Using a Digital DSLR to photograph children in Thailand was a surprising and very rewarding experience. I was privileged to travel through several regions of Thailand and had the opportunity to photograph people where I traveled. Shooting children proved to be thoroughly enjoyable.The technical issues were easy to overcome and the interaction with the lovely Thai people was great.
A short disclaimer: I am not fond of ‘cute’ and generally avoid anything smacking of it, but in this region I made exception for the sweet kids I encountered.
The girl above was decked out in Hill Tribe garb to solicit the tourists descending the famous steps at Wat Phrathat Doi Suthep overlooking Chiangmai in the north of Thailand. She was more interested in playing with her bag than really working the crowd, but was quite willing to pose for me. (see more pix of her below)
I was a bit surprised to find that mothers and fathers often held up their children so that i could get a good shot. In this case, the girl was a bit upset by my large lens aimed at her, so Dad was comforting her as well.
I then showed her an image of her on the camera’s monitor. Using a zoom proved helpful here, as I stood back further to minimize the ‘in your face’ presence of this big Nikon 18-200mm VR lens. The added shooting distance and some encouragement on my part finally gave her the emotional/physical space to smile.
Using my Nikon D300 at higher ISO settings helped in some situations. This mother and daughter were in the famous, or infamous, Patpong red light district of Bangkok at night. The mother was selling handmade bracelets on the streets in front of a sidewalk cafe. The artificial light was of mixed colors and was relatively (for photographic purposes) low and uneven. I was shooting with ISO 1600 which gave me an exposure of f6.3 (good for this lens at this distance) at a slow shutter speed of 1/10th. Slow, yes, but several of these shots are sharp enough (at least for web posting, if not print).
I caught this boy carrying a scarily realistic gun in the Patpong district using ISO 1600 also. It was a bit brighter here, so I used settings of f5.6 at 1/30th and I was moving along to keep up with him, thus the slight motion blur in the surrounding area. This kind of movement blur adds to the perception of photographic time. All photos are a fragment of time abstracted out of a continuum, the ongoing present. Having a bit of motion blur gives one an extended sense of the ‘photographic moment’. There is a quality that then conveys a feeling of the changing present as within a series of events. He was on the move!
Here the light conveys more about the ‘moment’. It was late afternoon at my favorite beach on Phuket Island, Kata Beach. Clear, low angle, reddish sunlight makes them stand out from the rich creamy sands. They were laughing and pleased that I was taking his picture.
I was very struck by how open the Thai people were to my photographing their children. In the USA, people are very ‘camera’ wary, especially when it comes to their kids.
I’ve even been confronted, in the States, when taking innocuous pictures of texture of an otherwise blank wall; “What do you think you’re doing?” was yelled at me. At times, “Why are you… What are you gonna do with…” etc. (and worse!) I daren’t take pictures of strangers’ children lest I be harassed or arrested. It’s a bit ironic, that the USA, the nation of ‘Kodak’ and and country possessing bazillions of cameras, is so freaky about their usage in these ways.
Older children often gave me direct looks without distraction. This dim front-lit store interior scene also required a relatively slow shutter speed.
Younger children were sometimes laughing so much that they could barely maintain focus on the camera. I had to shoot fast to keep up with them.
A direct look from this boy who was back lit (light from behind him) making exposure more difficult. ISO 400 f6.3 @ 1/50th
A gentle portrait of mother and child on Kata Beach. Late afternoon shade, a low contrast lighting, added to the softness of this photo.
Ok, yes, another laughing baby shot.
I was told by a young Thai man, who piloted a long-tail boat on the river Mae Ping in Chiang Mai, that many of the people I saw in Thailand were not Thai, but from surrounding countries. I had asked him why many people in Bangkok greeted me with a ‘wai’ the traditional clasped hands salutation gesture, but far fewer did so in the northern city of Chiang Mai. I do not make any distinction about the ethnicity of the children I photographed in Thailand. I was struck by the glee and enjoyment expressed by almost all of them.
This ambivalent boy at the beach was one of the exceptions. He was hesitant at first, then broke into a smile. I just liked this non-smiling image better. Another back lit shot, with the bright beach behind the subject, required careful camera metering.
This girl was another exception to the smiling children. At first intrigued,but immediately after this shot, she broke out in tears.
This girl was one of the first children I shot in Thailand. She looked at me with a direct and slightly amused focus. She was surprisingly uninterested in the image of her I presented on my camera’s monitor. I tried showing several children their image in my monitor, zoomed in to make the face large. They mostly seemed unimpressed, but the parents liked it.
Here is a full length view of the frame I used at the head of this post. She made brief attempts to get alms from tourists, but then posed for me with natural ease. In this shot, the ‘side back light’ is very effective in bringing out her lovely skin texture and tones, as well as the make up and ethnic dress details.
By the time I took this shot, it was later in the day, and I imagine that she was ready to take a break from her work.
When this gentleman (in the true sense of the word ‘gentleman’) saw me readying to take this picture, he stopped, encouraged her to join him in posing, and gave me the ‘wai’ salutation. I took 3 shots including the one below.
If I had to sum up my experiences of photographing children in Thailand, this image says it all. A smiling pose by child and adult, a friendly ‘wai’, and after I took the shots, the man told me “Thank you”.
Their genuine and gentle participation in the photographic process was touching, pleasing and yielded a really good set of pictures.
I am willing to risk the label of the dreaded ‘cute’ being said, or thought, about the pictures in this post. For me, they reflect the open joy that my subjects and I had in the making of the images.
My response is to say “Thank you” to the children of Thailand and to their adults.