Fujikawaguchiko, Yamanashi Prefecture, Japan

What a hectic weekend. Saturday morning flight to Haneda airport followed by a drive to Fujikawaguchiko and the rush back the next day to catch the last flight from Haneda. This trip was supposed to take place the week before (31st October) but was delayed because of Typhoon Chaba, which would have caused non stop weekend of rain. And there would be no way Mount Fuji would be visible from the town located 10km away to the north.
If you have followed this site quite a bit, you would have noticed that this is one of my favourite sites to shoot Mount Fuji. I could wake up early in the morning and walk 30 mins to the other side of Kawaguchiko across the bridge and set up my tripod before 6am. And in the last 3 times I have been here, Mount Fuji would always be visible in the morning along with a calm lake to catch some reflection. Kawaguchiko is large enough not to be perfectly calm, and the wind does kick in about 7-7:30am. So get there early. I will not detail too much how to get there, the easiest would be via the Keio Express bus line from Shinjuku just opposite Yodobashi Camera. And as a primer, Fuji 5 Lakes regions composes of… of course, 5 lakes. From the right to the left, there’s Yamakako, which I have never been, and since I have not heard too much about the view there, I have no plans to visit since it is also out of the way. Kawaguchiko is arguably the easiest one to access, as it is just situated by Fujikawaguchiko and the northern shore is littered with attractions like a monkey show and a music box museum. The views here are one of the best accessible without long hikes and a car, and Mount Fuji looks symmetrical from here. The only possible issue is that the town would be visible in your picture of the famous mountain. Only an issue if you’re after the mountain sans civilization. Just next to it would be Saiko, where Mount Fuji is not visible at all, obscured by a close by hill. News has it that Saiko is a good fishing place. Next to it, a little drive a way is Shojiko, which I think rivals Kawaguchiko. Cars could drive to the lake bank facing Mount Fuji, and you could get down to water level. What you would see on the opposite bank on the foot of the mountain is just pure nature. However, Shojiko is not that easy to reach without your own car. The public buses don’t run regularly, so you may have 1 hour there and if you do not get on the returning bus, the wait may be quite long. No buses at night the last time I checked, so night time shooting by bus would be impossible. One could camp by the lake side though. The last one is Motosuko, a relatively large lake, with an elevated vantage point at the far side of the lake. It is even more remote than Shojiko. This is also the view of Mount Fuji that could be found at the back of a 100 yen note.

Lets see what we have here…

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Shoji-ko: This is one of the first shot of this Autumn season for me. The EXIF reads 5:30pm and it was already dark. Exposure reads 30 secs at f5.6 on a 28-70mm. It was already dark when I got there, and the long exposure lights up the mountain a bit. I kept the foreground dark to convey the evening mood. You could see car lights on the right at the bottom of the mountain, and some faint lights at what could be the mountain 5th station. AT this time of the year, the snow cap is starting to grow, but obviously it is still early.

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Shoji-ko: This is one of my favourite picture of the shoot. Exposure reads 4 minutes 30 seconds and f8. I did another one that was 20mins long but came up to almost a blank shot. I had a ND8 on the lens and I would have to stretched it to 1hour exposure if I was to get something like this. What I wanted to do with this shot was to have a long enough exposure to catch the star trail. You could also faintly notice a line of a passing aircraft. I would have wished to have more time here, I guess I will explore the possibility to camp here the next time. Would have been great to catch an hour long star trail.

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Kawaguchiko: This was taken at very close to 6am. Note the vapour on the lake surface. This morning was not what I hoped for, with cloudy skies in the morning. When I got to the lakeside at 5:30am the mountain was covered in clouds, but almost always it clears at close to 6am when the faint trace of sunshine appears. You also notice that Fujikawaguchiko town is quite prominent in the foreground. This is a 4 sec exposure at f8, at about 40mm, and I cropped the top and bottom of the original frame. You also noticed that the view from Kawaguchiko is a little different, with the long gentle sloping sides of the mountain visible from here, while at Shojiko, the slope is quite strong.

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Kawaguchiko: Looking at the east at the rising sun. The only good thing about a cloudy day is that the morning red sun glow is quite strong.

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Kawaguchiko: With the sun starting to appear in the morning, Mount Fuji starts to glow a little shade of red. This scene only lasts not more than 10 mins. In fact I think it might have been shorter than that. So this is where an ergonomic camera comes in, when you switch from one scene and light type to another. The controls has to be easily found and you do not have the luxury of diving into the menus to change something.

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Hong Kong MTR


Started off my new project weekend, to photograph the station names of every single MTR station in Hong Kong. I don’t know how long it will take to do them all, but 3 or 4 weekends may be just enough. The idea is simple, take a camera, one lens and stop at every single station and then move on to the next.

There has not been any over eager security guard asking me to stop photographing so far, and to keep things interesting, I’ve got 2 months of backlogged podcasts to keep me company while continuing the task. The only thing I learnt is that there is a limit to the time you can spend in the metro, once you pass the gates. Its about 2.5 hours. And I spent a little more than that, and the Customer Service office let me out without a penalty. Otherwise it would cost a little more than 20HKD. I believe it was 21HKD that they mentioned.

Chai Wan MTR Station

There’s no deadline to this project. It will be completed when its completed, and I will figure out then what to do with all the database of photos! Today I managed to shoot 512 NEF files!

Turkey: Prologue

28 August 2009:
Typing this on the flight from Singapore to Istanbul.

Trips with a historical slant can be stale for those who prefer to ignore the significance of places beyond its heyday. I have a feeling that most parts of my upcoming 2 week trip will be of interest to only a small minority. I have spent almost 3 months reading Edward Gibbon’s excellent “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire”, referencing wikipedia and making notes on google maps, charting the locations as I go along. Luckily for me, most of the action towards the end of the Roman Empire centers around present-day Turkey.

The focal point of course is on Constantinople, also known today as Istanbul, where Emperor Constantine decided to establish the first Christian kingdom, arguably because he decided to side with the growing popularity of a new religion. Sacked a few times by passing crusaders and finally falling to the giant cannon of Sultan Mehmet II of the Muslim Ottomans less than a thousand years later. In Istanbul I would expect the signs of history to be more obvious, but it would be a challenge to find the remains of the wall where the muslims breached the city wall.

Planning to stay 3 days in Istanbul. As for the rest of the trip, the rough planning is as follows:

After Istanbul, and using it as a hub, I will do two day trips. First of it will be to Hadrianople – present day Edirne – next to the Greek border. This is where the Ottomans set up their capital and headquarters before heading out to conquer Constantinople. I expect the city to be bland,with history hidden behind a modern facade, tourists passing through, oblivious to the role this city played in the founding of present day Turkey about 700 years ago. A day trip out of Istanbul should be sufficient.

Then there’s Nicaea – present day Iznik – where a bunch of church elders held a meeting a bit more than a thousand years ago and decided on the Nicene Creed, a story setting the relationship between the key figures of today’s Christian church doctrine. All other conflicting views were banished, and purged. Iznik is famous for the tiles that graced many Ottoman monuments in Turkey. Again, I’m expecting a ruin or two but nothing more than the pleasure of getting GPS coordinates in a city steeped in historical significance. If time permits, perhaps Iskander Kebab in Bursa not too far from Iznik before returning to Istanbul.

To save time, I plan to then take a flight down to Nevsehir, in Cappadocia. A bus from the capital would take too long, losing up to a whole day to get to the heart of Turkey. At Urgup, I have made advanced booking on a rental car which will be with me the whole trip in Cappadocia while I try to cover the whole area in 3 days. It is probably ambitious to do so with public transportation, so we shall see. Distances seem quite short so I shouldn’t have to use up tanks of petrol everyday.

Planning to spend 3-4 days there depending on my mood. Cappadocia would be the landscaping part of the trip, and my DSLR and a couple choice lenses and tripod will come with me for this purpose.

The next few day post-Cappadocia is unclear at this moment. Will probably make it up as I go along. One possibility is to go to Kayseri, hanging around the most muslim city of my trip, and taking the overnight train down to Adana to have a kebap, and finally down to Antakya (ancient name: Antioch). The second plan is to skip Kayseri, but since I’m not in the mood to apply for a Syrian visa, not sure what I will do in the 3-4 days down south in Antakya. Will worry later. All I know is that I have to be in Adana at a certain time the day before the flight back so that I can catch a domestic flight from Adana back to Istanbul, where I will spend another night before leaving Turkey.

Total duration: two weeks. This will be during Ramadan season, so I’m prepared to fast if I have to, eating breakfast and dinner only.

Equipment wise, I have the standard blogging machine, my Nokia E71 that will double as an alarm clock as it has the most irritating ring of all, and tripling as a GPS backup since it has google maps allowing me to have an eye up in the sky if required. Primary GPS is my trusty 10 year old Garmin eTrex Vista loaded with world map for this part of the planet. For the first time, I will bring a PCM sound recorder to get ambient sounds into my archives, honours going to the Sony PCM D50 recorder. A trip is not a trip without cameras, of course . I will have the usual 3 cameras. People shots will be made with a Leica M6 Classic and just one lens, a 35mm Summicron ASPH which should be versatile enough for close up action. Bringing 20 rolls of film, Kodak Tri-X, Chinese-made ERA100 and Fuji Neopan1600. Not forgetting a single roll of Kodachrome, just in case. DSLR for landscapes with a rugged-ish Nikon D300. Lenses that will come along: 12-24mm f4 AFS, 10.5mm f2.8, 28-70mm f2.8 AFS and my favourite all-round lens: Micro-Nikkor 105mm f4 AI. All Nikkors. Point and shoot honours will go to a Ricoh GR Digital in a belt holster for quick grab shots. A light Gitzo 1531T travel tripod and RRS BH25 tripod head comes along. All these goes into a Kinesis  Journeyman bag configured for half gears and half clothes. A Kinesis M550 multipurpose bag serves as a day and accessory pack when I need to move fast.

Enough on the equipment. This setup allows me to move fast and to jump on buses and planes without any big bulk. It’s heavy for sure, but nothing big plate of kebab at the day cannot soothe. And so it begins…

Shanghai, China: Changxing Island


The term “non-linear” applies especially to this post. I have made 2 trips to Changxing island over a few weeks, both times armed only with black & white film. As usual, I would type out this blog post on my Nokia E71 and then combine and edit them on a Macbook when I’m back in the comforts of my living room. However, somehow I got the post on Hengsha up and I forgot about this one till March 2010. So here I am, working on getting it out of my clogged up draft box.

As I originally wrote: after Hengsha, it is only natural the next island on the Yangzi River Delta to visit would be Changxing island, a lot bigger than Hengsha and slightly to the west. Not the biggest of course, that honour would go to Chongming island, subject of a future trip which I planned but never got to carry out before this post went online. It is not too difficult to get to Changxing. Same bus or metro to Wusong port and a boat to Majiagang, which is the only pier on the island, I was told. There are a lot more boats to Majiagang than to Hengsha, and the same for the return trip, so it shouldn’t be any issue to get there and back and advanced ticket is not necessary.

There are not too much information about Changxing Island on the internet, at least not the English internet that I can search for. I was told that this island contains many orange farms, of the green skinned type. Lokam, some call it. Shanghainese would go there in their car in autumn and pick them, like a novelty item as if reminding them of the agricultural origins of Pudong. As the ferry passes by Changxing Island on the way to Hengsha, all I saw on Changxing was a lot of shipyards, so I have expectations of orchards, four-stroke tractors and shipyards.

Eventually I would spend a total of two weekends to survey two sections of the island, the middle  and the far western end. It would be total nuts to walk the whole island. Changxing is at least 30km long from one end to the other.

First Survey: 15 August 2009

GPS Plot for 16 August hike

Tried to wake up early, as I expect a long long walk on Changxing. Left home at 0700hrs after packing my own lunch, as I don’t expect to waste time to look for a restaurant when on the island. After a quick breakfast, it was the usual bus 952 from People’s Square to Wusong port. At the Baoshan ticketing office, the next fast boat I could find was at 1000hrs. This means I have at least one and a half hours to waste at the waiting room. I plug in my iPod and Fring on my Nokia E71 and tried to get productive going through some podcasts.

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Life in Shanghai: Shanghai Railway Station

Since I have a lot of projects lined up on documenting Shanghai on film, I will put some of them up on this website about ‘Life in Shanghai’ as it is. Deviating from my standard long post, I hope to write less and put more of the commentary in the photo caption itself. This should make it easier and a lot quicker to post as I don’t need to check for grammatical or spelling mistakes; not that I do in the past anyways.
First up, a day roaming around the Shanghai main Train Station. Stations make very good photo assignments. You get all types of people here, and in China you get people waiting outside the station for their train and all types of activity known to man.

Shanghai Metro Station

How appropriate, a mega video screen, public toilet and phone booth in a compact space.

It was a hot day in summer. Whatever ways to cool down when out in the hot sun.

The railway station is also a place for Shanghainese to hang around. This boy was running all around while his grandmother chats with someone.

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Lens Test: Tale of two pancakes

Pancake lenses. Not many people use it nowadays, preferring the do-all zoom lenses. Going back to the old days when photographers would carry one prime lens per camera, and still be able to take amazing photographers, there is nothing a prime cannot do in the hands of someone with the right photographic vision. In short, nothing wrong with a pancake lens. In fact I love pancakes because it keeps the camera side profile smaller, making it possible to squeeze a pro-body with built in grip into a small bag. And most of the time you can zoom with your feet anyway.
Profile Comparison. ULTRON on the right, AIS on the left.

A pancake lens is the name given to low profile lenses, normally around the 50mm focal length range. Up for this test are the two that I own. First up is a Nikkor 50mm f1.8 AIS. Now there are many versions of this lens, and the 0.60m minimum focal length version is the one I have, which is noticeably shorter than the other models. The other lens I have been using quite a bit is a Voigtlander 40mm f2 SL ULTRON. Yes a mouthful, I’ll just call it AIS and ULTRON for the short version hereforth. They’re both manual lenses. And they only meter on Nikon’s semi pro bodies like the D300/D700 and up.

This is not meant to be a full on test, so I will not bother to perform an exhaustive test on it. On the question of bokeh, I have noticed that the ULTRON has this harsh donut shaped bokeh, perhaps because of the Aspherical element in the lens. But I’m not a bokeh freak so it is not an issue for me.

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Shanghai, China: Wusong Pier And Hengsha Island

Flower fields blossom at Wusong Park, yes strange way to start a post, but thought starting with a little colour might be appropriate here...
Summer is finally here. While I’d like to think that I have compiled a list of places to go in China, I rarely adhere to such lists anyway, and most destinations are off the seat of my pants. Last winter was reserved mainly for discovering new interesting back streets in Shanghai. Because of the cold, and the fact that most of my trip requires hours outdoors, it is a lot more comfortable to be close to home.

The first one the list, which has been on my want-to-do-list for some time, is a survey trip to Hengsha island. It desn’t really have to be Hengsha, Changxing is fine as well. The former is one of the larger islands on the Yangzi river mouth, where the Yangzi and the smaller Huangpu rivers meet. I’m not a geologist, but it does seem to form part of the Yangzi river delta, the famous Yangzi River Delta! Trip there requires a public bus to one of the ports where the two rivers meet, as I wrote this, I had no idea which port the boats leave, but Google maps does suggest that I start with Wusong pier and so it shall. Taking a taxi there would be the easiest, but since when has adventure about taking the easiest path? Buses are not really that dodgy in Shanghai, but just for the fun of it, why not the bus? There are many places to board buses that goes to Wusong pier, and I settled on the closest one so that I can avoid taxis.

The Yangzi river from Wusong battery park

Port of Shanghai at Pudong

Over the course of weeks I made a few trips to Wusong port and it took till the third trip before I made it to Hengsha Island, but none of the trips were a waste at all.

30 May 2009

Unlike most other trips I have made, I woke up a little late at 10 am this morning. Has to be the latest waking up time for me on a Saturday! After lunch and a little gear tinkering and packing, and just utter time wasting on twitter, I started leaving my apartment at 1 pm, knowing full well I might have missed the last boat to be able to return on the same day. Let’s face it, staying the night on some island I’ve never been to before in China is not exactly part of the plan today.

So what is in the bag today? Plenty of water since it is a hot day today. Took with me a innocent looking tote bag bought in Tokyo, filled with a Nikon D300, 12-24mm DX, 10.5mm DX and of course a 105mm f4 Macro AI in case the opportunity of insects, details and flowers present itself. Since there will be people to shoot as well, packed in my Leica M3 as well, along with a new 5cm Summitar collapsible lens. I just got this one back from a little repair work by John van Stelten from Focal Point in Colorado about a month ago, and it is time to see if this lens is any good for the price you pay (one of the cheapest Leica lens you can buy!). Film is of course, ERA100, and like I always say – chinese film for chinese people. Packed a Garmin GPS as well, and I can already feel that this unit is getting a little creaky old!

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Equipment for Japan trip

Thought now is the best time to document what I brought with me to Japan. This trip requires quite a number of trips in trains and local buses so I was hoping to travel with as little bulk as possible, although at the end of the day, I feel that my packs are a little too heavy.
For bags, I have a 35L backpack for clothes and chargers and items that does not require removal during transit. Even though temperature in Japan at this time of the year plunges below zero, becuase of the constant moving I will be doing, I packed only a fleece with Windstopper (Gore) material, and for waterproofing, a Mont-Bell packable Gore-Tex outer shell.  A Gitzo G1341T tripod with RRS BH25 is attached on the outside for the late evening photo shooting in dim light, and this tripod/ball-head combination is light enough to be brought along for the trip.

On my belt I have a Leatherman tool for emergency, and my Ricoh GR Digital point and shoot on the other side. They do get in the way especially when sitting down, but hey, better than nothing.

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Travels: Nanxiang, Shanghai, China

Pavillion at Guyi Garden, Nanxiang
Shanghai is famous for this little dumpling with thin skin and soup inside. Bite it and if still hot off the steamer, it guarantees a scalding where it hurts.

The most famous restaurant in shanghai that sells them by the bucketloads, figuratively speaking, is Nanxiang Restaurant over by that tourist hole, Yuyuan Garden right in the middle of the city. Its not too far from where I stay and on weekends, I sometimes take the walk over, and stand in the half and hour queue (if I’m lucky). Its not the best in Shanghai though and its quite obvious it’s famous because it’s famous, no more. Nanxiang Restaurant also starts to expand with branches overseas.

Shanghai Bus, encountered on the way looking for that bus that will take me to Nanxiang

So not to dwell too much in stories, I found out during a chat with a colleague that the xiao loong bao, what this tasty dumpling is called, was first invented in a town called Nanxiang. Just tens of kilometre from downtown Shanghai so close that a public bus (actually many from all points) runs there from the Shanghai railway station, so we found out after browsing the chinese languaged internet. So quickly this became my mission for the coming weekend.

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Pictures from Sichuan/Guangxi Trip

Coming back from those two provinces, I ended up with 12 rolls of film, 1200 pictures from the DSLR and 1500 pictures from the point and shoot. As you can imagine it takes a long long long time to sort and categorize them and delete the junk shots. I have spent a week developing the rolls of film, and I can only go thru 200 pictures a night maximum for the DSLR as they are all shot in RAW NEF format and needs some kind of adjustments in Lightroom. 
So bear with me for a moment. I will put up the pictures on the postings and will announce on Twitter or Jaiku once I get them ready. Post processing sucks. But there are some nice pictures there!!!

This will also mark the start of me putting watermarks with copyright logo on the pictures, even though they are all small. Read about how pictures are reused without permission and just wanted to be sure I’m protected as much as possible.

Planning to label the posts with the following:
– *Incomplete* means I have not started on it yet
– *Partial* means that I have loaded pictures from some but not all my cameras yet. Soon to have more pictures coming up.