i Light Marina Bay 2016 Highlights

What a Loving & Beautiful World by teamLab (Japan)

What a Loving & Beautiful World

The popular i Light Marina Bay is now into its fourth installation this year. The festival opened last Friday, 18 March and I went over with a couple of friends to have a look as well as to take some photos. This is the third i Light festival I have been to, having missed the very first one for some reason or other. The theme for this year is “In Praise of Shadows” and it features 25 innovative and environmentally sustainable light art installations by artists from both Singapore and around the world. I didn’t manage to cover all the 25 installations, so here are the some of those which I’ve shot.

What a Loving & Beautiful World by teamLab (Japan)


A crowd favourite of the past festivals have been the 3D light projection displays on the façade of the lotus-shaped ArtScience Museum next to the Marina Bay Sands casino integrated resort. This year, the display is by teamLab from Japan, titled “What a Loving and Beautiful World”. The projection features colourful scenery featuring the four seasons as well as Chinese characters that visitors can “flick” onto the display via a mobile app.

SONICtower by Zulkifle Mahmod (Singapore)


SONICtower is a scaffolding-like structure comprising four zones with 320 solenoids and LED lights to create a rhythmic sound and light scape. The click-clack sounds of the solenoids synchronised with the lights for both an aural and visual experience.

Ground Control to Major Tom by Rohan Abdullah & Stanley Yeo (Singapore)


This is a spaceship-like structure with colourful windows that hopes to bring out the child in us and our fascination of space. The installation loosely interprets the interplay of light and darkness in space, seeking to allay fears of what humans do not yet totally understand.

Bolt by Jun Ong (Malaysia)


Bolt is made up of LED tubes which light up progressively when touched, much like the way lightning strikes. It aims to allow people to experience direct visceral connections, creating an emotional ‘spark’ that seems to be diminishing in today’s virtually-connected world. This is a composite shot of two images—one with the only the left half lit, and the other with only the right half lit.

Shadow Bath—Loop.pH (UK)


Shadow Bath is a luminous inflated bathhouse which casts shadows of its patterned moiré patterns onto the surrounding grounds like a huge lantern. During certain times, visitors are able to get into the interior for an unique light show. Unfortunately, the time wasn’t right when I visited so I can only view it from the outside.

Lampshade—Snøhetta (Norway)

This is a simple bamboo structure covered in photovoltaic cells (a.k.a. solar cells) to shade the interior during the day, and lighting up from the stored energy at night. This makes it fully self-sufficient and independent of the power grid for electrical energy.

Moon Haze—Feng Jiacheng & Huang Yuanbei (China)

Moon Haze is a spherical installation representing a full moon which also acts as an air monitoring system. It responds to air quality by becoming brighter as the air quality gets better. It wasn’t that bright when I was there, so probably the air quality isn’t that great at that time. Then again, I read the forests in Indonesia has begun burning. So…

Light Origami by KAZ Shirane (Japan)

When I first saw pictures of this on Facebook and Instagram, it reminded me of the ice caves in Iceland, which I did not manage to visit while I was there. Light Origami is housed in a domed structure with ever-changing coloured lights and over 320 origami shapes made from mirrored panels. The interior feels like a giant 3D kaleidoscope, attracting many visitors to take photos, selfies and wefies from within.

i Light Marina Bay 2016 is now on at the Marina Bay area until 27 Mar 2016. For more information about the installations and the festival, do visit the official i Light Marina Bay website. More photos in my Flickr album.

 

 

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Partial Solar Eclipse 9 Mar 2016

A composite of the shots from the partial solar eclipse on 9 Mar 2016. The 3rd crescent from the left is of the maximum eclipse at 8:23am.

On 9 March 2016, a large part of the Pacific, including South East Asia and Australia was treated to a rare celestial event, a solar eclipse. Unfortunately, Singaporeans are only able to see a partial eclipse, with the 87% of the sun being covered by the moon. It’s still a rare event nonetheless, with the last solar eclipse here being 18 years ago in 1998. And until this day, I have not once seen a solar eclipse, though I have seen and photographed the more common lunar eclipse.

The sun at 8:05am on 9 Mar 2016.

With the eclipse slated to start at 7:22am and reaching its maximum at 8:23am, it’s perfect timing of me to catch it just before work. I set off much earlier than normal and got to the rooftop of my building. I didn’t manage to get solar filters on time, so I mounted a 10-stop ND filter on my Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4 lens. To maximise the magnification, I used my old Nikon V1 camera. With a crop factor of 2.7x, this gives me an effective focal length of 540mm to shoot the eclipse. The 10-stop ND filter reduced the brightness enough for me to take proper photos of it. Composing through the LCD also meant that I didn’t have to look at the sun through the optics of a traditional DSLR setup, which can be harmful to the eyes.

My camera setup for shooting the eclipse.

My camera setup for shooting the eclipse. Nikon V1 with Nikkor AF-S 70-200mm f/4, Nikon FT-1 lens adapter and 10-stop ND filter. 

The eclipse was already in progress when I arrived, and wanting to capture a bit of the clouds rather than having just a crescent-like object, I had inadvertently set the exposure to be too bright for most of the eclipse. I only realised this much later, which explains the almost-white crescent shaped sun you see in the composite above. I also brought along 2 pieces of cardboard, one of which had a pinhole, to try out the pinhole projection method of viewing the eclipse safely. It sure is a novel way to view it.

Pinhole projection of the sun at 8:16am.

Pinhole projection of the sun at 8:16am. 

One thing I realised is that because this is not a total eclipse, the sun is not fully covered by the moon at its peak. Despite having 87% coverage, the surroundings are still reasonably bright, resembling the even golden hour twilight. Hence, it’s still as dangerous to look at the sun without protection at this time.

The beautiful light shortly after maximum eclipse.

The beautiful light shortly after maximum eclipse.

The next eclipse visible in Singapore will be on 26 December 2019, and it will be a total eclipse. Hopefully, I’ll be able to catch that as well.

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A Day In Reykjavik, Iceland

Hallgrimskirkja at dusk

After a week of travelling around Iceland, encountering three nights of the breathtaking Aurora Borealis, spectacular waterfalls and beautiful icebergs, we are back at Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland. We have one final day in the city, and together with a friend, decided to explore a few key sights. You might find this blog post useful if you want to walk around Reykjavik in a day.

As it was near winter, the days are rather short and sunrise is a late 9:40am or so. The advantage of this is, of course, that we get to sleep in a bit more. Unfortunately, the day also ends earlier with the sun setting before 5pm each day. Even then, you can still explore the major locations in Reykjavik on foot.

Waffles, toast and hot chocolate from Mokka Kaffi

Waffles, toast and hot chocolate from Mokka Kaffi

We had breakfast at Mokka Kaffi, near the Skólavörðustígur shopping street. The quaint little café serves excellent toast and waffles, definitely worth a try. Next we make our way towards Lake Tjornin and pass by several nice buildings.

Safnadarheimili Domkirkjunnar

Reykjavik Parliament House (alþingi) and Reykjavik Cathedral

Tjornin is a small lake in central Reykjavik  flanked by the City Hall and several museums. On the day we went, part of the lake is frozen, but there are still a number of visitors feeding the birds there. Since it’s not a very big lake, you can actually take a slow walk around it and enjoy the sights surrounding the lake.

Bird feeding at Tjornin

A lone lady sits by the bank of the frozen Lake Tjornin in Reykjavik, Iceland.

The City Hall of ReyKjavik, Iceland reflected on the semi-frozen Lake Tjornin.

We heard a lot about the Bæjarins Betzu Pylsur hot dog stand, so we decided to make our way there and give it a try. The name translates to “The best hot dog in town” and has been open since 1937! It sure lives up to its name.

Baejarins Petzu

Baejarins Betzu Pylsur

Near the hot dog stand is the Kolaportið flea market—the only one in Iceland. The mish-mash of stalls within sells everything from used vinyl records and old books to Icelandic delicacies like fermented shark. It’s only open during weekends.

A stall selling vinyl records at the Kolaportið flea market

A stall selling vinyl records at the Kolaportið flea market

After a quick lunch at Icelandic Fish and Chips, we walked over to the Old Harbour just across the road. A short stroll later, we arrive at the Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Centre.

Mt. Esja as seen from the Reykjavik Old Harbour

Boats at the Old Harbour, Reykjavik.

Boats at the Old Harbour, Reykjavik.

The building is made up of a steel framework and geometric shaped glass panels, giving it a very distinct look. A reflecting pool in front of it makes for some good photos of the building, provided you have a wide angle lens to take it all in. Interestingly, the lamp posts in its compound are slanted, something which I only noticed back at home and editing the photos.

Harpa Concert Hall and Convention Centre

Continuing our walk along the shore brings us to the Solfar Sun Voyager, a sculpture by Jon Gunna Arnason. It resembles a viking ship and is conceived as a dreamboat an an ode to the sun. By now, it’s almost sunset and I was able to capture a photo of the sculpture with colourful clouds and Mt. Esja in the background. The silhouetted photographer with a hat is a bonus. The saturation of this shot has been slightly increased for effect.

Solfar Sun Voyager

Crossing the road, we made our way to Hallgrimskirkja, the largest church in Iceland. Along the way, we pass by a few houses with colourful graffiti and murals.

Graffiti

Graffiti

I had wanted a shot of Reykjavik at dusk from the tower, so we shot the exterior of the church while we waited for the skies to get darker. Unfortunately, we didn’t do our research prior and the tower was closed (it closes at 5pm during winter) by the time we wanted to go up.

Hallgrimskirkja at dusk.

Hallgrimskirkja at dusk.

We had our last dinner at Reykjavik at Kryddlegin Hjörtu, which has a nice soup buffet. After a dessert of ice cream at Eldur and Is, it’s time to pack up and reluctantly return to Singapore. I will surely return to Iceland again.

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Jubilee Walk Exclusive Tour

The National Museum of Singapore, where the Jubilee Walk begins from.

The Jubilee Walk was launched in 2015 to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Singapore’s independence. It features key milestones of our nation-building and is a collaborative effort between the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Heritage Board, National Parks Board and the Urban Redevelopment Authority.

The full Jubilee Walk is an 8km self-guided walking tour starting from the National Museum of Singapore and ending at Marina Barrage. The National Heritage Board invited several bloggers, myself included for an Jubilee Walk Exclusive Tour last Saturday (30 Jan 2016), covering 5km and ending at the Esplanade Theatres by the Bay.

The tour started at the National Museum of Singapore, where our guide, Marcus Ng, told us about the history of the museum, which was originally known as the Raffles Library and Museum in 1887. The library portion eventually moved to everyone’s favourite red brick building next door, which was sadly demolished in favour of a useless tunnel to save motorists a mere 5 minutes or less, while the museum’s focus has moved from exhibiting zoological collections to showcasing our nation building. Different topical museums were also recently setup, e.g. Asian Civilisations Museum at Empress Place, Peranakan Museum at Armenian Street, the Philatelic Museum nearby etc.

The back of the National Museum of Singapore, facing the Fort Canning Hill.

We then move on to Fort Canning Hill just behind the museum. I have not really explored the place beyond the two white gothic gates, cupolas and the gravestones, so I found this section of the tour to be most interesting. The tour takes us to what remains of the fort and gate, the 9-pound cannon, the location of Singapore’s first botanical gardens, as well as a view of the Fort Canning Service Reservoir. You can also see Malaysian comic artist, Lat’s comic depicting the 5 Kings in Singapore and life in the 14th century Singapore.

One of the two white gothic gates at Fort Canning Park.

Headstones previously from the tombstones at Fort Canning Hill, mounted on a wall at the park.

The narrow staircase of the sally port at Fort Canning Hill.

This gate is all that remains of the fort which existed between 1859 and 1861.

The only remaining 9-pound cannon at Fort Canning. There used to be two of these.

A comic by Malaysian cartoonist, Lat, depicting the story of the 5 kings in Singapore.

Walking down the hill, we end up at the back of the Armenian Church, Singapore’s oldest Christian Church in Singapore. The location is also near the Hill Street Fire Station, Singapore Philatelic Museum and the National Archives.

Singapore Philatelic Museum

Marcus mentioned that St. Gregory’s Place, along with the shop houses were now merged into the Grand Park City Hall Hotel. I happened to have taken a photo of those shophouses in 1989 and showed it to the participants.

St. Gregory’s Place, c. 1989.

Moving along, we walk past the Hill Street Fire Station, a nice red-brick building built in 1908 and gazetted as a National Monument in 1998. A tour participant shared with us that the area next to the fire station used to be shophouses, before it became a hawker centre and sadly, is now just an empty field.

Hill Street Fire Station

As we pass the old Hill Street Police Station, which currently houses the Ministry of Communications and Information, Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, National Arts Council, National Heritage Board and the Media Development Authority.

Old Hill Street Police Station

Crossing the road, we stop by Clarke Quay along Singapore River. As we crossed a couple of underpasses to get to Empress Place, Marcus shared with us the history and significance of the river in our nation building, and how the place has transformed since its early days.

Sunset at Boat Quay.

Along the way, we pass by the statue of Sir Stamford Raffles, Marcus shared that the other Raffles statue, which was now at the Victoria Concert Hall was originally sited at the Padang. That move also evicted the elephant statue gifted to us by the Thai King Chulalongkorn (Rama V) to commemorate his 1871 visit to its current location at the Old Parliament House.

The walk was supposed to continue to the Esplanade, but due to time constraints, we had to end at Empress Place, outside the Asian Civilisations Musuem. For more information, check out NHB’s website for the Jubilee Walk and the Jubilee Walk Exclusive Tour.

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Waterfalls of Iceland

Goðafoss at Sunset

Iceland is the home to many spectacular waterfalls, due to the North atlantic which produces rain and snow; and a near-Artic location which gave rise to the many glaciers which melt and feed many rivers during summer. During my last trip to Iceland, I managed to visit and photograph a few of them.

Godafoss (Goðafoss)

Goðafoss (literally waterfall of the gods) is the most spectacular waterfall in Iceland. It spans a width of 30 meters and falls from a height of 12m, fed by the water from the  river Skjálfandafljót.

We accidentally came across a section of it during a rest stop on our way from Akureyri Airport to our guest house, but properly visited it again the following day.

Godafoss Downstream

Godafoss Downstream

I took the opening shot close to sunset, with a 10-stop ND filter to achieve the silky-water effect. We didn’t really get a spectacular sunset, but the warm/pink hue that the ND filter gave to the resulting picture is a nice touch and adds to the mood.

One challenge of shooting large waterfalls like this is the spray from the water, especially when doing long exposures. I had to clean the ND filter after each shot to ensure that the water droplets don’t ruin the shot.

We stayed till the sky turned dark, in hopes that we would catch the Aurora Borealis, and were glad that the wait wasn’t in vain. We were rewarded by the spectacular display of the Aurora Borealis dancing over the falls.

Aurora Borealis Over Godafoss.

Hundafoss

On the way to the Svartifoss (Black Waterfall) in Skaftafell National Park, we came across the Hundafoss (Dog’s Fall.)

Hundafoss (Dog’s Fall)

Svartifoss

Trekking further up eventually brings us to Svartifoss (Black Falls), so called because of the blackish, hexagonal basalt columns surrounding it. I had the most beautiful, warm afternoon light when I saw it from the top.

Svartifoss

Unfortunately, by the time I got nearer, the light has pretty much faded. The below is a three-shot HDR image.

Svartifoss

Foss á Siðu

We came across this unknown waterfall while on the way to Skogafoss, attracted by the rainbow produced from the water droplets and the morning sun. It was only later when I tried to look up the location via my iPhone photos of the place that I found out what it’s called. While not as spectacular as the rest of the falls, it’s the only one in our trip that had a rainbow in it.

Foss á Siðu

Skógafoss

Finally, we got to another huge waterfall, Skogafoss. We had spent too much time stopping for photos along the way, so by the time we got here, the light has faded. I managed to get a couple of shots before more people came. Again, this was shot with a 10-stop ND filter.

Skógafoss

We were supposed to visit Seljalandsfoss after this, but it had turned dark and there isn’t any time left. I hope to be able to visit that soon, along with the DC-3 plane wreck nearby.

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Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs

Steve McCurry’s photos on display at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery.

Steve McCurry is most known for his 1984 photograph of an Afghan girl with haunting green eyes and red headscarf that appeared on the June 1985 issue of the National Geographic Magazine. The acclaimed National Geographic photographer has been to many places, covering international conflict and documenting ancient traditions and vanishing cultures and heritage.

Jodhpur, India

As part of the Singapore Art Week, the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at Gillman Barracks held an exhibition of 53 of his best known works. I was fortunate to be present at the press preview where the man himself is also present to take us on a tour of his photos and tell us the backstory behind them. He also did a short Q&A session with us.

Sundaram Tagore, owner of the gallery, introducing Steve McCurry to the visitors.

I have seen many of his works, both online and in photo books, but this is the first time I ever saw them as large prints—many as big as 60  by 40 inches. They were simply stunning. Many of the works are from India, Steve McCurry’s favourite destination which he has been to 80 times!

Steve McCurry talks about his favourite photo of a sandstorm in India.

McCurry began by sharing with us the backstory of one of his favourite works. It depicts a group of women dressed in traditional indian costumed huddled up during a snowstorm in  Rajasthan, India. He saw the developing scene and jumped out of his taxi to capture it on camera. He expressed sadness that such scenes, of people in traditional gear for example, are fast disappearing as people and places become more modernised. In his words, “I have a little bit of nostalgia for the way we once had this individuality, this individual character. and that is disappearing, and in many cases, have already disappeared. So I kind of look back with a kind of melancholy, the way we once were, and this is just sort of a memory thing.”

Dust Storm in the Desert, Rajasthan, India. One of Steve McCurry’s favourite works.

When asked what was it that attracted him to take the shot, was it the colours, the composition, or the content, his reply was the content. Colour doesn’t interest him, he said. This is despite the fact that most of the photos shown in the exhibition are very colourful. He added that the true test of a photograph is that it should still work after you took out all the colours.

Blue City

For the above shot of the Blue City in Jodhpur, India, McCurry scouted the location with that view and obtained permission from a house owner in order to shoot from the rooftop. He made two trips—one to shoot at sunrise, and another to shoot during sunset. It was the latter which ended up being chosen. The photograph was taken on a Hasselblad, he said, which renders lots of detail in that 60 x 40 inch print. It’s amazing to look at it in person. He also shared that the couple standing on the balcony on the foreground wasn’t posed, they just happened to be there.

Steve McCurry talks about this twilight shot of Mumbai, which has since disappeared, being replaced by a flyover.

On the proliferation of smartphone photography, McCurry said that he does shoot with his iPhone and it makes very publishable photos. The image quality of modern phones, he said, are already good enough to make a print of up to 8×10 inches. In fact, he has a book coming up in September which features 2-3 photos taken on his iPhone 6. He also said that phones are a lot less threatening than a big DSLR, allowing you to get the shot more easily.

Invariably, there will be someone who asked for him opinion on the “film vs. digital” debate. To this, he said, “Digital now is far superior to film. Film is no match for what digital can do now. It’s unbelievable. So now I don’t shoot with film anymore.”

Steve McCurry standing in front of his most iconic photo—The Afghan Girl.

Steve McCurry: The Iconic Photographs will be on show from 16 Jan till 21st Feb 2016 at the Sundaram Tagore Gallery at the Gillman Barracks. It opens from 11am–7pm on Tuesdays to Saturdays, and 11am–6pm on Sundays.

Many thanks to Melanie Taylor, Sales Director of the gallery and my friend Belinda for giving me this opportunity.

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Jökulsárlón—Picturesque Glacial Lagoon In Iceland

Icebergs and ice formations perfectly reflected at the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

One of the most beautiful sights in Iceland is Jökulsárlón, a glacial lake in southern Iceland on the edge of the Vatnajökull National Park. The lagoon has been featured in movies such as Die Another Day, A View to a Kill, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Batman Begins. It also made the news when a new music video by Justin Bieber featured him swimming in it.

Due to melting glaciers, the lake has been increasing in size over the years, covering an area of about 18km², and a depth of 248m. This makes it the deepest lake in Iceland.

After a long drive from Mývatn, where we had a spectacular night of aurora viewing, and through all kinds of the erratic Icelandic weather, we finally arrived at the Gerdi Guesthouse where we stayed for two nights. We woke up to moderate rain, literally a dampener on our mood. It subsided a little after breakfast and we proceeded to black sand beach at Jökulsárlón, just 10 minutes drive away.

Icebergs

I started shooting long exposures to smooth out the water and got a few shots of the spectacular icebergs floating on the water. These had calved from the Vatnajökull and deposited into the sea and beach.

More icebergs

The drizzle started soon again, so I had to keep wiping the raindrops from the ND filter in order to keep shooting. It’s a good thing that my Fujifilm X-T1 body is weather sealed, though the XF 18-55mm kit lens isn’t. But I figured a bit of rain wouldn’t kill it (and it didn’t.)

Fujifilm X-T1 covered in raindrops.

Fujifilm X-T1 covered in raindrops.

The icebergs come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, including this one which looked like an igloo.

Igloo-shaped iceberg

By now, the rain has gotten heavier so we break for lunch. And this is where experienced yet another example of the cranky Icelandic weather. This is what it looks like when we arrived at Hali Country Hotel.

Dark skies

Dark skies

Just TWO minutes later, the skies opened up to a beautiful view. Slightly different angle, though.

Same scene, two minutes later.

Almost the same scene, two minutes later.

Of course, that itself didn’t last either. Another couple of minutes later, it’s gloomy again. The Icelandic weather is best summed up on this souvenir T-Shirt I saw, which read “If you don’t like the Icelandic weather, wait 5 minutes.”

We were supposed to go for a ice cave tour, but due to the many days of rain prior to our arrival, it has flooded as thus we were unable to visit. What a bummer. The rain continued in the afternoon, so we just rested in our rooms.

In the evening, we went to the lake, just across the beach where we were in the morning. In the fast fading evening light, I only managed a few shots of drifting icebergs.

Drifting ice

The next day, we woke up after a night of strong winds which had thankfully stopped by breakfast. Weather was much better, so we went back to the beach to hopefully catch the sunrise. One advantage of late autumn / winter is that you no longer have to wake up very early to catch the sunrise. On this day, the sun rose at 9:46am.

With different lighting and weather conditions, the beach looked quite different from the day before. Icebergs drift, so the same ones are no longer in the same location, giving us a different look of the location. I scouted around, and came across this interesting piece of ice, which makes a nice frame for Vatnajökull in the distance. In order to get enough depth of field, I made two exposures, one focussed on the ice formation, another on Vatnajökull, then stacked them in Photoshop. I call this “The Kiss”.

An ice formation frames icebergs at the Jökulsárlón Beach in Iceland, with Vatnojokull in the background.

I looked for more Icebergs to shoot.

Icebergs at dawn

More icebergs

Finally, the sunrise. Can’t really see the sun itself due to the thick clouds, but it’s still nice.

Waves crashing on a iceberg at Jökulsárlón at sunrise

Many of the icebergs washed up on the shore, forming an icy landscape.

Icebergs washed ashore at Jökulsárlón Beach, Iceland

There’s this interesting piece of black ice too.

Black ice

Icebergs and Vatnajökull at dawn

We revisit the lake next. By now, we are getting beautiful light and couldn’t be happier. The warm morning light gives Vatnajökull a nice warm glow, in contrast to the bluish, cold icebergs.

Icebergs at Jökulsárlón lagoon

A photographer shoots the Jökulsárlón Glacier Lagoon from the top of a small hill.

The perfectly still lake makes for perfect reflections. It’s absolutely gorgeous in person.

Alone

Tranquility

It was a great start to our day, and I am glad that I am able to get great shots. This has become one of my favourite locations from the trip. In the afternoon, we left for the Svartifoss waterfall, but I’ll leave that for another post.

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Watching the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights) For the First Time In Iceland

Silhouette of myself at Mývatn, Iceland under a giant swirl of the Aurora Borealis accompanied by a few meteorites in the sky.

Iceland—The land of fire and ice, with its stunning and largely untouched landscape, is a dream destination for many landscape photographers, myself included. It is also featured in several movies and TV shows like The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Game of Thrones and even the latest Star Wars: A Force Awakens!

Of course, Iceland is one of the few countries known to be able to see the Aurora Borealis, otherwise known as the Northern Lights, which never fail to awe. I’ve been wanting to see the lights ever since I read about them as a kid, and watching videos of them lighting up the night sky.

In November 2015, I finally had the chance to visit Iceland and check it off my bucket list. It was supposed to be last year, but due to unforeseen circumstances, it was postponed to this year.

One of our agendas of the trip is, of course, to view the magnificent aurora borealis. Our journey took us on a flight from Singapore to Amsterdam, and then to Keflavik International Airport in Iceland. Thereafter it was a taxi trip to our apartment where we rested for the night after having dinner.

Closed counters of the Reykjavik Airport.

Closed counters of the Reykjavik Airport.

The next morning, we took taxis to Reykjavik domestic airport. But being the kiasu (afraid to lose out) Singaporeans that we are, we arrived way too early, before the airport even opened. So, we are left freezing out in the cold while waiting for the airport to open.

View of Reykjavik from the air

View of Reykjavik from the air

A short flight later, we are at Akureyri, Northern Iceland. It’s a long drive to our guest house at Vogafjós Guesthouse, and we actually stopped by a convenience store near Goðafoss without knowing it, till we checked with the counter staff what the nearby waterfall was.

It wasn’t dark yet when we arrived at Vogafjós Guesthouse, so we did a recce for a location to shoot the aurora borealis from, but didn’t find a suitable spot. We ended up shooting near the guesthouse’s restaurant and cow shed.

As the sky darken, someone in the group noticed a green wisp, almost invisible to the naked eye in the twilight. But it’s very visible when viewed from my camera’s live view display. We were awed, and quickly setup our tripods and cameras to capture the magnificent sight that followed.

The aurora is the result of the collisions between the sun’s charged particles and the gaseous particles in the earth’s atmosphere. The types of gas particles colliding determines the colour, with the most common being the greenish hue produced by oxygen molecules.

This is also the first time in my life to see the Big Dipper. You can see it in the shot below, just under the green wisp of the aurora on the top half.

The feeling of seeing the aurora the first time in one’s life is magical and exciting. A Chinese tourist asked me if there’ll be Northern Lights that evening, I pointed it out to here and she excitedly squealed and ran into the restaurant to get all her friends!

We wrapped up after a couple of hours to have dinner and went back to the guesthouse, where I took the opportunity to get a star trail shot. Unfortunately, the clouds came in after about 20 exposures.

Partial Star Trails

The next day, we went to the Goðafoss, one of Iceland’s most famous waterfalls.

Goðafoss at sunset

It was kind of cloudy that day, and we thought that chances of seeing the aurora will be slim. We couldn’t believe our luck when we spotted it once again.

Aurora Borealis at Goðafoss, Iceland. And the Big Dipper makes another appearance!

The lights eventually made their way to above the falls.

Aurora Borealis over Goðafoss, Iceland.

I decided to do a time lapse this time round, and the shot above is one of the frames. Here’s the result, compiled from 160+ frames.≠

Just before leaving, I took another shot from the car park. Truly spectacular. Photos and videos don’t do it justice.

We must have been really lucky, as we get to see the aurora again, on our third night in Northern Iceland. On this evening, we are at Lake Mývatn, which was frozen when we arrived. There were quite a number of meteors that evening, which we caught on our photos.

Frozen Lake Mývatn

Beautiful sunset

Sadly, this was to be the last time we ever met her during our trip. But we are very happy that we managed to catch her so many times.

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2015—Year In Photos

In a few hours, we will bid farewell to 2015 and welcome 2016. I usually do a end-of-year post of some of my favourite photos and events over the year, but missed 2014 as I was overseas. I continue the tradition this year, with my favourite photos of 2015.

Here we go.

In Jan 2015, I finally had the chance to visit Yosemite National Park, the quintessential location for landscape photographers. As it was a day tour, I didn’t get to stay for as long as I’d have liked, though.

Tunnel View, Yosemite

And also, The Grand Canyon.

Colarado River winding through Grand Canyon West Rim

Back in Singapore, in April, I caught the lunar eclipse of the “Blood Moon”.

Composite image of the lunar eclipse on 3 Apr 2015 as the moon emerges from totality.

I also got to visit the Raffles Lighthouse and discovered the beautiful southern islands from the top.

Raffles Lighthouse

Turquoise Waters Surrounding Pulau Satumu

And not to forget, Singapore’s 50th year of independence, dubbed SG50. The National Day Parade finished off with spectacular fireworks.

Spectators shoot the fireworks display on their mobile phones at the Waterfront Promenade outside the Marina Bay Sands, Singapore. The country celebrated her 50th year of independence on 9 Aug 2015.

August also brought us Singapore’s eighth Night Festival, with the performances by Starlight Alchemy and Theater Tol being the highlights.

Singapore-based fire performance group, Starlight Alchemy, performing “Alchemy”, a 3-part story of Apollo from the world of Ethereal Light and Nuri from the world of Eternal Flame, at the Singapore Night Festival 2015.

Angels descend in front of the National Museum of Singapore in a performance titled “Garden of Angels” by Theater Tol from Belgium

Interestingly, in October, there’s the Singapore River Festival, which is somewhat similar to the Singapore Night Festival.

The red fans of the performers forms the numbers 5 0, signifying Singapore’s Golden Jubilee.

Les Voyageurs by Cédric le Borgne

Finally, in November, I visited one of my dream photography locations, Iceland. My friends and I were treated to a wonderful display of the aurora borealis not once, but three consecutive nights. Talk about being lucky! I’ll be posting more photos from the trip soon.

Silhouette of myself at Myvatn, Iceland under a giant swirl of the Aurora Borealis accompanied by a few meteorites in the sky.

 

Icebergs and ice formations at the Jokulsarlon Glacier Lagoon in Iceland.

Here’s to another great year!

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A Visit to the Singapore Musical Box Museum

In 2012, I visited the Kawaguchiko Music Forest in Japan. Situated at Lake Kawaguchiko, it’s a museum specialising in music boxes, organs and other automated musical instruments. I was impressed by the antique music boxes and automated organs showcased at the museum, especially by that huge 1920’s Mortier Dance Organ at the entrance hall.

Fast forward to 2015, I was invited by the National Heritage Board to visit the Singapore Musical Box Museum. I was surprised that we actually have such a museum in Singapore and attended the tour to check it out. The museum is situated in the Chong Wen Ge building, next to the historic Thian Hock Keng Temple at Telok Ayer Street and owned by Mr. Naoto Orui, a Japanese collector of old music boxes.

Music boxes are similar to the alarm/chime mechanism of old clocks. Both uses a wound-up spring, or in some cases, a falling weight, to drive another mechanism to play the tune/chime. But in both cases, purely using the spring to drive the playback would result in too high a playback speed. Thus, a spinning device called a “governor” is employed to regulate the speed by means of air resistance. Orui-san joked that that’s how the term “governor” (as applied to governing a country) came about.

By itself, the mechanism of the music box, known as the “movement”, produces a very soft sound. It’s the wooden case of the music box which helps to amplify the music by means of resonance.

Here’s a nice Youtube video which explains how a music box works, if you are interested.

In the olden days, other than live music, music boxes were what people used to listen to music in their homes. Only the rich could have afforded such extravagances back then, since, according to Orui-san, a simple music box with a 1-foot cylinder would have cost the equivalent of a horse back then.

The first section of the tour concentrates on cylinder music boxes. These are made of a rolling cylinder with pins on it which spins and plucks the pins of a comb to make the music. You’re probably familiar or have seen this in action in modern music boxes.

Orui-san showing a wooden music box cylinder with pins corresponding to the notes of the music piece.

Overture music box

Mandolin Tremolo Zither, made in Switzerland in the 1880s.

These music boxes can get rather elaborate, like this one, which had drawers to store interchangeable cylinders for different pieces of music. According to Orui-san, this cost up to the equivalent of a 4-horse carriage, quite a large sum of money!

Music box + storage drawers.

Orui-san also related to us an interesting anecdote. He had acquired a music box from a flea market for £10 as it wasn’t working, so he brought it back and tried to repair it. When taking it apart, a ring fell out from the mechanism, and he found out that’s the reason why it wasn’t working—the ring had jammed the mechanism. He had tried to return the ring and music box to the sellers, but they had declined, honouring that they had already sold it to him for £10.

6 Airs Music Box

The ring which jammed the music box.

Because of the way they work—a rotating cylinder plucking the teeth of a metal comb—music boxes typically produce only 1 level of loudness. However, there was one music box which circumvented this limitation by having two sets of combs—one for the louder notes, and one for the softer ones. It was aptly named the Piano Forte (literally soft loud in Italian), just like the modern piano, and gave a richer, slightly more dynamic musical playback.

Piano Forte music box

The Piano Forte music box showcased in the museum is made in Switzerland in the 1880s and has jewellery inlaid into the top and front of the box.

Inlaid jewels and flower motif on the lid of the Piano Forte music box

Another interesting piece is the Roller Gem Organ made in the USA in 1885. It’s a hand cranked organ with a range of 20 notes.

Roller Gem Organ

Next, we move on to disc music boxes. In 1886, German music box artisan Paul Lochmann  created a music box that used a punched disc instead of cylinders for storing the music. This revolutionised the music box industry as discs can be mass produced, unlike cylinders of the time, which had to be hand made. Thus, disc music boxes can be made for a much lower cost and be brought to more people to enjoy.

Punched music disc.

These disc music boxes were reminiscent of the gramophone and record players. Just like you can change a vinyl record to listen to a different piece of music, you can change the disc of a disc music box and get a different tune.

Orui-san talking about disc music boxes. Next to him is a Stella music box.

At the far end of the museum are the big guns. Huge music boxes are on display here, and these are the precursor to the music jukeboxes. The most interesting is this music box called the Atlantic. According to Orui-san, it was to go into the Titanic, but they wanted a larger box on it, and this went to the Atlantic instead.

This huge box is powered by a falling weight which is raised by winding a crank (sort of like how grandfather clocks work) and has a piano, mandolin, bass drum, snare drum and even a triangle. A coin needs to be inserted to start the music.

Atlantic Music Box

Piano hammers of the Atlantic Music Box

And this is how the whole shebang sounds like.

Another multi-instrument box is the Langdorff Orchestral Music Box made in 1890 in Switzerland. It has Drums, bells, castanet and a double-reed, 26-note organ.

Langdorff Orchestral Music Box

Here’s it in action.

Finally, we have the Polyphon 5, a multi-disc music box which is the predecessor of the jukebox. There’s a drawer below to store all the music discs, and the one which was on demo is the famous Bach-Gounod Ave Maria. Like the Atlantic, this also required a coin to be inserted to start the music playback.

Polyphon 5 Music Box

Orui-san left the star of the museum to the last part of the tour. Named “China”, this was a music box movement made in Singapore(!) in the late 1800s. It was from a time when Singapore was still a British colony, and watchmaking, as well as music box making skills were passed down to the locals.

“China” music box, made in Singapore in the late 1800s.

Unfortunately, the unit on display is still awaiting restoration and thus isn’t working. It’d have been interesting to hear what it sounds like.

Finally, near the end of the tour, Orui-san showed us a few more pieces on display in the museum. First, we have this beautiful Edison Opera phonograph complete with a wooden horn:

Edison Opera

A musical doll:

Musical doll which plays music and pretends to look at herself on the mirror.

And finally, a silk scarf by Hermès to commemorate the year of music in 1996. In front of it is a musical cigar holder.

Limited edition scarf by Hermès made for the year of music in 1996.

At this end of the museum, we can go out to the balcony, which offers a great view of the pagoda and Thian Hock Kheng and Singapore Yu Huang Gong temples.

View of the Chong Wen Ge Pagoda and Thian Hock Kheng / Singapore Yu Huang Gong temples in the distance.

Thanks to Orui-san, the curators and also to the National Heritage Board for inviting me to this eye-opening (and ear-opening) tour of the Singapore Musical Box Museum.

The Singapore Musical Box Museum is located at:

168 Telok Ayer Street
Singapore 068619.
(it’s located beside the Thian Hock Keng Temple)

Tel:  +65 6221 0102

Email:  smbmbox@gmail.com

Opening Hours:
Mon-Fri 10:00 – 18:00. The last admission is at 17:00 but the museum store stays open till 18:00
Hourly tours are available from 10:00 to 17:00.

Admission Fee:
Adults $12
Students (with concession cards), Seniors above age 60 (with valid IDs)  $6

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