Thursday, June 11, 2009

Leaving Lujiaowan to our next destination

After breakfast, it is time to pack up. Our Landcruiser again moving along the country road amid beautiful landscape and one after another striking scenery. As Chinese often says, "There must be a river between two mountains, and there must be a mountain between 2 rivers." You won't disagree if you were traveling here in Xinjiang Tienshan area.
Some more images took along the drive, we are heading towards volcano area, to our 2nd destination, Sailimu Lake.

A different crop of above image.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Lujiaowan 鹿角弯大草原 Morning

The morning of Lujiaowan 鹿角弯大草原 is just beautiful. Sun rise over distant horizon, vaporising the thin ice and frost form the cold night. Sheeps and cows came out to their feeding ground, a picture perfect morning. Xinjiang is big, so big that the typical wide angle lens hardly useful to register its grandness. Most of the shots, as will be later in this trip, were taken with the extremely sharp Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G IF-ED, perhaps among the best of its class.

Taking cropped picture or cropping the picture? Xinjiang is so big, so big that the format of picture became a choice even before taking the picture. But one really does not need to consider those many format of cameras anymore, you just need to see the picture as a final artwork when you took it, rather than try to crop a picture that was not originally planed to do so. Why? Because the grandness of the landscape, the dramatic lighting often disacourage to take some picture that may otherwise be a great image. Look at those portion you need, take the picture that exposed for the area you want, you may simply ignore the area you dislike, or cannot be exposed correctly. Of course HDR is also a solution, I just don't like it too much. I preferred the tight image with pictoric composition of my own style. Certainly, camera like Nikon D3X today is perhaps the best gift ever developed for an experiecned photographer. For its sheer file size, it is not just a 135 type DSLR, it is also a medium format of 6X4.5, 6X6, 6X8, or 6X9, and if you further stitch the pictures, it might as well be a 6X12 or 6X17. Limitation in photography today is no longer bound to camera format, it is the vision. A great camera such as Nikon D3X is the powerful tool to free the photographer.

May 23, Good Morning! Lujiaowan 鹿角弯大草原

The weather yesterday was finger crossing, after a nice dinner, we retired to our room and endured a rather cold night. Early in the morning, came the shouting voice "....wake up! come out, the weather is just nice, a splendid mountain view presented just outside our room....." I climbed out of the warm sleeping bag, grab the Nikon D3X, with AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G IF-ED, mount it on my Arca Swiss, fire off a series of captures, 7 in total, to get this majestic view, original size is staggering 34,787 pixels X 3,700 pixels of mind blowing quality.

Also with some shot of the rising sun, fast moving clouds, and the beautiful Lujiaowan Grand Grassland 鹿角弯大草原. And I tell myself, what a start for this good day.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

May 22, Destination Lujiaowan 鹿角弯大草原

A long day drive, finally arrive our first destination Lujiaowan 鹿角弯大草原, whether is not too favoring photography, besides the day light is almost out. Dinner in the Mongolian style tent, and very much local style and taste, and it tasted good, as is for the rest of trip. Wanbing and Huang Zhen were the travel mates who I befriended from my last Tibet trip, have some Chinese rice wine together, after dinner retired to our room and hope for better wather tomorrow.

Scenery, life around Lujiaowan

Entering into the Tien Shan, we are ever nearing our first destination of the trip, Lujiaowan, ending a long day drive. There are farm lands, grasslands, cows and cowboys, sheeps, and beautiful landscape. Although I brought along a bagful of lenses of different focal length, I found the Nikkor AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G ED-IF mounted on D3X all the time, taking most of the shots, as it will be for the rest of the trip. Xinjiang, big in a grand scale, one has to visit to know what this means.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Approaching Lujiaowan, panoramic picture for the grand grassland

From the Tien Shan highway, we slowly enter the mountain road moving toward our first destination - Lujiaowan 鹿角湾. Xinjiang, presented in front of us is different life style, sheeps, horses, cows, oxes, yaks, deers and endless grand grassland.

This image is taken by using Nikon D3X, with AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G IF-ED setting at 86mm, close down to f/9, 1/100s, ISO 100. To exhibit the largeness of the grassland, I took 8 individual captures and stitch them for this final artwork 39,001 pixels wide, 4,198 pixels height. Few tips, since I was shooting RAW, the WB setting does not matter, but if one is shooting JPEG, make sure the WB is manually set, so is the focus, and manual exposure, forget about the CP-L or graduate ND in most cases. Today’s stitching software is very powerful, I am using Capture One Pro 4.8.1 to develop the Nikon NEF file, export full size JPEG and stitch them in Photoshop CS4 or RealViz when I also need to export the QTVR file. It is suggested if you can mount the camera/lens on a tripod or VR drive and make sure the camera/lens is leveled. You can also free hand shooting, just to make sure you have adequate overlapping area between each capture. Why do I use Capture One or export the file in JPEG will be covered later in separate section.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

May 22, Urumqi and Tien Shan Highway

Finally arrive Urumqi to start the 12-day trip around Tien Shan, middle of Xinjiang. Our trip guide, or more or less a good friend now, Niu Cunjun, a.k.a. 新彊牛哥 waited us right at the airport. Leaving airport, we have to stop by the city for a quick stop for my Contax battery, some light rain, a quick lunch and then take on Tien Shan Highway, we are moving to our first destination, Lujiaowan 鹿角湾. As my wife and I will learn from this trip, Niu Cunjun is himself a navigation system, reading the map in his mind, never missed a turn. And an experienced driver, capable to endure the typical carziness of photographer, wake up early and fight for the last light, in Xinjiang, in this late May, early June time, dinner time often approaching midnight, the result of waiting for the last light of the sky and yet long drive back to hotel or inn, or sometimes to the tent.
Few images here took while moving along the Tien Shan Highway.

May 22, CA4541 from Chengdu en route Urumqi

Early morning check out from Ibis Hotel, a small but practical and clean hotel by the way ibis.
From Chengdu en route Urumqi, taking CA4151, don’t forget to at least keep a small camera with you, may be some nice aerial images. While waiting for departure, I took a snap shot of Chengdu airport waiting hall, using a Canon G10. Time to board!
From Chengdu, the aircraft will fly thru Gansu and Qinghai province, presented outside the window a great diversity of landscapes. I made these two images using a Canon G9 and Sigma DP-1, took a few with each one, I have the G10 and Nikon gear inside the overhead bin but did not touch it, I thought G9 (taken from my wife) and Sigma DP-1 (in my pocket) will do well and I did not disappoint. The Sigma is a fine cmaera, excellent image, very easy and straight forward interface, but somewhat clumsy to use and built quality is so so, but its picture quality earn all the forgiveness. I have had G9 before and contine with G10, it is a second nature for me, although its image quality is not close to Sigma DP-1. It was a clear day, morning sun bathe the snow capped mountain range, a small lake in the distant, deep blue sky.

May 21, Chengdu

A short day off before flying to Urumqi to start the trip. Easy day, small tour at the Wuhou Ci 武侯祠, a temple built in 302AD in honor of Zhuge Liang 諸葛亮 (181-234), one of the most respected and worship figure in long history of China. No regular tour picture here, just some pictures of small spots that interest me, and also for my lovely wife, Kanjana (Pook).

Preparing this photography trip

What’s in the bag?

For this trip, I prepared my camera equipments, all digital, from 39 million pixels digital back – Phase One P45+ mount on Contax 645, with 5 Carl Zeiss lenses: Distagon 3.5/35mm, Vario-Sonnar 4.5/45-90mm, Apo-Makro-Planar 4/120mm, Sonnar 4/210mm and a very rare Super APO Tele-Photo-Powerpack 2.8/300mm with its matched 1.7X, in Hasselblad FE mount, adapt to Contax with a MAM-1 converter.

The DSLR for the trip was 2 great Nikon. The top of the pack 24.5mp D3X and the king of the dark, 12.1mp D3. 6 latest Nikkor lenses: AF-S 14-24/2.8G ED, AF-S 24-70/2.8G ED, AF-S VR 70-200/2.8G IF-ED, AF-S VR Micro-Nikkor 105/2.8G IF-ED, PC-E 24/3.5D ED and PC-E Micro 45/2.8D ED and a SB-900 AF Speedlight.

What I missed? The AF VR 80-400/4.5-5.6D ED and AF-S 200-400/4G IF-ED. I could have better images if I have these two with me… time! But I did bring a converter so at least I can use D3X on the medium format Carl Zeiss TPP.

2 compact camera for quick snapshot and video clips, the unique Sigma DP-1 and Canon G10.

Varies sizes of B+W CP-L filters and graduate ND. Spare batteries. All these cameras, lenses, accessories in 2 Lowepro backpack and case.

2 reasons to leave my Canon 1Ds3 system home and go with Nikon were (1) the 14-24/2.8 zoom (2) the unique D3 for available light photography. I also missed my Leica M8 at home, I packed the bag barely in tme to catch the flight, could not find the charger, have to leave it, besides my bags are all filled, no room for even a M8. This image, however, taken with a Canon 5D2 - Chinese nickname "Invincible Rabbit" 無敵兔, borrowed from my friend Wanbing 萬兵, as well as his EF 24-105/4L lens.

Of course, my main focus will be on images, rather than on gear talk and how they compared. All the image were captured in RAW, except some jPEG on G10 by accident. Conversion and choice over software will be on separate write.

And by the way, lots of CF/SD cards, a 500GB back-up hard drive, Apple Macbook Pro 17” Core2-dual 2.4ghz with 4G of RAM.

What’s not in the bag?

A unique limited edition Gitzo with reverse leg column suitable to work on sand, wet land, with a Arca Swiss B1 headhead. The choice of tripod is not a good one, more on this later.