Of Politics, Facebook and Nong Khai, Thailand

I just wanted to weigh in on three seemingly unrelated topics, Facebook, politics and Nong Khai, Thailand — seemingly unrelated topics because they are, in point of fact, unrelated. So why include them in one post? I’m lazy.

First off, let me clarify my point on last week’s post. While l don’t care about politics anymore, I’m not saying anyone else should or should not care about it, either specifically or in general. That’s strictly up to you and you alone and no one else.

Same goes for Facebook and social networking. If you like it/care about it, more power to you; enjoy it with my blessing, for what little that is worth.

What prompted this was a young friend of mine with whom I was making small talk the other day. She was asking whom I might vote for in the upcoming election, Hillary or Trump — she who has a law degree and used to work for Hillary Clinton in the State Department. I hesitated for a moment, then explained briefly how and why that it ultimately matters not.

She immediately launched into the fact that Trump is a horrible racist, misogynist, etc., etc. — all of which I readily agreed to — and stated that if I were a woman, I might feel the same way — to which I also readily agreed.

But I’m not. If things had happened differently, I would be a different person, yes. But I’m the person I am now, for good or ill, and things happened the way that they did. This person just doesn’t give a damn about most things anymore — but that doesn’t mean that no one else should or should not care; it is up to you.

Of course she got me to thinking, though. Trump is an awful human being, or at least he presents himself that way in the media; in the end, who can really know? But I digress. Hillary is considerably less evil, but still, in the end, a politician, and all of them are indeed crooks (thanks, Dad); it’s just a matter of degree.

So, in the end, if I do vote — and it’s a small thing really, even for one who doesn’t care — I’ll probably vote my conscience. Or at least come as close to it as I possibly can. It’s still a political party — i.e., crooks — but the Green Party is in the ballpark when it comes to most issues that I used to care about.

But Don’t You Care About Nong Khai?

I was getting to that. My post a week or two ago about Kirk, Isara and Nong Khai has me feeling nostalgic for days gone by. So I’m going to start posting photos of my times spent in Asia. Some these are reposts; many are new. But even more than that, I think now that enough time has past that I can post about it without a jaundiced eye — or a rose-colored one.

Plus, I finally organized my photo archives, so I can find anything I want quickly. I’ve also got a new tool to work with, now that I more or less said goodbye to Windows and live with Linux: Darktable.

So yeah, I’m going to start of with Nong Khai, Thailand. Here’s one:

Sarnelli House, Nong Khai, Thailand. Jeff Chappell 04-10-2010While volunteering at Isara in Nong Khai, we had taken an afternoon to visit the kids at Sarnelli House: the wonderful, sweet, playful kids at Sarnelli House; these two are just two among many.

More to follow.

Pseudo Soi Dog

Soi Dog’s Gotta Eat

So as mentioned before, some soi dogs enjoy a gray area; they don’t necessarily have a home, but they do have someone that looks after them — motorbike taxi drivers, various street food vendors, etc. One of the many benefits of being a stray dog in a Buddhist country, I suppose.

I’ve seen this hefty girl on Pattaya Second Road at all hours of the day and night, so I’m assuming she doesn’t have a permanent roof over her head. On the other hand, she has a collar and looks reasonably healthy. And  as you can see, she’s not hurting for eats.

Some soi dogs are looked after ... sometimes looked after too much.

 

Photo a Day: Fallen Idol?

Or Impromptu Buddhist Altar?

I was strolling through an overgrown vacant lot in Pattaya the other day on my way to the Friday afternoon market to buy a shirt — a garish red one, as it turns out — when I spotted this. Not sure what it’s all about, but it struck me as a … er, rather striking image.

A fallen idol on an impromptu Buddhist altar ...

The Slack Has Been Picked Up

And This Really Isn’t a an SEO Worthy Healine (Or Subhead)

But sometimes you just can’t be arsed. Been busy this past week, as I had my third and final test in level one of my Thai language class. This is actually the second time I’ve taken the test. The last time I took it, I got a borderline score; the instructor testing me said that she would pass me so I could move onto level two if I really wanted to, but she advised against it. I decided to give it a few months and try again.

This time, the result was satisfactory; passed with flying colors. Anyway, I neglected ye olde Photo a Day project for the past several days. I’m here to rectify that.

The view as I ascend the escalator to get on the skytrain outside my school in Phloen Chit (in Bangkok) has always struck me for its … perpendicularity, I guess we’ll say. Not sure if that’s a word, but it is now.

Gotta come clean: I actually had to merge two different thresholds to achieve the desired image:

A threshold version of an urban landscape of converging perpendicular lines at Phloen Chit BTS station, Bangkok

Tomorrow I’ll post the non-threshold version.

Remember the Thai gargoyle? It resides just out of the lower left-hand corner of the frame in this photo.

Photo a Day: More Portrait Professional

Changing the Face of a Face in Portrait Pro

As noted yesterday, I’m the proud owner of a Portrait Professional license.  As noted yesterday, too, I continue to be pleased and impressed with this software. And as promised yesterday, here’s a more in-depth example of what I don’t like about the default settings of Portrait Pro (but again, these can turned off with a simple mouse click) — the changing of the subject’s face and skull shape to bring them more in line with beauty norms.

This of course is an example of the larger conundrum with photography that is practically as old as photography itself. Despite the proverbial saying: “the camera doesn’t lie,” it can be made to do so. Granted it’s much easier here in the digital age, but cameras have been lying and photographers have been tweaking images for the sake of their own artistic vision or a client’s happiness pretty much since a Frenchman developed photochemical photography in the 1820s.

Whether it’s right or wrong, i.e., ethical, to do so … well, we’ll save that hornet’s nest for some other time. Let it suffice to say that in terms of photojournalism, I think it’s wrong. In terms of anything else, I’m firmly in the camp of “it depends.” It depends on the audience, the photographer’s artistic goal (commercial, fine art, etc.) and of course what the client wants (if a client comes into the equation).

Myself, as explained yesterday, I’d like to make my subjects look like they would on a near-perfect day (unless I were publishing a photo in some sort of journalistic context). I remove blemishes and will tweak skin tones, and I’m not above tucking in a chin or slimming a tummy a little bit — but I draw the line at changing the shape of someone’s face/skull (although if a client wanted it done, sure, why not).

Which brings us back to Portrait Professional. It’s default settings change this (straight out of the camera, except for a crop and a conversion to jpeg, but otherwise un-retouched):

A Thai woman marches in the Pattaya, Thailand St. Patrick's Day Parade (2013)

To this:

A Thai woman marches in the Pattaya, Thailand St. Patrick's Day Parade (2013)  -- As edited in Portrait Pro

Her eyes and lips are bigger, her nose is smaller, and her long face has been contorted into a more traditional oval shape. To my eye, it almost doesn’t even look like the same woman. Aesthetically pleasing, sure (although I would argue not necessarily anymore so than the original image, in terms of the lovely subject). But aesthetics are subjective, at best. And for me and my own photography, this is just a bit too much.

To illustrate it even further, here’s an animated gif with the before and after images (as depicted above):

a demonstration of before and after editing changes made with Portrait Pro

Fortunately, with one mouse click, you can turn off the facial sculpting features, but keep the skin blemish and tone corrections. And all of these can be tweaked or turned off individually. But the default settings (minus the facial sculpting) are pretty much spot on:

A Thai woman marches in the Pattaya, Thailand St. Patrick's Day Parade (2013)  -- As edited in Portrait Pro

Other than one blemish on her chin and a stray highlight on her cheek, the skin corrections are done. She looks lovely — and more importantly, still like herself. I think I would lessen the corrections done to the skin under her eyes, too, where the correction begins to get into the alien-skin/airbrush territory.

So all done with a few clicks as a plugin in Photoshop. Sharp eyed peeps might also notice that Portrait Pro has also tweaked the general lighting and highlights as well. Like the facial sculpting, you can turn this off with a click before you return to Photoshop.

P.S. Curious about my lovely subject? I caught her marching in this year’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade — in Pattaya, Thailand, no less.

Soi Dogs? What About Cafe Cats?

Cat: The Definition of Nonchalance

A cat takes a bath on a sidewalk cafe table in  Pattaya, Thailand

So I was strolling down Pattaya Tai to catch the mini-van back to Bangkok this morning for a meeting when I spied this lovely creature perched atop a cafe table cleaning herself. It was such a non sequitur, that I stopped, continued on, thought to myself  “How am I not photographing that cat?” and went back and busted out the N8.

Now most stray cats are a bit skittish around humans, unless they have been fed frequently by them. Soi cats in particular. This one though did not give a tinker’s damn in the least little bit that I was standing only a few feet away with my phone pointed in its general direction. It continued to clean itself and then settled down for a nap.

A cat naps on a sidewalk cafe table in  Pattaya, Thailand

Judging by the collar and its overall healthy appearance — not to mention its feline nonchalance — that it is well looked after. But then notice its tail, or lack thereof. It may very well be an adopted soi cat; usually a busted up or otherwise missing tail is a sure sign of stray critters here in Thailand.

Are you a dog person? Then check out these soi dogs.

Photo a Day: Babe in Arms

Babe in Arms Wants Those Pigeons!

a babe in arms on the beach at Pattaya, Thailand

Was cleaning up my hard drive and came across this photo that I meant to use as a Photo a Day entrant, and a perusal through previous posts reveals I had not. So here it is.

I was wandering along the beach front in Pattaya one afternoon, just snapping a few random pics, mostly of soi dogs. When I got to the end of the beach/Beach Road, I happened to spy this young lady and little dude/dudette; the little one was determined to get at the pigeons that frequent the place. Unfortunately the shots where the pigeons are in the frame the babe in arms is out of focus.

I have GOT to remember to change the auto-focus settings when shooting people dammit.

So rather than have an out of focus baby, I opted for a tight crop — one in which the pigeons weren’t in the frame anyway. Yeah, the little dude/dudette had been racing after the pigeons as I strolled up, and even after mom picked him up, he was still struggling to get at ’em.

Edit: Originally, the crop I chose was the one below, because I wanted to focus the image on the baby. But cropping out the mom seemed like a distraction; looking at the photo, once I had taken in the child, I couldn’t help but think what the mom’s face looked like. So edited it again, and kept Mom in the frame.

Much better. Mom has an interesting face; she’s obviously a bit distressed that her kid has been chasing after dirty ole’ pigeons.

a babe in arms on the beach at Pattaya, Thailand

An (Old) Boy and His Dog

A Quiet Day On the Beach for a Man and His Best Friend

An old boy and his dog on Beach Road, Pattaya, Thailand

Spied this gentleman on Beach Road in Pattaya today with his wee lil’ pooch in his lap, and took a surreptitious photo with my phone. It’s rather silly of me, but when I’m out and about with my DSLR around my neck and a pack with lenses and whatnot, I don’t feel particularly shy about asking interesting folks to take their picture.

But when I don’t have the gear with me, just my phone, it seems kinda strange. I suppose when I have all my photography kit with me, I guess I feel it’s clear I’m a photographer of some sort, and taking pictures of people is my bag. But just my phone … then I’m some kinda weirdo. I know I’m a bit weirded out when random people want to take my picture.

It does happen sometimes though, especially if you are a foreigner in a place where foreigners are infrequent — the locals like to get a shot with the foreigner. That doesn’t particularly bother me anymore, to be honest.

But then other day some Russian guy and his girlfriend came up to me on the street in Bangkok and asked me to take their picture, to which I obliged. Then he wanted me to get a photo of me with his girlfriend. “Er, Why?” I couldn’t help but wonder. I was a bit nonplussed, but obliged just the same.

Anyway, didn’t want to pester this old boy relaxing this afternoon, so snapped off a surreptitious shot from a comfortable distance. The subject actually calls for a tighter crop, but as you can see, even the N8 ends up producing a bit of grain when cropped that tightly/viewed at 100 percent (click the images to see ’em full size). A proper camera/lens would have been best, of course, but then it would have been more difficult to shoot incognito — and get a shot where the subject is acting natural, and not looking at the camera.

An old boy and his dog on Beach Road, Pattaya, Thailand

Of course being a photographer, I snapped off several shots; here’s another one:

An old boy and his dog on Beach Road, Pattaya, Thailand

Sala Keoku: Sewer Bass Feeding Frenzy

We’re (Not) Going to Need a Bigger Boat

And so my last image from my archive of Sala Keoku images taken in 2010 has nothing to do with enormous statuary inspired by Buddhist and/or Hindu mythology/cosmology.

Nope. Like all good tourist attractions, you can feed the fish in the ponds about the place, at Sala Keoku. Fish being carp — or, as my father liked to call them, sewer bass (Dad was a consummate fisherman, you know). Despite the ethical implications — adults always have to over think things (well, this one does, anyway) — the child in me (who is alive and well) can’t help but be amused by the resultant feeding frenzy.

So enjoy this image of said frenzy, and the ensuing closeups. The closeups are actually just tighter crops of the original image, incidentally. As always, click to make ’em big.

Sewer bass feeding frenzy at Sala Keoku, Nong Khai, Thailand

Sewer bass feeding frenzy at Sala Keoku, Nong Khai, Thailand

Sewer bass feeding frenzy at Sala Keoku, Nong Khai, Thailand

Even just looking at these photographs now, I can’t help but be amused. That’s probably worth a few demerit points on the ole’ Buddhist ledger.