Sunday, February 28, 2010

HDR Experiment: Take One

Alright I must admit this much, this place is getting boring. I only have myself to blame, for not challenging myself to move out of the comfort zone, and try out new techniques, or venture into different genres of photography. Considering the extra little bit of free time I possess over this long weekend, I have intended to take on something rather new to me. Well, it is not exactly that new to anyone else, except me, and you might as well shake your head in disbelief as I mention this session as my first experimentations with HDR photography.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range.

Yes, I know I should have ventured into HDR long time ago, considering the fact that I am using a DSLR. Every single magazine has raved about HDR and the awesomeness it brings, especially to landscape and architectural works. So many of my peers have done it, some successful, some not so successful. To be honest, originally I was not too enthusiastic about HDR for several reasons: 1) Looking unnatural 2)I do not like the over baked look, especially the over saturation of colours 3) Overdone, for some shots would have looked nicer being as it was without HDR. I also believe that HDR has been overrated, and its benefits can only be displayed in certain situations, provided that the photographer knows what he is doing. I particularly dislike the HDR processing that turns a photo into something like a painting, because I think that defeats the purpose of photography. I agree, it is art, or a form of it that some people may like, but if you really want a painting then why don't you just take up a brush and start painting on a real canvas, instead of boasting emptily on digital manipulation.

Typically, HDR requires at least three photos taken at three separate exposures, one being underexposed, one on the right exposure and one overexposed photographs to be combined into a single file, capturing the wide dynamic range and details of all three original files. Doing so will fundamentally require identical framings of all the photos taken, and a tripod is essential to mitigate any hand movements that would otherwise result in unusable HDR stitchings. Knowing me, you should probably come to a conclusion on how lazy I am to bring a heavy tripod anywhere I go to. Besides, I really treasure convenience, hence this correct, or more popularly used method was definitely not designed for me.

At least not yet, and I shall venture to it when I am ready.

What I have done in this entry was merely "pseudo-HDR". I shot all the photos in RAW, and from a single RAW file, I converted it into a pseudo-HDR file via the magic of PhotoMatix. It was as simple as a few clicks, and I was well opened to the new world of HDR that I was quite alien to. Special thanks to Darryl who has shown me some tricks and tips on getting the settings right, and making the best out of the software. Although it was only sourced from just a single RAW file, the dynamic range the output was able to churn out was quite astonishing. Olympus does not exactly produce any note-worthy dynamic range headrooms in their RAW files in direct comparison to the competing manufacturers, but even so, having that extra dynamic range squeezed into the photo, revealing that extra bit of detail and preventing from severe highlight/shadow clipping, all those are always a welcome.

Yes, you heard that right, I shot in RAW. This was also the first time after more than a year of handling the DSLR that I started shooting in RAW. I know, I know, you can lecture me on and on about the importance and necessity of RAW, and how much flexibility and control I will have over the powerless JPEG files.

So here I present to you beautiful people my virgin attempt on HDR. Do cut me some slack will you, I still have a lot to work on, and learn, obviously. I do love my photos come out contrasty, and very vividly strong in colours. However, at the same time, I still want my photographs to look like photographs. Call me a retard in art, or whatever. My purpose of engaging this HDR technique was not to completely make a changeover from the original photo into something I could not even recognize. What I wanted from teh HDR technique was just to boost the dynamic range, and add that extra depth and space into the photograph. You have to say, with dynamic range being opened up, some of the photos have that extra "ooommph", no?

Too bad, my choice of subjects were the same old place near the city center. Well, it was only a try-out session, and you can expect more experimentations coming this way. If the situation permits, perhaps I should even venture into the REAL thing, taking photos of at least three exposures apart. If you have any experience, or any cool photos to share on HDR, anything related to it, please kindly share. Your input is greatly appreciated.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Unanticipated Fishy Affair

It was a lazy, lazy Friday morning, which was also the Prophet Mohammad's Birthday, and I found myself waking up unusually early. Perhaps it was the abnormally hot weather lately that it was not exactly that comfortable to be in bed till late in such warm circumstances. Since I got up early, I ought to get myself out of the miserable room, and at least start clicking my shutter right? Not that I have nothing better to do, actually there was a list of errands, but of course, a camera bag shall go alongside all the to-do list items.

Cats are getting quite fond of my lens. They come closer and closer to me each time I photograph them.

One of the items was to go do a quick look-see around Jalan Pasar, where there was a street full of really cheap electronic stuff. I was hoping to find better set of speakers to replace my current bookshelves, but as I was looking around, I found my fingers on the shutter button already !! I guess some habits just cannot be put aside. I did not really intend to do street shooting, but when I find so many tempting subjects around me, I just cannot help it and start snapping away. I was not that familiar with this place, so I just wandered around aimlessly at first, and not knowing what to shoot. This was probably one of the most random photography session I have ever encountered.

From the old shops at Pudu, I found myself walking further and further away from the central area, and arrived at a place that started to smell like a market. Soon enough, I stepped inside a stretch of road full of stalls selling vegetables. Never have I thought I would end up on a morning market busy with so many aunties looking for that extra fresh tomato or cucumber. So I thought, why not just photograph whatever that was standing on my way, and I just continued my journey. The subjects at this place was really fascinating. There were plenty of things to play around: colourful fruits and vegetables, facial expression of the stall owners, the customers bargaining for the best deal, and the busy-ness of the market atmosphere itself was something I have not photographed before.

I am not entirely new to wet markets actually. Once upon a time when I was still studying and working in Perth, I was quite poor hence we had to survive on our own cooking, rather than eating out. Therefore, we would do our shopping at a market, where the raw food were much more cheaper, and far fresher compared to what you get at supermarkets. However, ever since I got to KL, life has become lazier and lazier that nowadays I resort to eating outside most of the time. Should I need any raw food, I would conveniently stop by the nearest supermarket for supplies. Gone were the days of hunting at wet markets. Nonetheless, me being at a market after such a long time did bring back some memories. Although I must say the market here was way filthier and unsightly messy.

As I kept walking and walking, I suddenly ended up in the middle of a fish market. The stench was overwhelming, and the floor was wet all over. Then I started to wonder how on earth did I come to this place. Not that I have anything to complain, I did not stop the shutter from clicking. The folks at this market were very kind and friendly. You have no idea how much they welcome cameras, and they would willingly let me get near and photograph their items on sale, some even posed directly for my camera. A nod and smile were all I exchanged in return, and they would know well enough that it was quite unlikely I would buy anything from them. Nevertheless, I think having a DSLR appearance every now and then did spruce up their otherwise mundanely routine lifestyle in the market.

The atmosphere there, apart from being busy and rowdy, was actually quite warm and inviting. If you can stand the humidity and hot Malaysian sun, and ignore the strong market stench, seeing pass all that can actually find yourself some human connection to the people there. Observe the actions of the people, and take a good look at their facial expressions. The smiles were very genuine, and it was a place where people come together, and I believe the folks were not just there to get what they wanted. There were friendly chatters, and gestures of bonds being forged from constant visits and long history of buyer-seller relationship. I did not successfully capture this part of scene in my photographs, but I did not leave empty handed. What I have witnessed, was quite new to me. It did not exist in the markets I used to frequent in Perth.

In contrary to common belief that market place is usually very loud and noisy, with the folks screaming on top of their lungs trying to grab the passer-by's attention, I did not find the noise level to be anywhere alarming. It was a lot quieter than any pasar malam I have ever been to !! Yes, you do find price yelling there and here, but it was rather tolerable. On the positive note, there was no "almost-pecah" speakers blasting that horrific ah-beng themed techno song, or annoying aunty who screamed her way into the loudspeaker telling you they had the cheapest piece of fake gold bracelet on the street. The price war-shouting were done moderately here, well, I would not even call them shouting. It was comfortable to know this, since the heat and stench were already getting quite unbearable after being around the wet market for quite a while.

They say, to get photographs with impact, you have to get close. Well, I did not get close, they moved the subjects closer to me !! Somehow I think they get more excited being photographed, than me photographing them.

I was being quite careful not to photograph the people directly. After all, this was not a place that is familiar to me, and being first time there, I took all the cautionary measures necessary. Most of the people shots taken from a distance were shot with the long lens. The spontaneous shots were the ones that yielded most natural looking results, with the subjects being unaware of themselves being photographed. I wanted to capture the facial expressions as much as I could, but so many people being there, and walking at such narrow streets, it was not an easy thing to do. For other shots where zoom is not required, I found the wide angle lens quite favourable. I was having very limited working distance, hence getting that extra bit of wideness into the frame was much appreciated. Under shade, the F2.8 aided in gathering enough light, to counter blur due to shake. Man, I find it so hard not to love the 11-22mm lens !!

Found this lifeless car, that has seen better days.

So there I was, caught up in the middle of a fish market. Not quite what I have expected. After all, the best photo opportunities lie at most unexpected places.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Phuket Day 2: Patong Nightlife

And the Phuket adventures continues !!

Previously, we were sightseeing and playing with the clear waters at Phi Phi Island. It was almost a full day Island touring and in the late afternoon, we took a ferry from the Phi Phi Island back to the Phuket main Island. The next destination we stayed at was at Patong, the place with the most happening nightlife in Phuket. We arrived close to sunset, checked in, freshened up a little, and out we went to explore the nightlife of Patong.

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We stayed at a hotel at the heart of Patong, the Ibis hotel.

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Street vendors are very common, some even had everything set up onto the motorcycle. Impressive or what?

Unlike Phi Phi Island, where civilization seems quite a distance away, Patong on the other hand resembles more of a city life. The streets were so busy, that it put Petaling Street and Bukit Bintang areas in KL on weekends to shame. The streets at night were crowded with tourists that the atmosphere was quite warm and can get rowdy at times. It was a district I would have never expected to exist on a small island !!

So what was there on the streets?

On the first night, we just made a quick survey of the place, and a full walk around to actually see what was there.

1) Liquor, beer and alcoholic beverages being sold openly, by the roadside. You get bartenders to stir or shake up those cocktails of all colours right in front of you and the streets full of people.

2) You get prostitutes, like really hot looking chicks with boobs popping out of their bras trying to hook you so you can pay them a ridiculous sum of money just so you can poke your dick in their holes for one night.

3) Bars, bars and all sorts of bars. Pole dancing bars with topless babes (yes, topless, revealing boobies of all kinds of size, shape and state of bounciness) are so common. You are allowed to walk into the bar and have a peep before deciding to settle down. To stay and feast your eyes all you want, all you need to do was to buy a drink. And to touch, you just need to slip in a few dollar notes into their bras/panties, and they are yours.

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My dinner, Fried Rice in Pineapple !!

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Busy streets of Patong, with every type of living creatures lurking every corners.

4) She-man, tranny, he-she, or whatever you want to call them. Locally, the politically correct way to address them would probably be lady-boys. It was quite disturbing considering the fact on how I cannot differentiate some of them whether they were originally men or not.

5) People crowding everywhere!! The prominence of the crowd can put Petaling Street or Bukit Bintang district in KL on weekends to shame, anytime. Seriously, there were so many people everywhere that this has got to be one of the most happening nightlife spots, ever in the world.

6) The promoters, who come in all kinds of appearance. Their main purpose was to promote whatever they were trying to promote. For example, tiger shows, strip shows, “ping pong” girls (if you do not know what this is, go do some research), and all other funky stuff that would readily drain your wallet dry. Those promoters, can get very zealous at selling what they want to sell, and they would pounce on you even when you as much as blinked your eyes on them. They were annoyingly scattered at all places.

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Things your eyes can feast on, even as you walk along the streets. More interesting stuff awaits inside, should you dare to venture deeper.

7) Ordinary boring stuff, such as T-shirts, watches, pirated CDs and DVDs, souvenirs… *yawn

8) A shopping mall. Like, one gigantic shopping mall, on an island !! And you know what, the shopping mall is probably a couple of times LARGER and better than the best shopping mall in Kuching !! I was dumbfounded. Fuck !!

9) There was a streetside live Deejay who blasted his remixed tracks pumping through the loudspeakers.

10) Seafood restaurants, and cafes for you to sit down and eat or drink. *yawn.

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This street DJ was spinning his stuff as the patrons were enjoying his work walking by.

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All different kinds of alcoholic beverages, just an order away from the five foot way.

It was an extremely happening and crowded street, so lively that the night seemed to stretch forever. Just by walking there seemed rather fun. We did some peeps into the bars, and decided to go to one of the S&M themed bar. We got ourselves beer and we got to stick around as long as we wanted. In there, you get topless pole dancers, swinging their ways around, and you are allowed to smack them with a foam stick thing which creates a shockingly loud smack sound, but of minimal pain. And they can hit you back with it too. Scary, is an understatement. Of course cameras were not allowed in, hence no pictures. You just have to use your imaginations!!

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And we thought Malaysians are lazy, this is quite a common scene everywhere in Phuket.

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So this is what happens, when sex industry has become legal, and prostitution is not considered unlawful in a country. I personally do not condone to prostitution in any manner, nor do I agree with many of the sexual-oriented business that was driving the streets crazy. However, I must admit that I was impressed on seeing how everything looked so extravagant from the surface of it all. It seemed to be in control, and the tourists kept pouring in this Island to get what they cannot get so readily and openly from other parts of the world. On the other hand, underneath the surface, lies sadness and tragedy, which I shall not explore further in this entry.

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*Ahem. That did not just happen.

For those of you traveling to Phuket, you must at least have a look-see (if you do not feel like touching anything) of how the nightlife is like. It is definitely not something that is seen in Malaysia and most other parts of the world.

We are nearing the end of Phuket episodes already !! Two more entries to go.