Photography

I do plan to add quite a bit on photography as time allows, but as I was looking through my Chinese New Years photos, I came across two photos that really show the effectiveness of a polarized lense.

If you have an SLR camera, you really should have a circular polarizer for each lense that you have. If you are shooting with a compact camera, check with the manufacturer to see if they have a slip on lense. If not, you might consider just purchasing a polarized filter for an SLR and keep it in your pocket. Sometimes, with my compact camera, I hold it up to my polarized sunglasses, that seems to work well.

Here is a shot of the convention senter in Sanya, China on Hainan Island without a circular polarizer:


And here is the same shot with a polarized lens:


As you can see, just by adding the polarized lense, the colors just jump off of the photo. There probably isn’t a better $30-50 you could spend in photography. The polarized lense works best in mid day or days with high glare. Anytime the blue sky looks “white” from glare, you’ll probably do well using a polarizer.

Here are two more examples of the ulility of a circular polarizing lense. In the first example, I shot a diagonal shot of a gift box of wine. There is quite a bit of reflection that obscures the packaging and also dampens the colors:


And here is the same photo taken with the polarizing filter:


As the filter cuts out reflected light both in the air (first two photos) and also reflected light from objects (the two photos above), you can see its utility when dealing with windows and other objects with a lot of glare or reflection. In museums there is often glare on the glass cases; the polarizing filter can completely remove reflections making it appear that there is no glass at all.

The example below of a Chinese family eating dinner in a restaurant is not perfect as all of the glare is not eliminated, but you can see the usefullness of the filter. In some cases it is possible to eliminate all reflections in glass; the results will vary depending on your light source and angle from the camera and light to the glass.

Without filter:


With filter:


ALWAYS TAKE A TRIPOD WHEN YOU TRAVEL! If you don’t have room for a 2 meter tripod, take a small 20cm pocket version. It is amazing what you can do with a tiny tripod and a camera self timer. I caught this photo of myself at the Kremlin in Kazan, Russia using my tiny little tripod when I could find no Japanese tourists to shoot my pic:


While visiting the Terra Cotta Warriors outside of Xi’an, China, I saw so many Chinese trying (and failing) to shoot photos of the Warriors. The problem: the warriors were poorly lit and at a long distance. Using the flash may light the first warrior in the ranks but left the back of the photo too dark, sans flash: the photo was blurry due to the long shutter speed.

In this photo, the exposure speed was 1 full second (f2.8). Had I shot it offhand, it would have been terribly blurry (I sat my camera on the handrail and used it as an ad-hoc tripod):


While I did not have my tripod on this occasion because I had left it in my hotel room, by using the handrail, and later the glass at the chariot exhibit, I was able to take long exposure shots that captured all of the detail of these exhibits despite the low light.

The photos I took at the Terra Cotta Warriors Chariot exhibit are some of the most downloaded photos from my blog. This is likely evidence that most of the tourists who took photos here had bad results (and are “borrowing” my shots).

Terra Cotta Warriors, chariot exhibit, 25 November 2009

The chariot exhibit was the darkest of the exhibits and had the added photography handicap of being located behind thick panes of glass. Any flash photography was doomed due to the glare of the flash off the glass. Further complicating the process was that there were no handrails or ledges to sit the camera on.

For this photo, I actual put my camera up against the far wall in the exhibit hall after setting the timer and let the wall act as a stabilization platform. This photo has a long 2 second exposure (f3.2)):


The next three shots in the series are the most downloaded pics on my blog; they are all taken at close range, no flash, with long shutter speeds. I accomplished these shots by actually placing my camera against the glass of the display. I used my Lonely Planet travel book to offset the camera, two corners of the camera frame on the book, the edge of the lens on the glass. In this way, I had a diagonal shot but still 3 points of contact to hold it steady for the 1.3 second exposure (f2.8). I’ll post the one photo here, the others are at the link above.

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