more on: hiking in Hong Kong

Luck had it that I could spend a number of weekends in Hong Kong between Nov 2017 and March 2018. Hong Kong is a hiker’s heaven all year round, but the relatively cool winter months make it a paradise. Once back home, I started thinking how I could possible blog (aka diary-ise) all these beautiful hikes.

Several ideas came to my mind:

  1. describe every hike at great length and detail – probably not… too many details.
  2. just show a few pictures – mehh, not good enough either
  3. pick and choose just one or two, sort of a “best of series” – good idea, but how to choose.
  4. then it hit me: export the GPS file of every hike I did from the Polar website; then upload all those GPS files into a single Google earth window and capture the piece of art with a screen grab. The dark blue “worms” crawling all over Hong Kong in the pic below represent all the hikes I did. Only after completing this drawing I realized that I hiked almost the entire Lord Wilson trail (with the exception of stage 10 and a bit of stage 9… so there we still have a target….)

    Et voila, here we are:

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.



 

Best of 2017

my top 16

I took inspiration from Martin Bailey’s annual “top ten” process to go through all my 2017 pictures and choose the best ones. I decided to select a total of 16, eight in black an white and eight in colour.

selection process

I organize all photos and videos in Adobe Lightroom for a number of years already. So it is the easiest was to do this journey in Lightroom.

  1. choose all pictures taken in 2017. Total # of frames 1340. The total count in LR was 1500, the difference is made up by pictures taken by other people that I store with permission (eg a purchase)
  2. exclude all “holiday snap shots”, selfies and the like. This reduced the selection to about 200
  3. remove photos which are “nice to look at” (whatever that means…), but have some other flaws. For instance, disturbing elements that I didn’t want or cannot remove.. This got me down to app 55 frames.These are the 55 chosen ones at step 3:
  4. Then it got difficult. First, I removed either the BW or the Color pictures for those where I kept both in the 55 list above. That got me down to about 30.
  5. Then I removed photos where the initial “yes” turned out to be more of a “wow that was a great filter effect”. Down to about 24.
  6. Then it got really, really difficult. I removed those which I thought just don’t have any “umpf” for me. Down to 18.
  7. Then I asked my two trusted in-house experts for their choice, i.e. they helped me to eliminate two more.
    AND HERE WE ARE – THE FINAL 16

oooofff, that was really, really, really difficult and such a pleasure to do!

I will go through each image in detail in a few separate blog posts, providing some thoughts about each image and some technical considerations (camera, settings, post processing)



 

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

Desert Trekking in China

June 2016, we trekked seventy kilometres through the Badain Jaran, which is part of the Gobi desert in China.

The executive summary:

phase one: Singapore –> Hong Kong –> Beijing –> Jinchang –> Alxa Youqin

phase two: walk, sand, camels, sand, fun, wind, sand, tents, sand, lake, sand, watermelons, sand, yoghurts and sand

phase three: the reverse of phase one


A 90 seconds, high level, executive, condensed, highlights-only, key summary video in HD of our trek is on

youtube_2

 

please subscribe to my channel after you watch the movie – thank you.


I particularly like this desert portrait of Tim (who else….). The original is in color. I decided to convert it with Silver Efex Pro 2 (free plug-in from Google) to black and white, which accentuates the clouds nicely and the dunes’ shapes form such a perfect leading line to the model. Furthermore, the little cloud seemingly guarding over Tim acts like a gigantic flash light helping him to light-up his selfie.

the_selfie


The B&W pictures in the gallery were processed with Nik Colour Efex Pro 2 and Adobe Lightroom. For the pixel peepers: you will notice lots and lots of spots, especially in the darker areas of the pictures. Even though spot removal in Lightroom works well, removing hundreds of them is a lot of work. Lesson learnt: next time get the sensor cleaned before going on a trip.

The Annual Beijing Ritual

Beijing fascinates me. Choosing my journey anywhere between the ultra-ancient and the ultra-modern remains incredibly seductive to me. The icing on the cake are the good company and sumptuous meals with friends and acquaintances every time I return.


This is the third trip to Beijing after we moved away from the capital city in June 2012.


The overnight flight from Singapore is on time; with the airport express and the subway I neatly beat rush hour traffic. By 09:00 I’m checked-in and ready to roam and ramble. Let the day one ritual begin: I wander through Central Park, Ritan Park, The Place and other familiar spots and concomitantly “mind-surf” about (mostly) good old memories and check out what has changed since last time and what remains. Restaurants and other shops come and go, a few perennial favourites (such as Annie’s…….) remain, last but not least the hairdresser in Dongdajialu, whom I used to visit frequently, still goes strong.


Comparatively heavy snowfall sets in after lunch. Snow on ancient structures, but which one to visit? Tripod, Nikon Df, ND filter and the GoPro, which has become one of my favourite travel cameras recently, packed and I’m wrapped up in Goretex, I ponder where to go: Tiananmen, Beihei, Ritan Park – nope, I take the subway towards Guangjisi, a small temple housing the headquarters of China’s Buddhist society. It’s relative petiteness, the quiet atmosphere, the paraphernalia shop and probably as a truly unique feature, no need to buy a ticket. Likely the only notable temple in China you can enter without purchasing a ticket (just to mention in case the Lonely Planet web crawler finds this site…).


  


The next morning brings yukee air and an urgent matter from Singapore to attended to, so I transform instantly into a Gen(Y) migrant IT-savvy, roaming worker: I waddle to a Western Coffee Shop, order the mother of all Megatallgigaventilattes, pull an Apple Laptop, notabene a 2009 Macbook Air 13″, which to this date works perfectly well, out of my bag and settle in. This antiquated machine immediately outs me as an outdated GenY-model. The Costas and Shinbakes appear to be flourishing even more than before, maybe Xidada’s disruptive anti-corruption policy drives people form the Abalone cum Ch. Petrus snacks into the Coffee Shops for meetings? One looses, the other one gains.


Day three – what a miracle: cold winds from the North drove all the pollution out of town, I join Beijing hikers (www.beijinghikers.com) for a hike on the Wall. A perfect day: blue skies, panoramic views, the wall covered with a bit of snow, which accentuates the “dragon’s” back making it more visible on its journey over the mountains bordering Hebei and Beijing. A small group of hikers and two funny and competent guides, plenty of photo stops, conversations and laughter.

I stand in awe on the wall, cannot stop gazing around and soaking it in. In the to-be-published Asterix in China, Obelix will certainly say: “delirant, isti Cinesi”.

Check my youtube channel HERE and HERE for some stunning scenery.

Walking Up Hua Shan

Hua Shan in Shaanxi province is one of the most prominent members on a long list of “Sacred Mountains” in China. Finally in October 2015, 21 years after I first became aware of this list, I got a chance to scale Hua Shan.

This was the plan:

day 1: 35 minutes bullet train from Xi’an to HuaShan, shuttle bus to the starting point, an estimated five hours hike up to the North Peak, find a place to sleep and eat. Enjoy my 10th summit in China (in case you are interested in the details, click HERE).

day 2: get up early, walk up to the East and South Peak, enjoy sunrise, a knee-friendly cable-car downhill and back to Xi’an for the quasi mandatory dinner buffet orgy.


This is what happened:

day 1: in less than two hours we reached the North Peak. During a short rest, I jokingly propose to speed up the climbing, i.e. try to reach South Peak today, take the cable car down and back to Xi’an by train tonight. Surprisingly (or maybe not…) my hiking mates agree without much ado. This spontaneously devised plan B gets executed well: around 20:30 we are safely back in Xi’an.

day 2: a leisurely stroll through the Muslim Quarters of Xi’an with endless food tasting and shopping opportunities and – of course – the sumptuous dinner buffet (Hilton Xi’an – highly recommended).


What’s next ? Three Taoism-related mountains in China remain to be experienced, let’s see whether another twentyone years will pass to completion.


my Youtube channel has a short video (click on the logo and set the player to 1080p HD) youtube_2


The pictures in the gallery show the journey from the main entrance all the way up to the South Peak and down to the exit gate with a little help of a cable car.

 


 

 

Completing Something and then NOT…

Ten days prior to a hike on Hua Shan in Western China, I’m gleaming with joy as I type this up: once I stand on the peak, scheduled for Friday 25. October 2015, I will have summited all nine Sacred Mountains in China, a journey that started by accident in 1994 and became an obsession ever since. My own personal Nine Summits.
To get the vibes, I refresh my memory on Wikipedia and discover – initially much to my horror, but then to my great delight – that the list actually consists of 13 peaks and not 9 as I wrongly assumed over the past two decades! I got the 5 Great Mountains and the 4 Buddhist Mountains correct, but how the f#*! could I not pay attention to the Taoists? How utterly non-inclusive and narrow-minded of my good self!

Taoists need their own, proprietary set of mountains as well – does that surprise the kind reader? This oversight is especially embarrassing since my wife follows some Taoist routes, I have read and unsuccessfully tried to understand Lao Tze over and over again and a quote from Lao Tze is on my Ph.D. thesis’ cover sheet, much to the chagrin of my thesis supervisor, but that is a very old and different story….

Some consolation: I have been to Wudang Shan, one of the four Daoist mountain, spent a week there in a Kung Fu school and climbed the peak – that must be worth some mileage 😉

Greatest – mostest superest – highly awsomest: I have another goal to achieve and more travel plans can be made !!! HOOOORRAAAAAY.

“9” mutates to “13” and we live happily ever after.

details are on wikipedia.
Lets hope all goes well in a week’s time.

Attempting One of the Sisters (四姑娘山)

The 2015 incarnation of the annual spring-time excursion cum adventure led to us an attempt on the oldest of the Four Sisters in Aba County in Sichuan.

Four Memorabilia:

The drive from Chengdu to Rilong town in Aba County along the provincial road S303 lead us through a narrow valley heavily affected by the Wenchuan earthquake seven years ago. The brutality of nature at work back then still is tangibly obvious: gigantic, solid, concrete structures ripped into pieces as if a pair of very big, imaginary, extremely powerful hands grabbed them and simply tore them apart like we would rip a brittle piece of plastic into pieces. I tried to imagine being in that valley and hell on earth breaks loose: nowhere to hide & nowhere to run. Equally astounding was a spot where big heavy machinery, left there to support the maintenance of the roads post completion, simply sank a few meters into the ground – apocalyptic.

The Nepal Earthquake – do some simple maths: IF we would have chosen Nepal as our destination this year, we would have been driving from Kathmandu to Syabrhu Besi on EXACTLY – I repeat – EXACTLY that Saturday the quake struck. Part two of the maths: trekking in Asia boils down to Indochina, Indonesia, China, Tibet and Nepal (if the reader allows me a simplified view of the world for a moment), so there is a 20% chance any given year to end up in Nepal. HOLY MOLY GUACAMOLE!!

The organising committee: committee in our set-up means one of the participants – did a marvellous job getting maximum value for minimal money. A hair short of 2000 CNY (which is SGD 430 at the time of writing) for private transport, accommodation, guides, mules and food from/to Chengdu. So far so good. Luckily, two non-standing members of the committee insisted to add one day for acclimatisation: a very pleasant chill-in walk during which we enjoyed some fabulous views of the Sisters and surrounding mountains; and one extra night at app 3250 meters above sea level to mitigate the effects of the relative high altitude we were at. Day one of the real thing was a pleasant and not excessively demanding hike up a ridge from Rilong to a camp side near a lake (Da Hai Tze) through rapidly changing spring-time weather. Once settled at camp I and comfortably wrapped in several layers of all kinds of high tech gear and gadgets, my slightly oxygen-deprived brain started shifting gears. A lot of snow, a possibly very cold night in camp II and a team that wasn’t fully prepared for the climb didn’t seem the right combination to attempt scaling a mountain 5350 meters above sea level. Additionally, no point taking the risk of re-injuring my ankle. The prospect of another four months outdoor-activity deprived hibernation with the concomitant weight gain and VO2 max loss wasn’t appealing at all. Hence on day two I let the others continue the ascent, whilst I descended the mountain, spent a quiet day on my own in Rilong Old Town. Time to read, write, take photographs, feel Birch pollen (sneeze….) for the first time in 15 years, sit in ALeeBeen Tea House for hours and to enjoy an enormously gigantic bowl of spicy beef noodles much to the amusement of a not small crowd from old Rilong downtown. Life was very good that day. The rest of the team returned 24 hours later – no chance to get anywhere near the peak – too cold, not enough equipment, too much snow and few kilos too many on the ribs (at least for some members..). The main take-away: quite a load of rather fat cordyceps sinensis fresh from the soil.

And lastly, an incredibly solemn and beautiful sight in lower Changping Valley. Imagine the perfect picture of a secluded monastery, joss sticks sending ‘religious smells’ into the air, the youngest of the Four Sisters, elegantly and chastely partially wrapped in clouds, sitting in state in the back, a good 3000 meters above us, prayer mantras as background, colourful Mani flags, photogenically positioned trees & just the right amount of sunlight from the right direction. Wonderful simply wonderful.


Enjoy my foray into black and white landscape photography: