May 28, 2018

You need a power bank.

Filed under: Travel — spanjavan @ 5:51 pm

As I have become more and more dependent on my mobile phone for daily activities, stretching the battery life has become a challenge.  Simple uses like photo taking and map navigation are big power drains to the phone.  I found myself on many occasions that I had to restrict my phone use to make it last enough for my need.

Last year I decided to get a power bank.  It turned out to be a very good decision for it quickly became indispensable during my most recent trip.  There were so many days during my 3-week trip that I left the hotel early in the morning and did not have access to a power outlet again until the evening.  I simply put the power bank in my messenger camera bag with my iPhone and plugged in the charging as needed.  Sometimes I even take photos with the iPhone connected to the charger.

I almost always open the Google map app while riding on a taxicab and such.  It’s a good way get the bearing on the location.  Using the map on the mobile phone doesn’t cost a lot of data usage but it is a big battery drain.  With the power bank during the previous trip, I just left the phone connected to the power bank while running the map app.

When choosing a power bank for traveling, more power isn’t always better because more power means more weight and larger size.  For a single phone use,  a power bank of 5000-10000 mah (milliampere-hour) capacity with the weight of 5-8 ounces will work well.   For recent the generation of phone models such as the iPhone X and Galaxy s9, you shouldn’t go below 5000 mah.  These new phones have a larger battery and will need at least 5000 mah for a full charge.

Unless you don’t plan to charge your power bank after use nightly, any capacity above 10000 mah is unnecessary.   As you go for a higher capacity, the more weight you’ll have to pack and carry.  From my travel experience, you’d want to avoid packing more weight than you need.

Amazon link for power bank search



March 27, 2017

Taking Photos Outside of The Golden Hour

Filed under: photography, Thailand, Travel — spanjavan @ 12:35 am

It is a conventional wisdom that the optimum time window to get good shots is around sunrise or sunset, generally referred to as the golden hour.  The condition becomes less ideal as the sun is higher up in the sky.  There are even suggestions that outside of this window, you should just enjoy other activities instead.

As a hobbyist, photography is just part of what I do when I travel during my time off from work, which happens only a few times a year.  I also rarely travel alone.  I take advantage the golden hour when I can, and when it’s not in conflict with other activities.  However, I can’t afford to limit my photo activity to just a narrow window.  I do believe that good shots are possible throughout the day (and night).  As long as there is light, there are opportunities to take photos.

My approach is to take my camera with me when we go on our outings. I have a medium camera bag that is small enough not to get in the way and big enough for my APS-C mirrorless plus a few lenses.   My lenses cover the focal length from 10 to 70 mm. I use a wrist strap for the camera and pretty much leave the lens cap off.  I feel like I can respond more quickly and have more positioning flexibility with the camera in my hand rather than hanging around my neck.

The Sitting Buddha in the Nakhon Lampang below is almost 100 ft tall.  This HDR photo was taken in the middle of a hot afternoon.  I lied down flat on my back and aim almost directly up to get this composition. This harsh lighting condition would typically considered as unsuitable for photo taking.


The photo below is of a bluebonnet field in Ennis, Texas.  I took this photo late in the afternoon under a partly cloudy sky.  The camera was positioned just a few inches above the flowers. The soft light from the cloudy sky was a bit flat, but there were enough visual elements to make the picture interesting.  There are only two dominant shades in this photo but they complement one another really well.


Below is a train track at the Railway station in Nakhon Lampang shot sometime in the mid afternoon under a partly cloudy sky with some sunlight managed to shine through.  Several parallel straight lines created visual diagonal lines toward a converging point further inside the picture.


Below is the Klong Dan floating market in southern Thailand.  It’s located partly in the Song Khla Province and partly in the Nakhon Si Thammarat Province.  This is a popular floating market for the locals.  I took this photo around 3 pm under an overcast sky.  I took advantage of water reflection and spatial separation between the row boat and the rest of the scene in the background.  I used a prime lens with the aperture wide open to take advantage of the separation and to keep only the row boat in focus.


Below is the interior shot of the main chapel of the Marble Temple in Bangkok.  I took this shot in the early afternoon.  Pattern on the floor created suggested diagonal lines leading to the principle Buddha Statue. By being inside, I totally avoided dealing with the harsh sunlight.  Instead, the windows on both sides created a soft indirect light that nicely blended with the artificial light sources inside.


Good lighting conditions can exist throughout the day.  It’s just a matter of conditioning our eyes to see these lights photographically.  Even harsh light can sometimes create an interesting visual effect. The ability to capture good photos in different places throughout the day allows you spend time with your friends and family and enjoy shooting photos at the same time.

December 17, 2016

Camera Gear Packing For My Upcoming Trip

Filed under: photography, Travel — spanjavan @ 2:09 am

I’m about the take off on a 3-week vacation to Thailand.  This is not photographic trip but I will look for opportunities to take photos when practical.  I have a Tamrac backpack with wheels for my gear that is good for a carry-on.  As in the past trips, I’m bringing 3 cameras with me —  a Nikon D750 DSLR, a Sony a6000 mirrorless and a Sony RX100 M3.

I use the D750 for the static shooting of subjects where I take the time to compose each shot.  The shooting may involve the use of a tripod.  Occasionally, I use it for a photo walk If I’m in an area where I feel comfortable enough to carry it around.  The lens of choice on the camera for most outdoor shooting is a Nikkor 28-300 mm zoom. Although I own a few prime lenses, I rarely take them with me on my trip.  The second lens for the D750 is the Nikkor 18-35 mm wide-angle zoom.  These 2 lenses pretty much cover most of the occasions.

The Sony mirrorless, with it being relatively light and compact, is great for urban and street photography, particularly when there are a lot of people around. I recently replaced the 16-50 mm kit lens with a considerably larger and heavier 16-70 mm lens.  I took it out for a photo walk recently, and it seemed to be more noticeable to people than the kit lens.In addition to the 16-70 mm, I also bring along the 10-18 mm wide-angle zoom lens.  The thing I like a lot about the a6000 is the tilting screen that allows me to easily vary positions and orientations and shoot from different points of view.

The Sony RX100 M3 being so tiny that it doesn’t really take up any packing space.  I tend to keep it my pocket we go out for the daytime sightseeing. The camera’s ready time is not very good.   but it’s nevertheless a very versatile camera to carry around.  Having a quiet electronic shutter is its big advantage.  I can aim close to a subject and press the shutter button without causing an alarm to anyone.

My iPhone 6p that I acquired this past summer, despite of its limitations, has been getting more use as a camera.  I use the camera inside the Lightroom Mobile app the majority of the time.  What I like about the Lr Mobile is the support of the raw dng format and the auto sync via the cloud to the desktop.  After the photos are sync to my desktop catalog, I can simply delete then in Lr Mobile preventing the photos from eating up the storage on the iPhone.  The upcoming trip will be the first with the iPhone6.  We’ll see how well it works out.

In addition to my camera gear, I’m bringing along a laptop and a portable hard drive.  My Tamrac backpack has a laptop compartment that can comfortably fit mine.  I generally transfer the photo files on the camera’s SD card to the computer as soon as I have a chance to in order to free up the card. However, I am not always in a hurry to post-process them.

Other accessories I always bring along are a tripod, ND lens filters, a remote control, a shoulder bag, a small led flashlight and plenty of disposable lens wipes.  These accessories are for low light situations.   My tripod is a 4-section carbon fiber that collapses down to under 2 ft long, easily fit in a checked baggage.  I’ve recently bought a wireless remote control that can be used with both my D750 and a6000 with a swap of the connecting cable.

This is the gear set that works for me based on my current shooting interest.  Although the set can change at some future time, I don’t see any need for an upgrade anytime soon.  At least not within the next year.

December 3, 2016

Photo Walk Along Lamar Street

Filed under: photography, Travel — spanjavan @ 10:27 pm

After finishing with my visit around the Omni hotel by the convention center, I decided to walk along the S. Lamar St. hunting for some night photos.  When I do a photo walk with my Sony A6000, I typically carry two lenses — a 10-18mm and a 16-70mm.  All the photos posted here were shot in manual mode. Auto mode wouldn’t work well for me due to its tendency to overexpose  bright light sources.

As soon as I approached the first corner, this red car came to a stop for the red light at the intersection I was crossing.  The car was fairly well lit by the street lamp.  I like the red and green (from theBank of America Plaza further away) color combination.  So I lowered the camera to about the same level as the car and took this shot with the green outline of Bank of America Plaza in the background.   There were two people in the car but I didn’t pay much attention to them, and neither them to me.  From their point of observation, I was actually aiming my camera toward the street behind their car.

Red Car vs The Green Tower. S. Lamar St downtown Dallas

Sony A6000 10-18mm at 10mm, F/4 1/6s iso1600

Just another block down on S. Lamar St, the horizontal purple lines gave a nice interaction with the green vertical lines.  With the camera tilting upward, I composed the two buildings as diagonal lines.

downtown Dallas.

Sony A6000 10-18mm lens at 10mm, F/5.6 1/6s iso1600

Further down the street was the Greyhound bus terminal.  I liked the overhead neon sign and spent some time figuring out the composition and tried a few shots.  In the one I eventually picked below, I intentionally lined up the Greyhound neon sign with the green vertical lines of the Bank of America Plaza.  I just like it better compositionally when they are parallel.

Greyhound Bus Terminal At Night

Sony A6000 10-18mm lens at 10mm, F/5.6 1/10s iso1600

Crossing to the east side of  S. Lamar, I got a good front view of the building.  I liked to Greyhound logo above the building entrance and took the shot below.  One tricky thing about capture artificial lights at night is managing the white balance.  Shooting raw gives me the flexibility to adjust the white balance during post processing.  In the photo below, I left the exterior lights as shot and added some warmth to the fluorescent light inside the building.

Night street scene at the Greyhound bus station downtown Dallas.

Sony A6000 16-70mm lens at 32mm, F/4.0 1/15s iso1000

I saw this blue Christmas tree in front of the Bank of America Plaza on Main St from afar and decided to check it out.  As I reached there, I noticed the reflection of the tree from the top side of the Bank of America Plaza’s building sign on the sidewalk.  I decided to use it as the foreground in the shot below.

Blue Christmas tree in front of the Bank of America Plaza downtown Dallas

Sony A6000 10-18mm lens at 10mm, F/4 1/10s iso1600

November 6, 2016

Beyond The Rule Of Thirds

Filed under: basic photography, photography, Travel — spanjavan @ 7:04 pm

The rule of thirds is a very simple idea on composition that can be easily explained without getting into a more complex concept of visual flow and balance.  You draw two imaginary vertical lines to divide the frame into three equal vertical sections and two imaginary horizontal lines to divide the frame into three equal horizontal sections.  One of the 4 intersection points becomes a sweet spot for placement of the main subject.  The illustration below is from Wikipedia.


Source: Wikipedia

As explained in the Wikipedia article, the rule of thirds is not a governing rule.  It’s a rule of thumb based on a general practice of the visual balance that often works, but not all the time.

When I compose my image, I generally start with the idea of placing the main subject off the center and then look for other visual elements to make up for the visual balance.  I don’t make it a mandate that the subject has to be at one of the rule of thirds sweet spots. Although that ended up being the case a majority of the time, I treat the rule of thirds as composition tool rather than a guiding principle.   Every once in a while, I would end up with something deviating from it.  Below are a few examples of such case.

The picture below was taken in Southern Thailand.  It’s of a fisherman taking his long-tail boat out early in the morning to collect fish traps he laid the previous night.  I placed him well left of the rule of thirds sweet spot but the composition works for me, perhaps because of the counter balance from the boat that has a visual draw toward the right.  If I placed him right on the lower left sweet spot, I would have left too much negative space on the left side of the frame that tilted the overall visual balance toward the right.



The second picture below was taken in the evening at the Ronald Kirk Pedestrian Bridge in Dallas, Texas.  The bike stands out as a stationary object among blurry moving people.   I placed it well left of the rule of thirds sweet spot because the overall visual balance from the elements from the right works out better for me.



The picture of tree and sunrise below was also taken in Southern Thailand.  I placed the sun almost in the middle of the frame. The sun with its radiating light essentially fills the entire frame.  This image literally breaks to rule of thirds. To me, this composition better conveys the idea of intense sunlight.



The rule of thirds, being easy to understand, is an excellent learning tool on beginning composition and on occasions a good starting point for composing an image in practice.  Beyond that, instead of being concerned about conforming to the rule of thirds, it would be many times more fulfilling to rely more on your creative instinct and experience to make the final decision on what your image will look like.



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