Wednesday, April 30, 2014

The Dry Season Blues

A watermelon farmer irrigates his field near Chiang Saen in Chiang Rai province.

I went to Chiang Rai province to photograph a drought that the newspapers in Bangkok have been  reporting on pretty breathlessly. The local media has been obsessed about the drought, reporting weekly about dropping water levels, the lack of rain and the potential for calamity. 

Bangkok has been dry. Very dry. It didn't rain at all, not once, in January or February. The latter half of December and the first half of March were dry. I'm comfortable saying we had no significant rain for three months. It is the dry season here, but even during the dry season here we see some rain. I can't remember a dry season this dry. 
A corn field near the Mekong River in Chiang Saen.

I've done a couple of stories around Bangkok about the unusually dry season. Farmers and others I talked to used the word "drought" when they described the situation so I was comfortable calling it a drought. 

I went to Chiang Rai province to photograph the drought because it's more rural than the areas around Bangkok I had photographed and the Mekong River, which flows to the South China Sea from its humble beginnings in the Himalaya Mountains, was reported to be very low. 

The Mekong is the lifeblood of northeast Thailand. Water from the river irrigates the fields and it's an aquatic superhighway of sorts, boats chug up and down river bringing Chinese goods to Thailand and the world while Thai goods, mostly food, are hauled upriver to Chinese markets. 

I did my research and based on what I read in the Bangkok media, the situation up north was pretty bad. I felt comfortable pitching a drought story to editors. Except that sometimes a drought isn't a drought. It's just the dry season. 

For reasons I don't understand, whether it's bad journalism in Bangkok or somebody hyping the situation in the north, I couldn't find a drought. I did find a lot of dry fields but then we get back to the  whole dry season thing. 

None of the farmers I talked to, and I talked to a lot of farmers, said this year's dry season is any worse than any other year's dry season. 
A farm worker measures out pesticides to apply to a corn field along the Mekong River. This part of the river front is a floodplain. It floods in September and is usually under water through the spring. 

One of the challenges of photographing a drought in Thailand is that "drought" is a relative term. The dictionary definition, "A long period of abnormally low rainfall, especially one that adversely affects growing or living conditions" has a fair amount of wiggle room. If you're in an arid place, like the American Great Plains or Australian Outback, a drought can mean cows dying in the pastures and the earth cracked and hardened like cement. 

If you're in a place like Thailand, which gets lots of rain, a drought doesn't look that different from normal, just less water.  That's the situation I ran into in Chiang Rai. It's dry, but it didn't seem much drier than normal. The farmers I talked to (through a translator) told me over and over again that so far it's been a normal dry season. 

The Mekong River was low and there were a lot of boats were tied up to the piers along the waterfront but stevedores and people who worked the waterfront said that it was normal for this time of year.
A worker paints a cargo boat on the riverbank. Like the corn field in the floodplain, this part of the riverfront is under water for more than half the year. 

About midway through my time in Chiang Rai, I realized I wasn't doing a drought story. Instead of a drought story I ended up working on a story about China's influence in northern Thailand and families that still make rattan mats the old way, by growing the reeds and then weaving the mats themselves. 
A Buddhist monk watches a fire set by a farmer burn near his temple.

There are more photos of the Chiang Rai dry season 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.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Funeral for a Poet

Pallbearers carry Mai Nueng Kor Kunthee, a poet and Red Shirt activist murdered last week.

On  April 23, Kamol Duangphasuk, 45, was shot and killed after lunch in the Lat Phrao neighborhood of Bangkok. Kamol was better known as Mai Nueng Kor Kunthee and was a popular Red Shirt poet and activist. 
A grieving woman tries to get to Mai Nueng Kor Kunthee's coffin during the funeral.

Thousands of people came to Wat Samien Nari in Bangkok for the poet's funeral Monday. A line of Buddhist monks pulled the coffin around the temple crematorium while Red Shirts shouted out the poet's name and wept. Red Shirt security guards stood at attention and saluted as the coffin passed. 
A small part of the crowd at the temple. 

A woman wept while Red Shirts eulogized their murdered poet. 

It's the dry season here and it hasn't rained in a long time. But today, just after the coffin was brought out of the crowd and placed near the crematorium, while the poet was being eulogized, an ominous cloudbank rolled over the neighborhood, the temperature dropped and it started to rain. Then came thunder and lightning. With each thunderclap the crowd cheered, as though the poet were reading to them from above. It was equal parts funeral, a celebration of a life and a Red Shirt political rally. 
A Red Shirt accompanies Mai Nueng Kor Kunthee's coffin

There are more photos from the funeral 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.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Sunrise in the Triangle

A Laotian river boat steams up the Mekong River through the Golden Triangle, where Thailand, Myanmar and Laos meet. 

I'm back in Bangkok after a week in Chiang Rai province and the "Golden Triangle" working on a couple of stories. I still have a lot of photos to edit my way through but it was a pretty good week.

This is the "burning season" in northern Thailand and neighboring Laos and Burma. Farmers in the area still practice "slash and burn" agriculture. The burning starts in late February and continues until the start of the rainy season. The smoke fouls the air and causes all sorts of health problems. But smoky skies create fantastic sunrises and sunsets. This is the sunrise from the balcony of my hotel room in Sob Ruak, north of Chiang Saen.

The photo's vantage point is in Thailand. Myanmar (Burma) is on the left, Laos is on the right, but not in the photo. The Mekong River is one of the world's great river systems. This is the dry season and the river is pretty low, but it's still more than a kilometer wide at this point.
A firefighter attacks a fire that roared into Sob Ruak from nearby farm fields. The fire was across the street from my hotel. 

The Thai government has taken a hard stand against burning but it's hard to end a centuries old practice and farmers keep burning their fields, fouling the skies and every once in a while causing a panic in town. 


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, April 25, 2014

Less Than Perfect

A tuk-tuk in Chinatown

In general, photographers don't like pictures that aren't sharp. Whether it's focus or motion, we usually try to make sure something in our photos is sharp.

I was walking through Bangkok's Chinatown recently, not on an assignment just photographing with my Micro 4:3 gear. I was at the corner of Ratchawong and Yaowarat Roads photographing tuk-tuks, the ubiquitous three wheeled taxis that putter around Bangkok hauling freight and passengers. 

I have lots of tuk-tuk photos, some sharp, some not. I usually photograph tuk-tuks at either a fast enough shutter speed that they're sharp and in focus or in a way that has some motion but is still recognizable as a tuk-tuk, somewhere around 1/30th of a second. 

This time I wanted something completely different, less literal and more impressionistic. I kept dropping the shutter speed and increasing the f-stop and ultimately made this picture. A quick check of the exif data shows it was made at 1/10th of a second, f10 at ISO 100. I kind of like it. It's not the sharpest tuk-tuk photo I have but it is one the most atmospheric. Sometimes less then perfect is better. 


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.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Gold Fever

A woman pans in the Mae Wang, (Wang River) near Wang Nua district in Lampang.

When the level of the Mae Wang (Wang River) drops, in February or March, the farmers hoping to strike it rich scour the river bottom for tiny flecks of gold.

People have long suspected that there was gold in the area but no one really knew how much or where. In 2011, a construction crew digging sand out of the river bed opened a vein of the precious metal. The project is complete but the seasonal miners are still working the river bed looking for gold.

The Thai government commissioned a survey of the river after the discovery of the gold. The survey found there was a "fair amount" of gold ore in the river, but not enough to make it commercially exploitable. So the farmers have the river to themselves.
Artisinal gold mines line the river. Farmers have their "stakes" outlined in rock. 

They start looking for the gold in the dry season as soon as the river level drops (river levels here fluctuate based on the season). They start about 9AM and work through the day until 4PM. Every day. They dig up loose gravel and swirl it in wooden pans, gently washing the dirt and sediment out until only gold, or so they hope, is left. This year they may be able to work a little longer because the government is predicting a drought that could delay the rainy season.

The truth is there isn't much gold. Most farmers find a few flecks of gold dust in the course of the day. They hope to make enough to help their families through the dry season. In a good month, they can make between $65 and $100, a substantial amount of money to a person who makes less than $3 per day.
Flecks of gold in a miner's jar. 
A miner checks the bottom of his pan for gold dust. 

The government allows the miners to work the river bottom as long as they work on public lands. They aren't allowed to work in the national parks in the area. The miners also regulate themselves. They work their "claims" and each claim is outlined in river rock. They dig up gravel and sediment from their claim and then rinse out their pans in a shallows near their claim. These are not elaborate underground mines, but it's no less back breaking. Miners spend all day under a grueling sun, daily highs approach 38C (100F) with humidity in the 70%-80% range. March and April are the hottest months of the year in Thailand and they are out in the hottest part of the day. 

There are more photos of the gold miners 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. 

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Happy Birthday Bangkok

Girls in a Isaan style musical act wait to go on stage at the Rattanakosin Festival on Sanam Luang.

Bangkok is celebrating its 232nd anniversary this weekend. It's a baby compared to the other great cities of the world like London, Paris or Madrid. Even compared to New World cities like New York and Mexico City it's just a toddler. What Bangkok lacks in historical presence though it more than makes up for in energy. 

Although there's been a presence in Bangkok since the 15th century, the place that is now Bangkok was little more than a wide spot in the Chao Phraya River until 1782, when Buddha Yodfa Chulaloke, better known as Rama I, the founder of the Chakri Dynasty (which stills reigns, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the current King of Thailand, is Rama IX) moved the capital of Siam (now Thailand) across the river from Thonburi to Bangkok.
A Thai martial arts demonstration at the Rattanakosin Festival. 

Now Bangkok is one of the most dynamic cities in the world. Thais don't call Bangkok Bangkok, that's just what foreigners call it. Thais call it Krung Thep Maha Nakhon. 

The city's full official name, used in ceremonies is: Krungthepmahanakhon Amonrattanakosin Mahintharayutthaya Mahadilokphop Noppharatratchathaniburirom Udomratchaniwetmahasathan Amonphimanawatansathit Sakkathattiyawitsanukamprasit (I can't pronounce it either). Translated out of Thai, it's: "City of angels, great city of immortals, magnificent city of the nine gems, seat of the king, city of royal palaces, home of gods incarnate, erected by Visvakarman at Indra's behest." But Thais just call it the Krung Thep for short. 
A young man stands in front of a portrait of Rama IV, the great King Mongkut, one of the most revered of the Chakri Kings. He brought a number of innovations to Thailand and maintained Siam's independence at a time when neighboring Cambodia and Burma were being carved up by French and British colonizers.

The Ministry of Culture is throwing a party on Sanam Luang this year marking 232 years of Bangkok. Although it's supposed to be Bangkok's birthday party, it's really a celebration of Thailand's diversity. From the songbirds of southern Thailand to the foods of Isaan, you can virtually tour Thailand by walking around Sanam Luang. It was a great way to spend a Saturday afternoon. 
People in traditional Thai attire (except for the hats) walk around Sanam Luang during a parade honoring Bangkok.

There are more photos of the Bangkok fete 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. 

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Travel Time

Travelers in Hua Lamphong station in Bangkok get off an overnight train from Chiang Mai. 

My last Songkran related post, at least until next year's Songkran. 

Thailand travels during Songkran. The local newspapers call the period the "Seven Deadly Days of Songkran" because there are so many fatal wrecks on the highways. The bus companies lay on extra buses, the trains and planes are nearly full. 

Thais who live in Bangkok head to their home provinces to spend time with family and people in the provinces come to Bangkok to see the big city. Everyone, it seems, is going somewhere. 

I went down to Hua Lamphong Railway Station to photograph people on the move. Hua Lamphong is  a wonderful old world railway station. It opened in 1916 and, except for the addition of western fast food franchises, sometimes feels like it hasn't changed much in the last 98 years. 
Boys do school work while they wait for their train to go home.

Thailand built an impressive rail network in the early parts of the 20th century and it's possible to go all the way from Chiang Mai (in northern Thailand) to Singapore by train. You have to change trains in Bangkok and Butterworth, Malaysia, but the layovers are easy. If you're into train travel it's one of the world's great trips. 
A worker cleans the windows on a train going to Sungai Kolok, on the Thai-Malaysia border. 

Sleeping on a southbound train. 


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, April 18, 2014

Covering Songkran

My Songkran setup: 1 Canon 5D Mark II body (with 28-70mm f2.8 zoom), a Kata rain cover, a plastic water proof pouch for cash and iPhone, ThinkTank Skin pouches, my 16-35mm and 70-200mm zoom lenses are in the pouches, which are covered by the included water proof covers that come with ThinkTank products. 

Songkran is probably the most famous holiday in Thailand. It's the traditional Thai New Year and celebrated with raucous water fights all over the country. You can be walking down the sidewalk, minding your own business, and find yourself drenched when a pickup truck full of Thai teenagers throw water on you as they speed past looking for another target of opportunity.

Some neighborhoods, like Khao San Road, are closed to regular traffic and become virtual free fire zones of aquatic hijinks.
If you're going to photograph Songkran, you're going to get wet

On one hand, covering Songkran is the easiest thing in the world. Go to the water fights and start photographing. Mission accomplished. But when you're covering Songkran, you have to make sure you're covered or you're going to end up covering some expensive repair bills for cameras that are not waterproof. 

I've been covering Songkran for years now and I have never lost or damaged a piece of equipment. This is how I do it. 

In my normal day to day photography I don't use zooms. I much prefer using fast prime lenses, like the Canon 24mm f1.4 or 50mm f1.2. If I need to change the perspective, I walk closer to or further from what I'm photographing or change lenses. But when you're in the midst of a water fight involving dozens of combatants, changing lenses is a really bad idea and you don't have the mobility you're used to. 

When I photograph Songkran I break out my zoom lenses and older camera body. Just because I've never damaged a camera in Songkran doesn't mean I never will and I don't want to wreck my 5D Mark III covering something as silly as Songkran. I use my old Canon zooms, which I don't normally use, because I can change up my field of view without changing lenses. 

Normally I work out of a shoulder bag. What can I say, I'm old school. During Songkran though I leave the shoulder bag at home and work out of a ThinkTank set of "Skin" pouches. I carry my old Canon 16-35mm f2.8 zoom (version 1 of the lens, more than 12 years old) and my old Canon 70-200mm f2.8 zoom (I think this lens is about 15 years old). The lenses ride in the ThinkTank pouches. ThinkTank includes brilliantly designed waterproof covers for the pouches. When I get down to the waterfight zone, I cover the pouches with the waterproof covers. It's not very stylish, but it keeps everything bone dry. 

My workhorse lens, and the one that is on the camera for about 75% of what I do for Songkran, is my really old Canon 28-70mm f2.8 zoom, which has been out of production for more than 13 years. I use the zooms one week a year - Songkran. At almost all other times I use my Canon prime lenses. 

For working on the street during Songkran I carry the camera and lens I'm working with in a Kata 702 rain cover. This is an exceedingly uncool way of carrying a camera but it keeps your gear dry and working. It's a giant clear plastic bag. The "front" has a drawstring and Velcro closure which keeps water out of the front. There is no lens covering, so it's important to use filters on your lenses to keep water off the lens itself. Your hands go into holes on the side, which also have drawstring closures. There's water and dust proof zipper and the bottom that seals the whole thing. There is no eyepiece cover per se. The rain cover is clear, so you look through the plastic case when you look through the viewfinder. 

It's a little awkward and strange looking but it works. It costs about $70(US) and is worth every penny.

Finally, if you're going out to photograph Songkran, or any other water fight, don't forget your cash and iPhone. You will get wet. Really wet. Like last person off the Titanic wet. Anything in your pockets will also get wet, and your iPhone is not waterproof (neither is your Android if you were wondering). I bought a plastic waterproof case from a vendor at a BTS station for my iPhone and cash. It cost about 30Baht (one dollar) and keeps my smaller things snug as a bug in a rug. 
A child hoses down passerby during a Songkran water fight. 

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, April 14, 2014

Songkran Part 2

A Songkran reveler uses a large squirt gun in a water fight on Khao San Road

After photographing the sublime for the start of Songkran (the procession for the Phra Buddha Sihing and a mass merit making ceremony), I ventured down to Khao San Road, the backpacker ghetto section of Bangkok, to photograph the ridiculous aspect of Songkran. 

This is what Songkran is most famous for, the no-holds barred all out water fights that can break out with no warning almost anywhere in Bangkok during the holiday period. April is the hottest month of the year and people are ready to cut loose. The water fights cool things down, even if you can't go out in public without worrying about finding yourself as collateral damage between rival gangs of bucket wielding children (and occasionally adults). 
Thais walk through a water battle on Khao San Road. The mist in the background is not rain. It's water fights.

The water fights are nonstop in the touristy parts of town: along Khao San Road, along Silom Road, along Rama I in front of Siam Paragon Mall and Nana, the "entertainment" / red light district on Sukhumvit. The reality though is that a water fight can break out almost anywhere at almost anytime. You'll be walking down the street and a pickup truck full of teenagers come up from behind you and throw buckets of water at you or shoot you with giant squirt guns. 
"Cry Havoc! and let slip the dogs of war" Or something like that. A running water fight on Khao San Road

In general, Thais are very respectful of people on the street during Songkran. Walking around Bangkok with my cameras I try to avoid water fights. Children run up to me laughing and ask if they squirt me or, if they don't ask, they squirt my legs or back. There's always the risk that I'll get caught between rival gangs of  bucket wielding mods and rockers. Tourists though are not respectful of people on Songkran. They will hunt you down and deliberately soak you, whether you're minding your own business and trying to stay dry or on the front line of a water fight. It's just another reason to avoid the touristy parts of town. 

There are more photos of Songkran 2014 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. 

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Songkran Part 1

Women spray the Phra Buddha Sihing with scented oils during a stop at Wong Wian Yai in Thonburi

Thailand has the good fortune of celebrating three New Year's holidays. The official one is January 1, which has been the New Year since 1940 or so. There's a large Chinese presence in Thailand, so the Lunar New Year (usually in February) is celebrated widely, especially in communities with large Chinese immigrant populations. And then there's Songkran. 

Songkran is the traditional Thai New Year. Most of the Theravada Buddhist countries in Southeast Asia (Laos, Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar) celebrated New Year in April on a date that changed from year to year. Eventually they all adopted January 1 as New Year's Day but kept the old tradition as a holiday. 
Bangkok city officials carry the Phra Buddha Sihing out of the National Museum before the procession.

Bathing Buddha statues with water and oils is a traditional way of making merit and cleansing one's sins. Gently washing the hands of one's elders (also a New Year's tradition) is another way of making merit. 

Songkran starts on April 13, but on April 12 there's a procession honoring the Phra Buddha Sihing, a revered statue of the Buddha. The procession starts at the National Museum (which used to the "Front Palace") and travels through the city making occasional stops. At each stop people pray to the statue and gently sprinkle it with water and scented oils. It's one of the quieter and more spiritual celebrations of the traditional New Year. 

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. 

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Protesting at Justice

Anti-government protestors block the entrance to the Ministry of Justice in the Bangkok suburbs Tuesday

Bangkok Shutdown is officially over. It ended several weeks ago while I was in Mae Sot. Suthep closed the various protest stages and asked the protestors to move to Lumpini Park, a vast greenspace in central Bangkok. They've been camped out in the park since March 3. (Literally camped out. They're sleeping in tents and getting food from field kitchens.) 

I haven't been covering the remnants of Shutdown much because there wasn't much movement on the story. The protestors were unable to dislodge the government and the government not willing to dislodge the protestors. I've been working on stories related to climate change and the environment. 

This weekend I covered a Red Shirt rally in Thonburi, so in the interest of equal time, and to see what the anti-government side was up to, I covered a PDRC rally yesterday. I went to Lumpini Park and then hitched a ride to the protest site on a food truck. The protestors motorcaded out to the Ministry of Justice, in the government complex at Chaeng Wattana, about 20 kilometers from central Bangkok. 
A protestor waves the Thai flag in front of the Ministry of Justice

The rolling protests have become sort of routine. Protestors load up in buses and pickup trucks and head out to the government ministry they're picketing that day. Legions of PDRC security guards on motorcycles zip around, blocking traffic so the motorcade can get across Bangkok unhindered. At the government office, protestors block the entrances, speakers make fiery anti-government speeches and a protest leader, usually Suthep but not always, meets with government workers to encourage them to support the protest movement. 
Suthep Thaugsuban (left), leader of the anti-government protests, meets with Kittipong Kittayark at the Ministry of Justice.

That was how things played out Tuesday. Protestors blocked the entrances to the building while Suthep met with Kittipong Kittayark, the Permanent Secretary of the Thai Ministry of Justice. After the meeting the protestors had a picnic lunch of chicken and basil. Then they loaded up in their trucks and buses and went back to Lumpini Park. 

There are more photos of Tuesday's protest 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. 

Monday, April 7, 2014

Red Shirts Come to Bangkok

A Red Shirt supporter with photos of Thaksin and Yingluck.

The Red Shirts, the populist supporters of exiled former Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra and his sister, current PM Yingluck Shinawatra, rallied in the Bangkok suburbs this weekend. 

Anti-government protestors led by Suthep Thaugsuban have been rallying and marching and protesting against the Shinawatra family's involvement in Thai politics for months now. The protests have sometimes been bloody but the government is still in power. The Thai courts are now involved and there is concern in the Red Shirt ranks that the courts may do something the protestors have not been able to do - bring down the government. If the courts rule against Yingluck, she could be forced to step down immediately. Suthep is waiting in the wings ready to form his own government and "reform" Thai politics. 
Red Shirt supporters reach out to wash Red Shirt leader Nattawut Saikua's hands as he walks through a crowd of Reds. 

This is a scenario the Red Shirts are familiar with because only a few years ago the popularly elected Prime Minister Samak Sundaravej, (then running in the Thai Rak Thai party, the forerunner to Pheu Thai) and the hand picked favorite of ousted PM Thaksin Shinawatra, was forced out of office by the courts because he hosted a cooking show while he was in government. The court ruled that it was a conflict of interest and forced his government out. That ruling has been called a "judicial coup" by Red Shirt supporters and it set up the conditions that allowed the Thai Democrats to form a minority government, which in turn led to the 2010 Red Shirt protests and subsequent military crackdown against the Red Shirts. 
Red Shirts at the rally Sunday. 

The Red Shirts are concerned that conditions are ripe for a second judicial coup. They vow to defend the government. The weekend rally in the suburbs was to show support for the government. 

The protestors in Bangkok vow to overthrow the government. Their ongoing protests are to further that end. There appears to be no middle ground. 
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, April 4, 2014

50mm Goodness

An exercise group works out in Lumpini Park, photographed with my 50mm f1.2 lens using f1.6.

One of the questions I get a lot in photo workshops is “What camera and lens should I buy?” “Should I get a Canon or Nikon ‘full frame’ body and a 24-70mm f2.8 L zoom? Or should I get an APS sized sensor and a “kit” lens? Or should I be buying prime lenses?” 

I carry a heavy bag full of gear so I'm ready for every eventuality. I don’t go out for a serious day of photography without two full frame bodies, a 24mm f1.4, 50mm f1.2, 100mm f2 and 200mm f2.8 lenses. I also carry a Micro 4:3 body with a 12mm, 20mm and 45mm lenses (equal to 24, 40 and 90 in full frame terms). 

The truth is though that most people make too much of what lenses to buy. They could improve their photography by really learning to use just one lens.

There’s a lot to be said for keeping it simple. Jerome Delay, a photographer with the Associated Press, has been making remarkable photos from some of the most troubled places on the planet with just one camera and a 50mm lens.

Working with just one lens forces you to really work a scene. If you want to see it differently you don’t just put another lens on the camera. You explore the scene with the lens you have. A 50mm lens doesn’t have the distortion that is common to many wide angles. And it’s much easier to carry just one lens and camera than a bag full of lenses and cameras.

The New York Times wrote about Delay’s photography with a 50mm lens last year. It should be required reading for anyone who wants to buy a new lens.

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.