Chiang Mai Photo Workshops

    How To Make The Most Of Bright Light In The Middle Of The Day

    Mid Day Madness

    Many photographers avoid going out to make photographs in the middle of the day when the sun is high in the sky, the light is harsh and the shadows are strong. It certainly can be more challenging to make good pictures in these conditions, but it’s not impossible. Sometimes we have limitations and the middle of the day may be the only time we have to shoot in a particular location. While traveling and we know we will not be able to return to the same location in the morning or evening, at the times the light is more friendly, there’s no option than to make photographs in bright sunshine. Recently on our travels in Myanmar we worked within these restrictions at Inle Lake.

    Three men fishing on Inle Lake, Myanmar posing for photographsInle Lake is a terrific location for photographers. I was happy to see the sun bright in the sky as the previous time I had been there (back in 2004) it had rained continuously for two days. We made the most of the morning and evening there and produced some very pleasing photographs of the fishermen in the best light of the day. During the hot part of the day it’s extremely bright out on the lake, however, we were not content to sit at the hotel and set out to make the best of it.Cow and pagodas in Myanmar

    The lake and it’s many small village islands are set up for tourism and have all manner of displays of local craftsmanship. We did photograph some of this, but it’s very staged and crowded with tourists who love to get in the way of a good picture. Dodging the tourists and braving the hard light, we were able to find a few good locations to photograph.

    Seeing a cow tethered amongst some pagoda ruins provided me with a good opportunity to create a number of high contrast pictures. Knowing the limitations of my camera helps when working in high contrast conditions. When I am working I have a good feel for how much I will be able to carefully manipulate my photos when I post process them, and this is something good to be aware of when making photos. Visualizing the end result, knowing how you will want to adjust the image later will help you to make the best exposures.

    When photographing the cow and pagodas I had in mind to really push the contrast levels in post processing which would add to the drama. At some angles, when the sun was behind me and the cow and pagodas were well lit, I aimed to get an exposure that would give me a balanced result. With other angles, when the light was from the side or my subjects were in the shade, I opted to make my exposure so the highlights were well rendered and the shadow areas would fall into darkness. While I was making these pictures I was also thinking in black and white.

    Once we were back on the boat I chose to make the most of the bright colors. The sun was high and off to one side, so the shadows were minimal and I found the combination of colors pleasing. Having a small flock of gulls enjoying some bread we were throwing them made some great additional ‘props’.

    Reflections are strongest when the light is bright and finding a colorfully painted house made a nice subject to photograph. Waiting for other boats to pass and the water to calm gave us a nice sharp mirror image in the water.

    Cow and pagodas in MyanmarFor this image of the pagoda and temple I found and angle, where the white and gold building is mainly shade and the pagoda, is nicely lit from the side. I often look for alternative angle or subject to enhance a temple shot (living in Asia they get a bit samey after a while,) so I used the blue fabric awning that was blowing in the breeze as a foreground and main focus of my image. The Burmese text printed on it provides a sense of location as well as adding extra interest in my composition.

    By this time I was sweating buckets, it’s not just the harsh light that is challenging in the middle of the day!

    These are not the best shots from the short few days we spent on the lake, but, as I said, we were not content to sit out the heat and hard light in our hotel room. Any time you are faced with having no option but to make photos in the brightness of the middle of the day, treat it as a challenge and time to experiment – both with how you make your exposure and compositions and also to push your post processing skills to new heights.

    Cow and pagaodas in Myanmar

    Blue Pole house on Inle Lake, Myanmar

    temple and pagoda, Inle Lake, Myanmar

    Riding in a boat on Inle Lake, Myanmar

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    Kayan long neck women

    Learn How To Create Effective Photo Essays … and Read The Ongoing Story Of Our Long Neck Friends

    It was a special experience to arrive at Baan Thong Luang and see Malu having her neck rings put back on. So when we arrived again a few weeks later taking another workshop there we were amazed to see Malu’s mother having her rings wound around her neck. Masu had just returned the evening before from her journey home to her village in Myanmar and the grandma was at work wrapping the brass coil around the younger woman’s neck.

    Chancing upon a juncture like this it’s important to take stock of what’s happening and work quickly to ensure you capture the action as it’s unfolding. The first thing I do is to ascertain if it’s appropriate and polite to take photos. I never like to just assume that it is. Because we have a lovely existing relationship with these people it would be easy to assume taking photos is OK, but it’s always best to ask.

    Kayan long neck womenGiven the go ahead I started taking a few initial shots. My immediate thought was to create a series of photographs that would tell the story of this event. I’ll always be looking to get great single images that will stand alone, but I also like to make collections of photographs that provide a record of the situation.

    We’d arrived when the old grandma was already a good way through the process so I knew we would not have so much time. I know the light in that particular location is lovely, as we’ve taken many photographs there over the past few years. I also know the background can be a problem as it’s fairly cluttered and has some areas of bright light where you can see the sunshine through the gaps under the house. So, as usual, I moved around and found various points of view so as to avoid most of the distracting bright areas.

    I was then looking to capture interactions between Masu and the grandma and anyone else who may enter the scene. Masu’s youngest daughter, Naam Cha, was there, (as usual,) and enjoying having her mother back home. She was quite intrigued by what was happening and this made for some lovely photos. I always like to look for this type of interaction when there’s a main activity taking place as it adds deeper meaning to the photo essay.

    It’s important to anticipate the flow of the activity and the likely associated expressions you might see on people’s faces. I aimed to photograph various facial expressions as Masu sat there having her appearance returned to it’s customary state, (she had not had the rings removed for about 5 years prior to this time.) In this situation there’s a number of factors that make it easier for me:

      • Knowing my camera well
      • Knowing the location and lighting well
      • Knowing my subject well enough that she’s comfortable
      • Capturing a number of different expressions of your subject will enhance the narrative you are creating.

     

    Kayan long neck woman and childI was able to shoot 89 photos in about 15 minutes before grandma indicated to us she preferred to continue without our cameras present, so we thanked them and went on our way. Bringing the photos into Lightroom and working through them to choose five or six for my picture story was fun. I knew I had some interesting photos, some fun interactions with Naam Cha and some good expressions from Masu.

    To choose just one image to illustrate an activity like this is very difficult. When I worked for the newspapers this was most often what I had to do. These days it’s great to have the flexibility to share a small series of images giving a clearer account of the experience.

    If you’re interested in learning more of my Lightroom workflow and how I go about choosing which images to include and which I discard, please check out our online course on the subject here.

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    Return of the Rings

    Please read our previous blog post, Meeting Malu, before you read this one as it is the beginning of the story.

    School holidays had already begun and we waited a few weeks before heading up to Baan Thong Luang village. We had a busy week ahead of us booked, including a Mae Sa workshop, so we decided to visit the village early one morning without customers. As we arrived we had the normal friendly string of conversations with people as we walked amongst the traditionally constructed homes, making our way up to Malu’s house.

    She was there on the porch with her father, brother and little sister, having just arrived home the night before. Her mother was away visiting family in Myanmar. We chatted together a while and gave them photos we’d taken of their family and friends when we’d visited their ancestral village in February. Of course by now they had heard we’d been there and it was fun to share with them of the wonderful experience we’d had. Malu’s dad casually mentioned they would be putting her neck rings back on soon and we were welcome to photograph and video the procedure.

    Our timing again was wonderful. The previous occasion we’d seen Malu was the day she left to go to school in Mae Hong Son. If we’d visited a day or two before or after, or even arrived half an hour later, we would have missed seeing her. Now, here we were again to see her have the rings put back on.

    I had assumed Malu would spend her summer holidays at Baan Thon Luang without the rings. I figured it would be too much hassle to put them on for a short time and that Malu was probably enjoying some freedom from them. It can be difficult to understand or know the ways of another culture at times, especially since, being a New Zealander, we have no deep historic culture of our own to relate it to.

    Observing Malu as the old grandma carefully wrapped the coil around this little girl’s neck was an amazing expedience. Not so much because of what they were doing, but because of Malu’s total acceptance of the process being as normal as getting a hair cut. She stood there unflinching, even as a few times the old lady slipped a little and the end of the coil pressed into her neck. It took about 25 minutes. The whole time Malu stood quietly without so much as a single grimace. Once the rings were on, she reached up and behind to feel them and then cheerfully skipped back to her house to put her traditional head scarf on.

    7 year old Kayan girl with traditional neck rings

    In the west our customs have included many body altering discomforts, usually associated with vanity. Piercings and corsets being some of the older ones and now days with breast implants and all manner of painful plastic surgery and gender reassignment which are becoming more widely practiced, not to forget the wearing of balance and gravity defying stiletto heels! I’ve read and heard too much criticism and judgment of the ‘barbaric’ practices of other cultures, usually by Westerners who have a shallow experience of culture and perceive customs such as the wearing of neck rings to be oppressively enforced. I was thinking about these things as we watched Malu stand so patiently stand as the grandma skillfully adorned her. I was impressed at the lack of wriggling, total absence of any complaint or attitude and her comfortable acceptance as if it were just part of getting dressed for the day. Come to think of it, having her hair cut very short at school was most likely more difficult for her – her mother has never had her hair cut, as per their tradition.

    Kayan long neck woman with her hair down

    Malu’s mother, Masu, with her hair down.

    Kayan lady preparing to put neck rings on a Kayan girl

    Using a small tool to shape the rings.

    Kayan girl waits to have her neck rings put on

    Malu waiting

    Kayan woman puts neck rings on a 7 year old girl

    Careful work.

     

    Kayan Long Neck girl with a missing tooth

    Meeting Malu

    Kayan hill tribe mother and daughterMalu was by her mother’s side the first time we met her. We often saw her there. Malu lives with her parents and her little sister in Baan Thong Luang in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Her older brother attends a school in Mae Hong Song, up in the north near the Myanmar border. During our first visit to this village Malu befriended us and quickly discovered that our cameras were fun.

    Malu’s family are Kayan people, speaking their own language and with their own culture and tradition. They are also known as the ‘Long Neck Tribe’. Originally from Myanmar they make their home in Thailand to work and because they have access to better health care and education than they have in their ancestral village. We were recently in Myanmar and met Malu’s grandfather at their family home, but that’s a whole other story.

    Malu is six years old, but she doesn’t like being six, so she tells people she’s seven. She’s a spirited, bright, intelligent little girl who loves life. Malu is everybody’s friend in the village and when she’s not close to her mum, she’s off visiting and playing with the other girls in the village. Kayan long neck girl taking a photo with a dslrShe’s learning to weave. When Malu is sitting with her loom she does not like to be interrupted, she is totally focused. I have not often met six year old children with the ability or desire to concentrate on learning, unless they had a smart phone in their hands or were sitting in front of a computer game.

    We’ve enjoyed teaching Malu a little photography. Our cameras are rather too large and cumbersome for her small hands, so we started taking along a smaller camera for her to use, which she was delighted with. The first place she chose to go to photograph with this camera was to the church. Her family are Christian as are a number of other families in the village and there’s a small church at the top of the hill. We gave her instruction on how to use the camera and how to compose her pictures. It’s a wonderful experience to teach a child who loves to learn.

    For a number of months we’d not been up to the village and, as we arrived one day with customers on a photo workshop, Malu’s mother greeted us with the news that Malu had been asking after us and wondering why she had not seen us for so long. We’d bought with us some snacks, readers, pens and pencils and some make-up for the kids. The girls love to do their make up, a mix of traditional and western styles.

    Kayan long neck girl has her makeup applied by her mother's hand.During the next few months we had quite a number of workshops that took us to the village, so we enjoyed time teaching photography there and building our relationships with the villagers. One day as I walked up the hill towards Malu’s home, I noticed something different. Pansa was already sitting there chatting with Malu’s mother and as I go closer I saw Malu from behind. She was wearing jeans and a tee shirt and her hair was down. I’d never seen her like this before as she is always wearing her traditional Kayan clothing and has her hair up in a scarf.

    As she turned around to greet me I saw that she no longer had the rings around her neck. Her smile was somewhat subdued, so I joked with her a little, pretending for a second or two that I did not recognise her. We chatted a little and as I squatted down next to her I asked if I could take her photo today. Normally I wouldn’t ask. She has become so accustomed to being photographed and really enjoys it, but the feeling outside their home on this morning was not normal. She nodded a yes and I shot a few frames. I was using my Nikon D800 with my 35mm f1.4 lens, so to make her portrait I was fairly close to her.

    I know this girl loves to see her picture, so I flipped the camera around to show her the images on the monitor. As she looked at them I realised she had not seen herself without the neck rings on. The story was unfolding. Her father had only just taken them off half an hour earlier. A couple of weeks later our customer posted the photo she had shot at this moment on Facebook, I had not known she’d captured the moment, so it was special to see it.

    As Malu viewed the photos, she reached behind her head with one hand to pull back her hair. She was showing me her neck. This was my photo.

    Portrait of a Kayan young girl wthout neck rings

    Having some relationship with your subject affords opportunity at times that is just not possible otherwise. Malu trusts us, she likes the photos we make of her and her family. To teach how to achieve this kind of intimate photo is one of the most challenging aspects we face as we run our workshops. I find teaching composition similarly difficult as both these aspects of our craft are best expressed through your own intuition.

    Sure, you can study the rules of composition and work hard to relate to your subjects as best you can, but at the right moment, when your connection with your subject has vitality and meaning, you must have an intuitive sense of how to compose the image and the decisive moment to make it. If you can connect strongly with your subjects and illustrate this in your photos, others will see that connection when they view your images and be drawn to what you have created. Connecting strongly with your subjects does not necessarily take a long time, occasionally it can happen in an instant, but I am cherishing building relationships and photographing many of the same people during our photo workshops here in Chiang Mai.

    Malu’s neck rings were removed because she was going to join her brother in school … in Mae Hong Song. This is around six hours drive from her mum and dad and sister. The lack of normal, cheerful feeling that surrounds this family was becoming more evident the more the story unfolded. All the while dad is cuddling the younger daughter in the hammock and trying to comfort her has she screamed and cried. She had just fallen over and bumped her head. Malu’s mother was barely holding it together, as were Pansa and I! So we didn’t linger too long, gave them a small donation towards Malu’s education and continued on with our customer.

    I’d often wondered what opportunities Malu would find in her life. There didn’t seem to be too much this little girl had before her, other than staying in the village and living a simple life. She is always hungry to learn. She is quick, witty and intelligent and I am sure she is making the most of her time in school. We are hoping to see her again when she returns to the village during school holidays and looking forward to the stories we are sure she will have to share with us.

    Kevin + Pansa Landwer-Johan

    Malu’s portrait of Pansa and I

    Experience Thailand!

    Typically our workshops range from a few hours to two days, with our one day workshops being the most popular. I find we can fill people’s minds with more than enough fresh information about photography in a day, but we don’t often get to experience what they do with that information. For our first ever 5 Day ‘Experience Thailand’ Workshop we were super blessed to have three lovely ladies return to Chiang Mai to be immersed in photographing elephants, models, dancing, monks, ethnic minorities and all the while showing us how much they had progressed in their photography since participating in a few of our short workshops a year ago.

    Three family members had crossed the globe (from Florida to Chiang Mai) toting a serious amount of Canon DSLR equipment. One of the first things they announced to us, after big hugs greetings, was two of them had only been shooting on Manual mode since taking part in our workshops the previous year. Yeah! More converts! Joyce, however, was still most happy shooting in Program mode as her totally focus is producing photos she can then use as a basis for creating her stunning paintings. She was so eager to get new photos to paint from she booked us for two extra days on top of the 5 day workshop (and now thinks it will take more than two years to complete all the paintings.)
    http://www.joycebirkenstock.com/

    Our ‘Experience Thailand’ workshop is designed to offer participants unique opportunities to photograph a lot of models. We know of no other travel photography workshops or tours which provide this in the same way. Thai people are generally comfortable being photographed, so when we have beautiful young women dressed in stunning traditional costumes with their hair and make up looking perfect, great photos are produced with ease. For some variety we had session with two models together one one with an elephant. When we asked our model if she was prepared to climb up and lie on the elephants she replied that she was scared, but that she would do it! I love that commitment!

    Pansa had organized all the logistics exceptionally well and most all went to plan. We love to have a mix of control and spontaneity during our shooting sessions, as it provides for more variety, and in each session we were able to achieve this. One problem we had, which was well out of our control, was the weather. November is the start of the dry, cool season in the north of Thailand, so we thought we’d be safe. We were wrong. However, there was not much rain and it only really disrupted one of our shoots. Pansa made up for it by quickly organizing another model to attend an extra shoot which resulted in some excellent shots.

    Overall with our workshops we tend to avoid very touristic events and locations. For this longer workshop we had included one or two sessions at touristic places and were encouraged by the outcome not to do this again. Dealing with large numbers of people who have no regard for when you are wanting to take a photo is tedious and the dinner and show we’d booked provided little opportunity to shoot as it was very lack luster. For future Experience Thailand Workshops we’ve done a little re-shuffling of our itinerary as we are always looking to improve our service.

    Working together with these three passionate photographers was a fabulous experience for us. For them to share the excitement and creative energy with us was a real gift. To see how their skills and style is developing serves as a strong motivation to work on building up more of an online community so we can participate in encouraging everyone who takes part in our workshops beyond the time they spend with us here in Chiang Mai. I’ll be writing more about this in the very near future, but, for now, here’s a link to the community I have initiated on Flickr
    https://www.flickr.com/groups/cmpw/

    Have a look at a gallery of image from the workshop here:

    Experience Thailand

    Beautiful Thai woman lying on an elephant's back

    Film – My Long Lost Friend

    I put a few rolls of film though a camera recently and it was like meeting an old friend again who I had not seen for a long long time!

    In 2006 I bought my first serious DSLR and had not shot a single roll of film since then. A year or so back I was talking to my friend James about my old Nikkormat, the first 35mm camera I owned and which I still have. It’s now over 50 years old and James encouraged me to shoot some with it and create a series of prints to exhibit to celebrate it’s half century. Typical me, I’ve been thinking about it for ages, and even come up with a theme for the series, but still had not loaded a film into the camera.

    Recently we had a customer who booked a one day workshop and wanted to learn more about shooting film and Pu said I should shoot film that day also. I picked up a roll of film and put a battery in the camera. Sadly the exposure meter, (the only feature on the Nikkormat that requires a battery,) was non-responsive. Everything else on the camera is purely mechanical, so all was not lost.

    We spent a most enjoyable day with our customer, shooting both film and digital. I used my Nikon D800 with a 50mm lens and had a lovely old 55mm micro (‘P’ series for you gear geeks) on the Nikkormat. I used the D800 to make light readings and adjusted the settings on the Nikkormat accordingly. It really is a different practice shooting film, even with the D800 hanging off my other shoulder!

    The wait to see the results took an eternity, but it was worth the wait. Our film was very evenly exposed with just one frame of the 36 over exposed. This showed me that using the digital camera to ascertain the correct settings worked, and it also showed me my lovely old Nikkormat was functioning as rock steady as it always had in the past, (I had been concerned that it may not work properly because it has been just sitting on a shelf for so many years.)

    Managing two cameras and making the exposure reading the way we did meant we worked more slowly, but this was always the way when I shot film. Taking time to think more carefully, composing more critically and exposing for black and white film was an interesting experience.

    Last week I went out twice and shot two more rolls. Getting used to using the two cameras in tandem, and because of the nature of my subjects meant I worked a little more quickly, at times having to grab shots as my subjects were riding away. My black and white film project is of the tricycle taxi riders and their bikes – saamlors.

    I’m still waiting on the film to be developed as the darkroom that processed the other roll is now closed for a month and I need to find an alternative, so stay tuned …

    Update: The film was processed and scanned, with some pleasing results, but somehow I am feeling that I am missing something. Maybe I just need to shoot more film.
    To see a selection of the images CLICK HERE

    Buddhit monk in a tricycle taxi in Chiang Mai, Thailand

    A single frame from the first roll of film I’ve shot in over ten years. (Ilford Delta ISO 400)

    Online Photography Course

    Asian woman taking a photo and Photo Workshops Online logoI am loving teaching what I love to do! I’ve also become a better photographer myself since I started teaching. Earning a living doing something I love and am passionate about is something I value greatly because it is rare!

    This past year, as we are growing our Chiang Mai Photo Workshops business I have also been very busy building my first comprehensive online photography course. This has held many challenges, even though I have experience teaching and producing video, developing this course has been a challenging learning curve. But, it’s done! It’s online and already receiving good reviews and feedback.

    Whenever I start something new, something I’ve never done before, I research and research some more, so that I can be sure my efforts will be worth while. I discovered that while online teaching is relatively a new thing, there was already lots of photography courses available. So I aimed to raise the bar and make mine better … that’s why it took me so long!

    Teaching real time with a camera in hand and a real person listening and interacting with me as I teach is in many ways easier, (and certainly more fun,) than producing a video course. Many courses I have viewed I found to be long winded and thin on helpful info. Often the production quality was low too.

    I set out to be concise. Time is valuable and we are all busy, so I don’t want to waste any body’s time padding my teaching out with poorly planned lessons and redundant information. My teaching style is to be brief and to the point so students who get it the first time can move on and those who don’t quite grasp the lesson can easily repeat it to pick up what they missed.

    There’s also carefully designed assignments with each of the lessons. I searched for examples online to glean ideas from, but didn’t really find what I was looking for. There’s published assignments out the, but not many that have much of a teaching element included and that’s what I knew would be valuable to students. I know it’s always good to practice what you are leaning as this helps immensely with the learning process. I don’t seek to explain everything in minute details, I’d rather teach just enough for my students to want to pick up their cameras and practice so they can discover more and learn their own style of shooting photos.

    My aim was to create a course of high production quality. So many online teaching courses and youtube channels I have seen have poor quality production standards. The information they contain is often interesting and valuable, but the video and sound quality leaves a lot to be desired. Audio has always been a challenge for me, (being a photographer I never had to be concerned with audio,) and recording inside a Thai house involves all manner of difficulty. Using photos, graphics and a number of animated sequences I have sought to add quality and clarity to illustrate my teaching.

    You can sign up and get a link for the course, (including a discount coupon,) on Photo-Workshops-Online website

    Become Inspired

    Camera magazine coverBecoming inspired is a choice, something that you can proactively stimulate. Ever since I bought my first camera I have sought to be more inspired – by other photographers, books, gallery shows, movies, magazines and what ever other means I can find.

    I remember a magazine series I subscribed to – You and Your Camera. It was a weekly publication that I would pick up from the bookstore. It was my teacher and also my muse. Providing me with inspiration to make better photographs.

    Over the years as my skill level grew and my shooting style developed, I found it increasingly difficult to find magazines that provided consistently good articles to motivate and provoke me to be a better photographer. Then I discovered American Photo Magazine. I would read and re-read some articles as they were creatively and intelligently written and would encourage me to stretch beyond my current way of shooting. Now they are no longer a printed publication, however, their website is fantastic.

    LensCulture is another website I have recently discovered that provides creative stimulation. Similar to American Photo, in that they do not focus so much on equipment or how to use it, but more about the full creative process of photography. On their website they say “LensCulture has become one of the most authoritative resources for contemporary photography. “ Publishing a broad range of articles and photo essays from photographers across the planet the site certainly provides encouragement to keep developing creative vision.

    Becoming inspired takes some commitment, not just to read articles or browse photo books or view gallery shows, but to pick up your camera frequently enough that you develop a creative work flow. Putting into practice what we learn is as vital as expressing that which inspires us.

    Grow Your Photography Skills

    Thai man working as a porter at Muang Mai Market, Chiang Mai, ThailandSometimes I find myself stuck in a bit of a rut, unable to flow creatively and producing images that are uninspired. I find I must challenge myself frequently to produce more imaginative images. Images that draw the viewer’s attention and hold it. Images that inspire.

    Teaching our workshops here in Chiang Mai, Thailand, I return to the same locations, with the same people doing the same things. I have to push myself to come up with fresh ideas and angles and keep improving on the old ones too.

    Visiting the local fresh markets so frequently on our workshops means people there have become accustomed to me taking their photos. Many of them are a lot more relaxed than they used to be so it’s easy to photograph them. But I don’t want the easy shots! I have been pushing myself to make portraits of people I might not normally photograph and even setting them in an interesting pose. This can be a lot of fun, but it can also be a real challenge as more often than not the other market vendors will be teasing my subject because I am photographing them.

    A few weeks back I saw one of the porters leaning on his trolly. The guy has an interesting face and traditional tattoos on his arms and neck. I asked if I could make his portrait and he said OK, but he put his hands down by his sides. I could not see his tattoos so well and the composition was not strong. So I got him to lean on the trolly again, (just by mimicking the way he had been standing.) I made one exposure before the pressure from those around us voicing their opinions of the situation became too much and he pushed his trolly away. Our whole interaction would have lasted less than a minute. I had pre-set my exposure so knew it was good, and thankfully I got my focus correct first time. I saw him at the market last week and he gave me a big smile. I’ll have a print made of his portrait and give it to him.

    By engaging my subjects with more intent I am pushing myself to make more interesting, slightly controlled portraits. This is just one way I am seeking to become more creative and build my portfolio stronger.

    Pick one or two aspects of photography you wish to improve on and make a point of working on them whenever you pick up your camera. It might be that you’ve noticed your images are not always sharp. Next time you go to shoot some photos, don’t concentrate so much on composition, lighting, exposure etc, but mainly work on getting your images really sharp. Once you have become more consistent with your focus, move on to concentrate on another aspect of your photography you wish to improve. Or it might be that you want to improve your portrait shooting or landscapes, so focus on developing your skills in those areas. Don’t try to up skill in every aspect, but zero in on just one or two and in time you will be encouraged by the growth of your photography.

    Back To Black and White

    Working at the newspapers in my earlier years as a photographer I shot little other than black and white film (mostly Kodak T-Max ISO 400.) In recent times I hardly process any of my images as black and white, but have decided it’s high time I got back into the monochrome look.

    Shooting black and white is quite a different art than creating colour images. Learning to ‘see’ in monochrome will help you compose images that are better suited to the medium. Whenever I teach our photo workshops here in Thailand I am talking a lot about light and seeing the light. Shooting black and white a lot is how I learned to see light, because there’s no distraction of colour to consider.

    I am challenging myself to start thinking in black and white again rather than colour. To start producing images that I have chosen to shoot because they will be stronger and more pleasing if I post process them in black and white, rather than in colour. If you have never shot or processed much black and white a good challenge would be to spend a week or a month or longer, just shooting/processing monochrome. Doing this will help you start to ‘see’ the light, tone, shape, line and texture in your composition more readily. The more familiar you become with this discipline the more you will learn to compose your photographs to create images that will look better as black and white than colour.

    With modern digital cameras and software technology the ability to manipulate an image shot as a colour RAW file to be output as a black and white is amazing. Using Adobe Lightroom and/or Photoshop gives us an amazing flexibility in the way we can choose to present the final image. It’s fun to experiment simply by desaturating a colour image, or by digging deeper into the software controls and experimenting how you can control contrast and tonal values using the various sliders and settings.

    Currently at Chiang Mai Photo Workshops we are developing a new workshop that will include teaching about using post processing software and I will certainly enjoy sharing my knowledge of how to post process in monochrome.

    black and white portrait of a girl smiling in a market in Thailand

    Auto Alternative – Pretty Basic

    I got lucky with my first camera, it had no auto mode. I had to learn to use the only information the camera gave me to guide my choice in setting the exposure manually, using the aperture and shutter speed controls. The information was in the form of a small needle in the viewfinder that pointed up when the image was going to be underexposed and down when it was going to be over exposed. Manipulating the controls so the needle was set in the middle I knew my exposure would be correct (most of the time.) Modern cameras don’t afford us these luxuries. They are crammed full of all manner of AI wizardry that is all to often relied to to set the camera’s exposure for you.

    I love teaching people to go beyond the ‘help’ their cameras give them in choosing their exposure for them. Getting back to the basics of knowing how to manually set you camera so you are achieving what you want creatively is a dying art.

    Learning to set your exposure manually is not so complicated or difficult as most people think, it just requires a some study and practice. There are really just three settings you need to master, somewhat like learning to drive a manual shift car. When you first start driving you have to focus on co-ordinating the clutch, gear shift and accelerator every time you need to change gears, but as you keep driving you get better and after a while you action the gear shift without much thought at all. Learning to see the light and read the exposure meter to help you set the ISO, shutter speed and aperture settings is very similar.

    Once you understand the basics, it’s just a matter of practice until controlling the exposure settings on your camera becomes second nature. But, if your camera is typically stuck on an auto mode you’ll never progress to being in control of your exposures and your creativity will be stalled.

    Hmong man races a box cart at Hung Saew village, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

    Pretty basic, no gear shift at all for this car 🙂 (manual exposure and focus)

    Tuktuks, Temple, Monks and Markets

    Thai man with tricycle taxiTuktuks, temples, monks and markets are all great to photograph when you come to Chiang Mai, but there are other fabulous photo opportunities to discover in Thailand’s ‘Rose of the North’.

    Frequently I encourage people not to be travel snap shooters. Don’t rely on your subject to make a strong photo. Take your time, think about lighting, background, timing and composing an interesting image.

    Sure, when you visit Chiang Mai, you have to get a photo of a tuktuk, because they are an iconic part of the city’s character. So why not hire one to transport you to some photogenic locations you can use as backdrops for your tuktuk photos?

    Start at Wat Chedi Luang in the heart of the old city. Get your driver to park in front of the main temple building for a photo and then head behind to photograph the tuktuk in front of the chedi as well. Doing this you are creating more interesting photos of both tuktuk and temple.

    Wat Sisuphan is another of my favorite temples to photograph in Chiang Mai, especially at night when they have the ordination hall lit up. Saturday evening is your best bet to see the lights which scroll through many different colors making the building look almost surreal.

    Another superb night photo opportunity is the historic Iron Bridge which is also wonderfully lit up every night. From the east end of the bridge looking back towards the Bus Bar is a good angle to capture the beautifully lit structure and the reflection of the lights in the Ping River.

    The north east corner of the moat with the old city wall is another place to get a real classic Chiang Mai photo. Again, it’s great at dusk and also worth taking a look at in the the day time. If you position yourself right you can line your shot up to include part of the old wall, the moat and one of the fountains and see the mountain in the background.

    If you are an early riser one of the best places to photographs monks is on Huey Keow Road near the zoo. Each morning at dawn many monks walk down from Wat Si Soda to receive alms from the faithful. The most important thing to remember about photographing monks (or any people) is to be respectful and not interrupt or disturb them in any way.

    After this you can head over to the Warorot Market for another classic Chiang Mai photo – the samloor riders. A samloor is a tricycle taxi, and a fading part of Chiang Mai’s culture because young men are not taking up this occupation. The hard working gentlemen are always ready with a smile and generally don’t mind posing for a few photos. I always like to tip them well!

    Right there on the opposite corner you’ll find a mass of color that’s begging to be photographed in the flower market. Be careful as you go not to step back into the traffic while you get lost in the beauty of the blooms. Get in tight and focus as close as you can to capture the color and texture of the bouquets.

    Of course there’s many more places around the city to get great photos, but these I find to be some of the most stimulating environments to document the look and feel of Chiang Mai. If want to learn how to best capture these memories of your visit booking a photo workshop is a sure way to gain some new skills and creative insights.

    Focus

    Kayan long neck hill tribe girlOne of the first things I learned when I started work at the Auckland Star newspaper (many years ago) was to make sure my photographs were sharp where they needed to be. Having the right part of the image in focus is imperative, especially when it’s going to be printed on the low quality newsprint that would always flatten and soften the look of the photos. Back then I had no auto focus lenses and the camera’s viewfinder did not offer much information. It was a matter of carefully manually focusing on the part of the composition that was most important. Because most photos published in newspapers include at least one person the rule of thumb is to focus on the eyes of the subject.

    Multi-point auto focus is a common default setting on cameras these days, but I rarely choose to use it. I prefer to shoot with a single point focus and move it to precisely the part of the image I want sharp, using the rocker on the camera back. It does take some practice, but it is a skill well worth mastering because it gives you control of what will be in focus rather than letting the camera decide.

    I love shooting with a wide aperture setting and letting the background of my photos blur, this is called a shallow depth of field. Choosing to shoot like this means the portion of the composition that’s in focus is very narrow, so the point of focus is critical. Having your lens focused in the wrong place will produce a disappointing result, and if your camera is set to multi-point auto focus and you are using a wide aperture setting, the sharpest part of the image may not be where it should be.

    This portrait was shot with a 35mm lens set at f4 on a D7100. Because I was quite close to her the shallow depth of field is more pronounced. I have set my single point focus on her right eye, and you may notice that her left eye is not in sharp focus. Because her eyes are not parallel with the camera only one is in focus. At this aperture setting if I want both her eyes in focus I would have needed to move or ask her to turn her face towards the camera. Alternatively I could have chosen a narrower aperture setting to achieve a greater depth of field.

    Setting your camera to single point focus and practicing shooting photos like this will result in a greater proportion of your photographs being well focused. As I said, it does take some practice, but if you can master this technique you will have taken another important step to becoming a more creative photographer, because you are more in control of your camera.

    Siam Traditional

    Three images of a woman wearing traditional Thai clothing during a photo workshop.

    Three versions of the same image – each rendered differently in post processing.

    As Chiang Mai Photography Tours grows we’re always looking to add new options and develop more variety in the photography workshops we offer, often based on feedback we receive form customers.

    Recently we added Siam Traditional as a new workshop option … with a difference.

    This new photography workshop is a considerably alternative style from the other workshops. Our main focus up until now has been to provide teaching for people who want to learn more about how to operate their camera. Out Siam Traditional workshop is geared more towards having a terrific experience and shooting stunning professional level photographs.

    Working with models, makeup and traditional Thai costumes is not something most photographers get to experience, but it is exactly what we are now offering to visitors and Chiang Mai locals alike.

    During our Siam Traditional workshop you will be photographing a beautiful, professionally made up model dressed in an exquisite traditional Thai costume. We will set up each shot, choosing the best backgrounds and directing the model to pose in the most attractive manner. Out team will be on hand with lights and reflectors to ensure each shot is beautifully lit and Kevin will be teaching different techniques during the afternoon shoot.

    We are also planning to add another Masterclass workshop incorporating a number of model shoots, cultural events and experiences and the general atmosphere that makes Chiang Mai so special. This will be an annual, multi day, all inclusive workshop

    Please Click Here to take a look at the gallery of Siam Traditional photos.

    Manual Mode, Why Bother?

    It’s a common misconception that having a big, fancy camera will mean you take better pictures. Modern cameras have an awesome array of fully and semi-automatic shooting modes, so many it can be somewhat confusing as to which one to choose. Manufacturers will turn up the marketing machine to tell you how wonderfully innovative and accurate the auto options on their cameras are, but really your camera’s AI is not able to make the creative choices you will have control over if you are shooting with Manual Mode.

    Sure, if you’re shooting on an Auto Mode, much of the time you’ll get acceptably exposed photographs. But an acceptably exposed photograph is not always a particularly creative photograph. Given that light is the substance of photos, (with no light you have no photo,) to be truly creative with your photography you will need to be in control of your camera’s exposure settings and know how to adjust them to create the image you want.

    Your camera ‘sees’ and records photos differently than how we see. Our eyes and brain have far more dynamic ability and processing power than our cameras. Understanding some of these differences will help us to improve our photography.

    The exposure meter in your camera measures the reflected light in a scene and provides information that translates into the automatic settings, or a visual display if you are using Manual Mode. Learning to select which part of the composition the camera takes an exposure reading from and adjust the shutter speed and aperture settings will help you develop a creative style that you will not achieve shooting on an Auto Mode.

    Sure, it takes longer to set your camera manually, but what’s the rush? If you slow down a little to set your camera you can also take a little more time to think about the lighting, choose your angle and compose your shot. I’ll often pre-compose a shot, set my exposure and then just wait for the right moment. It does take practice, and it’s worth putting in the effort, because over time you will get faster at making the settings and you will notice an improvement in your photography.

    When you’re first starting out using Manual Mode, choose ‘easy’ subjects, don’t go to sports games or local market where your subjects are constantly moving. Ask a friend to let you photograph them, or photograph your favorite tree. This way you can take your time and really begin to experiment with your manual exposure settings.

    Learning to use the Manual Mode on your camera will take time and practice. As you become more familiar with the settings and how to use the exposure meter to get the right settings, your own photographic style will develop.

    Please download my free exposure infographic. This is a visual guide to help your further understand using Manual Mode. Click Here.

    Take a look at my teaching course on Udemy.com Click Here.

     

    woman opens temple doors in the morning

    Exposure using Manual Mode.

    http://chiangmaiphotoworkshops.com/cmptxfreexdownloads/?preview=true&preview_id=5388&preview_nonce=8a413b62bb

    Using Auto Mode would have made an exposure to look like this because the camera averages the exposure value between the very bright and very dark areas.

    Ten Top Tips – How To Be More Creative With Your Camera

    Creating a video teaching course about photography was not some thing I had ever considered until a friend introduced me to the idea a few months back. After getting my first book to proof reading stage I had time to look into what goes in to producing a video course. Udemy.com seemed the best place to start as it is the biggest online learning platform, now with over 7 million enrolled students.

    As I opened an account early in June I saw a promotion on the site for a Summer Camp Challenge – to create your first video teaching course in 30 days. My initial reaction was “I’m too busy to accomplish that!” However, after giving it a little thought and anticipating the marketing benefits and other help I would received if I did it well, I decided to jump right in. I was rewarded not only be one of 12 Udemy Summer Camp Champions (out of nearly 400 who took part) but with a great experience doing something new.

    Udemy is extremely well set up and helped me through the whole process. Having experience already with recording video this was not such a challenge, but the planning and preparation for a teaching course of this kind was new to me. Naturally Udemy wants course creators to produce high quality teaching and they have channeled a lot of effort into making this as easy as possible for new comers. The website includes great tools to aid in planning courses, Udemy staff and community feedback tutorials for every step of the way. There’s even a great free Udemy course they have created to teach the whole process. Without these tools I am sure I would never have completed the task in time.

    My original plan was to produce a longer, more comprehensive course, but I chose instead to work on something more manageable. My course is designed as an introductory series of tips I have come up with from over 30 years of photography experience. It’s short, to the point and encouraging for people who want to be more creative with their cameras. Teaching some foundational concepts about camera use that will act as a spring board to a more enjoyable photographic experience.

    Now we are in the planning stages for a series of more in depth courses that will follow, digging deeper into many aspects of photography I have learned to love over the years. Many of the other photography courses on Udemy appear to have been quickly produced by people who are more professional at producing teaching videos than they are at photography, so I am hoping my my many years of practical experience will be attractive to students. Naturally I will produce courses with a high production and teaching standard to give my students the best experience I can.

    For the month of August I have created a limited number of FREE coupons to give my course away.

    Click this link to take my course for free

    There’s a limited number available so sign up today, enjoy the course and don’t forget the leave me a nice review.

    DSLR camera back showing image on monitor.

    Be Prepared

    Continuing in my theme to encourage you to be a thinking photographer, in this blog post I want to highlight the need to be prepared to take a photograph whenever the opportunity arises.

    Being prepared means knowing your camera and how to adjust the settings quickly whenever you need to. This does come mostly through practice, but initially it comes with some study of your camera. If you have a new camera get the manual out and read it while you have your camera in your hands. Doing this you will learn where all the controls are – especially those used make a well exposed photograph – your shutter speed, aperture, ISO and exposure meter controls. Once you have studied these and are familiar with how they function, practice using them. Before long you will be able to set your camera quickly without having to think which way the dials turn to increase or decrease the exposure. You will be able to choose your settings and make a well exposed photograph every time.Orange robed Buddhist monk walking away from the camera

    Whenever you head out to take some photos be sure to set your camera to the approximate correct exposure for the lighting conditions – even before you lift your camera to your eye. If you have your settings close to where they need to be you can make adjustments quickly if you need to. When you change locations and the light is significantly different be sure to adjust your settings again so you can be ready to shoot.

    Recently I was shooting in the underground tunnels at Wat Umong and had my camera set for the dark interior of the tunnels. As we emerged from the tunnels I was busy teaching a customer and did not make the adjustment to my camera’s settings to be ready to shoot outside. As we approached the steps a monk walked in front of us and was nicely isolated against the dark background of the large trees. I’ve got lots of photos of monks, they are great subjects, but these days I don’t photograph them unless the situation is particularly photogenic – this one was. As I brought my camera up to my eye I realized my exposure settings were still set for indoors and a long way off for the light outside. Quickly I brought my shutter speed to 1/500th of a second and altered the aperture a little to f2.8 and took two shots. When I looked at the image on the camera monitor I thought it was too underexposed, maybe 1/250th or 1/125th of a second would have been a better shutter speed choice.

    A few days later I decided to see if I could rescue the image, so I began to work with it on my computer. I lifted the exposure value and highlights a little and dialed down the blacks, to get the background nice and dark. I cloned out a few minor distractions and selectively darkened the path. I am pleased with the results.

    I only managed to get this one shot before the monk walked down the steps and his feet and legs were no longer visible to me. If I had set my camera as we came out of the tunnels so it was prepared for the outside lighting conditions I would have had more chance of shooting at least one or two more frames. I told myself again “Kevin, be prepared!”

    Be Patient and Anticipate

    In my previous blog post I encouraged you to be a thinking photographer. In this post I’ll expand more on this subject, specifically about being patient and anticipating the decisive moment, (that right time to shoot.)

    It’s very easy to be a snap shooter, especially when you are traveling. Being out and about away from your normal walk in life, you see more things that are different and interesting. It’s very easy just to grab a quick snapshot and move on. However, if you take your time to look at your subject, consider where the light is coming from and how it falls on your subject. Move your point of view to find the best spot to shoot from. Change you point of view – lying on the ground or crouching down may give you a far more interesting perspective. Rather than grabbing a quick snap, take a little time to make a more striking photograph.

    Be aware of the background. Look at it carefully as you move around your subject. Is the background distracting? Will it be less distracting if you move to your left or right? If you move up or down?

    Once you’ve chosen your angle, wait. Is there some movement or action that will happen to make your photo more interesting and tell more of a story? Take you time, be patient, wait for a decisive moment to shoot your photo. Don’t just take one shot either, keep shooting until you are satisfied you have at least one or two good photos.

    Photographing the historic White Chedi near Muang Mai Market in Chiang Mai early one morning I chose my angle, framed it up and shot a nice balanced image. Then I waited. I knew if I stopped there a while I would be able to include something else in the photograph to tell more of a story. Before long a tuktuk passed – flying a Thai flag, which added even more to the shot than I had anticipated. The tuktuk was perfect because it is so synonymous with Chiang Mai. My timing could have been a little better to have the tuktuk centered against the chedi. A tricycle taxi, red taxi truck or market vendor with their motorcycle over laden with produce would have served well to enhance my photo also. Just the chedi on it’s own is a nice image, but being patient and anticipating that the right traffic passing would add story to my photograph has made it a stronger picture.

    White Chedi in Chiang Mai with tuktuk

    Be A Thinking Photographer

    Thinking photographers are good photographers. It does not matter if you are a pro or an amateur – this does not make your photographs striking. It does not totally matter how good your camera and lenses are. Good equipment can produce technically superior images, but I have seen colossal numbers of horrible images shot with fantastic equipment. It’s often said the best camera is the one you have with you. (I cringe to think that often now my best camera is my mobile phone!)

    Thinking photographers do not take snapshots. You make striking photographs by taking time to consider what you are doing and have some inclination of the results you desire. Sometimes this can mean a few seconds or you might take days, months or years to plan a photo shoot.

    Sports photographers generally make their choices quickly. They must follow the action and choose just the right moment to shoot. Typically they have no control over their shooting environment or lighting, but have made choices in setting their equipment to handle this before the event. Photographing a football game, for example, a lens of at least 300mm will be on the camera, the aperture will be set wide to isolate the subject and allow for a fast shutter speed to freeze the action and a higher ISO set if the light is low. So, with their equipment set and their shooting location chosen, they must be ready and anticipate the action. And, as the game is played they must be quick to compose the image so the action is well framed.

    Landscape photographers generally make their choices a lot more slowly. Having chosen a location to shoot a landscape photographer can spend considerable time planning their shot and waiting for the right light and season to make their photographs. Say a photographer chooses a scene with a big old tree on the side of a hill, looking down into a valley. They want a clear, still, early morning when the valley is filled with fog. This will happen in winter which could be months away. Once winter has arrived it may still takes days or weeks to get a clear morning with no rain or wind. Even before the perfect day has dawned they will have carefully considered lens. Whether to shoot wide or super wide, or if they will attach a medium lens and shoot a series of images to stitch together in a panorama. A tripod is often used to allow a narrow aperture giving optimum sharpness.

    For sure these are two extremes, but I hope you understand my encouragement to think about the photograph you want to make. Whatever your preferred style of photography is – if you like sports or landscapes, portraiture, travel or street etc. – consider each photograph you want to shoot and how you can make it better.

    As I have started to plan and write this blog post I have decided to draw this theme out over the next few posts and share more of how I think as I am taking photos to encourage you to become more of a thinking photographer.

    small boy sitting in a cardboard box

    Shoot A Lot

    Market vendor selling eggsOne of the best things you can do as a beginning photographer, or to keep you fresh if you are more experienced, is to shoot a lot. The more you get out with your camera, and the more frames you shoot when you are out, will help you to continue to grow as a photographer.

    Having a plan and a purpose helps. Setting self assignments or on going projects will boost your photographic productivity. Design a project for yourself that you will enjoy. Choose a topic or subject matter that you know about and love to work with and it will be easy to grab your camera and go!

    Once you’re out shooting, don’t be frugal – take a lot of photos. I don’t mean to just blaze away shooting six frames a second. Instead, take your time to find other points of view and photograph your subject from different angles, with different lenses and shutter speeds and aperture settings. Move around your subject, watching the background as you do. See how it changes depending on your perspective? If you are shooting with a wide lens, change to a longer lens, move back and shoot again. When you compare the photos you will see many differences.

    If you are shooting any kind of action – animals, people doing working, sports etc. be ready and anticipate the action. Think ahead and predict what your subject will do next or when they will do something that will make your photo more interesting. Being patient and waiting for the right moment to shoot will result in stronger images. If you are photographing someone who is repeating the same action over and over – photograph them over and over. Each time the action may be a little different and so will your timing. Don’t rush off after the first few shots, take your time and you will see the quality of your images improve.

    Doing this will give you a good variety of images and I guarantee you will see the first photo you took of any subject is not always the best. If you are just taking one shot at a time of each subject you will be missing out on opportunities for creating better photos.

    Shooting a lot is the best way to get to know your camera better. The more you use your camera the faster you will be at changing settings, changing lenses, reloading film – hmm, that last one’s not so relevant now days! Being familiar with your camera and knowing how to make adjustments quickly and easily, especially if you are shooting on manual mode, will free you up to be more creative.

    For sure you will end up with large numbers of photos that are not so good. Don’t be tempted to delete them before you load them to your computer. Viewing them all on your computer will help you learn to see the differences between good and bad images. Make comparisons, ask yourself why you like one frame more than another. Ask friends to give you their feedback too. Once you have made your choices of the photos you want to keep, make sure then to delete the extras so you hard drive does not become full too quickly.

    Shooting regularly leads to a development of personal style which will help define you as a photographer. The more you shoot, the better you will become at operating your camera and the more creative your photographs will be.

    My First Book

    I am writing my first book about photography. Sharing what I know, teaching from my experience. I intend to write a series of short, easy to follow books teaching about being creative with your camera and stepping beyond the camera’s auto setting. I thought I would share a section of it here …

    For me photography has always been a wonderful means of creative expression. To some people however, photography seems like an artless art – pick up a camera, point, shoot and it’s all over in a fraction of a second. Certainly the rapid development of image recording technology in recent years is allowing manufacturers to mass produce affordable cameras (and phones) that are extremely capable of making stunning photos, at the press of a button. For many of us this has changed the way we communicate. Now it’s so simple to take photos to record events, capture significant moments in our day or snap another selfie. Sharing these photos easily through a multitude of social media applications makes us all internationally known photographers! But it does not necessarily mean that we are photographically creative.

    I love to teach and encourage people to get beyond relying on the point and shoot technology of their cameras (or phones) and become more creative in their photography. This has been one of the main motivations for me to start teaching and writing.

    So often I see people with expensive cameras who are obviously not confident using them and I wonder if they are satisfied with many of the photographs they take. Most people we conduct our workshops with are eager to learn, eager to move away from the automated settings their cameras offer. I have written this book as an introduction and encouragement for anyone who wants to take creative control of their camera.

    My new book will give you a better understanding of your camera (or phone!) It will enable you to have far more creative freedom than if you are only using your camera’s auto settings. My first camera, a Nikkormat FTN had no auto settings at all. It only had a simple light meter. In the viewfinder was a small needle with a + above it and a – below, when the needle was midway between these symbols I knew my exposure was correct. I had to set the controls to ensure the photograph would come out right.

    Technology has come a long way and I hope my book will encourage and teach you to use the information about light, exposure, focus, file types, white balance etc that your camera provides you with. Taking the time to learn to control your camera manually will open up a whole new world of creative experience for you.

    I’ll have news in the coming weeks of where my book will be available for download – – stay tuned!
    Asian woman taking a photo during a CHiang Mai Photography Tour workshop

    Shooting Mirror-less on Manual Mode

    Recently a Chiang Mai Photography Tours workshop customer asked me to teach her to use her mirror-less camera on Manual Mode. She loved the camera and had used it well, but felt that she was not tapping into the camera’s potential or finding nearly enough of her own creative expression using only the auto settings.

    Frequently I find people who book our workshops have high quality equipment and only use it on automatic settings. I love to teach people to overcome whatever it is holding them back from shooting on Manual Mode and unlock their creative potential.

    Starting early in the morning the light was lovely and the day was not yet so hot. I spent considerable time going through the camera’s menu with our customer and showing her how to set the ISO to manual and how to adjust the shutter speed and aperture manually. We also changed the focus mode from multi point to single point, because this allows greater control. Within the first five minutes of our discussion she told me what she had learned already was worth the cost of the workshop.

    As we continued on into the fresh market we looked a lot at lighting and contrast as I taught about correct exposure and understanding how the camera’s light meter works. I explained techniques to use to easily obtain a good exposure and how to set the camera’s controls correctly. It all seemed to be sinking in!

    Finishing up the workshop, after guiding our customer through various lighting situations and a multitude of different subjects, she told us her workshop experience had been very rewarding. A few days later she left us a wonderful review on Trip Advisor.

    “I cannot say enough good about Kevin. There are a lot of amazing photographers in this world, but not many are truly exceptional teachers. Kevin truly know how to put the art of photography and the technical aspects of the camera into the right light for each one of his students. He certainly did so for me. I’ve been traveling for 9 years now and have been a self taught mature photographer for a good majority of that time. I was looking to step my craft up a few notches but just couldn’t seem to get past a certain level… I knew I was grasping all that my camera could do, and the frustration of not being able to capture a shot just the way I wanted it was beginning to kill my creativity. Then, along came Kevin. He was the key to unlocking the magic! Answered so many questions and inspired so many more, then gave me the answers with hands on experience. Not to mention, he knows the streets of Chiang Mai like a native and will you to places you would have ever found on your own. What he charges for the day is so exceptional reasonable, especially as the knowledge you will walk away with is priceless. I’ve moved onto Laos since then and I truly cannot believe the differences in my photos… I’m inspired all over again. Thank you Kevin!!! “

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours workshop cutomer shooting with a mirror-less camera.

    Isolating Your Subject

    Having your subject isolated from the background is a good technique for creating striking photographs. But it is not always easy to achieve this.

    In my last blog post I wrote about how I do this with my portable pseudo studio. It’s the whole function of the studio’s design to give me a nice clean background that my subjects stand out on. Getting such a featureless background in everyday life is a challenge I am often working to overcome when I am out shooting.

    In this post I’ll use a few images I shot during a recent Chaing Mai Photography Tours workshop to help illustrate my thoughts.

    Controlling depth of field so the background is out of focus. This is one of my favorite ways to separate a subject from a busy background. Having lenses with a maximum aperture of at least f2.8 will help (or wider if you are shooting with a wide lens.) The other two things that will affect how out of focus your background is are the distance ratio between you and your subject and your subject and the background. Your choice of lens will also have an effect.

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours photo of a Buddha statue

    With this photo of the Buddha statues I was shooting with a 35mm lens on my Nikon D800. My aperture was set at f3.5. Because I was in so close to the head of the first statue and the next closest statue in the background was about 2m away, it is nicely out of focus. I could have opened my aperture further, to f1.4 and blurred out the background even more, but I wanted to show that there are other statues in the background as it creates more of a story.

    If you don’t have a lens with a very wide aperture you can use a telephoto lens or a long zoom set at it’s maximum aperture and focus close on your subject. If there is sufficient space between your subject and the background, the background will be out of focus, leaving your subject nicely isolated.

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours photo of a red candle

    Utilizing a naturally dark background, as I have with the photo of the red candle, has given me a strong image with an uncluttered background. This was shot outdoors on a sunny day. Because the sun is hitting the candle, but not the background, the background is considerably under exposed. In this composition there was a lot of distracting elements behind the candle that did not add anything to the image. By carefully choosing my point of view I was able to have the single red candle stand out against the darker background. Finding a background significantly brighter than your subject will also serve to help isolate your subject, but it is often more difficult to get a good exposure in those situations.

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours photo of a policeman writing a parking ticket

    Finding a naturally uncluttered background can be difficult, especially shooting in busy city market where this image was taken. The photo of the policeman was shot from an overhead walkway. Often you will be surprised if you look around the scene you want to shoot. See if you can find a point of view that will offer you a clear background. I did have to crop out a motorcycle wheel and some of the car, but leaving enough of the car to add to the story.

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours photo of a market vendor grilling bananas

    Choosing the right moment to shoot can also help isolate your subject. With this portrait of the market vendor I have achieved a shallow depth of field shooting with my 105mm at f2.8. Drawing attention to my subject by framing the shot carefully so she is sandwiched between the umbrellas and the out of focus foreground. (I also like the hand reaching across picking up the green mango in the foreground because it mimics my subject’s hand as she turns her grilled bananas.) I shot a number of images here mainly because she was busy cooking her bananas and moving around, and there were people constantly moving across the background. While they were out of focus catching one or two other faces behind my subject took the attention off her and the photo lost impact.

    There are four of the techniques I use to get my subject isolated from the background. Shallow depth of field, utilizing a dark background (or a light one,) finding a naturally uncluttered background by carefully choosing your point of view and taking your time – waiting for just the right moment to shoot when you have moving distractions in the background.

    Photography Workshop Akha Portrait Session

    Last week we took Chiang Mai Photography Tours to the hills. Customers who were booking a four day workshop had expressed a desire to visit a hill tribe village so we arranged for this to happen through our connections with the Akha people in Mae Salong. We had a great time with them going out to the tea fields and seeing them in their village environment.

    One afternoon we set up my outdoor ‘pseudo’ studio and had a lot of fun (despite the heat!) in making portraits of the four lovely Akha ladies who were working with us for the day. I hadn’t set up my daylight studio in a village for a long time but it just took a short while to erect and tweak before we could start shooting.

    I love shooting with the studio in a village location for many reasons. It is such a fascination for the locals to see us setting up and the Akha in the village at Mae Salong were certainly interested. I have shot some portraits in this village a number of years ago, but not with the studio as I have it now. Teaching our customers to set their cameras to get a good exposure on both the black and the white side of the studio was enjoyable. Explaining to them that the essential reason the pseudo studio works so well is all about the light ratio between the subject and the two different backgrounds.

    Having a background that is significantly darker or lighter than the portrait subject, with a nice touch of back lighting to help separate the subject and background, produces a pleasing result. The reflection of sunlight off the bare earth in front of the subject softens any shadows under the chin and eyes, giving an nice even light on the face. The resulting photographs are similar to the one I used as an example in my previous blog post.

    Ensuring that your exposure is set correctly is most important. Using manual mode we took a meter reading off the ground that was in the shade of the studio. The ground was a similar tone to our subject’s skin so was reflecting about the same amount of light. We could also have taken a spot meter reading from our subject’s face to find our correct exposure. If we had taken a matrix metered reading our exposure would most likely be incorrect, especially against the white background, if the background made up a significant part of the composition.

    With our exposure set correctly for our Akha ladies’ faces the black background was under exposed by 2-3 stops and the white background was over exposed by 2-3 stops. This provided us with a very clean, even background which our subjects stood out from looking magnificent in their colorful traditional clothing.

    The two portraits below have had minimal and identical post processing processing mainly to adjust white balance and contrast.

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours outdoor daylight studio

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours outdoor daylight studio Akha portrait

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours outdoor daylight studio Akha portrait

    Creating a ‘Correct’ Exposure

    Choosing that moment in time to press the shutter button where I have the right lens on my camera, my composition is pleasing and the light is perfect is a moment of joy. However, that moment of joy can be short lived if I have not set my exposure ‘correctly’. I say ‘correct’ with inverted commas because exposing an image is quite a matter of creative choice.

    Auto modes on cameras read the light and calculate exposure to give satisfactory results much of the time. Modern light meter technology with multi-point 3D balanced matrix wizardry figures out what’s going on in the shadow areas and highlights in front of the camera as the shutter button is half way depressed. Once the camera’s shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set to match the light reading and the shutter button is fully pressed, an image is captured. This is leaving a lot of decision making up to the camera.

    Photographing in conditions where the light is fairly even and there’s not much contrast, the camera can generally choose a correct exposure. Shooting in very bight light, with dark shadows, or very low light with not much contrast, your camera may start to return less than satisfactory exposure results. This is when it pays to know a little more of how the camera’s light meter works, and have some understanding that your camera’s sensor is not so capable of ‘seeing’ as your eyes are. Our eyes can see detail in both areas of shadow and areas of brightness far more readily than our cameras can (usually.)

    When the light is even and the scene is not highly contrasty, the camera’s light sensor will make a correct exposure of your composition quite effectively. Photographing a scene with bight light and high contrast some areas of the composition will be under exposed and/or over exposed due to the light ratio being so vast. Setting the exposure for mid way between the darkest and brightest part of the composition is one option, this will result in a reasonably well exposed photograph. Alternatively the exposure can be set for either the bight or the dark areas of the composition – this technique can open up whole other realms of creativity.

    I shoot on manual most of the time and I alternate between two light meter settings frequently, matrix and spot. Cameras generally have three light meter settings – matrix, center weighted and spot. Set to matrix the camera will read light from the whole composition. On the center weighted setting the camera will read from about 60% circle from the middle of the frame. The spot meter setting reads from about a 5% area where ever your camera’s focus point is set to. These metering settings function the same way when a camera is set to manual or and auto mode.

    Most people tend to leave their light meter set to matrix and find it works well. I love using the spot meter to read specific areas of my composition, especially when I am making a portrait. I need to know the exposure on the subject’s face will be correct. If I use only the matrix setting and the background makes up a significant part of the composition and is either very bright or very dark it is likely that my exposure will be disappointing. Setting my light meter to take a spot reading off the subject’s face will show me to set the shutter speed, aperture and ISO. Leaving the background under or over exposed can help create a strong portrait too.

    The photo below I used the spot meter to take a reading from my subject’s face. Because of the strong back lighting and dark background a matrix or even center weighted reading would most likely have provided a disappointing result.
    Young woman with an elephant at Mae Sa Elephant Camp

    Take Your Time – Enjoy Photography

    Modern camera equipment is so user friendly. It’s really easy to pick up your phone, point and shoot or your mirror-less and just shoot. Even grabbing your dslr and taking a few snaps is easy. However, I am frequently encouraging customers on our Chiang Mai Photography Tours workshops not to only be taking snap shots.

    Plan to take your camera out, knowing where you are going and what you want to photograph. Pick a good time of day for the location when the light is right. If your location includes some activity, check when the optimum time to capture the action is. With our photography workshops we often shoot at the fresh markets in the morning because it’s a busy time of day with lots of activity and the light is lovely.

    A good discipline is to take one camera and one lens only, preferably a prime lens. Keeping your gear simple like this will help you focus on your chosen subject. You’ll think more about lighting, getting your exposure bang on, point of view and composition and capturing the action just at the right moment.

    When you arrive at your location set your camera up for the lighting conditions and the mode you want to start shooting in. Now, before you take any photos, look around you. Look at the light, think about the best points of view to shoot from and how it will look through your lens. Picture a few different compositions from various places. Think about the action, if there is any. What’s happening? Is there repetition? Can you put yourself in one position and wait there patiently for a great shot? Anticipate the images you want and be prepared when the time is right to catch the ‘decisive moment’.

    Narrow down your options, be more selective before you press the shutter release. Pick a theme to photograph. Maybe just one color, people wearing hats, focus on hands – the choice is endless, but you will most likely make stronger images if you limit your subject. My first visit to the Chutuchuck weekend market in Bangkok was a wonderful experience. I was quite overwhelmed with everything, so I decided to just focus on shooting the mannequins. It was a lot of fun!

    Once you’ve found yourself in a favorable shooting situation, stay there a while. Experiment with different camera settings. Open your aperture as wide as you can. Slow your shutter speed down and introduce some motion blur. Pop in a little fill flash. You’ll be surprised at the variety of images you can create if you just take your time and enjoy taking photos.

    manequin and man at a market

    mannequin at a big market

    Chiang Mai One Day Workshop Experience February 2015

    Teaching photography to our Chiang Mai Photography Tours customers is so stimulating for me. I love to see people grow in understanding as they learn more about their cameras and the whole process of taking photos. I was motivated to start running our workshops because I so often see people with high quality, high priced DSLR cameras and can tell they are not very confident using them.

    Demonstrating how a camera reads light and how to set the exposure manually, no matter if a customer has a professional level DSLR or a point and shoot, is one of the most important things I can do when I am teaching. Giving someone a more in depth understanding of how this works brings to them a freedom to be wonderfully more creative in their image making.

    Recently we taught a workshop with an older gentleman who had a small Nikon DSLR he had owned for a number of years. He came determined to get a grasp of the M setting. I am always happy to teach this! By the end of the day we had worked together to show him how to understand about light ratios and how his camera light meter reads light. He was able to learn how ISO, shutter speed and aperture setting all affect the exposure. He was in control of his camera and more free to be creative with it.

    Sure, it is a lot to learn during a one day workshop. We encouraged him to take his camera out frequently, to practice what he had learned and become more familiar with the manual method of making photographs.

    I love to see how our customer’s photographs improve as the day progresses and how much more satisfied they are at the end of our workshops.Two men taking photos

    Photography = Drawing with Light

    Photography, the word, means ‘drawing with light’. If you have no light, you have no photo – no matter how fancy your camera is or how good you are at framing your subject. No light = no photo.

    Building on this thought is my belief that the better someone understands light, the better photographer they can be. Every time we run a Chiang Mai Photography Tours workshop I start with teaching about how the camera reads light. I often find people do not understand how this works and rely on their camera’s auto settings to choose a correct exposure. Having an understanding of how your camera reads and measures light, coupled with knowledge of how controlling your shutter speed, aperture and ISO frees you so be far more creative with your camera.

    Camera sensors capture images by recording reflected light, much the same way our eyes see. Currently most camera technology cannot ‘see’ the vast dynamic range of light our eyes can. On a sunny day outdoors we can see detail in shadows and very bright areas that most cameras cannot capture in a single exposure. In situations where the light is more even, when the ratio between the brightest and darkest is closer, (on a cloudy day,) it’s easier to make photos where detail can be seen in every area of the image. It’s also easier for the camera to automatically choose a good exposure setting. Being able to control your camera and choose your exposure brings many more levels of fun to photography.

    I love teaching people how to understand and use the light meter in their camera. Discovering the flexibility you have when you can decide to measure light with a spot meter reading, and knowing which part of the scene to read it from, leads to far more creative photography. This does, of course, require the camera to be set to Manual. I know full well it is a fairly steep learning curve, but certainly well worth undertaking if you are interested to develop your photography skills.

    portrait of an old Burmese man wearing a scarf on his head.

    In this setting there is a high dynamic range between the light parts and dark parts of the image. I took a spot meter reading from the light side of the man’s face and set my exposure for this light, leaving the darker areas of the image to be underexposed.

    two Asian woman

    The light on the subject’s faces is even and well balanced with the rest of the image. The lower dynamic range lets the camera expose the image more evenly.

     

    The Travel Portrait

    The focus of my teaching is often about telling a story with photographs. One of the most effective ways to do this is with an environmental portrait. This style of portrait places the subject in context with their surroundings, telling a story of who they are, what they are doing and also their location.

    Typically I love to work with a 35mm lens, often considered too wide for a portrait, but I think perfect to capture both subject and atmosphere. Many people opt for a longer lens when photographing people they don’t know, allowing themselves some distance makes them more comfortable. Don’t be shy! I love to get closer with a wider lens and relate to my subject, (even if I do not speak their language I can still communicate with eye contact and body language.) The results are more intimate images with greater feeling.

    Chiang Mai Photography Tours workshops usually take in one or two markets which provide fabulous opportunities for environmental travel portraits. Northern Thai locals are generally happy to be photographed, but it’s always important to be polite and respectful, especially if people are working. I never hide my camera, preferring for people to be able to see what I am doing. This just means it may take a little longer to get the un-posed, candid shots that I like. And, when I do, it’s always fun to show people the portrait I have just made of them.Thai man working on pressed metal artwork

     

    Magic of Elephant Trail

    We are looking to expand the workshop tours we offer and diversify the range of experiences and photographic learning opportunities we offer. Recently we have made friends with the team at the Magic of Elephant Trail a the Chiang Mai Night Safari. We were given the opportunity to visit their community with some friends and immensely enjoyed the experience.

    The experience gave me a feeling that Jay and her team have a real passion for the elephants and a desire to share the magic of being so intimate with these wonderful creatures. The laid back, relaxed atmosphere provided a beautiful environment for both elephants and humans to enjoy each other’s company.

    Som highlights included watching the elephants bathe, observing a painting lesson and walking with the elephants in the jungle. Throughout the day Jay shared her knowledge and experience about the elephants teaching us a great deal with many facts and fascinations.

    The Magic of Elephant Trail ‘s philosophy of letting the elephants have freedom to roam, scratch, bathe, eat etc. as they feel like gave us a very real natural sense of how the elephants live. We are lucky to live in Chiang Mai and I am sure we will return many times to this magical place and aim to be offering CM Photography Tour workshops there.

    Thank you very much again K. Jay to you and your team and your beautiful elephants.

    Woman kissing the trunk of an elephant

    Image Quality

    Following on a little from my previous post I’ll share a few more thoughts on printing image.

    Yesterday we hung a series of new prints at our Focus Gallery here in Chiang Mai. A number of the exhibiting photographers joined us in the evening and it was wonderful to witness their reactions when they first saw their photographs framed and hanging. One even shared that it was the first time she’d ever seen any of her photographs printed!

    Most of the submissions we received for the exhibition were of a very good standard, but unfortunately some were not. I believe in presenting work of a reasonably high technical standard – something which modern cameras are very capable of producing. Often times when we are used to seeing images only on our computers (especially if we do not view them at 100%) where they are so vulnerable to being over manipulated with post processing software. Generally heavy manipulation does not produce a file that will print well at a larger size … so beware!

    I learned when I first started shooting that the best photographs start with the photographer paying attention to technical details – correct exposure and sharp focus particularly. These days it is possible to make corrections with post processing software, but there’s still no real alternative to getting it right in camera. Adjusting the exposure and sharpness with software can easily lead to a breakdown of the digital image’s integrity, which shows visibly as chunking together of pixels (a problem known as ‘artifacting’.) Cropping an image too much and trying to enlarge the detail will also result in similar problems.

    If you are in Chiang Mai, keep a watch on our Focus Gallery facebook page for upcoming workshops where we will be covering these topics, and more, in greater detail.

    night shot of Chiang Dao

     

     

    Print It

    We are living in a time when photography is most prolific. Who knows how many millions of photographs are made each day? Modern photography is normally seen on a computer screen, tablet or phone – rarely now do people print their photographs like we used to. Sad thing is that it’s defiantly cheaper than it used to be and the quality (from a good printer) is superb.

    Printing your photos and having them displayed in your home or office – or giving them to family or friends, is a great way of preserving memories and nurturing friendships. People love to see the photos on your walls or flip through an album of prints on your coffee table. I recently sat down with a friend to look at an old photo album and we enjoyed the experience together immensely – far more than if we’d been looking at the same images on a computer monitor I believe.

    Print some BIG! Having larger images printed and framed is a great feeling. Make a habit of choosing your best shots (those ‘feel good’ ones) and adding them to a folder on your thumb drive. After you’ve got 10 or so then choose a couple you like the most to get printed and displayed on a wall somewhere – at home, at the office or shop or even in an art gallery! Uploading them to facebook or Tumblr is not enough as they get buried in the myriads of digital information that flows though those sites.

    Getting prints made is something you should make a priority after a trip abroad – don’t leave it too long after arriving home either so as to keep the memories of another great trip alive longer.

    Becoming a partner in a gallery has certainly inspired me to be printing more of my photographs and encouraging others to do so too. If you are in northern Thailand take a look at the invitation we’ve posted asking for submissions to our April exhibition HERE.

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    Elephant with Large Tusks

    Custom Tours for Festivals and Events

    Monk and elephant  March 13th is National Elephant Day in Thailand. Chiang Mai Photography Tours enjoyed spending the day at Mae Sa Elephant Camp along with hundreds of locals and foreigners – and over 70 elephants. It’s all about elephant appreciation and the biggest buffet luch you ever saw.

    Before mechanization elephants were used as working animals mostly hauling cut logs in the jungle and provided a perfect form of transportation through the thick tropical forest. The Royal Thai Army also made extensive use of elephants in their task to protect the land borders in times past. Now elephants are cared for in camps where tourists come to see shows and enjoy riding the huge animals.

    Elephants are great to photograph – especially when you can see so many in one place! With a great deal of action – and care needing to be taken – there’s fabulous opportunity to shoot hundreds of images in a few hours. Being familiar with photographing elephants and making sure to communicate carefull Many elephants gathered together to eatwith the elephant’s handlers we are able to introduce our customers to a whole new photography experience. The day’s photography is not without it’s challenges which include jostling with many others wanting the best angle, the sheer size of the elephants, early afternoon sun providing difficult lighting situation (not to mention the heat!) Guidance during the workshop focused on choosing the best locations to obtain access for interesting angles, composition choices and most certainly focused a lot on capturing the moment of the action whenit’s at the best.