I’m finishing this blog as our stay in Thailand draws to a close. Back to square one in Bangkok to catch our return flight to Reunion Island where a tropical storm awaits us! We’re hoping to get home before the airport closes for 48 hours… I was going to take one last trip to Kaohsan Road this evening, but the children are too tired and so I’ll pass. Too bad ! I’ll have to come back to Bangkok!
During the first part of our stay, we were based in the Sukhumvit district, the eastern part of Bangkok. The nearest BTS station was Nana. This area is known for its bars for foreigners who have come to Thailand for quite different reasons to me. Our neighbourhood was mainly frequented by Westerners and there were a lot of bars and restaurants that targeted this clientele. The street that led straight to the Nana station was very noisy and busy. Fortunately, our hotel was located in a quiet street.
I hadn’t really planned to do any Street Photography sessions. We were a family and my main concern was to visit Bangkok with Gwen and the kids. And of course, to take every opportunity to snap when the occasion presented itself. We did the basic tourist thing. The temples of Wat Pho, the Golden Buddha, the Grand Palace, Chinatown, the Siam district… Gwen knows that Street Photography means a lot to me, so I was able to get some time by my own while they were resting at the hotel.
I’ve read that some people say it’s not so easy to do street photography in Bangkok because there’s so much going on that you get lost. Frankly, from my point of view, I think it’s quite the opposite. I found it extremely simple. The city offers you crazy opportunities. OK, that’s a foreigner’s point of view, for whom everything he sees is exotic. My opinion might be different if I were a Thai living in Bangkok. It’s a bit like Elizabeth Char, who told me one day that she couldn’t take photos in Paris! I found that unbelievable, even though I was snapping like crazy when I was in Paris. All that to say that I found it very easy to do street photography in Bangkok. After that, we headed north to Chiang Mai and then south to Kamala, on the island of Phuket.
My settings were basic. I talked a bit about this in my previous Blog, but I’ll go into a bit more detail here. The 35mm isn’t as wide as the 28mm on my Ricoh GRD IV. This means that you have to get used to this new field of vision and keep a little more distance from the subjects you’re photographing. With the 28mm, I liked to get very close to people because the focal length pushed me in that direction. The 35mm is different. It forces me to stand back a bit more. I let myself be guided by the shot with the help of the LCD screen, to make sure I filled the frame correctly. I tried to shoot with the viewfinder but I just wasn’t comfortable. After 7 years of using the Ricoh GR almost exclusively in all its forms, it’s difficult to change the way you shoot. Well, that was when I was using zone focusing. Because when there wasn’t enough light, I’d open to f1.4, and then of course I’d have to do manual focusing using the viewfinder.
When I started Street Photography in 2016, I chose the 28mm to follow in Gary Winogrand’s footsteps. I had no trouble getting used to this focal length, for the simple reason that I was just starting out and had never used any other focal length. Why did I want to try 35mm? Quite simply to try and follow in the footsteps of another Master of Street Photography:
Henri Cartier Bresson Joël Meyerowitz. Don’t think I’m being presumptuous if I say I want to follow in the footsteps of these two giants, Cartier Bresson Meyerowitz and Winogrand. I’m not comparing myself to them. They are just two photographers among many who continue to inspire me.
Beyond the tighter focal length, what scared me the most was the Zone Focusing management. With the 28mm, you’re using a wide-angle lens and the focal length is very forgiving. Obviously, the tighter the focal length, the less effective the zone focusing. But I soon realised that my fears were unfounded, and the 35mm works very well with zone focusing.
I set my standard settings to: f8 / focus at 3m / AutoISO (ISO 6400 max with a minimum shutter speed of 1/500).
With that, the focus zone was 1.6 m at almost 20 m. If I opened the shutter to f11, I was in hyperfocal, with a sharp focus zone of 1.3 m to infinity! When using these settings, you have to accept that the ISO goes up because you’re often in the shade in Bangkok and to keep the shutter speed up, the camera has to lower the ISO. On the occasions when I was taking more relaxed photos that didn’t require such high shutter speeds, I deliberately lowered the shutter speed (to 1/125, for example) to save 2 diaphs in ISO. In short, zone focusing is a good idea, but it’s an intelligent one, depending on the situation!
As I said earlier, I sometimes shot at f1.4. A heresy, some might say! Street photography can only be done with a small aperture! But when the light starts to fail, I still prefer to shoot at maximum aperture to keep my speed up and control the ISO. I often use f1.4 in covered markets or for night shots. The result is quite pleasing, but clearly you can’t photograph scenes any more, because the focus is only made to a specific element of the image.
The TTArtisan 23mm is really very pleasant to use manually. The aperture ring is notched, so you can quickly choose the right aperture. The focus ring is precise. In short, I didn’t have many problems with my focusing with this lens. It’s true that I also had help from the Fujifilm X-E2’s built-in magnifier. Even though the viewfinder pixelated when there was a lack of light, it wasn’t a problem for focusing.
The conclusion of these few days spent with the 35mm is that it’s a focal length that I like and that I find interesting to use. I was afraid I’d find myself too cramped, but that’s not the case. Even at f8, you can integrate a more blurred foreground into the foreground and give depth to the image. It’s just that my Fujifilm X-E2 is starting to go a bit mad. Without warning, it changes the pre-set settings (AutoISO with minimum ISO: 200 | maximum ISO: 6400 | minimum shutter speed 1/500s) to ISO settings: 200 | minimum shutter speed 1/60s … I might as well tell you that I’ve been tricked several times and the photos are unusable … Each time it went wrong, it took me a while to realise what the problem was. Gwen told me it was a sign of a new camera! As you know, I’m not a GEAR addict. I like to make do with what I’ve got, but right now I clearly don’t have anything else to shoot with at 35mm. John Harper, suggested that with all the Ricoh GRD IV parts from broken cameras at home, I could assemble a 35mm Ricoh GRD V! Great idea, and I could sell it to Pentax!
I could go for a second-hand Fujifilm X-E4, as I was planning to do, but from a Street Photography point of view, I’d rather go for a Fujifilm X100. Smaller and lighter. What motivates me to go for the X100 series is that this camera has a leaf shutter. Once you get used to using it, it’s hard to do without. The GR series and also the Fujifilm XF10 have the leaf shutter, and unfortunately the X-E series doesn’t… The X100s have a very good second-hand price and are relatively expensive on the second-hand market. Maybe I’ll wait for the new X100, due out in early 2024, to try and find a V or IV that’s not too expensive. In any case, these latest iterations are already way ahead of my 2013 camera! I’m still thinking about it, but change is good and the 35mm seems like a good choice!
All the photos were taken with the Fujifilm X-E2 with the TTArtisan 23 mm f1.4.