Friday, July 29, 2011

Sound recording on a camera

We are spoilt for choice when it comes to good travel cameras. They are relatively inexpensive, small and light, have ample zoom, and takes great video in addition to good quality still images. You can buy heaps of storage in tiny flash memory cards. Imagine how much less baggage you need to carry these days, as compared to 15 years ago.

One useful feature is sorely lacking though: sound recording. I cannot imagine why the camera manufacturers have not seriously looked into this. I have a Sony F717 which I bought about 10 years ago. It has a feature that allows you to record a short sound clip in addition to the image, if you were to keep holding down the shutter release after it is pressed. On a sightseeing trip, you can record a short description of the image you are shooting. The voice clip filename is the same as the image filename, so you can immediately link them up. My only disappointment is that you can only record for about 10 sec.

My idea:
With the huge capacity of flash memory these days, it would be perfect if the recording is infinite, or programmable to a predetermined maximum duration. Once an image is taken and the shutter release is held down for 3 secs, it should activate the sound recording with an LED indicator lighted. The recording should continue even if you keep on shooting more images, until you turn the sound recorder off. This allows you to shooting multiple images with the same sound track running.

This sound recording feature will be great for spicing up a slideshow. Sometimes it is better to record a series of images with a continuous background sound, rather than to do a video recording. Furthermore, videos consume much more memory and takes up a lot more computing resources.

Don't you agree this is a "sound" idea for a travel camera?

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Semper Driver Backup

Even though I have a full image backup of my computer in case it crashes due to virus or hardware breakdown, I occasionally have to re-install the entire system from scratch. That is when I have to have all the drivers the system needs. Sometimes I have to google for it when I can't find it in my software collection.
Here is a useful little software that everyone should have. It is called Semper Driver Backup. It creates a backup all the drivers you need to run your program and peripheral devices. When you have done that, copy the entire folder (which is located in My Documents) to somewhere safe. The utility also allows you to restore drivers from the backup when needed.

It would be better if the backup is done automatically at a pre-set interval, but then this is a freebie. One cannot ask for more. Here is the website to download the software and to see a demo:


Here is a very useful little software that you can find lots of use for. Once installed on your computer, it exists as a little icon that opens like a normal folder. So you can think of it as a folder which resides both on your computer and in the cyberspace "cloud". Here are two major uses of Dropbox:

1. Synchronizing
You can install Dropbox on all your computing gadgets: laptop, smartphone, iPad or Android tablet. Once installed, you can place any file in Dropbox. You can access this file from any one of your computing devices. Each time a file in Dropbox is updated from anywhere, it is also synchronized to all your other devices. The file actually resides both in the cyberspace cloud as well as on each of your devices that has Dropbox.

2. Sharing
I find it particularly useful for sharing large files, such as a video recording or a whole bunch of photos. All you have to do is to put the file in the Public folder of your Dropbox. Then go to that file in Dropbox and right-click to get the link. Email this link to anyone. This will save you from emailing huge files to your friends, and they from having to wait for the download to complete. For handling many files, I find it useful to zip them up so that you only need to send one link.

Dropbox website:

Friday, July 22, 2011

Telling lies in parliament

Rupert Murdoch stands to go to jail if he is found to mislead parliament during the recent enquiry into the phone hacking scandal in the UK. I assume the same law applies in Australia. However, it appears that the law does not apply to parliamentarians. They can and do intentionally mislead one another and the public by selectively quoting certain survey results, studies, and modellings that fit their agenda while rejecting those that do not.

A recent article in The Australian newspaper (Open your kimono and show us your modelling*) highlights the carbon tax deception by Gillard and Wayne Swan. The modelling is designed to mislead the public by underestimating the costs. Here are just a few extracts from the article:

"...the model does not provide for the mandated decommissioning of the Hazelwood and possibly Yallourn power stations in Victoria. ..... Treasury's modelling seems to defer the cost until at least 2025 and maybe until 2040. That conveniently reduces the estimated hit to electricity prices."

"...The modelling assumes emitters can borrow permits from the future. And borrow they do, on a scale that puts Greece to shame. By 2050, emitters worldwide have borrowed four years' global permit allocations from the future. Using Treasury's estimate of future carbon prices, that is equivalent to a net debt of $10.7 trillion in 2011 dollars, or 10 times Australia's current national output. And the total value of those net borrowings would rise at 6 to 8 per cent a year, far exceeding the growth rate of world incomes."

 "....without access to the model no one can say by how much. And that suits the government. For Treasury's modelling presumably reflects assumptions determined by the government, such as that all industrial countries have carbon taxes in place by 2016 or behave as if they did."

Surveys, studies, and modellings can be very misleading. They all have some commonalities: the result is fully dependent on the underlying assumptions, how the work is framed, and how the results are analysed. If not properly done, the result will be biased at best. Julia Gillard and Wayne Swan could be using a "biased modelling" approach to mislead the public. Ask yourself; should that be a jailable offence?


Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Anuradha Koirala

We all have heroes that we look up to. Very often there are many unsung heroes who don't think of themselves as heroes. When I saw this video of Anuradha Koirala on the internet, I immediately saw the face of an unassuming and humble person. There was nothing to suggest she was basking in the limelight, or proud to be presented with the CNN Hero Award. Among the audience, I could see many teary faces of people who were truly touched by what they heard about her work. From her on-stage speech, one could tell that she feels very deeply for the victims of human trafficking in her country.

If you want to see how the demeanor of Christ might look like, take a look at the video of Anuradha Koirala at It is the facial expression of one who has sacrificial love for mankind, and who has worked unceasingly to bring happiness to other people. It is the face of one who considers herself totally insignificant in comparison to the plight of others.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Note to myself: Tips from Shelton Muller

Shelton Muller, a Melbourne photography trainer, spoke at our club last Wednesday. I just want to record here for my own reference. There were three main items (not in his exact same words): 1) importance of composition; 2) shoot according to the light; 3) choose your lens well.

The first point was actually uninteresting for me, as I have heard the same things over and over again.

On the second point, Shelton showed the different ways to use available light to the photographer's advantage. Some photographers only shoot when the light is "right". That is not a bad thing to do, but it excludes one from attempting to use existing light creatively. Talk about paradigm shift.

The third point gets even more interesting. To summarize it, Shelton says "don't be a lens snob". Many cheaper third party lens will also get the work done; almost all the time, that is. Shelton also explained how to use the wide angles and the long zooms creatively. While some photographers think that the wide angle is only for capturing more of the scene, it can also be used to distort foreground perspective creatively. Likewise, while long zoom is useful for shooting distant object, it is also good for bringing the background closer and thereby maintain proportion of the human body. It also helps in blurring the distant background. Prime lenses, with its wide aperture, is good for shallow depth of field. To quote Shelton, the lens is the all-important "eye" and the camera body is just a dummy. So place more emphasis on the lens than on the body.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Fraudulent email warning

I was almost taken in by this very harmless looking email this morning. I was seriously interested in getting my bank statement sent to me electronically. I was really tempted to click on the link given in the email. Luckily, I have developed a habit of treating ALL emails from banks as suspect. I decided to call the bank directly instead, and I was prepared to give them a piece of my mind for sending emails out. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this was a fraudulent email and I was asked to forward it to them for investigation by their fraud department.

Look at the image here (double click to enlarge). Would you have suspected this was a fraud? Do forward this blog to anyone who might benefit from learning about taking extra care NEVER to respond to any email from any bank, no matter how innocuous it looks.

(Possible scenario: if you clicked on the link given in the email, it might take you to a fictitious webpage that looks like your bank's website. Then if you key in your ID and password, the fraudster could get that information and use it to empty your bank account)

Environmental portrait

I haven't done much of this work, but I must say I have found this to be very interesting. It is more than just taking a shot of somebody outside the studio. Environmental portrait is about capturing the image of a person in his own little world, where the background tells a story about the person in it. Thought must be given to creating a strong relationship between the subject and the environment. The environment, in fact, describes the person's personality.

Here is a picture of George. I shot this at the Mont de Lancey outing last Sunday. The lighting was rather dim, so I had to dial up the ISO all the way to 1600. I opened up the aperture as wide as I could ( f4.5). Even then, I could only get to 1/45 sec for shutter speed. It was barely enough for a shot, but I managed to get a fairly decent one after a few attempts. Converted this to B&W, as the theme for our club this month is B&W.

Monday, July 11, 2011

If Charles Darwin was right

I woke up this morning wondering what human beings would be like if the evolution theory is true. If man is indeed the most highly evolved living thing on earth, it follows that we ought to have the most advanced features in all living things. Here are some possibilities:

1. Man should be able to outrun many animals to feed himself. Just as the lion is able to outrun its prey, why is it that man cannot outrun any animal? Try to name one. I can only think of the tortoise. Somewhere along the line of evolution man must have grown tired of eating tortoises, otherwise it would have been extinct by now.
2. Man should have grown wings. Isn't flying a superior mode of transport?
3. Man should have evolved with thick fur. Fur protects all animals from the cold. Would evolution cause man to take a step backward, while animals grow more adapted to the climate?
4. Instead of fur, perhaps man should have grown a strong skin, like the hide of the elephant. Instead, we have the most vulnerable skin of all species.

I wonder what made Darwin think that the human being is the end product of a long period of evolution. We seem to be lacking in speed, strength, and agility. The only thing we are capable of is self-destruction, while all the animals seem to have it all worked out for preserving the species and the environment.

True impact of carbon tax

The government has underestimated the impact of carbon tax on the cost of living. Julia Gillard says it is less than 1%. The government estimates that the cost impact on electricity is $3.30 per week, and of gas is $1.50 per week. This amounts to about $250 per year.

The reality is that every business will be affected and every one of them will raise prices. House rentals will go up. Shop rentals will go up. Businesses will have to pass on the costs, and they won't be passing on 1%. They will probably raise prices by 5 to 10%. Hence, if a household expenditure is $25,000 per year (Julia Gillard's low, low estimate), one can safely expect an increase of $1,250 per year. At this rate, even the most generously compensated low income earner will find that the government's compensation is not enough to offset the loss.

The carbon tax is expected to raise $25bil for the government over the next three years. Half will be used to compensate individuals and industry. The other half is just pure additional revenue.

The Secrets (sequel to previous blog, The Shot)

Shooting with a camera is like shooting with a gun. If you keep firing your gun, you are bound to eventually hit the bulls' eye. It may take innumerable shots, but you'll eventually get it. The same goes with a camera. Just keep shooting. As you get better with practice, you need less images to get a successful hit. A true expert may need just a few shots to get a great image. At the moment I still need hundreds.

The other secret is with the model. Most people are attracted by the picture because the girl has a beautiful face. Replace that with a less attractive face, using the same pose, you will not visualize it as a cover shot.

Finally, the pose. In my opinion, a truly accomplished portrait photographer is able to pose the model with seemingly little effort. A maestro portrait photographer is a delight to watch. As he speaks to the model, he is actually easing her into projecting her best self, in the best light (pun intended).  "The Shot" was an exceptional piece of work (I'll gladly agree to that); the photographer is, but still work-in-progress!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Shot

The picture here is one of 309 pictures I shot on our model shoot that day. I managed to have a few good ones and a lot of average ones. The whole shoot took about 3 hours for the five of us. Coming away with a few good shots is all it takes for me to feel satisfied with the day's effort. I think many fellow photographers feel the same way too.
In a model shoot with many other photographers around, we often end up duplicating one another's images. It is hard to take full credit unless you posed the model and you set up the lighting. I am particularly pleased with this one because I posed this shot and others saw and took it too. (This image was shot through a circular ring of daylight fluorescent light, about a meter from the face).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Portraiture class in Croydon

These pictures were taken at my portraiture class today. The class lasted one full day. It was tiring, but fun!

The big satisfaction I got out of today was that my 24-70mm lens held up very, very well. It was simply ideal for today's shoot. I was able to get in very close, as well as zoom in from a distance. The focal range was ideal. Also, the constant f2.8 aperture meant that I could dial in at any ISO, as well as having the freedom to use a whole range of shutter speed/aperture settings. All the pictures came out sharp even though the entire shoot was done hand held.

When I was using my kit lens before for a similar shoot, I was having a lot of difficulty because I had to make compromises between ISO and shutter speed, while hamstrung by limited aperture settings.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Charged for shooting

I am not talking about criminals being charged for firearm offenses. I am talking about photographers being made to pay extra for bringing a camera into an area that already charges an admission fee. I think all photographers of the world should unite to openly boycott all such places. After all, almost everyone carries a mobile these days, and almost every mobile phone has a camera. So why should we photographers be penalized for bringing an SLR or a videocam, while 90% of the other visitors get away with it?

One such place is Montsalvat. It charges an entry fee of $14 per adult. On top of that it charges $22 per hour for student and amateur phtographers. See: . I am in the midst of seeking clarification from them and I shall update in this blog later.

If you know of any place that charges a fee for bringing a camera, please alert me and all readers of this blog by listing the place in the comment section below. I shall make this list public to my camera club, and perhaps use the power of the internet to start a "revolution" to get all photographers to boycott these places as a matter of principle.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Digital/technological downsizing

Our life is getting more and more complex, thanks to digital technology. Take a telephone, for example. In the old days, the telephone has just a simple rotary dial. You pick up the receiver and you dial the number you want. Today's telephone comes with an instruction manual that teaches you how to store contact numbers and use all the numerous features like intercom, redial, quick dials, etc. Every gadget you buy invariably comes with a need to get aquainted through serious reading of the operating manual.

We can make a deliberate effort to simplify the day-to-day running of our lives. Instead of a full-featured car with electronic gadgetry, for example, one can opt for a "minimalist" car with no elaborate gadgetry. When the remote control of my car ran out of battery, I gave it up and I just use my ignition key to open or lock the car. It saves me from carrying a remote.

We can opt to carry a simple mobile phone that just makes call and does SMS. This saves us from having to handle 3G or wifi connections. One doesn't really need to access the internet while on the move. One doesn't need to carry a GPS in his mobile; nor does he need to carry his entire family album; nor does he need to be able to watch video. Why can't we do all these in the comfort of home?

When buying home appliances, I always try to look for appliances with simple operations and no fancy features. I do not want something that can be programmed in a  hundred ways. I don't want something that has an LCD screen, I just want simple knobs, switches, and dials. I don't know about you, but I want keep my life simple.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ken Duncan, Australian landscape photographer

Ken Duncan is a well-known Australian landscape photographer. He also shot for The Passion, the movie directed by Mel Gibson depicting the suffering of Christ. Last weekend he spoke at the Citylife Church. He also showed a lot of his images as he talked about his life experiences. After the service, he autographed books for people. Many queued up to buy his books. They were really selling like hot cakes. My wife bought two as presents for friends. I insisted that she did not buy any for me.

Many people assume that as a photographer I would be the first to buy his book, and that I would be delighted to have a picture taken with him. Actually, neither is true. I thought about it for a while, wondering why is it that non-photographers are flocking to him, while I did not feel any desire to do that. I wonder if other photographers feel the same way I do. I'll have to chat with others at the camera club to see if this is just me, or if this is a common feeling among other photographers too. If you are a photographer, what is your feeling about this?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Photos by a non-photographer

My wife just came back from a trip in Europe. I picked out a few of her pictures which I think are pretty good. Admittedly, the images are low in resolution and high in noise due to camera limitations. The camera she used was a five-year old Canon Ixus 50.

Seeing that straight-from-the-camera shots do not seem to be very popular these days, I did some heavy photoshop work on them to produce exaggerated colour tones.

(For more pictures, please go to