I have just finished setting up my piano studio here in Hong Kong. To see more details, please visit my music blog here.
There are years that ask questions and years that answer. ~ Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
Having passed my 55th birthday last month makes me sometimes wonder what’s ahead for me. Frankly I’m not too worried about it as I’m happy with the way life is going so far. There’s a roof over my head, I have clothing, I make a decent living and most importantly I have health. And what about happiness? To quote a cliché, happiness is a state of mind—we decide how much and when we want to be happy. I’ve reached the point where I’m content to take each day as it comes, not glossing over the past or the future. Some days I’m on a high and conversely some days I’m not so…but even then there’s always something to be thankful for every day.
I’m grateful to the people who understand me and my weirdness (I say weirdness as a compliment to myself) I know my likes and dislikes and don’t make any apologies for them. I’m not a people-pleaser and I don’t have any intention to be one, not now, not ever. Instead, I like my own quirkiness (again, a quiet compliment to moi)
Life’s good so far.
Beauty arises in the stillness of your presence. ~ Eckhart Tolle
The Botanical Gardens here doesn’t have an abundance of flowers as in other similar places. However, what it does have is beautiful and enough to inspire me to take these photographs.
(Above two photos) Pink and white lilies. I chose to take these photographs early in the morning; somehow the flowers and everything else around them appear fresher and more resplendent. Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS.
(Below) I couldn’t help but notice these uniquely shaped leaves with the sunlight filtering through them. Overexposing a touch and adding a Nikon soft filter creates a dreamy mood. Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro.
(Above two photos) A very colorful and red cannon ball flower and buds. The photo of the myrtle crepe flowers was taken with a Nikon soft filter screwed on my Canon 70-200mm f/4L IS lens.
(Below) I love how colorful and aplenty bougainvillea are in the gardens. This was shot with a Canon 24-105mm f/4L IS.
(Above two photos) Two close-ups of a purple lily and a cannon ball flower. Shot with a Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens.
I took these shots with my Canon 6D using a variety of lenses, namely the Canon 100mm f/2.8L Macro and 70-200mm f/4L IS. Sometimes it’s hard to see the beauty of a place, especially when you’ve been there practically every day. But I’ve trained myself to spot a potential picture. Sometimes I succeed and sometimes I end up deleting most of them in a photo shoot. Nonetheless, it’s a fun and learning experience. For the above picture I saw this large fern perched on the river bank. Using a large aperture of f/4 on my 70-200mm I focused on it while blurring the background to make the subject stand out. In the picture below I saw this glorious reflection in the lily pond. I positioned the sole lily flower on the intersection of thirds to add a touch of pink among the sea of predominant green. Shot with my Canon 70-200mm f/4L.
(Above) I happened to be at the right place at the right time for this sunset. I let the camera judge the exposure and it came out with a perfect silhouette of the trees. Believe it or not, I used my 100mm f/2.8L Macro lens to take this shot!
(Below) The wind was picking up; fortunately I had my tripod with me and shot this using a slowish shutter speed, which blurred the movements in the water. 70-200mm f/4L.
(Above) Not many people know where this is, but it’s a lovely place to take some pictures, especially with the sloping gradient of the ground. I focused on the tree and placed it at the intersection of thirds. 70-200mm f/4L.
Canon 6D, 24-105mm f/4L
Everything has beauty, but not everyone sees it. ~ Confucius
There’s no doubt about it. I am blessed to have the Botanical Gardens right at my doorstep. Having Nature so close to me is wonderful. And so I’ve been taking a lot of walks in the gardens and its surroundings. I especially like it when the rainy season begins and the temperature drops by a few degrees. Needless to say, I’ve taken countless pictures here. Wait, I hear you say…don’t you ever get bored with taking pictures of the same scenery? Ah yes, sometimes…I have to be honest about that. But that’s where my creative juices kick in and I start looking at Nature differently—using different lenses, exploring different angles, shooting at different times of day, stuff like that. So to start off this series of posts, I’ve chosen to show the gardens and its surroundings.
Both photos above: Canon 6D, 24-105mm f/4L
Perhaps the best thing I like about the gardens are its waterfalls. They are particularly resplendent during the rainy season, when the surge of water from the nearby hills makes the waterfalls “sing.” I find the sound of waterfalls to be very calming—to me it’s akin to white noise. If the temperature here could magically drop by at least 10° I could sit and listen to them all day.
Canon 6D, 100mm f/2.8L Macro
Canon 6D, 70-200mm f/4L
I love that quote by Confucius. I feel a little sad when I see people coming to exercise here and they have their headphones on, or they are talking loudly to one another or trying to appear busy with their cellphones. Uh uh…not me. I leave the electronics at home. I do have my watch but very often I’m so carried away with my photography that I don’t even realize the time. Anyway, it’s having a creative eye that makes me attempt to take different pictures every time. So yes, I see and I photograph dead leaves. Just because they’re dead doesn’t mean they have lost their beauty.
Canon 6D, 70-200mm f/4L
The lily ponds are a treat for me. I like to take pictures of the reflections in the water, particularly when it’s raining. I’m so glad that they have got all the fountains working again. More about that later.
Canon 6D, 100mm f/2.8L Macro
Here’s a shot of the nearby hills during a very rainy morning. Yes, that’s fog coming down the slopes. Makes for a very atmospheric shot, yes?
It’s been more than 30 years since I last visited this iconic Penang landmark. I remembered as a kid, my brother and I would go up and stay in one of the government bungalows with my other cousins or friends during the school holidays. I’m sure a lot has changed, so this morning I took a ride up using the modern funicular railway—very nice, no lines. The train was air-conditioned and went quite fast. After reaching the summit of this 2300 foot hill the exit erroneously led me to some coffee shops and an Owl Museum…no, I didn’t pay to go in. I managed to find the proper exit and went out. Nothing much to explore, there was a Hindu temple there, a playground, and some buggies with drivers waiting for tourists to hire them.
As luck would have it, the weather wasn’t that ideal for photography; it was rather hazy and murky. I bolted a polarizer onto my lens and tried to make the best of whatever blue skies there were. Visited this nearby platform where there was a long fence and couples chained locks to it with their declarations of love. Um, in other cities having this kind of thing, they are usually on bridges and once you’ve snapped the lock shut you’re supposed to throw the keys into the water. So what would they do here when there’s no water source? Just wondering. Sorry, I’ve become a little cynical of love lately.
I had to take the obligatory selfie to prove I was here. And it’s also because I carried my tripod along for this trip. It was so warm, I was sweating buckets, blah blah blah. You get the picture (pun intended).
After that I went for a long walk…needless to say a lot of tourists were hiring buggies and having themselves driven around. Not me, I like the exercise. I like the solitude and I can do without all that useless chatter.
Here’s a view of downtown Penang. As I said, the weather wasn’t cooperating but what the hell, I’m already here.
I was also disappointed because I wanted to try David Brown’s restaurant (supposed to be good) but when I got there it was closed. And it looked like it was closed permanently. Ah well, lunch will have to wait. I think the nicest shot was of these colorful leaves.
There was a huge crowd of mostly noisy locals when I wanted to make the trip down…I had to stand inside the train since it was packed like sardines. I don’t think I’ll be making another trip up here again…nothing really much to see.
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.
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.
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.
So there you have it. Perhaps I’ll talk more about the way I work in my next post.