Sunday, August 30, 2009

Dignity


Side Note: I have been away for the long weekend, will be back with more updates, and definitely tonnes of pictures for you beautiful guys out there.

Here is just a record of an interesting conversation that happened earlier. I chanced upon a young boy who was a nephew of a friend I do know, and he is just in Form 4 this year. He is schooling in Muar, but somehow, for some unexplained bizare reasons, he has heard of my old school, St Thomas, all the way across the South China Sea in Kuching !!! He even knew my school was established in 1848, and commented that my school was well reputed, being crowned as the Sekolah Cemerlang a couple of years ago.

For a moment there, I got stunned. Like for 10 seconds. Or maybe more.

Somehow, the Thomian spirit in me started to ignite again. Something stirred in me. Little did I know that the school has come a long way since my days of dominance back then.

To all Thomians who happened to stumble on this blog, you should learn to love your school even more, and make the best out of your time there. I certainly had a great time there, and now, I am missing every single bit of it. It is refreshing to find this newfound admiration, and respect from even the people that I have just recently met.

In days of old, our founder's set,
Light on McDougall Hill...
Since then its spread and God has blessed,
That Light to burn on still....

Yes, the light is still burning in me. Do you guys (Thomians) still remember that song? I still got it in my head. almost every bit

Once a Thomian, always a Thomian. I am carrying that mark with me now wherever I go.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Century Egg


This is one case of love it, or hate it scenario, but I am finding myself deeply in love with the century egg lately. I have not had much of those high cholesterol unhealthy preserved eggs when I was young, probably because it was not amongst the favourite family food. I finally rediscovered the unique taste and texture of the century egg being served abundantly as the toppings for the irresistible porridge at any dim sum places back in Perth. It goes reaaaaallly well with porridge I tell you.

*click* image to see its awesomeness




No, do not worry, I am not overstuffing myself with the century egg. I found quite a generous portion being served as a part of a rice box set from this Taiwanese food chain at Times Square. I do find the box set quite interesting, though a little pricey for my usual expenditure for food on ordinary days. I heard their oyster mee suah is really good. Will definitely give it a try some time soon.

*click* image to see its awesomeness




It does seem that I have not fully utilized my kit lens, 14-42mm for quite some time already. Chong, an avid food photographer has recently inspired me on going fully wide angle on my shots. So I tried out taking the photo of food at widest angle 14mm, and boy, the photo came out really great !!

Weekend is coming soon. It is a long one, and I intend to make full use of it. Can't wait already !!

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Panorama Project BEGINS


There has been quite an extensive hoos and haas about the HDR (high dymanic range) photography amongst the shutterbugs, and it does seem like everyone has been overly crazy about it. The photoraphy magazines have shed many techniques, on field and in the digital darkroom on getting that awesome multiple-exposure merged photographs. I do admit I find some HDR photos really astounding, but seriuosly, guys, I believe HDR is overrated. Sorry for not sharing the enthusiasm, but that is my honest opinion, and I am not going to tag along the crowd with this buzz, not just yet.

However, it suddenly came to my mind after thinking about two things. First: being the afore-mentioned photo-merging and stiching technique, and second: my recent craving for wide angle photography. I do love the idea of stiching and merging multiple photographs, though I am not so into HDR. On the other hand, I am extremely insane about getting a very wide shot. Now, panorama rings in my mind so loud that I could not help it but started getting the camera out from the bag and made something happen.

Panorama, for those of you who might not be so camera literate, is a technique of stiching more than one image together to form a wider view. Typically, the ordinary panorama consists of two or three photos beings merged together for a looooong, wide, horizontal view. That is ordinary. But why stay ordinary when current photo-editing software allows you to stitch as many photographs as possible? The only limiting factors would be your computer processing power, and of course, your own free time.

Being overly eager, I made my first attempt in my own room. Sorry, I know this is a poor choice, but it was at night already and my hand just got so itchy. I was lazy to go out, so yeah.

PANORAMA ON MY ROOM



STANDARD LENS WIDE ANGLE END





Come on, I know many of you want to see how Robin's room look like so badly. So here you go. It is pretty messy i know, but hey, if it is overly tidy and neat and squeaky clean, something must be wrong with me right?

In order to produce a panorama photograph, a few things must be considered, and I shall list them down as follows:

1) I took as many photographs as I can for stitching, and allow overlapping of 30% or more between photographs. For the above shot, I took 34 photographs. I kid you not. THIRTY FOUR photographs and they were stitched to form the super wide angle view, nearly 180 degrees. I was sitting on the bed, and my back was pressed on the wall/window behind me.

2) I adopted Manual Exposure settings and this is very crucial to maintain brightness and shadow consistencies. You do not want one part of the photograph dark, and the other bright, and it would be hard to stitch differently exposed photographs together. I shot at shutter speed 20 seconds, F/3.5, 14mm, ISO800.

3) I used Manual White Balance control to maintain colour consistency. Of course, under indoor flourescent lighting, White Balance of the camera could get tricky. Use the manual white balance control if the camera allows you to.

4) This is an important point, and I made sure the camera is leveled !! I did not use the tripod, but positioned the camera as horizontally flat as possible, to minimize perspective shifting in the photograph.

I know this will never replace a true ultra wide angle lens, but the technique could come in handy, provided the subjects are not moving, and time is not a restriction. Gosh, I am so eager to try this out this weekend already. Scenery shots will never be the same again, with panorama in head.

So what do you guys think of the room? I know its boring, but hey, it is my little crib, and I love it.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Baby Mantis


It has been more than a month now since I last touched the macro lens, and suddenly the macro itch returns. I woke up to a rainy Saturday afternoon, and that did not stop me from going out to grab myself some macro action.

WHITENESS

*click* image to see its awesomeness



I went to the Lake Gardens under slight drizzle, and was happily hunting for anything macro. My obsession with dragonflies has come to an end, and now I am very intrigued with something else: Praying Mantis !! This could possibly be due to the fact that Mantis is not that easily found, at least not around the parks in KL. I have not been a regular visitor to the jungles, since I am usually on my own during my macro hunts. Dragonflies are everywhere, hence it was quite easy finding them, but mantis are just not that readily available. Their native green camouflage did not help in spotting them amongst the lush green bushes.

BABY MANTIS

*click* image to see its awesomeness



I found a few Mantis alright, and the smaller ones were just plain cute. Thanks to my macro lens I can have enough magnification power to fill up the frame. The smaller ones were less shy and would daringly come displaying themselves proudly out in the open. I initially thought they were red ants, since the colour and size are rather similar to red ants. Closer inspection reveals the front legs being longer and folded in "praying" manner. I was really hoping to find them hunting for smaller insects or eating something, but luck was not on my side today.

GREEN WITH PRAYERS

*click* image to see its awesomeness



The larger adult mantis was quite a scare. The alien shaped head staring at you wherever direction you move yourself to was very alarming. The motion of the legs swaying left and right, signalling the possibility of it jumping on you, perhaps an anticipation of attack was not something I was very comfortable with. Nonetheless, I tried getting as close as I dared to, and I swear if I moved my lens a bit nearer it would have been chopped into pieced by those sharp looking claw-like front legs of the mantis. Thankfully nothing overly dramatic happened, and after a couple of minutes, I think the Mantis started to realize that I was just an ordinary boy who is a little bit crazy about macro, thats all.

OLD FRIEND

*click* image to see its awesomeness



As I was hunting for more Mantis, i did come across some old familiar faces, such as the spider above. Since I did not find that many more insects nearby, I just snapped this.

On the photography note, I did not try anything new this time, but sticking to my constant formula of firing the shots single handedly, with the other hand holding the flash off camera being controlled wirelessly. Narrow aperture was engaged (F10-F14) to maximize the depth of field, and all shots were performed with manual focus. Since the source of light comes from single flash being fired from one direction, the shadows are apparent from the other side of the subject, and the light was not very evenly distributed. Nonetheless, the advantage of this setup is clear, adeduate light managed to cover the subject, just that I need to work and improve on my diffusing and light spreading technique further.

For macro hunters out there, do you guys have any idea where I can find more Mantis? I would think that Mantis is easier to locate anywhere in Kuching. Do share some tips guys.

Friday, August 21, 2009

In the Rain


Side Note: All photographs in this entry were taken with Panasonic Lumix DMC-LZ8

I got off work early today to settle an important errand for a friend. After completing the task, I saw the moody sunset over the sky, and suddenly my hand got itchy. I did not have my Olympus DSLR with me at the time, but I have made a point to carry my Lumix wheever I go to. Since it has been quite a while since I last put the cute Lumix to use, and I was aching to snap some pictures, I decided to take a stroll along the nearby streets.

NOT TO FAR FROM THE CITY CENTER



GREEN LIGHT



If you have seen a guy somewhere in the city today standing ridiculously close to the traffic light and pointed his Lumix at the green light, you know you have found the outrageously shameless intrepid photographer wannabe: simplyrobin !! If you wonder if he has still got his sanity intact, I assure you, sometimes he wonders the same too.

VIEWS FROM THE STREETS



No thanks to Brandon Eu, I also suddenly look at buildings differently these days. Unfortunately the compact camera does not offer much of a wide angle option to create dramatic scenes and landscapes. Nonetheless, it was enough to cover the necessary scope for a decent photograph. Although it was cloudy, I do like how the colour turned out on the buildings.

HIDDEN LIVES



I walked along the Dataran Merdeka area, and goodness gracious it suddenly rained like there was no tomorrow. I rushed to the nearby shelter, and found a few little kittens hiding from the rain as well !! I had to use flash since it was almost pitch dark under the shadows. I somehow adore the spontaneity of the shot. Were the kittens hiding from the rain, or from me?

STREETS IN THE RAIN



The rain gradually cleared off, but disappointingly the sunset/golden hour period was already nearly gone, and I had lost the best opportunity to capture dramatic shots. Since I was already there, I just continued shooting and did what I could do. I originally did not intend to take night photos that involved long time exposures, hence I did some quick handheld shots to capture the building and street lights. I had to bump up the ISO to 400 for the above shots.

DATARAN MERDEKA VIEWS



Shooting at high ISO on a compact yielded undesirable photo outcome. The details are sacrificed for brightness, and the photos just did not come out good. Not feeling satisfied, I scouted around for a flat, elevated surface as substitute for a tripod for the camera to rest on to enable me to use long shutter speed. Many of you know that I love long time exposure, and I have not done so for a long, long time. The results with long exposure technique came out significantly more awesome in comparison to the handheld high ISO shots.

HIGH ISO



The Lumix may be just a compact, but it offers ISO sensitivity up to 6400 (INSANE). The only way to engage the high ISO shooting was to use the preset scene mode, which was the high sensitivity shooting. The camera automatically decided on the suitable high ISO setting, and I just want to see how far the camera could go. At ISO1600 and ISO2500, the photos are barely useable by any standards. Nevertheless, they are still photographs, and though the noise level is unbearable and the entire photo looks blotchy, you can still see whats in the photo, and this can come in handy when you just want to record the scene regardless of the quality.

SIGNS



I know I can hear a few sighs here and there. I have a DSLR, and my talents are wasted on a compact camera. But hey, look at it this way, KL is not exactly a safe place to walk around with that huge camera by my lonesome self, and I have already had a traumatic experience a year ago, which I shall not mention again. Being me, I have this constant itch that needs to be scratched. A camera is the only solution, big or small, DSLR or compact, as long as I have one with manual controls, I am happy. Heck, if I was attacked by any random jerk at the roadside, I would not hesitate to use this lumix to smash his skull into pieces. Holding in so much pain after the traumatic experience, you have no idea how much brute force I can release if I ever encounter anything similar.

Weekend is here. Shutter therapy has already begun. Lets hope it will be a good one.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Thai and Salsa


So there was the KLPF 2009 craze happening over the weekend, but it was not the only thing I was looking forward to. Fellow blogger M, from m-senses.blogspot.com came to KL from Kuching over the weekend, to attend for her convocation which would be held on the following Monday. Calvin from domain-13.blogspot.com came along with her, and we have planned for a meet-up session on last Saturday night.

THE DESERT THAT ARRIVED BEFORE THE MAIN DISH

*click* image to see its awesomeness




Right after my entire afternoon session at KLPF, I flew from Mid Valley to Times Square and battled through millions of vultures in KTM and Monorail along the way. I arrived at Times Square rather early, probably early 6-ish. Hence I made my stop at Borders, grabbed myself a book and found myself a nice couch to lay my ass upon. The book was written by some bugger who has too much time at hand, researching in astonishing detail on the old testament regarding Kind David and his significance to the biblical history.

TOM YUM SOUP WITH PRAWNS

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



The book did entertain me, but only to a certain degree. The really chilly air, with the soft sofa I was sitting on, listening to soothing music did not help the state of the physical exhaustion I was in being out since 1030am in the morning. I skipped lunch, because I thought there were a few friends whom I would meet up and have lunch with but they all have eaten already upon arrival. My mind started to switch itself to semi-conscious mode, and I must have fallen a sleep for a couple of minutes before the security guard tapped my chair and said to me “Are you OK?”. I nearly junped to the ceiling, but I responded to him that I was fine, with a smile. He was just doing his job making sure no one was passing out in the bookshop I guess. Gosh I must be getting old already. Half a day and I was almost gone.

THAI FRIED SPAGHETTI

*click* image to see its awesomeness



PINEAPPLE RICE

*click* image to see its awesomeness



ANOTHER VIEW OF THE PRAWN

*click* image to see its awesomeness




So I managed to kill the 2 hours and finally met M and Calvin up for a lovely dinner at Very Thai. The restaurant was situated at lower ground of Times Square, by the name of it you could have easily guessed the food they were serving there. I have been obsessed with Indian, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Italian, and even American food, but never Thai. I do love Thai food, and it has been quite a long while since I last had a good Thai feast. Therefore, the idea itself was very enticing from the beginning, and to have a meal of super sizzling hot and spicy food, I guess it was worth skipping lunch for.

M and CALVIN

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Check out Calvin's teary eyes !!

Calvin had Chilli Chicken with rice, M had Pineapple Rice, and I had Thai Fried Spaghetti. We also ordered River Prawn in Tom Yum soup. I personally loved the taste of the soup, but like what M has noted it was a tad too salty to wash down by itself. Served with plain rice, the soup would be fantastic. The prawns were huge, and quite fresh too, though we could have gotten fresher prawns at seafood specialist restaurants. I did find the soup very hot, but it was well within my safe limit of tolerance for spicy food. Not to forget, my spaghetti tasted similar to Pad Thai, and I believe the same ingredients and method of preparation were used in the dish while substituting the phad thai noodles with Spaghetti instead. M questioned my choice of spaghetti, since we were having Thai food, but I was curious on how they bring out the Thai goodness in western noodles. They did well, I’d say.

SALSA HAVANA

*click* image to see its awesomeness





CAMWHORING BEGINS

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



After dinner, we had another activity planned out for the evening to roll things off. We were going to check out the one and only Salsa Dancing Club in the whole of Malaysia: Salsa Havana. The club was situated at Federal Hotel at Bukit Bintang, and we arrived rather too early. Calvin bought us some drinks to start the night, and since there were not that many people around yet, we took the chance to camwhore before the crowd starts to flood in the place.

CALVIN, ME and OLLIE

*click* image to see its awesomeness




Though Salsa is not something I have not seen before, but it was the first time seeing a Malaysian club blasting not some lousy R&B beats or that Ah Beng Techno music, but really sassy and sexy tunes of Salsa. The scary part was witnessing how well the crowd could dance, and every one of them was well versed with Salsa or similarly themed dances. My legs were not made for much besides walking and chasing balls during tennis. No, I do not dance, and I do not intend on taking dance classes. But being there and just enjoying the atmosphere was one pleasurable way to finish off a hectic day. All I had to do was to sit back, relax, watch those sexy moves and have a sip of my non alcoholic drink.

It was one packed weekend. But I had a great time.

Oh no I think I might start to have Thai food cravings soon.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

KLPF 2009


It has been a year already since I attended the previous Kuala Lumpur Photography Festival 2008, and it only felt like a couple of months ago. This years KLPF 2009 was loudly advertised, and many of photo-enthusiasts like me and from many corners of Malaysia really looked forward to this and came flocking the event venue. This time it was held at the Mid Valley Exhibition Center. I went with my partner in crime for KLPF since last year, Darryl.

Here is a photo of Darryl and the monster Nikon he was sampling.




I went to the KLPF with a few objectives in mind. First and most obvious reason was to snap the photos of chicks on stage doing their "thang" for the Fujifilm Model Shoot-out contest. No I was not there to participate in the contest, was just there for the heck of it. The second onjective was to catch up with some friends, mostly photo-kakis who would happen to gather there since KLPF is indeed the largest photography event in Malaysia. Last objective was to hunt for a cheap third party spare battery pack for my Olympus E-520. I have recently getting more involved in event coverage and wedding sessions, hence a single battery on my current camera body does seem to have its limitations, though I can comfortably shoot more than 1000 shots in a single charge. Another battery is indeed necessary.



I have arrived at the event even before the main gate to the halls were open. Thanks Chong who generously fetched me from my place all the way to Mid Valley. Much appreication to the "adherence" to Malaysian time, like many other frustrated photo-enthusiasts out there we were waiting dreadfully for almost an hour before the opening ceremony was completed, and the outsiders being allowed into the exhibition halls. I made a quick stroll around, and found almost all the expected brands and manufacturers to be present. Olympus was as anticipated, pushing the E-P1 rather aggresively to the crowd, and it was refreshing to see Canon and Nikon users paying the Olympus booth a visit to have a taste of the new breed of Camera system. There were Sigma, Tamron and Tokina booths, all being third party lenses that cater for the poor souls like me who cannot always afford the original brand lenses and accesories. On the surprising account though, Sony did not make an appearance. I was quite taken aback because we have all known Sony to be very ferocious when it comes to marketing. Not participating here in this largest photography event of the year does raise some eyebrows.

Could there be something wrong between Sony and the photography societies of Malaysia?



After much browsing around, I finally decided to hunt for my third mission, the battery before the crowd gets overly crazy and flooded every single available space in the hall. I found Shashinki, which has become famous being the first and largest online store for photography equipments. The price for the third party BLM-1 battery I was looking for was RM79 online, but it was offered RM60 after some bargaining, and I thought it was a pretty good deal !! I instantly grabbed it off the shelf and paid, and voila, one of my missions was successfully accomplished in such a brisk. I even managed to tell Chun Chow who came a little later in the afternoon, and he too, made a purchase of the battery for himself. I know there is a high risk using third party batteries, but I have heard good testimonies about this particular one, so I was not too concerned.



Throughout the whole afternoon, I managed to catch up with a few buddies. Besides meeting some people from the common forum the Olympus users used to hang out at, I also bumped into some people I used to go out for shooting before. There were Ryan, Kim Fei, Ser, Hao, Brian, Darryl, and of course, Chun Chow. I was actually expecting to meet more people there, but some friends cancelled their trip to KL, and some decided to make it there on Sunday instead. Nonetheless, it was nice seeing so many people gathering in one place and being crazy about one of the most celebrated human art: photography.

Since one of the main agenda of the day was the Fujifilm model shootout, Darryl and I positioned ourselves auspiciously at the far front of the stage an hour before the session started. During that one hour gap, there were some talks on Ricoh and Olympus E-P1 being given to the public. As it went closer and closer to 3pm when the model shootout session was supposed to take off, you can practically feel the entire main stage area being flooded with cameras of all sizes and shapes. There were so many people, all armed with DSLR cameras that you would think every single person in KL owns a DSLR. If the price of the entry-level DSLR keeps dropping at any rate, I believe that afore-mentioned statement could come true very soon. It was indeed a wise move to prepare ourselves early and booked ourselves decent shooting spots. Else, it would have been like last year, in a situation I was standing three or four rows behind the main stage, being blocked by all sorts of distractions, elbows, flash units, heads, spiky hairs, you name it. Luckily that was totally not the case this time around.



I do think the stage setup is a little awkward. I believe the organizers tried to spread the hotspots of model posing locations to several places, and not concentrated on one end, like the usual catwalk arrangements that comes to one final stop where all photographers would focus on. The stage was quite a long one, and the hotspots were placed at two to three different places. I was targeting the area where the models had the box to sit on and do all sorts of crazy poses, instead of the other end where they do some mandatory yet boringly conventional end of the runway poses. Of course, there are advantages and disadvantages of choosing either spots, and varying kind of shots being able to obtain, but the point here was, I have got to choose one spot and I think the one I was at was not too bad at all.




The stage lighting was actually bright enough for shooting up to ISO400 without employing the flash. I did use the flash after all this time, to fill in the shadowy areas and to add the catch-light sparkling effect on the models' eyes. By staying within the limit of ISO400, I managed to achieve very minimal noise, and this helped heaps in producing cleaner images, in comparison to what I had last year when all my shots were taken at ISO800. Also, white balance has become quite an issue with the strong tungsten cast spot lights hitting harshly on the models, but a little post processing was performed to bring back the original faithful Olympus colours and pleasing skin tones. The lighting may be uneven and very harsh, but if you set your metering and exposures correctly with the aid of flash, I do believe the photos would turn out alright.



The common camera settings for most of shots would be: Shutter speed 1/80-1/160 seconds, Aperture F3.5-4.5, ISO 400, TTL-Flash -0.3 EV to +0.3 EV, pointed up 90 degrees, with my ciplak stofen-omnibounce diffuser adapted on the flash unit.



In comparison with my previous attempt, I believe I have improved a little, in terms of timing, and knowing what to shoot selectively. Previously I just shot as many photos as possible, and worrying at the same time on having limited space on my CF card. This time, I barely even finished a 2GB card, and still managed to snapped more usable photos than previously. I have worked out more on waiting for the models to pose and preparing my camera and plan my shots more carefully, instead of just random shutter clicking hoping to get the right shot amongst many clicks. Of course, the flash also helped heaps. There were also more interesting captures this time, for example the shot with strong backlit effect by the spotlight, and also one shot where the model was being lit by another photographer's flash being fired from the side, creating a very studio like appearance that added the 3 dimensional feel to the model.




There were of course limitations. I used a tele-photo lens, which was not exactly ideal being where I was positioned so near to the stage. Most of the time I could not fit the full body view, hence I had to cut off the models. There were also times I accidentally cut off parts of the body unintended, creating a mess in composition. The tight view provided by the zoom tele-lens was not very desirable in this regard. Nonetheless, I did what I could, and salvage whatever I can.


I sure had a blast at KLPF 2009.

Did any of you guys go to KLPF too? Do tell your stories.