Thailand & Malaysia
3/3 8 March 2017
Breathing The Land
We spent a month in of South East Asia primary forests, two-thirds in Thailand and the rest in mainland Malaysia. The photographs we have taken are being added to Thailand & Malaysia and Our Next Step collections.
We were also able to snap a few portraits to add a touch of human dimension to the shots and our days there.
As usual for these subjects, the photographs don’t usually feature many links needed for creating our natural perception of the scale. This affects most photographs from these environments. As a rule, it helps to imagine them about three times larger to get a better sense of real proportions. This is where the animal shots are great as they often bring in a whole new dimension, feel and experience of the environment thus complete the landscape, nature portraits (such as of a tree) or classic compressions of environmental subjects with its specific rendition.
Again we were lucky to shoot some high ISO exposures, often capturing low light as the latitude for the exposures is getting narrow with most scenes/subjects for the slim dynamic range at these ISOs. We value them since they carry the time and conditions they were taken at and also because we were not able to capture them before when better sensors were developed. That said, shooting wildlife in motion at 700 mm and f8 exposes limits of today’s sensors easily. Using a brighter aperture, if you are lucky to have this exceptional tool, limits the choice basically to prime lenses only and is not always the answer because of DOF considerations in most of these shots. In this respect, the recent sensors are only just reaching the satisfactory level. In practice, there is still considerable room for improvement left in this area where both the resolution and great stability of the file are the requirement.
Apart from the sensors :) one of our tripods got into trouble during this trip. It still functioned as it should, but it became less practical as one of the locks half broke and needed a special attention in use and during the transport. Over the last five years this piece of equipment has endured serious amount of workload by our standards and also abuse because sometimes there is no time for a special, adequate treatment or even to use the right kind of stuff like a stick for example. We, in fact, are amazed that the tripods are still in one piece and came to appreciate the material of these lightweight but effective legs that we will replace with newer versions E 543 D and E 635 D.
Looking for the right plant/spot. One of the chance shots. This shot is seriously recomposed even though the side focus point was used on the D600 and besides the field curvature, there probably is some motion blur on my head as the camera wasn’t on auto ISO. But as we know the technique and even the execution have relative value here as their role is to enable the photography, not to limit it.
Zlatka turned 49 in this forest. She is showing the place where a big male Silvery Langur landed from the tops of the canopy. Something was coming directly at us with unusual noise, crashing into the branches with surprising noise at a speed of cannonball hitting the lower canopy three times and ending about two meters above the forest floor. We had no clue what this was. My view was obscured but my camera was ready. Then it jumped on the open ground about 8 m from Zlatka, who was standing in front of me, and they both stared in each other’s faces for several long seconds. The noise and the calls in the distance seemed suggesting that kids from the nearby settlement attempted a Langur hunt. They certainly did give this male the fright of his life.
What was surprising, especially in these circumstances, he didn’t mind Zlatka and apparently didn’t regard her as a threat. He walked quietly along before melting into the undergrowth in striking contrast to his violent dive through the canopy. At this point Zlatka is pointing towards the place where he appeared on the forest floor. He was clearly making a distinction between two types of people. Also interesting, his escape was very deliberate and, as one would think, against the usual instinct – coming down from the trees to the ground. Apparently, they have learned that the danger is in the trees for them and recognise that kind of danger from the native hunters that will strike them from the ground. In the lower parts of the canopy or right on the jungle floor the hunter has no chance to keep up with the langur, let alone to get a clear shot and so they pose less danger here.
You can get easily lost in tropical Jungles comprised of pristine rainforests but the wildlife is another chapter of this story. There are nice jungles in Laos or Cambodia (or Indonesia) but the people who struggle for survival and who exploit the forests relentlessly for anything to put in their rusty pots for them and their children to eat mean that the wildlife is under unprecedented pressure. The remaining traces of wildlife are extremely skittish and their senses towards the danger from humans are at their sharpest and constantly tested. As a result, even forests that are not logged or plundered yet and would normally prosper have the wildlife wiped out to such a degree that they, as we know them, are dying slow and inevitable death as the whole ecosystem is crumbling without the vital part the animals play in it.
On the other side, if in the area of 4 or 5 000 km² one or two thousand native peoples are hunting for their needs, you don’t get this problem. You can notice slight changes in animal behaviour and in their reactions compared to the areas where the hunting is rare, but this is living and functioning forest that as such can be endangered only by major interventions from the outside. Greed and collective irresponsibility at the pedestal of our “values” be the major one.
The native people are part of the forest biology. Their traditional ways of hunting are part of interactions with the environments they and we had for hundreds of thousands years. These interactions had a wide range of impacts on these systems biology from plant to animal life and it is uneasy to classify them in any other way than natural. They had effects on us as well and they were good and very useful influences while they lasted.
In many cases, there were clear effects on certain animal species, in some cases radical. They didn’t always result in negative impact with regard to the species’ prosperity as these effects were complex and mixed. The environmental impacts of our ancestors' activities often had a positive effect on diversity and numbers of some species, whether through enlarging certain types of the existing ecosystems, creating new ones or by affecting plant natural selection towards higher productivity. It certainly always was a sphere of mixed bag relations and our views will depend on the concrete instance, kind of the environment or things that we would view more as historic events (those of a more sudden, invasive kind) rather than the gradual and continues coexistence.
As with everything, this also is a matter of degree and amount. Today, we are looking for a new balance that would reflect our current population demands, great deal of which we are discovering and realising along our own way of self-discovery both as individuals and as a whole. Perhaps it will happen in time when we still are able to accommodate and fulfil them to secure the prosperity of humankind and pass its light to the next generations.
2/3 26 February 2017
Our world is filled with struggle and this is no different in the jungle. This struggle is wrapped up in unusual peace in the jungle. There is a strange thing, in a peculiar way, our inner I perceives the struggle different to the struggle in man-made environments.
Maybe it is more like a flow of life to us that doesn’t need much explanation, no matter what we see or encounter and there are not many questions coming. Perhaps it’s the order here that we respect in a strange kind of understanding and acceptance we don’t seem to know from elsewhere. As if something old was opening here, something that closes shut in the luxury of our buildings. And interestingly, things of various nature you bring with you to the forest from there, let’s say a music, to give an example, lose something of thier depth or meaning that they had before. Their meaning seems relative and is weakened instantly. It feels corrected in some way.
The time is running out
Somehow, the ancient war type of predatory mentality is still at the base of seeing the world around us today and every child in Europe is still trained in it and are shown the corresponding heroes as the example to follow as they have been shown for hundreds of years. And somehow, the greed still remains to be the driving engine of the core of our aggression-based civilisation. It certainly isn’t all we know but it still shapes our economies, trade and culture. But we also start learning how to not live at the expense of other people, something which to this day is openly championed as a model of success, but together with them.
The time, however, is running out for matters of existential nature.
It will change our planet forever if it loses its remaining primary forests.
The primary rain forests of tropics (and to some extent zones of subtropical climate) are different from other primary forests for their temperature is not cooling the bodies of the warm-blooded creatures just like ours. This element missing from the usual environmental equation introduces a change and has some more or less hidden, although deep-reaching, impact and consequences for the environment and its inhabitants including people. Due to this single factor, the world of the tropical rainforests is highly specific and unique place even if we look at it within the circle of the similar environments at other latitudes.
It is also the place where humans were born and from which we have come to other places as we populated the Earth from pole to pole. As our mind and our body have more than just one type of memory we remember something from this home and no other environments resonate with us quite the same way and no other place generates the same kind of peace and mentality.
We naturally benefit from what appears to be our own part, although we don’t fully understand these connections yet and have difficulties to rationalise them, we need it just as we need the air or water. Even if we only have spent our entire lives behind the walls of our offices and flats, our life and our inner human substance in us are still filled and fed with the presence of these worlds as there is no such thing as a complete isolation and separate existence both on this planet and in our mind because we are not 'no-one', we didn’t come from 'nowhere' and we also are not ‘tabula rasa’ although our understanding the underlying complexities comes only gradually as it does in other, not unrelated spheres.
We are made of some kind of blocks. It is not always obvious what exactly they are and how they connect, or that they connect at all, until they are missing. We slowly are discovering them, starting to understand them and will definitely understand them more in the future.
So it cannot come as a surprise that destruction and annihilation of these worlds would burn a lasting hole in our collective mind and in our conscience, erode our identity, wreck most of what the humankind has built on so far and cripple essential part of what we want to achieve in the future.
It’s not difficult to find analogies somewhere, let’s say, from the lower order of our lives, to spot something similar. The difference is that at some level we cannot hit our forehead, go back and restore whatever a foolish mistake has caused to go wrong. We would have to find those analogies with at least similar impacts on our individual lives to remind ourselves that for existential failures and delusion taking over in our key decisions, we pay no less but existential prices. Now if we broaden our thinking, we can see further through wider-than-individual separate-life sphere. The rules remain the same.
If everything fails to bring the message to our ears because we already are subject to effects of collective degenerative processes that simply block our way onwards then let’s do it for our children. Make them part of this decision of colossal consequences and let’s not take the chance to decide irreversible matters for their own lives and lives of their children from them. The next generations will thank us. Or condemn us. We are, for the first time in our history at this point because we have the means and our acts are a matter of our will and intelligence that we also have.
One day, in what seems a distant past, we learned to save our food for tomorrow. Not eat it all at once but use it better and more effectively. Maybe it was also our child that brought us there. We didn’t know the benefit before and it took us a long time to figure it out. We are not very far from that day. We certainly are much closer to it than further. It is time for us to take our next step and increase this distance because the time has come for the change.
1/3 22 January 2017
A word about lenses
This was the first trip where we didn’t have our 24-70 lens with us. On our previous trip to Borneo we had the zoom lens with us but didn’t use it for the entire trip. It seems our choice for the lens type shifts towards prime lenses as they get better and we can take advantage of the versatility they give us although this comes at the expense of not having the ultimate tool for composition. We can, most of the time, compensate for these limitations quite well while we can’t for the wider aperture. Our primes also reach macro lens picture quality at the closest focus distance which few normal/wide angle zooms can do.
I see the role of today’s 24-70 lens as either a prime-like quality f2.8 zoom or a well-balanced IQ zoom with enhanced versatility ideally with added image stabilisation. In Borneo, it would be the VR version we would use for some scenarios photographing from a canoe or boat. As our 24-70 G doesn’t have the feature we used 70-200/4 VR and one prime combination instead. This type of photography, such as from the road or car together with many occasions the traveller can encounter, makes the 24-70 f2.8 and f4 one of the most useful zoom lenses in the standard 10 to 200 mm range. The addition of the image stabilisation emphasises the universal role of the lens.
As for the primes, we have used the 35 mm quite a bit more than we usually do. I guessed we will need it, especially along the rivers, but we still needed it more than we thought. It’s clear that for the times when the perspective needs a delicate treatment the 35 is often that perfect balance between the 50 (close to human sight perspective) and 24 mm. In addition to this, it was also the case of the focal length being exactly the right field of view. Of course, the three focal lengths will also put you closer to the possibilities of the zoom lens than just two.
For certain reasons, although there are some great lenses among the 35 mm lenses for Nikon F-mount, one even with IS built in, we are waiting for our ideal lens and our Samyang 35/1.4 still remains a very good option. Its weak points are resolution and bokeh wide open and reliance on MF in handheld use - we would tolerate the manual focus with 24 mm more easily. The rest, including the overall picture quality, it does very well. Thus we are waiting for the right blend of ingredients that would make a well balanced 35 mm lens for us and that would be worth upgrading to. Several optics, including some lenses released recently, are very close but there always are some 'buts' that we think could be ironed out so that they don’t get in the way. It’s what keeps the good Samyang in job for now and who knows for how long. We can again accept the limitation of manual focus if needed. The obvious direction in which we look are the Nikkor lenses but both that come closest are relatively recent optics, and the same for Sigma.
The 35 mm got more attention this trip and we realised more the value of this focal length as a higher proportion of photographs were done by it. On the other hand, replacing our Samyang 35/1.4, that is our weakest lens, is not in any way urgent as this lens serves very well for most purposes.