Best of 2017, picture by picture, the 8 black and white

best of 2017, the black and white winners

My thoughts and some technical background information about the eight black and white photographs that survived the “best of 2017” selection process described in an earlier post.

Image 1, image 2 and image 3 were all taken in a similar location, in the north western part of Switzerland. Hand-held with the Nikon J1, all at base ISO of 100 and shutterspeed > 1/360. Subsequently converted to B&W with Silver Efex Pro, then cropped and sharpened in Adobe LR. The entire Nik collection is available for free from Google as of Feb 2018. However, Google sold the software, so the days of a free download might be over soon

Image 1

I like the interlude between the different silouettes in this image, some man-made and others natural, In addition, if you zoom into the image you will notice the sunlight on one person’s face – that just adds to the magic of it. This was an easy choice!

Image 2

Abstracted to two vertical lines which seem to be talking to each other. The little tree carefully taking side with the actor on the right. The slight slope on the left puts one actor into a slightly different position in this discussion. Also an easy choice for me for the final list.

Image 3

First a straight journey towards the horizon, then a left turn and an unkown ending. It is up to your imagination where the path will lead to. The tree on the right as the silent observer of the path’ journey?

Image 4

Nikon J1, handheld at base ISO 100. Livorno in Italy, remnants of a glorious (and sometimes not so glorious) past. Normally, I don’t like pictures with a blown-out sky, but in this case the pure white of the sky contrasts the moldy and murky quay and water very well. I also like how the eye is guided from the left side of the frame to follow the buildings and the water into the distance.

Image 5

iPhone 6+. Walking to a coffee shop for a much needed morning dose of caffeine stimulans, I spotted these tiles. The line of my shadow matches the lines between the tiles well, and the wide gradation of greys adds to the attraction of this picture.

Image 6

The white water terraces in Yunnan, China. I like the white foreground contrasting with the dark trees and the more neutral background. I was struggling for a while whether to include a color or a B&W in my final list, ultimately went for the B&W for the reasons mentioned above.

Image 7

Another iPhone 6+ photo taken from a cable car gondola, so I guess it qualifies as an “aerial” photograph. It’s an intersection of two dirt roads. Converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro, then cropped and added the vignette to emphasise the “white structure”. Maybe I’m reading too much science fiction recently, but the structure clearly inspires space ship designs…

Image 8

Marina Barrage in Singapore, taken with the DJI Phantom 3 Professional (the drone was inside allowed flying zone….);  captured in Adobe DNG, to give me a little more wiggle room for post processing. Lawn, concrete, water. I like the juxtaposition of the different patterns, horizontal waves on the right, the horizontal/vertical in the middle and the apparent chaos of the lawn.



Best of 2017, picture by picture, the colourful 8

best of 2017, the top 8 color photographs

Some thoughts and technical background information about the  eight color photographs that survived the “best of 2017” selection process described in an earlier post.

Image 1 & 2

The first two, very colorful images were taken during a Nikon School workshop. We had the task of capturing the “spirit” of Chinese New Year. The second challenge was to take no more than 50 pictures whilst out and wondering about for two hours. A good idea in the days of digital photography, where “spray and pray” often is just too tempting.

Both pictures taken with the Nikon Df, 85mm f1.8 @ ISO 100, handheld, then adjusted the blacks and whites in LR, sharpened and slightly cropped. In the picture showing the old man, I slightly lightened up his face via a radial mask in LR.

Image 3

Museum of Modern Arts in Brisbane. I liked the structure of the wall and the colors of the floor; decided to give the picture some manual “shake” with the iPhone to make it a bit more interesting.


Image 4

I was on the way to the gym, when this beautiful flower literally landed in front of me. I put it gently into the pool and took the picture with the iPhone.

Some post processing in LR as shown here:

image 5

Initially, this was a “so what” photograph, but the more I look at it, the more I like it. The tilt to the left adds momentum, almost as if something or somebody would enter the picture from the right any moment. Secondly, the path leading out of the frame leaves many questions open. And last but not least, the different hues of green. Nikon J1, handheld, LR post processing.

image 6

Another iPhone 6+. How I wish, I would have had a “real” camera with me for this photograph. I really like the juxtaposition of different structures in this photograph. The apparent chaos in the foreground, the verticals in the corn field, the forest behind, which looks like a whale emerging from the corn sea and last but not least the clouds towering over all of it.

In order to bring out the clouds a little more, I applied a gradient filter with about -1 stop exposure in LR. The grain is really ugly, because of the small iPhone sensor… Never mind, still a really good photograph (IMHO)

image 7

Not the best shot technically, the limitation of the small sensor of the DJI Phantom 3 Professional coming through. But with the clouds (gradient filter in LR to darken the sky somewhat) and the elevated perspective, this frame deserves to be in the final 8.

image 8

OK, for the pixel peepers, the white balance is slightly off, but that’s all I managed to do. A rare inversion weather situation, the solo cross country skier apparently gliding towards the sun – that did it for me. Nikon J1 handheld, some pp in Adobe LR.

Hope you enjoyed it and if all goes well, another “best of” will come in 12 month! Thanks again to Martin Bailey for the inspiration.



 

Pisa ohne Pizza

Three days in Tuscany – everything goes, except pizza and insalata caprese! Why that? Those two dishes are omnipresent where we live, so really really no point coming all the way to Italy and then eat that standard fare…

PISA and Luca

The towns are pleasantly small, have plenty of sights and yes, we did that “I hold the leaning tower selfie”.

After visitor’s rush hour, Pisa calms down quite a bit, the streets are not that crowded anymore, one can hear people speaking local dialect and order a tramezzino and a glass of wine and just chill for a moment under the shades of the shopping arcades. And a proper café for one Euro is a constant seduction.

Livorno

..barely 20 mins by train from Pisa, is a different world: the sea, some canals, a lot of strict and straight 60ies and 70ies architecture, the HQ of Italy’s communist party and the even tramezzini have a special local name. And the café @ EUR 1.- remains the constant.

Firenze

Oh dear, but then Florence… Waves of profusely sweaty people make their ways from the train station via the Duomo, the Uffizi to the Ponte Vecchio and back. No reservation for the Dome’s cupola, then you can stare at it from outside! We decide for a work-out and climb the campanile; no surprise the narrow staircase isn’t that crowed and the views from the top are super worth the effort!! I’ll do that again any moment. We continue with the flow, pay respect to the God of selfies, lots of sweat, some snacks (and a café… just in case I haven’t mentioned that before) and a pay visit to the barbiere for a clean, professional shave. I don’t think I heard a single word Italian during the few hours we spent in Florence…

Food Porn

No post is complete without it:



 

Another Volcano ?? – YES YES Mount Pinatubo…

the plan

ohhh lucky me… whilst taking a lunch break during work, I casually asked a friend whether “doing Pinatubo” over the weekend is an option and yes – a decision was taken quickly. What is so special about Pinatubo? Simply put, the 1991 eruption was the Earth’ second largest volcanic eruption recorded in the 20th century – background reading is here.

Two hours drive to the North of Manila is Santa Juliana, the base camp for any Mount Pinatubo excursion. The normal “climbing” route is to sit on a 4×4, being shaken and not stirred, from the village to the actual starting point of the hike. Then walk 3km uphill to the crater, take a few pictures and waddle back down. 

We stayed here, highly recommended, rooms are spacious and clean, nice garden to chill out in, and Alvin got everything organised for us!

the hike

The actual hike is a moderate uphill, 3 kilometres walk each way and about 200 meters of altitude difference, so not a very big deal. The dark, worm-like line in the pic below shows the route from the 4×4 parking lot up to the crater.

the starting point

the challenge

This sign board indicates the expected hiking time for the last kilometre of the climb. Of course, I had to have a go at it just to proof something to myself…. 

I managed to speed walk the stretch in 12 mins 35 seconds, which age category do I belong to (yes yes I know, its a show-off…)

the crater

beautiful, isn’t it? Click on the images to show larger versions.

the selfies

Click on the images to show larger versions.

the food

After burning that many calories (actually not really that many at all….), we deserved some good local food.

day 2

After that strenuous walk, we definitely needed to take it easier on day two. Going off-road on an ATV is really easy; these things seem to go everywhere without any problems. Was it fun? Actually it was, but not something I would like to do regularly: these things are rather noisy, the engine got rather hot and likely it also isn’t very eco-friendly to plough through a riverbed…

Click on the images to show larger versions.

back at the hotel, taking care of a mountain of smelly cloth, relaxing a bit and enjoying a cold San Mig light with a freshly bbq-ed, succulent chicken. Life is beautiful, isn’t it ?

Great trip, definitely recommended and VERY doable as a one day excursion from Manila …… provided you are game to leave Manila around 0400 AM.

Adding Colour to the Yunnan Trip

The previous post about the excursion to Yunnan had a few artsy fartsy black and white picture in the gallery.

To bring balance to the universe, here are some colour pics – enjoy

Hiking and Sightseeing in Northern Yunnan, China

the plan for the 2017 adventure

After a prolonged to-and-fro, we decided to climb a rather tall-ish mountain in Yunnan. The plan was simple (at least on paper…): fly to Lijiang in Yunnan province, drive to Haba village, acclimatize for one day, walk up to the base camp (4100 meters above sea level), acclimatize for one day, summit Haba Snow Mountain (5400 meters above sea level), then back to the village, drive through the Tiger Leaping George back to Lijiang for sightseeing, hot pot and shopping.

what happened

“rain, rain go away, please come another day”…

we reached base camp, strong winds made it impossible to even have a realistic chance to summit, so we turned around a few days earlier. This summit appears to be within reach, ie no technical difficulties. We should try again in the not too distant future….

A two minutes video of our hike from Haba village up to the basecamp of Haba Snow Mountain (that is a literal translation of its Chinese name) on my YouTube channel:  HERE


The shortened trekking trip meant more time for sight-seeing and good food! Not the plan, but very enjoyable, indeed!! One of the many sites we visited, is an array of lime-stone terraces not far from Haba village. I wanted to visit this place 15 years ago when I came to Lijiang for the first time. Back then we couldn’t reach it, because our Volkswagen Passat couldn’t master the gravel road through the gorge. The place is called “White Water Terraces” (Bai Shui Tai in Chinese). This time it worked very well – have a look HERE.

the black and white gallery

Hiking in the Cordilleras

getting there

The northern part of Luzon, the main island of the Philippines, promises some interesting hiking. Only one little challenge: it takes over six hours by car to get there from Manila, the capital of the Republic. Early March 2017, I joined a group for a hike up Mount Ulap (loosely translated into “mountain of the clouds”). Beyond Outdoor Adventures has proven reliable and professional last year, when I joined them for the Pico de Loro hike, so I was comfortable that they would do a good job this time around as well.

In practical terms, this meant leaving the hotel before 01:30 (this is AM ….for the citizens of Trumpistan) to reach the meeting point by 01:45. I went to bed around 20:00 the night before, so at least 5 hours of beauty sleep. This screenshot of my mobile phone lock screen suffices as proof…. (btw the background picture is a Herzog DeMeuron designed staircase in Colmar, pic by www.jrbc.net)

After four hours on the highway, breakfast stop at 06:00 in a fast food joint. “Gourmet Burger with Coffee” for PHP 55, which corresponds to CHF 1.10 at the time of writing, isn’t exactly my choice of breakfast, but the alternatives were significantly less appealing.

Another two hours later, we reached the park entrance, the massive Ampucao Barangay Hall. Registration, introduction and prayers – at 08:30 we were good to go 🙂

the hike

(the right moment to change to present tense…)

Our local guide, a mother of four at the age of 24, tells me that she needs to walk for one hour from her village in case she or her kids need to see a doctor. Her two youngest kids spend the peak guiding-season with their grandparents in a village that has yet to be connected to electricity. Mucho trabajo señor presidente D.

We walk over the Ulap ridge, a moderate uphill hike through a pine forest. Clean fresh air, a comfortable 20 degrees and blue sky. The trails are well maintained and the visitors and guides do a splendid job keeping the place hyper clean. No technical difficulties and no real cardio challenge, about 9 kms with a few hundred meters climb and a steep decent into Santa Fe hamlet is the program of the day.

Nine kilometres… one might assume that three hours should be sufficient inclusive of photo stops and a lunch break. But oh no oh no: our group, five tweens and myself take almost 9 hours to complete it. Endless (and I really mean it…) selfies, cardio-challenges and apparent technical difficulties for some group members stretch the whole affair into a full day event. Im totally worn out after the hike, my body is not used to snail-walking……

Courtesy of GoogleEarth and my new Polar M200:

the sights

 the dark side
the bright side

the people

well…. its the local guide and myself. Note the fashionable hat, costing me a full CHF 2.5 (last minute panic purchase at a local shop).

the dinner

Hypothetically, purely conceptually and theoretically we could have left the hiking area at 17:00 and drive back to Manila to reach the capital by app 22:30, but a stop over in Baguio to sample delicious local chicken rice, was too much of a temptation.

 

the return

well… getting there took us a good six hours, so why should getting back be any different? To cut a long story short: around 00:45 I was back at the hotel. Close to 24 hours for a 9 kilometre hike – a new record is set!

Walking Up Pico de Loro

I got a chance to join a one day trip from Manila to Pico de Loro (“Parrot’s Peak” in Spanish), a 600 meters hill about 60 km to the south west of the capital of the Philippines.

For the uninitiated: people in the Philippines like to get up early, I mean really early as in really really early. I guess that’s a mix between good old habits and the necessity to manage traffic. Anyway, we met at 04:00 in Makati and drove off to reach the entrance to the national park by app 0700. The hike was pleasant, not too demanding and offered plenty of beautiful sights over Manila bay. At a good pace the hill can be climbed within 90 minutes. The hiking trails closed soon after I went there, that explains the enormous number of people doing the hike that day. Officially, the National Parks will “heal” and “replant” the mountain, other sources say that the whole area will be redeveloped into a resort. Would be sad if this beauty would become inaccessible to hikers.

Enjoy the pictures in the gallery

 

A Few Days in Prague

The sights are beautiful and aplenty, the whole town-centre is a gigantic pedestrian zone, knick-knack shopping, sight-seeing, people watching and snack-indulgence heaven. The crowds can be overwhelming, however just step 100 meters away from the main thoroughfare and you find quiet restaurants, friendly service and good food.

The pics in the gallery could lead to the impression that we did a pilgrimage from one restaurant to another and not much else 🙂 Admittedly, we did enjoy lavish dinners once J’s Polar Loop wristband indicated that we comfortably overshot 15000 steps every day.

Excursion to Cheung Chau Island, Hong Kong

Father-daughter day: a very nice excursion to Cheung Chau Island, a 30+ minutes ferry trip from Hong Kong Island.

After a bumpy ferry ride and a ridiculously unsuccessful try to rent a bicycle, we did some sight seeing:


A nice lunch (aircon is a real gift when its 35 degrees outside)

followed by a round of drone flying

youtube_2

(please subscribe to my channel after viewing the video – thanks in advance).

 

And the ferry back to Hong Kong island