Mostly nature and photojournalism of amateur standard.

By: Amir Ridhwan

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Sunday, 17-Dec-2006 09:22 Email | Share | | Bookmark
The Race of Macro Age

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Towards the end of the year, 2 of my brothers are gearing up into macrophotography. Ikelah got himself a long-awaited toy- the Nikon BR2 reversal ring set and Boogey is a proud owner of a Sigma zoom macro. Ikelah's career life must be really boring as he seems to be possessed by macromania ever since.

I have always love macrophotography. Some 15 years back I confiscated an old Ricoh XR500 from Pang5 which came with a standard 50mm lens. I saved some money and got a 70-200mm Vivitar lens with 1:4 macro for RM200. How cheap lenses were those days. My current 35mm macro lens costs RM780 and took some 3 months of approval process from the Finance Minister. It took me about 3-4 weeks to get comfortable using it and even now I am still finding new ways to harness the full potential of my baby arsenal.

Since Ikelah has gone to a macro rampage on daily basis at his blog, I feel the obligation to bring some justice to users of dedicated macro lens. Boogey is not a threat yet as I suspect he's still recycling old images from his blog back in April. So I took a peek at my cache of unpublished photos and selected a few in an attempt of taunting them. Below is a dragonfly taken at a public park at around 3pm. It's my favourite time to shoot macros due to ample light. I never seems to be able to get a perfect texture of its compound eyes due to hotspots and reflection. Perhaps a polarizer would do.

This wasp was taken at Ikelah's house during the Aidilfitri homecoming. It never stay perch for long hence I couldn't get anything better than this one shot. Among the biggest challenge to capture flying insects is to get them in a static position so accurate focusing can be done. Wasps, hornets and bees are among the most notorious when it comes to staying put. Even worse is the fact that some of the flying insects such as the honeybee has chronic hypothermia and keep on shivering at all time. At a shallow DOF, this can make autofocusing tricky and you will need a very high shutter speed to freeze the motion.

Most of the time I prefer to use natural lighting. I suppose a better way is to use reflectors and external flashguns but that will mean extra encumbrance and not to mention blowing a hole in the pocket. Yet we have to improvise whenever the preferred technique is not feasible such as in the one below. When I found these two ladylovebirds, dark clouds are gathering in the sky hence cutting my light source. There was no way I can immortalize their intimate moments using natural light, so I poped up the built in flash and set the aperture at f/22. Distance must be impeccable to ensure 2 things: far enough that the flash can reach them without creating hotspots and close enough to document as much details. A diffuser would certainly comes in handy.

Another photo taken at Ikelah's place back then was this creeping ladybird. It was shot at early morning while waiting to feed Ikelah's cats. Light was not that intense therefore much detail is lost especially at the darker face of the bug. From technical perspective this is not a very good shot but I just love the color contrast and knowing that this is the best I could do as a poor macro photographer.

One of the compulsory virtues for a macro photographer is patience. You will need even more of that if the kind of equipment you have is purely basic. To photograph insects in the wild requires enormous patience and it begins with finding a spot to shoot. Sometimes an outing can turn up to be a total waste of time due to bad weather or simply bad luck. Once you have identified and narrowed down to a particular subject, you will need to make a silent approach to get within striking distance. It will help if you have a longer focal length but with my 35mm, I really got to creep very close to the subject. For easily startled bugs, you may only get 1-2 shots before they whisk off into the bushes or fly away beyond reach.

The fly below was infact quite cooperative. I manage to get as close as a few inches to it before opening a salvo of 7-8 shots. Generally flies are considered easy to capture. Bees are very very challenging!

I am not sure how many species of flies in Malaysia but there are basically 3 types that I mostly photograph. The one above is a giant fly with length of about 1 inch. It is much larger than the common housefly and mostly found to fly alone. Another is the hoverfly with eyes much larger than its head. The one below is normally found in bushes seeping nectar and quite common.

Hoverflies are abundant and usually dwell suburban bushes. The one below has vivid eyes but there some with plain black or grey eyes. You can distinguish hoverflies by how impossibly huge their eyes are relative to their head.

Saturday, 9-Dec-2006 15:46 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Silat weekends

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26th November- Sepang

I couldn't escape the inevitable. That's what they say about silat- one you're in, you'll never get out.

On November 26th I was awarded the 4th dan yellow belt by Silat Gayong. I wore the 3rd dan for one year and before that the 1st dan for 6 years. The ceremony involved some VIPs but only a bunch of my fellows were there. The usual suspect, Naga Boroi, was in Pulau Pinang hence I had Harun to take most of the photos.

Cikgu Mus informed us to perform some demonstration at the ceremony. Being a bit out of shape and without a permanent partner, I tried my best to escape being conscripted. At first it seemed that Lady Luck was at my side when there was a haevy downpour on the day. Unfortunately the ceremony begun just after the rain ceased and we had to perform on a soaking pitch.

Flying over obstacle

Breaking roof tiles

The demo team

From PLKU, there were 3 receipients- Me (Yellow 4), Fadhil and Hadi (both Yellow 1).

2nd December- Kuala Sungai Baru, Melaka

Last week Pak Hussin Kaslan from Singapore came to Melaka for sandang award ceremony. We weren't involved directly since that was a Gayong Pasak event. But being nosy, we couldn't help to take a peek at someone else's doorstep, especially after hearing that Pak Hussin himself is coming.

Packed in a few cars we went there under the guidance of some ameteurish pathfinders. The event was in a remote village called Kuala Sungai Baru but getting there was such a pain. When I arrive, Pak Hussin was already there and I took the opportunity to meet him and to have some photos.

Awarding a sandang

You might wonder what is the big deal about meeting Pak Hussin.

Apparently he was one of the oldest living student of the late grandmaster. He started studying silat in Singapore under the direct tutelage the grandmaster himself and later was appointed as the leader of Silat Gayong in Singapore which moves under the name of PASAK. Due to his exceptional skills, the lat grandmaster awarded him the title Naga Bora. I heard from many senior masters that he was particularly skillful in the art on cindai- using cloth as a weapon. He is very old and frail now. May Allah bless him with good health.

People like Pak Husin are rare gems, yet only few can appreciate.

Pak Hussin and me

Tuesday, 21-Nov-2006 08:00 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Raya visit to Tok Mat's place

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This trip was planned for quite a while by PLKU adventure team. We are to visit Tok Mat who is one of the elders of the Silat Gayong clan. He was among the earliest student of the late grandmaster and begun silat lesson before the second world war. At 89 he is a living legend and was renowned for his valor, skills and mastery of martial arts. Yet he is less known by the current generation, perhaps due to his mysterious decision to go into self-exile many decades ago.

Came across a bunch of superbikes on the highway

We rendezvoused with the Bangsar Gayong group led by Cikgu Man at RnR Nilai. He is the grandson of Tok Mat and will lead to way. Most of us took the opportunity to have breakfast before continuing the journey. Later we stopped by at Rasyid's place in Seremban where he joined us with his Nazaria. Muzammel's Gen2lak had some problems hence the entire bunch hopped into Nazaria.

In Kuala Pilah

Tok Mat telling stories

I suppose we arrived at Tok Mat's place at noon. He was very sporting with our curious nature. He had a very special meal prepared- smoked meat in chilli stew (daging salai masak lemak cili api). I remember all of us sweating but almost eveyone took a second helping.

Since this is an eid visit, we are not expecting much action from the host. Most of the time was just asked Tok Mat to tell stories and explain some martial arts concept. However, I managed to get Muzammel help him with Sangga Maut Tali Gantung. Below is the footage I gladly captured.

Kunci #3

We had the chance to obtain some mountain goat ointment which is believed to help with joints problems. It is very rare to get such an ointments these days and we were fortunate to arrive at a time when there are some stocks available. Nevertheless, its bad smell seems to exceed its healing reputation.

How the ointment is being prepared- a goat skull

The entire expedition group to Serting

Sunday, 5-Nov-2006 14:37 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Balik Kampung Part 2- Kuantan

The stall
Gutting our sebarau
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On the 2nd day of Eid, we travelled to my hometown of Kuantan. It was during this trip that I realized that the haze has ceased and we can finally see a clear blue sky.We left at mid day, passing Yong Peng, Labis, Segamat and Muadzam Shah. Whenever I use this path from either direction, it is a must to stop by at Paloh Hinai to look at what kind of freshwater fish available. There are usually 3 stalls selling fish reared in cages or captured wild from Sungai Pahang. The type of fish varies but generally there would be patin, baung, tembelian, kerai and lampam. I was lucky to find sebarau that day. We bought one of that and also a bunch of kerai.

In heaven... surrounded by angels.

From Paloh Hinai, we turn eastward to Pekan through Padang Rumbia and Sekor. It was a fantastic drive along the banks of Sungai Pahang. The view across farms, padi fields and villages was truly beautiful. I didn't stop to take any photo because I was quite worried about the fuel gauge which already hit the red level. From Pekan we turn north again (and get filled up) and went to Cherok Paloh so we can now drive by the coast. Sea breeze hit us as we approach the South China Sea and the highly saline air was very apparent. Cherok Paloh is quite a remote village but the landscape is very pretty. It is close to the beach and it seems that most of the inhabitants work as fisherman, plant padi or rear cattle and goats.

Our Kenari at Cheruk Paloh

A flight of herons

Trace of haze was totally purged

Not far after Cheruk Paloh is a recreational beach named Pantai Sepat. It has nice powdery sands and attracts crowds in the weekends. The undercurrent can be quite strong at times and there have been occassional drown cases here. Still, we can see people come here for picnic and a dip every day. Herds of cow and goat roams the countryside so passer-throughs need to be a bit extra cautious. A couple of years back me and my siblings used to come here for airsoft combat within the rhu gooves.

We were then just 30 minutes from hometown.

Mas at Pantai Sepat.

A kampung house nearby

The next day we had a barbeque at my sister's place. It was all inspired by the little sebarau we bought while talking to her about how it should be cooked. One thing lead to another and suddenly the idea of having a barbeque sprouted. So we decided to call other relatives and went to get more fish. I tossed in lamb shoulders and chicken wings as well. Juicy juicy mixture of red and white meat, all were enjoyed hot in the coolnest of the night.

Insanely irresistable

We spent 4 days in Kuantan and on the way back to KL, we dropped by to visit my eldest brother. My auntie and her daughters were visiting him as well. It was quite a while since I met my cousins as they were pursuing graduate degrees abroad. Spent 3 hours there talking mostly gibberish and departed at 11pm to KL. The journey back to the city was really tiring but I am glad that we had a very pleasant time. Hence this concludes the 2-episod story of my Eid holiday trip.

Fellowship of the food


dith, yes, they were all touched up with photoshop. Unlike ikelah who shoots in RAW+polarizer, I usually readjust levels using photoshop in hope of making the photos more presentable.

abdhakam, E-500 is a great entry-level DSLR to play with. I like the anti-dust feature, the large 2.5" LCD, the vast controls and features normally found in mid-range DSLR such as RGB histogram and the high quality bundled lenses. It being lightweight is especially appreciated when I go trekking in the wild. The only concerns I have is the noise level at high ISO and scarcity of accessories. You might also want to consider the E-400 and the upcoming E-2.

korok, thank you for complementing my wife. She appreciates it.

mmi, if you have a DSLR (in which you should have by now after reviewing the magazines you haven't returned to me yet), it will be very easy. Going to MAHA fair?

Paul Moss, if you want to venture into macro, you'll need a dedicated macro lens or something that can give similar magnifications such as reversal ring or close up lens. Should the subject is a living creature, you might want to consider an unmacho clicking sound as not to scare the critters away. May I suggest the E-500?

Generally the basic guideline in selecting a lens is as follows:
1. For zoom, it is better to have the max focal length only up to 3x the minimum.
2. For macro, best to get a dedicated macro prime lens. Macro capable lens usually give less than 1:1 magnification and inferior to a true macro lens.
3. For telephoto >200mm, getting an f2.8 is highly desirable due to the magnification of even the slightest movement. While VR can help with lens shake, it does nothing if the subject moves. A fast lens allows faster shutter speed which accomodates both situations.
4. Different makers give different quality. In general Nikkor is better than Sigma. The top of the line is Leica but they only make lenses for 4/3 mounting which can be used by... Olympus.

Tuesday, 31-Oct-2006 13:46 Email | Share | | Bookmark
Balik Kampung Part 1- Batu Pahat

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We travelled on Sunday night, departing at 11pm after MU vs Liverpool game. The traffic was clear and arrived at Batu Pahat at about 2.30 am. We stopped at a Tomyam warung on the outskirts for sahur before heading to my in-law's place.

The next morning (last day of puasa) Mas and her sisters went for a girl outing, probably some kind of an annual ritual. I helped my mother-in-law to cook serunding and rendang which will be served on Hari Raya the next day. When I tasted the rendang the evening, it was totally superb. The meat was so soft and juicy with all the spices blended to perfection.

After isya' Along opened up his arsenal of fireworks. The kids were content with small illuminators while the big boys recaptured the spirit of Iraqi war. I tried several exposures to capture the rockets and these are among the ones turned up OK.

All my wife's siblings celebrate Hari Raya in Batu Pahat this year. After performing the Eid prayers at Batu Pahat Mosque, we went visiting her relatives within the area- Pak Long, Mak Ngah and Mak Uda. Mas showed me Za+za's house which is not far from her's and also the school they went together. I regret that I didn't take any photo of the town but it was because of 2 major reasons- it was still hazy and the fact that I take lousy landscape/architechture photos. Rather than publicly embarass myself, I prefer to share something not so self-humiliating here.

This is Humairah and her father. She is the youngest in her family and somehow always being kinda wary of me. Just look at how she stare and me as if I was in the middle of plotting something. I purposely shot this in black&white because I was wondering why some people do that with portraits. Since my portrait shots usually turned up to be crappy, maybe if I use B&W then they will turn up less crappy. Nevertheless, I love the expression in her eyes.

All in red. Even the carpet.

Here is the entire family. I was under quiet a pressure to produce the perfect family portrait. With portrait among my weakest area (there are quite a bunch), I had to take careful measurements before putting the shutter on the 12s timer. There were quite a few things that I noted as "screwed" with the 2006 Raya Photo- it was a bit under exposed and a bit blur. Can't help much without a flashgun but you shouldn't give that excuse to your father-in-law.

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