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Pristine beaches and quaint little coves and inlets for surfing, sailing, swimming. White waves crashing onto powdery sand. Seashells picking. Seagulls chasing. Norfolk pines lined promenade that are perfect for strolling and biking. The scenic walk to Shelly which yielded below pictures. Daily caffeine fix from one of the many cute cafes where I grabbed one too many flat white. Sight of the ferry approaching the wharf from the balcony of our serviced apartment.

Waking up to the plea of my 2 year old to “go play sand” every morning, sharing a pint with Mom and special moments with the hub. It was a much needed and timely getaway. Manly, oh how I missed thee.

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Marvellous views along the great crescent of the Manly, North Steyne and Queenscliff beaches.

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A world famous surfing mecca– Manly Beach.

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Those are very young kids and they were literally leaping into the sea!

Less than a week to departure, I hastily researched and rented what I thought is a nifty camera with dslr qualities without the bulk and weight. I was hoping to take some breathtaking shots of the beautiful scenery and capture precious moments of a kid who is at the cannot-stand-still-for-a-photo-moment age with its relatively powerful and quick lens.

But wouldn’t you know it, it was the combination of good old iphone and Instagram that trump the Canon EOS-M by throwing up a few surprises like these. The three images that best summed up our first of many beachside holidays to come.

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Instagram and its filters are all very nifty and fun but when it comes down to taking quality pictures, I’m afraid dslr still rules. That, and a good piece of lens on loan for trial from one of Alvin’s generous colleague.

I had a feeling that there’d be many pairs of hands and eyes to keep a lookout for my boy and I was right. As the self-appointed photographer of that day, I had a good time getting reacquainted with my camera once more.

Happy subjects+ picturesque setting+ great natural light+ awesome lens= some wonderful moments captured.

Below are some of my favourites. All photos taken using a Canon EF 35mm f/2.0.

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Babyhood.

If I could turn back time, I’d do one of those artistic newborn shoot in the comfort of my own home. To capture those furrowed brows, scrawny fingers and tightly clenched fists. But alas, I became a mother for the first time and my brain felt like it had abandoned me during those early days. I forgot and by the time I recalled, my baby was tiny no more.

Since we’ve already missed the boat, I might as well wait till he turns 1 to do a casual outdoor family shoot. But by late 7 months and not a tooth in sight, I changed my mind and brought forward the date instead. Before he walks and before the toothy grin takes over.

At the studio, he wasn’t the least bit wary of strangers or the bright lights. The minute we put him on the ground, he scooted off happily to explore his new surrounding. We called his name, made funny faces and noises while the little chap busied himself crawling and tumbling around, stopping and turning every now and then to flash his trademark big smile. Except for a 35 minutes catnap, it was pretty much action throughout.

A 2 hours shoot that yielded a bumper crop of 133 images. Of which the 10 photos below are the cream of the crop. :)

Baby in onesie. Love the navy blue nautical print and yellow polka dots contrast.

The ‘Big Boss’ Vs. ‘Big Boy’ series.

Mirror mirror on the wall, who is the cutest of them all?

Back to the 60s rubber ducky bath series.

My best bear friend series. A very natural and relax shot, I like!

L: My baby looking very babyish. *MELT*
R: Sumo stance

Classic black and white baby in diaper only shot requested by the Mama. The only non-smiling shot but possibly my fav shot. Baby baby, what were you looking at, what was on your mind?

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Going through the photos taken over the course of our stay here, it struck me that I’ve shot quite a fair bit of neon signs and billboards in this city.

There is something about the sight of these bold and impactful, at times garish and tacky signs that I cannot quite put a word to. All-out marketing tactics are the norm of the day and everywhere you go, your senses are bombarded by innovative messages and captivating advertisements.

Giant billboards mounted on walls of buildings located on Yee Wo Street pedestrian crossing in front of Sogo department store– epicenter of all the action in Causeway Bay.

A while back, there were Nicole Kidman and Zhang Zi Yi for Omega; here we have retired Japanese football star Nakata Hidetoshi gracing the occasion. Curiously, I’ve always have been immune to his charms. I wonder how his admirers crossed the street safely the few weeks he was high up there.

The three-storey H&M along Queen’s Road Central. Here you can spot some beautiful and enticing ads. I find myself looking forward to the new one with every change of season.

Hong Kongers just can’t seem to get enough of 公仔面 or instant noodles. Specifically, Nissin instant noodles. Available at any self-respecting cha caan teng, they can have it for breakfast, lunch, tea, dinner and supper, no kidding.

Stepping out of the MTR train, you’d be bathing in packets of Nissin noodles in all flavours (the underground walls are entirely plastered with these colourful ads) as you make your way to any of the 6 exits at Causeway Bay station.

Imagine a wet market inside Raffles Place?

One of my favourite, Gage Street Market is located right in the heart of Hong Kong’s financial district in Central. Here, you’ll rub shoulders with the locals as well as expats while shopping for fresh produce. It’s proximity to Mid-Levels, a residential area popular with foreigners, means that greens not widely used in Chinese cooking, such as baby spinach, arugula, radicchio, frisse and the likes are readily available here.

Nearly as ubiquitous as neon signs themselves, this classic 24-hr Hong Kong diner serves some of the best milk tea around. Our favourite Tsui Wah is the one near LKF on Wellington Street in Central.

Busy Haiphong Road perpendicular to bustling Canton Road in Tsim Sha Tsui. As yet, I still cannot quite decide which is more terrifying, Causeway Bay or here on a weekend.

And then there is Mongkok. The maddest and scariest of them all. Where bird market, sneaker street, ladies market, goldfish market, flower market, Temple street flea market are all within walking distance of one another.

Reputedly the most densely populated area in the world, there are possibly as many neon signs in the air as there are people on the street. If you are searching for a spot with the typical Hong Kong sights you see on postcards, you won’t be disappointed in Mongkok.

As the neon lights flickered on after nightfall, it is when the city comes alive flamboyantly.

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Demystification

ISO measures how sensitive image sensor is to the amount of light present. As with film, lower ISO numbers result in images without visible grain; while higher ISO numbers may result in noisy images.

Aperture affects the amount of light hitting the sensor. Measured in ‘f-stops’ or f/number, it also has a big impact on depth of field. Large aperture (small f/number) lets in more light and decreases depth of field; small aperture (big f/number) lets in less light and increases depth of field. i.e. more focused image.

Shutter speed affects the amount of time (duration)the shutter is held open to allow light to hit the sensor and is measured in seconds or fractions of seconds. The faster the speed (bigger denominator) the lesser the light that reaches the sensor. Fast shutter speeds freeze movement while slower speeds create blurring effects.

Before last Sunday, photography jargon was Greek to me.

Switching around the various pre-set shooting modes, tweaking the ISO and adjusting the white balance were about the only acts that I was able to perform on my trusty point-and-shoot. The other two aspects of the Exposure Triangle have always been a tad too technical and dry for my liking.

The Internet is without a doubt the best place to get started. Online tutorials, discussion forums, dedicated photography blogs – the resources available can however be overwhelming for a beginner. Much as I tried, it was tough navigating through these mind-boggling terms on my own. While here and here have been particularly helpful in my endeavour, there remained many questions to be answered.

2 weekends with Randall is definitely money well spent. A knack for breaking down chunks of hardcore contents into digestible nuggets of information, his insights made learning about photography thoroughly enjoyable and truly inspiring. For sure, a couple of hours spent huddling over notes and fiddling with the dial won’t turn one into a pro anytime soon. What it did achieve was opening a whole new world to someone as clueless as me.

Armed with a better understanding of how each of the three aspects of the triangle relate to light and how it enters and interacts with the camera, the time has come to venture into the aperture priority and shutter priority modes.

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Kick-Off!

And tonight’s the night.

For the next 30 days, we will BREATHE, EAT, SLEEP football.

Once in 4 years, this is your month. ENJOY! :D

On a completely unrelated note, I would like to draw your attention to the photos above.

I had just purchased my first prime lens and was eager to test it out. He had just collected a free copy of the World Cup fixture list that some guy was distributing on the street. Needless to say, we were both very pleased.

I experimented with the different f-stops to see how depth of field varies with each. All 3 images were shot at ISO 100 and at f/1.8, f/2.8 and f/4.5 respectively from left to right.

Taken at the largest aperture at f1/.8, the background is almost a complete blur (notice how the words on the neon signboards were but bright coloured dots) in comparison to how sharp my willing model looked in the leftmost image.

Closing the lens to a slightly smaller aperture at f/2.8, the background became more in focus with the words on the board looking more legible. The model in the foreground remained sharp, even though his initial enthusiastic grin had diminished somewhat due to continuous stares from curious passersby.

At the smallest aperture at f/4.5, the background in the rightmost image is most in focus while the model, whose patience was clearly on the wane as evident in his tight-lipped smile, remained in focus.

Given the affordability of this lens, I am suitably blown away by its capabilities.

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1st Prime lens

So, I’ve been reading a lot about the incredible performance of this little gem.

The Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II delivers sharp images as inexpensively as Canon lenses get. The fixed focal length makes it an ideal lens for portraits and close-up shots. With a maximum aperture of f/1.8, it allows for a shallow depth of field, and is a fast lens perfect for shooting in low-light situations. All these for only HK$720.

Seriously, it’s a crime not to own it.

So what if it has poor build quality and looks like a toy more than a piece of optics. The fact that its constructed entirely out of plastic (the lens is glass of course) enables it to be extremely lightweight and easy to carry around. You can’t have your cake and eat it too, can you?

At this point, I am not prepared to sink HK$2000+ into a lens, no matter how amazing it promises to be.

For a noob, this is definitely good enough.

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