The Mysterious Chinese Woodwind

Waiting for the Sunset in Atlanta

High Dynamic Range PhotoWhen I was in Atlanta last year, I set up on the top floor of the W Hotel for a sunset shot. I was there with my friend Scott Kublin. So much of taking photos is just patience… in this case, I laid down for a bit to think about things. I didn’t realize it until just yesterday — but Scott took this photo of me! Anyway, I thought it came out kind of nice… and it shows that most of what I do is not really as exciting as it might seem.

And guess what? The sunset was really boring, so I never got a good photo. These things happen quite a bit… But I never have a photo to show of it… the absence of a photo is not a photo that is worth sharing…

HDR Camera Recs

I updated my camera recommendations page with the old good/better/best categorization. I’m sure not everyone agrees, but that’s okay! I could easily describe 10 different Nikon models, but that gets a little overwhelming for new people that are just getting into the sport.

But about that “Entry Level” option. Maybe you can make a case for a better one? I want to recommend something VERY inexpensive that can do bracketed JPEGs. Not everyone can afford $900+ for the better DSLRs, but they really want to make bracketed photos for HDR.

The Mysterious Chinese Woodwind

In one of the older areas of Beijing, I visited several different operas. Luckily, my team on the ground there was able to talk to the management to make sure I could walk around anywhere during the performance to find interesting things. I saw this woman playing this most unusual instrument, so I stayed in her area for a while until the light was right.

This opera had some very unusual instruments, and I heard sounds that were completely foreign to me. They say that these instruments and styles have been handed down over centuries, and I suppose that is why they sound so unique.

There’s one sound in particular, not made from the instrument, that I can’t ever forget. It sounds vaguely, forgive me, like a large metal mixing bowl, 1/3 full of water, that is struck with another, empty metal bowl. It’s a jarring but mystical sound… maybe you know the instrument I am talking about? Or maybe you recognize the one from this photo?

Edit: Smart Commenters below point out it is called a “The Chinese sheng” (Chinese: 笙; Pinyin shēng).

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Gardens in the Mist

What’s up Australia?

How did 100 Cameras in 1 get to be the #1 App for photography in Australia? This baffles me… I know we have I have a lot of internet-friends there (pretty much just as good as real friends!), but I still didn’t expect this. Thanks!

Daily Photo – Gardens in the Mist

The Li River valley is a beautiful and serene area of southern China that’s green, alive, and mysterious. The verdant limestone cliffs cover the landscape and give everything an ethereal feel.

After a trip down the river, I got off the boat and decided to hike back to the little village where I was staying. Along the way, I decided to hike down a side-road that went off into these little family-run farms. I set up for a shot on this quiet dirt road.

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The Metal Ribbon and Animoto Review

Animoto Review

I wrote up a full Animoto Review here on the site. If you want to read more about it, pros and cons, and more, check out the review. Below, I have placed one of the videos I made with Animoto.

You can also use the Animoto Coupon Code of “STUCKINCUSTOMS” to get 2 months free with a pro account… thanks for the team there for providing that for us!

The music has a nice, artistic story behind it. There is a big fan of the site here named Antonis Karalis, a musician from Greece. He put together this song — did all the instruments and voice himself. If you like his song and want to support another internet artist — click here to get it in iTunes!

Daily Photo – The Metal Ribbon

Here we have another stunning example of the fanciful architecture in Beijing. The opera house is a huge, cavernous complex. On the top level towards one side, there is an immense gathering area that’s used for banquets, parties, and other such events. Luckily, my translator and assistant had set everything up ahead of time, so we were able to get in for several hours before the big concert to take some photos in peace before the crowds arrived.

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Boats in Ancient China

Daily Photo – Boats in Ancient China

This is the spot where I cracked a rib. I’ll tell that story in a moment… This is the ancient village of Feng Huang in distant southern China. I hired a local driver to get me there, and the ride was longer than most plane trips! And a lot less comfortable… Anyway, after arriving, I had a wonderful time exploring. One morning, the old town was covered with thick fog. And it’s that still, wet, timeless fog of China. When you are looking at it, you become convinced it will just never go away. I worked my way down one of the banks to an area where the local rivermen keep the boats to grab this shot. The morning was wet, obviously, and that was the downfall of my mishap. I stepped down onto what looked like damp, dirty concrete. I’ve done this a thousand times. I was carrying my D3X with 14-24mm lens on a tripod on my left hand and holding my D3S with 50mm 1.4 prime in my right hand. It turned out that I was stepping onto that super-slick wet clay. It was razor-thin and slicker than ice. I didn’t stand a chance. I fell right down, both cameras slamming into the ground. The D3X hit extra hard because the tripod gave it some painful torque. I landed on the D3S, it’s body caving in one of ribs… right in the middle of the man-nipple area. It was too bad because I’ve always treasured that area. I made reference to the injury when I was still unsure about it in this Part 2 China Interview.
High Dynamic Range Photography

My Irregular Annual Student Interview

Brain Pickings!

You guys know I only recommend stuff if I think it’s awesome.  Life is too short not to focus on the awesome!

One of the accidental things I have found is called “Brain Pickings”, and you gotta see their end-of-the-year redux for 2010 — amazing stuff they found last yea!.  I found them because we were both featured on FlipBoard, and it looked kinda artsy.  And then I got in deeper, and saw that the woman that curates Brain Pickings is my kinda gal!

Besides the link above, also see their “10 Most Popular Articles” – it’s a good sushi sampler from the chef, Maria Popova.  Also, it’s one of those sites that lives off donations — so maybe you are feelin’ internet-generous.
100 Cameras in 1

iPhone App Updated

Our team cranked away and put in a ton of new features and updates, so thanks to everyone! You can download 100 Cameras in 1 pronto.

Here are some of the new features and updates:

➤ Option to disable sound & music
➤ Added option to dramatically increase resolution in cropping phase for each iPhone model (e.g. for iPhone 4, which is 2592×1936 pixels — the square is cropped to 1936×1936)
➤ Added ability to turn on/off cropping after you take the photo or select from Library
➤ Three new Achievements
➤ Upload to Flickr, Facebook, Twitpic at maximum resolution for your given iPhone (in square format)
➤ Even more features added! See all of them on our 100 Cameras in 1 page.
➤ (shhhh… and many more currently in super-secret development for next update… shhh)

New Video – My One Student Interview for the Year

Hehe… well… I explain the title of this early in the interview. Here are a few things that are discussed in the video:

  • The business side of Stuck In Customs
  • What my wife does (and other personal questions… *ahem*
  • My thoughts on Getty licensing and what a RIP OFF model they have
  • My thoughts on micro-stock photography (I’m sure people won’t like what I say)
  • My thoughts on contests and judges and how silly contests can be
  • My thoughts on using a lot of lights in your photos and what happens by accident
  • And a bunch of other BS. But – well… all kinds of stuff… hehe.

Daily Photo – The New of Old China

I found this place near the one of the old Imperial rice barns that had been converted into an opera house.  It’s a hard-to-find but charming area of the city.  Not even my driver or assistant could find it, and they’ve lived in Beijing their entire lives!

To find out more about other things found amidst these hidden gems, see “Amazing Opera Discovery in Beijing“.

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On Gossamer Wings

Recap – Five Tips for Photographing People

In case you missed the piece a few months ago, you can always go back to read “Five Tips for Photographing People“.  I hope they help!

Canon Giveaway

You guys know I’m a Nikon man, but I still occasionally will let myself be seen with Canon shooters like Scott Bourne.  But only rarely, and if he buys dinner.  Anyway, Scott is running a contest over at PhotoFocus to win a free Canon 5DMKII.  Look at that picture on the page!  It doesn’t even have a lens… what a cheapskate.

Daily Photo – On Gossamer Wings

I had spent most of the day inside the Forbidden City, trying my best to find little bits here and there. Tiny discoveries, you know. I was pretty tired after a day of searching, but I still had barely enough energy to keep exploring into the night.  At that point, I decided to go to another, older area of the city.

There were hundreds of quaint shops, the smell of fresh food, families walking to and fro… it was all very nice.  I came to cross a little raised bridge, and I saw this woman standing there.  She was dressed in vintage Chinese grab and holding a delicate umbrella.  While talking with her friends, the light caught her umbrella just right, so I snapped a quick photo.

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Flowing through China

Tips for Foreign Travel

1) Prepare way in advance with your paperwork. If you’ve traveled around Europe or Canada or Mexico or a lot of these easy-in-easy-out places, you don’t have to worry about visas. But getting a visa is kind a pain in the butt… it takes a while, and you have to mail off your passport to parts unknown. This always makes me very nervous! I pay extra to get the Fed-ex service to minimize errors! Also, it may surprise you, but you never know what countries require a visa! Like, for example, I wanted to leave the Sydney airport for 4-5 hours during a long layover, and they would not let me out of the airport! I didn’t know I needed a visa… how annoying! I thought that Australia was just kind of like a floating Canada where people are even more laid back. I was wrong.

2) Go with the flow. The more you get into a distant land, the more different everything becomes. Schedules, food, drivers, basic communication, and more can seem at odds with your customs. (BTW, that is a secondary meaning of “Stuck In Customs” — but that is an element that no one ever gets… that’s okay I can see why it’s kinda out-there). Anyway, if you stop thinking about how “different” it is in terms of “better/worse” — and start thinking about it in terms of a “different” way of doing things that is not necessarily better or worse… then that makes everything easier. Imagine you are on a Star Trek away mission — studying the culture like a scientist. And, well, you better just stick to the prime directive since they may not have yet discovered warp technology.

3) Don’t worry so much about speaking the local language. Don’t let your lack of knowing the language scare you into not going or staying in the hotel room! When you travel to a lot of different countries, it’s just impossible to know all the languages. For example, I know barely enough French to get around, but that doesn’t help me anywhere else in the world! And it barely helps in France! There is an international language, actually. If you just open yourself up to a conversation, you can communicate almost anything. It takes a lot longer than usual, but it’s certainly possible.

4) (If you are American) don’t be an annoying loud American. I know I may catch flak for this one… but it is kind of a big thing to me. Earlier this year, I was on a train from Montpellier, France to Barcelona, Spain. I was sitting with my wife towards the front of the train. There were a lot of empty spots, but we were sitting in assigned seats. The other passengers in the car were from Germany, Japan, Thailand, and a few other countries. Anyway, a loud, obnoxious American woman came in and said, “Oh my God! Look at all these empty seats! I talked to that woman at the ticket counter and she said there are no seats!” Then, one of the Germans (who understand trains very well, mind you), said, calmly, in English, “The train makes many stops, and people get on and off, so these seats will probably be full by the time we reach Barcelona.” To this the American woman said, in a rather shrill way, “Well there are seats available right now! Well that’s the French for ya!” My wife and I just buried our heads in our hands…

5) Plan loosely. Don’t Griswald-up your schedule. It’s really hard to hit exact timetables and fit a lot of stuff in… just be calm and leave plenty of “getting-lost” time! When you get dropped off at a destination, have them drop you off “near” the destination, then find the rest of your way there on foot. You’ll see all kinds of unexpected things. If you’re feeling stressed… just channel me and my favorite Buddha quote: “It’s better to travel well than to arrive.”

Daily Photo – Her Tears Flowed

Today we have a new one from Beijing. I’m happy to say the art movement is alive and well in Beijing! There are still issues here and there, to be sure. For example, I heard that there was one artist in particular who had his studio torched by the government in Shanghai. That really sucks! But, despite that nonsense, there are still plenty of areas of artistic expression. It’s not as wide-open as the west, but it’s better than ever (and only going in one direction).

One afternoon in Beijing, I went to a huge artistic area, much like SoHo. It’s called the 798 Art Zone. 50 years ago, it was a huge military factory, but it’s been converted to about a hundred funky art studios, galleries, quirky restaurants, and more. Very cool! Inside one of the larger exhibition halls, I found this interesting piece. Water worked its way up through tubes and would slowly leak out of the eyes of the statues.

China High Dynamic Range Photo

More from China

And, sticking with the theme of this week, here are some favorites from China!

Hong Kong from the Peak

China High Dynamic Range Photo

The Wormhole (Shanghai)

HDR Photo

Lonely Boats in Hangzhou

China High Dynamic Range Photo

Tron (Beijing)

HDR Photo

Cartier in Shanghai

China High Dynamic Range Photo

The Bund

China High Dynamic Range Photo

Shanghai in the Morning

China High Dynamic Range Photo

Morning Fisherman on the Li River

HDR Photo

Red Bridge in Late Afternoon

HDR Photo

I Found Pandora from Avatar

HDR Photo

Gateway to the Temple of Heaven

Number 5 in the App Store

On launch day! It is amazing! Thanks for getting 100 Cameras in 1 into the Top 5 in the Photography category!

Thanks VERY MUCH everyone… you guys and gals are awesome!  See that #3 app up there?  That’s Camera+ from my friend Lisa Bettany — I’ve recommended that one before and I still do. Give it a try for the holiday season too.

Update Submitted to App Store!

We’ve already submitted an update to the app store… so we are just waiting on approval from Apple! We’ve been seeing photos and comments from all over the world. People in dozens of countries around the world are creating fun and fresh photos… it’s all more exciting than I even expected.

Photo by @Simply_Mo from Basel, Switzerland. I saw this on Twitter with the #100CamerasIn1 tag!

Anyway, for the update, here is a list of new features / fun stuff / changes:

➤ Option to disable sound & music
➤ Adding option to dramatically increase resolution in cropping phase for each iPhone model (e.g. for iPhone 4, which is 2592×1936 pixels — the square is cropped to 1936×1936)
➤ Added ability to turn on/off cropping after you take the photo or select from Library
➤ Increased hit-size on the Save/Share buttons
➤ Upload to Flickr at maximum resolution for your given iPhone (in square format)
➤ No more character limits for Facebook/Flickr
➤ Max possible resolution photo now uploaded to Facebook
➤ Fixed a low-level system problem with crashing
➤ Fixed a rogue sound library problem that was causing crashes
➤ Optimized TwitPic upload size
➤ Memory and speed optimizations

Daily Photo – Gateway to the Temple of Heaven

I had an amazing opportunity in Beijing to get private access into the Temple of Heaven one morning. Well-costumed officials from the government met me before sunrise just outside the gates, where hundreds of early risers were already outside doing exercises and preparing for a national holiday. The nice men pulled out ornate keys and opened up the private doors to let me in. I had about 90 minutes to take photos of everything as the sun rose. It was a great day of shooting!

This is one of those places that has many perfect lines, shapes, and other interesting angles for composing photos. It’s almost impossible to take a bad shot! There were nice clouds and nice light on this cool morning, so I considered myself very lucky in many regards!

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Inside The Egg

Solo Traveler

Have you heard of the Solo Traveler website? They’re having a photo contest… I think there are some good prizes! I did not enter… not even sure if they are taking more entries this year. But keep it on your calendar for next year. One of my friends, Griffin Stewart, told me about it… showed me his Rice Farmer Photo on Solo Traveler. Go in there and give him a good vote!

Daily Photo – Inside The Egg

This is sort of the opposite of rice-farming in China.

This building, lovingly called “The Egg” by locals, is the National Centre for the Performing Arts. It’s a gigantic and wonderful opera house that you have to see to believe.

Thanks to my contacts there, I had full access to go anywhere and shoot everything. There was a big entourage with me this day. I had my assistant (The great Jacky Woo) and translator. Also following me was a reporter from Reuters, someone from the “People’s Daily”, which is their local paper. There was as a delightful gentleman from the Office of Official Communication or something like this. I forget all the names… but he was a really cool guy. I never know if I am supposed to say people’s names or not…

This place was designed by French architect Paul Andreu. It’s one of a variety of internationally-designed structures in Beijing. Being a lover of wild architecture, I’m glad China has brought in so many different creative forces to work on these things… It’s always a joy to capture them the in a way that would make the architect proud.

You can probably get a sense of the sheer size of this thing by looking off into the distance on the right. It’s big enough inside to have it’s own weather system! You can kind of see some clouds and water vapor forming there in the upper reaches…

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Beautiful Feng Huang at night

Daily Photo – Beautiful Feng Huang at night

This was a beautiful and relaxing night for me.

I strolled up and down the banks of this old river-town. All the houses up on stilts were so charming… the little boats motoring around… old ladies still washing clothes deep into the night… young lovers skipping along the opposite bank while I set up for shots…

After a few hours of shooting, I stopped at a small family-run restaurant that overlooked the river. I pulled out my sketch pad and started drawing the scene around me for a few hours while the nice mom inside brought me all kinds of mysterious hot foods, teas, and little cookies. It was a very peaceful and nice night…

High Dynamic Range Photography

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