Postcard Intellect

Travel photography for the uninitiated….



Nursery video

As I indicated earlier, I’m going to be spending some time this year getting into “videography” a bit.  I know very little about this topic, so whatever I post or write will truly be learning from my mistakes (and it’ll be a brutal process, I’m sure).  But one of the things I did before being a father was to make two purchases.

The first was a “Glidecam” – this is basically a stabilizer for my DSLR camera.  The camera sits on top, carefully balanced with weights.  You then hold the whole thing with a handle connected to a gimbal, so the camera almost looks like it’s flying through the air. My first learnings?  It’s HARD to use, DIFFICULT to balance, but once I figured out how to use it I’ve been pleased with the results!

The other purchase was actually a gift from Adriana – it’s a slider.  I put the camera on rails and then it … you guessed it … slides.  You’ll see a lot of footage from the slider on the Nursery video embedded below. You can mount it vertically, horizontally or anything in between and it adds a bit of professionalism and drama to the scene.

Both of these new tools take a lot of getting used to – at least my experience has not been an easy one.  The learning curve is pretty steep, particularly on the glidecam, so it’s been a slow process.  Couple that with the fact that I don’t know much about video in general and it’s quite the experience!

Anyway, below you can check out my first video; I’ve had this sitting in draft for quite some time and I’m finally now getting round to posting it.  Hope you enjoy and in the future if I ever get the time I’d like to share a bit more about how this was made, but for the time being this will have to wait!


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 🙂

Farewell Bali

After many days of sun, fun and photos, it was time to wrap up our trip of Bali.  We closed out our last days with an early morning trip to Lovina Beach, in the northern part of the island.  Now Lovina is famous for being a great location to watch dolphins.  You get on these cutters and go out on the water at sunrise, and if you believe the hype there are scores of beautiful dolphins around.  We decided to give it a spin.  Dolphins are beautiful animals, and it’s not often that you get the opportunity to see many of them in the water with you.

Man what a bust.  This is the one pic that I got of a dolphin off Lovina beach.  So you can see it’s definitely not a sure thing.  However I will say that we ran into other people that went on other days and really had a great experience.  So it’s really luck of the draw (or the dolphin’s decision, depending on how you look at it).

After the lacklustre performance at Lovina we drove to a temple, called Brahma Vihara Arama.  It’s actually a Buddhist temple with some Hindu elements, and it was impressive.  I took the HDR photo below because the sun was so harsh, I’m pleased with the way it turned out.

The picture below is of the two statues at the entrance; I put the focus on the latter statue in an effort to draw the eye into the picture a little more.

We left Brahma Vihara Arama and drove into the mountains on our way home; this is where we saw yet another of Bali’s famous temples, known as Pura Ulun Danu Bratan.  It’s sitting in one of the mountain lakes and is probably tied with Tanah Lot for being one of the more iconic images of Bali.  This is one of the those places where I just took way too many pictures.  The temple is so incredibly photogenic and on the day we were there the sun was coming in and out behind the clouds to really change the lighting every few minutes.  I think my favorite version of this picture is above but I like the two below as well.

And across the street from this temple was another one.  This one was relatively small and “quiet” looking, and I’m sorry I don’t know the name of it.  But there was absolutely no one around and it was yet another opportunity to capture the essence of the island. 

I also created a map so you get some clarity on where all these temples are and maybe it will help you understand your trip if you get to Bali and want to take some pictures of the temples.  I hope you find it useful.

Ladies and gents, this concludes our week in Bali!  If you ever get the opportunity to visit I would highly recommend it.  For those of you looking for simple peace and quiet you may occasionally be frustrated.  The island is busy, it’s developed in many areas and it may not give you the seclusion that you’re looking for.  But it’s a great place to visit, the temples are incredibly photo worthy and the people are wonderful.  Highly recommended!

Finally, I leave you with a brief video of our journey, we didn’t get much footage while in Bali but I figured I’d post it anyway.  It’s worth watching just for the video of me trying to impersonate Zoolander – “Water is the essence of wetness!”

Enjoy and thanks for reading!

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.

Hong Kong Video

I’m still in the process of putting together my next post for Hong Kong but wanted to drop a quick post here to highlight my YouTube video that I put together today.  You’ll notice that I’m not an expert in video editing (it’s obvious) but I put this together to give a little taste of what our holiday was like in Hong Kong.


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