Taiwan, China then S.Korea

Need a place for people to find me while I'm gone for three weeks. So here it is, bringing my photo blog back to live after never finding time to update it.

Waiting at airport, no pictures yet. Here is my first week plan. Hopefully I will get some good night shots in Taipei and Busan/Korea

https://drive.google.com/a/sbmelon.com/file/d/0B-yM4zzULVuER0xQRFIzVUNGa1E/view?usp=drivesdk 

Did not bring laptop. Using phone for everything, it's  going to be challenging. 

New Website Layout

This website will continue to expand, but I don't want the menu to keep expanding. So this new layout will hopefully make things easier to find and organized. And it looks better :)

It will take sometime to fine tune/update everything.

This is where I came from


In this trip to China, I brought my camera with me with this shoot in mind. I wanted to return to my childhood neighborhood and capture those memories. I moved to the United States when I was nine. All I had was an address and vague memory of the neighborhood.

The street leading to my neighborhood is called “高第街” (Gao Di Jie), it’s full of stores on both sides. The smell of leather products never left the street. After twenty years, this street has certainly passed its prime. I remember when I return home after school, this street was always full of people. I got pushed and shuffled around many times like moving through a crowded bus before I can make it across. Now, it looks more modern, but not as lively. As development has already reached the front of this street, I’m afraid it wouldn’t be here the next time I visit.

GaoDiJie-2.JPG

The area I lived in is called “许地” (Xu Di). This area usually goes unnoticed because… look at it. Why would you ever want to go into this tiny dark alley (about 3ft wide), with a wall at the end telling you it’s a dead end?

About half way down this alley is where I used to live, 许地 4-1, the door with a red poster. It used to be a wooden door. The walls also have been reconstructed with concrete to support the new metal door. I can’t imagine what it’s like inside. Neighbors told me it is only used for storage now. I remember my “house” was under someone’s staircase, must’ve been less than 200 sqft. My parent’s bed took a half of the space, if you get off the bed, you can either sit on the chairs on opposite side or walk outside. There was no room to play. I didn’t have a bed until I was six when my father converted a sitting bench to an expandable bench/bed. My cubical at work probably has more moving space than my old house. With these memories, I have a lot of gratitude toward my parents, had they not made the many sacrifices to move and stay in the US, my life would’ve been … very different.  

Notes from Buttonwillow

I shot at Buttonwillows for two days last weekend. This post will be all about what I learned and what I will do in photography.

This is a large track. On my first day, I ran all over the place trying to explore and look for good compositions on the track. Like all tracks, knowing where the sun rise and set is crucial. Here are my notes:

Shoot in morning: Phil Hills, Sweeper/Mazda Turn, Bust Stop, Sunrise

Shoot in afternoon: cotton corners, Esses (maybe), and sunset.
 

The Phil Hills is where all aerial shots are taken from on this course. I did plan to make this shot on Sunday. The cars must go clockwise for this to happen. However, it was too dangerous for me to be there. I have a 70-300mm lens. If cars go off and head down hill, that's where I will be standing. If I had a 500mm or 800mm like the Pros, I would be far enough to feel safe and not worry about getting hit. I was there for at least two sessions to wait for a car to go aerial. If you don't want to waste your time, just wait for the fastest group run. Cars in intermediate group will not push hard enough or close enough. A or B group has potential, but for the two sessions I was there waiting (and ready to run for my life), I caught maybe one... maybe... It wasn't clear enough to be conclusive, so I won't bother posting it.

Refreshing Change at Thunderhill

Interdependence

Second day of Chinese New Year, while on my way to Thunderhill, I was listening to an audiobook “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People”. The author really nailed what I can do to be a better person, achieve greater success.

There are three ways to achieve something: be dependent, independent, or interdependent. Dependent is when you have to rely on another person or things outside of your control to get things done. Independent is when you can find ways to get things done by yourself, which is where I am at. Interdependent is when more than one independent person working together to achieve greater success which an independent person could not achieve by him/herself. This is a mutual benefit relationship. And I already have benefit from changing my behavior the first day I try it.

A Change of Workflow

In the past two events, I have given out free prints at the end of the event. I was very focused on getting the shots, getting out to the track, getting pictures filtered and getting prints out. I didn’t have the time to actually talk to people, build relationships, until this time. I went to talk to Kevin and few other people that I have seen on the track several times already. I’m an introvert, speaking to people was scary but everybody there is nice and easy to talk to. So I make it a point to speak to everyone, by giving out photos individually. At least I can meet the person, put a face to the car that I always see on the track. I don’t remember your name for the first few times, but face to a car is a good start.

Buttonwillow Black Friday

Glimpse of Professionalism

I'm not a professional but I definitely got a glimpse of what they have to go through. Not only do you have to shoot good photos, you also have to upload files, sort photos by car number, editing and making it available for customers to purchase/print/burn CD all before lunch time! I am far from that level of efficiency. I had to shoot until lunch time. Then it took me 3-4 hours to sort and print. I couldn’t get photos to Patrick’s hand until 4PM-ish. I really had a tough time sorting photo, my goal was one photo per car. I ended up with some cars having multiple prints while some cars didn’t get any. I can’t imagine how pros can do it all before lunch time!

Shameful

I’ve made several mistakes in this shoot that I feel shameful. I left my memory card case with all spare memory cards, this made me running back and forth uploading pictures to my laptop then reuse it. I did not bring enough photo paper! About 20 people didn’t get their prints. I also forgot to reset ISO level back to 100 until two groups have passed. Note to self: check settings every session and check my equipment and supplies before leaving.

Lessons Learned and Improvements

I hitch a ride back after shooting at turn 7. I asked the corner workers where people got those aerial shots where two wheels were off the ground. They said it was from the lost hill which originally planned to go next. I just couldn’t make it out there again after lunch because I was busy printing. I would definitely go there next time!

Presets in Lightroom made all pictures better. This is a major step up from past event where I post selected photos without any editing. Preset doesn't work for all photos, but it works with any photo of similar exposure where the preset is made. I should experiment with shooting at exact same exposure setting and see if preset works better across all photos. 

Uploading to website, I learned to shrink images down to 25% quality at 4MP. This is roughly 200k per image, makes uploading and loading much quicker. I had several failed uploads with 50% quality roughly 5MB per image. Took a long time, and occasionally failed. It forced me to play with quality and file size and this is by far the most significant improvement in loading time. The lowered quality is not too visible in 24” screen, indistinguishable on cellphone. 

I wish I had more time to shoot at lost hill. My wife has been waiting for me in the cafeteria the entire day. She also helped me with sorting photos. I don't want to delay our vacation to LA any longer. I am happy with what I've taken in the morning. 

Eloise Birthday

Thank you Bryan and Kathy for inviting me to their daughter, Eloise's, first birthday. I have selected and edited a few photos, click here to see the gallery. I also have some the rest here also includes family/friends. Brian, you will receive a link to download raw files for your own edit.

It was great to see every parent has a trick to get their baby to smile (mostly just dad tossing the baby, I mean lifting). Because of Bryan's quick thinking, I've got a great family shot.

Happy baby after a quick toss

Group photo? Run! 

Then there's also the fail attempt to get a baby group photo. All babies respond differently to same command. Some can walk, some can craw, but none of them wants to stay if they can move. Having all parents holding up their baby also doesn't really make a fun/good picture. I personally like this chaos shot better with a mother pulling back her baby in the middle.  

Finally, I have confirmed that Natalie is a natural model. Camera friendly, easy to make smile, looks into the camera and always put up a photo ready face. I can't stop taking photos of her.  

She knows when she smiles, someone will take a picture. 

Laguna Seca Photos

Finally finished going through 4000+ photos!  

I've found several new angles on the track that has good compositions. Need more track time to master those shots! 

I realize something after this shoot, will post more thoughts tomorrow...Need rest, 12:30...

9/20 Update:
Walking around the track twice on foot, carrying backpack full of gears, surprisingly I didn't feel tire during the shoot. It was my first time getting inside the boxes to have a real good shot at the track. Aside from feeling awesome, I also felt under pressure because I really wanted to be creative and make good photos to earn my next event entry. I really like to do this again and keep going until I have the absolute perfect shot for every turn of the track!

Photography notes:

Turn 1

  • Best time to shoot is morning when sun is still covered by fog.
  • Need to shoot at least 1/500 sec if car is passing by on the outside. 
  • Shoot 1/800 or 1/1000 or even faster if car is passing on the inside. I've noticed some of the cars are blurry because they are really close to the gate when they pass the photo box. 

Turn 2

  • after car exit turn two, portrait orientation works well with track lines leading in the back. Should try again and work on composition again.

Turn 5

  • Best time to shoot is after 2PM when sun is casting shadow behind the car
  • Similar to turn one, fast shutter

Turn 6

  • Best time to shoot is morning, I missed this opportunity again. I had great shot from April, but shooting in morning will have shadow behind car, not on apex. 
  • Pan is a must to have dramatic effect especially when car hits apex. I wish I can have the same shot in april but with shadow behind the car.

Turn 7

  • Depending on which side, should try that shot with BMW out of focus again. It has good composition, but I didn't realize it until I have it cropped.
  • Best time to shoot is in the morning

Cork Screw

  • Best time to shoot is afternoon
  • Very standard portrait shot. I am still experimenting
  • The inner side is accessible, however, it is okay good for motorcycle shot when they lean in. Shooting from that angle on cars does not bring out the corkscrew. I guess that's why people keep shooting there. 

Turn 9

  • Did a bunch of panning here this time. For some reason, silver color catches focus better?
  • Do tighter pan next time.  
  • Try 1/50 sec next time
  • Best time to shoot is afternoon

Turn 12

  • Best time to shoot is morning
  • Need to experiment more. Must shoot this turn on second session next time.  

 

Mt. Diablo

Finished shooting and editing Mt. Diablo group bike ride. Got two really great photos. Thanks to Jason, Mark and Rich for waiting for me downhill. I couldn't have taken the last good one without their help.  See the photos here!

The Cove Palisades State Park

 

Today, I've taken a hike on one of Oregon's state park. Learned how to do panorama stitching using a little bit of Photoshop.
These two photos here are the result. After trying this with photoshop, I'm not sure if I will bring my ultra-wide angle lens with me on the next hike. I don't want to carry extra weight. I was with my co-worker and I had to secretly use "taking photo" as my excuse to take a break. Otherwise, I couldn't keep up with the group...

Website Official Launch

Welcome to my photography website.  I started building this website in March. With help from friends, I’ve improved the look and feel of the website. It is in a presentable state and I finally have enough courage to post this website to my friends to see.

Like finding a lifelong partner, I’ve search hard and tried many hobbies before. Folding origami’s, flying stunt kites, keeping exotic nano reefs, driving my 370z on tracks, just to name a few. Photography is the one that I can keep doing and enjoy doing it for a very long time.

To be honest, my photography skills still have a lot of room for growth. I feel like a beginner, amateur, when I compare my pictures to pictures on 500px, or Flipboard, or any website that has photos. After listening some photographer’s stories on how they became successful, I learned that all I have to do is keep doing what I like. Show my work and get feedback. It’s okay to fall flat on my face as long as a lesson is learned.

To improve my skills, I have set a goal this year. I will take photos of people doing their hobby (see about me page). If you have a hobby that you would like to share with me, and let me do a photo shoot, I will do my best to capture it.

Website Photos re-organized.

Thank you Kelvin and May. I've taken your comments and made some changes to the website. I can't believe it's been almost two months since last time I had a few extra hours of down time from work and ... work...

Website 90% done

Finalized most of the website today. Just couple more things to fine tune, then will announce website to all friends!