Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Flower Shots for the Non-Flower Person

I have nothing against flowers but it is just not my style to populate and sow my flickr photostream with blooms. But today, in one of those rarefied moments called for by the occasion, I am posting a flower in flickr. This is in dedication to my mean sister, whom I and my meaner brother affectionately call Lall.

0.013s, f/5.6, 55 mm, ISO 200, +1/3 EV
Dakak, Dapitan, Zamboanga del Norte, the Philippines

Chemist that I am, I always approach photography like a laboratory experiment. This is not to say that I don’t succumb blissfully to the occasional stock photo syndrome. Case in point is the I-can-take-that-kinda-photo above. There is always something universally pleasing with a direct vertical-drop shot to isolate the starburst form of the lotus and frame it with an unblemished leaf floating on the lush moss-laden evergreen pond.

Colors and shapes will always be your friend. Here are a few more phototips.

Be aware of subject-background distance to create the DOF blur
Even with regular dSLR kit equipment – and I don’t have a macro lens – you can create the beautiful background blur by using the widest aperture. In terms of “f” value, the number must be at its lowest. The blur is visually most attractive, if the background is sufficiently far from the object. If too near, the background will be too sharp and distracting. If too far, the background will be just an indistinguishable haze. In the image below, I shot the flower with the purpose of making the pink makopa flowers on the ground blurry. The orange flower, the subject, was only secondary, and was chosen precisely because it was some distance from the ground, about 3 feet I guess.

0.067 s, f/5.6, 41 mm, ISO 400, -1/3 EV
Talisay City, Cebu, the Philippines

There is actually an optics formula to calculate the desired distance of subject from background to create those little diamond-like compression spots or bokeh blur. I probably could improve the blur to make the spots more classically circular, but I was not in any mood to climb on a chair to photograph another flower more distant from the ground. In the real world, you take what you get.

Create varying background and foreground layers
Again, set the camera at its widest aperture to create the narrowest DOF (depth of field). For the kit lens of my Canon 350D rebel camera at 50mm, this would be f/1.8. Then, choose a flower subject that is crowded with other elements (other flowers, leaves, shrubs, whatever) that are several feet deep. The different layers behind (background) and before the subject (foreground) would then appear in varying levels of blur, from just unsharp near the point of focus to a complete blur at the field’s most distant end. The shot below is from a corner patch in Kobe where pansies were planted to form the word K-O-B-E. I have to bend and shoot along the direction of the row that is more than eight feet long. This is easier said than done without stepping into the flower patch. In this shot, the red pansy is in sharp focus and the others behind it blur out until they disappear completely.

0.005s, f/1.8, 50 mm, ISO 100, -1/3 EV
Kobe, Japan

Incorporate motion and use slow shutter speed
In my travels, me and my tripod are a happy pair. Even if flowers are my subject, I try to capture them in slow shutter speed and capture motion. If there is no movement, create it! One time after having breakfast in my hotel in Bali, I passed by a stairwell landing with standing basin of water strewn with rose petals. I could pictured it flat but the image would just be like a commercial spot for a spa. Then it came into me that I can create a whirlpool with my hand. I varied both the speed of manual swirling and the time of exposure and shot photos of various combinations. I found the shot at 2.5s taken at the top speed of the swirl to be quite fascinating - a vortex in red and pink.

bunga mawar
2.5s, f/9, 28 mm, ISO 100, -1/3 EV
Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia

I still thought that there is one thing missing above. The whirl may resemble like a dreamlike giant rose but it lacks an anchor to deliver context. What, where and how the photo was taken? I then realized that the human element I can add is me. So I whipped the water aggressively, dipped my left hand to interrupt the water revolution and frame the shot. So here is my hand, as guilty as can be.

0.6s, f/5, 27 mm, ISO 100, -1/3 EV
Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia

Now, while I was doing this, passersby must have thought of me mad. But I’ve done worst things other than playing with water. Like calling my brother and sister mean for instance.

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

Winning the Canon Smile 7107 Photo Contest- Nightscapes Category (Philippines, 2007)

I have to admit it. It is this week’s win in the 2007 Canon Smile 7107 Photo Contest which prompted me to start my blog after years of deliberate procrastination.

The stars simply aligned when the judges chose my picture as the 1st prize winner in the Nightscapes category. I would have thought that a picture of well-lit urban skylines will grab the plum award but lo and behold, my photo of a traditional candlelight procession in old and rustic Bantayan Island got the nod.

The dream: conceptualizing the photo
I have always enjoyed my experiments with slow shutter speed even before I bought my dSLR. I think my best attempt of producing the quintessential colored traffic lines using my old yet trusty pocket camera (Canon Powershot S40) is this photo that I took in Jalan Malioboro, Jogjakarta, Indonesia.

Dua becak di Jalan Malioboro
An exposure of 8 seconds, f/8

Suddenly it struck me, why not capture a moving religious candlelight procession? I knew exactly where I should be. I have be above street level so as to overlook the moving processional. The place must be in a street corner so that light lines would come out as curves. To top it all, I wanted the locale in view to be rustic and a step out of time to impress the universality of the religious rite.

The chance: making it happen
Then came the opportunity. On April 2006, we decided to join the famed Holy Week celebration of Bantayan Island, north of Cebu. As I have a friend who worked as an assistant bank manager in Bantayan, I knew he must be acquainted with somebody who had a house that can afford me the view that I wanted. The house he led me to was perfect! Shamelessly and sheepishly, we squeezed ourselves in the balcony already crammed with the homeowner’s relatives and friends (including nuns I should add). Bantayanons, like most Filipinos, are hospitable and accommodating folks.

The challenges: initial attempts
The early shots of the procession presented to me issues that I did not anticipate. When I tried to include the carroza or processional cart in the frame, I cannot extend the exposure beyond the planned 20 seconds as the carroza just became an indistinct smudge of light. Even when I chanced on a moment that the carroza stopped, the people did not really move along and just hovered around.

GF procession_140-1, 3.2s
Exposure of 0.8s, when the carroza of San Pedro (St. Peter) came to a halt

I then tried to shoot scenes of the moving candle-bearing crowd in-between carrozas, after all there was probably more than 15 on Good Friday. Unfortunately, most carrozas moved too slow and there was not enough movement to capture in the long exposure. Also, the carrozas are either bunched too close together, creating a mess of lights or there were interruptions when the stream of people would just disappear.

An exposure of 3.2 seconds, taken when the processional crowd was still thin

The moment of capture
There appeared to be only one last chance for me. As a procession follower all my life – without fail I always join at least one religious procession once a year – I know that the climax of the Good Friday procession would be the Santo Entierro. Majority of people would always join the Holy Body of Christ, being the most important tableau in any Holy Week procession. With this knowledge, I know that immediately after the Santo Entierro would be a multitude of candle-bearing people. I readied my camera settings and focused the lens on the house across us. My first 20 second shot of the throng following the Santo Entierro was passable but something was off with the composition. I quickly took another shot, this time showing more foreground of the river of light.

This proved to be my winning shot.


There were still a few more carrozas after the Santo Entierro but the crowd was beginning to become sparse and the subsequent photos were just denouement.

To date, this picture is still the most favorited and most commented picture in my flickr photostream. It still is the photo which defined my photographic conviction, until of course the next one that may still be waiting around the corner.

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Travel Archives

1. Cambodia

2. China

3. Denmark

4. France

5. Hong Kong
                   Hong Kong in Half a Day

6. Indonesia
                   Playing with Flowers at a Nusa Dua hotel
                   Shooting Wayang-like silhouettes at Canggu
                   Photographing the Saraswati celebration
                   Long-exposure Nightshot at Malioboro

7. Japan
                   Red Pansies

8. Madagascar

9. Malaysia

10. Norway

11. Philippines
               - Bantayan
                   Good Friday Procession
               - Carcar
                   Stories and Photos from Old Carcar
                   Carcar's Festival of Lights          
               - Talisay
                   Pink Makopa Flower in DOF Blur
          Zamboanga del Norte
               - Dakak
                   Lotus Flower

12. Singapore

13. South Africa

14. Tanzania

15. United States of America

16. Vietnam

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to come...

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