Friday, January 14, 2011

Photography

My Tevas are turning 10 years old this year. Here they are on a NZ beach back in November.

Back in Dublin for a week now, time to give a quick account on photography. Just some thoughts, without particular order.

Context: on this blog, all pics are done by our Nexus One phones, but of course I had a normal DSLR with me too, and used it every day. This post intends to cover this.

1. Learning. I know a lot more about photography and about my camera compared to before the trip.
  • I read some from a book from Galen Rowell with the title 'Inner game of Outdoor Photography' which I can heartily recommend. It brought me some great revelations about what makes good photos, composition, approaching themes, communicating stories.
  • I am playing around a lot with my D90. Two things I am trying intensively first on this trip are creating bracketed bursts for later HDR experiments, and long exposure shots both at night and in low light day setting. I found Ken Rockwell's 'D90 Guide' for Android useful too - it finally made me learn about the various functions of my camera, something that I should have done a long time ago.

2. Storage. With no laptop around, I chose to bring abundant SD cards for storing photos. This worked well. I also altered my shooting habits somewhat - taking much less photos of the same subject, but with greater care. This sould help with photo selection and sorting as well, which I am not too fond of anyway. All in all, I took 80 GB storage with me, on 5 SD cards, and it was just about enough to cover the 3 months. I shot in raw+jpeg, and ended up with ~4600 photos.

3. Equipment. I was generally happy with what I took with me. Some thoughts:
  • The BlackRapid strap I bought before trip is fantastic... Can't imagine how I lived without it before... I carry my gear in comfort and have lightning quick access.
  • I have 3 lenses with me. In the first half of the trip, I used my new Tokina 11-16mm, 2.8f wide angle the most, about 70% of the time. It was new for me, and I really enjoy it, but now thinking about it, I probably overused it slightly. The Nikon 18-200 DX comes second, in the second half of the trip especially, it was on about 80% of the time. After I got and tried the Tokina, I thought that maybe I shouldn't even bring this big zoom with me - I'll never use it. Now I see, it would have been a huge mistake to come without it - they complement nicely. My third, and least used lens was the Nikon 50mm, 1.8f. It is a fine lens, and I usually use it much more, but somehow on this trip I barely had it on.
  • The D90 Nikon is a great camera, I love shooting with it. Its light weight, smaller body is well suited for travels, and its video function is something I would miss. It cope well with the heat and salty breezes of the Cook Islands, the humid and windy Tonga, the sulphuric fumes of volcanic New Zealand, the crazy nonstop rains in Australia, and all the above in Singapore and Vietnam.
  • I took no regular tripod with me, only a GorillaPod. It serves well for the long expo shots, and I would have missed it if I left it at home. I wish I bought the GorillaPod with the head joint tough...

4. Travel photography - some tips I found true.

  • Never, ever, leave a shot behind. When you see one, take it right there and then. Even if you plan to come back later (better lights.. in a rush.. etc..), still make the stop and take it. I left some (possibly) great shots untaken because of not keeping this rule in the beginning of the trip.
  • Always have your camera with you, and ready to shoot if possible. Having the camera dangling by my side (on the BlackRapid), with whatever lens on, invited me to take much more shots. It just somehow alters the way I look at my surroundings, and it takes almost no effort to grab the camera and click. When I had my camera in the bag, I missed shots, due to simple laziness.
  • Shoot less, use your vision more. On this trip, I tried to force myself to visualize the picture I want to take, before actually looking through my viewfinder. After practicing this for a while, I found that thinking about the composition, the photo I wanted to take, before lifting my camera, led to better shots, more memorable images. Having less photos saves time and pain at home too, selecting the best shots.
  • Make time to just walk around with no aim, but to observe and shoot. Dedicating time to photography, especially in the morning or in the evening light, I found greatly rewarding. Some of my best shots come from these walks, where there are no planned routes, no distractions, just listening to and following the instinct of the photographer.

Preparing for this trip, with regards to photography, Mr. NoPlanes' post on his trip and experiences was a great inspiration - Thanks for that my Friend! :)

.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Home

Salmon bagel and lunch omelet in Cafe Java, Sandymount, Dublin.. an hour after arrival from airport.

We are back.

Good to be here again :)

Note: as we settle in the coming weeks, we are planning to post a few more concluding thoughts... so don't delete the feed from your reader just yet..

sent from my android.

.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Today's school (Day 74)


Writing another exciting story on the overnight train from Hue to Ha Noi.

sent from my android.

.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Hanoi adventures (Day 75 - Christmas Eve)

- Our overnight train arrives to Hanoi at 4 am. Train staff is not aware of the promise to let us stay in our cabin till 7 am. Or they just really don't understand my question. Everybody gets kicked out. Generally speaking, Vietnamese train staff are not the friendliest people I've ever met - they do not speak English, they shout, and they make sure you are wide awake when you tell them for the third time that you do not want noodles.
- We look for a taxi. Hanoi is famous for its taxi mafia and we soon realize why. No one agrees to go by the meter, everybody wants a fixed price (big money for ridiculously short distances). We get outside the train station, hoping to find an honest driver. We step into the car, we leave. The meter is running, but not the way it should run. We stop the car, we step out without reaching our destination. We go to a fancy hotel, asking the receptionist to call us a cab. He does, but the new driver asks for a fixed price again. It seems we do not really have a choice.
- We finally reach our hotel at around 5 am. We wake the staff up. They are surprisingly friendly though. We leave our bags and go to explore the city. It's still pitch dark.
- The park if full of life though. The locals are exercising. They don't really seem to know how to. They use the benches or the tree branches. Some of them barely move, the others do something really dangerous. Who were their PA teachers at school?
- There are many tourists like us in the park, wondering around, waiting for the check-in to the hotel time. Some of them travel with children too, we smile at each other. The others are sitting or sleeping on the benches. Someone screams after the bird's poo drops from the sky. It feels funny.
- It's light by now. We start looking for a place to eat, but we'd prefer French pastries rather than the street food - the only food available at this hour. So we keep walking.
- We step into a few hotels and travel agencies to ask about train tickets, since we are leaving for Sapa tomorrow. It's Christmas time, so availability is really limited. We are happy to get to know that 3 berths are still available in a soft sleeper cabin, so we rush to book our tickets both ways. Feels like an achievement. We pay by credit card.
- We have breakfast at our hotel, we check-in. It's the most beautiful room we've had in Vietnam so far - good choice for Christmas celebrations.
- We wonder around busy streets of Hanoi's Old quarter. It's hard to cross the street here without having a huge adrenaline rush going through your body. This place is not for a fainted heart!
- It's time to pick up our train tickets and have lunch. We order the food and examine our tickets. How thoughtful of them to translate the ticket. And how cheeky! We look at the printed price, carefully hidden behind English translation. They charged us 50% commission, 60 USD in total! No one has appetite anymore. Well, Elvinas enjoys his meat spring rolls as always.
- We come back to the travel agency and tell them they've made a mistake. They tell us this is business. We ask our money back. They tell it's our fault not to check. We tell we'll request the bank to do a charge-back. The sales agent is really worried by now, but his boss has instructed him not to give the commission back. We leave the place really upset & angry.
- It's so hard to look at people as people now. This whole city looks so unwelcoming after the day's adventures. It's hard to fall into the Christmas mood. I'd like to be somewhere else now.
- My Christmas gift to myself - beauty treatments in one of the upmarket places. I get a manicure done, followed by 1 hour wonderful foot massage. (Ladies - this comes at the cost of 10 USD!) My man comes to pick me up, since it's already dark and the streets are busier than ever. He is so caring. I love him.
- Back in the hotel room we call our families. They are going around their usual Christmas preparation chores now. My father is heating the sauna. Gyula's brother is decorating the Christmas tree with the help of their nephews. We wish we were with them now and... for some snow.
- Elvinas tells Senelis about the biggest airplane in the world, which we took from Sydney to Singapore, and the overnight trains in Vietnam. This is the men talk.
- We dress up. Going down to the hotel's lobby to celebrate Christmas Eve with other guests and our hosts (it's a small family hotel). Their 3 year old daughter is dancing. Then they play with Elvinas. It's 10 pm now, we are exhausted and still sad a bit. But the party was good and lifted our moods greatly.
- We go back to our room. We hang a Christmas sock on the handle of our wardrobe. Will Santa come tonight? We hope so...
- Elvinas kisses us goodnight. He is so sweet and goodhearted. We love him very much.
- We write a blog post with 2 pictures, wishing a Merry Christmas to all. A short one. Not in a creative mood today. But we miss our families and friends, we want to let them know that.
- At this very moment it's hard to understand why we've chosen to travel for Christmas, especially to the country, where almost everybody relates to you as to a walking cash bag. And there is surely no Christmas spirit here, just a lot of commerce around it.
- We write a letter "from Santa", burn the edges of it. We roll it and put into the sock together with the chocolates. Will he be happy, surprised? We hope so. We are so happy he is still so innocent to believe in stories.
- We switch off the lights. So tired. It was a hard day. The toughest so far. Very different from what we've expected for Christmas. But it was a good one. It made us stronger. We say "Merry Christmas" and "I love you". We put in the earplugs. It's going to be loud in the morning. We'll wake up and see Elvinas peaking into the sock first thing in the morning. It's going to be Merry.

Some sort of yoga or meditation in the park 

Hanoi at night
Mass aerobics on the streets - a really interesting sight
Street vendors seen from our hotel window

KOTO (Know one - teach one) cafe, which dedicates all their profits towards education of street children.

Sent from my Android.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Brick factory (Day 69)

Brick ovens for "cooking" bricks

"Rice skin", as locals call it, is used for firing the oven since there is not enough wood / it's expensive. 

This brick factory, which we've visited during our Mekong delta tour, was quite an impressive sight. All the bricks are made by hand (ok, they use a smart machine to create the shape, but all the handling and selecting is done by hand), then they are placed to dry on the sun for 3 days, afterwards they go to an oven for 27 days - 20 days of burning and 7 days of cooling. One oven can hold 100 000 bricks. 1 brick costs 600 dong, which means that 1 USD can buy you 33 bricks. Do the maths yourself!

Friday, December 24, 2010

Merry Xmas!


From Ha Noi, Vietnam, we wish you all a very Merry Christmas!

No matter where you are, with your family, friends, or stranded in some snow covered airport... we hope you can find a lot of warmth in your hearts!

A + E + G

Pictures: views inside and outside of our room tonight.

ps.: And tomorrow, an other 10 hour overnight train to Sapa in the mountains in the North of Vietnam.


Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Rawing in the Mekong delta (Day 69)


After a few days acclimatizing in Saigon, we took a two day trip to see the Mekong delta. We visited a brick factory, a coconut candy workshop, had elephant-ear fish for lunch. Seen water-coconut plants, sat hours in a bus, roamed canals with motor and rawing boats, checked out a busy morning market, had jack-fruit in a fruit orchard, criscrossed over a floating market...

At the end of the second day, we were so tired, that we boarded an overnight train to arrive to Hoi An, about 16 hours later..