Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….



A few days in Singapore…

This was my favorite picture from Singapore, and I created a “How-To” on it.  To learn how I took this picture, check out the Tutorials section above or click here.

After our great weekend in Bali it was off to Singapore for a few days before moving on to mainland China.  Singapore is a place I always wanted to visit; my company’s APAC operations are based there, I know it’s a haven for people on secondment, and I had always heard a lot about the place.  And one of the myths I had heard was that it was “illegal” to chew gum in the city.  While I cannot confirm or deny that myth, I would say that you can’t buy it there.  I stopped in several 7-11’s and took this picture below – no gum!  Only mints 🙂

We arrived in the afternoon and stayed in an area of the city called Little India at a hostel called the Arianna Hotel.  It wasn’t much, so if you’re looking for a luxuriant place keep looking.  Unfortunately while we were in Singapore I got hit with a bug of some sort – leave it to me to travel through China and Bali, but get hit with a 24 hour virus in arguably the most Westernized city in all of Asia.  So I didn’t take as many pictures as I would have liked, but I think there’s another reason for this as well – Singapore really does resemble most cities in the US or England, places I’ve been for most of my life.  So as far as taking “travel photos” I felt the opportunity was a bit limited, and I think it’s shown in the pictures I took.

We began by walking around the Marina, where the dominant structure is the new Marina Bay Sands – this is a hotel/mall/casino that overlooks the rest of the city.  There’s a really nice promenade that you can use to walk around the entire area, taking pictures of the building from various angles.  This eventually led us to the famous Merlion, which is the symbol of Singapore and “the spot” to get the postcard image from the trip.  We took a few photos; there’s an excellent viewing platform and tripods are allowed, but we decided to come back later in the day when the light was a bit better.

Off we went walking through the city and eventually ended up in the Raffles Hotel.  This is one of the cities primary attractions, a colonial era hotel that’s been through numerous changes and refurbishments, and has all the history to go along with such a place.  The hotel is probably most famous for the Long Bar and more importantly for the famous drink that was born there – the Singapore Sling!  The bar is great – yes it’s long (although there’s a lot of confusion and debate about whether or not this bar is the original Long Bar) and the overall place has a great free-spirit environment.  They have roasted peanuts at all the tables, and you simply shell your own and throw them on the ground – my kinda establishment!  It goes without saying that we had a Singapore Sling, and yes it was delicious.

As for pictures in the hotel and bar I captured a few.  This is a picture of the actual Long Bar; I took this with my wide angle lens (10-22) to give a sense of the size and exaggerate the length of the bar while also giving a leading line into the image.

I also took some macro pictures of the peanuts as they were such an important part of the overall atmosphere and they have an interesting texture.

Then there’s the pic of the Singapore Sling with the bar in the background.  I used a large aperture here to blur the background while still maintaining a sense of place.  I also made sure there were a few peanuts at the bottom of the glass.  In hindsight I probably should have taken this pic before I drank half the thing, but once it hits your lips….

So what’s in a Singapore Sling?  Apparently the original recipe has been lost, but was rebuilt from some of the bartenders that worked with the originator.  Here’s the best version I could find:

1 1/2 oz gin
1 oz lemon juice
1/4 oz sugar syrup
1 1/2 tsp powdered sugar
2 oz club soda
1/2 oz cherry brandy
lemon slice for garnish
maraschino cherry for garnish

And finally the picture of me and Adriana.  This is taken with my  Canon S100 and a flexible gorillapod on a timer.  We often take a picture like this when we’re together in a well known restaurant or for special occasions.  It reminds me that the most important reason that I enjoy photography is to capture moments in time, and this is a picture that I’ll now have to rekindle my memory of drinking a refreshing Singapore Sling in the Raffles Hotel.

After the Long Bar we went back to the Marina and took some pictures of the Merlion again with incredible light in the background.  Comparing the picture below with the one at the start of the post you can see what a difference the light makes; these were only taken 15 minutes apart.

Our next day we went to Universal Studios for the day – I was really not feeling well and didn’t take many pics, but once we were home we walked around the Marina and I took a few more images of the city at night, including the Marina Bay Sands.  Singapore definitely has a beautiful and iconic skyline, but much smaller than Hong Kong and Shanghai (which you’ll be seeing shortly in a future post).  At 8:00 and 9:30 they have a light show that lasts like 10 or 12 minutes; it’s why you see some “lasers” coming out of the Marina Bay Sands.

While in Singapore we also made it to the top of the Marina Bay Sands, where I took this panorama shot handheld and stitched it together in Photoshop CS4.  You can see a larger version of it here.  I also like the picture that I took of the docks, which are behind the city to the left from the Marina.  Just think, every single one of those “boxes” would fit on a semi-trailer and are loaded with goods and merchandise being shipped from one location in the world to another location.  For me it’s an image that really makes me think about how global our economy is and how far we’ve come from 5000 years ago when I would have given you a chicken for making me a new robe and sandals.

This concludes the entry for Singapore.  No map, as we never really left the city.  As always though I’ll close with a video of the trip.  Much of this was taken by my wife so there are some great shots here that are different from what you see above or in my Flickr stream so worth checking out.  My favorite part is us on the roller coaster 🙂


Hong Kong Panorama – How To

Our second day in Hong Kong had us up pretty early and taking the underground to Tung Chung on the island of Lantau.  We then took a ride on the Ngong Ping cable car to get to the “Big Buddha” which is formally known as the Tian Tan Buddha.  The sun was harsh so pictures weren’t great but seeing the Big Buddha from a distance on the cable car did given an appreciation of the statue’s scale.

After several laps around the Big Buddha we took a bus to Mui Wo where we caught a ferry back to HK. From there we walked along some of the market streets, famous for their long escalators, and had an enjoyable afternoon strolling through the city taking pictures.

Eventually we found our way back home and had our Christmas dinner at Mortons, chosen for the great view of Victoria Harbor.  Normally when in a place like that I’m pretty hesitant to use my DSLR. So instead I put my S100 through a workout and I’m always pleased with the results. I have a small Joby Gorillapd that I use when I need a bit of stability and it’s far less obvious or intrusive to the other diners.  That being said, it definitely classifies both my wife and I as “strange” while we’re at a restaurant but hey, that I can handle…

For the grand finale of the day we went down to the waterfront to take pictures of the famous Hong Kong Victoria Harbor and skyline.   A few things to think about.

  1. It’s crowded. So if you want to get a good spot make sure you’re their in good time.  Check the sunset times and try to get there 20 minutes earlier. That being said the waterfront is massive; there’s no doubt you’ll get a spot, it just depends on how picky you are with respect to location.
  2. Stick to the right. When I first checked out the place I thought Avenue of the Stars would be the better place for pics, but actually if you’re closer to the Art Museum and cultural centre (even towards the ferry terminals) you’ll be in a better position to get the most from your pic.
  3. It’s windy. As I said in my earlier post if you’re taking night pics I’m hoping you have a tripod. If possible you may want to weigh it down a bit by hanging your camera bag on a hook to get that little bit of extra stability.
  4. There’s two levels; I chose the top viewing platform (probably 5 meters up some steps) and am pleased with the results but it may be that you could take more interesting pics from directly on the waters edge.

I posted this very brief (and pretty bad) video of what the area looks like so you know what to expect if you’re bringing your camera and tripod.

Now for the pic!  I took a series of vertical shots with my 17-40.  Why vertical?  Because often times when I put together my panoramas they get skewed and begin to get a bit of a smiley face look; taking vertical photos and then stacking them together ensures that you’ll get the tops and bottoms correct, even if there is a bit of distortion along the way.  The only major trick to taking the photos is to ensure you have a significant degree of overlap to give the software something to work with when you get home.  I think 25% is enough, some books will say upwards of 33%.  I took a total of 7 vertical shots on manual mode, each one set at 10 seconds, ISO 100 @ f7.1.

When I got home I put the photos into Lightroom and exported the RAW files as jpg.  I then used a new program that I’ve found on the web for free called Hugin.  It’s fantastic and it’s a free download!  I know that some people swear by AutoPano Giga but I think the price is just too much for me.  I don’t shoot that many panoramas and I thought the results from Hugin were just fine.  In the past I used Photoshop to do my panoramas but lately I’ve not been pleased with the results.  After using dedicated programs I find that Photoshop tends to distort the edges to a high degree.

You can see the end result below; if you click here you’ll get a larger version.  This was certainly taken using a tripod but I currently don’t use any type of panorama head.  Basically these heads serve to ensure the pupil of the camera is maintained while the shots are taken, thereby reducing parallax and creating a cleaner picture.  I have never needed to use one and get a fair amount of success in just taking the pictures (handheld is fine in daylight).

You can check out the rest of my Hong Kong set here on Flickr.  In my next post I’d like to write a bit about some of the street photography I took while in the city.

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