Sunday, November 29, 2009

Midnight Macro Hunt at Kemensah


Last night has been one of the most fulfilling and satisfying Saturday night I have had in a long, long while. Lets just cut to the chase, I went to Kemensah, a reserve forest located somewhere a few kilometers behind the Zoo Negara, in the darkness of the night, with a group of 5 wacky macro photographers, to hunt for nocturnal creatures in their habitat. No, I am not kidding here, I really did venture into the forest, and as crazy as this sounded, the experience itself, not only photography wise, but being there was quite an awesome one. The macro hunt started at 9.30pm and ended some time near to 1am, past midnight.


Why Night Hunt?

Why go through all the trouble and take all the risks going into the middle of nowhere at such ungodly hour? Is it really worth it just for a few shots and sacrificing a party for?

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness




Nocturnal creatures: there are some species of insects which are only active at night, and will not be able to found during day time. Such as spiders, many will come out hunting for preys at night, and since they get more active at night, it is in fact, easier to find them in the dark.

Natural Habitat: Usually more interesting subjects, especially larger and colourful ones can be found only in undisturbed forest, or areas near to it. Since KL is already turning the green into concrete in every single corner, finding this place in Kemensah does seem like heaven for us, macro shooters. There are still many cool stuff happening in this near natural place.

Jungle Trekking/Hiking: Instead of just macro shooting, we were walking deep into the jungle. This is like multitasking (old boys call it killing two birds with one stone), while having our shutter action, we did some outdoor activities as well, deep in the jungle.

Night Fun: There is just something about doing anything at all in the night that amplifies the fun factor. The thrill of not knowing what is lying in the next few meters ahead of us, since it was totally dark in the jungle, just made the entire session more exciting.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



The Essentials

We armed ourselves with the following items, getting ready for the hunt:

1) Insect repellent: This is extremely important to ward off the mosquitoes and unwanted blood sucking bugs, and I did not have one with me but just leeched some off from the other guys there. Whatever they had, it was damned effective, I did not even have a single mosquito bite.

2) Torchlight: We were storming into a real jungle here, though just staying safely on the main walking path/track, but it was totally pitch dark in there. Hence, earlier in the afternoon, Amstrong and I went to Jalan Pasar to get ourselves some compact, light, yet super bright and powerful LED white torchlight. The torchlight served for three purposes: to enable our vision at night through the darkness of the jungle; to locate those tiny macro subjects around the bushes, branches and leaves; and also, ultimately as an AF assist to illuminate the subjects in order for our cameras to focus under such dim light.

3) Camera set up: I mounted the torchlight onto my external flash by using cello tape (yes I am cheap) and held the flash with the torchlight on top with my left hand, while having the camera on my right. I have three things going on with two hands, torchlight, flash, and camera. Not bad eh? I shall elaborate this further in the coming section.

4)Courage, lots and lots of courage. Now how many people would do this just for the sake of macro? Yes I know I am crazy.

5) Oh, and pepper spray and tazer guns for protection. Ok, kidding.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Night Macro

So how is shooting macro at night any different than shooting macro during day time? In my case, I would say, technically there is no difference at all !! My macro shooting set up which I have devised remains the same for shooting under low light conditions, hence there was no modifications needed from my usual pratise so far. I shall not go into detail about my camera and gear setup, if you have missed my previous write up on macro, or eager to find out, please feel free to read it here.

In short, I was holding the flash with the torchlight on my left hand, while the camera on my right. the torchlight was mounted directly on top of my flash, which was really convenient, because I can point the flash anywhere I want without the camera getting in the way, and as I see the subject through my camera's viewfinder, if it is properly illuminated with the LED bulb from the torchlight, it means my flash was pointing to the right direction. As I have confirmed the focus, the shutter button was clicked and the flash fired through the omni bounce diffuser should be able to cover my subject. Not much trick here, but I am used to shooting my macro single handedly while holding my flash being fired wireless off camera, it is not easy I admit but after a few round of trials, it became easier and easier to operate.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: Spider Molting, a process of hibernation, and changing skin. Only can be seen at night. the entire process of molting takes around 30 minutes.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: Try counting how many spiderlings there were !!


The advantage of this method is having the light come from any direction you wish since it is off camera, and you do have some control over the lighting. Nonetheless, this would render the light coming strongly from one direction, and casting very deep shadow on the other. Since it was at night, it did not help at all since there was no ambient light to balance off the flash source of light, and well, in fact the flash is the only source of light.

Common camera settings are as follows:

ISO 100-200 (minimize noise)
Shutter Speed 1/160 seconds (to freeze any hand shake, since I was shooting single-handedly)
Aperture F/14-16 (to maximize the depth of field, so more zone can be fitted in sharp focus)
Auto White-Balance
Wireless Flash TTL -0.7 to 1.3 EV, fired off camera, diffused by Omni Bounce

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



A lot of macro photography tips suggested the use of tripods, or monopods to aid in steadying the shots and having better focus accuracy, especially shooting at higher level of magnifications. I find this suggestion a little on the non-practical side, since the insects were all hiding in most ungodly places, under the leaves, behind a branch, in a hole, anywhere !! You would have to bend your body in postures and ways that you never knew you would be able to possibly do, not even your yoga classes can help you in this part. I found out that shooting free handedly was the best solution, and you get to train your body flexibility while you are at it. Not a bad deal, right ?

So what do I think about this macro session? Firstly, I have to say that this was the most adventurous, and most daring macro outing yet, I have done. The thrill and fun factor were many folds compared to my usual ordinary macro hunt around the park. I managed to find some really, really really cool insects and spiders, a lot which I have even seen before in my life.

Special thanks to Sifu Red for organizing this trip, and leading us throughout the whole journey. His guidance and tips in macro photography as well as his collection of macro works have been very helpful, and inspiring.

*click* image to see its awesomeness



So yeah, there I was, having my Saturday night, and who needs to go club and consume those pointless amount of alcohol just to drown your sorrow and waste your life away?

Macro photography is a waaaaaay better drug than all that.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Unknown Streets


Back in my old days, when I do have free time, which was plentiful long time ago, I would make a spontaneous exploration on my own to any random places in Perth. I would take a train or bus to one sub-urb I have not been to, and made my tour around the place on foot, hoping to find something interesting. Most of the time the things I have found did not dissapoint, and I love to go to different places and see different things, even if it means those far corners which i have not encountered just yet. Of course, one would defend the fact that KL is not exactly tourist friendly in terms of safety, and walking around alone is strongly discouraged. Nonetheless, I have been here for more than a year now, and I think it is time, to pick up some old habits of mine.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: Ultra Wide Angle emulation from stitching panorama shots using a software. Not too bad, but not even close to the real thing.


I woke up later than usual on this Godsent holiday, and it was already after noon when I made my way out of the house with my gears. I purposely walked the path in the city which I have not taken before, and by doing so I was hoping to end up in places which would yield me some really interesting photographs. I was not exactly sure what I wanted to photograph on this particular session, but I did have some experiments which I wanted to do in mind. Instead of planning everything and following the plan all the time, I just went with the flow and capture whatever sparked my interest as I went along this really random journey. I must say, there were many interesting places which I never knew existed, though I have been here in this concrete jungle for quite some time already.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: Found some street art going on the temporary partition walls, which reminded me of some really cool graffiti shots Brandon took in Melbourne.


One of the said experimentations I had in mind was to improve my panorama shots. instead of shooting wide open, I have zoomed in to 18mm (widest is 14mm on my standard kit lens) and this would result in more efficient stitching and less distortions. However, when I was doing the stitching on my computer, I thought what the heck, why not add some exaggeration on the perspectives, and try to emulate the effects which one could only achieve with an ultra wide angle lens? A lot of people, especially those technical junkies from the God-forbidden forum members would scream till cows drop dead about the technical faults of the photograph concerning architecture and building shots, and how they should be perfectly vertical and not having even the slightest distortion at all. I for one do not care about those pointless laments. Yes, technically the photographs have faults, but I am not striving for technical excellence here. The true form of art is to appreciate the flaws and turn the weaknesses into something beautiful. This, is harder to achieve, rather than just empty cans banging loud noises.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness




During my random walking around, I have stumbled upon this interesting place called Cap Square. The place seems to be deserted during the day time, and by the looks of it, should be quite happening at night. There were several line-ups of clubs and the stench of smoke and alcohol were evident even on the streets. There was also residential area in the district, and security guards were everywhere, patrolling all over the place. Photography is restricted, for security reasons I suppose, but I did not intend to leave the place empty handed. When no one was looking, I got my shutter running. When i detect the guard approaching, I made my move. I got to say it was too bad though, because the place seems to have a lot of interesting subjects for me to play with. I just made the best of what opportunities I had, and made my run before the guards even had a chance of closing in to me.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: There was a street performance just outside Pavilion. Oh and the poor kid, he must have tasted the sting of boredom.


I intended to walk until sunset, and capture the intense sun rays on the buildings during the times approaching golden hour. As always, luck is never on my side. It rained later in the afternoon, and I took shelter in the Pavilion KL, doing some pointless window shopping while drying my sweat drenched shirt in the air-condition. Just as the rain has cleared it was already dark outside, and there was no sunset time for me to play with my camera. What a bummer !!!

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: For those of you who forgot how I look like, here is one photo of me taken by Frederick last week.


Not satisfied with what I had so far, I continued my shooting session outside, just in front of Pavilion. There were already some very nice Christmas decors and exhibits being displayed but like any other nice places in Malaysia, it was flooded with vultures. So many people flocked the entire area that I think the colony of ants would be outnumbered. Then I heard a street performer playing something really catchy nearby, and so I went on and took some snaps. It was truly awesome, being gathered in a lively crowd on a Friday night, listening to cool live performance under the chilly, moist after-rain atmosphere. I did not use the flash, but simply bumped up the ISO to gather the surrounding lights, which was not very good, and I did not really liked the overall colour turn out. Noise is another issue, but lets just skip this very boring part.

So yeah, that was a great start for this rare, long weekend. I am anticipating more interesting shutter therapy sessions.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

I've Got Wings


I have got wings, but tell me why am I still on the ground?



I am starting to get tired of looking to the sky all this time. And I think the sky is getting bored of waiting too.

I need to lift off, somehow. Anyhow.

I will do what it takes till I touch the sky.

Monday, November 23, 2009

The Sleepy Weekends


I have not been blogging faithfully here, have I? A lot have happened recently and I do not have much time to sit back and digest all the details just yet. Tonight as I type down this entry, is the first one I have to actually sit down and just blast my stereo, sipping down my iced milo away, out of many nights of work obligations as well as off-work activities. My weekend itself has been one heck of a busy one, but turned out to be rather fruitful in many ways. So yeah, here I am, glad to finally be able to catch my breath just for a few ticks.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness




On Saturday I had a chance to witness and photograph a Portugese Wedding ceremony happening in Malacca. Yes, I know I was there a couple of weeks ago, and there I was again two days ago. Some people started to call me a Malacca-freak. This time I was actually helping a friend out on his wedding photoshoot, so not entirely a holiday for me, but I had to drag my huge heavy ass out for a full day shooting. The couple has kindly requested not to publish their photographs online, so to honour that I shall only include side-photographs which do not show any face or people in particular.

It was also an unfortunate case for me to skip an Olympus E-System Gathering which was happening at the very same Saturday. David Chua was the invited speaker, and I was looking forward to the event and started making my RSVP immediately once the announcement was made online. Nonetheless I had to cancel that, and there goes all the free food and the chance to play with the new Olympus PEN E-P2 which is the latest addition to the line-up of Micro FourThirds bodies from Olympus. This was also the first time I have skipped a gathering organized by Olympus Malaysia.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: Man, I so blardy need an Ultra Wide Angle.

One door closed, another one will open, and sure enough I have gained more from my presence in the Portugese Wedding ceremony. It was quite refreshing photographing something other than just the ordinary Chinese Wedding. The couple were Catholics, and the church ceremony was held at St Peter’s Church, one of the oldest churches in Malaysia (built in 1710). If I had more time I would have done my currently obsessed panorama shots of the church building and its awesome interiors. It was my first visit to the historical church, and also, my first attendance to a Catholic wedding.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



It was quite interesting to witness a Catholic wedding ceremony. The whole arrangement of events was very similar to what we call the order of Liturgy back in my home church, St Thomas, which is the Anglican. The prayers were similar, and the most interesting of all, the Eucharistic prayers leading to the communion were astonishingly identical !! However, I do feel that the lack of a real church organ kills off the mood somehow, considering the mass was held in an ancient church, a herritage property of Malacca. Nonetheless, the similarity somehow brought tiny drops of nostalgic tears to me, because I somehow miss my home church, very, very much.

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness

*click* image to see its awesomeness



Photo Note: The Wedding photographer, Frederick with Olympus E-System.

So there it was, a weekend that I originally intended for so many other reasons and purposes, but for unknown certainties I ended up in Malacca. Who says I cannot have my shutter therapy while I was on a photography assignment? If you love what you do, you do it with all your heart. And you will find joy in it, because it is what defines who you are.

So the question now is, who am I? Oh dear, it is getting a little early to have a mid-life crisis, is it not?