Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

Photo shoots. World travel advice. Tips on Munich & environs.

You are currently browsing the archives for August, 2009.

Lantau Peak – Day Trip from Hong Kong

Lantau Island is a fantastic little patch of green nature in Hong Kong.  In fact, you might be surprised how much greenery there is in and around the city — hiking and trees are never far away.  I took the gondola from Tung Chung to Ngong Ping, a small touristy village of ice cream shops and souvenir shops (no one lives there).  Here’s a shot on the way up:

A view down the Ngong Ping 360 cable car route

A view down the Ngong Ping 360 cable car route

The tourist office gave me directions to Lantau Peak and said it would take about 1.5h.  I bought an extra bottle of water at 7-Eleven and headed out.  Past the Wisdom Path is where the trail begins.

On the way to the trailhead I went past Big Buddha.  I think it is billed as “the largest outdoor bronze seated Buddha in the world.”  That’s a lot of specifications.  I am the most famous American fantasy novel author who plays Ultimate Frisbee and lives in Munich.  Anyway, one can climb up almost all the stairs to the base of the Buddha for free.  To go inside where there is some kind of museum, you have to pay (sort of).  They are very clever, since paying to see a holy monument is probably prohibited.  Instead, you must buy a lunch at a nearby restaurant to enter the Buddha (for overcrowding reasons).  I didn’t hear any rave reviews about the museum, so I saved my HKD.  But it was very cool to see, especially from above with my 70-300mm zoom lens (after I was on the Lantau Peak trail):

Big Buddha from high above. Can you spot the tourons?

Big Buddha from high above. Can you spot the tourons?

Continuing along the trail there is a fantastic view of a reservoir with turquoise-blue water:

Shek Pik Reservoir, on the way to Lantau Peak

Shek Pik Reservoir, on the way to Lantau Peak

I should point out that at this point, I was damn hot.  The trail is basically just stairs built out of stone for 90% of the way.  The ~500m climb from Ngong Ping to Lantau Peak is akin to walking up stairs to the roof of a tall skyscraper, only you don’t have air conditioning.  The day I hiked, it was well over 30C, very humid, and full sun.  Here’s a short video showing just how hot I was — I could barely talk properly.  The clouds near the peak saved me from losing another 0.5L of water through my pores:

YouTube Preview Image

At least I was nearing the top.  Just a few more rises to go along the ridge…

Near Lantau Peak, almost in the clouds

Near Lantau Peak, almost in the clouds

Finally I made it, and was greeted by fantastic views of Ngong Ping, Big Buddha, the reservoir, and the Hong Kong Airport.  There is a storm shelter up there too, in case you are caught in bad weather; though I would strongly suggest to avoid being up there during a thunderstorm.

Hong Kong Airport from Lantau Peak

Hong Kong Airport from Lantau Peak

After ten minutes enjoying the view, I headed down.  At Big Buddha I bought a 700mL Powerade, which I finished in about 5 minutes.  I drank another 500mL bottle of water at the 7-Eleven in Ngong Ping.   And this was after consuming almost a liter of water during the hike itself.  The clerk declined to let me lay down in one of their freezers.  D’oh!

Overall, it was a fantastic experience, although I like to push myself.  I would recommend this day trip to anyone; just fine-tune your itinerary based on your fitness AND the temperature.  i.e. Skip hiking to the Peak if you’re there with small children and it’s 30C+… there’s plenty more to do around Ngong Ping that’s not so extreme!

Getting to Lantau Island:

  • Take the Tung Chung Line to its terminus at Tung Chung Station.
  • Walk to the Ngong Ping 360 gondola station, and buy a cable car ticket.
  • You can save if you bundle your ticket with attractions in the (tourist trap) village of Ngong Ping.
  • Walk to the Big Buddha and other points of interest like monasteries.
  • If you are up to it, hike Lantau Peak (approx 1.5-2h up, 1h down; ~500m vertical climb).

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 12:00 pm.

1 comment

Paris at Night – Eiffel Tower

Many people dream of a vacation in Paris, and I highly recommend it. If you learn a few words of French, that goes a long way towards building rapport with the locals, and they will be much friendlier (often even switching to English when you stumble). One fantastic monument that everyone visits is the Eiffel Tower (la Tour Eiffel, en Francais). But what you might not see in the travel guides is the recommendation to visit the Eiffel Tower at night.

First off, every so often (15 minutes?), the normally well-lit tower flashes with hundreds of strobe lights. This photo is handheld, hence the high ISO (and high ISO performs better on the Nikon D90 than on many other cameras):

The Eiffel Tower flashing with strobes. 1/13s, f/6.3, ISO 1600

The Eiffel Tower flashing with strobes. 1/13s, f/6.3, ISO 1600

The lines are shorter at night, so you probably won’t have to wait so long. See the official site link at the bottom of the article to double-check opening times before you go, to make sure you aren’t too late arriving. Here’s a view from the lower deck, where the first elevator stops. Interesting story: I recreated this from a picture I took in 1999 on my Canon EOS Rebel film camera. Sadly, I lost the negative of that photo and have only a print… so I decided to come as close as possible to the original photo with my Nikon D90. Mission accomplished!

View from lower deck toward l'École Militaire. 2s, f/4.8, ISO 200

View from lower deck toward l'École Militaire. 2s, f/4.8, ISO 200

Next up is a view along the Seine from the upper deck. Here I used a very long shutter speed to get the trails of car headlights. In order to avoid overexposure, I set a high f/stop.

A view along the Seine from the upper deck. 10s, f/14, ISO 200

A view along the Seine from the upper deck. 10s, f/14, ISO 200

The final shot is another favorite, recreating another shot I did long ago with my film camera. This was also a long exposure, though not as long as the river shot.

Arc de Triomphe from the upper deck. 6s, f/8, ISO 200

Arc de Triomphe from the upper deck. 6s, f/8, ISO 200

You might ask how I kept the camera so still. I don’t know how a normal tripod would do at the Eiffel Tower — there are a lot of people walking around vibrating the floor, and there isn’t much space. So I used a mini-tripod grip which I bought with that Canon Rebel long ago. There is a small wooden plank running all the way around the viewing balconies where you can set a mini-tripod. Just aim the lens between the spaces in the security fencing.

If you have a remote trigger for the camera, or use a short timer, you’ll avoid camera shake caused by your finger on the shutter. After taking each shot, view it on the camera’s LCD and zoom in on a distant point of light to make sure it’s really a tiny circle. If it’s a line or squiggle, that means there were vibrations from the tower or from you; delete and re-shoot.  I did this many times.

In case you do visit the Eiffel Tower at night, I’d be interested to see your shots!  Have a good trip, and happy shooting!

Official site: Eiffel Tower

Link to buy the D90 on Amazon (help a freelance writer make a few bucks):
Nikon D90 DX 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR DX Nikkor Zoom Lens

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 12:00 pm.

1 comment

Adjusting your Camera: Part 2 of 2

If you haven’t been following the blog, I suggest to start with Part 1 of this article, here:

Adjusting your Camera: Part 1 of 2

Here are Dave’s Simple Variables of Photography:

  • Composition — you have to make the subject of the photo interesting.
  • Shutter Speed — how long the light is allowed to hit the sensor (or film).
  • Aperture — how wide your camera’s lens opens to let in light.
  • ISO Setting — how sensitive your camera’s digital sensor (or film) is to incoming light.
  • White Balance — what does the camera interpret as “white?”  New in digital; film users need filters.

In the first article, we looked at Composition, Shutter Speed, and Aperture.  Now let’s move on with the focus of this article, which will be ISO and White Balance.

ISO Setting

This is the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor or film.  A low number like ISO 100 or 200 is not very sensitive.  Some digital cameras go up to 6400 or more nowadays, which is VERY sensitive (consumer film maxes out around 800-1600).

In film, some emulsions are more sensitive to light than others; however, there is a downside.  Faster film, which allows shorter shutter speeds, creates larger “grains” (the smallest chemical “pixels” on the film), effectively reducing the resolution of the film photograph.  The grain effect carries over to digital photography as noise.  When the sensitivity of the digital sensor is turned up, you get more noise, which looks like static when magnified.  It’s especially bad in dark portions of a photo, where a solid black background can look like a starry sky at ISO 6400.  Take a look at these two photos from a Nikon D90 (which has very good high-ISO performance compared to most cameras):

Bunny, ISO 200 - low sensitivity

Bunny, ISO 200 - low sensitivity

Bunny, ISO 3200 - high sensitivity

Bunny, ISO 3200 - high sensitivity

At this web-friendly resolution, you don’t notice much at first glance.  But look at this zoomed comparison of the two:

Bunny, ISO 200, cropped - very smooth

Bunny, ISO 200, cropped - very smooth

Bunny, ISO 3200, cropped - grainy/noisy

Bunny, ISO 3200, cropped - grainy/noisy

The noise is most noticeable in solid color regions, like the background of this photo.

So, how do we use ISO?  You should balance it with your “need for speed.”  If using a tripod and taking photos of landscapes near dark, use the lowest ISO possible!  But if you’re taking sports shots and need a fast shutter speed, you may want to crank up the ISO a bit.  This allows you to use a faster shutter speed, because the sensor is more sensitive.  What ISO to use also depends on the objective of your photos.  If you will use them on the web at low res, a lot of noise will be filtered out when you shrink the photos.  But if you want a nice glossy print, or you plan to use the photos at high-res, stick with the lowest ISO that your “need for speed” will allow.  Now: just imagine the days of film.  You had to finish a roll in order to switch ISO, something that you can now do in a few button presses with any capable digital camera!

Many cameras also have an AUTO-ISO setting, which is great.  Just be aware how it works.  Check your first few photos in a dark setting by zooming in on them in the camera’s LCD, to make sure the ISO isn’t making your solid/dark colors look like the Milky Way.  I have a whole collection of grainy Christmas evening photos with no flash at ISO 6400, which look like this (Canon SD1000 with CHDK hack software):

Christmas Photo - ISO 6400 with hack software

Christmas Photo - ISO 6400 with hack software

So, now you are an expert at ISO: which you can cleverly use in conjunction with shutter speed to trade off between increasing picture quality and reducing motion blur.

White Balance

This is, very simply, what the camera sensor interprets as white.  Your eyes do this automatically, but a camera cannot (even though it may get it right sometimes with an “AUTO” setting).  Think of it this way: if you are in a dark bar with brick walls and flickering red candlelight, everything is red.  But when you look at the napkin, it’s white to you.  Even if it looks reddish, your mind interprets it as white!  But a camera is not intelligent enough to say, “yeah, the ambient lighting is red, and I know napkins are white, and so I’ll just adjust my perception.”

Now, how do you compensate for this?  It’s simple.  Most common light sources are leaning a certain way on the spectrum, and most cameras compensate for it.

  • Camera flash: very blue tint
  • Incandescent light: orange tint
  • Shade/clouds (compared to full sun): blue tint
  • Fluorescent: green tint

When you pop the flash, the camera removes blue and adds orange to the mix, and the pictures come out OK.  The same goes for the other types of lighting.  But how does the camera’s AUTO WB setting know what setting to use?  As far as I can tell, it guesses based on the incoming spectrum.  And very often it’s wrong.  Surprisingly, my pocket Canon does a better job than the Nikon D90 D-SLR.  I’ve heard it’s common that pocket cameras are better than D-SLR’s when it comes to WB.  But even the Canon SD1000 misses sometimes:

Lamp, Auto White Balance - very orange

Lamp, Auto White Balance - very orange

Probably the SD1000 auto-selected the daylight setting.  Now, many people would not say “this is a bad setting,” simply because they’ve seen too many off-color snapshots and don’t know the difference.  Look at it again after changing the camera’s setting to match the lamp’s bulb:

Lamp, Incandescent White Balance - exactly what my eyes see!

Lamp, Incandescent White Balance - exactly what my eyes see!

Usually I leave the pocket camera on AUTO and only change it when something looks off.  With the D-SLR I set it manually every time I start taking photos, but on my D90 it only takes 2 seconds with the thumb wheel (no menus).  Here’s the setting screen on the Canon pocket camera:

Canon SD1000 screen showing WB - you must be in Manual mode

Canon SD1000 screen showing WB - you must be in Manual mode

Note that you have to go into Manual mode to change these settings on my little Canon.  See how orange the picture looks in “Cloudy?”  That’s because the camera pushes a lot of orange to counteract the blueness of cloudy photos.

There is also a “Custom WB” setting that most cameras can do, even my small Canon.  This sounds complicated, but it’s not.  You take a picture of something white, and tell the camera “This is white!” …it automatically adjusts.  You can use anything white that you can find, for example someone’s T-shirt or a napkin from the table.  Here’s an example of what I did in a red-lit, brick-walled bar:

Basement Bar, Auto White Balance

Basement Bar, Auto White Balance

AWB on the Nikon D90.  Everything is completely red, ugh.

Basement Bar, Custom White Balance (using napkin)

Basement Bar, Custom White Balance (using napkin)

Look at the difference after I calibrated on a napkin!  The bricks are brick-colored instead of glowing red; the white on my friend’s hoodie is actually white.  This Custom WB took about 15 seconds to set up on the camera, and gave me a dozen nice shots of this basement bar meetup.

If using film, you have to go with filters on the lens instead of adjusting a simple menu parameter.  But I suppose the folks using film already know enough they won’t be reading this article!

Conclusion

So… there we have it, the most important settings for your camera explained.  Hopefully my examples helped to make this easy to understand.  If you have any questions or comments, please post them here — I am happy to respond!

If you’re interested to read future articles about photography, or see great travelogue photos, you can subscribe via RSS or E-mail with the orange buttons on the left sidebar.  Cheers!

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 3:26 pm.

Add a comment

Adjusting your Camera: Part 1 of 2

If you have a camera with various settings or manual options, chances are you could use them to take better photos. Not every shot requires fiddling with these settings, but if you understand them, you’ll be able to fine tune your shot based on your knowledge and on what you see in the camera’s LCD screen.

Here are Dave’s Simple Variables of Photography:

  • Composition — you have to make the subject of the photo interesting.
  • Shutter Speed — how long the light is allowed to hit the sensor (or film).
  • Aperture — how wide your camera’s lens opens to let in light.
  • ISO Setting — how sensitive your camera’s digital sensor (or film) is to incoming light.
  • White Balance — what does the camera interpret as “white?”  New in digital; film users need filters.

In this article, we’re going to look at the first three.  In the second article, we’ll look into the more advanced topics of ISO and White Balance.

Composition

Take a look at these two photos.  They are both bridges in Taroko Gorge, Taiwan.  Which one is more interesting?

A boring bridge pic in Taroko Gorge

An interesting perspective on a bridge in Taroko Gorge

Probably you picked the one with the cable bridge crossing the gorge.  Okay, so you’ve guessed that composition isn’t a setting on your camera.  It’s actually set by the powerful processor just behind the viewfinder: you!  Anyone can aim a digital camera at something and press the button, resulting in a snapshot.  It’s up to YOU to make that photo unique and interesting, instead of being just another snap of something that 10,000 other people have snapped that day.  Find an interesting angle, the perfect position of the clouds & sun, or an interesting foreground/background contrast to make the subject jump off the screen and into the viewer’s imagination.

Here’s another example:

A snapshot of Westminster Abbey

A snapshot of Westminster Abbey

Artistic shot of Westminster Abbey

Artistic shot of Westminster Abbey

Use your creativity.  Find the most interesting spot to take your photo, instead of shooting from wherever you happen to be when you raise the camera.  Ask yourself if a different camera angle or foreground/background nearby could improve the shot.  If you follow up on this, you’ll see results immediately!  Your friends and relatives will enjoy seeing your 20 best photographs, instead of sitting through 200 boring snapshots of your vacation.

Shutter Speed

Simply put, this is the period of time the camera’s shutter or electronics allow light to hit the sensor.  If your subject is moving, you have to use a high shutter speed to “freeze” the motion (unless you want to have a blur).  But, if you use a high shutter speed and there isn’t enough light, your photo will be very dark!  Here’s an example of freezing the action:

Frozen Frisbee, using a fast shutter speed in "Shutter Priority" mode

Frozen Frisbee, using a fast shutter speed in "Shutter Priority" mode

Shutter speed works in conjunction with aperture to get the right exposure.  One recommended setting (if your camera has it) is to use the shutter-priority setting (often an “S” on the dial).  You set the shutter speed: for example, fast for sports and slow if you want flowing water in a brook to look smooth and misty.  Then the camera picks the right aperture for your photo.  If you’ve picked an impossible combination for a good exposure, the camera will warn you with some blinking lights, or you’ll see a very dark or very bright image in the LCD after taking the photo.

Aperture

This refers to how wide the camera’s lens will be open when you take the photo.  A wide aperture (smaller number, like f/2.8) will let in a lot of light.  A narrow aperture (higher number, like f/16) will let in much less light.  So, for night shots your camera will auto-select a wide aperture to get the shortest possible shutter speed (so you won’t get so much blur from camera shake).  In full sun, the camera will auto-select a narrow aperture (because there’s just too much light for a wide aperture without causing overexposure).

Now, why would you ever want to select the aperture yourself?  The answer lies in physics.  With a wide aperture, the light rays are not so well aligned, so you have a short depth of field. This means only a small range of the photo is in focus; for example, the subject will be in focus but the background will be blurred.  Like this:

Flower, f/5.6: nice background blur

Flower, f/5.6: nice background blur

With a narrow aperture, the light rays are much more aligned, and your depth of field is much longer.  You have a wider range of focus.

There is an aperture-priority setting on many cameras (often an “A” on the dial) where you choose aperture and the camera chooses shutter speed for a proper exposure.  Use this if you want to control the depth of field.  Here is a series of shots to give an example of how to use this.  Just read the captions:

Focus on ball, f/5.3 - just a picture of the ball on the table.

Focus on ball, f/5.3 - just a picture of the ball on the table.

Focus on ball, f/20 - now we realize there is a gap in front of the goal!

Focus on ball, f/20 - now we realize there is a gap in front of the goal!

Focus on goal, f/20 - Now with the focus on the goal, you see the opening clearly...

Focus on goal, f/20 - Now with the focus on the goal, you see the opening clearly...

Focus on goal, f/5.3 - blurring the ball really draws the eyes to the impending GOOOOOAL!

Focus on goal, f/5.3 - blurring the ball really draws the eyes to the impending GOOOOOAL!

There are many more tricks one can do by varying the combination of shutter speed and aperture.  But try out the basic techniques described here to start with, and see your photos improve.

Summary, Part 1

Some cameras have more or less adjustments than these.  For example, my Casio Exilim pocket camera doesn’t have the ability to adjust aperture at all, although the shutter speed can be adjusted.  My Nikon D90 can adjust all these settings and dozens more (which the average user would never need).  Experiment with what you can, and enjoy your camera until you find you really miss the more advanced features!  Then, upgrade… mu-hahaha.

Part 2 of this article is available here.  You can subscribe via RSS or Email via the orange buttons on the left sidebar if you want to be notified about future photography articles & photo travelogue posts.

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 5:44 pm.

2 comments

Oktoberfest 2009 Primer – Munich, Germany

Everyone wants to visit Munich, Germany in the end of September.  The crowds come for Oktoberfest (not Octoberfest or Ocktoberfest; German just uses a “k” instead of a “c” in many words).  The Bavarian city of München is home to the largest beer festival in the world.  In 2009, the Oktoberfest dates are from Sept. 19th until Oct. 4th.  If you are planning Oktoberfest travel for 2009, you’d better already have a hotel, have very deep pockets, or know someone with a spare room — the hotels book up many months (if not a whole year) in advance for this 2 1/2 week festival.

The Oktoberfest takes place on the Theresienwiese, which gives the fest its well-known nickname: the Wies’n.  Traditional dress is the Dirndl (for women) or Lederhosen (for men).  A lot of the people you’ll see wearing the traditional clothes are tourists; most Munich-native locals I know don’t own any.  Being an expat, I have Lederhosen — in fact I’ve never been to the Wies’n without them!

A view into the Löwenbräu tent when it's jumpin'...

A view into the Löwenbräu tent when it's jumpin'...

If you want to reserve a table, you have to book far in advance, and usually you must pay for a chicken + beer in advance for each person at the table.  But if your group is small enough (2-4 people) just go on down and try to find empty seats at a table.  Just be careful: this doesn’t work well on weekends and many evenings, because the tents are often full.  Try in the morning, or early afternoon, if you want to get seats more easily.

A short video of the atmosphere in a kickin’ tent:

YouTube Preview Image

So, you want to know what to eat?  Here are three suggestions.  If you like fish, have one in or outside the Fischer-Vroni tent:

Fish on a stick -- Steckerlfish! There are several types to choose from.

Fish on a stick -- Steckerlfish! There are several types to choose from.

If you’re more of a poultry person, try a half chicken.  They roast them about 50 per oven and they are GOOD:

Roasting chickens -- try a Halbes Hendl!

Roasting chickens -- try a Halbes Hendl!

Then there’s the traditional meal of large dumplings, red cabbage, and duck:

Knödel (bread dumplings), Ente (duck), and Blaukraut (red cabbage).

Knödel (bread dumplings), Ente (duck), and Blaukraut (red cabbage).

There are also many other delicacies to recommend: you can try cheese noodles, called Käsespätzle; the lower leg of a pig, called Schweinshaxe (or Hax’n for short); or pan-fried veal, called Wienerschnitzel.  There is not a lot of vegetarian fare — sorry about that, veg’s.  Regardless of what you eat, there are plenty of friendly people and lots of this kinda fun:

The result of tasty Oktoberfest beer.  My camera is drunk.

The result of tasty Oktoberfest beer. My camera is drunk.

Words of warning:

  • Beware of pickpockets.  They make a killing at the Oktoberfest, so keep your money hidden!
  • The Oktoberfestbier is stronger than normal beer, at 6-7%.  One Maß of it (pronounced across between “mass” and “moss”), or one liter, is equivalent to 4 12-oz US beers.  And you cannot get a smaller size.  Mu-hahaha!

I’ll leave you with a final video, where you can see several Dirndls and Lederhosen.  Hope to see you at the Wies’n in 2009!  I’ll be there… singin’,

YouTube Preview Image

Any questions, just leave a comment! I will answer.

Official site: Oktoberfest.de

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 4:35 pm.

7 comments

Lamma Island – Day Trip from Hong Kong

I met a friendly Brit in Hong Kong when I was hiking up Lantau Peak.  He advised me to check out Lamma Island, but warned me about spiders.  So I’ll pass that along now: there are a lot of spiders on Lamma.  A metric arse-load, to be exact.  And we’re not talking about teensy-weensy spiders here like the one that climbed up the water spout; these are 3″ long beasts that look like they could tie up a small hobbit.  There are several pictures of them in this post, so prepare yourself.

It’s an easy day trip, or even half-day trip, to Lamma Island.  You can take the ferry there (half an hour or so with lots of departures), hike across the island for about an hour or two, and then take a different ferry back from the town at the end of the hike.  I walked from Yung Shue Wan to Sok Kwu Wan, ate at the very tasty Lamma Hilton (mmm, garlic chili tiger prawns!), and then headed back to Hong Kong Island.  There’s a beautiful beach near Yung Shue Wan:

Panorama of Hung Shing Yeh beach

Panorama of Hung Shing Yeh beach

I had seen a couple of spiders in webs above the trail before arriving at Hung Shing Yeh beach.  But after that they grew in size, and the webs spanned the trail.  All were well above my head, but I was still a bit nervous that the spiders would fall off in the breeze and land on me.  Here’s one of ’em:

This qualifies as a SMALL spider on Lamma Island

This qualifies as a SMALL spider on Lamma Island

This guy was probably the largest spider I saw.  He was over 3″ in length.  I had to crouch down to get far enough away to snap some shots (one drawback of the 70-300mm VR is the ~4′ minimum focus distance).  This made me pretty nervous, being directly under a massive spider that’s only hanging onto his web by a few legs.  Notice his protege in the background.  “Let me show you how it’s done.  Look at that tourist quiver in fear!”

Nightmare spider

Nightmare spider

Some of the webs were truly impressive in their size and perfection.  Here’s one that was backlit rather nicely by the sun:

This is a BIG web

This is a BIG web

Finally I reached Sok Kwu Wan at the other side of the island and had some dinner, well away from any spiders.  Seafood on Lamma Island is fantastic: I recommend the Lamma Hilton, which was as good as promised by my anonymous British tipster.  Thanks, anonymous!

View of the bay at Sok Kwu Wan

View of the bay at Sok Kwu Wan

Getting to Lamma Island:

  • Depart from the Central Ferry Pier on Hong Kong Island (Pier #4 at the time of writing).
  • Make sure to get exact change after checking the current price (there is a change booth at one of the piers)!
  • Take the ferry to Yung Shue Wan.
  • Hike across the island on the (paved) trail.  Avoid the spiders!
  • Take the ferry from Sok Kwu Wan back to the Central Ferry Pier.

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 3:19 pm.

Add a comment

Ultimate Frisbee in Munich

Okay, so I’m guessing most of you don’t know what Ultimate Frisbee is.  You think it’s just a fancy name for running around in the park and playing with a disc.  I know this by the number of strange looks I get every time I say, “I sprained my ankle playing Ultimate Frisbee.”  So, here’s the breakdown!

Dave’s Simple Rules of Ultimate Frisbee:

  • The field is rectangular with two end zones, similar to American football.
  • There are 7 players on each team.
  • At the start of each point, two teams line up on opposite ends of the field, both facing toward the middle.  The team that scored last “pulls” the disc to the last point’s losers, like a kickoff.
  • A team scores when one of their players catches the disc in their end zone, at the opposite end of the field from where they started.
  • To keep possession, the disc has to be caught in-bounds by a player on one’s team.  No running after one catches the disc.
  • If the team with possession doesn’t catch the disc, it’s a turnover and the other team takes possession.
  • The winning team is the first to reach 21 points in a regulation game (although often games are shorter).

Okay, enough explanation.  On to the pictures!  To score, your first point of contact when landing must be inside the end zone.

Just in the end zone

Just in the end zone

Passing is a tricky prospect, as you have to make sure your target is open, with no defenders who will snatch the disc away.  (The thrower is me!  Can you spot my ankle brace?)

Forehand pass or "flick"

Forehand pass or "flick"

Sometimes you catch it…

An artful catch

An artful catch

And sometimes you don’t.

The most artful miss ever caught on camera?

The most artful miss ever caught on camera?

Now for some gratuitous shots of people jumping and fighting for the disc!  Note that Ultimate is a non-contact sport, but occasionally you may bump into other players when going for the disc.  Play friendly and live the spirit of the game.

High jump

High jump

He who jumps first...

He who jumps first...

Skyhook

Skyhook

Nice jump!

Nice jump!

You can see that Ultimate is quite a physical sport.  Even on a non-competitive “pickup” team like this one (the Toytown Munich group), many people are wearing cleats.  There’s a lot of running and jumping, quick direction changes, diving for the disc, and the occasional (of course accidental) collision.

So the next time someone tells you they tore their ACL or sprained their ankle playing Ultimate Frisbee, just reply, “Whoa, hardcore!  But did you get the disc?”

If you live in or visit Munich and you want to play: follow the link below and check when the next game is on.  Beginners welcome!  Toytown Ultimate

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 2:00 pm.

2 comments

Taipei Zoo

I’ve been to a lot of zoos in my time.  Some, like the zoo + croc farm in Melaka, are a little sad… the animals don’t look too happy.  Others, like the San Diego Zoo, do a much better job with habitats, space, and overall quality of life for the animals.  I’m happy to say the Taipei Zoo meets the same standard as the zoo in San Diego, at least from what I could see as a visitor.

Leopard in the sun

Leopard in the sun

There were a lot of primates there as well, and their habitats were quite impressive.  Mostly I was going for zoom shots, trying to avoid too many hints that it’s a zoo instead of the wild:

Climbing a tree

Climbing a tree

You’ll notice I have a lot of shots of the big cats.  They had nice habitats, and all were posing for me, so why not?  I used a Nikon D90 and 70-300VR lens for all these photos.

Squinting tiger

Squinting tiger

Okay, this was Taipei, and it gets hot there in the summer.  I think it was in the mid-30’s Celsius (90’s in F).  I was glad to see the most sensitive animals were not in their “on-show” habitats; probably they were cooler non-visible areas.  But several of the animals were looking toasty, and not too happy about it.  (not the greatest focus, but I had to laugh at/with this poor guy)

Sorry, red panda... I don't control the weather

Sorry, red panda... I don't control the weather

Here’s a bird I don’t think I had ever seen before in person, only in photos and on cereal cartons:

Colorful toucan

Colorful toucan

This is a favorite, the lynx: I used one as a character in my book, Demon’s Bane.  The demon Shyama inhabits a lynx form.

This is a lynx, like the one in DEMON'S BANE

This is a lynx, like the one in DEMON'S BANE

I saved my favorite for last.  To get this shot I had to walk around to the back viewing area of the enclosure, and stand on some rocks by the path to get the right angle for a “natural” look.  Out of a dozen shots, one came out looking like a teenager’s portrait in the evening sun:

Friendly-looking lion

Friendly-looking lion

To sum up, if you enjoy good zoos, I highly recommend the one in Taipei.  The zoo is at the end of an MRT line so it’s easy to find.  There’s lots more to do in Taipei, so if you’re looking for a nice trip idea, go there!  You won’t regret it.

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 12:08 pm.

Add a comment

Sunset at Joshua Tree

In 2007 I visited Joshua Tree National Park in California with my brother to do some hiking.  Here’s one of my favorite photos from that trip, taken with a Casio Exilim pocket camera:

Joshua Tree Sunset

I hope this helps to put to rest the myth that one needs a fancy, expensive camera to take nice photos.  I have an even better sunset snap somewhere in the archives, taken with a 1.3MP Sony camera that I won in a contest in 2000.  Let’s see if I can dig it up… Yep, here you go,

Sunset at Snowshoe ski area

Expensive D-SLR cameras are good for low light, for sports, and for cases where you need more zoom or more wide angle than a pocket camera provides.  D-SLR’s usually have a better flash, or the option of an accessory flash.  But in many cases a pocket camera is just as good, or even better (e.g. taking videos).  If you don’t have a camera with you because your D-SLR is too big, you will not get any photo at all… unless you count your (probably) fixed-focus cell phone camera.  Which I wouldn’t.

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 10:16 am.

4 comments

Nikon D90

Normally I don’t get too excited about hardware. But the Nikon D90 is different. The advantages of this camera put it high above others in its class. Sure, there will be something better and cheaper in a few years… but then Nikon will have to drop the price of the D90 or update the camera with more features. It’s the perfect camera for someone who wants more than a consumer D-SLR offers, but doesn’t want to pay the high price tag for (and lug around) a heavy professional camera body.

The Nikon D90 - fantastic performance for the price!

The Nikon D90 - fantastic performance for the price! Shown with SB-600 flash, 18-55mm VR lens, and 70-300mm VR lens.

Advantages that sold me:
– The menus and features are very user friendly compared to other cameras I tried
– It’s a D-SLR that shoots video! Lacking on-the-fly focus, but at least it’s video
– You can shoot 4.5 photos per second, great for sports and events
– There is a wireless remote for about $18… no more “race-the-timer” for group photos
– CMOS sensor is excellent for low-light shots and long exposures at night

As for accessories:
– I would ONLY buy VR (Vibration Reduction) lenses from Nikon. With VR you can shoot at a slower shutter speed without “camera shake” blurring your photos. If you have the cash, I’ve heard fantastic reviews of the 18-200mm VR zoom lens from Nikon. I went with a dual solution: 18-55mm VR (very small and light) and 70-300mm VR (too heavy for everyday use, but great for sports and scenery use as an amateur).
– Nikon flashes are nice and feature-rich, but pricey. I have an SB-600 but will get a Vivitar 383 as a second flash, because the price is a wee bit over half that of the Nikon.
– Wireless remote: it’s not even a question. If you ever take pictures where you are not behind the camera, you have to get the cheap and simple Nikon remote ML-L3 for $18.

Link to buy the D90 on Amazon (help a freelance writer make a few bucks):
Nikon D90 DX 12.3MP Digital SLR Camera with 18-105mm f/3.5-5.6G ED AF-S VR DX Nikkor Zoom Lens

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 9:42 am.

2 comments