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Vancouver City Center Photo Walk

After the breakfast at Bel Cafe at the corner of Hotel Georgia, Polly and I took a walk along West Georgia Street.

Here are some of the photos of Vancouver City scenery and skyline along our path. Enjoy.

Bubbly fountains.

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New York: B&H Photo Video Superstore

I must confess. Although Suanne kind of suspects it, we had never really talked about it. It’s kind of awkward discussing these sort of things, you see. Suanne knows how badly I wanted just a little bit more lens for my camera but after already spent so much on what I had, I know she will frown on me spending more on photography.

I had this B&H Catalog below lying next to my bed for months already. That should be hint enough. Suanne knew the hint but she just refuse to acknowledge it … grrrrrr.

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I know Suanne would not tell me not add anymore lens or that she gives me that disapproving look … but it is her not showing me the approving look itself kind of makes me worried. Anyway, I sort of told her that I will just go to B&H look-see … and if there is anything cheap … and only if it is something really-really cheap, I might just buy one … maybe two … maybe three? No … maybe two. :-)

But … but … but then … I reasoned, the Canadian dollar is so strong against the US, right? Moreover, I am going to the US buying it direct which mean we do not need to pay for delivery and postage. Coincidentally too, B&H, the biggest photography store, in the world just happen to be in New York.

Oh well, I did go to B&H to look-see … and bought one thing … and another … and another. They are all pretty cheap stuff. No “L” lens this time.

For you photography buffs, going into B&H is just like a kid going into a candy store. I am not kidding. Geez, those guys have all the expensive cameras for people to play with, and mounted with expensive “L” lenses even. Why, their tripod section itself is bigger than all the tripod sections in all of Canada combined. Anything you want, they have it. I had a great time there.

Two stories high but it takes up a complete block … in here the entire purchasing process is automated. You just need to walk up to a counter, tell them what you are looking for and the conveyor belt brings the stuff to where you are. Fancy! And if you decide to buy it, the conveyor belt will move your stuff down to the ground floor waiting for you to pick it up and make your payment.

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Here is what I bought … I got myself the Canon 50mm f/1.4 prime lens. This is one of the better lens in the Canon collection. Great for portraits. It also kind of fill the gap I have between 40mm and 70mm. I like this lens but it is not as versatile for taking pictures of food in a restaurant as the 17-40mm … I needed more focal distance while with the 17-40mm, I could put my lens as close as 3 inches.

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I also bought a mini tripod small enough for the table top and which can hold the weight of the SLR and heavier lens. It was pretty sturdy and has a suction cup at the bottom for extra stability. I tried using it a few times in a restaurant but I must admit it does scare the restaurant! With the SLR plus the wide angle lens and the tripod, to the restaurant, it was like I am doing a photo shoot in a studio! I used that sparingly and only when there are low light.

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I had also gotten the 1.4x extender for the 70-200mm lens. This makes the white lens behave like a 100-280mm. I love this … great extender for taking sports pictures and portraits too. I had always wanted to take pictures of the bald eagles in Brackendale (spelling correct?). I’ll do that next fall with this lens extender.

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Oh, one thing I really notice about B&H … it is a Jewish establishment. Coming from where I came from, I had never seen so many visible Jews in one place. Almost every worker in B&H wears a skull cap.

Being Jewish as they are, they close for Sabbath. Well, they don’t only close their store on Sabbath, but even their website does not accept or process orders on Sabbath … go figure!

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I love B&H. Now that I got this off my chest, it’s back to regular programming tomorrow. With my new lens, I headed next to the Rockefeller Center.

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Paris Series: The Eiffel Tower

It was a long day … I finally made it to the base of the Eiffel Tower just as sunset. Ken, my photography guru, told me to make sure I get to the Eiffel at about this time and boy, was I glad I took his advice. As I emerged from the subway station, my jaws literally dropped at the sight of the gold lighted tower.

The Eiffel Tower was the tallest building in the world when it was built 120 year ago. Back then it had just surpassed the Egyptian Pyramids in height. The tower held the world tallest title until it was surpassed many, many years later by the Chrysler Building in New York.

There are three levels. The first two levels are climbable by stairs with about 300 steps between each level. To get to the top level, one has to take a lift.

The Eiffel Tower

As much as I wanted to climb the tower, I was in no shape to do so. I had just spent 5 hrs at the Louvre, walked all the way to the Champs-Elysees and then climbed Arc de Troimphe. No siree … I am going to leave that to another day. But I had a great time taking pictures … it’s so beautiful.

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These are all HDR pictures — which is so perfect in a lighting condition like these. I think there are not many pictures of the Eiffel similar to these I took. Try googling Google Images (or following this link).

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower is named after the designer, Gustave Eiffel, who is an engineer.

The Eiffel Tower

The Eiffel Tower was supposed to be a temporary structure. It was built in just two short years in 1887 in time for the World Fair in Paris to mark the Centennial of the French Revolution. At the time it was built, many people complained that it was ugly and demanded that it be torn down. Although it was meant to be taken down after 20 years, that never happened. I guess it’s because people begin to see how beautiful and iconic the tower is to the city.

The Eiffel Tower

At that time, I wished Suanne was here. I know she would be absolutely delighted to see Eiffel at night.

The Eiffel Tower

I pulled my imaginary “Been There, Done That” notebook and made little check marks against some entries. Eiffel Tower … done. :-)

Sorry about not blogging about food again. I thought the past few places I blogged about deserve individual entries on their own. Tomorrow, I will have something on food.

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London Series: My Photography Gear

Since ChubbyPanda and LotusRapper commented about the topic I have a passion for yesterday, I decided to snug (sp?) in another blog entry … this time about the photography gear that I used for the trip to Europe.

I know, I know … most people in their right frame of mind would balk on carrying so much equipment. But then, I find it really relaxing taking pictures … taking my own sweet time and alone.

I have a simple dSLR — the Canon Rebel XT which I got for quite a bit of staff discount from the days when I was working for Best Buy/Futureshop. The Rebel XT is also known as the 350D or the Kiss in other parts of the world. Anyway, I learnt that Rasa Malaysia had just bought the same camera — see her post here. You absolutely must check out her shots.

The camera does almost everything I wanted from it. Frankly, to me the body of the camera is not the most important part of the photography gear. What is the most important is the lens.

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I brought along three lens for the trip. My favorite is the 17-40mm F4L — it is my so-called walkabout lens and the primary lens I used for my food shots. The better lens is the 70-200mm F2.8L, the long white one. This lens is a classic and simply the best, in my opinion, of all the Canon line-up — it is super fast with great bokeh. The problem is that this lens really make people notice you. It’s also a heavy lens at 3lbs … just the lens alone. The other lens, the 28-135mm IS USM is versatile but I used this lens the least.

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If you ask me, the most important accessory a photographer need to get is a good sturdy tripod. It makes a world of difference in making sharp pictures. I had the Manfrotto 190X. And to carry the stuff around Europe, I used the Lowepro Computrekker AW. I like this bag because it protects the gears very well from knocks and the weather. One thing bad though … this bag shouts “steal me, I have camera gears inside” like anything. I was very paranoid over this bag throughout my trip and kept it by my body all the time … even when I was seated, I made sure I have the straps wrapped around my legs. :-)

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The flash I use is the Speedlite 430X. It’s decently powerful and so important to take pictures of dishes in most dimly lit restaurants.

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All these came up to quite a bit to carry around for the entire trip — it was darn heavy to say the least. I remember how tired I was climbing Eiffel, St Pauls Cathedral, Sacre Coure and Arc de Triomphe during the trip. I agree, I am somewhat mad … but I enjoyed doing this.

So ChubbyPanda, if you want to get a dSLR, start with a basic body and a good lens. Be prepared for some sticker shock and just don’t tell Cat all the equipment you ever need because if she finds out, I bet she will doing everything in her power to stop you going down this path of madness. :-)

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Making Pictures Using High Dynamic Range Techniques

Laurie asked about HDR images in my first post on my London trip yesterday. Here is a very brief explanation on making HDR images.

HDR stands for High Dynamic Range and is a technique for manipulating digital photographs in a way that it shows a wider dynamic range of exposures. The simplest way to describe is this: you take three identical shots of a picture with different exposure settings and then use a software to tone map the images into a single image which combines the best of each of the three images. Know what I mean?

I just went out this afternoon to take some pictures to demonstrate this technique. Here is the typical picture I took with my camera with the setting set to “P” (auto mode). The picture is not bad. However, you notice the following … the tree at the back is under exposed and looked dark. The pine needles on the ground were over exposed giving a light orangey tone and the grass in the background was over exposed.

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By manipulating the picture I get the following results: The tree in the back, the pine needles on the ground and the grass in the background is now properly exposed. Can you see the difference? It’s kind of hard to see the real difference with this daylight shot. So, how was this done?

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Well, like I said, I take three shots of the scene with the following stops -2, 0 and +2. My camera is equipped to take such Exposure Bracketed shots. Basically, I take one shot with 2 stops under exposed, one at normal exposure and another with 2 stops over exposed … like this:

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I then used a software to generate and tone map the three images into one. I used a software called Photomatix (try googling photomatix and download a trial copy) to tone map the images. It’s really simple.

Here is another set of pictures taken a moment ago of my desk. See the difference. With the HDR Image you can see the house outside the window, the carpet below the desk and the natural warm glow of the table top. You may click on each of the images below to get a bigger size image.

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What is more dramatic is with shots taken at low light. See this one I took of the Eiffel — ain’t it gorgeous?

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But wait, there are a little bit more to it. A few quick remarks:

  • You will want to use a good sturdy TRIPOD to take identical pictures. Although the software is able to align, to a certain degree, hand held shots, nothing beats using a tripod.
  • HDR is good only for stationary pictures … i.e. if you have people moving in between the three shots, you will get “ghosts”.
  • Your camera should have the feature to fix the aperture. It is because you want all three shots to be taken at the same aperture (but with different time exposure). In other words, it should have a manual mode.
  • You want to set the ISO setting to something like 100 or 200. Noise at high ISO shows badly on HDR images.

So, Laurie, does this help? If you want to find out more, just google either “high dynamic range” or “HDR”.

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