Tuesday, 25 December 2007

The Queen's Speech 2007

Here in the UK, it has been a long tradition on Christmas Day for gathered families when they have finished tucking in to the turkey to watch the recorded annual Christmas Day speech given by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth on TV. It is sort of a ritual for the nation at 3pm sharp. This year, marks the 50th anniversary of this event since the very first television broadcast in 1957, incidentally, coinciding with Malaysia's 50th Independence celebration from British rule.

This year also marks the Palace's coming to grasp with internet technology to issue a simultaneous release of the recorded speech on YouTube.com, which, for those not in the UK, will be able to watch via the world wide web. Kudos to the Palace!

Watch on YouTube : The Queen's Christmas Speech

Don't worry, its only about 7 minutes long.

Monday, 24 December 2007

Merry Christmas

(Click image to enlarge)

I was out walking with the GRD2 the other day in Hyde Park and came across the Winter Wonderland fair that is taking place there. There were so many people with their families and friends. There was an Ice Tent, a Christmas market (selling reindeer hide, sweeties, German sausages, candles, dolls etc), outdoor ice rink, Haunted House ride, carousel and a big ferris wheel, Santa's Grotto, a Pimms Igloo (with free Pimms!), a bungy-dome and more..!

I couldn't find a suitable scene to point my camera at, however. It was visual noise for me at that moment.

I continued walking past the fair and noticed in the hedge along the pathway, there were some small white flowers that were blooming in the shrubbery despite being winter, and they were magnificent. The scene caught my eye immediately and I made a photograph of it. I hope you like it.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

GRD 2 : I can see clearly now

I received the GV2 external viewfinder yesterday in the post. I had expected it to turn up much later due to the shortage of accessories from Ricoh UK, however I got an email confirmation from the online retailer a couple of days ago, and things were looking up. So I was delighted when the postman delivered a small padded envelope to my door. Initial impressions are positive, the construction is metal, and similar to the GRD2 body material. It is small and is very compact, and shows a brightline frame corresponding to 28mm field of view (in 35mm jargon). There are 4 small markings within the 28mm brightline indicating a square 1:1 section to aid composition at that setting.

The great thing about the GV2 (unlike the GV1) is that the pop-up flash is still usable, with the flick of a switch on the left side.

Because of my shortsightedness, I prefer to use the external finder to compose my shots, traditionally, so that my eye does not need to change focus off the main scene to the LCD and back again, causing strain and missed opportunities. In addition, I can turn off the LCD display entirely, thus extending battery life.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

GRD 2 : Testing, testing...

18 December 2007

Fairground attraction

I was out walking after a lunch meeting in the West End and came across this colourful carousel in Leicester Square. There is always a funfair in the square in December. It was very cold and so only a couple of horses were filled. I love to photograph fairgrounds, there are so many angles to look at and the hand painted rides are great. I decided to set the GRD2 on 1:1 view and too this shot above. Please click on the image to enlarge.I actually like the square format very much, reminding me of an old Rollei TLR I have on my shelf gathering dust. Some compositions feel 'at home' with this format and I will experiment more.

16 December 2007

(Click on each picture for a larger version)

A dry but very cold (3C) weekend brought me out to the streets of Central London to try out the capabilities of the Ricoh GRD 2, and also it was an excuse to do some Christmas browsing at the stores. I like the gifts they sell at Muji, especially the toys, they are simple and mainly made of wood, which beats the electronic offerings of so many other stores nowadays.

I am quite familiar with the 28mm experience especially in street shots and internal spaces. Focusing is adequate in good light, but I found it to be slightly slow in dark surroundings and outdoors in the night. I had the Focus Assist Light function turned off as I often found this feature to be more annoying than helpful.

Also walked past the Godiva chocolate shop window and had to photograph this enticing display..mmm those that know me know that I love chocolate!

The GRD 2 has a very close focus Macro mode, about 2 cm from the lens. Having downloaded the files on onto my iMac, I noticed that the colour accuracy was very good, much better than the Canon digicams I am used to. Perhaps I use the colourspace setting of Adobe RGB, which is native on my Photoshop application. Adobe RGB space has a wider colour gamut than sRGB space which the majority of digicams use. The other discovery is that the Auto White Balance is again more accurate that Canon digicams in daylight and tungsten environments.

For these outdoor photographs (above and below, and new banner) I was shooting handheld with -1.0EV at 200ISO on Aperture Priority at f3.5. This gave me speeds around 1/15s to 1/25s which I thought was sufficiently fast for steady shots. The above image was taken at Covent Garden Market. The Christmas decorations inside the market is like an ice palace with cool blue lights and icicle chandeliers hanging off the ceiling.

(Click on the each picture to see a larger version)
The photo above show Thomas Schütte's sculpture on the Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square and the Nordic spruce tree which is a gift from the Mayor of Oslo to the British every year for the last 61 years since 1947. It is over 20 metres tall. The gift of the tree by the Norwegians is in gratitude to the British support of Norway during WW2. Carolers sing under the tree every evening in December up to Christmas and it becomes a focal point for tourists during this time of the year. It was very cold this evening, inspite of this, a crowd of over 100 people turned up to greet and sing along with the assembled carolers. Shooting in RAW allows me to adjust the exposure and detail of the image and I applaud Ricoh for opting for the DNG standard of RAW files. This is a universal standard and can be opened in Photoshop without going through proprietory software.

...more later.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Photography by GR. It's GRrrreeat!

I have never really been bowed over by new equipment but from time to time, there appears a bright spark of a camera that catches my eye (and pocket!) This is the recently released Ricoh GR Digital II. From 1999 to 2004 prior to the conversion over to digital, I had been extensively using the original GR1 35mm film camera. The GR1 was a truly pocketable fixed lens 28mm 'point n shoot' consisting a metal alloy body only 25mm thick. The outstanding feature of the GR1 was the superb flat field 28mm f2.8 GR lens which has legendary edge to edge sharpness and Leica-like clarity. In 2006, Ricoh released a digital version of similar built, named the GR Digital with a similar 28mm f2.4. However, because the RAW shot to shot shooting capability was about 13 seconds, it wasn't a viable option to use it to its full potential for the type of photography I was used to.

(I popped by the V&A today and photographed Chihuly's huge glass chandelier in the foyer with the Ricoh, showing excellent detail and low noise.)

The GR Digital II however improves on this performance by cutting this shot to shot interval in RAW mode to about 3 seconds, and the camera has an internal buffer to write the files whilst allowing me to release the shutter immediately after the first shot. The High ISO files are quite film-like also, with noise appearing like film grain and is therefore ideal for high contrast black and white images. With 10MP resolution and a smallish 1/1.8'' sensor, this is an ideal street-shooter's stealth camera, with good depth-of-field. It even has a snap-focus setting to approximately 2.5m preset which improves the shooting lag. This gives me a usable professional digital camera that has the potential quality of RAW adjustments and enlargements should I choose to print large.

Another useful setting is its ability to shoot 3:2 format which is the same as 35mm film format. I cannot get used to the 4:3 format on all digicams yet and I seldom if at all crop my images, tending to frame my images critically as I compose.

I would thoroughly recommend keen enthusiasts among you to consider this camera if you are in the market for a decent digicam. Leave the zooms behind and consider using your feet to compose. You will not be disappointed.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

Forgotten Sufferers

I happen to visit Elizabeth Wong's blog recently and read her posting Dec 8 & 9 : Valley of Hope regarding an event this weekend to raise awareness of the Sungei Buloh Leprosy Settlement in Selangor and I quote :

Title: “I Love Valley of Hope” Carnival

Date: 8 - 9 December 2007 (Saturday & Sunday)

Title: “I Love Valley of Hope” Carnival

Venue: Dewan Orang Ramai, Sg. Buloh Leprosy Settlement

Initiated by: Sungai Buloh Settlement Council Organiser : Save Valley of Hope Solidarity Group

Co-organiser: KLSCAH Youth Section, SUARAM, Lost Generation Space Supportive Media: Photo Creator Magazine, Ai FM

VISION: To preserve Sg Buloh Leprosy Settlement as a heritage for mankind


1. Firmly acknowledge the immortality right of living of the lepers patients in Sg Buloh Leprosy Settlement.

2. Introduce the Valley of Hope, educate and create awareness among the public regarding the importance of preserving heritage.

3. Assemble the support and strength of all groups, in corroboration of saving and preserving the Sg Buloh Leprosy Settlement as National Heritage.

Day 1 : 8 Dec 07 (Saturday)

*10am-6pm Photo, Leprosy Settlement History and Flora Exhibition

*9am -12pm Drawing Competition

*1pm -2pm Opening Ceremony

*10am -1pm Movies/Documentaries Sharing

* 2pm-5pm Forum: The Value of Preserving Heritage (Mandarin)

2 days 1 night “I Love Valley of Hope” Youth Camp

Day 2 : 9 Dec 07 (Sunday)

8am-12pm Family Day & Exposure Trip

10am-3pm Photo, Leprosy Settlement History and Flora Exhibition

10am-12pm Movies/Documentaries Sharing

12pm-3pm Cultural Stage Performances

This reminded me of a series of black and white photographs I took entitled Forgotten Sufferers when I visited the centre back in 1999 which formed the topic of submission for the W E Smith Grant for documentary photography, which unfortunately wasn't chosen. However, this series of photographs sparked my enthusiasm and venture into documentary and street photography which led me to publish my first book, Outside Looking In : Kuala Lumpur in 2000.

I photographed the living conditions, the activities and the inmates there during my visit and gotten to know a few of them. It brought me closer to understanding the condition of leprosy and the stigma it still has on sufferers although they are completely cured but disfigured. I learnt that the government funds the operation of the settlement, although the living conditions are pretty dire and basic, the inmates are self-sufficient due to generous donations from the public and social organisations.

Many inmates also grow fruit, vegetables and plant seedlings to supply the local garden centres, earning a small amount of income. Visitors are few save for relations and family members although this particular settlement is a Christian one, there are regular visiting clergy. There is a Muslim settlement adjacent I understand.

The settlement is quite large and set in a clearing which is green and lush with spectacular views of the surrounding hills. It has a local coffee shop where inmates hang out and a small sundry store also. A few inmates get around the area by motorbike or bicycles as they suffer from mobility problems although most suffer from facial and hand disfigurement.

I wish the settlement well and hope the event this weekend will raise the profile and awareness and preservation of this historical settlement and enable more public visits.