A Day with a Pro

A Day with a Pro

When I first saw Tim I thought he was a thug.  He may be a UFC-sized man in a sleeveless shirt, but thug he isn’t.  We met Tim within hours after arriving in Bangkok from Vietnam.  He had recently returned to Bangkok from Myanmar, one of our next destinations, with several friends.  Having great interest in Myanmar and nobody to hang out with but each other for several weeks, we injected ourselves into his life. Looking back we can only hope we provided quality company while he shared his wisdom, experience and insights with us.

After spending several nights with Tim and a Spanish couple (Xavi and Ana), Tim was set on leaving Bangkok the next day for Ayutthaya, while we, along with Xavi and Ana were planning on going a day later.  Through some crafty maneuvering and heavy drinking, we thwarted his plan.  Upon waking the next afternoon, we reconvened and agreed to travel together to Thailand’s former capital (sans Xavi and Ana).  Prior to leaving, LOCAVORista and I had noticed that Tim had some incredible photos on Facebook, heard him mention he was carrying a 10-kilo camera bag, but not put Tim’s story together.

Tim at work after tracking down his target Buddha.

It wasn’t until we were in Ayutthaya that we found out he was a professional photographer among other things. Having won photography awards, traveled to 70 countries and 7 continents documenting the world through photography, he is the real deal. We realized it when when he was questioning a restaurant manager about a photo on a poster, saying, “this picture, I want to make this picture. Where is this?”  He then told us he had very specific plans that were based around sunset and sunrise, as those were the times that offered the best light for photography.

Understanding he was serious and wanting to see what he was up to, I suggested we rent motorcycles and go with him. He agreed and over the next 36 hours we got photography lessons that will improve every photo we take.  Here are some key lessons he taught us:

1.  Own your ISO.  Letting your camera set the ISO will lead to grainy photos.

Digital cameras want to take a photo for you.  Camera makers know that you hate it when you point the camera, click and a photo doesn’t come out.  Therefore it cranks up the ISO to allow for low-light shots.  You need to set a maximum ISO or use a manual mode to keep the ISO low (less than 400, ideally 100) in order to avoid grainy photos such as this one:

2.  Use a tripod as you can’t handhold below 1/60th of a second.

If you own your ISO, a new problem arises: you will need to use a slow shutter speed to let enough light in as most lenses don’t open wide enough.  A slow shutter speed and our shaky human hands creates blurry photos.  If you want the crisp, professional photo look, such as the one below, you’ll need a tripod.

3.  It’s always better to underexpose than overexpose a photo.

If you overexpose a photo you white wash the detail with light.  This detail that is washed out is unrecoverable, whereas an underexposed photo (a little too dark) can be processed to reveal the detail.

The detail in this overexposed photo can never be recovered as too much light was let in.

Same photo that was underexposed...some quick adjustments brings out the detail.

4. Closeups tell a different story than capturing the whole picture.

I like to take photos of the whole enchilada, but often a great photo gives more detail closeup, but leaves the audience to wonder a little about context.

This Buddha from far is pretty cool.

Closeup to the same Buddha you see a different picture...and you can see this is a happy Buddha!

5.  Take portraits at 105mm

People look best at 105mm.  I don’t really understand why, but we’ve been testing it and the results don’t lie.  Set your camera to the 105mm equivilent and move your body to get the right photo.  A fact for the digital SLR crowd, most digital SLRs have a 1.5 crop factor, therefore 105mm is actually 70mm on a digital SLR.

Look at my "lost in translation" haircut at 105mm! I didn't intend to get a buzz, but when you don't speak the language, you accept the haircut you are given.

6.  Use your camera’s computer to figure out what to shoot at

This was a real aha moment.  I thought that professional photographers just looked up at the sun, down at their subject, and knew exactly which settings to use.  Granted they know a lot compared to us common folks, they use their camera to give them a starting point.  By putting it in a semi-auto mode, such as aperture priority, or even a full-auto mode, you will know how your camera sees it.  Then you can make adjustments according to how the photos are turning out.  For learning, there is nothing like having your camera give you a shutter, aperture and ISO, then working backwards to create the photo you want through the manual settings.

Tim doing the hard work of finding the perfect position to take a photo from.

These are just some of the lessons we learned from Tim.  What we will definitely take away is that being a photographer is hard work, owning good equipment and getting up early in the morning.

The best part we got from him was settling a long-running domestic dispute.  I finally got the lens I wanted, the Nikon 24-70mm f2.8, and LOCAVORista got a Nikon 55-300mm for the long shots and a nice tripod.  Our photos will never be the same.

At the end of the day, a photographer needs to fuel his creativity properly:

With some fried chicken...leading to the hardest decision of the day...which one?

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» bka :
Feb 18, 2011

oh my, this is great stuff…..you 2 or is it 3 now, continuously impress me with your knowledge, savvy travel skills and human know how…….can’t wait for the chiang mai experience to begin…..pretty sure you will like that as well…..be safe……love bka

» Donna :
Feb 18, 2011

Wow! And I thought your photos to date have been great! Can’t wait to see photos after hob-nobbing with a pro! Some great information there for those of us who’d like to think we’re photographers. Unfortunately the automatic cameras spoiled a lot of us … and now we’re still trying to recover from that. Just got my newest version of FileMaker Pro on which I plan to catalog my GOOD photos … your article will give me even more reason to start working on that future career!! Donna

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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