Stickman Everyone knows of' Stick, and some actually know the man behind the curtain.  Any of his friends or family will testify he's not often without a camera close by.  I've known him for years now and I've had a chance to observe his photography.  2-3 years ago he 'documented' more than he 'photographed' and this by itself is neither bad nor good.  It's more of a style preference.

However, especially since moving up to his newest DSLR, the Canon 5d Mark II, he's started to lean more to the 'photograph' camp, becoming more concerned with composition and image quality.  He's now paying attention to the details.  Whether this growth, and yes I see it as growth, comes from necessity or interest doesn't matter.  It matters that Stick is in the unique position with unique access to capture images and document the various nightlife venues few of us are.  It matters that he derives great enjoyment from the process.  It always has been, and always will be, all about having fun!  Enjoy the interview. 

 

BkkSteve:  Stick, this is the interview the readers have been waiting for.  We all know you're a camera buff and have enjoyed your images in your weekly and your galleries.  Can you tell us when you first started with photography?

Stick:  I first started with photography when I left New Zealand to take off around Europe as a 20-year old.  With me I had an Olympus 707 and one lens, a 35-70mm.  I took about 500 shots over the 6 months I spent in Europe, which is about what I shoot in one day nowadays if I go out with the express purpose of taking photos!  Funnily enough, I never did use that camera again after that trip!

 

Auckland City at night.  Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm, ISO 100   25 seconds @ F8

Auckland City at night.  Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm, ISO 100   25 seconds @ F8

 

BkkSteve:  How long was it from the completion of your European stint, to the time you came to Thailand and decided to stay?  What camera did you come to Thailand with?

Stick:  When I returned to New Zealand I sort of forgot about photography.  That was around late 1990.  In late 1991, I think it was, I bought a Minolta Dynax 7Xi which reinvigorated my interest in photography.  Again, I only had one les, a 28 - 105 and I later bought a 50mm 1.7.  I used that camera from then until when I came to Thailand.

 

My Home, Auckland City by day.  Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8  @F7.1  1/160th  ISO 100 with a Circular Polarizer

My Home, Auckland City by day.  Canon 5d Mark II, 24-70mm F2.8  @F7.1  1/160th  ISO 100 with a Circular Polarizer

 

BkkSteve: Okay, so you're in Thailand now and I'm guessing during this period you were teaching English?  Was your interest in photography further motivated by the Thai countryside, or perhaps the Thai people with street photography?

Stick:  Actually, it was a little different to that.  I simply got into photography this time around, which was late '99, with the advent of digital photography.  I picked up a 2 megapixel basic Kodak digital camera for the princely sum of 32,000 baht!  It allowed me to take shots that I could use on the site.  I was the first site at the time to start putting a lot of pretty photos online and it boosted the site's popularity a lot.  It really was not until I got a DSLR that my interest in different aspects of photography, such as street photography started to develop.

 

Wat Pho, Reclining Buddha.  Kodak DC 280 1/15th @ F3, ISO 100.

Wat Pho, Reclining Buddha.  Kodak DC 280 1/15th @ F3, ISO 100.

 

BkkSteve:  This is interesting, your path closely parallels my own.  In 1998 I bought an Olympus C-3000 3.1mp point and shoot and I think it was over $1000 USD's with all the accessories I thought I needed!  Six months later I was in Thailand and knew I needed more from digital.

You mention your site and images.  I'm sure I'm not the only one who looks forward to seeing what new images you post each week.  Your style has developed heavily towards the street photography side, with a further emphasis on low light photography.  Was your first DSLR a good tool for this, or did it make you struggle?

 

Stick:  My first DSLR was a Canon 20D.  It was a great camera and I took approaching 30,000 shots with it and was very pleased with it.  At night it was fine for taking basic shots of street scenes and the neon from bars that I guess many associate with my images on this site.  But for actually getting close up to people and shooting them, as good as it was it was limited. 

1600 ISO just wasn't enough, even with the best lenses money could buy.  I needed 4000 - 12800 ISO.  If I went over 1600 ISO the 20D files started to show too much noise and the colours started to go, for want a better word, wonky.

A friend (wonder who that was!) allowed me the use of his 5D when we took a trip up country 2 1/2 years ago and when I shot at night and saw the quality of the RAW files I knew I had to go full frame.

 

Pretty girl on Soi Cowboy.  Canon 20d, 24-70mm  1/30th @ 2.8, ISO 3200

Pretty girl on Soi Cowboy.  Canon 20d, 24-70mm  1/30th @ 2.8, ISO 3200

 

BkkSteve:  I must plead guilty to that one.  Having shot 35mm film SLRs for decades the full frame sensor of the 5d and 1ds Mark II Canon models, to me, were the way to go.  There were huge advantages that made me sorry I'd waited so long to get them.  It might interest you to know that I have several other friends and clients who are in the same path you were, you had a crop frame DSLR and knew you were headed towards full frame.. but the cost.. the cost was/is much higher.  We much appreciated your review in this column of your new full frame Canon 5d Mark II.  Was it everything you thought it would be?

Stick:  The 5D II is a fabulous tool and has served me very, very well.  I can honestly say that when it is matched with the right lens for the task it is all I need.  I can shoot with confidence at 6400 ISO and get a quite useable shot that I could print at 18 x 12 - and as far as web shots go, the high ISO is no problem at all.  For the type of photography I do, it really is the ideal camera.  I was fully aware that I would need to match the body with the best glass Canon makes in my favourite focal lengths and that is what I have done.  I tend to use the Canon 35L 1.4 the most and my trusty 24-70L 2.8 and they are both brilliant on this body.  Really, it is hard to imagine anything else on the market being better for my needs.  That's what it is all about, isn't it, getting the right tool for YOU!

 

Pretty girl inside a Pattaya bar.  Canon 5d Mark II  50mm  1/180th @ F2   ISO 12,800

Pretty girl inside a Pattaya bar.  Canon 5d Mark II  50mm  1/180th @ F2   ISO 12,800

 

BkkSteve:  Absolutely.  Matching your needs to your equipment properly is a sign of an experienced and mature photographer.  Actually, just being able to articulate your needs is a major accomplishment.  I was with a client last month who had a brand new Nikon D3.  It was a brilliant camera, but there is no available lenses for it in the same league as the 35/1.4 you use.  I hope Nikon gets the message.

You're geared up for low light street photography and you host a nightlife website.  The questions are many.  Let's start with the obvious.. you take a lot of pictures in the nightlife areas.  Can you tell me how a foreigner with a rather large camera is perceived in these areas?  Do the locals avoid you requiring special techniques to make your captures, or are they gracious hosts who encourage your intrusion

 

Stick: This is a very good question...  I am fairly well known in a lot of bars, not known as Stickman, but simply known as a friendly and polite customer who never creates problems.  Building up a rapport with people in the industry gives you a lot more leeway than say someone who does not speak Thai and who is new to the bar.  So a lot of it is building up rapport...

But that is not to say that it is easy to take shots.  Often the best shots are candids, not posed shots, and for this you have to be ready to shoot quickly.  The site of a drugged up ladyboy kicking off her high heels and running down the road because she felt slighted, and then screaming at me because I am there pointing my camera at her has nothing to do with rapport, but opportunity and putting yourself in the right place at the tight time.

But for sure, there is a real backlash now from those in the bar industry against photography.  The bottom line is that many are receiving financial support from abroad and they know that if their photo appears online there is every chance their "sponsor" might see it and decide to cut the flow of $$ !

 

A sight for sore eyes, Walking Street.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm F2  @F2.8  1/125th  ISO 4000

A sight for sore eyes, Walking Street.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm F2  @F2.8  1/125th  ISO 4000

 

BkkSteve:  I've personally spent time in these areas with an even larger camera and I find that eyes follow me everywhere.  I developed a technique for hiding my camera until just before I use it and this allows me to go unnoticed just long enough to get some shots.  But once that camera comes into view, and it's a foreigner holding it, often I feel there's a bit of danger.  Do you ever feel in any personal danger due to your camera and making captures?

Stick: I go down to Pattaya pretty much every second week and stay for two nights.  I always carry the camera with me everywhere.  Sometimes I will do a loop on Second Road down to soi 6, walk down there late at night and then make the walk back up to Walking Street.  This is often around midnight.  Beach Road in Pattaya at night really is not the place for someone with a $4,000 camera and lens combination.  I have a pretty good idea of my surroundings and I also back myself to outrun most so I guess you could say that that is my "defence mechanism"!

When I was last in Pattaya a cop started waving his arms and pointing at me and walking my way when I was taking photos so I dashed up a side soi!  I had a few hundred photos on the memory card - all legal - but some a bit risqué and I did not want him to see them.  You never know what might have transpired!

 

Girls on Beach Road, Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II, 35mm  @F4  1/40th  ISO 3200

Girls on Beach Road, Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II, 35mm  @F4  1/40th  ISO 3200

 

BkkSteve:  It seems to me that in these specific areas, nightlife, everyone on the street expects or desires the same level of privacy you'd normally only give inside a private establishment.  There seems to be a certain protocol involved with making certain captures, and if you break that protocol you put yourself at risk for a physical confrontation.  Am I imagining this?

Stick: No, you're not imagining anything.  You're spot on.  There is an inherent risk there.  Sunday before last, Dave The Rave, myself and two mates sat in the area outside Tilac Bar and Dave and I shot out the comings and goings in the soi.  We shot 200+ images each.  All innocent enough.  There was an English guy at the table behind us and he *really* took exception to the shots we were taking.  He started ranting and raving and threatening to do something about us.  I was not too bothered cos Dave is a former world kickboxing champion and this guy was about 60 odd and probably 60 pounds overweight.  But the point was that he WAS ANGRY and he may well have been prepared to back up his words with actions...even though we were not even pointing the camera at him!  It's not just the locals who expect privacy but foreigners too.  That said, if anyone ever makes a gesture that they do not want their photo taken I respect that.

 

Lonely ,an, Pattaya Bar.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm F2  @F2.5  1/100th  ISO 12,800

Lonely ,an, Pattaya Bar.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm F2  @F2.5  1/100th  ISO 12,800

 

BkkSteve:  Wow, so we need to be careful of both the locals and the tourists.  Going back to your episode in Pattaya with a memory card full of potentially curious images.. it reminds me of the time I was stopped in the Yala province by a Muslim guard.  They wanted the memory cards from my camera.  At the time I'd had only SD "adapters" in my camera that accepted Micro SD cards, smaller than your fingernail.  As we were being stopped I removed the micro SD card and dropped it in a half full soda can.. they took the SD adapter thinking it was a memory card.  You can never be too careful.  Carrying "throw away" memory cards and the timely substitution of them.. is an essential skill here in Thailand.

Have you ever had any locals demand your memory cards or give you serious pause?

 

Stick: I have never been asked for the memory card as such but I have had someone demand that I delete their photo - which I did - and then I undeleted it later when I got home!  I have to admit that I do get nervous these days when I take photos of women's backsides and what not on Walking Street in Pattaya late at night.  You know how the coppers are these days...  While what you have done is not technically illegal, they could get nasty and try and make demands...so it is something I am both conscious of and aware of when I'm out and about

 

Pretty girls' bums in Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm  1/160th @ F3.5  ISO 5000

Pretty girls' bums in Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm  1/160th @ F3.5  ISO 5000

 

BkkSteve:  Technique is everything.  Accepting that candid images are often better than posed images, I often find myself taking the liberty of certain shots, and then being mindful of their privacy I'll show them the image and ask them if its okay to keep it.  If they say no, I delete it right there where they can see.  This brings big smiles and I think builds trust.  Others see you doing it and they get the feeling they can trust you.  For me "trust" has led to more interesting photo opportunities.  Sometimes with very rare access.  Have you experienced the same?

Stick:  Good question...  There are a couple of bars where I am allowed to shoot inside the bar.  There's no nudity at all and as I have got to know the girls, they have allowed me to shoot inside.  There was one shoot I took which I included recently in a weekly column.  It was a close up of a girl in Tilac bar who had folded a US 1 dollar bill into a ring and was wearing it on her finger.  I pulled out the camera with the 24 - 70 attached - which as you know is a sizeable lens - and shot it right there in the bar while all the girls were dancing.  No-one blinked when I took the shot.

Had a tourist pulled out a tiny camera in there I can picture the scene now with girls diving for cover and the big beefy mamasan who would scare Sly Stallone coming over to sort him out!

So yeah, that was one time when trust built up was on my side.  Of course I could have just gone outside and shot it there.

 

Pretty girl & dollar bill ring.  Canon 5d Mark II, 35mm 1/40th @ F1.6  ISO 6400

Pretty girl & dollar bill ring.  Canon 5d Mark II, 35mm 1/40th @ F1.6  ISO 6400

 

BkkSteve:  I must have missed that shot.. I think I was looking at the close up of a woman's stomach.. at least I hope it was a woman..  Inside the bars can be a huge challenge.  The only time I've been able to do with the big cameras was by invitation and the invitation is usually linked to some very strict agreements.  Very rare.  You probably have much better access.  Is there any specific bar you would find more memorable than others to photograph?

Stick:  I have enjoyed shooting in The Strip in Patpong.  I know the owners as they advertise with me and I have been given access there to shoot.  Again, there's no nudity there so that helps.  I shot one of the woman doing a show with a python and the shots came out well and I was really pleased.  I think one point I have to make about shooting in the bar is that I do *not* use a flash.

A flash upsets people and makes you, as the photographer, very visible.  Shooting without a flash makes things so much more low key.  And the funny thing is, you hear people whispering things like "that idiot isn't using a flash - none of the shots will come out"  Hahaha, if only they knew!  (None of the photos here used flash, not one.)

 

Showgirl with a snake at Patpong.  Canon 5d Mark II, 35mm F1.4 @F2  1/60th  ISO 5000

Showgirl with a snake at Patpong.  Canon 5d Mark II, 35mm F1.4 @F2  1/60th  ISO 5000

 

BkkSteve:  I agree.. using a flash gives an amateurish look to the photos unless done with great skill, and inside a dimly lit bar with different color lights, it takes a lot of skill.  Low light photography without flash is also skill intensive, and requires some very capable equipment.  I've heard the same whispers and sometimes it makes me smile.  Everyone once in a while someone will be so kind as to tap you on the shoulder and let you know your flash isn't going off

It's easy to forget that having been here a while and in these venues many times, that we take a certain amount of knowledge for granted.  With this in mind, how would you advise an actual tourist who is into photography and wanted to photograph the nightlife areas, and inside bars?

 

Stick: For a tourist who wants to photograph inside a venue, it's pretty tough.  98% of venues won't allow them.  Secrets in Pattaya is one bar that does allow it but to be honest, the girls there are not always thrilled at it.  They're told to smile and they grin and bear it but I don't think they're too thrilled...

Mmm, this is a difficult question because really some trust needs to be built, rapport established.  They might get lucky in a bar but I don't think so.  And really, it's not a good idea to surreptitiously take shots because they can get a bit nasty about that sort of thing...

 

Very pretty girl in Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II  35mm 1/60th @ F2.5  ISO 3200

Very pretty girl in Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II  35mm 1/60th @ F2.5  ISO 3200

 

BkkSteve:  There's a final lingering question and it's related to a recent column of yours about your investigations.  To what extent does photography figure into your investigations and just how far away can you be and still get the goods on someone?

Stick:  Actually, photography is not a big part of the investigations.  Most jobs tend to be in gogo bars and are more related to information than actually photographing someone.  In the case where a guy requires proof that she is working, you might try to get a photo of her outside the bar for proof that she is still working...

If I do ever need to do photography with investigations it is almost always at a distance and I us the 135L 2.0 and that works well because it is a very fast lens and very, very sharp.

 

Hefty freelancer on Beach Road, Pattaya.  Canon 5D mark II, 135L, 200 ISO, F2.2 @ 1/1000 second

Hefty freelancer on Beach Road, Pattaya.  Canon 5D mark II, 135L, 200 ISO, F2.2 @ 1/1000 second

 

BkkSteve:  So you're not wearing a lapel camera hidden inside a flower?  For some reason I'd always envisioned private investigators as being wired for both sound and video.  Has there been any occasions where taking a picture from a distance blew your cover or otherwise caused issues for you?

Stick:  Nope, never had any problems taking photos from a distance on investigations - and surprisingly you don't do that very often.  These days people are really after more in-depth information than a mere photo showing people meeting.

 

Happy couple off the Pattaya promenade.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm F2  @F2.5 1/3200  ISO 100

Happy couple off the Pattaya promenade.  Canon 5d Mark II, 135mm F2  @F2.5 1/3200  ISO 100

 

BkkSteve:  We're at the end of the interview and you've shared some good information.  Very much appreciated.  Before we end this could you please offer your best advice to those wanting to enjoy street photography in the night life areas?  Any advice you think would be most helpful..  Again, thank you for your time and I'll let you have the last word.

Stick:  Get a feel for the environment.  I guess that's hard for a first-time tourist.  As photographers we have been spoiled in Thailand up until recently but now we are suffering a bit of a backlash as so many people are taking photos and videos and posting them online.  We have to be aware of what's going on out there and whether people are concerned at what we're doing.  As far as street photography goes, if you're doing it at night, invest in good lenses.  That probably means low aperture lenses.  You needn't spend an arm and a leg.  The Canon 50 mm 1.8 is less than 4,000 baht, the Nikon equivalent is priced about the same and these are ideal lenses for shooting in low light.  Oh, and make sure you turn the flash off!

 

Praying for good luck before the shift starts in Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II  24-70mm  1/120th @ F2.8  ISO 3200

Praying for good luck before the shift starts in Pattaya.  Canon 5d Mark II  24-70mm  1/120th @ F2.8  ISO 3200