Dave's Photo & Travelblogue

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

Saigon – Cute and Crazy

Saigon, renamed to Ho Chi Minh City by the communist North after they won the Vietnam War, is a city of anomalies. Beautiful French buildings are interspersed with communist concrete. Here’s Reunification hall, which used to be the palace of the President of the south part of Vietnam (before the communists took it back). The glorious 60’s live again…

Reunification Hall in Ho Chi Minh City

Amazing high-class eateries (like classy French patisseries) share space with sidewalk restaurants where patrons sit on plastic footstools. And there’s this… the rich Saigon Zoo, an oasis of calm compared to the bustle and buzz of motorbike traffic just outside its gates. (Admission: only 8000 dong, or about 40 US cents).

YouTube Preview Image

Granted, the zoo is not as nice as others I’ve seen in Asia (Taipei for example). It also has its contradictions: some of the pens are beautiful and spacious, while others (like the elephant pen) are pretty depressing. Don’t let your kids wander alone in the reptile area, or they’ll happen upon dead rabbits floating in the pools near the bored (and over-full) pythons.

Friendly lizards at Saigon Zoo

They’ve taken the odd step of putting glass in front of many of the cages instead of wire: ostensibly so you can see the animals with less obstruction. But it’s sunny when you go to the zoo, so between the reflections and the dirty glass, you can barely see some of the animals (much less take photos of them). At least in a few cases where the reflections aren’t bad you can get amazing photos, like this white tiger, shot from less than a meter away:

White Tiger with blue eyes at Saigon Zoo

Even though I wasn’t in Saigon long, I got a good feel for what it must have been like in the glory days of old. It makes me wonder what things would be like there if south Vietnam had remained independent from communism. Government styles aside, it’s a beautiful place with a rich culture and heritage that definitely warrants a visit!

Posted 5 years, 7 months ago at 7:52 pm.

2 comments

Hue Imperial City

Nguyễn Phúc Ánh took control of Vietnam in 1802 and named himself Emperor. Of course, like every great man with great ambitions and hundreds of concubines, he needed a palace in his capital city! Within the Imperial City was the Purple Forbidden City, where only the Emperor’s family was allowed.

Unfortunately it was mostly destroyed during the American bombing that followed the Communists’ takeover of Hue in 1968. What can you do?

Imperial City, Hue

Here’s a short video showing a few areas of the Imperial City. Gardens with locusts/loud insects, koi ponds with hungry fish, restored (and some not-yet-restored) buildings. Oh, and I threw in a night timelapse of Hue from the top of the Romantic Hotel – you can see the city lights coming on as the clouds tower high.

YouTube Preview Image

The imposing Citadel guarding one entrance to the Imperial City:

Hue Imperial City Citadel Gates

The walls themselves are guarded by a dragon. Vietnamese do love their dragons, I’d say more than any other Asian culture I’ve visited!

Hue Imperial City Dragon

I’ll leave you with one final (gold plated?) dragon guarding what look to be some Imperial living areas. Don’t mess with the Emperor!

Hue Imperial City perspective

Posted 5 years, 7 months ago at 5:30 pm.

1 comment

Shuni-e Fire Ceremony

The yearly Shuni-e ceremony at Todai-ji temple in Nara, Japan must be one of the ancient pyrotechnic wonders of the world. Reportedly it’s been held every year since 752! And this temple complex is a world heritage site. Yes, the temple is made of wood.

According to Wikipedia, “Every night, ten select believers (eleven on March 12) shoulder large pine torches as long as 8 meters and weighing as much as 80 kilograms. Girded with swords and staves, the torch-bearers climb a flight of stairs and run along the balcony of the Nigatsu-dō, showering sparks on the public below. It is thought that these sacred sparks will protect the recipient from evil. The monks also chant, perform ritual circumambulation, and wave swords to ward off evil spirits.”

Here’s a short video of the ceremony on Mar. 11th, 2012.

YouTube Preview Image

Taking photos of this is hard. You will want a VR- or IS- stabilized lens, a wide aperture (f/2.8 or wider would be nice), and a big D-SLR sensor. Times of 1/15 to 1/3 second at wide aperture can yield nice shots without having to pump the ISO too high.

Shuni-e Torch 1

Here’s another shot, with the torch-bearing monk in motion! He is running along the walkway while twirling the torch on his shoulder.

Shuni-e Torch 2 in motion

For my final trick: tell me this isn’t the most amazing shape you’ve ever seen made of glowing sparks.

Shuni-e Torch 3 bird

If you ever plan to visit Nara, the first half of March is the time to do it!

The one tip to get a good place in front of the Nigatsu-do balcony: arrive early. If you are late you will be half a kilometer away in a parking lot with a crappy view obstructed by a big tree. (To get a decent photo from there you’ll need a tall tripod and a 400mm+ pro lens costing six thousand dollars).

On this (Sunday) night, I arrived at around 5 for the ~7pm ceremony start. I had my choice of viewing position, so got an awesome spot. After a short thunderstorm (which thankfully cleared) and a nice hot coffee from a vending machine, this amazing ceremony was the reward!

Posted 5 years, 8 months ago at 9:48 pm.

Add a comment

Awesome Japan Stuff

Japan is a mystifying country where everything seems completely FOREIGN and new to westerners. I think that’s part of why so many of us love Japan and its (to us) oddities!

Here’s my video of a few typical crazy Japanese experiences: conveyor belt running sushi, baseball’s 7th inning stretch, the washlet Japanese toilet, and the opening of an iSetan department store where everyone bows to you as you walk by.

YouTube Preview Image

For travelers: what was the oddest (but obviously most AWESOME) experience you ever had in Japan?

Octopus advertising Takoyaki

Posted 5 years, 8 months ago at 7:59 pm.

Add a comment

Las Vegas Nights

These are not the lights of Las Vegas, Nevada… but rather a different kind of lights in the tiny town of Las Vegas, Tenerife. I set up my Nikon D7000 and tried out some Milky Way star trail timelapse sequences. By pure chance, one of the nights happened to be the 2011 Geminids meteor shower! Lots of Sternschnuppe made it onto my 30s-exposure photos.

See how many shooting stars you can count. Can you find Venus, the Pleiades, and the Andromeda galaxy? I recommend 1080 full HD on Youtube to give your peepers the best resolution possible!

YouTube Preview Image

As I’ve been doing a lot of timelapse stuff lately, here are

Dave’s TOP 10 Night Timelapse Tips

  • Make sure nothing annoying is moving in your photo, like trees that cover a large portion of the frame.
  • Avoid super bright lights being in the shot, they can create lens flare at long exposure.
  • Beware of battery life. Even my D7000 (one of the longest battery-life cameras) lasts under 400 shots at ISO 2000 and 30s exposure.
  • If possible, choose a location without motion detector lights. Unfortunately I couldn’t do that in this video, so I minimized the amount of scenery that was hit by the light.
  • Watch out for the moon. If it comes up during a night timelapse it will wash out all the stars.
  • Use a steady tripod and put it somewhere it won’t be disturbed by wind gusts, pets, or other people while you (hopefully) sleep.
  • Make sure to set a fixed (manual) focus, and don’t let the camera autofocus during the shoot. I use Live View on a bright star or very distant house light for the initial focus.
  • Keep the aperture constant to avoid changes in depth of field during the shoot.
  • Use manual exposure mode and fine-tune the ISO and shutter open time with some test shots. Of course you’ll want to set the widest aperture of your lens.
  • Last but not least: Check the weather report and pick a day free of clouds! Forecast should be 0% chance of rain unless you want a wet camera.

Tenerife Night Sky

Posted 5 years, 11 months ago at 7:20 pm.

Add a comment

Timelapse Sunsets in Greece

On a recent trip to Greece, I tried out timelapse photography on my Nikon D7000 D-SLR. With about 500 photos you can get a great 20 second sunset sequence in 24p! Taken in Athens and on Aegina island. Here’s a shot of the setup I used:

Aegina Sunset Timelapse Setup

YouTube Preview Image

With my Intel-Atom-powered Asus Eee PC along, I was able to check out the results directly after each timelapse shoot. I used free software (Virtualdub with the deflicker plugin) to compile the single shots into a video. This quick feedback enabled me to fine-tune my techniques on the fly and get increasingly better timelapse videos each day.

I foresee a lot of changes in cameras during the next 5-10 years. Higher-end models will have (real, quality) HDR functions integrated. The sequential photo setting now used for timelapses will integrate the photos automatically into a video in the camera, including exposure adjustment to avoid flicker. This is going to need a more powerful, yet still low-power processor built into the camera.

Let’s see what happens as cameras + processors improve. One thing is for sure, technology isn’t slowing down yet!

Posted 6 years, 1 month ago at 10:53 pm.

1 comment

Climbing Zugspitze: Germany’s highest mountain (Part 3)

In case you didn’t see Part 1 and Part 2, that’s because they were published quite a while ago. I’ve been busy with snowboarding, and decided that this final post & video about a summer hike would anyway fit better once spring arrived.

After crossing the Höllentalferner glacier, we continued climbing up the wall for a long time.

Dave and Bunky climbing Zugspitze

As we neared the top this beautiful view greeted us:

Nearing the top of Zugspitze

Here’s the Eibsee, which we could also see briefly from the train on the way down.

View of Eibsee from the climb up Zugspitze

Now, for the final video. High-def views over the Höllental and everything beyond!

YouTube Preview Image

Watch “Climbing Zugspitze: Part 3” in HD on YouTube. A big thanks to Danny Galixy for letting me use some of his fantastic instrumental music for these three videos!

We made one slight error, in that we planned to hike back down. But the ascent went slower than expected with our acrophobic friend, so we took the train down instead. That would have been no problem, except that we’d left some sleeping bags and shoes at the hut, planning to pick them up on the way down.

So… after arriving back to the car in Hammersbach, Scott and I did a lightning-fast hike up the bottom section of the mountain. This time we chose to go via the Höllentalklamm, a gorge with a river, instead of the longer (but fee-free) Stangensteig. When I say lightning-fast, I mean the signpost said 2 1/2 hours, and we did it in 1:15. Our Smartwool shirts were soaked with sweat!

In the end I’m glad we did this bottom section twice, because the Höllentalklamm was gorgeous! You walk up narrow staircases cut into the rock, with splashing waterfalls and scenic views everywhere. I’d recommend if you are hiking up and down, to go up Höllentalklamm and down Stangensteig to take in both scenic routes.

IMG_4103_sm

For the full details about the hike, where to stay, where to rent gear, and all that – check out Part 1 of this series. The end of that post has all the hard facts listed in English for your Babelfish-free understanding. Part 2 of the Zugspitze series is all about the via ferrata sections (where you’re clipped to the steel cables on the cliffside) and the glacier.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading and seeing what Zugspitze is like. Let me know if you have any questions I can answer about the hike or the mountain! I’m happy to help fellow English speakers figure this baby out, because almost all the information out there is in German (grin).

Posted 7 years, 7 months ago at 6:34 pm.

9 comments

Snowboarding Helmetcam Update

I had a few questions come up about my video setup… so here it is, in all its simplicity. At first it was side mounted, but this hurt my neck after several hours, so now it’s on top.

IMG_4323_sm

Equipment:

  • Nvertigo-X Skydiving camera helmet with chin cup
  • Canon Vixia HF200
  • Kenko KGW-05 wide adapter
  • Manfrotto 323 quick-change adapter
  • Newton cross ring sight with Schumacher rotating clamp
  • Home-made neoprene “camera condom,” from an old wetsuit hood
  • Piece of gaffer’s tape over the “mode” switch so it stays on video, can’t be bumped to photo mode (which screws everything up if you don’t notice it)
  • Pattex glue for the neoprene (glues neoprene like nothing else, according to some friends who SCUBA)

Photos of the new Neoprene cover with side opening. I left an open area by the lens so the Instant AF sensor can still work.

Top-mounted Helmet Cam

I made this side opening cover after many pain-in-the-$%# moments on the slope, when I had to completely remove the (old) cover to use the viewscreen.

Side-opening Neoprene camera condom

Settings:

  • Highest quality setting, at 1920×1080 Full HD
  • Shutter speed (Tv mode) 1/500 or higher (maybe 1/250 but then you get a bit more motion blur in the video)
  • Optical stabilizer on, though it doesn’t help much when you are moving
  • Virtualdub and Deshaker software used to stabilize clips
  • Editing done with Pinnacle Studio 14 Ultimate Collection

Hope this helps some other camera-amateurs like myself! Next on my list (if I find time) is to make one of the home-made steadicams from PVC pipe, like you see in many YouTube tutorials. Not sure I’d put it on the helmet, but for handheld stuff, it might eliminate the need for the (slow, slight-quality-reducing) Deshaker step.

Posted 7 years, 10 months ago at 11:00 am.

6 comments

Snowboard Carving – Feb Craziness!

Alright, it’s finally time for a little taste of what’s possible with my final video setup! I just threw together a couple good carving clips from two trips, one in early Jan and one in early Feb.

Go to YouTube to watch the video in HD!

Thanks to the amazing carvers in the video: Peti, Lowcarver, and Alexey. They ride boards from Oxess, Virus, and Prior. I need to improve my technique to get those nice, laid-over turns, especially on the backside!

The first clip is at Zillertal Arena, the rest are at Hintertux glacier (both in Austria). Next week I’ll post a bit more about my Canon HF200 camera setup, so if you want to read about that, subscribe with the orange buttons on the left sidebar for RSS or email notification. Hope you enjoy the video!

Posted 7 years, 10 months ago at 4:02 pm.

Add a comment

Happy New Year from Munich!

For the first time, I went out to one of the bridges in Munich to see fireworks. This is NOT the same as fireworks in the US. Everyone buys big bottle rockets that are illegal in most states and shoots them off from their just-drained champagne bottles. Yes, thousands of drunk people shooting off big fireworks in a crowd. There were trams running over lit fireworks, ambulances driving by every five minutes, and the air was thick with the smell of pyrotechnics.

In a word: Awesome! (okay, except for the people IN the ambulances)

YouTube Preview Image

Location: Reichenbachbrücke. Shot with a Canon Powershot SD1000 pocket cam. I was there with Wingnut & Dylan. Tasty beer, great atmosphere, and most importantly, good friends. One of the best New Years’ celebrations ever…

Happy New Year, und einen guten Rutsch ins neues Jahr! I invite you to see what The Onion thinks of man’s love for setting things on fire. I am no exception… hehe.

Posted 7 years, 11 months ago at 1:33 pm.

5 comments