Saturday, October 25, 2008

Thank you and good bye...

Today is the last day for a coworker, friend, and fellow photographer... Sarang. He is getting married next month back in India, so while it is sad to see him go ... I am very happy for him.

Thank you Sarang for all the great work you've done for us, I've really enjoyed working with you and enjoyed taking photos with you even more. You will be missed at the photo club but please keep uploading photos and sharing your life with us! Best wishes on the rest of your journey in life, may it be filled with happiness and fortune.

Random Youtube vid... Gekkou月光

I've been really busy with work so haven't had time to keep processing my photos. Also picked up Lightroom 2.0 to see if I can add more "feel" to my photos... more to come soon...

I was listening to some MP3s a friend gave me while processing my photos and came across this:

月光 (Gekkou) by 鬼束千尋 (Onitsuka Chihiro)

I am god's child
How do I live on such a field?

突風に埋もれる足取り 倒れそうになるのを
この鎖が 許さない
私はまだ上手に 片付けられずに

I am god's child
How do I live on such a field?

理由をもっと 喋りつづけて
私が眠れるまで 效かない藥ばかり
ころがってるけど ここにこえもないのに

I am god's child
哀しい音は 背中に爪跡を付けて
I can't hang out this world

不偷快に冷たい 壁とか
次はどれに 弱さを許す
せいじゃくから 時間は痛みを 加速させて行く

I am god's child
How do I live on such a field?

I am god's child
哀しい音は 背中に爪跡を付けて
I can't hang out this world

How do I live on such a field

Apparently it is the theme song to a J-drama called TRICK (which I must now watch.... I've heard great things about it... so I guess now would be a good time to pick it up :p). I just love how.. simple and powerful the song is. And something about her voice, it's really moving for me. Hope you enjoy.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Hidden captures... Taiko drums.

So during the last few days of my stay in Taiwan, I had the chance to see a live Taiko 太鼓 (you know, those Japanese drums?) by a fairly famous Taiwanese group -U-theatre (優人神鼓). My initial set of photos were rather like snapshots... I stood there, took photos to record reality of the performance but all the photos felt detached and bleh... really crappy. There was no soul, no feeling, no connection. My friend who looked at the photo couldn't feel a single thing, almost as if I wasn't at the performance, and didn't take it in... At his urging, I decided to re-process my photos, this time trying to bring out the core of the performance. Taiko is all about power, precision, and discipline... I have to find a way to bring that out of the photos and make my viewers feel as if they were there, experiencing the ground shaking performance for themselves... I don't think I achieved the final end goal, but I do think with some post processing (all done in Picasa), I did dramatically improve each of the photos. Here are a few that I thought originally were photos to be tossed but ended up being some of my favorites...

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

About the only thing I liked about the original photo was the guy's expression. It was stoic, even with the fasted paced drumming, he didn't flinch, no reaction, no emotion... I really wanted to capture his stern face, get a sense of the discipline involved. First, the photo was too dark I thought, too gray and not enough "color" so I deepened the shadow, increased highlights and added a bit more fill light. The increased contrast helps bring out the colors more, so one problem solved. The biggest problem with the photo was that the guy was too small, too much empty space above and to the left. So keeping my friend's advice in mind ("crop crop crop!") I decided to trim the photo down a bit to give it a much tighter framing. I threw in a sharpen layer in there for good measure since I really like his facial expression (or there lack off) so I wanted to try to bring that out a bit.

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

I wanted to change the mood a bit more here. I first played with the shadows and highlights to make it a tad brighter, but it wasn't what I wanted. So I first applied a filtered B&W layer (I think it might have been blue or range?), I just wanted something to make his skin color stand out more from the drum. I then darkened the shadows even more to darken the over all mood of the photo (and bumped up the highlights slightly... I love high contrast B&W shots and gave better definition to his muscles), gave it a tighter crop as usual... finished it off with a sharpen and film grain for kicks. The original photo seemed to document the drummer, in ready position. But I felt the processed photo showed more emotion, as if he is contemplating something, going through the next steps of the performance in his mind.

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

In case you haven't noticed a trend... first step... CROP CROP CROP. There was way too much dead space on the right and above, the viewer ends up having no idea what to focus on or what I intended to show. Is it the drummer pounding away, or is it that gong in the background? One day, I hope to be able to compose the shot properly from the get-go, but until that day, I will have to learn to crop my photos like mad. That actually is a very common problem I see (from looking at the recent photos widget on Picasaweb), a lot of photos have so much potential, it just needs to cut away some of the clutter to make it really shine.

From 誠品敦南店開幕典禮太鼓表演 Eslite bookstore reopen ceremony.

This photo here use to be regular landscape photo, but there were far too many distraction up to, tent, business signs, buildings, trees, etc. Just took the focus away from the main subjects... None of the regular crop sizes 4:6, 5:7, etc would have solved that problem... so I just went for a manual sized cropping and made it more like a panorama... cut away the top, and the subjects becomes clear.

Here are 3 other photos I rather like... first one is basically untouched except some shadow and highlight adjustments.

In the second photo, with the skin color, drum, and building all sort of the same color, I decided to apply a filtered B&W layer to try to separate out the colors a bit. Then just really increased the shadow and highlights so that the top would be bright would the bottom would be much darker, creating some contrast. Not sure what you think... but I thought it helped focus in on the drummer more.

I guess there could be a decent capture hidden within every image... I just need to learn to see it, and crop out the unnecessary parts. This will be an ongoing lesson for me... a tough one, but one I must learn :). Thanks to Joe for keep pushing me on this!

Sunday, October 12, 2008

End of a vacation...

Well, all good things must come to an end... and here is the end of my vacation and stay in Taiwan. I'm at the airport, getting ready to head back to LAX with very mixed feelings. On the one hand I do feel a bit recharged and ready to plow ahead with my project... on the other hand, I really like working from TPE and being detached from the problems of work back home, certainly simpler sometimes. I have to admit, I've given moving back here some serious thought, but right now it would probably be a bad career move (with the current economy and way things are going...).

Anyways, some photos from the National Holiday (10/10)...
From National Holiday 雙十節 國慶

From National Holiday 雙十節 國慶

From National Holiday 雙十節 國慶

From National Holiday 雙十節 國慶

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Fleeting Encounters

Life is full of fleeting encounters... people come, people go. Some stay in your life longer than others, some you wish stayed in your life longer. I guess everything is based on 緣分...  Just like there are different stars to guide you at night during different seasons, there will be different sets of people for each stage of your life. Different people will protect you, help you, guide you, and just be your companion on your journey... but as much as we want the same set of people to stay with us, people grow apart, move on, loose touch.... I guess I'm fortunate enough to have friends that I've known since I was a wee lad and still keep in touch with them. 

From Taipei snapshots (台北隨意拍) 2007
Fleeting Encounters... we walk past hundreds (if not thousands) of people each day, sometimes with only a passing glance, sometimes your shoulders connect for just a split second as you squeeze past them during morning rush hour. Who are these people? If you actually stopped and said "Hi" what would happen? Would you actually become friends? With every step we take, we have an opportunity to turn a fleeting encounter into a life long relationship... will you seize the opportunity and take a chance or will you simply let that door close?

I took this shot while waiting for my friend on the way to work one morning.  I almost instantly fell in love with the shot and oddly has become one of my favorite shots. I am not entirely sure why I like it... but here are some thoughts:
  • I like how the girl's light color jeans just jumps out from the rest of the people.
  • I like the nice smooth light from the MRT shining down from the top, creates nice soft shadows directly below the feet
  • The motion of the closing door adds a sense of urgency to the shot
  • Only showing the legs adds a sense of mystery to the show, who are these people? What do they look like?
I don't know, maybe you hate the shot, but for some odd reason it just connected with me :). But the real question is... will you reach out, and connect with people (me) or will you simply let this encounter pass by :)

Sunday, October 5, 2008

台灣美食篇 (FOOD!)

The thing that people seem to forget about Taiwan (or at least don't regularly associate with Taiwan) is the amount of great food this little island has to offer. I may be biased here, but Taiwan has some of the best food in the world, at a totally affordable price (e.g. MUCH cheaper than U.S.). You have everything from street vendor goodies to great 小吃 (literally "little eats" or snack type dishes), to full on banquets and 5+ course dinners. You can get away with a delicious street vendor meal for less than 2 or 3 bucks and be completely full... even better if you go to a night market and try all the little snacks along the way. But even the full on 5 or 6 course dinners are totally affordable at about 30 bucks a person... oh and there is all sorts of all you can eat type places (not just BBQ or hotpot, but some offering traditional dishes) for like 10 bucks (all USD). Cheap and way healthier than fast food (well, I guess that is debatable)... I love Taiwan :).

I just posted some photos from a restaurant my dad took us to, Ikki, a modern fusion interpretation of 懷石料理 (Kaiseki ryouri) that incorporates traditional Japanese dishes like sashimi with more modern and sometimes western dishes like lamb and steak. There was a total of 8 dishes (fruit + drink + dessert counts as one) for a mere $1280 NT (+ 10% service charge/tip)... this is roughly $44 USD tax tip all included. The food was great, each course carefully prepared and presented. The portions was just right for me as I was plenty full towards the end. The ambiance was great, mostly dim with black table/walls and we were fortunate enough to get our own room. And of course, the service was exceptional... all the waiters/waitress were extremely patient and greeted you with a smile. Unfortunately I didn't get many good photos from there... but trust me, the food was great (especially at that price).

Then today, a friend of mine took me to 度小月 (Tu Hsiao Yueh), a great little place for traditional Taiwanese dishes.

 I really loved their minced pork noodle (擔仔麵). The noodles weren't quite as "Q" (chewy) as one might expect, but it kind of melted away in your mouth which was a nice change that I really enjoyed. The minced pork was not fatty or greasy at all, yet extremely flavorful... mixed with some bean sprouts, mashed garlic, scallions and a shrimp to top it off... the flavor just explodes in your mouth. Traditionally the noodle is served with a broth (but it was hot outside so I opted for the dry noodles... I hear their broth is really good and is something I'll have to try next time).

The portions were small enough for you to try the other dishes (they offer minced pork rice noodle as well as rice... the rice was somewhat forgettable tho) or snacks. Each bowl was only 50 NT or just over $1.50 USD. It is one of the best minced pork noodle I've ever had, no joke. Just when I thought it couldn't get better... the dessert really blew me away.
My friend and I ordered their hand-made mochi 手工嘛吉 that is freshly prepared just for you. While I don't eat mochi that often, this might be one of the best mochi I've ever had. It was baked so that the outside would offer a bit of resistance, almost crunchy while the warm inside was soft and sticky (but not so sticky that it sticks to your teeth and chewy - it was just perfect). The outside was coated in both sesame and peanut crumbs, the 2 flavors played really well together I thought... a touch of saltiness mixed with the strong peanut sweet taste (ok I like peanuts so I'm a bit biased). The great flavoring mixed with the texture of the baked mochi when you bite into it... it was really just out of this world. So good...

There is something here for everyone, with a wide price range. Sometimes the small hole in the wall place that only the locals knows about will offer the best food (for a cheap price), while some times the popular places (either due to magazine or TV coverage) turn out to be a disappointment. Either way, there is great food to be had here, no matter the budget you have.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Back home... thoughts from New Zealand

So in New Zealand alone, I have over 2000 photos to go through, this is AFTER an initial filter where I deleted several hundred of the terrible photos. I think I want to keep myself at about 200 photos per day, so I need to loose about another 2-4 hundred photos. New Zealand is every bit as beautiful as I imagined if not more... icy glaciers, tranquil emerald lakes reflecting snow capped mountains (ok not so much of this...), endless green rolling hills with sheep and cows, glowworms lighting up the cave like millions of tiny little stars... I mean I can't even begin to describe some of the sights I got to see... the kind of awe and wonder that the landscape inspires is just something you have to be there to see... I've included a few photos from the trip... there will be many many many more to come... Keep in mind I've done very little post on these photos and haven't really gotten a chance to look through all my photos to pick the best ones. These are just a few I picked out real quickly to represent my initial impression of New Zealand (which are not necessary the best photos from the trip)...  In either case, I think my photography skills fall FAR FAR short of coming even remotely close to capturing the beauty that is New Zealand. I have to return to New Zealand again... hopefully by then I'll be a much better photographer and can actually capture the essence of New Zealand.... in the mean time, I hope you enjoy these few photos...

Photo taken early in the morning at Te Anau lake...

Night photo of the milky way near the shores of Lake Wanaka

Aerial photo taken on the flight from Christchurch back to North Island (long story)

Beautiful rolling hills on North Island on drive from Auckland to Matamata (aka Hobbiton)

Iconic Mitre peak at Milford Pass

Lindis Pass (on our drive from Lake Wanaka back to Christchurch). This is near where the great battle of Gondor was filmed.
These lambs were just the most adorable things ever... as the bus drives by they'd get scared and run to their mom and hide... soooo cute.

Rotorua is known for its geothermal activity and geysers...

Beautiful view of Queenstown at twilight and Lake Wakatipu.

Overall I was very pleased with New Zealand and look forward to processing all the photos (once I get through the 600 photos I took at Mt. Rainier >.<). I think I was very fortunate on the New Zealand trip (even with 2 missed connecting flights - both in Hong Kong and a diverted flight due to mechanical problems), the weather was spectacular for all but the first 2 days of the trip. A snow storm passing through the area meant new snow and gorgeous snow capped mountains as the backdrop which is more rare this time of the year. While I certainly would have preferred to drive myself on this trip so I can stop whenever I want... I don't think 9 days would be nearly enough (I would probably have to stop every 10 mins because the view is just so gorgeous). I ended up having to settle for shooting through dirty bus glass for a lot of the shots... not at all pleased but I guess it is something I'll have to live with given how much easier (and cheaper) it is to go with a tour. But yeah, the trip was just a blast and if you've never been to New Zealand... you totally need to.... in many ways it renewed my passion for photography and at the same time made me feel totally inadequate :0. I guess I have to really pick up my landscape and nature photography skills (not to mention post processing skills) :).  On a side note... I took way more HDR photos than I've ever in the past... we'll see how that works out.

After New Zealand, my mom and I stopped by Hong Kong for 2 days. This is my first time to Hong Kong and I have to admit I have very mixed feelings about it. There are definitely cool sights to see in Hong Kong... as an anime fan having watched Ghost in the Shell... it made me appreciate the anime even more after seeing HK in person. I saw a few photos of jumbo jets flying low over old residential areas on the last day of flight at the old HK airport... it instantly reminded me of scenes straight out of Ghost in the Shell and just made me go "wow"... that made me really happy for some reason. Having only been to Shanghai in China... Hong Kong was somewhere in between Shanghai and Taipei for me. Parts of it were very well maintained, clean, upscale, etc but by and large a lot of areas felt runed down. Even the area in Kowloon next to the star ferry and Avenue of stars, which seemed to be hip part of town was ruined (in my opinion) by the tens if not hundreds of photographer booths asking you if you want a photo against the HK skyline at starting at $10 HKD. It just reminded me too much of Shanghai, walking along the Bund or any other touristy places where all around were just yelling out "You want photo? Just X dollars!." Just imagine row after row of "stands" with posters of random tourist (often foreign) against the view to show case what that photographer can "do" - of course all shot on perfect days when the skies were clear. Each photographer has a simple SLR, external flash and a tripod... memorize the settings and just point and shoot... instant print on a ink jet and that's easy 10 bucks. I joked with my mom that when I retire, I should come and do this, but charge only 5 bucks and offer them the digital file :p. I wouldn't mind if it was just a few stands... but row after row... I guess I hate how commercialized it is and completely ruins the "mood" of the place... I just couldn't really enjoy it. The rest of the stay in HK was dampened by a passing typhoon which pretty much made it rain all day (and a trip to the Peak a complete waste of money). As a result, most of the photos came out kind bleh... on top of that I really couldn't capture the essence of Hong Kong, whether it is the prosperous business districts, the poor slums, or even the bustling night markets and streets filled with neon signs.  I just... couldn't capture the feel of HK. Anyways, here are 2 quick photos that sort of tries to capture some of that.

The entire trip was tiring, and I'm glad to be home. But it was such a great trip... I really enjoyed New Zealand and Hong Kong as well. I'll definitely have to revisit both places again. Now... to the thousands of photos I have to process... :)