Testing My New Tripod System in Wee Hours, One Friendly Police Officer Stopped Me and She Asked …

Raffle Statue at Night

“I see that you are taking pictures of A LOT OF buildings, what are you shooting exactly?” a young female police officer stopped me at two in the morning, right next to the Parliament House.

Good question.  What was I doing by the Singapore River in the wee hours of the Boxing Day.

I needed to test out my new tripod system before heading to Hong Kong later in the late afternoon.  The answer is as simple as that.  And I have always been wanted to shoot the beautiful night scene of the Singapore River.  So I chose the wee hours, after attended the evening Christmas Mass. 

Bizarre things do happen in the wee hours of 12 to 3.  A band was playing in one of the pubs and as the party has ended, the crowd started to disperse.  One group – 3 Indian men 2 Chinese ladies – walked passed me, looked at my camera, and one of them asked, “It’s so dark, what do you see?”  Like magic (due to 30 seconds long exposure), first was the sound of the shutter, then came the image.  And they looked at the picture and gasped.  All of a sudden, all the guys were very animated.  One guy told me that he has the D90.  Yes, it is a good camera, I assured him.  He pointed at mine and said, “Yours is much better!”  And I reassured him that a D90 is a good camera.  We chatted and chatted and how a group of 5 managed to squeeze inside a BMW Convertible, I have no clue.  But they waved at me like good old friends do, breath of the alcohol still lingered in the air, and with a touch of the gas petal, the sport car vanished into the dark.

And that was the closest I get next to a BMW Convertible that opened its roof just moment ago.

How I love to be a – quote unquote – photographer.  People are super friendly with me.  Even though … I am a …

I don’t even know what I am anymore.

Note: All pictures shown here are mostly straight from the camera, with some very minor touch-ups – including the 7 dust spots I have discovered on my image sensor.  Thanks to Nikon Service Centre, they are now gone.

As I walked along the river, admiring the beautiful serenity dotted with couples having their own romantic moments, I heard someone said, “Adíos!”.  Spanish?!  Filipino perhaps.  From the band I reckon.

Someone was sleeping on the street with his bicycle next to him.  He must have woken up by the shutter sound of my camera.  He paced around waiting for me to go away.  I stuck around waiting for him to go away.  Reluctantly, he cycled off and that was when I was stopped by two police officers.  I reassured her that I was not taking any picture of the government buildings (common security measure even in the US of A).

Moving away from the quietness of Boat Quay, I was drawn by the light and the sound of Clark Quay.  3am in the morning, people were still doing reverse bungee.  I could hear their screaming across the river.  Some time ago someone raised a concern over such entertainment in Clark Quay.  Too much noise in the wee hours.

I climbed up an overhead bridge and took some pictures of the traffic on the street.  One white lady screamed just another flights of stairs behind me saying something like she wanted to die.  I turned around, saw her in the middle section of the bridge with one leg over the railing.  Her lover (I supposed) pleaded her to stop killing herself.  I saw the hesitant in her so I did not want to get involved.  They went on and on over I love you I love you not with drinks in their hands while I went on and on shooting for that one perfect traffic shot.  There were cars that braked hard right before my eyes (people who think that I was the traffic police with a speed camera?).  There were cars that shot past me with such ferocity.  Yes, that grey Nissan GT-R.  I nearly got your number plate.

I love my new tripod system.  Unlike cameras and lenses that the heavier the gears are, the higher the quality, but rather like the bicycles for the professionals, losing the weight without compromising the performance cost a lot, a lot of money.  I have previously carried a tripod for my entire trip to Italy in 2000.  Anything heavy I just wouldn’t use (unless it is the case of heavy weight that implies good quality).  That much I know about myself.

Night time photography can be a lonely activity.  Each shoot took a minute or more to complete – mount the camera, adjust the tripod head, compose the picture, determine the settings, close the viewfinder blind, use a 10 seconds timer release, wait for 15-30 seconds or more for the picture to be properly exposed, and if the result can be improved, restart the whole process again.  If that is not tedious enough, at times I have to wait for the people to move away, pray that people will not move into the picture (anything can happen during the 30 seconds exposure plus 10 seconds timer release).  I have to observe the wind speed over the river, and the movement of the cloud.

It is all about patience and perseverance.  And this is my passion.  Above all, I love taking pictures in this beautiful country that I call home.

~ Dec 26, 2008

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Second Batch of Photos from Our Bandung Trip – Cafe Sierra at the Peak and Our Last Day of the Trip

A Lovely Waitress at Bumbu Desa

OK.  This photo of the waitress at Bambu Desa looks lovely.  The authentic Indonesian food from the lovely city of Bandung is lovely too.  Now before I get into that, here comes the second batch of our selected photo collection.

If you notice from the previous batch, I have reversed the order of the batches because … I simply want to do something anti-chronicle.  On the last evening of our Bandung trip, the sky had finally opened up after days and nights of rain.  So we headed to one of the cafe at the peak.

Year 2000, I was at the exact spot.  To cut a long story short, it was my first meet-Cynthia’s-family session, and Cynthia’s mother passed me her antique van to drive up to the peak.  Looking back, I often joked that it was one of the tests to assess the suitability of erm … you know lah. Both Cynthia’s mother and brother are better drivers and are familiar with the Indonesia road structure while I …

OK.  I stalled the handbrake-less van once at one crucial steep hump and the villagers were kind enough to help us to hold the van while I engaged the first gear.  Ahem!

8 years have passed and instead of the same cafe we have visited in 2000, we chose the more classy Cafe Sierra.  You can see from the evening photos at the peak.  A lovely cafe.  By the way, I love that photo of the balcony with kids running round.  Look closer and see if you can see Cynthia and her mother!

The next day, we had our lovely lunch at Bambu Desa (Bandung) before heading to Jakarta for an overnight stay.  As you can see, we took the SIA flight.  I love the last picture a lot (the one with Cynthia holding a Starbucks coffee and the SIA plane as the background).  It was time critical as the plane was moving away as I was trying hard to adjust the flash setting.

Thanks for viewing!  More are on the way.

Note: the dude in our collection is Tong Kiat, our good friend.

Related Tag: Bandung December 2008 Trip

First Batch of Photos from Our Bandung Trip – A Teaser and More to Come

Shooting from the Back of the Car - Cynthia and I

I know I have been slow in publishing the photos from my trips and now that I am heading to Hong Kong in less than 72 hours’ time, it’s a high time to release the first batch of … erm … teaser. Recently, I have added a telephoto zoom lens into my collection. Though it is rather chunky and heavy and make my entire setup (with flash) weights more than 3kg, it adds a lot of fun to what I couldn’t have done with a wide angle lens. The widened space between my subjects and I have created new means to articulate my vision.

In this collection, half of the photos are created using the telephoto lens, from the casual pictures taken inside Indonesia eating places to the garden of Cynthia’s home in Bandung. Inside the car, I use the wide angle lens (see picture above). I took a picture of that “Satay Building” (the government building with a pole that looks like a satay stick on top) and later at night, I attempted to capture the light of the sunset around the estate, hand held.

Coming soon, I intend to share sets of the selected photos from the close to 2,000 shots I have made during the trip. At the end of this mini-series, I am pretty sure that you would fall in love with what Bandung has to offer. Proposed blog titles are as follows.

  1. Last Day of Our Trip and Sierra – A Cafe at the Peak of Bandung
  2. North of Bandung – Air Terjun Maribaya (Waterfall) and De Ranch
  3. South of Bandung – Kawah Putih (Volcano)
  4. My Family My Friends & A Good Driver / Tour Guide to Recommend
  5. Pigeons, Lots of White Pigeons
  6. Shopping at Rumah Mode & Paris Van Java
  7. High Speed Street Shots
  8. Wildlife at Taman Safari

Photo Shooting at Singapore Night Safari – No Flash, Hand Held, Total Madness

Knowing that I will visit Taman Safari Indonesia next week, I managed to purchase the perpetually sold out Nikon zoom lens and wanted to give it some practice at our Singapore Zoo or Bird Park during the long weekend.  I stared at the sky everyday and willed the rain to go away, without success.  So one evening I took my Nikon D700 with my new lens and headed to Night Safari, alone.

I have totally underestimated the challenges ahead.  Before I left home, I was very pleased to finally leave the flash gun behind since it is morally irresponsible to shoot these lovely animals with flash.  Flash photography has been a steep learning curve for me; shooting moving wildlife hand held with no flash in near pitch dark and less than ideal light source is very hard.  It is hard to describe unless you try it out yourself.

I have seen many visitors gave up after some test shots (all black, grossly under exposed).  Looking at my LCD, they were amazed at what I took; but I was less than thrilled by the results of this trip.  Sorry guys, I promise to do a better job next time.  Perhaps with a monopod and a different setting.  Below are 28 pictures selected out of close to 500 shots I took that one evening (no Photoshop, no cropping).  I have put in some captions to better describe the condition.  If the OVI player moves too fast, feel free to mouse over it, click pause, and manually forward the slide.

After the first few auto shots, I was stunned by the result (in a negative way no fault of Nikon).  Bear in mind that I have just invested don’t know how many years of my future Christmas present budget into this one lens, I stood still trying to figure out what to do next.  Auto focusing option is out because it was too dark for my camera.  The animals kept moving and the shuttle speed could not be too low.  Some animals kept moving towards and away from me and I had to keep changing the composition (i.e. zoom) and the focus.  Basically my left hand was busy with the two rings on my lens.  I have to go for full manual mode anyway because it is not a question of getting the right exposure, it is a question of how low you can possibly tolerate.  I learned as I shot.

Most of the shots I was shooting at a focal length of 200mm (widest aperture of 2.8 for all).  That works out to be an ideal shutter speed of 1/200s for hand held condition (please let me know if I talk rubbish)?  VR – vibration reduction – can slow down the speed for 3 stops for those who have steady hands (I leaned towards stationary objects whenever possible) and I had to go even lower than that.  Most of the shots, I used a speed of 1/15s.  Some I manage to up it to 1/30s.  Still, it is very hard to get a good shot with that speed at 200mm.  I tried to get a better ISO whenever I could but rarely could I go below 3200.

I had no prior experience nor read anything on manual setting prior to this trip. Most definitely, I have committed a lot of laughable mistakes.  My last manual focusing practice session was when I was a very small boy.  I did the best I could and figured the above out through experiments on the spot that one moist evening.  How glad my scientific mind kicks into action when I need to make my art works.  As always, all online and offline feedback is welcome.

Clarke Quay is Lovely – Project Experiment with Nikon SB-900

Clarke Quay holds a special place to my heart, it has always been since I first visited Singapore more than a decade ago.  The vibrancy, the color, the tourists, and when I was toying with a location for me to experiment my new flash unit Nikon SB-900, I thought of Clarke Quay.

To tell you that I know how to operate that flash unit would be a lie.  Half an hour before we stepped out of our home, I was busy going through the manuals and tips-and-tricks the first time.  I got the essential information – pretty much like most that I do in my life – and reckon that the best way to learn is to go out to the field and experiment.

This Nikon SB-900 is a large flash unit.  Attached it to my already monstrous tool make me look like an alien walking on earth with a huge laser gun.  When TK joined us, he was shocked by the size of my tool.  Oh well, I was shocked too.

So we had a Spanish meal – my first – at The Tapas Tree.  One of the staff whom we have not met before is a teacher from Las LiLas School, where Cynthia and I learn Spanish.  Cynthia was shocked that I initiated a Spanish conversation with her.  I was shocked that the lovely Spanish lady understood what I said.  And she gave us a 10% discount.  How nice.

We bumped into a couple who asked if I could take a picture for them.  I offered to send them the photo via email but I guess they were too drunk to response.  I think I got a bit better with the flash unit towards the end.  Keep practicing I guess.  If all (pictures) fail, at least we’ve had a lovely evening.