Friday, January 30, 2009

Daily Flower 4: Flowers from Chinese new Year

Narcissus (水仙)

My mother always had Narcissus at home for the Chinese New Year.  She put the bulbs in a plate with water and left them for flowering.  I bought some this year also and did the same.  They bloom very well and are very fragrant.  


We also have cut flowers such as lily to put in a vase.  They are usually white and this year I got the red ones.  They became full-bloom yesterday.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

ABC Wednesday: B is for the Year of Bull

Monday, January 26 is the Chinese New Year.  It is the year of ox, cow, bufflo, bull....  I prefer bull, hope it will bring us a bull market and let the misery of the year of mouse/rat (2008) behind us.  Happy Chinese New Year everybody!!

See more entries of ABC Wednesday here.

Daily Flower 3: Moutain Cherry Blossom

This is how a moutain cherry tree in full bloom looks like.  I took this picture during my trip to PinTai.  

This tree was by a moutain road with much less tourists.  There were much more flowers at the lower branch, which allowed me to come closer to the flowers.

This is a closed-up of what the flower looked like.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Northeast Sea Shore

Today is the first day of The Year of Ox in Chinese calendar.  We went out for a drive to to Northeast shore of Taiwan.  We have described the route (Route 2c) in our last October's blog.  We left at noon and by three thirty we were back to Taipei already.  Contrary to our last trip, today's weather was rainy and misty.  Grace got this amazing picutre of the boiling sea.  

Daily Flower 2: Moutain Cherry Blossom

Sunday, January 25th, was Chinese New Year Eve.  We had most preparation done for the New Year Eve dinner and went out for a drive.  This time we went to Blue Mountain Trail, which I have described in my previous blog.  During that trip, we mainly photographed the moutain streams, but noticed that the road was lined with moutain cherry trees.  For this trip, although it was still early for the season, but a few trees already had flower buds.

Daily Flower 1: Moutain Cherry Blossom

We are into the holiday of Chinese New Year.  In Taiwan we have 9 days off from January 24th to February 1st.  It was gray and rainy on Saturday, the first day of the holiday.  We did some preparation for the New Year Eve meal then went out for a drive.  We went up to the host spring mountain area of Wulai.  It was about an hour drive up and an hour back from our home in Taipei.  It is famous for its waterfall and hot spring spa.  As the spring is coming, the cherry blossom season is about to start.  Taiwan's cherry blossom is very different from that of Washington, D.C. or in Japan.  The flowers are much smaller.  We called them Moutain Cherry Blossom.  But the weather was too bad this day for us to take any photos.  This photo was taken last year.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Unknown flowers

I was bored this afternoon and took the D700 and 105 VR micro lens down to the garden and took several pictures of the flowers and tried out the correct focusing method for close-up that I experimenting recently.  For some of you who are Nikon savvy, the setting that I used was Focus  Mode: Continous-servo AF; AF-area Mode: Single-point AF; Custom Setting a1: AF-C Priority Selection at focus.  Put it in plain English, I placed the focusing point on the flower where it needed to be absoutly in focus, the camera continously tried to focus as my body swayed and the wind blew.  When the camera thought it was in focus, it released the shutter.  I used ISO 800, which the D700 gave me no image noise at all;  with the VR lens I could keep most of my pictures sharp hand-held.

I took the pictures all in RAW and keep the Picture Control at Standard, which gave me reasonable images to review on the LCD screen at the back of the camera.  I also checked the RGB histogram on the LCD screen to make sure that none of the Red, Green and Blue is over-exposed.  The Picture Control and exposure were then fine-toned on the computer using Capture NX2, the images were save as JPEG.  I used the Curve in the Photoshop to further adjust the Red, Green and Blue color channels to finally getting the color that I thought matching the real thing.  Flowers are always most difficult for me to get the correct color.  

Monday, January 19, 2009

ABC Wednesday: A is for Tour Eiffel

Eiffel Tower is the symbol of Paris. When it was built in 1889, it was the tallest structure in the world. It is still the tallest building in Paris and the most visited monument in the world. The search light at top of the tower was added in 2000.  The blue light of the tower was installed in 2008, at the start of French Presidency of the European Union. Grace took the picture during her recent trip to Paris.

Interestingly this picture is almost identical to the black & white picture taken by Col. Philip B. Foote of the US military in 1945. You can see his photo here in Wikipedia.    

This shot was taken from the window of Cité de l'Architecture et du Patrimoine. It is a museum mainly housing the replica of the French monuments. A very impressive place to visit.

You can visit more entries of ABC Wednesday here.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Enjoy Motel

"Enjoy Motel" does not mean to ask you to enjoy "Motel 6" during your highway travel in the US.  "Enjoy Motel" is the name of the motel that we went to on Sunday, January 18th.  Taiwan has a very particular motel culture, which is unique in the world.  First, it is very private and secluded, for obvious reason if you are a pair love birds seeking some private moment.  You drive the car into the first level garage, close the door, no one see you at all.  The second, they all claim 5-star interior decoration.  Typically, the bathroom is bigger than the room.  The bath tub often as big as a swimming pool and you do have a private indoor swimming pool.

The highest concentration of motels is in Taichung, which means "Center of Taiwan".  It is geological located in the middle of Taiwan, about 2 hours drive south from Taipei.  Thus it is a good stopping and resting place before traveling further south.  Taichung also famous for good nouveau cuisine.  We went to a restaurant called "Deep Sea Restaurant" that served incredibly fresh fish from Pacific ocean for lunch.  The owner put together a menu contains sward fish sashimi,  sea weed salads and a fish hot-pot.  At my age, after such a satisfying meal, I needed a nice nap.  A 3 hours stop by at "Enjoy Motel" put me back in good form to drive back to Taipei.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Natural History Museum, Taipei

Natural History Museum in Taipei has a special place in me.  When I was very young, my father's office was closed to the Presidential Palace. The New Park, where the Natural History Museum was located, was also near by.   At that time, 50 years ago, that area is the center of activities in Taipei.  I have many memories of going through this park.  Latter on when I was a biology major in the college, I will also pay occasional visits to the Museum.  Now the New Park was renamed as the 228 park.  I have not been to it since I cam back to Taiwan six years ago.  A few day ago, I drove by the park and saw a free road side parking space.  I parked the car and went in to the Museum.  As always, when we have grown up, the thing we remembered as a child looks so small now.  The mounted animals from Africa are no longer there.  They were shot and gifted to the museum by the son of Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, who is the father of modern China.  It has one central hall and two levels.  Each level has two exhibition rooms, one each at each wing.  It is a classical monument build by Japanese in 1908. 

I took the pictures with my D700 and 50mm/1.4 lens.  I did not even use the in camera high ISO noise reduction function.  They came out well, all I have to do was readjust the white balance a bit in the Capture NX2.

My Nikon D700

D700, 70-300 VR lens at 300mm

My friend asked me how do I feel about my new D700?  The first thing to answer is why I buy the D700.  (A) Nikon announced the D3x at $8000, I knew that I would not be able to afford any new full-frame Nikon anytime soon.  (B) With the introduction of Canon 5D Mark II, D700 price really dropped.  (C) My 70-300 VR lens felt so much better on a full-frame camera then on the DX format D300, without me stepping back 5 steps (the 1.5x factor) whenever I raised the camera to photograph.  (D) Even today, other than the D3x, D700 has the best sensor of all DSLR, in pair with Canon's 1Ds Mark III, 5D Mark II and Sony's Alpha 900, that is according to DxoMark.  Sadly D3x out performs every other camera, but most people can not afford it including me.  It is important to know that DxoMark does not compare simply the sharpness of the sensor, it compares SNR, dynamic range, tonal range and color sensitivity.  I left the ISO sensitivity out since we all know that D3 and D700 have the highest ISO sensitivity in the industry.   My older D300 is DX format, not full-frame, due to its smaller sensor of cause performed less well than D700 and all these full-frame camera.

D700, 70-300 VR lens at 300mm

The first picture was my first try with D700.  It was over-exposed and was adjusted down 2 stops using Capture NX2.  The Picture Control setting in the camera was at "Vivid", ISO640.  The second picture was taken with exposure carefully adjusted according to the in camera RGB histogram and using Picture Control setting at "Standard", ISO640.  I like the color of both pictures very much.  

D700, 105 VR Micro lens

This close-up of the yellow flower was taken using D700 and 105 VR Micro lens with Picture control setting at "Standard", ISO320.   The image may look very nice on the web, It was cropped from the original and the print size at 300 dpi would only be about 4 x6.  Using D700 and D300 at the same time, cause me to pay much more attention to framing.  If I still need to crop the pictures of D700, then I may be better off just use the D300, which will bring me closer to the subject and give me a higher pixel density.

D700, 105 VR Micro lens

This pink cosmo was photographed with Picture Control setting at "Neutral", ISO400 and again the exposure was carefully adjusted according the in camera RGB histogram.  Are these pictures start make me feel the quality of D700 is better than D300? 

D300, 105 VR Micro lens

This close-up was taken using D300, Picture Control setting at "Neutral", ISO 640.  Under the right condition, both camera performed very well.  Now I carry D700 with 70-300 VR lens and D300 with either 105 VR Micro or 12-24 lens.  The 70-300 VR lens is not good for close-up, it can not focus too close.  I may switch the 105 VR to D700 if I do not need to be very close to the subject.  I will also switch the 70-300 VR to D300 when the subject is really far and I need to have a closer shot.  At low light, then of cause I will us D700.  It is a very versatile system, till the next new Nikon comes out.

PingTai (平台)

PinTai (平台) is located up in mountain up near the origin of Langyang river (蘭陽溪), which is at Yilan (宜蘭 ) County southeast of Taipei.  We can make a day trip to this area through the Snow Mountain Tunnel, the second longest tunnel in the world.  In an ordinary day, Langyang river is a wide, almost dry riverbed (miles wide) filled with pebbles, some as big as the house.  When the Typhoon comes, it then turns into a torrent river.  The road is built on the cliff by the river bed, thus it is often easily destroyed by the water.  Even today, the highway and public work department are still carrying out construction work on the road and in the river bed, which are damaged by last year's Typhoon.  During our last trip to the region, I was intrigued by the scenery .  I went back to photograph it yesterday.  

PinTai is a flat piece of mountain top just by the river bed.  Direct translation of the name will be "flat platform", but "Table-Top Mountain" is better.  Because the mountain is facing east to the Pacific ocean, the area is usually very cold and misty.  The fields are dotted by small shakes built with metal sheets.  On a raining day afternoon, with the backdrop of mountain and riverbed, it gives us a surreal feeling.

The cold weather and the abundance of water make the area ideal for growing Chinese cabbage.  They are sweat and crispy and fetch high price at the market.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Z is for Zinnia

The first time we planted zinnia was over ten years ago when we moved into our old house in Marlboro, Massachusetts.  I bought an envelop of seeds from the supermarket, then just scattered them on the ground.  So many colorful flowers came out and we collected the seeds for planting again the next year and many years after.

After Taiwan joined WTO, we have to allow cheap importation of rice.  Thus many local rice fields were abandoned. To rejuvenat the rice farmer's economy and promote tourism, the government persuades the farmer to plant sea of flowers in the abandoned rice fields.  Zinnia is one of the top choice.   They were very very colorful.  But as in life, do not confused by the colorful world, chose a perfect one to cherish (in this case to photograph).  

Technical side, red flowers are very difficult to photograph with Nikon camera.  The light meter only use the green channel of the RGB histogram to measure, thus the red almost always overexposed.  Make sure to check the red channel of the RGB histogram and under expose accordingly.

See more of ABC Wednesday entries here.

Monday, January 12, 2009

New Year 2009: Jioufen (九分)


This colorful picture of guava was shot by Grace at a hill top village, Jioufen (九分).  We have been to the village once before.  It used to take quite a bit of time to reach it.  But with the new highway finished, we can reach it by car from Taipei within an hour.  The village was a gold mining town from the 19th century.  It produced gold till the later half of the 20th century.  We drove to the village again on Sunday, January 4th.  Only Grace had her D90 with 18-200 VR lens with her.  The village was originally a hill town lost in time.  Then, it was made famous by several movies.  The character of the village completely changed.  Now it is a busy tourist attraction.  You can see some of her pictures of the village, shops and people here.

Guava is a fruit that we used to eat when we were kids.  But it was the soft kind and we often put them in the blender to make guava juice.  But now most of the guava fruits that we can buy from the market are the hard and crispy kind.  The ones with the red color inside are something new to us.  

Sunday, January 11, 2009

New Year 2009: TaAn Park Flower Show

Orchid in TaAn Park 

TaAn Forest Park, the largest park in Taipei, has an annual flower show around each New Year.  The park is just next to my parents' old apartment.  I photographed the flower show last year.  I completely forgot about it this year till passing by the park by chance just before Christmas.  I took some photos, then went with Grace again on Saturday, January, 3rd.  It was a beautiful day, bright sunshine with temperature at 20 degree C (plus not minus). Grace used the 105 VR Micro lens with her D90 and I used the 70-300 VR on my D700.  The floral landscapes competition  was not as good as last year probably due to the economic condition and budget constrain.  Thus you can see from our photos that we used more close-up shots than last year.  Taipei will be hosting the 2010 International Flower Expo, lot more work still need to be done.  This year is the Year of Ox for the Chinese calendar.  In case, some of you may wonder why the picture of an artificial ox in the photo gallery.  

A painter on the Youngkang Street

After walking through the park, we cross over to the near by Yongkang Street (永康街).  It is a district with a lot character, many good restaurants.  We went to an Italian eatery called Cello Pasta (騎樓義大麵).  It is so small that the kitchen is separated from the dinning area.  We had to stand on the street to order through the window of the kitchen, then walked two stores down to the dinning room.  The pasta was also brought over from the kitchen through the street.  But the pasta was really authentic, just like we had in Italy.  It was a very nice day out.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year 2009: Afternoon Tea with Friends

When we walked down the trail on the "Lion Head Mountain", we met several friends who were having afternoon tea by the roadside.  Are they celebrating the coming end of the Year of Mice?

New Year 2009: Lion Head Mountain

After we visited the plum flower garden we went up the near by "Lion Head Mountain".  It is a famous recreation area, but both Grace and I are not good climbers, not even for well-paved stairs.  We drove up the mountain to a major temple.  Most local Taiwanese Temples are "Tao" religion which are different from Buddhism.  Although both of them are polytheism, Tao religion is really local Chinese in contrast to Buddhism which was originated from India.  Tao is very similar to the Greek paganism, worships all kinds of deities in the mythology, and many historical figures.  In China, Tao religion went back many thousands of years.  On the other hand the local Tao Temples in Taiwan worship many different deities than that in mainland China.  The Taiwanese Tao temples are also very different and unique.  They have very colorful roof decorations.  I have been interested to photograph them for a while.  When we arrived at the temple, a most brilliant sun appeared and lighted up the newly renovated roof.  Here are more of our photos.

Friday, January 9, 2009

New Year 2009: Plum Flower

Plum flower has a special meaning for the people in Taiwan.  It is the national flower of Republic of China (R. O. C.), its major territory now is Taiwan.  From 1911 till 1949, Republic of China was the China.  In 1949, Chinese communists took over the mainland and formed the People's Republic of China and ROC retreated to Taiwan.  Plum flower was chosen as national flower because it is the first flowering tree flowers during the year.  It always flowers during the bitter cold in early Spring.  It symbolizes the endurance under harsh condition.  

On Friday, January 2nd, 2009, we went to a plum flower garden by the village of Nanchuang (南庄).  It is an old village about an hour and half drive south of Taipei.  It is in a region traditionally inhibited by Hakka people.  The tourist part of the village consists of one lane passable by two person side by side only.  It is lined with stores selling local delicacies.  We visited the village last Spring during the Tung Blossom Season.  In the Southern Taiwan, they are mountains with thousands of plum flower trees.  We arrived at Nanchuang at about lunch time.  We stopped by a fish farm outside of the village first and had a traditional Hakka meal.  The garden we visited has over 60 different varieties of plum flower trees, but only four trees are in full bloom.  Well, we only need just one branch of perfect flowers to photograph, who need thousands of flowering trees.  Here are more photos from the garden.

Bird Nest by the Water Cube

Here is the "Water Cube" at day light with the "Bird Nest" in the background.  Click here to see more of Grace' pictures of the Olympic Stadium

Water Cube Reflection

Usually one sees the reflection from water.  Here we see the reflection of water, the water of "Water Cube".  But anyway, how can water form a cube if it is not ice?  This is a shoot across the street from the Beijing National Indoor Stadium, "The Water Cube".  Grace took the picture for the light columns in front of the building, then saw the reflection. 

Thursday, January 8, 2009

Water Cube in Beijing

I, Grace went to Beijing for a short business trip this week.  I stayed in a hotel not too far from the Olympic Stadium.  I got a shot of this amazingly colorful Water Cube where the Olympians competed in the indoor swimming pool.  

Monday, January 5, 2009

ABC Wednesday: Y is for Yuan (園)

Yuan is the phonic spelling of Chinese character  園.  The meaning of this word is garden.  Chinese garden of the southern China has a history goes back to many hundreds of years.  Obviously its landscape is very different from the English country garden and the formal French garden.  We went to this garden properly named "South Garden" (南園) on Sunday, December 28, 2008.  It is located about one-hour drive south of Taipei.

It has been owned by a newspaper conglomerate and only opened to public in 2008.  It is modeled after the garden design of Southern China, which is a rarity in Taiwan.    You can see more of our photos of this garden here.  

See more entries of ABC wednesday here.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

ABC Wednesday: X is for X-legged

This is our first attempt with ABC Wednesday.  We saw this black swan in an extraordinary garden about an hour drive from Taipei.  When we loaded the picture, we noticed the special way of how the swan cross (X)-leg to stand on one foot.  

We will show more pictures from this quite interesting Chinese landscaped garden next time.

Happy New Year everyone!


Related Posts with Thumbnails