head, and then the race is on to get to a keyboard before it all disappears. If I can get to a keyboard fast enough you will see me smiling. I am not writing at the keyboard. I am simply transcribing what has already been written in my head. I used to be able to write about 4500 words in my head, now it is more like 3000 words. There has been some mental slippage. Still, once transcribed, there is very little editing and almost no rewriting. The way it is transcribed is 95% the way it gets sent in. I find the mechanics of writing easy. You can't do this with novella or novel length stuff but with short stories or very short essays or stories it is fun to be able to just bang them out. I can't think of a photography analogy to this.

If I were a photographer I probably would not work this way. I would probably get seduced by the wonderful post production things that can be done. If you are walking down the sidewalk and you see a one hundred dollar bill you are going to lean over and pick it up. Modern photography now has so many astonishing things that the photographer can do that it is hard to imagine a picture taker limiting themselves for some philosophic reason.

BkkSteve Responds: I don’t normally interject comments during an interview, but much of what you’re telling me almost requires a response, so if you’ll permit I’ll add my comments at the end of your entire response.

FUN. This says it all. This is my goal to my website Bangkok Images and my workshops. This is important. Most hobbyist writers AND photographers are just that, hobbyists. I make the assumption ‘fun’ is the purpose unless specially told otherwise because it changes everything. Photography as a business is a much different animal than photography for fun. Much is less and little is gained during the transition. You’d probably say the same about writing?

You say as a photographer you’d be seduced by the latest methods and I assume the equipment that comes with it. Based on my experience teaching I’d say you’re right and on to something important. I loose analogy would be someone liking the latest pop song and then deciding they want to do the same. But what’s missing from the equation is all the work, technique and musical talent formed through years and years of practice. We first learn to hum, some go on to whistle. But to ask someone “we have a day together, teach me to do what’s taken you years to accomplish..” is an entirely different thing. Perhaps my biggest challenge in workshops is breaking down what’s required to accomplish certain things while helping them have enough fun to stay interested through the years of work it takes to get there. I’d imagine writing isn’t much different, to write a story for fun is one thing, to write a story that entertains the masses another.

BkkSteve: Dana – Who is Dana? Tell us where you grew up, what kind of family life you enjoyed, about Dana the student as you made your way through the system. Were you a gifted student or average? Who were your best friends? Were you a " cool kid" in high school or a nerd? Please give us a picture of who Dana was through the first 20 years of your life. Your hopes and dreams?

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Dana: I have had two lives. As a child I was an introvert and then something happened and as an adult I became an extrovert. Something like a mental-personality pole shift. I do not believe this is normal and I have had to struggle with not being normal. I have never been a bonder or a joiner or a believer, and I struggle with garden variety relationships and social interactions. I have never been the employee who wanted to win the contest, or get recognition, or earn a promotion. Mostly I just wish everyone would pay attention to my contract with society. I'll leave you alone and I would very much like you to leave me alone.

Additionally, I am quick to anger or disgust or criticism or . . . none of this is good and I have to constantly monitor myself in public. My dreams are not dreams of inclusion or acceptance. They are dreams of domination or power or violence. I'm the jerk on the Internet who has to be told not to use all caps for everything. Early in my Internet career I had to learn that emails of energy and focus do not always transcribe well.

Some of these issues could have been solved with my own website and I was encouraged to do so by readers, but it was not fated to be. My computer skills still hover near zero after thirty years. I only started playing (listening to) music (videos) on the computer last year, and all of my writing is sent in to the Internet publishers via email format. They don't like this but they tolerate it. It is all I know how to do. Additional writer complications derive from the fact that I do not have a computer. I use computers at the Boston Public Library, Massachusetts General Hospital, and a store that rents computer time. I suppose a measure of my compulsion to write is that somehow it all gets done. However, all of these computer locations have different bewildering programs. Maybe I have learned to write fast to lessen the frustration.

Maybe this means that due to personality I would be well suited to be a combat zone photographer. I don't know. I think about it.

One of the potentially attractive things about combat zone photography (or 'high risk to the humans' photography, volcanoes, etc.) is that the picture taker hobbyist of his youth might have graduated to the "philosophic notion of doxastic commitment, a class of beliefs that go beyond talk, and to which we are committed enough to take personal risks." (Taleb). Does this mean that I respect more and expect higher standards from the 'at risk' photographer than from a laboratory or studio photographer? Well, that seems kind of unfair; but I do think about it. Not long ago the site administrator of BangkokImages.com did some work in southern Thailand where there is currently a lot of violence due to Malaysian incursions over the border. Did this heightened awareness of his own mortality help or hinder his photography skills? I don't remember him mentioning this.

Constantly having to dumb down my presentation skill sets on the Internet in my writing is an enduring frustration. There are two kinds of people: seducers and hitters. I am a hitter. Not the best personality type for day-to-day stuff, but if you can learn to control the internal fires and explosions and poisons you can have an awful lot of fun writing. Writing is a solitary selfish act. You get to direct your fingers and your mind to hit the keys on the keyboard that you want to hit. What could be more fun? All that hitting. Yes, all that hitting. I can't think of something similar in the 'taking of a picture'. Is there anything similar to this in photography? I don't know.

BkkSteve Responds: I have spent some time in the southern three provinces of Pattani, Yala, and Narathiwat.. Okay, months at a time. For me the draw was to be in such an environment, but with a camera this time. To seek the truth where the press was letting us down. And still is. I was able to use long but fortunately not forgotten skill sets, to feel certain feelings again, to believe that maybe this time I could make a difference. So to answer your question both: I was acutely aware of my mortality, but at the same time it helped my photography. The mindset that kept me alive in the past was now resulting in a higher quality work. I improvised, substituted skill sets, I was able to solve problems in real time where without the stress might not have presented themselves otherwise. This is all hard to quantify, but I’m confident anyone who has also done this would know exactly what I’m referring to.

Working for myself had its advantages though. Being my own boss allowed me to spend the time, be places, and promise things never before possible. And of course this meant no support, no QRF, no air cover, no one but two very concerned and talented assistants who protected me dutifully. After three to four weeks of vetting I was finally introduced to the main players on both sides, I heard their stories, recorded and photographed interviews, and both factions only asked me one thing: Don’t print anything that won’t help us live together like we once did. Few things were more difficult, but as I told you before, I continue to sit on most of this information. At best I hope to someday provide a several month window into how the leaders on both sides felt, thought, and what they were really hoping for. A few things I did print was a delightful visit to Thailand’s only Kris Master while under escort of the military and the real story as told by the monk who hid under a table while his elders were gunned down by insurgents , and a light piece about a delightful Muslim girl in Pattani. Hopefully conditions will improve to allow for volumes more. All I will say about this is that it’s not what you’re currently reading in the news.

BkkSteve: Dana – If you don't mind, would you share your major in college and if you ended up working in that field? And if so, did you stay there or move on? You're in your sixth decade on this fine Earth, where was Dana from the start of his second decade until now?

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Dana: Originally my major at the University of Michigan was Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering but this was in the Sixties and the Engineering students were wearing black peg leg pants and Bomb Hanoi buttons. This was a social non-compute for me so I transferred to the Art History department and majored in Art History. This was the right move. I have had a lifetime interest in the fine arts and in aesthetics and in art history. I make art decisions or think art thoughts every single day.

As an introvert I painted, and charcoal sketched, and pencil sketched, and pastel chalk sketched up until age 12. Then the hormones hit and I became a different person. I lost the ability to draw.

Nobody I have ever told this story to believes it, but there you are.

All I have is my life and my stories. Anyway, goodbye fine arts, hello art appreciation. Thank god there was a bridge. If I could will my life, I would be a painter. My mind is choked with all of the ideas that every other human has but I think about art continually. If I was a photographer would I think about photography constantly? Photography seems static to me. Writing and painting seem dynamic. It is hard for me to imagine that photography would seize and please my mind the way that writing and art do. Maybe I am mistaken.

If I get a Buddhist second chance and come back as some kind of human maybe I will get to find out about some of this stuff.

BkkSteve Responds: I have a private passion where I enjoy photographing truly beautiful women in states and poses which reveals their rawest beauty and strongest attributes. You won’t ever see those images on this site, in books, or anywhere else. I consider it some of my finest work. But to share it publically would diminish it’s value and mine. Still, there are rare times I’ll share portions of this work with someone I respect or admire as someone who can provide true criticisms and feedback. I shared a portfolio with Dana before I ever knew of his art background. Why? I suppose I knew without knowing. From his words. With an accuracy I’ve never before experienced he not only identified my lighting style, but then he pointed out and I might say with a respectful demeanor, where I could have improved. I immediately knew this was a man who knew what he was talking about, much in contrast to the many posers one meets while in the Kingdom.

Photography is what you make it. Armed with a pen or camera you can choose to tell a story as fast and with as much passion as you like. The bottom line is you’re telling a story. Tell the story in a way that fits your style and personality and you can’t lose. A writer uses prose to tell his story, a photographer images. Learn to use both with a modicum of competence and you’ll start to experience what makes photojournalism such a powerful skill.

BkkSteve: Dana – Now that we know who you are and where you came from and something about your educational background.. what makes Dana live and breathe.. where during this time did you first start writing? Tell us about this experience and any other related experiences you feel shaped you as a writer?

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Dana: I have been a carnivorous and indiscriminate reader since my teenage years. My parents had a 'reading before bed' plan so that the children would be literate and attracted to reading. It worked.

Writing came later. I think this was a good thing. I am suspicious of the very young writers. I believe you benefit from reading a couple of billion words first. Your brain osmotically learns what works and how things should be done. For instance you learn that it is not 'athalete', it is 'athlete'. It is not 'stairoids', it is 'steroids'. Etc. There is no substitute for reading before you start writing. There is no substitute for living before you start writing either.

My opinions.

Has anyone ever said this about photography? I have never heard this opinion. Maybe in the beginning the camera's toy-like attraction allows for less seriousness and lower standards. It is hard to treat writing or painting as toys. You have to be pretty geared up.

Anyway, I started writing by inventing plays and sending them to friends as fun gifts.

The family members would be the characters in the plays and some family interest or in-joke would be the content.

This type of format forces you to be focused and economical. You have to accomplish a lot with very few words. I strongly believe that economy and speed are necessary skills for writing. Particularly speed. If you cannot write fast I will probably not respect you. The 'great writers' who take years and years to laboriously hand write perfectly crafted sentences on dozens of yellow note pads are not my people. Show me a columnist at the front turning out gripping prose surrounded by falling shells. That person I want to meet. I suppose there is a name for this kind of photographer. I don't know what it is.

I violate or disagree with many 'how to write' theories.

Writing or composing (essays) is storytelling. If you do not have a story to tell you should not be sitting at a desk. First the story, then you sit down. And what is great writing? There are many definitions but one definition I owe to a feminist who emailed me and said that she found everything about my character and my content disgusting but she could not stop reading. If your writing skill trumps someone’s politically correct or otherwise prejudices then you have done some successful text presenting. I confess to sometimes writing provocative pieces to see if I could accomplish this.

Writers would have more fun if they would set challenges for themselves. Few do. Do photographers set challenges for themselves that look to the outsider like pointless artifices but help with focus and concentration? For example: instead of loading up the car to go to the zoo to take pictures of animals; how about placing limits or restrictions. You are only going to take pictures of birds and you are only going to take pictures of birds with blue feathers. And when you have taken all of the pictures of birds with blue feathers that are available you will go home. Treat the experience as if you have signed a contract.

And finally, back to speed. If I was teaching a writing course there would be speed exercises. If you can not write skillfully and quickly there is something missing. Maybe you should find another hobby. Part of my technique is that once I start writing a story or an essay I do not get up or stop until I have got all of the words down. I do not look up grammar rules, or spelling issues, or get involved in formatting decisions, or rewrites, or call a friend for advice or . . . anything; those things are not writing. Those are things that are done after the writing is done. They come under the categories of proofreading and editing and sometimes rewriting.

If you are constantly stopping and starting I do not know what you think you are doing, but you are not writing; you are playing at writing. Same with photography. Examine your behavior. Are you driven to capture an image because of an external-internal drive (compulsion): or are you just playing? I think because of all the gearhead choices available to photographers there is a danger that this will hold the photographer back.

Maybe everybody should start out by building their own pinhole camera and assembling a scrapbook of pinhole pictures. Remember, it is mind control, and then breath control, and then you squeeze the trigger.

Maybe military snipers would make excellent photographers. And maybe female military snipers would make the very best photographers. They have more patience and more control over their breathing. Maybe just before being discharged or retired from military service female snipers should be given civilian courses in professional industrial contract photography. Just ramblin'.

Anyway, and in my opinion, when you finally decide to look through the view finder that is all that you should be doing. Stop being a hobbyist and focus your mind. Ten year old girls can do this. You can do this. Be a photographer. To translate my writer opinions to photography: I am not an enthusiast of the person with a camera just wandering around looking for a picture opportunity.

I know this sounds kind of needlessly rigorous, but I don't think you should leave the house or load up the car unless you have a plan. Be professional.

Try to 'write the photo in your head' before you take off the lens cap. There are some fabulous photos on BangkokImages.com. I do not believe these were impulse shots by someone just wandering around looking for 'something to take a picture of''. First the picture was taken in the photographer's head, and then he tried to figure out how to do it technically. There are successful writers who say that they just sit down in front of a blank monitor and wait for the words to come. Photographers will also tell this story. They are locked and loaded and just waiting for inspiration. It works for them.

It is not something that works for me. For me it is first the story, first the image, first the idea; then the follow-through.

Your answer is powerful, something every aspiring photographer should read and understand at any level. You asked many questions, I’ll answer them in order as we go:

Yes there is such a thing. It’s the most basic yet most complex concept. Seeing. You must learn to see and training yourself to see starts from the day we’re born. Do we see shapes, sizes, patterns, colors, direction, and even sound just because we now realize they exist, or by paying our dues and training ourselves to ‘see’ after we learn their definition? I’ll do exercises with students, towards the end of a workshop I’ll tell them it’s their turn. We’ll drive and I’ll tell them tell me when they see something to photograph and then tell me what it was they saw. A certain light, a scene, a moment, tell me why.. all which takes experience.

I remember during my police academy entry exams. 700 people showed up for the morning exams, 700 for the afternoon. One part of the exams showed a set of five scenes for 3 seconds each. We were given 30 minutes more questions not related to these five scenes before being asked to now write down every detail of every scene. Details such as the number, make, color, and license plates of cars, building types, number of people and descriptions such as race, clothing, hair styles, and more. I was in the first 50 they called in for the second phase in testing based on my scores. I was told I not only saw all the details which was rare enough, but added details they hadn’t seen in the countless times they’ve proctored the tests. What additional details? Time of day as determined by the direction of light to reference points, emotive states of the people in the scene, and in the case of a few cars certain attributes only a dedicated gearhead would know.. J The point is we all start off ‘seeing’ to different levels, and we can all increase our ability to see based on our natural attributes, but it’s only time and experience which help improve on both.

You speak of limits to challenge. Absolutely. Limit yourself to a 50mm lens, a 35mm, whatever but select a focal length and use only this focal length for the next month. Chances are you’ll end up making the best images of your life just from this one simple challenge. Why? Because it teaches you to focus. To focus on what you can see at 35mm. Not 50, not 200, and not 73. 35mm. Often, as you remove variables you’ll find what you’re really removing are distractions. It’s called clarity.

You mention the zoo. 35mm and Zebras: If you into a zoom armed with a bag of lenses, a hand truck to carry them around, and you don’t have a plan or direction then you’re apt to take a few thousand pictures of nothing. Or rather nothing you’re excited about. But if you plan to only shoot at 35mm and only at Zebras, then you’ll discover that the tigers, lions, bears and antelopes are nothing more than distractions. When you look at a herd of Zebras you’ll notice all those not at 35mm are distractions.

But.. those zebras in the 35mm range.. they stand out like Rudolph’s red nose on Christmas Eve! And you’ll end up with 35mm Zebra pictures made to a much higher quality than the guy shooting next to you who doesn’t have a plan. Why? Because you’ll notice which light works best for your subject at that focal length, what shutter speed, and what aperture provides the most desired DOF. Get the picture? What you’re doing is allowing yourself to FOCUS your efforts into a smaller area which is essentially the same as increasing your learning speed. You don’t necessarily need 30 years of wildlife photography experience to pull off the best 35mm Zebra images.. only the self-discipline to place limits which enhance your learning.

As a student at the police academy we all looked forward to a guest speaker who had seen the most actual gunfights than anyone else in our state. All the gun nuts were straining at their collars wanting to ask him questions about his favorite gun, favorite caliber, etc.. When posed with the first question he said: It’s far better to have one gun and shoot it exceptionally well, then ten you shoot only with a general level of competence. When in a gunfight the man with the combination of the greatest reaction time, draw time, and accuracy wins every time. Not the guy with the newest gun, or the gun that can shoot 50 times faster than another.

You still doubt me? I’d guess 95% of Stickman’s nightlife shots are shot with a single 35mm lens. He’s learned it and learned it well.

Note to Dana: I would also like to think military snipers make exceptional photographers. And women are proven to hold more steady and to be able to shoot better than most men. However, shooting is only a small part of a snipers job so I wouldn’t be looking for them have any advantages with photography. They’ll just have to earn it like everyone else.

“Writing The Photo In Your Head” I agree the best photography comes from a plan. Every assignment, every road trip, every challenge I’ll find myself loading my bags and other gear with my ‘plan’ in mind. However, if you train yourself to ‘see’ then sometimes it’s just nice and relaxing to head out on the road and see what presents itself. Some really great images “just happen.” But I do think most are planned.

BkkSteve: Dana – Where have you traveled and did your travels inspire your writing? When did you first come to Thailand and how long did it take upon your arrival before you realized the first lesson you taught me about writing in Thailand "Thailand has a minimum of one great story a day if you do nothing else but keep your eyes and ears open!" I didn't believe this at first, and then I realized it took training and experience to not only learn how to listen (or see as a photographer), but how to find the story what was always there waiting for us much like those hidden object drawings in Children's Highlights. I trained myself to see the image others couldn't see as a photographer, and you encouraged me to see the story others never noticed. An extraordinary and profound lesson I'll never forget, and I myself will pass it down to my own students. Please tell us how this all relates in your mind?

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Dana: In terms of writing, Thailand for me was like finding paradise.

I believe there are many writers with skill that we never hear from because they have not found their special content. I believe that every human has a particular content that is the ideal cross on the graph of their writing skills and their interests. Most people with writing skill never find this cross on the graph in their lifetime. I went to Thailand many years ago on a whim and blundered into the content and the place that was made for me as a writer. It was like a dam burst. Writer's paradise. For me Thailand is a bottomless well of content. A 'story-a-day' place. Not a blog or journal entry a day, a story or essay. For others . . . maybe not.

But for me as a writer, Thailand is just gold. I have been writing about the Kingdom for ten years now almost seven days a week and there is no diminution in my interest. This cannot be credited to me. Somebody just decided to gift me. God bless them or him or her or it for giving me so much happiness in the last ten years. I believe the same exact thing can be said about photography. Until you find your special content that lights you up you are just playing. Not a bad thing, but can what you are doing even be classed as photography? I guess so but my enthusiasm is only luke warm for this idea.

As for what inspires my writing: I believe my lifetime interest in aesthetics (art) directly benefits my ability to write. I do not 'see' the way most people see. I see more. My eyes and my brain take in more data. I am constantly surprised at what people do not see or observe. Maybe my lifetime social isolation makes me a better observer and ponderer. I believe this to be so, but like all beliefs; I can not prove it. Anyway, ask someone to tell you what color the cactus is and they will tell you that it is green. The artistic eye will see many other colors, all working together to produce the image that is produced in your brain. Artists see more detail. I think that my visual ability to see more is also reflected in my writer's ability to identify things that can be focused on from the point-of-view of text description.

In my opinion, a writer ought to be able to extemporarily produce one thousand words on anything.

Anything. And fast. He (or she) ought to have the ability to translate ideas into text with ease. If he can not do this he is not a writer. He lacks the skill set required to use words to present ideas.

We are not talking rocket science here. You either can write, or you can not write. I have no patience with the 'writer' who states that he spent five hours writing and got two good sentences. Nonsense. Not comfortable with this idea? Research newspaper and magazine columnists. They produce according to directive or personal idea according to schedules and corporate parameters. They are writers. As a photographer why not make a game of this? Write up a fake contract between you and a made-up boss or customer. Now go out and capture the images required.

Maybe the best/worst example of this is so-called 'glamour' photography. Aka, taking pictures of pretty girls. If you are a male photographer you might find setting limits on your behavior a useful thing. I do not personally find glamour photography that engaging but as a male I can easily imagine some issues between the photographers hormones and the final image. Remember, it is mind control, and then breath control, and then you squeeze the trigger. If you cannot do this; cancel the session. Above all, be respectful to the lady.

Back to artistic behavior and setting limits and controlling impulse: you get the same idea in photography only more often in reverse. Are you the picture taker that takes fifty pictures of a rose and then cherry picks the best one? That pic is then offered up as an example of yourself as a photographer? How is this different than just throwing the dice? I would hold myself to a higher standard. I know this is a standard professional modus operandi but . . . well, we cannot do that in writing or in painting. In writing or painting we only get one chance.

I do not write fifty versions of a story and then submit those fifty stories to a publisher and say 'pick one'. I do not expect you to get fifty great photos out of fifty shots but maybe you should not be doing quite so much bragging either. You took fifty pictures. The easiest example of this that comes to mind is the fool dancing around a naked woman going through rolls of film. And of course let us add rock and roll music and big posters from the movie Blow-Up. Maybe this is just me. Maybe I am just not suited for this kind of photography. Maybe I am only suited to be in a studio taking an industrial picture of a piece of Chinese jade. Just the camera and the jade and my mind. Come to think of it, that sounds a lot like writing.

At any rate, when ten years ago the dam burst and I started in on my Thailand writing there was no plan or agenda. Just compulsion and smiling. Over time certain points-of-view and writer tricks were repeated. Also, over time, recurring characters became a cast of characters; helpful and fun in building a body of work.

Can skillful writing be taught? If the student is a motivated student the mechanics can be taught. That is usually called business writing. Can creative writing be taught? I do not think so. The already creative writer can be instructed on better ways to format and present; but what goes on in his or her brain is original and un-teachable. A good example is photography. A photography student can be taught many important things regarding capturing and manipulating final images. But if they cannot 'see' the picture opportunity in the first place nothing can be done.

In spite of a lifetime interest in aesthetics I have no photographer's eye. This seems very counterintuitive and I have never been really successful in explaining this to someone else, but there it is. I have limits. For me to get involved in photography as an art form would be a waste of time. I respect photography and photographers but I never think about it. I probably have the I.Q. to learn all of the photography mechanicals and techniques and tricks and procedures, but if you are not thinking about it all the time; you are not a photographer. My opinion.

BkkSteve Responds::

On discipline: Photography benefits from a heaping spoonful. Yet, passion produces some of the most powerful words and images. Whatever your passion; women, butterflies, food, whatever inspires your passion will show in your work.

On the 50 pictures: From experience I can tell you those who take 50 pictures of anything.. aren’t doing it for the sake of composition. What they’re doing is taking 50 images at different camera settings with the hope one will be properly exposed, or focused, or the desired DOF.. They’re taking 50 images to get a “technically” correct image. Not a properly composed one. A story:

A love the boatyards. Last summer I took a few workshop students there, but on one occasion I shot my own camera right alongside him which is something I rarely do. I rather give the student 100% of my attention. But this day was different because something was happening at the boatyards I hadn’t yet seen. So we’re both shooting the same thing, but he’s really going at it. Many images. Fair enough, he has a lack of experience which is why he’s there. But he’s also repositioning himself for different compositions. Again, fair enough. He’s there to learn. But this example goes towards your comments about having a plan and shooting 50 pictures. A plan (and experience) helps you not do this. And when you’re not taking those 49 other pictures, what are you doing instead? Yep, watching the subject for the very best single picture possible. This is what I was doing, shooting maybe 2 images to his 25-30.. Watching, making a plan, and having enough experience to KNOW my shots would be properly exposed and executed.

The Mechanics vs. The Writing: With photography I think the mechanics can be taught to a high level, while you can only ‘help’ someone “see” and compose. I sometimes relate my own photography workshop attendance. There’s a landscape photographer who I respect very much. He charges more for one day of his time than many people make in a month. I waited nearly two years for an opening that fit both our schedules so we get together. It goes like this: “Steve, I can’t teach you anything about the mechanics. You teach the stuff and know it as well as I do. But where I see room for real improvement is in your “seeing..” “ Ah geez, did he really say that? Yes he did. And he sat me in one spot and we didn’t move for eight hours. He taught me more in that eight hours than I learned on my own in the last ten YEARS. The best money I ever spent. My goal is to learn to teach my students to “see” with the same competence he exhibited with me.

I.Q. Dana, you and I are in that age group where we once crouched under our school desks while sirens alerted us to incoming ICBM’s. And subsequently we were both probably administered “The Presidential Battery of Scholastic and Physical Fitness Testing,” In other words we were carefully administered I.Q. tests, made to run a mile, stand on one leg on a balance beam, and other tests to see just how useful we would be to our country in the event the red commies invaded our homeland. We weren’t supposed to learn our I.Q. scores lest someone not feel as good as someone else, but if you were in the “gifted” category you might remember your parents being called into the office to discuss your scores. Or you might have been on the other end of the spectrum and called in just the same.

Because of this I’ve sometimes had the opportunity to learn the I.Q. levels of creative types and from my observation creative types fall into one of two categories. Super smart and able to create either through talent or fake it to a good level through intelligence, or so lacking of distractions in life you just “saw” things other didn’t. Too smart or too dumb.. it’s a wondrous world we live in.

BkkSteve: Who inspires you? Who are your heroes?

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Dana: Heroes? Humans who inspire me? Too many to list. I am an easy admirer. I think to have heroes is to be alert to the extraordinary world around us filled with extraordinary people. I am easily captured by heroic people, regardless of gender, age, interest, or anything else. Just get my attention with excellence. In man country the name H.W. Tilman comes up. Intelligent, risk attracted, courageous, educated, a great writer, and an example of evolution at it's best. H.W. Tilman was an adventurer–mountain climber–author of very dry wit–sailor–and many times decorated military man. He would be quoting Greek and Latin and French and ancient authors as he climbed to the summit. My guy.

Photography inspirers? Well, I am not the right person to ask because of my lay person status but if we stick to just the image without regard to character or personal history or anything else; I vote for O. Winston Link: a cult classic photographer of trains. The images please as your brain processes what the eyes send, but they also radiate intelligence. You can see in each photo that there were selection processes. Give a dog a camera and you are not going to get these images.

Most of my heroes are solitary strugglers or people skillful at solitary pursuits. I appreciate team or group activities but I am less inclined to dream about participating unless I am the boss. And you do not have to be a doer for me to worship you. I love dreamers also.

I'm a great companion in a bar. I will listen to your dream. I may end up adding you to my list of heroes. I had a dream after college.

I dreamed of building a boat and sailing to the Caribbean. I kept a list of all the people who said I could not do it. When I finally made it to the Virgin Islands I sent all of these dream killers postcards. The postcards were to remind them of the value of inspiration.

What would I get involved in if I had to do heroic things in photography? Well I am attracted to the idea of big things and big ideas. Huge heavy cumbersome equipment on the backs of uncooperative burros heading up to a canyon rim for a sunrise shot would be my idea of something worth doing. Big dreams. Big failures. And maybe, maybe every now and then; something heroic. Maybe something inspirational for someone else.

BkkSteve Responds: My main inspiration comes from nature. Nature never ceases to amaze, please, and inspire. I dream of swimming like a fish, flying like a bird, roaring like a lion. When I’m inspired I’ll write all night long or stay on the road for weeks at a time. When my inspiration leaves me I aim the car back home and call it a trip. Twice I’ve had the pleasure of a muse. Someday I’ll go into that.

BkKSteve: Dana, I am reminded of Plato's idea of the philosopher-king.

In other words, the best form of government would be an incorruptible philosopher who was then forced to be king. Within the arena of government the incorruptible philosopher would have no choice other than fate. He would rule with virtue and justice in service to learning and knowledge and truth without regard to opinions, beliefs, or self-interest.

What kind of pictures do you think you would take if God put a camera in your hands and forced you to take pictures?

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Dana: Well, without regard to content, which is the most trivial part of the question; I am a big believer in the project mentality. In photography this means themes and shows. I would take pictures around themes (mountain wild flowers, amateur telescope star shots, time-lapse landscapes, etc.) and then campaign hard to get showings in art galleries. This ratchets up the degree of difficulty.

All other pictures are just record pics or hobby pics. I would delegate those pictures to someone else in the family. I would find post-production work interesting but probably more on the presentation side such as cropping and matting and framing. I would not get involved too much in 'creative' photography (look how the rose tint of the second exposure matches the red gums around the monkey's teeth). Just me.

I think too much time is wasted by beginning students with equipment choices, tricks, and wanna-be activity. If you can not step outside and point to north and south and east and west; then you probably don't think of the sun's location in the sky when you take a picture either.

Time would be better spent by beginning photographers taking classes from experienced photographers on how to 'see' a photo opportunity.

You do not ski without beginner instruction, and you do not sail without beginner instruction, and you do not fly a plane without beginner instruction. Photography is not any different. But ask a photography enthusiast of two years duration who their favorite teachers were and what do you think you are going to get for an answer?

First the basics.

BkkSteve Responds: I couldn’t agree more about beginners wasting time with equipment choices and worrying over their next great camera. The picture of Angkor Vat you selected (below) was captured in 2005 with a two year old DSLR. It is a full frame camera in Canon’s superb 1 series body with their best exposure and focusing engines. It costs $8000 new. Today you can find lightly used specimens for about $1000. I can’t think of a better bargain for any experience level photographer. I still use it professionally today when I need a weatherproof body, fast autofocusing, and superb image quality.

And I’m asked “But but Steve, what about the new Canon 1d-x” The 1d-x is Canon’s latest and greatest flagship camera. It’s a fine camera with improved features. I truly believe there is very little advantage to a beginning or intermediate photographer in buying the latest and greatest when for $1000 you can buy their 8-9 year old Canon1ds Mark II on the used market. With 4-5 years of hard practice and learning, you’ll just start to realize enough benefit from the newer 1d-x where we’ll be able to see it in your pictures.

BkkSteve: Ok, Dana, one last question and then I will let you get back to the Dana Fan Club and outraging feminists. To wit: in keeping with your lifetime interests in art and aesthetics, do you feel photography is an art form?

—————————————————————————-

Dana: Well, that is the first and only question to be asked at a mixed forum of photographers and non-photographers, or even more lethally; photographers and artists. Everybody should probably be searched for weapons first.

I have traveled the road from contemptuous to conflicted to charitable. I was contemptuous of the idea that photography was an art form for most of my adult life. In the last five years I have become conflicted and then charitable towards the idea. I guess better late than never. I am willing to state that some photographs are works of art. However, it is a belief I would not like to have to defend. One definition of art is that art brings 'order out of chaos'. How exactly does a photograph do this?

I believe photography's strength works against it being considered an art form. What photography is good at is high-resolution reproductions of reality. And performing too many creative tricks can make photos look gimmicky. But maybe the real problem is with the question or the assumption. Photography is what it is. It should not have to defend itself. Just be. Or not. I am even conflicted about this opinion.

Still, I think it might be fun to have some major gallery painting vs. photograph toe-to-toe showings. Example: one of the most famous paintings is "Where Do We Come From? What Are We? Where Are We Going?" by Gauguin. This four and a half foot by twelve foot painting totally dominates a gallery wall at the Museum of Art in Boston. Lost or wandering or weary or skeptical museum patrons step into the gallery and are simply riveted, transfixed by the power of this image. Art comes alive for them again. They forget their aching feet. And 99% of them bring nothing to the viewing experience that can help them. It is them against the painting, in most cases an unequal but enjoyable relationship.

The huge painting is beautiful, incomprehensible, spooky, and hypnotic. When is the last time you heard a photo described with those four words? In addition, the painting gives you nothing. You are on your own. It is all on you. You have to be equal to the painting. You do not have to fall in love, but you should at least leave with respect.

Photos never seem to me to be this demanding.

Anyway, here is my idea; take a wonderful photo like Steve's picture of Angkor Wat and blow it up into a four and half foot by twelve foot image. Now mount it on the wall that opposes Gauguin's "Where Do We Come From?”

b1

What Are We? Where Are We Going?". Listening to the museum patrons as they view and mentally deal with the two images would be fun. Has this been done before? Not to my knowledge. And of course it would be doubly fun to have a painting and an opposing photo that duplicated the same image. To those of you that feel this exercise would be irrelevant because of 'apples and oranges' I would plead that we are trying to have fun.

Anyway, I have traveled from contemptuous to conflicted to charitable on the subject of photos as art. I can even state without fear of a brain aneurysm that there are representational photos that qualify as works of art. Some of the classic cult train photos of O. Winston Link qualify in my opinion. Of course the ultimate test would be straight on technically restricted representational photos. Could any of them qualify due to extraordinary photography as works of art? I believe so. In other words, is it possible for without gimmick or post-production exercise photos to be works-of-art?

The consensus is Yes. Photo historians will point to very early pictures devoid of technical artifice that charm with primitiveness and lack of pretension. By luck or intention, it does not matter; we agree that some of these early images have transported themselves across the line from reproduction to art. Early National Geographic style travel shots, early maritime ship and shore shots, famous landscape photographers we could all name, the United States Indian recorder Edward S. Curtis, etc; photos can sometimes transcend themselves and become something greater. Sometimes we even all agree, a rare occurrence. Art. But what of today with it's precision and it's precision and it's precision? Can today's photographers achieve art with today's equipment that so excels at hi-resolution reproduction of reality? I vote Yes. Why? Because I believe I have seen it.

Not too many years ago a photographer went to an Indian gathering here in the United States. He set up a studio. Interested Indians sat for photo portraits and those photos became a book. A book of technical mastery and astonishing images of reality that I had never seen before.

No tricks, or 3-D stuff, or holographic sleight-of-eye; just reality reproduced by a modern camera held by a skilled photographer. Works of art? My opinion is Yes, or at least I would be a good listener if someone was trying to sell me on the idea. So, is this a good thing, this new found knowledge of mine? I guess but I would not want to be the wanna-be portrait artist following in this photographer's footsteps. The standards are very very high.

Art is a funny thing. It is not necessarily friendly. Would I want to go back in time and meet some of history's greatest writers? I'm not sure. The idea makes me kind of nervous. Maybe I don't have the strength required to confront a creator. Maybe my mission in my life is to be an appreciator. That's ok. I am what I am, and it is what it is. And . . . "Gee, look at that: what a great photograph."

I must say that I consider the subject of photography and works-of-art to be exhausting. I think I will sit down and take a rest. Please give me some credit. I have traveled from contemptuous to conflicted to charitable. I think that is all that I will be able to accomplish in this lifetime.

BkkSteve Responds: Fascinating! I could listen to you talk about art all day long. Not necessarily because you know more than anyone else, but because I can sense a rare conviction in your words and approach to art.

Dana, thank you very much for this interview. Like most readers I’ve read your work for years and have always been curious about what makes you tick. Thank you for your body of work, this interview, and I’m already looking forward to next weeks story.

Thank you Dana.

Until next time..

Use Your Illusion *menu

Tom Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative. Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels around Thailand and you can get your copy here! I've got a copy of this book and I can tell you it's well worth it, especially for first time travelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.

For those whose plans include extended travel in Thailand and China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books. Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at: [email protected]

In my previous article “Shooting With a Purpose” I discussed the concept of thinking about what you are going to do with a shot before you take it. To take that a bit further you also need to think about actually doing something with your photographs.

What to do with photographs has been an age old question. Those who used (or maybe even still use) film faced a very daunting task or organizing and sharing their photos. All the time spent organizing, binders or shoe boxes of negatives and the dreaded process of getting crops, reprints and enlargements.

What to do with photographs has been an age old question. Those who used (or maybe even still use) film faced a very daunting task or organizing and sharing their photos. All the time spent organizing, binders or shoe boxes of negatives and the dreaded process of getting crops, reprints and enlargements.

Digital simplified that to some degree. Your photo lab is now on your computer, cropping, processing and ordering multiple copies is now easier than it has ever been. But at the same time the number of pictures you can take has exploded. Software exists for organizing and cataloging pictures but it still takes time.

Inevitably a few choice pictures will see the light of day (or your homepage on Facebook). The rest will quietly collect on your hard drive sitting there, lost in the clutter of bits waiting on the inevitable computer disaster to wipe them out of existence. Many of these pictures might be good, but you never go back and look at them, if they never get used then what good are they?

Inevitably a few choice pictures will see the light of day (or your homepage on Facebook). The rest will quietly collect on your hard drive sitting there, lost in the clutter of bits waiting on the inevitable computer disaster to wipe them out of existence. Many of these pictures might be good, but you never go back and look at them, if they never get used then what good are they?

Borrowing from western philosophy this time

“The unexamined life is not worth living” – Socrates

You might say the un-looked at, un-used picture is not worth taking. Once you have taken a picture, do something with it.

What should you do with it? You should use it to answer the question of “Why did I take this?”

Starting out many of us shoot to learn. In the days before EXIF this usually meant tediously logging frames and settings in our journal and all the fun that was. Now just about every technical aspect of the shot is logged for us. The only thing we have to remember is “Why did I take this?”. A big step in doing that is to go and review/process your pictures as soon as possible (preferably the same day). Otherwise when you “get around to it” next week you won’t remember why you have 8 shots of the same flower and what you were trying to achieve with each.

Beyond immediate review and learning you should think about what to do with your pictures (or at least a portion of them) so that they get some use and appreciation.

Starting out many of us shoot to learn. In the days before EXIF this usually meant tediously logging frames and settings in our journal and all the fun that was. Now just about every technical aspect of the shot is logged for us. The only thing we have to remember is “Why did I take this?”. A big step in doing that is to go and review/process your pictures as soon as possible (preferably the same day). Otherwise when you “get around to it” next week you won’t remember why you have 8 shots of the same flower and what you were trying to achieve with each.

Organization

Coming up with a good way to organize your photos becomes more important as your collection grows. Sorting photo’s by date and location folders works pretty well but if you start hitting the same place several times that breaks down. At that point you need to incorporate some type of searchable index and start tagging photos with keywords. Lightroom has organizing features for this built in as do other photo management apps.

The Web

At the very least get them up on the web one way or another. I’ve discovered through extensive personal experience that picture you get up on the web get shared, used, appreciated and occasionally printed. Pictures that don’t go on the web seldom if ever get revisited. Having it out on the web in a fashion you can access and share really makes a huge difference in the value of a picture, especially with the increasing ubiquity of smart phones.

There are many ways to get them up on the web.

Many people use the photo sharing abilities in Facebook or other social media apps. These are often limited in one scope or another, especially in the organizational aspect.

Other options include a variety of “Free” photo sharing services, usually in conjunction with ordering prints (Walgreens for example). Just watch the fine print, you might discover your photos are wiped out after a certain amount of time or have annoying registration requirements as they make their money through data mining or add delivery.

A step up from that would be to invest in a subscription to a photo sharing site. Flickr, Smugmug, PBase and others all charge you a fee to host your photos and you usually get what you pay for in terms of features, templates and control.

The ultimate of course would be to get your own domain and set up your own website. That gives you complete control, though none of the work is done for you.

Regardless of what web solution you pick there are two important things to do to get the most out of it:

First is to caption your photos. Even it if it is a short sentence it puts the photo into context. Something as simple as “Johny plays with his friend Bill at the city park over spring break” and usually answers the who/what/when/where/why question a person seeing the photo for the first time might have. It also helps you out 10 years from now when you can’t remember who that person was.

Second is that if you are starting to accumulate a large number of photo’s you need to come up with a good organizational and/or key wording strategy. If the photos you want are scattered over 35 random galleries and it takes you 10 minutes to find one it’s almost useless. Take the time to learn about what organizational and search options your online sharing site has and use them.

Second is that if you are starting to accumulate a large number of photo’s you need to come up with a good organizational and/or keywording strategy. If the photos you want are scattered over 35 random galleries and it takes you 10 minutes to find one it’s almost useless. Take the time to learn about what organizational and search options your online sharing site has and use them.

Email

Emailing your photos is an excellent way to share them but its so 20th century. There are some real logistical issues with file size, firewalls and spam filters. While the size has gotten larger most email services still have an upper limit on the maximum file size of the attachments. Plus you can clog a poorly configured mail server with too many photos and end up annoying the recipient or their IT department. Resizing your photos like I discussed in this article to screen resolution (1024×768 is safe these days) is a good idea.

Emailing your photos is an excellent way to share them but its so 20th century. There are some real logistical issues with file size, firewalls and spam filters. While the size has gotten larger most email services still have an upper limit on the maximum file size of the attachments. Plus you can clog a poorly configured mail server with too many photos and end up annoying the recipient or their IT department. Resizing your photos like I discussed in this article to screen resolution (1024x768 is safe these days) is a good idea.

Digital Photo Frames

Digital photo frames which I discussed in this article are also another excellent way to “use” your pictures. If you spend a lot of time in one location (like your desk or a certain room in the house) putting a digital picture frame there is an excellent way to “snack” on your photos when you have some unused brain cycles. Using the frames as gifts is another excellent way to share your work.

Digital photo frames which I discussed in this article are also another excellent way to “use” your pictures. If you spend a lot of time in one location (like your desk or a certain room in the house) putting a digital picture frame there is an excellent way to “snack” on your photos when you have some unused brain cycles. Using the frames as gifts is another excellent way to share your work.

Media Players

A rapidly evolving cousin of the Photo Frame is the media player which would cover the I-Pad and related devices. Having a couple of hundred pictures on tap and ready to swish through is a great way to share them, at least as long as it is fashionable to lug these devices around. I foresee these become more useful as they get tighter net connectivity and faster internet performance. Many photo sharing websites already have version of their service optimized for smart phones and media players. Expect more of that in the future.

A rapidly evolving cousin of the Photo Frame is the media player which would cover the I-Pad and related devices. Having a couple of hundred pictures on tap and ready to swish through is a great way to share them, at least as long as it is fashionable to lug these devices around. I foresee these become more useful as they get tighter net connectivity and faster internet performance. Many photo sharing websites already have version of their service optimized for smart phones and media players. Expect more of that in the future.

Photobooks

Photobooks are excellent tools to show your work, though they tend to be more expensive and in practice are usually limited to photos around a certain time or event. But having all of your good photos together, in one place, attractively displayed for a minimal amount of effort is a nice thing to have. Many photo sharing websites have templates that you can use to automatically lay out your book from the photos you have uploaded.

Photobooks are excellent tools to show your work, though they tend to be more expensive and in practice are usually limited to photos around a certain time or event. But having all of your good photos together, in one place, attractively displayed for a minimal amount of effort is a nice thing to have. Many photo sharing websites have templates that you can use to automatically lay out your book from the photos you have uploaded.

Prints

Does anyone actually print pictures anymore? Sometimes I wonder. But prints are the original and still timeless way to share your photos. Of course there is time and expense involved in doing something with the prints. If you’re not going to invest the effort to do something with the print don’t waste the money ordering it, otherwise you’re back to the shoebox full of unused photos. But the right print in the right frame with the right mounting in the right location will have an impact like no other way of showing your files. People will stop and study it versus just clicking next.

There are a lot of options out there, the point is do SOMETHING. Once you start appreciating your photos beyond the LCD screen on the back of your camera you’ll discover that your thinking will change. When you sit down and really think about the “cost” in terms of time and effort (and maybe money) of using your work you’ll start to think more before taking the shot and you’ll come full circle into shooting with a purpose.

Does anyone actually print pictures anymore? Sometimes I wonder. But prints are the original and still timeless way to share your photos. Of course there is time and expense involved in doing something with the prints. If you’re not going to invest the effort to do something with the print don’t waste the money ordering it, otherwise you’re back to the shoebox full of unused photos. But the right print in the right frame with the right mounting in the right location will have an impact like no other way of showing your files. People will stop and study it versus just clicking next.

Water Proof Camera Bags *menu

Tom Tweedel is a good friend with significant experience in China and has self-published several interesting volumes of his travels in China complete with many great images and informative narrative. Last year he visited Thailand for the first time and I had a great time showing him around the area. Somehow he found time to put together a like 340 page book of his travels around Thailand and you can get your copy here! I've got a copy of this book and I can tell you it's well worth it, especially for first time travelers or if you haven't seen more of Thailand than downtown Bangkok.

For those whose plans include extended travel in Thailand and China I’d recommend contacting Tom and inquiring into obtaining copies of his books. Tom Tweedel is an Austin, TX based photographer and can be reached at: [email protected]

Underwater digital photography poses its challenges, both in hardware and technique. Getting your camera under water can be a scary and expensive proposition.

Underwater digital photography poses its challenges, both in hardware and technique. Getting your camera under water can be a scary and expensive proposition.

Waterproof point and shoot cameras put new options in the hands of consumers. Alas waterproof is a relative term. The camera’s are usually rated in terms of depth and time. Finding a camera that can handle the depth seems easy enough. But something harder is how LONG can it stay in the water. If you look at the fine print many cameras can are only rated for an hour. That’s fine if your going scuba diving but if your spending hours in the water it’s not enough.

Also some manufacturers require you to send the camera in for replacement seals every year ($40 expense) to maintain their rating. Look on Amazon on the reviews for waterproof cameras and you’ll see a whole lot of flooding going on. Not something you want with your $250+ camera ($160+ for the cheap models).

Also some manufacturers require you to send the camera in for replacement seals every year ($40 expense) to maintain their rating. Look on Amazon on the reviews for waterproof cameras and you’ll see a whole lot of flooding going on. Not something you want with your $250+ camera ($160+ for the cheap models).

I had personal experience with flooding and also found that in beach environments the very, very fine grit suspended in the surf can get into the buttons and controls messing things up (though it could often be washed out later).

So with the prospect another summer around the pool and at the beach I went in search of a replacement for my now dead waterproof camera.

I decided to give bags a try as they have many advantages. They are cheap, they fit a wide variety of cameras, and they are small and easy to pack. But would the flaws and hassle be worth it over buying a doomed to die waterproof camera.

Shoot Through Bag

The first bag I got was a standard shoot through bag. You can find these at a wide variety of sporting good, camera and other retail stores. It’s essentially a waterproof bag with a clear side. It has the advantage of being very cheap and flexible. It can be used as a general waterproof sack or for your smart phone.

http://www.amazon.com/Lewis-N-Clark-Waterproof-Purpose/dp/B0010Y0ZNW/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

That design has three basic problems.

First while flexible you have to be more selective about your camera choice. If your camera has an expanding zoom when you turn it on its going to face resistance on the bag. This could potentially damage the camera zoom mechanism with repeated or hard use. Thus this type of bag is best use for cameras with small or internally folded zooms or camera phones.

The second problem is distortion. You’re shooting through soft, flexible plastic. If its bent or twisted you’re going to get artifacts and distortion. Unless you are diligent to make sure all the area in front of the sensor is flattened out this is going to give your shots a bit more “artistic” touch than you probably want.

The second problem is distortion. You’re shooting through soft, flexible plastic. If its bent or twisted you’re going to get artifacts and distortion. Unless you are diligent to make sure all the area in front of the sensor is flattened out this is going to give your shots a bit more “artistic” touch than you probably want.

The third problem is film/scratches. Soft plastic will start to scratch and haze long before other optical materials. This is especially true if you’re in a rough environment. It also picks up a grime layer faster than glass drying water and it’s harder to clean off.

All this together put the shoot through bag in the “unacceptable” category of image quality in my book. I suspect if I used it for a camera phone (very small sensor with no movement) I might find it more acceptable.

Dedicated Bags

The next step up is the dedicated bag. These are bags that have a dedicated window made of a hard optical grade material. The model I got had a snoot on it to accommodate expanding zooms. You get your camera in the bag, get it lined up and then turn it on and take your pictures.

http://www.amazon.com/DicaPac-WP110-Waterproof-Digital-Optical/dp/B001CMB66W/ref=cm_cr-mr-title

This type of bag also requires some thought for camera selection. While the previous bag worked best with internally folded zooms this new bag works best with expanding zooms. I used my relatively inexpensive Panasonic Lumix S-3 point and shoot camera. Getting the camera in and out can sometimes be a bit of a wrestle (though it gets easier with time).

This type of bag also requires some thought for camera selection. While the previous bag worked best with internally folded zooms this new bag works best with expanding zooms. I used my relatively inexpensive Panasonic Lumix S-3 point and shoot camera. Getting the camera in and out can sometimes be a bit of a wrestle (though it gets easier with time).

Once inside the limited controls were easy enough to operate, though if you’re shopping for a camera to use in one of these bags consider getting one with bigger buttons.

I’m happy to report that it worked! Hours of use in and under the water, battering waves and I got some passable pictures at the pool and the beach. But the system was not without its flaws.

The first problem has to do more with camera-bag match. The Panasonic is a fairly small camera. Its focal length is 28-105 FF equivalent and the snoot does not stick out as much as others I have had. While this is generally good it became a problem in the bag. When you were at the wider angles (say 38mm and under) there was a very good chance that it was going to pick up the snoot as well as your image. You had to either zoom in or carefully adjust the position of the camera in the bag (or both) to prevent some really strong vignetting.

The first problem has to do more with camera-bag match. The Panasonic is a fairly small camera. Its focal length is 28-105 FF equivalent and the snoot does not stick out as much as others I have had. While this is generally good it became a problem in the bag. When you were at the wider angles (say 38mm and under) there was a very good chance that it was going to pick up the snoot as well as your image. You had to either zoom in or carefully adjust the position of the camera in the bag (or both) to prevent some really strong vignetting.

The second problem was water drops on the optical plate. This problem is not unique to this bag. I had the same issues with my waterproof cameras. But being a smaller surface there was less chance of that. In addition the front of the snoot has a raised edge. This can trap water you’re trying to fling off.

The second problem was water drops on the optical plate. This problem is not unique to this bag. I had the same issues with my waterproof cameras. But being a smaller surface there was less chance of that. In addition the front of the snoot has a raised edge. This can trap water you’re trying to fling off.

The third problem was framing your image. Again not unique to the bag, trying to frame an image with bright sunlight reflecting off the water (or underwater) on an LCD screen can be a challenge. The bag doubles the challenge because it introduces another surface to scatter and reflect the light. This often made it impossible to tell if you were suffering from the vignette problem or the water drop problem.

The third problem was framing your image. Again not unique to the bag, trying to frame an image with bright sunlight reflecting off the water (or underwater) on an LCD screen can be a challenge. The bag doubles the challenge because it introduces another surface to scatter and reflect the light. This often made it impossible to tell if you were suffering from the vignette problem or the water drop problem.

Film and grime could accumulate on the optical plate, often introducing that 20 year old bad film look, but it washed off much easier than from the plastic bag.

Film and grime could accumulate on the optical plate, often introducing that 20 year old bad film look, but it washed off much easier than from the plastic bag.

Overall the bag gave serviceable snapshot quality pictures. If the conditions were right and you had the time you could get as good a shot out of it as the camera was capable of taking.

Is it the ultimate waterproof solution? I don’t think so. I certainly got better and more consistent results with a dedicated waterproof point and shoot. But if you’ve already got a point and shoot that your using it’s a good option if your happy with snapshot quality .

Is it the ultimate waterproof solution? I don’t think so. I certainly got better and more consistent results with a dedicated waterproof point and shoot. But if you’ve already got a point and shoot that your using it’s a good option if your happy with snapshot quality .

I don’t think my search is over yet, next summer we will see what is happening and what new products will be available. Until then I’ll be bagging it.

I don’t think my search is over yet, next summer we will see what is happening and what new products will be available. Until then I’ll be bagging it.


A Snapshot of Bangkok Images Month in Review *menu

Happy Holidays, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah. It’s here, Linus teaching us about Christmas trees, we realize we really have a Wonderful Life, holiday dishes cooking in the kitchen, family, a new grandson, friends having new babies, a great working trip to Thailand, getting to know my sons better, being reacquainted with family, becoming comfortable in a new town, Sees Candy, Honey Baked Hams, a snowman this year, and sadly my families first Christmas without my cousin Diana.

Life goes on and certain holidays are a sort of marker where we reflect on where we’re at, what still needs to get done, and when we’ll do it. We can go through most of the year without giving these things much thought, we get busy in our lives and then the year is over. But when we do stop and take stock, isn’t it great and perhaps not by accident that we have our families around us when our minds can’t help but visit these places?

The older I get the more I realize is by design or perhaps even tradition and culture than we’ve previously realized. It makes me excited for the future.

I’m 53 years old this Christmas and I’m still looking forward to each morning as much as I did when I was a child. Some days are like the first days of school, other days are like Christmas morning, some like birthdays, each day has the potential to bring something special into our lives and I’m the kid who can’t wait to find out what it is. It is indeed a Wonderful Life.

It’s with this in mind that I want to thank every contributor to Bangkok Images, without our contributors we wouldn’t have website. There’s just no way I could do this by myself. Every month when we publish and I look down the list of articles and see more contributors than my own pieces I feel very grateful. We have community.

The coming year will see significant improvements for Bangkok Images as we bring more functions on-line, more growth of articles, tutorials, and our general knowledge base, and my biggest wish of all.. a photography community taking shape on the forums and comments section. A kid can wish right? ;o)

Infocus Blog, A Special Plea *menu

What Would Have Prevented The Sandy Hook Shootings?

Today I sit here watching the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting and at this point we’re not sure how many are dead. Somewhere between 26-30 individuals with as many as 22 children. Our President just spoke and the talking head on the news shows are reporting, and there’s this awful feeling that we’re all looking around asking ourselves when will it be soon enough to discuss the obvious politics of gun control, gun ownership, and gun carry laws. Each side wanting the jump on the other. It’s disgusting.

Today I sit here watching the aftermath of the Sandy Hook school shooting and at this point we’re not sure how many are dead. Somewhere between 26-30 individuals with as many as 22 children. Our President just spoke and the talking head on the news shows are reporting, and there’s this awful feeling that we’re all looking around asking ourselves when will it be soon enough to discuss the obvious politics of gun control, gun ownership, and gun carry laws. Each side wanting the jump on the other. It’s disgusting.

EVERYONE wishes this hadn’t happened and I’m sure most parents would have done anything to stop this from happening. Would you give up your life? Your guns? Your politics? A month from now when this becomes old news what will you still be willing to give up to ensure this will never happen again? As President Obama said and I agree, this has become all too frequent, it seems like every month we have some sort of mass shooting.

Sit back, and let someone who is retired military with four years as a police office in a big California city, a lifetime gun owner, and ‘gasp’ even an NRA member tell you some things that really will work. You’re going to be angry, surprised, you might throw things against the wall. But if you’re honest with yourself you’ll see I’m at least mostly right.

Gun control: Yes, we need more “control” over guns. Really, “control” is both a precautionary and reactionary vehicle. Let me put this up front. The type of weapon matters very little. As a professional shooter I can promise you the rate of fire from the so called “assault weapons” and the approved “hunting weapons” is just about nil. Really. Where we need more gun ‘control’ is in the access to guns, the storage of guns, and the use and carry of guns. Allow me to expand on this:

We need strict laws that require guns be stored in an approved theft proof safe. Of course no safe is impervious to cutting torches and heavy equipment, so let’s be reasonable. We’re not trying to keep construction crews away from guns, but we are trying to keep unauthorized family members, guests, casual thieves and others not authorized. These safe’s are reasonably priced, many cost less than the gun itself. Some states already have laws that hold the gun owner criminally and civilly liable for guns stolen which weren’t stored in a safe. We need these laws to be nation wide. There will always be guns available, but far too many like today's are taken from family homes without permission.

We need more gun ‘control’ in who’s allowed to purchase and own guns. We’ve already got state and nation wide systems in place with waiting periods and these work as well as the information we give them allows. But far too often we’re not giving mental reports, medication reports, and other physical and mental factors would could make someone dangerous. If someone is involved with domestic violence, taking medications where a known side effect psychosis, suicide, or hallucinating, or other severe loss of control.. then they should be restricted from purchasing and owning guns until such time they receive medical clearance. There are many politics tied to this single point, but it is by far the most important preventative measure we have available. I promise you, in the weeks and months to come we’ll learn today's shooter had such issues and they weren’t reported. This has been the case in most every mass shooting we’ve endured together as a country.

Next, we need more gun ‘control’ with who’s allowed to carry and use guns in public places. In almost all states where CCW (concealed carry weapon) laws have been enacted violent crime rates have dropped. It’s a fact and we should take advantage of it. But we need more.

Is it any accident that every “school” shooting, “mall” shooting, “temple/church shooting” has taken place where holders of CCW permit holders are restricted from carrying weapons? No, it’s no accident. People who commit these shootings are one thing much stronger than being mentally disturbed. They’re cowards. They will look for the most easy sure place to make sure their violence is accomplished.

As long as schools are exempted for CCW holders then these mentally disturbed individuals will be drawn to them. But let’s take a more unconventional look at this: Once our ‘control’ of the physical storage of guns has failed, once our ‘control’ with who we allow to purchase and own guns has failed, and once we give these disturbed individuals a safe haven where they can be assured citizens won’t be carrying their own weapons and police response is a known 5-15 minutes away (enough time to kill hundreds if they’re organized), then what can stop these damaged people from killing our kids as they sit in their school seats?

The teachers. No, I don’t expect teachers to throw their lives away. And I especially don’t want untrained teachers having guns around my kids no more than I want the guy sitting next to me on my international flight to have a gun. But guess what? The guy sitting next to me on the plane just might be a highly trained and armed air marshal. We’ve recognized the need for these air marshals and we’ve put them in place. Why not make voluntary training of our most qualified teachers available free of charge and even pay them extra for keeping their qualifications current and carrying weapons concealed while on duty? We already pay them more for knowing a second or third language. Why not pay them extra for going through the training and being prepared to protect our children in what should be their safe havens of education?

Radical right? But I challenge you to tell me any other line of defense our children have once the school has been breeched by someone who has gotten through all our other checks and safeguards. I have a son and a cousin who work as public school teachers and it scares me to think they step into that classroom full of chalkboards, pictures, learning aids, assignments pinned to the walls, and all those young innocent children with virtually zero protection from such people as Adam Lanza aged 20, who made sure to kill his father before walking into his mothers classroom and killing her and all her students.

Even if Teacher Lanza had chosen to not be armed herself, the teacher in the next classroom might have. And he might be seconds away and not the 5-15 minutes police response takes. Not to mention even then they’re not on the scene immediately, they collect information as they wait outside and this usually takes hours. By then the damage is always done. The kids are dead. But the armed teacher rushing from a classroom or two away might have saved 75%, or 50%, or even ONE student.. and that would make us better off than we are now. Or just think, the coward shooter who now knows teachers might be armed, will go somewhere else to do their evil.

Does anyone really think traditional gun control will work? It’s never worked. These shootings have always happened. But more guns in the right highly trained hands has worked. It shows in the statistics of most every CCW state. Let’s make sure our guns are stored properly and their owners held responsible, and let’s make sure those who aren’t mentally fit don’t have access to guns even if it 'gasp’ infringes on their precious privacy, but for sure let’s train and arm qualified teachers just like we do air marshals and then pay them extra for keeping their qualifications current and being the last line of defense for our children. That’s a tax increase I’d vote for!

Until next time..