Typhoon 8 sounds closer to a name of a rock band. This was my first experience in a Typhoon in Hong Kong. I received a message from my colleague saying ‘congrats’, no work today. Without having a clue, I turned on the morning news and saw destruction of boats and fallen Jackie Chan style bamboo scaffolding. Without thinking, I jumped back in bed and napped for a few more hours. The guilty conscious in me made me get dressed in water proof gear and run outside to chase the storm. By that time, all destruction was cleaned up and what was left was just rough seas, howling winds, and amazing clouds. So I just knew, I had to capture them. But this was one of those shoots which I had no idea how to capture them, and what the results were going to turn out, but I just kept firing.
With the light all gray and dull, there wasn’t really much to capture, but the first thing that came to mind was High Dynamic Range (HDR). A few nights prior, I loaded my CF card with Magic Lantern which enables the 5DmkII to capture bracketing up to +/- 4 stops in 13 frames, instead of the in camera +/- 2 in 3 frames. I tried using it and it worked like a charm.
Then after, I threw them into PhotoMatix which is one of the better HDR software out there ‘approved’ by one of my favorite photographers Trey Ratclif. The software put 9 of my images together put together a strong dramatic image that really brought justice to the image. One of the side effects of having the dramatic skies is the cartoony city scape which I think draws a lot more interest in the photos.
In hind sight, what did I learn, or would have done differently? I would say, a learning experience from this shoot is, get yourself out there and shoot! If that guilty conscience didn’t wake me up, I would have been in bed till 2pm.
China National Day is a big day (week) for China. They are not that enthusiastic in Hong Kong. But one thing they are absolutely enthusiastic about is seeing the massive fireworks show that blow any a lot of other light shows out of the water 4 folds (4 barges). I felt the show was closer to ‘burning money’ show than a ‘stroke of creative ingenuity’. That said, here are the photos.
So the basics, to set the camera on a tripod on manual. 6″ at f16 and iso 200. I don’t want to make it set in stone, so start with that and understand what modifying those dimensions does. For example, during the shoot, I found it was very windy. When looking at the images, I saw all the fireworks moving to the right (the fireworks were not circular anymore) which really distracted the crispness of the shot. I then dropped the time to 4″, and knew I had shorter window to capture the entire entire fireworks from spark, taking off and going full blown.
Other things I did.
- Loading down my tripod with my camera bag – all tripods are more sturdy when you have more weight on it were it compresses the rubber, joints and stance. Fortunately, my tripod had a hook at the bottom of the middle rod to hang my camera bag. This really made my tripod more tolerant to vibrations.
- Taking off the filter – filter adds one more layer of dirty glass for the light to reflect off. In high contrast shots like fireworks, it tends to create blur high contrast nature of fireworks from the dirty glass.
- Tie the straps – this keeps the wind from shaking the camera more than necessary.
- Visually compose each shot – after the first few minutes, you can estimate the range of fireworks. From there, try and frame them with the back and foreground, i.e. boat and buildings to compose an elegant shot.
- Wind direction – just try to make sure you are not downwind.
- Manual or pre-focus – sometimes, you will find your camera hunting when you try to focus without lights (lack of contrast in the dark sky). Fortunately, this show was filled with fireworks in the sky, so I didn’t have trouble setting the camera to autofocus.
I just have to say, this adventure of going out and shooting with masses of people is a real cultural experience that highlights the true density of a big city like Hong Kong. You are bound to rub shoulders with a lot of people, they will bump your tripod (I spent the entire time holding a kid so not to have him fondle my tripod). People were there up to 6 hours before. Since I went there only 2 hours before, I fortunately managed to find a spot under a tree. Most people prefer not to stand under a tree as you can’t see the top of the fireworks. But I managed to squeeze myself to the second row and shoot over other photographers with my big tripod. I don’t think that pleased anyone behind me.
In hind sight:
- One thing I just learned from a friend after shooting was using a black card. This was the first time I heard about it, so check it out. I have no experience but it seems like an interesting concept of composing two shots into one. Google it!
I’m not sure what has gotten me so excited to come home early from work to write this, but these HDR photos really did something special for me.
Now as a new good friend in HK said, “Technology really helps”… I totally agree with her. Photography is about 1/3 light, 1/3 gear and 1/3 photographer. The light was pretty poor, the photographer is equally as poor, so… I threw as much technology at it as possible. When I said the light was bad, it meant that the light was really pale, the sky had a gray haze and the golden sunset barely penetrated the atmosphere. Whatever leftover light that hit the building was a pale yellow tone that just didn’t do the city justice.
This is where High Dynamic Range (HDR more info here) helped. All the photos used either Pro HDR (on iPhone) or PhotoMatrix Pro (camera) to do HDR applications. Those panoramic shots used Photosynth for iPhone, a glorious no-brainer panorama software. The PhotoMatrix Pro images of them were sent through the regular Lightroom treatment with a noticeable bump in Recovery +48, Fill light +13, Clarity +30, Vibrance +27 and Saturation +30. The key for the HDR’s are not to bracket too far off. In the iPhone, don’t select the darkest and lightest spot. Select one in the middle so you don’t get the “halo” between the dark and light images. If only I had the guts to install magic lantern custom firmware to have more than 3 brackets for HDR. Having more than 3 images to combine for HDR would have smaller steps/stops between images, thus having a smoother transition.
Regarding composition, a few things really caught my attention, the clouds and sunset, the city and the water. Quite simple, but now the key is to put it together. I had 3 fixed focal lengths, 35mm (iPhone), 50mm and 85mm. Wide angle lenses made the city look very small so it can only focus on sky images, so it really didn’t speak to me as Hong Kong. The 50mm was really able to capture the perfect ration between the sky, water and city. The 85mm focuses on the city, and gave it a different perspective people know of the city.
This was taken when my wife was enjoying the beautiful beach in the infinity pool with the shutter closed at f32 and a larger zoom of 72mm to crop out all other distractions.
Life guard station at the beach where swimming is not recommended due to the vicious waves and strong under current. Go figure. Again, a larger zoom (200mm) was used to focus on the flag alone.
Infinity pool in the more luxurious hotels, Las Ventenas. I simply kept things simple here to show as little detail as possible.
Here is where you were to be seen. This was taken in the early morning and Lightroom was used to brighten the darker foreground using graduated filters.
This shot was taken at dawn when the wind was calm and the clouds started to open up.
Walking into the morning sunrise – for this photo, it was hand held and I opened up the shutter and closed the aperture allowing for a larger depth of field. This shot was taken at the expense of wet pants.
I had the luxury of staying in one of the more porche hotels in Los Cabos for my honeymoon. I obviously took the opportunity to snap a few photos which I really enjoyed.
For most of these shots, I learned that it was really difficult to capture a simple and beautiful shot at the same time show try and show what it was like to be there. It does seem that focusing on details brings them closer to the actual experience than the wide angle shots, but I had to squeeze a few in there.
The Galapagos… there isn’t much one can say other than it is truly a photographer’s haven. The cruise ship brings you to shore in the mornings and evenings just in time to hit the golden hour. It just makes it a photography heaven.
This image is quite a common sight with the eguanas. All one needs to do find one, squat down low, and simply capture the moment. Amazingly, this is simple enough.
Sunset in the Galapagos with a silhouette of a rock that looks like a dragon.
Baby Sealion walking along side the beach. When I first saw it, I knew that this baby was too cute miss this capture. It stared at me with those big sandy eyes. I made sure to pay attention to the contrast as there is a big difference between the sand and the brown Sealion so I had the camera mostly on manual metering -1/3 stops.
This is another Sealion shot where I got so engrossed in taking the perfect shot where the baby stood straight up with the island in the background. I had to go so low to get the angle right that I almost got attacked by another female Sealion. You can understand why this image is slightly tilted.
Blue footed boobie doing it’s boobie dance. This was quite easy to catch as the boobies were everywhere and these boobies mated all year round. You are bound to catch one of these dancing. Just get low and zoom in close and wait for the moment for it to lift its feet. I definitely went through a few frames here.
Giant tortoises fighting. These are huge slow but vicious animals. They moved ever so slowly, but you can just hear the weight of the beast as it scrapes itself over a rock. It’s purely incredible. You are allowed to go very close to them that I needed to step back outside the 1.4m minimum focus range. Unfortunately, you are not allowed to touch them or step on their feeding platform.
Crabs fighting. As you stroll along the beach long enough, you are bound to see exciting things happen. Like all animals in the Galapagos, these crabs simply go along their daily life with or without an audience. This time, they had a entire group of cruise ship tourist with big hats and cameras admiring the duo. Sadly, these claw snapping crabs didn’t even touch each other, and in fact even had snacks to eat midway through battle.
This bird (name passes me) was a really quick bird that hopped all over the place. I must have went through at least 20 shots trying to get this shot. Most of them were missed focused as it was too close, hopped too far etc. It’s annoying, but managed to capture this one image which stood out. Again, had to keep this shot on manual.
All these shots were slightly sharpened and the saturation/vibrance were bumped slightly. Some things I’ve read on the net prior to going to the Galapagos are:
- You can shoot bird portraits with a 50mm – It’s very true, but I still wish I had a longer lens, although it is mostly true where brids do come up to you and portraits can be shot up close, but there are moments where the animals were too far off the “path” for example the Albatross “run way” on Esponola; in those situations, I wished I had more reach. That said I was perfectly content with all the various shots I have gotten, and was glad I didn’t lug around a 300mm.
- Very difficult to shoot as most things are either white or black – one thing I definitely leant for sure is how to shoot manual. It was critical that I locked the exposure in as one cannot count on metering. The iguana, sealion, rocks was too dark, the sand, birds where too white. So one has to guest the metering, look on your LCD (thank god for digital cameras) and hope it comes out great in post.
Lima, Peru definately has one of the tastiest food in the world. Right up there with Thailand. I went there during winter which was relatively mild but is common to consistently have overcast skys. Thus I processed these images accordingly. I tried capturing the more affluent area such as Miraflores, street life, the people and some of the artifacts. It was a short trip spanning 1.5 days, so I did what I can to capture the moment.
Since it was such a short trip, spent most of the time in a car. I have learned, although not optimal, that using a long (70-200) lens to capture the details and peoples everyday expression while you are in going covert in the car. It also helps you get a way from “shooting from a car” feel like using wider angle lenses and having part of the road in the frame.
To set the atmosphere, I use Lightroom PresetHeaven’s Fashion Shoot I V.
That’s about it, keep it simple! More images can be found here.
This has got to be one of the more exciting shots I’ve taken. During one of the worst thunderstorms experienced in Vancouver. I was stuck in the Vancouver airport in the lounge as the clouds turned and the flight got delayed. I remembered vividly it was the night of the Fireworks Festival of Lights. I could only think, oh no, all the people being drenched!
Well, this photo was taken as the sun dramatically set over the horizon and it cast a gorgeous texture over the tarmac. I just set the camera on the window sill and kept snapping away. Each shot getting better and better. That’s what I love about shooting sunsets as cliche as it may be.
I just had to get the exposure just right to capture some of the sky and have some highlights on the runway. Composition wise, I felt very tied as I was not able to move sideways or higher. If I had my choice, I would go higher and point downwards more allowing the plane to sit on the lower 1/3 line of the image and have the sky fall on the upper 1/3 of the image.
The last image was captured using a 10 second exposure at f8, iso 200. I captured many images hoping to capture more than one lighting at a time. This was the only image that I managed to do so. On hind sight, I would have set the ISO to L and closed the shutter down to f18 or so and used a longer exposure. I think I was enjoying the lighting storm too much, alone getting buzzed at the lounge, to numb the anticipation of flying during this weather.
One of Cambodia prime attractions and the 13 finalist of the modern seven wonders of the world. This was one of the more amazing trips I’ve been on. Without further ado.
There isn’t much to speak about technically here as travel photography is more about simply being there! I carried three lenses Sigma 24-70 f2.8, Sigma 10-22 and Sigma 70-200 f2.8 all on the 30D and a tripod which was barely used only for night shots. Yes, I know, I was too lazy to setup the tripod on many shots.
What is more interesting is what I was thinking on some of the shots.
More images can be found here.
A good tip before traveling is to always do your research on how people capture images. So this is some other amazing ways others have portrayed Angkor Wat.
From one of my favorite travel photographer, StuckInCustoms.