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More pictures from overseas

I took this one night when heading to Brickfields in KL for dinner with my colleagues. I was drawn to the peeling paint and torn paper that was hanging off the phone booth. It was pretty late, and I had almost no light so you see a loss of detail to the right. Thankfully, this is pretty abstract, so it works well. I’d preferred to have a better transition from the sharp foreground (on the left) to the blurred background, especially since I’ve rendered the entire image so that everything looks flat- you can’t really tell which is the foreground. But I still think it works.

On my second day in the Philippines, my colleagues brought me to eat mixed rice. Turns out I picked the right dishes- one of the pork dishes (mildly spicy) I chose is apparently like one of their national dishes. It’s made from Pork Cheek, and tastes awesome. I also had an entire fried fish. Total damage? Less than SGD$5. Yumm!

I’m quickly realising that a major advantage of shooting in the day is that you can get really sharp pictures at small aperture sizes. This was taken at F9, out of the office window. Burned in the picture a bit to get more blue in the sky, but it was really sunny- hence the golden cast in the picture. With a view like that, it’s not a wonder that our Philippine office is doing so well!


When an ordinary picture just feels right

This picture is nothing special. There are no special filters; no fancy colours and no intriguing (or really, ANY) subject matter. But for some reason, everything seems to come together. The sky is washed out and the white looks ominous not distracting. The ‘feel’ of the picture, taken at twilight then converted to black and white, is also like that of a horror movie- macabre and surreal. I added the vignette for better effect, to juxtapose against the bright centre. This isn’t a great picture, but I really love how the spotlights from below are shining a harsh (and creepy) light on the entire scene.

I saw this picture and immediately thought it had great potential as a graphic shot. The monster looks darkly comic, and I added the fancy border for better effect. Taken at Haw Par Villa. The real size of this picture? About 1.5 times my height, and about 5-6 times my width. I shot this from quite far out, using a tele lens. Processed using an infrared black and white filter.


Weekend trip to Haw Par Villa

Haw Par Villa (now Tiger Balm Gardens) was one of my favourite childhood haunts. It was Singapore’s only theme park for a long time, and I really loved the water ride there, and the strange fantastic world that the park brought me to. These days, the park is almost completely dead. I saw an article in the newspapers the other day, that a (not-free) museum on Chinese heritage in the park was now closed down. So I decided it was time to pay HPV a visit before it closed for good…

Getting there: Turns out the park is literally 10 seconds from the Circle Line stop, “Haw Par Villa”.

PS, in Marymount’s circle line station, there was an advertisement of the ‘attractions on the circle line’. Among the ‘greatest hits’ were, ‘Shunfu Mart’ (Marymount), ‘NEX’ (Sembawang), ‘Junction 8′ (Bishan), ‘Old Airport Road Hawker Center’ (Dakota), and… No Haw Par Villa. This park is really doomed, if malls and hawker centers are deemed as better attractions.

The park: As I entered, I heard loud Hokkien music blasting from the caretaker’s office. It really fit the ambience, actually. It felt like some of the right generation was in charge here. (Although when I left, I heard Tamil music…. Erm, don’t ask me why. Maybe the caretaker is multilingual?) The rides are all gone. The museum is closed. All that’s left is (very) old statues, many looking like they need restoration and repainting, and looking like they really shouldn’t be outdoors.

It was raining lightly when I got there, so I was surprised to find that I wasn’t alone. Together with me were some Japanese tourists; some other Caucasians; and a smattering of visitors from elsewhere in the world. Basically, no other Singaporeans. Sad, right? I guess that’s why this place is closing.

The statues themselves: Just as I remembered, many statues were straight out of Chinese mythology. There were many, many Buddhist statues, and many stories of chinese Myths and ghosts being depicted. But there were also a few strange ones, like the Statue of Liberty… two Sumo wrestlers… some baby seals and mermaids…

Anyway, I would have taken more pictures, but it was raining. Good thing W was around to help shelter the camera with an umbrella. :) Anyway, I leave you with these four shots… Enjoy! Be sure to check out HPV before it’s gone!

Standing Guard

Good Seat

Meditation

Something Sinister


Photos of my offices

I travel a lot for work, and decided one fine day that I should take pictures of where I do it. After all, good architecture all around. Only have two now, but may have more to come…

Malaysia- View from Office

Philippines

Malaysia- View from Hotel


Exploring Punggol Park

So over the weekend I went to Punggol Park. It’s really interesting. It’s quite new (and super far away), so people don’t seem to have caught on to it as an interesting destination yet. So it was relatively empty. But lots was going on there- the weather was perfect, having just rained, and the sun was setting. I took a few pictures, but is my style, I don’t really care for realism. Hey, I want nice pictures. I’m not a journalist.

Sunset at Punggol Park

White Oysters on Black Rocks

“Harry Potter”


Retro is in: A silent movie review (“The Artist”)

I love silent movies. Fire up a Humphrey Bogard special or a Charlie Chaplin classic, and I’m all set to be entertained for the next two hours. Beautiful classical music, emotive facial and body expressions, dialogue kept to a mere minimal. Silent movies were always meant to be an escape- not to imitate life, but to be larger than it. Watching a silent movie today- where directors are far more concerned about realism, is like a throwback experience. Fun, but well, we’re glad that’s over.

Nowhere was this more true than when I recently watched the Best Picture favourite, “The Artist”. All I’d seen before the movie was a one-liner synopsis: ‘silent movie star struggles to adapt to talking cinema.’ I certainly wasn’t expecting a movie that was entirely silent. But, well, it was. Even in the critical middle of the movie, when a transition is being made from silent movies to ‘talkies’ and we finally hear a voice for the first time, it turns out to be the voice of a female singer. Nope, no dialogue here. Move along now…

Silent Films are not subtle

For a silent film to go beyond ‘fun’ and be artistic and serious, it turns out, subtlety need not apply. “The Artist” is just about the most in-your-face arthouse film you’ll ever see. For example, the star’s last silent movie, his swansong, is screamingly titled ‘Tears of Love’. Just in case you don’t get it, we spend two minutes watching the actor die in the last scene of his movie: sinking slowly but surely into quicksand, never to return from oblivion.

There are tonnes of examples like this. As the one-time star crosses the road having just auctioned off everything he owned, a billboard in the distance flashes the film for the day: “Lonely Star”. And when the actor finally decides to see a talkie, he chooses one starring a girl he had a crush on, and who’s been silently looking out for him. The film’s name? “Guardian Angel”.

Then of course, there’s the fact that his best friend in the whole show, a great fellow actor, who at one point also saves his life, is a star that can never talk: his dog. At one point, as the actor walks out from “Guardian Angel”, a woman stops him. Is his fame still lingering? Does she remember? No, she wants to see his dog. “If only he could talk!” Our star sighs. Of course, the one refusing to talk- refusing to act in a ‘talkie’- is the star himself.

No worries. There is a happy ending, as there always is. The star does finally decide to act in a ‘talkie’. In the movie’s final five minutes, the star makes an amazing transition, skipping past the entire ‘talking drama’ genre, and reinventing him and his costar as Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, tap dancing extraordinaires. So the artist gets to remain an artist (now throwing himself into dance), while finding a way to become relevant again.

Astaire himself would have appreciated the irony of this ending, having once quipped, ‘the actors today… they think they can dance with their faces!’ Dancing with his face is what the star of this movie, one George Valentin (movie name) does best. His smile is megawatt, up there among the best of them, and his ability to emote expressions is wonderful. But perhaps the greatest trick of acting he pulls off only gets revealed in the last scene. There he stands, having just finished a dance with his co-star, in the American studio “Kinograph”, for the American film “Sparkle of Love”, evoking one of the greatest American stars of them all, when he utters his only words of the movie.

“Perfect take, George… But can you do it again?”

“Avec plaisir”

That single scene sums up the best and the worst of a silent movie. A silent movie is truly art, and needs the finest director and actor to guide the plot so the audience wouldn’t get lost. But it was also an exceedingly difficult genre, and anything not-obvious (in this case, that the American star is in fact French(!!!)) would easily be missed.

“The Artist” is a movie with excellent acting, with great direction, but with a fluffy popcorn plot. In that sense, it’s very unlike most other Oscar nominees (the script seems to be serious + boring = winner). So why is it, in fact, a leading Best Picture contender? I think this reviewer sums it up best:

“If you’re looking for an explanation to all the Oscar buzz, then consider this — like Valentin, Hollywood loves few things more than its own reflection. No surprise they’ve fallen hard for the simple pleasures of The Artist.”


Morning flights at the airport- everyone has a coffee

Catching the first flight out again for work. Zzz.

coffee at the airport


Immortals is a whole lot of fun

Half an hour into the movie “Immortals”, it becomes extremely clear why the movie has been rated M18. As punishment for his cowardice, a defecting soldier is made to spread his legs, and a guard walks in with a giant hammer. The scene mercifully cuts away so you don’t see what happens, but you certainly hear the screams.

It seems that movies/ shows about ancient times- 300, Spartacus Blood and Sand- all come served with a heavy dose of gore and blood these days. It’s not even just violence. It’s gratuitous, celebrated violence. Kinda reminds me of Kill Bill. Immortals is slightly less stylish, and more gory, but the blood is the same.

This, in short, is a guy-flick through-and-through. If you’re the kinda guy who enjoyed 300, this is right up your alley. (They’re even produced by the same people). There is lots of fighting. Everything is stylised, from the brownish skies to the over-the-top costumes. There is also a dash of humour: when the main character meets his mother outside of a temple, he remarks: “I don’t believe in your religion, but your monks sure do have strange hats.”

The monk in question had a hat slightly stranger than this one

The only thing missing from this movie was skin. For an M18 show, it was very tame. We only got to see one woman disrobe from behind- the kind of stuff that, frankly, you can easily catch on TV nowadays. Anyway, I’ve been watching a lot of such shows lately (finished the entire Spartacus Blood and Sand in less than a week), and this was a movie I certainly enjoyed. As long as you don’t expect this to be a ‘superhero saves the world’ type of action movie, you’ll probably enjoy it too!

Recommended.


Photography 101- Fill the Frame

I’ve realised that more and more of my audience is now comprised of amateur photographers like myself, so I thought I’d write about the easiest and most important tip to improving your photography- Filling the Frame.

When most people start photographing stuff, their first instinct is to ‘get as much into the frame as possible’. They try to keep their subjects wholly in the frame. What they don’t realise is that this killing their shot. There is a lot of ‘dead space’ around the main subject, and has the end effect of making the viewer feel like they are completely removed- and disengaged- from the action.

Instead, get right into the thick of things. Keep your edges right at the edge of the frame- and preferably spill out of the frame if you have to. The more of the frame your subject takes up, the more people feel like they’re involved in what’s happening. This is like the trick that writers or movie directors use when they start off the plot in the thick of action. Nobody wants to navigate past the empty space to get to the good stuff. Just give it to them already.

Above: I came across this motorcycle in Little India. I was immediately taken by the tones of the paint on it. It really looks like the flames of a fire, gently enveloping the entire vehicle. Notice that you can’t see the whole motorcycle- the wheels and handlebars are cut off, and the result is that the bulk of the picture is taken up by the most subject of most interest- the paint on the body.

Above: This is another version of a picture I took a few weeks ago. The statues on the left are leaning left, and it looks like they’re doing so to make room for the lamps on the right. Note how I composed the picture so that everything just fits into the frame. In fact, the statues on the left are partly cut off. This adds to dynamic motion within this static picture- I am showcasing an off-balance lean, not a steady pose. Thematically, the two elements of the picture, statue and lamp, are united by a single bronzed color cast across the entire scene.


Abstracts at night

My approach to photography in the past has mostly been ‘turn the camera off once the light goes off’. There’s good reason for that- I really deplore using flash, since I can’t be bothered to use off-camera flash (too much trouble once you add in reflectors, gelling, and so on), and on-camera flash makes everything look like you just hit them in the face with a spotlight.

Indoors, however, there is just enough ambient light so that you can use the appropriate (read: large aperture) lens to achieve good results. You can even do this outdoors, as long as the image is well-lit. Buildings for instance are good candidates for photography, and taking stuff illuminated by street lamps works too.

Above: As the sun begins to set, you get opportunities to photograph it. In this case, it was slowly setting, although still too bright to photograph directly. But I got lucky. I spotted a window of opportunity when the sun began to hide itself behind an ominous-looking cloud. When I was young, my mom used to tell me that they used to call a lunar eclipse 天狗吃月亮 (roughly translated: “the heavenly dog devours the moon”). When I showed her this picture, she said it reminded her of this.

 

Left: This was the building I was photographing that night. The diagonal lines you see are the results of stray light from a street lamp hitting the lens and resulting in lens flare. Technically that makes for a poorer picture, but in this case the effect was wonderful, so I kept the picture. This is the Westin, and the round circles you see at the top of the building are of New Asia Bar. I made everything look dark, and with a purple tinge, so it looks more like something out of a comic book, than a real-life building. What can I say, I have a preference for very graphical pictures.

Above: At the restaurant that I was at for dinner, I looked down and saw the light under the counter. This was being reflected off some metallic surfaces and I thought it was worth photographing. I waited for a waiter to appear on the right of the frame to balance out the picture before taking the shot. Notice how I timed it so that his feet are both off the ground- he’s reaching up for something. This frozen movement adds some dynamism.

Right: This picture was taken at Shanghai Tang. Whenever I’m feeling uninspired, retail never fails to wow me. It seems there’s always good design- of colours, of ambience, and of lines- to be seen at retail outlets these days. Shanghai Tang is definitely one of the those that focuses on design. Their look is a vibrant, almost futuristic look- using smooth reflective plastic materials for their furniture, and using cool lighting to set the mood. I took this picture without the head of the shop assistant to simulate the look of a mannequin. His body position also fits this interpretation- it is passive, like an unmoving plastic model.

Above: I took this picture as I was leaving the mall. The reflection of the brights lights in the glass, contrasted with the solid shapes of the people through the other side of the door, makes this an interesting shot with a lot going on. You can see both the McDonalds sign as well as the menu options in the reflection of the glass. It’s not immediately clear that this is a reflection, however, which adds some intrigue to the shot- what are all these lights doing in the middle of the shot? This picture tempts you to look twice, which should be the aim of any good photograph.


Graphical Abstract Photography

I enjoy taking very graphical photographs. These pictures deliberately lack realism, so a viewer is forced to focus on the shapes, textures, and mood of the picture. These are some examples that I took last weekend at Punggol Park. (Part 1 here and Part 2 here)

Above: This flower was taken against a clear cloudless sky, and I just changed the colors from blue to pink- I think it suits the color scheme of this post better. I like how everything is so clean. Apart from changing the color of the sky, almost nothing was done to the shot. I love the gentle transition from red to pink to white- that comes from the different intensities of colour in the sky that day.

Above: You can see every texture on the beams of concrete in this picture, and they’re so evenly spaced out that there is a real rhythm to the picture as the eye moves from up to down across the scene. If the picture looks a bit 3D, that’s ’cause it is. This was not a flat scene. It is the underside of a set of pillars at the park, taken from an angle. There is a gap between each pillar, but the scene has been carefully composed so you can’t see the gap. I also applied a purple cast to everything to take out the realism, and focus the eye on the strong lines and beautiful textures here.

Above: I took this picture of children playing in the water fountain at Punggol Park last weekend. I used a slower shutter speed to convey the flurry of activity and movement in the scene. It was getting dark, and the darkness of this scene provides some ambience- as does the soft yellow light of the street lamps. I love how this looks very hand-drawn- the shapes of the children are so smooth that they look more like a hand-drawn cartoon, than a high-resolution photograph.


Tower Heist review: More Eddie Murphy please

Kudos to the marketing folks at Universal Pictures for creating a trailer that far outperforms the movie.

The trailer for the Tower Heist is wonderful- it is short, succinct, well-paced, and drums up excitement around the movie. Unfortunately, the movie falls far short of these standards. It’s as if somebody took the trailer and expanded it into a movie, adding plot-fillers around all the wonderful highlights that were summarised in the ad. Heck, they even screwed up the best joke in the movie- a hilarious scene that has a Jamaican woman talking suggestively about ‘using your fingers’ and capping it off with ‘are you married?’ In the trailer, this is the punch-line to a slam-dunk-of-a-joke. In the movie, it was a letdown- there was too much dialogue, and it really seemed like the two were having a serious conversation about marital life.

There were a few saving graces, however. I’ve sometimes thought that Ben Stiller’s movies (eg. Dodgeball) were too over-the-top. This one was a lot more subtle in its humour. There were also a few casting gems. Eddie Murphy displayed his comic genius in practically every scene he was in, and Gabourey Sidibe (last seen starring in “Precious”) continues to show that she has serious acting chops- even for comedy. Unfortunately the two’s screen time was very limited, and instead we get Matthew Broderick trying to make us laugh by cutting the security tag out of a Gap sweatshirt in an attempt to steal it. I don’t even remotely see how that could be funny.

After seeing the trailer, I was really looking forward to Tower Heist. Too bad the movie was this disappointing. Among the numerous plot “huh?” issues, there was a love story that went nowhere; a heist without any suspense; a comedy without many jokes; and b-listers trying to act stylish ala Ocean’s Eleven.

Too many marketing folks with their focus groups results trying to write the script: and so we get a movie that tries to please everyone, but ends up satisfying no one.

In case the movie-makers at Universal Pictures are reading this blog (they’re not), here’s a tip: all we needed was more Eddie Murphy. And maybe more Gabourey Sidibe too.


People at the Park

This weekend I went to Punggol Park. This being a park, there were lots of people around. Runners, kids, you name it. In general, these don’t make interesting subjects to me. Sweaty people aren’t fun to photography, and I wasn’t gonna try to nail the focus on kids- not with my manual focus lens, at least. But I did run across a couple taking their wedding pictures. These are always interesting to me. They’re recreating a beautiful photographic record that is basically entirely fake. This is kinda the magic of photography, I guess.

Above: Here the couple head up the hill for a shot of them framed against the beautiful blue sky. This picture really sums up what I feel about wedding photography. It’s like a beautiful couple taking pictures in very ‘bleah’ surroundings. I mean, look at the apartments in the background- this is a shot the official photography certainly won’t be excited about. But, after the magic of photography is applied, nobody’d know that these photographs were produced in such commonplace settings.

Above: I guess this is closer to what the wedding photographer had in mind. You see them doing their poses- again, more artificiality. I don’t mean that in a bad way- it’s just all so surreal to me. Anyway, the results are often fantastic, and I can definitely see why people do it.

Above: My dad was very excited to be at the park, and he wanted me to take a bunch of pictures of him. He made sure that I included the background so, as he puts it, he can ‘use it on Facebook’. Hooray for technology! On a sidenote, I’ve discovered how to make the yellow-green sickly colour of grass more palatable. Apply the same vintage-look to everything, and it actually looks okay! To my eyes at least.

Above: I’ve noticed this for a while already. There are a LOT of fellow photographers in Singapore, and you see them at all the usual places- museums, events, parks… Photography is really taking off as a hobby in Singapore. I guess it’s because there are only so many places to visit, and ironically, the best way to revisit a place is to look at it again through a camera lens. PS, the only part of this photo I really find interesting is the strong lines of the pavilion the photographer is standing on. Ha. I guess at heart, I’m really not a people photographer.


Abstracts of a Bridge at Punggol Park

I got to the newly built Punggol Park this last weekend and really enjoyed taking pictures that day. Among all the fantastic shots I got, one particular bridge- on the flyover above the park- really captivated me.

Above: This is the first picture of the bridge that I took as I got to Punggol Park. I love the strong curvature in the structure, and the single lamp-post balances out the emptiness of the landscape. I was lucky- the drama in the clouds made the background look exciting. In fact, the clouds at the bottom of the picture make the whole structure look like it’s at a very high altitude- which it’s not. And leading the viewer down exciting, ‘impossible’ paths is something I always enjoy.

Above: One thing I always try to do is to get different angles of a subject. This involves more legwork, but there are times when the subject is just worth it. In this case, the bridge had a vertical arc extending upwards, but also a horizontal one where people could stand and look out at the park. You can see the shadow of a rail on the left hand side of the picture- this adds a bit of drama to the monotony of the shot, so I left it in. This rail is part of the flyover above the park.

Above: This is a view of the horizontal arc where you can see what it was meant for- sight-seeing. It was a beautiful day out, and there were lots of people walking about enjoying the view. Ironically, I spent so much time walking around and taking photos of the bridge that I never actually went on it. But that’s what you gotta do when you only have a short window of time to take pictures with (I got there late afternoon, and the light was starting to fade).

Above: One good thing of getting there in the late afternoon is that if you’re lucky, you get to take a picture of the sunset. I took several pictures of the bridge at this time- some with people, and some without. Ultimately, I chose this one. I think the Punggol Park is a place of community, for families and friends to gather, and having people in the shot emphasises this more. I was lucky with this shot: a boy on the right can be distinctly seen pointing towards the sun. This adds dynamism and motion to the picture, and also (together with the two lamp-posts in the centre-right) provides a leading visual line into the center of the frame.


Restaurant Review: Wild about Wings

A while back I took a trip to East Coast for wings. I ALWAYS love wings. It was my roommate in college who got me converted to these. I didn’t use to like them (they are way more trouble than drumsticks), but as he put it, it’s all skin, what’s there not to like?

Yup. So anyway this place was offering a deal a while back. The deal validity ended 13 Sep, but when we visited recently there were zero people there at dinner time. Zero. So much for Groupon-type deals driving repeat business, huh? Sure, we got there a bit earlier (6pm), but it was a Saturday night, the carpark was full, and by the time we had finished eating, there was a queue forming to eat the Korean BBQ buffet opposite this restaurant. Our choice for dinner? Still empty. Yikes. Doesn’t bode well.

But anyway we didn’t know all this when we got there. There were two guys about my age there running the place, so I assumed they were young, enterprising guys with a fantastic product (why else would they open such a shop? It’s not like this will earn them millions). So just go in and try, lor.

The wings themselves are ok, quite well priced. $1.59 per wing- not winglet. $0.99 if you go during happy hour (we missed it). Although really, given their traffic… maybe every hour should be happy hour. Haha. Anyway, shan’t be so mean.

You can choose some interesting flavours, including cajun jerk, wasabi, and so on. We tried cajun, since I’ve always loved jerk chicken (you had to tear me away from them in college… Yum…) That slightly sweet and tangy sauce, blackened and smokey flavour.. mmmm!

This is what we got:

"jerk" chicken

Erm, this is just deep fried chicken with chili powder. It is not blackened in anyway whatsoever, and it is certainly not cajun. The Wasabi chicken was no better:

"wasabi" chicken

As you can see, it’s a (very similar) deep fried chicken with wasabi mayo. Honestly, it’s like something you expect from a cheap-KFC, not from true aficionados of chicken wings. Tip 1: not everything has to be fried. Tip 2: go for authenticity with your sauces please.

Anyway, it was disappointing. Also, minimum order per flavour is five huge wings. Even though I eat a lot, I still couldn’t finish. Again, considering the lack of clients, maybe these guys should have some ‘sampler’ type dishes so we can try more flavours instead. These two weren’t up to mark.

If you come expecting KFC-type chicken, though, they’re okay. Plus gotta admire their passion for food, starting a cafe at such a young age. Anyway, afterwards took a nice walk around East Coast Park. A pasar malam was going on: very happening! Maybe next time I’ll try the Korean BBQ Buffet :)

carnival

Above: This carousel was part of a carnival/pasar malam (night market) that was going on. You know, those make-shift ones you pay a few dollars for.

flea market

Above: This being a flea market, there was lots of stuff to buy. It’s a bit early for Christmas, but well, why not, eh?

Above: There was also a McDonald’s in the vicinity. For some reason, I was most interested in Ronald McDonald’s feet. hmm…

Wild About Wings

#A-10 Marine Cove@East Coast Park

1000 East Coast Parkway

(near McDonalds)


Halloween at Community Service

So this week I went to the place I volunteer at, and they had a Halloween party all planned. It was very nicely done! The whole place was very scary- really gets one in the mood. These guys are definitely more artistically inclined than I am. Anyway, we’re not allowed to take pictures of people (privacy concerns), but here are some pictures of the decorations. Most of it was hand-made, too! The pictures are in black and white for more effect.

Above: This macabre doll reminded me a bit of a game I used to play as a kid: Grim Fandango. The game itself was modeled after the Mexican festival, “Day of the Dead”.

Above: This mix of a Spider & Crab looked really strange. More cute than scary. The dry ice makes it look like it is emerging from a swamp, misty effect and all. PS, that ‘dry ice’ is really cotton wool.

 

Above: This hand was REALLY life-like. They had a wound painted in, too, to make it look like the hand had been cut from some dead corpse. Good stuff.

Above: Another sin-city style shot of a scary idol doll. I really like how the fresh red blood contrasts against the grey and black doll.


Above: What is Halloween without a pumpkin? This Jack O’Lantern had a spider crawling all over it, for added effect.

Above: This red lamp was like the genie in the bottle. I guess you just gotta rub her the right way? Yuck, count me out.


Golden pictures

Apart from black and white, I’ve started to explore single-color photography in, well, other colours. They’re all similar in that they’re primarily explorations of tone, texture and line, but the tone sometimes gives a very different feeling. Black and white can be calming but sometimes aloof and a tad intellectual. My second choice is typically sepia. The yellow, golden colour makes everything feel warm. Kinda like summer.

door

Above: This first picture has a beautiful golden tinge. I love the layered shadows, and how contrasts against the golden light. I can almost feel the warm metallic texture of this car door. Notice how the picture has leading lines from the bottom left to the top right of the frame. This adds some motion and dynamism to the shot.

spotlight

Above: Here there is a warmer, more orange, spotlight shining on the colourful balls of light in the background. It’s as if a powerful spot of light suddenly illuminated this scene, not unlike a spotlight on a stage. Actually, the image that comes to my mind is an alien ship shining a light down in search of someone to abduct. On a technical note, I like the lens flare through the glass.

butts

Above: I took this picture of a statue at a restaurant. I think the old, washed-out look fits the roman-ancient subject, and I framed the image such that we see only the middle portion of their torso- easily the most interesting part, IMO. *wink*

gold

Above: This gold panel was taken at the same restaurant as above. I preserved its more shiny look- makes it look like it’s really made out of gold. PS, it’s just wood.

moon scenery

Above: This picture of the full-moon was framed against some trees and leaves swaying gently in the wind. Some leaves are blurred as a result. The sky was also quite ominous that night- eerie dark clouds scattered across the sky. I like the strong lines of the branches. If I had a chance to do this shot again, I would take a longer exposure to get rid of the black fringes. Or even use a HDR shot. As it stands, the center looks okay, the rest- not as much.

bowl

Above: This is my take of the myraid pictures of landscapes being reflected off of water- here is a reflection from a table. This bowl was taken in Chinatown, with a red cloth as background. I used the table as a prop to explore the reflection of the red cloth, then filtered everything with a pale red-orange color for effect. The picture is taken in a style very unlike my norm- I normally go very dark, or very saturated. Seldom do I come up with pictures that are very pale. This fits both the subject matter (old bowl in an old hawker center) and the colors (red, white, orange, yellow), though.


Movie Review: Footloose is still a great song

Of all the classic dancing movies that I remember, Footloose is probably the best candidate for a remake. Can you imagine anyone trying to say “nobody puts baby in a corner” in a remake? Or any other movie trying to recreate the magic that was the Bee Gee’s Stayin’ Alive being played to a smooth John Travolta’s strut down the street?

No, those movies could only be done once. Footloose is different, however. Its themes of “city meets country” are evergreen, and whether city meets country (as in this movie), or whether country meets city (Coyote Ugly, for example), the result is always the same. Both sides discover they’re more alike than different, and America lives happily ever after. And if America living happily ever after doesn’t lend itself well to a remake, then I don’t know what does.

Relevant themes aside, the movie also has one other key ingredient that endears it to a remake. Its biggest stars are still translatable today. The Footloose theme song continues to be extremely catchy, and I couldn’t help but bob along when the movie opened with this classic. The movie’s other big star (as the name suggests) are the feet, and thankfully, feet look quite similar today as when they first made the movie. We’re reminded of this again immediately, in the opening scene’s homage to the original.

But while this modern movie is supposed to be a remake, it also pokes fun cheekily at the original. In the opening scene, for instance, we see feet. Lots and lots of feet. While the original did this to wow audiences (“what loose feet!”), this one adopts an angle that will be painfully familiar to any photographer who has ever taken a picture and realised that something critical had been cut off from the shot. When I saw the original I never felt this, but here I found myself thinking- where are the dancers’ bodies?

The humor of this scene is a little subtle, but in my favourite scene of the movie the laughs come thick and fast. We watch as Miles Teller clumsily ‘learns’ to dance to a song that was on the original soundtrack- “Let’s hear it for the boys”. The key difference? Rather than being used as a heart-wrencher, the song is now relegated to status of ‘oldie’, and is sung, tongue-in-cheek, by 7-year old girls belting classics from a ‘barbie’ karaoke set.

One thing is clear: humor is this movie’s strongest point, and Miles Teller in particular steals the show time and again with his brilliant comic acting. In his first scene, for instance, he bumps into the lead. They square off, trade insults, and look like they’re about to come to blows (oh no, not another teenage angst dealing with high-school movie…). But then at the perfect moment, Miles smiles and introduces himself: he’d been joking all along. The actor also has an effortless talent for physical comedy, and one scene in particular is practically worth the price of admission. As he listens to a story about a Russian menage a trois, Miles displays an array of priceless facial experiences and breathless anticipation. It sounds ordinary in the retelling, but trust me, it’s good.

Sadly, Miles is the only decent young actor in a show about young people. Julianne Hough is obviously an amazing dancer (though she doesn’t show it much) and extremely pretty, but she’s called upon to carry a very emotional role and she’s found lacking. Her brother dies at the beginning of the show, and her father votes in draconian laws like ‘no drinking, no coming home past 10pm, and… no dancing’ for the city. While all this is happening the camera is transfixed on her, so we know it’s important- but then we spend the rest of the movie trying to find out why. After the rules are set, something is different about Julianne. Early on we learn she used to be a real goody-two-shoes, but now she’s suddenly courting danger, and when pushed to her limits, even gives up her virginity to a nobody. The question is, why?

The pieces start falling together, but more because the plot (and dialogue) throws (not drops, throws) hints at us. Initially she seems thrilled by the high-life. She breaks the rules, and she seeks out the new city-boy, seemingly as a symbol of rebellion. But things are not so simple. When the boy rejects her (“I want to kiss you… someday”), her heart starts to soften. No, it’s not the high-life that attracts her, it’s something else. Eventually everything falls apart in a church as father and daughter confronts each other after she’s been beaten up by her ex-boyfriend. You’ve blamed our brother for everything, she screams at him, so that now nobody can do anything fun anymore- everyone remembers her brother for causing the draconian laws and not his virtues. Finally! We understand. She’s angry at her father for taking away her childhood fun, and for tarnishing her brother’s memory.

Or so we think. Nope, that’s not it. Something’s not right in this scene. After all, nobody else seems to care that there is no dancing (the standard response: a shrug, and ‘it’s the law’). And as for her brother, Julianne does not mention him anywhere else in the movie. There’s not a single scene where she recalls the memory of her brother. No, this was never about him. We finally (this time, well and truly) learn what the matter was when she utters this line, almost as a throwaway, to her dad after they patch things up: “I didn’t want to disappoint you”. So it turns out that it was about her all along. She saw how much her father did to honor her brother’s memory after he’d made a mistake, and in her adolescent jealousy she wanted this too. “Hey, I’m bad too, dad! Change the law for me!” There’s all this festering under the surface, but it never comes out. Julianne’s role is evidently limited to: smile, wear tight jeans, and dazzle.

That she does. Thankfully, the movie stays out of its own way. It knows that it has a crop of dancers masquerading as actors (none of that James Dean or even the original Kevin Bacon coming-of-age stuff here), and so the writers just put in strong dialogue that speak for themselves (they have no choice), and then stay out of the way as the stars do what they do best. They dance. The lead actor is extremely athletic, and he spends a lot of his dance routines in mid-air. We’ve all seen Julianne on Dancing With The Stars; and even the dorky Miles Teller shows himself a smooth operator on the dance-floor.

In the end, this movie still ends up being loads of fun. It’s funny, the dialogue is strong, and the actors aren’t really called upon to act all that much. They focus on doing what they do best- they dance. To the beat of a song that was first released the year I was born, and still holds the magical formula to get audiences off their seats.


Black and White, both day and night

I’ve continued to explore black and white photography more. I’ve always loved washed out, graphical abstract black and whites but I’ve also recently begun to enjoy shooting darker pictures that force one to explore different tones of gray. This picture is like that. Kinda like a grey portrait of cars. I love the spotlight on the cars, and I love how everything is in shades of gray. Really reminds me of a stage. This was taking at night, with the street-lamps masquerading as ‘spotlights’.

cars

This last weekend I also went to botanic gardens. It is really convenient to get there now- the MRT gets you right to the doorstep.

gate to botanic gardens

Botanic gardens is really boring to me. Greens are relaxing, but for me they really don’t make good pictures. Nonetheless, I guess I couldn’t leave the botanic gardens without taking some pictures of greens. But argh, I hate the yellowish-green color of leaves. They look sickly and pale- not inspiring at all. So I took these colours out, and I was left with a ‘sin-city’ style grey and red.

children and flowers


Happy Birthday Dad!

Just celebrated my dad’s 61st birthday at one of his favourite restaurants. Yay! Happy Birthday dad!

getting to the restaurant

lobster bisque starter

foie gras and fillet mignon entre

dad's birthday cake

even greenie pok and his girlfriend were present

everyone except Joleen! awww


Pictures of Metallica

I’ve long wanted to do a series on metal objects. They reflect light; the paint on metal frequently has amazing tactile properties; and of course they are oh so smooth. Metallic objects remind me of techno-inspired, futuristic object. They’re bright, synthetic, and unnatural. Love it!

carousel

Inception (how the world tilts)

pillars and chains

motor

lizard friend of the green hornet

dash of white


Just updated iOS5: iMessage vs Whatsapp

I just updated my iOS 5. I love the cloud, the wireless syncing, and the notification center. iMessage is also neat. But can it replace Whatsapp?

I tried it. The short answer is, no. With one major caveat.

But first, three reasons why it doesn’t replace Whatsapp for our mobile phones.

One, it doesn’t instantly know whether a recipient is a iPhone user, so you either wait while it checks, or you send and risk sending SMSes instead. (unlike Whatsapp).

Two, the default is to ‘send by SMS’ when iMessage doesn’t work. This means that sometimes when my connection falters, I end up sending a frivolous chat message by SMS, in chunks of many different messages, vs consolidating info into one paid SMS like I would normally do if I really were to send by SMS. Sucks. Happened twice to me already, in the space of five minutes. Not so bad in Singapore where SMSes are bundled, but in the US, where both incoming and outgoing SMSes are charged at like 20 cents a pop, that’s very dangerous.

Three, you can turn off ‘send by SMS’. But that also means you can no longer send SMSes to non-iMessage users. Also not a good option.

In the end, iMessage works not as a replacement for Whatsapp, but as a replacement for SMS. If you really want to SMS someone, fire up Messages and just send, knowing it will be a ‘bonus’ if you manage to send to someone via iMessage not SMS. This is really only useful for you to save money messaging who have iPhones but no Whatsapp, or for important messages that MUST go through NOW. (sometimes the Whatsapp server runs into problems) If they have Whatsapp and it’s not an important message, you’re better off using Whatsapp. Plus, Whatsapp is cross-platform. iMessage is not.

For phone messaging, iMessage really needed to exist as a separate app. Too bad they tried to integrate too much.

—-

PS, there IS one instance where iMessage is wonderful: chatting on the iPad. Now full conversations can be carried out on your big iPad screen. Whatsapp doesn’t exist on iPad. So you’ll suddenly be able to text and converse with others through your iPads (and theirs). I can see lots of use for this (especially in the corporate world) already…


New photos with old lenses

If, like me, you like all things retro, then you’ll definitely appreciate how the new mirrorless cameras allow you to breathe new life into old lenses. Since they don’t have a mirror, adapters of all thickness exist to either simulate the extra distance a mirror would have taken up, or just to mount the lens on the camera.

Vintage lenses, like old cinema, don’t have as good sharpness, contrast, and eye-popping color as their modern counterparts. But they come with lots of character, unique color, and romantic notions of where they’ve been before. Some of the lenses I’ve been using date back to the 1950s or 1960s! Think old black and white cinema vs HD movies. The latter looks much more arresting, but the former will always have a special place in my heart.

Isco Göttingen Westron 35mm 2.8

Part of the fun has also been finding out about the history of the lenses. This lens was manufactured by the West German company Isco, based in Göttingen. It has been manufacturing lenses since 1936, and I have certainly never heard of it. It has a 35mm field of field (70mm equivalent on my camera), and a max aperture of 2.8. I love it for its deep color and sharpness.

PS, just look at the sharpness of the leaves on that last black and white photo…

Fujinon 75mm 1.8

This lens is not actually that old. They’re still selling it. But it’s typically used for commercial high-resolution manufacturing purposes. Since the whole name of the game is ‘finding another use for lenses’, it qualifies. :) Apparently, as far as such lenses go, this one was specially built for a ‘higher-resolution’ of 5 megapixels. That is of course far short of the 12 megapixels that my EP3 can shoot, but the extra resolution really comes through in the ability of this camera to resolve tones well. I have not seen a more beautiful black and white/ single-color tone lens. It has very pale and muted colors, but when those are translated into black and white, it shows an ability to differentiate between the many subtle shades of grey very beautifully.

First up, a color picture that I downloaded from the net taken with this lens. (Credit goes to Yu-Lin Chan from Toronto for the picture). Notice how the colors don’t really ‘pop out’ at you.

Panasonic Lumix G Vario 7-14mm F/4 ASPH 

As they say, a picture speaks a thousand words, so here’s a picture taken with a modern lens to show you the contrast and sharpness they’re capable of, and the VERY different look that ends up being created.


Movie-Review: The Change-Up (it’s Good!)

I got a chance to watch a sneak preview of The Change-Up on Monday night at the Cathay. I’d gone in with low expectations. After all, ‘let’s swap!’ movies are APLENTY, and you just know how the plot is going to go. It’s going to be alternatively good and bad, then finally a lesson will be learnt and everyone will happily go back to their own lives.

And the moral of the story is always the same: The grass is greener from the other side, and so all it takes is to look at your own life from another person’s eyes to appreciate it better.

But the devil is in the details. What separates a good comedy from a bad one is not its plot, but the way it executes the jokes. Does it do it subtly, or does it smack you in the face with it jokes ala over-the-top Jim Carrey style? Do the writers do new and unexpected twists, or rehash the same-old “age/gender/sexuality” change-ups? As far as such comedies go, The Change-Up is in the “subtle and novel” camp, and the movie is all the better for it.

I’m trying to avoid spoilers, but the movie’s gags generally relies more on conversation than slapstick. Even the ‘action comedy’ scenes are relatively subtle. When needed, such as during Ryan Reynold’s love scenes with the very gorgeous Olivia Wilde, the movie turns off humour almost entirely, much like a master chef sprinkles just a sprinkling of pepper to season his dish.

As a result, the movie never feels like it is trying too hard. It’s effortlessly and (more importantly) believably funny. Its jokes come across as the kind that a regular funny-guy in the office might try on his colleagues (which is NOT something I can say about Jim Carrey or increasingly even Ben Stiller). The characters in this movie are generally believable rather than stereotypical, and the movie ends up having much more heart than I’d expected it would.

For a movie in this genre, you could do much worse. Definitely recommended if you’re looking for a light-hearted-but-not-entirely-stupid comedy.

Edit: I’ve now read some other reviews of the movie. Apparently some other reviewers were fixated on the number of boobs showed in this movie. And there were many. At least 3 pairs, in my count. But The Change-Up is not an erotic movie by any means, and it didn’t feel like they were trying to pull the trick of ‘let’s mock ourselves by showing as many boobs as possible’ either. Not a big deal in my mind.

 


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