Fireworks: Best of Highlights

Every year around this time in November is a time where everyone would be able to see spectacular displays of fireworks.

Guy Fawkes Night, also known as Bonfire night, is an annual British tradition to back to the Gunpowder Plot of 1605, when Catholic conspirator Guy Fawkes was arrested for attempting to blow up the Houses of Parliament and King James I. Hence, the anniversary of Fawkes’ arrest is celebrated each year with bonfires and fireworks in the UK.

This year, I decided to capture these fireworks display in Norwich from a vantage point in Mousehold Heath. Fortunately, the evening weather was dry and good. The visibility was so clear I could even see the crescent moon rising above the city!

I arrived early to recce for the best spot. As the time for fireworks got nearer, more people turned up. Children started twirling their torch lights at the front. Finding the best angle suddenly became a challenge, and I had to re-position my tripod a few meters nearer.

I managed to snag a few good shots of the fireworks, but in my opinion wasn’t as good as those I have captured last year. I had the idea of juxtaposing the big crowd in front of the fireworks display but was too late to reposition my camera.

In a short few minutes, the display had ended as fast as it began. I then decided to hang on for a little while longer to capture the aftermath of the fireworks. I turned my camera in the opposite direction and made some exposures of people heading down the hill. I was intrigued by the result. Here are some captures from that night.

Singapore Cityscape

Some captures of Singapore landscape during my two weeks stay on family matters. I have not taken much during this period as I had been busy meeting people and running around for other matters. Somehow I managed to snag some shots while on the run. These images are taken from vantage points I have never been to previously. Singapore is well known as a city state with many dense high-rise buildings. After one year of absence from the Singapore scenes, I sort of tried to look at my home country with a fresh perspective. I wanted to capture the vibrancy of these architectural buildings. If I had more time, I might take more photos of different locations as I run around. I might just do it when I’m back after graduation.

Taking Flight

Returning back home to Singapore for family matters for almost three weeks during my school term can be “academically suicidal” if time is not managed properly. I made the necessary arrangement between my family and my course lecturer, assuring that I could still continue on my photography works even though I am away for personal reasons. To be honest, I have not done much during this period, but I managed to get some things sorted out before coming back. I have also managed to capture some aerial images while on the flight. But first here is a story of my epic journey of my flight back.

Boarding long flights can be an exhausting journey. I choose an evening flight so I would have ample rest and not hindered by the jetlag. As the gate closed and the aircraft coming out to the tarmac to prepare its flight, the pilot suddenly made an announcement. It appears someone had boarded the wrong plane and they had to eject the passenger out first. Eventually, the plane took off almost two hours late as the pilot had to wait for the next available slot time to take flight. Because of the unforeseen circumstances, I missed my transition flight at Doha airport.

Upon arrival to my connecting flight, an airport staff linked up with us with the next earliest flight time and a complimentary hotel lodging. However, this means that I would not be home on time as per arranged. I highlighted my concerns and the staff was kind enough to help me re-route my journey, from Dubai to Singapore via Singapore Airlines. However, this means I would need to take another connecting flight from Doha to Dubai.

Coming out of the Doha customs was dreadful, and although the staff said it was “about 15 mins walk away to the hotel”, I had no idea the actual location of the complimentary lodging was in the city and required transportation, not near the airport. I have never been in Doha airport and was totally unfamiliar with my way around. I was stranded in Doha for about eight hours before my next flight and extremely worried that my baggage would not reach Singapore properly. This was the first time I have experienced such situation.

Then again, if not for such opportunities, I would not have been able to capture a sunset in Dubai. Although it was not a planned shot, I was pleased that at least I have been to Doha and Dubai briefly.

The next morning as the aircraft flew over the south East Asia region, emotions began to well in me. I saw familiar sights which started giving me a sense of homesickness. after spending some 14 months away from home, it was a certain nostalgia. I am finally back home.

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For my return trip, I had a much more pleasant journey. Although saying goodbye to my family and friend were hard, but these transitions were still manageable. I purposefully choose my flight in such a way that I would reach London Heathrow by first light, and I would be able to take a few more aerial photos of London.

It was still a little too dark and I had to bump up my ISO setting. I got some surprising results as I had not seen such phenomenon before, where part of the land was foggy and part of it was not.

With such opportunities, I was able to take aerial photographs of the landscape during my flight trip back and fro, even though these had nothing much to do with my projects. All in all, I have enjoyed most part of it.

Perseids meteor shower

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The annual Perseids meteor shower shows up every year in August when the Earth ventures through trails of dust and debris left behind by the Swift-Tuttle comet. This Year’s shower is in exceptional form thanks to the Jupiter’s gravity pushing comet debris towards Earth more than usual. In perfect conditions of a clear sky away from urban light pollution, viewers can expect to see up to 200 meteors per hour. However, capturing the celestial spectacle is no easy task and requires a bit of planning and some luck. Here are my thoughts on capturing the spectacle.

My Gear

My choice of equipment is simple. The night sky is wide but the meteor is unpredictable. Hence, the ideal lens to use would be the widest lens I have. I used my smartphone compass to determine the direction I am pointing my camera at. The rest of the equipment helps to stabilise the camera as much as possible. It is also good to wear warm clothes while shooting in the cold night.

Canon 16-35mm F2.8 lens
Canon 5D Mk III
Sturdy Tripod
Cable Release
Compass

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Planning

  1. Recce for location beforehand is important. I found a knoll near the University of East Anglia to be a much better location compared to Mousehold Heath. For a few nights I came over to see how the condition was like, testing exposures and observing the night sky; how the clouds move and look out for light trails of planes.
  1. Recognize key constellations on the internet. Perseids meteors are so-called because they appear near the Perseus constellation. While I’m not an expert in reading constellations maps but learning to recognise simple constellations such as the Big Dipper or the Orion helps to establish the directions I should not be pointing my camera at.
  1. Read weather forecasts before heading out. Some nights would be cloudy the whole night while some nights cloudy only for a certain time. Having moonlight could be detrimental to capturing meteors. It does pay to be patient most of the time, and reading weather forecast, particularly the direction of the clouds has helped me to determine when to wait for the clouds to pass, or not to waste time and return back home.
  1. Doing Risk Assessment is helpful for me since it was dark in the night and there are certain details I have to consider before heading out.

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On location shoot

  1. Get setup as soon as possible after arriving. It takes a while for our eyes to get used to the dark night sky. Having experimented the right exposure settings beforehand helps me to set up my camera fairly quickly. The more time the shutter is open, the more chances of capturing the meteor shower.
  1. Meteors appear unpredictably and last less than a fraction of a second. I only realised this after my failure on my first session of capturing the meteor shower. The second session I did Timelapse photography. I used my cable release to set the shoot timing at every 15-second interval.
  1. Think about composition, not where the meteors might appear. This is also a common mistake I tend to commit during the shoot. Some of the most frustrating things I realised about capturing meteors is that they seem to appear where the camera is not pointing. However, if the composition is right, all there is to have are patience and luck, hoping that the meteor would appear where the camera is pointing at.

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I have also Considered morning sunrise. Meteor showers may last through all the night till the blue hour, just before sunrise. So while at it and if not tired, might as well stay on for a sunrise?

Graduation Day at UEA

It was a great moment for the students from the University of East Anglia as it was their graduation week. I had the opportunity to meet some of the Chinese grandaunts and we did various shots with their parents and friends.

The challenge was to create different and unique stories for each of them over the course of five days. I have not scouted for location or planned any shots with them beforehand, and all of the shoots were based on spontaneous creativity at the time with them.

Albeit the hot and sunny weather, most of them were quite receptive of my free-style approach to their shoot. On some photos, I used strobe flash and occasionally with reflectors, and some with just natural lighting. It was through their willingness to help me with my equipment and they trusted me enough to follow my directions that our efforts had paid off.

All in all, all of us had fun experimenting different poses and the results were all good.

Visiting London (Part 1)

Visiting London (Part 1)

For any tourists visiting the UK for the first time, it is definitely a must to visit London and there are many iconic locations around. This is also the time to explore the city as the summer break starts. For me, I had the opportunity to meet up with my ex-colleague and classmate while spending the time in London. With so many sights to see at every turn, I have had many considerations when planning my trip: How many places can I visit within a limited time and a shoestring budget?

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While planning my backpacking itinerary, I realised the importance of planning my road of advancement. I brought my bicycle along and had used it for the most part of my trip and I would take the subway to places further away. I figured I could cut down my travel expenses a little. Hence, staying at a hostel in King’s Cross area was the ideal plan for me as there would be many places around accessible on my bicycle. I had adjusted my travel itinerary depending on my situation while in London.

 

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As a lover of travel photography, part of the challenge was to find new ways to capture those tourist attractions, saturated by tourist photographs. To take advantage of the lighting conditions, figuring out the best time to visit was also part of my planning process.

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This image was taken at the Greenwich park after sunset. The whole day was spent exploring the park, observing people and the condition of light and weather. I found a few vantage points in the park and I thought it would be interesting to see the city lights after sunset. The challenging part was that I had only a short fifteen-minute window period to shoot the blue hour before the park closes. Rushing from one point to another took a while, and I managed to capture this, a single frame before being chased out.

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For the next couple of days, I toured around the Westminster area, from Leicester square to waterloo station. It was a good weather that day and I had walked around for the entire day. I likened the busyness of the London streets to that of Singapore, a city-state.

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The next leg was to visit Kew Gardens, partially inspired by BBC host and naturalist, Sir David Attenborough for his documentary series on plant life. Kew Gardens is a huge place to explore and it is quite different from the Singapore’s Botanical Gardens.

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Other locations on my itinerary include riding to areas from Liverpool street to Tower Bridge and wandering along the River Thames.

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Camden Town wasn’t part on my list, but a friend had brought me around to explore a different side of London. It was a different experience compared to the city centre.

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They say London is a vast and complex city, and backpacking for the first time can be quite a daunting experience. But after a week of exploring and riding around, I realised there is still so much more to see. Totally worth it.

For part two of my trip, click here.
For part three of my trip, click here.

House of Stafford Interior shoot

My house accommodation is nearing its end contract, all of my current housemates would  be leaving. I would have to start finding new replacements and this seems like so much work. However I figured I will need to get some images of the house, I thought might as well try an interior shoot. And the only available time I had was over the study week.

This means cleaning the common rooms, especially the kitchen and toilet, to sparkling clean. I am proud to have single-handedly cleaned every corner of the kitchen, as shown in the final image, down to the refrigerator interior. This was also in part a Chinese tradition of spring cleaning, in observance of the Lunar New Year.

Also, I liaised with my housemates a suitable time for their room shoot. I considered rearranging some of the items in every image, and turning on the warm orange lights, so as to achieve a presentable look.

The original raw images were less than desired with a high contrast of light and shadow. Hence, I used multiple-exposure blending to get the right subtle, natural feel of the house. Other than the technique and minor color balance, not much retouch was done to these images;  some dirt and blemishes were purposefully left behind. After all, the idea was to give an authentic look at the current condition, not a false impression.

I am pleased with the image result, as never has the house been this clean during my stay. I hope there would be prospect student tenants interest in the house.

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