Jun 04

No More Bad Photos – Win a New Sony Cyber-Shot Camera

Monks in Bangkok.

Taking photos is about capturing memories and preserving moments in time, for me, for myself and for my work. The photos that tell stories on this little travel blog of ours aren’t mine. It’s Terence, the professional photographer in our partnership, who takes the beautiful pictures, and because I do more of the writing my images are made hastily, often with little thought.

My mission when I pick up a camera or increasingly an iPhone, whether it’s to take a ‘happy snap’ (what I call our personal travel photos) or a ‘memory shot’ (my name for my work pictures, for shots of meals, hotel rooms, signs, and the like) is to simply safeguard the image – the activity, the experience, whatever it is I’m seeing before my eyes – to create a reference point, so I don’t forget.

I don’t worry too much about the aesthetics and rarely concern myself about the technical side of things. Although I have to admit I did study some photography when I was young, before I studied film, but I think most of what I learnt is packed away in my Ultimo storage unit – along with our old clothes, travel mementoes, and photo albums. Remember those?

There are a couple of reasons I don’t care as much as I could or should. One reason is because I’m simply too busy. I’m pitching stories, coordinating trips, making plans, taking notes, and writing and blogging, and when the plans go wrong, which they often can, whether it’s because of bad weather, lack of time, transport strikes, or simply poor arrangements made in the first place, I’m busy doing it all over again.

The other explanation is that it all seems too hard – which is no doubt partly connected to the first reason. While I need to document everything we do, the last thing I want to be worried about is learning how to use a complicated camera. That explains partly why I increasingly use my iPhone instead of my camera, which tends to stay in my Samsonite most of the time.

I also don’t want anything big and bulky like Terence’s Nikons to lug about. I have enough crap to carry and most of the time I’ve got a notebook and phone in my hand. When it comes to taking pictures I want something compact – okay, let’s say small – something nice and tiny that can fit in the palm of my hand, be slipped into a pocket, or squeezed into a purse.

Of course what this means is that there are always regrets – blurry shots, out-of-focus images, important bits of the frame cut out, and pictures without the detail I wanted when I went to take the thing in the first place. And let’s face it, the regrets come partly because I do have a good eye – I was once a filmmaker in a former life – and I can take a pretty decent photo when I try.

So when Terence takes extraordinary images, like these pictures he took last year of Buddhist monks in Bangkok, and these too of monks in Luang Prabang, I’m always wishing I had a good little camera so I could have attempted to take some half-as-good images too.

Which is why I’m pretty excited about having been invited to enter Sony’s ‘No More Bad Photos’ competition and why I’m over the moon at having the opportunity to win their sexy little – and, yes, it’s miniscule! – new Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera.

Not only is it as compact as a high-quality camera is ever going to get, it has all sorts of nifty features like a whopping 18.2 mega-pixels, a 20x optical zoom – and up to 40x clear image zoom! – and, for the former filmmaker in this girl, a full HD movie-making ability! Plus, there’s also a GPS setting, which should come in super-handy for all the documentation I have to do for our travel writing work.

If only I would have had that little camera in my hands when we were in Bangkok for the mass alms-giving ceremony on Visakha Bucha Day last year, when I took the grainy picture above with my iPhone. Or even when I was watching the alms giving to the monks in Luang Prabang. Unfortunately I have no images to show you from that experience, as they were all bad, taken from far too far away, as I tried hard to keep my distance in an endeavour to demonstrate my respect and be discrete.

With the smart new Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera I could have maintained that respectful distance that I believe is important to keep as a traveller – it’s not my role to interfere or get in the way of people practicing their religion, their rituals, and their culture. I could have captured images that had more power and more drama with the neat panorama tool. I could have ensured I didn’t miss a second of the experience with the incredibly high speed auto-focus. And most importantly, for me, I could have kept far away yet got close enough to create images that were sharp enough to preserve the sublime moments in time that inspire you as a traveller to get out and experience the world.

If I win this competition, Sony will give me the opportunity to go back and re-shoot a Buddhist alms-giving ceremony. And you can help me have that chance.

What do you have to do?

  • Simply leave a comment below by Sunday 17th June letting me know how you think I could improve the photo above if I get the chance to take it again.
  • Better yet, how might I use my new Sony Cyber-shot to take a better picture under the same circumstances?
  • I have an incentive for you too… the best comment left below wins a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera. Check it out here! That’s right, I have two of them – one in each palm of my hand!
  • This contest ends at midnight on 17 June 2012. It’s only open to Australian residents.
  • NOTE: This competition has now closed and judging is currently underway. Good luck everyone!


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  1. Angela

    I was “born” as a writer, then I started taking pictures and now I don’t go anywhere without my (heavy) camera. As if this wasn’t enough, now I’m starting shooting videos. It’s super exciting, but when I go out on a “mission” I carry so much weight and do so many things all together that I really regret not having a business partner!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Ha! Ha! Well, this lovely little camera would make a wonderful business partner! It also shoots HD video too. I read one review about it that says the video quality is as good as video cameras that are five times the price. Terence and I love to shoot video so we’re really looking forward to testing that out! Thanks for your comment!

  2. Mike Kingdom-Hockings

    That’s a powerful optical zoom. To make use of it without carrying a tripod, use a little bean bag (filled with styrofoam to make it lighter). There’s bound to be something you can rest it on.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks, Mike – yeah, a 20x Optical Zoom is pretty impressive, and you still get a clear picture at up to 40x, which is amazing – great suggestion!

  3. Tim Griffiths

    This looks a ripper!

    I am kind of attached to my old Pentax SLR but this would be such a travel advantage. As you know all too well the increasing restrictions on luggage in air travel are making life harder for those on the go.

    It would be fun to see another perspective to add depth to some of your jaunts. I doubt you will ever pry Terence away from his heavy artillery so this is a great option.

    I really like Mike’s tip by the way, another way to “lighten the load.”

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Tim! Nice to see you here :) And thanks for the comment.

      Occasionally Terence sneaks one of my pics into a gallery, though not sure they add depth :( But I’d definitely like to improve my photography – I think it was better when I was younger and used film and concentrated on taking pics more – so maybe you’ll see a gallery from me soon. I’m really enjoying the ease of using this little Sony, though, and yes, the fact it won’t add much to the load is a big advantage for us. It was just what I needed.

  4. Denea

    It’s a lovely photo but I’d like more definition. It looks like a sea of orange right now rather than the intricate details of each subject. I would suggest that you take a ‘vivid’ filter setting and a lower angle so you can see their faces, focus on one face in the middle so the focus is pulled to who they are.

    Does that make sense?

    Hope you win my dear!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Great suggestion! Sounds like you know the camera already? I’m just acquainting myself with the functions now. I shall have to try that setting. That’s the ‘colour saturation’, I think. I notice that there are lots of picture effects also – extracted colour, watercolour, illustration, etc – as well as 3D and HDR painting (although I’m not a fan of HDR at all to be honest). Thanks so much for the tip! I hope I win too – would love a holiday without having to work :(

  5. Lauren, Ephemerratic

    I do like how you used the many monks as a pattern, which is a wonderful way to compose a photo. What can make a pattern composition like yours stronger is a deviation from the pattern.

    I would zoom in about 1/3 to 1/2 of the way closer and try to find a monk doing something unexpected like talking on his cell phone, yawning, rolling his eyes, picking his nose. Something human and humorous. I’d put that monk nearer to the frame, and at the lower right “rule of thirds” intersection.

    I’d adjust the f-stop to get the other people behind your main monk a little out of focus, but keeping your main guy in sharp focus.

    I’d try it horizontally and vertically framed too, but suspect that a vertical frame will give you more room to show how deep and large the room is.

    And all that would be possible with the Sony Cyber-shot!

    Whew that was a lot of ideas!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Wow! Some fantastic advice there! Great stuff. Thanks for the tips and good luck!

  6. wandering educators

    i love this, esp the light beanbag tip! i’m a big fan of macro, so while i would focus on ONE detail, maybe the monks would not like that so much. i’d suggest making it as crisp as possible, if it’s bright out doing the sunny 16 trick, and getting to see details instead of blurry rows.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Great tip, thank you! Best of luck.

  7. Rome

    You don’t really need an expensive camera to have good pictures, but you have to at least pay attention to what you’re shotting at or a t least put a little bit of interest, if your too busy with other thing then let someone do it for you.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Reinier, well that wasn’t really the advice I was looking for, to be honest, because that’s exactly the attitude I’ve had up until now, which is why all the stunning photos on this blog were taken by Terence and not myself :( But yes, I totally agree you don’t need an expensive camera to take great pictures – fortunately, this little Sony doesn’t cost a fortune, not compared to Terence’s pro-camera gear anyway, but it’s loaded with fantastic functions and those 18.2 mega-pixels are certainly pro-level. Thanks for dropping by – lucky you, living in Rome!

  8. Camels & Chocolate

    I always love a good shot from below. I’d love to see you shoot up into the faces of the monks with the sky as the backdrop, if it’s not too intrusive–though with the optical zoom, that should be doable. You can still get some nice patterns and color while focusing more on the emotion behind the ceremony and facial details it produces.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hey there Kristin! Great tip, thank you! Let’s hope I get a chance to try it out. Appreciate you dropping by :)

  9. Kenneth

    If you get a chance to re-take this shot, perhaps focus on the easier and closet object to you, and let the audience determine the story. Perhaps focus on the closet’s monk, so you get his facial expression, and let the background be the story of your photo (it will ended up blur anyway with the device that you used).

    However, if you have the Sony Cyber-Shot’s DSC-HX20V model, you can easily utilise their optical zoom / clear image zoom to tell a better story. Also, this model has the Optical SteadyShot to achieve “blur-free result”. And with Sony’s high-speed autofocus, you can fit in more shots within a limited time (this works well with their incredible speed on Shooting Time Lag”, “Shutter Release Time Lag”, “Shooting Interval”, “Burst Speed” and “Burst Interval”. (you can look this up in their detailed Specifications page)

    One more tip for you on utilising Sony or any kind of camera’s zoom function, is that due to the balancing of the device while it is in zooming mode, wind may be an issue for you. Try to block the wind out with your other hand (the hand that is not pressing the button), by creating a smooth angle for the wind to pass by your hand and the zooming lens (your hand could be protecting the whole length of the lens at this time).

    Have fun with your forthcoming Bangkok trip! Can’t wait to see clearer photos ^_^


    1. Lara Dunston

      Sounds as if you’re using the camera already – you don’t need to win one! ;) Thanks so much for this detailed advice. Here’s hoping I get a chance to test it out. Thanks for your entry and best of luck!

  10. Sandy O'Sullivan

    Hi folks, well this will definitely not be the best comment left, I know, because so many people here have given such an interesting take on it all.

    Look… I’m a big fan of smaller cameras, they do allow you to capture the moment at any time. I used to travel with an SLR with all of the attachments, and I stopped about two years ago and started using a good quality lightweight camera. The main reason was that I would take the SLR out when I thought I was getting a shot that was going to be useful in my work as a researcher, but in the end I took my camera out so little (it was heavy!) that I ended up missing a thousand photo opportunities.

    Those event-specific moments often just can’t be planned, and neither can seeing something in a moment, or the light looking a certain way at a certain time… all of these made me realise that a bigger camera wasn’t going to be my solution. But then I found out something else… some of these smaller cameras, were actually getting better shots than my SLR was. Mostly because in my concern about getting a good shot with a smaller camera, I realised I had read the manual, new how to use it and actually understood every function. I even started using smaller handhelds in my museums work. My work is always reference-only shots, but I need them to be accurate, particularly in relation to light and colour, and the smaller cameras I’ve been using have been spot on. One of those instances where laziness on my part pays off!

    I meant to say, too, that I’m totally appropriating (with citation) your term ‘memory shot’, because I think that’s what these photos are in my work. And for that, they need to be really accurate… and again, that’s what I am finding with these new shots I’m getting. The iPhone is okay for some happy snaps (especially self-shots), but it doesn’t cut it indoors or for most of my reference ones, but the idea of turning on a camera and taking a shot in a few seconds with no fiddling about is the reason I tend to use the smaller cameras.

    I think, again, thinking about the size and unwieldiness of a larger camera set, last year I tried to put together some resources to talk to graduate students about the best way to capture the images associated with their research work. The main conclusion I had after talking about SLRs and all of the ways that they might manage their photo libraries, was to suggest they get a small enough camera that it is neither intimidating to their subjects, nor so complicated that they always take poor shots with it. It’s advice that wouldn’t have worked on us all those years ago when we first learned how to use cameras, because they just weren’t going to take great shots, BUT even then a good shot is about framing and light and a sense of the subject… and whatever the camera is, that just doesn’t change. So I suppose in the end, it’s still the best advice I give myself. And, of course, that even a blurry shot of someone or something you care about is better than a clear, well-taken shot of something that simply doesn’t inspire those feelings.

    1. Lara Dunston

      No need for citation on ‘memory shot’ and – wow! – that’s some pretty comprehensive advice there! Thank you so much for taking the time to think through the SLR versus Compact camera dilema. Definitely some great arguments there for opting for an easy-to-use compact. Thanks again! And best of luck!

    2. Lara Dunston

      Sandy, I wanted to get back to you because you’re talking above about research work and ‘museums work’ and using images as reference tools, because in the six days since your comment I’ve been exploring the camera a whole lot more and have discovered a terrific function.

      This will not only help you but it will help us with our work, especially when I have to create walking tours and itineraries for guides or even when I’m doing a walk or tour and want to ensure my notes are accurate for when I write up the story…

      The camera actually has a ‘GPS Log Record’ so you can actually turn on the GPS and it records the route taken while you are carrying the camera! Isn’t that amazing? That sounds like it means I can abandon my paper maps so I’m not writing notes, taking photos AND scribbling our route out on a map. Removing one task would make my life so much easier.

      Thought that function might be useful to you in your work also.

    3. Sandy O'Sullivan

      Yes! Remember the process I was telling you I was using in the UK (using my iPhone for WIFI only and carrying a MIFI with me, to avoid paying phone charges, but still be able to access wifi/maps/skype etc)… I know that theoretically iPhones (which I now use for a lot of my reference pics) have location on them, but they totally screw up when they are using that mifi process… dunno why, but they do. So especially when I was in Albertonia and there are at least three museums that I could be in, cos they are next to one another, it would often tag it Science Museum when it was V and A. Actually more likely it would tag the Tescos two streets down. But my mate uses a camera with GPS and they are super accurate… so I am definitely going to get one. I tell you what though, now that I am sifting through 14,000 pictures I wish that was a typo) I wish I’d had it in 2010/11 for that bit of this chunk of research.

  11. Happy Little Travellers

    I would say to make the photo better, could only be done by focusing in on a few of the monks.

    Otherwise, what a great photo.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi there! Thanks for your kind words. That’s what I initially thought too – until all these helpful comments came in! There seems to be a great effect that will allow me to do exactly what you’re suggesting called ‘area of emphasis’ where you can set the parts of the frame to focus on. I will definitely try that one. Thanks for dropping by!

  12. Rastellotte

    Hi Lara
    I love the idea behind the project.
    Aren’t photos to some extent reflecting our mood of the moment? if you went back as a tourist, perhaps you would have fewer things on your mind and would want to shoot something entirely different?
    Will you be able to get the picture from another angle or is this the only place you can watch from?
    In any case, i too would love to see one or two monks closer as to get a glimpse of their expressions while getting the atmosphere of the gathering. Especially if it was a contrast with the rest of the monks (like looking elsewhere,etc).
    Can’t wait to see your second shot!!

    1. Lara Dunston

      So true. Such wise words. People definitely take very different photos when they’re in a more relaxed frame of mind as they are on holidays, when their pace is slower and they can take in their surroundings more closely.

      That angle, from the stairs leading up to an overhead street crossing, was probably one of the best to watch the event from, in terms of being able to see the mass of monks present, but you can also watch it from the ground. However, no matter where I watched it from, I couldn’t really zoom in closer with the iPhone; the SONY Cyber-Shot would enable me to get in closer from that whatever vantage point without being obtrusive.

      Thanks for your comment!

  13. Lindsey

    As someone who loves to photograph people to capture the myriad of emotions in their faces, I would love to see more feeling in the photo and I think getting closer, perhaps even at their level rather than shooting from above, could make for a spectacular, moving image. Hope you win!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Yes, I’m inclined to agree with you. And this camera allows you to get really close while still maintaining a super-sharp image because of those whopping 18.2 megapixels. Thank you so much for your comment. Greatly appreciated. I hope I win too! Thank you again! :)

  14. Jen Bowman

    Get in close! Having a zoom is great but really being intimate with your subjects helps a lot!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Yeah, I think you’re right – and that 20x optical zoom will really allow me to get in close without any distortion or fuzz – thanks for your tip! Much appreciated :)

  15. Denisse

    Hey Lara! It’s already a good photo as it is. You have great subjects as well as colours that truly pop out. That can only mean lots of possibilities to get even more creative with your shots.

    I think there’ve been so many photos taken of monks as they are beautiful to photograph. I think you have to find the point of difference in your shot to make it truly unique. I’d start off by taking the photo from a lower angle so that you are taking the photo from the perspective of being amongst them as opposed to being an outsider hovering with your camera. I think the best photos come from living in the moment and sharing those few seconds with your subject matter. Then I would try to find two contrasting things to capture in my photo: something familiar (an element that you would expect) and something unfamiliar (a quirky thing in the situation). Focus on facial expressions and body language and use them to find one monk that stands out from the rest. Make him the highlight of your photo and use the rest to give the photo more depth. You may find other contrasting elements such as something modern vs something traditional which you can also incorporate in your shot. Lastly, feel free to be creative but keep the photo aligned with the virtue that your subjects stand for.

    Have fun taking photos and I hope you win the holiday! :)

    1. Lara Dunston

      Great advice, Denisse – I really appreciate the time you’ve taken to think through this. Greatly appreciated! Best of luck!

  16. Anthony The Travel Tart

    I’d go right up close to have one face highly defined with the Sony Cybershot DSC-HX20V camera in the left or right third of the frame with the rest of the colour blurred in the background. Different way of saying the same story. But trying to ask for this scene in the first place might be difficult!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks for the tip, Anthony – much appreciated!

      And you’re right re the scene! This mass alms-giving event takes place in Bangkok once a year, and, yep, we’ve missed it this year. But there are other similar events on, as well as the smaller daily alms-giving processions in Thailand and other Buddhist countries, such as Luang Prabang, where it’s quite the tourist attraction. Terence – who has the big guns in the family – has managed to get some amazing photographs (he’s obviously a pro-photog. too) but I haven’t been able to get close enough before. I guess I’d just like the ability to experience these rituals and ceremonies again and be able to capture better images of them (wherever they are) in an unobtrusive way.

      Thanks again for dropping by and best of luck!

  17. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    It’s all in the zoom. My camera has a 12x optical zoom but 20x would be so much better for wildlife shots and for taking photos of people discreetly.

    How could you improve the photo? It sounds like it will improve itself when(!) you take it with your new Sony Cyber-shot. I’d like to see more detail with that powerful zoom focusing in on details like hands (what are some of them holding?) and feet! Although they’re all dressed alike it would be fun to contrast their homogeny by showing the unique elements which make them all different.

    I like taking candid shots of people so if I was there I’d try to visit the monks and spend a day with one of them, gaining trust and taking photos of them going about their daily lives too:) That would be a mellow way to spend a day and you’d probaby get some great shots too.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Great ideas, Annabel! Thank you! Excellent point about the length of that zoom and its abilities and my ability to be discrete using it. That’s always been an issue in the past, because I haven’t wanted to be one of those obnoxious people who gets in their faces and destroys what is a special experience to watch for other people – especially the participants!

      And you’re right about the detail too. Yes, they are dressed similarly and as a group they all look the same, like anyone in uniform I guess. But up close it’s the detail that sets them apart, and adds another dimension to the layer and story. One thing that would be revealed (and I think Terence captured this well in his photos) is the fact that the novices are just ordinary teenage boys like any around the world. What were they holding in their hands? Things like mobile phones (yes, many of them were texting) and chocolate bars!

      Your last suggestion is a great one too. I guess if I won this competition I’d actually like to spend some of my ‘holiday’ (hmmm… it’s going to begin to sound like work now) hanging out with the monks – tricky to do as a woman, but with Terry more things are possible – and make a study of the experience and capture their everyday life (with their permission), and how their life touches ordinary people.

      Thanks for the great tips and inspiration! Much appreciated.

  18. Marina Chetner

    Hi Lara! What a cool competition – I hope you win and share with us some more photos. This Sony looks neat – definitely a great option if you’re photographing alongside Terence’s DSLR. You might capture other moments that Terence may miss out on as you have ease to move with such a lightweight camera (the Stabilisation would be handy, and the Sony also has a zoom comparable to that of a DSLR).

    I like the feel of your iphone photo – it’s powerful in that you were actually there to document the moment. That said, the photo has me wanting more. I want to know details: what are the blue things the monks are holding in their laps; are they holding drums too? how old are they? where is this?

    With a better zoom, as this camera has, you might be able to shoot from overhead and focus on a couple of these details. A shallow depth of field, focused on a few of the monks, would bring out these details, though you also have the option to take a sharp shot so we might glean more information from the entire group. Also, I think the composition of the photo that you took above could be more balanced – there’s a person dressed in black in the bottom left corner who instantly distracted me. I would have swept the camera away from him and taken in the scene, but in addition, would have given context to the scene. If this was taken in a hall, show me that. If this was on a street, show me that so I can get the most of your photographic storytelling.

    This Sony has auto stitching for panoramic shots so this would be an amazing feature to use, to show the expanse of this gathering but also setting the scene.

    I am a huge fan of good lighting, especially in street photography, and maybe capturing a shadow would give me a better idea of the time of day too.

    That’s my 20 cents ;)
    Best of luck and here’s hoping for some good news soon!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Brilliant advice, Marina, thank you! Yes, I’ve been using it and the zoom is pretty incredible. I’ve been really impressive. I won’t name the brands, but I’ve had a couple of cameras in the past where you zoom right in and the image is just so grainy it’s unusuable, but this is extraordinary, still super-sharp.

      The photos was taken outdoors actually – in the centre of Bangkok. If you click through to the link above you can get a better sense of the location from Terry’s images. Great point, though.

      Yes, I’ve seen the auto-stitching for panoramic shots – I am dying to use that one! And this sort of event, or even, say, the long early morning procession of monks through the streets of Luang Prabang would provide a great opportunity to test that out.

      Wow, I think the thoughtfulness that went into those tips is worth a lot more than 20 cents! Thank you so much :)

    2. Lara Dunston

      I realised I didn’t respond to one of your questions… you asked if they were holding drums? No, they’re bowls, to collect the offerings that people will give them after the ceremony. Traditionally they’re given rice, but on this particular day they were given all sorts of things – dried foods, three-minute noodles, potato chips and Twisties and the like, as well as chocolate bars! And money too.

  19. Annabel Candy, Get In the Hot Spot

    Lol re the mobile phones and chocolate – that’s something everyone can relate to:) When I was in Luang Prabang I visited a monastery and was invited to give an impromptu english lesson to some little boy monks. Then one of them showed me around and took me to the temple to meditate. Interupted by a scampering noise we both opened our eyes and laughed when a sizeable rat ran across the front of the room!

    1. Lara Dunston

      That’s hilarious! I haven’t meditated in about 20 years actually. I think I need to pop that at the top of the holiday to do list *if* I win. Some meditation classes with monks might be just what I need – for my photography project, as much as for my own relaxation!

  20. TammyOnTheMove

    Why change anything? This picture is great as it is! The colours are gorgeous, it attracts attention, it looks interesting and looks like no photo I have ever seen before, by which I mean it is not your typical tourist shot. If I had one criticism it would be symmetry-I would have held the camera up more slightly, so you don’t get to see the empty black spot in the bottom right corner or the chair in bottom left corner. But I only say that as I am obsessive compulsive. :-)

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks, Tammy. Very kind of you. Thanks for your comment :)

  21. Louisa Graham

    It is a great photo, I love the composition and colour. The only improvement I would make is have them wear shoes :) which of course would be impossible.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks! Yes, that one is completely out of my control. Thanks for your comment.

  22. Ever Evolving Primate

    I think that optical zoom and a tripod (because I find monopods pretentious, don’t you?) would give you lots of opportunities to improve on the image above, of course the image above has it’s own charm. Is the panorama view with the Sony enough to give you wide angle distortion? I love the way that looks and it’d be neat with the repeating patterns of the monks.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks for the kind words on the image. I’ll have to investigate that panoramic function a bit more for you. I hear what you’re saying though – nice idea.

      Monopods have their place actually – they’re perfect for shooting sports or any kind of action where you need to swing the camera around or move it back and forth but still need stability. Guess it depends how they’re used, right?

      Thanks for dropping by!

  23. Caroline Tapken

    You could try ‘framing’ it next time – but then, like you, I am more of a writer than a photographer. My kids even bought me a new little camera recently as they were fed up of my ancient and fairly bulky canon!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Like shooting through something perhaps, between, say, two trees or temple pillars, so that there is something either side of the frame that is out of focus? The Intelligent Sweep Panorama function would be perfect for that. Great idea! Thanks for your comment, Caroline!

  24. Nicole

    I’m definitely not a professional photographer and can see you’ve received some fantastic “technical” advice already so won’t attempt any similar comment.

    I am a really keen amateur photographer (and traveller) though so have thousands of images on my laptop/drive & the thing that I always concentrate on is the light – I love how a shot of the same scene taken at different times of the day or at different times of the year takes on a totally different character.

    Whilst I LOVE the vibrant colours of your pic I’d like to see a similar shot taken early or late in the day (if that’s possible) when the light is so much softer and the colours more muted.

    Good luck in the competition! :)

    1. Lara Dunston

      Fantastic idea! I agree with you – love that golden early morning or late afternoon light. This shot was actually taken early in the morning, not too long after dawn, however, being Bangkok it was an overcast day (from memory, there were storms later that day), so I couldn’t do much unfortunately.

      Maybe if I get the opportunity to re-shoot a series of monk photos, I could shoot some at a temple where there’s probably a greater chance of light streaming between pillars, for instance, or reflecting off mosaic walls. The images shot on this camera are very rich (and vibrant) – due to the Sensor I believe – so it would easily pick up the different grades of light and shadow.

      Thanks so much for your comment – and for more great ideas!

  25. Maxine

    I like this photo as it is. But when I look closely at it I can see that there are some really interesting details in there, like a monk on his phone towards the centre/right which would make a really interesting portrait. So I think a zoomed in version would work really well too.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Yes, you’re definitely right about the details. There was all sorts of stuff happening – some of the monks and novices were patiently sitting still listening to the speeches and chants, while others were acting just like normal kids, wriggling around, fooling about on their mobile phones, snacking on chocolate bars, etc.

      I just didn’t have that ability to zoom in close at the time without losing the picture quality. The amazing thing about this camera is that with the 20 x optical zoom you can get in super-close (it’s quite extraordinary really – makes you feel like a spy!) and no matter how magnified the area is, the image quality doesn’t look like it’s affected at all. It’s really very impressive.

      Thanks for your comment!

    2. Peter Schellenberger

      As I love beer and cameras. Pour and drink, point and shoot. :)

      Cracking pic and one I’d likely try and take myself :)

      As you asked for input. Please note Im no expert and have only taken a couple pics out of 1000s that Im really happy with.

      That being said I would have framed it without the empty two chairs in front.

      Is it inside? If so were there any windows that would have allow rays of sunlight in at some time if the day to illuminate a small subset of tghe monks? If outside as mentioned above softer light would help.

      Perhaps sometimes less is more. A tighter pic of fewer monks that were all similar bar one may have added some intrigue – “why does he have that blue thing in his lap when all the others dont”. If doing that use the 1/3 rule.

      Anways wont prove any further how little I know. All the best for the comp matey!!

    3. Lara Dunston

      Ha! Ha! Maybe that’s where I’m going wrong?! That it’s not the technology to blame at all, but the fact I’m not drinking enough beer between shots? ;)

      It was taken outside actually – if you click through to one of the links above you can see Terence’s expert shots. It was a mass alms-giving with tens of thousands of monks – they filled a whole street! I guess with this shot I was trying to show this mass of humanity that was there, but all good points. The monks are holding alms bowls – most are brass but some have these snazzy modern ones, may be made of plastic, and I think that’s what the blue one is.

      But, yes, most people here seem to agree with you, that if I get the chance to reshoot an alms-giving of some sort, I need to use that brilliant optical zoom the Sony Cyber-Shot has and get in close to reveal more detail and personality, and make better use of light. So, you see, you do know something after all!

      Thanks so much for dropping by – all advice is welcome and appreciated. Good luck to you too! One of these comments is going to earn its owner a super little Sony camera too don’t forget :)

  26. Janet

    Real camera seems to be forgotten nowadays with all the smartphones with built in cameras. However only camera can capture the best in ‘challenging’ situation. The Sony can definitely do better with night shot, zoom & the high speed shutter to capture the exciting moments :)

    1. Lara Dunston

      I agree with you but I’m to blame too, having become so reliant on the iPhone. But that’s all going to change now I have this snazzy little Sony! I’ll have to check out the night shot and high speed shutter – thanks so much for those tips!

  27. Carl

    Lara, we could be twins. I have a site promoting our town. Often the best images are ones you see out the corner of your eye. You stop and think “Hey I better grab that before it goes.” Then you pull out your camera and guess what. The moment has passed. Gone for ever. Leaving one wishing for a quick little handy camera that could have caught the action. Anything that can help you capture images fast and easy is a real blessing. Many people enjoy reading blogs and posts about places. You could write a thousand words but in the end you are going to need some good images to back up all those words. Often no words are needed. The iPhone is cool. I have one but it’s a little slow to get kick started and in focus. Keep up the good work. You Go Girl!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Ha! Ha! Oh, I so agree on that corner of the eye image! Sometimes I think I imagine those – you turn around and it’s gone; blink and you miss it, right? Fortunately this little Sony is super-fast – so no chance of that – the thing is so smart it will probably see the images before I do!

      But it also has one of those fancy continuous shooting functions – ‘burst shooting’, it’s called – you know, the setting that pro-photographers use to impress us amateurs – and you can select the number of images taken per second, so you can’t miss a thing. I’m going to be using that if I win, for sure!

      And, yes, it’s definitely little – seriously, it’s smaller than my hand – which is really what I love about it. Fits in a pocket or purse, so you can sneak it into places you shouldn’t be.

      But as you say, you can write evocative stories but people want to see pictures that take them to the place too, and sometimes it’s not always possible to capture the images you want. I can’t wait to take this to markets in Asia and be able to shoot photos without people staring. Or to a fine dining restaurant and discretely take photos without ruining other people’s meals.

      Carl, thanks so much for your insightful and inspiring comments. Much appreciated.

  28. Lynley

    Having a history of taking terrible photos, I understand the brilliance of a great little point and shoot. I was given a basic cybershot about 5 years ago – doesn’t have remotely any of the features you have listed for this camera – however it has changed the way I have recorded holidays and events and I’m proud to now have some photos framed on my walls. Even though its a bit battered these days, I never leave home without it.

    With regards to your shot, I cant comment on anything technical, however, I do think more thought in the framing and obviously a better zoom would help to tell the story and provide clearer details of the monks. I love the shot, especially the two young monks in the centre of the frame chatting, and do agree with other comments that selecting one or two of the monks being human in this setting could be a great focus for the photo. I also love the vibrancy and symmetry of the shot. You are so lucky to have been witness to this event and I hope you win to get to take some photos all over again!!

    Ultimately, with any shots (photos not alcohol) when on the run, its about capturing that moment in time before it’s lost, and sometimes you dont have a lot of time to frame, so having a great little camera to help you do the work is half the battle.

    Again, good luck and looking forward to seeing the next round of images!!

    1. Lara Dunston

      That’s great to hear that you never go anywhere without your little CyberShot – I’m sure the Sony people will be pleased to know that if they read this!

      Yes, I think you’re right – like some of the others here – about zooming in and focusing on some details and faces.

      I’ve actually just discovered some amazing functions I didn’t know about when I put this post up as I hadn’t had much time to use it, but it has ‘Face Detection’ where the camera automatically adjusts various settings to detect and capture faces at their best, and – wait for it – it also has a ‘Smile Detection Sensitivity’ which automatically detects smiles when you turn it on AND a ‘Smile Shutter’ that you can set to automatically release the shutter when the smile is detected! I’ll have no excuse now!

      Huge thanks for your comment and suggestions! Greatly appreciated!

  29. Den Bossa Dude

    Hey Lara,

    for a point and click photograph, you’ve certainly captured the vibrant colours and wonderful tradition of the Buddhist monks. However, as you’ve mentioned, the photo is a little blurry and I get lost in a “sea of monks”.

    I think a more powerful, visually appealing photo would be to localise, or zoom-in on a particular monk, or a small group of monks, to capture the essence of the gathering and to contrast the discipline of their faith with their human spirit.

    I will say, I’ve used an earlier model in the Cybershot series, but haven’t used the DSCHX20V. A quick read of the specifications on the website shows me how far this camera has come.

    By employing the 20X optical zoom, the face tracking focus and the automatic face recognition features, you would be able to capture a clear, high resolution shot from afar. These features are simply superb in situations where you can’t get close to your subject.

    Going the full distance, I’d even consider using the camera’s panoramic capability to take a wide-angle, sweeping shot of the monks. It would also be great to try out the watercolour picture effect feature – I’m always after that ‘quintessential’ shot that I can put on canvas and hang on my lounge room wall at home.

    The built-in GPS feature is a bonus. It allows me to add geographic location information to the shot without even having to think about it.

    The simple, user-friendly interface of the camera means that I can capture quality memories at a click of a button. It packs every professional feature that I’d ever want in a compact ‘point and shoot’ camera and means that even amateurs like me can take professional photographs.

    Lara, I really hope that you do win the competition and get the opportunity to take this amazing photo again. All the best on your journeys.


    1. Lara Dunston

      Loads of brilliant tips there. An amateur? You sound like a pro! Love that you’ve considered the power of the image, “to capture the essence of the gathering and to contrast the discipline of their faith with their human spirit”. Would love to see those pics on your lounge room wall. Also that you’ve thought through a combination of functions I could apply. Thank you! If I get the chance to re-shoot the pic I shall definitely be trying out your suggestions.

      That GPS feature is very appealing – sounds like it’s going to be very helpful in my work, but it’s great to know that it’s something you could see yourself using too. And, yes, I have to say that the user-friendly interface makes it a breeze to use. I really hate complicated cameras that you have to read a book to figure out how to use. This one is a cinch!

      Thanks again for your advice. Really appreciated. Best of luck with your entry!

  30. Katrina

    The settings and technical side of things is something I’m still figuring out. I like to take a lot of photos with different settings and choose my favorites later. Amateurish, but fun.

    In terms of framing and post, however, I would go for a wider view. This seems the type of shot that would do well on an epic scale, rather than micro. Depending on the scene, even a panoramic shot might work.

    I have just begun playing with Instagram, Pixlr-o-matic, and other phone-photo processing tools. Be careful with the filters and frames. I never understood why the “70’s look” filters were considered a good thing and think there’s been a tendency lately to over-fiddle with appearances in post production. I much prefer a well-taken, natural looking picture. It seems to be getting rarer with bloggers, so why not be unique?

    In any case, best of luck with the contest! :)

    1. Lara Dunston

      Great idea re the trying different settings to find your favourite! If I happen to win this thing (thought I have to say I *never* win anything – don’t think I’ve ever won a competition in my life, to be honest), I might do what you’ve suggested and try all the different settings and present a diversity of image styles.

      Yes, I don’t think people realised how epic the event was. I probably should have described it a bit more above, but I hoped people would click through to the link. There were thousands of monks at this event, but I didn’t really capture that. The panoramic function would definitely help me do that. What I also like about the panoramic setting on this camera is that it’s not just a super-wide frame setting (which on many cameras gives really grainy images), this gives you quite a lot of control with the frame.

      Totally agree with you about the over-use of filters. I’m a huge fan of Instagram, but, yes, people over-do it a lot, and it’s the same with HDR – some of the images just look plain silly. I’m with you on that subject.

      Thanks so much for your tips! Best of luck to you too! :)

  31. Susan Farlow

    Hi Lara,
    Well, I like your photo above. Sure, it’s grainy but it’s also vibrant and shows just how extensive the mass alms-giving ceremony was. I guess for a retake, though, I’d try to find a focal point, focusing a bit more on the faces of one or a few monks while at the same time having the photo show (as much as possible) the sea of monks on all sides of the few highlighted monks. Not sure if this approach would produce a good image, but it might be worth trying. Good luck, Lara!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks for the kind words and the shooting tip, Susan. I think that’s the way to go – and I will definitely be trying it if I get a chance to re-shoot. Fortunately this little camera allows you to do exactly what you’re suggesting. Thanks so much! Best of luck to you too!

  32. Simon Greenland

    Hi Lara,

    When I quickly glance over the photo I see three things- monks, orange and blue. What I don’t see is emotion, clarity, and light which in essence is the basic truth in the subject. There are thousands of permutations and combinations in the functions on digital cameras that can all be tickled in a couple of quick minutes…or even seconds if you’ve practised a few times.
    From that shot, there could be another 50 shots using all the advice above…but would ‘that’ picture speak ‘a thousand words’?.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Summed up very nicely, Simon – “emotion, clarity and light”. And, yes, there are loads of functions – especially on this beaut little camera – that can be applied, but will they speak a thousand words, I don’t know… as a writer, I love the way that words and images work together to tell a story, but I also believe that a single evocative image can tell a powerful story. And, yes, “emotion, clarity and light” will do that. Hopefully, I will get the chance to return and re-shoot a picture with emotion and with the clarity of light to convey that emotion. Thanks for the inspirational comment! Best of luck!

  33. Susan Farlow

    Lara, THANK YOU for alerting me to the Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera. It sounds like a camera I’d enjoy. I’m a big fan of small cameras when traveling: they are not so intrusive and people don’t tend to shy away from them so much when you’re pointing one at them. Hence, you can often get shots that you wouldn’t snag with a big intruding camera. And that little Sony sounds like it can do a lot of the stuff the big boy cameras can do. I’ve already sent a memo to myself to check out the Cyber-shot DSC-HX20V camera … thinking about a purchase on my own.

    1. Lara Dunston

      I think you’d love it for *exactly* those reasons: it’s tiny, it can be tucked away in a pocket, it’s simple to use and yet it has the functions of a bigger pro camera. As you can image, with 18.2 mega-pixels the quality of the image is superb. Then there’s that HD video and for writers I reckon that GPS would be super-useful. I’m sounding like a salesperson here, but I’m seriously impressed. Go to a camera store and play around with it – I reckon you’ll probably come away with one! Thanks again for your comments!

  34. Katja

    Like you, I’m a writer not a photographer, but my feeling on this photo is that it needs more definition. The orange kind of overpowers, so maybe use a different setting to get the detail and crispness of each monk’s robes. I’d probably (because I’m a bit obsessed with this!) also play around with the focus and maybe concentrate on one of the blue bowls (cushions?), getting that really sharp as a counterpoint to all that orange.

    Good luck!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Great suggestion! Nobody has recommended focusing on the bowl actually – and, yes, it *is* a bowl; they’re the bowls they use to collect the alms in- but that is a great idea! And fortunately the camera has a powerful Optical Zoom that would allow me to get close enough to concentrate on the bowl and still maintain the focus. Thanks so much for the comment, Katja! Greatly appreciated.

  35. Mike Gerrard

    I would get in or zoom in even closer, fill the frame with a more detailed close-up of fewer people. Keep zooming and shooting – I’m sure there are several variations on the shot possible, all of them good.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks, Mike! Hopefully I’ll get the chance to return to try that out and find out what works.

      And, look, even if I don’t win, I’ve got some amazing photography tips from all these comments! :)

  36. Jools Stone

    Now I may be a *teensy* bit biased, since I was lucky enough to win the last camera comp for us Uk bods, but few ppl in this travel writing pigeon shoot work as hard as L&T and manage to be so consitently friendly and nice with it, so make it happen for ‘em, and they might even write about it afterwards, you never know!
    As for improving this pic, you can’t go far wrong with a bit of cat bombing, so you could insert a sinister cat glaring over the monks from the bottom left corner…
    …Hmm, yeah, just as well I’m not eligble for this one I guess!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thank you, Jools, for the kind words. You are very sweet. The cat idea is certainly a unique one! Thanks for dropping by with the words of support and encouragement. Immensely appreciated :)

  37. Sally lynch

    This photo looks like many i have taken….like you were somewhere amazing but didnt quite capture the mood or what was going on. It just needs a bit of perspective…where is it and what are they doing? Technically to me…who has absolutely no right giving anyone critique on photos ( this is why i desperately need a smart camera) it looks like the color needs to be balanced more and just a few details. Hopefully when you go again you will be relaxed and sorted with all this advice!

    1. Lara Dunston

      Thanks, Sally – very helpful tips. Hopefully I’ll get the chance to test them out. If you don’t win this camera, you should buy one. It’s amazing! Thanks for dropping by!

  38. Theresa Tsui

    Hi Lara,

    Small confession: I armchair travel and dine my food and travelling fantasies through GranTourismo and my travelling/dining bucketlist grows daily!. With your blog i can literally feel the spirit of the place you are visiting, the cafe at which you are dining and the amazing sights you are so lucky to experience.

    I didn’t really think that this was a ‘bad photo’ as such – but reading the tips on it definitely made me think of all the ways you could improve this picture and it’s definitely opened my eyes to exploring all the settings on my current camera (Canon IXUS) and I think the advice given will definitely prevent my pictures from looking like they’ve been taken with a disposable camera.

    The subject of your picture (a sea of orange robed monks) is a very popular one and very hard to capture in a powerful way: which i think was what you were trying to communicate?

    So…whilst I can’t possibly comment on the technical aspect perhaps a new approach? As a fan of symmetry and repeat patterns, grids etc i would have tried for symmetry or multiples (if that’s how to describe it). I think what I am trying to say is that rather than hundreds of monks side-on i like to see a ‘grid’ of monks. Seeing as they are literally sitting one behind the other, you could do a grid of 20×20 or however many/little you can fit into the frame. If you can’t get them face on (too intrusive?), perhaps turn the iphone/camera side on.

    Keep up the amazing work and hope you win the competition – I’d love to see the new-improved picture! I am sure with these tips we can look forward to even more amazing pictures to lust over!


    No matter how hard you try – to capture the sheer number of orange robes, i fee

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Theresa

      Thank you so much for the kind words. There’s nothing we love more than to hear from readers that we inspire them to travel. That’s what we’re here for! Much appreciated.

      The photography tips and ideas above have all been great, haven’t they? And I really like your suggestion of shooting a ‘grid’ of monks. The best setting for doing that on the Sony CyberShot is the intelligent optimal zoom, to be able to get close enough to focus on a section, and then functions like the face recognition will ensure sharp faces.

      Thanks again for your comment. Best of luck to you too! :)

  39. Yvan

    Hi Lara;
    Seems you and Terry have been busy taking great images. I can just imagine how your work would be improved with a camera that has ‘burst shooting’. OMG. That sounds amazing. So often you are at an event and you know something is about to happen, but you are not quite sure if it’s going to be in 1 second or 3 seconds. You just know that the guy 5 meters up a pole is about to do something and you don’t want to miss it. Even if the image is going to be needed for an insurance claim. But hey. You just know that in any case there’s going to be a shot there “Not to be Missed.” It happens to me all the time. Like trying to capture a photo of a bird just as it is about to fly away. Or a person making love to a hamburger. People can move as fast as a bird and you don’t want to miss the shot fiddling with your settings. I look forward to seeing what you do with this. PS; I like my burgers with pineapple.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Hi Yvan

      So nice to wind things up on a humorous note! Thank you so much for making me laugh!

      And, yes, we’ve been very busy indeed. The Sony CyberShot’s’burst shooting’ function would have been handy for this event and I’ll definitely try it if I get the chance to re-shoot another alms-giving procession of monks.

      BTW I once saw several young novice monks eating McDonald’s hamburgers in Bangkok – that would have been a shot that would have made you smile. Thanks again for your comment!

  40. Michael Esposito

    Lara, thanks for sharing your thoughts around picture taking. I have found that often the best moments happen when the camera goes off or when I’m at a place (e.g. in a car) when taking a picture is difficult or nearly impossible. One example is when we were driving through a small town in Colombia, and while passing a street corner I saw four horses who were tied to hitching posts, but all four of them were poking their heads inside the entrance to a bar! We turned that corner way too quickly.

    1. Lara Dunston

      Ha! Ha! Great example, Michael! Would have loved to have seen that one! I’m sure your CyberShot would have help you snap that one if you slowed down ;)

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