At the Chinese garden

We just had another long weekend here in the Philippines, the kind which employees long for and plan for in advance. This time, it was a 3-day weekend, and with it was available time to go out once again.

We decided to spend an afternoon​ at the Chinese Garden, right in the middle of Luneta Park, Manila. We were surprised when, for the first time, we learned that there was indeed one garden in that park which we have visited a few times already.

After a cursory research, we finally went there. Luckily the traffic Metro Manila is notorious for was nowhere to be found that day. I brought some extra shirts as the weather was hot, and two cameras: the workhorse Nikon SLR, and the super handy smartphone camera.

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I immediately realized that I should not have brought the workhorse with me that day. It was a hot, sunny afternoon, with plenty of good light all around, that the tiny sensor on the smartphone never had a difficulty in getting correct exposures. Details were recorded well, though I suspect the dynamic range was not as quite as wide as the full frame sensor on the other camera.

Nevertheless, the situation then did not call for such capability. Bright conditions normally make shooting easy; smartphone camera sensors—given their small sizes—thrive on good light to be able to keep ISO sensitivities down, thereby reducing image noise.

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Students were flocking inside, doing their thing—dance routine rehearsals, most of them were—and it was a bit of a challenge to find a spot with ample shadows and be calm.

From where I took this photo (see above), we could hear them trying to master their cheer/lines/movements. The interesting detail was that the lines they were chanting were straight from the Desiderata.

Hey guys, how about ‘what peace there may be in silence’ for this guy who just want to enjoy the greens? 

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We moved around, exploring what we quickly observed as a really small, nice area, punctuated with people who were either practicing students, or senior citizens relaxing. I tried to minimize getting photos here and there, and just went with the flow. Although the cheers and the noise from the students were at times too loud, I could still here chirping birds somewhere, perhaps in the trees.

I saw a statue and then tried to get out of that most famous of all photography clutches—rule of thirds. It took me quite a while to take that photo of Confucius unfettered by strangers roaming around.

It was certainly an exercise in patience under the heat of the afternoon sun.

While we were starting to wrap up our visit, I went back to the main area and took this photo of the ceiling.

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The ceiling. Yes. But the Dragon Scroll is—wait, Po took it?—missing.

I started to recall that part of the movie Kung Fu Panda, and the next one after, and then the next, until the students who were staying quiet started practicing their Desiderata lines again and snapped me out of my reveries. It made me recall this:

Going placidly amid the noise.

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It is wet season right now in the Philippines, and along with it goes the nice sunny weather that most of the time provides the impetus to travel and take pictures. I can hear rain pitter-pattering on the roof, doubtless this will be a cold night with the air-conditioning even at near 27 degrees celsius.

What this means is that there’s a block of time available to visit images I’ve made before. Essentially, if I’m not taking photos outside, I would find myself taking photos inside the studio. Not that I enjoy one over the other, but tackling studio shoots is a different world wherein one can really control the crucial variables—chief among the light—and replicate if needed.

Maria’s a fashion model, and I got to know of her when I saw her appear in a TV commercial for our Company. As luck would have it, a friend who has been into photography also, asked me to join him in a photoshoot with her.

Fast forward many days later, we booked a major photography studio (manned by competent staff) and maximized the limited time (3 hours, the rental rate was expensive as it was a good studio) available. It was fun, of course, and it was also a refresher of sorts for me, as I’ve been doing landscape photography for quite some time before this. The shift was subtle—yes, it is still photography at the end of the day—but choosing and shaping the output of a strobe needs a different way of seeing things—and skill—to execute even a simple portrait shot.

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In the previous centuries, this was the bell tower of a church near the foot of Mayon Volcano. I was told that the volcano exploded, spewed lava, and then caused rocks and molten material to cover the surrounding area, including the church, until all fell quiet.

The tower is all that remains today, which has become a famous destination, and is even featured on the back of the Php100 bill.

I’ve been asking myself why I chose this particular composition, when I could have included the volcano at the back, or make the tower as the anchor to all other elements in the photo. I’ve given much thought about it—yet all that is clear to my mind now is that I chose this because everything else has been done, and because I find the cloudless sky perfect for the background.

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Plenty has been said and written about El Nido—that part of Palawan where Karst limestone cliffs tower above white sand beaches and crystal clear waters—especially now that prestigious international magazines has repeatedly taken notice.

I first heard of it when I was still in high school. There was an article in Time that gave us details. I forgot about it, until just a few years ago, when the rising popularity of DSLRs prompted many to travel and explore the country.

The whole area is just north of mainland Palawan, where Bacuit Bay meets nearly 40 islands made of rough, natural, limestone material. Going there necessitates having a sufficient number of memory cards for the camera, as well as making it protected from the sea and sea spray.

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Inside a bus travelling on the highway and taking a photo of the rainy countryside using a smartphone camera with HDR activated is a challenge, particularly on the focus tracking capability of the camera’s sensor and the software involved.

Out of the 12 photos I made, only 2 made it. It was hard, under those conditions, but it was also kind of fulfilling knowing full well I deliberately chose to use that handicap. Yes, it was like that.

Until I remembered the reason why I was on that bus going to the province…

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Events such as company celebrations and the performances are such a joy to cover. The opportunity to get up close with performers—and celebrities—can sometimes become an experience on its own.

I have a hard drive full of photos taken during events just waiting to be posted—does it have to?—whether on Facebook, or here in WordPress. It seems to me what I am looking for is how to tie them together to form a coherent story, similar to the photo essays one can find in Life or in Time.

I think that there is an underlying theme that I just haven’t really scratched up to the surface. The pressure leading to the event day? The grit? The lights, sounds, and that near impossible to articulate stage vibe? Perhaps.