Thursday 22 April 2010

Macro Photography

Macro Photography

A couple of weeks ago, I and my friend John thought of trying some macro photos. It was actually me who had asked John to show me some techniques on macro photography and he had accepted to it.
So we headed to a park near John's place and he shared with me some tips on macro photography.

Since neither of did not have a proper macro lens, we thought of using the kit lens with a macro ring. John had shared whatever knowledge he has in regards with macro. John gave a good session about the proper lighting, using of tripods, using of flashes appropriately and the importance of getting a macro lens and an extension tube.

Here are some of the photos that I tried during that time and later. All the photos were taken hand held, using the kit lens and a macro ring held in front of it.

Almost in all the photos the lens was only between 6mm to 8mm away from the subject.

A Jewel formed of dew drops


Close up of the stamen of a very tiny flower.


Moth sitting idle early in the morning


A Spider waiting patiently for its prey.


There are a few important lessons that learnt from this session or experiment.

1. FOCUS: This is what is going to make of break the photographs. Since we are photographing very tiny objects and that too very close from the subject, it is important that the focus is accurate. Even if it a 1mm error, it is going to show up really big in the photo.

2. TRIPOD: It is very important to use a tripod. Photographing hand held will not be a good idea, since as seen in the previous point, even a 1mm shake can cause the photo to go haywire. If you observe the photographs above closely, not all the photos are in sharp focus. This is because everything was shot hand held.

3. APERTURE: Most of the time we might have to use a narrow aperture. Depending on the lens the DOF may vary. We need good depth in the photo so we cover the entire intended subject. The SPIDER photo  is a classic example of what can go wrong if shot with a wide aperture. Only the head and the front legs are in focus and body and hind legs are not in focus. So we need to narrow down the aperture which also means that the shutter speed should be reduced to get enough light (depending on the light conditions). This again implies the need of a tripod.

4. LENS: This is the most important (IMO). It is always the best to have a good macro lens, if you are really serious about macro photography. That coupled with an extension tube can produce great results. Having a macro ring in front of the lens can be a make-shift option, but we will have to be mindful about the loss in quality.

5. FLASH: A macro ring can be quite handy when the lighting is low. This will also give give you the benefit of having a faster shutter speed. When shooting with a wide open aperture, sometimes, part of the subject might go out of focus. This means we would have to reduce the aperture to even f/11 or lesser. In these cases a macro lens can ensure enough light on the subject irrespective of the low aperture.

This is dedicated to my friend John Immanual for taking time to help me understand about macro photography and I cannot thank enough some members of the Olympus online community who gave me lot valuable suggestions on what lens to go for, if I am serious about macros.

So as someone who is serious about photography in general, I have decided to go for a dedicated macro lens along with an extension tube. Anyone willing to donate for this noble (????) cause can do so and the contribution will be accepted whole heartedly and the highest contribute will can get their portrait photo printed in poster size for free!!!!

Guys, just thought of finishing that lightly, as I thought the whole thing was just a lecture.. :)

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Agumbe - The Cherrapunji of South India


Agumbe – The Cherrapunji of South India

A quiet serene village in the lap of the Western Ghats, that seems to be cut off from the rest of the civilization. Still young in its good old days, this place is one of the hotspots of bio diversities in India.
Agumbe had been in our minds for quite sometime as a proper destination to spend a weekend – a longish weekend maybe!
A group of 10, 5 from Chennai and 5 from Bangalore planned a visit this place and drew up the plan.
Anu and Rajesh volunteered to book the tickets once the final list of participants are decided. Isai and Nachu agreed to enquire and plan for accommodation and sight seeing in Agumbe. Isai tried to get accommodation and guide from ARRS – Agumbe Rainforest Research Station, but could not get since we planned in a very short time and they had some camps running during that week and would not be able to accommodate us during that time. So Isai had booked a hotel in the village itself.
Suresh, though he was not able to join us in this trip, had gracefully helped us in booking a cab for us for the journey.

The plan is to go to Agumbe in a cab from Bangalore. The team from Chennai started on the night of Thursday by the Bangalore mail and proceeded on to Bangalore. We were to call the cab driver before we reach Bangalore so he can come and pick us up. Thanks to the duo Nachu / Anu, who gave the wrong number or took the wrong number. We tried calling him from 3:30am in the morning but the phone just kept ringing. Finally just before reaching the Bangalore East station, we called Isai and got the correct number and called the driver to get us picked up. We were expecting some angry caller and some blasting later in the morning, but thankfully nothing of that sort happened… Whew!!

We waited for a while and had tea outside the Bangalore East station while waiting for the cab to pick us up. Then headed straight to Isai’s house where we refreshed and a tasty breakfast was getting prepared for us. We had our fill and took our own sweet time to get ready for the journey.

We started the journey by around 9:30 am, could have started earlier, but could not help. We picked up Nachu on the way. The driver was too nice with the accelerator (read quite slow) and drove at his own pace. We stopped at Hassan for lunch at around 2:30pm and proceeded on to Belur. Yes, it was not in the original plan, but thought we might as well visit it since it is just on the way.
By the time we reached Belur it was already around 4:00pm and we spend about 2 hours there, exploring the beautiful architecture that had awed people for centuries! Some of us also had the thought of going to Halibedu, but later decided against it as it was getting really late. I really regret that we could not give enough time for this wonderful place with full of art works and history and lots of opportunity for photography. I think we should plan something separately for Belur and Halibedu alone instead of mixing it with other places.

We started from Belur by around 6:00pm and took the route through Chikmagalur, Balehonnur, Shringeri and then Agumbe. We stopped at another place for dinner and had as minimal as possible since it is night and then reached Agumbe by around 11:00pm in the night.

The lodge was right opposite the Agumbe police station, which was swarming with activity even at that time of the day due to Naxal activities. We woke the caretaker up and asked us to show the room. Though we had booked 5 rooms, we were informed that we would get only 3 rooms and one big hall since there was a last minute accommodation in one of the other rooms. The hall that they gave us was quite big for 6 people and we cancelled one of the rooms.

When we saw the rooms, to our surprise, there were non-paying occupants already and we had to send a few out and had to share the room with others. Yes, there were gigantic spiders, mantis and grasshoppers in all the rooms. We had to shoo them away before taking the room for ourselves. I am really surprised (and thank GOD) that we did not have any King Cobra for company as this place is known for those reptiles!

We planned to go to Kundhathri for viewing the sunrise, but since we had traveled the whole day, none of us were in a mood to get up. We were (at least I was) very quick in killing the alarm and going back to sleep. After all getting up at 5:00am in morning after a whole day’s travel is asking for too much from me.

We started the day around 6:30am, had a good coffee and breakfast opposite the place we stayed and started to Jogi Gundi. We got down from the cab, at the start of the trails and walked down the forest trails for about half a kilometer. It is a beautiful scenic place which would have had a very good waterfall had it been the rainy season. At this time of the year there was a small pond and the falls was just a trickle. Nevertheless the scenery there was nothing short of awesome! There were beautiful butterflies of all colours and sizes. There were dragonflies taking sun bath in the leaves. Unfortunately we were unable to photograph the butterflies for lack of time and the too much of activeness of the colourful ones! I think it is because of the weather that they never rested even for a minute!

We spent sometime in that place with some people climbing the rock along the trickle of the falls, some swimming in the pond, some photographing and exploring the place. A very calm, serene and beautiful place it was. I wish to see it after the monsoon – I dare not say during the monsoon as Agumbe is a place which receives about 11000mm rainfall and we know what that means in a rainforest!

After spending about 3 hours there, we went back to Agumbe, to Doddemanne – Big House, where Isai had already informed that we would be coming for lunch. This place is just near the lodge where we stayed. I think I should make a post separately on this Doddemanne and the people there. This house is a very old house (should be about 150 years old). The elderly people who live there provide stay and food for the people who plan to visit the place. Very friendly and caring people! I and Rajesh went through the house for a few minutes before going for the lunch. It was really a very old, big house but well kept.

After lunch we started off to the Vanakoppi falls. After about 20 minutes of drive in the cab, we had to get down and start trekking along the forest trail. It was around 3:00pm when we reached the starting point. It was good walk for about 45 to 60 minutes. The place was really dense and humid, typical of a rainforest. We were told that there would be lots of leeches had we come during the monsoon or after that. But I did not notice anything until we reached the falls. The falls was not in direct view from where everyone stopped but had to jump and cross over a few rocks to get the view of the falls. The water flow was not much, but I could image how the place would be during the monsoon. We were directly above the falls. The water reaches here through the stream from the forest. Though the actual stream was not in view, due to thick vegetation, we could easily see the path. Before falling down a great altitude it forms a small cascade jumping over the rock. It was only when I reached here did I notice that there had been a couple leeches that had already feasted on my blood.

After spending about an hour there, we decided to head back to the road and go to a nearby place for getting a view of the sunset. The climb up was a very good workout. At one point we missed the trail and headed toward a dead end in the forest. We had to trail back and then take the correct route. I really do not think it would be fun had we not missed the trail inside a forest! It took slightly over an hour owing to the good climb up and the detour by missing the trail. By the time we reached the road it was almost 6:00pm and the sun was going to set any moment. We waited at an elevated point, which is generally used by the tourists for viewing the sunset. I should say the sunset was nothing special. I was told that it used be a spectacular sight if we had a clear sky. At this time of the year, it was a bit hazy and covered with cloud, so the sunset was not as good as what we were expecting.

We started from there by around 6:45pm and reached the lodge just after 7:00pm. We relaxed for a while, played Uno for sometime while a few left out for having some snacks in an eat out nearby. We had already informed the people at Doddemanne that we would be having the dinner there. So we caught up with the others at the Doddemanne at around 8:30pm and once again were treated with a wonderful dinner. I always eat very sparingly during dinner, but the taste of the food and the hospitality made me eat to my stomach’s fill. These were experiences one would never forget in their lives. Going to a completely unknown world and being treated like a family member by someone whom we have never met in our lives before – nothing like it!

After the dinner the game session continued for a while and we hit our bed around 11:30 after a long day. The next day started quite early for us. We had planned to go a sunrise view at Kundhatri, a place about 40 minutes drive from Agumbe. The view from the place was really splendid. We could get a view of almost all the hills and peaks of the Western Ghats in the surrounding area, but unfortunately it was misty and cloudy in the morning as well. We reached there by around 6:30 am and roamed around the place taking photographs, listening to the songs of birds till about 8:00am but we were able to see the sun, that too very faintly, only around 8:00am. By that time the sun has come up well in the sky and there was actually no sunrise view. Nevertheless the place was a wonderful spot for birding enthusiasts. Though we did not concentrate much on birding due to the different interests of the group, one particular bird really did interest us. The voice of the bird was almost like singing, but we were not able to spot the bird. I would love to visit this place again, with birding enthusiasts.

We started back from the place by around 8:00am and by the time we reached Agumbe it was just over 9:00am. Everyone went to Doddemanne again for breakfast, but myself and Yogita decided to skip breakfast and just had a couple of biscuits instead. I realized later that the decision of skipping breakfast could not have come at a better time. People returned back to the lodge by around 10:00am after having pongal for breakfast. We had planned to vacate the place, leaving the room for creatures that occupied it previously, and head back to Bangalore.

We started from Agumbe, with the memories still left there, by around 12:30pm against the original plan of 11:30am. Nachu suggested that we should visit the shrimane falls, which is more of a picnic spot, but due to lack of time, we decided against it and headed on our original plan. This time around we gave a tight target to the driver telling him we need to catch the train to Chennai from Bangalore at 10:00pm. This ensured that the driver was not too nice with the accelerator.

No sooner than we started, should be about 30 minutes drive, people started feeling sick and had to puke out. Not sure if it was because of the food (I doubt) or just travel sickness (most likely) while descending down from a hill. We had to have 3 or 4 stops to help people relax. We reached the same Balehonnur for lunch. Again I made sure that I had a very sparing food (just1 dosa), especially after seeing people get sick.

We then drove nonstop to Bangalore, stopping only once in Hassan in evening to have some coffee and snacks. All through the way we were playing lot of games and had real good fun. We reached Bangalore City station by around 9:30pm and the train to Chennai was actually at 11:45pm. I ensured that I had a good dinner, since I did not have much throughout the day. We finished the dinner around 11:00pm and started out journey back home.

If any of you want to know the route we took, then here it is. From Bangalore, the best option would be to hire a car / TT based on the number of people. Take the Hassan-Belur-Chikmagalur-Shringeri-Agumbe route. This is a very scenic route and especially if you are travelling in the daytime you are definitely get some beautiful sceneries on the way. The Doddemanne would a nice option to stay if you like staying in a traditional old house. If you are nature enthusiast, check out with ARRS when they can accommodate you and plan accordingly.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Welcome Summer

Welcome Summer

As you know, summer in Chennai can be quite hot. I know what you think, it is actually hotter, and hot during the supposed to be rainy and winter seasons.
Well you may keep it that way if you want to! But are the Chennai people prepared to face it?

I guess so. Just a walk along the roads and streets in Chennai, will make you realize that the city has already started gearing up for it. Isn't this a wonderful time of the year, just like any other season? Of course it is!

Loads of watermelon vendors thronging the platforms in major places. Watermelon is one fruit which does not add up to your calories how much ever you eat. At the same time it is a very good source of water.

The tender coconuts – my favourite, could easily be the favourites for many people. Apart from quenching the thirst, the tender coconut is one of the best natural healers that one could get. For most of the heat related problems, this is the best natural medicine.

Cucumbers. Another chiller favoured by many people, can be found on the streets ready to be cut and sold along with a pinch of salt and chilly powder adding taste to the chiller.

Juice vendors. Lemon juice could easily be the most sold juice. There are lots of mobile cart vendors who offer lemon juice with combinations of salt, sugar, ice, mint etc. These are definitely tasty at the same time it can help in keeping the body hyderated.

Last but not the least – ICE CREAMS!! Is there any kid or adult who does not like ice creams? After all it is summer. If we do not have ice creams now, then when will we have? For the kids, with the exams over, there could be no restriction from the parents for having ice creams. At least now parents cannot be complaining or worrying about throat infections or any other problems!

Apart from all these the best thing to do would be to have as much water as possible at regular intervals to cool off the body as well as to ensure that the body is compensated with fluids for what it is losing in the humid Chennai weather!

So let us welcome the summer and enjoy it! Chill out in Chennai during summer!! :)