Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Canon's new line up!

So Canon today just announced some new and pretty exciting things!

First the 7D, which sits somewhere in between 50D (which sucks) and 5D2 (which is awesome). It has 18 mp crop sensor with 8 fps. Perhaps what is most exciting about the camera is that Canon built a brand new AF and metering system - 19 cross type points! Oh and as an added bonus it has built in wireless flash control (so you can do off camera lighting without buying a master flash or expensive remote triggers!). Finally Canon is doing some really cool stuff to catch up to Nikon (this really competes well with Nikon D300 in my opinion). Check out the hands on from DP review: http://www.dpreview.com/news/0909/09090104canoneos7dpreview.asp

Canon also announced 2 new EF-S lenses, one is a potentially awesome replacement for the less-than-stella 17-85: EF-S 15-85 f/3.5-5.6 IS lens. It also announced an EF-S 18-135 IS as well: http://www.dpreview.com/news/0909/09090103canon15mm28mm18mm135mm.asp

While I can't use either of the lenses, I am very interested in the third lens they announced, a new 100mm macro (an L at that). But this one... with IS! It's the first lens with their new hybrid image stablization system that offers up to 4 stops of stablization for normal shots and 2 stops for macros. Suppose to be priced just over $1K which is about 400-500 more than the non-L 100mm macro makes it a very tempting choice. One of my biggest problems with the macro is that I always need to bring out a tripod to hand hold it since the slightest movement is magnified when doing macro work. This lens could turn out to be very interesting indeed :). So anyone want to buy my old macro lens ;)?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009


I just watched a film called HOME by Yann Arthus-Bertrand (famous for his Earth from Above series). The film combines a series of breath-taking aerial footage taken around the globe with an equally breath-taking soundtrack. With narration by Glenn Close, the movie tells a story about... us, not just "us" as in nations or ethnicity, not even about us as a species, but about all of "us" on this planet. It is about how we are different, how we are alike... and most importantly, how we are all linked (really how humans have impacted all life on Earth, negatively of course). Whether you believe in the message or not (I for one, definitely believe), it is definitely a film worth watching and listening. Just stop for a moment and think about the resources we are using wasting each day.

Just watching the footage makes me wonder... will beautiful sights I've captured this past year still be there next year for people to experience for themselves? How about 5 years? 10? 30 years from now? Will my kids be able to experience New Zealand the same way I did? See the glaciers? Auroras? Crystal clear lakes perfectly reflecting the snow capped mountains? Will I be able to continue to travel, see some of the sights captured in the movie for myself? Nothing is more amazing than Earth's natural beauty. I hope we can all continue to capture its magnificence as well as its beauty for generations to come.

Here is the YouTube channel for the HOME http://www.youtube.com/homeproject
Definitely worth checking it out, at the very least, enjoy the spectacular footage gathered here.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Schmap's Guide?

Not sure if anyone heard of Schmap Guide... but apparently one of my photos got selected to be published there. It was a photo taken at Christchurch's cathedral square... 

Friday, April 24, 2009

About time...

Sorry for the lack of posts... I've still been uploading photos... but been busy as heck lately. Work has gotten hectic, and life has taken a dramatic change...

Some quick updates on photos:

Finally uploaded my photo shoot with my friend Betty. This was my first "studio" attempt and basically used 2 flashes with umbrella (sometimes using 'clam' method with one above and one below, other times using more standard 45 degree angle, etc)

Big thanks to Betty for being such a great model!

I'm currently working on a wedding I did back in March... hope to post that soonish... but here are some more photos from my life...

And since it's spring... I gotta post a quick flower picture right?

From Some random shots

Ok... other than all the photo update... what I really wanted to post about is a feature that Picasaweb recently launched: instant comment notifications. Now photo owners will get notified immediately when someone leaves a comment (enabled by default) and what is even better is that when you respond, all the other commenters will know about it! So now when someone asks a question about one of your photos (or if you want to ask a question), don't be afraid to respond because now they will hear your answer! Hopefully this will really help drive conversations within Picasaweb and help you guys make friends.

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Hong Kong...

Just finished going through my HK photos... now I'm all done with my New Zealand + HK trip... all done with 2008. As I mentioned in my initial post about the trip, I was not particularly happy with the photos from Hong Kong. I really felt like I did not capture the feel of the city. I know Hong Kong can be both so beautiful (both in nature and in the architecture) and interesting (bustling streets etc)... I felt like I didn't capture either aspects. To make up for it, I was much more heavy handed in my post processing... I guess that is how people make up for flawed photos... heavy post... lots of saturation, etc. Except I went with lower saturation, I ended up trying to create a more consistent faded/old grungy feel to most of the photos, under exposed, desaturated etc. Also did a lot of high contrast black and white (mainly because the weather was terrible....).  Oh and since it was HK, I had to take a lot of food photos, I took a photo of just about everything I ate :D.

Here are the photos from my 2 days in Hong Kong

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

End of a journey (New Zealand Day 7)

Nearly 5 months have passed since I came back home from New Zealand... finally this week I can officially say the journey has ended. I've just uploaded Day 7 of photos from my New Zealand trip (available here: http://picasaweb.google.com/pingc315/NZTripDay7RotoruaAndAuckland?feat=directlink). The trip itself was quite an eye opening experience for me, going to New Zealand, seeing all the beautiful sights there. But it was also quite an eye opening journey from a photography perspective as well, and not just because of the scenery. I took a lot of inspiration from fellow photographers like Joe and Alex, keeping their ideas, framing, and even post processing tricks in mind as I took and then processed my own set of photos. Granted I probably took far too long to go through the thousands of photos I took, I really learned a lot and found I took some of my best photos of my short photographic journey on this brief New Zealand trip.

Day 7 was an interesting day, my initial impression of the day was that there was nothing interesting, just lots of tourist and animal shots. But as I got to process through some of the photos, I discovered a few gems I enjoyed. Maybe they are still touristy, and while they aren't quite as grand or beautiful as some of the earlier photos they still capture fun precious moments.

A quick side note before the photos... remember how my flight had mechanical problems and had to be routed to Auckland instead of Rotorua directly? That ended up having a huge impact on the photos. We were suppose to visit Te Puia the Moari cultural center with the geothermal geysers during day 6 (afternoon) and take a boat cruise late morning of day 7. Well that all got turned upside down so we basically had to wake up extra early to catch a sunrise breakfast cruise...

While most of my sunrise shots weren't that great, I kind of liked the simplicity of this one (that and I'm a sucker for airplanes).

After the cruise, we drove over to Te Puia. When we first got there the geyser was pretty quiet, but that quickly changed as the geyser started spewing water maybe 20 or 30 feet tall. Thanks to the change in schedule, we arrived at the geyser at just the right time with the morning sun shining in the perfect direction creating a beautiful double rainbow for us.

After Te Puia, we drove on over to Agrodome for lunch and sheep shearing show (and farm tour). Got a few fun/cute animal shots that I was quite happy with.

This last photo was used as my May calendar photo titled "New born Curiosity". I rather liked using a super wide angle lens and get in close to the animals to create fun effects. This particular shot I was maybe 2 or 3 feet away... close enough that I was worried he'd lick my lens thinking it was food :p. I basically wasn't looking through the view finder for these shots and instead just held the camera out in front of the sheep and clicked away hoping it would focus and expose correctly. In this particular shot, the focus is a bit off but overall I thought it was still ok and ended up as one of my favorite shots from the day.

Finally on the way back to Auckland, the sun broke through the clouds for some dramatic "god ray" displays (in case you don't know, I'm a sucker for god rays as well ;))

I guess all in all, day 7 was a great ending to an already wonderful trip. Now that I'm all done, I can move on to my next destination... Hong Kong. :)

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Photographing Norther Lights

So I just got back from Alaska today, had a quick look over my aurora borealis photos and picked 2 quick ones to upload (some adjustments in Lightroom to increase contrast and bring out the green):

From aurora

From aurora

This was my first time photographing auroras... so it was an interesting experience. We signed up for this aurora tour ($90 bucks a person, includes a quick dinner) so they pick you up and take you out to their little ranch just outside of Fairbanks with a clear view of the skies all around you. Cool little place really, and having a nice warm room to wait is certainly appreciated :). Unfortunately it was cloudy all night but by around 12 or so, we started noticing parts of the sky was brighter, sort of this patch of light behind the clouds. This got all the Japanese tourist around us all excited (aurora borealis watching is big deal in Japan, so there are quite a few Japanese tours in the area everyday) and they started taking photos. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but I figured I should just get a test shot to see what I can get (more of a test than anything else). To my surprise, the entire sky in the photo turned out green. I felt as if I've discovered gold and quickly sprang into action, readjusting my camera trying my best to compose the frame properly (more on this later). Keep in mind that with the naked eye you could barely see the light and there certainly wasn't any color... just a light patch of clouds. The colors are only revealed with a longer shutter speed (15-30 seconds). For the next 2 hours or so, I just kept shooting, I shot anything and everything... any part of the sky that was remotely brighter than others... it seriously was like digging for treasure and just not quite sure what you'd get when the shutter closes again. Sometimes you get nothing, sometimes you get a beautiful streak of green. Auroras can last anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours... we were extremely lucky that on this particular night it lasted close to 4 hours total. However, we were also extremely unlucky with the weather, with the heavy clouds you really can't see any colors. You just see patches of light, some faint, some strong... every once in awhile you'll see a long ribbon of light over your head, moving, dancing (but still no color). The real kicker is that the clouds cleared at around 2:30 and then the colors really came through... BUT I was in the car on the way back to the hotel already :( (no real place to stop along the highway... not that the driver would anyways). You could clearly see the strands of light dancing in the sky, you could even see the shifts in color as well (which is rare), the locals say it is one of the best displays they've seen in years... I guess at least I got to see it.

The second photo posted here should give some idea of what it looked like with the clouds clearing. This was the last photo I took that night, and this one was totally by luck too. The driver already came to get us and I was pretty much done taking photos anyways, they all looked the same, green blob in the sky. So as I turned around to head back in, my uncle mentioned that this will be a cool aurora, he assured me I had time for 1 more photo "always time for another photo" he said, the driver will wait. It is only because of him that I turned and took this last shot which is one of the better shots and one of the only shots I have that shows some form (to the naked eye, it was still just a colorless blob in the sky). I have the best uncle in the world and glad he told me to stay for another shot :).

Overall I'm happy about how it all turned out, I guess I'm the luckiest unlucky person that night... able to experience one of the best (and longest) aurora displays but not able to capture it due to weather. Hehe, sometimes you get the shots, sometimes you don't. You just can't plan for these kinds of things I guess.

Some techie details and lessons learned...
  • Due to the thick cloud, framing and auto-focusing was basically impossible. I couldn't see anything through the view finder and had to use the lights from the school (see that orange lights in the trees) as a reference point and pray for the best.
  • Manual focus is tough without live view, keep in mind that your infinity focus point actually shifts in cold weather so just using the default infinity mark is not sufficient. This basically turned out to be a guess and check exercise for me... and using a super wide lens helps to cover up any mistakes you have (I just shifted the focus to a tad beyond infinity and locked it in manual focus mode the entire night). 
  • Again, with the clouds, it was very difficult to pick up the lights so I pretty much had to shoot wide open at 30 secs and bump up my ISO to an unacceptable 1600 most of the time. It sucked, but noisy image better than no image...
  • For longer exposures, I was able to use a flash light to do some "light painting" on the foreground. For example, I was able to use the flash light to light up the cabin (basically just sweep over the cabin with the light as if you are painting with a brush) in the foreground so it will be properly exposed against the aurora.
  • Batteries die fast out there in below 0 degrees weather. Make sure you carry a spare (best if you can keep it in the warm room or at least in your pants pocket to keep it warm with your body heat).
So next time...
  • I need a better camera so I can shoot comfortably at ISO 800 if not ISO 1600. 5D Mk II anyone? :)
  • Rent out a faster lens. I was using EF-S 10-22 which shooting wide open gives me f/3.5. I should consider renting out EF 16-35 f/2.8 which would give me almost a full stop of light (meaning my 30 sec exposure just went down to 15) or perhaps even EF 24mm f/1.4 lens which would give me almost 2 full stops (now I can get down to around 7 sec for my exposure time).
Some other information can be found on the web (such as http://www.alaskaphotographics.com/how_to_photograph_northern_lights.shtml).  Perhaps with better weather, I'd be able to compose and focus much easier (as well as use a lower ISO setting). Either way, aurora borealis is truly a thing of beauty and I'm now addicted to photographing it... I'm already planning another trip back to Fairbanks, who wants to come with me? (I'm serious, if anyone wants to come, drop me a line).

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Freezing in Alaska

So I haven't posted in awhile, been kind of demotivated about processing photos (just 1 more day of New Zealand and Hong Kong left, I'll post those shortly) and been busy with work. For Presidents day my mom and I decided to take a quick vacation out to Alaska... yes, freezing cold Alaska... to visit my aunt and uncle and hopefully get some photos of the northern lights. Right now I'm in a cabin outside Fairbanks waiting... things don't look so good since it is mostly cloudy tonight :(. Sigh, oh well. We'll see what happens. Haven't got too many good photos so far mostly because of the weather (cold, snowing, cloudy...). I guess we'll see what happens.

Friday, January 30, 2009

New Zealand, Day 6...

Day 6 was even more bland of a day for photos, we basically spent the day traveling (partly due to airplane malfunction... boy I'm just having the greatest luck with airplanes... first typhoon delays then malfunction...). I did get a few shots that I liked at the Christchurch Botanical Gardens and a few shots in Rotorua (north island where we spent the night) that I liked. As usual, the full album is available here: http://picasaweb.google.com/pingc315/NZTripDay6Rotorua?feat=directlink

On a side note, earlier this year I was in a huge slump in terms of photography, I didn't like any of the shots I took and just felt uninspired. Two fellow photogs that I met through Picasa (who says Picasaweb is not social!) really kind of helped me get out of that slump and gave me a lot of great inspirations. I've come to really respect their comments/critiques and enjoy learning from them. The first is Joe, especially his back to nature album.

I really liked his album quite a bit, his eye for catching beautiful patterns in nature... his play of light vs shadow... the simpleness of his photos, etc. So during my walk through the botanical gardens, I couldn't help but remember his photos, how simple often equals beautiful. Feeling particularly inspired by his branch silhouette shots (those shots shooting upwards creating a shadow effect of the branches), I tried to try it myself...

While no where near as good as Joe's photos were, I rather liked the results. Just need to keep my eyes open for those simple beautiful patterns that occur naturally... This also requires me to remember to simplify my photos, cut away unnecessary elements and just focus in on the core. Thanks Joe!

The second photog is of course Alex, I was really impressed by his patterns album at first, but what really stayed with me months after first viewing it was his "have a seat" album. I just love the feels he creates with a simple photo of an empty bench. Sometimes it is loneliness, sometimes it is grandeur, sometimes it is just fun. As a result, when I saw this bench in the garden, I knew I just had to get a photo of it...

I really like the "nice Sunday afternoon in the park" feeling to it, where the bench is particularly inviting, welcoming you to come sit down for a moment, relax, forget about the world and all its troubles. Just, stop, sit back, and relax... close your eyes and breath in all that fresh air. My only regret is I didn't accept the invitation, but instead I hurried past the bench moving on in search of my next shot. Next time, I will have a seat.

Oh also notice the photo is B&W, it happens that this seemed to work well with the subject, but there is another reason why it is B&W.... The day was extremely overcast which meant no real contrast in the scene, no shadows, no depth, the green grass and tree leaves were all just muted. Instead of trying to play with saturation and brightness to try to get some "pop" back, I decided to make the photo B&W. Instead of just plain and simple B&W, I essentially made it a filtered B&W to bring out particular colors (I actually adjusted the color filter individually under Lightroom's grayscale option). In this case, the green / yellow was made much brighter to create nice contrast against the dark bench and tree trunk. So keep this in mind, the next time you end up with a bland image from an overcast day (or one with over exposed sky), consider making it B&W to conceal some of these faults and let you accentuate some other aspects of the photo.

Here is another B&W photo from the day that I really liked. The original color version really wasn't very special, everything was just brown and white (with some light green) but once I made it B&W I could really bring out the trees much better and separate it from everything.

Here is another processed version of the same scene, this time modifying Lightroom's "cold tone" present slightly:

Finally, another HDR (man... I really went nuts with HDR on this trip...)

This is a photo of the Hagglund which is a pretty cool Antarctic vehicle. With the skies just clearing and the sun just over the building... I knew I wanted to capture the typical dramatic vehicle shot with lens flare and all. So I got down low, and aimed up at the sun hoping for some interesting lens flares. The angle just makes the Hagglund look that much more powerful (shooting up at subject always conveys more respect/power, just be careful when using that technique with people as it can make their chin look wide...). The main reason I decided to make it an HDR was because I was still shooting into the sun so I didn't want to completely blow out the sky while keeping the parts of the vehicle that is in the shadow relatively well exposed.

Sorry if my day 6 photos weren't quite as exciting or beautiful as previous days. Unfortunately I think this is about it for "scenic" shots... only 1 more day of photos left for New Zealand. Now it's like a journey 4 months in the making :p but I guess it'll all be over soon. Just 1 more days worth of photos :(.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Inauguration photos from The Big Picture

Some great shots of the historical moment yesterday (ok 2 days ago now) from The Big Picture:

Definitely worth checking out (and subscribing to their RSS feed if you haven't already!)

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Year in review

As some of you know, I am making it a habit of mine to make a calendar at the end of each year to sort of summarize my year, my experiences, and the beauty that I was blessed enough to witness. Here is a slideshow of the photos for my photo calendar this year (perhaps it is no surprise that many of the photos came from New Zealand :D):

There is of course a story behind each of these images and each caption/title. If anyone is curious, I'd be more than happy to share the story. Picking the photos was probably the easy part, coming up with a title I liked that meant something was the hard part >.<. I don't know know how many photos I ended up taking this year (file name numbering suggest maybe around 17 thousand). I really feel like I've grown a lot this year, from learning to crop and simplify my photos to HDR to reading up on strobist and using flash much more effectively... It has been a busy year and I really want to thank all those who helped me in my journey, sharing ideas, sharing photos, providing valuable critique or was just patient with me while I took my sweet time on a trip somewhere :). Special thanks to those who I pestered for helping me pick the calendar photos and write the captions :D Here are a few more photos that I really liked but wasn't quite fitting for a calendar:
From Photo Shoot at Woodbridge

From Happy New Years

From Anza-Borrego Desert State Park

From Taipei snapshots (台北隨意拍) 2007

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Long Beach Aquarium

A few years ago I saw a coworker post some pictures he took at Monterey Aquarium of these beautiful jellyfishes set against a a nice blue background. I was really blown away by how beautiful it was (I think the photo was this one: http://picasaweb.google.com/andrewmitchell1975/MontereyTripJune2006#4940152518086295570). Since then, I've been dreaming of capturing similar images myself but never had a chance... that is until last weekend when I finally stopped by Long Beach Aquarium for a quick afternoon photo shoot. While I never quite got that shot I wanted, I got a few other shots that I liked. Full album available here: http://picasaweb.google.com/pingc315/LongBeachAquarium?feat=directlink).

The day started off on a pretty good beat as I got this shot:

I'm really a sucker for kid silhouette against the glass staring at fish type shots. This particular shot was done in manual mode as metering became difficult but I really love how mesmerized kids are by fishes. I think I first fell in love with this type shots when I visited Sea World last June... it would have been better if the water was deeper blue but I thought this shot worked fairly well either way.

As for Jellyfish, my favorite shot might have been

I just like how it is zig-zagging through the water and how it looks like it is glowing. But perhaps the other lines are a bit distracting... It seems as if everyone's favorite jellyfish shot ended up this one:

As Joe puts it "white and clear jellys owns yellow ones". Well, I guess I can't quite argue with that logic there. But overall I found photographing these things a bit of a challenge. The jellyfish themselves were rather small and really cramped together in a small tank which made composition more difficult. On top of that the water wasn't very clean in a few of the tanks so it didn't make for attractive background... I ended up zooming in all the way to focus in on smallest clean area and pressed the lens up against the glass to reduce reflection and what not... Lucky for me, these things move slow which made it easier to track and photograph :).

This might be my favorite from the day... I was surprised at how colorful the world is under water. Unfortunately here I used my 10mm lens shooting through a curved glass so the distortions in the corners are really terrible.

I also got a few lucky shots of sea horses and sea dragons:

For the sea horses it was a bit trickier as these things moves quite fast. I had to sacrifice noise and use ISO 1600 (basically the entire day) to have a chance of keeping up with them. Shooting through glass and water also plays havoc on auto focus... just kept snapping away until I got lucky with a sharp photo here ;).

On a side note, I also updated photos from San Diego Wild Animal Park from Christmas vacation. Here the main thing I kept in mind the whole day was a lesson I learned from John Shaw's Nature Photography Field Guide, and that is to keep your shots eye level with the animals as much as possible. It makes the image feel more intimate and more dramatic effect compared to photographing them standing up (so you will be looking down at them).

Keeping that in mind (and also wanting to practice isolating details), here are a few photos from that day:
From San Diego Wild Animal Park

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Back to Christchurch

Sorry I haven't posted anything in awhile, but I finally got through Day 5. We spent most of day 5 on the road, the cross country/island drive from Lake Wanaka to the east back to Christchurch. We only made a few stops along the way, but we drove through some amazing landscapes in New Zealand from the barren wasteland (as seen in the final battle for Gondor in Return of the King) to the grassy plains perfect for sheep farming. But overall, Milford sound was definitely the climax of the entire trip and everything since then is just going down hill. I still felt I got a few good shots in, but mostly thanks to HDR and post processing... less thanks to the natural beauty of New Zealand like previous days.

The morning started off early for me as I got up extra early to catch sun rise but it was still pretty cloudy. After breakfast we got some time to walk around the shores of Lake Wanaka and I finally got to explore the vineyards next to where I took the star photos during the previous night. When I got to the vineyard, I was really intrigued by the numbers identifying the rows so I snapped this photo.

It was originally an HDR but I didn't like the fake look of it so I decided to desaturate the image and add a lot more warmth (yellow) to create the almost monotone image. Some minor touch up on the pole to accentuate the 43. I think I just like the perspective of it, the repeating pattern of the poles getting smaller as well as each row leading away from you leading into the background.

The next image was taken at Lake Pukaki. The weather was pretty terrible with gray bland overcast sky not giving me anything to work with. But the lake had really beautiful rocky shores along with this amazing blue water (thanks to the glaciers). In order to bring out the details in the rocks and not blow out the sky, I had to use HDR... I played a bit with the effect this time creating a more storybook fantasy feel (actually it really reminds me of those motivational posters...). I hope you don't mind me taking some liberty with the effects.

The next image is probably one of my favorites from the trip, a photo of The Church of Good Shepherd at Lake Tekapo (one of the most photographed landmarks in all of New Zealand). Again, I had to use HDR to really bring out the details as the sky was just a boring gray.

This was the exact image I wanted when I first saw the church... for some reason I just had this image in my mind, a low super wide angle shot of the church, exaggerating it a bit against the background a plain small church look even more amazing set against the cloudy/dark sky. I actually waited for close to 10 mins for all the visitors to clear the area (it is a heavily visited site, so tour bus after tour bus would drop people off). I was really fortunate that there was this small pause in people visiting the church for me to snap a few quick photos of the church, un-disturbed (needless to say people in my tour were less than happy with me as they all sat waiting in the tour bus way off in the distance there). I used this photo as the October photo in my calendar, titled "Shelter of Hope". The name was partly inspired by the local artist (Esther Hope) whose sketches were the basis for the actual church, but it is also about how this image made me feel. In many ways churches, more specifically religion/faith, provides a shelter for us against the storms and turmoil we face in life. They not only give us shelter, but strength and hope to face each day, knowing that the storm will pass and a the skies will be clear one day. This is how the image made me feel.

As usual, the full album can be found on my picasa web gallery or here: http://picasaweb.google.com/pingc315/NZTripDay5LakeWanakaToChristchurch?feat=directlink

A couple more interesting photos below:
From Lindis Pass, near where the battle for Gondor was filmed.

Of course you can't have NZ album without sheep and alpacas. SO cute!

Finally image of Christchurch Cathedral in Christchurch

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Milford Sound (New Zealand Day 4)

So after a short break from processing photos, I finally uploaded the photos from day 4 of my New Zealand trip a couple days ago. We got up pretty early that day (at about 5 AM) and headed out to Milford Sound for a 2 hour boat tour. This was probably the highlight of the whole New Zealand trip and offered some of the most spectacular views of the whole trip... needless to say, this makes keeping this blog post short very difficult as there are a lot of photos I really liked from that day. The full set of photos is available at: http://picasaweb.google.com/pingc315/NZTripDay4MilfordSoundAndLakeWanaka?feat=directlink.

As mentioned in earlier posts, a storm swept through the area days before we arrived, so the weather was always questionable. In addition, the only road leading up to Milford Sound had a mudslide just the day before... our tour lead had hoped it would clear up by the time we got there... Luckily for us, the weather stayed clear for most of that day and the road was cleared 30 mins prior to our arrival... I really think someone upstairs was watching over us this entire trip. Other than the poor weather on the first few days, this entire trip have been really blessed.

On our way to Milford Sound, we made a quick 10 min stop Mirror Lake (well... they say 10 mins but I stretched it to like 15 ^^;... kept everyone waiting). The weather was so beautiful that the lake was really like a mirror, perfectly reflecting the beauty in front of us. Unfortunately it was rather difficult to capture the full experience on camera due to the extreme dynamic range (the reflection and lake was in the shadows where as the actual snow capped mountains were in bright sunlight). I doubled stacked filters (2 stop graduated ND to darken the top half of the photo and a polarizer to bring out the reflection and colors) and then in post I added another graduated filter at the bottom to bump up the brightness of the shadows to create this final image.

When we got to Milford Sound, the weather was still mostly clear but there was enough clouds in the sky to make it even more interesting. It was on this boat tour that I took most of my HDRs (high dynamic range, where 3 photos of the same scene are then combined in post processing to form a single image), in fact I think I ended up with 30+ HDR shots so in total I took close to 100 images just for HDR. I tried to keep the HDR fantasy like feel down and stick to what felt natural.

Here are two shots of Milford Sound with Mitre Peak (doesn't this feel like something out of LOTR? You know the part with Frodo on the boat passing the giant statues?).

The first shot was shot in RAW and then post processed in Lightroom. I really had to brighten up the green on the mountain but it gets a tad bit noisy. The second image is an HDR with -2, 0 and +2 stops. It's not too different from the RAW shot but I get so much more detail in the clouds and the green just pops better making for a more dramatic image (in my opinion at least :)).

There are so many photos that I really liked from Milford, but this is perhaps one of my favorite from the entire trip. I used it as the August photo in my calendar, titled "Heaven's Blessings" mainly because it looks like the water is pouring down from the heavens. Additionally, this is actually not a permanent waterfall (it's called Fairy Falls), it will dry up in a few days without rainfall so in many ways, we were blessed to have the storm pass through revealing this hidden beauty within Milford Sound.

Here is another photo from Milford Sound. I really like how the cloud just wraps around the mountains... It also shows the entrance to the sound being mostly hidden, this is why the early explorers did not discover Milford Sound as no one expected it to lead to anywhere.

One final shot of Milford Sound as the boat was returning to dock.

After the boat tour, we drove straight to Lake Wananaka where we stayed for the night. Just before dinner I saw these two Paradise Ducks near by. These ducks usually live in pairs and mate for life.

Since we spent the night right along the lake shores, there was very little light pollution allowing me to get a few nice shots of the Milky Way and stars. I had to use my 50mm 1.4 wide open and a 1600 ISO to get the shutter speed fast enough to capture all this without star trails.

Only 3 days left of New Zealand photos, hopefully I'll be able to get through them quicker now :)