Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

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

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Shibuya’s Top 5

We headed out of the hostel on June 20th with a downtown park in mind: Yoyogi Park. At the beautiful temple, a Japanese wedding was processing between buildings. 587 tourists had their cameras out and ready. So did I, for the first of today’s Top 5 cool photos around Shibuya (in the order they were taken). Best wishes to this happy couple!

Traditional wedding in Yoyogi Park

Next up: Greasers! Apparently there’s a big craze to dress up like Elvis (or the Pink Ladies) and dance in this square near Yoyogi and Shibuya. At least on Sundays, there are several “gangs” of Greasers there.

Japanese Greaser complete with comb

Number three is going to be a double-dip, because I caught the same tourist posing with both of these strangely-dressed people, several blocks apart!

Tourist number one photo Angelic Pretty

For “Tourist shot number two” check out the guy’s outfit: Cap. Headphones. Ski goggles. Hello Kitty purse. Belt pouches. Short shorts. Red fishnet stockings. Pink socks. SHIN GUARDS. Yellow sneakers. He must have multiple personality disorder, and each of them picked an item to wear?

Tourist number two photo Man Crazy

Fourth is Condomania, a shop filled with condoms and related… stuff. Here’s the Tenga, a one-use male pleasure toy. I found out what it is by accident last year, because I wanted to use Tenga as the name of a town in my fantasy novel Demon’s Bane. A Google search revealed that it might not be the best name for a town; a bit strange for any Japanese readers. Anyone in Mexico wanna buy a Chevy Nova?

Tenga - you don't want to know

Last for today is a famous intersection near Shibuya station. From the Starbucks you get this fantastic view when the cars get a red light and every crosswalk goes green at once:

Pedestrian crosswalk at Shibuya, taken from Starbucks

I actually have a ton more photos from this day. Eventually there’ll have to be an article about the best hamburger I’ve ever had outside the US, at Blacows in Tokyo.

Here’s a question for today: what is the best hamburger you’ve ever had outside the United States? I’m thinking: good beef that can be cooked rare, flavorful toppings, and a hearty, non-crumbly bun. Messy is okay, but tasty is required – in which country/city did you find it?

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:06 pm.

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Eat All the Fish!

On my red-eye arrival in Tokyo June 19th, I was pretty beat. But I was too early to check in. Fortunately a few people in the hostel were ready to head out for the day just as I arrived. So I had a great time wandering around the city with them. We went to a park, then to a “running sushi” / conveyor sushi (known here as Kaiten Sushi, I believe). Kaitenzushi, doku des-ka?

Eat All the Fish! at Kaiten Sushi - Running Sushi

The etiquette for these restaurants is simple. Sit down, and pour yourself some soy sauce. Spoon some powdered green tea into a cup and add hot water from the nearby tap. Then just pick a few plates and chow down. A word to the wise: don’t put the powdered green tea into your soy, as I did (thinking it was wasabi). To get the spicy stuff, ask the chef. Also, in case your dish of choice doesn’t come by, the chef will make it on request – no problem.

For those who say Japan is expensive, think again. Sure, you can find ridiculously expensive restaurants, but that’s the same in any major international city. I had 8 plates of 2 nigiri each (including one toro: fatty tuna!) for about $14 USD. And the meal was damn good, equal to better sushi restaurants I’ve been to in the States (where I paid ~$40 for this much zush).

Next we went to the Tokyo Aquarium. It was not as large or impressive as the Sydney aquarium (and had a similar $$$ price tag), but had a few interesting twists. A diver feeds the fish in one of the tanks about once an hour, sometimes with interesting results:

Eel and Stingray - Best Friends Forever

Besides fish (including a tank of “Nemo” clownfish), there are some other animals, like penguins, birds, and this sleepy Southern Tamandua:

A Southern Tamandua at the Tokyo Aquarium

Outside the aquarium, a street performer was getting 110% out of his monkey. Seriously, I felt bad for the little guy, and had no qualms about leaving without giving any coins. I’d feel bad supporting this kind of literal jumping-through-hoops. But it is impressive what an intelligent animal can accomplish.

A Levitating Monkey in the mall near the Tokyo Aquarium

To round out an awesome first day in Tokyo, I went to karaoke with some of my new friends from the Anne Hostel Asakusabashi. The way karaoke works: you rent a private room. The fee is per person who is in the room (either per hour, or as a full night package price), like bowling. Drinks and snacks are available (but expensive). You program the songs on a touchpad; there are literally hundreds of thousands available. Nick and I even sang “Pull Me Under” by Dream Theater! My voice regretted that for a day or so. But it was fun!

Karaoke in Tokyo near Asakusabashi

So, Hi Joao, Nick (hidden), Bart, Dan, Michaelle, and Nathan! Expect more photos (and perhaps some video, mu-hahaha) later on.

For those who are regular readers, just wait for tomorrow. That’s when things really start to get crazy!

How’s about a question for you today: what’s your favorite kind of sushi? Drop by the blog website and leave a comment :-) I’ll tell you what my best piece of sushi was, after I finish the Japan leg of my trip.

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:29 pm.

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Sneak Preview: Japan

On June 18th, all I did was travel. Straight from the hotel to Auckland airport, then a 12h flight to Singapore, a 4h layover, and a 7h overnight flight to Tokyo.

I did take ONE snapshot today, but it was just to remember the website of a NZ photo contest that I might enter. Singapore airport offered some photo opportunities (there is a free butterfly house!), but I was just too tired. Instead, I watched the Germany and then US World Cup games.

So, I’m going to give you a sneak preview of what I might see in Japan tomorrow (wink wink, nudge nudge).

June is rainy season in Japan. But the overcast sky means nice, high-contrast reflections in the lakes. Here’s a shot from Shinjuku-Gyoen park.

Reflections in a lake at Shinjuku-Gyoen Park in Tokyo

Here’s a popular Japanese sports drink, I guess aimed at people who like to… drink sweat? Or at those who perspire a lot? Who knows. Thanks to tomorrow’s “Pocari Sweat” model, Nick.

Nick modeling Pocari Sweat sports drink. For the record, he is not sweaty at this point.

Japan has a lot to offer, and more to see (and eat) than you can imagine. From Grease street dancers to $100 canteloupes, we’re going to see it all! I have a feeling this is going to be a wild ride…

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:52 pm.

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Beautiful Views from Devonport

June 17th was my last day in New Zealand before heading onward to Japan. After driving from Coromandel to Auckland, I turned in my rental and hopped on a ferry to Devonport. This small suburb has two volcanic cones that were used as harbor defensive positions for many years. Here’s one of them, Mount Victoria, as seen from the other, North Head.

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Devonport also offers great views directly toward Auckland, seen here living up to the name City of Sails:

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For those who like exploring the ocean and tidal pools, the rocky (and mostly deserted) flats behind North Head were nice to wander around when I was there at low tide. Nice background of a small volcanic island, as well.

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Thanks to the coffee shop barista who pointed me toward Monsoon Malay & Thai restaurant on Devonport’s Victoria Street. It was a reasonably priced and very tasty meal. Just what I needed to keep my spicy food tolerance up before I arrive in Malaysia in a few weeks!

As promised, here’s my night shot of Auckland. I waited until the ferry motored by to get the cool pattern of its lights across the water. That’s 30s, f/20, ISO 80.

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Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:19 pm.

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A Wonderland of Volcanoes

Wai-o-tapu Thermal Wonderland sounds pretty cheesy, like something Weird Al might parody a la “The Biggest Ball of Twine in Minnesota.”

It’s not.

Just 700 years ago, thermal/volcanic eruptions blew up this whole area and sprayed rock and ash all over the region.

Today you can see the remnants: a hotbed of thermal activity which somehow results in all the colors of a kid’s chemistry set, sprayed on the ground and leaking from various acidic pools.

The edge of the Champagne Pool at Wai-O-Tapu

Another strange feature is that visitors are constantly dosed with hydrogen sulfide gas, with very little warning about the dangers. At Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, I was constantly reading signs about dangerous volcanic gases; but on June 16th at Wai-O-Tapu, people were wandering around with toddlers (not recommended). Breathing a gas that converts to sulfuric acid when it dissolves in the moist membranes of your body (think nose, lungs, and eyes). So, if you’re pregnant or have small kids with you, think twice about visiting this park.

Since I have so many pictures and stories from Wai-O-Tapu, I’ll probably do a full article about it sooner or later. For now I’ll leave you with a picture of Lady Knox geyser, which would naturally erupt every 24-72 hours. In order to allow everyone to view it, they “seed” it with surfactant daily at 10:15. This basically forces the geyser into a regular schedule. The photo is a bit tweaked to bring out the rainbow:

A rainbow in Lady Knox geyser at Wai-O-Tapu

After Wai-O-Tapu, I decided to head to Coromandel Town. This turned out to be a much longer drive than I anticipated, because the last 50km of it is a super-windy coastal road going through a dozen tiny towns. But it did afford me a few classic (and sunny!) views of New Zealand’s beautiful coast.

The Coromandel coast near sunset

After arriving in Coromandel, I found a lovely Holiday Park where I could view the sunset from a beach. Here’s one of the best shots:

Sunset over Coromandel, New Zealand

For those who’ve been following me since Hawaii, you might remember the Green Flash, a strange atmospheric effect at sunset just as the sun disappears below the horizon. It only occurs when conditions are right, and just over the ocean (but apparently some very low and distant islands don’t disturb it). Here’s my latest flash:

The Green Flash over Coromandel, New Zealand

This flash was about 2 seconds long. I set the exposure compensation to –2 stops, so that I could capture more of the green color than last time. Success! This is a 100% crop (meaning this is zoomed in to show the actual camera pixels, and not resampled). The photo is not modified in any way! Now, I need some extension tubes to magnify my view a bit more. Mu-hahaha.

In the evening it was clear and a bit darker than I’m used to, so I tried some nighttime photography. However, it wasn’t anywhere near as dark as in the Peruvian rainforests. You can see the effects of even minimal light pollution in the bottom half of this photo.

Night Sky over Coromandel Town

I could barely see these trees; even after my eyes adjusted to the light they were just silhouettes. But in a 30s exposure, a few lights from nearby houses and roads washed out the horizon on an otherwise beautifully dark sky. I did see a shooting star – it was just a few degrees out of my camera’s field of view on one of the photos. So close.

Tomorrow I finally get on an Auckland ferry, and find a good spot for night shots of the city!

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:27 pm.

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Best RTW Adventures: Green Glow

June 14th was a day I’ll remember for a long time. My hosts at Waitomo Caves B&B recommended a new tour, Green Glow Eco-Adventures, which offered a low introductory price. It sounded good: small, personalized tours with a guide who is himself focused on photography (no pun intended).

My tour with Paul was even better than expected! For $100/person (or $200 if your tour group numbers one), you can pick and choose among rock climbing, abseiling (rappelling), and caving, with as many photo-stops thrown in as you like. Maximum group size is four! I really enjoyed the 30m abseils, and we stopped to take a lot of photos.

The couple with me (in our tour group of three) was very patient on the photo stops, but they were rewarded with a few shots like this:

Cave photo near Waitomo, NZ

To get decent shots in a cave, you must use off-camera flash, but I didn’t bring mine on the pack-light RTW trip. Off-camera flash means one or two remote flashguns (preferably two), triggered manually or via remote. The built-in flash is not ideal and lights the scenes pretty badly. Paul had two off-camera flashes that we used to get fantastic lighting in the caves.

Here’s a back-lit photo:

Backlit cave photo near Waitomo, NZ

Now an example of what you can do with two strobes. This was a long exposure (13s), but was only lit up for a few microseconds (twice) when Paul manually fired the flashguns.

Two-strobe cave photo at Green Glow Eco-Adventures

Here’s a shot of glowworms, a combination of Paul’s and my ideas: I suggested to paint the bottom half of the photo with the headlamp. Paul wisely has the idea to put people in most of the photos, otherwise there’s no sense of scale to show how BIG the cave is.

Glowworm cave photo showing cave size

Speaking of glowworms, here’s another combination idea. This was a 30 second exposure at ISO 3200, with a flash to one side on very low power (in the case of this non-adjustable flash, muted by two layers of white cloth).

Glowworms and stalactites in a cave near Waitomo, NZ

One final cave shot, a close-up with my trusty Canon SD1000 pocket camera. This shows all the stages of glowworm life: the sticky threads that the worm used to catch flies to eat, the cocoon (now empty) from which it emerged to mate, and the orange eggs that it laid – which will eventually hatch into new glowworms.

Glowworm cocoon, threads, and eggs

Last but not least: a photo of the last abseil we did, on a face where Paul has also set up quite a few rock climbing routes. As I remember this abseil was over 30 meters.

Abseiling with Paul at Green Glow Eco-Adventures

If you’re traveling around New Zealand’s North Island, Paul’s adventure is one full-day activity you have to try near Waitomo. It blows away the touristy “official” Waitomo Caves (Glowworm, Ruakuri, Aranui). If you go before September 2010 you’ll still get the introductory rate, but even once the rate has gone up to $180, this tour is a bargain. For the duration (up to six hours!), the small group size, and the personal care you get, I’d expect it to cost >$300!

This tour ties for first place on my trip so far, equaling the Amazon tour at Explorer’s Inn in Peru. Anyone else who’s ever been on one of Paul’s tours at Green Glow, drop me a line here and let me know how you liked it! I’d love to see some other photos taken on some of his tours (Flickr, anyone?).

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:45 pm.

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Glowworm Day

June 13th was a day for the caves. I visited Glowworm Cave and Ruakuri Cave, part of the “official” Waitomo Caves tours (which are very expensive and very touristy). Glowworm Cave was cool but Ruakuri was much better. Even with the lower focus on the worms, Ruakuri cave itself is larger and more interesting. But it’s still a lot of money for a 1-1.5h cave tour.

In Glowworm Cave they don’t allow any photos. But here’s what you can expect from Ruakuri:

Keyhole cave formation in Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

Amazing stalactites!

Stalactites in Ruakuri Cave, Waitomo

Here are a few photos of the glowworms themselves, lit artificially. Look just above the right grouping of threads to see the worm; he “owns” all the threads below him.

A glowworm and its silken threads

Here’s a better photo of a worm, from the natural cave formation on the Ruakuri bush walk:

Closeup of a glowworm, with flash

Now, on to less cavey and more green settings. Here’s what one thinks when New Zealand is mentioned: green pastures with grazing sheep!

Sheep in New Zealand

Here’s Marokopa Falls, a massive waterfall – I’m guessing 40-50m tall. It was so powerful that even from this distance, a couple hundred meters away, the mist coated my camera in seconds.

Marokopa Falls in New Zealand

The mixed natural & black sand of Marokopa Beach:

Marokopa Beach, a black sand beach

It’s hard to believe that one could see so many varied landscapes in one day. Caves, beaches, pastures, and waterfalls. But that’s New Zealand!

Check back tomorrow for the adventure that is now in my “Top 2” of the whole RTW trip: caving with Paul at Green Glow Eco-Adventures!

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:55 pm.

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New Zealand is Cold in the Winter

Here’s a news flash for those who didn’t know: even in early winter, it’s d*mn cold in New Zealand. Not subzero cold, but that rainy, wet cold that you just can’t shake because most of the lodgings are designed for summer living. Think no insulation and small heaters.

Nevertheless, there are beautiful aspects to every country in every season, as I’ll show you in the next few days! Here are the photos of the day from June 12th in Waitomo. I would have taken more, but I had to do a bunch of errands in Auckland, then find a rental car and travel a few hundred km.

Here’s the view from Waitomo Caves B&B, a nice (and affordable!) place I’d highly recommend. Colin & Janet are very friendly, give great advice on the area’s attractions, and make fantastic chocolate cookies (a.k.a. “biscuits” down here).

View from Waitomo Caves Bed & Breakfast

The rain didn’t afford me great photography options today. But I did get this long-exposure shots of glowworms up close in the Ruakuri area, at the (free!) bushwalk, in the natural cave. These glowworms are lighting up the cave ceiling around them with natural bio-luminescent light:

Glowworms at Ruakuri Bush Walk natural cave

Glowworms are quite amazing. They hatch, and then suspend small sticky strands down from the ceiling to catch flying insects. As flies hatch from the rivers below, they try to wing their way up to the sky, but get confused by the profusion of glowworms on the cave ceiling.

Many flies end their lives trapped on the worms’ silken strands, as dinner by bioluminescent-glow. Eventually the glowworms mature and cocoon, emerging as a fly that lives only a few days because it has no mouth with which to eat. The adult glowworm flies mate, lay eggs, and die.

I’ll have a lot more photos of glowworms in the next few days, including some truly amazing shots that I got with the help of Paul, the caving guide at Green Glow Eco-Adventures!

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:43 pm.

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Surfing with the Paparazzi

My last day in Sydney was June 11th, and I only had half the day before heading to the airport for my flight. I decided to check out the world-famous Bondi Beach, renowned for its surfing.

Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia

The waves weren’t massive, but they were big enough for a few of the better guys to get some serious air!

Surfer at Bondi Beach

While I was snapping away I met a fellow photographer who was taking some pics of the surfers. Turns out he was a paparazzi, and was shooting the surfers as “cover,” because Ewan MacGregor was in town. The guy thought Ewan might come to Bondi Icebergs club for lunch. Hah!

Surfer at Bondi Beach

This hard left turn into the oncoming face of the wave was a big favorite. Maybe a surfer can enlighten me on what that’s called, if there’s a fancy name for the trick?

Surfer trick at Bondi Beach

You can see “WTF!?” quite clearly in the body language of the older guy in the bottom half of the shot. “Don’t run me over, dude!”

Surfer trick at Bondi Beach

Sometimes you eat the wave, and sometimes the wave eats you.

Surfer wipeout at Bondi Beach

One last carve across the top of a breaking wave…

Surfer trick at Bondi Beach

And I’m out! Tomorrow, it’s back to New Zealand, where the first stop is Waitomo Caves to check out the glowworms. Has anyone ever seen one?

Bondi Beach, Australia with CPL

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:20 pm.

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Wildlife in the Big City

On June 10th, I went for the triple extra super bonus pass: only $50 AUD to see the Aquarium in Darling Harbor, visit Wildlife World (right next to the Aquarium), and go up the Tower in the center of town.

Considering how expensive everything is in Sydney, it’s really not a bad deal.

The aquarium is quite good, and has two massive habitats that you can see from beneath, walking in Plexiglas tunnels. Here are a couple of my better photos. The first is a favorite meal of mine (sorry, veg friends), the “uncooked calamari,” also known as squid.

Squid in Sydney Aquarium

Next up is a tank with nothing I’d eat, though one might eat me if I were just a wee bit smaller. <bad Scottish accent> “Eh, he kinda looks like a baby!” </bad Scottish accent>

Shark and small fishies in Sydney Aquarium

Wildlife World has a LOT of terrariums and small habitats for snakes, insects, etc. There are a few large habitats for kangaroos, koalas, and birds, but remember this is a city-center zoo. It was cool to see the most poisonous snakes and spiders in the world, which are (of course) native to Australia. But, they were asleep and hard to see, so don’t expect too much there. Baby crocs are a lot more photogenic:

Baby Crocodile in Sydney Wildlife World

And one of the koalas was actually not asleep! If you’ve ever seen koalas at a zoo, you know how hard it is to get a picture of one with its eyes open.

An AWAKE Koala in Sydney Wildlife World

Next I headed to the tower. I’ll have to do another post about that, because I have so many fantastic pictures. But here are just a few of the best night time pictures. First up, Darling Harbor. On the near side of the channel are the Aquarium and Wildlife World; on the far side is the Maritime Museum (just to the right of the bridge).

Darling Harbor at night from Sydney Tower

Here is a nice view of the Sydney Harbor Bridge, with some tall (and beautifully lit) business-looking buildings on the far side:

Sydney Harbor Bridge at Night

I’ll cap it off with this bridge. I kept asking people for days, “where is that signature Sydney bridge I’ve seen in photos? No, it’s NOT the Harbor Bridge…” Well, I believe it’s called the ANZAC bridge, and it’s near Darling Harbor. The tower gave me the best view I had of it.

ANZAC Bridge at night from Sydney Tower

How to take night photos from a glassed in tower:

  • Take a tripod. If you don’t have one, or they don’t allow them, just forget taking pictures anywhere near this good. You might get some decent ones if you can brace your camera against a railing, but it’s magnitudes below this quality.
  • Put the lens right up against the glass if at all possible. This reduces the reflections quite a bit. I suggest having a UV filter on your D-SLR (if you have one), though anyway it’s not really possible for the lens glass to touch the window unless you have a super fisheye.
  • Use some kind of cloth or shirt (black color!) to help reduce reflections. For most of these photos, I was pressing my black Smartwool sweater against the glass, letting the cloth hang down over the camera. If I saw reflections in a photo, I’d reposition the sweater to eliminate them and try the shot again. This is critical, because there are MANY reflections off the things behind you inside the tower. They WILL all screw up your shot.
  • For exposure: use a low ISO (100-400) for sharp details and low noise. Use the “S” or shutter priority mode where you choose the shutter-open time. Lower times (5-10s) are usually OK, go for 15-30 if you want maximum car taillight trails on the streets.
  • I use incandescent white balance setting, since it is a good balance between all the different types of lights on in a city.
  • Lastly: use the camera’s timer for every shot! Even with a tripod, your finger on the button will move the camera slightly. If you set the timer (even just for 2s), the camera will have time to stabilize after your hand leaves the button.

Happy nighttime shooting! Let me know if you have any other questions about night shots – it’s really a fun way to experiment with any D-SLR or even an advanced pocket camera.

Posted 6 years, 10 months ago at 3:06 pm.

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