A Photographic Journey

Canon 5DMk2

Contemplation

Date: 22/3/2010 17:17 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon EF 35/1.4 L Exposure: 1/500sec at f/1.8 Focal length: 35mm

Another photo taken in Phnom Penh street side, the weather was steamy and there were lots of people just relaxing on various jumbles of makeshift furniture.  Here is a powerful photo, with the man in the foreground in deep thought, the diagonal line drawn by the bench draws the viewer into the photo.  The lens’ shallow depth of field isolated the main subject, with classic compositional placement of objects, makes for an emotive expression of the man contemplating.

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Lime grocer in Phnom Penh

Date: 22/3/2010 17:11 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon EF 35/1.4 L Exposure: 1/1600sec at f/1.8 handheld Focal length: 35mm

Photo of a lime grocer in a street market of Phnom Penh, Cambodia.  The biggest impression from my first trip to Cambodia is the people, after the long struggles during the evil Khmer Rouge regime the people’s morale is high and even in poverty the mood is uniformly happy everywhere.  The Cambodian people are friendly and wasn’t photo shy, a smile from the photographer goes a long way.  I made a concerted effort to show the picture I just took on the LCD display of the camera to the subject and that would invariably elicit laughter all around.  It is important to make it easy for the next photographers to come along, so I always try to leave a happy trail.

This photo is one of my favorites of the trip, the natural spot lighting, the genuine smiles, the vibrant colors of the lime and various articles splayed about makes for a colorful photo.  This lens is probably one of my favorite and most used in the Canon stable.  It is sharp and high contrast with beautiful out of focus areas, if its the only lens I own I would be a happy man.


More Tin Hau firedragon

Date: 4/10/2009 21:06 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon 50/1.2 L Exposure: 1/800sec at f/1.2 Focal Length: 50mm

Here is a third photo from the same event, the man in the picture is holding the lure that is the way the villagers use to direct the fiery dragon, at the end of the festival the fire dragon is extinguished by returning it to the sea.  The geometric shape of the lure, made of incense makes for an interesting composition, though the handler is in the bokeh you can still feel his intensity.


More Tin Hau firedragon

Date: 4/10/2009 20:56 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon 50/1.2 L Exposure: 1/1000sec at f/1.2 Focal Length: 50mm

As you know so far, I use many systems but this setup with this lens is the fastest low light monster I own (with the exception of the equally good Canon 1D mark III), even a Leica 50/0.95 is a few stop slower if you take into account the ISO 3200  that I am using with confidence on this mobo.  Not to mention the rapid fire of the camera, even the relative slow Canon 5DMk2 can manage 3.9 fps with a much larger memory buffer than the digital Leica M9.  This photo depicts the man manning the tail, it is the most active part of the dragon and needed a new person to handle every minute as its very tiring.  As the tail is swooshed around the sparks fly!  It’s actually quite dangerous for prospective photographers!  Note that unlike the other photo, there is no faux film grain added to this photo as the grain with compete with the point sparks for the viewer’s attention.


Tin Hau firedragon

Date: 4/10/2009 20:32 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon 50/1.2 L Exposure: 1/1000sec at f/1.2 Focal Length: 50mm

Here I had the privilege of a press pass to get close and personal with the Tin Hau firedragon, it is a part of the full moon festival that occurs annually around April, but in Tin Hau, Hong Kong there is a twist to the usual dragon, its a fire dragon.  The story goes that the old fishing village that was Tin Hau had a plague, a seer advice the villagers to raise a potent fire dragon to frighten away the disease and as the myth goes it worked and it has been a tradition ever since.  The dragon itself is huge needing hundreds of volunteers to manuveor, the body core is made up of a very long roll of straw and stuck in the straw all along its long length is tens of thousands of burning incense.  It was painful to photograph as the smoke of all those incense stung the eye badly and I was weeping all the while.  The results were worth the pain though.  Here is one of my favorite photos, its composition turned out perfect with dynamic subjects this is very difficult, or should I say fortunate.  The photo retains the vital energy of its subjects and it is this dynamism that attracted me to this photo.  With all these people basically running through the scene, the high ISO, f/1.2 aperture and rapid autofocus was essential to keep the shutter speed up to capture this scene.  The gritty black and white look was added post-processing.


Try to be different with your photos

Date: 19/3/2010 18:25 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Sigma 150/2.8 Macro Exposure: 1/80sec at f/2.8 on tripod Focal length: 150mm

There is an annual flower show here in Hong Kong every year during spring time, I am sure its nothing compared to those in Holland but its all we’ve and its very popular with photographers, both professional and amateur.  Tens of thousands of people with cameras in toll flock to the event every year.  I myself have been to five shows over the years and it can get pretty monotonous after a while.  The pavilions on displayed is offered by various floral organizations, embassies and government departments and as you can imagine, apart from a few exceptions, the displays tend to be similar from year to year.  It was particularly hot this year and even though I was there on day-one, many of the flowers have seen much better days after being baked under the noon sun.  In the past two years, I have made an extra effort to take photos no one would’ve thought of to take at the flower show, which is difficult when you consider how many budding photographers go through the turnstiles.  I have learnt that by challenging yourself with difficult themes, limiting your photographic potential to uniqueness, is an excellent way to sharpening your photographic eye.  The above photo is another example of looking for a natural frame, the foliage around the pond with a curious and lonesome goldfish was just perfect and not a single flower in sight!  The hour was getting late and as with many of my photos, it was taken on a tripod.  It may be a bother to carry around, I find a tripod slows me down a little and makes me think about composition, framing, lighting and contrasts of the subject more, which tend to lead to less photos but better photos.


Lamma Sunset

Date: 11/4/2009 17:56 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon EF 24-70 L Exposure: 1/8000sec at f/2.8 handheld Focal Length: 40mm

This photo was taken on Lamma Island, Hong Kong after a long hike around the island.  I came upon this magical scene and immediately saw the potential of the Tim Burton inspired tree.  I thought: here was a scene straight out of Tim Burton’s The Nightmare Before Christmas.  I took a series of snaps, some focused to infinity some like this one was focused on the tree which threw the clouds into cotton ball Bokeh masses, the extreme vignetting was added post-processing for a telescopic effect which further directed the viewers attention and with the faux film grain made the sky look like a Chinese silk screen.  The settings on the camera were intentional to get the tree in a harshly sharp silhouette that strongly contrasted against the fluffy sky.  This was my favorite shot ever taken with the Canon EF 24-70 L lens, which has never been one of my favorites, but this shot has help much to change my mind.


Bas relief sculpture at Angkor Wat

Date: 24/3/2010 16:56 Camera: Canon 5DMk2 + Canon EF 24/1.4 L II Exposure: 1/6sec at f/11 on a tripod

The bas relief sculpture on the walls of Angkor Wat is nothing short of remarkable, I highly recommend doing some research before going so you understand the stories behind the bas relief more, I would allot more time to study these sculptures while you are there.  The story behind the bas relief starts on the eastern wall of the complex from the right hand side and go counter clockwise around the whole complex, it is a story about a war between demonic deities and Gods.  The condition of the relief are in remarkable condition given their age and is a testament to the enduring craftsmanship of the ancient Khmer.  This photo was taken in a rather dark and very narrow corner around the inner sanctum of the complex, its secluded position meant some protection from the elements and the deeper contours of the engraving remains and is more evident.  The narrow confines made it difficult to take a photo, but with some tripod balancing act  on the rubble and a wide angle lens I was able to capture this low contrast scene in stark relief.  The small aperture on a wide angle lens made sure that the foreground and the background was in sharp focus.  The original monotone nature of the rocks have been made vibrant not with post-processing but the multi-color hues of the lichen that has made its living for centuries off these forgotten women.


My digital SLR choice

As with most people my first foray to become a more serious photographer was with my decision to purchase my first Digital SLR (DSLR), my first DSLR was back in 2002 when I spent a boat load of money on a Nikon D100, it was a pretty expensive 6 Megapixel DSLR back then, it was a camera I loved, but as with most things digital it has been surpassed many fold since.  Surprisingly it was still functioning normally when I sold it a couple of years ago.

Surprisingly it was a good camera and produced wonderful photos for all the time I had it for.  6 Megapixel is more than enough for internet display and if it were not for the need to print large prints, I would have saved a whole load of money and stuck to it.  Of course it was a camera with 9-year-old technology, its ISO performance was very average compare to even the small sensors of the micro 4/3 (m4/3) system and new cameras have better tonal and dynamic range and response times, but it was adequate for my needs for 6 years.

During those 6 years, I wasn’t as intensive with photography and camera life as I am now and my photographic productivity was low.  It did help me learn about the basics of photography and the instant feedback was a boon to my education compared to the film SLR cameras I had before.

An interesting lesson learnt here is, that 6 megapixel is more than enough if you are just showing off stuff online and view your photos on a computer screen mostly.  Surprising 6 Megapixel prints up to A4 can be outstanding and quite adequate enlarged up to A3.

The spirit of this camera still lives on in my Epson R-D1s, the first ever digital rangefinder camera, this camera shares the same sensor as the Nikon D100 and produces similar files but with a different set of lenses.

I will not be reviewing my Nikon D100 since I doubt anyone in their right mind would still buy such a camera.

Three years ago I was  faced with the decision to buy a replacement DSLR and refresh my interest in photography, I first budgeted to spend on a semi-pro or professional camera body around US$2700 excluding lenses, so this rule out the top end professional bodies such as the Canon 1Ds Mark III or the Nikon D3.  I had also ruled out other brands of DSLRs such as Pentax, Olympus or the then fledgling Sony, because of the simple fact that 90% of the market is dominated buy the two Japanese giants and that means accessories and used lenses will be more abundant and to take advantage of their economy of scale as they usually have the best technology at any one time.

Speaking from the perspective of the present, things have changed in the camera world and these second tier DSLR camera companies such as Sony, Pentax and Olympus are more mature now with better products, they are becoming a more viable choice than before.  Although I have made my choice in systems, which I am stuck with now because of a rather sizeable investment.  I am more curious than ever in the lenses offered by these second tier companies and will probably try some of them in the future.

So back to the past, I was face with a tough decision between Nikon and Canon, I knew at the time that the Nikons have better wide angle lens choices (which is still the case today) and Canon had arguably better super-teles which was going to be useful if I develop a liking for bird photography (not much mammalian wildlife photography to be had here in Hong Kong!).  I liked the menu system of the more familiar Nikon cameras which also tend to have more customisable options.  In the end I went with Canon.  The reason being between the two full frame options at the time the Nikon D700 and the Canon 5D Mark II (5D2), the latter offered 22 mega pixels with the same picture quality as the much touted Canon 1Ds Mark III.  I knew I wanted to print large prints and the extra pixels made the difference for me.  I actually think that the Nikon D700 is a better camera overall, with its much better autofocus and its infamous wide-angle zooms.  But the decision was made and I haven’t regretted ever since.  I don’t think either camera I would have regretted buying.

I am writing about this here and so early is because I will be reviewing lots of Canon gear.  But, my camera life isn’t Canon-centric, not at all.  I think those readers that are Nikon-philes will not be lefted out, as I think my decision processes are valid no matter which system I was using and not to mention that most of my gear is not Canon, but other systems.

When I am asked which major Japanese brand is better, I answer that both the major players are perfectly acceptable options.  It just depends on your budget, your needs and the choice of cameras at the time you’re buying.  If my budget was more I probably would have gone with the Professional Nikon D3 body at the time.  Such is camera life.

As long as I am on the topic, I have since acquired a Canon 1D Mark III body for its much improved autofocus for photography of fast-moving objects, still using the many Canon lenses that I own.  I also got a really cheap, next to nothing Canon D350 for pinhole photography & for use with the Lensbaby lenses.