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Snowy Pilgrimage 2012 Update

I thought I would be able to update my blog throughout the course of the snowy trip. It turned out to be the most different among the trips I had. Not only did I lose access to the internet most of the week but the type of subjects and shooting opportunities were very different as well. There were no planned shots at all. I just aimed and shot whenever I got the chance. It was a run-and-gun type thing.

I brought my D700 with me because of the larger buttons that are easier to press in the cold. I also managed to bring my Olympus E-P3 by accident because it was inside my work bag together with my laptop. As it turned out, the E-P3 became my most valuable camera while the D700 stayed inside the car trunk!!! I would say that this trip was like a test drive of the E-P3.

For the mean time, here’s a shot I took with my iPhone in East Jindabyne:

I will post photos and stories when I get back to Brisbane tomorrow after a 12-hour drive.

— from my iPhone


Snowy Pilgrimage 2012

Tomorrow I will be embarking on a journey to Snowy Mountains…again. This will be the fourth time in four consecutive years that I’m doing this crazy long drive from Brisbane to Snowy Mountains going through Newcastle, Blue Mountains, Sydney, Canberra and Cooma. I’m estimating a total driving distance of 4000 kilometers.

Unlike other countries, winter in Australia isn’t that cold. It means there won’t be snow everywhere. It also means it won’t be boring 🙂

At this point, I’m busy preparing my stuff: iPhone, batteries, chargers, CB radio and of course my snow gear. I haven’t decided which DSLR to bring yet. I’m definitely bringing my Nikon FM3A film camera and lots of film. I probably would bring my Nikon D700 again because it could share lenses with the FM3A. The K5 though feels more reliable and easier to use but my Nikon has a better lens. Hmmmm….

Anyway, I will keep updating this blog and posting photos as I go. One thing for sure, my iPhone will have captured more shots than any of my SLRs combined 🙂

My First Roll of Slide Film


After Kodak announced the discontinuation of several transparency films, I decided to try some of them before they finally become just part of photography’s history. The photos that I’m showing here were captured using my beloved Nikon FM3A and Kodak E100VS slide film.

I was quite uncomfortable at first, knowing that slide film is probably the most unforgiving medium. It has a very narrow dynamic range of about 4-5 stops. It means that I had to carefully choose what I shoot. Before tripping the shutter I had to evaluate the light as best as I could and make sure that I am properly judging the meter reading from my camera. In the shot above, the exposure needle of my FM3A was almost pointing at 1/15s. I thought that it must have been tricked by the shadow areas. My goal was to capture the sunlight hitting the buildings and bridge so I was careful not to blow up the highlights. I decided to expose one stop lower at 1/30s and this is what I got. I really like the warm light hitting the top of the bridge against the storm clouds in the background. When I composed the shot I had panoramic cropping in mind so I made sure that the important parts are all framed right in the middle. I wanted to use the whole frame but in order to capture the building and the bridge I had to shoot wide and aim higher. Wide and high introduced so much distortion that the buildings seem to lean over to the center of the frame. My only option was to shoot wide but frame it in such a way that the horizon was almost in the middle, a mortal sin in composition unless you have a reason to do so. In this case, the reason was my goal of doing a 1×2 panoramic format and I think I have succeeded in doing that.

I wish I could let everyone see the actual frames on film. The colours are so intense and there’s depth that it looks three-dimensional. I used my cheap Epson V500 scanner to digital the film and to be honest, I think it just ruined the image. I guess slide film is meant to be viewed in a slide projector.

I am very happy with the results and would definitely buy more of this stuff before the world runs out of them. Of the 36 frames, I got more than 10 keepers and I think that says a lot about how film forces you to think a hundred times before clicking the shutter. There’s no reason you couldn’t do the same with digital photography but there’s always the temptation of deleting the bad ones or fixing it later in post or storage is cheap arguments.

Before I sign off, here’s more of my slide film captures:


It Has Never Been the Camera

The deeper I become involved in photography, the more I realize that equipment does not matter at all. Case in point, I have more fun photos captured with my iPhone than any of my other cameras combined.

Well actually gear does matter but not like most “photographers” would make you believe. The most important thing about equipment is that it should never get in the way of your creative vision. Also consider the fact that there is no such thing as a perfect tool. There will always be something that would tick you off and knowing the limitations is the first step in making the equipment work for you.

I would like to discuss a particular photograph wherein both the equipment and the photographer (me) were severely limited. The photograph I would like to talk about is this:

A bit of background on this shot: This photo was taken about a month after I started in photography, around May of 2009. My camera back then was a “heavy” Nikon D60 with a 18-55mm kit lens. I wish I brought that camera with me when I took this photo but instead I had my “pocket” Canon G10. Now the G10 is known for very poor low light performance because some moron in Canon engineering thought they could get away with cramming 14 megapixels into such a tiny sensor. At ISO 400 the output is so noisy that you are better off not taking the shot at all. But I did. Because I didn’t know any better. I looked at the EXIF data and it said I shot in auto mode, ISO 400, f2.8 at 1/8s. I am now very familiar with the G10 and I would say that, at that time, the camera was pushing real hard to capture the image as best as it could. It’s at its widest aperture of f2.8 and just enough shutter speed (1/8s) for the real focal length of about 6mm (28mm full frame equiv). If I remember correctly, I didn’t have a tripod. If I did then there’s no reason why I would not have used ISO 100 and get away with half a second exposure. I was a n00b but not completely dumb you know :-p

I don’t remember how I processed the photograph but there must have been some, if not too much, noise reduction applied. I probably didn’t bother correcting the white balance. After all, winter in Canberra is characterized by strong magenta tint in the sky during sunset and I have always wanted to capture that.

I would like to critic my composition as well. I used a combination of strong lead-in lines, rule of thirds in the vertical while using symmetry in the horizontal to capture the reflection. I think I framed it a bit too much to the left thus making the bridge feel like it wants to leave the view. That building visible on the left is nicely framed by the bridge and the shadows on the water. A bit underexposed for my taste but just enough so as not to blow up the highlights coming from the bridge lights that emphasize the lines leading towards the parliament house (that pointed structure at the end of the bridge). I really would like to brighten up the bridge and the building by just a few notches and tone down the bluish color cast. A touch of fill light should also improve the overall exposure without destroying the mood.

After all of that, the question remains: Why discuss this particular rookie shot? Because this rookie shot sold for $852!

So again, it’s never the gear. My expensive DLSRs have not made any significant sales yet but two of my point-and-shoot cameras have already paid up for themselves. Amazing! Granting that photo sales are subject to a huge amount of luck, people or corporations are willing to pay if they think that the photograph is worth it.

They say that the best camera is the one that’s with you. I say, the best camera is the one you can never afford. So make do with what you already have and resist the temptation to buy more gear. A lot of amateurs are getting crazy over the latest and greatest equipment and spend more time in rumours than actual photography. Stop that already.

My Most Expensive Photograph: a Reflection

It is when you least expect them that surprises present themselves and that makes them more, for the lack of a better word, surprising.

Around September last year (2010), somebody actually purchased a license to use my photograph. It was not much. Just slightly lower than Gursky’s shot that sold for $4.3 million USD. Because of that photo I have managed to pay in full the house I bought in the CBD and I now have enough money in the bank to allow me to live comfortably without having to work. Surprise!!! No, I did not. Although I did sell a photo for a measly $64 AUD.

The amount it sold for is less important than the lesson I learned from that photograph and I would like to dedicate this post into reflecting upon that reflection. That statement would probably make more sense if I’ve shown you the actual photo so here it is:

Now you know why it didn’t quite reach the level of Gursky’s shot (but I bet one of my kidneys his won’t make it to Flickr Explore LOL!!!).

Anyway, let’s satisfy the measurebators first so they can skip the rest of this post. I used a Canon Powershot A590 IS in full auto mode without a tripod. Of course the flash fired and that’s evident on the lower right portion of the frame. So, nope, nothing interesting in here for you guys. You can see the rest of the EXIF info here:

Back then, I was in stage 2 in the evolutionary ladder of an amateur photographer. If you don’t understand what I’m talking about, please read my older post on this very important topic of evolution (you didn’t read it?!!!). To those of you who read that post (a thank you is in order) you should have realized by now that I wasn’t kidding at all 😉

This is quite a long story so please bear with me. If I remember correctly it was my second time driving all the way from Brisbane to Sydney. That’s approximately 1000 kilometers that took me 13 hours including lunch, dinner and wee breaks and about 1.5 tanks of fuel for the rented 2.5 liter Toyota Camry. We decided to visit Luna Park in North Sydney after the rain stopped. We wanted to take the fun rides but there was an important event, which I could not remember, so it was closed for mere mortals. We decided to just roam around and enjoy the night. It was our first time to visit the location anyway. This part of North Sydney is a very good vantage point to take photos of the Harbour Bridge (this I learned much later). I saw several photographers with huge cameras and tripods with dangling “cables” (shutter release). I remember this particular bloke who was standing on the same spot for several minutes. With all that expensive-looking gear I thought he must be a pro. I didn’t know jack about photography back then so everyone with a DSLR was a pro to me. Anyway as I was strolling, the reflection on the puddle of rain caught my eyes. I immediately took my camera and aimed at it. I framed it in such a way that the face of that entrance gate would seem to be staring at me from under the concrete. I was unknowingly teaching myself how to compose a shot! I must have done something right because that bloke who was just staying on one spot with all that expensive gear started doing exactly the same thing. Well actually it kinda annoyed me because he started setting up his tripod and was blocking my view. The copycat was preventing me from taking more shots! Anyway, he was the pro so I quietly walked away. He must have been very happy that this foreigner (me) finally left. Well I hope he got a nice shot of the puddle. Not! We went back to the hotel and, if I’m not mistaken, had dinner at my favorite Thai restaurant (that restaurant closed down after about a year later).

I did not immediately look at the photo. Typical of most n00bs, it stayed in the camera for quite some time. I stored it in my hard drive but never touched it until much later when I was already playing with that thing called Photoshop that my good friend sold to me for $100 (he switched to a Mac and the software was for Windows — lucky me). I’ve always thought that photos should be kept as pristine as possible. Photoshop = evil. SOOC = good. I don’t remember exactly why I started retouching my shots. You probably noticed that I bumped the saturation a bit too much in that photo. I must have thought that the shot didn’t quite turn out the way I saw the reflection or most likely because n00bs tend to push the sliders all the way to 11. In retrospect, I’m blaming auto white balance here.

Fast forward a year later. I went back to the same spot and behold: a rain puddle of almost the same shape was there again. Whoever was assigned to fix that concrete obviously wasn’t doing his job. Lucky me 🙂 Here’s the “enlightened” shot:

A bit conservative in terms of processing. The composition is much tighter with less distraction. I used a Canon G10 here, a much improved point-and-shoot camera. ISO 400, 1/8s at f3.2. I must have zoomed in thus forcing the lens to change the aperture from f2.8 to that weird f number. Flash did not fire this time 🙂 Of course I used a (wobbly) tripod.

I would like to think that I have grown as a photographer over that period when I took the old photo and the new one. If I go back to that spot again, assuming that they still haven’t fixed that concrete, I would be very interested to know if there is anything different I would find in there. I probably won’t. Which is kinda sad knowing that I have spent so much time learning how to shoot and not just writing about photography. With the more expensive toys I have right now, I expect my photos to be so much better. On the other hand, it feels good that even as a n00b I was able to capture a photo that’s good enough to attract a buyer. It’s quite amusing that the photo is now worth more than the camera that took it (digital rot guarantees that your old digital camera is next to worthless after just a few years). That old photograph won’t win me any awards but I humbly think that even pros will have a not-so-easy time improving it considerably. I am no pro but certainly no longer a beginner. If the second shot is any indication, I doubt if I can make the first one miles better.

Just to wrap it up, I would like to point out a few very important lessons. Firstly, it’s not the camera that makes a photograph. Equipment hardly matters at all. Secondly, photography is something that you can only learn by doing. Spend less time measurebating and lurking in forums. (Promise you will go out and shoot after reading this post). Thirdly, take some time to reflect on your self. Evaluate your weaknesses and try to improve on the areas that you feel most uncomfortable with. Be honest and take praises as a challenge to do better instead of resting on your laurels.

How about my “audience”? Do you have a story to tell? I’d be interested in reading them. Please do share.

Until then, keep shooting.

I’m going to “my favorite holiday destination” and don’t know what lens to bring.

This is a very common question I encounter in forums. Usually, the poster will enumerate ALL the lenses he has so that those who want to “help” can have a more precise and definite answer (to me, he’s just bragging really). The default response is to bring all lenses “just in case”. Well let me provide a more scientific response to this inquiry.

Lenses are region locked. If you purchased them in Australia, for example, then it will only work for region 4 just like the legit DVD you bought at your favorite video store. This is true especially for those lenses that have motorized autofocus feature and vibration reduction (Nikon VR/VR2) or image stabilization (Canon IS).

Let’s look at autofocus first. The engineers have already calculated the precise effect of coriolis force (the force caused by earth’s rotation) on your lens’es AF depending on your geolocation. Not only that but the effect of the Earth’s magnetic field have been taken into consideration as well. Using your lens in a different region will cause front-focusing (FF) or back-focusing (BF) problems or it may hunt (for it’s coded region), the latter being the most common issue especially in the dark when it gets confused by the wrong time zone (it thinks it’s still daytime, duh!!!). Makes a lot of sense. Electricity turns the AF motor which creates its own magnetic field that may counter Earth’s magnetic field. The FF or BF focusing issue depends on the amount of deviation from the precalculated values. So, unlike DVDs where region locking hurts the consumers and generates more megabucks for the producers, lens region locking actually HELPS the consumers.

What about VR or IS? This expensive lens add-on feature is also mechanical and electrical in nature. VR/IS has to move vertically or horizontally to compensate for lens movement. Again, gravity needs to be taken into consideration. Here in Australia for example, the engineers at CaNikon had to make a downward motion bias because of the fact that Australians are hanging upside down from Earth’s gravitational pull. This same principle also explains why we in Australia can eat more and have a higher body mass index cut-off for obesity because Earth’s gravity has a lesser effect when you are hanging upside down. So Australians, don’t be surprised when you feel dizzy when you travel to countries in the northern hemisphere. That’s not jet lag. That’s blood flowing away from your brain. This will compound the effect of blurry photos. First, there’s the VR/IS that has now been overcompensated and there’s dizziness.

So next time you plan to go for a holiday, leave your lenses behind and buy them at your destination. THEY ARE CHEAPER THAN HERE IN AUSTRALIA ANYWAY.

Seriously, if after reading my post you still can’t decide which lens to bring to your favorite holiday destination, please do us and yourself a favor: pack all your lenses in their original boxes (for maximum safety) AND BRING THEM BACK TO WHERE YOU BOUGHT THEM BECAUSE YOU ARE HOPELESS IN PHOTOGRAPHY!!!