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:

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: 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:

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:

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:

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 :)

Friday, January 2, 2009

My favorite movie of all time...

One of my new year resolutions was to take some time off and rewatch all the Miyazaki Hayao movies. I decided to get a jump start on this with my favorite movie of all time: Sen to Chihiro no Kamekakushi or Spirited Away as it is known in the west. It is just such a beautifully made movie with one of the most beautiful soundtracks ever to go along with it. I've actually forgotten how much I love this movie until I watched it again, noticing all the cute little details (the scene with the mouse imitating Sen is still the cutest...), breath taking scenery (the train ride is still my favorite scene of the entire movie) and of course the deeper messages involved. I was actually fortunate enough to attend the US premier of the movie at El Capitan in Hollywood where Miyazaki-san made an appearance himself. I remember how excited I was when I found out he was coming, I think I heard it driving to work (intern at AOL that summer) and I immediately called up all the friends I knew to buy tickets ASAP...

It is simply a must see movie, for all ages regardless if you like anime or not. Of course the ending song still gets me everytime... Itsumo nando demo (Always with me). Yumi Kimura's voice is so beautiful...

Of course the movie wouldn't be what it is without Joe Hisaishi's memorable pieces like this one:

I almost feel like I can watch this movie again right now and still enjoy ever second of it. Anyways, on to the next Ghibli movie... I'm debating between Kiki and Laputa... maybe Kiki first since I haven't seen that in forever :)

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year everyone! I hope everyone had a good (and safe) new years eve. Looking back at 2008, it has certainly been an interesting year... buying a house, traveling to New Zealand, growing as a photographer... thanks to all who have helped me along this long (but young) journey. I really look forward to 2009 and all the new opportunities it will bring. My number 1 new year resolution is probably to continue traveling, visit at least one new country this year. Perhaps visit a few more national parks in the US (all those national parks out in Utah and Zion etc) and maybe Alaska. Perhaps another east coast trip?

Here are my last photos taken in 2008...
From Happy New Years

From Happy New Years

Instead of partying and doing count down like normal people, I went out for a quick photo shoot as a thick fog rolled in. Visibility was probably less than 30 ft at times (maybe even 20). Perhaps a somewhat fitting end to 2008, with the future of many shrouded in doubt and uncertainty. Hopefully this fog will clear up soon and we can see a more defined (and brighter) path to the future. I wish everyone an happy and healthy 2009.