Photographing Thailand, Spring 2013

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I just got back from a wonderful, fun, inventive and fantastic time in the sunny land of Thailand. What an amazing place! The food, the weather, the landscapes, the friendly people (some exceptions here, others really lovely) and simply being in a different, exotic place is so fulfilling. I’ll be honest, the cheap prices don’t hurt much either and it’s liberating to not need to worry about the price of things.

Yes, as per usual, I took oodles of photos, in fact over 70 gigs worth, including bracketed HDRs and the like. I was going to limit myself to jpeg, but whenever I do that, I end up getting some shots I’d really like to post-process properly, so it looks like it will soon be time to upgrade my HDD, either that or do some serious culling of excess images. Eek maybe just get the new HDD!

This trip was seen more as a holiday, without much sightseeing. Not so many early mornings and exhausting days, just nice times at our own pace. Yet that didn’t seem to stop the photography process, judging by that 72.5 gig figure! Interestingly, a lot of the photos were taken in transit, the journey counting for as much as the getting there.

So, tech talkers, what did I bring? What does it mean to me to travel light? Well, the iPad handily replaced my PC, though we brought a slim laptop for many things, including as it turns out photo backup and some light editing. Then came the cameras-


As usual, my travel favourite, especially with the convenient 18-105mm VR lens mounted. I was going to bring some m43 gear, but at the last minute decided to keep things simple. Maybe when I get a new m43 body that can handle low-light better and take good video it can be the main one. For now, though, this was my best choice.

Sunrise on the Beach


For a few minutes I contemplated just bringing this. Then my sanity came back. The range is truly extraordinary, but the lack of dynamic range can be crippling when the light is less than perfect. Lack of Raw is a concern, too. What it does allow is some otherwise unreachable shots, as I have no long lenses other than the m43 40-150mm (80-300 equivalent) that are light enough for travel and this has the massive advantage of having all the wide angles and 1080p video as well. A very versatile tool indeed, yet not as essential as a travel zoom lens on a good sensor for my purposes.


Lenses and Accessories

Nikon 35mm f/1.8G

My standard ‘bright prime’, which I tried to use as much as possible just for the IQ and discipline of using a fixed lens. I tried using it alongside the P510 at times, using the later to zoom and it is a nice lens to use, though ultimately, given the choice, I’d prefer something brighter. Assuming I stay with DX and don’t migrate up to FX or ‘down’ to m4/3, I may try out the re-made Sigma 30mm f/1.4, which if the quality control is good may just be the thing I need. That is, however, a very big ‘if’.


Nikon 50mm f/1.8G

I got some nice portraits and detail shots with this. As usual, I’ll have to look through what I got, as the amount of actual shots I take with this is not so high.


Nikon 18-105mm

I really like this lens, especially on the D5100 which gives me so much dynamic range and high-ISO goodness, to a great extent overcoming the dark aperture ratings. Oh, also the automatic lens correction, which I usually do in Lightroom anyway. All this makes a ‘lesser’ lens more usable, though I’m not so sure it will scale so well to the newer 24mp sensors.


iPhone 4S

I got a bunch of shots with this, even experimenting with some random Hipstamatic. It’s a nice and reasonably fast little machine and I can’t say I got a shot from it I didn’t like, though the P510 stole some of its thunder simply by being so versatile  As of now though, it’s my only camera with apps.

Thailand Thailand

B&W Polariser filter

Sorry, rarely used. I really should have stuck it on my 18-105mm more, but I’m not a big fan of the colour-shift involved and the times when I could really have used it, on Koh Samet island, it was in my bag on the mainland. Basically, I avoided shooting too much in the middle of the day, so hopefully got away without using it. HDR work is a good workaround, too.

SB400 Speedlight

Unusually, I used this a lot. I did quite a lot of backlit and night photography and this came into its own. Unlike the polariser, I had it with me constantly and whipped it out all the time. I even experimented with rear-curtain sync and the like. A very nice and handy flash, especially used in slow sync mode to get that wonderful background light (I didn’t get many chances to bounce it, being outside so much).

Koh Samet-1865 Koh Samet-1848


Photographing South-East Asia, 2011

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As some of you may know, I’ve been fortunate enough to go on a few longish trips to SE Asia in the past few years. I love this part of the world and it is a great place for photography. My biggest and most travel-oriented trip was Summer 2011, when I practically brought the kitchen sink along. Tired of being stuck with the perspective of one lens (generally my Tamron 17-50mm f/2.8), I brought a variety of cameras and primes. I actually got good use out of a lot of them, but the heat and weight made it at times very tiring. So for the next trip I had a rethink.

So to save my back and increase my sanity, less came with me in the second trip. I was partly helped by having a new and smaller DSLR (the D5100) that had a better sensor than my D300 and also decent features. So here is what I took and, more importantly why I took it. The fact you want to use something you own is a poor excuse for bringing it ‘on the road’ and bringing something ‘just in case’ may make sense for a band-aid, but not in the world of camera gear. I’ll also add, with the benefit of hindsight whether I found it all that useful.

(I actually wrote this two years ago and have been slow to get it polished for publishing, but never mind, here it is!) For the gear in Summer 2012, please see here. I’ll make a post about 2013’s trip, too, but want to get this out the proverbial door first.

The Summer 2011 Trip



To have a weather-sealed body, as sometimes out in the rainy season. on beaches or boats. Also, to have autofocus with my new ‘street-shooter’, Nikon’s venerable 24mm f/2.8 AFD. Right, that’s AFD, no autofocus motor and pretty much useless in any kind of hurry on a smaller body, which I generally prefer to have in my backpack. I also hadn’t always been happy with my D3100 in Europe, not being sure exactly why, but perhaps it’s relatively flimsy feeling, tendency to overexpose and the smaller viewfinder ended up with me wondering if it alone would do this trip justice, though I definitely prefer it’s weight.

* In hindsight… now I have it, I prefer to use the D5100, as it reduces a lot of weight and I can make do with its small viewfinder.

Nikon D3100

Originally intended as my backup, it got used most days and especially when doing a lot. It is light, reasonably fast and good at focusing. It is for me a world away from a compact and can mount some serious glass, like the Tamron 17-50mm I brought along for it. Probably I should have gotten the better D5100 for this trip, but it had just come out and was really expensive, plus I’d only just gotten the D3100 in February.

* This camera is inadequate as a main tool for me, mostly because of the poor dynamic range, but also the lack of bracketing for HDR and poor video abilities. Yet it does score highly for lowish weight and low light abilities. Newer models are a lot more satisfactory.

Panasonic Lumix LX5

Sometimes you are just heading out for dinner, going for a stroll. you don’t necessarily want a backpack even and this will fit in the pouch around my neck. Also, it’s no slouch, with its 1.1/7″ sensor, it has pretty good dynamic range and low-light ability, for a compact at least.

* A handy little camera, rendered somewhat obsolete by my m43 bodies, which have much better sensors and are still pretty small.

Panasonic Lumix TZ7

This was my pocket superzoom. At 25-300mm, it could compliment whatever else I brought along, especially the LX5 or a D300 restricted to a prime lens, as well as taking decent 720p video. The image quality is way below what I would really want, especially as you zoom in, but it can be nice as a memory-catcher. Having such a range is a lot of fun to have, especially compared to the fast-and-wides I started off with. It really does need good light, even with its VR, due to the dark lens and poor high ISO (more than 200 is pushing it, but I did use it up to 400, just to get the shot).

* Another handy camera, yet the low IQ means I got few keepers, especially above ISO 100. I find the P510 does much better here and without adding too much weight.


Thailand in Summer 2- The Gear

I spent a long time considering what was best to take with me, but there is no getting around it- the best set up is one with two cameras, with different lenses. One taking care of wide, perhaps with a zoom to cover ‘the whole scene’ and the other focusing on details/portraits/ high quality captures. Now, that’s a lot of camera, even with smaller DSLRs and we aren’t always happy to rely on one being a compact. Hence, the advent of mirrorless and large-sensor (1 inch and up) compacts and in my case, my M4/3 babies.

Here was my trip kit-


35mm f/1.8G DX
50mm f/1.8G
18-105mm f/3.5-5.6 DX


Lumix GF-1
14-45mm f/3.5-5.6
25mm f/1.4 Pana-Leica
Lumix LX5

0.75x Lumix Wide-Angle Adapter
CPL Polarisers
ND filters
Close-Up lens (for butterflies/flowers)
Gorillapod (for night scenes)
Underwater Case for LX5 (for snorkeling)

It sounds like a lot, doesn’t it? In reality, it’s more notable for what I left out than what I took. The Gorillapod is a lot smaller than a true tripod and more stable than a mini-tripod. The Nikon zoom took care of reach, enough for me, anyway, in a way a shorter zoom wouldn’t (goodbye 17-50 with 70-300 set). The primes are light enough to carry along and switch to and the configuration meant I could always have a prime on one camera and a zoom on the other. I could just use one camera this way and scale it right down to the LX5, which itself is pretty flexible, or scale up to the DSLR and zoom. Or just head out with a nice prime and see what happens. Just having all that variety was good to have, as I find using the same lens all the time pretty boring.

The GF1 was handy to carry around. It’s sharp, stablised zoom and decent I.Q. made it a great walk around camera.

Just before the trip, I picked up my Panasonic Lumix GF-1, with it’s excellent 14-45 zoom lens, held up as one of the best kit lenses ever made and much better than the newer m4/3 options. This, paired with the incredible Pana-Leica 25mm f/1.4 made my back-up, though with M 4/3 you get a good enough image for it to be pretty much interchangeable with a DSLR, except when it comes to editing, where the added richness of the larger APS-C sensors have a definite advantage. Also thanks to the GF1, I didn’t have to bring a compact around for snaps over dinner, etc. I really don’t like to bring a DSLR absolutely everywhere I go, when something smaller and more discrete will suffice. Alongside this, I had my nifty and reasonably light D5100, paired with either my 18-105mm ‘travel zoom’, or the 35mm f/1.8 DX. Thanks to the ability to have a good zoom in my pocket, so to speak, I felt freed to use the prime option far more than ever before and not just at night, it accounting for more than half of my shots. Meanwhile, I find the 18-105 to be a great travel lens. Not too heavy, it opens up a lot of focal lengths. You are losing a bit of quality, as with any wide-ranging zoom, but having some reach is very liberating.

A prime lens is a great way to communicate. I don’t know what it is, but it always feels more natural than a zoom.


Thailand in Summer

I recently got back from another trip to Thailand and just think, wow, what an amazing place! The food, the people, the colours, the scenery, all add up to an amazing, phantasmagoric adventure in a land where everything is done so differently than elsewhere. Thanks to low-cost carriers, this time we flew from one place to another at not too much additional cost from our usual night trains/buses, which take so much time out of the trip. We might wake up one day by misty mountains and the next by crystal-clear, emerald seas.

Of course, I took a retinue of photo gear along for the trip, with the emphasis being on finding the right balance between image quality and weight/bulk. Usually this would have meant a combination of DSLRs and compacts, never really being able to rely on the latter, but getting something ‘better than nothing’ from them. Thanks to Micro 4/3, though and also to the new crop of smaller DX DSLRs, I was able to have a much tighter ‘daily kit’ with some very flexible lenses. My setup was basically my Nikon D5100, with a couple of primes and my trusty 18-105mm. For back-up I had a Panasonic GF1 I picked up the day before we left, with its excellent 14-45mm kit lens and the stunning 25mm f/1.4 Pana-Leica I already had. I’ll say a bit more about my choices in my next post, to spare non camera-geeks from it all, but suffice to say, I was very happy with both the variety and lightness this setup gave me.

A Tuk-Tuk ‘motor-tricycle’ taxi driver takes a break by a busy Bangkok street.

So, back to my trip, where did we go? We started off in Bangkok, hot dusty and Cosmopolitan, though more recently graced with beautiful shopping malls that are more like theme parks and a fast sky-train to navigate the city. Overall, my favourite moments are strolling through night markets to see all the goods on offer, from jewelry and Angry Birds t-shirts to fresh fruit and riding boat-buses through the city to riverside temples, like Wat Pho, with its enormous, graceful reclining Buddha. Seeing the astonished looks on people’s faces as they encounter it for the first time is worth a million and it probably is one of the wonders of the modern world, which I don’t think anyone should miss.

Golden Arhats (disciples on the way to full enlightenment), in Wat Pho Temple, Bangkok.

From there, we went to Chiang Mai for a short trip, where we explored the temples, including an incredible golden one in the mountains overlooking the city, from where you look down to clouds billowing like candy-floss along the green valley. There was some elephant trekking, white-water rafting and a Thai cooking course thrown in. I love the fact in Thailand everything is so accessible, we signed up for these things the night before and had a fantastic time with all of them.

Green hills overlooking Chiang Mai.

Then came the most ‘paradisiacal’ phase of our trip, with about a week in Phuket, including a few days spent on Phi Phi island, said to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world and definitely the most beautiful I’ve even seen, though based on my travels, it has to share that honour with Japan’s Matsushima. We were pretty careful about accommodation here, as after reading reviews we found a lot of it is very sub-par, but can definitely recommend s sea-view room in Phi Phi hotel as an affordable and unforgettable experience. If there are other places like that, I’ve yet to find them.

Approaching the beautiful islands of Phi Phi.

Lastly there were a few days in Bangkok, for shopping, massage and more dining, including a great variety of delicious foods and fruity drinks. Whilst I’m happy with kai yang (roast chicken, usually barbecued on the street) and papaya salad (a spicy,sweet and crunchy salad made with unripe, green papaya fruits), it was a treat to have Tai-suki (the Thai version of sukiyaki) and all kinds of exotic desserts as well.

A singing store-keeper. Bangkok, for all it’s noise and bustle, is a city full of life.

For me, Thailand is still simply the most exotic country I’ve been to. Whilst there are other places that are probably better to travel in simply because they are less touristy and hence less touched by development and commercialism, for fun and adventure Thailand still stands out for me as a place I’ll probably always want to go back to.

Dawn breaks over Phi Phi Island.

Now I have around 7,000 photos (!) and some video clips to sort through, taken on sea, sky and land and pretty soon I hope to post up some of my best shots, including some HDRs and panoramas that need processing. It’s kind of a shame with digital photography that you end up with so many redundant images (especially, I find, when a zoom is involved and you ‘experiment’ with different focal lengths), but I am glad to have the freedom to capture what and how I want. We now have easy access to some excellent gear, that whilst not being perfect, can make for very memorable images without making traveling around too burdensome in terms of lugging things around. I was glad to actively enjoy where I was and capture it, even on the fly at times!

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European Trip

We have been having an amazing time on our trip, the first to Europe together. We are just now leaving Portugal, after a wonderful time here with family, sunshine, dogs, BBQ fish and artichoke.

It was great seeing Kate, my niece for the first time along with my brother and sister in law. Kate is so cute, everything is new for her. Her emotions show in her face, which she shows by smiling big smiles. Zurich and Basel are beautiful cities, with ornate architecture.

We went for a few days to Spain, seeing the works of Gaudi in Barcelona. They were amazing, especially the Sacre de Familia. It is an amazingly dynamic city, seeing all the mimes on the Ramblas and everything done differently, in the Spanish style, even fast food restaurants being so unique. Then we went to Seville for a couple of days, seeing some Flamenco and eating Tapas in the courtyards. The gardens there are in bloom, with enchanting smells of orange blossoms and other flowers. We will definitely be back to Spain, for the rich culture, friendly people and the newness of it all for us.

Portugal was our next stop, where we stayed with my Dad and step-mum, eating fresh grilled fish and some incredible home-grown artichoke. Yuko loved meeting everyone and playing with their Portuguese Water Dogs, who have webbed feet for swimming in the sea. Seeing the beautiful towns and beaches was great, feeling the sun and fresh breezes of this idyllic place.

We have been lucky to have such an incredible trip together, with more delights to come…

(Many Flickr pictures to follow).

Swiss Scenery

Those who’ve been looking will see that I’ve been back at the video-blogging thang and I made a small clip from my time in Switzerland- Enjoy!

Not so Snowy Switzerland

I just got back from the Switzerland portion of my trip, a place which really is another world altogether. I mostly stayed with my brother and his wife in Zürich. They live in a very beautiful part of it, full of nature and historical buildings. It’s an impressively well-organised city, where you can always get a seat on the immaculate public transport- an advantage somewhat offset by the overly formal politeness on offer from the locals. I found people were very kind to me, especially when I was by myself, but they seemed to definitely keep a certain distance from foreigners, being sure to ‘dine with a long spoon’, even staring in bouts of intense curiosity. With all the mountains, formality, pacifism, along with the extreme cleanliness and quirky spirit, I wondered if Switzerland is the Japan of Europe.

The only bad luck I had was the unseasonably rainy, overcast weather. In the case of a day in a spa, which I had a free ticket for, this didn’t matter as it was all inside and often very hot (and being a mixed spa with lots of beautiful girls in bikinis, not just the temperature!), yet the urge to take some photos ended up pushing me towards a trip Southwards into the ‘Cantons’ of Italian-Switzerland. A very nice girl in the Zürich travel office helped me book the perfect trip, along the scenic Berniner express into Italy itself and then back into Switzerland, with a night in the lovely town of Pontresina.

I found the Italian part to be a much more open place, with a night street market in which I met some of the local kids, who had gone to high-School together and were selling cakes to save money for traveling (a Swiss obsession). They were really friendly, giving me a tea that they refused to let me pay for and teaching me about the mixture of languages that they commonly speak there. I wouldn’t want to go somewhere without meeting the people, so this was a Godsend. One guy there with good English was actually half-Kenyan and had come to live in Switzerland rather than Kenya to study to be a pilot. It’s not often you meet someone fluent in 5 languages. They also were cooking delicious, fresh waffles with apple inside and frosted with icing-sugar, which seem more like what a waffle should be than any I’ve had before. When I heard that this market is only once every 2 weeks, I knew I’d made the right choice in coming.

I also found the beautiful Alpine scenery that I had sought- blue skies, fresh clear streams and gorgeous mountains swimming in the mists. An evening walk in a forest, breathing in the amazingly good-tasting air made me resolve to have a more positive life, in a cleaner reality. I was surprised by all the plant life, much of which I had never seen before. Then the next morning gave me a clear sky to walk to nearby St. Moritz under, past huge lakes and ever more-impressive mountains. Despite being a small country, I don’t ever remember experiencing such broad expanses, like natural cathedrals stretching over Earth and sky. It’s quite lucky that the Swiss economy is based more around banking than industry, as it means that all this great nature has been immaculately preserved.

All in all, Switzerland is all I expected it to be. If you’re in tune with the ‘Swiss Spirit’, you can be sure of a very warm welcome from a friendly people. Bus drivers and waiters always remembered me when they saw me again and gave a warm smile- open up a little even around shy people and you may be surprised how many friends you can make. The international language of the smile works wonders, saying much more than words ever could. Still, don’t get too enthusiastic about becoming a national- apparently not only do you need to live there for 12 years first, but the inhabitants of the town you live in actually get to vote on whether they approve of you or not! I suppose this all goes back to their historically small population and a very ‘ancient Greece’ style of citizen’s democracy. Having such a safe and organised country probably makes them worry that outsiders will spoil it- yet now, like everywhere else, the international world has arrived and they are dealing with it in their own, distinctly ‘Swiss’, way.

Note- Edited on 01/10/2007

A Summer Exhibition

Every year, The Royal Academy has a summer exhibition of works by new artists. This is the first time I’ve been there and there were literally hundreds of pieces, some very large, some small, but each with their own style and with seemingly endless themes. It’s quite an overwhelming experience to see, some of my favourites being a piece of granite carved to be like a sea-shell and some ‘charming’ little prints showing this, that and the other. As a first, I actually got the catalogue so as to see them later. What was especially impressive was that even ones that weren’t really to my taste showed a lot of technical skill.

What are interesting in this exhibition are the little red stickers next to works. Not that they are so beautiful themselves, but they mean that someone’s bought the piece (or a print of it). Some of them sold many, others a few and some not at all. You could sometimes see why, as only certain art is what someone would want in their home (the larger ones that sold were probably bought by galleries). Some pictures with rich, blue and red colours, so vivid and delicious looking you almost want to eat them were a popular choice, selling about twenty copies. With some I wondered why they were passed by, it’s all a bit of a mystery.

In a nearby shop/gallery the same we had seen more famous artist’s work on sale- for predictably larger sums. There were actually plates by Picasso and paintings by Juan Miro there, the cheapest being ‘only’ 4,000 pounds. It just goes to show that it is possible to buy art, if never truly to own it (if, like me, you believe it really belongs ‘to the people’).

Having said all this, what I probably got the most out of seeing was some works by acknowledged masters- no, not Monty Python, but this time the French impressionists. Seeing the atmosphere and sense of natural wonder they capture almost makes me want to throw my camera out of an airplane window and replace it with paint and easel (funnily enough, though, someone on pbase is painting my photos and the painters themselves often worked in the studio, using quickly-drawn sketches).

One thing in all of this that probably can never, never be totally reproduced are the colours. Being mixed from oil paints, delicate, moving shades are possible that are almost as vivid as the real thing. My lack of patience and skills in this area, though, mean that I won’t be giving up on photography any time soon. But I may well try my hand at some painting all the same.

And Now for Something Just a Little bit Different…

The last few days have been as filled as any over here in London. We went to see Spamalot, the Eric Idle adaptation of Monty Python and the Holy Grail for the theater. As all the billboards like to say, it is ‘lovingly ripped off’. I suppose it was all ultimately a bit tacky, but I enjoyed it a lot, especially seeing once again the Knights who say ‘Ni’ and hearing ‘Only Look on the Bright Side of Life’ (even though that was taken from The Life of Brian, a film I actually like better). What made me laugh the most, though, were the ridiculous fight scenes, like when one knight gets his head bitten off by a very dangerous rabbit and the Black Knight who just won’t give up, even when he tries to fight no limbs left, “Tis but a scratch… just a flesh wound, I’ve had worse”.

Some might say that Python is over, but for me it’s pretty timeless stuff and if one of Shakespeare’s comedies is seen as relevant enough to go onstage even now, why not Python!? It also ended on a thoughtful note- if the Holy Grail is really just a symbol for something we want to find in our own lives, what are our ‘Holy Grails’?

This was all followed by a delicious Chinese meal in China Town, where I noticed that the vegetables seem to be much crisper and fresher than I remember them- perhaps people expect more these days? It came with one of my all-time favourites, the Peking Crispy Duck, cooked to perfection with the sweet plum sauce. This is one food I can never have too much of, just I can never have too much of Monty Python’s jokes!

The Globe Theatre

Now back in London, so far I’ve been to see the Shakespeare play Loves Labour Lost at the reconstructed Globe Theater. Like most Shakespeare plays (spelling? There are apparently loads of ways of spelling his name and no-one can agree on it, just as no-ones really sure who really wrote them!), I only understood about 30% of what was being said but I managed to enjoy it all the same. To make up for this, I decided to read it online now!

What is amazing about this theater is that they made it as closely as possible to how it was back in the 16th century. It’s mostly open-air and you experience the occasional pigeon flying in and can see the actors entering the stage from all possible angles. With the circular design of the seats, you are always a lot closer to the action and I did notice some very pretty actresses playing the princess’ attendants.  For  me, this makes it all more immersing, as there is something artificial about the controlled nature of modern theaters, with their elaborate spotlights and noise-insulation, ending up with a Hollywood-style ‘perfection’ that in some ways may be a good thing, but robs the events of some of their immediacy. Who needs studied perfection when you can have real emotions? All the more important if, like me, you can’t follow a lot of the words.

These kinds of cultural events are something I miss living in Japan. Of course, there’s more Japanese culture than anywhere else, but when it comes to things like Western Theater or lesser-known, alternative artists, there’s just not enough of an audience for much of it to survive there. In fact, a lot of art students come here to study, which is a good way of getting away from the neon-commercialism that is surprisingly pervasive in Japan. I say surprisingly because it’s a county with so much incredible heritage. It’s important that younger people learn that there is more to enjoying life than shopping malls and Disneyland. London’s lucky that having so many tourists makes a ready audience for so many of the arts (a lot of them Japanese tourists!), so that they can be presented in a dynamic way that people who live here can also feel part of it. So, this is something about my country I want to share with Japan, that art can be relevant to everyone.

As far as falling victim to commercialism goes, I have to admit, though, that I’m as bad as anyone else in this, I’m always looking around to see what the latest digital camera can do and as far as TV goes I only follow the big name ones that I hear about from friends. Maybe no-one can escape the influence of ‘branding’ these days, least of all me. I just feel that we should all make an effort to find more authentic things, that maybe have been less commercialised. A kind if organic foods approach to culture. which might also help the ‘little guys’ find their natural audience better too.

Straight, No Chaser.

A Traditional Photography Blog - dehk © 2016

Simple Tom

Some say I was born high. Others say i'm just simple :)

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