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Anything Travel Related

The Many Faces of Lake Moogerah

I discovered Lake Moogerah by accident. I was driving towards Warwick, a city located southwest of Brisbane, when I stumbled upon this magical place. Since then, I have been camping and taking photos of the location. The spot never disappoints. I would always find something new every time I visit.

For the past two weeks I have shot Lake Moogerah twice and I could not help but wonder how quickly it changes. There is no better way to show that than by giving sample shots of this beautiful place.

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That’s Lake Moogerah during sunset when the sun is just kissing the horizon. A few minutes later, the warm light is replaced by fiery clouds:

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If you stayed until it gets dark and waited for the moon to rise, you’ll get warm light again. This one is when the moon is just above the horizon:

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At close to 11PM when the moon is high above the sky, you’ll get much cooler colours and it looks something like this:

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Notice the stars hiding behind the clouds. 🙂

And that’s Lake Moogerah in four shots.

In Search of Sunlight

It’s been a while since I last posted anything in this blog. I have lots of excuses to back it up though: Firstly, there’s work that gets in the way when the weather seemed to be ideal for a photoshoot. Of the few times that the weather seemed to cooperate, I am assigned to do 24/7 on-call shifts 😦  Then there’s another hobby of mine that has been competing with photography: music. I was gigging around Brisbane before I shifted into photography. It was my day job that required me to fly all around Australia to conduct trainings and do consultancy work and it was because of this that I had to quit my band. Travel was taking its toll and I needed something that would sustain me and keep me excited. And so I decided to take photos. Photography betrayed my music and now it was payback time for my guitar.

When the Christmas holiday season started, I still could not shoot. I already had two gigs booked which required me to learn about 20 songs, most of which I have not heard and played before. But that’s over and, as always, the bad weather strikes again whenever I am free to shoot.

The weather forecast tells me it’s going to be stormy for at least 10 days. By then, my holiday break would soon be over. Heck, the year would soon be over. Yesterday I decided to make a suicide run.

I know it was going to be very gloomy so I had to pick a subject that would work well on overcast weather conditions. Water falls and creeks come to mind but I find them to be uncertain and dangerous especially with the non-stop rain. I chose to shoot flowers.

With my gummy boots and trusty weather-sealed Olympus EM-5 camera and 12-50 kit lens pair, I made a two-hour suicide drive into unknown weather conditions. The destination was a small town called Allora where I’m supposed to find sunflower fields. The Willy Weather iPhone app told me that rain is expected during the morning and afternoon so I started driving at 10AM hoping to get there by mid day. Mid day is usually bad for landscape photography but the overcast skies should give me the soft light that I needed for the flower shots.

I got there at exactly 12 noon but I could not find any sunflowers. There was a tourist drive called sunflower route but it seemed like they have already harvested the sunflowers. After an additional 10kms of driving I finally found acres of sunflower fields. What’s really surprising was that this field was unfenced. It is quite rare here in Australia to have something like this that is totally unfenced and I did not see any “No Trespassing” sign anywhere. I parked along the shoulder road and started framing shots. After about 20 frames, I called it a day and started the long drive home.

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Such is the beauty and frustration of landscape photography. You go into the unknown hoping that you would return with some decent shots. In my case, a four-hour drive and a late 3PM lunch got me four frames that I thought were good enough. No, I am not really happy about them but this is better than nothing. I haven’t shot for a few months and I needed to break the spell.

That’s it for me. (Belated) Merry Christmas and may all of you have a prosperous 2015!

Olympus Stylus 1

A few months ago I joined the Asia-Oceania Olympus Grand Prix photography contest. There were two categories: landscape and camera effects. The latter requires that you use the built-in camera effects in your shot and this is where I won the Stylus 1. You can find the winning entries here.

To be honest, I did not expect much from a point-and-shoot camera. I have read the specifications of the Stylus 1 and among the many features I was most curious about the lens. It has a 28-300mm constant f/2.8 full frame equivalent. This kind of lens is unheard of. You can’t find a lens with this specification anywhere. Not even in the CaNikon world. This feature alone got me really excited. It would be the perfect travel camera if it performed well.

As soon as the camera arrived, I immediately tested it using whatever charge is left in the factory-sealed battery. The first thing that caught my attention was the aperture ring in the lens. This is absolutely awesome. It feels like shooting with my Nikon FM3A film camera with AiS lens again. Heck, this is even better than the overhyped Nikon Df’s very clumsy implementation of the aperture adjustment dial. I was over the moon! Hey, it’s got an electronic viewfinder too that rivals the size and quality of my high-end E-M5. This camera is big in features and it still fits inside my jacket pocket!

It took me a few days to seriously test my camera. My day job was getting in the way of fun LOL! When I finally managed to go out during lunch break I walked around the city to capture some shots. Let’s have a look at how this tiny camera performed …

Note that the images I’m presenting here are all JPEG shots straight from the camera with absolutely no editing done. No cropping even. I just had to rotate the portrait oriented shots in Snapseed though because my iPad (which I’m using to type this) does not recognise the rotation info. They were also shot completely handheld. Click on the images for a larger view.

Low light shooting is the main weakness of P&S cameras due to their small sensors. It made sense for me to try shooting inside the church that was close to my office to see how this thing performs.

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That’s ISO 800 at f/2.8. I really like how it handled the colours, the highlights and shadows. It’s quite sharp too.

After work, I took some evening shots on the way home:

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This camera is the perfect travel companion so I brought it during our recent trip to the Snowy Mountains and Victoria. Here are some of the shots that I took.

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I especially like the way it handled the backlit shots. I could not see any posterisation or nasty abrupt highlight clipping at all. The gradiation is very smooth. Note the absence of flare as well.

Let’s see how it does bokehlicious shots:

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It’s not a bird photographer’s wet dreams but for a casual snap I quite like it.

Overall, it’s a really nice camera. I dare say that if I were to travel for a few months and bring just one camera and one lens, I will seriously consider this over my full frame Nikon or any other camera. The 28-300mm f/2.8 is just too convenient to leave behind. The built in wifi allows me to remotely control the camera and transfer the photos directly to my iphone for easy sharing to social media. It is what a travel camera should be. Good thing that it’s small so I really don’t have to make that decision. I can bring it anytime anywhere together with my other bulky cameras. It’s a no-brainer.

The Stylus 1 isn’t perfect though. Autofocus starts to hunt in low light. Being an electronic zoom lens, it’s not precise. It’s just like any other P&S with jerky , “gappy” zoom movements. Other than that, I can’t fault this camera at all.

Would I recommend that you get one? At $699, you must think hard if you really need that big of a zoom range because this camera is quite sharp even at full zoom and wide open at f/2.8. For that price, you can get a decent m43 camera kit or even an entry level APS-C DSLR. Remember that there is no way you can get a 300mm f/2.8 lens, more so a zoom, at $700. That’s just not possible, at the moment, outside of the Stylus 1. I’m just very lucky to have gotten this camera for FREE.

Tempting? You decide.

Bad Adventures in Photography

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(Byron Bay lighthouse. iPhone shot)

I woke up at 10:30AM already. I was very tired from yesterday’s activity: I had to sing in the church choir and played bass guitar for my new band’s last major gig for the year. After several stressful weeks, today I was determined to spend time for myself.

So we drove to Byron Bay, a good two hours from Brisbane if you stick to the speed limits. I have already checked the weather radar and the forecast showed a clear afternoon in our destination. Brisbane already had a few showers and continued to be gloomy so I was hoping that the weather in Byron Bay would not disappoint.

I was very excited. I brought my landscape camera of choice: the Pentax K5. My Mamiya 645 was also loaded with a fresh roll of Provia 100F and I could not wait to try the 45mm/2.8 lens that I got from Ebay. I even skipped lunch (bad move #1).

When we arrived in Byron Bay, the weather was not perfect but manageable. The wind was a different matter though. It was so strong that sudden gusts could literally throw me off balance. It was only a matter of time before it brought a few rain clouds which made taking photos so much more challenging. My K5 is weathersealed but a single droplet on the lens’es front element is enough to ruin a shot.

I took a few cliche shots of the lighthouse before deciding to head down to the beach (bad move #2). I haven’t tried going through the path that leads from the lighthouse to the beach but I have seen other people walking and even running so I thought it should be an easy trek. Some of them even look a lot more unhealthy than me (not!!!). So down I went with nothing but 3kg of equipment. Not even a bottle of water (bad move #3).

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(The path that leads to the beach. iPhone shot)

I immediately realized that the pathway was a lot steeper than the others that I have experienced because my thighs were shaking with every step. I started blaming my injured right leg; it is still a bit swollen even after a year from when I fractured both bones in basketball. The surgeon did a good job of repairing my leg by inserting a titanium rod inside the bigger bone to put it back in place. I began to think about alternative routes for my way back to the top. Going back via the beach would be the only possible route if climbing was no longer an option. Confident about my decision, I continued the long way down to my intended destination. I clocked my descent so I could double that and get a rough estimate how much time it would take me for the return trip. I wanted to be back before it gets dark.

I did not actually head down to the beach but went to the same spot where I took this shot:

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(The lighthouse is about 100 meters above this location. The beach is further down that path.)

I captured this with a 35mm camera so I wanted to try using the Mamiya knowing that a film that is three times larger should give me better results.

The weather did not cooperate. It started to shower before I could even take my first shot. I carefully wiped the lens with my shirt and fired a few more. The weather was getting worse so I decided to pack up. I was ready to call it a day when my photographer instincts told me not to go home yet. If there is shower and there is sunlight then there should be rainbow somewhere. So I waited, both cameras inside their bags (bad move #4).

My prediction was correct: a rainbow started appearing so I quickly pulled out my K5. It was very tricky to shoot under the rain. I was actually spending more time wiping my lens than shooting. Very annoying indeed. I have given up hope in getting even a mildly decent shot with my smudgy lens. Frustration came in very quickly and I decided enough was enough. So I packed up for real this time.

Sweat mixed with rain plus no decent photo; this has certainly drained the remaining strength I needed for the climb back to the lighthouse. After a dozen or so steps, I could feel my heart pumping wildly and I could hardly breathe. Mind you, I am 5 feet 10 inches at 76kg. Not really somebody that you can call unhealthy. I used to play competitive basketball and volleyball for 15 years. So did my old man who died in a massive heart attack. Cardio problems run in our blood and I am certainly aware of this. I was very careful not to trigger a panic attack just like what happened to me in Canberra a few years ago. I had to call an ambulance after hopelessly trying to hail every incoming vehicle because I thought it was game over for me.

I rested for a bit while thinking about my next move. I remembered the beach access because I have been there before. This is the shot I took from the beach several months ago:

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I immediately called my family who were waiting for me at the top and told them to meet me at the other side near the beach. I gathered myself and went back to where the pathway forked. Then came the surprise: the beach is gone!!! It was all under water!!! I could not see one bit of sand. Gone!

The tide was so high and the wind was so strong it was blowing 6, probably 8-foot waves. I looked for alternative paths. There must be some other routes. I was walking over jagged rocks trying my best not to fall. I knew I should have brought my trekking sandals that have secure straps and not this orthopedic thingy that I have been using to rehab my injured leg. I came to a spot where I could have a look at the other side of the cliff to assess the situation. Waves were smashing against the rocks so I started studying their rhythm patterns. I began counting the intervals between waves so I could estimate my own movement and make sure that I would have enough time should I decide to turn back in case the small gap in the cliff would prove to be impassable. I counted a few seconds between big waves so as soon as a big one hit the cliff I scrambled for it. Leaping over jagged rocks I went but soon realized that the only passage I had was already neck deep under water. I quickly turned around hoping that a big wave won’t engulf me. I called my family again and told them to abort. The tide has cut off my only route to the other side of the cliff.

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(The gaps between these rocks were supposed to be my way to the other side of the cliff but they were already deep under water. That far hill in the background is where I was taking photos.)

I was already hyperventilating. Two stupid ideas: 1) call emergency rescue so they can bring down a helicopter for me or; 2) they would have a bunch of people carry me to the top with a stretcher. That won’t be just stupid, it would be very embarassing!

It’s when humans become hopeless that they start thinking about a Greater Being who can perform miracles. This must have been my punishment for skipping mass today. But hey, I sang in the church choir yesterday and this feels so unfair. I started praying. Three Our Father’s, three Hail Mary’s and countless Glory Be’s.

I gathered myself again, trusting in my muscle’s capacity to recover quickly. In a basketball game, I usually get tired during the first 10 minutes so I normally get substituted. But after another 10 minutes of rest, I could finish the whole game with enough strength left for another half. I climbed about 20 steps before I had to sit down and take another rest. It’s that steep. Did a dozen more then more rest. Every time I rested I was praying: Our Father, Hail Mary, Glory Be, over and over again.

It was still bright enough for me to see clearly. By this time, I have probably recited more prayers than I ever did for the year. Even that stupid rainbow was still there. I took another shot of it with my iPhone. Photographers: they never stop taking photos while they are still breathing.

It was already 6PM and I’m only halfway through the climb. At this rate I’d reach the top just before it gets dark. There was a couple who were kind enough to ask if I was OK. I told them I wasn’t but I asked them anyway how far is it to the lighthouse. They said it’s still a long way and it gets steeper. Thanks for the encouragement.

I kept climbing and resting every few steps. The cameras now seem to weigh a ton. Ansel Adams had a donkey to carry his gear when he was photographing the Sierras. Me, I’m just stupid.

I probably made more than a dozen stops before reaching the top. It was 6:30PM. It took me an hour to climb back to the lighthouse which is now lit with it’s 1000W lamp. I took a few more shots of the lighthouse just to remind me of how crazy this day was. I passed by the water fountain before heading back to the car where my worried family was waiting.

Will I be going back to this location? Of course I will. But I will be more prepared next time.

What have I learned from this crazy adventure?
1. Bring at least a bottle of water.
2. Be mindful of the tides.
3. Exercise!!! If going down is tough, going up is 10 times tougher.
4. Unplanned shots rarely work.
5. Make sure people know where you are going.
6. Wear proper gear.
7. More equipment may result in less photos.
8. Pray. It helps.

You guys take care.

How NOT to Look Like a Terrorist

There had been several incidents where an innocent photographer is confronted by police for taking photos in public places. The police are just doing what they are told to do: stop any potential terrorist activities.

So to avoid becoming the next suspect follow these very simple rules:

1. Never use a tripod. That’s a dead give away. Terrorists use tripods to mame law enforcers.

2. Never use a DSLR in public places. If you are a poser or a gear whore and could not help bringing your D3X and 70-200/2.8 lens during a simple holiday trip, make sure that …

3…. you never use the viewfinder. Hold your camera with outstretched arms and compose your shot using the LCD like any ordinary terrorist, I mean, tourist. I know it’s difficult to do it with gigantic lenses but *your* image is everything.

4. Like any other list of rules, the last one always tells you to break them, so break the rules but don’t blame me. So there!

Drive by Shooting

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As promised, I am posting the photographs I have captured during my recent long drive to Snowy Mountains. It was  a one of a kind photoshoot “session” since nothing was ever planned at all. I didn’t know what to expect in each location; in fact the word “location” does not mean much at all because I barely stayed in one spot. It was more of whatever-comes-my-way type of thing. These shots were taken literally along the shoulder road.

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It was very challenging. Firstly, because setting up a tripod was impractical when a “session” lasts for a couple of minutes. Five clicks and away I went. Secondly, there was not much that can be used as a foreground element therefore subjects were typically several hundreds of meters or even kilometers away. Thirdly, since I had no time to set up my gear, filters became too cumbersome so I had to pick the right light conditions.

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Think about it for a minute. Low light, distant subjects, no tripod. Now you know why I practically dumped my Nikon D700 in favor of the small Olympus E-P3.

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I only have two lenses for my E-P3, the 17/2.8 pancake and the 40-150/4-5.6 plastic tele zoom. To be honest, I never needed anything more. The 35mm equivalent focal length of the pancake lens was wide enough for just about anything and the plastic tele was long enough for landscape shots. What I liked about my E-P3 was the fact that it is so light and it has built-in stabilization. And because it is a 43rds format, at f5.6 I basically get the equivalent depth of field as a full frame camera shooting at f11 at the same field of view. Instant two stops of light advantage!!! With image stabilization, I never needed a tripod! How good is that?!

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The images above were all captured by the plastic tele. I think it is sharp enough even wide open (f5.6) at the long end. I shoot it at f8 when I can just to get that extra ooomph. Here’s another one captured by the same lens:

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During those instances when I got the chance to rest and shoot properly on location, the 17mm pancake became very handy. The weather was also quite weird in that it would suddenly rain for a few minutes and then it stops. The E-P3 and 17mm combo was small enough to put inside my jacket’s pocket during a downpour.

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Here’s another shot captured by the pancake lens:

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And this is from the cabin where we stayed:

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I learned a very important lesson in this trip: Do not sacrifice fun for photography. In fact, photography should always be fun. If your equipment is a hindrance, then look for something else. Just because it’s more expensive does not mean it’s the best for every situation. Never underestimate the power of a compact camera. Even a point-and-shoot or an iPhone is good enough if you know where to point it.

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Before I end this post, please allow me to show you a few more of my E-P3 shots:

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By the way, all the photos here were shot in JPEG. I didn’t want to miss the best JPG rendition in the industry that I only get from Olympus.

Until next time! 🙂