My Zen of Photography

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30 years ago I bought my first SLR—a Canon T50 film camera, and I’ve never looked back. Although it was a very basic camera consisting of only Program mode and a self-timer it got me hooked. It was the first 35mm camera I owned and I was so proud of it. Now, 30 years later, the 35mm format is still alive and kicking in the digital world (although it’s called full-frame now) and I’ve gone through seven Canon cameras. I’ve always loved the brand, and I’m presently using the very excellent EOS 6D. So this marriage has lasted a long time, although there were years when I put it in the proverbial closet.

I’m happy to say that this old flame of mine has returned, and with a vengeance. I feel so comforted when I hold my Canon 6D in my hand; it becomes like an extension of my sight, my vision. I am learning and beginning to see the world with a new pair of eyes, literally. I would say that my skills have improved with age…perhaps evolving along with my persona. I’ve slowed down…no more whipping out the camera and just clicking like a damn tourist…ugh, I hate that. And since I take pictures alone I can afford to pause, to reflect, to see the way the leaves catch the early morning light, for instance. I have to say that photography goes along very well with my introverted personality—I like doing my captures alone. No photographic groupies for me, thank you.

I’ve learnt to see things in a different way, looking at them like a curious child. For the photograph above, I pass by this area regularly on my way to the local Botanical Gardens for my morning walks. On this particular morning however, I stopped…and gasped at the incredible light that was piercing through the trees. Of course, the first rule of photography is to bring along your camera with you, and fortunately that’s what I did. I know my 6D well enough to expose the picture I way I want it…still, I took a few shots, just to be sure. I’m not bragging here…not saying I’m a pro or shit like that. But there’s a very instinctive feeling when I click the shutter and know that I’ve got the shot the way I wanted it.

At the same time I’ve become more critical of the pictures I take. A little fuzzy? Delete. Horizon a little crooked? Delete. Exposure not quite to my liking? Delete. Thank goodness for digital. In the film days I’d be tearing up photographs after getting them back from the photo store.

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As a photographer I believe in light, or the way light behaves when it reaches us on Earth. It’s ever changing, minute by minute, hour by hour. Sometimes I happen to be at the right place at the right time, and magic happens. I think one needs a lot of patience and tenacity when creating pictures. Because I’m a stubborn purist and I never, ever do Photoshop or post-processing. So it has to be right when I take the shot.

Although I like taking people portraits, opportunities to do so have been few and far between. But when a willing subject comes along, what can I say…it’s pure magic. The photo below was shot using a Canon 70-200mm f/4L with a Nikon soft filter. Jesslyn is an old friend and ex-student of mine. She was super cooperative during the shoot. I’d have used a little flash but fortunately I had the help of the existing daylight to get those wonderful catchlights in her eyes. And that hint of a smile is priceless.

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Finally, I’ve been taking more sunrise pictures. I really like the light during the blue hour, just before the sun rises. Of course, I need to drag myself out of my cozy bed but what the hell, I can sleep later during the day. This picture was taken one January morning at 7:15. I used my Canon 24-105mm f/4L and a Tiffen ND (Neutral Density) filter, that was it. No post processing.

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So there you have it. Perhaps I’ll talk more about the way I work in my next post.

The Joy of Single

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As 2013 draws to a close I am still a singleton…and proud of it. There is something uniquely empowering about being alone and independent, doing things on my own without having to rely on someone else. Traveling alone has been fun, because I can do whatever I want at my own leisure. For the most part it has been a good year, with my move to FF (Full Frame) in the form of the Canon EOS 6D and my trip to San Francisco. Of course, there are times when I feel pangs of loneliness (is there such a term?) and long for some companionship…but clichéd as it sounds, it’s better to be alone than to be stuck with the wrong person. If she comes, she comes. Searching for a soul mate? Hmm. The secret of searching is that…there is no search (me and my Zen-ness).

I’ve enjoyed doing what I want, when I want, and sometimes I do absolutely nothing…without having to deal with the considerations of another person. Is that selfish? Maybe, but oh, it’s so much fun, especially when I’m caught up with my photography. I believe in doing whatever makes one happy, and if that doesn’t go down well with some people, screw them. Life’s too short for what ifs.

The new year brings with it certain hopes. Travel will play a big role, together with my photography. I’m just going with the flow, and really, I don’t care what other people think anymore. Here’s to a happy 2014, people.

I can see your house from here

Here are a set of photos of the neighborhood in Milpitas, where I stayed. Yes, the skies are very blue—enhanced with my polarizer but other than that I don’t and never post-process my pictures.

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(Below) Here’s the front of David’s house. I enhanced the skies with a Tiffen GND (Graduated Neutral Density) filter.

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(Above) Peter D. Gill park is just a short walk away. Plenty of open space here…I like it. And as you can see from the picture below this is a quiet residential neighborhood, clean, and the roads are so wide!

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The Golden Gate Bridge

Before I go on, let me list out all my Canon gear so that I won’t have to do it again for subsequent posts:

Canon EOS 6D, 24-105mm f/4L, 17-40mm f/4L, Speedlite 600EX-RT, Oben AC-1310 tripod. Borrowed from David: Canon 100mm f/2.8L IS Macro and 70-200mm f/2.8L II IS.

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The next day after my arrival, David and I decided to set out to capture San Francisco’s most iconic landmark—the Golden Gate Bridge. Construction of this monumental landmark started in 1933 and it opened in 1937. The total length of the bridge is 8,980 feet (2,737 meters), while the longest span is 4,200 feet (1,280 meters). The bridge is popular with pedestrians and bicyclists; there are walkways on either side of the six traffic lanes. The photo above was taken at one of the tourist stops in the Marin Headlands. The view is looking towards San Francisco in the background. The picture below of the city was shot using a Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L with a 1.4x Extender.

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(Above) I used the same lens to capture this tight shot of rush hour on the bridge. We then drove further up to get a better viewpoint, like the photo below. The evening sun illuminates the bridge and really makes it golden.

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(Above) It was then a matter of waiting for the sun to set and the bridge to illuminate. We were fortunate that this was a very clear evening, with an absence of fog. As a bonus, we had a full moon rising. I love the pinkish and purplish hues as evening sets in.

(Below) Taken at around 7:30 PM. Using a slow shutter speed I was able to illuminate the trails of traffic on the bridge.

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And finally we have the moon casting a glowing reflection on the bay with the bridge in the foreground. At this time the wind was howling and I was chilled to the bone even with my jacket on. We called it a day, packed our gear and headed for the long drive home. We were tired but I knew I had some good shots in the bag!

Wondrous Stories

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“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” ~ Saint Augustine of Hippo

There’s something very compelling and rewarding that I find about travel. Perhaps it helps us to see the world in a different light, even though many things are similar. We all have our favorite destinations, and mine is the USA. You can’t fault me because I lived and studied there a long time ago. The fact remains, though, that I love America and its people—I find Americans to be friendly, charming, curious, open, and welcoming. And sometimes I believe that it has to do with the power of luck and timing—for this current trip I had my first meet-up with David (a Facebook friend I’ve known for 2 years plus). We both share a passion for photography and Canon cameras, so that set the stage for a very exciting trip and meet. So many good (and unexpected) things presented themselves during this wonderful trip that I’ll probably have to write a couple of shorter blog posts instead of rambling on here. My destination, as you can see from the photo above, was San Francisco—a city I had visited two or three times in the past, and haven’t been back to for almost 15 years (told you I was excited).

Of course, things have changed in this city that I call the Paris of America…I had my first pleasant experience when I went through Immigration and Customs. Naturally, there was a long line and that’s the last thing you need after a tiring 12-hour flight, but I cleared both without a hitch. The Customs officer was so friendly and polite. He looked at my passport, said “Oh, you’re from Malaysia—Selamat Datang!” What a great way to start a vacation, right in the airport itself. After getting my bags I stepped out of the Arrivals hall into the cool and sunny spirit of California, and before long David arrived to pick me up in his Honda.

More coming in the next post!

Valentine’s at the 1885

Call it schmaltzy, bah humbug, or what you will, Valentine’s Day is and always has been a special day for lovebirds everywhere. Me? Umm, I’ll remain perfectly neutral on this one but I’ll tell you this—it’s always nice to see couples having fun and enjoying each other’s company, on this day or any other day. And if they’re prepared to splurge, so be it. The Valentine’s Day dinner at the 1885 fine dining (E & O Hotel) isn’t exactly what I’d call cheap, but for the price you get a lavish meal, some gifts including a Polaroid picture (yup, we still have those), and not to mention (ahem) soothing romantic tunes played on the piano by yours truly. With a great staff and Mr. Z as the captain, what else could you need? So onward and upward to the pictures, all taken with my Canon gear, of course. Nothing like flowers to set the mood and hearts fluttering.

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(Below) Balloons galore; love the heart-shaped ones.

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(Above) Gifts of chocolate for each couple, beautifully done with gold ribbons.

(Below) These pictures were taken by expert photographer Eugene when I finished for the evening. Great people and great staff!

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(Above) It was nice to meet up with Ria and her husband Ben again, who are regular guests of the hotel.

(Below) Here I am with Siti…

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and with Sally; oopsie I need to get a haircut…

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(Below) Eugene and Siti having fun in front of the camera.

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It was a great and fun evening, so here’s looking forward to Valentine’s in 2013! Open-mouthed smile

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Time Out

We all need to take a break every now and then. So it was with me. I decided to head down to Kuala Lumpur (KL) for a quickie—3 days, 2 nights. I flew this time and stayed at The Gardens Hotel, which is linked to two huge malls: The Gardens Mall and Mid Valley Megamall. I wasn’t planning on shopping—just browsing through the two big bookstores there—MPH and Borders. I really wanted time by myself to think, to contemplate…It was a very restful and enjoyable trip as the following pictures will attest.

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(Above) I had a very nice room on the 20th floor, equipped with all the amenities I could ever need. The king-sized bed was very comfortable and most importantly wireless broadband was available at no extra charge.

(Below) The bathroom and shower area. Just look at that huge basin! There were mirrors everywhere for the narcissist in me, LOL.

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(Above) On my first night I decided to give Tony Roma’s a try…and I wasn’t disappointed. I ordered the 8oz Fillet Mignon with broccoli and loaded mashed potato with ham, rice, and all kinds of goodies. Washed it down with bottomless iced tea—yeah, I decided to stay sober, heh heh. I was so full I couldn’t order any dessert.

(Below) I requested a morning call at 7 in the morning. After a quick shower to wake me up I headed to the 6th floor for my buffet breakfast at The Spread. This is a very nice all-day dining restaurant; the food was good and the staff pleasant and attentive. I even spoke to Sahadi, a tall girl who was interested in photography but was too shy to have her picture taken. Look at the goodies I’ve availed myself here—guava juice, black coffee, yogurt, some dim sum dumplings, sausages, hash browns, baked beans, mushrooms, and Danish pastry. Needless to say, I skipped lunch and spent the afternoon walking in the two malls.

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(Above) I was tired out after doing so much walking so I was looking forward to putting my feet up on this wonderful couch made for one. I then realized that I had to take some self-portraits, otherwise who would believe I was there? My Joby Gorillapod SLR-Zoom came to the rescue. This little fella is ideal when travelling due to its light weight and portability. I know this isn’t my photo blog but I’m going to give you the details anyway: I used my Canon EOS 550D with the Speedlite 580EX II in bounce mode. The little white reflector in this amazing flash puts some catch lights in my eyes. I took around a dozen shots, this one was the most likable.

(Below) A shot of the lobby area in the hotel. I took this handheld without flash, and was amazed that it came out so well. The horizon is perfectly level (yeah, I’m boasting) and at the wide-angle end of my Canon 18-135mm IS zoom lens, it’s pin sharp. The pretty lady walking by was an added bonus!

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(Above) Here’s Bel (on the left) from Pakistan and Vicky from China. They both work at Tony Roma’s and I had the pleasure of talking with them. They made me feel so at home I decided to return again for more on the second night.

(Below) Here’s a photo of me and Vicky. Direct flash from my Speedlite 320EX was used since the ceiling was a tad high and dark brown in color.

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(Above) Second night at TR’s and this time I’m on to a 10oz New York Strip. The beef was tender and succulent; coupled with my favorite broccoli and a baked potato for a change (loaded with goodies). I had to give their desserts a miss again, I was so full after this fabulous entrée.

(Below) On my third and last day I was so glad I could meet up with Emily, a fellow blogger that I hadn’t met before. She was so kind to take a day’s leave just to meet up with me (thank you, Emily). We headed to Chili’s at Mid Valley for some Tex-Mex food and had an enjoyable time chatting like old friends. I was still reeling from the hotel’s buffet breakfast but I put on a brave front and decided to give it my best shot, ha ha.

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(Above) Emily chose the fire-grilled Chicken and Portobello mushrooms while I sheepishly ordered the Caesar Salad with grilled chicken (below) The portions were American-sized, meaning huge! It was delicious through and through.

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(Above) We threw caution to the wind and ordered a dessert monster, the Molten Chocolate Cake. Fortunately we ordered just one. Shamefully decadent dark chocolate cake with a large dollop of vanilla ice cream on top, smothered with tons of thick chocolate sauce. Both of us could barely finish this dessert so Emily took the rest of it home. It’d be a shame to waste it, no?

Soon after lunch I had to say goodbye to Emily, check out of the hotel, and make my way to Subang Skypark Airport. Till the next time—arriverdecci, Gardens!