Monday, February 12, 2007

Bye Bye Blogger!

I have been considering it for a while and have decided to migrate my blog across to WordPress. There are several reasons as to why, but that is neither here nor there. So, update those bookmarks and point your browsers towards:

I won't be updating this page any more! Any feedback appreciated.


Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Nature Boy and the Photography Course

Got pretty ill this week with a stomach virus and for several days the only thing of any interest aside from watch Curb Your Enthusiasm replays on HBO was taking Goldie for long walks with my camera. As such, this week’s photos feature a lot of shot of Discovery Bay wildlife. In fact I started taking lots of pictures of birds, then spending my days trying to identify them. Yes, I was very bored. To pass the time, I thought I would read through a decent looking free online photography course that I found. Lesson one of the course focuses entirely on composition, making no mention at all of camera technicalities, and finishes up with a couple of assignments based on the lesson content. Going out with my camera and this lesson fresh in my mind really changed the way I approached my photographs, and particularly how I chose and cropped a few of the final shots.

The full course, by Jodie Coston, is available here.

It's well written, easy to follow and is essentially a very basic photography course. It seems to me that if you are a beginner, it would be a perfect place to start. If you are at my stage of starting to become comfortable composing, capturing and cropping photographs yet far from considering yourself a photographer, it really helps re-enforce some vital rules. Even if you are a bit of a pro it never hurts to revisit the basics. However, if you are perfect, just ignore it.

With that, here are last weeks photographs. FYI photos 5 & 6 are my attempts at the assignments for the course.

Siena by Night (p365 29)

Necessary Evil (p365 30)

High Key Me (p365 31)

Siena Bougainvillea (p365 32)

Angled Stairs (p365 33)

Chinese Fan Palm (p365 34)

Crested Mynah (p365 35)

- Joe

Monday, February 05, 2007

The Elements of Design

Stumbled across a great article today whilst browsing the world: The writers manifesto (as per E.B. White) applied to graphic/web design. In taking the commandments of good writing and applying it to design many interesting parallels are drawn. As would be expected with any creative process (particularly for a commercial cause), 90% of it is down to the ego, clashes of interest and other human issues unrelated to scripting, layout or other technicalities.

8. Avoid the use of qualifiers.Rather, very, little, pretty—these are the
leeches that infest the pond of prose, sucking the blood of words.

In web
design, the “qualifiers” are often styling. Just because you can create your own
look and feel for a scroll bar doesn’t mean you should. Many of the browser
defaults work quite well; do not overburden your users with your desire to show
off your mastery of CSS.

The article is available here and is a good read whether or not you are a web designer (web design is certainly not my forte, though I dabble). In fact, with enough thought I am pretty sure these rules apply to pretty much any creative system.

Re-reading the original elements of style was also a fairly depressing experience and pointed out each and every one of my shortcomings as a writer. Look, I shouldn't have even used 'fairly' in that last sentence. I suck. Fortunately, I am not a writer, merely somebody who writes...

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

This week's offerings

The weeks keep flying by and the photographs stacking up. Got a new tripod this week so managed to pull off a decent panorama and some low-light/night shots. Also, in my quest to become a master of my SB600 I found a great blog called Strobist which caters for everybody from total douchebags like myself to strobe masters who love nothing more than to sit around all day talking about light placement and umbrellas. On the downside all it has done is add to the list of stuff I want to buy .i.e Remote triggers, strobe stands, umbrellas etc etc. Oh well, in time...

Anyway, here y'are:

We Got Goldie! (p365 22)

My Photo on (p365 24)

My Other vehicles (p365 23)

Goldie (p365 25)

IFC Tower (p365 26)

Satellites Beware (p365 27)

Sienna Panorama (p365 28)

Take care


Thursday, January 25, 2007

Another Week in Images

Okay, so it's a little late this week, I have been pretty busy and only just got around to uploading about 1 weeks worth of photographs today! Photowise it's been pretty exciting. I cleaned my sensor (see my last blog entry) and I also bought a new Tripod which means I can go out and get some nice Hong Kong nightscapes and finally experiment with HDR processing. I also really got down and dirty with my SB600 strobe flash with pretty successful results. Here's this weeks offerings inlcuding a trip to Lamma Island, Samantha's hands, some shoes and a certain over-photographed rabbit:

Goldie (p365 16)

Hand in Hand (p365 17)

Miss Wong V.2 (p365 18)

Sensor Cleaning Time (p365 19)

Shoes and Fruit (p365 20)

My Vehicles (p365 21)

Zen Mask (p365 21)


- Joe

Thursday, January 18, 2007

Cleaning a DSLR Sensor (D70)

Okay, so a bit of a techie tip today because I figured it could come in handy for any other SLR beginner who has found themselves stricken with the dreaded 'dirty sensor' on their lovely new camera. This particular tutorial (of sorts...this is my first time doing it so if I break something you will learn what NOT to do at least!) is based around my Nikon D70, however, the process is much alike on most other DSLRs, you might just have to look up how to do particular stages on your specific camera (i.e. Locking up the mirror).

The Symptoms

After returning from Thailand recently I was distressed to find many of my photographs had a strange crescent shaped mark in the same place on every photo. I cleaned all my lenses thoroughly and took some test photos to see if it changed anything. The result: no such luck.

I approve!
Note the stupid smudge above my stupid head.

In other words I had a dirty sensor. For the completely uninitiated the sensor is perhaps the key part inside your body unit that allows a digital SLR to function in the same manner as a film SLR. For more details read THIS or any other breakdown of the parts of a Digital SLR. Anyway, I had heard about this problem before, and also heard that the best solution for this was to take it to a shop and have the sensor cleaned professionally. Sensors are the 'Achilles Heel' of your DSLR and are very delicate. Treat it rough (actually, treat it anything less than the wafer thin slice that it is) and it is likely to bend, break or get really dirty, rendering your camera totally useless unless attended to by a pro. However, it is fairly safe to give in a surface clean by yourself providing you have the right gear and take adequate care.

STOP TALKING JOE! Show us how to bloody DO IT!

Okay, okay already! Talking of equipment the only stuff I have at hand to clean my sensor is a standard blower brush. You can purchase these at any decent photographic store (for Hong Kong dwellers Stanley Street, near Lan Kwai Fong has plenty of good places) and they are fairly cheap. There are dozens of fancy alternatives which you can no doubt find by Goog-ling DSLR Sensor Cleaning Equipment or something similar. I don't have any of them but is everything from fancy statically charged brushes to alcohol covered swabs for deeper cleans.

As a process, it is a fairly simple operation:

1. Turn off your camera and remove the lens, and then throw that out the window, you won't need it anymore. You may be tempted to give the mirror a quick brush and blow with a standard blower at this point as the problem may be located there. In my case it definitely wasn't.

2. Turn on the camera and from the menu select 'Mirror Lock Up'. This will obviously vary from camera to camera but it is not normally buried to far down any menu trees. On the D70 for instance it is right next to The 'Format CF' option. Hit it, and when prompted, press the shutter release button. This will flick up the mirror and reveal the sensor.

3. Now just give the sensor a gentle blow with your blower. BE CAREFUL and DO NOT touch the sensor with the brush. Any stupid moves now and you can wreck your camera. You might need a bit of light, I would recommend a head torch but I personally used the old 'torch between the teeth' method, probably a bad idea. I have also heard of people using compressed air/Co2 for this too, and have also heard horror stories about liquid residue then showing up on the sensor. Etc.

4. Turn the camera off and the mirror will lock back into place, then, go fish that lens out of the bush downstairs and take some test shots and see if that crud is gone. I found taking some simple shots of the sky in varying apertures gave a pretty good indication. Alternatively, if you want to see every last speck import your test shots into Photoshop/GIMP/Whatever and play with the levels until all is revealed!

Simple, eh? Not even worth a blog entry you may say. Yeah? Well I was bored at work and it was about the most exciting thing that happened yesterday. Anyway, as a closing note, remember that prevention is far more effective than this cleaning method. You would do better for yourself by just taking care changing lenses and trying to let as little dust or debris get inside you camera body as humanly possible. I'm not going to launch into a lecture about basic care of your SLR as I am not a hypocrite and I am pretty sure all of this came about as a result of me haphazardly changing lenses whilst sitting the back of an elephant (all the photographs before are fine, and all of those after have the strange mark). In short, look after your camera, and it will look after you. An apple a day keeps the doctor away. A penny in hand is worth two in the bush.

Blah, blah, blargh.

Hope this was useful!

Wednesday, January 17, 2007


I think my body forgave me for my few days of excess because I woke up on the morning of the 2nd bright and early and raring to head off to Ayutthaya. First off though, we had to get in touch with Claudia, an old friend of both Samantha and myself, who was arriving in Bangkok to being a 4 month study period ina town south of Bangkok (the name escapes me now). Claudia was flying in from Holland with basically no idea of where she was going or when she was getting there and our planning for her arrival was just about as well planned. We had booked a room for Claudia but had no idea when she was arriving and had no means of getting in touch as our mobiles didn't work and hers would obviously be off because she was flying. We had told reception that somebody may or may not be coming to take a room at some point during the day and our plan was to wait atthe hotel until about 10am at the latest and if there was no news, leave a sorry note at reception and head off. Besides, we couldn't lose out last day in Thailand waiting for somebody who might not even make it, right? That was how I was justifying leaving our friend alone in a Bangkok hotel anyway. Luckily, it didn't come to that and while we were getting ready to head down for breakfast, our room phone rang with Claudia on the other end so we grabbed some food while she got ready and headed off for a little adventure.

Getting there

There are several ways to get to Ayutthaya from your typical Bangkok hotel/guest house. Most hotels offer a car service that will drive you there and back. One shifty looking gent offered to drive us to Ayutthaya and wait for the day before driving us back to the tune of 2000 baht. We laughed and headed off because I knew we could get there for a fraction of that price (even though a driver for a day for 50 euros is hardly unreasonable...). We chose to travel by bus from Bangkok North/Northeastern bus station in the north of Bangkok and it set us back only 35baht each. The buses run from early morning through to around 7pm and are clean, air conditioned and fairly pleasant. Our bus even had a TV which was showing showing some strange show where a giant lizard fought with a huge millipede. It was brutal to say the least. Alternatively you can travel by train for even less (15 baht...thats right 25pence for a 2 hour train journey...) which turned out to be how we decied to come back. That is a story in itself, though. There are also boat tours that can take you up there but they were well out of our budget. I seem to remember prices being around the 6000 baht area for a full day cruise and tour guide etc but that sounded not only excessively expensive but also a bit dusty and boring.

A bit about Ayutthaya

Most people we mentioned this part of our trip to pretty much all responded the same way: "Where?". Well, I am no historian but I figured I would write a little about why we would jump on a bus for 2 hours to some place nobody seems to have heard of instead of spending more time in the wonderful Bangkok. So here goes, Joe's history of Ayutthaya:

The kingdom of Ayutthaya (Thai: ??????) was a Thai kingdom that existed from 1350 to 1767. King Ramathibodi I (Uthong) founded Ayutthaya as the capital of his kingdom in 1350 and absorbed Sukhothai, 640 km to the north, in 1376. Over the next four centuries the kingdom expanded to become the nation of Siam, whose borders were roughly those of modern Thailand, except for the north, the Kingdom of Lannathai. Ayutthaya was friendly towards foreign traders..........................

Okay! Okay! I don't know how much more I will bother to put here before you realise I am just copy and pasting this all from Wikipedia. Just go read the rest here if you really give a damn. On with my story.

What we did!

Our day in Ayutthaya was easily the cultural highlight of the trip (unless you call getting hammered on the Khaosan Road a cultural experience). The historical park area of Ayutthaya is incredible and there is so much to see you could never fit it all into one day so we thought it best to just hit the 'must sees' as highlighted by my Lonely Planet. On arriving we jumped into a Tuk Tuk so I could fulfil a little promise I made. One of my Christmas gifts to Samantha was an IOU note saying: "IOU one elephant ride around Ayutthaya" so it was off to the Ayutthaya elephant kraal with my fingers crossed that things were back up and running since the flooding of Ayutthaya a few months back. Before heading out I had sent several e-mails first to the elephant camp where the working elephants live and to Eleaid, a charity based in the UK, that are devoted to spreading awareness about Asian elephants and the many problems surrounding them. Instead of going into a long rant about the abusive treatment of many elephants in Thailand (and other parts of Asia) in the name of the tourism industry, I will simply provide a few Links (here, here, here) where you can find out more information. In the mean time rest assured that the kraal we travelled to was recommended by Eleaid and even the camp invited us to go and visit sometime. For 20 baht you can buy baskets of food for the elephants and feed them yourself. The younger elephants are walking freely around the place while the elephants 'saddled up' are behind a barrier but seem to be pretty practiced at stealing food with their trunks while you are not looking. The ride itself was great fun and despite not being able to see much of the temples up close (the elephants can't enter the temple grounds) it was a really enjoyable way to see the area. Besides, I was sitting on a massive elephant, I didn't really care.

They say that when you have no plans then nothing can really go wrong, and that was definitely true of today. We set out to visit some of the larger temples in the area, browse a few markets and get some sun on our pasty limbs and we did just that. From the impressive ground of Wat Phra Si Sanphet to the famous buddha head wrapped in a Banyan tree at Wat Mahathat we strolled (or Tuk Tuk-ed) around Ayutthaya catching up with Claudia (I hadn't seen her in over 5 years!) taking in the sights and sounds and generally having a great time. We had a really pleasant meal by the river and got the ferry over to the train station to head back to Bangkok as the sun set on a wonderful day. The train, however, was a different story. At first we thought we wouldn't make it on as it was so overcrowded, and when we finally did, we realised that we would be spending the next 2 hours standing uncomfortably between other passengers, drink vendors and sacks of rice. It was worse than the Hong Kong MTR at rush hour, and a lot longer too. I apologised to the girls for bringing them back this way (of course the train was my idea...) but we made it eventually back to our hotel. I felt like one of the elephants back in Ayutthaya, tired from a long day of walking around in the sun and craving a good watering and a feed.

What I got was a VERY good feed and plenty of watering (i.e. more Thai whiskey...). We headed out to town at around 2am to see if anything was still open, but were greeted with nothing more than deserted streets. It was the first time we had truly registered the impact of the bombings and it made me feel almost guilty for having so much fun. A cab driver tried to convince us that the only place to party on a night like tonight was Patpong, Bangkok's notorious sleaze street, and we fell for it. I have seen Patpong in full swing, and despite the sleaze and crust, it still holds a strange sort of charm in the same way the Red Light District of Amsterdam does. It is Bangkok institution and everybody goes at some point. However, tonight was a different story. I would seem since the bombing, the 'sensible' tourists had returned home or stayed in (as we should have) and only the lowest of the low were out on the prowl. I mean transexuals are part and parcel of the Bangkok experience and really don't weird me out or even make me turn up an eyebrow, but tonight the street was littered with the sort of Ladyboys that give Ladyboys a bad name. They in turn were surrounded with the sort of people that give people a bad name. In short, it was disgusting and one look at the road led us straight back to the cab and back to the hotel where we made the decision that sleeping is for losers. Instead, we drained out minibars and when sunlight came around felt very silly for doing so, because out flight home was in an hour or two. So we negotiated our way to Bangkok airport in a bleary eyed mess and somehow found our way back to Hong Kong.

I guess the story ends there.

Photo's on my Flickr as Usual!