Monday, February 28, 2011

Portraits (using only window lighting)

I enjoy taking portraits because it is solely focused on the individual. In that one image, everything you see is about that person. It is my challenge is to make him feel special and admired (although it may be just the image and not the person that is the object of admiration).

This morning we had a portraits taking session at Ray Neville's house. Here are pictures of the three persons who modeled for us.

The picture of Ray lends itself nicely to black and white, as the lighting is strongly on one side. The light was from the window. In fact all three shots were taken with just window lighting, plus reflectors where necessary. Garett reminds me of hand painted portraits of past generals, so I had him pose sideways. Kingshuk has a marvelous skin tone that I am really, really pleased with. These three shots are going to my Picasa photo gallery.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

KPS photography workshop in Mt Buller Part 3

Here are some new insights I have gained from the workshop. These are also notes to myself.

1. There are basically three techniques to shoot landscape: a) available light, using filters when necessary. Ian Rolfe is fond of using 81B warming filter for his landscapes.; b) Underexpose for the sky and then use a fill-in flash to light up the foreground; c) Use HDR technique.

2. Not all countries are good for landscape photography. The quality of light is supremely important in photography, and countries closer to the equator (35 deg latitude and less) do not have much warm light and lengthy shadows. In Malaysia, the sun is already very bright and contrasty within minutes after sunrise. Even Ian Rolfe finds it hard to shoot in the tropics. Now I know why I should not try to shoot the type of landscape photographs I see in the temperate countries.

3. The ideal aperture setting for landscape photography is 3 stops below the highest aperture setting in my lens. For a full frame camera, this frequently works out to be F11, but for my APS-C sensor (1.5x crop factor), it works out to be F8. I have often assumed (and being told) I should use F11! Finally, shoot in Aperture Priority, because the hyperfocal distance is dependent on the aperture setting. When focused on the hyperfocal distance, the image is sharpest from a third of the distance before the subject, and to infinity.

4. Realistic HDR requires 9 images taken from -2.0 to +2.5 in 0.5 F-stop increments. My last foray into HDR photography was years ago, when it was popular to take 3 images for merging into one HDR image. The resulting image looked unrealistic, and so I dropped my interest in HDR. Ian Rolfe showed how we can use 9 images instead to make a realistic image that takes advantage of the HDR technology. He says Photoshop CS5 has the best HDR capability because it can even remove ghosting for seascape HDR! (HDR normally requires the image to be perfectly still; the sea has moving waves).

5. I now have a new appreciation for some of the seldom used features in my D90. For one, the multi-shot feature is not only for action photography and model shoots; I can also use it for shooting multiple images for HDR. Next, I can also use the exposure bracketing in combination with multi-shot, to quickly shoot 9 images in succession.

6. Ian Rolfe says the AE button is the second most important button in the camera, after the shutter button. And I did got to use it a lot this time. Moreover, Ian says the camera's metering can be mislead if there is a predominance of certain colours. Hence it is necessary to manually compensate up or down using the AE button. This is especially important when shooting macro of flowers. Now I understand why I had problems with shooting red roses and not yellow ones! (Red is a classic example of hard-to-shoot colour)

7. Tips for midday photography. Experienced photographers will try to avoid shooting in midday, but sometimes it is necessary. Ian Rolfe gave these tips: crop the sky; wait for passing cloud; move in close; use fill flash; watch for bad weather (makes good images); work in shadows; consider monochrome; carry a reflector.

8. Ian Rolfe is a firm believer that there is no right or wrong exposure. This has taken a weight off my back, as I have always been trying to get the "right" exposure. His tip: expose for the subject of interest, and for the mood you want to achieve.

9. Ian Rolfe shows a technique he uses for improvising waterfall shots. I don't know if it is original, but it is the first time I have come across this. Instead of either shooting at high shutter speed to freeze the motion, or at very low speed to create a silky effect, he shoots multiple images on one frame at an midway shutter speed to give a different look to the water. Yes, my Nikon has multiple exposure feature, although limited to just 3 shots.

I won't reproduce all the notes I have taken in this workshop. I think the above covers the key lessons I have learned from this workshop.

KPS photography workshop in Mt Buller Part 2

It was one of the most rewarding workshops I have ever attended. I have just returned from a photography workshop conducted by Ian Rolfe, a professional landscape photographer. This event was held in Mt.Buller, organized by the KPS camera club.

Ian shared freely with us from his years of experience. His lectures were not just on technical know-how, although there was plenty of this. Ian spoke with passion and he was able to motivate us and excite us to want to go out and shoot. As he talked, he showed the beautiful images that he had taken. That, by itself, was pure entertainment. We had several hours of lecture over the three days we were up there. I was totally saturated with new insights into photography. Though my images will still take time to hone, my passion and enjoyment of photography have been re-energized.

I now look at landscape photography with a new perspective, so to speak. I will now learn to anticipate my shots better before pressing the shutter button. I will let myself soak in the beauty of the landscape before me before I serendipitously shoot at anything and everything. I will think how I can compose an image that will draw the viewer's attention to what is beholding my eyes. And if I can hold the viewer's attention to my image for a few seconds, I have a successful shot.

KPS photography workshop in Mt Buller Part 1

A picture says a thousand words!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Is the housing boom a sham?

It seems strange that no matter how bad the market condition is, the local housing boom seems to go up and up. Economists who predict any downward trend are proven wrong time and time again. How can it be? Something seems to be wrong with the law of supply and demand. Perhaps the clue to this is misleading data intentionally fabricated in order to feed a real estate bubble.

This is what happened in the US and I wonder if it might also be happening here. The National Association of Realtors in the US publishes data on home sales which most people refer to. It is found that it has been regularly misreporting the housing sales figures, being overly rosy so as to encourage people to keep on buying. The overstatements appear to have widened since 2006. That was when the first signs of trouble in the housing market appeared. Recently NAR reported homes sales in 2010 was 4.9 million, when CoreLogic (a real estate analytic firm) says it was 3.3 million. In another example, NAR's chief economists told people in 2007 that the market had bottomed out when it was still falling.

The story on NAR was reported in the TIME magazine yesterday. See:

My say: Real numbers or fake, we will all be victims of the people who manipulate information. The market will continue to behave in the way the data (real or fictitious) tells us to. Unless the unscrupulous parties are brought to task, they will continue to do what they are doing, which is to stoke the real estate fire for as long as they can, so that they can continue to reap the fat commissions and fees from selling real estate. Real estate prices will never come down by virtue of supply and demand. It will only fall when the economy crashes due to other reasons.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Weekend away

You won't be hearing from me for the next few days. I will be away in Mt.Buller with members of my camera club. This is a very special excursion because we will be having Ian Rolfe, a professional photographer, to conduct workshops for us on landscape photography. We will be staying at the Jungfrau ski lodge, just as we did last year.

It is going to be an exciting weekend. There are about 30 of us from the camera club, everyone as passionate about photography as I am! As I am now quite familiar with most of the people there buy now, I no longer feel the least awkward. This is the most anticipated event of the year for the club, so you can imagine how thrilled I am!

To start off the year, I am entering some images for inter-club competitions for the first time. These are the two images I am submitting for a start.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Review of Kindle book cover (lighted)

I have two Kindle e-readers, one of which I bought for my son to use. I have recently purchased a second book cover. This time it is the lighted one. Here's my review.

The lighted cover costs about US$60, minus shipping. The non-lighted one costs about US$40, but it is no longer available from Amazon. They look almost the same, except for a pull-out LED light, which draws its power from the Kindle itself through the metal hinges (very clever).

Here are the significant differences. First, the lighted one is about 50 grams heavier than the non-lighted one. It weights 233 grams. The Kindle itself weighs only 225 grams. Second, it is actually slightly thicker, especially on the bottom cover where it houses the LED light (see picture).

Bottomline: The lighted cover is not bad because it enables me to read without ambient light. The light doesn't glare, therefore I am quite pleased with the quality. It would be perfect if it weren't so heavy. Perhaps Amazon might consider making the next one out of lightweight synthetic material instead of leather.

(Concerning the weight, I never thought of it when I was carrying the unlighted cover Kindle, which was only 50 grams lighter. This one does seem a little heavy at times. I wonder how anyone could carry the iPad for long when using it as an e-reader)

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Enough of smartphones

I believe that with the gradual appearance of iPad and iPad-like tablet devices, it makes more sense to have a feature-light mobile phone and a separate tablet, rather than a do-it-all smartphone. I am sure many new smartphone owners will disagree, but this is how I see it.

I have enough of smartphones. Really, I don't know how the market for smartphones can be sustained in the long run. I read one statistic that says more than 90% of smartphone users actually only use the camera and text functions in their phone. I suspect a large number also use Facebook or Twitter. But my point is, smartphones are built for apps, as much as it is for communication (talk, text or twit). Yet, who can honestly say they regularly use the apps on their phone for really beneficial purposes? I don't.

I have a really good video player app. I used it a few times in the beginning, and that's about it. I have several ebook readers. Yes, I read one or two books; also in the beginning. I have downloaded games apps, a guitar chord app, dictionary, pdf reader, spreadsheet, etc. I felt "powerful" holding the apps-laden gadget. Before long, it became primarily a phone and nothing else.

Now my supercharged phone is beginning to frustrate me. Over time it has slowed down with age and use. Like a PC that has accumulated too much junk files, my phone takes a long time to open certain apps now. So I decided to reset it to factory settings. In the process, I have lost all the contacts in the phone (yes, I did do a backup first, but to no avail).

That does it. I am cutting myself out of smartphones. My next phone will be a basic phone that does just what I need, minus the apps, web-browser, qwerty keypad, and big touchscreen. At this point, the Nokia C2-00 is my idea of an ideal phone. (See note at bottom of the blog title "A Very Practical Mobile Phone")

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Child care and aged care

Child care in Australia is very expensive. So is aged care. Wouldn't it make sense to have the aged take care of the young? We do that at home in a traditional 3-generation household. Supposed there is such a thing called "combined care" facility, which simultaneously cares for the aged and the young. The principle behind it is that the cost to the aged is partially defrayed by using the aged to look after the young. Of course, the old people themselves are also cared for in the same facility. The lower operating cost of such a facility should be passed on to the parents of young children, to enable both parents to go to work.

Such an arrangement will provide useful preoccupation for the elderly. Many elderly people nowadays tend to be sidestepped and do not get to spend much time with their families. I am sure many of them will enjoy the company of little kids running around. Small children will also learn a lot from the elderly people. I am not a psychologist, but I am sure children tend to pick up good values when they spend a lot of time with old people.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Passion and creativity

Much as I try, sometimes it is impossible to come out with anything to blog about. My ideas run as dry as my imaginary inkwell. Writer's block, some may call it. I gradually realized that I am at my best when I don't try at all; when I simply write about things that I am passionate about. Then, the words just come naturally. I don't even have to think of the words to use.

When one is passionate about something, the effort to do it is often not greatly felt. Whether it is photography or blogging, I find that my best works are the spontaneous products of passion. If I try to write about something, I don't enjoy it half as much. I would feel that the work is artificially contrived and lacks creativity.

Indeed, creativity seems to be the product of passion. If this theory is correct, then God created the world in a moment of great passion. We, who are created in God's image, also has this innate creativity. When our passion is ignited, our creative ability comes into focus. That is when we are able to give our best to whatever we are trying to do.

Think about it; effort without passion is simply work; everyone gets paid for doing it. Is your hobby your passion or your work?

Notes to myself: hyperfocal distance

The first time I came across this word was from my camera club's email a couple of weeks ago. Honestly, that was the first time I ever heard about hyperfocal distance. It is a big word, no doubt. When I googled it, I saw the scientific explanations for it. It didn't make me any wiser straightaway.

After more research into it, I have made up my own explanation for this concept. Forget about the theory and technical explanations. The chart on this page will explain clearly what is necessary to know, unless you are a theory fanatic.

First, a short explanation about hyperfocal distance. It is the distance where, if you focus on a subject at that point, the focus is at its sharpest from some distance before it, and the infinite distance behind it. This technique is desirable to achieve large depth of field for landscape photography. The chart explains it all. Notice that this chart is for a specific sensor size, and for an 18mm focal length. A different chart can be generated for each sensor size and/or each focal length.

Note that hyperfocal distance and depth of field are closely related. While the hyperfocal distance is a fixed number for a set aperture, the depth of field varies depending on distance to the subject, up to a point, that is. Beyond that, the focus is at infinity. This can be observed by reading down the columns in the chart. (Click on the chart to display the image in full size)

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Lights off and flash off

For you photographers out there, the English language has a peculiarity concerning how we turn on or off the light. When a light goes off, it usually means there is darkness. However, when a flash goes off, you will get light instead.

I guess this has to go along with the rest of the confusion in photography. Take aperture, for example. To increase the aperture you have to set to the smaller f-number, and vice-versa for decreasing the aperture.

Did I say confusion? Oh yes, there's the "circle of confusion" associated with how the image is focused. Google and read about it at the risk of confusing yourself.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Life in a small town

One of the most refreshing books I have ever read is based on a small town in rural America. It describes the colorful characters of the various people who live in the small town, the problems they face and the aspiration they harbour. I cannot remember the name of the book nor its author. When I tried to google for "small town, USA" I found that there are many similar books. Probably many of them as just as interesting too. I consider myself to be very fortunate for having grown up in a small town in Malaysia. That is why I could relate so well to the book I mentioned earlier.

The book helped to open my eyes to the intricacies that make small town life so interesting. This is why I love to drive through the little towns on the numerous trips I have made between Melbourne and Adelaide. When I see schoolchildren in such places, I am reminded of my own school life during my childhood days. A group of loitering teenagers will trigger memories of my own teenage life in a small town. I can imagine they too enjoy the same simple pleasures that thrilled us back then. Even a deserted street reminds me of the sleepy hollow that I call hometown. That book has helped me to find expression about my own small town life and I want to discover it again. It is one of those books that can made reading an unforgettable experience in itself. Perhaps by chance I might run into that book again - one of these days.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

A very practical mobile phone

Here is a practical little mobile phone that I just bought for my wife to replace her current one. It is an unlocked Nokia C1-00, costing AUD$59 at Officeworks. My wife seldom uses the mobile. She keeps it only for just-in-case use, which becomes very handy when we go window shopping. Her phone bill on the TPG $1 plan is less than $3 a month.

Here are a few unique and outstanding features:
1. Long battery life. It can last up to 6 weeks of standby time on a single charge.
2. Dual SIM card. You can switch between SIM cards, although only one will be active at a time. This is great when you go travelling overseas (plus it is a cheap phone, fully unlocked).
3. Large font. For dialing out, the font is extra large. My wife has complained that she could not read the numbers on her phone.

This phone can hold its own up against many giants:
a. As an entertainment gadget. Notice how people who are sitting alone in a cafe like to play with their smartphones to look occupied? Well, this phone has a built-in FM radio. Before you ask; no, you can't download and play MP3 on it.
b. As a torch light. Notice how many people use their phone as a torch light in the dark? This phone, unlike many giants, has a built-in LED torch.
c. Many ringtone options, handsfree speaker phone, predictive text for SMS, 500-number address book, alarm clock, calendar, reminders, Sudoku, etc.

What would have made it perfect:
If only this phone has bluetooth for handsfree car kit use, I wouldn't want any other phone, smartphone or otherwise! For anything more, I would get a tablet or an iPad.

(Update: Oh yes, Nokia did produce an upgraded model called the C2-00. This is like the C1-00, sporting dual SIM, torch, radio, and all the features mentioned above. In addition, it has bluetooth, VGA camera, and voice memo. I find all of these additions to be very welcome indeed. This phone should be available in Q1 2011. The price is yet unknown, neither do we know if it is going to be locked to any service provider)

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Notes to myself: About colour space

The Wikipedia has a somewhat comprehensible explanation of colour space. This is not an easy topic, but eventually one needs to come to grips with it in order to work with colour, whether as an artist, a photographer, a graphics designer, etc.

I have often wondered about RGB, sRGB, and CMYK. Now I know that sRGB is the "standard" RGB that I ought to use in photography. CMYK is used for printing. It is not necessary to go into the theoretical explanation of all these.

I have also learned that oil painters work with the HSV components of colour, while digital photographers use its close cousin HSL. HSV stands for hue(or chroma)/saturation/value(brightness), while HSL stands for hue/saturation/luminance(lightness). Wikipedia explains that the difference as "the brightness of a pure color is equal to the brightness of white, while the lightness of a pure color is equal to the lightness of a medium gray."

For a photographer, to understand HSL, it is best to play with the HSL sliders in Lightroom.

- First, click on Hue under HSL. Each colour slider will effectively change the corresponding colour in your image. For example, blue can vary from turquoise to purple. (Hue is otherwise known as colour in plain English)

- Next, click on Saturation under HSL. Each colour slider will effectively unsaturate (become black-and-white) or saturate the corresponding colour in your image.

- Finally, click on Luminance under HSL. Each colour slider will effectively make the corresponding colour in your image darker or lighter.

There you go... there is no more mystery about sRGB or HSL!
Follow the Nike slogan: Just Do It!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Social networking's distorted view

Suzy Freeman-Greene writes in The Age: "Facebook is a brilliant time-waster and a nifty way of sharing stuff with relatives or like-minded people. But how is it shaping our idea of friendship?" This article appeared on 5 Feb 2011, URL: .

The internet allows people to selectively present only the best parts of themselves online. Because of that we tend to people through rose-tinted glasses. If we are not careful, we will end up thinking that everyone is better than ourselves, as Freeman-Greene says. That is not good for our self esteem. As for online social networking, it may actually create a relationship that is based on perception, rather than on actual interaction and knowledge of the person's true character and behaviour.

Take photography, for example. When I first looked at the online albums of other photographers I see a lot of good quality work. I used to feel that I have got a long way to go before I can call myself a photographer. Fortunately for me, I joined a camera club and I have been able to realistically assess myself offline with respect to other club members.

Therefore it is important to realize that in this internet age, we have to educate ourselves, as well as our children, that the internet can be a rose-tinted screen.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Notes to myself: Lessons from painting

This is from the book: The Oil Painting Course You've Always Wanted," by Kathleen Lochlen Staiger. I read this book to learn how a painter "sees", and hopefully this will enrich my own photography experience.

The book does credit to its title. It is a really good book for somebody who wants to get a handle in painting. I learned a lot of useful tips, such as the fact that things nearer to you have a warmer tone while the same thing in the distant horizon will appear cooler, lighter, and duller. I learn that when painting multiple ranges of hills, you darken the top and lighten the bottom of each layer. I always thought the top should be lighter (more highlighted). I also learn that to lighten colours you add white; but to darken you don't add black. You use a variety of colours, depending on what you want to darken.

Here's what may be relevant to a photographer. Staiger explains the concept of the separation of planes: "If you were to set up your easel outdoors and faithfully copy each colour you saw, your painting would look flat. That's because seeing with two eyes enables you to perceive depth." To separate the foreground, middle ground, and background, you need to exaggerate the differences in chroma, value, and hue. This concept can apply to photography. A picture that successfully separates the front, middle, and back planes (either by depth of field, selective exposure, or natural occurrence of mist or fog) often makes interesting picture.

Staiger also shows a painting that is made from a photograph. She intentionally alters the lighting and colours of the scene in a reference photograph to enhance the mood of the painting to make it more interesting. In photography we can also do the same. Hence, I learn that in order to enhance a photograph for a "painterly" (my own word) appeal, I should also do likewise. Here is the challenge: how to capture a picture as it is while not exactly as it is. Post processing seems to be an easy solution, whereby the photographer modifies the appearance with Photoshop, yet tries to makes it appear as if it comes straight from the camera.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Globalization Part 4: Reining in globalization

Globalization is capitalism fully unleashed. A fully globalized company recognizes no national boundaries and does not owe any allegiance to any country but to the board of directors. Even shareholders are excluded; they have no real say in the running of the company. If capitalism is the nationality of the company, then the board of directors is the parliament, and the shareholders are the citizens. The currency is pure greed.

Many Western countries have been usurped by capitalism. Decisions are made not to protect the social welfare of the populace, but to keep the mega corporations happy and profitable. A company that is loyal to its own country should want to keep the jobs for its own people, so that the money will circulate within their own economy. But this is not what is happening. In the name of globalization the people in the Western countries have been sold out such that they no longer enjoy the same job and income security as their parents and grandparents did.

It is time to rein in globalized capitalism while the government still has the means to do so. It has to undo some of the damages committed by the globalization madness. It is time to protect local industries and local jobs, rather than indulging in cheap imports while shedding local jobs. The government cannot sit idle while year after year the industrial output shrinks. Service industry is not the answer to lost factory jobs; eventually the service industry will also shrink when the factory job market shrinks. Left unchecked, Australia's economy (and also those of other Western countries) will become completely dependent on mining and agriculture. The economy and the quality of life will go south... or East, to be precise.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Globalization Part 3: How I was a part of it

When I was in high school in Malaysia all I knew about factories was that they carried local names. I had never heard about "multinational" companies or "offshore manufacturing plants". A few foreign owned industries were operating in Malysia then (such as Lever Brothers) but they were there to supply to the local market. Manufacturing plants like Intel, Motorola, and Fairchild were quite different entities altogether. Unlike Lever Brothers, all the goods produced by these "offshore" plants were re-exported. Offshore manufacturing plants had not taken off in a big way yet when I was in high school.

Finishing high school, I went on to study in America. I had expected to work in a local engineering firm in Malaysia when I graduated in 1982. That was not to be. The Malaysian papers were full of job advertisements for semiconductor companies. I got a job with Harris Semiconductor although I had never planned for a career in this field. That was how I became a part of the globalization trend.

I enjoyed working for the multinational companies (I later worked for Motorola, and briefly for Intel). It was like I was working in the parent company in the U.S. itself. Working condition was great and I got to visit the parent company about once or twice a year, flying business class, and staying at 5-star hotels. Never mind that I was paid a fraction of what my counterparts were paid in the U.S.

As the years passed, I saw my U.S. counterparts getting retrenched while their jobs were transferred to the Malaysian factories. We kept our jobs because the company gradually axed theirs. They were directed to train us and to share all their expertise with us. They must have really felt horrible but they never showed any ill feelings.

That is what globalization does. Capitalists get to move their capital to wherever they can maximize their profits, disregarding what happens to the workers in their home countries. Due to greater job opportunities my livelihood improved. So did many others' in Malaysia. My American counterparts' livelihood took a plunge.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

What a spectacle!

This is really high tech! That's a picture of me with a pair of "illuminators." My wife was really excited when she came across this pair of reading glasses with built-in LED lights. The lights can be individually switched on or off. I am excited about it too and I can't wait to blog about it.

I had been looking for a pair of reading glasses (though, seriously, I can still read with unaided eyes). I have also been looking for the perfect reading light to use without illuminating the whole room. This pair of lighted reading glasses is truly godsend. I have tested it out. The intensity of the light is just right. Using LED for the bulb, I expect the battery to last for a long time.

If you want to know more about this, go to
For all of you over 50, this is a gadget you'll fall in love with. I already did. It goes ssooo well with my Kindle e-reader.