Tuesday, 31 March 2020

Covid Photo Projects #4: A Walk in the Garden

Another favourite subject of mine, particularly apt in the current self-isolationist climate, is photographing our garden. I love taking the camera outdoors in search for new subjects - and if the weather is good and the garden is growing well, this can be an easy-ish process.

On this day however, it had rained, so I thought I'd take advantage of all those water droplets hanging off leaves and flowers with a Macro lens. The point of this exercise is to try and train the eye to see new things. Photography is, if nothing else, all about the art of seeing. I don't know how many times I have walked out into the back yard, but pretty much each time I see something different. If the garden is in its growing stages, that's a given, but even as it slows towards winter, the light changes, the temperature has an effect, the colour changes - everything is constantly on the move and therefore provides me with a moving feast of photo opportunities...

Ultra close-up of a pale rose renders it in quite a different light
(Canon EF100mm Macro lens + Extension tube)
Another ultra-close up shot of a rose leaf from the same bush. It was flapping about in the breeze so, at f22 (to get the depth of field) subjects like this are hard to capture without getting a blurred result (because of slow shutter speeds). I used a higher than normal ISO setting (800) to push the shutter to an acceptable speed.

I love the idea of recording flowers at different stages of their lives - even as they lose their perfection I think they still hold a unique beauty.

Have no idea about what type of blue flower this is other than to note it was only about 3mm wide.
Again, to get this close I needed the 100mm Macro lens combined with a 25mm Extension Tube
(Canon EF100mm lens, f16, 1/100s, ISO800)
Another ultra-close image of a dying rose petal spattered with water droplets from a recent shower. Interestingly this image was very hard to focus because the scene has no distinct contrast. Switching from AF to manual focus solved the issue.
(F11 @ 1/100s, ISO 800)
Seems I have a thing for small blue flowers. This was only 15mm across so required some careful framing and another Extension Tube to get sufficiently close to the centre of the flower.
I think this might be called a Blue Squill
The very sumptuous tones of a beautiful rose bloom, again up close so that it takes on the look of something almost flesh-like in its colour and tonality.
Last shot of the morning - this was another tiny flower, dotted with very industrious ants. Trick here was balancing the need to shoot at f32 (which you can with a dedicated 100mm Macro lens) while avoiding both camera and subject shake or excessive noise from a high ISO setting. Even at this stopped down aperture setting I could not get all the petals and the top of the stamen sharp at the same time. Some things you just can't capture...
(Canon EF 100mm Macro lens, f22, 1/40s, ISO 800)

Friday, 27 March 2020

Covid Photo Projects #3: Make the most of your environment

One of the toughest projects a photographer can take on is this: to record their  immediate environment, be it their neighbourhood, their street or just their home.

In the current environment, it might be best to consider recording your own home - spend time to photograph your house, apartment, share house, wherever you call home, maybe even your street, local park, or foreshore walk - if you live near a river or the ocean...

What you might need:
Wide-angle lens
Tripod (optional)
Flashlight (or electronic flash if you have one)
Not a part of my regular environment - but where I am currently staying. The garden has some lovely roses and this, a dead birch tree trunk covered in different types of fungus. (Canon EF 100mm Macro lens + Extension tube)

An even closer look at the fungus that look look field mushrooms - apart from the fact that they are only the size of match heads. (Canon EF100mm Macro lens + Extension tube).

Wednesday, 25 March 2020

Covid Photo Projects #2: Let's get in close

Another thought in terms of entertaining yourself with a camera during the COVID-29 crisis might be to think Macro or, if you don't own a Macro lens, just think extreme close-up

OK, don't panic, no need to jump online and spend $700+ on a new Macro lens. It might be a good time to see just how close your regular lens - usually something like an 18-55mm zoom lens - can get to a subject. Most mid-range zoom lenses focus as close as 12-inches which is OK, but not great.

If you want to go physically closer to the subject, you'd obviously need something like a Macro lens. But if this is too expensive, then there are a couple of good, economical alternatives: consider either buying a close-up filter or an Extension Tube

Close-up filters are inexpensive alternatives to a Macro lens - it screws onto the front of the lens and changes the close focussing distance of the lens. While a quick solution to the problem of getting very close to the subject, optical quality might be a bit soft towards the edges of the frame. One way to try to cancel out edge softness by shooting at small aperture f-stops like f8, 11 or 16.

Extension tubes. This is a simple metal ring that fits between lens and camera body. You can buy these little gizmos for as little as $20 - but the cheap ones render the camera meter-free and focus free. To retain the AF and metering connection you might have to pay about $50-100 for a set of three different length tubes - although I see many brands offering AF-capable Extension Tube sets for less than $30. Most Extension Tubes come in sets of three:12mm, 20mm and 36mm widths, each of which which will give significantly different close-up results.

Tuesday, 24 March 2020

Covid Photo Projects #1: A photo a day...

As COVID-19 continues its march through our global population, I thought I'd try to lighten the mood by suggesting a series of photographic projects that you can achieve without leaving your home.

One photo every day
Years ago National Geographic ran a story about a man who moved to a remote part of the country in, Canada, I think it was. What I particularly remember about the article was that to keep himself busy, he challenged himself to make one good photo every day, rain or shine. From memory most of the images were taken in snow, so I guess he went bush in winter. The images were, mostly, very beautiful.

My idea is to try the same thing at home: to try and shoot an interesting picture every day for a week. Or longer, if enthusiasm keeps up. 

The rules: 
- Use a camera or a smartphone
- Any lens
- Any subject
- Any amount of post-processing is also permitted.

Consider good exposure, composition, unusual angles and different points of view...

Four 'plague' ships and two freighters moored off the coast of Wollongong. Don't know whether these cruise ships were full or empty but in the light of current affairs, it felt a bit creepy to see these vessels bunched off-shore like this. Not a particularly artistic shot, but one that contains strong topical content...

Friday, 6 December 2019

Riding the Shinkansen with a JR Pass

The Japan Rail Pass is an amazing bargain for any tourist wanting to travel around Japan. JR Passes come in one, two and three week versions. They can only be bought in your country of residence, NOT in Japan. Buy a pass and you receive a voucher which can then be converted into a full JR Pass at any JR office once in Japan (i.e. at Narita airport, Haneda airport, or most large stations). Is the JR Pass worth the cost? Look at www.hyperdia.com, check the destinations you want to travel to and record the cost of each leg. You'll soon be able to assess whether the cost of the Pass is good value, or not. For example: Tokyo to Kyoto is about AUS$180 one way. I recently travelled Tokyo - Kyoto, Kyoto - Himeji (rtn), then Osaka - Tokyo, which came out at about $600 - the same cost of the JR Pass - but I also used it on JR buses in Kyoto, on the JR Yamanote line in Tokyo, the Nara line (twice) and many more short trips on JR transport, saving a further $200. SO it worked out to be a big saving overall...

Here's a typical JR reserved ticket.
Kyoto to Tokyo on the KODAMA 646 train, departing at 10:05 and arriving in Tokyo at 13:47. Car 12, seat 11A (window seat). If you can't get a reserved seat like this, you can turn up at the station and queue for the non-reserved seats - each shinkansen has at least two sometimes three cars dedicated for non-reserved seating. Queue and its first come, first served. From my experience, you still get a seat - but it might not be next to the person you are travelling with...
Late afternoon light at shin-Himeji station
When you travel on a shinkansen you can buy meals and snacks from the trolly lady, or buy from a more comprehensive list from a shop like this one in shin-Osaka station. Most bento box places offer anything up to 50 different combinations, ranging from a 180yen onigiri (rice ball) to a 1400 yen feast...
I settled for the 1000 yen local speciality - the kinki special (Kinki is the name given to the district around Kyoto. It was delicious ('oishi!')
Typical two/three seating arrangement in a shinkansen carriage. All seats swivel 180 degrees at the terminus and recline further back than any plane seat in economy class. Even reclined, you still have more room to relax than in any standard economy class seat. This carriage had individual a/c recharge points on the wall at floor level each side plus free WiFi.
Watchful guard at the rear of an N700 shinkansen.
JR Pass holders cannot ride in NOZOMI or MIZUHO shinkansens - these are the fastest and would cost a lot more than the standard shinkansens. Still, even the slower shinkansens can reach speeds of up to 280kph...
Car and seat numbers are printed on your booked ticket. When taking a shinkansen you must find your car number on the platform and queue there, preferably at the right end of the carriage so you do not have far to walk to your seat with your case. There's usually only limited space for suitcases at each end of the car, but plenty of space in the luggage rack, if you can lift the case up!, that is.
Guards and drivers dress like airline staff.
Here's a snap of a female guard at the rear of the train as it pulls out of the station

Saturday, 30 November 2019

Overnight trip to Koyasan

One of the thousands of figures dotted about the graves in Okunoin cemetery, Koyasan

Soujin (our monastic accommodation for the night)
Even in the freezing sleet, Koyasan is beautiful