Shooting Film Through Thailand with Dan Diaz

Shooting Film Through Thailand with Dan Diaz

2000 1333 James Tocchio

Editor’s Note – James here. You may have noticed that we’re branching out from our usual gear reviews and opinion pieces. While those will still make up the lion’s share of posts here at CP, we also want to bring you articles that show what people are doing with the cameras, lenses, and film we’re always talking about. Our Featured Photophile series and other recent posts from contributing writers do this – and so does today’s post. In this travel log, guest contributor Dan Diaz takes us on a trip through Thailand in which each new day brings a different film stock and a new adventure. Brew a cup, settle in, and enjoy some excellent photos. 

Day One – Fujicolor Superia 1600

We arrive on a Sunday and are scheduled to stay for less than a week. This means we must immediately get exploring. I quickly grab my Nikon F3 and a box of what I think is Kodak Ektar, except it isn’t Ektar. Because of a mixup during the airport inspection, my box of Ektar has been repacked with Fujicolor Superia 1600, which I was saving for some night time shooting at Khao San Road. Luckily I realize before closing the back and am able to set the camera to 1600. Oh well.

Arriving on the weekend means that we’re able to visit and shop the Chatuchak weekend market during our first day in Thailand. This market is so big that it takes the whole day to fully explore. The food is amazing and the trinkets are cheap. I suggest visitors schedule it as the last stop of their trip, so they can spend their remaining money here.

Superia 1600 ends up being quite nice. Though a bit grainy, it renders great skin tones and delivers consistently wonderful photos at a price that’s lower than other high ISO films. It’s a must-try.

Day Two – Kodak Portra 400 and Ektar 100

Day two of our Bangkok trip takes us to Wat Phra Kaew and Wat Pho temples. Both are mesmerizing and vibrantly colored, perfect for shooting Kodak’s Portra 400 and Ektar 100. Though primarily marketed as a film for portraiture, Portra’s forgiving exposure latitude and rich warmth make it excellent for landscapes and colorful scenes as well.

Kodak Ektar is my favorite color negative film. It’s simple and straightforward – just bathe it with light on a sunny day and enjoy the vibrant colors. Grain is non-existent, making it great for landscapes and architectural shots. Portraiture is possible, but be wary that skin tones can turn to nasty red on some people.

While touring the temples I thought of some tips for photogs who are traveling. First, bring a wide angle lens. I only had my 50mm lens on this trip and I was sorely missing my 24mm, as there were a lot of photo ops that could’ve benefited from a wider perspective. Next, be aware of local customs, such as the dress codes in the temples I visited. Act and dress respectfully. And be wise to street culture. Where I visited there were people there to give “free” corn for the pigeons. Moments later they’d ask for 150 bhat per handful.

I’d already had an affinity for buddhism, and visiting and photographing these temples with their beautiful meditating statues and rich, symbolic architecture only deepened it.

Day Three – HP5 Plus at 1600

Day three finds me shooting Ilford HP5 Plus, which is a great and versatile film. Shot at box speed of 400, I find it a little flat. Where I think HP5 Plus really excels and even beats the legendary Kodak Tri-X is when pushed to 1600. This brings out a really unique grain and makes for images that are punchy and loaded with contrast.

Loading this into the camera, we head to Chao Mae Tuptim shrine, also known as the Penis Shrine. The caretaker tells us that they just removed half of the penises in the shrine, as things were getting a bit crowded. Even so, penises are everywhere. People having fertility issue leave behind a phallic candle or idol to make their wish come true. It’s said that those who touch the phallus will have good luck and fertility. There are also elephant figures and creepy doll dresses, though I don’t know what these are for.

We travel next to Banyan Tree sky bar. Being on a tight budget and just wanting to sight-see, we only order drinks. Thankfully, there’s free nuts and a great view. The safety railings offer a great spot to mount a Gorilla Pod and a wide angle lens. Time it just right for sunset shots, order a few more drinks ’til it’s dark, and you’ll have a great night shot of Bangkok.

Follow along with more of Dan’s adventures in photography on his blog.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio
  • Wilson Laidlaw May 22, 2017 at 9:21 am

    I think that Kodak Professional Ektar 100 ISO is an excellent film and a better all rounder than Portra 160. Because I generally use fast lenses, I prefer the 100 ISO film for daylight use to 160 and faster.

  • The photo of the infant with the loaded diaper in traffic is just weird and great. The expression on his face of studied concentration while holding that ball!
    I’m assuming his parents were right there.

  • I am loving the HP5 at 1600! And still waiting to try the Ektar…
    Great photos.

    • Thank you! yes definitely a must try. 🙂

      • Wilson Laidlaw May 28, 2017 at 3:09 am

        A tip to reduce weird red skin tones with Ektar is to use a combined IR cut/high pass – UV/low pass filter such as B+W 486. The bad news is that these are not cheap, as the proper ones are a multi layer interference filter. Luckily I have a drawerful of them left over from when a Leica M8 was my everyday camera and using IR cut filters was close to obligatory due to Leica’s omission of an IR filter on the sensor. The red skin tones are caused by Ektar’s extended IR sensitivity. The downside of these filters is that they can cause pink circle ghost images but this is less prone to happen with film than sensor, due to film’s lower reflectivity. Wilson

  • I’ve found I get a blue overtone when using Ektar, although I’m guessing the cheap lab i used was at fault as it was every roll i used. have been hesitant ever since to use it though. Great shots though, have got a roll of Superia 1600 that I’ve been waiting to try!

    • I have found that Ektar seems to be quite lens sensitive for unwanted tinting. My Leica late type 50/2 Summitar is not good with blue tinting just like you are getting. As you say, it may have been Johnny Could-not-Care-Less on his first day on the Fuji Frontier processor but another roll processed by the same folk, taken most with my LTM Series 5 50/2 Summicron came out fine. My Zeiss Opton Sonnar has a very faint built in sepia tint. I have had the blue tint before on the Summitar with Velvia and so did my father on Kodachrome in the 1960’s, which is why he preferred his coated Summar (coated in 1948 in the Netherlands and re-coated by Wallace Heaton in 1965) to the Summitar.

  • Jay Dann Walker in Melbourne May 17, 2021 at 7:14 pm

    This article and the images are so evocative of past travels in my long life…

    I have done this same journey four times in all – in 1970, 1979, 1991 and 2006. Each time with a film camera.

    So many changes have taken place over the years. In the ’70s Phuket was a small town with five beautiful unspoiled beaches, prime territory for good candid photography. Children would frolic naked in the surf, a huge water buffalo stood guard over the locals and often chased the few tourists brave enough to get too close to it (but never intending to catch its victims, it seemed to be purely for the sport of it!) and “accommodation” such as it could be termed, consisted of either beach huts built from old planks or fourth-rate hotels in the town run by Chinese seemingly more keen to rent rooms by the hour than by the night (evidence of this was when you were asked to pay extra for bed sheets and pillows!).

    On trips one and two I took a Rolleiflex TLR and (in 1975) a Mamiya SLR with two lenses. I shot superlatively good Kodachromes and Ektachromes each time and even sold a few images, try that now with any tourist destination in Asia, ha! Films ranged from the aforementioned Kodak E6 to whatever color neg stock I could find in the local shops. Processing was done when I eventually made it to Bangkok, which often as not took me several weeks. In those long ago days I was more into slow travel by bus or minivans and only one time did I blow my budget for a long-distance taxi from Phuket to Bangkok, a journey that all but cost me my sanity as we were ten passengers in an old Peugeot.

    For such long-time travel I took some sensible precautions. Films were bought just before my trip and stored in old Australian army ration tins bought cheaply from surplus shops in Sydney (I still have them all and use them to keep my outdated films in my fridge). Cameras were equipped with UV filters only and other than lens hoods, no other accessories were taken along. Light was the way to go, then as now.

    Over the decades I have noticed many changes. We all know the perils of trying to transport film across several countries as most airport scanners are the devil’s own invention and seem to be set to fry film rather than “inspect” them (for what, neutron mini-bombs?). In the ’70s I was occasionally asked for small money from people I photographed on beaches (mostly children) or in markets (mostly older women selling small items like duck eggs or a few vegetables to stretch out the family’s budget). I do not recall ever having been asked for a “contribution” by anyone in Bangkok or Chiangmai or any of the larger centers I visited back then. Today the situation is very different, especially on the beaches of Phuket. Many locals now see tourists as walking banks and more middle class Thais are traveling and react negatively when a camera is pointed in their direction. Scams and scammers abound and are everywhere. The entire country has become money-mad but then the same can be said of every other destination in Asia (try walking on a beach anywhere in Bali these days with a camera around your neck, ha!). Back then film was available everywhere at reasonable prices and the worst you could expect would be to be sold a few rolls of 120 Fujicolor kept sat on a hot shelf in an un-airconditioned shop for two or three years. As well nowadays as we all know, the cost of everything has gone sky-high. Travel is no longer the budget pursuit it as back then. But at least the Thai buses are more comfortable.

    As we all know digital has freed us from much of the tyranny of shooting film and having it processed, but travel with film is still a pleasant pastime with an entirely different mind-set from the digi shooters who machine-gun everything in sight. Less in better. Every image rates more careful thought and vision to ensure the best compositions with the least amount of film used. The term “minimal” surely was invented by a Leica photographer (Rollei TLR in my case).

    Many of my 35mm slides have started to fade now. Oddly, my 120 slides have stayed almost entirely unchanged. Of course my B&W negatives remain as new. Still a heap of printing to be done. I am 73 no, 74 this year. My darkroom is still set up with good stocks of (refrigerated) fiber base paper and chemistry to be used. I figure I will be putting in a lot of time in that room when I’m old…

    I will be returning to Thailand when the current Covid crisis passes (sooner rather than later, I hope) for what will probably be my last visit to that beautiful country with its unique Buddhist culture. This time my main shooter will be a Nikon D800 with two or at most three lenses. The Rollei will also come along, for what may well be its last overseas trip.

    Life is short and mighty sweet. And good cameras are an important part of it.

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James Tocchio

James Tocchio is a writer and photographer, and the founder of Casual Photophile. He’s spent years researching, collecting, and shooting classic and collectible cameras. In addition to his work here, he’s also the founder of the online camera shop

All stories by:James Tocchio