Wednesday, December 17, 2008

New Zealand Day 3

Sorry the long delay in between posts, a lot of stuff has been happening both at work (you know, like the launch) and outside of work. Personally I've been trying to take a short break from photography (and processing photos) so I can attend to other areas of interest and hopefully come back to photos with a lot more passion and creativity. I actually had day 3 photos almost fully processed 2 weeks ago but I got side tracked by a personal photo calendar project I was doing... Thanks to everyone who helped with that and provided valuable input.

Day 3 in New Zealand to me was one of those turning point type day where the number of potentially interesting photos grew sharply from the previous day. It was also a major turning point for the weather as the day started out completely overcast (and even slight drizzle to light rain) which completely dashed any hopes of taking a helicopter flight up to the glaciers. I was actually really looking forward to taking that helicopter, getting some aerial photos and being able to walk on the glaciers... but I guess I'll have to just setting for the view from the base. After the short visit to Fox Glacier, we drove along the west coast of the South Island before heading in land towards Queenstown (our destination for the day). Along the drive, we passed by two gorgeous lakes (Lake Wanaka and Lake Hawea) and this was right about when the weather started clearing up revealing some of the "classic" New Zealand landscapes... The full album can be viewed here: 

Here is a photo taken at the base of Fox Glacier... The original photo (left) was really kind of boring with the featureless overcast sky which also made the colors feel really muted. My friend Alex happened to send me a post of a technique he recently learned in Lightroom to make foggy landscapes look even more interesting (post here: What better way to learn a new technique than to try it out on a photo immediately? So I basically lowered the clarity of the photo overall to about -70, bumped up recovery to about 90 to try to bring back some of the blown details. This made the whole image kind of glowy bright feel which was cool, but really killed the detail on the glacier so I took the brush tool to bring back the details in the foreground (graduated filter would work just as well I think): +100 clarity, 22 sharpness, 35 saturation, 20 contrast). Finally I fiddled with the settings on the image over all by increasing the contrast and saturation a bit more but really bumped up the saturation of the blue (with a small hue shift) to emphasize the clean blue color of the glacier. While still not a great photo, it is certainly better than the original I think :).

Here is a photo from Lake Hawea, to me this really feels like "New Zealand"... the expansive blue lakes set against snow-capped mountains with a thin string of clouds. In fact, the native Maori's name for New Zealand is 'Aotearoa' which translates to 'the land of the long white cloud'. While this photo is an HDR composite of 3 images, the actual vista wasn't too different. In fact the main difference between the HDR and the non-HDR version of the image is that you see a bit more detail in the sky (and has more gray) and the lake water is a bight brighter more like turquoise rather than a darker emerald color.

After our brief stop at Lake Hawea, we stopped by the town of Cromwell to buy some fresh fruits... of course my mom and I completely ignored the fruit stand and instead started taking pictures... The places just had the largest field of Sakura (Cherry blossom) trees I've ever seen and almost made me feel like I was in Japan... BTW, in case you don't know, I'm totally obsessed about sakuras but have always struggled to take good photos of them...

I think the reason why I really like this photo is because it feels like a post card, you know one of those photos looking down a long path under the blossoming sakura trees. Just like one of those images you would find in the random "inspirational" PowerPoint you'd get in the mail.

While I didn't really need to use HDR (there is a similar non-HDR shot in the album) on this shot, I thought having the darker angrier looking cloud made the image feel a bit more dramatic. In the end, I think I just really liked the sun shining through creating the long shadows on the ground.

We arrived at Queenstown just before sunset and took the gondola up the nearby mountain for a great buffet dinner overlooking Queenstown and Lake Wakatipu. I managed to be one of the first ones up the gondola to get myself a bit more time shooting the sunset. While the sunset itself wasn't that great, the view from the top overlooking Lake Wakatipu was just amazing, offering a nice reflection of the nearby mountains basked in the warm light.

This is one of my favorite shots from the day... I just love sweeping vista... I mean you can see all of Queenstown, the mountains nearby, Lake Wakatipu and just see it extend all the way out to the horizon.

This is by far my favorite photo from the day... but there is a reason for this. In my home in Taiwan, my step mom has a laminated aerial photo of Hokkaido (at least that's what I think it is...) during twilight... I mean this image had it all, huge city with bustling city lights, large bodies of water... and this deep blue sky. For some reason that image just connected with me and I really liked the royal blue color of the image (white balance trick I believe) and the city lights against the darker water surrounding the city which really made it stand out. So when I saw this scene earlier in the day, I knew I just had to come back during twilight just after the sun has set but leaving enough ambient light for me to get some detail out of the mountains in the distance. Well, the sun set just half way through dinner so I had to just stuff myself with as much food as I could (only had time for 1 plate at the buffet and gave up on seconds or the wonderful desserts they had... I mean they had some amazing desserts) and just grabbed my tripod and ran outside. I think for this image, it was well worth giving up dinner and dessert... I ended up eating cup noodles back in the hotel room. OH well, such is the life of a photographer :).

Before getting to New Zealand, I knew I wanted to try taking more star trail shots and also try to capture the Milky Way. Day two actually was the perfect opportunity given the low light pollution of the area, but rain killed any chances of seeing stars. While Queenstown sill is a pretty large town with decent amount of light pollution, I was able to find a quiet corner along the coast of Lake Wakatipu during the walk back from dinner. I quickly set up my tripod and took a few test shots. This particular shot was taken at f/5.6 over an 8 minute exposure. I was actually really surprised you can capture that much of the star trails that clearly...