The Premier installment of Joup’s Average Joe Photography. My co-publisher Shawn Baker came up with another great idea (he’s full of’em…really). It started with him asking how I got a certain shots in the Muay Thai pieces I wrote a few months back (Main Gallery). I explained that Muay Thai leads itself to Black and White Photography but how the scenario was tricky to shoot because you have people moving at a fast pace in an outdoor low light situation. And one can’t vary well set up a tripod next to the ring! So I talked with him a bit about using higher ISO with as quick of a shutter speed as I could. And also what I did in post production to present the images in the most true to form as possible.
To that he asked, “Why don’t you write a photography column for Joup?”
I laughed…laughed again and responded: “I am not at that point of providing expertise and how-to in the subject.”
“But you just explained how you shot and produced these photos to me. If it’s ‘expertise’ so be it. But really how you should approach it is just simply explain what you did.” He answered.
I stewed about this for awhile…months actually because I really didn’t know how to write something like this. Sure I have written articles about events, places or people with accompanying photos, but never a piece strictly on photography.
I traveled to Tachiliek, Myanmar in April 2013. It’s a gritty border town full of Shans, Thais, farangs and different Asian tourists passing through. But it’s proud in some way. You can see it walking around the busseling morning streets. I’ve not traveled further into the Shan state of Myanmar, because, well, it is costly frankly. The government sets it up that way, you have to hire a guide on daily basis for $30 per day. That can add up. They do it (I believe anyway) to secure more big spending tourists or groups in the region. But also the Myanmar government puts these restricts on to protect tourist (or journalist as well) from events unfolding in the Shan state between the Shan and their villages and the federal government. It’s not pretty right now and you can read more about the development here: http://www.english.panglong.org/ It’s a topic I hope to address more on Joup at some point. But back to Tachiliek. I stayed in the town and explored the surrounding areas with a guide of Indian origin named Bharatur and a Polish bloke I met in the guest house I stayed named Lukasz. I got a taste and wanted more, but felt trapped in the town. Knowing little of the Shan Language (it’s close to Thai but then again…not really) didn’t help me either.
On my last morning in Tachileik, I awoke early and just wandered by myself. The light was perfect, I mean perfect in every sense. Subtle golden glow casting distinct crisp shadows and gradients. I ran into Bharatur again and we shared an impromptu breakfast. Then off again I went back to hotel finally deciding that it’s time to head back to Thailand, because I wasn’t getting any further here in Myanmar at this time.
Then I stumbled upon it…A group of Buddhist monks (both young and old) on their daily procession seeking alms. Really I was floored and started taking some shots from 20m (60 ft) away as discreetly as possible. But I REALLY wanted to follow them around so the only think I could think of doing was offering alms myself. I approached the older monk (maybe mid 20s?) and offered a sizable donation. Now monks I found will not directly take money from you. My MO in photographing anything Buddhist related is to offer a donation even if it’s small. I believe this to be fair, after all the temples or monks are allowing you to photograph them or their surroundings. Generally I put my donations in a box at the temple I am shooting. In this instance I placed a healthy amount for donation on his bin he was carrying and not in his hands. I just knew this would be special. I motioned to ask if I could shoot photos with my camera and the monk smiled, bowed and shook his head yes. In like flynn.
I followed the the procession for nearly a half hour through the main market area of Tachileik. Through different corridors, alleyways and thoroughfares. The light changed constantly so I had to adjust accordingly. I usually shoot manually, although occasionally I set to Aperture Priority. Really I like ultimate say in my shots. I use the Auto setting as guide sometimes just to see how the camera is seeing it, but really I venture off from there always. Here I was back and forth constantly from shade to sun to movement to still. The ISO I set low because I want shots as high res as possible (who doesn’t?) and generally lower ISO with good light provides that. But I bounced around different white balances and apertures. My shutters speeds were generally in the 1/250 range. I narrowed it down to two settings basically, one for shade and one for in the sun. But you’ll see in the shots that there was some areas that were covered in green mesh. That threw things off a bit. Some of those items I decided to defer to post production and did.
In post production I really like getting the color curves correct and since there were so many different colors in these shots, I wanted to keep consistency. My Canon is a champion, it really is. I’ve sworn by Canon most of life when I had two Power-shot Semi-automatics. They provided incredible shots for such a small camera and now evolving into DSLR has just really opened so many doors for me. Couple the 18-55mm stock lens with a 55-250 zoom lens and I can cover everything I like. Sure maybe you could go into wide angle and macro, but my budget now is not such. In the future, I hope. So often times the shots the camera provides, if set appropriately, are really good coming into post (thanks Canon). It’s a matter of sharpening and refining is all.
So why did I choose this set for the first addition of the column? These pictures tell a story that I cannot capture in words. I really thought about writing piece with an interview and detailing the ritual of the temple’s procession, and on, and on, but really…I’d be doing the subject injustice. They don’t need it. And I’m lucky to have captured it.
One other note: Some of the shots may seem redundant but I felt it necessary to provide a few from a certain scene to give effect. I had a difficult time narrowing down to these here because there were so many choice shots. Again, lucky me.
Your Average Joe currently shoots with a Canon 600D and two different lens. One being the stock 18-55mm lens and the other being a 55-250mm tele-zoom lens. He utilizes Lightroom for post production but not over production.
Joe Grzesik (JGrez) is an artist developer focusing online on front end development and keeping up with new techonolgies. Photography has been his most recent and strongest passion. He’s shot thousands of photos throughout the years only recently display a larger portion of his library here on Joup.