Mostly nature and photojournalism of amateur standard.

By: Amir Ridhwan

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Sunday, 14-Jan-2007 13:56 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Shot using... Canon 30D with 70-200mm f2.8L USM

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This morning I went to FotoMalaysia-Canon outing at Zoo Negara to try Canon DSLR and lenses. It's part of Canon's marketing campaign to expose their products to amateur photographers by giving them some hands-on experience.

It's Sunday I just didn't feel like waking up early but I had to get there by 830am for the registration. I was a bit anxious since I have never used any Canon DSLR, not even touching them. I wonder how the controls would be, and how the images will turn out with certain aperture, speed, ISO and white balance. But on top of all those, I am so excited for this new experience to see how my tiny Oly E-500 would stand against the almighty 30D armed with a gangantuan white lens.

Pro konon. Pigi daaa...

I brought along my previous macro safari companion Boogey. Actually it was he who insisted early on that I join this photo outing to accompany him.... thanks Boogey. It was quite unfortunate that the organizer didn't bring enough equipment so he had to settle for a 350D but with a 3rd generation 70-300mm L-class lens (I think) like the one press people use. With both of us being unfamiliar with the Canon system, it should be a fair rivalry. We we did asked Ikelah to join as well especially since he's in KL on the exact day but knowing the 40km/h guy very well, we didn't really count on that actually happening.

Enough of boring words, let's see what this RM12,000+ machine can do.

Fine texture and razor-sharp image. That's what a RM8,500 lens gives you.

Being photographed too much, the tiger follows the steps of supermodels by becoming vegetarian.

One thing I noted was that the AF was very fast and accurate even in non-servo mode of both AF and framing. I am accustomed to single point AF, step focusing and single frame shot which was the setting used to shoot all these. Now, with these primitive settings I managed to capture several images of birds in flight- all without servo or continuous AF. That tells something about how good the AF system can be with just using the basic settings.

Always wanted to shoot something like this but can't afford the gear.

Now I have it for 2.5 hours, let's toast the CF card!

Don't be too impressed. It's just their routine feeding time.

The storks are lovely. They are huge and glide slowly making it easy for pan shots. I have never successfully done panning before but with 30D, it took me only 20-30 frames to feel the rhytm. Perhaps I can get better shots if I used the servo AF instead. Personally I think the storks make a very good subject for panning practise.

Should have sent this for the evaluation but I did not.

Just before we need to regroup, I found a giant orb spinner. It's the largest spider I have ever seen in wild (technically it's not an exhibit), lurking on its web. I couldn't believe my luck and started to shoot like mad. Lighting was severed by the tree canopy hence I fired up the ISO to see if the rumours of Canon's low noise production lives up to the challenge. As if I can't have it any better, a dragonfly suddenly flew into the web and got stucked, tringgering both the spider and me to spring into action.

The kiss of death. Not even wings can save you.

This image was chosen by the judges for the finals.

I was the only Olympus user is the outing. I can tell that almost all are Canon or Nikon users. It is nice to know that one of my shots made it to the final round.

Verdict: It was so fun using a powerful camera and a professional-class lens. Even more fun when it's free some more. The 30D is definitely powerful and the lack of noise even at high ISO helped me to attain shutter speed of up to 8000, something I never dream of. The lens was very fast and produced sharp images. Focusing was amazing even with single point AF. How I wish the RM14k+ system is mine.

Then I opened up my bag to take out the faithful E-500 and immediately realized how enlightening this baby is! It's lightweight, considerably powerful and very reliable. Though the 30D experience was wonderful, I know that I learned a lot through my hardship with the E-500. Through it I honed the skills to take action shot under low light and to appreciate good noise control. Without it, I most likely would not have valued the strengths of 30D and simply took them for granted. For those who have RM14,000 to spare, you better learn to use an entry-level DSLR first. It'll groom you to take full advantage of the big boys later.

Thanks to Steven from PhotoMalaysia and Teoh from Canon Malaysia for organizing this outing.

Tuesday, 9-Jan-2007 13:49 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Protes kenaikan tol di Sunway

I just arrive
This is too much!
Whack em!!!
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This entry is dedicated to the hardworking peacekeepers- our FRU team.

I heard the rumours a fews days before it actually happened. Some are whispering that there will be a rally to voice out the disagreement of the public regarding the recent toll hike. I suppose it could be interesting to try something other than hunting down spiders. Afterall the municipal council is actively fogging the housing areas due to the recent reported denggue cases.

I passed the Sunway LDP toll and noticed several police and FRU trucks parking there. Many policemen are patroling the area but only a handful of spectators in view. No demonstrators, do banners and no fun. I spent about 20 minutes waiting for something to happen and I finally said to the guy sitting next to me that this is boring. What he said later really shocked me- that the protest is held elsewhere which is in Pyramid! Feeling sheepish, I took my bike and off to Pyramid where all the excitement is. I think they started earlier without me... may be an hour earlier.

It was really a peaceful demonstration. There was no violence and the orator was not trying to stir chaos among the mass. I really think having over a hundred cops there was a bit too much. It's Sunway Pyramid dude, and this is run by a political parti coalition. There is no way such people can allow their image to be tarnished by committing street violence. Give them a break and let amateur photographers like us have some fun. But wait, the real fun turned up to be with the cops themselves. I'll tell you in a minute.

"This is Captain Pickard, USS Enterprise."

And the next contestant for Miss FRU 2007...

The protesters got a point. They are pissed of with the new toll price which burns a nice hole in their pocket. Now, who wouldn't feel the same? The public felt cheated and they want to express their opinion to the people-elected government. Assuming that some actually voted, perhaps they just want to play a small part of the decision making process of government policies. We cannot blame them since this is techinically a democratic country though with somewhat vague mass media alignment. The fastest way to prove a point is surely to make a scene out of it.

Boy we shouldn't make a big fuss of this. Look, we just entered a new year, someone completed the pilgrimage and tourists supposed to flock into our country for Visit Malaysia 2007. After spending a few millions on new year celebration surely there are some endorphine left in the bloodstream. Show the forthcoming foreign tourists how peaceful Malaysia is. Although petrol is expensive, inflation is skyrocketing and traffic congestion sees no end, aren't we a bunch of peace-loving model citizens? Ha ha... if only none of us went to school.

Macam pernah nampak gaya ini tapi di mana ya?

Knowing that I will not have the luxury to change lenses in this kind of situation, I had to choose which lucky glassware will accompany me. Hmmm... macro can get a rest after doing a good job pacifying Boogey. The 14-45mm is good but I will miss long range shot. So I decided to mount my 55-200mm f4-5.6 superslow telezoom for the run. It's a pretty lousy lens but get the job done most of the time. Sure you can have way more fun with a 18-200mm VR or a 90-250mm f2.8 ELD but let's talk sense since our companies do not sponsor DSLRs to their employees. There are still ways to go around that- if you cannot take pretty pictures, pick pretty subjects. And below are the finalists for Miss FRU 2007...

For some uncomprehendable reasons, the FRU frontline was made of girls while the boys were either at the rear perimeter or taking turns smoking behind the trucks. How else could I get such close-ups? You see, the FRU chicks are not that bad at all. This is probably some ploy to attract more people to attend public rallies, only I couldn't figure any logic of FRU doing so. But here comes the winner of Miss FRU 2007 Sunway Pyramid circuit.

Can you actually believe that? The police force has gone quite advanced these days by recruiting testosteron-friendly officers. I personally salute them though for handling the situation well by keeping the crowd content. The last mass I witness with FRU involved afew years back were not this peaceful though. Don't stop here and let's go to the next Miss FRU circuit at Plaza Tol Gombak on 14th January 4pm.

Kindly let me know if I mistaken the venue again.

Saturday, 6-Jan-2007 18:06 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The lynx spider

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It seems that Ikelah and Boogey are very serious in their invasion of the Macro Kingdom, a domain where I reign supreme. Their relentless postings of macro images are pushing me to a corner, though I suspect Boogey secretly recycles old photos. They are close to getting the aid of a certain 70 year old godfather who, like Roman Abramovich, has enough firepower to propel his acolytes well beyond their current limited capabilities.

But the Macro Kingdom is very big. It's huge in any perspective from population to diversity and from color to culture. While the two fallen generals are still lobbying around to reach their godfather, let’s learn something about one of the many inhabitants of Macro Kingdom. Why not begin with one of the most common yet very spectacular subject- the lynx spider.

The lynx spider belongs to the family Oxyopidae which spans across 419 species distributed around the world in all continents except Antarctica. They are abundant in Malaysia where they populate shrubs and grasses. Mostly spotted marauding the greens, they are quick to hide beneath leaves whenever sensing danger is coming. Lynx spiders are very distinct where they have long spikes on all legs. Usually pale or bright yellow, the abdomen is oval shaped and tapers to a point. Males have distinctly larger pedipalps which are used in mating to deliver sperm.

You can note the male's larger black pedipalps.

Lynx spiders do not make webs. They hunt down small insects and other spiders. When action calls they can leap into the air and catch flying insects such as mosquitoes. How they hunt is similar to a cat where they will stalk the prey slowly before making a leap. Such speed and agility makes them associated with the marks of the lynx.

With their 8 eyes located in such a way to optimize frontal vision, they use their long front legs to snare preys. It is the eyes formation which resembles a hexagon of 8 dots that gives the distinct identification of the Oxyopidae family. Like other spiders, food is digested externally where digestive enzymes are injected to dissolved tissues before being sucked. The pedipalps hold the prey intact during feeding like claws in an embrace of death.

The prey is not killed instantaneously. The internal organs are being dissolved alive.

Males are generally smaller than the females. When a male courts a female, it looks more like a stalking rapist in action. Sperm is delivered through the large pedipalps which look like boxing gloves. From my observation as a stalking paparazzi, sex lasts only for a few seconds where the female ended up with a very apparent disgust.

Females make nests to house her eggs. The silk used is of a different type than the almost-invisible sticky ones used by other spiders to make webs. Egg sacs are deposited in the nest which is built on the upper side of a leaf. The mother will fiercely guard the nest from any predators and usually go without any food until the hatchlings break free. It takes 2 weeks to incubate the eggs and sometimes the mother die out of starvation. Not to worry, the father is most likely to be around roaming happily to ensure the survival of its species.

A mother. She guards the eggs and hatchlings.

A juvenile lynx spider. Old enough to leave mommy's armpit but sexually immature.

I find lynx spiders very fascinating. They way they roam the grass in search of prey mimics the jaguars of the jungle. If you spot one, just observe it carefully and you might as well witness an unforgettable event of it catching its meal. You can find them almost everywhere which is green- grasses, leavees and shrubs. I even found one sitting stationary on a flower for over 10 minutes, probably waiting for nectar feeders. In my travels I have found them in almost every macro safari hunt I went to- in Selangor, Pahang and Johor. They are harmless to human and for that matter, hardly bites into our skin. So why don’t you take a walk to some shrubs next weekend and who knows you might experience a spiky encounter.

Credit: All photos were taken using Zuiko 35mm macro fitted on Olympus E-500 under natural light. Images were taken at Taman Bandar Puchong Jaya, Taman Soga Batu Pahat and my dad's place in Kuantan. I would like to thank Google which was used to gather information on the lynx spider, mostly taken from academic sites.

Monday, 1-Jan-2007 15:10 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Batu Pahat macro expedition

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It was raining everyday and some areas were down with flood. I was very disappointed with the weather as it kept me indoor most of the time. Fortunately there were times when the sun was out and though not as sunny as hoped, I managed to go for some macro exploration.

There was a nice bush of vibrant flowers across my father-in-law's house. I noticed bees and some other flying insects hovering around it, beackoning me to come close. These are some of the outcome.

My father-in-law was quite a photographer in his younger days with his own SLR set. Now he has a Canon EOS system which needs a bit of tweak to get kicking again. Seeing how mad I was with his neighbour's flower bush, he suggested that I take a round at the top of the hill nearby. So I went there after lunch hoping to find a few good shots which turned up to be a photo orgy.

This is a fighting spider. During the evil days of 70s when school kids then (such as Boogey and Ikelah) put up spider duels, they hunt down long clawed spiders such as this. When the school system became more civilized in my time, we abandoned such uncouth practise and learned to love nature's gift. Thus the evolution of human behaviour continues.

The beauty below is one of my favourite discovery. I was extremely overjoyed when I first notice this fabulous hunchback speading its web. They were dormant most of the time and just waiting for small flying insects to get caught in the web. I rarely have the chance to document such spinners but here I found 5 adult webs and several juvenile ones. They are so awesome, I can't wait to share these images with the world.

This is the baby hunchback spinner taking its meal. When a prey got entangled in the web, the spider will bite it and then spin it into a ball before feeding on it. The enzyme injected into the victim's body will dissolve the inner tissues and turn it into a soup fit for the creep. I certainly hope to find more of these spinners, perhaps with different colour.

To end this entry, this is my wife's favourite. I really have no idea what kind of bug this is but it surely looks tasty... photographically speaking.

Note: In a feeble attempt to do some justice to my poor skills and cheap equipment, kindly note that the unbearable noise was due to the gloomy weather in Batu Pahat then which forced me to push the ISO way beyond my preferred value.

Saturday, 23-Dec-2006 01:28 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Creepy Crawlers

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It seems Boogey is leading the macro chase with his tortoise while Ikelah retreated to his annual winter hibernation. I haven't had much time to spare since last week was the last working week of my company before we close for a long Xmas break. With such progress in the triangular war, I had to summon forth the tropical arachnides to change the tide. Last week I launched a massive airstrike and now it's time to bring in the infantries. Spiders going head on against tortoise.

Spiders are one of my favourite subjects. They are abundant and come in many flavours. It is always fascinating to identify an unfamiliar species somewhere in the woods and document it. They come is so many shapes and sizes with unpredictable behaviour. Most of the spiders I found are pretty small- about the size of a 5 sen coin. This makes them one of the toughest subject to photograph because I will need to get close to them at full macro to be able to capture the details. DOF is always a big program with spiders as they have a long body and almost always you need to shoot its face from front since there is where most of the eyes are. Spider portrait is a fabulous subject but getting it well is a pain in the @ss.

I never seems to get enough of light when taking photos of spiders. These crawlers love to hide under shadows and in places where a lens couldn't go through easily. When I finally got my self in a favourable position, it might simply leap away into another hideout. I don't wait to get close enough for a 1:1 macro with them because once it leaps, I might not going to get a second chance.

This one below resides at the dad's house in Kuantan. The web spreads fro about 1 foot in diameter and the little guy just sit in the center doing nothing. At first I was wondering if this is really a living creature, not some droppings. After a few pokes, I noticed some movements and further inspection showed that it really is a living spider. Going macro enables us to understand these freaks of nature better by studying the enlarged photo. I also found some of these in Ikelah's yard.

This is one of my best discovery ever. You will never going to notice this guy just by looking at the bushes alone. It camouflages itself so well and hardly move a muscle which is so very unspiderly. The only reason I noticed is was because it was feasting on a dead damselfly. While I was taking the photo of an ant eating the damselfly carcass, I noted some slight peculiar movements of the flowers nearby and that was when we first met eyes to lens.

I wonder how the dead damselfly ended up there. Could it be that it was killed by the spider's sting?

Can you notice the spider in this photo?

This Ms Spikey is one of the most common species to be found if you are looking for them. I found them almost everywhere and had taken hundred of their photos. The males have black claws and can be very aggresssive. The females are less active and best to be photographed when they are nesting. The one here is a juvenile female which was quite content hence allowing me to get this angle. You can find them perching at the tip of green leaves but once startled they will hide at the underside of the leaf. The one that I posted a couple of months back had 10 eyes- the most I've seen for a spider.

I just captured the image below a few hours back. It was too cloudy and the light was very uncooperative. I was just sitting next to my favourite bush and cursing my luck when I notice this dude about 4 feet away. I crept silently and took several shots. It was just a small common spider but then whoa, there was something between its mandibles. I had to push up the ISO and blast open the aperture to make this shot possible. While it is a bit grainy and originally underexposed, I would say this is one of my favourite image ever.

I'm trying to get hold of an illustrated guide of Malayan spiders. Then I can put the names here and how cool it will be to cite some Latin in my fotopage.

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