Some Updates and a Happy New Year for 2018!

So first up, it seems that for the second time in the past few months, an otherwise highly credible website has been ridiculous enough to actually allow me to ramble away about cameras on their pages. I have even been allowed to include Bangkok film shots of my own on there too!

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To be more specific, the incredibly busy and hard-working man behind the amazing website 35mmc.com, is none other than Mr. Hamish Gill and it is this very same madman that has permitted fully fledged Chromacoma Leica M2 fanboy waffle to occur there this month, as seen here:

Chroma at 35mmc

I'm very grateful for the opportunity, thanks Hamish and 35mmc!

In the meantime I simply would like to wish all the people who come to this website a very Happy New Year 2018 and also to say thanks for your support.

As with the post I made around this same time last year, regular followers of this site might (hopefully) be pleased to learn that I am again promising myself to keep it updated throughout 2018 with very specific new guides, photos and detailed information about shooting in Bangkok which will be applicable to both film and digital shooters.

So, please do keep coming back here from time to time as I really appreciate it. I also don't think that I've ever said this before but PLEASE do share this site around on social media if you would like to help me out. This is something I do for fun outside of my very busy schedule in life and it takes a lot of time and effort, I don't make anything from it. Help spread the word about where to come for advice when planning to shoot in Bangkok!

If you'd like to get in touch for any reason, feel free to drop me a line at: 

admin@chromacomaphoto.com

Thanks again, here's to another great year.

CCP

Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 5: Chinatown

Back with another hot off the press chapter of the guide this month, and also by popular request from more than a few readers, it’s time for the full Chromacoma guide to shooting in and around Chinatown, Bangkok.

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Before we even get into it, let’s address the (perhaps not so) obvious…

If you want to shoot pictures of Thai-Chinese or Sino-Thai people or life in action, you can do it pretty much anywhere in Thailand. The percentage of Thais with some Chinese blood in the family tree is absolutely massive, and probably a majority of the population of Bangkok can lay claim to this. Chinatown is simply a close knit epicenter of such people all living in a very tight area who have probably had their roots there the longest. It’s the real heart of the Thai-Chinese community and offers a really nice and visibly different little flavor to the Bangkok mix. It’s a good spot to try and catch some very ‘National-Geographic’ –esque sort of shots, if you know what I mean. Cliches here are also rife for the same reasons. On a recent shoot there, I even took a photo of part of a tuk-tuk (and a monk), usually these motifs are off-limits to me (as a resident here) as otherwise trite stereotypes but to be fair… it’s all justified by the plot somewhat down in Chinatown and you just get swept up in the flow of it all sometimes.

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Indeed, I thought it might be good to go into some detail although this one is definitely a bit trickier than usual this month as it covers a pretty large geographic area and is that much harder to pin down to a simple ‘right vs wrong’ way kind of approach. As if such a thing really exists anyway. This is just a recommendation and some tips as always.

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With that statement firmly in mind however, I would still like to introduce you to ONE way of doing Chinatown that I think should prove photographically rich in terms of opportunities.  This is an approach that I have used myself several times and I think it might be a nice way for somebody not familiar with Bangkok (or perhaps just even the area) to try as a photographic adventure.

To start with, I’m going to ‘flip the script’ (or whatever the cool kids say these days) and start at the back, from the river  end with a loop and few suggestions before taking you back that way. Yes, that means starting your little Chinatown photographic sortie from the river boat (regular readers will probably already be aware that I like being on boats on the Chao Praya river). You will need to get to pier number 5 (N5) AKA Ratchawong pier. This is north of Saphan Thaksin (where the BTS skytrain meets at the river boat terminal there) by a few stops and south of Wat Arun by a similar distance. The orange flag express boat stops there (but only if there is somebody waiting at the pier or you make it clear that you are heading to the back of the boat to disembark there before it gets close!) as does the tourist ‘hop on-hop off’ boat.

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Although it is something that I am somewhat loathe to include within these chapters, I feel it is particularly hard to cover this without the inclusion of an actual map so here it is. Allow me to explain it and read these words carefully before you look at the map in detail. The arrow markers I have laid out are MERELY A SUGGESTED OUTER BOUNDARY route that I highly recommend you to follow. However the key idea here is that you should randomly pick and choose to cut through as many alleys, back ways and side streets that link through to this main outer perimeter walking route outlined below as possible. If you just follow the arrows, everything will be fine but the real joy of discovering Chinatown is all the little hidden cut throughs and what they have in store for you. It would be a shame to miss them.

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This might seem like an odd way of doing things, for example somebody might well wonder why I haven’t got an arrow going straight down Yaowarat Road, as the main artery of Chinatown. The route I have actually allows for you to shoot looking down it but a lot of it looks the same and once you have walked down the first hundred metres, the next few hundred don’t look much different. However, the side streets and alleys that hook up and link this main road to the outer route I show on the map are all really varied and eclectic with lots of stuff to see that is well worth exploring just ever so slightly off the more obvious main routes. That’s kind of the point. To highlight the kind of technique I mean. I have given a little example early on in my map here to start you off. Once you disembark at the pier, follow the people the obvious way out to the first street you emerge out into. There will probably be a few Bangkok buses strangely parked up there on the left and a tuk-tuk or two on the right.

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If you walk up that road just a little way to the first left turn and walk down that way….you’ll find tiny little alleys off to the left with real Chinatown slices of life lying in wait for you. Some of the entrances look so small and dark that you would be forgiven for thinking that you are not allowed to enter them but you’ll see the odd person popping in and out of them here and there and it soon becomes clear that you can explore further.

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Some of them are even functioning as street restaurants, out of the sun and heat. The people will certainly not be expecting to see you but as a foreigner with a camera in hand obviously wandering around ‘semi-lost’ taking photos, they’ll ignore you soon enough and if you just smile…you’ll be fine.  Just behave respectfully as always. Then follow the arrows back down to the main road where you started, take the first left back up Ratchawong road and you’re all set. This is the kind of zig-zagging that I am talking about. I am merely giving you a basic map route to try and keep heading along otherwise you could just zig-zag yourself into nothingness or get stuck, miss the main sights and sounds etc. You get the idea.

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Carry on like this in such a fashion, follow the general arrows and make little detours off to the left and right following your senses. Feel free to ‘cut through’ and miss out a section if you wish, but just at least stick to the general  arrows and direction all the way around. It’s great fun and the ‘deeper’ you go, the less tourists you’ll see.

Film shooters are gonna be needing some flexible ISO’s as the bright/dark contrasts can be a challenge for any camera or photographer. It goes from barely being able to clearly see inside an alleyway to Ultra Sunny f22 in a heartbeat and often within the same frame. ISO 400 at minimum would be best, only go higher if it’s a murky monsoon season kind of day. Normal lenses work fine but a bit wider isn’t a bad idea with so many people and places dying to be squeezed into frames everywhere you turn.

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You’ll no doubt see that it’s basically a loop that will eventually circle back around to the same pier (N5) and then you can decide which way to hop back on the boat from there. The reason that I am suggesting this is that most tourists will be starting at the other end of the Yaowarat road and probably being accompanied by a tuk-tuk ‘guide’ (cough). I saw a lot of these the last time I did this loop. You can always tell as the 7/11’s down that way have more foreigners in, often overly laden with backpacks and briefly enjoying the free air con whilst buying fluids. The ‘guides’ are often hanging around waiting for them outside. I think you’ll do better photographically to be a little further away from that, at least until you are nearing the end of your expedition.

If you’re a market sort of person, be advised that there are some great markets inside this loop, including Sampheng (day and night versions) but be very careful of your belongings and bags/wallets if you are gonna be deeply absorbed in taking shots in such places. Good people watching and photo opportunities there though for sure.

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That is about it. It is certainly not the only way to ‘do Chinatown’, photographically speaking, but it’s definitely not a bad way to start. There will always be too much here to shoot it all, life moves fast in this part of town so try and catch what tiny, but hopefully beautiful, little moments of it you can.

CCP

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Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 4: Hua Lamphong

Chromacoma checking in again for November. After last month’s much more contemporary art venue, I am bringing it back to a neo-classical favourite photographic location in Bangkok this month: Hua Lamphong Train Station.

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The correct name is actually ‘The Railway Station of Bangkok’ or ‘Sathani Rotfai Krung Thep’ (you can’t Romanize Thai so no complaints about how I have chosen to spell it please, there almost is no right or wrong way within reason). This might be technically correct but in decades in Thailand, I’ve never heard a single soul actually refer to it in such a manner. In real world use, Thais and even farangs with bad accents all know it by its colloquial moniker of ‘Hua Lamphong’. If you are actually heading there or departing on a train, you’ll see it on railway authority train maps as simply ‘Krungthep’  (station) which is the abbreviated Thai word for Bangkok. The full name for Bangkok in Thai is literally a paragraph or two long!

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It’s actually a pretty cool place to go and have a look at. Be warned though, this is the number one main railway terminal for the whole country. At peak times, it is RAMMED and this doesn’t just mean Thais but also foreigners looking to go off on another chapter in their Thai adventure. With this in mind, beware of scammers; do not talk to Thais who suddenly, randomly approach you speaking English, watch your belongings at all times, ignore all the Tuk-Tuk drivers and general ‘hangaround’ guys etc. The usual common sense sort of stuff that I have already covered in this guide before so I’ll not repeat myself too much here.

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The building itself is now over a hundred years old, and that is pretty old for a building in Bangkok that is still standing and in regular daily use by the public. A little known fact is perhaps that is was actually designed by a reputable Italian. That’s right, it’s an Italian design (not many Thais are always aware of that when it comes up in conversation) and in something of a renaissance style at that, simply beautiful and not what you might perhaps expect in this part of the world. Well worth checking out, both from within and the exterior.

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One thing I like about this locale is that the platforms and train lines are pretty much at ground level (without some huge 'forbidden' step down onto the track level) and as long as you are careful not to displease the station guards and their whistles, basically you can walk right up and touch the trains and all over the tracks as much as you like in such a way that just wouldn’t be allowed (deemed unsafe?) in many Western countries. Indeed, when people disembark from some of the main platforms, they just spill out and onto the tracks and are just swarming in and around the trains and over the lines, sleepers and gravel in a pretty freestyle manner.

The classic sort of Hua Lamphong shots are often concerned with the interior roof, light shining down sort of style. This has always been a staple. It does seem however though that in recent times, some sort of blocking the light from the top inside has occurred. I think it is a new installation of blinds or something similar, seems a different look than in years gone by. This makes it not quite as easy as it used to be to stumble on the brilliant interior light spilling all over the platforms, trains and passengers  that it has often been famous for, but still quite nice to shoot. Film shooters would do well here in the day with about ISO400 film in my experience (and preference I suppose).

Lens options here really aren’t too limited, low down wide angle is definitely something that could be very effective but on this day I just had a standard lens on a medium format film Rolleiflex (equivalent to a ‘normal’ 50mm on a full frame digital or 35mm film camera, albeit with more headroom) and didn’t really feel that I needed or wanted for anything more.  Good fun can be had playing with perspective and the interplay between the tiny people and the huge locomotives. Lots of long vanishing point lines and strongly backlit subjects can present themselves when you are at the main hall end of the platforms looking out.

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It’s easy to get there, any taxi driver in the city knows it (if they don’t, exit the vehicle IMMEDIATELY !) In more modern times, it has also been connected to the underground railway network in Bangkok and so you can catch that from literally anywhere in the city and simply depart at the MRT station that connects directly, which is also called ‘Hua Lamphong’. Simple as thatreally. It’s also in the more westerly side of Bangkok and is situated  fairly close to where the really Chinese part of the city begins (and indeed Chinatown itself) so you could also get a lot of bang for your photographic buck if you fancy some exercise and a wander off with your camera from this point.

In the station, there are lots and lots of platforms (around 14 if I recall correctly) and I am sure that there must be between 100-150 trains in and out of here every single day. The number of passengers is insane as Thais really know how to pack a train out, especially in the lower class carriages from upcountry. So, as well as the building and scenery, the human element is also more than well catered for.

Go and check it out with your camera and have fun, I did. Here are a few more medium format shots of Hua Lamphong taken very recently.

CCP

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Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 3: 'Chang Chui'

Chromacoma checking in for October with another ‘places to shoot’ entry for the guide. I shall also be using this as an excuse to post a few scans of recent, medium format film work (Rolleiflex) shots taken at this location.

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 In prioritizing what places to mention in the guide, most of the first mental selections I make are typically always old favourites, sometimes very old buildings and the like. It occurred to me last week that there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the inclusion of new places also and so that is why this month’s entry is ‘Chang Chui’. You can’t Romanize Thai into English so any attempt is always subjective, that said some words are easier to try with it than others and this one isn’t too bad. But what does it mean? Basically it means a ‘messy artist or craftsman’. Kind of like one who just throws stuff together willy-nilly.

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Based upon that working definition, one might say that the naming of this place was, in fact, spot on. It is a very carefully thrown together venue but has the look and feel of something that was cobbled together on a wing (whim?) and a prayer without any careful planning. Nothing could actually be farther from the truth however as this project was the brainchild of none other thanKhun Somchai Songwattana, the owner and businessman behind the fashion brand and retail outlet ‘Fly Now’ (very famous and chic in this country). He is something of a fashion mogul in Thailand and this is a place he personally came up with as a hangout for artistic types in Bangkok. He is also very well known for being a thoroughly generous and kind man with good heart to match his good vision.

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Having only just opened this year (2017), the whole place is carefully designed to look like it came together through casual happenstance but is actually a beautifully executed presentation with a very consistent artistic theme throughout. So what is it? Well, it’s a large plot of land on the very most-Westerly side of Bangkok, but still within city limits. It was originally purchased with a view to housing an HQ for Khun Somchai’s brand but the design guru later changed his mind, instead looking to create an artistic venue and meeting place that comprises of shops, cinema, crafts, good dining and drink, music and cool people. To that end, it certainly seems to succeed.

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Subtle hints of the ‘Fly Now’ brand tie-ins are evident everywhere around the grounds of this attraction, especially in the kinds of clothes and fashion accessories on sale.  One or two such cues are anything but subtle however, such as the HUGE decommissioned commercial jet plane in its bare aluminium skin standing on its proper landing gear around which there is a bar, forming a central motif to the whole place.   There’s also a similarly ‘past its former glory’ level helicopter artistically placed to catch your eye amongst a whole slew of old radial aircraft engines, now serving roles of form rather than function.

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The heat being the problem that it always is in Bangkok means that this venue doesn’t typically open until about 4pm on through to 11pm (ish) and so was always intended to be a cooler, late afternoon through sunset and on till dark kind of affair. Another big help is the larger mist spraying cooling fans everywhere, although photographers would do well to be prepared to cover up their gear when walking through some of these misty spray zones.

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It is quiet on the earlier weekdays (currently closed on Mondays I think) but also cheaper. That means that it’s 20 baht per head as opposed to the usual 40 baht on Fridays and through the weekend peak times. If you want to see and take photos of lots of hip looking young people, the weekend is definitely your best bet. At these times there are often live artists painting and bands performing, trip hop and ambient music being pumped around the place etc. It’s generally quite pleasant. The quieter days like a Tuesday or Wednesday are great for getting nice clear shots of the place itself though, with less people in the way. I would base my day to visit therefore around what I was really looking to shoot.

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All in all, it’s a pretty cool place and there’s more than enough there to justify going there more than once, especially for photographic purposes. If you are already in the city, most taxi drivers will have heard of it by now, if not just ask for ‘Pinklao’ and then get local directions when you are in that area. It’s on the main Sirinthorn Road that you have to take west from the city to get to the main Southern bus terminal so it’s not going off the beaten path at all. If you are central or Eastern Bangkok, you could even just save hassles and ride the BTS sky train all the way out to the Bang Wa terminal at Ratchapreuk and then get a taxi going that way from there, they will likely know it.

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For more specific detail, here is the website and map info link:

http://www.changchuibangkok.com/

Even more photos below, enjoy!

CCP

 

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Places to Shoot in Bangkok: Part 2 Wat Arun

Greetings to all Chromacoma brethren,

As hard as it is to believe, we now found ourselves in September.  The year is truly whizzing by and I am reminded once again that life moves pretty fast (at least that what Ferris Bueller always told me when I was a younger).  So, I have sat down today in earnest to add another chapter in the guide with specifics about a photogenic Bangkok spot that might take your fancy.

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‘Wat Arun’ loosely translates to mean ‘temple dawn’ and so is often paraphrased into more elaborate and grandiose English translations along such lines as ‘Temple of The Morning Dawn’ etc.

I find that the longer you live here, the more tiresome and trite these standard tourist translations become but whatever floats your boat.

Speaking of boats, one suspects that on a photographic jaunt to shoot Wat Arun, you might well be needing one so let’s get down to the nitty gritty. This temple is actually on the opposite side of the river to where more than 90% of tourists to Bangkok are likely to be. This isn’t entirely a bad thing however as it gives you the opportunity to shoot it from afar with the Chao Phraya river in the foreground, as is the case for most shots of this place that you’ll find anywhere on the net.

To be specific, Wat Arun is over on the Nonthaburi (west side) of the river Chao Praya, and right up against the river. It is in what locals would probably refer to as ‘Bangkok Noi’ and can be accessed from the ‘Arun Amarin’ road there. Any taxi (even a bad one) will eventually pretty much have to take you to that road eventually to get there. However, land access to the temple is not your best bet, photographically speaking. I would recommend that you shoot it from the river side. In doing this, I would then go further and suggest that you choose one of the following: from the opposite side of the river with a long or wide lens (depending on your desired result but longer glass and tripod might work out okay here) or from a boat on the way past.

 In the case of the latter, you can either charter a private boat (difficult not to get fleeced when trying to find a private long tail boat hire charter in Bangkok city limits at touristy spots, at least you could also double up though and get the guy to take you out for a few hours along small waterways all around West Bangkok for maximum Nat-Geographic shot potential!) or simply plan to be on public access boats on the river and shoot as you go past. To be perfectly clear,  the standard express boats all actually stop direct at Wat Arun also but you get a good shooting opportunity of it just as you arrive ordepart on the boat and it depends on chance as to who or what is in your way. The shot at the top of this post was taken just as the boat was leaving on its way northbound to the next stop. You would need to be on the left (should be portside right?) of the boat coming up from Saphan Taksin BTS station (Sathorn) public pier and on the right (starboard it is then) if you were coming down from the North, basically anywhere much north of Khao San road or Thewet area.

 As a general rule of thumb, the easiest tourist option is to take the BTS to Saphan Taksin and then follow the signs down the very short walk to get on at the Sathorn pier heading north. Any orange flag boat going north for a few baht per head will get you going to (and/or past) Wat Arun and it will appear about 25 minutes into the journey (left/port) depending on the time of day, so you have plenty of time to hustle yourself into a spare ‘window’ seat on that side of the boat (there actually are no windows so it’s great for shooting. It’s almost directly opposite the famous ‘Wat Pho’ at around about pier 8. If it’s raining hard all bets are off as they will lower clear plastic sheeting over the open sides of the boat making photography a no-go anyway. This can get you in some really nice spots to shoot it as you go by. You could also get the larger (often double-decker) tourist boat that leaves from there and get the same result, there are likely to be more people with cameras looking to get good spots to shoot from on those boats however.

So back to the opposite river bank options then:  Close to (and around)  the Tha Tien pier is the area facing Wat Arun on the Bangkok side of the river. Here there is a plethora of small bars and cafes/restaurants that pay a premium to run their businesses here for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful adjacent view of one of Thailand’s most beautiful temples. Many people are simply happy to just shoot from here. If you do choose this option then you might want to be aware of the thing that other people never seem to point out on the net, the sun will behind the temple as you look at it from this (Bangkok) side of the river. Likewise, the sun rises over the city in the morning, not from behind the temple. This information is not always clearly pointed out on touristy guides as it’s perhaps not as relevant to them as it would be for those specifically heading there with a view to taking pictures!

If you would prefer to get up close and personal with the temple itself, that is quite understandable. You can get the direct ferry over the river from pier 8 for just a few baht, quite literally (I think it’s less than five baht each per person, each way). For tourists, and depending on a number of very Thai variables, you will probably have to pay around 100 baht to be allowed into the grounds themselves. Be advised that you will not be allowed in if you are showing too much flesh and so covering up shoulders and legs is a must. No shorts or vests etc will be allowed in and this applies to men and women equally. If you really struggle, there are often places renting out simple items of clothing to cover you up a little more but it’s best to simply dress appropriately from the outset. Also, please bear in mind that it is a significant location for Thai Buddhists and has the status of a fully-fledged holy place for them so you should always behave respectfully at all times when at the temple, and also in the beautiful garden grounds there.  It is often quoted that the opening times are from 8:30 am to 5:30pm but in practice I have often found that it actually stays open until 6pm.  It’s more of a walk around the outside looking in kind of temple rather than a go inside for a peek kind of place. Not a problem for photographers of course.

If you are going in this close, I would suggest adjusting your equipment accordingly and certainly be equipped with something quite wide in the lens department. Although the temple looks only medium sized from afar, it is certainly a large subject once you are over that side of the river and in its midst.

The temple itself is actually quite different in terms of both design and colours when compared to other Thai temples. It is from the 18th century and is quite an exception to the ‘seen one Thai temple and you’ve seen them all’ rule and I highly recommend it if you’ve never been before. It’s beautiful early in the morning (given the name, not really hard to guess why) but it also looks pretty darned amazing at night as it is well illuminated. In the monsoon season, if the afternoon rains have subsided before sunset, then the colours of the night sky on the run up to sunset can be a truly stunning and ethereal palette for your temple shot background. Long exposure gifts aplenty for the patient. Basically, go early or go late as the harsh overhead Thai sun of midday doesn’t always make for great photos, and the heat outside will test you…unless it’s an overcast day of course. For the morning shooters, you will also get the benefit of it being quieter, the crowds can really swell later on during the high season, consider yourself duly warned.

All in all, with a little bit of planning and a modicum of luck, you should do very well at Wat Arun.

CCP

Places to Shoot in Bangkok Part 1: Baiyoke Schmaiyoke

I thought it might be good to go into some detail of specific shooting locations in and around Bangkok, starting here with August’s entry to the blog.  Just in case it causes confusion for any regular readers, these will be posted here as separate monthly blog entries AND also added to the bottom of the seemingly ever popular ‘Ultimate Guide’ (click the tab header at the top of this page).

I thought that a good way to start this little series might be by addressing the elephant in the room, the Baiyoke Tower. It’s actually the Baiyoke Tower II as the original is a slightly smaller building nearby but for all intents and purposes, when you say ‘Baiyoke Tower’ or ‘Duk Baiyok’(in appalling phonetically spelled out English/Thai), people in Bangkok think of this:

It was up until very recently, clearly the tallest building in Bangkok, and by quite some margin. It still towers way above all of the other buildings anywhere in the immediate area. It was also for a long time the holder of one of those Guinness Book of World Records titles, but only on a sort of technicality. It was sort of true to say that it used to be the world’s tallest hotel but this statement needs a disclaimer; the tallest hotel building that is only 100% a dedicated hotel. There are certainly always hotel rooms around the world located within other, taller buildings but these buildings may not be dedicated hotels in their own right. On those grounds, the Baiyoke II was able to hold this claim to fame for quite a while. In fact, if you believe the blurb on site, it apparently still holds the records but this is patently false. There are now several dedicated 100% hotel buildings that are taller and newer in the Middle-East but of course this would be a huge hit to the selling point of the Baiyoke tower.  Even now you will see the old (now false) claims emblazoned all over the place when you visit, not unsurprisingly nobody seems in any great rush to update the posters and ‘fess up to the truth that they are currently hovering around 7th place at best!

The Baiyoke Tower is accessed via Pratunam, a generally busy (and sometimes a tad shady) market area mostly famous for wholesale cheap clothing including all the usual knock-off suspects. It’s not directly on the skytrain but any motorcycle, tuk-tuk or taxi driver will take you straight there in a flash. You’ll see lots of central Asians and Africans milling around the area as well as all kinds of Thais looking to sell you visits to erotic massage parlours and illegal drugs.

The main reason I am starting this series with mention of this place is actually because it is potentially something of an anti-climax from a photographic point of view and I have had so many people writing in to ask me about it that I decided to just do a post about it for general future reference instead.

I first shot from there back in the mid 90’s with a cheap (but very faithful) old entry level Nikon film SLR, a tripod that would snap if you sneezed anywhere near it and a budget Tamron zoom lens (I know my blog has more than its fair share of elitist and expensive camera kit snobbery but in the past I have also spent many a year using cheaper, humble kit quite happily!). The conclusions that I drew way back then are still basically my view of this location now, it’s nice to go once (and there are some chances to strike gold) but for shooting it’s not always that great. Here’s why:

Firstly, at the very top, it’s too far above the horizon line of the city for the nice shots that you imagined you might get. It’s not impossible, there’s some nice stuff out there on the net that you can find from people, but it’s not nearly as good as you think it’s gonna be. Secondly, the open viewing platform at the very top has a lot of wire fencing in the way obscuring a lot of your view. This is made worse by the fact that this deck is also basically quite a crude metal platform which rotates you around as you stand still (sometimes this breaks down, depends on the day). The rotation is certainly not that finely engineered, not at all smooth and this is a real pain when you consider that you might well need to be using a tripod on top of it. There will also be lots of people up there moving around that you will have to work around in terms of framing your shots and if it’s really busy this can be a nightmare. Added to this bundle of photographic ‘no-go’ joy is the fact that the winds at such an altitude are also really liable to be strong and mess up camera stability. As if that wasn’t enough, you really need an unusually clear Bangkok weather day for it to work at all, and that isn’t always guaranteed, not to mention the bright smog pollution effect sometimes  raining on your parade. One thing that can work up there (if you have all your ducks in a row) is if you can get a camera locked pointing down at a nice angle and then then shoot off a long series of frames for digital editing into a 180 (or even full 360) panorama with some kind of stitching tool. I have done this myself with reasonable success a long time ago. Long exposure, blur effects and other high altitude arty shots are also a possibility.

Okay, so is there anything else we can salvage from this train wreck?  Any other possibilities?

Well, maybe. Before you ascend to the outside, uppermost rotating platform, you will have had to climb up a couple of sets of stairs from the highest of the indoor observation floors.  This allows you all the Bangkok vista that you could ever wish for but from a solid, fixed footing with no problems of wind, weather or movement.  However, as with everything else in life there is a trade-off: It comes in the form of the very thick safety glass windows that you will see the world through up there. There are possibilities to shoot through the glass without too much of a glare debacle but it’s not always easy to do if you want decent image IQ. Sure, there will be masses of people quite happy with how these shots look on their smartphones up there but for dedicated photographers looking for high quality images, this just won’t be good enough. There are coin operated telescopes all around up here at the best spots so anybody using one of those nearby in light-coloured clothing will probably end up reflected into your shot. You might do well with some kind of lens hood that you can actually press up to the window, literally touching it on the glass as you set a camera up for a shot on a tripod and countdown the shutter using a timer-enhanced, minimal movement exposure.

Other options might be to come to the Baiyoke Tower (on the indoor floors again maybe?) before sunset and shoot from there without all the horrible direct overhead light, it’s much more likely to offer some beautiful shots (IF you get the weather right, some of the best sunsets can be towards the end of the year as the rains give way to the cooler season with ethereal colours abound). This can be a real ‘two for one’ kind of deal as if you don’t get lucky with the second half of the photographic golden hour as the sun goes down, you are then in for a treat with what is perhaps the only side of the Baiyoke Tower experience that I think is actually worth going there for as a photographer….NIGHT EXPOSURES!

Looking down at a smorgasbord of Bangkok lights and cityscape with all its traffic at night is actually pretty awesome by anybody’s standards. This is a time when you can get some real joy. There is still the problem of (night) reflections from the glass there though but by using a hood and tripod and shooting when there is nobody near you, a patient shooter can get some really good results. In the digital age, when everybody and his dog can shoot long exposures and simply chimp off a screen to see if they like what they got or not (not hating, but it’s a lot easier nowadays!), there are a lot more people up there shooting than there used to be. Back in the film days, long night time exposures required at least a modicum of decent photographic technique and knowledge combined with a bit of maths and some luck. There hardly used to be anybody up there at night with a camera. After a lot of searching I found this very modest effort of mine that I shot with the aforementioned (very) low budget Nikon film SLR and cheapo zoom and tripod 22 years ago. I don’t seem to have the original negs anymore so this already mediocre shot is not helped in its presentation here on this site by beinga scan of the actual printed photograph (circa mid 90’s). Although it's not anything to be that proud of, it was hard to earn and a lesser seen kind of shot back in its day! It gives you an idea and at least shows that people have been doing this for a while. Would still be fun to get up there at night nowadays with a film camera and some high ISO film to see what could be done, I'm sure.

Of course, as with everything else in the perpetual building site that is modern Bangkok, even this part of the city has now changed beyond recognition, this is actually looking down onto the old ‘World Trade Centre’ (now known as ‘Central World’).

I don’t know the exact costs off hand nowadays to go up the Baiyoke Tower as the price might vary from year to year and various seasons. It’s not too much, a few hundred baht at the most. There’s also a large buffet restaurant up there close to the top but although it was once a reasonably okay affair, I ate there again two or three years ago and it had definitely slipped down from ‘quite passable’ to ‘blatantly sub-par’ even by Bangkok two/ three star standards (oooh what a snob).

You generally need to take two lifts, the first one will get you up to a large and very noisy reception kind of floor where you then have to decide if you want to pay 'the full monty' to go up to the upper floors or not and the tickets are issued there. You are then fed into a line that leads to the other lifts that go up about another eighty floors or so. It’s quite the fast run up and you can sometimes even feel your ears pop as you go. For cheapskates, be aware that at certain times of the day (very late afternoon to be more specific), one really can get some very solid cityscape sunset opportunities just from the lower reception floor alone as it is already quite high up and has some huge windows and vistas on offer. That’s assuming you can get any peace or quiet from the tourist groups, in fact whilst I am on that subject…

Please be warned that, as with lots of touristy spots in Bangkok in recent years, this place has the tendency to be overrun by busloads of mainland Chinese tourists who might have a different idea about how to behave in public than a Westerner might. The tour leader (often a Chinese speaking Thai but sometimes a Chinese national working illegally as foreigners are prohibited from tour guide work in Thailand) will often simply either not be willing, ready or able to reign them in either and it can be quitea shock. Lots of shouting very loudly just for the purposes of a ‘normal’ conversation, pushing, shoving (even some spitting on the floor indoors when I last went) and general lack of respect for basic decorum in a public place can really put a downer on things. I wish I could put a more positive spin on that but it is difficult, I am trying not to judge but that was honestly my impression of the situation, maybe it's better at other times and I just got unlucky.... sorry if anybody disagrees or is offended.

The whole feel of the Baiyoke Tower is as with much of the Bangkok constructions of that era (80’s and very early 90’s), it’s generally a bit of a run down, old ‘former glory’ vibe that looks like they might have to close it soon, but yet it still somehow keeps crawling along year after year just fine. I know about the theory of too big to fail but what about too tall to fail? To be fair, I’ve never actually stayed in it as a hotel. I doubt it would be that impressive though.

So...I'm sorry if the first installment of places to shoot reads more like a place to not shoot (I really must split my infinitives more often, to hell with grammatical convention) but it’s just somewhere that I thought really warranted dealing with before I look elsewhere. Consider this case closed.

CCP

I'm Lucky to Have This...

One of my most prized photographic possessions is (in an unusual departure from the often vintage material objects spread out on the Chromcoma nightstand) a brand new photographic book which I only recently obtained. It’s not a super rare book, its price is not dirt cheap but neither is it prohibitively expensive. Its pages contain photos that can often be found for free with a quick internet image search and yet to me, it’s a really, truly precious item.

In the world of true black and white photography masters, we might struggle to name a single all-time greatest. The ‘best of’ shortlist debate here could go on ad infinitum but in an attempt to cut to the chase might I humbly suggest a brief caveat of separating would be candidates into two simple, distinct and unarguable categories:  Those still breathing and those that have left us to wash, dev and fix their frames of silver halide amidst the big darkroom in the sky. Assuming one can accept those terms, I would like to only discuss my pick for the former category in today’s post. For me, without question, the best black and white master photographer alive today simply has to be none other than the great Sebastiao Salgado.

I have had the chance to check out the work of many truly legendary photographers, I wouldn’t say my experiences are encompassing all of the true living greats but of those I admire the most, I have been lucky enough to attend their exhibitions and see first-hand what such work looks like up close and personal.

About three years ago, I had a trip to London and one of my absolute non-negotiable to do items was a visit to The Photographers Gallery in the West End to see Salgado’s breathtaking ‘Other Americas’. It was quite a life-changing experience to witness such work in the flesh.  I have never seen any other such work which had quite that effect on me, one that remains until this day. When I think of the artist’s great body of work, I tend to think of this late seventies and early eighties film stuff before anything else. I still sometimes wonder if I shouldn’t have raided the piggyback to have tried to scrape together enough to have bought one of the cheaper (a relative term in this case) original prints on sale there that summer (started at around 4,500 British Pounds as I recall!).

I suspect other fans might disagree with me, perhaps they might think of his equally impressive later projects such as ‘Workers’ or ‘Migrations’ but for me it has always been about his Central and Southern American subject matter that came first. I see it as his magnum opus in many respects.

Yet the book I have here in my possession is actually nothing to do with any of the above, it is in fact an area of his work that I had looked at the least. I feel that I may have been more than annoying enough with the dangling participles now so let’s spell it out. The book in question is the project ‘Genesis’ and is the culmination of Sebastiao’s blood, sweat and tears throughout the noughties. The work is primarily concerned with nature, animals and indigenous people.  Its geographic range is huge, featuring places quite literally all over the earth. As I am not a huge fan of animal photography and natural themes in general, it was never that high on my list of wants. That all changed a while back… I would even go as far as to say that outside of Ansel Adams, you haven’t seen what black and white photography of nature looks like until you’ve seen this. A bold statement, I know.

During Mr. Salgado’s recent trip and exhibition here in Bangkok, Thailand, I was truly honoured to be given a gift from the artist to me. A lovely black fabric bag containing a glorious mint copy of ‘Genesis’ which he was good enough to personally sign and dedicate with a message to me.  I am still pinching myself every time I look at this work and think of it coming to me from my own favourite black and white photographer. It honestly gives me goose bumps. Such a kind and generous act from him towards me, a complete stranger, shows his personal self to be just as classy as his lens work.

I shall not attempt to review the book or its images here, a million words could never do it justice. Suffice to say that this is now one of my most prized photography related possessions and I shall both enjoy and treasure it dearly for the rest of my life.

Muito obrigado Sebastiao!

CCP

Everyday Carry?

EDC camera? Take it with you everywhere you go, every single day or just for when you feel like shooting?

In the depths of the web in recent years, the term ‘EDC’ has triggered schemata and imagery of emergency mini lock knives, bracelets made of parachutist ‘survival’ cord and bottle openers that can smash car windows and cut their way through seatbelts in an accident. If I may be so bold as to steer the connotations away from that kind of ‘Everyday Carry’ and direct the term towards more photographic pursuits, I should like to pose this simple question:

Should you carry your camera with you, ready to shoot, everywhere you go OR is a camera something that you should only take with you specifically when you want to shoot it, when you feel that it is a good time to do so?

Although I always had a certain kind of jealousy towards the people who had the self-discipline to force themselves into the burden of never leaving home without their camera, I must confess to never being quite bothered by it enough to actually change my ways.

Towards the end of last year, I resolved to do something about this, purely as an experiment. I forced myself to never leave my abode without my camera. At the time, it happened to be a Leica M2 but it doesn’t really matter which camera it is, the best one is the one you have with you right? I had to adjust to checking the camera was on my mental checklist upon walking out the door…keys? Check… Phone? Check…Old film camera with a roll of 400 film in it ready to go? Check!

In the case of an old manual camera with no meter and manual focus lenses, this meant that just taking the thing with me was only the start. I also had to get into the habit of having the lens pre-set to a manual zone focus length that I had memorized off by heart and quickly adjust the exposure every time I changed my environment for any period of time.

When I jumped into the car on a bright Bangkok day, I had to have the right exposure set and rely on film’s great exposure latitude to make up for any errors that I might have made. When I went into a building such as a mall with indoor lighting, I would twiddle the dials here and there one more time, safe in the knowledge that if anything happened in front of me unexpectedly, I would be ready to catch it on film forever. It was a faff, but I got used to it quite quickly.

The payoff that I was looking for was catching more shots, more often and getting more photographic bang for my buck from the great equipment that I already owned. It’s good to have a nice working condition camera that you love, but one that already has a few scratches here and there to relieve you of the worry of having to be too precious with the bloody thing, more tool than jewel.

I must admit, although it sometimes seemed like a huge pain in the ass, and although I often got some quizzical looks and random questions from people as to why I had a camera in my hand ready to go like a journalist even when sitting down for my lunch, it did yield some great moments on film. Gone were those ‘If I had my camera with me, that might be a good shot’ kind of moments and I was also surprised just how often those moments happened…almost daily in fact.

I learned that there is definitely some potential to forward one’s photography by being ‘that guy’ who carries a fully loaded and pre-set up camera with you everywhere you go.  The shot here of a random old London bus driving along a Bangkok back street was grabbed by myself from the back seat of a Motorbike going the other way and I only got to record this image by having the right camera set up correctly in my hand ready to go as soon as I saw it drive towards me. I love the bizarre and eclectic feel of the image and would never ordinarily have got it any other way. It’s not as though you see that in the Big Mango every day.

The lady pulling the funny face looking out of the bus window at the world was a strange moment. I had seen her and didn’t fancy my chances of getting the shot in time before she moved but the camera was right there on my front passenger seat, I was sat at the traffic lights on red. As it transpired,  I even managed to get my driver’s side window down, mentally double check everything about the exposure setting and look I wanted from the shot and still capture her just as she was in the moment(completely oblivious to me sitting so close up to her in an adjacent vehicle).  Time froze just enough  for me in a way that is so rare when doing candid public photography of others.

I think I am going to try and continue this practice for the rest of the year.

So, are you an EDC kind of photographer or is lugging your rig everywhere 24/7 just too much of a pain for you to deal with? And also I suppose, are you fine with that?

CCP

I was featured on Japan Camera Hunter

I was pleasantly surprised to find that some of my older work was recently featured on the well-known and much respected http://www.japancamerahunter.com website ( based in , you guessed it, Japan).

Bellamy Hunt is the British expat behind the website and he is a pretty well-known guy in the world of film cameras and sales. His fantastic site is primarily used for his business whereby he personally goes out and sniffs out any specific second hand film camera that you may be hankering for from Japan’s incredible second hand market. He then carefully packs and ships it you anywhere in the world for a modest fee. He’s been at this lark for quite some time now and seems to have earned himself a stellar reputation as one of the premier go-to guys in this line of work and locale. You can see him in action on various youtube clips here and there. The bloke knows his stuff.

His website also has no end of useful accessories for the film shooter and even has a film product that Bellamy himself had input with and has been currently presented under the branding of‘JCH Streetpan’ films. By all means, I highly recommend checking his site out to the fullest. I’m grateful to Bellamy for featuring me and my work.

Said work on JCH from this website can be seen along with a brief supporting essay here, appearing a little differently from how it normally looks (not in a bad way):

http://www.japancamerahunter.com/2017/04/get-featured-chroma/

CCP

Let me take you by the hand and lead you through the streets of Leica...

A Guide to Buying a classic Leica M Film Camera:  Part 1 ‘The Leica M3’

In recent times, I have enjoyed sharing information as to where to find good places in Thailand for the procurement of film cameras, lenses, films and service etc. Amazingly for something written by myself, it appears that this information has actually been of genuine use to people and I feel more than happy to have helped. Off the back of this minor success however, has another series of enquires arrived at my door. Specifically, ‘Which Leica M should I buy?’ This question is not always the easiest to answer. I have made several attempts at giving people the shorthand answer based around my (purely subjective) real world user recommendations yet this invariably leads to another fifteen questions. Having duly answered these questions many times for many different people, I have slowly been compiling a list of points made in all such correspondence for inclusion in my version of a Leica M film body buyer’s guide. I say ‘my version’ as this is hardly an impossible thing to find elsewhere on the internet. Lots of people have covered the subject in different ways, I don’t always agree with some things that I’ve seen around the place however and so I simply wish to provide my take on it. This assumes that you have at least heard of some of the Leica M film body models and are debating adding one to a shortlist or similar such situation. There are several exhaustive true anorak encyclopedia type books out there and they are quite well known. You can look them up on Amazon books and go from there if you need that level of detail. If you are serious about the marque, any such volume makes for a nice reference to have at home anyway. I shall try to not steal the images of others here and actually show pictures of Leica M’s that I either own or have owned in the past for the purposes of this guide. It will also have to be written in serial form as a ‘one-shot’ post would be a weighty tome and possibly become convoluted. Also, I am not aiming to produce highly technical and heavily spec centered writing on the subject, rather share my feelings on the different models by combining actual personal experience with a nod to noteworthy features and provenance.

 Leica M3

 And on the sixth day, God made the Leica M3.   In ’53, the Leica M3 was introduced and it soon took the photographic world by storm.  It wasn’t just a new camera, it brought along a whole standard for all 35mm film cameras that elevated the already very high benchmark that Leica had established to a ridiculous new level.  To borrow from the parlance of the modern corporate world (and as much as I hate this trite chunk of language), it really was ‘a game changer’. It went on to be the most popular (getting on for a quarter of a million were made and easily sold) of all the Leica M classic range.  It introduced the quick change M bayonet mount which superseded the LTM mount (whilst still allowing the older lenses to be used without too much hassle on the new ‘M’ 3), showcased three new bright line frames (50,90 and 135mm, hence the number in the name M ’3’) into an equally new and incredibly clear finder and facilitated more accurate focusing than ever before by virtue of a longer effective base length. It is still arguably the best Leica M finder to date with which to fine tune focusing using a 50mm or 90mm lens.

Speaking of the finder, when you peeked into it you couldn’t help but notice that it also came resplendent with other party tricks such as automatically changing frame lines for the first time. The camera ‘knew’ what lens the user was mounting to it and would respond in kind with the appropriate silver squares of gratitude magicallyappearing in the viewfinder waiting for your viewing pleasure. These frame lines also featured a reasonable degree of accurate parallax correction which required less guesstimation on the part of the photographer than earlier cameras. But perhaps the real magnum opus of the M3 was how focusing inside this new window on the world was to be achieved. It was done for the first time by Leica through the overlapping of two images, sometimes referred to as ‘coincidental’ images. When the two overlapped in the finder to make a single sharp image, focus was then considered optimal and an image could be taken.    

Film was advanced by a single lever, in earlier M3 models it required two strokes of said lever to advance one frame of film onwards and cock the shutter. These earlier M’s are known as ‘DS’ on account of this double-stroking operation. Internet folklore has it that the original designers and engineers feared that a single long stroke might exert too great a degree of torque onto the film itself, risking tears. Whether this is true or not is not clear to me however it sounds appropriately Germanic, logical and in keeping with Leica manufacturing brilliance of the epoch so I choose to not go any further down this rabbit hole. What is not in debate however is that Leica chose to change the design later on during the M3’s production life to be a newer, one pull affair nowadays known as a Leica M3 single stroke or ‘SS’ (not the kind to kick down your door wearing jackboots and brandishing a Luger).  I’ll return to early vs. late model differences in due course.

The single film advance lever wasn’t the only all-in-one control input on this camera either. For the first time, Leica had now managed to have all shutter speeds(from B to 1/1000th of a second) on a single, solitary dial atop the M3’s magnificent brass rampart. A huge step up from the earlier Leica cameras and their multiple shutter speed dials.

Film loading in most of the older classic M’s follows the M3 original design of using a Leica take up spool or cartridge. The first couple of times you use one, it doesn’t seem all that intuitive and you might need to refer to the excellent diagram included on the base of the camera (with the bottom removed), but with regular use you can soon see how very efficient and dependable a design it is. There are some natty little touches such as the inclusion of an arrow holed pattern that shows you exactly how far in you have locked your film leader in place. It also allowed Leica to introduce the opening back door/flap which made loading film an easier affair than with any of the screw mount Barnack Leica cameras up until the came along. Even today, this often seems structurally better than a large open swinging open rear door such as later became typical in the design of film SLR’s in the decades that were to follow. The Leica rear door still tucked back into the bottom plate when it was firmly reattached to the camera and the structural integrity remained. It all closed back up to be one solid feeling Germanic brick of photographic goodness in its owner’s hands.

Speaking of the film spool cartridge, when it was removed from the M3, a brilliantly designed film counter which was embedded nicely into the solid brass top plate to the right of the film advance lever pivot point, automatically pinged its way back to minus two frames. Once you reloaded a film and wound on the first two blanks, it was right there for you at zero and ready to tag along for another ride. The counter was placed under a bubbled, lens-like window which aided magnification in much the same way as a ‘Cyclops’ date window does on a Rolex datejust. Sheer brilliance.

The M3 also had a mechanical self-timer lever and so, although people under 25 today might find it hard to fathom, people were happily taking selfies with their carry everywhere daily cameras just fine back in ’53, imagine that? Next to this timer lever (and a well thought out safety measure it was indeed) was a guarded lens release button, like a little metal semi-circular fence that protected the lens dismount button with aplomb. It was later omitted in further M’s but is an easy way to identify an M3.

The serial numbering system for Leica is, as one would expect if one has read this far, very logical and efficient. The M3 started its earliest runs down in the low 700k range and went on to just over the 1 million mark. Collectors like the one million plus serial numbers so they are not always good value buys for actually taking photographs with. The logic behind this seems to stem from the idea that after they had been produced for that long, the production team would have been even more experienced and able to churn them out to a higher standard. I personally find this to be a likely example of an old wives’ tale and I know a few old hand camera repair people who seem to support this. Some say the early shutters were not as good, I have no real empirical research data to disprove this, but I have not seen much other than subjective opinion (yes I know, just like mine) to support it either. One could just as easily put forth an argument that the housewives of Wetzlar in 1959 (employed in the factory) might have been so sick to death of assembling M3’s by this point that they were just slapping them together willy-nilly as they discussed what would have happened if they’d won the war. No more ridiculous a notion.  However, the serial numbers do offer some advantages in terms of what you get as standard with your M3. Generally speaking, around the mid 50’s and the late 700k range, the now famous frame line preview selector lens lever (AKA the ‘what would this look like through a 90mm lens that I haven’t even got with me right now’ lever) was added. At the 900k plus mark, or thereabouts, the old double stroke design gave way to the later single stroke model. Be advised however, that lots of older double stroke cameras were retrofitted to be singles by Leica (and third party repair people) so serial numbers and film advance repetitions don’t always jive together as you might think, different strokes for different folks. Also around this time, two little cutout tabs appeared on top and under the main RF patch image in the centre of the finder window. These were carried over to the M2. They could be used for ascertaining depth of field when using a nifty fifty when the lens was approximately half open or stopped right down. The very early M3’s had shutter speeds expressed in a different (some might say more logical) way from commonly seen now, these fractions of speed might be puzzling at first. These are sometimes referred to as ‘scientific shutter speed’ dials and can be good or bad depending on how cool you might think they are. In practice, using 1 /50th when I was actually looking for the 1/60th mark on the dial has never really caused me any problems but some people don’t like it.

Nearly all M3’s ever produced are in the silver chrome looking scheme. A rare smaller quantity were in black but frankly, Leica black paint of the time was actually (and very unusually for such a gang of perfectionists) a bit crap. It soon wore off and the brass colour of the top and bottom plates showed through on high wear spots and edges, cue Cyndi Lauper. These are the so called ‘brassed’ bodies and like lots of other things in life that make no sense, these imperfect and soon discontinued bodies are now the ones worth big bucks. So big in fact that the fakers have long since moved in (sometimes with surprisingly accurate looking unofficially repainted Leicas) and this means that buying a ‘genuine’ black paint classic Leica M from the 50’s through to the early 70’s takes a large bank balance and significant testicular fortitude, especially off Ebay from a seller with single digit feedback who is happy to contact you by email and suggest that you ‘save on PayPal fees’. It’s like the anti-Henry Ford “Any Colour you like, as long as it’s not black”. That’s kind of why lots of people then want one of course, hence repainting to use rather than to defraud. In fact, it must be stated that repaints are not all bad, bad, bad (indeed…a cynic might have already passed comment on the colour of the M3 camera in this post!). A good modern repaint of an old brass Leica can actually be a truly wonderful thing as long as the workmanship is first class (there aren’t that many people or companies famous for doing it to a high standard and many of the ones that do have long waiting lists and might be in faraway lands) and nobody is trying to pass it off as Leica factory original to anyone else. The rare colour stakes were elevated to an even more insane level with the military green M3’s, usually known as ‘olive paint’ bodies. The black ones can be sold to buy you a nice used (but late model)  premium luxury car, the green ones can be used as a significant chunk of a condo! In watch terms, the green M3 is to rangefinder cameras what a 5517 British Royal Marines ‘Milsub’ is to Rolex. You’ve either got one in the attic or your late father’s dresser, or you haven’t. We can but dream. Or as they used to say on Antiques Roadshow, ‘Well, really we were just after some information about the history of the piece, how much you say?! Oh really…mmm….but we could never sell it….’ Yeah, right.

So, why the M3 over the others? Many simply say that it was the first; the best and that subsequent models have never managed to significantly improve upon it. It represents a true zenith of design and engineering from a time and place that was already setting the bar as high as could be in such a field. It’s a true cult classic and a gift that keeps on giving. It might actually outlive you which also means that you might never need to replace it (CLA and repair yes, replace? Probably not).

 A word to the wise though, it is not necessarily a perfect fit for everyone. In the era in which it was designed, 50mm was very much the standard lens and this was reflected (or rather it wasn’t) in the lack of internal 35mm frame lines. Hence if you were a wide shooter, you were almost SOL. Luckily, those clever people in Wetzlar soon sought to address this Achilles heel and many wider lenses were produced with a special optical external accessory, most often referred to nowadays as ‘goggles’ attachment lenses. The correct term is perhaps more likely to be ‘M3 version lens’ for the sake of accuracy. These lenses have a slightly bulkier (and a tad heavier) construction and the use clever optics and mechanics to allow the 35mm frame lines the ability to ‘magically’ appear in a reduced width, which just fits snugly inside the standard 50mm frame line set. This is handy as the M3 then became a 35mm lens camera just as many photojournalists slowly changed towards using‘thirty-fives as the new normal’, if you’ll excuse the snowclone butchery. This also allowed one to see more outside of the frame (and more easily) than with a normal 35mm frame line set in later M’s. This jived well with the 'see it take place outside the frame before you catch it within rangefinder' advantage that people still pay lip service to today. It also meant that those shooters who wore glasses could now use a 35mm inside a Leica viewfinder more easily, although doing so introduced them to the slight drawback that any classic early brass M metal diopter circle would ‘do a number’ on their right side glasses lens, with more scratches than Afrika Bambataa on a hot Bronx night. Despite what you might think, the goggled lenses are not a dead-end street should you commit to purchasing them for a Leica M3 and later wish to use them on other M bodies. They work just as well on other M’s (even modern digital ones!) and offer the same aforementioned advantages in such cases as well. They add a little size and weight (but really, I find it a moot point) and the difference cosmetically is a real opinion splitter. Probably the majority of people hate them on an M, I personally waiver between ambivalence and adoration, depending on the exact combo in question. As such, the best news for people wanting and using  these lenses nowadays is that despite costing more than the non-goggled (read: non M3) versions when new, they are now typically cheaper, depending on your exact locale and market forces there. Colour me happy (even though I’m really a black and white guy). The flash is also a weird one, they are unusual in having their own non-standard kind of flash connection terminal, and it won’t connect to the normal PC cord without third party adapters. I have never been concerned by this as I see the M as an available light body anyway, especially considering the fact that most of Leica’s lenses work very well wide open, at least compared to many other brands. That’s not to say that people haven’t used flash to great effect with M’s, they have but I'mjust not one of them.

Still, despite the quirks of the M3, if you are even remotely ‘bi-image curious’ :-J, you owe it to yourself to at least try one for a while. If you like rangefinders, you’ll probably fall in love. If you discover that you are just not an RF kind of shooter (and there’s honestly nothing wrong with that at all) then even the cream of the crop isn’t going to do that much for you anyway. Plus, it’s truly one of those rare things that you can usually buy and sell for the same, slightly less or slightly more than you paid for it. People say that about lots of things but so often, it just isn’t the case. With a Leica, they are always wanted and patient sellers of decent M3’s have nothing to fear.

Leica virgin, a touch for the very first time…

Enjoy

 CCP

Happy New Year 2017

Happy New Year to all followers of this blog and site! To kick the year off I have decided to keep a promise I made to myself a year ago and return to the 'Ultimate Photographer's Guide to Bangkok' article I wrote and add to it with an up to date yearly summary of new developments for photographers in Bangkok, with a special focus towards film shooters.

You will need to click on the banner at the top of this page and then scroll down to the very bottom for the latest updates. If you have never read the full article, I highly recommend you to do so, but it's a long read that is perhaps best attempted in parts or over a very large cup of coffee!

Wishing every one a happy and healthy year of photography for 2017...

CCP

Quality Street (photography, not chocolates)

Firstly, apologies to the non-British contingent of this readership who might find the title somewhat confusing. I found recently found myself down a series of different, yet related, Internet rabbit holes. I had several tabs open on several different windows at once and all but one of them were opened to photographs that were variously agreed upon by the creators and curators of those pages as belonging to a genre known as ‘street photography’. The exact defines of this genre have certainly become blurred over time, especially in terms of the past ten years or more. There’s so much of it out there, it’s hard to fathom at times.

 

Once was a time, pre-digital photography, when the term ‘street photography’ was pretty clear. Perhaps you might argue over semantics such as whether clearly it started around the time of Walker Evans or Brassai and you might also have some debate over who exactly belonged in this clique but, generally speaking, it was a well-known kind of work. On the whole it didn’t consist of photographs of actual streets, rather of the people who were to be found within street scenes, usually shot candidly in unposed situations.  Photographs of the public, in public places, with unusual twists that added something interesting to the shot. Typically these might be facial expressions, contrasting motifs or generally clever composition.

 

More photos are being taken than ever before, across all genres (none more ubiquitous than the selfie of course). Thus it stands to reason that the genre of street photography has swelled in terms of output in the world in contemporary times. Lots of finely set, unofficial (yet generally understood) membership criteria for different genres seem to have become blurred. In this context, it’s perhaps as though ‘street photography’ has become a catch-all umbrella term for anything shot in public, sometimes not even featuring human subjects in the frame. We might challenge this of course but in the classic street work of previous decades, the genre was like porn, you knew it when you saw it. Whereas now there’s a significant hunt through mediocrity that has to take place before you hit familiar pay dirt. It seems as if it’s almost harder to find ‘the good stuff’. Is this because although the gold nuggets might actually be greater in number than ever before, the amount of mud and rocks is equally great?

 

In street days of yore, were it not the case that the people who were most prolific had to have levels of self-motivation and patience that are less of a pre-requisite in today’s photographic status quo? The street work was just as difficult but the tools were much more basic and unforgiving. The films, the dev, the wait, the patience, the ‘pay-as-you-go’ significant expenses of the all film era. Did this drive allow for a better quality of street photography in the hands of a few who rose to become more highly skilled as practitioners of the genre? It seems a stretch doesn’t it? The grandmaster level of street work does still exist after all.

 

Yet, I wonder if whether the sheer new volume of work in any way cheapens the genre (as I have heard from others at times) or does it only aid in showing just how good the best classic stuff still is? Is it like a post First-World War German economy? The zwei million-mark banknote of the Weimar republic springs to mind, made in such staggering quantity that it no longer had any real value. I’m not being totally serious of course. Obviously I’m not so sure that I fully subscribe to the parallels between this economic theory and the photographic reality that we all now live in but I am sure of this much: 

 

To be good now means really good…

 

Thus, in terms of shooting street, we find ourselves in interesting times photographically. The sheer volume of work out there is harder to wade through than ever,  yet it might also be better able to influence a wider group of people.  It also stands to reason that nowadays, to be able to find oneself anywhere near the top of the ever-growing pile in terms of output, you have to try to be as good as the masters of yesteryear, and arguably perhaps…try to be even more so. Is that even possible? Or would that be like trying now to paint the Sistine Chapel all over again but somehow better than Michelangelo did it?  Is this perfection attainable? If it were, would it be worth having?  In the meantime, as we ponder this, we’ll just have to keep on trying.

 

As this year draws to a close, I’m thinking that just simply trying to be better next year than I was this or last year is perhaps all the goal I need.  This actually applies to shooting anything in my mind. ‘Street’ is only one photographic genre that interests me, both to shoot and in looking at the work of others. I know that Winogrand hated the term and in many ways I can see why. It’s probably good to avoid thinking of your photography in such a delineated manner anyway, it arguably doesn’t need to be so. As much as I like having set, clearly defined goals (and I was able to tick off a long list of them list year, both in terms of my photographic life and also in other areas), in photography… the narrowly defined target can sometimes become an obstacle to a greater good. Hopefully that greater good will be an improvement in terms of both quantity and quality of work that I hope to shoot out and about.  In a pinch though, I’m sure we’d probably all take the latter. The main thing is to enjoy it and to keep shooting, one day at a time, one frame at a time.

 

CCP