Sunday, May 17, 2009

Switching internet service provider

I am in the process of switching my ISP from iPrimus to Exetel. This means that I will not be blogging for about a week, if all works well. I have been paying iPrimus close to $90 per month for my bundled landline phone plus ADSL2+ internet service ($30 + $60). Now for the same quota of downloads, I will be paying $35 to Exetel for internet, and $21 to Telstra for the landline. Huge savings! I love it when I find a way to get back at the ISP's, in this case iPrimus, for charging too much. Australians pay too much for all forms of telecommunications, be it internet, landline, or mobile phone. I can only say this must be due to poor government regulatory policies.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

White Balance and 1 Corinthians 10:13

1 Cor 10:13 says "No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that God will never let you down; he'll never let you be pushed past your limit; he'll always be there to help you come through it." (The Message Bible)

You must be wondering what that verse has to do with white balance. I have always been less than satisfied with the white balance setting on my cameras. A higher-end camera does a better job at ensuring that the colour that appears in your photograph looks as natural as possible. However, even then, it does not always do it right. Colour temperature changes throughout the day and under different conditions such as direct light versus reflected light. No matter how advanced the camera is, it fails to set the correct WB (white balance) all the time. For a long time, I thought I was the only one among the more serious photographers who is so flustered by WB. I had harboured a bit of disappointment with my D90 because it did not always give me the correct WB. The doubts were always a lingering thought that sometimes spoil an otherwise perfectly good photoshoot. That was until now. I've learned that WB problem is common to all photographers. In fact my quick internet search yielded a lot of discussions among photographers on this topic and the different approaches used to address this. It has even been mentioned as a problem that takes up a most of a photographer's time in post processing (correcting a picture after it is taken).

All of a sudden, a great burden has been lifted off me. I view my DSLR in a much more positive light now, and I do not see WB as an issue anymore. It is just part and parcel of photography and I know how to handle it like everyone else. It is comforting to know that "no white balance problem has come my way except such as is common to everyone else", to paraphrase the bible verse above a little.

Now I can appreciate 1 Cor 10:13 better. As soon as I realize that any of the great problems I face is common to everybody, the burden is no longer as heavy. It is the same way I feel about the camera's white balance.

An interesting night out at the camera club

Tonight we had a guest speaker who gave a photo presentation on his trip to the Antarctica. It was a fascinating two hour presentation. I felt I had learned a lot about one specific type of travel photography from this man. His website is at "". Here, you can find the pictures that David showed this evening at the camera club. In the two weeks of his travel, David shot 11,500 pictures, storing them in two 500GB hard drive (one for backup). Apart from being treated to beautiful shots of the Antarctic, I got to learn about how pros go about their business, some of the cameras they carry, the equipment casualties encountered by some, etc. David also brought his gear to show us.

Tips I picked up:
David explained why he prefers to shoot manually. What I picked up was that he uses a programmed mode such as Aperture Priority to get some tests shots, and he refers to the on-camera histogram to check for highlights. Then he starts to shoot everything in manual mode. That way, there's less changes to exposure as the camera tries to interprete each subject when shooting different areas of light and dark composition.

For white balance he uses a little gray card ("WhiteBal" card), which he shoots for reference to calibrate his pictures later in Photoshop. (A quick search on the internet when I got home shows that there's quite a bit of scepticism out there about using Whitebal card, versus using just any gray card from the camera store. Hence, I now learned to use the Gray Eyedropper tool in Levels to do this. But I think I'll stick to my Expodisc for manually setting white balance as I shoot. I am not fond of extensive post processing)

To prevent condensation (in extreme cold condition), put the camera in an airtight bag for the camera to slowly acclimatize to higher temperature. Going from warm to cold is OK. No problem on the camera. This tip will be useful for going to the snow. To keep the sea spray away, David draped a towel over the camera and hooded lens.

David had a polarizer with each of his lens for the Antarctic trip, but he does not use it all the time. I had always wondered about the use of a polarizer in the snow. I suppose this answers my question.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Watching the skilled migration intake numbers

I am a migrant myself, who came to Australia on a skilled migration visa. Therefore I read with interest what the government has to say about skilled migration. Changes in the immigration numbers can mean a lot to people people who are currently just marginally eligible for migration. In this year's new budget proposal, it is said that there will be a further skilled migration cuts with a cap of 108,000 migrants, down 25,400 spots. This 25% reduction DOES NOT mean that the chances of obtaining a skilled migrant visa will drop by 25%. A reduction usually means that the points will be raised, in the points system for eligibility. And this is where the big deal is. In reality, if a person had just enough point before the intake reduction, then tightening of the points system will basically exclude him altogether.

Some will bemoan the loss of opportunity for family members or friends to migrate here. Others will welcome a reduced competition in the job market. Whatever your inclination is, it is safest to take the middle ground, because this is a very debatable issue and can potentially turn sour in a dinner conversation.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Idolatory comes in many forms

In a narrow sense, idolatry means the worship of any images that are not God. In a wider sense, it refers to the worship of any image, object, people, etc., that overshadows one's devotion to God. I am convinced that idolatry often leads to ruin. It is so important that the first of the Ten Commandments states that "You shall have no other gods before Me". It is with this in mind that I have to frequently remind myself that much as I enjoy photography, it shall not come before God. I know my passion for photography is strong, but it must not develop into an obsession. No, nothing in my life must be allowed to develop into an obsession; not my hobby, not my job, not wealth or health ... you get the point.

Young people nowadays are easily lead into idolatry. The computer games is one of them. Once a person is hooked on to the games, it leads to many heartaches. I need not elaborate because this problem is so widespread that almost any reader of this blog knows of someone who has such a problem. The internet has replaced the television as a modern day "god" for many people. Where online computer games is the scourge that exists in the open, online pornography is the twin that exists behind closed doors. Less obvious, but potentially also very damaging are Youtube and Facebook obsessions. While it is the greatest invention of all times, the internet is arguably also the most damaging in terms of its ability to cause widespread social problems and ultimately turning people away from God.

In view of all these, I cannot help but conclude that the first commandment indeed comes from a wise God who decrees that we shall not have any other gods before Him. Does that mean it is OK to have a bit of lesser "gods" here and there (and I don't mean graven images)? I don't know; you'll have to find out and decide for yourself.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Great pictures from inexpensive gear

In some ways, photography can be an expensive hobby once you develop an appetite for accessories. The list of accessories is endless. The good news is that there are some people who are able to produce highly impressive shots using relatively simple and inexpensive equipment. I encountered two websites recently which will attest to that.

One is on portrait shots by David Roberts. See: . Many of the shots on display were taken with a Nikon CP990 . This is a small digicam (not even an SLR!) that came out in January 2000. At that time digital cameras were still in infancy. It is amazing how David Roberts could produce such delightful images using a simple digital camera.

The other very inspiring website is: . The pictures are taken by strobists, the name attached to photographers who use simple off-camera flashes to augment the lighting in their images. Strobists take particular pride in going after cheap gear. After all, if one can light up his subject sufficiently using a group of flash guns strategically positioned, then it is not really necessary to have the brightest and most expensive lens to do the job. And we are talking about inexpensive, unsophisticated flash guns here.

I don't know about you; but I am inspired by these two websites. I believe that by trying to get the most out of the existing gear, one will be able to focus better on mastering the techniques in photography. Photography does not have to be an expensive hobby.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

What I would shoot in Malaysia

I must say I enjoy the opportunity in Australia to shoot nice scenery that is not found in Malaysia. Autumn colours, for example. A feedback from a friend in Malaysia provoked me to think: what would I shoot in Malaysia that will give me the same level of satisfaction, or perhaps more? I think, yes, there are opportunities there. I have always wanted to shoot kampung and new village scenes reminiscent of bygone days. I would shoot in black-and-white. I can picture it in my head what my images would look like, but I have not been able to achieve it in my last trip back to Malaysia. I know one day the time will come when I will get the satisfaction of producing something that is just in my imagination now. A picture of early dawn, a padi field with coconut trees, a seaside scene with fishermen coming in with their catch....

The other great opportunity is photographing people in public. In Australia, the public is very, very sensitive; you just cannot shoot other people's children openly without the risk of a nasty rebuke. In Malaysia, it is the opposite. You'll rarely get rebuked. You'll often get a nod and a smile of appreciation. As for shooting adults, I have also seen many hobby photographers shooting models on the catwalk. I believe that in Australia, only the professionals will be able to get near enough to shoot.