Wednesday, April 29, 2009

A Night with Kuching Folks


One of the many joys and reasons of coming back to hometown would definitely be the friends and people that I have come to know over the years. It was Frankie whom I have been wanting to catch up with initially, since he has also made the jump into the world of DSLR, and much dramatic improvements can be evidently observed in the photos he has taken over the months !! Frankie suggested a meet up with other familiar friends and bloggers, and to create a mountain out of a mole, we threw in a surprise Birthday for Santa Louis !!

MEET FRANKIE from http://funkye.blogspot.com/

*click* image to see its awesomeness




Man it feels good to camwhore amongst bloggers once again !!

Frankie was one of the first few bloggers I actually got to know in Kuching, alongside with the usual partners of crime like Allen. I see a lot of myself in Frankie actually, both of us were utilizing compact cameras initially, and we believed in stretching the camera to the limit. We also have the thought that it is the photographer behind the camera that truly matters to bring out the best in the photographs, and camera is just a tool. Nevertheless, we have both exhausted our compact cameras in more ways that ordinary people would. I made the dive sooner, no thanks to that guy in Malacca, but I was encouraging Frankie to pick up a DSLR. I am really glad he finally did, and I have got to say, I do envy his shots from time to time.

CALVIN from http://domain-13.blogspot.com

and M from http://m-senses.blogspot.com/

*click* image to see its awesomeness



The meeting place was at Tarot Cafe, which was somewhere in the middle of Bormill Garden. The cafe must have been opened recently, or during the times I was away from Kuching. The concept of the place was designed based on the Tarot cards, and the menu, alongside the interior decorations sported strong sense of tarots. They literally have framed enlarged tarot cards plastered all over the walls.

There was Calvin, another fellow blogger from Kuching. A fellow old Thomian who was my senior and also another photo-kaki !! One of the person with the nicest smile I have seen in a while. He claimed that the shutter sound of Olympus E-520 is actually nice !! I think he was probably one of the very few people who said that, in opposition to Canon and Nikon shutter sounds.

Besides the usual suspect, Mike, whom I have known since secondary school days and one of the few school mates that I still keep in touch with was there too !! It was refreshing to see himself getting his blog more alive these days, and dude, you do have a blog that rocks, you just gotta keep updating it. Maybe not so often like some fanatics out there, but not once in months !!!

MIKE from http://cloudedpawn.blogspot.com/






The main event of the night was the surprise birthday celebration for Louis !! It was a simple one, but executed with much effort and thought. We got him a cake, which was hidden by the staff of the cafe. When the timing was right, we had the cake brought out, and a tradition of Birthday Song with the lit candles, being blown off after the wish was made by the birthday boy, and cake cutting right at the end. Louis was successfully surprised alright, and everyone shared the joy of the birthday boy !!

Darn Allen why oh why did you not bring your most awesomest camera???

LOUIS from http://santalouis.blogspot.com/



Photo note: Mike giving Louis an interview !!

Photographing this session was an extreme challenge. The ceiling was painted blood red, which negated the feasibility of employing the flash bounce method which I have been favoringly utilized as of late. I could not snap the pictures with no flash either, since the lighting available was too dim for my set of lenses to function adequately. Firing directly would have create a very flattened out image, and washed out colours and skin tone. I did what I could best, and though the results were less than satisfactory, but it was not entirely that bad either.

BIRTHDAY BOY LOUIS IN ACTION !!!



I intended to capture the ambient lighting in the photo, to add the feeling of warmth and fuzziness that the atmosphere of the cafe conjured. Firing flash directly would have resulted in completely dark background. I pointed the flash upwards 60-75 degrees and toned down the flash intensity/output power significantly.

I fired the flash this way with the omni bounce diffuser adapted on the external flash to just lightly kiss the light on the faces to get rid of unwanted shadows, and boost up the glow on the skin. The settings on camera was on manual, and high ISO (800 wtfffff !!!!) while the shutter speed was dragged to 1/25 seconds to gather in as much light as possible. The supposingly anticipated ideal output was natural bright background with nicely and evenly lit faces.

GOOD PEOPLE COME IN GROUPS !!


Unfortunately the attempt was nothing that successful. Overblown highlights can be observed in almost all faces, and background was nowhere bright enough. The one thing I got right was the ambient lighting on the skin, which portrayed the warmth and fuzziness !! Oh well, maybe I should explore better ways in tackling this situation in the future.

All in all, it was one great night of fun and laughter. This made me feel like I am really home.

To Louis, Happy Birthday man !! May the blessings from heaven flow your way abundantly.

Cheers mate !!


Monday, April 27, 2009

Kuching, I am Home.


Side Note: I am away from KL now, hence I am processing most photos with the laptop screen. I have been using an external 22 inch monitor which provided me with better colour accuracy and controls, hence using the laptop screen for my colour controls may not render very accurate results, or what you would normally see in my ordinary style. Do bear with the inconsistency for the time being.

It has been almost one long year since I was last spending time in my beloved hometown, Kuching, and now, I am home again. I arrived on the evening of 25th April (Saturday) and boy, do I miss home terribly !! God, it feels darn good to be back, and this time I intend to make full use of my time capturing as many shots of this awesome town I came from as I can.

BEAUTIFUL KUCHING-SCAPE


*click* image to see its awesomeness



SKY WAS BEAUTIFUL

*click* image to see its awesomeness




Time I did not waste, as the following day, the lazy Sunday was spent fully with an awesome Olympus user I have known for some time now but have not met in flesh, Brandon Eu. Another cool guy that tagged along was Methos, whom I have known through the Olympus Forum and admired his macro shots on spiders !! Together we had a quick lunch, and off to a shooting frenzy for the entire afternoon. What was the theme for the day? Since I have just got home, and being away for so long, I wanted my pictures to scream Kuching all over. Hence we went around several places to cover the scenes of this lovely Cat City !!

We started off from the DBKU building, which has a raised platform significantly higher from the ground which provided us some height advantage over a long distance landscape shooting. The sky was not awfully uninteresting, as cloud formation was rather random and traces of blue sky was apparent. The view was clear, not entirely haze free, but it was definitely more desirable for photo-captures compared to Kuala Lumpur !! The views were definitely clearer and came out really clean. Since it was rather harsh in the afternoon with very unfriendly sun, the photos turned out very contrasty and saturated in colour. This I like !!

CENTRAL AREA

*click* image to see its awesomeness




SABERKAS

*click* image to see its awesomeness




MERDEKA PALACE AND CIVIC CENTER


*click* image to see its awesomeness




Most photos I have taken at the DBKU were utilizing the 40-150mm tele zoom lens, which gave me the reach necessary to cut in the distance. As you can see in the first few pictures, the view was extremely far away, thus ordinary wide angle wont be able to reach such distance. Who says only wide angle is necessary for landscape shooting? My advise is to carry along your long lenses, you might need it to get closer to certain parts of the frame, and isolate particular details. I use tele lens for landscape shooting very often, and I find it worked very well indeed.

After the DBKU, we were hunting for a place to capture Kuching from across the river. None of the three of us were familiar with the Petra Jaya area, hence a little hunting and guessing were involved. After going about a little, we have found our desired spot, the jetty for boats which overlooked the Kuching City from the other side of the Sarawak River.

SAMPAN

*click* image to see its awesomeness




SARAWAK RIVER

*click* image to see its awesomeness




The Sampan (boats) were still operating till today, bringing passengers across the river for a mere 30-50 cents per ride. It is a common transportation mode adopted by the locals who live at nearby villages and this was definitely the fastest and economical shortcut, compared to driving one huge round to the city via land. The Sampan existence along the Sarawak River added much flavour, and uniqueness to this place. It is one old beautiful custom preserved alongside the spikes of modernization.

ACROSS THE RIVER (with 14-42mm kit lens standard)

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



At this point of photo-taking, Brandon has managed to poison me with his 7-14mm F4 Ultra Wide Angle lens, which enabled me to capture twice as much (wider) in frame compared to my 14-42mm standard kit lens. This was my first time trying out the 7-14mm, and I have to say that I was extremely thrilled by what the lens could offer me. Not only I was able to capture more in one frame, but the perspective distortion (not barrel/pin-cushion which is attributed to lens fault), if used correctly can really boost the depth of the picture. The lens itself is self-polarized, hence there was no need for an additional CPL for the graduated/balancing effect to the over-bright sky. The contrast and sharpness, compared to the kit lens, somehow just popped out evidently as described by Brandon. You can observe the stark difference in the photos I am showing in this entry, and be the judge yourself. I am in love with the 7-14mm already !!

Somebody please save me.

ACROSS THE RIVER (with 7-14mm Ultra Wide Angle lens OMGGGGGGG)

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



THE UWA FITS EVERYTHING !!!

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Note: The above three photos were taken with 7-14mm F4 UWA lens, borrowed from Brandon. Darn it Brandon, the next time I spot your 7-14 I will steal it I swear.

How better can I ever spend my first day-time in Kuching, besides photographing this beloved town with some very wonderful Olympus users, while exploring angles and perspectives that I have not tried before. Being away from so long made me appreciate this humble city even more, and see its beauty from an entirely different way. Do rest assured that this is not the end of my Kuching photo-frenzy, I shall continue snapping pictures to share with you beautiful people out there !!

The session of the day was of course ended with some drinks to quench the thirst. We all had Teh-C-Peng, while Brandon was hungry and he ordered the infamous Kolok Mee which has become the symbol of Kuching and Sarawak in some sort of way.

TEH-C-PENG on F/2.0

*click* image to see its awesomeness



KOLO MEE

*click* image to see its awesomeness




It was great being able to look to the Kuching sky again.

Anyone in Kuching? Lets look to the sky together !!

Friday, April 24, 2009

Lumix Long Exposure


Looking over the previous posts, I have been on Fashion Show overload for four consecutive entries. I think some of you might already had enough, so a little break is in order. Do not worry, I shall return with a few more remaining entries soon, but for now, lets move on to something non-fashion for a change.

For those of you who have missed out on a huge chunk from my entries, I have purchased a new RM380 compact camera from the PC Fair 2009. The camera is still very new to me, thus I took some time to familiarize myself with it.

One of the main reason why I purchased this camera was the capability in long exposure modes. The Panasonic Lumix LZ8 is capable of shooting shutter speed from the range of 1/2000 to 60 seconds. At 60 seconds, the camera can capture the sky of bright stars, which I have yet to try. Most other compact cameras, especially the ones in this budget category does not offer any control over the shutter speed at all, let alone the long exposure option. Being able to open the shutter longer than usual can provide very creative photography opportunities !!

Here are some examples. The following pictures were taken at the overhead bridge at Bandar Tasik Selatan, where I walked across every single day to and back from work.

TRAILS

*click* image to see its awesomeness
*click* image to see its awesomeness


To capture the above pictures, the following camera settings and tips are used:

1) I placed the camera on the hand railing.

I did not bring a tripod, it would be ridiculous to do so since it would defeat the mobility of using a compact camera. Hence, the flat, sturdy surface of the hand railing worked just fine in the absence of a tripod.


2) I used Manual control.

Forget Automatic, it will not work as well. If you want your camera to work for you, you have got to take control of it manually.

3) I set the F-number (aperture) to the highest possible on my camera.

Using narrow aperture (high F-number) will enable greater depth of field, meaning wider area to be in focus and sharp. For landscape shooting I want everything to be as sharp as possible. My camera's highest F-number is f/8.

4) I used the lowest ISO setting.

The lowest ISO in the LZ8 is 100, which was decent enough to minimize noise and ensure clean pictures.

5) I varied the shutter speed from 4-6 seconds.

I was abiding to the rule of 5 seconds. Of course, this depends on the brightness of the scene, and also a lot of other conditions. I adjusted by trial and error until I achieved the desired result.


6) I switched off the Image Stabilization

There is no point to use IS when you are using a tripod or resting your camera on a flat surface, since there is no movement at all. The IS mechanism will always move to compensate the non-existent movement, and this will cause the slight blur in the image captured. For non hand-held shooting, turn the IS off for sharpest image possible.

7) I set the self timer to 2 seconds.

By clicking on the shutter button, even a slight vibration from the finger would create blur on the picture. To prevent this problem, use self timer on the camera.

8) I turned off the flash.

There is no point in using flash unless you have subjects like people within a few meters away from the camera. The flash will not be able to fire that far away, thus its pointless to even use it.

9) I turned off the AF assist lamp.

Like the flash, the AF assist lamp works within a certain range of distance from the camera. When you are focusing somewhere considerably far, the AF assist lamp is useless.

10) I shot during the Golden Hour.

Most landscape and scenery pictures are at their best during the Golden Hour, which is 30-45 minutes after the sunset. At such time, the sky is not completely dark yet, but the colour appears to be more intense with traces of natural light still available.


Often people would come to me and say that it is impossible for compact cameras to do good night shots, or taking pictures in low light conditions. I do admit that compact camera has its limits, but to say that it is impossible seems a little far fetched. Same goes to some preconceptions of DSLRs being able to capture good pictures during the night. Some might go as far as needing to use the all-way ball head carbon fibre titanium alloy 6 feet tall tripod or gorilla pod or whatever alein pods out there, coupled with the wireless/wired remote control shutter release and a what not. No matter how you choose to see it, this entry serves to remind myself, and to prove that even a little humble compact camera could go a long way, if I could just put in a little more thought into it. Simplicity works, trust me.

*click* image to see its awesomeness


Photo note: The above shot was taken at full 60 seconds long exposure. The auto white balance of the camera was quite unreliable, as shown in the aberration of the colors. Nevertheless, it can be tuned in camera, but the next train was approaching already. Somehow, the off-colors seemed very dream like in a way.

All I needed and used for those shots were:

1) A cheap, budget low end compact camera, but with manual controls.

2) No tripod, just improvised by placing the camera on a flat surface.

3) A bit of understanding on how the camera works.

4) and the most important of all.. tonnes of patience.


Weekend is near.

More photos to share with you guys soon. Cheers !!

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Gardens Fashion Week: Promod and Springfield


I have been saving up for quite some time, having instant noodles and nasi lemak for dinners to get an external flash unit (flashgun, speedlight, whatever you want to call it) for my current camera. I have heard wonderful stories of how a flash unit can aid in bringing out the best in photography. I believe that there is one stretch of era for every DSLR owner to go crazy on high ISO shooting without flash, proclaiming the fact that natural lighting will always be better. I have been through that phase, and now I am slowly growing out of it.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



The flash unit I have purchased was an FL-36R, the lower end option provided by Olympus. It eats up only 2 AA batteries easily lasting me averagely 200 shots (on 2050 mAh batteries), The flash unit is relatively small and light, and capable of wireless flash control via direct communication with the camera. In addition to that, the flash can do FP flash, a term used by Olympus to describe the high sync flash with shutter speed up to 1/4000 sec. The guide number is 36 which is not terribly helpful but I guess it will have to do for now.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



I have been using the flash mostly for bounce shooting with the presence of walls and ceiling, and wireless TTL trigger for macro works (my spider and insect shots). Other than that, I usually tuck the flash away, and shoot with natural lighting. I have had a few preconceptions on how the flash may adversely affect my photography instead of improving it in certain circumstances.

And here is a list of my initial thoughts on flash photography, which in the end turned out to be myths !!!

Flash Myth 1: Flash photography creates unnatural colors and skin tone.

It is true to a certain extent that flash if not used correctly, can result in washed out colours and dreadfully displeasing looking skin tone. Often, the results would come out to be whitish, flat and very dull. Surprisingly, this was not the case for my first attempt. From the pictures, it is evident that the colours were still vibrant and alive, while the skin tone was not too badly affected at all !! The flash actually enhanced the skin tone in several areas: 1) reduce the shadows/contrast on the skin, 2) boost the brightness, as if the skin was glowing 3) added a hint of warmth, which was really desirable rather than a totally whitened out image.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness




Flash Myth 2: Using flash would create highlights and shadow clippings

Proper diffusing technique is important in this regard. I am still new to this, but so far the ciplak version of sto-fen omnibounce diffuser kit worked quite well for my flash. Only a hint of highlights can be traced from the faces (due to flash, not the spot light which was awfully harsh) and almost no deep shadows were cast at the back of the subject to create an ugly background outlining typical to directly fired flash.

Flash Myth 3: Using flash will result in dark and uninteresting background.

If you set everything in your camera to auto, yes that is probably what you will get, with your subjects being brightly lit and the background thrown off into darkness. It depends on what the photographer wants to do with the pictures, really. There are times the background is too distracting, hence darkening it by employing the flash can help pop out your subject. There are also times that we want the background to work for us, thus we need to bring it out to evoke a natural look on the photo. In my attempt, I have mixed both intentions; I still want the background to be visible to grasp the ambient mood, yet not too bright to distract my models. If you are using a manual control capable camera or a DSLR, you can surely play with the settings to get what you want in the background.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



Flash Myth 4: Do not buy cheap external flash. It is not powerful and fast enough for event shooting.

People (you both know who you are) were getting concerned that if I bought the cheapo flash instead of the other higher end one which costed twice as much, I will suffer from poor flash performance. There are two main concerns here: 1) The flash may not be powerful enough to cover a long distance, and 2) The flash may not recycle (recharge) fast enough for continuous shooting.

To answer the first of the concerns addressed, I do not see any underexposed photo during the weekend session of fashion shows, as evidently displayed here in this entry. Yes, the flash is sufficiently powerful to cover the HUGE stage, producing evenly lit and bright pictures and I was not exactly standing at the best firing range. Also bear in mind that the power of the flash has been cut down to less than half by fixing the omni bounce diffuser on it. On the other hand, I do not shoot continuously in burst mode; hence the recycle waiting time was not a concern.

The performance did not dampen my speed much, and I was shooting comfortably as if I was not using a flash. Of course an FL-50R (the higher end option) could have been performing a lot better in every regard, but I am satisfied with what I have now. Being able to achieve what I needed well enough, yet at half of the cost, I should not be complaining much.


*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



This session of Fashion Show was held at the Gardens, by Promod and Springfield. As you can see, the set up of the backdrop and stage were not as plain and as bright as the concurrent shows at Mid Valley. The ambient lighting was rather dim too, and the spot light hit directly from the front of the stage, starkly exposing the models from one heavy side. This compelled me to try using the flash, because I know I will most definitively end up with disastrous results without flash, having issues with imbalanced exposures.

Thank goodness there was the external flash unit to save the day.

The position I was shooting from for this session was not that good, and I was shooting the models from an extreme side. The ideal position would have been somewhere towards the center, facing more directly to the front of the models. Nevertheless, I was using merely entry level camera with budget lenses and accessories, who was I to stand amongst those “L” lens users who flooded the central shooting area. As they swing their lenses around I could be blown away by their forceful wind. Geez.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness



*click* image to see its awesomeness




On the whole I was quite happy with the photos, considering this was my first attempt on event photography with flash. The skin tone came out better than I initially expected, and the flash was more than adequately powerful, bright and fast. I do not quite know how to describe it, but the flash gave the models a glowing quality, a more realistic three dimensional effect. Of course, I am still very fresh to flash photography, but hey, this session has proven me wrong on so many grounds (the four aforementioned myths) and broken the restrictions I have put myself on flash usage.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



More samples on how effective the flash worked for me and the models in the coming entries !!