Thursday, June 30, 2011

HDR Photo Pro Review

For a while now, I have been using HDR Photo Pro and have been comparing it against my entire HDR Workflow where I use Lightroom Photomatix and Photoshop. To cut things short, I am generally impressed by the software as it gives me more "realistic" results than its famous rival.

Here are some of the images I processed using the software.
Not bad right? Let me assure you that I didn't use any other software besides it. So, now, let me tell you the pros and cons:

What I like about it
  • Adjustment sliders are fast (but only for Preview Size Processing)
  • Names of sliders are much easier to understand. (As compared to smoothing sliders of Photomatix)
  • Produces more "realistic" images
What I don't like about it
  • No Lightroom plugin for easier integration into my HDR workflow.
  • The strength slider has a stronger effect on Full Size processing than in Preview Size Processing.
  • Noise reduction is freakishly slow. I use Lightroom instead.
So, will I use this software? Yes.... but only for those images where I am sure I won't be needing the help of Lightroom and Photoshop for clean up - which is pretty rare. I recommend this software if you don't want to use other products for your HDR photography. All in all, HDR Photo Pro as a standalone software is very impressive.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Miyajima Island's Floating Torii Gate

Miyajima is an island near Hiroshima City and is home of the most scenic view in Japan. Hiroshima has become my 2nd favorite place after Kyoto mostly because of this place. There was a spiritual feeling as I stood in awe beside this giant gate that I can't quite explain. This place is just an awesome place... period

I had to wait more than 4 hours until the tide came up. As you can see, it was very hard to get a clean shot of the gate without tourists ruining the shot. I waited for the golden hour and then the blue hour and I really liked how they turned out. A friend suggested that I should do a time-lapse video as the tide comes up. I shall try it when I have the money and time.

Waiting for the Tide

The Boat Approaches

Big Torii Blue Hour

Monday, June 27, 2011

Shirakawa.... GO!

Ogimachi Village, a UNESCO world heritage site, is the largest village in Shirakawa-go. It is famous for their gassho-zukuri farmhouses. (Gassho-zukuri meaning "constructed like hands in prayer"). Their steep roofs are necessary during the winter because of the heavy snow that falls on the village.

The there was a funny photographer at the view point of Ogimachi Village who emphatically pronounced "Go" of Shirakawa-go whenever he took pictures. After we took our shots, his personality kinda brushed in to ours and we started enunciating the "Go" in Shirakawa-go whenever we took pictures.

Constructed Like Hands in Prayer

The Beautiful Village of Ogimachi

The Farmhouses

Friday, June 24, 2011

The A-Bomb Dome

Located at the Peace Park in Hiroshima City, the A-Bomb Dome is the reminder of the horror experienced by the Japanese when an atomic bomb was dropped one fine morning in Japan. This structure, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, was the only structure than remained standing near the hypocenter of the explosion.

A-Bomb Dome

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Hiroshima Castle

Musings: What motivates us?
I've been listening to a lot of talks this week and I stumbled upon this really interesting talk on motivation. Because I've been a software engineer for almost 4 years now, I like the idea of paying us enough money so we could forget about our financial problems and concentrate on thinking of innovative ideas.

Here is the video:

Hiroshima Castle
After watching Band of Brothers and WW2 in Colour, I was extremely hooked to WW2 flicks. So, during Japan's Golden Week (7 awesome concurrent holidays), I had the urge to visit any historical place related to WW2. Hiroshima was the first thing on my mind since it was the first city in history to be hit by an atomic bomb. More than half a century later, I am amazed that the city is this beautiful and lively and I can't imagine it was flattened a few decades ago.

Posing for Hiroshima Castle

The Moat

Hiroshima Blue

Friday, June 17, 2011

Cayangan Lake

Coron is well known for their pristine beaches and untouched landscapes. My favorite place is the view on top of the cliff when going towards the Cayangan Lake. This is the poster shot for Coron. People don't leave the place without having the same shot and the same composition. I just love the natural framing of the body of water and for me it never gets old.

I had a nice talk with the Tokyo Extreme Weekender organizers last weekend and they are very interested in this place. I hope they could arrange a tour in my country someday :p

Cliche Coron

Cayangan Lake

Snorkling

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Edo Wonderland: Ninjas, Samurais and Oirans

Have you ever pretended and dressed up as a ninja when you were a kid (or even as an adult)? Edo Wonderland is the ultimate place to relive these childhood fantasies. Edo Wonderland is theme park village that resembles the olden years of Tokyo during the age of Ninjas and Samurais. What makes theme park cool and unique is that the guests can dress up like the townspeople of the village. Meaning they could pretend to be geishas, peasants, samurai, ninja, etc..

Here is the video from their website so you can understand what I'm talking about.


Here are some of my pictures taken there.

「Edo Wonderland」The Alluring Oiran

「Edo Wonderland」Oiran Parade

「Edo Wonderland」The Lady on the Street

「Edo Wonderland」Ninja

If you want to see some cool ninja fights, checkout my post here: Grand Ninja Theater

「Edo Wonderland」Meditate

「Edo Wonderland」Roof Top Ninja

「Edo Wonderland」 Bad Ass Samurai

「Edo Wonderland」Pwned!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Otaru

Otaru is a harbor city northwest of Sapporo. It is famous for its beautiful Otaru Snow Light Path Festival during the winter season. Unfortunately, we didn't have the time to visit the place at night so we opt for a short day trip instead.

The city was all white. Everything was covered in ice. Walking was a tedious task as we had to make sure every step was solid and stable. We went around the canals, ate sushi and went back to Sapporo to enjoy the Snow Festival.

Otaru Canal

Ice Canal

Boats and Ice

Slippery When Wet

More Boats Covered in Snow

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Yasukuni Shrine

Yasukuni Shrine is a famous Shinto Shrine dedicated to the soldiers who fought in honor of the Emperor. More than 2 million men and women who fought and died during WW2 were enshrined here.

Being at a perfect place at the perfect time couldn't be more true with this shot. The sun was at right spot and there were no tourists ruining the scene as I was talking multiple exposures. This image perfectly represents the Kanji 間 which means "in between".

Kanji in Pictures
The Great Gate - Daiichi Torii

I moved forward towards the shrine and kept on shooting while the sun sits perfectly still on the vantage point.

Father of the Modern Japanese Army
Father of Modern Japanese Army  - Omura Masujima

The mean guard on the left side of the image kept on harassing me to not use my tripod. So I retracted its leg, put it down, and tried to shoot handheld in front and center of the shrine. The guard approached me again to get out of the middle of the walkway. So I was forced to shoot from the side as seen on this image.

Yasukuni Shrine
Haiden - "Hall of Worship"

Monday, June 6, 2011

Adding More Omph to Cityscape Images

There are many ways to improve your cityscape shot but the fastest way to add that additional punch to your image is by using Nik's Color Efex Pro. Let me start off by saying I'm not in anyway affiliated with Nik Software nor do they pay me anything. I just love using their products.

So here is my cityscape shot from the TV Tower in Sapporo. It already looks ok but it could use a little bit more pop.

Before

I can go into Lightroom and play with the HSL and/or saturation sliders. I could also do the same in Photoshop with adjustment layers. But these steps require extra knowledge and effort to make the image pop out even more. So the elegant solution is to use the Skylight Filter of the Color Efex Pro. Just select the filter, vary the strength to your liking, press OK and tadaa...

Before and After

Here is the final image, you can hover over just to check how the filter helped improve the image (in my opinion). I find the Skylight Filter very effective for night photography and not so with daytime because it warms the image too much.

After

Here are additional images that used the same filter. Try it and tell me what you think :)

Minato Mirai Blue Hour

San Francisco from Twin Peaks

Colorful Tokyo

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Berkeley Pier

The Berkeley Pier is one long pier stretching almost a kilometer towards the bay. Besides it having a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge, the sun also sets in the same direction making the place a nice spot for sunset photography. 

A Pier Towards the Sun

At the end of the pier were like wooden prison bars. The scene was still great despite the obstacle and I still managed capture a dramatic scene.

Waiting for the End

I was using a wide angle lens so it was a little difficult to shoot through the wooden bars so I decided to include the bars in my composition.

Prisoner's Sunset

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Sapporo's Snow Festival

Sapporo has always been my dream destination after Kyoto. Even most Japanese people I know still haven't been to Hokkaido so being able to visit that place is really a blessing and privilege. Sapporo is well known for their Snow Festival(さっぽろ雪祭り). Coming to this event during the Winter season will cost a pretty penny. My 3D/2N trip cost me about 100K yen.

In the main street of the city, Odori, they have these sets of humongous ice sculptures that leaves everyone in awe. I've always wondered what happens to them after the festival. Do they just leave sculptures and let it melt, or do they let the kids do a Godzilla-like trashing of the sculptures?

Here are some of the ice sculptures that I found really interesting.

Colorful Dinosaurs of Sapporo

Snow Temple

Snow Family

Cool Ice Sculpture

The Snow Stage

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