Monday, November 24, 2008

New Zealand, Day 2

Day two proved to be an even more interesting (and at the same time, disappointing) day than day one. Day one was spent all in Auckland (well, and the plane... and Hong Kong airport...) but to be honest, there was nothing special about Auckland... think of it like say... Irvine or San Francisco, except with lots of grass... So arguably day two was the real start of our New Zealand trip.

We got up real early... at some ungodly hour (even tho we checked into the hotel at like 1 AM the night before) just to catch the 8 AM Tranz Scenic (TranzAlpine line) train to go from the east coast (Christchurch) to the west coast of the south island. The train takes you through the beautiful country sides all the way to the gorgeous alpines of the south island. In fact, it takes you right through one of the places where they filmed Chronicles of Narnia, though I don't think I got a photo of it.... oh well. I spent most of the time on the observation car (just a shell of a car with a few railings, and a ceiling... and... really strong winds. Wind strong enough to knock you silly). By the time I got off the train, I probably looked like I've been working in the engine room shuffling coal all day and being the photo geek that I am... the first thing that I thought was NOT "oh my face.... gotta go wash all this off :(" but instead "oh my poor lens.... how am I gonna clean it!". Yeah, it's like that. Anyways, some photos from the day two album below...

From NZ Trip Day 2 - West Coast

This photo is NOT one of the photos I got from the observation car, unfortunately none of those photos really turned out all that well. This was instead taken from inside the nice, comfortable, air conditioned passenger cars.. with champagne and pâté. I really like two things in this shot, the power pole (yes I'm crazy) and the blurred sheep. I guess I like the motion blur caused by the train. And the power pole just serves as a nice anchoring point. The beautiful green grass set against the even more beautiful blue sky doesn't hurt of course. Oh, here is a bit of trivia, you see the sheet metal wrapped around the power pole? That is to prevent small animals from climbing up the pole and damaging it (specifically, possums I believe).

And the next two photos are taken at Shantytown, a old gold rush mining town that's now just a tourist destination (this is where we had lunch)...

When I saw the old antique steam train getting ready to move, I knew I had my shot. I mean, seriously, how often do you get to see steam trains this close any more (ok, it's not that uncommon, but set against this nice green grass and that perfect blue sky with clouds? It's once in a life time!). Most things are NOT meant to be photographed at eye level so I got down on my knees next to the train track and pointed my camera up. It made the small train look more impressive and helped bring in lots of that nice sky. The post processing was pretty simple. Bumped up the saturation a bit, and shifted hue towards more green (yellow -> green, and a bit more on the green hue itself). Increased contrast and lowered the luminosity on the blue to darken the sky a bit. But overall, pretty simple stuff.

When you have an antique train, in an old mining town... it is natural to take photos that have the old faded nostalgic look right :). Post processed in LR2, bumped the saturation down (I mean way down), warmed up the temperature (+59 and +27 tint). Adjusted the brightness, exposure, contrast and the like until I got enough contrast, really bright steam coming out of the train with really dark shadows everywhere else. Added a bit of vignetting for kicks. This probably is my favorite image from the day and pretty high up there on my list of favorites from the trip.

I'll start working on the photos from Day 3 soon. This is just the beginning... I haven't even gotten to the good stuff yet...

Saturday, November 15, 2008

New Zealand... Day 1

So I've finally gotten around to processing my NZ photos... starting with the crappiest set of NZ photos - day in Auckland. As nice of a city as Auckland is, it's just not very photogenic, at least I didn't find it very interesting. We got to Auckland in the morning after a long flight from HK/TPE. Our flight to Hong Kong was delayed by about 1 hour + another 1.5 hours of circling in the air due to typhoon passing through which meant that we completely missed our connecting flight to Auckland. We basically spent the better part of the day at Hong Kong airport. Not a great start to our trip, but at least we got to see everything we were suppose to and it all worked out in the end. Anyways, some photos from Auckland (album:

From NZ Trip Day 1 - Auckland

This was taken at the Mt. Eden volcano crater. Mt. Eden is the highest point in Auckland (natural one at least) which offers great view of the city. The crater was huge so I decided to swap over to using my 10-22 super wide lens. While I'm not thrilled about the tourist walking, I like having the path there to kind of make it more interesting (I do have a version without the path and tourists).

From NZ Trip Day 1 - Auckland

After Mt. Eden, we stopped by Auckland war memorial museum and the botanical garden next to it. These 2 photos were really bland originally, no colors in the sky (cloudy) and just lacked anything interesting (no colors to really jump out at you, etc). I decided to desaturated it a bit, made the over all photo warmer/reddish to give it the old sepia feel (but not actually sepia). I rather like the result, much more than the original anyways (another example of how lightroom saved my photo). Hope you like it too.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Mt. Rainier, a place of endless wonders (and dramatically different weather patterns)

Sorry for the incredibly late post (or not if you don't know when I went to Mt. Rainier). But I've finally finished process all my Seattle trip photos, this includes the final batch of photos taken at Mt. Rainier (which is the first time I shot more RAW than JPEG). This is also marks the second time I've used Lightroom to process photos almost exclusively. While my poor laptop definitely cannot keep up with Lightroom, I am finally able to get through 200 photos in a reasonable amount of time (roughly half a week) which is much faster than the amount of time I spent on the portraits. This is partly because landscapes are easier to batch process, and also there are less things I can do, it's pretty standard... I mean I do want my landscape photos to still look like photos... so I kept most processing light. The biggest advantage Lightroom has over Picasa is the ability to adjust each color channels independently. For example, if I find a forest photo too "yellow", I can easily shift the yellow hue towards the green. Or if I find the sky too bright, I can easily darken just the blues in the photo. This fine-grained control allows me to have far more control over what "pops" and get rid of the distractions in a photo... I'm finally able to bring out key elements that I want in a way that Picasa could never let me do.

Anyways, back to the trip. Our second day at Mt. Rainier was dramatically different from the first day, the difference was night and day...  Our first day there was mostly raining, overcast, and even snowing. But the second day the sun really came out for a beautiful sunrise and kept clear for at least the most important parts of the day (when my camera was out).

Day One:
From Mt. Rainier National Park Day 1

This is now the Not-quite-1000-dollar photo :). It was for this photo that I swapped out my 24-105 lens (for a wider 10-22 so I can get more of the stream) and then immediately after this photo... proceeded to drop said lens. The original photo is gray, colorless and dull. At the time I didn't have Lightroom so I asked for Joe's help in post processing it. He added some graduated tint, brought up the green saturation and some hue shifts to make the greens come to life. While it's not $1000 (cost of the 24-105 lens) in my mind it is certainly worth $158 (the cost of repair) :).

I like the moodiness of the photo, and the natural frame created by the trees on either side. You see the valley in the middle? Yep, that's where I dropped my lens :).

One of the few highlights of the first day... gorgeous field of wild flowers. I'm a sucker for these kinds of prairie shots, just too bad the sun didn't come out otherwise it'd look amazing :).

Day Two (sorry for the number of photos...):
From Mt. Rainier National Park day 2

First Light. We got up around 5 AM and raced towards Sunrise Camp to catch first light on Mt. Rainier. The clouds started rolling in just as we reached it but I was lucky to get off a few snaps. Unfortunately I didn't really have time to explore and find a better position so I have to live with the trees in the foreground. This shot actually reminds of me post cards from Mt. Rainier, the beautiful pink/purple morning light hitting the fresh snow on Mt. Rainier, set against a deep dark blue sky...

This is now one of my favorite pictures from the day (one of many :p). It reminds me so much of traditional Chinese brush paintings (國畫). I love how the ridges just peak above the clouds, especially that line of mist in the foreground.

This was taken along an easy hike next to Sunrise Camp. It's only about 10-15 mins away from the parking lot where I took the first light photo. If only I had know, I would have ran up here as fast as I could... Oh well (it was icy, I probably would have slipped and broke my camera or something).

One of the stories from Joe McNally's The Moment It Clicks is "Don't pack up your camera until you've left the location". This is certainly true for this shot... I was already heading back to the car (after about 30 mins photographing Mt. Rainier in the cold -- I lost feeling in my hands about 15 mins ago at this point and was basically freezing to death). About half way down, the sun suddenly broke through the clouds lighting the entire scene, the grassy field and Mt. Rainier evenly. Luckily I still had my camera out and got 4 or 5 snaps in before the sun ducked back behind thick clouds and the shot was gone. This is now my favorite shot from the entire trip. Don't pack up until you are in the car, you'll have plenty of time anyways (and much much warmer).

Growing up in Southern California certainly has it's benefits. Getting beautiful morning dew plant shots is not one of them. This was shot in a very overcast day, I popped the flash to give it more light and "pop". In post I shifted the originally yellow hue over to the green and brought out the reds to make this photo feel more peaceful and tranquil.

The above series of photos was taken at Snow Lake. Ironically we were originally going to skip Snow Lake due to limited time (and bad weather, it has been overcast the whole day since sunrise). About half way to Snow Lake is Bench Lake so the plan was to simply stop at Bench Lake and head back. Because JC and I were too busy taking photos along the way, his family and my mom walked ahead and for some reason went on to Snow Lake without waiting for us at Bench Lake (disappointing sight really). A bit confused, JC and I decided to keep going hoping to catch up to them. Another 20 mins or so later we bumped into my mom who has been to Snow lake and decided to walk back saying "Snow lake is so so, not very pretty" but JC's family is still there so we decided to continue on. As fate would have it, as soon as JC and I reached Snow Lake, the skies cleared up (really. like within 2 minutes) and it really felt like discovering paradise that is hidden in some remote location... That sense of wonder, amazement, joy... Since snow lake is hidden away in a valley, there was very little winds creating stunning reflections on its beautiful emerald surface. As if possessed, JC and I immediately picked up our camera and didn't dare take our eyes off the view finder. Click click click, shot after shot, we just couldn't take our fingers off the shutter, afraid the magic would disappear if we stopped (ok ok, we did hike around to see the different angles).  I double stacked 2 filters, 1 graduated ND (to darken the sky a bit) and 1 CPL (to add more saturation to the sky and lake or to increase the strength of the reflections). Within 30 mins, the clouds rolled back in, the sun disappeared along with the emerald color... the moment has passed. Thinking back, if we had walked any faster, we would be like my mom, missing this magical moment... the beauty, the peacefulness, the tranquility at Snow Lake was the most memorable thing for me. As we were leaving, I knew I got the shot, I got what I wanted out of this entire trip, but most importantly, I was happy.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Portraits and Lightroom

So recently a friend of mine finally convinced me to try out Lightroom 2.0 to post process my photos. I usually don't like to heavily process my photos just to keep things fast and simple (and real), so I used Picasa 100%. But after doing the wedding photography album and watching my friend's wedding album, I decided to give Lightroom a try. It's not so much about making your photos look fake/unrealistic as it is more about enhancing the elements that are already present in the photos and using post to draw attention to those elements. Recently I had a quick portrait session with a friend from my brother's church, so I figured I'd experiment a bit with Lightroom on those photos. Some photos I went wild with the post, some I was more conservative. Overall I just wanted to explore what I can do with Lightroom, what I like, what looks good, etc. Hope people don't mind :).

The portrait session itself was interesting as well... I haven't done portraits in a very long time, not since my previous victim (I mean model) got married and I did their engagement photo session. So I tried to get comfortable with portraits again, trying out different poses, different angles, etc it certainly helped that the model's sister was also there as an assistant holding the reflector and just helping out (she wanted to learn photography so I've been teaching her what little I know). The session started a bit late in the afternoon which meant I got a few good hours of nice light, then came golden hour which has always been a challenge for me doing portraits (i.e. making sure the skin tone looks flattering instead of really orange). I first started off with the easy shots, tight close ups using the long telephoto lens. Usually this is the easiest thing to start with as you don't have to worry about posing and background nearly as much since you just focus on the face. You just have to make sure your timing is good and she has a good smile on... then just click away! As I got a bit more comfortable, I swapped out to a 10-22 super wide for some environmental portraits which is much much more difficult as I not only have to worry about her pose, exposing for the environment, and controlling the distortion caused by the 10-22. In the end, I got a few shots that I liked, but overall I didn't think it was a great session for me, poor posing and poor interaction with the model, not enough to get her engaged and relaxed. Anyways, a big thanks to both the model and her sister. Here are some shots from the session.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Change is here.

I'm sure many people were glued to the television last night, watching closely as the election results came in. Some were ecstatic, others were probably furious and disappointed. Regardless of which side you are on, no one can deny the fact that history has been made.

During the whole time of the Obama's speech, I couldn't help but wonder the types of photos people were getting, both everyday people taking snapshots their participation, and the professional journalists hired to document history. Have you noticed how the two candidates have been photographed? Or paid attention to the lighting, angle used, etc in the photos published in the news paper? Maybe I'm biased (or just don't understand how to interpret photos)... I often find McCain's photos taken from a low perspective, giving an impression of power and authority; makes him look fearsome. Obama's photos on the other hand seems to be more eye-level, more intimate/personal and emotional. Anyways, the whole time, I wondered what The Big Picture would show for this historic event... and here are their photos: It is interesting to look at each photo, and try to figure out what the photographer is trying to convey, is it a message of hope? Is it a personal side of Obama, making him feel more like one of us? I wonder what images would have shown up of McCain won. Would it be in the same style? Same types of message?

Tuesday, November 4, 2008


So Halloween just passed, and as part of the office tradition... everyone dresses up (well, it is highly encouraged) and we hold a parade with prizes and stuff. For the first time in years, I dressed up for Halloween (for those who knows me... the last time I dressed up was when I put on a suit of cardboard armor with cape and the whole deal. Oh and a 5+ ft long bastard sword made out of wood). I got dragged into this year's Halloween festivities by a few coworkers, while I wasn't able to help them with the making the costumes (mostly due to my vanpool and work schedule), I really appreciated their insistence on including me in the fun :).
I know they've put a lot of effort, heart and soul into making each outfit... here are some photos:

Yep! They made sushi costumes! Uni, Tako, Tamago, Salmon, Salmon Roe... made from pillows, and fabrics... they even made cute little wasabi hats with ginger!

Then there was me...

as the sushi chef! 

Together our group won the best group costume and got a nice restaurant gift certificate as reward. It was great fun I just wish I had more time to participate in it. Oh well, maybe next year :). Happy (belated) Halloweens everyone. Hope you had a safe fun weekend.