A Photographic Journey

Leica M9

Sand dunes on the Tibetan Plateau

Date: 26/10/2009 17:28 Camera: Leica M9 + Leica Summicron 35/2 (ver.4) Exposure: 1/250sec at f/11 Focal Length: 35mm

Tibet is full of surprises and apart from coastlines, there isn’t a geoscape that its missing, from the rain forests in the far east to the sub-alpine and alpine areas to eternal glacial ice and to this a desert landscape.  The Tibetan plateau is a place of wonder.  During my travels in Tibet, there were long periods where I was stuck in the 4WD looking out the window.  I remember when I was young in Australia and my parents and I would go on long drives in the country side, I can still feel the acute monotony of the out the car window landscape, miles and miles of flat farm land with intermittent small clumps of Eucalyptus trees.  Not so in Tibet, the vista outside the car window was beautiful and different around every corner and in every valley.  The journey to our destination was as much the destination as the destination, sort of like life really.  If I stopped the 4WD every time I saw something photo worthy out the window, we wouldn’t get very far, very fast.  I had to stop the 4WD when I saw this scene though.  It was a study in tones, the subtle tonal changes in the sand, with stark harsh shadows in the foreground and the surreal low contrast aerial perspective in the distance, and all in one photography was  just too good to miss.  It also gave the driver and guide a few minutes for a smoke and a piss.  There are huge rolling dunes on the Tibetan Plateau and the government is planting trees to stop its spread.  It is remarkable how well the M9 sensor performed.

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More mega-pixels isn’t everything!

Date: 1/11/2009 10:21 Camera: Epson R-D1s + Leica 90/4 Macro-Elmar Exposure: 1/190sec at F/5.6 handheld Focal length: 90mm

Following up on my post of Mount Shishma Pangma, the tallest mountain solely in China, this photo taken with a 90mm lens was taken near the other photo in my previous post, but this photo was taken with a lowly six mega-pixel camera that shares the same sensor as the venerable Nikon D100, which is almost a decade old! I have blown this photo up to A3 and it looks even better in print. The details evident in this photo is simply phenomenal and it is a testament to the engineering of this old sensor and this ultra-sharp lens. It would’ve been impossible to take a photo like this in most places around the world, the mountain was actually very distant to where I was standing and usually haze would have given me an aerial perspective which leads to drab colors and low contrast, but the crystal clean air at 26,286ft in the Himalayas made it all possible.

Lesson learnt here is don’t just chase after more and more pixels, for most amateur folks its totally unnecessary and a waste of money. When you buy your next camera, ask yourself two questions: What is the most common output of the photos taken with the camera? If like most people nowadays, you share your photos solely online on a computer monitor, there is no need for a camera to have more than six mega-pixels. Its laughable since many mobiles have greater than six mega-pixel cameras! If you print small 3R type prints you can get a contact print from a six mega-pixel camera and you can get good enlargements up to A4 or even A3! Second question is does the new camera change the way you take photographs? Does it have a unique function that your other cameras don’t have, that will expand your creativity? Answer these questions and you may think twice about laying down your hard earn cash next time!


Street photography my way.

Date: 22/10/2009 10:52 Camera: Leica M9 + Leica Summicron 35/2 (ver.4) Exposure: 1/710sec at f/8 handheld Focal Length: 35mm

Living in Hong Kong street photography is a way of life for most photographers, we have an abundance of streets if nothing else.  The the local forums here in Hong Kong are packed to the rim with budding street photographers, many are exceptionally good.  Everyone has their own theories and its the sort of thing that certainly doesn’t have any rules, I have found that spontaneity and rapid focusing the key to capturing good photos.  Discretion, speed and stealth are all very important factors here in Hong Kong as much of the population here are very photophobic, but these skills learnt here in Hong Kong is even more effective applied anywhere else.  The photo above is a piece of street life in Lhasa, Tibet.  It was unfortunate how defensive the people there were to having their photos taken, but not surprising given how many cameras were hanging around the many tourists’ necks.  I have tried many different types of camera gear in my street wanderings and many things work, but there is nothing quicker in the world of photography than a rangefinder with a wide-angle lens used with zone focusing at a smallish aperture like f/8 or f/11.  With a digital rangefinder, like the Leica M9, M8 or Epson R-D1, I can even keep the shutter speeds up with a little touch of high ISO.  With practice you can get subjects in frame without putting the camera up to the eye.  The reasonably high pixel count allows you to crop a little to make a better composition.  That is how the above photo was taken (but without cropping).  In the past when I used mainly a digital SLR, my favorite combo for street photography was very similar, a wide-angle lens set on hyperfocal distance, zone focusing is rather difficult on DSLR lenses, their DOF scale is usually too short to be accurate enough to use.  The other way that worked nicely is a little naughty, I would set a camera gear across a busy street or scene, sometimes even on a tripod with a gimbal tripod head to allow me swing the camera around quickly.  Mounted on the camera is a long lens, usually 400mm and longer.  After a patient wait of 15 minutes or so you become part of the landscape and people no longer notice you, its like magic, they think you are a surveyor on some official business.  No one in the their right mind would be using heavy gear like that just to take photos of me, most people will think.  I have taken many wonderful shots this way.  It’s a little cheeky but it gets those birding lenses out, the sun is good for fungal prevention.


Tallest mountain in China.

Date: 1/11/2009 11:28 Camera: Leica M9 + Zeiss ZM 18/4 Exposure: 1/180sec at f/4.0 on a tripod Focal length: 18mm

In the background the snow capped mountain is Mount Shishma Pangma (also referred to as Mt Xixabangma), with an altitude of 26,286ft. it is the highest mountain solely in Tibet, China.  There are 7 other mountains that share boarder between Nepal or Kashmir that are taller.  This photo was taken in Autumn where the fir trees and birch trees meet above 3000m, this sub-alpine region is the home of dwarf rhododendrons that are budding in the foreground.  The ground has began to warm and the moss ground on rocks is thriving.  the clash of colors, the deep blue of the high UV sky and the warm colors of the foliage make for a beautiful display of vibrant colors rarely seen elsewhere in nature apart from coral reefs.  Even with the ultra-wide angle lens, I still used hyperfocal distance focusing to ensure sharpness from the foreground all the way to the background.  There was a break in the tradition of the rule of thirds here, as I didn’t know what was better, the sky or the ground, both were equally stunning.