Monday 10 March 2014

ECR Photography Trip - Kodiyakarai & Dhanushkodi

Sunrise at Rameshwaram

ECR Photography Trip

It has been 4 years since I have done any outing with CTC for various reasons. So when I saw the mail about a Photography Trip to Kodiyakarai and Dhanushkodai, I thought it was too good to miss. So I registered for it and was all set for the day.
If all goes well, then it is certainly not interesting! A week before the trip, I went for a photoshoot on my own near Chennai. A couple of days later charger of my camera stopped working! What good is a photography trip without a camera?
I checked for any availability of the charger, but I won’t be getting anything before the trip. Checked with a couple of friends if they can lend me their camera. My friend Saravanan helped me with him camera a 3 lenses. Cannot be more thankful to anyone, I guess.
On the day of the trip, I reached the bus stand quite early just to make sure I don’t get stuck in the traffic, and excitement of making a trip to a place which I have been thinking of for a long time. Navaneethan and Dinesh were already there and got introduced to them. So the other participants also gathered and the team was ready to go.
The bus started from Chennai around 11:30pm on Friday. Thanks to Dinesh and Navanee for booking a very comfortable bus. We reached Vedaranyam at 7:00 AM in the morning. We had enough time to freshen up and start for the day. Had breakfast at a local shop across the lodge and started out to Kodiyakarai. After visiting the photo exhibition in the forest office we headed over to the sanctuary.
We spent the entire morning in the Black Buck sanctuary, but the bucks and birds weren’t much. The weather was also not helping much. It was really hot and dry we spotted a few black bucks, a rabbit, a horse and a few birds.
We returned back to the forest office in the afternoon, had our lunch and clicked a few pictures in the backyard of the office while we waited for the vehicle to take us to the bird sanctuary.
We reached the sanctuary around 3:30pm and ventured along the shore hoping to get some good clicks of the flamingos. Unfortunately there were only a handful of them and that too drifted far off from where we were. So no good close-up photos of the great pink beauties. When everybody returned back, I fell back for a few more minutes and was rewarded with about a hundred flamingos flying towards me. I am really not sure how many had the opportunity to view this beauty in this trip. I clicked a couple fo photographs and stood fixed at the sheer beauty of the pink Greater Flamingos against the blue sky!
We took few photographs of some of the birds there and then headed back to the vehicle around 4:30. We got on the bus back to Vedaranyam, but on the way we stopped to visit the Rama’s pada. It is believed that from this place Lord Rama was viewing the route to Lanka before they proceeded to Dhanushkodi to build the bridge.
We spent a few minutes there and proceeded to Vedaranyam. We boarded the public transport from Vedaranyam around 6:30 and proceeded to our next stop at Pattukottai. We had a good dinner, freshened up and took another public transport to Rameshawaram.
We reached Rameshwaram very early the next morning, around 3:30pm. Dinesh and Navaneethan managed to find a lodge where we can freshen up. We were really quick to finish off and I and a few others started ahead of the others to the sea shore to catch the sunrise with our lens.
But the sun waited for everyone to arrive and then showed up its beautiful emergence from the horizon. It was definitely a delight to watch. We clicked some photographs of the rising sun and then on-boarded the boat to take a ride in the sea. I personally did not feel this was a very useful ride, except that we got a good view of the temple from the sea. Other than that there wasn’t anything interesting about the boat ride.
After returning back, we finished our breakfast quickly and proceeded over to Dhanushkodi in public transport. After reaching the town, we had to take a van operated by the local group to reach to the tip of the land. We can also walk the entire stretch. But given the weather and time constraint we decided to take the van.
One should be there to know the beauty of the place. White sands and emerald waters with lots of waders and pelagic birds along with some raptors, was a beauty to watch. We again got busy clicking some photographs even though the lighting was not very apt for photography! On the way back to the town we also saw the ruined remains of the place which was hit by a hurricane / tsunami sometime during the 1960s. We spent time till midday and proceeded back to Rameshwaram.
After lunch some of us wanted to visit the temple. So we rested in a local rest house “chatram”. Once the
Pamban Bridge
temple was open around 3:30pm we visited the temple and were back around 4:30pm. We then headed over to the Pamban Bridge and took another round of photographs of the old engineering marvel – the railway bridge across the sea. We also took a glimpse of the setting sun.
We headed over to the railway station, had a light dinner before boarding the train. We reached back Chennai around 8:30am the next morning with wonderful memories of the trip and few very good friends.

Following are some of the highlights of the trip for me.
  • Public transports to almost all the places
  • The Greater Flamingoes flying towards to in Kodiyakarai
  • A visit to the historical place from where Lord Rama was reviewing his route with his army
  • The beautiful sunrise at Rameshwaram
  • Dhanushkodi
  • Pamban Bridge and most importantly the time spent with new friends.
I am really looking forward to visit Kodiyakarai sometime during December. Hoping that will happen.

Sunset from Pamban bridge

Sunday 2 February 2014

Olympus 70-300mm Lens - Part 1

Olympus 70-300mm Lens - Less Light
Off late there had been a lot of discussion on the quality of the Olympus 4/3 ZD 70 - 300mm Lens. It is agreed that this is a Standard Lens and not a great performer, but I feel this lens justifies the price point.
Though many may disagree to this based on their experience, I have always had more than decent results with this lens in terms of IQ, sharpness and ability to focus.
My lens had lost its focusing motor a couple of years back when I dropped it in a hard floor accidentally. For many reasons, I had not given it for service, but thought I should resurrect it when I started feeling that my "Bigma's" quality is not up to my expectation any more.
Though the 70-300 does not have the reach of the Bigma, I feel the 70-300 lens' IQ is definitely much better than the Bigma at the same focal length. I am planning to test that shortly, under practical conditions.
So, here are my take about the lens and some photos I took in the last few days. I have the E-5 body, so all photos were shot with the E-5 and 70-300mm combo.
I would like to mention the following points before going to the photos.
1. All photos were taken in less than good light conditions during the shady places.
2. I have done Exposure Correction using Lightroom and no other processing.
3. I have NOT done any processing or correction that will push the sharpness of the images.
4. Since most of these shots are for testing, it may not be best of photos.
5. All photos were shot at 300mm focal length, except the last 2 ones.
6. All photos were shot with slower shutter speed than normal since the light was low.
I did not want to push up the ISO. Higher ISO under low light conditions tends to get the noise levels a bit too high in the Olympus models, as we know. I did not want to do any processing that will impact the sharpness of the image!
No exposure correction was done on this one. The lighter colour of the cat definitely helped in getting a focus instantly even though it was in the shade happily having its share of milk.
Well, not the sharpest photos. Though the lens did not have any problems in getting a focus, the flower moved a bit when there was a mild breeze!
In spite of the slow shutter for the 300mm focal length, I had to push the exposure quite a bit.
This one was a real challenge! The subject was tiny and moving fast apart from the less than good lighting. The focus was bang on, but the photo was blurry as the speed of ant was too much for the 1/250 shutter speed! The lens DID take a second to lock focus as the ant was quite small and moving at a good pace.
This one was the best! The crow was sitting under complete shade. The 400 ISO and comparatively slow shutter was definitely not enough.
I have pushed the exposure real high in the post processing to get this level of exposure. I am sure it will be evident from the noise levels of the photo.
But guess what? The lens locked focus INSTANTLY! No problems in getting the focus.
It may seem that the subject was receiving light, but that is certainly not the case. The ISO has been pushed to 800 with slow shutter in this. The lens DID struggle in this one to gain focus because the light was low and the background colour the same as the subject! No contrast at all. I have adjusted the contrast a bit in the post processing.
I zoomed out completely; locked focus and then zoomed in to gain focus. But I had to do this only once. I tried refocusing this subject again after taking a couple of shots of other subjects and it did lock focus faster than it did before.

The next 2 photos were taken completely in Low Light!
Agree, not a pleasant looking subject at all! But this was one of the difficult shot. The bees were building  a hive under a shed under complete shade. Even with naked eyes one would not have spotted it unless they knew it was there.
There is no way the lens was going to gain a focus without the flash. I used the onboard flash to photograph this and no other correction was done in this!
This again was taken inside the house with very low light. For this shot, I have used the flash, but the lens did achieve focus without the flash, just that the image was quite unusable.
There was a tiny reflection of light in the metal part which I used to my advantage and the lens did lock focus in about a second. I don't think that is too bad for a "Standard" lens.
These are my take on the lens. I am also planning to post a similar article of photos taken in GOOD Lighting conditions where, I think, the lens really delivers its best!
Your opinions and experiences are most welcome!

Sunday 26 January 2014

Vedanthangal Bird Santuary

Grey Heron in Flight

Vedanthangal Bird Sanctuary

More Vedanthangal Bird Photos in this link

This shy bird was constantly pestered by the crows
After missing a visit to Vedanthangal last season, I decided to make sure to visit the place this season. I did visit it twice within a month’s time and the number of birds is only reducing year by year.
This could be because of reasons like reduced rains, lack of proper nesting place etc. Whatever the reason is, it is definitely not a good sign to see the numbers coming down.
Following are the birds that I was able to spot in the 2 visits in made there.
Jungle Babbler
Red vented Bulbul
Red whiskered Bulbul
Little Cormorant
Greater Coucal
Common Crow
Large billed Crow
Oriental Darter
Eurasian Collared Dove
Spotted Dove
Black Drongo
Spot billed Duck
Cattle Egret
Little Egret
Grey Heron
Night Heron
Pond Heron
White Ibis
White breasted Kingfisher
Red-wattled Lapwing
Common Myna
Golden Oriole
Spotted Owlet
Rose ringed Parakeet
Spot billed Pelican
Eurasian Spoonbill
Open billed Stork
Painted Stork
Purple rumped Sunbird
Rufous Treepie
Though the number of species I was able to spot was a bit more than my previous visits, I would have been happy to see more number of birds.

The Painted Storks and Night Heron were especially gone down in numbers very much.
Hope the situation changes for better soon.