Of Land and Spirit – Rural Thailand with an M9 and D3s by Lee Craker

Of Land and Spirit – Rural Thailand with an M9 and D3s by Lee Craker

I have been working on a project for a year documenting a small community in rural Thailand. The working title for this project is “Of Land and Spirit”.

I have found it fascinating to follow the cycle of the land here and the people who work it. In rural Thailand the land is life. The land provides for all physical needs of the people. Food, shelter and living expenses are all provided by the land. I also started to realize that the unique form of Buddhism practiced in rural Thailand is equally important to the people. Each day of a Thai’s life in this small community near Nakhon Nayok, Thailand begins and ends with this form of spirituality. Nothing is done without praying about it, consulting a shaman, or visiting a temple, usually all three. I found that the spirit and the land were impossible to separate. In rural Thailand one would find it difficult to talk about one without talking about the other. The farmers here are hard-working, up before dawn, and working till after sunset. The work is difficult and done without the aid of modern farming machinery planting, harvesting, and processing rice all by hand.

A woman farmer Sri, gathers the newly harvested rice so it can be processed. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nien, a local farmer plants rice in Nakhon Nayok, Thailand.


A local Buddhist Monk takes time for relaxation after a service in Nakhon, Nayok, Thailand.


Sri, a Thai woman farmer, gathers the newly harvested rice so it can be processed. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Rice Harvest

Swai, a local Thai farmer separates the rice from the stock. Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Nakhon Nayok, Thailand

Sri, douses water on her face in the fields after a long day in the fields.


This project when completed will take the form of an iBook and be available on iTunes.
As your blog is often about equipment, I’ll share some thoughts on what I use. I don’t limit myself to one camera. I like to use different cameras depending on what I am shooting. I try to find the right tool for the right job. I use a Leica M9 for its fantastic image quality, and portability. I use a Nikon D3s for its speed in capturing scenes where rapid focus and/or focus tracking is important, and for scenes such as the monk above where high ISO’s are critical. Also the D3s is the most weather proof my cameras and this sometimes becomes important in the fields. I use a Nikon D-800 for its ability to make huge file sizes which is helpful if I find I need to crop the image when being close to the subject is an impossibility, and the D-800 is much lighter than the D3s so it saves on the neck and back when shooting all day.
Thank you for your time, and looking at my work.


    • Thanks gene whitman – you know I have a bunch of lenses for Nikon, being a many years shooter they just add up over the years. I have fewer for Leica but still cover the most popular lengths from 21 to 90. I use allot of different lenses, but my Favorite Nikkor’s are the 24-70 2.8, and the newer and slower 28-300 3.5, 5.6. The 24-70 is very sharp, fast focus and pretty much is my lens of choice for PJ unless I have to go real wide or long. Less often I use the 50 1.4 and and 35 f2 and love the 85 1.8, but end up rarely using it. For Leica I mostly use the 35 and 50 summarit. I can’t afford or justify the faster 4 to 10 thousand dollar lenses, although if someone wants to send me a couple I’d be forever grateful… lol.

      • Oh PS — I forgot the filter question. Way back when – I used allot of filters. In days before digital I shot mostly landscapes and almost always had a polarizer on my lens. When I transitioned from film to digital I was also transitioning to shooting mainly people. The very first digital cameras I owned back in the late 80’s did not do well with polarizers. They gave a rather strange looking blue sky, and for people I did not use filters as much. As I started working with Photoshop in the 90’s I found I could achieve a look I wanted without filters, and today with Silver Efex Pro I’m able to add a filter and control the intensity and color much better than if I had one on the camera. So except for ND filters today I would say no I do not use filters on camera but yes I do frequently use filter effects when rendering.

  1. Lee, all I can say is “WOW!!” I appreciate the fact that we all have different tastes in what we like and don’t like (it would be a very boring world otherwise) but your pictures really appeal to me on all sorts of different levels. Thank you so much for posting them.

  2. I love all of them!
    With photos, for me, it’s about gut feeling, and not technical details, I’d be extremely proud to have taken anything like these! I find seeing photographers work on here very inspiring.

  3. Great work Lee! Congratulations.
    These pice are the result of a combination of:

    1) a great photographer
    2) a great camera and lens
    3) very professional image processing (Silverefex?)

    Leica should have hired you to make testshots of the MM and the M240!

    Keep up your excellent work


  4. I am really impressed. Thank you very much Lee.
    I appreciate not only your pictures but your effort to put them together in form of an ibook.
    I will definetly buy it when it comes out, cause i think it is a good thing to support future projects you may already have in mind. I really wish I would quit on my job und do what you do. Well done.
    Greeting from Germany

    • Thank you Elderin, I do have several projects I’m putting together. One is a trip to document the struggle to help the endangered Asian elephant. I also plan to visit some of the lesser known hill tribes near Chiang Mai, where I can get more real and tell their unique story.
      I don’t ever recommend this for everyone Elderin, but I did quit my job to do what I do 10 years ago. The first year was very scary. Not knowing if I was going to make rent or buy food was worrisome indeed. But after 3 years it stabled out and gave me to opportunity to choose “day jobs” in places like the Kwajalein Atoll, and becoming the command photographer for The Multi National Corps PAO in Iraq, where I stayed for 3 years. So in short the giant step I took with all the risks 10 years ago has brought me to where I am today. Good luck in your future endeavors.

  5. A wonderful series indeed.It makes me sense your deep respect towards the people’s life your’e documenting. While each individual image impresses on its own – I just love that smoking monk – they add to each other as a consistent body of work. It’s obvious you found your personal style, something the avarage photographer is far to achieve. These are the first Thailand images I see that avoid the typical western cliches. Looking forward seeing more of this in the future. Count me in on your ibook.

    Thank you for sharing,

    • Thank you Wolfgang, There is indeed more to Thailand than the Grand Palace. Although the architecture of Thailand is beautiful indeed, I’m all about the people. My first trip to Thailand I did go to the people zoos of the Long Neck Village and the Meo Hill Tribe. While these people do make a meager living from tourists visiting and photographing, which is important to their survival, I could not help but feel a sense of unreality. With the every day people one can relate to the daily toil and struggle to make ends meet.

  6. Your pictures do credit to your skill as a photographer, you have created shots that would make any person proud of.
    Good job.

  7. Dear Lee,

    very nice photos. Living in Thailand for almost 18 years your motifs are familiar to me.

    We are based in Pattaya ( we run a real estate company for 12 years, Siam Properties) but my wife originates from the rice fields of Ayuttaya.

    BTW I prefer the color photos I saw on your web page.

    All the best for you, your wife and daughter.


    • Thanks Eugene Low, one of my favorites as well. Sri is an incredibly strong woman, she had worked all day planting rice in well over 100 degree heat. She took off her hat and splashed herself with muddy water to cool off. I was out of position and using too long of a lens but I fired quickly and crossed my fingers. Luck was with me.

  8. Beautiful photos. I love the way you are able to not only document the lifestyle of your subjects but convey it without loss of emotion or a feeling of detachment. The 5th image is my favourite in this set, the way you captured movement is wonderful. After checking out your site I have to say your colour photos are exquisite and are in my opinion even better than your B&W images.

    • Thank you Adrian,
      The truth is I do get involved emotionally. Sometimes I feel so guilty, walking beck to the house where there is air conditioning to process photos while my friends and subjects are working in 100 degrees plus heat in all that protective clothing. I owe a great deal to these people for allowing me to get so close with my camera always present.
      Thanks for the color compliment, I do like both. and sometimes like you I like the color better, other times the B&W speaks to me more. I try not to limit myself one way or the other. The tough choice when submitting work is to try and figure out which to use. 🙂

  9. Well done Lee! Fabulous photos that really capture the heart and spirit of the Thai people … along with a work ethic we don’t see as much in the west. I love visiting Thailand as all of Asia and have always wanted to spend time away from the more popular cities … exploring the countryside. I have had the opportunity to fly around Thailand it looks as if it’s one giant rice-patty. Even Bangkok seems to blend (and flow) right into the Gulf.
    The photos are lovely and really capture and area and people I’d love to get to know better.
    Thanks for sharing … Blue skies!

    • Thank you KiloLima, yes do take time to get into the country, you will love it. I have not been to Bangkok in a year. Rural life is not for everyone, but I love it.

    • Yes Pete, Thanks for asking. I shoot in RAW and use a photoshop workflow. I was a graphic designer and web designer by trade for many years so using Photoshop comes natural to me. I download the images with Bridge, which I rename to a date format and let bridge save to folders sorted by day month and year. I open the image in Camera Raw and make adjustments as necessary. I open the image in Photoshop and may need to do a levels or curve layer using layer masking. I flatten the image then if I have chosen to do B&W I use Silver Efex Pro 2. Sometimes strait or sometimes with a yellow filter, to some degree as the tonal values of the green fields and the people are very similar in tonal range and the filter helps with skin tones and contrast. Thats about it.

    • Thank you Pete. I’ll try, I really will try. Writing is so hard for me I am very dyslexic and it takes me a long time to put thoughts on paper. But I totally agree with you. I’m taking allot of time on this project to try and write allot more to go with the images. Man — honestly, it’s a struggle.

  10. The picture of the monk is very nice, but in the others I think you exaggerated too much the post production on the sky/clouds and this distracts the eye from the real subject.

    • Correct Inno, I use the Leica a little less than I do the Nikon gear. I do have many on my websites, and on FB in the Leica user forums. I’m really not that much into gear as long as it works well. I usually just grab the camera that is going to be appropriate for the days shoot. If it looks like rain, which happens allot in Thailand, or fast moving subjects, or low light – High ISO’s, I’ll grab a Nikon. When I’m going to the market I can usually find cover when it rains so I’ll take the M9. Camera repair here is unheard of so I try to be selective.

          • It’s is all good, I do admit using the Leica in the text, and that is probably why it it ended up in the title. To be honest I didn’t look at the exif before submitting, as I was just looking for my favorite images.

            Thanks #2 is so fun to me – I was falling over backwards into the mud as I shot it and Nien is laughing at me. Everything including equipment was covered in mud …. hahaha.

  11. I ran across your site while looking for info on the Fuji X-system cameras, Lee, and was very taken with your work. I now have your site bookmarked so I can take a look whenever I have time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on equipment as well here.

  12. Beautiful warm tones and nice contrast. Also effectively focused to bring forward the subjects from the background. What software did you use for the B&W?
    Thanks you


    • Thanks Roeland, I use Sliver Efex Pro 2 as a Photoshop plugin. On rare occasions I’ll convert to BW in Adobe Camera Raw.

  13. Love that crisp yet buttery smooth feel to these images. The processing seems just right- none of those crazy alien tones.

  14. I don’t care what camera they were taken with or how they were processed the are just Great Shots and capture some of the life in rural Thailand. Judging from you photographs its seems an easer life choice to be a monk.


    • Thank you John, I really appreciate that, as capturing real rural Thailand is exactly what I’m trying to do. Yes, being a full time monk is for sure a little softer life, although I have seen them work hard also. Keep in mind these are moments of sweat and toil, there are also moments of laughter and joy, but indeed life here is tough, the people are strong and resilient, always willing to help and support others.

    • Thank you Bob B. Me too ! …. hahaha
      I do wish Leica would send me one. 🙂 I’ll probably end up with one in a few years, when money catches up with desire …. lol

  15. I love the subject matter and do think the pictures are good, but I can’t help feeling like they have an “over-processed” look to them.

      • Thanks Jay and John, I appreciate your feedback. Processing is so much a personal choice. I’m happy I do not have to spend hours in the darkroom, as I did years ago, and don’t have to make all those paper and chemical choices to achieve a certain look. The images always do look much different in small size compared to what I see on my 30 inch Mac, and I think they loose something in the process, but I am thankful for the digital age where sharing is possible. Again, thanks for the feedback, I’ll for sure keep it in mind.

        • Thank you Mark. I appreciate your chiming in. It means allot.
          I look at it like this. I’m over 60 and I’m just so pleased when someone takes the time to comment on my work either positive or negative. Like anyone, I’d love to have all positive, but then that would not be real. There is Yin and Yang in everything, and I try to keep learning from both.

    • I rarely post a comment, but wow, your images deserves to be commented!! Amazing shots sir!!

      When you decide to do a project in Indonesia, please do email me, i would love to come and shoot with you.

      Again, beautiful pictures Mr. Craker!

      • Thanks Rai, I would love to go back to Indonesia, I visited Bali twice a few years ago. If it becomes financially feasible I’ll go back and let you know. It would be fun to shoot with someone. The weird thing is that although Indonesia is relatively close, the air travel takes you half way around the world and costs a fortune. Perhaps soon they will have a more direct rout from Thailand.

  16. Amazing work. Love the tone you’ve achieved here, and with the other images on your site. Love the expressiveness of Nien’s face.

    These all seem to be from the Nikons, are you adding some M9 examples as well?

    Thanks for sharing!

    • Thank you Darren. Yes, as time goes on I’ll be adding more with the M9. I do love the quality, and crispness of the image.

    • Thanks Gary, The Monk is a really nice guy. The monks always ask me for a disk of photos and I’m happy to share with them. One of the younger monks has a computer and they can all look at my work. They like it so much that sometimes I’ll be outside the temple taking a break and they will send a runner or announce my name on the loud speaker, and tell me something import is going to happen. I love it when what I do makes people happy.

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