So far in our coverage of the Mae Hong Son province we’ve concentrated on The Road To Pai , Pai the town , and The Lisou Village .  For me the best part of the trip comes in this modest installment, Mae Hong Son Landscapes, and a Mid-Range Zoom.

 

The Mae Hong Son province is in my opinion the most beautiful natural area of Thailand.  If you haven’t visited the Mae Hong Son province then you really haven’t experienced the best Thailand has to offer.  There is much to the area, from refugee camps along the Myanmar border, rainforests, mountain ranges, and several ethnic villages providing a unique insight into Thailand’s past and perhaps even its future.

 

It is also a photographers paradise.  You can’t travel a full kilometer without the urge to stop and make a capture.  The challenge is in reducing these photo opportunities to a coherent and organized portfolio.  It’s like finding a pirates chest of gold and jewels and then choosing only the best pieces you can carry in your pockets.  I spent the first few days not even taking pictures.  I simply drove through the area admiring the terrain and its natural beauty and trying to avoid sensory overload.  Stunningly beautiful, simply natural, and mostly untouched by modern man.  You must see it for yourself.  Follow along with me while I explain the circumstances of my favorite images.

 

 

 

This first image typifies the look and feel of my time in Mae Hong Son.  Rolling green fields inset among mountains with the sun breaking through in streaks of illumination and color.  The ever present storm clouds followed, above me, in front of me, and the sheets of rain (grey color you can spot on the hills) was like a moving wall of water.  You could stand there feeling the rush of air move around you as the rain moved towards you and see with your eyes exactly where it was falling due to its density.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/200th  38mm  ISO 100

 

This first image typifies the look and feel of my time in Mae Hong Son.  Rolling green fields inset among mountains with the sun breaking through in streaks of illumination and color.  The ever present storm clouds followed, above me, in front of me, and the sheets of rain (grey color you can spot on the hills) was like a moving wall of water.  You could stand there feeling the rush of air move around you as the rain moved towards you and see with your eyes exactly where it was falling due to its density.

 

 

 

From atop one mountain you can see far across many others.  Small valleys hold local farms and the roads twist and turn between landmarks.  Many of the roadsides are terraced to accommodate excessive rainfall without creating mud slides.  The low clouds feel as if they could almost touch the top of the mountain upon which you’re standing, and the blue of the sky is more intense than anywhere else I’ve experienced in SEA.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/200th  42mm  ISO 100

 

From atop one mountain you can see far across many others.  Small valleys hold local farms and the roads twist and turn between landmarks.  Many of the roadsides are terraced to accommodate excessive rainfall without creating mud slides.  The low clouds feel as if they could almost touch the top of the mountain upon which you’re standing, and the blue of the sky is more intense than anywhere else I’ve experienced in SEA.

 

 

 

 

This small farm was occupying a valley between mountains where they grew rice, corn, and other seasonal crops.  This is one of the few areas in Thailand where the crops are truly seasonal.  The motorsai almost blends into the scene, but manages to provide interesting contrast.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/160th  70mm  ISO 100

 

This small farm was occupying a valley between mountains where they grew rice, corn, and other seasonal crops.  This is one of the few areas in Thailand where the crops are truly seasonal.  The motorsai almost blends into the scene, but manages to provide interesting contrast.

 

 

 

This temple complex was a surprise.  All you see are mountains and natural vistas and not much in the way of towns or homes.  Yet, here is a temple in great condition nestled among the hills and its being maintained by many locals.  You ask yourself where they come from, there are no cars, only a few bicycles and motorsais, and no towns or visible houses.  I’m guessing I missed so much, small roads I didn’t have time to explore probably led to small communities of farmers living in homes made largely of local materials from the forests.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/100th  28mm  ISO 100

 

This temple complex was a surprise.  All you see are mountains and natural vistas and not much in the way of towns or homes.  Yet, here is a temple in great condition nestled among the hills and its being maintained by many locals.  You ask yourself where they come from, there are no cars, only a few bicycles and motorsais, and no towns or visible houses.  I’m guessing I missed so much, small roads I didn’t have time to explore probably led to small communities of farmers living in homes made largely of local materials from the forests.

 

 

 

 

From another day atop one of the tallest mountains this view was stunning.  The vista extends hundreds of kilometers to the horizon, powerful storm clouds on top and all around us, and the different illumination levels makes for an almost 3d scene.  The simple pagoda is on the road leading up to my location and is a nice place for travelers to stop and enjoy lunch.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/500th  24mm  ISO 100

 

From another day atop one of the tallest mountains this view was stunning.  The vista extends hundreds of kilometers to the horizon, powerful storm clouds on top and all around us, and the different illumination levels makes for an almost 3d scene.  The simple pagoda is on the road leading up to my location and is a nice place for travelers to stop and enjoy lunch.

 

 

 

Inside one of the valleys, one of the many small farms.  You can see where the trees were felled and the stumps remain.  The land is cleared by burning and in years to come the stumps will fall to decay and be replaced by terraced rice fields.  Beyond this new clearing you can see more of the existing farm.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/400th  59mm  ISO 100

 

Inside one of the valleys, one of the many small farms.  You can see where the trees were felled and the stumps remain.  The land is cleared by burning and in years to come the stumps will fall to decay and be replaced by terraced rice fields.  Beyond this new clearing you can see more of the existing farm.

 

 

 

This is a manmade canal.  My guess is it was built to funnel excess rain runoff and prevent flooding during the rainy season, and distribute irrigation water as needed during the growing season.  I didn’t see any fishermen, but you can’t help but wonder if there’s such a thing as mountain trout and other fish similar to those we have back home.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/80th  54mm  ISO 100

 

This is a manmade canal.  My guess is it was built to funnel excess rain runoff and prevent flooding during the rainy season, and distribute irrigation water as needed during the growing season.  I didn’t see any fishermen, but you can’t help but wonder if there’s such a thing as mountain trout and other fish similar to those we have back home.

 

 

 

This farm has its own fish pond.  You can see the green roofs to the right?  Surprisingly most of the structures, colors of materials, and manmade landscaping compliment the land rather than distract from its natural state.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/125th  34mm  ISO 100

 

This farm has its own fish pond.  You can see the green roofs to the right?  Surprisingly most of the structures, colors of materials, and manmade landscaping compliment the land rather than distract from its natural state.

 

 

 

This capture was from above the Chinese Village looking over the commercial tourist areas used by both the Lisou and Chinese villages.  Pai as I’ve described before is located in a large valley largely used for agricultural purposes.  This is just a portion of the valley, so you should be able to get a idea of its size.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/250th  35mm  ISO 100

 

This capture was from above the Chinese Village looking over the commercial tourist areas used by both the Lisou and Chinese villages.  Pai as I’ve described before is located in a large valley largely used for agricultural purposes.  This is just a portion of the valley, so you should be able to get a idea of its size.

 

 

 

Even a routine street (Chinese Village) blends into its natural surroundings without the tacky buildings so common in other parts of Thailand.   You really get the feeling the local residents truly appreciate their environment and make great sacrifices to maintain the original look and feel of their environment.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/500th  70mm  ISO 100

 

Even a routine street (Chinese Village) blends into its natural surroundings without the tacky buildings so common in other parts of Thailand.   You really get the feeling the local residents truly appreciate their environment and make great sacrifices to maintain the original look and feel of their environment.

 

 

 

Another view from high up in the Chinese Village (I’ll show you the Chinese Village another time) which shows the greater Pai area.  Pai, many farms, the commercial Lisou/Chinese villages, and many small farms occupy this landscape.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/200th  70mm  ISO 100

 

Another view from high up in the Chinese Village (I’ll show you the Chinese Village another time) which shows the greater Pai area.  Pai, many farms, the commercial Lisou/Chinese villages, and many small farms occupy this landscape.

 

 

 

A more detailed picture from another angle from above the Chinese Village.  Notice the large straw roofs to the left?  This is the actual site of the commercial Lisou and Chinese villages where they’ll put on shows for the tourists and sell their wares.  I wonder how many made it around the world and so far as these commercial areas in their quest to see the real Thailand, yet never left their tour bus crowd or bothered to venture into the nearby hills and experience the real villages these people live in?

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/160th  70mm  ISO 100

 

A more detailed picture from another angle from above the Chinese Village.  Notice the large straw roofs to the left?  This is the actual site of the commercial Lisou and Chinese villages where they’ll put on shows for the tourists and sell their wares.  I wonder how many made it around the world and so far as these commercial areas in their quest to see the real Thailand, yet never left their tour bus crowd or bothered to venture into the nearby hills and experience the real villages these people live in?

 

 

This unmolested landscape will take your breath away.  If it wasn’t full the road to the right this would be the same scene you would have viewed thousands of years ago.  Standing atop these mountains with storm clouds swirling and winds blowing and the cool temperatures providing comfort, you might start to question if this is really Thailand.  Maybe this is the real Thailand.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/500th  24mm  ISO 100

 

 

This unmolested landscape will take your breath away.  If it wasn’t full the road to the right this would be the same scene you would have viewed thousands of years ago.  Standing atop these mountains with storm clouds swirling and winds blowing and the cool temperatures providing comfort, you might start to question if this is really Thailand.  Maybe this is the real Thailand.

 

 

This is a closer look showing how they terrace the roadsides to accommodate rain runoff and prevent mudslides from closing the roads.  Behind you can see mountains and clouds forever.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/400th  34mm  ISO 100

 

This is a closer look showing how they terrace the roadsides to accommodate rain runoff and prevent mudslides from closing the roads.  Behind you can see mountains and clouds forever.

 

 

 

 

 

Another view of a vista outside of Pai.  It’s a larger view of the one above, where now the pagoda is even smaller and you can’t see the road.  Instead, you can actually feel the storm clouds right over where you’re standing as they push the air around you, and from somewhere behind a small break in the clouds allows the sun to light the foreground.  As far as the eye can see, similar breaks in clouds illuminate swathes of rolling mountains, while other areas remain dark.  A surreal experience.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/320th  25mm  ISO 100

 

Another view of a vista outside of Pai.  It’s a larger view of the one above, where now the pagoda is even smaller and you can’t see the road.  Instead, you can actually feel the storm clouds right over where you’re standing as they push the air around you, and from somewhere behind a small break in the clouds allows the sun to light the foreground.  As far as the eye can see, similar breaks in clouds illuminate swathes of rolling mountains, while other areas remain dark.  A surreal experience.

 

 

 

Such a view doesn’t go unnoticed.  Here a local movie company is shooting a Thai soap opera and we stopped and watched the filming for a while.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/250th  35mm  ISO 100

 

Such a view doesn’t go unnoticed.  Here a local movie company is shooting a Thai soap opera and we stopped and watched the filming for a while.

 

 

My friend Eyal wanted to show me this structure and I immediately knew why.  It was typical, raised to keep the occupants above the occasional flood, build from wood from the local forests, and featuring a spectacular view.  You can picture yourself living in such a home and standing out on the deck with a full time view of the best Thailand has to offer.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/125th  70mm  ISO 100

 

My friend Eyal wanted to show me this structure and I immediately knew why.  It was typical, raised to keep the occupants above the occasional flood, build from wood from the local forests, and featuring a spectacular view.  You can picture yourself living in such a home and standing out on the deck with a full time view of the best Thailand has to offer.

 

 

 

This is the same Ta-Pai bridge featured as a Featured Photograph here.   Sometimes backing away from the main attraction and capturing the attraction as part of the bigger picture is interesting as well.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/250th  34mm  ISO 100

 

This is the same Ta-Pai bridge featured as a Featured Photograph here Sometimes backing away from the main attraction and capturing the attraction as part of the bigger picture is interesting as well.

 

 

 

Across from the area where they were shooting the movie the Lisou have set up this roadside sale area featuring traditional clothes and crafts.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/125th  24mm  ISO 100

 

Across from the area where they were shooting the movie the Lisou have set up this roadside sale area featuring traditional clothes and crafts.

 

 

 

 

One of the roads leading out of Pai and into the local mountain area.

Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8L USM  @F8  1/200th  70mm  ISO 100

 

One of the roads leading out of Pai and into the local mountain area.

 

 

Part of my title says “Mid-Range Zoom.”  I’ve written several pieces extolling the virtues of the common mid-range zoom  and considering that I intentionally packed light and made the most of the three most common zooms, a wide 16-35m F2.8L USM, a mid 24-70mm F2.8L USM, and a telephoto 70-200mm F2.8L IS USM, I wanted  to share with you a single feature showing just one of these lenses.

 

Why?  It’s not about equipment nearly as much as you might imagine.  Depending on your chosen genre of photography, often a single lens will serve you very well.  With landscape photography it’s much more about choosing the right location, being there at the right time when the weather and light create the best presentation, and properly exposing the scene.  Proper exposure is key.  Whether its street photography, landscape photography, portraits, glamor, photojournalism, a single lens will serve you well for the vast majority of your captures.  A mid-range zoom is perhaps the most useful lens a photographer carries, yet it’s the most under appreciated.

 

These images were selected for another reason.  Notice they were all shot at F8 and ISO 100?  Really, the only settings which changed were the focal lengths and shutter speeds to accommodate the current light levels.  You might find this boring if you’re an equipment junkie, but it should drive home that photography is about much more than your equipment.

 

Next time I visit the Mae Hong Son province I’ll visit with a plan and intent.  I’ll pack and carry a myriad of prime lenses which excel at their individual focal lengths and the sweet spot of their aperture, and I’ll make for the most part the same images.  The differences will be in the smallest details, details most of you won’t ever care about.  Details that can only be seen on the largest prints of 24x30 inches and larger.  Prints I’ll market and possibly include in future publications.

 

An “economical” bargain mid-range zoom such as those which often come as “kit” lenses will quickly reveal its limitations.  A quality mid-range zoom in turn will only reveal its great utility and image quality, and will remain unmatched by all but the very best primes.  When you consider how useful a high quality mid-range zoom really is, you’ll probably come to the conclusion it pays to get a good one.  I use mine about 90% of the time inside my studio, for about 80% of coverage during weddings, for a walk around lens at attractions, about half the time when covering news events, and quite often it’s my go to lens for trips like this where I don’t want to carry tons of glass, but I still want a high quality lens to make great images for my efforts.

 

I hope you’ve enjoyed this part of the series…