Thursday, May 30, 2013

Which Neutral Density Filter?

I've been wanting to try long exposure shots (>30sec) during the day, where moving clouds and water become silky smooth. I need a neutral density filter (or a stack of them), but I never bought one.  I've done long exposure at night where it's dark enough that I don't need ND filters, but cannot do it during bright daylight.

I go hiking barely once a year on average. And the number of waterfalls I've seen in my entire lifetime is still less than the fingers in my one hand. So, forget about waterfalls. Seascapes and clouds might be a better fit for me. Still, I'm not so big into nature or landscape photos. So I read up how much investment is involved and what I need for this play. 

Here is my summary:

0.3ND = 1 stop = ND2 (1/2 transmittance)
0.6ND = 2stop = ND4 (1/4 transmittance)
0.9ND = 3stop = ND8 (1/8 transmittance)
Lee big stopper = 10stop  = ND1024 (1/1024 =0.098% transmittance)

Everybody seems to love Lee big stopper. It is always out of stock in US online stores, and usually have 6 months wait once you put an order. I heard Singapore has a lot in stock if you have someone in Singapore. 

I want at least 0.6ND or 0.9ND.  I don't need graduated ND filters. 

Cokin P holders are good, but filters themselves are very bad. Plastic films whereas Lee filters are glass. 

Singh-ray filters are good. They are screwed-in filters, not square plates that need a holder and a thread-converter. 
This Singh-Ray vari-ND filter goes from  2stop - 8stop. But $340!!!  (for 77mm thread.)  I can't splurge $340 for something I will try just once or twice. 

Hitech ND filters are good as well, and lower price than Singh-ray. 
With ~$100 budget,  get hard 2-stop or 3-stop. 

By stacking 3-stop+1-stop filters, I can make 4-stop.  Is it enough for blurring water and clouds? Do I need the big stopper?

Scott Kelby tutorial on 9 stop ND filter. 

DIY: If you already have a circular polarizer, then you can add a linear polarizer on the top of it to make a variable ND filter
I have a 58mm circular polarizer, but no linear polarizer. Forget about it if I have to buy another 58mm linear polarizer to diy. 

update: DIY using a welding glass for 10 stops (tip from Jeff )

Still undecided what to buy... I just want to try it once or twice. 

Wednesday, May 29, 2013


The picture I took of my colleagues repairing a bike during our annual GoogleServe event made it to the public Google Giving page . It's a tiny tiny thing, but I'm happy enough that they picked my picture out of thousands of other GoogleServe pictures (without me submitting it for the webpage in particular). Fierce looks on my colleagues helped of course :-)

Every year, Google organized company-wide GoogleServe event, where we volunteer in different types of projects to give back to the community.  This photo is from two years ago when our team volunteered in repairing broken bikes to donate to local children. Last year, we painted a local elementary school. This year, we will be cleaning the beaches of half-moon bay.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Portraits 21/52 Cherry-picking

Project 21/52. This week is neither portraits nor street photography. It's somewhere in between.

Cherry-picking in Brentwood, CA during Memorial day weekend.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

A photographer's learning curve

I'm seriously thinking about finding a mentor. I have been self-taught and always been a solo shooter in my entire photography life. I have learned as much as I can by myself. But...

I feel like my photography has plateaued and is not improving anymore. My subjects, styles and techniques start to fall within a narrow circle and all similar now.  Inspiration goes only so far. I need to step up to the next level. I can get some beautiful pictures with good techniques, but I feel like they are lacking emotion and creativity.  I want something greater.

I don't know what else I need to do to get out of this plateau. I need a mentor not in technical skills, but in creativity, artistic skills and subject-matter. I guess they are all hard to be taught, otherwise I would have read it.

Have you seen the famous 'A photographer's learning curve' ? 

Right now, I'm totally feeling like 'I suck', especially after finding the international, multi-award-winning burmese photographer Aung Pyae Soe on Facebook. I couldn't feel any smaller right now.  I always knew that there are many many amazing photographers not even remotely comparable to my skills, but they are not the ones I can relate myself to.  
There are two photographers I admire because I can relate myself to them in some ways. 

1) The first one  is the one my husband and I still call "The sophomore guy"(Pichaya Viwatrujirapong) because we met him when he was a sophomore at Berkeley while we were seniors. I've long been an admirer of his work. I can relate to him just because I knew him before he becomes famous with photography.  I really like his style. He's my idol. 
2) Now just added Aung Pyae Soe  to my list. I can relate to him just because he's Burmese; simple as that. And his work is amazing. I admire his creativity and artistic eyes, especially because I didn't get/see those kind pictures when I was in those places. 

I think it's worth to add that they are both of my generation. It adds to the term "someone I can relate to". There are plenty of people to admire if you don't consider the age. But the ones I truly admire are the ones that I could have been but I am not. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Portraits 20/52: Tulip obsession

I can never have enough pictures of tulips. I didn't expect to see tulips in May, but Madison has tulips everywhere now, in people's front yards, gardens and the State Capitol.
State Capitol, Madison, Wisconsin

Love love love the tulips. I've never seen this many tulips before, even in San Francisco Fisherman's wharf, where they have Tulipmania every February. The only thing I regret is not getting a photo of me   and my mom with these tulips fields. I didn't have my tripod and I was in a hurry to get back to my family waiting elsewhere. 

People are holding tulip bouquets from Farmers' market. What an eye candy today. Portraits 20/52.

Spicy chicken at Fugu near State St
This chicken is back-lit by window light with a white napkin acting as a reflector close to the camera. The reflector does make a big difference for any back-lit photos. We were luckily placed by the window for this window-light.

For food photography, I highly recommend the book "From snapshots to great shots" by Nicole S. Young. It has lighting diagrams for both artificial and natural lights. Back-lit or side-lit window light with a reflector across is the key for natural-light food photos.

I realized interesting street photography is very hard; harder than asking strangers for their portraits.  I'm scared to take people's pictures without their permission now.

Madison has full of yellow wild flowers everywhere while I was there.

How to embed copyright in the photo

Today I learned to put embed copyright info in the picture in Lightroom, not watermark.  I have watermark on the photo. But copyright info is embedded in meta-data (Exif data), so even if people crop the watermark at the corner of the photo, the copyright info stays with the photo.

There are many links when I googled it and they all have the same procedure. During import, apply a a user-defined preset with IPTC copyright section filled.
Some here:

What about those photos that I imported earlier without copyright reset?  The metadata doesn't include copyright.  So to apply copyright on them, use "Sync metadata" with the ones that has it.
Instruction here:

Madison, WI visit

I've been meaning to take a portrait in wild spring yellow flower field since the beginning of spring in California. But I never gave time to stop by. When I came back from Myanmar and finally have some time for photo-walks, they are gone! No more yellow flower field near HW237 that I've been eyeing. Just empty :-( .   I thought I gotta wait for another spring.

And viola! When I arrived in Madison, they are everywhere.  Green grass everywhere. So many green trees everywhere. And yellow flowers were sprinkled on all grass, in people's lawns, in wild grasslands etc. Everywhere. And I'm in heaven.

Yellow wild spring flowers are long gone in California.

Google storage limits

I read about Google storage limit and paid attention to which counts toward the limit or what. PicasaWebAlbums is not Google+ photos. PicasaWebAlbums has 1GB limit, but if I create an album under Google+ photos, they don't count toward 1GB limit as long as the pictures do not exceed 2048x2048.

Photos uploaded directly to Blogger are stored under PicasaWebAlbumss (I can't find them under Google+ photos as of 5/19/2013, but all Google+ albums are under PicasaWebAlbums). Does that mean Google+ photos and PicasaWebAlbums are still two separate entities?  It's quite confusing, even for a Googler.

Two ways for me to minimize my storage usage:
1) upload no bigger than 800x800 pixels to Blogger so that it doesn't get counted toward 1GB Blogger photo limit.
2) upload the pictures to Google+ albums first (smaller than 2048x2048), then insert them to Blogger from Google+ albums.  That way it doesn't get counted toward 1GB Blogger photo limit.

The pictures in this post are inserted from Google+ album; method #2. I should do this way from now on.  But it's a small difference for now since I still have ~54GB free. If it's too much work, I might just ignore it.

Another summary:

Monday, May 13, 2013

Portraits 19/52 Happy Mothers' day

I found this mother and daughter fighting, so there you go, Happy Mothers' day :-)

I have such a hard time this weekend to drag myself out to get portraits for project52.

I did got out and shoot other stuff besides portraits. I am no longer motivated by posed portraits and really bored of my Portraits52 project. Don't get me wrong. It's the most rewarding project I've ever done in a sense that everybody I shoot love their pics, and it's more personal.  It's rewarding to see people happy with my work.

I just start to get comfortable with posing people and natural-lighting for portraits that it's no longer challenging enough anymore. And I want to get back to more moody pictures.

Btw, I'm totally loving 85mm f/1.8 lens. It's my new favorite toy these days. It picks up colors vibrantly and it has prettier bokeh than 50mm f/1.4, IMO.  Most of my recent portraits are with this lens. 

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Emotional hangover

The downside of family vacation back home is the emotional hangover afterwards. I am so down these days that I start to question my life. My friend Maryam once said "In America, we mistaken comfort for happiness". I couldn't agree more in my current state of homesickness with troubling thoughts.
This post is just to reminisce my life during my last stay in Yangon.

မနက္ေစာေစာ ၿပည္သူ႔ရင္ၿပင္မွာ ေၿပးၿပီး ေနထြက္စမွာ ဘုုရားဖူးတယ္။
I just learned that shooting sunrise without any clouds in the sky is so bad. There were no cloud to distribute the rising sun's vibrant colors. What a waste!

ေလွကားထစ္ေတြေပၚေၿပးတက္ၿပီး  ဦး၀ိစာရလမ္းဘက္အဆံုုးမွာ ေရႊတိဂံုုဘုုရားကိုု ဖူးရတာ ေတာ္ေတာ္ခရီးေရာက္သြားသလိုုပဲ။

အိမ္ၿပန္လမ္းမွာ ခေရပန္းေတြေကာက္တယ္။

It was so peaceful. I sorted out my mind during alone, silent moments of picking flowers.
This has became my every morning routine during this last stay to a point that I get uncomfortable the whole day for a day when I didn't run.

 My sister said I'm content with my life; it's true most of the time except when I am homesick.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Portraits 18/52 ဆြမ္းအုုပ္နီနီ

I took a lot of posed portraits that I got tired of portraits now. 18/52.  1/3 down and already bored. Should I change my project to something else now? I think I'm getting a lot more comfortable with posing strangers now.  Did it meet strangers100? Yeah, although I count only one per week, I took about 3-5 people per week on average.

Morph into street photography?
Self-portraits? I've done more than my share already.
Portraits with studio strobe lighting? This way I am still with Portraits52 project.
Or maybe bigger, arranged photoshoot sessions?

Friday, May 3, 2013

Portraits 17/52 A friend

My friend, who taught me again and again how to watch a baseball game.
I never learned.
Maybe that says something about how good the teacher is. LOL :-)

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Portraits16/52 family

My Project52 definition is getting a bit blurred when it comes to my family. Do I count my sister toward my project?  At the beginning of the year, I defined my own rules to exclude immediate family members. So, NLH is out. I just like the flower and the pic, so it stays here.

But my cousin counts toward Proj52. Photographing toddlers is super hard. I don't wanna do it again.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Portraits 14/52, 15/52

I have been lazy to post my Project52 pictures for a while that I lost count whether it's 13 or 14 or 15. Took me a while to count again.



Yangon university

I've been away on a trip to Myanmar, and no posts lately. So here it is. Meet Yangon. 

 ဘယ္တုန္းကမွမပတ္သက္လိုက္ရတဲ့ ရန္ကုန္ တကၠသိုလ္ ဘြဲ႕ႏွင္းသဘင္ခန္းမ (Convocation Center)

သစ္ပုုပ္ပင္ကေတာ့ wide enough lens ပါမလာလုိ႔ တပိုုင္းပဲရလိုုက္တယ္။ တကယ္ ၾကိဳးၾကိဳးစားစားမရိုုက္လိုုက္တာလည္းပါတာေပါ့။  ဘြဲ႔ႏွင္းသဘင္ပံုုေတာ့တင္ၿပီး သစ္ပုုပ္ပင္မပါရင္ မေကာင္းလိုု႔ မေကာင္းတဲ့ပံုုကိုုပဲ တင္လိုုက္တယ္။

ႏွစ္လႊာေပါင္းမွတစ္ရြက္ျဖစ္တဲ႕စြယ္ေတာ္ရြက္တဲ႔ ။ တကၠသိုလ္ကလူေတြက စိတ္ကူးယဥ္တတ္လိုက္ႀကတာ။ 

သီခ်င္းေတြထဲမွာပဲရင္းႏွီးခဲ႕တဲ႕ ဂ်ပ္ဆင္။
ၿပည္လမ္းဘက္က ၿမင္ရတာ။ (တကၠသိုုလ္ရိပ္သာလမ္းဘက္ကမဟုုတ္)    

တကၠသုုိလ္၀င္းထဲ ေလ်ွာက္ၾကည့္ရင္း သူမ်ားေတြလို  "အရင္ေက်ာင္းတုန္းကေပါ့ ဒီေနရာမွာ" အစခ်ီၿပီး ေၿပာစရာမရွိေတာ့  ကိုုယ့္ကိုုယ္ကိုုေတာင္ ၿပန္သနားသြားတယ္။ 

မွတ္မွတ္ရရအရြယ္မွာ မေရာက္ခဲ႕တဲ႕ ရန္ကုန္ တကၠသိုလ္ကို  ဓာတ္ပံုုရိုုက္ဖိုု႔ လိုက္ပို႔ေပးတဲ႕သူငယ္ခ်င္းကို ေက်းဇူးအထူးတင္ပါတယ္။