No better photo opportunities occur in nature than from inclement weather.  Looking at the dark cloudy skies I solidified my position to visit Wat Ratchaburana and off we went.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200

 

This week I got together with Stick and we headed out to Ayutthaya looking forward to checking out Ayutthaya’s new floating market.  After a bit of looking we found the new floating market, still very much under construction, and after an hour or so walking around taking photos we both agreed it was built by Thai’s for Thai’s.  I’ll explain what I mean by this statement in a later column, or perhaps Stick will get to it first, but soon we went looking for better photographic opportunities in the area.  I’d often take workshop students to Wat Ratchaburana so I suggested we stop by and give it a look.

Unfortunately Stick and I don’t find the time to get together as often as we’d like, so of course we wanted to make the best of things.  We’d already felt like we'd struck out at the new floating market so recommending Wat Ratchaburana was a bit risky.  Stick kept worrying about getting caught out in the rain and every time he mentioned it I smiled because as you know I love being out in the weather.  No better photo opportunities occur in nature than from inclement weather.  Looking at the dark cloudy skies I solidified my position to visit Wat Ratchaburana and off we went.

 

You’re probably asking why I feel this place is risky?  The explanation is a bit complicated.  I often take workshop students to this location because it’s quiet and we can hear ourselves think, we can practice landscapes of old temples (important for those soon to be heading off to Angkor Vat), and there are many angles and different perspectives which makes the place ideal for teaching a beginner certain techniques, and more advanced students more advanced techniques.  Instructionally this location has a lot to offer

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200

 

You’re probably asking why I feel this place is risky?  The explanation is a bit complicated.  I often take workshop students to this location because it’s quiet and we can hear ourselves think, we can practice landscapes of old temples (important for those soon to be heading off to Angkor Vat), and there are many angles and different perspectives which makes the place ideal for teaching a beginner certain techniques, and more advanced students more advanced techniques.  Instructionally this location has a lot to offer.

Artistically it’s one of the local challenges which still frustrates me.  And there lays the conundrum.  In over 50 trips to this one location I don’t feel I’ve collected enough ‘good’ photographs to even make a small gallery for my website.  The place isn’t visually appealing being mostly ruins, the grounds aren’t especially well kept so we’re offered really muddy colors of old style brick, marginally green grass, and lots of dirt.  Even the trees are lackluster.  Put it all together and you don’t have much to make a visually appealing image.  I know this sounds defeatist and you know I love a challenge, so why the attitude?   I dunno.. but I just can’t get that excited about the place.  Until today.

 

Today as Stick kept pointing out the weather looked like rain.  Dark clouds were forming, the odd raindrop was falling, and even the wind was picking up a bit.  If ever I was going to make interesting images at Wat Ratchaburna this was the  day!

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F6.3  ISO 200  Sweep Panoramic Mode 

 

Today as Stick kept pointing out the weather looked like rain.  Dark clouds were forming, the odd raindrop was falling, and even the wind was picking up a bit.  If ever I was going to make interesting images at Wat Ratchaburna this was the  day!

To make things even more interesting I’d brought along my new Sony NEX-5 pocket camera with its DSLR sized APC-S sensor and its new 16mm F2.8 lens and if I didn’t know better I’d swear Stick was teasing me to try and do as well as him while he was using his much superior (and expensive) Canon 5d Mark II DSLR, so leaving my own Canon 5d Mark II in the truck I grabbed the little Sony NEX-5 and headed out.. but not before securing my handicap with Stick.  I knew he’d been wanting to try my Sigma 12-25mm F4 lens which is a very difficult lens to use without specific instruction so I offered it up and he accepted.  Handicap secured!

 

Probably the majority of my very best landscapes were made with the Sigma 12-24mm F4 lens so it is indeed a very capable lens, but the first time you look through the viewfinder of your full frame DSLR at a 12mm rectangular view you feel a bit lost and you’re not sure what to do.  In contrast my 16mm F2.8 lens on an APC-S sensor Sony NEX-5 was providing me a fixed 24mm (35mm equiv).

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200  Sweep Panoramic Mode 

 

Probably the majority of my very best landscapes were made with the Sigma 12-24mm F4 lens so it is indeed a very capable lens, but the first time you look through the viewfinder of your full frame DSLR at a 12mm rectangular view you feel a bit lost and you’re not sure what to do.  In contrast my 16mm F2.8 lens on an APC-S sensor Sony NEX-5 was providing me a fixed 24mm (35mm equiv). 

Looking at the Canon 5d Mark II and the Sony NEX-5 side by side reveals a night and day difference in both size and weight, not to mention style and user interface concept.  The Canon is a very traditional DSLR, the Sony a brand new concept in consumer orientated point and shoots with a DSLR sized sensor for better image quality.  Either way you look at it, I knew which one I’d rather carry around all day.  To make matters even more interesting I was going to shoot in straight jpeg mode just like most beginners and/or users of point and shoot cameras would be using.  Enough chatter, let’s take a look at the results!

 

This is one of my favorite views  A tall chedji (thank you Stick for telling me the Thai name for the things) in the background framed by clay brick walls with perfectly aligned clay bricks leading from the corners of the foreground to the end of the background.  Usually the sky is a hot washed out white color, or a faded blue at best. Today we had storm clouds.  What a difference a cloud makes!  Can you see why I favor inclement weather?

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

This is one of my favorite views  A tall chedji (thank you Stick for telling me the Thai name for the things) in the background framed by clay brick walls with perfectly aligned clay bricks leading from the corners of the foreground to the end of the background.  Usually the sky is a hot washed out white color, or a faded blue at best. Today we had storm clouds.  What a difference a cloud makes!  Can you see why I favor inclement weather?

 

When using a wide angle there are three visual components to try and include, a foreground (the green leaves), a mid-ground (first structure), and a background (furthest chedji and brick wall).  Having all three lends scale and helps make the image more visually appealing.  In this case we had a nice streak of sunlight lighting the mid to back ground areas for further scale and visual appeal, and of course the nice clouds.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200 

 

When using a wide angle there are three visual components to try and include, a foreground (the green leaves), a mid-ground (first structure), and a background (furthest chedji and brick wall).  Having all three lends scale and helps make the image more visually appealing.  In this case we had a nice streak of sunlight lighting the mid to back ground areas for further scale and visual appeal, and of course the nice clouds. 

 

I’m pretty sure Stick didn’t take me seriously when I told him to try and capture a shot of this ‘cavernous’ rock formation, but by balancing the exposure of the inside of the formation and the view of the trees and chedji outside the formation, I ended up with a somewhat interesting shot.  Stick didn’t take me seriously because to him it just looked like a big pile of rocks, and it was.  He probably thought I was nuts sticking my little Sony down in that hole and for wasting his time trying to get him to look at it.. ;o)

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200

 

I’m pretty sure Stick didn’t take me seriously when I told him to try and capture a shot of this ‘cavernous’ rock formation, but by balancing the exposure of the inside of the formation and the view of the trees and chedji outside the formation, I ended up with a somewhat interesting shot.  Stick didn’t take me seriously because to him it just looked like a big pile of rocks, and it was.  He probably thought I was nuts sticking my little Sony down in that hole and for wasting his time trying to get him to look at it.. ;o)

 

Did you know Stick is shy and doesn’t like having his picture taken?  Me either.  I think most photographers share this trait.  In at least HALF of the images I used in this piece Stick was in the original image.  He just kept walking into the scene and getting in the way, so I just kept shooting like he wasn’t there.  Then later I made him disappear.  He was standing to the right of this tree exactly between the tree and the fence.  Can you tell?  Thank you Adobe CS5 and Content Aware Fill!

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

Did you know Stick is shy and doesn’t like having his picture taken?  Me either.  I think most photographers share this trait.  In at least HALF of the images I used in this piece Stick was in the original image.  He just kept walking into the scene and getting in the way, so I just kept shooting like he wasn’t there.  Then later I made him disappear.  He was standing to the right of this tree exactly between the tree and the fence.  Can you tell?  Thank you Adobe CS5 and Content Aware Fill!

 

Remember I said there were interesting lines and structures?  With a point and shoot camera you can lay it right against the wall and then use the LCD to frame your composition.  Stick is standing right between the closest tree and the building.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

Remember I said there were interesting lines and structures?  With a point and shoot camera you can lay it right against the wall and then use the LCD to frame your composition.  Stick is standing right between the closest tree and the building.

 

24mm’s (35mm equiv) is a very popular focal length for landscape photographers.  You’re able to get a wide view while keeping the perspective distortion in check.  Notice the two tall supports?  By using the camera properly, keeping the lens perpendicular to the subject, and perhaps just a wee bit of Photoshop we can keep them nice and straight.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

24mm’s (35mm equiv) is a very popular focal length for landscape photographers.  You’re able to get a wide view while keeping the perspective distortion in check.  Notice the two tall supports?  By using the camera properly, keeping the lens perpendicular to the subject, and perhaps just a wee bit of Photoshop we can keep them nice and straight.

 

Sometimes an image just offers you very little as in the case of this image.  The clouds weren’t even there, just a blank hot white sky and some dirty bricks being used as stairs.  By laying the Sony NEX-5 on the step, on its side, and stopping the lens down, I was able to get a nice deep depth of field (DOF) with everything in focus from the closest step to the top doorframe above.  Then using a split toning technique I aged the image and to me made it more visually appealing through processing.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F11  ISO 200 

 

Sometimes an image just offers you very little as in the case of this image.  The clouds weren’t even there, just a blank hot white sky and some dirty bricks being used as stairs.  By laying the Sony NEX-5 on the step, on its side, and stopping the lens down, I was able to get a nice deep depth of field (DOF) with everything in focus from the closest step to the top doorframe above.  Then using a split toning technique I aged the image and to me made it more visually appealing through processing.

 

This truly is a terrible image but I wanted to share it anyway.  We have a nice sky thanks to the clouds and a nice green tree as a mid-ground.  What I wanted to demonstrate was that laying the camera right on the bricks surface you can create a sort of foreground which ‘can’ be visually appealing.  IF it were in focus it would be appealing and somewhat interesting because of the eye-catching detail.   This was a limit of the little Sony combination.  With a full frame DSLR and the 12-25mm F4 lens you can stop it down to get enough DOF to make every element in this frame in focus.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

This truly is a terrible image but I wanted to share it anyway.  We have a nice sky thanks to the clouds and a nice green tree as a mid-ground.  What I wanted to demonstrate was that laying the camera right on the bricks surface you can create a sort of foreground which ‘can’ be visually appealing.  IF it were in focus it would be appealing and somewhat interesting because of the eye-catching detail.   This was a limit of the little Sony combination.  With a full frame DSLR and the 12-25mm F4 lens you can stop it down to get enough DOF to make every element in this frame in focus.

 

24mm also allows for an interesting perspective when used with people.  I saw this one coming and walked in front of the lady and asked to take her picture.  Notice the pulley and drive belt stretching from the left front and extending to the middle of the frame?  I would have been happy just with that, but the black leather satchel is what really caught my eye.  Seems more than a bit out of place on a lawnmower?

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200 

 

24mm also allows for an interesting perspective when used with people.  I saw this one coming and walked in front of the lady and asked to take her picture.  Notice the pulley and drive belt stretching from the left front and extending to the middle of the frame?  I would have been happy just with that, but the black leather satchel is what really caught my eye.  Seems more than a bit out of place on a lawnmower?

 

Working with a prime forces you to use the old fashioned “foot zoom” and to not be lazy when framing your compositions.  In this image I’m framing several structures with a walkway down their center.  Notice how the clouds really help provide nice skies?

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200 

 

Working with a prime forces you to use the old fashioned “foot zoom” and to not be lazy when framing your compositions.  In this image I’m framing several structures with a walkway down their center.  Notice how the clouds really help provide nice skies?

 

Using “foot zoom” I then moved closer and frames a shot right down the center of that same viewpoint, but this time I turned the camera into portrait mode for more effect.  At 24mm the DOF can be extreme and it helps if the closest bricks and furthers trees are all in focus.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200 

 

Using “foot zoom” I then moved closer and frames a shot right down the center of that same viewpoint, but this time I turned the camera into portrait mode for more effect.  At 24mm the DOF can be extreme and it helps if the closest bricks and furthers trees are all in focus.

 

There are several places in the complex where they place statue ‘parts’ on a low fence on display.  Capturing them straight on is what most every tourist does.  Using a deep DOF and capturing them in an offset alignment while including the neighboring structures and nice trees and skies is what a photographer does.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

There are several places in the complex where they place statue ‘parts’ on a low fence on display.  Capturing them straight on is what most every tourist does.  Using a deep DOF and capturing them in an offset alignment while including the neighboring structures and nice trees and skies is what a photographer does.

 

One of the advantages of the Sony NEX-5 concept is the ability to take automatic in-camera HDR’s (high dynamic range images), automatic panoramas, and even HD movies as easily as you can capture a still image.  I use the panorama feature every time I want to include more of the scene to tell the story than the lens will allow.  The camera then turns out a nice 8000 pixel wide image suitable for making a 2 meter wide print for your wall.  Stick was standing between the tree and the wall on the other side of the motorbike.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200   Sweep Panoranma

 

One of the advantages of the Sony NEX-5 concept is the ability to take automatic in-camera HDR’s (high dynamic range images), automatic panoramas, and even HD movies as easily as you can capture a still image.  I use the panorama feature every time I want to include more of the scene to tell the story than the lens will allow.  The camera then turns out a nice 8000 pixel wide image suitable for making a 2 meter wide print for your wall.  Stick was standing between the tree and the wall on the other side of the motorbike. 

 

Another image taking advantage of a seemingly endless brick wall and a nice stretch of trees.  There were 3 tourists and Stick on that path you can see leading down the frame.  CS5 and I made them disappear.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200 

 

Another image taking advantage of a seemingly endless brick wall and a nice stretch of trees.  There were 3 tourists and Stick on that path you can see leading down the frame.  CS5 and I made them disappear.

 

I really liked this composition.  The foreground is on the left front of the frame, the mid-ground the grand tree beyond, and the background is really interesting with the arches and nice sky and tree line.  The shadows and sunlit areas help add dimension as well.  Where was Stick and 2 others in this image as well.  See them?

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F8  ISO 200

 

I really liked this composition.  The foreground is on the left front of the frame, the mid-ground the grand tree beyond, and the background is really interesting with the arches and nice sky and tree line.  The shadows and sunlit areas help add dimension as well.  Where was Stick and 2 others in this image as well.  See them?

 

This is a bit sloppy in the processing, looks a bit too saturated for my tastes.   Another example of using your wide angle lens to provide the three compositional elements (fore/mid/back ground) that help make an image interesting.  The fine detail on the bricks in the foreground draws the eye before it’s led down the path between the mid and back grounds.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200

 

This is a bit sloppy in the processing, looks a bit too saturated for my tastes.   Another example of using your wide angle lens to provide the three compositional elements (fore/mid/back ground) that help make an image interesting.  The fine detail on the bricks in the foreground draws the eye before it’s led down the path between the mid and back grounds.

 

This image gives the impression the place is really more beautiful than it is.  Finally!  I was watching Stick capture an image of that rock on the fence in the mid ground.  I made him disappear in this image as well.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

This image gives the impression the place is really more beautiful than it is.  Finally!  I was watching Stick capture an image of that rock on the fence in the mid ground.  I made him disappear in this image as well.

 

Texture is also a compositional element, and when I first noticed the texture of the bricks in the rise in the foreground I had to think about how I wanted to use them in the full composition.  The texture, leading the eye down the wall as I’d done several times before, and the trees and nice sky.  Using the elements in this way, right ‘in your face’ as with the foreground, really lends depth of scale and a feel to the image you wouldn’t otherwise capture.  Removing the two tourists helped make the image a bit cleaner.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F11  ISO 200 

 

Texture is also a compositional element, and when I first noticed the texture of the bricks in the rise in the foreground I had to think about how I wanted to use them in the full composition.  The texture, leading the eye down the wall as I’d done several times before, and the trees and nice sky.  Using the elements in this way, right ‘in your face’ as with the foreground, really lends depth of scale and a feel to the image you wouldn’t otherwise capture.  Removing the two tourists helped make the image a bit cleaner.

 

This image is all about texture with the huge stone fence, bricks everywhere, and the wall where I set the camera.  We’re also close enough to appreciate the stair cases, door frames, spires, and more.  With 14mp on hand there is more than enough resolution to print these at 20x24 inches if desires where you can really see more than with a small internet image.

 

Sony NEX-5, 16mm F2.8  @F5.6  ISO 200 

 

This image is all about texture with the huge stone fence, bricks everywhere, and the wall where I set the camera.  We’re also close enough to appreciate the stair cases, door frames, spires, and more.  With 14mp on hand there is more than enough resolution to print these at 20x24 inches if desires where you can really see more than with a small internet image.

Overall a very nice walk through Wat Ratchaburana.  It’s always fun shooting with a friend and comparing notes on technique and equipment, the weather lent itself nicely to our compositions, and it was fun stretching the capabilities of a $600 camera/lens combination knowing in return you’re getting DSLR quality images.

I can’t wait to see how Stick’s images turn out, comparing the days ‘take’ is one of the pleasures we enjoy and a great way to learn.  You see, Stick’s a very good photographer with a developed eye.  I know my eye, but by studying his work and comparing it to my own, both captured during the same outing, then I get some insight into his ‘eye’ and my knowledge base is that much better for it.

A final word about cameras.  We’ve all heard the old adages “it’s the craftsman and not the tools?”  Sure, I agree with this to a point.  The fact is, craftsman need tools or nothing gets built.  What we need to think about is the difference between tools.  I was able to make these captures with a $600 body/lens combination.  I’m really not sure if my images would have been better had I selected to take my Canon 5d Mark II and my 70-200mm F2.8L IS for instance, an easy $5000 worth of gear.  Certainly the Canon is capable of a higher image quality, and a better lens will provide better images, but where is your personal point of marginal returns?

By this, I mean everything we do has a point where when we continue to spend we get only a marginal benefit in return.  With photography this is a sliding scale when experience is factored in, as an experienced photographer will get more out of a given set of gear than will a beginner.  What about the guy with the $50,000 medium format digital back system?  Will he really get $50,000 worth of better images than I got for $600?  Perhaps, now we can factor in the requirements of the job.  Some jobs demand a higher image quality, someone is willing to pay for that quality, so now it becomes a factor.

 

So obviously tools do matter.  The trick is to decide how much they matter to you as an individual.  As technology provides us more capable cameras, we can all of a sudden do more at a given price point and do it with a higher quality.  A $600 camera that provides DSLR quality still images, HDTV movies, panoramic’s, and more.  10 years ago we’d have thought this impossible.