Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mt. Pamitinan, Montalban Rizal

Mt Pamitinan: Not the highest mountain in the Philippines but far from the most forgiving
This was not the initial destination that we had in mind. We were supposed to go to Mt Romelo but then Kenji's GPS led us to a section of road that was unpaved. My car was so low that it could only negotiate paved roads. The bottom scraped pretty badly on one section of the road. And then for the first time since I've had him, Xander overheated. Upon closer inspection, his auxilliary fan gave out. That would've been ok if the sun wasn't in full scorch mode but on that day, you probably could've cooked an egg if you left it on the ground. Looking for alternate routes and waiting for the car to cool down ate a lot of time. Since it was already geting late, we decided to go to wawa instead which was closer (less than 2 hours away from manila).
Xander is usually a pretty reliable car but this was not his finest moment

This is the most difficult hike/climb i've done in my still very short stint as an outdoorsy person. Climbing the steep jagged rocks was actually the easy part. My rock climbing skills were quite sufficient for the climb. The difficult part, at least for me, was walking for more than an hour on a trail that consisted of nothing but inclines. There was no level ground at all. It was uphill all the way. If you're as heavy as I am, stamina's gonna dwindle very quickly. The entire climb lasted about 2-3 hours. (We had a lot of breaks. If you have more stamina, you can probably do it a lot faster)

During the start of the hike, I had to make more than a few stops to catch my breath. I was beginning to doubt if i was gonna make it to the top. At one point, fredda said "If it's too difficult for you, you don't have to go". My heart felt like it was gonna jump out of my chest but there was no way that i was gonna show her that I was weak. So I soldiered on for the preservation of my manly dignity. I got the hang of it eventually and it got progressively easier for me even if the trail actually got harder. (tip: if you're gonna scale this mountain, I would advice you to bring gloves and footwear with thick soles since the rocks are pretty jagged)

Group shot at the summit

In my previous hikes, I used to handle my own camera. I wanted to be able to take pictures whenever I wanted to. The downside of that is that I wasn't usually in the pictures that I took. This time I let Manong tour guide handle the camera almost the entire time. I have a lot more photos this time. This makes me happy. Not because i'm vain. But because (warning:very deep justification ahead) by looking at the pictures, it makes me realize how intimate I've become with nature. From a person who's never left the city just 2 months ago to someone who scales jagged rocks and wades through thick foliage with relative ease... ok it's also nice to have nice pictures

Alexander, conqueror of mountains. Mancode entry #2052: One must not climb a mountain without having at least one heroic picture of yourself

Monday, March 4, 2013

Basic guide to travel/landscape photography

One of the first photos I took while travelling

Photography can be as simple as just pressing the shutter button for some but it can be more than just that. In this guide, i'll be giving you 10 tips on how to better document your travels through photos. Some of these tips will also be useful for general landscape photography. Note that while you don’t need a DSLR camera to take good photos, a camera with a "manual" setting would definitely help you get the photos that you want. I'll try to make this guide as beginner friendly as possible. Emphasis on try. (If you don't see all 10 tips, click on "continue reading")
1.) Avoid white skies if possible: A picture with a white featureless sky usually looks unattractive, especially if you have a detailed foreground. To bring out more details in the sky, you'd usually have to lower the exposure of the entire image (make it darker).  This can be done in a number of ways but the simplest way is by lowering the exposure compensation of your camera (check your camera’s manual for the instructions on how to do this) The goal is to get the exposure just right so that you’d get enough details in the sky without making the ground look too dark. If you have people in the picture, you’d want to expose for the sky and use your flash to illuminate the people. Note that the flash is useless for illuminating things that are too far away from you. Don’t expect it to make an entire mountain range look brighter. If either the sky ends up being overexposed or the ground ends up being underexposed, as a last resort, you can use an editing program like photoshop to either brighten up the ground or darken the sky. Try doing research on HDR editing as well. If it really can't be avoided and you don't like editing so much, just fill the frame with the ground or try to hide the sky behind foliage. If you’re more serious about photography, consider getting graduated density filters. These will allow you to darken just a part of the image such as the sky while leaving the rest of the image unaffected.

A very uninteresting photo. The white featureless sky is so barren compared to the mountain range below that it looks like one half of the photo is missing. This photo was actually taken at sunrise but it was so overexposed that the sky just looked white and the clouds are not visible

 I adjusted the exposure so every cloud in the sky would be visible. As a consequence, the ground looks a bit dark (the trees are just silhouettes). I compensated for this by using my flash to illuminate my subject, the street signs, and making the sky occupy more of the frame.

2. )Use your flash: Most people think that the flash is only useful when there’s not enough light in a scene. But there are more uses to the flash than just making a dark picture brighter. Using your camera mounted flash under direct sunlight will soften up shadows and it can actually make your subject’s skin look smoother because it eliminates or softens up the shadows created by facial imperfections. In photography jargon, it’s called “fill light”. Note that the flash only acts as a fill light if there's another light source that's stronger than it, such as the sun. Usually it’s possible to adjust the power of the flash. The ideal amount is when some shadows are still visible but they’re very soft. By using your flash, you can also adjust the exposure of the background independently from the subject. You can bring out more details in the background by making it darker without making your subject look darker as well. It also freezes motion so if you’re subject is moving, motion blur can be minimized or eliminated. One downside of using a camera mounted flash is that it will practically remove all drama in a scene by removing the shadows. By using an external flash though and positioning it at an angle to the subject, you can create very dramatic shadows (subject for another entry)

This photo was actually taken with a flash but the camera was too far away for it to be effective (it was on the other side of the road). As a result, the shadows on our faces are clearly visible

This photo was taken with a flash but the camera was much closer. As a result, there are no harsh shadows on our faces even if the sun was at a very sharp angle to us. We also stand out against the background better making the picture look sharper.

3.) Minimize flare: Flare is caused by unwanted rays of light hitting your lens. You usually wouldn't know how much contrast you’re losing from flare until you put your hand over the lens and see how much the contrast improves. If you have a DSLR, try using a lens hood (yes, they’re not just for show). If you don’t have one, try using your hand to shield the lens from the light the way Hillary Clinton is doing in the picture below
Hillary Clinton, either measuring her own height with her hand or showing us how to improve image quality by shielding your optics from flare. Photo’s not mine of course. Credit goes to the intornets

4.) Increase your depth of field: (warning possibly confusing analogy ahead) I’d like to think of depth of field as an imaginary wall that runs perpendicularly to the lens of your camera. Everything outside this imaginary wall would be blurred and everything inside it would be sharp. If the wall is thick, your depth of field is deep; If it’s thin, your depth of field is shallow. I’m not sure if I was successful in my attempt to make your brain explode but I tried my best. For the sake of simplicity, let’s just say that it’s the blurriness or sharpness of the background.  A shallow depth of field (blurred background/foreground) looks good for portraits but if you’re travelling you'd probably want the place to be in the spotlight as well as the people so you’d want everything to be as sharp as possible. You can adjust the depth of field by adjusting the aperture and also by “zooming in”. Use a smaller aperture (The higher the number, the smaller the aperture) to increase the depth of field. Try to set your aperture to f11 or higher and adjust the other settings accordingly. If you have a point and shoot, just set it to landscape mode.

While this is not exactly a snapshot, it’s a fine example of why you’d want a photo with a deep depth of field. You can see how focused everything is from the rocks in the foreground to the farthest ripple in the ocean. Equipment: Sigma 24-70mm f2.8, one 580ex off-camera. Settings: 1/250, f13, ISO 100