Friday, 30 March 2012

The Bully of the Big Sensor Compact

It is no rocket science that a larger sensor camera often produces better images and the Canon PowerShot G1 X is no exception. With a tagline of "Imagery at its Finest", I was tasked by the good people in Canon Singapore to tame this "beast" within 72 hours.

Let's start with some interesting product specifications and features:
• 14.3 Megapixels / 18.7mm x 14mm sensor size (16% smaller than EOS 7D)
• Improved dynamic range
• 28-112mm zoom
• 6-blade circular aperture (giving beautiful bokeh)
• 4-stop optical Image Stabilizer (IS)
• Intelligent IS that automatically detects slow speed panning – single-direction IS
• Intelligent hybrid IS for macro as first introduced in EF100mm f/2.8L Macro lens
• Built-in 3-stop ND filter
• High speed burst of 4.5fps (with 6 shots buffer – shooting RAW)
• 14-bit RAW

Generally, I am quite impressed by the technical specifications. That aside, we will have to let the image quality and the handling speaks for itself.

The following images were taken in collaboration with Canon Singapore and The People's Association PMET Network. In conjunction with the "My Neighbourhood Gems! A Photography Journey" event.

I was given the challenge to produce a series of photographs that showcase the capability of both PowerShot G1 X and PowerShot G12. To encourage more working executives (PMET's primary audience) to take up photography as a hobby. To help create buzz and interests online leading to the actual event.

The event will take place 14 April 2012 (Saturday) with a great lineup of speakers and a same-day photo competition with more than $5,000 worth of Canon goodies and cash to be won. Register Here!

It's always a challenge to shoot familiar architectural icons in unfamiliar ways. I chose to frame a portion of the structure, using the curve to lead the viewer's vision from edge to edge, adding dynamism to a somewhat static object. The enhanced dynamic range of the PowerShot G1 X adds depth and details to the image.
This shot was taken with the PowerShot G1 X resting on the floor. The flexible flip-screen allowed me to compose and ensure that the autofocus point is at the right position. Extreme low-angle works for this scene as the strong ceiling feature leads the viewer's eyes across the frame like an inverted railway track. I waited for a while for the subject to walk into the frame and the relatively slow shutter speed of 1/60 sec blurred her feet adding a sense of movement to the otherwise static composition.
Capturing waterfall requires longer exposure time. I find the in-camera 3-stop ND filter very useful in this situation. I tested a few shutter speeds and I settled for a 1 second exposure as it produces cleaner and sharper streaks of water. A 2-second timer is useful to avoid camera shake caused by pressing of the shutter button.

Always look for interesting foreground object as framing. This traffic light in front of Buona Vista Community Centre perfectly frames the apartment block, segmenting the blue sky into three triangles. I chose a small aperture of f/16 to ensure both the foreground and background objects show a high level of sharpness.
When I compose a photograph with more than one point of interest, I often go back and forth with my eyes glued to the LCD screen (or viewfinder) making sure that none of the elements overlap with each other unnecessarily. Having a vari-angle LCD with fast response rate helps in getting the job done more easily. The colour of the traffic lights affects the mood of the photo, I chose green as it projects a more positive mood.

One of those sights that never fails to intrigue me, I point the PowerShot G1 X upwards using the vari-angle LCD and composed this shot. At its widest, the PowerShot G1 X is very capable in producing high-impact shots with amazing contrast, sharpness and colour rendering. Flare is very much in control as the sun was shining at an angle from the top right corner.

Walking through the void deck, I was captivated by the repeating arches, perhaps a mundane scene for the residents living here. A small aperture of f/16 ensures sharpness from foreground to background.
While in an urban environment, I usually spend more time looking upwards. That's where the PowerShot G1 X flip-screen comes in very handy. When there is good light, highlights and shadows often accentuate the details by adding more depths. Look for repeating patterns and areas with high contrast, which makes interesting monochrome images.
Shooting black and white images is fun but most of us cannot visualize a scene in monochromatic vision. Modern digital cameras such as the PowerShot G1 X allows us to shoot in monochrome by displaying the end result directly on the LCD screen as we shoot. This helps in composition and enhances the shooting experience as it gets you into the right mood.
Having a capable compact camera is not just about creating images that the DSLR can, it is also about producing fun images with the many Creative Filters preprogrammed into the PowerShot G1 X. This wide-angle shot was taken with the Toy Camera filter set to Cool tone. I particularly like the almost infra-red feel, the addition of strong vignette while maintaining all the details in sharpness.
I was having so much fun with the Toy Camera filter, I shot an entire series of photos with it. The filter works particularly well for this image, giving the scene a surreal aura. I am glad that the Cool tone effect does not affect the blue sky, which makes this filter appropriate for artistic architecture.

The Toy Camera creative filter works very well for still life too. I particularly like the sharpness retained by the filter, unlike similar filter found on other camera bodies which often introduce noise, reduce sharpness and over-saturation.

I started playing with the Depth of Field too, at f/2.8 the background blur is very much in control. This is definitely one of the reasons I will carry the PowerShot G1 X with me all the time.
Shooting directly at the sun produces unexpected results, often opening up a whole new way of looking at an ordinary objects such as a lotus flower. I am glad to find that the overwhelming burst of light produces very minimal amount of flare. This shows how well-equipped is the Powershot G1 X in handling difficult lighting situations.
It took me quite a bit of moving around to find the right lotus leaf to help frame up the MBS Skypark. The lighting is great and the orange glow balances the green and blue vividly. 
I saw two siblings playing by the lotus pond, the lighting is beautiful and the reflection is wonderful. However, I find the background too messy with people crowding by the bay, waiting for sunset. I decided to take a big risk, slow the shutter speed to a minimal 1/13 second and took this shot handheld. The PowerShot G1 X in-camera Image Stabilizer (IS) works very well and made this shot possible. I am very happy with the result as the slight motion blur focuses our eyes to the boy, which is my point-of-interest.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

My Straits Times Article, Uncensored!

Upon returning from the Timberland Earthkeepers trip, I was tasked to write an article on Travel Photography for Digital Life. It was my first article and it took me quite a bit of struggling to get started...

Although the article spread across one full page (which in itself an honor), half of my original article was gone! I just feel that there's a need to share with you all the missing photos and tips, they are all my babies you know!

6. Break the rules
We constantly come across interesting subjects when travel and sometimes we only have a mere few seconds to snap that shot. And to make matters worse, what you see through the viewfinder does not look like a familiar composition. I often let my instinct take over hoping that all the elements will fall into place to form an interesting photograph. Very often… they do.

Unsustainable cattle grazing had turned Horqin from a beautiful grassland into a desert in less than three decades.
Olympus E-5 • Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD • f/5.6 @ 1/2500• ISO 200

7. Where Lines are Blurred
I often look for interesting foreground to frame-up a far away point-of-interest. This method adds depth to the photograph, giving it a more 3-dimensional feel. Look for something which is easily distinguishable even in out-of-focus blur such as these brightly-coloured sunflowers. A high performance lens with a large aperture will further dramatize the effect.

A hilltop Mongolian stupa, an unexpected sight in such close proximity to the Horqin Desert.
Olympus E-5 • Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD • f/2.8 @ 1/6400 • ISO 200

8. Where Intimacy is Cherished
Close-up portraits are powerful and I usually carry along a telephoto zoom lens for this purpose. Shooting at wide aperture separates the subject from the background (and foreground). This intimate shot of a local farmer shows the hardship he must have gone through witnessing the once beautiful grassland turned into a desert. Do you see hope in his eyes? Well, I do.

A local farmer at Horqin Desert.
Olympus E-5 • Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD • f/3.5 @ 1/800 • ISO 200

9. Where Relationships are Made
What is the best way to photograph a human-chain passing buckets of water in the middle of a desert? For a start, make sure your subjects are facing the light. Then choose the right perspective. I chose a fisheye lens for this scene as the curve created by the optical distortion adds dynamism. The curvature also brings the people closer together, giving a sense of intimacy. Talk to your subjects to guarantee smiley faces.

Volunteers to the Timberland Earthkeepers reforestation project passing buckets of water to the saplings.
Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III • Canon EF 8-15mm f/4L Fisheye USM • f/9 @ 1/400 • ISO 200

10. Where Smiles are Exchanged
In travel photography, we are often taught to “speak the local language”. However, learning a new language may not be practical. From all my travel, I come to realize that communicating with the locals need not be verbal. A simple smile and a friendly gesture often get positive response in return. Be mindful of not stepping into their comfort zone unless you are allowed in. Take note of your body gesture and facial expression, look curious and delighted.

A friendly grandmother with a beautiful smile at Horqin Desert.
Olympus E-5 • Olympus 50-200mm f/2.8-3.5 ED SWD • f/3.5 @ 1/1000 • ISO 200

I feel complete now :-)

Saturday, 24 September 2011

Photographing Night Grand Prix

10 Tips on Photographing the Singapore Grand Prix

Tip #1 – Bring the Right Gear
Firstly, you need a body with fast fps (frames per second) and a fast Autofocus system. Number of AF points is not that crucial, the old-fashion optical viewfinder is helpful as the electronic version lags (don't use the live view if can be avoided). You will take around 1000 to 3000 shots per day, so bring more memory cards. Tripod is not allowed in certain areas, monopod is fine. I personally don't use a monopod as it's quite restrictive. I like the feeling of free-flowing with greater agility. Will discuss about lenses later.

Tip #2 – That Fence Sux! Live with it!
There's no denying, the fence is our greatest nightmare! The professionals (official photos) will not be bothered by the fence as they are have tiny fence-less enclosures and they can stick their lens micros away from the fence. Poor paying spectators like us will be forced to stand 1 to 2 metres away from the fence. That's the really sucky part. Having a metal fence right in between you and your subject makes the entire shooting so much more challenging. But there are ways to make it work... read on.

Tip #3 – Location is Key
Look at the location map (provided at the entrance), look for Turns. Turns are spots where the F1 drivers slow down their speed demons in order to make one or more turns. That's where you can get a variety of shots such as head-on (often smaller), semi-side (when they start to turn), full side (often too near you, great for panning) and even the back (usually nothing much). Try to avoid a location where the cars will zoom pass you in full speed. It's exhilarating to watch but it's a pain to shoot. Only attempt when you have already gotten a lot of successful "Turn Shots".

Tip #4 – Bokeh that Damn Fence
Now, don't be lazy. Find your spot early and camp there for an hour or so before the race. Good spots are scarce and the "old birds" know exactly where to "flock" to. The trick in getting clean shots (without capturing the fence) is to go get yourself a $10,000 lens! Haha! Just kidding. Try to understand the concept of bokeh... so the nearer the fence is to you, the more likely you will make it disappear. Now apply that concept when you choose your location. And also, shoot wide open. Don't bother too much about sharpness (I know some telephotos can be soft wide open). But sharpness can be fixed in post-processing. I rather fix the sharpness than to attempt in removing the fence using photoshop!

Tip #5 – Look for Big Squares
What's a Big Square? The horizontal and vertical lines of the fence forms squares and basically you and your camera can only look through what's beyond these squares. Now, the closer you get to the fence, the larger the squares will appear to you, correct? The larger the squares, the easier it is for your camera's autofocus to work properly. Also, bear in mind that the squares will look like rectangles when you shoot at an angle/diagonally. That's very bad for your AF and the fence will be further away from you once you shoot diagonally (read Tip #4).

Tip #6 – We Paid Good Money for Hi-tech Lenses... Use it!
Push your fast lenses to the limit. This is one sports that will push all your gears to the max, including your memory cards. Understand every single button and switch on your hi-tech telephoto lens beforehand. Trust me, they will be used. I find myself switching between freezing and panning regularly, and I always switch the IS mode between 1 and 2 to fully make use of what I have paid for!

Some of the more frequently used buttons (Only in Canon terms)
IS – Image Stabilizer – ON 99% of the time
Stabilizer Mode – 1 (for freezing shot) and 2 (for panning shot)
Focus Limiter – Read Tip #7

Tip #7 – Limit Your Focal Length
Many of Canon L lenses have Focal Distance Limiter. In a nutshell, you are telling your camera how you want it to autofocus efficiently without wasting time. Let's create a simple example:

Your lens have a switch that says "1-2m" and 2m-infinity". Now, which of the two modes will give you an advantage while dealing with the fence which is around 1m away from you? Ok, I'll elaborate... "1-2m" will enable your lens to focus any object which is between 1-2m from you. Do you want that? NO. That's the fence right in front of you! If you choose the "2m-infinity" option, the camera will totally ignore the fence and focus on what's beyond it. That's exactly what you want.

By limiting the Focal Distance, your autofocus time will be shorten considerably (it can be as drastic as 50% faster) as the lens does not have to focus the entire full range every time you pre-press the shutter button. Those shooting macro (using AF) will very well understand this concept.

Tip #8 – Panning
Actually, shooting race cars can be very boring after a while. We often spend considerable time "camping" for a favorable spot, and leaving the spot in the middle of the race is not really an option. Panning will keep us busy once we have gotten 300 perfectly frozen shots. Again, panning at "Turns" are much easier as the drivers slow down and we often get more interesting shots too as there are more room for maneuvering. Start with 1/250, once you have gotten some pin-sharp panning shots at this speed, try 1/125. Again, check your LCD, if you are happy with the result, try 1/80, 1/60, even 1/50. Anything slower than 1/50 is considered "artistic". And remember to switch your IS mode to 2.

Tip #9 – Camera Settings
We all have different ways of shooting and we have different lenses, so it's not really practical for me to share a particular setting and preach on it. What I find very useful is to set my ISO to Auto. I then go into the menu and restrict the ISO range to a maximum of 3200. I use Manual mode almost 90% of the time, controlling both Aperture and Speed while the camera will help me to meter/expose using Auto ISO. I find Evaluative Metering works very well here. AWB (Auto White Balance) works well too. And yes, don't forget to switch your AF to AI SERVO (constant tracking). ONE SHOT will be disastrous here.

Tip #10 – Be Safe, Spend Some Money and Travel Light
Ear plugs is a must! You can get them near the entrance gates (after you have entered). If it rains or the tarmac is wet, be careful of where you stand. Try to avoid the stretch of concrete barrier/fence where you know a skidding car will probably crash into. Flying debris may get through the fence. Drinks inside the village is pretty decently priced. A bottle of coke for $3, if you walk along Esplanade Bay, you can find some uncles selling can drinks and mineral water at $1.50. The F1 team T-shirts are nice, it's a nice feeling to wear one during the race and they are often made from highly superior material. And yes, travel light. It took me 45 minutes of non-stop walking to get to the car park yesterday.

Have fun and see you at the pit!


Wednesday, 7 September 2011

Photographing eMotion

As photographers we often ask ourselves how do we create extraordinary images? How do we present a scene in a manner that brings out its true essence? The answer is simple, just don't let your camera shoot the scene without you interfering... cameras are extremely intelligent nowadays... in taking snapshots (aka record shots).

Recently, I have this love for slow exposure. I can't remember when or how it started but I'm loving it! 

Here are some of my favourite slower-than-usual exposures taken recently.

A mother waiting patiently at Beijing Airport.

This would probably look like a snapshot if I am to let the camera take control in Aperture Priority mode. Instead I switched to Shutter Priority mode and burst a few continuous shot – handheld – at 1/15. At such slow speed, handshake blur may occur or the mom may move a little, therefore I will not attempt this shot (at this speed) without bursting 3 to 5 frames.

Master illusionist, Lawrence Khong performing in Vision @ The Esplanade

This is a particularly difficult shot. At 1/8 (with the help of a tripod), there is a high chance of one or both of my subjects moving resulting in blurry faces. I took the risk and the result's stunning. Paper bits "flying" out of Lawrence's palms turned into streaks of light, so much more surreal and magical – just the way I've envisioned it.

Oslo's popular waterside Akerbrygga, twilight at 11.15pm.

Slow exposure is particularly fun when it gets darker. I saw a ferry approaching from afar, I predicted its path, compose the shot (on tripod), meter and fire a 4 seconds shot when the ferry reaches the center of the frame. This would've been a very ordinary snapshot without the light streaks.

Oslo's Vigeland Park

When hand-holding a camera with a medium-range zoom lens, I often start off with a conservative speed (usually 1/100 for 70mm without IS), slowly decreasing the speed. This method ensures I get some safety shots while I push the scene further. This shot was taken at 1/40.
Bornfire 2010

Long exposure is extremely useful in capturing objects that move in a certain formation. This was shot at 2.5 seconds (on tripod), one of those lucky shots where the performer didn't move her face for the entire duration. The ratio of getting a shot like this is probably 1 out of 50. The rarity of such shot makes it worthwhile. Capturing this scene at 1/100 will not do justice to the performers.

Osim International Triathlon 2011

Slow exposure – often in the form of panning – is highly desirable in sports photography. Firstly, it adds motion to the scene. Secondly, it can blur-off (known as motion blur) the often unsightly and cluttered backdrop.

Singtel Singapore Grand Prix Formula One 2010

A static (non-panning) slow exposure is like the opposite of the cycling shot above. The main subject is in motion blur while the background is in focus. These two images demonstrate very well how various methods can be applied in getting the image you envision... you have total control over your camera, that is if you know where the dials and knobs are.

I will be releasing a blog on panning soon...

The next time you are about to shoot a mundane scene, crank-up your camera a little :-D

Saturday, 27 August 2011

Photographing In The Rain

As a travel/nature photographer, we are often "offloaded" to some strange places with weirder weather conditions. Recently, I was "teleported" to a deforested part of Inner Mongolia known as Horqin Desert. I prepared myself for extreme heat and sand storms but it turned out to be cooling and light rain throughout the day.

Fortunately, both of my camera bodies and almost all my lenses are weather-sealed (DWR) for outdoor shooting. How confident am I with Canon's DWR you might ask? Pretty confident. I have tested 1D Mark IV, 1Ds Mark II, 1Ds Mark III and 7D in many extreme outdoor conditions and non of them ever show sign of failure/fatigue.

Photo Credit: Canon
To keep out water and dust, the Canon EOS 1Ds Mark III has weather seals at 76 locations such as around buttons, dials and switches.

It is crucial for outdoor photographers to have peace-of-mind without having to worry about our gears. We can then focus on protecting ourselves (apparently our own body requires more attention) and to stay focus in getting the shots.

Having said that, I have developed a simple guidelines in helping me to shoot effortlessly under such weather condition:
  • Always use a lens hood – I will choose the lens according to the weather condition. 24-70mm is the best as the hood is much 'deeper' than the other wide-angle lenses. The hood will block the rain water off the front element of my lens.
  • Never face your lens upwards – I have developed a way to hang my camera body with the lens facing downwards all the time.
  • Wear a cap – This will stop water from dripping down your forehead. It also help keep the area between your eye and the viewfinder dry.
  • Check your battery and memory card before shoot – Your camera body is at its most vulnerable when you open it up. Just make sure you have enough juice and slot in a new memory card before the shoot. Changing lens is a bad idea too.
  • Don't use a battery grip – I have read several reports where battery grips break the camera's weather-sealed system. It's logical as battery grip is never part of the body. Third-party battery grips may pose increase risks.
  • Don't wipe the lens filter – Unless you have a specialized magic cloth, wiping water off your filter will make things worse. In times of desperation, I will remove the front filter (stained by water droplets) and continue shooting.

You may choose to wrap your camera with protective cover. There are many specialized cover out there to cater to different camera body type and lens type combination. But it looks kinda strange and definitely not very sexy :-p

Raining is a very depressing time for both your subject and you. The mood is just horrible and the lighting is even worse. But fret not because every situation creates new opportunities and I am about to demonstrate to you shooting under the rain can be just as fun and fruitful (well just forget about the light ok?)

Firstly, look for cheerful characters within your group. Once you have spotted them, spend more time with them. Also, look at all those bright colors! They are gorgeous!

In a forest of green, the colorful rain jackets became the point of interest.

The vibrancy and translucency of the raincoats can be very interesting to photograph. Look for color formation. Didn't know iPhone 3Gs is weather-sealed too :-o

Shooting greens with water droplets are nice too. Against a darker backdrop, you can try to take some slower speed shots to include streaks of rain water.

Look around and you might spot some local kids walking around in cute little "Wellington" boots. And you get interesting reflections on the ground too. You don't get that in a sunny day, that's for sure.

So the next time you feel totally depressed by the wet weather, just look for opportunities and keep going. And yes, having a backup camera body safely zipped inside your camera bag is priceless.

Friday, 26 August 2011

Coverage: Wild Borneo Photo Talk by C.S. Ling

I just gate-crashed myself into the National Geographic Store at Vivo City to be part of C.S. Ling's photo talk on Wild Borneo. The talk was nice with plenty of wildlife photographs to keep the slideshow going for close to 90 minutes. The pace was alright and most of us felt pretty cozy seating around the projector screen.

Enough said, I'll let the photos do the talking.

People starting to fill up the pedestals at around 7.00pm.

C.S. Ling and guest speaker Ethan Lim doing a reenactment of a typical shooting scenario cruising (on narrow boat) along the Kinabatangan River, Sabah. And yes, they did burst for a few seconds just to demonstrate the power of Nikon D3s. They both offer photo expeditions to Borneo and Japan. Here's a link to their website Life List Chase

Most of the attendees are working people and only a few raised their hands when asked "who's a wildlife/bird photographer here?". I raised my hand.

The second half of the presentation are mainly on Orangutans. C.S. made several trips to Borneo seeking for scenes with mother-and-child Orangutans in the wild but without much luck. According to her, it's rare to find such scene due to their solitary nature and dwindling habitat.

I smiled broadly after hearing that, remembering some mother-and-child shots taken at the Singapore Zoo some time back. Singapore Zoo Orang Utan Exhibit is probably one of the most interesting in the captive world.

Photographs of Orangutans by Jervis Mun


Photographs of Orangutans by Jervis Mun