Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….


Street Photography

Street Market Photography

As I’ve been traversing the “travel photography blogosphere” I’ve stumbled across this post from Ailsa and decided to put together a quick post on some of the other travels I’ve taken throughout the last several years.

The idea behind this is “Street Markets.”  When Adriana and I travel, we make sure to spend a lot of timing walking through the markets, perusing the souvenirs and learning a bit more about the culture of the place.  Needless to say, some markets are more interesting than others.  I remember being particularly amazed by the Floating Market in Thailand during our honeymoon several years back.  

When looking through my old photos and the many market snaps I had, the next group that caught my eye were the ones from Istanbul in Turkey.  Such an incredible city and my wife and I had a field day walking through the massive souks that they have.  This was a great experience and we learned a lot walking through the markets, bargaining with the carpet salesmen, and perusing the myriad of things they had for sale.  I love the picture below, of the “Turkish Eye” or “Nazars” that they had for sale.  I took this picture from the bottom up to get a more interesting composition.

We eventually ended up buying a small, authentic carpet from the salesmen here.

The markets in Asia and the Middle East are simply incredible, and most of my street market photos are from those locations.  On our trip to Israel, and in Jerusalem in particular, I simply loved the layout of the old city and could imagine the ancient inhabitants as I walked through the cobble-stoned streets.

We also took a trip to Dubai for Adriana’s b-day.  One of my favorite street market pics here is of a series of lights that we saw swaying in a souk.

My most memorable (and potentially most disgusting pictures) is of this guy in India, using his hand to test the goats milk that he’s about to buy.  Yummy!

One of the places I’d always wanted to visit is Nepal.  On the same trip to India, we spent over a week hiking around Annapurna in the Himalayas.  The people of Nepal are just incredibly nice and the country is stunning – I hope that I have the opportunity to return many times throughout my life.  I particularly like the picture below, but the next one of my wife looking over the items is another favorite as well.

We’ve also hit the markets of Egypt, which is my opening picture and one of my favorites of the bunch.

As we move further west we get into Europe – we’ve travelled pretty much everywhere in Europe and truth be told I find many of the “street markets”, at least in Western Europe, to be very similar.  However that doesn’t mean it’s not interesting to look at the wares they have for sale – I personally get a chuckle out of how salesmen sell the souvenirs for which they’re known, but I have to say I’d be doing the same thing in their shoes!

Below you see some of the European photos from PisaRomania (which funny enough was one of my very first posts on this blog), and also Prague with the famous astronomical clock(s).

Finally I leave you with a teaser.  That’s right – if there is such a thing, I leave you with a  Street Market Teaser!  This is one of my favorite photos from a Christmas Market (this was taken in Munich).  Christmas Markets are a whole different animal, and I have a billion (yes, that’s right, put your finger on your lips and say “billion” like Dr. Evil) pictures from Christmas Markets.  My wife was sneaky enough to not inform me before we got married that she’s an absolute freak about Christmas markets (and therefore ornaments) so as we get closer to December I’ll spend some time sharing our random Christmas Market and ornament collection.

Hope you enjoyed this collection.  Most of the links above will take you to my Flickr photos, but I also have my more formal portfolio on SmugMug if you’d like to have a gander (and speaking of markets, those photos are for sale!)  Finally, I also have links to some recent posts that have some interesting market photos, particularly Tunisia and Kiev.  I’ve also taken a recent trip to China, with several interesting photos of the markets in the major cities. Please take a look and thanks again to Ailsa for organizing this – a great idea!

I’ll be travelling for a period of time, heading to Namibia to get some shots of the Namib desert, Skeleton Coast and take a safari.  I’m also hoping to have my first legit crack at star trails photography and am really looking forward to some great posts when I return.

Until then, keep taking pics!


Paparazzi for a day – and catching Secret Service staring at Joan Collins butt….

I know I’m a wannabe “travel photographer” but the truth is I just like to take photos.  I take photos of pretty much anything.  So yesterday as I was coming home from work, I saw an opportunity and decided to roll with it.

There were a bunch of people hanging out around the “back entrance” to Waterloo, and this is normally how I walk home.  When I asked what was going on, there was an event at the Old Vic Tunnels where Bill Clinton and some other celebs were attending a party hosted by Gwyneth Paltrow.  There were tons of people around, lots with big cameras, and of course I felt a need to fit in.  I ran home, grabbed my camera and ran back up.  I waited patiently for a while, anxiously looking forward to these people showing up so I could shove my camera in their face and take pictures of them.  Should be easy, right?

First things first, I don’t really “know” famous people.  Adriana watches E News and I can’t stand it.  Half of the people seem famous for no reason other than they’re on TV, which has to be one of the biggest dichotomies of all time.  So I just sorta started snapping pictures of random people in the hope they were famous.  Most of them weren’t, but I thought for a split second that I got this picture below of the Princess (Kate Middleton) until I realized of course it’s not Kate and just some random chick with a guy hoping to get lucky.

The big celeb everyone was waiting for was Bill Clinton.  There were secret service officers everywhere, and you could sense the tension mounting a little bit as the cops stood at attention. Bill stepped out of a black minivan and promptly walked straight into the Old Vic Tunnels.  And I got this great picture of the back of his head below.  What’s that?  You can’t see it?  Look closely – to the left of the door man.  Yeah, the guy that looks like he should be a caretaker at Hogwarts…..

But I have to say my favorite picture had to be Joan Collins.  This lady has been around for ages, and is actually a celebrity that I legitimately recognize.  Like everyone else, I tried to take some pictures of her. When I was reviewing them late last night I had a real chuckle.  Correct me if I’m wrong, but I’m pretty sure that secret service guy in the back is staring at her 80 year old butt.  And I would even say he’s got a sly smile on his face!! 🙂

Even at 80, if you’ve got it, flaunt it!

On an entirely separate topic, I’m also posting a new page (which doesn’t generate an email, so I’m telling you here) on how I manage my photos.  Now this isn’t a terribly exciting topic if you don’t take a ton of photos, but I wanted to share my system.  I take LOTS of pictures when I go on holiday, and this is my method to sort through them, clean out the bad ones, and organize them according to which ones go to Flickr, Blog, etc.

Anyway, you can check out the page above under tutorials or simply click here.

A walk along Nanjing Road Shopping District in Shanghai, China

While spending a few days in Shanghai we spent one evening walking down Nanjing Road, which is the primary shopping street of Shanghai.  We had strolled down the street during the day but after walking for a while we decided it would be a great photography walk at night.  The buildings are lit up in fluorescent lights, reminding me of Macau (or Vegas for that matter).  But more interesting for me was checking out what they had for sale in some of the stores.  Despite all the places we’ve traveled, China was still a country capable of giving me a significant jolt of culture shock to make me feel like an alien on my own planet.

One of the stores that we walked into was sort of like a dry goods grocery store.  They had all kinds of things that looked … foreign.  Things that looked like taffy, various animals that almost looked like they were “candied” (see the pig face below) and some things that were less appetising – yes, that’s right, less appetising than a candied pigs face.  They were also selling what looked like petrified meal worms, but in reality are called cordyceps and are actually sold for huge amounts of money.  While researching for this post I found a great write-up of some of the stuff I was seeing, you can read about it here.

I took a few pictures in these stores but didn’t go crazy; I know some people will think I’m overly careful but I’m still a bit hesitant to just snap away in someone’s store with my DSLR.

The other thing I found for sale in some of the stores were calligraphy sets.  I find calligraphy a very interesting aspect of Asian history and culture.  While we were there we got a little sign made up for the “Millers” by this gentlemen below.  He did it right in front of us and charged us a few bucks.  I like the picture with him blow drying the finished product; it really was interesting to watch him do it and I think we even took some video of it (which I’ll eventually post).  To be clear the picture below wasn’t taken in Nanjing Road but rather on the illustrious “Bund Sightseeing Tunnel” which I’ll write about in my next post.

The store below was on Nanjing road and was super cool – it had a huge selection of calligraphy and painting brushes, stamps, inks, and all the material to take up and learn this ancient art.  It was fascinating to walk through and see all of these interesting things for sale.

Aside from the stores, we really enjoyed the street itself, particularly at night.  Nanjing road is largely pedestrianized, so you don’t have to worry about cars (although there’s a little blue train which you can see below that you do need to watch out for!)  The picture below is a 3 exposure HDR that I took with my tripod.  Yep, that’s right – I carried my tripod down Nanjing road and it was absolutely fine.  I never felt in danger or that we were getting too many strange looks, and I’m glad I had it because I don’t think as many of these pictures would have turned out without it.

As you can see the lights are just amazing.  And I like the movement of the blue train in the picture to offset the largely pink/red colors of the lights.

While we were walking down the road we took a few pictures of each other, on occasion setting up the tripod.  To take a picture like the one below I would first understand what settings provide the proper exposure for the scene in general, without Adriana.  Then I remember those settings (in this situation they were aperture of 6.3, shutter speed came out to 1/25 sec, and an ISO setting of 800).  So I set the camera to Manual, enter all of those settings, and turn on the flash (to manual) and set it to 1/8 as a start.  I snap the photo, check to see how she looks compared to the background light, and generally need to take one or two more to make sure I nailed it.  Once you get used to practicing it’s fairly easy, but I have to tell you it sure helps to have a patient wife (or partner) because photo’s like this used to take me 20 minutes each!

Notice the Radisson in the back that sort of looks like a flying saucer ready to take off?  Remember that – I took some other photos from there you’ll be seeing below!

Here’s another picture of my beautiful wife – in this one I zoomed in closer to her face for a tighter picture.  I think people often underestimate how effective a tight crop is – don’t be afraid to show a person’s face!  Sometimes I see people taking pictures from like 300 yards away – the end result is a human shaped ant that’s completely lost amongst the background.  Like all my little rants there are certainly times that this is very effective, for example to show the insignificance of man or to show scale.  But here it’s not what I wanted to do.

We walked around for quite a while, taking some pretty cool pictures of the lights, the people walking, and trying to capture the general ambiance of the place.

Now – remember the Radisson in the background of the Adriana picture?  Well we went up there to have a few drinks before our dinner that evening and …. you guessed it!  We took some pictures from the top!  It’s a rotating bar and at night that creates a challenge in taking anything that resembles a long exposure.  So I had to crank up the ISO and take at a much larger aperture (smaller number) than I wanted.  The two pictures below are the two best ones that I got.  It made me really wish that I had gotten a better viewpoint to try and capture a quality image.  One of the things they do in Shanghai is light their roads – you can see it below in the eerie blue light and after looking at some of the images on 500px or Flickr from Shanghai you can see how beautiful the lights look.

After having a few drinks we left and went to Mr. and Mrs. Bund for dinner.  This is a rather upscale modern French eatery, we honestly went for the view over the Bund but didn’t realize that the lights on the famous Pearl Tower turn off after 10:00!  So we focused instead on having a wonderful meal and good conversation – it wasn’t terribly difficult!  Below is one picture that I did take of the Bund (you can see the large walkway on the right) from the terrace of the restaurant.  It’s a nice teaser for the next post!

That’s it for Nanjing Road.  I definitely recommend taking a walk to check out the stores and the view from the Radisson Blu is pretty amazing.  Next post will be my final for Shanghai; I’ll detail the Bund and how we took some incredible pictures of the Pudong skyline.

Photography in Macau – Colonial buildings and modern casinos

I recently took a trip to Macau, China and wanted to write a little bit about the photos I took there. Macau is a former Portuguese colony, having been founded during the “Age of Exploration” in the 17th century. Because of it’s history there’s the opportunity to take photos of the older buildings in the colonial centre. But right now it’s safe to say Macau has become recognised as the gambling capital of China, or the “Vegas of Asia” if you will. So let’s cover both pieces as separate topics.

In the colonial centre there are a few famous areas including Senado Square, St. Dominic’s church, the Fortress and the ruins of St. Paul’s (now only a facade), all of which can be a part of great images from Macau. Below you can see an HDR photo of St. Dominic’s church that I took; this was taken handheld because I didn’t have my tripod at the time (just not possible to always lug the thing around!)  Since the square has a lot to offer with different architectural combinations I again went with a wide angle lens to get the expansive effect; I like the detail in the tiled courtyard with the famous Portuguese sidewalks.

Up the road from this church is the more famous ruins of St. Paul’s. This is only a stone facade but stands atop a small hill and is incredibly beautiful. I found this to be a bit tricky to get a shot that I liked; the stairs and the church aren’t quite in alignment, which means you can’t take a symmetric picture that maintains balance. Once I figured this out I decided to take some pics from further up the steps to get them out of the frame. So I focused on detail in some pics and with others I wanted to get the overall effect of the front of the building. I was moderately pleased with this effort but after visiting the fort and coming back down I realised the better angle for the pic is from the side; in my opinion it strengthens the fact that this is a facade and leaves one to wonder what happened to the rest of the church (it burned to the ground a total of three times, most recently in 1835).

Like any good tourist we also spent a little time in one of the souvenir shops where we bought a few things; I took this picture of the inside of the store.

Macau was busy much like the rest of China, so on our walk back I took a few pictures of the busy street, similar to my street shots of Hong Kong.

But while walking down the street I noticed something interesting – the sidewalks in Macau, true to their Portuguese heritage, are decorated with images and symbols of maritime life in the 17th century.  So there are pictures of fish, birds, the sun, and plenty of ships galore.  I thought this was pretty unique and interesting so I took a picture of all of the unique ones I could see on our walk back and put together this little mosaic you see here.

By the way I built this in Photoshop (if I ever get time I’d love to do a tutorial on how to do something like this) but when it was done the image was a tiff file of like 3 Gb.  Man did it grind my computer to a halt.  Needless to say I made it smaller before putting on SmugMug.

Amidst the gambling at night we also found some time to go out and take photos.  For this walk I definitely brought my tripod as I wanted to get some good night shots; I chose to take these as HDR so I bracketed the images (some are 3, some are 5), put them together in Photomatix Pro, and then used Photoshop to mask out some of the signs.  Unfortunately this was more difficult than I thought – there are so many lights on the casinos and you need to run through some of the more prevalent ones to make sure the exposure is correct and you mask out the necessary parts.  This is explained fully in Stuck in Customs tutorial.

And of course I have to close with a picture of me and my beautiful wife!

Macau really is a tremendous fusion of European and Asian cultures and the colonial centre is a great example of this.  That being said I found myself enjoying the casinos a bit more than the historical buildings 🙂  If you’d like to get another view of Macau please check out the video my wife and I made of our trip there.  Like our last video this is just a collection of random clippings we took while out and about; I’m no Spielberg but like anything else you’ve gotta start somewhere.

Street Photography in Hong Kong – Nathan Road and more

After having uploaded my Hong Kong set to Flickr and SmugMug, when looking at the photos and getting some of the feedback from viewers on the web I think many of the more intriguing photos are the ones I took while walking the streets of the city.  So I wanted to write a little bit about my experience in Hong Kong doing street photography; where to go, what to take pictures of, etc.

Needless to say Hong Kong is a big city, and there are countless places to go. We only had a few days and wanted to see some of the sites that are more well known, so we picked our targets carefully.  Hong Kong itself is split into two areas; the northern part of the main city is a peninsula known as Kowloon, and the southern part of the city, which is actually it’s own island, is Hong Kong Island and historically was the “original” city.

I’ll focus on three basic places that we had the time to see.  We went to Tsim Sha Tsui and Mong Kok, both on Nathan Road, and also Stanley Street and the surrounding markets.

The first area, Tsim Sha Tsui, is on the Kowloon Peninsula just north of the water.  From here you can get great photos of the harbour front and  Avenue of the Stars.  The people are great, the area is touristy and I never felt any concern carrying my camera around.  I made sure to get some pictures of my favorite stars on the walkway, images of people doing Kung Fu around the Bruce Lee statue (including me).  In the evening the area was hopping, and since we lived nearby it was easy to get some photos of the city bustling activity.

I actually took my tripod out around our hostel near Tsim Sha Tsui station; the signs for the shops and stores were all lit up and the place was pretty busy.  I found myself continuing to focus on signs and the chinese writing; it’s so foreign to me and I found it helped me to convey the fact I was in another part of the world.  These pics are more effective at night because you can capture the movement of the crowd but also get the spillover light from the flashing signs.

The next day we ended up across the harbor on Hong Kong island, where we visited Stanley Street and the markets there.  We took the underground and some buses while on the Hong Kong side of the city, and this is another opportunity to capture some pictures of your experience.  What does the subway or underground look like?  What are the names of the station stops?  We captured a great photo of four girls while taking one of the famous Hong Kong trolleys through the city; while the image isn’t technically good it’s a nice memory for me of the trolley ride.

Once in the market area, there’s a series of escalators outdoors that take you through an excellent area of busy streets with little traffic.  Some of the escalators are elevated over the shopping streets, so I was able to take pictures from above looking down which allowed me to capture not just the street itself but also the surrounding environment and some of the more beat up side walls and neglected parts of the buildings, which gives the viewer a sense of the grungier side of the city.  I also ran a high pass filter on this particular photo to get the detailed, gritty look you see here.

And while out and about it’s always important to stay hydrated!  So Adriana and I stopped off for a beer.  After all it’s hard work carrying a big camera, tripod and a bunch of lenses!

Finally we moved back to the Kowloon Peninsula, this time further north up Nathan Road to an area known as Mong Kok.  We went there for lunch at a famous dim sum place called Tim Ho Wan (Michelin starred and CHEAP, definitely check it out!)  However we had to wait 4 hours before getting a seat – yep, four hours.  So it was a good excuse to walk around the area and take some good snaps.

This was market territory, so I wanted to get some pictures of people perusing the goods for sale as well as trying to again capture the overall feeling of activity.  For me this means capturing motion – people moving, people talking on the phone, shop owners selling their goods, and people looking at what’s for sale.  You can see some of those images below and hopefully these will give you some ideas to get some good shots while abroad.  We also spent time walking through some interesting areas; many Asian cities have markets that are dedicated to one particular type of product or service.  While waiting for our dim sum, we found the “Aquarium district” and took some great pictures of people buying aquariums, fish, filters, and everything you could possibly dream of that had anything to do with fish in a home.  Not what I normally see on Oxford Street!

One note on processing, that I hope to cover in another post sometime.  Some of my pictures I use Lightroom and Photoshop (amongst some other digital tools) to enhance clarity and color saturation in the image; this gives it a more vibrant look and the colors are really a part of the picture.  On occasion though I’ll take some of the saturation out of the image; for some of my Hong Kong images this felt very appropriate as it gives the sense of being in a big city.  There’s a bit of pollution, lots of activity and signs that haven’t been cleaned in a while.  Not every color is vibrant and for me I like to get a mix of the two, because while some photographers want to be recognized for their “style” I prefer every photo to be different from the last.

Finally I wanted to spend a moment talking about this last photo, my favorite picture taken in Hong Kong.  This is an HDR image (3 images taken and fused together using Photomatix).  I like this image for numerous reasons.

  • There’s both chaos and order – the buses are in lines so they draw the eye into the picture, yet the activity allows the eye to wander around the image, wondering what everyones up to.
  • There’s a sense of place – the signs above the buses obviously point out that this isn’t NYC.  While it may be difficult to tell this is indeed Hong Kong, it’s definitely Asia
  • There’s a level of zoom compression – this may not be immediately obvious but the picture was taken with a zoom lens from a high vantage point, and that helps to make the signs, buses and people look like they’re “smooshed” together.  If this had been taken with a wide angle lens the scene wouldn’t look as busy as it does here, detracting from the overall effect of a bustling city.
These are just some ideas for you while out and about in Hong Kong.  As I said above the city is large and there are many, many places to take pictures that may be far more unique than the limited area I was to able to cover in a few days.  While capturing the cultural differences and unique memories of your experience with your camera is important, don’t forget to have fun and soak in the environment for yourself! 

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