July 24, 2010

Life around Dubar Square

The fact that water is essential of life is a more profound consciousness here in Kathmandu.  Almost everywhere in this old city people with their water jar waiting or getting for water is among the most common scenes.  Considering Kathmandu is at the foothill of Himalayan range, one may believe the melted snow provide this small nation (147,181 sq.km) with population around 30 million a plenty supply, not quite true, and the country's relatively under developed infrastructure made it worse. Quite sad if you think about this, but it is also one of the most often shot pictures during my travel in Nepal.
This image, shot with Canon 1Ds III + EF 85/1.2L, shot in Dubar Square, on those people patiently waiting for their turn for the tiny water stream from underground.
The next one with Canon 5DII with the EF 35/1.4L, patiently wait for the water jar to be filled.
And these two image of a young beautiful Nepali girl,  also shot with Canon 1Ds III + EF 85/1.2L.

Seeing the scene via YouTube.

July 14, 2010

Day 2 Afternoon - Dubar Square

Time for out to photograph again. We stopped by a Chinese restaurant named Peking Duck for lunch - somewhat absurb becasue the restaurant is not serving Peking Duck, and it is more or less a group buffet, but anyway, I am not crazy for Chinese food outside China (includes Taiwan, Hong and SIngapore), so it is a just a lunch for me.
After the lunch, we then head to Durbar Square, situated at Bhaktapur, one of many world heritage sites in Kathmandu valley, it is also the center of important royal events like the coronation of King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah in 1975 and King Gyanendra Bir Bikram Shah in 2001. Quite many attractions here, Taleju Temple - the temple of Taleju Bhawani - the sacred Goddess; Jagnnath Temple - known for the craved wooden erotic figures. Hindu philosophy explains sex as love leading to liberation. This temple is dedicated to the God of Universe, Hanuman Dhoka (Hanuman Gate) - named after the monkey god Hanuman, a very important symbol of protective divine power. Kumari Ghar (The Living Goddess) and Kasthamandap - built in the early sixteenth century by King Laxmi Narsingha Malla.  The whole temple is built from just wood of a single tree, and covered woth the shrine.  The name of capital city - Kathmandu, is named after this temple.
Not really a very large area, but its historic depth and beautiful Nepali people live in, provides unlimited opportunity to shoot. At least we have the whole afternoon to work on pictures, my camras started to pick up heavy load of images. This one, an elderly man walked by, shot with my Canon EOS 1Ds III + EF 85/1.2L, ISO 100, f/5.6, 1/100s. And an old man sat inside his apartment, by the window, observing the world around him, also with EOS 1Ds III with EF 85/1.2L, f/4.5, 1/80s.

Here again you would feel that this is true world heritage, not only because it is well preserved and of significant historic value, but more on the facts that it is alive, people live and die here as their ancestors, the usual daily life, although this is 2010, you sense how people live here hundreds years ago.  Not like many other world heritage site, many are deserted and only allow toruist visit on scheduled hours. What a shame. Here the images of a beautiful Nepali boy, and his mom. Still with my 1Ds III and EF 85/1.2L.  EF 85/1.2, although heavy, is one of my favorite portrait lens, its autofacus is not the quickest, but often time autofocus is not the necessary way to get good portraits, so it does not matter to me.  The importance is that it is excceptionally bright, so it varies situation it allows me to manual focus easily and accurately, and of course, with AF.

July 13, 2010

Data Back-up and management

After the morning session at Patan Palace, breakfast, I got to have almost 90 minutes in my hotel for rest,  also to back up all the images to my remote hard drive, a Western Digital 1.0TB 2.5" hard drive, in an opened aapter which has the USB 2, 1XIEEE 1394 and 2XIEEE 1394b port, very useful for data back-up.  Of course, this is my preference, I rely on more stable firewire device, but also often use USB-only remote hard disks, they are all good.  Is there a risk? Sure.  But this is a long trip, I have CF and SD cards with total capacity over 200G, probably not enough, so I always store the raw images and video footage in remote hard drive, and run the CF or SD cards until I have reformat them.
I keep my working computer, whether it is desktop or an iMac (which I use a lot in studio captures) or Macbook Pro with just operation and application/execution softwares, some essential data and music/songs in the iTune, that way the scratch disk on the working computer is large enough to run whichever application program efficiently.  Almost anything else is on remote hard drives, whether it is stand along or a more complicate RAID system.   Most people may not need this, but if you could, it is highly recommended.  The computer hard drive today is relatively inexpensive, and to me, still the most convenient conventional way of storing and back up data.  The Holographic drive, most promising, but still not widely available, and expensive. With the technology continue to evolve, several other types of storage is under development, for example the Tapestry Media - also developed by InPhase Technologies, promise the room for higher resolution of still and motion picture production and archives.
The digital technology has proved, at least to me, much efficient and affordable for my own works.  I have my own archive of digital stills back to those early days of usig digital camera, from the primitive Nikon Coolpix, later to the Nikon D1X, follow with Contax N Digital, Canon EOS 1D/1Ds and Phase One digital backs, Hasselblad backs, and Sinar backs, all clearly dated and categorized. With films, they all sat quietly in the closet, hardly tocuhed, and considering all the amount of color slides and negatives, I just don't know where to start. It is a distant memory, but wihtout doubt beautiful memory.
Coming back on the subject itself.  For stills, I shoot RAW almost without exception, and Phase One's Capture One Pro is my key developing software. And since I rely on it so much over the years, it is often one factor when I buy a new digital camera if its RAW file was supported. And under Capture One Pro,  I always started with creating a new session, assign a location in the storage media, and then import the raw images.  By doing this, I always have designated folders where the oriignal RAW file, a recipe how those files were adjusted, and its corresponding export folder, and etc. This way, regardless where I moved the data to, the original RAW files, the developed files and adjustments all in the same folder, and with the "Capture One Session" file (XXX.col50 - the latest version), it directs you go back to the last moment you worked on your computer screen, regardless which computer you use as long as they were installed with the C1 Pro software.
For videos, yes, video.  The development of modern digital camera has finally put still and motion together, therefore, photographers today often find themselves using the same device for both.  But regardless it is still, or it is motion, they are all essentially the same images; except with still image - you see them as still images; and motion, you see them as a moving pictures - of varies frame rate (frame per second).  My preference of video footage is MOV, for simple reaosn - it is easier for me to cut and edit with either iMovie or Final Cut on my Apples.  So far, I store the video file similar to what I did for stills, by dates and project, but don't take my words on the video, I am also just learning.

July 12, 2010

Sunny 16 and Manual Mode

One of the most important feature I evalue a camera is whether it allows to shoot RAW file, and if it allows full manual opeation, because this is how I shoot.  I have briefly mentioned "Sunny 16" on my last post, and will cover more here. Panasonic GF-1 is such camera that provides RAW capture, I can use my trusted Capture One Pro to develop it, and usually my GF-1 is set to almost permanent M mode.
The importance of shooting raw is the tricky white balance issue which I rather to refine it in my raw developing process, also, the raw development gives me a better control on the right sharpness, contrast, and the balance between shadow and highlight area. With all these available adjustment there, I can then more focus on getting the exact composition I need because I typically don't crop my images - something I tried to avoid, although it is perfctly fine and acceptable for me to crop an image, I do sometimes, I don't do it often just because it is persoal preference.
An important reason I prefer the M "manual" mode is because I rely on my own preference of exposure very much, something I nicknamed it "TTE".  So what is TTE?  The who familiar with modern SLR/DSLR perhaps all know TTL refers to Through The Lens, an exposure system pioneered and first seen on Topcon RE Super, first exhibited at Photokina in 1962. Alpa 9D soon followed, then the Pentax Spotmatic and then virtually everyone else.  And "TTE"?  Quite simple - it is referring Through The Eyes. And the central of my TTE system is very much base on Sunny 16. Then, depends on how the actual weather, one can adjust the exposure value accordingly, and all these, is base on how one sees the object. This is to say, if there is shodow, let it be shadow; if there is highlight, let it be highlight.  No metering system is better than hyman eyes.
Several images here all with the Panasonic GF-1 + 20/1.7 lens, all shoot at M mode. The banana vendor, the shoes vendor, the drugged teenager, the Nepali boy........
Finally I arrived the small street where my hotel is locatd, time for me to releif from the heavy backpack, and time for breakfast. I will have 2 hours rest, before moving to my next photographic spot - the Durbar Square. 

July 11, 2010

Panasonic GF-1, travel camera of my choice

Indeed, I often travel with a few cameras, often more than actually needed, and believe me that this is not just my problems.  But I can say, with a camera like Panasonic GF-1, I would have a quicker and more confident answer when asked again - if only one camera is allowed?  Yes, my current choice will go to Panasonic GF-1.  And if just one lens?  Then it will be the excellent 20/1.7.  The Panasonic Micro 4/3 has finally delivered what the 4/3 system wished to achieve years ago when it was developed, and probably the camera that saved the system, that is, when we look at it in mid 2010.  Sure, the Olympus EP-1, EP-2 and EPL-1 are all good, but I did not use them extensively, but base on my experience of using film/digital, technical cameras to pocket cameras, and all brands......Leica, Contax, Alpa, Rollei, Linhof,  Hasselblad, Sinar, Mamiya, Canon, Nikon, Minolta, Olympus and quite a few more.  GF-1 is not the best, but nothing is best!  It gives you the good package of size and quality, fast, rapid and efficient operation. And should I add: capable of decent video capturing?  More on this later, now let's focus on still images.
This one, a typical Nepali street, small, and a little hazy, I was using "M" mode - my own default of shooting regardless of cameras.  The classic "Sunny 16" works before, now, and very well into future, if the fundamental of still image capture is not changed.  I like to use M mode by following this basic rule, where it is dark it is dark, where it is bright it is bright, it is wysiwyg. Of course, with the quick access dial, I can adjust either aperture or speed swiftly, hardly missed any.
And this one, some Nepali kids on the tight street. I pre-focus GF-1 on the kids, pan the camera for recomposition and snap the shot.
One more shot of the street, the Nepali young man reading the newspaper.  GF-1 beautifully render the highlight flooding to the street, while the shadow detail is fully retained.  And this is why I always trust the manual mode and set it around the "Sunny 16", the camera will manage tricky natural light as it is not tricky.  I did this perhaps inherited from those days shooting film.  I believed many modern digital cameras are very clever, but I still prefer to shoot manual, this is just personal preference.
This image of a Nepali woman with her baby, and a passenger on the background indicating of motion, elements I use often.
The GF-1 does a nice job here because it is compact and does not overwhelm your subject, you can get the picture that is more relaxed, natural.
Today's technology allow many mobile device to double as a camera or even video - such as the new iPhone 4 with HD recording and edit/cut on the fly. Something I will report later - when I get one.  But the point is, there are many great images from cellphones, mini pocket cameras because of this relxed, nature approach of getting image.  Let's admit it: a great image is often not about its absolute sharpness or file size, it is the concept and content!  It is photographer and the subject that mattered, camera is just a tool!
Well, the camera is a tool, but often a good craftsman does need a nice tool to fit his hand, and this is why photographer is often fond of good camera and legendary lens, and I am among them. This one, a Nepali kid I found on a street, shoot at a rather close distance.  And this is something about GF-1 and its M4/3 chip.  Because of smaller sensor - 1/2 of full-frame DSLR 24x36mm sensor, the relative aperture is 1/2 smaller as well - which means a lens on GF-1 close to f/2.8 is f/5.6 for lens on full frame DSLR.  This explains why many people like the selected focus (controlled depth of field) of full frame DSLR copares to those with smaller sensors.  But, this also means that one can shoot the lens at larger apature, with more depth and higher shutter speed, so this is not a compromise, it is a choice. And for the same token, the focal length on M4/3 is also 1/2 of full-frame DSLR, so the 20/1.7 is more or less like a 40/3.4 lens for full-frame DSLR.  The real advantage, and many people often miss to comprehend, is, 20mm lens is a 20mm lens, so it is capable of focusing closer than a 40mm lens.  For GF-1's case, its 20/1.7 can focus quite close, 1/2 shoter than a real 40mm lens on full-frame DSLR, so I was able to get this image at such short distance.  Something a real 40mm lens can't - unless it is a macro lens.
To get an idea how busy the small street is, here is a YouTube clip, taken with GF-1.

July 10, 2010

A little bit more

Kathmandu is a relatively old city, small streets and small quarters, and whenever I was in a city such us Kathmandu, I always try to go a little further and deeper into street, so I see more lifes that are closer to their past. The main streets are always the most modern, so they are less different from the rest of developed world.  Not that there is nothing worthy to shoot the main streets, but why not dig into some smaller corners?  A toruist with a camera is the best camouflage, it allows you to go to tight corders, back streets, someone's backyard or even their kitchens......most people understand, and if they are not pleased, they may ask you out (hopefully by then you have already got some images), not likely you get shouted at, or sweeper.  * Travel Photography Warning: Extra risk always get you more rewards.  Make sure what you are doing is within your own limit.  But remember, a tourist with a camera will get you a lot more tolerance and in this case, you can think less, do more. Both of these images with kids talking were taken with Canon 1Ds III +EF 85/1.2L, ISO at 200, f/6.3 1/80s, to give me enough depth of field.  I did not have a zoom mounted on my camera or situation such as this would be a little better with zoom.  However, my own experience with prime lens is that you are lmited to a fixed frame, but then you are more determined with a composition, with less hesitation. So it is really how you shoot, less on what you need to do.
And an image of a butcher.
Some careful reader may aware that I have all these posts so far around the Patan Palace. True, this is still the first morning (early morning) of my trip, but this is Nepal, plenty, plenty opportunities to shoot.  By now, I am ready to put my Canon 1Ds III and 5D II and lenses back to my LowePro Trekker backpack - my trusted backpack and one I used for almost 10 years, highly recommended - recommend that not just stay with a reputable brand, but to stay with a backpack that servces you well, use them as long as they are still useful.  I am heading back to my hotel for breakfast with other fellow photographers, through tight streets, now I will have the Panasonic GF-1 with the beautiful 20/1.7 on hand for quick snaps!

July 9, 2010

More walk around Patan Palace

Still early in the morning, but I am starting to build up some images I was hoping to get. It was a beautiful morning, a warm rising run, and a city like Kathmandu at such medium elevation, late March is exceptionally nice, for photography.
Continue walking around the Patan Palace, looking for more interesting subjects.  And in a Hindu nation such as Nepal, the monk is something a scene itself. There are much legends about the monks, one might get quite confused as how they practice today, especially in this toruism booming city, at this toruists jammed spot of the city, and expect to meet photographers hunting for them.  And they came as a small group, with a pocket (more or less like a manager of the group who collect rupees??), and pose for photos, exchange for rupees. I must understand this does not represent all of them, but there might be quite many of them adapted themselves into the tourism schedule.  Not that I am not interested at photographing thses monks, it is just something of a little confusion to me, to picture them against those I read from books. But hey, this is the era of internet, e-book, the age of iPAD, traditional book is quite an old concept now. So I still fired away some pictures.
And some street interests.  Here is a common shop front around the Patan Palace, the way the use the locker attracts me, I don't see it other place in the world, but it sure does good job here, at least it is to me.  And this is the fun of travel for photography, you get to see something special to you, and in the process of making an image, it has a permanent imprint in your mind.
The kids play, whereever in the world, is always a nice subject, and one of the most easy to find, as long as you look for it.  Here in Patan Palace, is rather a common scene.  Three Nepali kids play their game.  It was a shame I did not approach closer to find out, but for the purpose of making the picture, here I was using the Canon 1Ds III with EF 85/1.2L lens, I am a little away, but also I was able to quietly to record the image.

July 6, 2010

Your eyes as radar

Don't get me wrong, but this means that when are you in a new place, don't just jump on the first subject you meet upon - of course you can, but perhaps there are more interesting subjects, so scan around, and scan around one more time, locate your target, work on the target.  At least this is what I do.  Good observation gives you better chance of getting better image, if it is what you are up to.
This Nepali man, appeared to be homeless, enjoy a last tip of cigarette, and he was so enjoying, I spend almost a minute just capturing images on him. Shot with Canon 5D II + EF 70-200/2.8L IS, setting at 160mm f/5.6, 1/64s, ISO 160.  The lens image stabilizer gives me a little room to use the slower shutter speed and a moderate apature for enough depth of field of this iamge.  With careful observation, you get the rythm of how this man smokes his cigarette to get the freezed moment of what best telling the scene. Again, don't just start shooting, make sense of what your subject is doing, make the best out of it.
A short movie clip of this homeless.

And this image of a painter, took by using Canon 1Ds III with EF 85/1.2L, at 1/100s f/3.2, ISO 100.  Paiter is a rather still subject which will allow you to move aorund to get the angle best portraiting him.  So I took my time, slowly move to the angle I thought to be best, and snap away this image.
This one is a Nepali woman on the street begging for mercy.  To achieve the visual result I want, I adjust the camera - Canon 1Ds III, still mounted with EF 85/1.2L, to 1/60s, f/5.6 so it can freeze sharply on the subject (the stretched begging hand), and enough motion blur on the people passing by.  My decision at using 1/60s is to give the fast walking people the right amount of blue, or it might become over blue and cannot be distinguish.  I most often set my camera to manual, but this is purely a personal preference. Today's DSLR provides so may way to taylor the camera to meet photographer's shooting style, many different way of adjusting the camera to work best for each photographer's unique point of view and style, don;t just follow what I or someone else tell you!  Make the camera works for you.
And this one, an image on a Nepali woman placing the candles on the rack, but really she is not the subject.  In stead, the hand on the left-hand-side of the image is the subject.  In this image, it exhibits a few composion clues.  First come into view might be the brightest portion of the picture, which is the candles.  Then the Nepali woman who is stretching her hand placing the candles, a common act that Nepali believes to be blessed by god. Here the visble subject is clear agaisnt the out-of-focus background to give hint of the location.  However the subject is the hand approach to her shoulder. In Nepal, in fact many beleivers of Hindu and Buddhism, believe that touch someone who is being blessed can get transferred.  Or sometimes they use a long cotton string to link them together. And this image intends to tell such story.  The difference here is that the last image, the subject is also a hand, in focus and freezed in the frame against a moving subject to tell a different story.  While here, the focus subject is a little blurring hand, against still subjects - to exhibits a meaningful action.
I hope these two images gives the reader a clear message, there is really no rule in photography.  On both image the hand is the subject, but totally different execution.  It is what the picture trying to tell that mattered, and your eyes need to catch it.