Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

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

Singapore Jungle Nights

Singapore’s Night Safari is quite an interesting attraction. I was expecting more, so it was a bit disappointing when I went there on July 16th, but it’s still worth a visit.

Here’s the skinny: it’s open from 7:30 until midnight. Adults $22 SGD. BUT you can’t see everything from the walking paths! Many of the (granted, less-exciting) animals you can only see from the tram, which costs another $10. This really pi$$ed me off, because I hate touristy tram rides. AND the tram does not stop, so you basically can’t take photos, because with this light you NEED a long exposure.

One thing I felt I missed out on was the lions, which you can just barely see from the walking trail. Here’s a crop of the best photo I got with my mini-tripod: 1/3s, ISO 1600, f/2.

Distant lions at the Singapore Night Safari

The Night Safari is basically a normal zoo with the same old enclosures for the animals. Most of the animals are the same, too. But many of the animals you see at a normal zoo are nocturnal, so they sleep all day. At the Night Safari, they are more awake and active.

But beware: you cannot use flash to take your pictures (though a few idiots try). It’s not good for the animals. And it’s almost impossible to get a decent shot with under $1000 of camera gear, flash or not. You need great low-light performance (non-grainy ISO 1600-3200) and a pro lens of f/2.8 or faster. My D90 with the 35mm f/2 AF-D did okay, but it was still tough. A $2,700 D700 and 50mm f/1.4 would be ideal.

Here’s a great shot that I got when someone else’s flash popped just as I had my shutter open for 1/4s. The hyenas were NOT happy about that flash.

Striped Hyenas that someone (not me) flashed, just while my shutter was open

That’s still 1/4s with a mini-tripod, ISO 3200, and f/2. So I guarantee their photo with a pocket cam (2m farther away than I was) sucked, despite the flash.

The animal show had potential. But most of the animals did not cooperate. The jumping cat didn’t jump:

Come on kitty, jump for the nice people who keep flashing you

The grape-sniffing whatever-it-was could not choose the hand with the grape, it was too distracted by someone’s camera flash. Then, these recycling otters decided to play with the cups & cans instead of tossing them in the proper bins…

No, otter, put the cup IN the recycling, don't chew on it!

Overall, the park was interesting, but as I said my expectations were much higher. If you go in realizing it’s just a zoo at night, and not an amazing safari-like experience, you’ll be impressed. One thing I learned: porcupines do not shoot their quills. They back into their attacker, then the spines detach from the ‘pine and stick in whatever scared them, because of their fishhook-like barbs.

Porcupines rooting for food and squabbling occasionally

For today’s last (and I think best) photo, here’s a clouded leopard. This beautiful cat was about one meter from the camera, through a pane of glass. 4s, ISO 3200, f/2 with a mini tripod. It was pretty funny watching people try to take pics through the tinted (probably one-way-mirror) glass with the flash.

Beautiful clouded leopard at night

By the way, I can recommend the park hopper pass, where you get to go to 2, or all 3 of the Singapore animal parks for one fee: Jurong Bird Park, Singapore Zoo, and the Night Safari. For all 3 it was $45 SGD, a very full two days worth of activities. Awesome!

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 4:22 am.

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Bangkok’s Steamy Underbelly

By steamy, I mean several things. Yeah, there are Bangkok’s red-light districts. But then you have the humid summer heat – and the clouds of actual steam rising from every street vendor stall. How the Thais eat skewers and plates of hot, roasted meat and veg in this heat, I don’t know.

Eating street food in Bangkok

On July 6 I attempted to find out, by walking the streets and taking candid photos of the locals. Okay, I got shots of a few tourists here and there as well – they are the lifeblood of this city, after all! I mean that literally – they are a transfusion of cash into Bangkok’s arm. There wouldn’t be so many tuk-tuks and motorcycle taxis without us tourists. “Where you going?”

Motorcycle taxi drivers in Bangkok

The “Zen” mall in CentralWorld was burned down during riots in this summer’s red shirt protests. Now it’s surrounded by walls, prepared for rebuilding. To help promote goodwill there is a thoughtful poem from the president of Zen, and lots of heart-shaped posterboards where some people have scrawled messages of hope for the future of their beloved mall.

To others it’s a good spot to sit and smoke:

We Love CentralWorld!

I’m going to use a cropped version of this photo so you can see what’s so great about this scene. All eyes are on this beautiful woman:

Lots of cellphone users on the streets, but less than Japan

The contrasts don’t stop in Bangkok. This woman looks like she’s meditating as the epitome of wealth in Asia drives by: the BMW.

Quite good

The pink slippers are classic.

Awesome!

Only half a meter of sidewalk separates these two, yet they live worlds apart.

Excellent!

For my last street photo I’ll throw in this food vendor snacking on her own wares. It’s a good sign if they’ll eat what they have cooked, right?

Excellent!

Now for the night photos, taken from the upper deck of the Baiyoke Sky Hotel. This was tricky, because the platform rotates. There is a screen with wide spacing (big enough to fit a D-SLR through), then a concrete outer ledge about a foot wide. The screen moves, but the ledge doesn’t.

I set my camera & mini-tripod on the outer ledge and clicked the shutter release. With a 5s timer, the camera stabilized as I pulled my hands back through the screen. Then I walked along the (rather fast) rotating platform to stay with the camera. Not much leeway here! Fortunately the camera is heavy enough, and the tripod small enough, that the high winds weren’t likely to blow it off the ledge.

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There’s a lot of traffic in Bangkok. Even at night the streets and highways are crowded. During the day, the cabbies complain constantly about the traffic. “Don’t you wanna go some shopping on the way?” No, because the traffic will NOT be better after you drag me to some scam gem shop.

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These wide shots were the best I could do, because there was no way to look in the viewfinder while placing the camera (through the mesh screen, and while walking slowly along the moving platform). If anyone finds a non-rotating vantage point in Bangkok with such good views, please let me know for the next time I’m there!

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:08 pm.

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50-Lemon Can

My last day in Japan was American Independence Day. Sadly I didn’t spend July 4th with any Americans, or see any fireworks. Most of the day I was on a train or plane. But I did see a few cool sights along the way.

As I got very little sleep the days before departing, I tried out this little treat on the express train to Narita. According to a friend, it’s what hung-over Japanese salarymen drink on the way to work. This can has 50 lemons’ worth of vitamin C! “Eeeexcellent, Smithers.” <tents fingers diabolically>

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After a long day of flying, I arrived in Bangkok and caught a shuttle bus into town. It started pouring just as I stepped off the bus, so I splurged for a taxi… it was 40 Baht (about $1.25) from the bus dropoff to the Baiyoke Sky Hotel.

I was only on floor 25 of this very cool 84-floor building, the tallest in Thailand at over 300 meters! Here’s the view from my room:

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It was not a bad deal considering the nice buffet breakfast, and adding in that I could go to the top of the building at floor 84 for free, night or day. I wouldn’t stay a whole week here (a bit pricey), but for a couple days, it was great relaxation and an even better view.

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That’s it for now. I’ll have night pictures from the tippy-top at floor 84 coming up. That was tricky due to the super-annoying revolving platform which would make any long-exposure tripod photos useless. I found a way around it, though – mu-hahaha!

What’s the tallest building you’ve ever been in / up? Currently I’m on Taipei 101, over 500m. When I visited Dubai, the Burj Khalifa (a.k.a. Burj Dubai) wasn’t done yet.

Posted 6 years, 11 months ago at 3:19 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, 12 months ago at 3:19 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 7 years ago at 3:06 pm.

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Bats in the Daytime, and Sydney at Night

Strangely enough, the best time to see bats in Sydney is the middle of the day. They all sleep in the park! Apparently it’s a big problem, because they damage the trees they roost in.

Bats on a tree in Sydney Botanical Gardens

I took some photos for a friend in the hostel on June 8th, and thought I’d share them here as well. These are some seriously huge bats!

Sleepy bats in Sydney Botanical Gardens

I didn’t expect too much when a few bats took to the air. But my trusty Nikon D90 and 18-200mm VR did not disappoint. With a fast shutter and a bit of cropping, I managed to get this.

A flying bat in the daylight at Sydney Botanical Gardens

Okay, now that your skin is crawling, I’ll drop it down a notch. (Sorry, Emeril). Here’s what else I’ve got for today. I’m gonna say the bokeh has blurred this kid’s face enough for privacy. “What you doin’ on my walkway, mate?”

Some bird looking at a kid in Sydney Olympic Park

Now for the night shots! I’ll just put a few of the best ones. All are long exposures requiring a tripod, with ISO of 400 or lower to avoid noise. Here’s the Sydney Opera House, lit up on the side facing Circular Quay. The colors are projected in an ever-changing video.

Sydney Opera House lit up at night

Majestic downtown Sydney:

Downtown Sydney as seen from Macquarie's Point

And finally a nice combination of the Opera House and the Harbor Bridge.

Sydney Opera House and the Sydney Harbor Bridge at night

If you’re interested in how to take nighttime photos, check some other articles on the blog where I explain a bit about it (e.g. Paris at Night). There will also be a post up shortly about night pics taken from Sydney Tower. Or just leave a comment on this post and I’ll do my best to answer your question!

Posted 7 years ago at 3:06 pm.

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Vienna Christmas Markets

Here’s a quick update from Vienna (Wien, auf Deutsch)!

Go to the Christmas Markets if you’re here before the 24th of December. They are fantastic! Lots of great food, drink, and crafts (for those into that kind of thing). Here’s the view of the Rathaus (city hall) from the city’s main Weihnachtsmarkt / Christkindlmarkt, although there are many others as well.
Vienna Rathaus - Christmas Time

The Natural History Museum by Maria-Theresienplatz (where there is also a Christmas Market) is very cool. Though I warn you, it’s huge. If you follow the normal path you’ll pass halls full of minerals, meteorites, exhibits about the planet, dinosaurs, then up to Level 2 for… (I only had 10min left for this part after spending 2+h on Level 1) microorganisms, insects, reptiles, birds, and mammals. There is a stuffed version of EVERY (former) LIVING THING in this museum. Vegetarians and taxidermy-haters, this is not for you. Finally, at the moment there’s a cool Darwin exhibit (very scientific, and not very creationist), and a small vivarium with fish and a few lizards.

Here’s my pick from Natural History (I only took a dozen photos). Jurassic Park will start its first location in Vienna, with the city’s collection of amber-ized bugs:
Spider in amber at the Natural History Museum in Vienna
Seriously, I think in the mid-1800’s they just got bored and decided to collect one of everything known to man. Rocks, fossils, taxidermied this and that… unbelievable how big this place is.

Lastly, if you need a REAL deep cleaning, better call ASS. Their website URL speaks for itself… doesn’t it? No, it’s not what you think. It stands for Anlagen Service System. This really is a mobile service for (I think) pressure washing and building cleaning.
ASS - Anlagen Service System

Restaurant pick: Asahi Restaurant (Japanese), Burggasse 18, 1070 Wien. 01/522 71 40. 48a St. Ulrichsplatz or U3 Volkstheater. Tasty sushi, and among the cheapest sushi I’ve found in Europe. Octopus salad for 5 euro was a bit chewy but otherwise good, and sushi / sashimi / maki combos for 8-12 euro are a steal.

If you want some tourist advice, I recommend the guidebook brand that my parents brought:

Posted 7 years, 6 months ago at 11:20 pm.

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Lenggries at Night

As promised, here’s the second post in the Lenggries series! To read the first in the series with “getting there” info, see my Hiking at Lenggries post.

On the way back to the car, we caught this fantastic moonrise over the mountains:

Moonrise at Lenggries

Moonrise at Lenggries

Moonrise at Lenggries

Moonrise at Lenggries

Along the fields on the way back, we saw this sign, which cracked me up.

Cow says: "And I'm supposed to feed on that?"  Underneath: "Unsoiled pasture - everything's in the butter"

Cow says: "And I'm supposed to feed on that?" Underneath: "Unsoiled pasture - everything's in the butter"

After leaving the Jägerstüberl restaurant, we heard heavy-sounding music and saw fire off to the north.  This demanded investigation.  It turned out to be a free open house evening at the Lenggries Falkenhof – a falconry park!  (Tourism site link with a bit of English).  Now I want to go back and see the falconry show during the day sometime.

All photos are 1.0s, f/11, ISO 1600 except for the fire breather.  That one is 2.0s, f/20, ISO 800 to avoid overexposure while still getting a long shutter speed.  These fire spinning and twirling photos are my favorites from about 60 shots.

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Show

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Breather

Falkenhof Spektaculum Fire Breather

One thing is for sure: I’m going to check out next year’s Falconry Spectacular and evening fire event! This year it was in October (postponed from September), so I’d check for it on the Falknerspektaculum website next summer.

Hope you enjoyed my photos, and that you have the chance to make it to Lenggries for a beautiful summer hike — or snowboarding in the winter.

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 1:00 pm.

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Empire State After Dark

Once the world’s tallest building, the Empire State Building is one of the first modern skyscrapers.  The last time I visited in 2006, I waited in line for hours. The view was great, but… long queues suck. When I returned in 2009, I decided to give it a go at night, since the upper deck is open very late (2am, although the last elevator up is 1:15).  There was almost no line at around midnight.  Tickets are expensive at $20 for adults, so be prepared with a fat wallet.  Found this on the website: “Military personnel are admitted free when in full uniform.”

View of the Empire State Building from the Flatiron Building:

The square beside the Flatiron Building offers an excellent view

The square beside the Flatiron Building offers an excellent view

Now, let me say: the nighttime views were not as fantastic as those from the Eiffel Tower. But this is partly because it was quite hazy on this hot summer day in New York City. I believe the view (and the photos) would be better on a crisp, clear day.

Times Square is a bit disappointing when seen from this angle. (0.8s, f/4.5, ISO 200)

Times Square is a bit disappointing when seen from this angle. (0.8s, f/4.5, ISO 200)

The Flatiron Building is a well-known monument, and here you can see why it provides such a good view of the Empire State Building:

The Flatiron Building -- can you guess where they got the name?  (4s, f/7.1, ISO 200)

The Flatiron Building -- can you guess where they got the name? (4s, f/7.1, ISO 200)

I guess that just about every bridge in the NYC area is visible from the top of Empire State. Here are the Manhattan Bridge and the Brooklyn Bridge. One hint: if you want a great geometric picture with suspension lines everywhere, visit the Brooklyn Bridge on a clear, sunny day with your polarizing filter.

Beautiful view of the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge.  (1.6s, f/6.3, ISO 200)

Beautiful view of the Manhattan Bridge and Brooklyn Bridge. (1.6s, f/6.3, ISO 200)

Given clearer conditions, I could have taken a superior photo of the Manhattan skyline. But I’m pretty pleased with this result. Now I need to return in a few years… perhaps when the Freedom Tower is complete!

On the far right of the Manhattan Skyline, you can just see the Statue of Liberty.  (2.5s, f/5.6, ISO 200)

On the far right of the Manhattan Skyline, you can just see the Statue of Liberty. (2.5s, f/5.6, ISO 200)

On the way out, I got this shot of the entranceway. That’s a beautiful inlay in the wall behind the desk!

You'll never see the lobby as empty as it is at 1am...

You'll never see the lobby as empty as it is at 1am...

Although not as fantastic as the Eiffel Tower view, I would still recommend the Empire State Building at night — as long as it’s a clear night. If you want photo tips on how to take these great night shots, check out my Eiffel Tower post where I explain details like using a small tripod and a shutter delay.  These were taken with a Nikon D90; if you’d like to support an aspiring writer & photographer, purchase with the Amazon link below!

Getting there:

  • Address: 350 5th Avenue, New York, NY 10018
  • Nearest Metro: 34th St – Herald Square (also not far from 34th St – Penn Station)
  • Building security: small bags are allowed but not large luggage.  Don’t bring drinks.
  • Ticket sales are not on the ground floor, but at an intermediate level after going up some ways in the elevator.

Official website: Empire State Building Website

Posted 7 years, 8 months ago at 11:16 am.

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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, 10 months ago at 12:00 pm.

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