Burmese Fisherman

It’s been almost a month since I wrote on my blog. That may not seem that long, but for me it feels like ages. I have a personal target of 2-3 posts a month just to keep my momentum going. Photography for me is a way of getting away from the rigors of every day life – a way to escape. Unless I impose targets on myself, it is easy to get caught in my daily routine and neglect the things that matter the most.

April has been a quite challenging month work-wise and that has caused me not only to put my hobby aside, but to also neglect people that matter in my life. It is inexcusable I know. The only saving grace is the thought that this is in a way an anomaly – a one time event soon to be over that won’t become a frequent occurrence.

This is a picture of a poor Burmese fisherman, who’s gone out at sunset to catch some fish to feed his family. He lives in a make-shift shelter near the village of Thandwe in Myanmar. It is a picture that helps me put a lot of what I mentioned in perspective.

Ngapali Fisherman - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 800, F6.3 at 1/320 sec.

Arabian Nights

On my way back from Burma in February, I planned a 2-day layover in Dubai for a chance to witness firsthand what this renowned emirate/city is truly all about. Can’t say I was impressed to be honest. True, they now have the world’s tallest building in the world (Burj Khalifa), they’ve managed to build a ski resort inside a shopping mall in the middle of the desert and a 7-star hotel on an artificial island. All these are great accomplishments and marvels of engineering, but for me it all seems a bit too artificial. The city itself lacks character – a blend of a westernized modern city with an Islamic middle eastern undertone, done in a fairly distasteful manner. In my view the phrase “building castles in the sand” is true in this case both literally and metaphorically.

I spent more than half of my time wondering around the malls, but the highlight of my short stay was the afternoon I spent on a safari in the desert. It was quite the experience – being in the back of a 4×4 driving over the sand dunes, witnessing the sunset over the sand hills and having an amazing dinner in a camp in the middle of the desert. To add a bit more authenticity to the whole experience, we also got this beautiful belly dancer to entertain us over dinner.

Belly Dancer - 1920c

 

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Canon 50mm F1.8 prime lens at ISO 3200, F1.8, 1/200sec.

Water tides

Have you ever walked to a restaurant, only to find out that you have to swim back home? The restaurant in this picture belongs to the hotel we stayed at in Ngapali beach. It’s located just in front of the hotel, at the end of a long pier extending into the sea. Inconveniently, this restaurant (the “PVI” as it is known), closes at 9pm, so the latest reservation one can make is at 7pm. Getting there is a short walk, but at closing time the water tide floods the surrounding area, turning the inlet into a small island. Options are that you swim back, or wait for a shuttle boat to take you back to land. Quite the experience, but unfortunately the food there rates mediocre at best.

PVI Restaurant - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200mm F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 800, F6.3 at 1/50 sec.

Ngapali Sunset

For a while now I’ve been itching to take a seascape shot at sunset, but never got around to it. I finally found the opportunity 2 weeks ago when I was on a business trip in Ngapali – a beach town on the west coast of Burma. Hearing prior to my trip that this location has one of the best beaches in the South East Asia region, I had my hopes high and thankfully I was not disappointed.

I generally try to travel light, but one of the compromises I never make is taking my trusty travel tripod – a key ingredient for this type of shots. Equally as key (though not 100% necessary), is a set of Neutral Density (ND) filters. For this shot I used a 3-stop solid ND filter to slow down my shutter speed, as well as a 2-stop ND grad filter to equalize the brightness of the sky with the foreground.

I arrived to take this shot about 20 minutes before sunset. As I was setting up my equipment knee-high in water, a young Burmese boy approached me and silently stood by, curious about what I was doing. I attempted to explain to him that I was taking a picture of the scenery but the response I got was a simple nod before he started pointing out the fish swimming in the water. He must have thought that my tripod was a fancy spear gun. I smiled in return knowing that it was all lost in translation.

Ngapali Sunset - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F22, 0.6secs, w/ 0.9 solid ND and 0.6 ND grad filters.

Buddhist monks

Tonight I am flying back to Myanmar, for what has now become a frequent destination. During this 2 week stay, I will get a chance to spend 5-days in Ngapali – a beach resort close to the town of Thandwe on the west coast of Myanmar. Pretty excited to be honest, because even though this will be a quite long and tiring trip, at least I will get the chance to unwind by the beach over the weekend.

With new destinations come new photo opportunities! From what I’ve read, the beaches there are really beautiful, and even though they are considered to be the best in the country, the political climate of the country has downplayed their popularity in the South East Asia region. My aim therefore this time around is to get some decent seascape pictures particularly during sunset and also portraits of the locals from the nearby fishing villages.

Below is a picture I took just over a year ago during my visit to a Buddhist monastery in the ancient city of Bagan. The young monks here wearing the traditional Buddhist red gowns are bringing food for their elders just in time for lunch.

Bagan priests - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and Sigma 18-200 F3.5-6.3 OS lens, at ISO 200, F.5.0 @ 1/800 sec.

Strade di Firenze

In an attempt to get back to reading books over the holidays, I decided to start reading Inferno – the latest novel by Dan Brown (author of the Da Vinci Code). Now before you pass judgement on my choice of author/novel, I was simply looking for a fictional page turner to help me build the momentum I personally need, when I’ve been away from books for a considerable period of time. True, the writing style might be a bit too cheesy and the plot all too familiar, but one thing I like about this author is the amount of research that goes into writing his books and the vivid descriptions of the surrounding environment that manage to engage the reader throughout the story.

The latest adventure of Robert Langdon takes place in Florence, the capital of the region of Tuscany and the birthplace of Renaissance. As I was reading about Langdon’s street chase from the Italian authorities in the narrow streets of Florence, this picture came to mind from my recent trip to Florence. The city can get overly crowded in mid-summer, but in my attempt to avoid the crowds and find some shade, I veered away from the tourist areas only to find myself alone in these picturesque side-streets.

Florence Bike - 1920c

Shot handheld with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 400, F4.5 @ 1/160sec and bracketed at -2/0/+2.

Don’t go chasing waterfalls

Happy New Year everyone! Wish you a healthy and prosperous 2014!

Got back last week from a short 5-day holiday in Thessaloniki, where I have to admit I didn’t get much of a chance to go out and photograph. My sole attempt was on the eve of my departure, when the family decided to go on a day-trip to the Edessa waterfalls – approximately a one hour drive west of Thessaloniki. From a weather perspective and by contrast to the rest of my stay in Greece, I have to admit that we chose to do so on perhaps the worst possible day.

For anyone who’s been there, the best vantage point for a photograph of the falls is from all the way down looking up, which meant that we had to drive off a long beaten path to get there. When we arrived, the only accessible place where I could actually set up my tripod and camera, was very near the falls which meant that both myself and the equipment were being hammered by a ridiculous amount of mist – so much in fact, that after every shot I took, I had to wipe down my camera lens and filters. Not the best conditions to take this shot, but this was the best I could do given the weather that day and the fact that I had to drag a hungry bunch with me (aka my entire family) while overdue for lunch by a couple of hours. Special thanks to my cousin and gear caddy Simos, who was patient enough to help me set up!

As for the picture, not my best work to be honest. Shooting with a very small aperture (to slow down the shutter speed and capture the movement of the water), also meant that even the slightest drop from the mist would show up on the image, which meant significant loss of sharpness and more work for me in post-production.

Edessa Waterfalls - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and Sigma 10-20mm F4-5.6 DC HSM lens, at ISO 100, F25, 0.5secs, with a 2-stop ND grad filter.

Year in Review (2013)

Don’t know that many people (at least in Cyprus anyway), who will remember 2013 as a stellar year. From my point of view it was pretty horrible all around. As I glimpse back over the last 12 months, my only escape from the depressing events that occurred (not just economy-wise, but also at a personal level), was my love for photography.

For this last blog post of 2013, I won’t bother you with the details of how well I did against my New Year resolutions. Suffice to say that I succeeded to a great extent, somewhat failing at my goal of further exploring Cyprus. Ironically, the image below attests to just that – the ease with which one can find great photo opportunities when travelling abroad (in this case Venice) vs. within their own home country. Something that definitely needs to be addressed next year!

I want to wish everyone a Happy and Prosperous New Year 2014, with happiness and health to you and your loved ones. See you in January!

Venice Boat  - 1920c

Shot with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70mm F2.8L lens at ISO 400, F8.0 and 1/80sec.

Water droplets

I love shooting still life pictures. The whole process is so much fun – from the creative thought, to setting up your equipment the right way, to experimenting over and over, to editing and making the final touches on the image…and all of that from the comfort of your own home.

My first successful still life picture was that of the Paint Splash which I had taken last April. Shortly there after, I decided to do a similar experiment, only this time attempt to freeze a water drop as it falls into a pool of water. Water drop pictures are in abundance – perhaps one might argue that this is by far the most popular still life photograph on the internet. Skipping therefore a big chunk of the creative thought process, I proceeded to set up my equipment out on my balcony. The ingredients for this shoot, were simply 2 tripods (one to hold the camera and one to hold a zip lock bag full of water), my off-camera flash, a black paint dish, a few coloured sheets of cardboard and my trusty camera remote trigger (see photo link of my entire setup).

The cardboard sheets play an important role in the whole recipe. The off-camera flash is aimed directly at the cardboard, so the sheet’s colour will dictate the colour cast of the entire image. For this experiment, I tried with red, lime green and blue, but in my opinion the blue one came out best.

Water drop 1920cShot with my Canon 60D and Canon 100mm F2.8 prime macro lens at ISO 100, F11, 1/250 sec.

How far is too far?

Today’s blog post is of a controversial nature. The topic is not religion (as may be alluded by the image below), but that of the arguable subject of image post-processing. There are countless debates on many photography forums on what is considered going too far with image manipulation. What makes up a great image? Should images remain untouched as they come straight out of the camera, or is some retouching allowed to overcome camera limitations? If you can retouch, how far can you go? Where does one draw the line? Unfortunately I don’t have the answer to any of these questions and from my reading there is a diversity of opinions. It is fair to say however that the vast majority of images we see daily in printed media undergo a fair bit of manipulation.

During my photo-walk in Prague late last month, I passed by the statue of Jesus on the cross (formally known as the Crucifix and the Calvary), towering to the side of the Charles Bridge. I was really impressed by the size and craftsmanship, but being a sunny afternoon, I was disappointed by the deep blue sky in the background. Nevertheless, I proceeded to take a picture like countless tourists had done before me. Next day, the weather took a turn for the worse, so while on another walk in a different part of the city, I decided to turn my camera towards the sky and take a picture of the bold clouds. Having in mind the statue’s picture from the previous day, my aim was to take an underexposed picture (to emphasize the boldness) but framed in such a way, so that if I were to replace the blue sky with the cloudy one, a break in the clouds would roughly appear just above Jesus’ head.

The result of this simple Photoshop manipulation is the picture below. I took it one extra step to brush in a beam of light rays from a Photoshop brush set created by Gavin Hoey – one of my favourite photography tutors. So what do you guys think – have I gone too far?

Jesus - 1920c

Jesus on the cross – taken with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 100, F11, 1/100 sec.
Clouds – taken with my Canon 60D and Canon 24-70 F2.8L lens at ISO 400, F8.0, 1/2500 sec.