Thursday, May 30, 2013

Burmese in Mae Sot

Burmese border crossers push a boat headed back to Burma (the buildings in the background are in Burma) into the Moei River

I went to Mae Sot primarily to photograph a story about drug resistant malaria. I had some extra time so I also photographed daily life in the border town. 

I think Mae Sot is one of the most interesting towns in Thailand. 

It's in Thailand but it's not really Thai - it's a blend of Burmese and Thai. 

It's a dynamic I've witnessed in border cities along the US/Mexico border and the Mexican/Guatemalan border. The border city in the more economically prosperous country takes in huge numbers of migrants from its less prosperous neighbor and businesses in the more prosperous country are happy to hire them. The migrants are looking for a better life, the businesses are looking for low wage workers. 

The "Friendship Bridge" over the Moei River between Mae Sot and Myawaddy is the official border crossing point. It's a busy place, Burmese and Thais, along with a few foreign tourists and businesspeople, line up to cross to Burma while a steady stream of Burmese, who have official crossing documents, cross from Burma into Thailand. 
Burmese hang out on the Thai side of the Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot

But the really interesting stuff happens downstream, starting just below the bridge and going kilometers down the river. A steady stream of boats, packed well beyond capacity, cross the river bringing hundreds of Burmese into Thailand every hour. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

So This Is Burma?

Burmese novices cross a wooden "bridge" in a field north of Mae Sot, Thailand but in Burma

I've written quite a bit about why I walk as much as I can here. It usually pays off in nice ways for my photographs. I get a little lost and wander a neighborhood knowing I can't get too lost because I have my iPhone and its multiple maps and GPS apps. 

Saturday in Mae Sot was no different. I took a motorcycle taxi down to the "Friendship Bridge" that is the border between Myawaddy, Myanmar (Burma) and Mae Sot, Thailand. I made a couple of pictures there and then walked down to the Rim Moei market. I was too early for the market, which hadn't opened yet, so I walked along the riverfront promenade. I went a ways down the promenade and decided to see what was what and go to the end. 

I got to the end and it just ended. No signs, no warnings or barriers. Just a 10 foot drop from the cement promenade to the jungle floor. I could see a woman carrying water from the Moei River up to what looked like a village and a small, empty, market nearby. 

My curiosity was piqued. I backtracked to a set of stairs, got off the promenade and walked down to the river to photograph the woman hauling water. I followed her into a village of thatched huts and a made a couple of pictures. The homes were simple huts. A couple had metal roofs but most were thatch from bottom to top. 

This was a place of extreme poverty. Even the poorest Thai villages I've been in had some modern conveniences - wells, electricity, pavement - especially within walking distance of an urban area as large as Mae Sot. This place had none of those and looked like some of the Burmese migrant and refugee communities I've photographed around Mae Sot and Kanchanaburi province, to the south. I thought I had wandered into an unofficial refugee community and in a way I had. 

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Blue Hour

Buddhist novices walk down the street on the morning alms rounds in front of my guest house in Mae Sot.

Photographers usually "chase the light." We're famous for getting up while it's still dark out so we can be making pictures just as the sun comes up.

The truth is though, I don't chase the light much in Bangkok. When I get up at Zero Dark 30 to make pictures it's usually because I want to be in a market photographing when it's busiest. Bangkok's urban design - a sprawling city with an impressive skyline, means trying to photograph in "nice light" is difficult. Get to where you want to be before the sun comes up to discover that the sunrise is blocked by a skyscraper three or four blocks away. There are exceptions of course. There's guaranteed nice light on the riverfront and there's nice light to photograph morning exercisers in Lumpini Park but I've found that by and large nice light in Bangkok is a fleeting concept.

Even the markets, which are busiest when the light is nicest, don't offer nice light because most of them are covered. Some are in buildings but most are covered by awnings that hang out over the sidewalk and keep them in a semi-permanent gloom that changes very little as the sun marches through the sky.

None of which is true upcountry. Thailand's provincial towns are made up of mostly low slung three or four story buildings. Upcountry, it makes sense to chase the light.

This picture was made the morning I got up early to photograph a Buddhist holy day. I left my Mae Sot guest house before dawn - I saw the novices coming before I was even on the street. I made a few frames (less than 10) of them walking by me and they were gone. According to my Golden Hour calendar, the "Blue Hour" (which is really only about 30 minutes before sunrise) ended at 5.48AM and the EXIF data on the file shows the photo was made at 5.41AM. The wall the novices are in front of is white/gray. The blue color is completely caused by the time of day and the camera's preset color balance (daylight). The same scene at 8AM would be completely different and at noon even more different.

It's luck that I made this picture. If I had gone out either two minutes earlier or later I would have missed the novices walking by and if I had gone out when "normal" people get rolling I would have missed the novices and the light.

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Monday, May 27, 2013

Celebrating the Buddha's Birth, Enlightenment and Death

Burmese men pray during a Visakha Puja service at Wat Pha Mai in Mae Sot

The Buddhist holiday of Visakha Puja fell on the Friday I was in Mae Sot. It's one of the most important Buddhist holidays celebrated in Southeast Asia, marking the birth, enlightenment and death of the Buddha. 

I wanted to photograph Burmese immigrants celebrating the holiday in Mae Sot (Burma, like Thailand, is a Theravada Buddhist country), so I asked the manager at the guest house I was staying at which temple the local Burmese went to for the holiday. He gave me directions to a temple a little ways out of town and said I would have to find a tuk-tuk to get out there because it was too far to walk. And that I should arrive at the temple by about 6:30AM for a 7:00AM service. Which of course meant getting up very early. 

I left the guest house before dawn and walked into Mae Sot town to find a tuk-tuk. I told the driver where I wanted to go, but he didn't understand my mispronunciation of the Thai so we tried to use Google's* maps app on my iPhone and that didn't go too well either. 

But he was up for an adventure and we drove around asking random strangers if they spoke English. After a couple of stops we found a woman waiting to make an alms presentation to monks. She asked me which temple I was trying to get to and repeated it back to the driver** and we set off. Once we got out of town the driver was more willing to let Google do the driving and we used my iPhone to zero in on the temple. 

I don't know where the guest house manager got his information, but there were no Burmese at the temple. They were all Thais. They were very gracious and invited me into the service. I made a couple of photos but it wasn't what I was looking for. When the service ended I walked back out to the highway and realized I had made a mistake by releasing the tuk-tuk driver when he dropped me off. I was in the middle of nowhere with nary a motorcycle taxi or tuk-tuk to be seen. I started walking back to Mae Sot, which according to Google maps was only 6 or 7 miles away.

After about 15 minutes a "songthaew" (a pickup truck configured as a bus) passed me and I chased it waving my arms like a lunatic. A Burmese monk in the songthaew saw me and banged on the roof to get the driver to stop. I hopped in and 30 minutes later was deposited in central Mae Sot. I visited some Thai temples but there wasn't much going on so I stopped for breakfast and coffee at a local restaurant. 

I was getting ready to pay my breakfast bill and a couple of Burmese women in formal dress walked by collecting alms. Then a couple of more walked by and I thought it might be a procession. I put more than enough money to cover my breakfast on the table and rushed out to the street just as a procession of about 200 Burmese, all dressed in white, many carrying statues of the Buddha, reached the restaurant. My day was made. 

Chasing a Parasite

Burmese medics with the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit race to save a Burmese man's life after he collapsed with a fever caused by malaria

Malaria is a parasite spread by mosquitoes. It's been the scourge of mankind for millennia, first reported in China in 2700BC. Originally it was thought that malaria was an airborne disease (hence malaria, Latin for Bad Air) and originated around swamps (it was also called "swamp fever.") It wasn't until the late 19th century that we knew mosquitoes spread the disease. 

During World War II, malaria hospitalized more combatants than actual combat did. Medical science thought it had scored a win against the parasite with the development of drugs, including chloroquine, that killed the parasite but the victory was fleeting. The parasite mutated and by the 1970's drug resistant malaria came roaring out of the jungles of Southeast Asia and raced around the world, causing a sustained increase in deaths from malaria. 

Further research led to the development of malarone, a very expensive but effective drug that worked until the early 2000s when the parasite mutated again and again in Southeast Asia. Now another epidemic of drug resistant malaria is on the march and scientists are racing to contain it before it gets out of Southeast Asia and moves onto India and Africa. 

I went to Mae Sot, Thailand, to photograph doctors from the Shoklo Malaria Research Unit (SMRU) doing research into and treating malaria. Malaria has been effectively eliminated from Thailand but it is still endemic in Burma and Cambodia. As recently as 2009, SMRU doctors were able to cure over 95% of their patients using malarone and other treatments. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Three Years Ago Today

A crowd of Red Shirts march down Rama I Road to Ratchaprasong Intersection during a Red Shirt rally in Bangkok Sunday

May 19, 2010 is seared into the minds of many Thais. It was the day the Thai Army finally crushed the Red Shirts protests that had gridlocked much of Bangkok. I was here then and blogging about my experiences. And for a long, bloody, week snipers firing from hidden positions killed Red Shirts and civilians alike in what was the lead up to a massive show of force when hundreds of soldiers attacked Red Shirt positions in the center of the city. In the end, more than 85 people were killed. Most of them were Thais. Red Shirts were killed but so were unarmed civilian medics trying to help people trapped in a temple, foreign journalists were killed, people who were just in the wrong place at the wrong time were killed. Several soldiers, about six or seven were also killed. 

The finger pointing continues and then Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva (he lost a bid for reelection 13 months later in 2011) now faces possible prosecution for his role in the crackdown. But no one has yet been brought to justice and feelings are as raw today as they were on May 19, 2010. 

Now May 19 is a Red Shirt day of remembrance. Tens of thousands of Red Shirts descend on Ratchaprasong to express their unhappiness at the slow pace of the investigation and remember their collegeagues. 

There are lots of photos of the Red Shirts' protests, including the bloody crackdown, in my archive

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

A Word From Our Sponsors

Cambodians on a "bamboo" train in the countryside

Working in Bangkok as a freelance photojournalist has its up and downs. I work on stories I enjoy and I think are important, but there aren't very many assignments so I've looked at other ways of making money. One of the things I'm doing, something I really enjoy, is teaching workshops. 

My neighbor and friend, Gavin Gough, an excellent photographer, has asked me to help him with workshops he leads in Bangkok and it's been a real treat to meet aspiring photographers in Bangkok, which is one of the best cities in the world to learn photography. 

Now Gavin has put together a program which is a great opportunity for photographers who want to explore a seldom seen part of Cambodia. And he's asked me to help him with the workshop. 

(This a slide show photos from a story I worked on about Cambodian trains, back when Cambodia had trains.) 

We're taking a small group of photographers from Phnom Penh to Battambang and then to Seam Reap. 

In Battambang we're going to work on photo stories about the "Bamboo Trains," a Cambodian innovation. Entrepreneurs in the Cambodian countryside have put small lawn mower type engines on bamboo mats and then run the contraptions up and down the abandoned railroad tracks around Battambang. It's a great example of the resourcefulness of the Cambodian people, a model of sustainable development and a lot of fun. 
A bamboo train driver zips down a railroad track in the countryside

The workshop is June 28 - July 3. We'll start in Phnom Penh with a visit to the Toul Sleng Genocide Museum, then go on to Battambang for the trains and end up in Seam Reap to explore some parts of the breathtaking Angkor Wat complex. The fee for the workshop is only $1,900. For almost everything. 

The fee includes all hotels (and he's lined up some very nice hotels), all meals, all transfers and transportation in Cambodia (including the trains), service fees and tips. The hotels rooms are singles - there's none of the "single supplement" scam and no one will be forced into a room mate situation with a stranger. 

It's easier to list what's not included. Airfare to and from Cambodia (into Phnom Penh and out of Cambodia from Seam Reap), alcoholic beverages, laundry, minibar and misc hotel bills. It also doesn't include a Cambodian visa. We strongly encourage using Cambodia's easy to navigate e-visa program
Cambodian women on the bamboo train.

I rode the bamboo trains a few years ago. To this day, they're a highlight of my many memories of Cambodia. I've also traveled a lot in Cambodia and can tell you that for the hotels Gavin has booked and the arrangements he's made (private vans from Phnom Penh to Battambang and Seam Reap) solo travelers would be hard pressed to make the same arrangements at a lower price by themselves. 

In the evenings Gavin and I will talk about workflow (using Adobe's Lightroom, version 5 if it's out, version 4 if it's not), and show pictures and talk about from other stories we've worked on. It promises to be a great six days in Cambodia. Join us

Here's a slideshow of my work in Cambodia. 

A Big Story For Shrimps

(And a good story for Arizona!)
A workers sets out nets in a shrimp pond in Saphunburi province

I set out Tuesday to photograph workers on a shrimp farm about two hours from Bangkok. Shrimp farming is an important part of Southeast Asia's economies. More than 1 million people in the region rely on shrimp aquaculture for their livelihood and shrimp farming contributed $13.3 billion dollars to regional economies in 2011. That's a lot of crustaceans dipped in cocktail sauce. Thailand is one of the world's leading shrimp exporters and shrimp aquaculture is an important part of the Thai economy. 

I wanted to photograph the shrimp farms because Thai shrimp are dying en masse. The ponds are being ravaged by a disease called EMS - Early Mortality Syndrome - which kills shrimp before they reach market size. The shrimp lose their appetite then die en masse. 

Monday, May 13, 2013

Royal Ploughing Ceremony

People rush onto the field at the end of the Royal Ploughing Ceremony in search of rice seeds sown by Brahmin priests

The Royal Ploughing Ceremony was earlier today. The ceremony has been a part of Thai culture for hundreds of years - it reportedly goes back to the Sukothai period around 1300AD. In ancient times the court's Brahmin priests used it to presage the coming rice harvest. In modern times, it marks the beginning of Thailand's rice planting season, but the ancient traditions are still observed. 

In the past, Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, presided over the ceremony. Health problems have limited the amount of time he spends out of the hospital and his son, His Royal Highness Crown Prince Vajiralongkorn presides over the ceremony now. Brahmin priests, who still play an important role in Buddhist Thailand's Royal Court, select the day and hour of the ceremony and officiate at it. Royal oxen plough a small piece of land on Sanam Luang while the Brahmins sow the area with blessed rice seeds from the royal seed bank. Watching the ceremony is a bit like opening a window into Thailand's past. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Nothing In Common

Buddha statues in an alley behind Bangkok's city hall building

I usually have a plan when I go out to photograph. Even when it seems like I'm wandering aimlessly, I have an goal in mind. Sometimes I'm working on a story that requires a lot of back and forth walking, like the exchange rate with the Thai Baht and US Dollar. Sometimes it's a profile on a neighborhood, like Ban Krua, a Muslim neighborhood in Bangkok. Sometimes it's a news story, like the ongoing political protests that keep things in the Kingdom lively. 

In most cases, my goal is to make a series of photos that relate to the day's theme or mission. 
Rehearsal for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony at Sanam Luang Friday

But sometimes things don't always work out exactly the way I had planned. Today was one of those days. My plan was to go to Sanam Luang, a large parade ground in front of the Grand Palace, and check out a Yellow Shirt protest. (The Yellow Shirts are anti-government and the arch rivals of the Red Shirts - think Tea Party and Progressive Democrats.) The Yellows were protesting in support of the Constitutional Court judges that the Reds had protested against earlier in the week. 

The Yellow Shirts though weren't as motivated as the Red Shirts. They were sitting in their tents and relaxing, not doing anything that could be considered even remotely politically active. 
A Yellow Shirt supporter repairs his fishing nets in the back of his pickup truck while he waits for the protest to start

I walked through the campsite a couple of times and made one of two pictures of people not doing much. I wandered over to where the royal oxen were grazing and photographed them as their handlers hitched them to an ornate plough and walked them through their paces in a rehearsal for the Royal Ploughing Ceremony, an important public event that celebrates Thailand's agricultural heritage. 

After I photographed the oxen and the ploughing rehearsal, I ambled over to the front of the palace in search of something to drink. I ran into a group of monks on their morning alms rounds. I made a couple of photos of the monks, then bought a Thai iced coffee from a street vendor (espresso and condensed milk with sugar). 

Monks on their morning alms rounds

I photographed all morning, but rather than a story or photos with a theme, I ended up with a few individual frames that I rather like but no narrative to tie them together. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

An Easy Commute

A Red Shirt protester waves a giant Thai flag at the Constitutional Court Wednesday.

The Red Shirts ended their protest Wednesday with a motorcade from the Constitutional Court to the Parliament building. Some of the Thai media predicted up 100,000 people would attend the rally. The rally was being held in a pretty small space and 100,000 people would completely gridlock that part of town so I went out there to see what might happen.

There weren't very many people at the rally on the court steps. Only a few hundred - many of them remembered me from my visit last week and greeted me like I was a long lost friend. I was one of the few foreign journalists to make it out there, so I wasn't too surprised they remembered me. People listened to the protest leaders' speeches and then they went out to the road and climbed on their motorcycles or into pickup trucks for the drive to the Parliament building.

You would think that this is the tricky part of covering the protests here. Getting from where they start to where they finish. The protesters usually travel in caravans of well over 100 vehicles - cars, trucks, motorcycles, anything with a motor - large flags flying and people making speeches that are pumped through massive sets of speakers. There's usually music and party atmosphere.
Buddhist monks in one of the caravan's lead trucks.

The first couple of caravans I photographed, when I was here in 2010, I walked alongside (they move pretty slowly) photographing as I went then peeled off and took a taxi ahead of the caravan and walked some more. It's great exercise but Bangkok's heat and the length of the caravans (some of them completely circle central Bangkok and take six or seven hours) make walking a pretty bad choice. And Bangkok's traffic makes taking a taxi the whole time an impractical choice.

Some of the photographers who live here have motorcycles. Others hire motorcycle taxis for the day. I've photographed way too many accidents here, all involving motorcycles, to make than an option. So now I do what the protesters do. I hitch a ride.

Wednesday morning was no different. I was photographing people getting into the trucks and buses and the caravan started up. I ran into the middle of the street photographing the cheering, looked up into a truck nearly full of protesters.

People looked back at me, six or seven hands shot out of the truck, grabbed me and pulled me into the moving pickup. I had my ride.
The view looking out of the pickup truck I hitched a ride in

As we cruised through town, people in "my" truck waved at other truck loads of Red Shirts, and in one surreal moment, started singing "3 Blind Mice." In Thai. The music was kicked off by a sound truck festooned with large speakers. I don't know the context of the sing along (though I suspect something political) but it was weird. 

The caravan did make worse Bangkok's already horrible traffic because police closed off roads to accommodate the protesters and 100 or more slow moving trucks driving in a caravan is going to mess up even the best planned street system. 
Part of the caravan

The caravan was going to the Thai Parliament building, which is in the Dusit neighborhood. Police shut down a lot of the roads in Dusit, to keep protesters away from some government buildings, so the trucks ended up weaving through the area. I enjoyed the Dusit detours because we lived in Dusit for a while when I was child - although I couldn't find that house now, even if it is still standing (which I doubt). The other thing that was nice is that Dusit still has a lot of old, leafy trees so it's a tiny bit cooler than other parts of Bangkok. 
One of the protesters' trucks with a person perched on the roof. He was strapped into a chair. Not the safest way to take Bangkok streets

When the caravan got into the Parliament neighborhood people bailed out of the trucks and hiked the last two blocks to the gates of the compound where a couple of hundred very relaxed riot police waited for them.

The protesters set up a stage, found some food vendors and it was the start of the new protest, same as the old. I photographed for another hour or so then walked out of the area (by now police had closed all of the roads into the area) found a motorcycle taxi and went to check out some stuff in another part of Bangkok. 
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Boxed In

A woman waits out a thunderstorm in an unused phone booth in Bangkok

May 5 is Coronation Day in Thailand. It marks the day Bhumibol Adulyadej, the King of Thailand, assumed the throne in 1950. He is the world's longest reigning monarch and revered by the Thais. Normally the King comes to the Grand Palace for special merit making ceremonies to mark the day, which is a national holiday in Thailand. 

The King, who is not in good health, lives in Siriraj Hospital, across the river from the Palace. He travels in a motorcade with other members of the Royal Family when he leaves the hospital. Thais turn out in great numbers any time there's a chance to see the King in his motorcade and Sunday, for Coronation Day, was no different. 

What was different was the weather. It rained. Not just rain, but a "Noah's building an ark, the end times are nigh" thunderstorm. 

The King was supposed to arrive at the palace about 10:30 Sunday morning. It started to rain about 8:45. For awhile it was raining horizontally from north to south.
Not an iPhone picture. This is what the storm looked like from inside my police box.

I was caught in the open when the rain started, and since this is the dry season, I didn't have my rain gear with me so I took shelter in a police box. Me and eight Thais in a room built for one. It was cozy. On top of which, the only windows that completely closed were on the north side of the box (luckily), so we were only able to stay sort of dry because water was coming in through the open windows and sliding doors on the other three sides of the box. 

The rain stopped as quickly as it started. The pace of the storm slowed about 9:45 and by 10:00 it was just raining, not storming. I got out of my box to photograph the King's arrival. 
A pedestrian walks by the police box I hunkered down in, the roof line of the Grand Palace is across the street.

Several hundred Thais lined the street in front of the Palace waiting for the King. Most stayed under umbrellas or draped in ponchos. I tried to photograph the happenings but between the ongoing rain and the dampened spirits I was not happy with the pictures I was making. 
Thais wait in the rain for the King. Yellow is the King's color. I'm not sure if the yellow ponchos were because of the King or coincidentally what the poncho sellers had to sell

Right on schedule, police shut down the road in front of the Palace and the motorcade came down the road and drove into the Palace grounds. I watched the motorcade pull into the palace and realized the King didn't come to the Palace this year. The King normally travels in a specially equipped van (to accommodate his health needs). There was no van in the motorcade, just the Royals' Rolls Royces. 

Thai media later reported that the King (and Queen, who was also expected to attend) had both stayed at the hospital at the urging of their doctors. (The Queen is also hospitalized and not in good health.) 

I waited until the Royals left the palace. I think by now most Thais realized the King hadn't made the trip, and as the motorcade drove away, a woman next to me dropped to her knees and started praying. 
A woman dropped to her knees in prayer as the motorcade left the Palace

These are photos I made at Coronation Day in 2010: 
Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts. 

Thursday, May 2, 2013

They're Back...

(But then they never really left.)
Red Shirt supporters use their clappers to applaud at a Red Shirt rally at the Thai Constitutional Court

This is a complicated story. 

The Thai Red Shirts, also known as the UDD (United Front for Democracy Against Dictatorship) are an outgrowth of the coup that ousted Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. Most of the Red Shirts are poor people from rural northeast Thailand, although their influence is spreading among the poor in urban Thailand. 

The ruling Pheu Thai party, headed by Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra (she's Thaksin's sister) was elected based on its support in the Red Shirt communities (Pheu Thai and UDD are two different organizations but they have a lot of overlap). 

Thaksin was ousted by a military coup in 2006. He was convicted of several corruption related crimes and rather than go to jail he fled the country and remains in exile, probably in Dubai but he jets around a lot and has several passports (like I said this is a complicated story). One of the ironies is that he could be a legally free man now if he had stayed in Thailand and served his sentence because his sentence was only a couple of years, although it remains open if he would have been convicted of other crimes his opponents have alleged he committed. 

Critics of Yingluck's government and cynics allege that Thaksin is running the country via Skype from his hideout in Dubai.

It's Still Got That New Firmware Smell

The Bangkok sunset as seen from Sukhumvit Soi 20 Thursday evening

Canon released new firmware for the 5D Mark III yesterday. Normally new firmware releases are not that big of a deal. Canon, in particular, is notoriously stingy when it comes to including new features through firmware upgrades. (Although they did include audio features with firmware releases for the 5D Mark II.) 

One of the big knocks on the 5D Mark III is that the autofocus only works to f5.6. Which is fine for me about 99% of the time. But it did leave my 300 f4 and 2X teleconverter in manual focus land, a place I'm not comfortable in anymore (what can I say, autofocus has spoiled me). The new firmware, released April 30, promised to bring the joy of autofocus to f8 and my 300 f4 with the 2X (f4 X2 = f8). 

I downloaded the firmware Tuesday and ran the updater last night while I was editing something I covered earlier Wednesday. Today I tested it. Eureka! It works great. 

Okay, so using a 300mm f4 lens with a 2X teleconverter is not something I'm going to do every day, but there are times when I will have to haul out the big glass, and this is the biggest glass I've got. 

I tested the firmware and the lens and teleconverter on the sunset as I watched it from the roof of my apartment in Bangkok. Like most of the sunsets here, it was pretty spectacular. 

Wednesday's sunset via my iPhone and Hipstamatic app. 

A different part of the city skyline made with my 300 f4 and no teleconverter. 

Finally, most of the photos in my archive are available for editorial use or self fulfillment as prints. If you see something you'd like to use or just hang on the wall, click on the "Add to Cart" button and follow the onscreen prompts.