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Black momma-cat takes a break from feeding

If you read my Project page already, you’ll know that I am finally embarking on “the book” – a personal project to produce a photography book celebrating Thailand’s Street (Soi) cats and dogs along with some of the people that care for them.

I have already shot some of the images and, with 12 years in Thailand behind us already, I also have a fair amount of archive material. It is my intention, however, to shoot images specifically for the book as each chapter of the book will be about a different location and (usually) a specific group of animals along with their carers.

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Surrounded by sleeping black cats…

Last week, accompanied by the founder of PAWS Bangkok, Amy Baron, I went to visit a family who live in a slum area off Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok. The family may be poor, and their living conditions may be difficult for those of us with a Western bent of mind to get our head around, but they do love their cat brigade. Caring for around 40 cats, this family really do love them all – and, whilst some are beautiful, many are the ubiquitous black cat with a squonky Asian tail. And, actually, many Thai people are suspicious of black cats… but not this matriarch and her girls.

Who's the Daddy? Here's the Daddy!

Who’s the Daddy? Here’s the Daddy!

We soon found the culprit behind the black gene – not the prettiest of specimens and, according to the carers, not friendly to humans – in fact my best translation was “extremely anti-social”!. PAWS Bangkok (a non-profit animal welfare organisation) have been helping with sterilisation and vaccinations as well as treatments. Most of the girls are now fixed, so good luck with fixing Dad before the remaining two queens have another lot!

soi21-cat-5571The two nursing mothers had a number of kittens between them… mostly black (of course), though Burmese lookalike momma was gamely nursing a tabby kitty who wasn’t even hers. Black momma was busy moving her crew out of sight of the camera lens into a rickety old wardrobe in one of the back rooms of the stilted wooden house…

Lighting conditions for photography were a little tricky as it was pretty dark amongst the narrow boardwalks and wooden houses. As it typical with these environments where there is not much room, the detritus of every day life was stacked in every available space, along with the usual trailing electrical wires and extension cables – quite a challenge in every respect!

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Gazing out from between two wooden stilt houses

Thank you to Amy and K. Yu for introducing me to the family and to PAWS Bangkok for the work they have done here. I hope to visit the family again when the kittens currently at PAWS are returned.

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TECHNICAL INFORMATION

Camera – Canon EOS 5D MkIII

(for some images) Flash – Canon Speedlite 580

Lens – Canon EF 24-70 f2.8

MORE INFORMATION

For more up to date information on the book project, please visit the Facebook page.

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Living in Thailand has always provided a Birthday bonus for me. As the Queen of Thailand  also celebrates in August, there is a serendipitous Public Holiday which provides the perfect excuse for a little travel jaunt. This year is was Diqing – or Shangri-La as it is more popularly known these days.

The temple looks down over the old town of Shangri-La

The temple looks down over the old town of Shangri-La

To be more official Shangri-La is part of the “Dêqên Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture” and the majority of the peoples here are Tibetan with their distinctive culture, language and traditions, it had all the makings of an interesting photographic story line.

Day one was taken up with exploring the old town and attending a traditional Tibetan barbecue, hosted by the owner of the hotel where we were staying in old town Shangri-La. What we hadn’t realised prior to our visit was that 60% of the old town had been burned to the ground in January of this year. What a tragedy!

Around 60% of the old town was destroyed by a fire in January 2014

We had managed to hit peak season for Chinese tourists, so visiting the temple was busy but worth it, both of the views over the town and for the colourful prayer flags and large prayer wheel. At night the hill top temples are lit and provide a beautiful centre piece to the old cobbled streets (though the concrete base is rather ugly!).

Night falls over the old city of Shangri-La

Night falls over the old city of Shangri-La

The main square and the temple at the base of the hill.

The main square and the temple at the base of the hill.

An elderly lady buys fresh produce from a handcart in old town Shangri-La

An elderly lady buys fresh produce from a handcart in old town Shangri-La

A Tibetan barbecue is probably not the best meal on the menu for a vegetarian… but I did get the opportunity to hang out with a Tibetan family herding their pigs in the field beyond. No prizes for guessing what was on the barbie. The ladies and the young girls were  very sweet and hugely amused by seeing pictures of themselves on the back of the camera.

Herding is still a traditional way of life for the Tibetan families in this region.

Herding is still a traditional way of life for the Tibetan families in this region.

The ladies were amused by the foreigner with the big camera.

The ladies were amused by the foreigner with the big camera.

 

Day two and we headed out on a trek to visit the semi-nomadic Tibet tribes. A two hour hike up-hill and we’re at 3,700 metres. The cycling must be paying off as I made it without collapsing in a sweaty heap and we were rewarded with an invitation into a nomad’s shelter… once we’d got past the rather scary guard dogs!

Our host, Ngaweng, spent 10 days building his shelter – 8 days collecting the wood and 2 days of construction. He will stay up here for 2-3 months caring for his herd of around 40 yak and cattle. His days are taken up with making yak milk, butter and cheese for this family down on the plain. He will visit them every 10 days or so to take down produce and to shower.

Making yak butter tea for the strange visitors to his shelter.

Making yak butter tea for the strange visitors to his shelter.

The yak cheese is gently smoked over the open fire.

The yak cheese is gently smoked over the open fire.

 

Making tsamba from crushed barley

Making tsamba from crushed barley

 

Ngawang bids us farewell at the entrance to his wooden shelter/home.

Ngawang bids us farewell at the entrance to his wooden shelter/home.

Heading back down from the Nomad area.

Heading back down from the Nomad area.

FOR MORE PHOTOS: View my Flickr album here.

TRAVEL NOTES:
We stayed at the Arro Khampa hotel and would definitely recommend it. Nothing was too much trouble for our host there, Ngima, hotel manager.

The lobby of the Arro Khampa hotel

The lobby of the Arro Khampa hotel

We did our trek through Khampa Caravan: www.khampacaravan.com
Our Tibetan guide on the trek, Thupten, who was delightful, spoke good English and was both knowledgable and entertaining.

 

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A few weeks back, the 7-olivesphotography studio was approached for a product shoot… handbags and purses – hmmm… difficult for a girl to turn down! RusiDesigns is owned by Rusi, a British designer currently based in Bangkok. Rusi has a passion for bags and jewellery which really shines through in her high quality, unique and beautiful range of bags and jewellery. I duly set up the studio for a product shoot and over a period of weeks shot the products for RusiDesigns Fall/Winter 2014 collection.

Once that was in the bag, so to speak… Rusi was keen to add some lifestyle pictures, showing her bags and jewellery modelled by the kind of women who would like to own them (yep, me included). So the deal was on… Claire’s photography for, you guessed it, a Claire bag from RusiDesigns range.

I set up the studio the weekend before the shoot to nail the lighting as much as possible before the actual day of the shoot. As I was alone, I was the photographer, photographer’s assistant and the model – quite a juggling act!

 

I followed up by using Monday’s studio day to get some sample shots with my lovely assistant for the day, Alexia, photo buddy, Sara and friend Katarina. Rusi checked through these sample shots so that we could narrow down the shot list for the day of the shoot.

We kept the studio set up simple, using a plain white, seamless paper backdrop. Lighting was from two large soft boxes – generally with one at ceiling hight pointed downward and the other at floor hight pointed upwards. A large board reflector with silver and gold was used at one side, and a small silver reflector used as needed to fill in small shadows.

The set up

The models arrived, actually friends of the designer and the photographer, and they were good…. really good! It’s not easy to model, but truly these ladies could be pros. What a pleasure it was to shoot!

Now looking forward to the next one… hopefully out on location somewhere in Bangkok.

And the Claire bag in orange? Now mine :-)

Claire Bag

Fancy your own something special from RusiDesign?
Check out the RusiDesigns website and Facebook

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During our Monday studio sessions, the subject of food photography has popped up on several occasions. Some time back, I met the really interesting Jennifer M S Robertson when she attended a group session on photography with 7-olivesphotography. On asking why she was attending the class, Jennifer said that she want to improve her food photography skills. Well, long story short… I recalled that Jennifer specialised in raw food  and having caught up with her at a social evening in Bangkok, we discussed whether we could perhaps help each other out.

The final consequence of the Monday studio session wish list and the reacquaintance with Jennifer, gave rise to a food photography session with the subject being raw food. Jennifer very kindly agreed to prepare three different dishes and we each took responsibility for the styling and photographing of one dish.

I was delighted to get the “Zucchini Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Olives and Basil” which also meant that we got to see the spiralizer in action.  (Note to self… the next time someone is coming in from the UK, I will coerce them into bringing one back for me!).  Please see link below this post for the recipe….

I decided to photograph the dish in each of its different stages, from the ingredients, to the mixing, to the garnishing and the final dish ready for the table. To make the set up more attractive to photograh, I styled this delicious dish as a starter.

Herbs
Setting up and deciding on backgrounds and lighting
Spiralising the zucchini
The spiraliser in action - I want one!
Infinity background
Sara got to photograph the "Zesty Lemon Tart"
Acai bowl
Finishing touches to the Acai Bowl photographed by Sue
Zesty Lemon Tart
Naturally I muscled in on the action for this shot...
The ingredients...
Presenting the ingredients for the "Zucchini Pasta"
Garnishing
Adding the final garnish to the dish
Zucchini Pasta
Zucchini Pasta laid out as an appetiser
Zucchini seed core
What's left of the zucchini after being spiralled!
Banana-Acai Bowl
Guess what... I muscled in on Sue's dish too
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We wanted soft directional lighting so set up in my kitchen with a seamless backdrop (simple to set up using my portable stands with stretchy white fabric draped down and across the kitchen island). The light was provided by one soft box to the side, kitchen window light to the rear and a silver reflector. I used both the wide angle, 50 mm and 100 mm macro for the final images.

It was quite a challenge to get all the elements to work well together and we look forward to doing some more work with Jennifer.

The really fantastic benefit to food photography is, of course, the delicious lunch we got to eat afterwards… and I was the beneficiary of the remaining food too – yum!

Jennifer is a trained raw food chef certified in the Fundamentals of Raw Cuisine at Matthew Kenney Academy (formerly 105 degrees Academy) in the US, which was the world’s first classically-structured raw and living foods education center. Jennifer has been teaching raw food preparation classes regularly in Bangkok for over three years now. Her passion for all things raw and vegan, gluten-free and superfood is the base for showing others how to feed their family the best food available, without complication and no matter where in the world you call home.

Visit Jennifer’s website here.

Recipe for  Easy Zucchini Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes.

 

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As you may, or may not know… I have a new camera!

I am the proud owner of the EOS 5D Mark III. I don’t plan to pension off my EOS 5D Mark II (which will be my second, back up camera now and can take over the job from the EOS 30D), but I do hope that Canon Service centre are going to be able to fix it OK… I will hear more next week regarding the dreaded “Error 30 message” which is usually connected to the shutter mechanism.

So… back to the new body (camera’s not mine sadly). I have gradually been working my way through the new features and, actually, there really are quite a few new things to consider. If you’ve been keeping up with my 7-olivesphotography page or Flickr page, you will know that I have taken a few HDR (high dynamic range) shots over the last couple of years. I like them…particularly for cityscapes or architectural subjects.

The EOS 5D Mark III has an in camera facility to take HDR. I suspect it won’t take over from doing the shot myself as I will probably want more control, but I decided to test it out today to see if it’s something that may be useful when the lighting conditions are against you. Dad was keen to go and take some photographs at a temple, so we went along to a local wat at around midday when the light is a disaster and I tried out the in-camera HDR.

The first shot is the “straight out of the camera” shot… no processing has been done. Unsurprisingly the sky is completely washed out and the shadows areas are dark.

Not HDR - straight out of camera, no processing

Not HDR – straight out of camera, no processing

The next series are each of the in-camera options for HDR. Basically the camera takes 3 consecutive shots (you can select the stop adjustments or leave the camera to choose for you…), merges then in camera and saves an HDR jpeg file. You can choose the following effects: Natural; Art Standard; Art vivid; Art bold; Art embossed.

The images below show the different options.

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Will I use it??? Only time will tell… but if you shoot in RAW as I do, it’s probably easier to just do this in post-processing in Lightroom.

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Today it was Sue’s turn to decide on what we were going to photograph and how we were going to photograph it. So this week it was the turn of the cookie… and cup splash.

The idea was to shoot outside – and the weather here is still hot and sunny so plenty of available light – and to freeze the splash with shutter speed.

The Challenge

  • geting a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the splash
  • getting a a reasonable depth of field to keep the splash in focus front to back, whilst keeping the background blurred
  • not resorting to too high an ISO such that the image quality is compromised
  • Having raided the Deacon kitchen for suitable cups, liquids, cookies and dropping we each took charge of a different set up.

    Sue’s Set-up

    The white fold-up table from the studio acted as the tableau for Sue’s elegant set up of white wave espresso cup and plate. Two biscuits adorned the plate and we used a piece of crystallised ginger to drop into the cup to make the splash. Sue chose to use black coffee as the liquid.

    Sara dropping the piece of ginger into an espresso cup

    Sara dropping the piece of ginger into an espresso cup

    It is surprising difficult to accurately drop a small object into a small espresso cup… so there was a bit of trial and error… but we wait Sue’s final shot with baited breath to see how successful we were.

    TECHNICAL STUFF:
    Camera body: Canon EOS 550D
    
Lens: Canon EF 18-200mm

    Shutter speed: 1/1,000
    Aperture: f8
ISO: 800

    Sara’s Set-up

    Having hauled a piece of slate over to the lawn, Sara chose a bone china tea cup and saucer to set on it with a pile of cookies. For the liquid she matched “pink” milk to the rose on the cup. Once again, I noted the elegant set up… and in the meantime, Panda noted the stack of cookies and the nicely milk soaked pieces of crystallised ginger (he is a Deacon dog after all!).

    I muscled in overhead of Sara's shot to show the set-up

    I muscled in overhead of Sara’s shot to show the set-up

    TECHNICAL STUFF:
    Camera body: Canon EOS 5D Mk II
    
Lens: Canon EF 24-105 mm

    Shutter speed: 1/1,000
    Aperture: f8
ISO: 800

    Claire’s set-up… with my new EOS 5D Mk III…
    I love crockery and I particularly like cat and dog crockery (I’m guessing no one who knows me is at all surprised by this) – so my cat and dog mugs hand crafted by the nice chap at “Nice Little Clay” (Chatuchak Market… or Emporium if you want to spend a whole load more money on them) made an outing. we set up on the back patio to maximise the light (all white walls) and also because I was after a plain back drop.

    The challenge was then over to Sue and Sara to choreograph dropping two bits of crystallised ginger into each cup/mug to get a well-timed twin splash… didn’t they do well?!

    Background too busy
    The bougainvillaea background is too busy for this shot to work...
    Too Many Distractions
    Love my reclining kitty, but also makes this shot too busy.
    Clean Background
    My favourite from this shoot... nice and clean
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    TECHNICAL STUFF:
    Camera body: Canon EOS 5D Mk III (did I mention I have a new camera!!)
    
Lens: Canon EF 16-35 mm

    Shutter speed: 1/1,000
    Aperture: f8
ISO: 800

    PS I am loving my EOS 5D Mk III (did I mention I have a new camera?) and, for this shoot, I was certainly helped by the high speed continuous shooting which allows for 6 shots per second (as opposed to the 3.9 shots per second on the EOS 5D Mk II).

    The Added Benefits of this Shoot:

    Lots of left-over cookies… or at least the ones that the dogs didn’t eat.

     

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    Having just completed a course on flash, I am practising making use of my newly acquired portable light stand. I have been using wireless flash for off-camera flash work for some time now (see my blog on water splash photography) and the new stand is much easier than using clamps and masking tape to get the flash in the right place!

    It is half-term this week, and Sara’s kids were home, so we decided to have a go at some “dog water-shake” photography as her three are mad about animals and Sara reckoned they would be happy to come and hang out with the Deacon cats and dogs.

    Let me tell you… those shots you find on Flickr (particularly Carli Davidson) are hard to get. Not surprising I guess where animals are involved… particularly ours! I will be doing a lot more practise, but for a first time go, we got some quite interesting stuff and have ideas on how to improve for next time.
    Continue reading

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