A quick trip to Wellington

So I made a quick trip to Wellington in New Zealand this week.  The Australian Border Force went on strike which threatened airport chaos…. but I saw none of it (phew).    Still the on-ramp to Melbourne airport continues to be a major pain as you can see.  They appear to have spent a fortune on building a new terminal for Jet Star and Tiger (you can see a giant new money-maker, I mean car park, to the left), but appear to have done nothing to fix the approach to Melbourne Airport itself!

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The flight was yet another chance to get some photos out the plane window and this trip did not disappoint!

Here is a great view of Devilbend Reservoir.    I suspect that is French Island behind it.  I initially thought is was Philip Island, but I think that’s round to the right.

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These clouds looked like little white smudges spread across the sea.

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I truly love Wellington, it’s a compact city built around rolling hills with great nightlife, restaurants and people.   It is also New Zealand’s capital (not Auckland as many people think).

It is over looked by a truly phenomenal wind farm.   If you are ever in Wellington I seriously recommend you try to take a tour of the actual farm.     We did this at the start of the year and truly enjoyed it:

http://www.wellingtonrover.co.nz/index.php/seal-colony-farm-tours

So it was nice to see the farm again, but this time from the air.   These turbines are huge!

IMG_5777-2 IMG_5780-2Sadly the final approach was a bit over cast.   You can see the Rugby stadium to the right.  That is where the Cruise Ships dock.
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During my visit I visited two places that I thought were worth mentioning.

First I visited TOA Crossfit, a truly great Crossfit gym.   It is quality outfit with great coaches.   People who hate on Crossfit tend to focus on people doing heavy weights with poor form.   There was none of this at TOA, mainly due to the skill and enthusiasm of the coaches.  However what also caught my eye was their unfinished kitchen and coffee shop.  There were enough tools lying around to build a block of flats:

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And this amusing sign clearly erected by a frustrated owner.  Classic Kiwi humour:

I stayed at the Museum Hotel which is packed with Art.   It’s a great hotel, made truly enjoyable by all the Art!

Gun to skull, set in perspex!

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Cow!

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Lorde?

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Motorbike in the foyer (one of many):IMG_5793-2

I love this guy, he even has an umbrella!

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Nudity alert!   She doesn’t look happy.

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Another bike:

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I then finished off with a time-lapse video of our take off. Blink and you will miss it!

The Tawny chick has arrived!

An update on our local Tawny Frogmouths!

A single chick has hatched and is already quite downy.   We spotted it yesterday, so I visited the park several times over the weekend to try to get a picture.   It took till dusk for the little fella to sit up and look around, and given it was starting to get dark, these photos are a touch over exposed and grainy.

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Dad has been relegated to a local tree but is keeping a careful eye on everything.

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I have been told that the councils installation of path lighting throughout the park is helping to keep the Tawnies resident, as it attracts plenty of moths.  Nice to see some man-made activity actually supporting native wildlife.

Wild-life in the Melbourne suburbs

 Melbourne is a city that is rapidly growing, with booming property prices and suburbs expanding in every direction. I am lucky to live in an older suburb, created in the late 1950s, when city councils truly cared about green spaces.
Within a kilometre of my house there are four well established parks, which is great for dog walking and for wild life. Our suburb remains crowded with possums and many native birds, such as this Wattle bird who loves to harvest nectar from our bottle brushes
 DSC_0011-2 DSC_0002-2Take a look at the back of my garden, can you spot the two nesting Ringtail Possums?   They are roughly in the centre of the picture.
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Look closer… there they are.  Can you can see the ring tail poking out?
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You can spot some fur from the second one up to the right of the tail.
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The great news is that this year we started spotting something unusual in the gum trees of a nearby park: a pair of Tawny Frogmouths. The Tawny Frogmouth is often confused with an owl (which it is not). It is a nocturnal hunter who uses local foliage to hide in plain sight. They spend their days sleeping and keeping an eye on these who manage to spot them. We try to spot them every day, but don’t always succeed. We can never be sure if they are sleeping somewhere else or hiding on a better matching branch or tree!
Here is one literally nestling up to some bark for extra camouflage.
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Their orange eyes really are quite piercing…
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Clearly there must be enough food in the neighbourhood to sustain two because a mating pair have established a nest and are currently brooding.   They love to nest in the hook
of a gum tree branch as you can clearly see.   The nest is about 12 meters up.
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Grooming is vital for a nesting Tawny.
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You can clearly see both the depth of the nest and the way they have used a curved branch to help secure it.
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 We are now waiting for the happy day when some Tawny chicks make their arrival.
Sadly the trend to clear an older block and build two townhouses with no space for large native trees does not bode well for the future of this urban wildlife.  Lets hope they continue to prosper and that councils and local governments fight to defend our green spaces and corridors.
Clearly the one thing you should never do when photographing a nesting bird is disturb the nest or the bird.
These very cropped photos were taken while standing firmly on the ground using a Nikon D5000 with an 18-300mm lens and then processed in Adobe Lightroom.

A trip to Singapore!

I paid a visit to Singapore this week as part of my job.   As usual this gave me a chance to take some photos out the plane window.    I was seated in seat 23A of a Qantas A330 which gave me this great view of the boarding ramp (everyone had boarded and we were waiting to take off):

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I then decided to try out the time-lapse mode on my iPhone 6 to make this amusing movie of the ramp pulling back.  Believe me, it didn’t go anywhere near as fast as this!

 

The flight itself proved three things that I have said before:

Firstly, magnificent things look tiny from a distance, this is Wilpena Pound, an amazing natural formation that would look more amazing if we were not already at 40,000 feet without a zoom lens (it is the round formation in the middle of the photo):

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Secondly, sometimes great photos just present themselves.   Check out this view of the clouds.  It looks like the billowing clouds you see just before an alien space craft flies out:

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Thirdly, haze is your enemy.  Especially in Singapore where the burn offs from Indonesia result in seasonal haze.    My view of Singapore harbour should have been magnificent with all of the massed ships, but instead it was obscured by haze.

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In fact the Singapore pollution situation even has its own website and language.  The term PSI (Pollutant Standards Index) is used freely in sentences like: if you are concerned with the PSI, stay indoors.   Even the Crossfit Gym I visited had a warning:

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Still the pollution did not dampen my visit and it should not make you stay away from this amazing place.    If you visit, make sure to download GrabTaxi on your phone, it is the best way to get a cab in Singapore.

And finally thanks to my good friend May for this gift of beautiful orchids!

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Photos at 40000 feet – how to take great photos out the airplane window

One of the main reasons professional photo shoots produce predictably good images is planning.  If you shoot in the right conditions; you shoot in the right place; you shoot at the right time; then you have the key ingredients for a great shot!   But tourist photos often suffer from issues you cannot always anticipate:

  • The weather when you visit is totally out of your control
  • The time of day you visit a location is not always in your control
  • People and events in your location can get totally in your way
  • Haze in the air can be a major pain

When flying in an aircraft you have the same challenges.   You have a window looking down at our amazing world and a chance to take some amazing photos, and on the surface it sounds simple, just point out the window and shoot.  But you also have variables that can prevent capturing those great photos.

So what advice can I offer?

Firstly the good news is that the ban on using smartphones is gone ( in Australia anyway). This means that a smart phone in flight mode can be in use 100% of the time.   So now I can start taking pics, what else do I need?

Location!  Location!

Clearly you need a window seat to avoid leaning over your fellow passengers.  Then the question becomes which window seat (presuming you can pre-book or request your seat).   I recommend just forward of the wing, the reason being the wing is an awesome thing to have in your photo, as you can use the engine(s) as a great point of reference.

IMG_4640 IMG_4341If you are literally over the wing, your downward view can be obstructed during level flight:

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Although during take off you can get some great shots.   Here I am again directly over the wing as we taxi out in Melbourne

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The size of the wing can also be a big problem. The wing of an A380 is HUGEIMG_4071

Of course you can also use the wing as a fixed point of reference like I did in this trio of shots:

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Or you can be behind the wing.  One nice trick is to try to line the wing with the horizon so that you get a clear division of land and sky.   I also angled the camera down so the window looks closer to a circle than it’s actual oval shape.

IMG_3983 I love this glimpse into Melbourne as we are coming in to land.   Using the window as a frame really makes the shot.   My only mistake was not better centering the camera.IMG_3992

Of course you can also be too far from the wing.   On the Boeing 717 the wings are quite far back, so it is hard to get those magic wings into photo moments (unless of course that is what you want!).

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Night flying it’s a challenge as fast exposure shots on an iPhone rarely turn out well.  It is something I need to work harder on.

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Literally the entire descent period is magic. Descending through clouds always gives those mixed moments with sky above and ground below and layers of clouds in between. Then as you get lower the magic gets better.

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Cloud shadows can also make for some neat tricks.   It’s a pity the window was scratched as I tried to pickup the halo:

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Here is a movie of some very nice cloud reflections off the wing (for viewing, I regret shooting this in portrait rather than landscape):

Catching sunrise or sunset is also a great photo op as the light is quite unique.   Here is the sunrise:

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And of course you can always make a movie (sorry about the noise and again, I should have used landscape rather than portrait):

Cloud shadows are also a great thing to look out for if you can catch them:

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Airplane shadows are magic.   Especially if you can catch the undercarriage.  To achieve this you must be on the opposite side of the plane to the sun, which I talk about later.  This is a Boeing 717 coming into Hobart:

IMG_5428Here is a 737 coming into Melbourne.   I love the winglets.

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Hints?

  • If it’s morning and you are flying south you need to be on the right hand side of the plane. Otherwise you will be photographing into the sun.   So when I fly from Melbourne to Sydney in the morning (south to north), I will always choose seat A.   When I fly home in the evening (north to south), I also choose seat A.
  • Windows can be dirty.  While you can bring a glass cleaner (such as wipes) to clean the inside of the window, the dirt is almost always on the outside. Also the inside window is plastic which means it is often scratched. This means the newer the plane the better (something that is totally out of your control).
  • Height. At height you are a long way away. What looks clear to the naked eye will look very small in your photo. That’s because it is.  This makes photos of land features much better at takeoff and landing.
  • Distance disbelief. Sometimes you see landmarks and almost cannot quite believe you are seeing them and you suddenly think – hey that looks like the Sydney Harbour bridge – mainly because it actually is!  Don’t hesitate while waiting for the real bridge.
  • Shutters down!  Some airlines try to create artificial night after lunch/dinner has been served.   Trying to open the shutters sneakily can result in a sudden blast of light and brisk orders to lower that blind!  So get your pictures in at the start and end.
  • Blue!  Sometimes there is too much blue. The ocean is blue. The sky is blue.   What can I say… blue is the colour I see most often, roll with it.   Speaking of rolling,  during landing in particular the plane often makes some interesting banks, so that is your perfect chance to get a little land into your shot.
  • Edges.   Look for edges… where the sky meets the land or sea.   Getting the wing to add to the mix just makes it look even better.
  • Rotate!  Don’t forget you may need to rotate your camera 90 or 180 degrees to get the best shot.   On most smart phones the lens is at one end.   You may find a quick flip gives a much better angle.
  • Be prepared!   Some cities like London give a great view of famous landmarks (like the London Eye and Big Ben), but unless you fly the route regularly you won’t know when in the flight that happens.  If you are flying into Sydney, you will often get a splendid view of the harbour as you come into land.

Haze.

Haze is caused by light touching particles in the atmosphere. The more particles the more haze. Even a pristine environment has haze.   Bushfires are a major cause of haze but of course so is industrial pollution.    My first strategy is to get photos done just prior/after sunrise to avoid direct sunlight hitting the haze.  However Adobe Lightroom now has a great Haze correction tool.   Compare the before to after here:

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After Haze correction of a JPG.   Still not perfect,but certainly better.

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I am sure as soon as I post I will think of more ideas, but hopefully this gets you thinking.  Any suggestions are very welcome.

Note all images in this post were all taken by myself using an iPhone 6.    They remain my property but can used freely, provided they are attributed.

Utrecht – a city that has been designed for cycling and mass mobility

Really enjoyed reading this post. Loved the fact that the cyclists rule the city and keep riding all day long.

As Easy As Riding A Bike

I remember David Arditti once describing the experience of viewing pictures of Dutch cycling infrastructure, while sitting in a British conference a few years ago, as like seeing scenes beamed back from another planet – such was the difference between the road- and streetscape that we were seeing on the projection screen, and the familiar British roads and streets that we had encountered outside the venue, and indeed in the places where we live.

Much as I am now reasonably familiar with the Dutch city of Utrecht, every visit I make there has the a similar astonishing impression. Despite only being a mere 200 miles or so, as the crow flies, from south east England, the difference in the nature and character of the cycling environment in this city, and the nature and character of cycling in it, is so mind-bogglingly different to towns and cities in south east England, it really is like being on another planet…

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China Impressions

In September 2015 I spent ten days in China visiting Shanghai, Nanjing and Hefei.   It is a mind-blowing country, filled with amazing sights and amazing contradictions.    A country with an enormous legacy of poverty and hardship, but dramatically on the move, looking to the future and thinking HUGE.

I wanted to share some thoughts and impressions and in keeping with my blog title, they are in no particular order.  Please note that these are impressions, which can be very close to generalisations.   They come from the perspective of a white middle aged Australian male.   Plus China is huge and I saw only a tiny part of it.   So here goes….

Cute dogs.
Given many people live in small apartments, I can imagine that large dogs are impractical, but I was not prepared for just how cute the local dogs were!  Brown wooly dogs were especially popular.  Here are three I spotted in a Nanjing shopping center (Aqua City):

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People hawking up phlegm.
Not sure I need to say more. It’s quite common and normal. Given how polluted many Chinese cities are, you may well end up doing this too if you stay there long enough.   As for pollution itself, I think enough has been said in other places.   Air pollution is indeed a major issue in many Chinese cities.

Small children wearing air-conditioned split pants.
The first time you see this you may well think, “oh that poor child has torn pants” until you realise it is by design. Children are toilet trained very young and small children can often be seen in pants that are split down in the middle, meaning you may well catch an eyeful of a child’s bare backside.

The train system is phenomenal.
Chinese train stations and bullet trains make Australian stations and system look very backwards. Seriously, they have gone all out to construct huge modern stations that run like clockwork. Airports are the same…. built to massive scale.  These photos of one of the stations in Shanghai give no justice to the scale of these buildings.
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The streets are quiet early in the morning.
At 6am in Shanghai the streets were literally dead. I just don’t know how normal this is across all cities.

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Timed lights.
In many cities, the amount of time remaining on a red or green light counts down in huge letters. It makes so much sense you ponder why every country doesn’t do this.

Incredibly cheap taxis.
Taxis are very easy to get and very very cheap. Many of them accept credit cards but given how cheap they were I generally paid cash. Don’t expect the drivers to speak a word of English and ensure all destination addresses are clearly written in large (I mean very large) Chinese characters. Don’t just get the name of the hotel, you need the address as well. Hotels should be able to supply these.

Some things to be aware of:

  • Your taxi driver may smoke or may have just had a smoke.  This may mean your taxi is still literally full of smoke.
  • Your taxi driver may appear to be driving in such as way as to kill you…  don’t worry they are quite safe.
  • The back seats rarely have working seat belts as they are often covered with home-made seat covers.
  • Finally your taxi driver may decide to have a sing.

If you want to hear a better version of the song, it is called Boundless Oceans, Vast Skies and was written by a guy called Wong Kai.   The song is phenomenal!

Building sometimes have curious mistakes
It’s not uncommon to find a single floor has multiple ‘levels’ (usually going up or down an inch or so). It is also common to see that the order of construction appears to have been wrong.  Sometimes doors cannot shut or windows are totally missing because pipes are in the way.   This is not universal but is certainly quite noticeable.

Post lunch siesta.
At many Chinese companies, lunchtime is from 12 till 1 pm with a siesta from 1pm to 2pm. Many people store small folding beds under their tables or just stretch back in their office chairs. If you are a western visitor you may need to go for a walk.

Crowding is normal.
What can I say, it’s a crowded country, don’t be surprised if people bump into you or bash past you without apology or comment, it seems normal.

Food
The food in general is fantastic but there are several things you notice:

  • Bones in the meat – it seems it is not the cook’s job to remove bones, it is the job of the person eating the food!
  • Shared food. It is common to have shared dishes with no serving spoon or chopsticks. Everyone uses their own chopsticks to eat from the same dishes.
  • Cold drinks are not common. Water dispensers in a hotel gym or airport will only dispense hot or room temperature water. I was sometimes served room temperature beer. If you want cold drinks you need to specifically ask for your drink to be cold.
  • People may well be genuinely surprised if a Westerner can use chopsticks.
  • If locals order for you they may order twice as much food as you could possibly eat. This means a huge amount of food will be left on the table.
  • Diet coke is not common.   Many places stock Coke, just not Diet Coke.
  • It is not unusual to be told a particular item is out of stock.   It doesn’t matter if the menu has a large photo of it, if it’s not in stock it’s not in stock!
  • If you crave western food, there are lots of KFC.  It’s very popular.  There are also Pizza Huts and the occasional McDonalds and Starbucks.
  • Sometimes translated names are hilarious.  This is from a Pizza Hut menu:

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Fancy some Sauce burning super cowboy bone?

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Public dancing/singing/badminton.
People just get out and enjoy themselves. Whether it is zumba, ball-room dancing, singing lessons, traditional dancing or just a badminton hit to hit, it is just marvellous to see how many people get out during the evening time and have a ball.

Obsession with white people.
If you are tall, bald, blonde, busty, fat or distinctive you will be a target for many sneaky photos or outright selfie requests.   There is a genuine obsession with westerners.   They want to take photos of you and they ideally want to be in them.   I am unsure what to suggest if you don’t want this to happen.   Just roll with it.

Chinglish is everywhere
It is no exaggeration that you will see many badly translated signs.  They are everywhere. These examples are from the cable car on Purple Mountain in Nanjing.

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Volkswagons are everywhere!
The streets are literally crawling with VWs and Audis.   They are locally built versions.   China is not importing millions of German Built cars.

T-Shirts and Caps with strange quotes
I saw many T-Shirts with quotes in English that made no sense.   Things like “I just had a bad omelette” or “better to have lost love better to have”.   Some of them had swear words, worn without any apparent concern.

I could keep going, but I think you get the idea.   I loved my visit and would recommend everyone go to China at least once to see if for themselves.   I want to write about some of the places we saw so that will be a follow up post.