San Francisco Star Trails

Star Trails shot from the balcony of an apartment in San Francisco.

Being a big city, San Francisco is the last place one would think of to shoot star trails. The light pollution usually makes it a very difficult feat. However, when I arrived at the rental apartment at the SoMa district where I was staying in and looked up from the balcony, I saw a clear sky with several stars. The Orion constellation was also clearly visible. So, I decided to give it a try.

I set up my Fujifilm X-T1 fitted with a Zeiss Touit 12mm f/2.8 lens on a tripod at the balcony, and took a few test shots. Lacking any other foreground interest, I decided to use the two apartments in front as the foreground.

To maximise the chances of capturing the stars, I used the ETTR (Expose To The Right) method, using as much exposure as possible without grossly overexposing. After post-processing a few of these shots, I decided that the exposure chosen was good to go. In this case, it was 8s at f/2.8 at ISO 1600. This resulted in the following shot.

First test shot, straight out of the camera

First test shot, straight out of the camera

After setting the appropriate film emulation (I chose Camera Standard/Provia), white balance, exposure, highlights and contrast, I managed to get this. The light pollution is still clearly visible, unfortunately.

After some post-processing.

After some post-processing.

I set the camera’s intervalometer to shoot a hundred shots and left it to do its thing. After it’s done, I imported all of the shots into Lightroom, corrected the first shot and then synced the settings across the rest of them.

The next step is to stack all the shots together. I chose the free StarStax software which let me quickly stack all the 100 shots. Annoyingly, the Fujifilm X-T1’s intervalometer pauses for 8s (the exposure time) in-between the shots, creating some small gaps in the star trails. Unfortunately, even the gap filling feature of StarStax wasn’t able to completely fill them in.

The apartments in the stacked photo turned out a bit too bright, so I opted to blend it with the apartments from the original shot. Final adjustments were done in Lightroom to improve the contrast and reduce some more of the light pollution. The final image is the opening shot. Other than stars, aircraft trails were also captured!

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Grand Canyon West Rim

View of the canyon from Eagle Point showing the Skywalk and the valley below.

I’ve always wanted to go to the magnificent Grand Canyon, after not taking the opportunity to do so when I was nearby in Las Vegas some 15 years ago while attending the now-defunct Comex show.

Recently, I had the opportunity to visit Las Vegas again, this time for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2015 and decided not to let the opportunity pass again. I took a day tour package from canyontours.com. They have tours to South and West Rims, and I decided to take a chance and went for the West Rim instead of the more common South Rim and was not disappointed.

Unlike the South Rim, which is managed by the Grand Canyon National Park, the West Rim is managed by the native Hualapai tribe and is relatively untouched. Despite having no railings and guard rails, I am told by the guide that the West Rim has not seen a single fatal fall in the past 25 years they’ve been operating. The South Rim on the other hand, had a number of fatal accidents despite having railings and all. Go figure.

The tour passes and stops by the Hoover Dam, but unfortunately is not a very good vantage point for photos. We also stopped by one of the Joshua Tree forests along the highway.

Joshua Trees. I can’t remember what’s the name of those low shrubs though,

Closer view of one of the Joshua Trees.

We eventually reached the visitor centre of the West Rim and then to the first stop—Eagle Point. It was so-called because the dip in the canyon walls resembled that of an eagle’s wings.

Photos can’t do justice to the grandeur of the canyon, I spent some time alternating between taking photos and simply standing there and taking it all in.

Eagle Point was so-named as the depression in the canyon walls resembled that of an eagle’s wings.

With the selfie culture being prevalent these days, it’s not hard to spot people taking selfies, with and without the selfie-stick. Here’s a couple of them.

A woman takes a selfie at Eagle Point, Grand Canyon West Rim with her mobile phone attached to a selfie stick. It always intrigues me how people contort themselves into all sorts of positions just to get the perfect angle for the selfie.

A woman takes a selfie at the edge of the canyon with her mobile phone.

Visitors sit on the edge of the canyon at Eagle Point. Part of the Colarado River is visible near the middle of the photo.

A cactus grows on the edge of the canyon at Eagle Point.

The next point of interest is Guano Point, a short distance away via the shuttle bus that plies the area at pretty regular intervals. Guano Point offers a better view of the Colarado River which runs through the Grand Canyon compared to Eagle Point.

The U.S. Guano Corporation purchased the mining rights in that location in 1957 and built a tramway to mine the bat guano (droppings) from a bat cave 2,300m across the canyon and 760m below. The bat droppings were rich in nitrogen and were used for fertiliser.

Guano Point is probably named after this mining activity which ceased in 1960. The tramway is now abandoned.

Abandoned tramway to the bat guano (droppings) cave across the canyon.

Near the abandoned tramway is a mound of rocks resembling a pyramid. I didn’t climb up as I didn’t think I was fit enough to make my way up and down again. I am sure the view up there is stunning, though.

Pyramid near the abandoned tramway.

View of the pyramid and the canyon below.

Colarado River winding through Grand Canyon West Rim

View from the Guano Point

View of the canyon into the snow-covered mountains in the distance.

 

Visitors take in the view from Guano Point at the Grand Canyon West Rim.

A pair of ravens perch on a tree at Guano Point.

Before long, it was time to move on to the next point for lunch before heading back to Las Vegas. I was glad I picked the West Rim tour as I found out later from some of my colleagues who drove to the South Rim and it was foggy. I’d still want to make a trip there the next time I have a chance to.

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Moonrise, Moonset

Full moon setting beside Southbank Condominium, Singapore.

On the way to Stadium Waterfront for an early morning shoot with my friend, Kit, I spotted the full moon low in the sky. I looked for a suitable foreground interest and took a few shots with various buildings in the foreground.

It’s always better to shoot the moon during dusk or dawn as the contrast levels will not be as high as night time. For one, the sky will not be pitch black, and you won’t end up with a shot with a big white blob if you exposed for the foreground; or if you exposed for the moon, you end up with almost no foreground. Continue reading

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Disappearing Places: Sungei Road Thieves’ Market

Aerial View of a section of the Sungei Road Thieves’ Market.

Shortly after World War II, the area around Sungei Road grew to become a flea market. It eventually known as the Thieves’ Market due to the many stolen/contraband goods sold there. The saying goes that if your belongings got stolen, chances are that you can buy it back from there.

In the 1930’s, there was a ice factory—Singapore Ice Works—which is why the area is also known as Gek Sng Kio (literally Frosted Bridge in Hokkien.) Like most old things, the factory was torn down for redevelopment in the mid-80‘s. Continue reading

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Occupy Hong Kong Protests Part 2—Admiralty & Causeway Bay

Colourful Tents along Connaught Road Central at Admiralty, Hong Kong

Continuing from my short write-up about the protest site in Mong Kok, we move on to Admiralty, which is the main protest site and also where the protests began. The site is situated right outside the central government buildings and thus chosen by the protesters to make their point. Continue reading

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Occupy Hong Kong Protests Part 1—Mong Kok

Minion-themed rubbish bins along one of the barricades at Shan Tung Street, adding an element of fun and humour to the protests.

The Occupy Central movement in Hong Kong started on 28 Sep 2014 outside the Central Government Complex at Admiralty and soon spread to Mong Kok and Causeway Bay as well. Despite some bouts of clashes between the pro-democracy and anti-occupy protestors (which the mainstream media love to emphasise on), the protest appears to be a largely peaceful event. There were also poignant images of protesters shielding the policemen at the scene, despite them using teargas on the protesters. Continue reading

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Photo Flashback: Tiong Bahru Market in 2004

Signboard of the Tiong Bahru Cooked Food Centre, complete with a grammatical error!

Most Singaporeans will know, or even eaten at the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre. Built in the 1950s as the Seng Poh Market by the Singapore Improvement Trust (SIT), it was the first to be built in a housing area. It houses many local delights such as Jian Bo Shui Kueh and Tiong Bahru Hokkien Mee.

In 2004, the old market was demolished to make way for the new one that we see today. While it was being rebuilt, the hawkers were relocated to a temporary location nearby. The new market was completed in May 2006.

I was doing some housekeeping of my photos when I came across a set of photos I’ve taken in 2004, just before the old market and food centre was demolished to make way for the new one we see today. I’m sharing some of them here in this blog post.

Tiong Bahru Roasted Pork Stall

Fruit stall

Two men take a break by the fish stall over drinks and cigarettes.

An elderly man walks past the outdoor dining area of the Tiong Bahru Food Centre

Jian Bo Shui Kueh, one of the most well-known stalls in the Tiong Bahru Food Centre.

Covered seating area

A couple enjoys their food at the indoor area of the Tiong Bahru Food Centre. Multiple arched columns support the roof of the covered areas.

Fried Kway Teow stall.

These two men enjoying their beer and food posed for a shot when they noticed me taking photos.

Toilet attendent. Pay toilets with a makeshift “stall” like these can still be found in some places today.

New highrise flats in the background contrasting with the soon-to-be-demolished Tiong Bahru Market

A woman walks past a group of men chatting on the five-foot way near the Tiong Bahru Market.

Newstand

A man dumps unwanted stuff outside the market.

The rebuilt Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre as it stands today.

You can find more photos of the old Tiong Bahru Market in my Flickr Album.

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“Blood Moon” Lunar Eclipse 8 Oct 2014

The partially eclipsed “Blood Moon” on 8 Oct 2014. This was shot near the end of the eclipse, when the moon finally became visible.

After having two Supermoons elude me this year, I can’t wait to capture the total lunar eclipse earlier tonight. Also called the “blood moon” due to its reddish colour during totality, the maximum eclipse is set to occur at 6:55pm Singapore Time, shortly after moonrise.

Unfortunately, just like last year’s Supermoon, our Indonesian farmers are clearing forests by burning again, causing our skies to be very hazy. I waited out at the rooftop of my office, hoping to catch a glimpse of the “blood moon” but it eluded me yet again. It looks like this year’s lunar events are all very camera shy.

I packed up, resigned to my fate that I’ll not ever see it and went for dinner with my colleagues. Lo and behold, it finally showed up while we were cruising along the Ayer Rajah Expressway. As I left the tripod at the office, thinking that I’ll not see the moon, I need another way to stabilise the camera. So after parking at the dinner location, I propped my Nikon V1 and 70-200mm f/4G VR on its hood on the roof of a pickup truck and took a few shots with the Nikon ML-L3 IR remote, one of which the one above. Other than basic exposure, contrast, noise reduction and cropping, no other processing is done. The haze has also contributed to the orangey colour of the moon, although it has passed the “blood moon” stage. By this time, I can no longer have any usable foreground interest, but hey, it’s better than nothing right?

The next blood moon will be on 4 Apr 2015. Hopefully I’ll have better luck then.

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Another Two Bit the Dust (Goodbye, Lavender Food Square)

Lavender Food Square

Today marks the last day of operation of the iconic Lavender Food Square – home to the (in)famous Kok Kee Wanton Noodles stall among others. Originally slated to close on 23 Sep 2014, the deadline has been extended to 30 Sep 2014 due to customer demand.

Together with the neighbouring Eminent Plaza, they will give way to ARC 360380, a 16-storey freehold development slated to be on sale by 2018. I don’t know much of the Lavender Food Square except Kok Kee Wanton Noodles, which I visited with friends eons ago. Nevertheless, it’s sad to see another part of old Singapore give way to yet another commercial project. I thus visited it on a Sunday afternoon to quickly document the place before it’s gone forever.

Over at Eminent Plaza, a group of graffiti artists have obtained permission to paint graffiti on the walls, in a project aptly titled “An Eminent Takeover”. The group consists of local artists who were in the Singapore Biennale 2013 as well as graduates from Lasalle and NAFA. It’s an excellent use of a building that’s about to be demolished and allows the artists a space to express themselves through their artwork.

I shall let the photos do the talking.

Patrons having a meal at the side of Lavender Food Square

Fork and Spoon Motif on the floor

Stained-glass Window

The long queue for Kok Kee Wanton Noodles

Stall-owners of Kok Kee Wanton Noodles preparing a plate of noodles for a customer.

Kok Kee Wanton Noodles – Though many people said that it’s overpriced and overrated, I still quite like it.

Hexagonal Roof

A couple leaves the Lavender Food Square after a meal

The rest are some of the graffiti at the Eminent Plaza.

Eminent Plaza with walls decorated with graffiti


Stairway to Heaven

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A Fiery and Musical Close to the Night Festival 2014

Visitors raise their cameras and smart phones to shoot the fire performance by Austrian group Phoenix Fire Dancers at the National Museum of Singapore during the 2nd last night of the Singapore Night Festival. They were accompanied by musicians from William Close’s Earth Harp Collective providing the musical sound track.

The 7th installation of Singapore Night Festival came to a close with a performance by Earth Harp musician William Close and the Phoenix Fire Dancers.

I was rather busy for the last couple of weeks ending with a long Friday and had originally intended to give it a miss as I was rather tired. However, after seeing photos of the rehearsals on Facebook, I decided that I shouldn’t miss out on this, so I dragged myself to the venue as there was still enough time to get there for the last performance of the night at 11:15pm.

William Close immersed in his music as he performs on his Earth Harp amidst coloured lights in the background.

Expectedly, there was a huge crowd when I arrived, but as the crowd from the previous show were leaving, I managed to squeeze my way in eventually. I’d have loved to be closer to the stage where Phoenix were performing but it was just too crowded to get there. Once again, I was right in front of William Close.

Rich Sherwood on the Drum Cloud

The pieces performed were the same as the 1st weekend of the Night Festival which I attended but what wowed me was the finale. As with the previous performance, Close did his own rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D on his Earth Harp, this time accompanied by a female vocalist.

The female vocalist and guitarist accompanying William Close in the last piece, a rendition of Pachelbel’s Canon in D.

Near the end, the Phoenix Fire Dancers from Austria came on stage with their fiery performance. Unfortunately, from my position, I was unable to see them. I did, however, see their pyrotechnics and laser beams. I realised many people in front of me were raising their cameras and smart phones to shoot, so I did likewise and took several shots.

The opening shot of this post turned out to be the best, clearly showing both the lit LCD screens, the pyrotechnics from Phoenix and the façade of the National Museum of Singapore. Together with the projection of the “Singapore Night Festival”, this helped to give some context of the event.

The performance sure didn’t disappoint. Looking forward to next year’s installation!

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