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):



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…



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...


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.



As I sit in Bangkok, looking at the work of Alex Webb, I weep...

I’m so glad that the world of photography has people like Alex Webb. Sure, he’s a Magnum photographer (whatever that even really means now that they have mutated into something different, I’m sure it’s still a bloody good thing though regardless) and it’s not hard to find jaw dropping photographic output and inspiration in that kind of company. Yet there’s something more than just excellent work in his portfolio. There’s just a mind numbing combination of tour de force art that inspires you to an almost drunken state before kicking you hard in the balls for even beginning to think you could achieve such work in your lifetime. It’s a familiar struggle for the all-aspiring artists of the world standing on the sidelines without any real flesh in the game. You want to be this good so very badly but you know deep down inside that this isn’t ever going to be a ‘hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard’ issue. It hurts but yet feels so good that there are humans in the world who can somehow pull it off and at least offer you some outside semblance of hope that it can be done:

Alex Webb HERE

Look now if you will, but be warned of the double-edged sword that is exposure to an artist of this calibre. You’ll need more than a few last rolls of your favourite film stock and a five-minute appointment with your regular early Sunday morning muse to get on this tip. The man is depressingly good. I see the same world he sees, I see it every day, I live in it too. I even live in a pretty vibrant and exotic country with much photographic potential. I can have the same camera and lens or even a better one than he has in my hand. I can study and practice photography every single day for decades but I just cannot see, REPEAT AFTER ME, cannot see in the way that he sees. Start with ‘The Suffering of Light”. Look at every one of those shots. The one taken in 1979 in the room with the three different coloured panes of glass (red, yellow and green), which I would guess, is probably on Kodachrome. Are you kidding me? So simple, the best ideas usually are right? I never get bored of this shot. That’s perhaps one my favourite all time shots from the venerable Mr. Webb. What about the Mexicans arrested coming over the border with the helicopter in the background? Who sees that? Who puts a frame like that together? It’s just so surreal and utterly dreamlike and it’s hard to believe that it ever actually happened anywhere on planet Earth. This is soooo pre-photoshop people. Think how good you would have to be even now to do this, then imagine doing it in the 70’s with kit of the era and on film with no screen to chimp at.

His oft repeated motifs of eyes in patterns and strong harsh sunlight picking out hot primary colours in the golden hour for clearly delineated foreground/background interplay is all deceptively simple looking.  The woman frozen backwards in mid air from the platform above the pool in Mexico. Such an often done freeze frame kind of pool dive shot but the way he has her, the smoke from the industrial chimney in the background, the colour palette to the piece, just so beautiful.

Another personal favourite of mine from this same series which really blows my mind is the shot from Haiti in 1987 with the truck blocked in the background by fires that protesters have lit. One of the protesters (or perhaps just a passer by on a BMX) is blurred and up close in the foreground but the background focus is on the top of the truck cab. It’s quite a famous shot of the era and I can’t imagine seeing and framing that on the fly, let alone making such a great and unusual choice in terms of focusing. It’s just such a genius frame, it really is. I love these guys like Webb and David Alan Harvey who can bring the colour back from the Caribbean and show it to us so warmly, I feel like I’m caught up in some kind of intoxicating spell when I see this work, as though it were cursed upon us and embedded into the roll of Kodachrome itself like a voodoo doll.

In ‘Under a Grudging Sun’ Webb really turns up the shadow play, especially of his human subjects. There’s an insanely good composition shot taken in Haiti in this series around 1987. It’s about an Army Day celebration. There’s a troop of soldiers marching away from us in the background and in the left hand side and the foreground we see a sharp right angle from a building and the almost completely underexposed yet clearly discernible outline of a flat cap middle-ranking officer right in front of the lens. The two shadows work together in a way which is just so right. I could have stood there all day and night and not ever seen an opportunity like that if there were a neon sign blinking ‘Alex Webb quality shot available right here’. It’s not just fortune and happenstance; you have to know when it’s happening before you. You have to know when to grab it by the balls and when to tickle it like a fish out of a river.

One hallmark of a true artist is often in being able to do something so difficult and present it to the world in such a way as to make it look easy, almost effortless. I think of Alex Webb’s work in such a context. He’s like Hemingway. Saying more with less and making you think that it’s something within your reach, until you try it for yourself and see, or rather you don’t. (Urban) legend has it that Ernest won a shortest story writing competition with a tale of just six words “For sale: baby shoes, never worn”. After I look at Alex Webb’s work I feel I should pen the following story for the world: “ For sale, my eyes, never used”. Note to self, must try harder.



Somebody Else's Recent Bangkok Film Work That I Really Like:

Can’t quite remember exactly how it happened but I found myself looking at a lot of my Bangkok film work on a Google images search. I also can’t recall the exact keywords that lead me there but the general gist of the situation is that I can never find enough, recent film work of Bangkok that appeals. There’s just not thatlarge a pool of it to draw from. Amongst my efforts, and probably using keywords like ‘Bangkok tri x’ I did however catch more than a fleeting glimpse of some really nice work with some recurring themes that was clearly well executed. It didn’t take long for me to spot that this work was probably all shot by the same person; there was a consistency to the eye involved. Funny how you can just sort of guess that for yourself if you look at enough of the work after a while.

This led me to find Doug Kim’s work which is currently shown HERE (select places and then 'Bangkok' as your starting place perhaps):

There’s more than one page of this lovely work so keep clicking through the page numbers at the bottom. I see he also has a lot of Thai stuff that is newer, in some cases just in recent months.

There’s a number of things that I would like to say drew me in. Firstly, the shots are of course really interesting and well done, secondly the tags of ‘Leica MP’, ‘Summicron’ and ‘Kodak Tri X’ in relation to Bangkok shooting revealed that this was a man after my own heart and obviously worthy of further investigation. I reached out to Doug and had some chats with him; he strikes me as being a really decent bloke. I would love to actually meet him one day. He’s currently based in Brooklyn, New Yawk (I believe) and is American Asian. I was interested in his take on Bangkok shooting.  The work shows some good street, a keen eye, beautiful young Thai femininity without the stereotypical bargirl clichés and some great off the beaten track forays into subjects such as poverty, youth, Thai boxing and well exposed nighttime shooting too. The variety of the work and the way in which he shot it made me certain that he must be resident here. I was most surprised to discover that this clearly isn’t the case. My surprise was rooted in the fact that I can’t see much of the tourist photo element in his photo essays at all really. Sure, there’s the odd clue in the form of a skytrain station shot here and there maybe if you wanted to be hyper-critical about it but it’s not like I never shoot up on those platforms as a big mango denizen myself now is it?

The suburbs over in Thonburi, the wandering, the little potential of the would-be ‘Nak Muay’ slugging it out on the pads, street vendors and their dogs, an occasional messy electrical overhead wiring shot….it all points to a more experienced eye of somebody looking beyond the immediately obvious and searching for more authentic detail of a less trite nature. I really appreciate all of Doug’s work. Turns out that Doug wasn’t perhaps completely updated on the best places for developing and so he opted to carry all his Tri X back to the States with him for developing instead. I’ve since pointed him in the direction of my ‘Ultimate Photographer’s Guide to Bangkok’ page (click banner at top of this page) so I think he’ll be even better equipped if there’s ever a round two. In fact, scrub that Doug…next time you are in Bangkok shooting, drop me a line and I’ll dev it for you myself!  

I was also wondering if perhaps Doug’s ethnicity gave him any advantage for wandering and shooting incognito in Bangkok. This was something of an interesting afterthought for me. I know of one or two British citizens here with Chinese heritage who basically walk around in full ‘stealth mode’ and are assumed to be local by the locals. Suffice to say, this is a feat that I will never be able to achieve. I have found other ways to put people at ease in any uncomfortable situations when Thai street shooting over the years I guess. It is certainly possible that if dressed to blend in and not carrying excessive luggage, an Asian-faced Westerner in Bangkok could have a different experience to somebody of another ethnicity. Looking at the ‘gotcha’ faces of Doug’s subjects on the shots where they just catch him in the act (sometimes he obviously intended for that to be the case I would say) I am trying to see if they are different to the faces that I get in my work. I might be imagining it but I can almost see there might be a discernible difference. It’s as though in addition to the ‘Why is he taking my photo, better smile and be cool in public’ quizzed Thai face that I sometimes get looking back at my in my own negatives….there’s also another debate going on in their heads maybe. ‘Is he a tourist or not?’ I might be projecting this or just completely imagining it but I find it interesting to compare nevertheless.

The other nice angle for me is that I personally recognize many of the places that Doug shot and have frequented them myself on occasion. It’s really cool to see how somebody else would see it walking along with a film camera of the type that I might also carry around there on any given day. This is easy to do in a city like New York where there is just so much great film work from talented people upon which to base your compare ideas but the corpus of film work in the City of Angels that we find is so much less extensive. Nice that Doug has been able to add to it and show the way for others.

My favourite of all Doug’s work on his blog is probably the floating market series as it should have all come out looking like a stereotypical touristy nightmare but he makes it look more like classical ‘National Geographic’ of yesteryear. It’s really well done and a joy to look at. Would make for some great prints I’m sure. I also like the moody shots of the model, really tasteful and with an original sense of mystery and intrigue, I am impressed to say the least.

For a real ‘down the rabbit hole’ experience, there’s the veritable myriad of other locations around the world that this man has also shot with aplomb. I highly recommend having a look and I am grateful to Doug for sharing his lovely Bangkok film work online with the world and also for being friendly and welcoming when contacted to talk about it.



What Does Owning a Leica M mean here? (or anywhere I suppose)

The brand of the red dot has been accused of attracting snobbery beyond compare, it’s a rich man’s game and of that there can be no doubt, but where is it really at nowadays in The Land of Smiles for adherents to this brand?


Materialism is huge in Thailand. Don’t be fooled into thinking otherwise for a moment. The ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ shenanigans that you might have escaped from the West to avoid is actually being played here at a much higher level in many ways. It had been that way here for many decades with the smaller elite but with the rising middle class of the new millennium and their new money, petite bourgeois bank accounts swelling out of control, there’s now an increasingly large number of people who feel the need to loudly shout and display to others just how far removed from the agrarian proletariat they have become. It’s no longer exclusively the reserve of the Sino-Thais either; it’s been a bigger change across the board. It always used to be a Rolex at the peak of Mount Aspiration in Thailand. Now that brand is merely the entry point to the climb, with Pateks abound on the skinny wrists of the Thai soccer moms parking their 300% import dutied Benzes at the mall.


For the guys in this social class, the narrow selection of imported grey paperwork motorcycles of the late 90’s simply wouldn’t have been enough. The local market bike laws changed and so did their incomes. Now, a whole slew of new monied young to middle aged Thai blokes have to at least a Ducati. So much so that the richer guys no longer want to be seen dead on one unless it’s a limited edition high end affair. They even have Ducati dealerships now in large cities in the Northeast; you know… where the poor people live! It simply won’t do. One well-known young Thai celebrity hunk recently complained to me about how ‘very low’ Ducatis have now become.  It’s hard to know what to say and what face to pull here sometimes, it really is.


Once the trophy wife, minor wife, house plus condo, Benz and unmentionably expensive ‘wrist game’ has been sorted, other toys come onto the radar. A camera is needed but not for really taking pictures, more as ‘neck game’ to go with the watch. The fact that it also can be used for taking ‘snaps’ of their spoilt, poorly behaved children is merely a bonus of course as nearly all of its owners photos are typically shot on his iPhone anyway right?  Without really giving full attention to actually learning photography too seriously, the questions soon arise: ‘Which is the most expensive?” and “Which is the most hi-so brand?”…maximum obvious brand recognition and luxury status are the main objectives in the first instance. One need not make any attempt to learn the craft as long as one has the keywords to the most expensive items off-by-heart in case the need arises to actually talk about the camera with one’s peers, not that it matters as they are usually in the same gang of course. Perhaps Leica is like the Rolex of cameras. Great brand history, previously popular for decades because it was genuinely perhaps the best tool for the job and purpose back in an all-analogue world. Its reliability and fit and finish became the stuff of legends until gradually it became mechanically obsolete, existing now as an expensive anachronism that has long since been superseded in the eyes of any sane, rational person. The legend then helps form the ultimate high end, boutique branding that the other brands would kill for but just can’t quite catch up to, at least not within the same niche. Then come the amusing statements about how ‘A Summicron isn’t fast enough or good enough” somehow? Typically the people in question couldn’t shoot to save their lives but the root of the problem is always that they haven’t got the very best kit, it couldn’t possibly be related to a lack of skill, ability or just simply putting the time in and doing the work now could it? They don’t care anyway, most expensive = best and most face gained. Sure, there are people in Thailand with M’s who can shoot amazingly and make stunning work. Trouble is, you don’t often ever meet them as most of the red dot guys here seem to be the South East Asian equivalent of  ‘rich dentists with a Leica’ demographic that is often mentioned in North American circles.  


Yes, I’m hating and ranting but it stops here…..why? Because in some way, I am ashamed to admit that I am probably one of them, at least in part. I love to covet a Leica M, I love the gestalt, I adore the feeling of it in my hands and the way it handles and looks…none of this has that much to do with the results that actually come out of the bloody thing. There’s a fetishism that’s hard to ignore, it’s palpable, and quite hard to resist if you are that way inclined. There’s also very little else quite like it. For post-war Aryan assembled mechanical heft and optical brilliance, the only other thing which equals (and surpasses) ownership of an all brass era Leica M is perhaps my Rolleiflexes (till death us do part). There’s really not any other camera that I could even begin to compare to an M. It’s hard to pin it down to one specific criteria, rather it’s a case of being greater than the sum of its equal parts. I also do kind of like ‘being in the gang’ with one even though it’s full of dilettantes and posers of every stripe. Hell, perhaps I really am one of them. My only genuinely fair argument in support of my owning one is that I am a ninety-nine percent film shooter and I like public, street and candid sort of work with some forays into photojournalistic style work. For the well practiced in this area, and to those who do so on film, the Leica M is perhaps the best tool ever made for the job. I will offer some concession to any small film SLR like an old Olympus or Nikon with a small, fast prime for being quite possibly nearly as good but I still think an M just pips them to the post for such work.  This is my only genuine justification that really holds water. Sure, I could wax lyrical about resale value and ‘as good as money in the bank’, ‘best way to use the Leica glass I’m already invested in’ etc. but deep down inside I ‘fess up to the fact that I just plain like the swanky feel that I get from one. I admit they just feel great hanging from your neck or shoulder, it’s a really great feeling. It somehow even completes my outfit for the day, and I know this (but wouldn’t actually say it aloud!) I get it, I really do…they are actually cool.


Let me continue my weak attempt at justifying why I’m not a hipster and everybody else is: Wanting one for shooting film is actually a reasonable defence to take against the heinous photo legal charge of ‘posing with an M in a built up area’. At least it separates the wheat from the chaff in this category as the vast majority of Leica M local owners you’ll find here in Thailand are firmly in the digital camp. You know they tell you to never say never? Well, I’m saying never because I will NEVER buy a digital Leica, the idea makes me laugh. Don’t get me wrong, digital cameras are great but German cameras get two things right and they typically always have, mechanics and optics. Pay huge money to a German brand for outdated electronics in a product that will be obsolete in a few years anyway? No thanks, that’s why we have the Japanese brands. I mean everything about the electronics, screens and software of the various digital Leica M’s I’ve tried so far only serve to confirm this assertion. They just leave me cold. And to pony up that sort of serious coin for something that definitely isn’t going to be handed down as an heirloom but simply end up as a very expensive paperweight, sheer madness to my mind. I would probably go with Fuji if I needed something like that, not quite a rangefinder but close enough and great glass for good prices.


I think that owning a Leica M in Thailand these days is really just a way for people to flaunt wealth and have some fun with their money buying a new toy here and there. Nothing wrong with that. It’s just so amazing to see what Leica M cameras were and what they once meant versus where they are now. I doubt it’s much different elsewhere in the world in all honesty but with Thailand having experienced an explosion of the new money crowd in this millennium , there’s just more of them around to see I guess. Funny story: There’s a well-off Thai man here in Bangkok known in certain camera buying circles who collects ONLY digital M’s, starting with the M.8 through to the present day. A worse use of funds I have never heard in all my life. It’s not just madness to my mind either, he’s the source of much confusion and bewilderment to quite a few within the trade here also. Still, like Ms.Crow sang ‘if it makes you happy…it can’t be that bad”, good luck to him. In fact, good luck to all of us red dot toting wannabes in the Land of Smiles.  I’m not a hipster, I’m not a hipster (repeat to fade).



What Have I done?

This is not an evangelical preachy post, it’s just a ‘this is what I have done and this is why I have done it’ entry to the blog today. After much debate and internal struggle with myself, I have finally decided to go with just one system this year. I promise I will not use the ‘Why not simplify your equipment to improve your photography?’ mantra ANYWHERE here today, no way. Not me. Use what you like, use what works. Use what gets you the results you want, how you want and when you want. Holga, pinhole, Leica, disposable…use whatever you friggin’ like.


Here’s how I personally got to this point: I love film (in case this were not already obvious). I love keeping busy, I love shooting and I genuinely enjoy developing my own films. I seriously love the negs I get on medium format more than anything else, including 35mm. What I don’t love is spending too long scanning and the kinds of scanners that we have available on the market today. I also don’t have the time to be fully analogue all the way through to the finished prints; this means nearly all hybrid work for me, with only the occasional sortie into a wet darkroom in the time-honoured fashion.


I wish there were a commercially available, automatic, decent scanner for 135mm film whereby I could just set and forget, a la “Le Pakon 135’ on the market. Something that at least handles the bulk of the work. Not interested in ancient kit with dubious support, don’t want to have to run virtual box facilitated copies of Windows XP from thirteen years ago, don’t want to jury rig my main work tool and hope that the wheels don’t fall off it every time I fire it up. I know you can load up a lot of 35mm negs into some of the aftermarket carriers for various flatbeds but that’s not really my bag. The automated process is only one side of the wants list however, I’m also not that happy with the quality of 35mm scans from most of the current offerings until at least, say Epson V7XX levels or higher and that is a lot of outlay compared to the still fairly cheap prices of scanning available here in Bangkok on old Fuji Frontier era kind of kit. Alas, that means relying on random operators apathetically dabbling around scanning your negs on old kit with hit and miss results. Okay, maybe more hit than miss but still hassle plus delays only to eventually yield less than satisfactory results. It’s perhaps just the whole relying on other people thing that turns me off it too.


Then we come to the larger world of 120. The lack of number of shots per roll is something that some people struggle with. I used to be one of them. For me, I’ve reached a point where I am fine with that. I would rather try and focus on quality over quantity when shooting and I find that cameras like Rolleiflexes and Hasselblads tend to really make you double (and triple) check everything so much that the keeper ratio can be surprisingly high once you get into the swing of things.  Besides, I think any serious shooter needs a double camera set-up (ideally comprising of two identical cameras) and thus my double Rolleiflexes give me 24 shots before a reload between them as well as offering differentiation between high or low speed, colour or black and white etc. The results are so nice to behold, I get much more of a feeling of anticipation and satisfaction from slowly pulling out a roll of freshly devved 120 off the reel than I do with 35mm. I can’t say exactly why but those who regularly shoot and dev both formats will know what I mean. There’s such an integrated work of art already encapsulated into my Rolleiflex negs held up to the light, before I have ever printed or scanned them.


Speaking of scanning, medium format is a breeze. This is another part of the impetus towards my decision. It’s amazing to me how much easier it is for a keen hobbyist to obtain really nice results in scanning MF compared to 35mm. It’s just all so much easier when you are dealing with that increase in real estate. I’m sure LF shooters might say the same when comparing their negs to my 120 but I find medium format to be a sweet spot for my own practical purposes. Also, once you have your workflow down, it can be really quite quick to scan twelve frames to a nice standard and be done with it. This is a real bonus for me. I don’t have a scanner at home that I’m happy with in terms of 35mm results and so this means outsourcing. When I shoot MF, I can shoot, dev, scan well with regular kit, post process (and even publish) on the same day, all in-house. And, I like what I see. Granted, I don’t often follow such a feverish pace but the fact that I can do it all on my own terms and time is a great advantage to how I want to work. It’s hard to argue with the ‘self-sufficiency’ economy of this workflow (Thai based readers will know what I mean!). It seems as though not only are the results from MF better for me, but the convenience factor of the workflow is also much higher. It occurs to me that there is much irony to be found in this situation. 135mm was so successful for so long precisely because of how practical and convenient a format it was, the sweet spot with 24-36 frames on a smaller sized roll that still yielded high image quality was hard to deny. Now, when I hold up a freshly devved, long, uncut strip of 36 frames…it seems like a bit of an awkward burden, it’s not far enough down the road of practicality for me. To cross the finishing line from there either means upgrading my equipment and spending a lot longer time in front of the computer or dropping off and picking up at the local lab with fingers crossed.  In comparison, the shorter, wider roll of 120 glory appears much more ‘user-friendly’ to me.  The shots are already eagerly jumping up at me like a dog whose owner has just returned home and I know that once it’s dry, I will soon fly through the last stage after dinner and file it away into my ring binder, job done. It’s just a much more practical, useable and enjoyable option for where I am at right now.


There are things I will miss. The larger number of frames on a roll of thirty-five are much more appropriate for street photography which is, let’s be honest, a genre based around a very low keeper rate to begin with. I also like the perspective and depth of field of 35mm, the way all those classic street shot frames of the last century appeared on the medium have almost come to define how we expect such a style to be. I shoot a variety of things in public however, more candid than street perhaps, I shan’t go any further down the sticky path of precise sub genre definition. I also find 35mm film a little easier to handle on and off the rolls in my tank, perhaps even a tad quicker, but this is hardly a big issue. There’s a greater variety of films available too of course although all my favourite films are very well represented in medium format so again not so much of a deal breaker here for me either.


I also like the simpler approach of only having…..oh-oh, nearly went there. Must. Resist.  I find that my two Rolleis JUST squeeze into the same tiny bag that my two Nikons used to. Note the inclusion of: ‘used to’. This is the correct term for the situation as although I have regularly shot with Nikons and Leica M’s in 35mm, I have now passed them on to their respective new owners. Only the big, twin guns of MF Navarone remain to keep watch over any potential shots that may appear on the horizon of my creative seas.


I’ll need to practice with them more too, there’s a lot more that can be done with Rolleiflexes than the casual observer might think. Sportsfindering, chest or waist level finders sneakily turned ninety degrees to steal away candids of calibre, zone-focusing, Rolleinars…all ways to increase the versatility of these fine machines.  A lovely, whole system in a nice well-machined little box. There’s a definite incognito, unthreatening vibe to an old TLR when deployed in public, basically it seems that people either don’t know or if they do know, they don’t care for some reason. I’m not saying that a Rolleiflex or Yashicamat can pull off some hitherto unknown change in the laws of physics but regular adherents to this kind of rig in public will know what I mean. You’re either met with indifference, a harmless smile or nod. Somehow that ‘old thing that you have to wind the big lever’ on isn’t anything that could threaten, discredit or shame anyone and it’s output certainly couldn’t appear on social media, could it? If only they knew. It’s a true weapon for candid work, it really is.

So, with nothing but 120 in the freezer and twin TLR’s for this geezer, I walk forward into the epoch of the Goldilocks format. Not too big, not too small but just right. Let’s see how this goes!


The Best Tripod Ever (...it's not what you think)

Here in Thailand I have found the best tripod ever made for photography. It’s definitely the best I’ve ever used.  It’s light, can easily go anywhere with me and will fit on planes, trains and automobiles without fuss. It helps when using big and heavy cameras but also works surprisingly well with smaller kit too. It works well when deployed on short trips but certainly is up to the rigours of more heavy duty long-term application. It’s not made by Gitzo or Manfrotto, it’s not made of aluminium. It’s not even made of carbon-fibre.  You don’t have to be in Bangkok, chances are you’ll also easily be able to find one near you.


One of its legs is woven of a special, timeless and precious material called ‘motivation’. This is very strong and powerful, yet is often overlooked when looking for something on which to rest one’s camera. It works wonderfully well but can often be lost or misplaced and take a long time to find again, leaving your set-up unbalanced. When lost, the biggest challenge you’ll have to overcome with this material is in recognizing the fact that it is indeed worth looking for again. Even when you know where it is, it still needs the odd polish and a touch of maintenance here and there, it’s not that resilient a material.


Another of this wonder tripod’s legs is constructed of something perhaps equally strong as the first, it’s a common enough resource, freely available to all those who seek it. It’s called ‘exposure’. Here the word is not used in the traditional photographic sense, moreover it pertains to being exposed to the great photographs made by other people over say, the past one hundred years. This benefits your photographic pursuits greatly. The pricing of this wonderful material varies. In high-quality, pure and glossy form, it can be very expensively acquired in sizes and weights befitting storage atop a coffee table. However, casual glances at similar chunks of it can be had for (almost) nothing by way of internet research. There’s also glossy second-hand store versions of it out there waiting for you. One can even access its ultra-premium grade form in galleries all over the world. This regular, constant exposure will surely support your photography well.


The last leg is built from something of an unknown quantity. Its exact make up and atomic weight are hard to state with any certainty. You are the one who decides on such things.  It’s a massively variable  and unstable element we shall refer to simply as ‘opportunity’.  In this instance we are talking strictly about opportunity to practice the craft rather than the opportunities that await you out there, although they are also certainly relevant. Given that enough of this resource has been seized upon and used wisely, it will surely be the last leg that helps to hold your photography (as Ashford and Simpson would have had it) solid as a rock. A lot of people find it on the weekend, but you can also scoop up whole chunks of it before or after work and even on your lunch break. A day off anywhere in the world is likely to lead to its discovery assuming the other two legs are present. You need to have some equipment with you to harvest it, at the minimum this should be one camera and a lens plus a sensor or some film.


I’ve tried the monopod thing. It didn’t work for me. Supporting my work with just a single leg consisting of pure motivation wasn’t enough, it got left in the back of my car or under a table at the local coffee house somewhere. I sometimes remembered that I used to have it and would often briefly search for it in vain. Most of the time I told myself that I didn’t need it and went out with one or two of the other legs instead. I knew something was off, but I just kept going through the motions. Sometimes I didn’t even bother at all. This situation sometimes persisted off and on for months or even a year here or there. Indeed, that is often the best way of realizing that you have lost this precious part of your tripod, indifference is a noteworthy symptom all of its own. You feel like you can’t be bothered to shoot and you don’t always realize that a negative change is afoot. Ignorance and apathy…terrible bedfellows at the best of times. What’s the definition of ignorance and apathy? I don’t know and I don’t f*&#!?g care. Another key warning sign is the selling off of kit. You might be telling yourself that you are simplifying matters and paring down stuff that you aren’t using. You find it harder to justify the unused equipment. Then one joyous day you finally discover where you left your precious motivation and no need to ‘single leg it’ any more. It pushes you towards the other two legs, the tripod is back again, fully supporting your photographic ambitions to the fullest. Now you feel the need to use that kit after all. Problem is that when you have to go out and buy it back again, you either can’t find it or soon find it’s more expensive the second time around. The only cheaper ones are on ‘that’ internet auction site, the parcel arrives, a game of Russian Roulette that can lead to angry early morning tourettes.  For those of us that have been at this game for a while, let’s at least not embarrass ourselves by pretending that this sort of thing never happens. :-)


 Exposure alone also failed me as an adequate brace, we can only stand on the shoulders of giants for so long before descending to walk our own path. I truly appreciate poring over the glossy books of photography’s true masters. It’s one of my very favourite photographic things to do outside of actually taking pictures. I also tingle at the idea of going to a gallery to see the ‘hard stuff’ in neat form hanging on the wall, waiting to show me the way. Trouble is, doing too much of this whilst not actually shooting sufficiently or being motivated can lead to a severe case of: ‘Neverbegoodenuffitis’; a terrible affliction which has proved to be surprisingly resistant to anti-biotics. Many have tried to self-medicate against this using alcohol and drugs. Anyone doubting the dangers of this very real and artistically debilitating disease need only to visit an art gallery showing the real prints of Adams or Salgado.  Alternatively, spend an evening  in bed with Garry Winongrand, Robert Frank or Eggleston… metaphorically speakingat least (though in the case of the latter it might have been a literal possibility given a very dark red room and an ‘open’ proclivity in your personal relationships...think more’ Maroon Three’ than’ Maroon Five’).


I had also harboured high hopes for a monopod hewn frompure opportunity, but the construction of my photographic house always seemed to need something more beyond simply having the time and space in which to build it. I needed some direction and the force to push me towards it. When fully backed up with motivation and exposure, this material has great tensile strength. It’s easy enough to find everywhere but as a sole material to support my leanings?  No. Taking the chance to shoot without motivation and inspired direction is like shooting a video in public of your first attempts at Parkour to share with the internet, there’s an outside chance at coolsville but probably not going to end well. Sure, maybe you are one of those lucky few who can start off with the opportunity, walk around aimlessly and then ‘shoot your way into’ motivation. I know they exist but I’m just jealous as I also know I’m probably not one such fellow.


Equal thirds motivation, exposure and opportunity are all I need. It occurs to me that these factors could be equally applicable to learning lots of new skills such as a sport, a martial art or a language.  To me, I see them not only as a ratio of which I must be vigilant to keep in good order but also a perfect tripod for photographic empowerment and improvement.







Prelude to a Miss, Stopping Those Bangkok Shots from Getting Away

To love shooting street, candid or any  ‘as it happens’ photography in Bangkok is to love a losing game.  As cities go, the sheer number of things happening before you simultaneously is at times just hard to comprehend, let alone keep up with. This seems to be the case much more so than in many other of the world’s cities that I have been in. Those who have tried to tame it before their lens know exactly what I mean. Bangkok is a wild tropical animal, restless and risky at night, remaining perilous and unpredictable by day. She is not easy to approach, can punish you without warning for your contact with her she and eats her young.


I want you to get more of the shots that you want in this environment, I want you to score with a higher success rate and feel that you are making progress in your photography in Bangkok. It’s tricky to be so focused on your subject spotting, planning the shot and then making it work whilst also not getting run over, hassled by touts or pickpocketed by somebody whose gender is hard to pinpoint. Let’s try though, let’s get better. I‘m writing this because I truly want to help, I mean this sincerely.  Down to business,  in Bangkok street work in general, one needs to be uber-familiar with ones equipment at all times. We’ve all heard the usual clichés about the camera ‘being an extension of your arm’ or ‘it just gets out of the way and lets me shoot’ but these are borne out of the truths about being able to work very fast and smoothly against those fleeting moments we all encounter that are masters of escapism.  If we are to catch them, we have to be on point.  A good litmus test to find out where you rank is to see how you can set up and handle your camera for a shot without looking at the camera itself and working by feel alone. This may seems like a request somewhat akin to any cheesy eighties action movie with a martial arts theme. The restless and impatient young apprentice turns his nose up at having to endlessly repeat such a seemingly banal and humdrum menial task and can’t understand why the wise old master (yeah right) refuses to teach him anything else until he has perfected it. The hidden relevance of mastering the aforementioned chore suddenly becomes all too obvious in some grand final scene whereby the hitherto innocuous skillset now becomes the key to unlocking all conquering power against a formidable challenge. If you haven’t seen the link between that and success in street/candid photography in public yet, go back and read that last bit again.


I repeat, know thy camera well, by hand and touch. This is easier for manual camera shooters on film, Leica Ms, Nikon FM / FE’s, Olympus and Pentax SLR’s of the same era, these are all easy cameras for this exercise. You are not exempt if you shoot digital, set up the menus in such a way so that they are ready for street and practice using your hands only to push the right knobs and buttons, and turn the right rings correctly to get you ready for street work. So as to avoid charges of elitism, I shall avoid giving the run down for a Leica M body and concentrate here on the generic film SLR body type, but honestly much of this could be applied to a whole smorgasbord of modern digital cameras.  Pick the camera up; rotate the lens all the way to one side, and then back all the way to the other, how many turns from lock to lock? Hopefully, you have some focus markings and some DoF markings on there too.  How far do you have to turn it back from one of the sides to get to a spot that is familiar to you for shooting street? For me I like to be at around two metres and I know almost exactly how far to rotate my 28mm f2 Nikkor to get me at the two-metre mark. I can do it ten times without looking at it and get it almost perfect nine times. The other time, I would still have been close enough. How many clicks for the f-stops does this lens have? Again, stop it right down, or open it right up, go to one extreme or the other and count how many clicks you need to rotate it before you find yourself at a good street aperture, that might well be say, f8. Again, on my Nikkor 28mm (and 35mm lenses on other bodies and brands) I can do this without thinking about it. I can pick up the camera, not look at it and move it to be at f8, and bang on focus at two-metres dead ahead.  Practicing this is free and incredibly effective. All one needs to do is sit at home in any room in a comfortable position and mess up all of the controls on your camera, put it down. Then pick it up back up again and see how quickly you can get your camera back into the optimum street ready condition that you prefer without looking at it. With practice it soon becomes very quick and natural. Next step is understanding depth of field in and how to make it work for you (not against you) in shooting publicly in fast moving situations. I like to work at ISO 400 or thereabouts. I won’t include the full theory of depth-of-field here (Google depth of field calculator) but at that ISO, and with my 28mm example lens stopped down to f8-f11, I find myself not only having the  subject at exactly two-metres in focus, but also anything from one metre in front of them all the way out to nearly five metres behind them will also likely be acceptably in focus too. This is a great way to work in these situations. It’s also better than relying on modern auto focus systems to focus on the right thing, they sometimes get it wrong as only you really know what your intended goal is. Set your camera to manual focus. Don’t leave it to chance. Assuming you are still sat in that same comfortable spot fondling the camera, here is the next step of your training:  Now look around the room at large objects, preferably those with straight vertical lines. Estimate how far away you think they are, using your preferred unit of measurement, feet or metres.  If you see the leg of a table that you think is two metres away, try turning the barrel of the lens to that distance (without looking at the camera) and then bring the camera to your eye. If it’s a typical split prism SLR kind of finder, you will see the subject appears correct in the finder if your guess was accurate. If not, it might be split in two and need further refining adjustment. It is also possible to do this with many different kinds of smaller digital cameras but you’ll have to consult the manual to find the best approach on a case-by-case basis. It’s amazing how quickly you can get good at it, it’s most satisfying after a while. Once you’ve got a solid feel for your favourite set distance, it then becomes really easy to over or under compensate if you feel the subject is one metre or three metres away accordingly. Or you can also simply keep your camera at the two-metre mark and get used to moving yourself nearer or closer to the subject instead.  Assuming you are well versed in exposures on manual mode (something for another post perhaps), or perhaps using aperture-priority shooting, this now means that pretty much all of the technical stuff is out of the way and you can concentrate on the really important factor of composition, putting everyone and everything exactly where you want them in the frame becomes the main task and you are free to concentrate on this to the fullest. This is how I work in my humble, botched attempts at street shooting BUT this is also how so many of the grand masters of this photographic genre shot for decades to give us many of the best images of the twentieth century.  Have the camera ready to go and the framing of the shot in mind either before or at the same time as you lift the camera to your eye. If you use the same lens often enough, you’ll likely already have a pretty good idea of what the framing will look like through the finder before it’s even in your sightline…again this expediency all helps.  All of the above means that you can keep your eye on the scene rather than looking down and messing with your rig, plus because you are ready to rock and roll before the camera is at head height, it means that you won’t need to keep it there for very long at all. The less time you have the camera to your eye, the less likely your subjects are to notice you shooting them and the more natural your shots are likely to be. There’s nothing worse than having what you know is a great shot in the making ruined because you had to fiddle with the camera more than you needed to or you held it up longer than was really necessary. The subject sees you and reacts accordingly, destroying the moment forever.  Only when we think about all these things do we really see just how tough shooting anything naturally occurring on the street can be. Your shots need to be carefully, solidly constructed with precision and awareness, not hastily assembled with paper glue and indifference. This genre is made to look oh so easy by its masters but woe betide anyone who thinks that they can gingerly stroll down the street for a half hour and come back with photographic street gold. There’s a lot to be learnt and practiced if we are to be ready when the proverbial ducks start to stand in front of one another.

Shooting in Bangkok (as with any big city) might well be a game of luck, and one in which the odds are surely stacked against us, but we can do much to improve our chances. Knowing your equipment intimately, having good technique and engaging in regular practice will all help transform you from  inept neophyte to  adept in flight, ready to swoop down and seize the moment with grace. In the words of Seneca ‘ Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity’, take your shots with elation and impunity in the City of Angels . You might not be punished by the frames that you couldn’t quite make, but you will surely remember the ones you didn’t take.



Dickens Meets Nikon (50 1.2 Ais / 50 1.4 Ais): A Tale of Two Fifties

It was the best of primes, it was the worst of primes, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of (low) Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,



I had everything before me, I had nothing before me, I was going to photographic heaven, I was going direct the other way and my bank balance was soon to follow. In short, that period in photography was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest internet experts insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of photographic comparison only.


There were a king of an ultra-fast lens with a large jaw in thy local camera dealers and a queen lens with a plain face, on the throne of my camera shelf. In both cases, they were clearer than crystal and to the Gods of photography, the local bank manager and preservers of State to film and developing chemicals, such things were settled for ever.


It was the year of Our Lord two thousand and fifteen. Spiritual and optical revelations were conceded throughout England and the rest of the world at that favoured period such as this. The Nikkor 50mm 1.2 Ais was lauded as the fastest  ever to be made by said folk. For the poorer subjects of the kingdom whose unfortunate station in life had yet to surpass that of humble caretaker to the one point four, a terrible storm of doubt and confusion rained down for twenty seven long, hard years.


Ok, enough of that prose, down to brass tacks. I never really feel comfortable in knowing that there’s a faster lens than the one I already have from the same manufacturer. This is the very making of the terrible ‘faster=better’ stupidity disease that affects many photographers without good reason.  This often defies logic as faster lenses can have not insignificant trade-offs across the full aperture range and are invariably much more dangerous to one’s financial health. Regular readers might recall that I have already touched upon the perils of illogical fast glass lust in another recent blog post. In the case of my Nikon lens collection over the years, I had eventually whittled it down from more than twenty-five F-Mount lenses in the past fifteen or so years to just three and all of them manual focus (Ais) older designs. In this mount last year, I only owned the 28mm f2, the 50mm f1.4 and the venerable 105mm 2.5. I had been lucky enough to get all three copies from late production runs in the early 2000’s with full boxes and papers in mint condition at good prices. It just took a little patience.  The first and the last usually receive high praise across the board and are generally recognized as belonging to what is perhaps best referred to as the ‘five-star legacy glass’ fold. I know some prefer the 2.8 in 28mm but I’ve had both and find that on black and white film at least, there’s just something ridiculously good about the f2. It’s a real star and packs some serious potential as a street and walkabout lens, that’s the one I kept. From the first time I saw portraits from the 105, I knew that I would never, ever sell this lens. It has to be one of the best deals in photography.  It’s worth owning a Nikon mount camera just to shoot this lens. I used to be madly in love with my creamtastic 85mm 1.4, it was part lens/part dairy product and all dream machine but for real world use, I actually prefer the 105. It’s as good as it gets optically, small and compact, easy to bring along as a second lens and has a built in hood. It’s also way cheaper. I wanted to write this without using the words ‘Afghan Girl’ but… oh well, I just did.


So what of the middle sibling in my fold? The nifty-fifty-Nikon one plus three pennies. This seems to be a lens which is always rated as just being somehow ‘quite good’ to middling but never really seems to garner any more praise than that. I guess it doesn’t stack up against the more modern glass and that has further hurt its slightly lackluster rep in contemporaneous times. I think many people who have owned one feel like it’s perfectly serviceable yet never really anything special. Nice to have but not enough warm, fuzzy feeling is included with one in your stable. This is the first stage of the terrible disease, that slight sense that you might be somehow missing out on something. The blurring of the line between want and need typically starts somewhere around here, many of us have been there. Enter the 1.2, it’s got quite a cult following in certain circles and the extra bit of speed and unusual size and shape can lead you to think that you simply must trade up.  The higher price tag only seems to confirm your growing sense that it must somehow deserve its gravitas in the world of high priced goods, sometimes the price tag is part of the product itself.


After many a year of doing this dance on and off every few months in my head, I finally caved in and picked a used one up from a local dealer. Where I live, they are nearly three times the price of the 1.4 if boxed and in mint condition. Depending on where you live and what dealer you talk to, you might still be able to buy one brand new in a box. I did something that I don’t normally do at this point, I didn’t trade in or sell of the old model at once, but kept it to one side. This is unusual for me as I normally feel that I have to move something out when I acquire a new arrival. At first, I was quite enthralled with the new charmer, it has the usual incredible Nikkor manual quality and feel, there’s a reassuring heft to it. I honestly think I like the way these lenses are built perhaps more than any other, certainly as much as the brass Leica stuff of the mid-twentieth century.


It’s a seven element, six group older spherical design.  It has nine diaphragm blades which can assist it well in terms of pleasant out of focus background areas. Wide open and in lower light, its charms continued although the depth of field at this extreme is ultra thin and requires very deft deployment. Perhaps this is exactly what one would expect. I’ve seen some wonderfully artistic stuff done at this aperture with the 1.2 Ais all around the web by people who are better at handling and exploiting the DOF than I am. A lot of them seem to own this lens specifically for such an aim. Also, when wide open the effects exhibit something of what is referred to as a ‘glow’ by many, not unlike some of the older Leica lenses of the sixties and seventies when used at maximum aperture. I think from a technical standpoint, it’s more a result of spherical aberrations and a little coma but subjectively speaking, it can appear most pleasant. That’s something that is either loved or hated, you’ll have to decide if that’s something you are okay with. Stopped down a bit to around f2 I found it more useable and just about as sharp as I can imagine any lens in the world ever really being, I’m talking brand new surgeon’s scalpel kind of sharp. Very nice indeed, yes it’s surgical but not in an overly modern way.  However, for a lot of what I shoot, and in the very bright country in which I shoot it, I am often stopped way down anyway. Much as I hate to admit it, I don’t really need an ultra low-light weapon all that often. I liked how it does colour but I don’t shoot that much of it in all honesty, and call me a philistine but on black and white film it certainly didn’t look any better than the 1.4 to my eyes.  Additionally, when stopped down to f8 or f11 sort of ranges, I think I again prefer the 1.4. The 1.2 also felt a little heavier and less balanced on my smaller bodies (FM3A and FE2), not a massive weight or anything but compared to the 1.4 it was a more awkward package overall to carry and deploy. This was no great deal breaker per se but I think it warrants mentioning and was something that I hadn’t really expected.


Then I compared negs and prints to a lot of the stuff I had shot last year on the same cameras and film but using the 1.4. Although it is often chastised for being soft wide open, I actually quite like the way that softness looks. It is a seven element, six-group lens also of an old design.  Its diaphragm is two blades less at seven in total, I like the later model ones for the newer coatings but this is entirely subjective opinion. I also like the way that when used on Tri-x, sunlight and backlit outlines around the edges of people take on a very nice older 60’s kind of look. Not unlike the older Leica glass that I shoot with. I think it’s important when reading around the web to take people’s input onboard but also to actually look at what your work looks like with the lens and make comparisons based on that for your own personal circumstance. The internet tells me that the 1.4 is a fairly good lens but I really think it’s a great lens and I like the way that a lot of its technical ‘shortcomings’ look on my film. After doing a lot of side by side work between the two lenses over the following month, I eventually decided to return the 1.2 to my dealer who was happy to take it back for a very small fee (check out my ‘Ultimate Photographer’s Guide to Bangkok by clicking on the banner at the top of the page for a suggestive list of friendly places to buy and sell camera gear in Thailand). I think it was  just a little bit too fussy and somehow overly ‘specialist’ for my tastes and application. I think a bigger part of the problem is that with a brand like Nikon, even the expensive glass is only typically a fraction of what you would pay for Leica optics and as a keen M shooter, it seems almost deceptively reasonable in comparison. This is not always a good thing though as it makes it too easy to act upon said lens lust. In comparison, for my M, I would never really dream of casually chopping in my ‘Cron for a faster version if I were perfectly happy with it just ‘to see what it’s like’. In Leicaland that would mean the suffix of ‘Lux and suffering mo’ bucks. And if I had a ‘Lux right now I would certainly never seriously entertain the idea of chopping it in for a huge and second mortgage facilitating Nocti either!


My conclusion: Happiness in photography, as in life, might not be found in having what you want rather in simply wanting what you already have. This applies to lenses superbly and really needs writing down on a post-it note to be stuck on to either my computer monitor or my credit card, or perhaps both.


What in the Dickens was I ever thinking? The 50mm 1.4 Ais, It is a far, far better lens that I shoot than I have ever said, the far, far better rest are better left unsaid.  


Picasso, Breasts, Bangkok...What Can Photographers Around the World Learn from the Master Painters?

A good few years ago now in Thailand, I went back to full time education. I have to confess that the use of the word ‘back’ is a falsification of sorts that I have become accustomed to slipping into this sentence with alarming ease and comfort. We all do it, that little white lie that has fallen out of your mouth in relation to a given topic to save personal embarrassment so often that you actually somehow believe it to be true yourself. This implies that I was somehow there in the first place (in adulthood at least, this isn’t entirely true). Actually what really happened was that I enjoyed a wonderful period in my life being a ‘mature student’. Although a charming euphemism for ‘older person who amounted to very little in their youth’ I must confess to since having grown a tad fond of this term. I think that for many people such as myself for whom regular school just was never going to work out back then, there comes a real satisfaction in learning about the arts (in my case) at a later station in life. If you can handle the level of self-discipline, newfound time management skills and motivate yourself towards full-time study alongside a career, kids and everything else that life throws in your face….you are already on the way to winning the game of life in no small measure.

It was all going well, but like so many university students in their first year, we were first forced to study a more general course than we would have liked before earning the right to specialize more deeply in our chosen courses. I was horrified to discover that I had to study about (and critique) paintings ranging from the renaissance through to the twentieth century. Long essays were demanded.  I cringed at the idea of joining the ranks of these pretentious dilettantes in the world, endlessly bleating nonsense about dead people’s moody daubings as a means to further aggrandize their self-importance to others.  I recall late nights poring over the full colour prints in the mandatory course books. I noted that although I found most of what I saw to be generally beautiful to my crude eye, the idea of a regular bloke like me actually constructing sentences to critique Francesca and Raphael’s work seemed downright ludicrous. I mean, where does one even begin?

As a way in, I tried to look at my favourite photographs of the twentieth century, and make notes about what I liked about them. I focused a lot on portraits, as these were often the closest things photographically to many of the paintings that we had to choose from for our essays. Looking back now I realize how stupid I was at first in being perfectly okay with having a working knowledge of the photographic medium and yet failing to recognize its relevance to the paintings thrust upon me. Many renaissance painters were the portrait photographers of their day of course.  It’s actually not that hard to find photos that are lit like a Vermeer or a Titian, and I didn’t notice that this sidetrack I had gone down was becoming a strangely enjoyable pursuit in itself. The way that these great painters saw light had to be just as important as to any photographer since. I became a touch disappointed at myself for never having made more of an effort to study this previously. In hindsight, this is the good thing about the first year of such a degree; it forces you to study things that you would never have chosen to of your own accord. Through this situation, you can discover new things about yourself and the world that really open your eyes. It’s never a bad thing. My first few essays on this faired better than I had expected, despite a particularly cruel professor in that year. By the final paper of the term, we had reached the lofty heights of twentieth century art and were given a choice of just three paintings to critique, the required essays were now of a much increased minimum word count.  The paintings were obviously carefully chosen as works that had had a lot less written about them in the usual places, woe betide anyone looking to plagiarise or paraphrase one of the few articles out there at the time on them. I chose Pablo Picasso’s ‘Girl in a Chemise’ (google it lest I be sued by one of his relatives for its inclusion here) from his blue period and I based my approach on the way I would look at a portrait photograph. However I was sure to use all of the technical terms of analysis that we had been taught throughout the course for the discussion and critique of fine painting. I felt it was perhaps a bit of a gamble but had secured enough reasonable scores at that point in the term to feel confident with such a move.

I’ll spare you the full essay but here is a key extract from what I wrote:

“The painting ‘Girl in a Chemise’, by Picasso is a portrait, painted around 1905.  It is an oil on canvas measuring approximately 72.7 by 60 cm. The girl is the sole subject and the picture plane puts us so close that we may only see her from the waist upwards. The view of the subject is from the front and slightly angled. Her head is turned away to her left, as though to repel any empathy, affording us only a single sided view of her face and upswept hair. Onto her emaciated frame, Picasso adds a provocatively oversized breast, which penetrates into an almost spiritual blue halo. The modelling of her diaphanous garment around the collarbone is detailed enough to emphasize its flimsiness.  There seems a paradox between her wraithlike appearance and her exuded sexuality. Our main focus is drawn towards her porcelain face, gaunt expression and dead eyes.  The modelling of this translucent face is more detailed and caricaturial than that of her lower torso, perhaps because of the wider tonal range between figure and ground at this point on the literal plane. The brushwork elsewhere seems perfunctory, with less merging of colour and some paint runs in the background. The room the girl is in appears dark and cold with a small light source on the top left side, out of our view. The subject looks as though her skin would be very pallid and clammy to the touch. The artist used a contrast of light subject against dark blue and green background to impart not only a melancholy darkness but also a cold, disconsolate atmosphere to the illusionistic plane as a whole. Even the warm tones of her rose shawl fail to permeate Picasso’s chill.”


I was very lucky to have received my highest score for that course from this essay but perhaps luckier still to have been educated in how to look at, analyse and enjoy the fine paintings of the masters and relate them to my existing love of photographic art. I later had an exam on this (even had to fly to the U.K. for the pleasure of sitting it) within a tight time limit but really enjoyed it and did reasonably well overall. I wonder how many other photographers also enjoy (or would enjoy) this exercise? It was an undertaking that I wouldn’t have otherwise chosen to embark upon, and one which certainly took me out of my comfort zone. I recall that I felt awkward and uneasy about trying (what I perceived to be) something I wouldn’t be able to do. I later learned that Pablo once said “I am always doing that which I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.” Turns out that we have might have something in common with the great painters after all.



Dear Retro Cameras In Thailand: I Want My Camouflage Back

A definite photographic change has been slowly afoot in Bangkok. The new retro-look camera seems to have been the catalyst for this change. At first I thought it might have just been my own imagination, or a false perception of mine in some way. Now I am decided, the newer cameras of a more vintage design have slowly taken back a previously built-in advantage to somebody shooting street here with an older film camera. I clearly recall up to around 2011 or so, my chrome and black Leica M6 classic occupied a lovely spot on the photographic equipment continuum. It almost seemed to be like a Germanic cloaking device for discreet image making. The typical reaction to it would vary but in general it would either elicit quaint smiles, indifference or simply no reaction whatsoever. Back then, as long as it wasn’t a large, matte black SLR/DSLR body with the usual long lens sporting a brightly lettered yellow or red corporate-branded camera strap…it was almost certain to be under everybody’s radar. Didn’t have to be a fancy-pants Leica of course, a black and chrome seventies SLR with a small lens on might also have faired similarly well but something about an old rangefinder in that classic look with a little patina here and there really got the job done.

Then it all changed. Looking back I now have a clear memory of exactly when that tipping point was. Of course, as is so often the case with pivotal moments, you don’t see them for what they are at the time. Only in retrospect does the significance and detail play a part. I think it was in 2011, I was commuting by Bangkok skytrain. Arriving at my stop, I found myself in that less than completely comfortable purgatory state between not being as early as I would have liked for work and in danger of, but not quite yet, being late. As I walked hurriedly through the shopping mall that obstructed the route between the train and my place of work, I took a glance in the usual camera shop window and noticed something odd catching my eye. At first I thought the owner of the shop selling all the digital gear was just having some fun showing off his prized, boxed Leica M film camera on the shelf to add a certain sizzle and window dressing. I then took a closer look and saw a Fuji X100 for the first time; it was in a nice box lined with some kind of classy looking satin material. The material served as a beautiful way to contrast against what was increasingly likely to be a digital camera in front of my very eyes. The black, the brushed silver metal, the rangefinderesque windows on the front. An obvious rip off but very well executed. I viewed it without tension, trauma, hate or neurosis, which served as evidence of how right they got it from the start in identifying this new market. I had a hundred questions of course but the shop was closed and the clock was ticking against me.


Later on, the full extent of what I had witnessed was revealed unto others and myself all over the web. The rest, as they say, is history.  History is best defined as our sources of information combined with our expertise in processing them.  I didn’t really process the information from the sighting of this thing very well at the time and now I can look back and see how this crept up on me. Fuji wrote history their way and much as I loathe the term ‘game changer’, in fairness… this might actually be one case where the hat fits. Anyone doubting that need only look as far as the veritable smorgasbord of small cameras in a chrome and black retro style that have since emerged over the past five years or so. Frankly, it has been a little hard to keep up, even for the camera geeks. It now seems as though any Thai kid who feels the need to have a photographic device in addition to their smartphone (admittedly a shrinking group but that might best be reserved as a topic for another day) is brandishing such a camera style. There was a strong ‘you better have a big DSLR on your person at all times to look like a pro or you ain’t s*#@t’ movement prevalent in Bangkok that was truly hard not to notice in recent years. Kids taking pictures of the food they are about to eat in restaurants using full sized pro Nikon D digital bodies designed for professional sports photographers was something that I personally witnessed many times. However, it seems as though many of its adherents have now become turncoats, crossing over to salute the new flag of smaller, often mirror less black and chrome kit. Just a perfect match for ripped skinny jeans, large square-fronted baseball caps and a cool T-shirt whose English meaning might not be completely understood by them as they wear it.


Of course, ultimately I am happy that so many young people now love buying cameras and that they dig the retro vibes. I even believe that history has in some extreme cases come full circle. Some young people who have used modern retro-looking cameras have found them to be a gateway drug for actually buying some of the real old film cameras upon which their digital descendants were based. To be fair, it isn’t just the young ‘uns. This is a photographic paradigm shift that has occurred throughout the older demographic of camera carrying Thai people also. That can’t be a bad thing besides photography doesn’t need any more old men on lawns telling the kids to go and play in front of their own houses. I’m just grumpy to have lost that little edge. I am now forced to be more inventive with my approach for stealthy and innocent (preferably film) cameras capable of delivering excellent results on Bangkok streets. The TLR world via Rolleiflex is proving to be the perfect thumb in the dike for me presently. Of course, it is now so old and quaint that it can actually elicit compliments and conversations from the very strangers that I am trying to shoot, something of an own goal perhaps. Not to mention the appearance of the odd digital camera in a TLR style on the market here and there in recent times. Maybe five years from now every hipster will be ‘rocking a twin lens’ and they will be less incognito also. Still, Churchill said that ‘success consists of going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm’, maybe I should just walk around Bangkok grinning like a maniac with an 8 x 10 camera on a huge wooden tripod and shoot with a large black cloth over my head like Meyerowitz.


The hipsters would never cover their heads like that, nobody would be able to see how cool they were and I would be more camouflaged than ever. Mm, I might be on to something.


Lenses: Speed Kills (Your Thai Bank Account)

You might well have been there: Is my lens fast enough? It’s a symptomatic and worrying condition.  It often starts with the purchase of nice lens, maybe even an excellent lens. All is well at first, you like the shots you have made, it has a beautiful signature and generally performs very well indeed. It’s like the start of a new relationship over those first few dates with a new flame. It’s all going well and things feel positively hunky dory. Then it starts to creep up on you, you find yourself poring over reviews of the ‘other lens’ from the same manufacturer which is only one stop faster but twice the price (or more). You start imagining the endless extra possibilities in your photography that this magical extra stop or two could give you. Image searches of this coveted slice of top glass on the net seem to only lead to what appear to be the best photos you have ever seen in that focal length before. Suddenly you find yourself fawning and pining for the new flame’s more attractive sibling and pangs of confusion and regret slowly start to emerge in your stomach. What is then seemingly hard to find on the internet during the throes of such a condition is what you probably need to hear the most: This is often completely irrelevant to taking and making great pictures in most places, especially in a bright and sunny clime such as Thailand.


In the past I have suffered greatly from this condition, and almost always to my financial detriment. The Nikkor 85mm 1.8 was a really, really good lens but the 1.4 had a legendary status that eventually proved too formidable an opponent. The various 35 ‘Crons I have had seemed like greased lightning when at first acquired but I just could not go on without the word ‘Summilux’ in my life. Loved the Rolleiflex 3.5, but I ultimately had to get me some Zeiss 2.8 love. What I found in general is that, as with so many things in life, paying the extra massive premium just to get that very last upper percentile of a given performance factor is often simply not worth it. I’ll even go one further, in my case; I actually found it to be detrimental to my work. With really fast lenses (let’s assume primes for the sake of argument), the trade-off for the ultra fast end of things is typically that they are not always even in their high performance throughout the full aperture range. Some high-speed lenses are not as good stopped down as their contemporaries and, to add insult to injury, they are not guaranteed to be that hot when used wide open. Think in terms of a racing car, its engine built to a high level of tune with an aggressive cam profile, super big wheels with tiny profile racing tires that are really wide. It’s really good when on the cam and giving the highest engine speeds flying through chicanes on smooth race tracks but certainly not what you want when looking to steadily cruise or start/stop drive through traffic to the local store. It would also suck the proverbial appendage on a constant long-haul drive on varying road surfaces. What do you want it for? Ask yourself this and be truly honest about it. If you are only shooting in very low light conditions with this lens, well this would perhaps be akin to racing and redlining with the speed factor, maybe you really would benefit from the high state of tune of the fast glass designs.  But if you are also shooting in daylight and under a range of different circumstances then you’ll be stopping her right down anyway. If you don’t then you’ll need to be allowing for the extra expense and hassle of ND filters and accepting any negative impact that they may possibly have on the lens that you bought for its high performance in the first place.  In Bangkok, in the daytime, things are ridiculously bright, even on overcast days. Every single Leica 35mm I have ever owned (and that’s a few now) had to be stopped right down to a minimum of f8 or more when shooting outside pretty much any time after six thirty in the morning and before sunset. I would only use the wide-open capabilities of the ultra fast glass for maybe two half-hour periods during every twenty-four hours, unless I was a big night shooter, which I tend not to be in general. The other twenty three hours of the day, my glass would not only be just fine, but perhaps even better than the faster option. That assumes using film and Tri X at ISO 400. Yes, I could use slower film but I prefer not to. I have noted that at these apertures, in real life usage, all of these lenses looked very similar and equally fantastic. In fact, the cheapest one I have ever owned is the old-school brass and chrome 35mm Summaron 2.8 and I think I like the look of this over all the others (including ‘crons and lux’s of a similar vintage) during the daytime. It’s also very small and handling is among the very best of any lens I have ever used on any camera.


How I used to love my 35 ‘lux pre-asph. I have even bought (and subsequently sold) two of them. I have learned that lenses are like jobs and relationships, once it’s over and you’ve left, you should never go back and try again. It’s never as good, and if it had been that good, you probably wouldn’t have left. The Canadian made lux’s form factor, its speed and handling were all sublime. Yet in all honesty though, wide open it was a real crapshoot and the frames came out with lotto scratch card like odds, all over the place in low-light, even down another stop and it wasn’t always gravy. I’m picking an unfair example perhaps as this lens is well known for being a handful when wide open but it’s a common enough trait applicable to many fast primes. With my lux, Ninety-five percent of the time I was at f2 or more anyway and at such apertures, it wasn’t any better than the rest. Good glass is expensive and decisions need to made accordingly, if it’s to be a monogamous relationship, if she will truly be your one and only, then get something that works well as an-all rounder and is easy to live with. Highly fast lenses can be fussy prima Donnas, for real life you want an Emma or a Debbie instead.  For film users, pushing your film a couple of stops or using a faster film will still get the baby bathed. Night photography is all about the shadows and darks anyway, when using super fast film at night, it can just look like daytime shots and I personally don’t much care for that. I think I prefer Tri X pushed a couple of stops than super fast night films anyway. Point being, you have low-light options for nice results that don’t mean selling a kidney. If you’re on digital, I really don’t see the need for speed these days with such great low light performing sensors abound in so many different camera types.


If you are still not convinced, perhaps at least look at systems where the faster options are still reasonably affordable, Leicaland is not a nice place to be for those with a speed habit of Walter White customer proportions and limited funding. Nikon is not a bad brand in this regard as their reverse lens to body compatibility is nearly as good as Leica and this means that many examples of manual-focus faster lenses can be had for fair money, on account of their age.


Mine is not to suggest that all fast glass is to be avoided per se or that all such lenses are inherently bad performers across the board. There are many good all-rounders that also happen to be on the faster end of things, I’m merely advising against the perils of assuming that faster always means better. It often simply isn’t the case.


Voltaire said that “Perfect is the enemy of the good”. With modern lens designs and manufacturing, this can even be the very good. Be honest with yourself and be practical, all modern lenses are likely way better at their job than we are as photographers. Will you really out shoot your glass? Look at what the masters did with the limited lenses of decades past. Think most bang for your Thai baht and have some sympathy for your bank account in these frugal times. You’ll feel great getting the best shots ever ‘despite’ the lens rather than ‘because’ of it. It’s honestly mostly nonsense if you really think about it. Just because there are no speed limits on the road to photographic success, doesn’t mean you have to drive down it the fastest.



Social Semaphore over Smoothies: The Ironies of Thai Selfie-Culture

Every genre of photography exists for a reason and fulfills a role. By far and away the largest genre prevalent in the world today is the smartphone-facilitated snapshot taken specifically for sharing on social media. Who could have known that this genre would have had such a significant impact upon not only photography but also the way people live their lives as a whole?


Sure, this is old news, but it still never ceases to amaze me how witnessing examples of its impact on social behaviour first hand can bewilder, amuse and sometimes even sadden me as the observer.  There’s a version of these events and stories for every city and town in the world. This is what I witnessed in Bangkok recently:


I had been shooting street, it was a day when I was pushing myself and I had got up to maybe my third roll with a 35 Summaron on the M2.  Nice weather but hot and I needed a place to sit down, sort through some films in my pocket and replenish my body with fluids in a cool place. I had sat down in a nice cold fruit smoothie establishment in a pretty slick part of the city. I was sat at the back but next to the window with Leica bits, Kodak cannisters and a light meter strewn in front of me on the nice wooden butcher style table top. I was unwittingly announcing to the world that I was probably odd or eccentric, if the world were bothered enough to pay attention to me, which of course it wasn’t. Times like these you might get a puzzled smile from an older person or a Klingon hipster trying to shoot you that knowing look.


Through the large window I notice a young couple advancing toward this place, they were doing the annoying self-important walking whilst smart phoning and not looking up thing.  People engaging in this practice are basically relying on other people’s good will in getting out of their way. This is a classic ignorance and arrogance combination that has never sat well with me. Although it can sometimes be amusing when you see two people bumping into each other doing the same thing from different directions. I saw a guy drop his uncased IPhone to the floor once from such an affair. The jerky fumble dance that ensued as he tried in vain to catch it on the way down was almost Mick Jaggeresque. Upon hastily reclaiming his beloved device from the evil terra firma, his face looked like he had just lost a kidney. Talk about crash test dummies. I wonder what happens if a pedestrian crossing whilst texting gets hit by a motorist who is texting and driving? Would the universe have some way to just kind of let the two cancel other each out and chalk up another couple of strikes for team Darwin?


 Although I don’t always admit it, I sometimes gain twisted satisfaction in being deliberately ‘obtuse’ to these kind of offenders in public, I say the word in much the same way that Andy Dufresne did, although hopefully without  such dire consequences. I refuse to side step them, I stop short of actually speeding up and barging them head on but NO, I will not sidestep for thee. It’s on you. But that wasn’t what had really caught my attention about this pair of trendy lookers, they were both really quite photogenic and I was fervently hoping that they wouldn’t suddenly create the perfect street scene photograph right before me now in great light as I was sitting there with no film loaded in the M2. These ‘the one that got away’ moments haunt all photographers, especially those who shoot street with film cameras. The young girl was really very pretty, although she probably didn’t quite believe this herself as she was caked up in far more make up than was needed. Her boyfriend was quite the good looking young chap. It’s always a hallmark of a good looking bloke that even straight men notice how good looking you are. It’s probably a gold standard.


They enter the scene stage left, not looking up from their phones and yet still somehow managing to both get through the door and into the establishment. There is a long high bar and stools along another window. She sits at one stool and he automatically sits two stools down from her. This immediately piqued my interest as they were clearly a couple yet it was a given that this space was needed between them and you could just tell that this was a regular and well rehearsed drill of theirs. The young guy ordered smoothies of their choice without entirely looking at the menu at all; his eyes still never left the phone. As they waited for somebody to bring their order over, both of them anxiously tried several different positions on the seat to see which angle and light worked the best. They had both decided at the same time and without any communication between them, that their entry to a humble smoothie outlet was an event that they needed to be broadcast to the world. The young lady in question briefly applies either lip balm or lipstick of some kind and then warms up with a few shots. I am only two metres or so away and her smartphone is a newer, jumbo screened affair. I can see that she has already taken at least six photos but none of them have yet met with her approval. The smoothies arrive, now she needs to include this in the frame and proceeds to take another ten frames with her mouth sucking on the straw in a goofy manner but she’s still not happy. Pretty > Goofy, try again. She takes yet more frames with the smoothie on the bar top and her pretty head at just the right angle next to it. Getting closer now, she’s honing in on the desired result but I can see that she is less than thrilled to have me in the background of the shots.  I can just make myself out in them. She moves a fake potted plant very slightly (and slowly so as to not make it too obvious) with her fingertips jus a bit at a time until my unfortunate middle age has been perfectly blocked out of the frame by a fake cactus and that’s when I realize why they have sat so spaced apart. This lady needs her own ‘selfie-zone’ studio space everywhere she goes in which she can move herself and all the props within it to represent her own perfect, trite, saccharin sweet, artificial version of reality for just 1/500th of a second to show the world.


Don’t fear that her other half is getting his feelings hurt by accommodating such a requirement, for he himself is making full use of the space to take similar selfies of note wearing his sunglasses indoors. He’s less concerned with including the smoothie in the frame in case it compromises his high-maintenance,  fragile,  new-found masculinity. Yet nailing the perfect angle of the sunglasses and their reflection is an issue which seems to be challenging him somewhat. He has made at least twenty to thirty attempts at this shot despite being sat in good light with a very capable camera in his late model, high-end smartphone with huge display.


Already five to ten minutes has passed. Not. One. Word.  Not so much as a non sequitur.


I watched on. I couldn’t quite decide if it was great that they were so comfortable together that they could be like this with each other or whether it were in fact such a terrible shame that they were wasting their wonderful young days of love away uploading pictures of fruit smoothies to people that they haven’t seen since kindergarten. Desperate to plug into the grid and the hive matrix, real life was passing them by as their youth and good looks slowly melt away like the smoothies.  Too busy updating the world to actually be in it. Authors of their own irony. 'Virtual reality'…the first word means almost. This situation was almost real,  but not quite. Something occurred to me now that I’m entering middle age. I’m glad that in my first days of adulthood, a photo was something I took quickly with a compact camera and then got developed later on. I’m glad not to have missed out on that part of my life, love and relationships with others in the world due to being sucked into the matrix. I love technology but I also love life and wish to appreciate it with technology in it, not the other way around. Maybe that sounds like an old man saying “Get off my lawn”, I honestly don’t know. I’ll go one further, younger people should have their heads up more to see and enjoy the world instead of their heads down like the old people playing bingo who have already seen it.


The two young lovers continued their routine, not once interfering with each other’s flow or (im)personal space. I have to admit, it was seamlessly done and as smooth as their beverages. There was almost a sense of choreography to it, all which unwittingly revealed just how often they had practiced this rendition. All it really needed was Ravel’s Bolero in the background and it would have been bordering on a performance art piece in its own right.


My M2 was now loaded, the light had changed, and my cup of tea was done. I took a reading with my Sekonic, wound on and shot the first two blank frames out of the way and I was ready to go. As I stood up and got ready to leave, handsome boy had finally just about got his sunglasses to be exactly as he wanted them. By looking at him posing in his screen, I could see exactly where his eyes were gazing and he was completely oblivious to my new position or recent movement. I came in close and fired off a shot of both of them from the side. He didn’t flinch, relentless in pursuit of the ultimate selfie for the day. The M2 is a quiet machine so I went for broke and stepped in closer still to test the minimum focus range of the Summaron at around eighty centimetres, literally less than meter away from the guy’s face almost exactly square on from him at ninety degrees. I knew that he would probably catch me in the act but decided that I wanted the shot and would just smile and leave the premises as planned upon being busted. Amazingly, I took the second shot and still neither of them cottoned on. I was the invisible man. I went on my merry way.  You can see the shot of this couple on the ‘work’ page of this site (in the ‘E = Siam Squared Part II gallery).  Never did hear them speak. They didn’t even see me leave despite my doubling back around and walking past their window on the way to the next stage of my photographic jaunt. They were just so wholly consumed by sharing with their legions of adoring devotees. Were Lennon still alive today, he might have said “ Life is what happens while you’re busy making other fans.”



Changing Your Photography (or I hope David Bowie didn't die because of me)

Ch-ch-ch-ch changes. Changing your photography is not to be feared. Following a recent health scare and serious surgery to excise a huge tumour from my body, I had to wait for the results of the biopsy on this new part of me which had been removed. The wait was ten days. These were probably the longest ten days of my life so far. During this time I had to face several real concerns and possible scenarios, some of them were definitely not good. Deep, self-existentialist thought and a forced renewed acceptance of one’s own mortality were an unusual way to spend Christmas, but yet strangely not an entirely unfitting mindset with which to face a new year. Perspective. Priorities. Penance. When the day finally rolled around, I had to keep it moving and try to bury the worst feelings deep down in my stomach with all the old time gathered there. The news you get from doctors at such moments can be delivered giftwrapped in mercy or left like a soggy note on the door informing you of a package that couldn’t be delivered, requiring further pursuit of happiness on your part to collect. I don’t know if it’s just Thai doctors per se but the words come from their mouths in such a nonchalant manner. They can hit you like bullets from a rusty old Cambodian revolver in a cheap Thai hit, straight in the abdomen. There are rare moments when I almost wish that I didn’t speak Thai and it was all just noise, I would only then understand the English that people tried to carefully put together for my benefit during such situations and ignorance would be bliss. After he had finished checking on my large, healing wound (as I pretended to be much less worried than I really was), the doctor proceeded to tell me that the lab results had shown the tumour to be benign. The relief is hard to describe but in the words of Shelley  “I have drunken deep of joy, and I will taste no other wine tonight’, I think I can relate. Then I found out that Bowie died of cancer on the same day. I have since wondered if the universe had decided that it came down to him or me, and given me the nod. If so, I feel that a terrible mistake might have been made, but it’s like telling the waitress in the restaurant that they forgot to include the coffee on the bill.  Sure, you feel a little bit bad but sometimes you catch a break and there’s no time for the guilt fairies…keep it moving. So, in the spirit of the late Mr. Jones, and in order to justify my recent luck, I think I’ll be mixing it up a bit and reinventing my approach from now on.


There’s been something of a photographic trend on the web in recent times to champion the simple approach in terms of less equipment and a fixed style of work. I’ve read countless sorts of articles and posts all over the shop along such lines and I have often followed the advice to ‘stick with one thing, one lens, one camera, one vision’ or other such invariable factor of choice. Less is more, you know the kind of thing. There’s definitely a benefit to that, especially if you are new to photography or looking to get back to basics but I think there’s a lot to be said for variety. Ah, beautiful Bangkok. Shooting a Polaroid of a traffic jam in the rain on a Monday, 120 colour film intense orange tropical sunrise over the city skyline on a Wednesday and rangefinder black and white film noir for the weekend sir.


Mr. Bowie didn’t always get it right, but he kept on trying new things and kept it rolling along with new ideas and fresh style. I think that it’s almost become considered somehow ‘wrong’ by many to play around and experiment with consistently changing up your photography, be it equipment, format or style. This seems to be a paradigm shift of late. People can be quite evangelical about it as though to impose upon you how you are somehow ‘not getting’ the foundation to their self-perceived Zen picture making mantra. There’s definitely a dogma to it. I had previously been more affected by this kind of thinking than I had perhaps been aware of. I belittled myself at the idea of going out with more than one lens on my person. As though I was letting myself down by having a second focal length option. Another classic quandary for me is how much of a big deal it often seems in my head to carry colour and black and white film at the same time. It’s almost like some kind of cardinal sin in my mind, quite ridiculous really. I have decided to be less bothered about such irrationality and have some fun trying out new directions in my photography. I will try things that I haven’t tried before and take some chances.


Bowie inspired chance taking in photography. Take a look at what the late Duffy did for the iconic ‘Aladdin Insane’ lightning bolt across the face series. They were just incredible; ludicrously expensive dye transfer reproductions from colour transparencies on plates custom made in Switzerland. Seriously? Then there’s Masayoshi Sukita’s re-imagining of Heckel’s ‘idiot’ as a hero via Bowie and his hands.  Like a lot of the best ideas, it was simple and deceptively obvious. A look later copied by contemporaries of the era on their album covers too. As for his most long standing photographer, Bowie said “Mick sees me the way I see myself”, imagine the changes that the good Mister Rock had to keep up with, more like he probably went through them himself.


I need to catch a wind of change myself. I often feel that I’m chasing something I can’t quite keep up with in my work. On rare occasions, I get just close enough to whatever it is I’m looking for in the Bangkok negatives hanging up to dry that I feel briefly kept in that place I want to be. Yet no sooner am I in it, than it loses its appeal and I question myself as to what I’m doing there in the first place. What is it with my work? It’s maddeningly on and off.  When you do eventually get settled in a nice spot with your photography, it can become stale overnight without warning. I used to be blissfully happy shooting at one place in Bangkok; I shot one project there alone which took me five years. It was like shooting fish in a barrel.  I felt it to be akin to a river in a Hemingway story. It just kept on giving and feeling so right. Now the place bores me, it feels trite, unwelcoming and infertile…more like a dried up Euphrates.  I can’t believe the difference but I have to accept that it must be a difference within me. I know the location is still good.  I find it easy to get stuck in such a fashion. At times like this, the best way out is always through. The way through this is to make like Bowie and change. We don’t like change, knowing how (and more importantly of course, knowing when) is not always obvious to us. It can be scary and confusing and we will often go to great lengths to avoid it. I think this is why the art of photography represents a challenge to people from the very beginning.  Perhaps it also pervades our photographic lives over the long haul.  Don’t fear it, embrace it. ‘I don’t know where I’m going from here, but I promise it won’t be boring’, I’m with you David…I’m with you.



Working on 'Bangkok Dawan Dok'

Arthur Daley the sports writer once quipped that ‘Golf is like a love affair. If you don't take it seriously, it's no fun; if you do take it seriously, it breaks your heart.’ He might just as well have been talking about shooting street photography. I feel it’s probably the hardest photographic genre; you are essentially dealing in ninety something percent failure. Like a gold rush prospector panning your way through the dirt and hoping for an occasional nugget of visual gold. For added masochism, simply do it all on a film camera and home develop a roll every 36 frames. Rinse and repeat, quite literally.


My thinking behind this project was to try and portray a very real and honest view of a mundane, humdrum Bangkok suburb. I really didn’t want to take pictures of temples, tuk-tuks, brightly robed Buddhist monks and all the other trite clichés that often seem to pervade such work. I didn’t even want to shoot anywhere that you might easily see Westerners walking around in tourist mode. In fact, and just as pertinent, I sure as hell didn’t want frames that looked like they were made by a random white man wandering the back alleys of Bangkok drinking shots of rice whiskey with complete strangers just to get a few shots in.  


I had been going through a stage of looking back over my collection of Winogrand photos (again) and appreciating the added drama that a 28mm lens can bring to the table when compared to the usual 35 or 50mm lenses that are often considered the preserve of such work. I only found out last year that all his great shots were actually on a 28mm. I had been a massive fan of the man’s work for a long time but only later discovered that in addition to his immense skill, experience and prolific output, the drama in his work also perhaps owes something to this preferred wider focal length. I decided that I would like to shoot some street work with a wider lens than normal and 28mm was definitely the ticket. I had never owned a prime lens in this length and was surprised at how little I knew about them in terms of models, even in systems that I have had a lot of experience with, such as Leica M mount or Nikon F. I could tell you all about the nuances of different 35mm’s from several manufacturers in my sleep, like any true anorak, but this was new ground. I spent a while doing some homework on the issue and then got distracted as I often do, letting it slip from memory in due course. Then one day, I stumbled over a mint condition Nikkor 28mm f2 Ais at a fair price and I snapped it up.


I normally know everything about lenses before I buy them due to losing whole chunks of my time on earth geeking out doing my research. You’ll notice that I use the word ‘research’ as a pronoun for wasting time stuck in vicious ADD circles debating things that I know full well I’ll probably purchase anyway. Yet this was a rare impulse buy of glass for me. I was of course pleased to later learn that this lens indeed has a truly stellar reputation, five star legacy glass in fact, and its great depth of field (and the nice markings to measure it with on Ais glass) was just begging me to put it to use in public. The only curveball at this point was that I although I learnt photography on Nikon SLR’s, I learnt how to shoot what I might refer to as ‘deep in the street’ work on rangefinders and had never really shot much street styled work with SLR’s before. I decided that I would be up for the challenge, if only just because of this new lens. Around this time I stumbled upon some truly great street work by an eccentric but excellent American photographer called John Free (Google him). I saw what he has been doing with small Nikon film SLR’s in the world of street photography for decades and I decided that I wasn’t going to have a problem, and one really doesn’t need a rangefinder for shooting street well despite what the internet says…. but I saw that I might have needed to adjust my thinking. Truth is that whilst Nikon lenses are large in comparison to their rangefinder equivalents, when attached to FM/FE semi pro Nikon bodies, the complete package is nearly as compact as a hooded lens set up on any Leica M. It’s still just about as discreet and eminently useable in such a role.


So with a Nikon FE2 and the venerable 28 f2, the project began. I shot it over a couple of months on Kodak’s legendary Tri X 400 and souped it all with Ilfotec HC (dilution B) at around 7 mins/20 deg c. Lab scans were later performed on a trusty old Fuji Frontier. I shot  the project in manual mode and went for feeling and emotion and forced myself away from being too obsessed with the more technical aspects of photography just for the sake of it. I did however apply some of my existing technique from rangefinder street shooting such as scale focusing the lens and being prepared to shoot quickly. I found that the shutter speeds you can hand hold an SLR to in lower light are a little less due to the flapping mirror box but in the style of work that was looking to achieve here, it mattered a lot less than I thought. I think a bigger deal is made of this than there needs to be. One issue that I did notice though was that a Nikon FE2 (or FM I would imagine) was quite a bit louder when it went off than that of a Leica M with it’s rubbery curtain swiping away. In practice though, this also mattered a bit less than I thought as by the time it gives you away, you have hopefully already got the shot anyway. Of course, the Leica would still have you covered to take a few follow up shots in stealth mode before the cat were out the bag, to use an archaic and rather cruel sounding metaphor. Also I realized that the ‘being able to see outside of the frame for what might be coming into it’ advantage that I thought I had previously wielded with a rangefinder was also overrated. I had overlooked the fact that using a 35mm lens on a .72 finder in a Leica had pushed the framelines so far to the edges that I hadn’t been seeing much outside of the frame anyway, looking ‘down the tunnel’ in an SLR shooting street was actually no problem at all.


So, I found a plain, boring, normal and very Thai neighbourhood in Bangkok and just shot a lot of rolls with one camera and lens in a very simple fashion over a couple of months. I found it quite different to be making shots that I consider interesting out of what Thai people would consider very mundane. A good approach seems to be not shooting much until your initial presence in an area has been noted and discussed by the locals a bit. Then after ten minutes or more, when the novelty of the foreigner in their vicinity starts to feign and you are perceived as less of a threat, you can get some shots that look less like you were a part of the equation. I soon felt like I was getting into my stride with the new set up. I felt that the project was successful and in keeping with my initial intentions. I also found that the 28mm wasn’t just good for squeezing more into a frame but it also did indeed exaggerate in such a way that can add a nice touch of drama. If you are already a 35mm shooter, it’s not that big a step to take but I imagine it would be harder for a normal 50mm kind of person to get used to. The lens is definitely a keeper for me. I really enjoyed the putting together of this body of work but it remains as hard as ever to find those elusive nuggets of gold out there. Sometimes that’s the way I like it, other times it drives me insane.


Still, the definition of anything good is always that it’s hard work to achieve it and there’s something to be said for the pursuit itself. Street photography can be addictive as there’s nothing quite like it when you make a frame that comes out well. Often it seems the stuff that you were sure you got, you didn’t and the stuff that you didn’t even know you got, is great. The trick might be to try and find a happy medium between the two but it is just so hard to do. I found that, like the man said, if you take this affair seriously, it could break your heart… but hopefully not enough to stop you from trying again.