Victoria Harbor from the Peak

Whenever visitors come, we always take them up to Victoria Peak. The views of the harbor are stunning – definitely one of the great city views in the world. Sometimes, I go up by myself as well with the intention of taking some evening photos. This time I got up nice and early, about an hour before sunset. I was shooting with the Sony A6000 and the Sony 10-18 lens (this is a real gem). The first photo below is an exposure blend of 3 photos taken before the city lights came on.

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The best photos are ofcourse when the city lights come on. The trick is to not keep it for too late – take the shots when there is still some blue in the sky. The shot below is again an exposure blend of 3 photos.

Sony A6000, Sony 10-18
Sony A6000, Sony 10-18

The feature image of this post, was a single shot taken as a 25 second exposure. I normally don’t do such long exposures here. But this time, there was some very nice movement in the clouds that I wanted to emphasize.

Walking Wanchai

Wanchai is ofcourse one of the classic Hong Kong regions. A blend of the new and the old. A place where everybody is usually rushing around. Grabbing a meal on the walk is pretty normal and acceptable.

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The trams are what give Hong Kong Island’s streets a lot of its charm. And, like the tram on the cover image, they are often vibrantly colored, giving the streets a real splash of color. However, on this day, I saw several trams just stationary on the streets with nobody on board. Puzzling. This never happens. As I walked further I discovered that there was a fire raging in one of the old buildings bordering Wanchai and Causeway Bay. People were gathering to observe and ofcourse get some pictures. I resisted the temptation – didn’t want to interfere with the work of the firefighters and police and somehow I just can’t get myself to document the misery of others. Especially, in a case like this where you don’t have a more “noble” objective such as highlighting some trouble to gather public support. So I moved on and called it a day.

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Hong Kong Skyline

No matter how many photos I take of the Hong Kong skyline, I never get bored. Its just a sensational view. I recently had to help my daughter take a timelapse for a school project. We used a friend’s balcony (nice view!). The cover photo here is an exposure blend of 3 photos taken during the 90 minute shoot. The next one is a single exposure (jpg), processed in Lightroom and ON1 Photo Effects 10.

Hong Kong

Lioness on Rock at Seronera

This photo taken in the Seronera region of the Serengeti, Tanzania. There was a pride of lions (2 lionesses and 5 cubs) who clearly appeared hungry and looking for prey. We followed them for a while and then this lioness scaled this big rock to get a panoramic view of the surroundings. Unfortunately for them there was no prey nearby but as we drove on we saw a huge herd of wildebeest further ahead. I’m sure the lions found them eventually. Photo taken with Olympus OM-D EM-5, Panasonic Lumix 35-100/f2.8

The next photo was taken shortly afterwords as she was descending the rock. Photo taken with Sony A6000 and Sony 55-210 lens.

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Couple more from Angkor Wat

Found and worked on a couple of interesting Angkor Wat photos lurking in Lightroom. The one above is actually an exposure blend of 3 photos. As always for any exposure blend, the challenge is to make sure that it still looks natural, with good contrast.

The photos below was taken in blazing heat during the middle of the day. Barely got the ladies to pose fir a moment or two before we fled to the shade! Used a flash for filling in the harsh shadows. Both these photos were taken with the Sony A7R and the 16-35 F/4 FE lens.
Angkor and the ladies

Pier Abstracts

I woke up at 5am one morning when we were staying at Lorne along the Great Ocean Road. That was quite an effort for me in the middle of a family vacation with a lot of driving around. Grabbed the Sony A7R and the 16-35mm lens and walked down to the pier. I did not have a tripod but had a small Gorillapod. Woefully inadequate given the conditions – windy and not too many places where the pod could be positioned while giving an interesting viewpoint. Got this one semi-nice photo while the light was ok.

Pier Light

But then the light just got boring – no interesting colors, no interesting beams through the clouds. So, I just converted the photos to b&w and some abstract compositions. These photos are not much to talk about but I still keep them because I find the results kind of interesting and I remember the effort it took to wake up in the morning.

Pier at Lorne, Victoria

Long Exposure Abstract

Black and White

Off Great Ocean Road, Victoria, Australia

I really like black and white conversions for certain types of photos. The color photo above is straight from raw. It’s ok but rather bland. Given the leading lines and the strong contrast in the photo I decided to convert into b&w to see how it would look. The conversion was done in Lightroom using the standard tools. An important tool I have found, is to play around with the color blending in the B&W panel and moving the temperature and tint sliders in the Basic panel as well. This opens up some really interesting contrast possibilities.

As an added tweak, I reduced clarity for the photo and then brushed loosely along the path with a high clarity brush. Helps in drawing the eye through the frame. This photo was taken with the Sony A7R and Sony Zeiss 16-35 FE lens.

The Zeiss 35mm f/2 ZM Biogon T* on Sony A7R

The Zeiss 35mm f/2 ZM Biogon T*.  This is  small but not insubstantial lens for Leica M mount. I use this on my Sony A7R as well as my Leica M-P.  And I love it. There is a perennial debate about this lens vs the Leica 35mm summicron.  I’m not going to go into a technical debate here. Ken Rockwell and Steve Huff have written about this. Personally, for my needs, the Zeiss is all I want. I also have the Leica 35 1.4 Summilux, which is just sensational but the Zeiss comes really close for a tiny fraction of the cost.  Very often, when I just want to carry one lens, I find myself reaching for the Zeiss for its light weight and sensational 3D pop, color and contrast.  The Leica summilux scores on build quality, 1 stop advantage and the smoothness of out of focus transitions.

I love how the focus transitions on this image. And who wouldn’t love an Alpaca!
Zeiss Alpaca

The sharpness and contrast on this image are so beautiful.
Zeiss Doorway

And finally, here is the Zeiss color! This Peruvian girl is making natural dyes.
Zeiss Girl with Dye

Sony A7R + Leica 35 Summilux: Wow!

To my eyes – and I have not done any scientific tests to confirm it – the Sony A7R has the best dynamic range of any camera that I have used. While I loved my Canon 5d2 (sold) for its “will never fail me, no matter what the circumstance” character and still love the Olympus OM-D EM-5 for its versatility, none of them yield RAW files that have the same malleability. Combine this with the sharpness of the Leica 35 Summilux and you have a cracker of a walkabout combination. It’s light and has stunning resolution!

Take this photo for example. The amount of detail I managed to recover from the highlight and the amount I have been able to push the deep shadows is just incredible. This was a strongly backlight seen and all the faces were rendered in deep shadow. Yet, after some minor Lightroom work, the photo is nicely balanced, with great color and contrast and very little noise.

Angkor Wat: 4 different ways

We visited Cambodia in December 2014.  And it was a wonderful vacation.  The people are extremely friendly and generally the country is reasonably well set up for tourism.  And its really inexpensive.  All of this makes for a great combination but most people really visit Cambodia for Angkor Wat, which is a UNESCO World Heritage site.  It is truly remarkable.

We visited Angkor Wat during the afternoon and it was truly stunning.  This was taken with my favorite film camera, the Contax G2, loaded with Velvia 50 film.

But to truly experience the beauty of Angkor, one must go in the morning. I had done my research on when to go and which pond to stand in front of to get the sunrise reflection shot – exactly the same position from where the day photo above was taken. So, three of us woke up at 4:30am and left the hotel to go to Angkor. As expected, there were tons of tourists ahead of us but I knew that patience was the name of the game and the tourists would be gone as soon as the light became interesting from a photographer’s point of view. Luckily, my opportunity came soon enough and I got a position right in front of the lake.

Angkor Wat Velvia Day

I had taken my tripod, Sony A7R with Zeiss 16-35 FE lens and the Contax G2 with the Zeiss 28mm. I started taking shots with both cameras. The one below was taken with the Contax G2 loaded with Velvia 50.

Angkor Wat Velvia Pre Dawn

This was going to be a once in a lifetime opportunity (ah well I may come back to Angkor Wat but its surely not going to be frequent occurrence). And the clouds were wonderful. Much as I love film, when you want to shoot tons of images, digital is obviously the way to go. Also, given the huge contrasts and fast changing light, multiple exposures were called for.

This one below is an exposure blend of 3 photos taken with the Sony A7R and Zeiss 16-35 FE just before sunrise.

Angkor Exposure Blend Pre Dawn

 

And this one is again a blend of three exposure but this time taken just after sunrise.

Angkor Exposure Blend Sunrise

Amazing isn’t it, how light and photography medium shape such different looks from the same subject.

And by the way, I spoke of exposure blend for 2 of the photos above. I think High Dynamic Range imaging is a great technique for fulfilling photographic vision given the limitations of sensors compared to our eyes. However, I do not like most of the garish HDR stuff we see on the internet. There are lots of examples of HDR done “right” that I hope to compile some day. In the meanwhile, if you are interested in the concept, this free tutorial from B&H is the perfect place to start.