November 22, 2010

Travel Gear

At the beginning of the blog I have posted that for me, and perhaps for most of photographers, gear choice for a photography trip is always a tough call, one that usually did not get done until you really have to leave for airport. No exception for this Nepali trip, and as usual, I packed a lot, in fact more than I need. But I made such a decision determined that I will carry those weight, and not to complain, and I did not.
After the early morning treck to Sarankot, I was a little tired so again, I got myself a little nap in the bus.  Returned back to our home at Pokhara, the beautiful Fulbari Resort & Spa, we went directly to the breakfast, filled up my hungry stomack.  It will be a few hours before the afternoon program to Phewa Lake, we will have good rest and an easy buffet lunch at the hotel, so we all retire back to room.  I back-up the images to my hard drive, and made some arrangement of the data, and clean up gear.  I have a room for myself, spacious, so I was able to give a total check up of the gears - also, it is closing to the end of trip, so I just want to have an overall look at the condition of the gears I carried for this trip. So I put everything on the room floor, close by the window, to give them a breath. Also to take this shot, with GF-1.
These cameras, lenses, computer and accessories all packed into 1 LowePro backpack, one Pelican 1510 Case (my favorite), a Tenba Lens Trunk for the large Leica and one Victorinox pullman I used for years.  It is true I have more than averaged share of gears, but except some of the latest ones, I in fact take care my gear well, many of them servicved me for well over 10 years, and some even close to 20 years.  So as the backpack, Pelican case and Tenba, which all served over 10 years.  And this is what I would suggest the photographers to stay with your carrying back as long as you can, because you can develop a way of packing your gear in the same bag and also by familiar with your bag, it is not just easy to find you gear efficiently, you can also find anything missing or something wrong quickly.
But is it suggested to carry these many for a trip, certainbly no!  I can easily shoot most of the shots with much less gear, but however, with the available gear with me, in fact I use all of them.
Here is a video clip using Panasonic GF-1 to scan through the gears I carried for this trip.

November 13, 2010

More on Sarankot

Along the small strack in the descent, small Nepali households scattered around, and my GF-1 is firing almost non-stop.
Colors after colors flying through my eyes, registered by the GF-1.  And this is what I would suggest people who travel for photograph - "don't limit yourself".  Carefully with your tool, and frame your subject, and you can turn almost anything into interesting subjects, at least it is to me.  For example this one, perhpas of no sigfinicance whatsoever, but the angle of sun light and shadow, the color of the wall, the open door, the door mate....compose a nice image to me and something to display a typical Nepali house in the Sarankot area.
Another example here also make on the door step except this time with the picture titled so the image looks a little more interesting besides it lighting and color elements.
Here is a snap shot on the locally woven tapestry sold along the track, among many other little vendors. I am not typically a tapestry collector but these to me represent the colors of local.
A Nepali woman busy with her tapestry, may be buisness is good!  Whatever it is, like all the Nepali I met, they are seemed to be quite happy.
This Nepali gril, still wrapped herself with a blanket, seemed still not recover from last night's chilliness.  Her face and the pencil sketch on the wall attracted me to take this image.  This is a tip to photogrpaher that try to find the available elements together to make an image more interesting.
A classic travel picture on people, a happy mother and her baby. There is no better smile in the world than a mother with her bably.  Always a good subject, and they are always (almost) welcome photographer.  Reader with careful eye will tell that I tilt my camera to capture this image, and for good reasons.  First is of course to display the image with a little more action, as our eye reads the tilted image with more expected motion than looking at an angle perfectly leveled that suggest stillness - however be careful not to over do.  Then, more importantly, is to also put the little Nepali posters into the picture so to portrait her jobs, while have to take care her baby.
And this is an image of 2 Nepali woman with load, the image captured both of them keeping their face down as if the pressure from life is heavy, and perhaps indeed it is.  Image such as this, in my point of view, will be better without seeing their faces.  There are photographers may try to wait until the subject's face is visible, not necessary!  This is photojournalism, not a staged image, just keep it nature.
Another example here, a boy proudly presents his work.  Boy is a good subject, much more so in Nepal.  And one of the easiest way to engage your subject with your image is to find common ground.  Don't be selfish with just the image you want to have, but also to try to learn what your subject cares, then your subject will work with you, and they work with you for a lot longer.  Of course, one should not just focus on his own interests of getting the image.  Through conversation, you get to know one person, one society, one culture better, and all will eventually contribute to your work, not just the image itself.
Another image of mother and son!  The descent is almost over, the bus in sight.  It would be another nice nap in the bus to get back to the hotel! And breakfast!


"Getting to top is optional, comig down is mandatory!" says Ed Viestures, one of the most accomplished modern high attitude mountaineer who scaled all the 14 tallest peaks in the world.  And he never climbs Machapuchare, because none was allowed by the Nepali government. Suspect linked to the snow-man?  Whatever it is, the Machapuchare is a holy mountain to Nepalese, and even without clear view, I still see this a good day. And certainly there is no risk whatsoever coming up to Sarankot, not even close to the remark made by Ed Viestures, but we still have to go down in a timely fashion.  And the GF-1 on my hand (in fact, in my hand most of the time of the day) proved to be an excellent tool.
This image, with Eric in the left hand side of the picture also using his GF-1 taking picture, is the way of my descent, I have no idea what it is when coming up, but it will give you a good idea of the gentle slope and beautiful scenery.
This is another image shot at a slightly lower position, the significance for this image was to show the Nepal has came a long way and able to wire the electricity all the way up here, not really a feat or something, but this is not available years ago, so it is an improvement nevertheless.  The electronic also bring more variety of tourist business, including small inns and hotel along the tiny mountain track.  And I learned from an European tourist who is taking sunbath while I passing by the inn he stays, told me that these few days will be difficult to have clear view of Machapuchare because the harvest season just finished and many farmers burn their field to fertilize for next season, I guessed the luck in the afternoon at Phewa Lake may be a far cry.
I could always come back, I told myself and continue to descent, while getting busier with my GF-1.  This image taken at a lower attitude with the Pokhara valley more clearer in view, a beautiful town worth coming back anyway!

Sarankot and Machapuare

Watching the daybreak is one of the most profound experience, especially for those wait behind the viewfinder.  Into late 2010, the term "viewfinder" has suddenly becomes old or even ancient with waves of new camera introductions without it, perhaps it also change the experience of taking photograph. But so as the experience of transportation, eat and living, so it is what it is, and we need to move on, regardless where it moves to, we are part of it.  Anyway, with the experience of photography from films to digital, I do appreciate I have and still have the opportunity to picture from behind the viewfinder.
And this morning, while waiting, the sense of worrying that perhaps it would not be a day to shoot Machapuchare never subside.
without knowing it, the light of rising sun dominate the sky, beautiful, and the expectation that the heat will drive away the heavy clouds gre stronger.
And soon I realized that the rising sun did push away the chilliness, because I came to Nepal in May, quite certain that I do not need any jacket, I was not wrong, but here in this little hill of Sarankot, arrived before first light of day, you sure feel it, although not to a point that it is uncomfortable, but warmth is certainly welcome.  And while my body felt more comfortable, my heart of hoping to see the beautiful Machapuchare sank.
The sun does cast a little highlight on the ridge of main peak of Machapuchare, but that is all about it.  Somewhat disappointed but certainly not upset, I still managed to take few images of whatever it is possible, while prepare to descent.  We will be back to the hotel for breakfast and plan to go to Phewa Lake in the afternoon, by then, hopefully the clouds break.
As I would tell everyone from my experience of climbing.  Going up, your mind is focused and so your eyes, with each step up, your target becomes smaller and the sky beocmes bigger - in comparison - and so you would see less. Certainly, on top of where you are going there you have the full grapse of panoramic image that itself is imcomprable. But often times, during the descent you found what you missed on the way up, and usually there are lots of great views to be taken on the way down - but sometimes you ran out of films (in the past) or space in memory cards (present day, which is less desperate because it allows you to delete something less desriable for something more desirable - a great digital advantage - provided your battery power allows it).
Short video clip taken with Canon 5DII.
After packing up my medium format gear - a Phase One P65+ on Hasselblad H2, and lenses,  I turned around to see the other side of the view and saw the air ballons flying overhead, took the image with a Canon 5DII + EF 24-105/4L IS, and wondered, will the view from above be clear of clouds?  May be not.
Before the descent, I also use the Canon 5DII to capture a series of capture of the little Pokhara town early in the day, still cover by thin mist, a panoramic image stitched in Adobe CS5.  Everything again back into my LowePro backpack except the Panasonic GF-1 in my hand, I started moving down.

November 9, 2010

Day 6, Pokhara

Pokhara is no doubt one of the best place to visit in Nepal, perhaps more so than Kathmandu for some travelers.  It is a small town, a charming town, and the right size for travelers on their feet.  It is also located with the convenience to see and to photograph one of the most beautiful peak in the world - Machapuchare, nickname Fish Tail Peak.  Of course, you need good weather to really appreciate its magnificent beauty.
For non-mountaineer climbers, may be it is difficult for them to understand the somewhat craziness of the climber's emotion toward the great mountains, especially those sacred and high mountains.  Remarked by George Mallory when asked why he climbs Mount Everest - "Because It is there", perhaps it will only be understood when one stands in front of the mountain, to feel the irresistable charm. It is not something people can realize when looking at those breath taking pictures!  One will certainly feels his mouth dry when he sees the mountain in his own eye!  And one has to go there to feel it!
Today, we are going to Sarankot, a small mountain village to have best location to observe the Machapuchare.   After a comfortable bath last night, and a sleep on the 5-star hotel bed, I woke up 4am by the morning call fully rested. And prepared.  Last night I tried to pack enough cameras and lenses for this day - one of my most expected day in the trip, and it was not an easy decision.  I do not want to pack too little so I have more limitation to shoot; nor do I want to pack to many so my backpack becomes too heavy - because it requires a good climb to reach a hill top to observe the Machapuchare.  So I ended up a Phase One P65+ on Hasselblad H2, with HC 150/3.5, HC 50-110/4.5-5.6, a Canon 5D II and 35/1.5L, Macro 100/2.8L IS, 24-105/4L and 70-200/2.8L IS, and a Panasonic GF-1 for quick snaps; heavy it is, but manageable.  After 20 minutes on the bus, we reached the foofhill in darkness, there are some porters already await there but I leave them for helping the women travelers.  Put on my backpack, tripod, and turn on my head-lamp, I started my steady climb.
It is in the darkness, silence, with a heavy backpack, I heard my own deep, slow and rythmic breath and steadily heartbeat, that I remembered those climbing of the past.  Oh yes you get tired, but somehow you also enjoy the kind of familair tiredness that you just keep going. It is someting as if you become someone else that fly above your own body, watching yourself on the move, almost forget where you are moving to.
Steadily, I reached the top, among the earliest of this morning.  Enjoy the fresh air on the hilltop, setup my tripod, and my camera, waiting for sunrise.
I can see the lights of the households in Pokhara, a nice panoramic view in front of me, so I use my Canon 5D II with EF 24-105/4L IS, set the ISO to 400, to a make series of captures and stitch them together for this image. And wait for the Machapuchare to appear from the thick morning clouds.

October 29, 2010

Along the road to Pokhara

The bus continue to ride forward on a very muched out of date and needed repair highway, it is a highway in Nepal, definately will be called something else in other more developed countries, but, this is only major road to get there. Air is an option but we did not plan the trip with air, besides, even the drive is so slow, we were able to see more and photograph more.
Here is a portrait of a banana vendor, we stopped at the roadside to buy some Nepali banana (highly re-comm-ended - small - but quite tasty). Also with Panasonic GF-1.  Here the careful reader will fins out the focus of the picture is in fact on the bananas, not on the vendor, true, but it does not matter.  The relatively small sensor on GF-1 allow a little extra depth of field so the picture to me, is still useful.  This is a quick snap shot and the small LCD on the back of camera may not be able to tell me right away the exact focus, but I use GF-1 as a fast action camera, and I use a multi-zone focus setting most of the time so I do miss sometimes, but I rather to miss the focus than miss the picture!
The lunch break is nice, food itself is so so. Our tour guide assume this is a Chinese photo-grapher tour group so he centered the selection of food on Chinese, that to me is a mistake. Local food is also preferred, and Chinese food outside China and its populated area is rarely good enough. But we did not travel for food, so this is not un-acceptable.  The area to lunch is a river side, not particular beautiful but it is nature so it is nice. Done with lunch, while waiting for the bus to get us, I saw three Nepali girls on a wooden bench, and took this shot with GF-1 + 20/1.7, because of strong back-lit, I use the pop-up flash on the GF-1, control it manually, and the camera did OK.
After lunch, much of the road is build along a valley, a small river running wild below us.  Suddenly, someone saw the rafting on the river so we all decided to stop to take some pictures.  I picked up my Canon 1Ds III with the EF 70-200/2.8L IS + 1.4 Extender, made this opnly image of the guy rafting on the angry river.
After riding on the road for awhile, we took a break again at a small gas station to refill gas, as well as for us to go toilets. Given the status of Nepali development, this is the area that they are not behind China.  Clean, and reasonable privacy. I saw some kids sit in front of their room, with a nice formation, and snap this image.
Further from this point is the Pokhara, finally, we will be there.  The ride however, took longer than expected so the original plan of arriving Pokhara early and have a chance to shoot the majestic Machapuchare by the Phewa Lake is scrapped, we wil head directly to hotel, and dinner, and an early morning wake up call.
We stay at the Fulbari Resort and Spa, arguable the most luxury hotel in Pokhala and among the best in Nepal, is indeed a nice one, tonight I will have the comfort, and may be run a entire check-up of my gear and manage all the images took and ready for a little climb tomorrow.

Life along the journey to Pokhara

Nepal is considered a less developed country, it was judged as a comparison mostly set by wester standard such as wealth, income, consumption of milk and meat and etc, education, life expectancy, public watrer and road system and so on - all quantitive terms - in order to make out something more abstract such as happiness, quality and spiritual and so on.
I am coming from somewhere in between, educated in Taiwan and live in Thailand, travel to US or Europe for business or tourism often but also reached area of much less developed, and I thought I have a slightly more understanidng of all this.  But I am not quite sure.
If I adapt how the western point of view to judge what I saw in this 6-7 hours trip from Nagarkot to Pokhara, I might conclude that not only that Nepal is less developed, it is also less diversified.  Thet ear all the same of limited variety of good, they live with less material so in a way all Nepali house (or sometimes less than a house) all look quite similar. But if I were to use a different perspective, then perhaps I need to stay longdr in order to make out of it.  So I use the camera to record the images, so anyone sees the image can determine what he or she thinks.
Here, a Nepali woman at work, put loads on her back.  I don't know what it is inside the bag, but I can tell it is heavy. And where is the man?  Or they man needs to work on something a lot heavier?
And this appeared to be a small happy family, and judged from their house, this is much above the average.  Or do I agaion just apply the western value to them?
And as kids all over the world, do they know the difference?  Or we teach them to tell the difference the way we think it is?
As if our tour guide afraid of us feeling the journey is uneventful, we eventually had to stop in a small town for tire repair. Since we have to stop, I then carry my GF-1 and wandered around for some more shots. Just next to the tire shop where our driver got the tire repaired, a small restaurant became my target, and I found some kids playing poker there - and book-keeping their marks - suggesting they are gambling?
Also a short video clip here for the little restaurant and kids playing cards.

Continue to wander around - tip: move your legs in travel! So you find something else.  At least this is what I do. With a small camera such as GF-1 + 20/1.7, I can be ultra portable, and will be ready when I stumble on a target. And so I found my little model here, in fact just next door of the restaurant, a well dressed and even nail colored little Nepali girl, gave me a welcome and somewhat shy smile! A rich kid, I supposed.  And another tip:  you can always ask your subject (kindly) to help you with the picture.  Yes, there are situations that you need more spontaneous shot, then you fire away with instinct.  Here, at least it was what I do - ask the little girl to give me a picture, rather than just take a picture.
And just as you treat your subject kind, and of course wiht the help of some candy, she will run and get you another one.  This little girl friend of hers, although less dressed up, equally pretty!  This is what I learned over the years - if you are successful with one, then they bring a lot more for you.  Besides, treating people nice is always the right thing to do, particular in photography, you get instant rewards. What's more is, when you have more than one model, the picture will have a lot more fun!
Picture below is still with the 2 little girls, but then they started to playt with you, so I follow them to play hide and seek!
This is a little shop-keeping girl, perhaps she is looking after the shop for her mom, typical in the developing countries. I was attracted to her not that she is stickingly pretty, but her face is weathered, and much matured beyond her age.
Finally the tire fixed, and we are moving again!