Saturday, October 25, 2014

Lighten Up

My "new" camera system. Two Olympus E-P5 bodies and Olympus lenses: 12mm f2, 25mm f1.8, 45mm f1.8 and 75mm f1.8. Also a small Olympus flash

I've used Canon cameras for as long as I've been a photographer. The first camera I used was a Canon FT-QL, a tank of a camera. The QL stood for "quick load," a Canon innovation that made it easier to load a new roll of film into the camera. We got that FT-QL at the PX in Bangkok in 1967 or so.

Even then, Canon and Nikon were the big two of the camera companies. The others, Minolta, Olympus, Ricoh, Yashica, etc were playing catch up to the CanNik juggernaut. Leica was always in a league of its own.

Through the years I've flirted with other systems.

In the 1980s, one paper I worked at issued me Olympus OM bodies and lenses. The lenses were excellent and the bodies nice and small, but I stayed with Canon for my personal gear. In the late 1980s, another paper I worked for issued me Nikon gear, FM2 bodies and a selection of Nikon lenses. They were okay but (and this might be heresy to Nikon fans) they didn't offer me anything the Canons didn't, so I stayed with Canon. (Although I have to admit the Nikon FM2/FE2 are arguably the best looking 35mm SLRs ever made. Nikon nailed the aesthetics of those.) While the Olympus gear was substantially lighter than my Canon gear, the Nikon gear weighed about the same.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Flash Way, Way Off Camera

People gather around the body of Apiwan Wiriyachai to pay their respects at the Red Shirt’s funeral. This photo was made with available light.

I recently photographed the first day of funeral rites for Apiwan Wiriyachai, a former Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives in the Thai parliament. It’s always a good idea when you’re using a small flash to get the flash off the camera. Properly done off camera flash makes the light more interesting and more natural. That’s pretty much impossible with the small popup flashes that are on top of most cameras these days or when you’re working in a media pack.

Apiwan’s funeral was a big media event. There were probably 30 photographers gathered around the body photographing as people paid their respects. Most of them were using flash, almost all of them either the small popup flashes built into their cameras or large accessory flashes but all of them, every single one of them, had the flash on the camera.* Most had the flash pointed straight ahead but a few were “bouncing” their flashes off the ceiling. I was working exclusively with available light.

The room was lit by fluorescent tubes and combining fluorescent and flash creates all sorts of color balance issues. I’ve found it’s much easier to edit and do color correction if there’s only one light source in  the photo. The base exposure at ISO800 was around f1.8 at between 1/60th and 1/250th (depending on whether people were looking up or down) and Apiwan was covered in a shiny white shawl so I was comfortable working with available light.
A photo from the same sequence as the top photo but a couple of minutes later. My exposure caught the blast of flash from another photographer’s camera. The highlights in this frame are completely blown out, rendering it unusable.

As I was working I could see that I was going to have a lot of unusable frames. Other photographers’ flashes were going off with machine gun like rapidity.

A couple of times the flash was just discrete enough that I could piggy back off of it.
Another photographer’s flash in this case helped me. It provided a nice directional light that doesn’t completely overpower the photo. I burned down Apiwan’s white uniform a little in Lightroom.
Seconds earlier, I made this frame, available light.

It’s impossible to predict at the moment that you’re making pictures what effect other people’s flashes will have on your photos. There are a lot of variables.

With the exception of a couple of motion blur photos I made, I was working at f1.8 to f2.2, wide open, or close to it, all day. It doesn’t take as much flash to expose at f1.8 as it does f8. If the photographer whose flash I was piggy backing off was shooting at wider apertures (and putting out less flash) I ended up with an interesting picture. If he (they were all male) was working at f11 or blasting away with the flash, I ended up with a blown out frame.
Available light, I didn’t capture any other flashes in this frame.
Seconds later this frame was ruined by the blast of another photographer’s flash. There is no detail in the white and any attempts to burn it down just turns it an ugly gray.

I could see the flashes going off around me and I knew from experience that I was going to have a difficult time editing. It’s impossible to predict when another photographer’s flash is going to help you and when it’s going to wreck your photo. I made a lot more frames than I normally would have because I was I trying to work around the photographers’ flashes.

* There’s a protocol when you’re working in a media scrum like this. Normally, a professional photographer would get the flash off the camera and either put it on a light stand or hold it out at arm’s length (or ask a nearby civilian to hold it for you). But you don’t have those options when you’re in a scrum. If I hold a flash in my hand and then stick my hand out to get the flash off camera I’m going to end up blocking another photographer’s view. The idea in a scrum is to make yourself as small as possible so you don’t block other photographers.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Apiwan's Cremation

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra lights the ceremonial cremation fire for Apiwan Wiriyachai, who served as her Deputy Prime Minister before the coup that deposed the elected Pheu Thai government

Thai funerals can last a week or more. The higher a person's standing in the community, the longer funeral rites go on. Apiwan Wiriyachai, the former Deputy Prime Minister who died in exile in early October, was a person of distinction. In addition to his political role as Deputy PM, he was also a graduate of the Thai military academy. Thousands of people attended his funeral.  
A small part of the crowd at Apiwan's cremation

Former Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra presided over the funeral. Yingluck has made only limited public appearance since the coup deposed her government (technically, she was ousted by the courts in early May. The May 22 coup deposed the interim government serving in her place). She's traveled outside Thailand to see her brother, former PM Thaksin Shinawatra, but otherwise she's mostly been seen in shopping malls and grocery stores. 
Yingluck walks through the crowd at the funeral

Rounds of applause erupted as she walked into the ceremony to greet Apiwan's family. 

The military government said Apiwan could have a public funeral on the condition that it was religious only - no discussion of politics. The Red Shirt leaders at the cremation Sunday were as circumspect as they were at Apiwan's bathing rites last week. They posed for photos with members of the public but they didn't make any speeches or public comments. I was within a meter or two of Yingluck during the cremation and I didn't hear her say a word. 
A woman prays during Apiwan's cremation.

A mourner holds up a photo of Apiwan as his family walks past her during the funeral procession. The funeral started in a torrential rain storm, but the clouds parted and the sun came out when the former Prime Minister arrived. I'm sure it was coincidence

Although the Red Shirt political leaders were mindful of the junta's mandate of a politics free funeral, the regular folks, the vast sea of Red Shirt mourners that filled the temple grounds, were undeterred. Some proudly wore their red shirts. Others held up the unofficial Red Shirt three fingered salute, borrowed from the Hunger Games movies. 
A mourner flashes the three fingered Hunger Games salute. 

As I walked through the crowd, Red Shirts who recognized me (I've been covering the Red Shirts for years now. Some of them recognize me and I recognize some of them) came up to talk to me about the situation. I tried not to be rude, but I don't engage in political discussion here anymore. The situation is too complicated. When people asked what I thought, I offered my condolences and moved on. 
Ratchanee Wiriyachai (left) widow of Apiwan Wiriyachaiat, and former PM Yingluck Shinawatra pray during Apiwan Wiriyachai's cremation at Wat Bang Phai in Bang Bua Thong
Women cheer for Yingluck during the cremation.

The cremation was the largest, most energized gathering of Red Shirts since the coup in May. I don't know what this means for Thailand going forward. Public political gatherings are still banned and martial law is still in place. I don't see the Red Shirts taking to the streets to protest against the government.

There are more photos from the cremation in my archive or available from ZUMA Press

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Tourism Woes

A tourist photographs Buddhas at Wat Pho while a man sleeps in the temple.

Thai tourism is in something of a crisis right now. Tourist arrivals year to date are down more than 10%. It has been a rough year for Thai tourism. The protests led by Suthep Thaugsuban crippled the high season (roughly November - March). Random politically inspired shootings, riots, and grenade attacks apparently scared off tourists. At the same time, Thailand's neighbors, Cambodia and Myanmar are rapidly improving their infrastructure, competing for tourism dollars with Thailand. 
A tour guide leads his clients through Bangkok.

Tourism officials hoped the coup in May would restore confidence in the tourism industry but it hasn't. 

Last month, British tourists were horrifically murdered on a resort island. Police botched the investigation before arresting undocumented Burmese migrant workers. At one point they hauled the suspects out to the scene of the murder and reenacted it. British journalists covering the investigation were drafted into playing the role of the victims.

None of this has restored faith in the tourist industry. Tourism is about 10% of the economy here, so a double digit drop in arrivals reverberates throughout the economy.
A souvenir vendor chases tourists in the street near the Grand Palace (background).

Despite all of this, Thailand is still a great country to visit. Crime against tourists, considering the number of tourists who come here, is pretty low. I don't worry about street crime when I go out, whether it's day or night. The attractions that made this a great country to visit last year - the beaches, the gracious people, the historic attractions, the food - are still wonderful. Traffic is a nightmare, which is why I don't drive here, but otherwise it's still a charming place. 
A tourist puts coins into a bowl, making a donation at Wat Pho. Despite its reputation as an "anything goes" place, Thais are quite modest and tourists are expected to dress modestly when they visit temples. Some temples, like Wat Pho, provide lime green robes for tourists who dress in revealing clothes. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Red Shirt Funeral

A woman weeps while she prays for Apiwan Wiriyachai on the first day of his funeral rites at Wat Bang Phai, in Bang Bua Thong, a Bangkok suburb

Apiwan Wiriyachai was a member of the United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship (Red Shirts), and a Thai politician in the Pheu Thai Party, which was aligned with exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. He was the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives (Thailand's lower house) in the Parliament before the military coup in May 2014 coup deposed the elected government. 

Apiwan was charged with Lese Majeste after the coup and fled Thailand rather than face prosecution. He died in exile in the Philippines on October 6. The military government said his body could be brought back to Thailand for cremation but insisted that the funeral should be religious only with no discussion of politics. 
People come to Apiwan's body to lay flowers on it.

The funeral, which is expected to take about a week, started Sunday, Oct. 12. Tens of thousands of Apiwan's supporters and Red Shirts stood in line for hours to pay respects to Apiwan and bathe his hand in scented water. The Red Shirts' political leaders attended the funeral and were greeted as rock stars. They followed the military instructions, they paid their respects to Apiwan, some posed for photos but then left without making public comment.
Women stand in an open door and watch the funeral

The funeral was notable because it the first large gathering of Red Shirts since the coup when the army shut down a large Red Shirt gathering and encampment on May 22. I covered the funeral of the Kamol Duangphasuk, a fiery Red Shirt poet in April. That funeral was filled with political speeches and passion. Apiwan's was not. People paid their respects and prayed but any political talk was done in whispers not shouts. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.