Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mob Rule

Girls dance at a “flash mob” in front of the Arizona Science Center this morning. 
A sort of flash mob took over the plaza in front of the Arizona Science Center this morning. I say “sort of” because it was an extraordinarily well planned flash mob. There were briefs in the Arizona Republic encouraging people to participate in the mob, a local radio station was there for a live remote and it was cosponsored by the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” physical fitness campaign. 
If a 21st century flash mob is a group of people coming together because of a series of text messages and SMSes, this was more of a 20th century flash mob called together by 20th century means. Not that that’s a bad thing. It’s just not a real flash mob. 
Still it was a lot of fun. There was music, some people danced, a few stayed to go to the Science Center and the others went on their way. The whole thing lasted about 25 minutes. 
There are more photos of the flash mob in my archive and available from ZUMA Press

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Speeding Up Lightroom

Adobe Photoshop Lightroom is an amazing bit of software. I use it for nearly 100 percent of my photo processing needs. From ingesting to converting to cataloging, it’s all done in Lightroom. One of the things I like about Lightroom is that handles all of the RAW files in my archive from Canon D30 (circa 2000) to the 5D Mark II. I even have a couple of Nikon D1 files floating around. 

My biggest complaint with Lightroom is that it’s a little slow with large catalogs, especially when launching and ingesting and when I’m working on 21megapixel files from the 5D Mark II. After some trial and error, I’ve settled on a couple of very easy steps that make working in Lightroom faster (for me at least, your mileage may vary). 

But before I get into specifics there are a couple of things to keep in mind when using LR (or most any image editor).

  1.  Disable languages you don’t need. For me, that’s everything but English. It’s easy, (but it’s done in the finder, not Lightroom). First quit Lightroom. Then, in the Finder select Lightroom, then type Command (or Apple) i. This opens the Get Info box for LR. Scroll down the box to Languages and deselect everything you don’t need (by default LR will always select one language so you can’t deselect everything). Close the Get Info box and relaunch Lightroom. Only the language(s) you’ve selected will load with LR and it should be speed things up a little. (This trick also works with any application on your Mac.)
  2.  More RAM is better than less. I run LR on two similar Macs, a 13 inch 2.26 ghzMacBook Pro with 4 gigs of RAM and a 20 inch 2.16 ghz iMac with 2 gigs of RAM. On paper, the little MacBook Pro isn’t much faster than the iMac but with the extra RAM it leaves the iMac in the dust when it comes to Lightroom. 
  3.  Dedicate as much of your system as possible to Lightroom. When I sit down to start a serious editing session in Lightroom, I quit SafariTweetDeck andMail. When I’m done with LR, I quit out of it before restarting Safari, TweetDeck and Mail. This is especially true if you’re working on a RAM impaired (2 gigs or less) computer.  

Now on to the workflow habits that can speed up your Lightroom experience. 

When you launch Lightroom it’s going to load the last folder or collection you used and it’s going to load all of the photos in that folder or collection before it lets you start another session. 

If you quit LR with your entire 100,000 image catalog selected, you’re going to wait a while before you do anything. And if you quit LR with it on an empty folder or catalog it’s going to be ready to go nearly instantly. I use Quick Collections while I’m sorting my photos. When I’m done with a LR session I empty the QC and then leave it selected and quit LR. Next time I launch LR, it starts up in the empty QC and is ready to go instantly. This significantly speeds up the time LR needs to start up. (Top photo)

I’m pretty impatient and for me the most frustrating part of using Lightroom is waiting for thumbnails and previews to build because I can’t start sorting and editing until I can see the photos. 

I typically ingest photos from my cards into folders on my hard drive. I set up my import (Command Shift I) to copy photos from the card to a folder in my LR catalog. Once LR has started importing the photos, I select the target folder in LR, set the thumbnails to as small possible (using the slider on the bottom of the tool bar) and clear all of the panes off the screen to get as many photos on screen as possible. LR only builds previews as the images are on screen. So if you select the largest thumbnail setting and have all the panes visible (Identity Plate, Catalogs, IPTC and Filmstrip) LR will only generate previews for the pictures on the screen. Then I kick back and wait. Use the time to catch up on email (if I have access to a second computer), get something to eat or drink or do paperwork. Anything to take my mind off of waiting. (Second photo)

Using the fastest cards and card readers you can afford will substantially speed up the import process. I’ve always used SanDisk Ultra II cards, because they were fastest most inexpensive cards available. I recently started using SanDisk Extreme IV UDMA cards with a SanDisk Extreme IV FireWire 800 card reader. The combo flies. I still have to wait for previews to build, but they start building a lot sooner than they did with Ultra II cards and slower card readers. 

Once I have the photos imported and previews built I go to work sorting, captioning and editing photos. This is where you’ll see the speed gains you made earlier in the process (getting extra RAM and quitting other applications). 

When it comes to writing captions (every photo in my catalog has a caption), presets can make things go a lot faster. I have a “boilerplate” template for each of several agencies I send photos to. The template has all the information specific to that agency, which saves me typing time. LR also remembers (and auto completes) entries you’ve made on other photos, which speeds up the sorting/editing process. 

Other than the tips I’ve already listed (extra RAM, quitting others applications), I haven’t found a way to speed up the export/conversion process. This seems to be heavily dependent on processor speed and RAM. Bigger files (i.e. those from a 5D Mark II, D3X or Sony A900) take more time to convert than smaller files (i.e. Canon D30, Canon 1D or Nikon D1). If you have any tips for speeding up export I’d love to hear them

UPDATE AUG 3: On his web site, Lloyd Chambers goes into some detail on why Lightroom is rather pokey on exports and some tips on how to speed it up. He recommends dividing your batch export into two batches and exporting them at the same time. The full explanation is here and worth reading. 

My photos are available from ZUMA Press or PhotoShelter. My PhotoShelter archive is searchable. 

Friday, July 22, 2011

Let's Get Small

There was a time, back when men were men* and photojournalists used film that transmitting on deadline was a major production. 
Back in the day, I used to travel with a footlocker of gear that contained an entire traditional wet darkroom, from film processing reels and tanks to an enlarger, and an AP transmitter, which was about the size of a portable typewriter and took 24 minutes to send one color photo over landlines. 
The digital revolution made all that obsolete. (I sometimes miss the days of using film. I never miss the days of turning my hotel bathroom into a functioning darkroom. The enlarger always went on the toilet, which meant the toilet couldn’t be used as, you know, a toilet.) 
Now a traveling photojournalist works off of a MacBook Pro and wifi (or a cellular aircard) and you transmit from where ever you are. But there are times when even working off of a MacBook Pro and looking for wifi can be too time consuming. 
Hello iPhone. The iPhone 4 was my first iPhone. Before the iPhone I had a Palm Treo 680, slick when it was new, way back in 2006, but starting to show its age now. The iPhone has quickly become an indispensable tool in my digital toolbox. At first it just replaced my Treo - I used it for checking email, surfing the web and making phone calls. Now it’s way more than that. 
In July, at the height of the SB 1070 issue in the federal courts, I had to transmit photos of the ongoing protests from the sidewalk in front of the courthouse to the Arizona Republic. Working off my MacBook Pro wasn’t practical (too big to carry around, no where to sit and work etc) so I used the 5 megapixel camera in the iPhone to make photos and emailed them back to the office. The camera in the phone is great. For a cell phone camera. But it doesn’t equal even a point and shoot let alone a high end SLR. And there was no way to caption photos so editors on the receiving end had to cut and paste my caption from the email into the photo in Photoshop and then transfer the photo to the newspaper’s archive. The iPhone, while a good solution, was not a perfect solution. 
All of that has changed in just the last two weeks. Now there’s a Secure Digital (SD) card reader for the phone and a terrific iPhone/iPad app called Filterstorm that allows me to use any camera that uses SD cards (in my case the Canon G11) access the JPEGs, caption them and ftp them to the Republic’s archive. Way cool. 
The SD reader is kind of expensive for a SD reader - about $40 at Amazon - while generic USB readers are well under $20. But it’s the only SD reader available for the iPhone, because Apple’s Camera Connection Kit for the iPad doesn’t support the iPhone, so they have the market cornered. (The Zoomit reader also works with the iPad.) 
Filterstorm is an amazing app. At $3.99 it should be on every photographer’s iPhone or iPad. It’s gets regular updates and the support is superb. It has all the editing tools for editing photos you would expect, brightness and contrast control, sharpness and blurring and even curves. But what really sets it apart is the IPTC information and the ftp client. It does things some of the major players in software for photojournalists said couldn’t be done with the iPhone or iPad.
Now my workflow on breaking, “we need it NOW!” stories is to make the photo with my Canon G11 pull out my iPhone attach the card reader and edit on the spot.
I select the photos I want to send using the zoomit app, and copy them into my iPhone’s Photos app (I never actually launch the Photos app). When the photos I want to send, usually just two or three, are copied over, I exit out of zoomit and launch Filterstorm. 
I select the first photo; crop, color correct, tone and sharpen it, add a caption and then ftp the photo straight out of Filterstorm. When the first photo is done, I start on the second and so on. If I am covering a march or protest this allows me to keep up with the protesters where I would have fallen far behind if I had stopped to use a computer.  
The photo quality from the G11 is so much better than the iPhone that photos made with the G11 can go into the paper or on the web. Although some of my iPhone photos have been printed on paper, they were generally reserved for internet use. If I had a SLR that used SD cards, like the Canon 1D series, I could run photos from that camera through the phone (this could be a real boon to sports photographers who use the 1D series cameras). 
Working this way isn’t perfect. You can only work on one photo at a time with Filterstorm and you have to work with JPEGs - neither the iPhone nor the iPad have the oomph to convert raw files. Accurately typing names and captions on the iPhone’s touch screen is a challenge (and that’s being charitable). Finally, color correcting photos on a cell phone screen, even one as great as the iPhone’s, is really difficult. 
It would be easy to dismiss this solution as too little to be really useful. But I prefer to see it as just about perfect. It would be great to open multiple photos at once and set up a queue for transmitting, like I can on my MacBook Pro. But the phone’s not a MacBook Pro it doesn’t have the processor or RAM to deal with four or five 10 megapixel files (even JPEGs) at the same time. For what it does and what I need it’s darn near ideal.  

(This was originally published in my technical blog “Geek Speak” on Oct. 1, 2010.)

  • No offense intended. I mean “when men were men” in a gender neutral way.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


A banana flower salad at Chote Citr, a restaurant in Bangkok. This is the tastiest Thai salad I’ve ever had. 
I love Thai salads. They’re not like salads in the US. There’s no overflowing lettuce, no syrupy mayonnaise based dressings. Thai salad dressings are lime juice based with herbs and spices. The base of the banana flower salad is banana flower (duh) tossed with mint, some chicken and spices and it is delicious. 
In general, my favorite Thai salad is Som Tum, made with shredded green papaya, peanuts, dried shrimp, lime juice and lots of spice. Som Tum is especially popular in Isaan (northeast Thailand, along the Lao and Cambodian borders). I’ve never been able to find the Banana Flower salad anywhere besides Bangkok. A lot of Thai restaurants in the US have never even heard of this salad. I’ve been told it’s a Bangkok and south central Thailand thing, that the Banana Flowers are unique to that part of a Thailand, which I find hard to believe since bananas grow like weeds in Thailand. 
I’ve been going to Chote Chitr for about four years. It’s a great little restaurant, a hole in the wall near Bangkok City Hall. It used to be packed with Bangkok municipal employees on their lunch break. But once the owner was profiled in the New York Times (where I first read about it) and on NPR, its popularity with tourists soared. When I was there earlier this month, all of the customers were farangs (foreigners). The food was still delicious but the ambiance was different. More run of the mill, less Thai, more touristy. The price of fame I guess.
There are more photos from my summer trip to Thailand in my archive and available from ZUMA Press

Friday, July 15, 2011

Buddhist Lent, the Monks Annual Rains Retreat, Starts in Thailand

A monk collects flowers and candles presented during a merit making ceremony at Wat Phra Phutthabat in Saraburi province of Thailand

I went up to Saraburi today to witness the beginning of what is widely called "Buddhist Lent" or in Theravada Buddhist tradition, Vassa. The three-month annual retreat during the rainy season is observed by Theravada monks and nuns. 

Wat Phra Phutthabat is highly revered in Thailand because it houses a footstep of the Buddha. On the first day of Vassa (or Buddhist Lent) people come to the temple to "make merit" and present the monks there with dancing lady ginger flowers, which only bloom in the weeks leading up Vassa, and only around this temple. They also present monks with candles and wash their feet. During Vassa, monks and nuns remain inside monasteries and temple grounds, devoting their time to intensive meditation and study. Laypeople support the monastic sangha by bringing food, candles and other offerings to temples. Laypeople also often observe Vassa by giving up something, such as smoking or eating meat. For this reason, we in the West sometimes call Vassa the "Buddhist Lent."

The tradition started in the early days of Buddhism when the Buddha's arhats (disciples) would wander the Indian countryside without a permanent home spreading his teachings. Travel during India's rainy season as a homeless preacher was difficult so the disciples would meet up and form temporary communities. These temporary communities evolved into the Buddhist temples of today. 

There were thousands of people at the temple this morning. It was an amazing experience and, on my next to last full day here, seems like the perfect way to close out this trip.

There are more photos from the beginning of Vassa in my archive or available from ZUMA Press. 

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Riding the Light Rail

Passengers on a Skytrain, Bangkok's excellent light rail, wait for the doors to close and the train to leave Siam station. 

Bangkok has a great light rail system that runs for about 30 miles along two lines - the Silom line, which runs through the Central Business District and the Sukhumvit line which runs down Sukhumvit out to Mo Chit. The two lines meet and passengers transfer at the Siam station, conveniently in the heart of Bangkok's upscale shopping district. 

The most expensive ticket is 40 Baht, about $1.30 US. The least expensive is 15 Baht. The trains are clean, cheap, air conditioned and faster than a car on surface streets. The perfect way to get around Bangkok.

I really enjoy riding the light rail, it's the best way to get from Point A to Point B and the people watching is great fun. Folks in the US think we Americans are addicted to our gadgets. But you haven't seen gadget addiction until you visit Thailand. Thai teenagers are constantly on their smart phones (and like the US, the iPhone is the smart phone of choice) texting, emailing, hitting web sites and playing Angry Birds. 

I have more photos of the Skytrain in my archive or available from ZUMA Press. 

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Aerobics with an Edge

A woman in Lumpini Park in central Bangkok, goes through her morning aerobics routine with a sword. 

I went to Lumphini Park, in Bangkok, to photograph people doing Tai-Chi one morning. The park is a haven, 142 acres of green space in the midst of Bangkok's concrete and asphalt surfaces.

It's packed early in the mornings, when it's a little cooler, with people jogging, doing Tai-Chi, yoga and even karaoke. I photographed a couple of groups of women exercising when one group started working out with very large swords. It was fun. 

We used to play in the park when we were kids here in the 1960's. It's just a couple of blocks from an apartment we lived in at the corner of Wireless Road and Phloen Chit. The apartment building is still there, but not much else remains from 1969. The childhood time contrasted with the time I was in the park last year with Thai troops while they attacked Red Shirt civilians camped in and around the park. There are no reminders left of those bloody days last May.

There are more photos of Tai-Chi exercises in the park in my archive and available from ZUMA Press. 

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Soi Arab

A woman from the Middle East talks to a Thai souvenir vendor on Soi 3 in Bangkok. 

One of the things I love about Bangkok is the city's incredible diversity. It's a real melting pot, I think it's probably the most diverse city in Asia. Lower Sukhmvit Road has been best known for its tawdry nightlife. Soi Nana and Soi Cowboy are world famous "red light" districts that cater to sex tourists from around the world. Rock music blares from speakers while scantily clad women hang out in the "beer bars" waiting for lonely or desperate men with more cash than common sense. 

Just across the street from Nana and a couple of blocks from Soi Cowboy though is Soi Arab. What started out as one small street, formally known Sukhumvit Soi 3/1, is now a veritable casbah of businesses that cater to Muslim, overwhelmingly Arab, visitors to Thailand. The signage and music is Arabic. You hear Arabic being spoken on the street more than English. Many of the street vendors are Muslim Thais (about five percent of Thailand is Muslim). Finally, there's a real family vibe to the whole neighborhood. You wouldn't know you're two blocks from some of the most infamous adult "entertainment" districts in the world.

There are more photos from Soi Arab in my archive and available from ZUMA Press. 

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Street of many Buddhas

A man works on a statue of the Buddha in front of his shop in Bangkok. 

Bangkok, like many old imperial capitals is actually a city of artisan's neighborhoods. Although the city has gobbled most of them up, a few still exist, like Soi Baan Baat, where artisans still make the alms bowls used by monks on their morning rounds, or Ban Krua, a Muslim community that is renowned for its silk makers. 

Bamrung Muang Street is one of the city's hidden gems. It used to be the place where most of the Buddha statues and religious paraphernalia used throughout Thailand were made. It was one of the first paved streets in Bangkok, back in the very early 20th century. It was one of the first streets with something of a modern sewage and drainage system. Now the statue makers have moved out to the edge of the city, but Bamrung Muang Street is still where the statues are sold. I wandered up and down the street for several hours photographing merchants and customers, monks and nuns, all looking for the perfect Buddha for their home or temple. 

There are more photos in my archive or available from ZUMA Press. 

Monday, July 4, 2011

And the winner is...

Yingluck Shinawatra and Pheu Thai. 

And the Thai people. Pheu Thai won the election tonight. By a lot. Most of the pundits predicted  Pheu Thai would get the most votes, but not necessarily a majority of votes. Thailand has a parliamentary system and the winner must score 50% +1 to form a government, anything less and the parties form a coalition. Most had expected PT to score 40-45% of the votes, the Democrats somewhat less but that the Democrats would be the ultimate winners because they would form the coalition first. 

Instead, PT scored a landslide. Exit polls showed them winning 320 or so of 500 seats in the parliament and the mood at Pheu Thai headquarters tonight was euphoric. The final tally did not match those lofty expectations. PT scored about 261 of 500 seats in parliament, still enough for an outright victory but a much narrower victory than first thought. Yingluck didn't waste the opportunity though. She still put together a coalition with several minor parties so the PT coalition still controls more than 300 seats. A pretty secure future assuming the courts don't reject any of the Pheu Thai members of parliament. 

There are more photos from the victory party and of Yingluck Shinawatra in my archive and available from ZUMA Press. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Shelter from the Storm

A man waits out a rainstorm in front of a bridal shop in Bangkok.

I left the Pheu Thai rally in Bangkok Friday night early because it started to rain. An end of the world, frog strangling, full on apocalyptic downpour and while I had a cheap plastic poncho for myself, I didn't have my rain gear for my ThinkTank camera pouches and I didn't want my cameras to get drenched. 

It turns out I should have stayed at the rally. By the time I got out to the street I was completely drenched. My cameras stayed sort of dry (because I buried them under my the poncho and my shirt) but I was completely soaked head to toe and the rain was coming down in buckets. Sometimes literally when canvas awnings over street stands burst because of the water they collected. I was in a part of Bangkok I had never been in before and had no idea 1) where I was, 2) where the nearest light rail station was or 3) how to get back to the hotel. I flagged down a taxi and the driver took one look at me and drove off. I didn't even have a chance to tell him where I was going. I flagged down a second taxi and the driver looked at me and when I told him where I was going, he drove off without so much as a "no way." So I started walking. And I kept walking for about 45 minutes in the most miserable heavy rain I've ever seen (and while we live in the desert now, we used to live in Florida, where it ain't a dry heat, so I know rain). I sort of, kind of headed in a direction that I sort of, kind of thought the light rail would be. After 45 minutes of slogging through the downpour, watching taxi after taxi pass me, laughing I'm sure at the stupid farang (Thai for European foreigner) on the street, a cab pulled over to let a fare out. 

I jumped in before the woman even finished paying the cabbie. He looked at me and shook his head. I told him where I wanted to go. He shook his head again. I shut the door and stayed in the cab. He looked at me and didn't say a word and I stared right back and then he burst out laughing, punched the meter and away we went. After another 45 minutes of navigating streets that were flooded we turned onto Petchaburi Road, a street I recognized. 

I was going through my camera gear to see what I had wrecked and was surprised to find only piece of gear was DOA, a flash (as an aside, it's been my experience after three years with my 5D Mark II bodies that they're nearly bullet proof). As we passed the bridal shop I saw the man with the umbrella in front of the bridal shop. I already had my 200mm lens on the camera and grabbed three frames through the window of the taxi and we floated past. It had been so dark at the Pheu Thai rally that I already had the ISO at 3200 and much to my surprise the photo of the umbrella man came out. 

Fifteen minutes later, the cabbie dropped me at the front door of my hotel, where the front desk staff laughed hilariously when I walked in still soaked and now freezing from the cab's air conditioner which had been on full blast the whole time. 

Closing The Campaign

A Pheu Thai supporter cheers for Yingluck Shinawatra at the last Pheu Thai rally of the campaign. 

The Thai political parties closed out their campaigns with huge rallies Friday night. The ruling Democrats closed their campaign in central Bangkok, near Dusit Palace. The Pheu Thai challengers closed their campaign in a giant stadium about halfway to the airport. I decided to go to the Democrats' campaign because it was a closer to my hotel. 

On my short walk to the BTS (Skytrain) station, two motorcycle taxis stopped and offered to take me to the Pheu Thai party on the edge of town. I declined and got on the Skytrain to go to the Democrats' rally. The stop before the Dems rally site was the connection for the Airport Link, a light rail system that goes to the airport. On a whim, I got off the train and jumped on the airport link and followed the crowd to the Pheu Thai rally. 

I'm glad I did. The Pheu Thai rally was electric. People were jazzed and clearly expected to win. Even though I didn't have any credentials, Pheu Thai volunteers waved me into the media area, which made it easier to photograph the rally. 

There are more photos from the rally in my archive and available from ZUMA Press.