Bora Bora Four Seasons

Getting to Bora Bora

This island sits right in between Hawaii and New Zealand. Or so. That means it’s equally easy to get here from either location, but it could not be more different than Hawaii. I mean, Hawaii’s great and everything, but this is my first time to French Polynesia, and I absolutely love it. I’ll post a lot more photos soon, so be sure to click on the “Bora Bora” category above for more!

Daily Photo – An amazing night in Bora Bora

I just arrived at the Four Seasons in Bora Bora and am having an amazing time. This is the view from the Sunset Bar, and you can see the bungalows glowing under the ancient volcano…

Bora Bora Four Seasons

An amazing night in Bora Bora

Photo Information

  • Date TakenJune 23, 2014 at 8:52pm
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time25
  • Aperture
  • ISO400
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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A HUGE HBO Game of Thrones and Google+ PhotoWalk in Sydney

Join me next week in Sydney!

All the event details are here. I’m really looking forward to seeing you — it should be an amazing event… I’m a huge fan of The Game of Thrones, so this will be a perfect storm of awesomeness! :)

Daily Photo – Across the Narrow Sea to Sydney for the Game of Thrones event

Or, well, across the next great thing – the Tasman Sea from New Zealand to Australia! I'm excited about the big event… and no, I won't be arriving on this boat, but it would be kinda cool!

Across the Narrow Sea to Sydney for the Game of Thrones event

Photo Information

  • Date TakenJanuary 9, 2013 at 5:28pm
  • CameraNIKON D800
  • Camera MakeNikon
  • Exposure Time2
  • Aperture2.8
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length16.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-1

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May in Akihabara

50mm fun

On this day in Akihabara, I decided to mostly use my 50mm to see if I could capture this area in a different way. I tried many different things, but the shot below is one of my favorites. I usually don’t do set-up shots like this, but I just saw that awesome background and told May to stand right there, with her feet planted on those two spots. I got far enough away so that the bokeh was not so blurry as to not make sense. Does that make sense? hehe…

Daily Photo – May in Akihabara

While in Tokyo, four of us went to explore this awesome area of Tokyo together. It was me, Mark Louie, Brian Matiash, and May Fukuyama. Our original plan was to go to one of those crazy Maid Cafes where the girls dress up like anime characters and act totally crazy. But that plan didn't exactly work out — there is a longer story there — we did indeed find a place but the line was 45 minutes and it was filled with these really lonely looking Japanese guys, and it was simply too humiliating to stand in line there with all of them, so we skipped that and went to some confusing place with a vending machine and Brian ordered “raccoon” and I know this is a run-on sentence but that is the kind of day it was… !

May in Akihabara

May in Akihabara

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMarch 21, 2014 at 7:19pm
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/1600
  • Aperture
  • ISO200
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias+1.3

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Way Over Wanaka

Borders on Photos

I don’t usually put borders around my photos. I don’t have anything necessarily against borders (as long as they are not too garish). But my friend Jackie Ranken made a good point about them — that they help define the borders of a photo when shown on a black screen when projecting. I think a lot of people also look at them full screen on their computers or TVs with a black background, so it is nice to have that sharply designed border there.

Daily Photo – Way Over Wanaka

We had an amazing helicopter flight over the Southern Alps and ended up flying over some mountains near Wanaka. They were covered in a fine fog and mist and looked absolutely epic. I took dozens and dozens of shots. This is one of the first that I have processed, and I love the way it turned out in black and white.

Way Over Wanaka

Way Over Wanaka

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMay 3, 2014 at 11:28am
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/500
  • Aperture10
  • ISO125
  • Focal Length44.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias-0.7

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The Path in Rabat

Reflective Path Trick

The path was already nice and shiny, but here’s a good way to get it to be extra-reflective and goody-shiny in the final photo:

1) Duplicate the layer
2) Blur the new layer on top (Gaussuan around 30)
3) Set the blend mode to Overlay (you’ll see the path get all shiny-shiny!)
4) Duplicate the bottom (original) layer again and move it to the top
5) Mask through to the reflective path!

Daily Photo – The Path in Rabat

This is the very first place I stayed when I got to Rabat, Morocco. This is the interior courtyard and it was pretty in the day, and I had a feeling it would be even better in the night. Indeed it was! I like setting up these kind of shots where the path does not go down the very center, but a bit off to the side, disappearing at the Phi point.

The Path in Rabat

The Path in Rabat

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMarch 1, 2014 at 11:04am
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time30
  • Aperture9.5
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length13.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+2

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Crossing the Sahara

Mystery in your photos

Having little strange things in your photos is nice little touch, I think. For example, in this photo below, there is that one guy just walking off into the distance… it raises more questions than answers.

Daily Photo – Crossing the Sahara

I had an amazing and rather hot time in the Sahara. To get this photo, I had to go up a huge dune on foot. I gave my own camel a break and decided to walk up the dune. How hard could it be, I figured. I figured wrong. And that night, I got so dizzy and sick, then realized it was probably because I hardly had any water… even though I've seen thousands and thousands of shows and movies about people not drinking enough water in the desert, I was so excited that I forgot to drink water!

Crossing the Sahara

Crossing the Sahara

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMarch 8, 2014 at 6:48am
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/160
  • Aperture5
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length70.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias

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Woman getting goodies in Tokyo

Interesting Effect

I know many of you bought my Lightroom Presets from the Stuck In Customs store up there (thanks!) — so you might notice this one is from “Fire of the Chandrian” — and I think it made such a cool effect in the background. Can you see what I mean? Once you see it, the shapes in the bokeh came out in a pretty and surprising way!

Daily Photo – Woman getting goodies in Tokyo

When I was in Tokyo last, there were a group of these traditionally dressed women who were walking around, shopping, laughing, and basically being perfect little Japanese people! They would often stop and get little snacks, which was also awesome. I just like watching them… even the way they purchase and eat snacks is so interesting!

Woman getting goodies in Tokyo

Woman getting goodies in Tokyo

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMarch 20, 2014 at 8:09pm
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/1500
  • Aperture
  • ISO250
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramManual
  • Exposure Bias

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Walking to Glacier Isobel

Environment-sensitive Quadcopters

I’ve been thinking how awesome it will be when quadcopters have built-in lidars so they can sense when objects are nearby and automatically avoid them. My vision is not that great (since I only see out of one eye), and so sometimes it hard for me to have depth perception once I lose parallax. Anyway, I’m looking forward to that collision-avoidance soon!

Daily Photo – Walking to Glacier Isobel

Here's my friend Curtis walking towards Glacier Isobel there in the distance. We landed the chopper (with Choppy!) about 100 meters behind us and we walked up as close as we could. Well, we didn't actually get that close because there was a super-steep cliff where we called it quits.

I came to this place back in the summer, and the ground was covered in these bright red tussocks. But now in the Autumn when it starts to snow, it looks like a totally different place!

Walking to Glacier Isobel

Walking to Glacier Isobel

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMay 3, 2014 at 11:48am
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/320
  • Aperture10
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length24.0 mm
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias+0.3

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Little Girl in the Streets of Morocco

Bokeh Processing Tip

When processing photos in lightroom that have a bokeh (or out-of-focus) area, don’t use the “Clarity” slider in Lightroom. Many times, when everything is in focus, this is my favorite slider. But watch out because it will make those softer areas less soft… and that’s the whole purpose of bokeh! Anyway, a quick tip there that is not immediately obvious because you can tend just to look how much better the “sharp” bits look when playing with the clarity slider, but be sure to look at the other bits too!

Daily Photo – Little Girl in the Streets of Morocco

While I was walking around this wonderfully blue city, I saw many kids out hanging around the outdoors. They all had on cute outfits that seemed to go so well with the powder blue paint of the city. Here is one of the little girls I saw. No one seemed to mind me taking photos, and that was nice because there were so many cute kids!

Little Girl in the Streets of Morocco

Little Girl in the Streets of Morocco

Photo Information

  • Date TakenMarch 5, 2014 at 6:33am
  • CameraILCE-7R
  • Camera MakeSony
  • Exposure Time1/250
  • Aperture
  • ISO100
  • Focal Length
  • FlashOff, Did not fire
  • Exposure ProgramAperture-priority AE
  • Exposure Bias-0.3

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Beijing From Above, aka The Story of How I Was Detained by the Police for flying my DJI Quadcopter

The video – Beijing from Above

Before I tell you the story of being detained by the Chinese (and, like Taborlin the Great, I similarly did not have key, coin, or candle), I’ll share the video I made! I would have gotten even more footage had the quadcopter not been, ahem, confiscated… BTW, I recommend running the video in HD mode with earphones!

This was made with a really awesome quadcopter — the New DJI Phantom 2 with Zenmuse H3-3d 3-axis Gimbal and Gopro Hero 3+ Black Edition. All the footage was shot with that GoPro. I did a mixture of wide angle and narrow shots. I also had it in a mode that automatically took a photo every 5 seconds, and I put some of my favorite photos at the bottom of this blog post!

That music is by the great Jon Hopkins. The name of the track, fittingly, is “A Drifting Up.” Thanks to Chris Craker for the introduction.

The Detention Facility and Quadcopter Confiscation

So, I went into this not knowing what was legal and what was not legal. Okay, I had a sinking feeling that flying a quadcopter over the Forbidden City might be more black than grey, but my intentions were pure and artistic, so I figured that gave me some sort of leeway. At least, this is how I justified everything in my head beforehand. You’re starting to see how I make bad decisions.

Note to self: don’t mess with these guys. Another note to self: don’t goof around with drones the 25th Anniversary of It-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named. This was taken with the Sony A7r the Alpha 28-300mm lens. See my Sony A7r Review for more.

Let me set the stage here. Beijing is the seat of all Chinese government power. So, deciding to fly a drone over China is kind of like Luke Skywalker deciding to ride his landspeeder on the Death Star.

There are multiple “rings” that encircle Beijing. The first ring is the Forbidden City. The second ring has many monuments and other houses of government. It’s kind of like Washington D.C., except with less communists.

I had flown the DJI Quadcopter for about five days with no problem. I was there with my friend Tom Anderson who also had the same DJI Quadcopter setup as I did. We were both having a great time and getting some really cool shots. I am so excited to take photos and experiment with this thing! We had even flown it several times around police in various places. They never said anything. The police were probably generally confused; their lack of interference only emboldened us.

Note to future self: Do not fly quadcopter over the Chinese NSA Intelligence Buildings

So here comes the juicy bit. Well, it could have been worse. But I was certainly at fault!

I was at Beihai Park. Now, some of you may already be rolling your eyes, because you know what I did not know. That behind those trees there are all their government buildings, where they would rather not have things flown above.

My DJI remote control was low on batteries, and I have this rather sane fear of the controller going dead while quadcopter is off having a party somewhere without me. So I set the quadcopter on the ground beside my assistant. My assistant is this 28-year-old female who was kind of cute and quite bubbly named Ady. I say this because it comes into play later in the story. One other thing I can tell you about her is that she was absolutely zero help in warning me that I was about to fly the quadcopter over the Chinese NSA and FBI buildings. That’s one of those things I would have liked to know… My plan was to take an aerial shot of the White Dagoba on Qionghua Island (which you can see from the ground level here).

Anyway, I went out to get my batteries and walked back. I saw Ady still standing by my quadcopter with a rather surly-looking female police officer. I was getting a bad vibe. As I approached, the surliness seemed to increase, and it was really harshin’ my mellow.

Beijing From Above

Here’s a view from over the Northeast Tower. This is the most popular area to take photos in Beijing… so I was happy to see what it looks like from a thousand feet up with the sweet DJI. I had this set to take a photo every 5 seconds while recording HD video!

Off to the lockdown

I approached and planned on using my charm offensive. It’s the only strategy I have, so I hoped it would work. One unforeseen fault in my plan is that this policewoman did not speak English.

But Ady spoke both languages, so we began a brief frenzy of back-and-forth, all of which went nowhere fast. We were then escorted to the nearby police area. My friend Tom was standing nearby. But not that near. Actually, he was off in the bushes by the lake, peering at us from afar through multiple tiers of shrubbery.

We were escorted inside a series of secure doors, and the last of which made that CLA-CHUNK-CLINK sound effect that you hear in movies and TV shows. It really made that sound. I thought….oh shit.

To the right here, you can see an example of the sorts of bad decisions I make in China… this is my “spa” day with Tom.

There were more enforcement officers inside. I figured I had a lot of ‘splainin to do. And I did!

I had a feeling that I was in a rather sensitive area that I did not know about. So I was sure I had indeed done something wrong, but I just didn’t know what. Thank mao I wasn’t actually flying the thing and it was sitting inert on the ground when security descended. This helped.

Now, this small little detention facility did not have a lot of lights. It was dimly lit, flickering in a sickly yellowish light, and I could not quite see everything inside. I did see the rather burly gentleman officer that was right there with me, leading the questioning. Ady translated. Although I wasn’t so sure of her translation capabilities because earlier in the day we had gone to KFC and she had ordered me a chicken neck.

Luckily, she was very smiley and cute, which probably did not hurt. She seemed very positive and happily began translating for me. The senior policeman seemed to enjoy her bubbly nature.

He was holding the quadcopter and turning it around, examining the camera, the blades, the everything. He was a curious cat. He asked many questions while a female officer held something that looked like an old CB radio but actually had a camera and was recording me. So I’m somewhere in some Chinese video database, making some amazing arguments.

I basically explained that I was a photographer, and I like getting unique angles. I simply like taking photos and making Beijing look beautiful. I noticed they liked to hear this and were a bit surprised. I saw an opening.

I whipped out my Samsung Nexus Android (S4) phone. I pulled open my photo portfolio and asked Ady to translate. I started sliding through the photos, then I handed the phone to the alpha male. He started swiping and asking questions. She translated and I answered. Oh, that is in Japan. That one is in New Zealand, my home! That one is in Indonesia. This one is in Death Valley where the rocks move on their own! Very mysterious! By now, the guy was smiling and inviting the other officers over to see. They were all crowding around, smiling and laughing, pointing. Now Ady was laughing and having fun and explaining. I was telling stories about the photos… etc etc. It was a suddenly a fun party in jail!

Okay, so this little photo party went on for about ten more minutes… this was an exciting day for them! I think they saw that I was an artist and I really had no interest in taking photos of sensitive things. Those of you that have been coming to the blog for the past 8 years also know this… but, well, these guys were not regular readers so I had to fast-track them! In fact, the alpha male there asked for my blog website here so he could come see new photos. He’s probably reading this now. Hello Nice Chinese Military Police Man! I forgot your name, but thanks for not doing bad stuff to me and stuff.

After the little photo partay, he gave me back the quadcopter and said, “Okay, here you go, but please don’t fly it inside the first or second ring of the city.” I said, okay, cool. And then we made our hasty egress.

Apparently, the news kind of spread around to another group with which I was working in Beijing. They showed up at my hotel the next morning to confiscate the quadcopter, obviously not trusting me not to fly it any more. They agreed to bring it to the airport before I left Beijing. I doubted I would ever see the thing again, but, sure enough, they showed up! I threw the sweet beast in my bag then jumped on my flight back home to New Zealand. Shwew!

Other Photos from the Quadcopter

Here’s some of my other favorite photos that I took with my little toy :)

Metal Underpants

Here’s an arial shot from the CBD area. This building is really cool, isn’t it? The locals call it the “Metal Underpants”

 

Quadcopter Perspective

The perspective from up above is truly amazing. I find myself trying to picture what it looks like from above then launching the quad to confirm. It really makes you think about 3D space in a different way.

 

World Park

Here’s one from their little World Park where they have all the world’s monuments in semi-miniature. It’s a strange place, truly. I treated this one with the new Analog Efex Pro 2 from the Nik Collection

 

Trees on Roof

I didn’t even notice there were trees growing on top until I got the quadcopter up there!

 

World Wonders

Here’s another from that strange world park. You can see four World Wonders right there below!

 

Drum Tower

Looking down near the drum tower.

 

Ming Tombs

I like how they lay out the towers for the Ming Tombs in this pattern. I bet the original designers would have enjoyed seeing this perspective.

 

798

Getting up high in the 798 area gave a nice perspective on the industrial detritus.

 

CBD

Traffic on both sides of a park in the CBD (Central Business District)

 

Ming Tombs From Above

One of the Ming Tombs from above. This is honestly the straightest shot I’ve ever taken! I didn’t even have to rotate it 1% in Photoshop… and I was 1000 feet up in the air!

 

Drum Tower Axis

The amazing drum tower sits right in the middle, along the central axis.

 

Willow Path

A beautiful path of willows bends into the distance.

 

The Forbidden City From Above

And last, The Forbidden City from above.

 

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