Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Water Creatures

The series of doing outdoor photography continues on. I am not quite done exposing my skin to the harmful sun ray just yet. Being down the whole day, skipping work, and trying to recuperate and recover as much as I can by trapping myself inside the room for the entire day can get really depressing somehow. It was late afternoon, and I was feeling much better already, as I looked to the sky, it was covered with soft white clouds, cooling down the temperature drastically. The strong wind blowing into the windows of my room compelled me to just go out for a walk, and breathe in some polluted city air. That was just what I did precisely.

Obviously I was not leaving Ollie behind. Previously, I have utilized the standard kit lens with the close up filter to squeeze out whatever possible out of the lens + filter combination to obtain some decent macro shots, thus for this time, I was keeping those two equipments untouched in the bag. Instead, for this particular session, I just used the tele-zoom lens for all shots.



The place I was mentioning about was a park, located really close to where I am currently staying. I used to come here for a round of jog or two, after work in the evening until it came to a point that I had to work until ungodly hours that I have decided to stop jogging completely. It is quite impossible to keep up with fitness routines these days, seriously, sitting in front of the computer for the entire day, and coming home feeling completely drained off energy and all lethargic somehow contributed to the ever-expanding tummy of mine. Nevertheless, I do love this park a lot, though it does not have blue waters, or nice hills overlooking breathtaking sceneries.

But it does have a lake. With living things in it. No fishes, none. Just tortoises, lots and lots of them.

For those of you who live in the fairy tales and children bedtime stories telling you that the tortoise is very slow on land, once you have encountered these creatures in this particular park, you will be stunned by how fast they can MOVE. One second you see them laying on the rocks, sun-bathing like nobody's business, as you stepped in closer 5 meters radius from where it was, it would be gone splashing into the waters the next second. I kid you not. They have very fast reaction times. Of course they will never be as fast as rabbits, but they are nowhere as slow as snails either.




And so they all ran away even before I took out my camera and turn it on. Therefore that left me no choice, but to employ the stealth mode. Yeah, stealth like a ninja, I became. I quietly sat my huge heavy ass onto the grass very close to the lake, and positioned myself as I was getting my equipments set up. I believe lowering down the body (angle of view) is an important move in this session, since getting yourself close to the eye level of your subjects can improve your picture compositions dramatically. Hence, I have achieved the first step, and I did it as slow, and as quietly as I could. The next challenge was being as frosty as I could, and avoid any unnecessary sudden movement to startle the sensitive creatures.

It did not take me long remained under the stealth mode, portraying my invisibility aura all around me, before the shy tortoises come out from the water, onto the rocks, and started to pose for my camera. A few minutes more, a few more joined in the fun, and I was happily snapping away. My position was around 2-3 meters away from where the tortoises were, and it was the comfortable working distance with the tele lens being attached on my camera at the moment. Everything was working well.

Until an ant bit my leg and I moved my hand to kill that miserable little monster. There and then, all the tortoises disappeared all at once !! Stupid ant, now I had to redo the whole stealth mode positioning thing again before I am within good shooting distance with the water creatures.




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There were times they came really close to me, less than 1.5 meter away from me, and my tele lens could not focus beyond anything closer than 1.5 meters. I hear that tortoises are dangerous, since their jaws are so strong that they could bite off your itchy fingers. That fact aside, seeing them upclose and personal, I do think the tortoises are really cool creatures. The best part of this all, they were out in the open, and not confined in a cage of any sort, and they can move freely as they please.

I was quite proud of the stealth mode that I successfully pulled off. I was so motionless that a dragonfly and a bird came along really close to where I was. Yeah, can't help it, another dragonfly shot, but this one was pink/purple in colour, and by using my telephoto lens, I could throw the entire background completely out of focus. Check out the superbly rendered creamy bokeh, do not underestimate what an Olympus lens can do. And we all know this particular bird, which is very common everywhere in Malaysia, is very sensitive, and would just flew away lightning fast even with a slight movement of your fingers.



Although I was complimenting on the lens, I must say that, I was not entirely satisfied with the coverage. I felt the need for much longer reach, being restricted to only 300mm (in 35mm equivalent field of view, approximately 10 times zoom in normal compact digital camera) it was quite difficult to frame the subjects without startling them by going too close. Any extra zoom power would definitely help to bring me closer without threatening them.

I guess that is all for now folks. I am still not fully recovered from my not-feeling-so-well symptoms, so yeah, I shall save some stories for coming entries. The walk around the park, and the shooting session did wonders in making me feel heaps better.

To all my Muslim friends, and readers, I wish you all Selamat Hari Raya Aidilfitri !!

Monday, September 29, 2008


This marks my first attempt on photographing insects. Without a macro lens. And I am sure Yiaw Wei would love me, for taking macro more and more seriously.

I know, I am a cheapskate, I can't help it. The way I am seeing my financial status at the moment, I will not be able to add anything into my photography equipments for many many months to come, possibly more than a year. Hence, no new lenses, or anything else in that regard. Sad, I know, but I shall live with what I currently have.


And so it was a fine Saturday morning that I managed to wake up really early in the morning, and according to Jasonmumbles it is time again for me to torture my camera. A little correction, it was nothing like torture at all, the way I see it, it was more of going out and having fun, with the camera. Come on man, I am not that kind of person treating cameras like slaves ok. I let it rest 5 days a week, and only bring it out for heavy usage in the weekends.

For some really unexplainable reasons, the dragonflies were, somewhat very friendly that particular morning. I was using my standard zoom lens, attached with a +4 close up filter, and I moved my lens to as close as I dared, up to a point less than 10cm from the front of my lens, fully zoomed in telephoto end. On normal days, the dragonflies would have flown away when anything moved within 1m radius of their vicinity. I guess I must have been quite lucky, since many of them remained really still, and allowed me to go that near for those macro shots.



Of course the usage of close up filter can aid in obtaining a little extra, but significant magnification in the shots, but it is by no means a proper replacement for a real macro lens. I do not really consider those shots macro at all, since the magnification factor was way less than 50%. A true macro lens will enable you to go in much further, browse the web for macro snapshots of insects, and you can see their hairy head with scary huge beady evil eyes, filling up the entire picture frame. As for me, I just did with what I have, and even it was not fully considered as anywhere close to the real thing, I was happy and thrilled with the shots, in the process of making it, and having the final results.

This is also one of those few times I went on full manual in focusing. One of the immense yet mostly unknown advantages Olympus DSLRs offer the photographers would be the full time manual focus override capability. You can use the Autofocus to pin point the focus zone first, then while the shutter is halfway pressed down, you rotate the focus ring at the front of lens, and this provides an override into the manual control over the focus, enabling you to fine tune to the precise narrow depth of field you want to stay sharp in focus. For example, your autofocus might just snap somewhere near the head of the dragonfly (might be a little too much to the front of back, but not where you precisely want it to be), but if you truly want to snap your focus on the eyes, you can fine tune the focus by turning the manual focus ring, without even touching or switching any other buttons. I find this, really really useful, and once you have sampled its extreme versatility, believe me, you would not want to go back to conventional ways of AF/MF switching anymore.



Another really useful feature that I have engaged was the Live View function, with magnification function to further aid in fine tuning the manual focus. With this, you do not really have to squint your pitiful eyes over the viewfinder, but can have the luxury of viewing one portion of magnified area through the huge LCD screen. Plus the manual focus control by Olympus is "focus by wire", fully digital in mechanism control, basically you get much higher accuracy. For those of you who have not experienced this flexibility, you might want to give it a try. It is definitely a huge plus in getting that tack sharp image.

Since my standard kit lens is 14-42mm F/3.5-5.6, and I was zooming into the full telephoto end, most of the pictures taken were shot at F5.6. This resulted the inability to fully throw the background out of focus, and whatever blurring occurred could not effectively isolate the dragonfly. Nevertheless, I was not complaining, since this is something I need to live with, not having a real macro lens, but utilizing a cheap alternative close up filter. I dare say, the background blur is creamy enough, though Nikon and Canon users could have achieved approximately 20% further defocussing capabilities in comparison to Olympus.


Another point worth noting, the built in body Image Stabilization seriously made a hell of a difference. I have tried with my E-410 previously, and I can honestly tell you I was never going to be able to produce those sharp/shake free images, even at ISO800 !!! Now with the built in Image Stabilization, all I was worrying about was where to focus the subject considering the superbly narrow depth of field, not so much trouble on blurring due to camera shake even shooting at marginally lower ISO settings. You can judge for yourself from all the pictures I have posted here, onviously less shake and the noise control this time was much better too compared to my previous attempts. (if you are so free go browse back my older entries, where people always complain that my pictures have too much noise/grains)


As for me, I really, really enjoy shooting those dragonflies. Though the shots are nowhere near what those true macro photographers would consider as anything useable and good (inadequate magnification, insufficient bokeh), but I still have this fulfilling and satisfying feeling viewing the end results. After all, I do believe in fully maximizing the use of your camera before you should move on to the next level by upgrading your equipments. I know I have not tried out every single thing the Olympus has to offer, but I am in no rush, and I am taking one step at a time. We learn progressively, and in each mile we travel we all will improve.


To produce those shots, it was not an easy task, and sure it was time consuming, On the whole this session took me almost 3 hours, and a lot of them involved patience in waiting for the dragonfly to come near you, and trying really hard not to move too much, or too sudden to startle them. Trust me, photography needs patience, if you have not much, start gaining some if you want to see improvement in your shots. Nevertheless, I dare say dragonflies are very fun to work with, and they almost seem to camwhore for me !! Tiring, it was but all the effort and time were worth the thrill and end-satisfaction.

I am foreseeing more future insect photography attempts. Someone, donate me a macro lens please and save me all this misery.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Groovy Steamboat

After working a few months here in this company I somehow unexpectedly ended up after all the dramas since the beginning of this year, I have to say that things are looking especially interesting, considering the really extra-ordinary people I have come to know and see every working days of the week. This bunch of humans are extremely fun-loving, and somehow possess unlimited supply of laughter. I could not recall the last time I was around a gang of friends that could laugh continuously all through the night. Life has been really more colourful, and this is a advantage for me, since I have not many connections when I started my new life here in KL.



Unfortunately, one of our colleagues had to leave the company, hence a gathering and makan session was taking in place for her last day. The decided dinner was a steamboat located somewhere in Serdang. I could not exactly remember the previous time I had a decent steamboat dinner, since it is not actually a popular dining style back in my hometown, Kuching. The idea of getting your hands dirty, putting in effort to cook your own dishes, facing the smoking oil and sticky atmosphere are not very inviting. All these, come with an exception, that is if you are with a HUGE group of really crazy people.


The dinner was fantastic, the selection of food was really good, considering ample choices and varieties of meat, seafood, and lots of steamboat-able food. I was somewhat feeling really lazy to move much though, since everyone else was moving around already. I guess it was not that bright of a day for me, since I felt really drained right after work, and the constant throbbing in my head was not helping at all, probably due to immense lacking of sleep for the past few nights of the week. Nevertheless, throw in smiling faces, noisy Jeremy, and echoing non-stop laughing actions, the night soon liven up, and I was feeling much better already.





MOON and the FareWell Girl, WAI FAN

The night did not end just after the dinner, the entire bunch minus a few souls who left for some unexplainable reasons, strolled along the night for a drinking session. After all, our colleague, Wai Fan (sorry if I spelled your name wrong, I am not good in remembering Chinese names) deserved a proper farewell celebration, and I have always believed that a good celebration involves not only good food, but also decent amount of alcohol. So yeah, do forgive me if you see some abnormalities in the pictures on this entry, since I am writing this at ungodly 2 in the morning, still feeling a little tipsy from earlier session.

To Wai Fan, all the best in your future undertaking, and though the time we have known each other was rather short, and you being on another floor away from my level, I got to say that I have felt the sincerity and warmth from such a kind person you are. I do hope that you will keep that part true in yourself wherever you go, because it is a truly rare quality in people these days. Do take good care of yourself, and stay cheerful !!

I have more, heaps more to say, but I have to cut short here. Extremely busy weekend ahead. Gotta catch whatever little sleep I have left.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Grilled Chicken Foldover

Not too long ago a friend of mine visited KL, and we met up at Mid Valley for lunch one fine Saturday afternoon. After much consideration, we decided to just settle the meal at McDonald's. I know, of all the food places in Mid Valley, we chose McDonald's. Don't ask, it was a mutual decision.

I ordered my usual, Quarter Pounder, and should I still be in Australia, it would have been the DOUBLE Quarter Pounder. My friend opted for the Grilled Chicken Foldover, which to be frank with you guys, I have NOT seen before. I know it was not exactly a new item in the menu, and almost everyone knew, or at least has tasted it before, but I only found it out that particular day. What a sad world I am living in. This just proves how disconnected I am to reality eh?

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Anyway, I asked him if he liked the foldover thing, he said, it will be his staple order every single visit to McDonald's. If it was that good for him, I supposed it must have been something right?

So last weekend, being lazy and all, I decided to give it a try. With literally an empty stomach, without having anything since morning, I quickly snapped a few shots before sinking my teeth in. My hands were shaky, and it is a great challenge to take good food pictures when all you can think of was EAT EAT EAT.

Trying it for the first time, I instantly fell in love with it. The thin outer bread folder was really good, and the huge amount of lettuce mixed with freshly cut big onions... with generous amount of unhealthily fattening mayonnaise, added some oddly sliced tomatoes, and two miserable pieces of grilled burger patties... there you have it, the Grilled Chicken Foldover. And I like it.

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I do admit that the price is.. just a little over the heels. Well, aren't everything from McDonald's, or any sort of fast food, overpriced anyway?

If I do happen to be at McDonalds again, I will most certainly have the foldover again. Getting hungry already.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Olympus E-520

Side Note: Most pictures featured in this entry were taken with my limping Kodak C875. Yes, it has enough life to produce those few shots.

So I now have an E-520, after the E-410 was taken away from me.


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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Why Olympus? After trying around various brands of entry level DSLRs, I have come to a conclusion, what Olympus offers is impossible to beat. After using the previous E-410, I have come to really love Olympus DSLRs even more.

Why E-520?

1) Built in Body Image Stabilization. Throw in any lens, even the old Film SLR lenses, you get Optical I.S.

2) Flexible Customization options.

3) Useful Live View, perfect for manual focus previews.

4) The famous Olympus Colors.

5) Superb Kit Lens built and quality, designed specifically for digital.

6) Great straight to JPEG shots. JPEG engine best of its class.

7) Best value for money entry level DSLR.

8) Super Sonic Wave Filter, most effective dust reduction system. Best in class.


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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

9) Extremely feature-packed for an entry level, bracketing options, mirror lock-up, customizable noise filter, etc.

10) Direct Shortcut buttons, accessing frequently used options: ISO, AF, Metering, White Balance and even a specific function assigned button.

11) It looks sleek. Sexiest in its class.

12) Superbly fast shooting performance. 3.5 Frames per second continuous shooting speed, best in class.

13) Impressive memory read/write speed, again, best in class.

14) Awesome standard kit lens, considered the top of its category, featuring internal focusing, manual focus by wire, ED element, and even comes with petal shaped lens hood.

15) It is an Olympus, of course.


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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Ok, Canon, Nikon and Sony.. come and flame me already.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Random Stage Stuff

I was not exactly aiming for anything this afternoon being out from my place, strolling around rather directionless until I somehow ended up at the Sungai Wang area. The time I arrived some time in the afternoon, there was this online e-magazine radio show thingy happening where local artists were performing. Like I know what they were saying, or singing, or who they were in the first place.

But some cute faces were on stage, and that was good enough reason for me to whip out my gear and started snapping away. Sorry no elaborate explanations, since I had not the slightest clue what the event was all about. I am a proud, and innocent banana, so forgive me.

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

Pictures come out slightly noisy, I toned down the in-camera noise filter setting to see the effects it would impose on my JPEG shots. Yes you Canon, Nikon and Sony fanatics, Olympus cameras give you FULL control over noise filtering, and you can even choose to turn them completely OFF. The details captured in the pictures are stunning, but overall they come out a bit too noisy. I can easily "clean" them off by editing, but just want to demonstrate what the filtering option would do to the pictures. So I left the noise intact, which was not that bad if you ask me, considering the amount of details the shots could salvage.

I wanted to stay for the entire programme, and even catch the evening charity fashion concert thing, which I would be as clueless as the previous event, but I have received a text from Chun Chow for a tennis plan in the late afternoon. So yeah, I left the performance halfway through, and off I rushed back for a round of stroking balls.

Gosh, I miss tennis.

Gotta play more.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Dim Sum Morning

On last Sunday, I had a privilege to join a fellow blogger, Chong (click) for a round of KL Dim Sum at Sri Petaling. Early, very early did I rise that morning, and met up with the really awesome blogger/photographer at an ungodly 7.15am.

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

I do not know why, in contrary to what people see and think of me, I am not exactly, a people person. But I guess sometimes, after being with my only self for so long, it does get kind of depressing somehow, and getting out there meeting cool people would be really refreshing.

Hence the dim sum session. Great food over lengthy conversations about photography (what do you guys expect?), work, life and what nots.

I know for some unimaginable reasons, quite a number of friends I do know, can only attribute KL to one sole good thing, having a night life, and the teh tarik/mamak sessions. I have yet to truly discover the joy in that, heck, I am trying to stay away from supper these days. Waking up early every day, working full time, coming home with whole body drained of energy, I find very little time lfet to do anything much in maintaining my non-existent fitness. Therefore, the least I could do, is trying not to overeat.

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Free Image Hosting at www.ImageShack.us

But Dim Sum is innocent. And waking up early may not exactly be the best thing to do in the whole world, the thought of going back to bed after dim sum, is not so bad after all. Hmmmm....

The joy of eating heaps, and sleeping heaps. Life could have been so good, minus all the dramas, and traumas.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Hibiscus Garden

I woke up to yet another day of fine weathered morning on Sunday, and I decided that I have not had enough of outdoor shooting yet, since the previous attempt unexpectedly turned out to be shooting through the glass indoor. No I do not love the UV radiation that much, but there is a thrill in being out there in the open, and feel the extremely polluted air of Kuala Lumpur filling up the lungs. Yeah it is fun, no?


I flew to the tourist hotspot right in the city, where the bird park, butterfly park, the orchid garden, the national monument and the orchid garden were concentrated at. Of all the places, there was one that I have deliberately missed out all these while, the hibiscus garden, for apparent reasons. How interesting can hibiscus possibly be, right? I am not exactly a nature loving guy, that would be so gay, heck, I would pour concrete all over the yard in my future home to save the costs and trouble of garden maintenance. Or even better, stay in an apartment. But stopping, and taking your time to truly look at them can bring out the wonder of creations.



By the way Yiaw Wei can have his share of laughing back at me now, since I repetitively made fun of him shooting hibiscus pictures not too long ago. Yeah, I bet he would be happy and proud of me for shooting macro photos.

First time stepping into the garden, I was not expecting much from the lame hibiscus flowers. However, the whole place was a lot larger than I have imagined. Though the varieties of hibiscus and other plants exhibited there under the bright torturing sun were rather few, but the amount of all of them together in that garden was.. enormous. Exploring further and further into the huge garden, I finally discovered something that made myself look plain silly. At one corner of the garden, I found an exit, or rather, a connecting entrance to the Orchid Garden that I have visited previously !! I felt really cheated, there were no signs indicating that both the Orchid garden and the Hibiscus Garden were joined together, and accessible from both ends. Should I have known this fact earlier, I would have covered both places during the previous visit.


As mentioned earlier, there were not that many varieties, you get mostly the stereotypical looking hibiscus plants, the ones that you are very likely to come across standing next to the trash bin along the roadside. They come in varying colours, nothing overly interesting, even insects seemed to have deserted the flowers on this particular afternoon. Probably the insecticide applied to the plants was too strong that none would dare to go near the flowers.



I tried to shoot the flowers in macro, and failed miserably without a macro lens. I suppose the reason for this would be the inability to attain the sufficient magnification factor for true macro photography. I utilised both the standard zoom lens, and telephoto lens, and even adapted a close-up +4 filter, but the results did not turn out as what I have had in mind. I dare say that the previous lens that I have lost, the pancake lens, could do a much better job handling close distance photography, with better control over the depth of field too.

The best part of shooting still subjects would be the joy of taking the sweet time playing around with the manual focus. Throw in the full time live view function previewed on a large LCD screen, with full coverage of the photo-frame, I can adjust the focus as freely as I wanted, unless the flower grew a pair of wings and flew away from me. Not that the autofocus is not reliable, it is, but fine tuning them would allow you to specifically target the exact area you want to pin-point in those picture, providing a completely different emphasis on the subject. If you think you can shoot pictures without the aid of Live View, think again. Once you have experienced the potential and possibilities it opens up for you, you may just start to look at it as a necessity.


(I have read somewhere that manual focusing is not available for the Live View function in current Sony DSLR models, is this true?)

Now, if someone could kindly donate me a macro lens I would be a happier Robin. Right, I can dream sometimes.