Tag Archives: China

Breaking the Rules – Street Photography with the Rokinon 14mm f/2.8

We’d normally use ultra-wide lenses for two reasons: (1)  to capture something very big (i.e. landscapes, buildings, stars in the sky); or (2) to create a sense of space in a place where there is none (i.e. real estate photography). Portraits are generally a big no-no because its inherent visual perspective creates a sense of unease. But then again, a cinematographer like Masanobu Takayanagi can use it masterfully in Silver Linings Playbook to subtly bring out Bradley Cooper’s troubled mental state in front of Jennifer Lawrence.

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Ian Norman over at The Lonely Speck uses this Rokinon to great results for his astrophotography

I bought my Rokinon 14mm f/2.8 on a whim and while it was on sale. At $339 MSRP, it is one of the most affordable lenses in the Sony E Mount line up. But as neither a landscape or an astrophotographer, I had no real need for an ultra-wide. And I suspect for real-estate photographers, who incidentally have the highest average salaries out of all photographer types, they won’t be relying on this bargain basement lens with wild barrel distortions either.

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The Rokinon is also labeled as the Samyang. When mounted to the A7 series, it is absolutely humongous. Not the ideal street photography lens then, but fun to use nonetheless.

One day, over better qualified candidates like the Zeiss 55mm f/1.8 and as if to defy the camera gods, I decided to bring this lens during my recent trip to China for Lunar New Years since Asia, in general, is great for street photography. So, I challenged myself to use a 14mm ultra-wide on the streets and this is what I’ve learned.

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Photographing “China B”

Spanning into the mists of time, its history has predicated thousands of years of philosophies, dogmas, and customs. It’s population, a conceptually difficult to imagine 1,357,000,000, is ultra diverse in its cultures, languages, and cuisines. It’s also very large, the same size as the United States, as it borders 14 adjacent developing countries.

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Shanghai, or as Anthony Bourdain put it, as city that makes his New York City look like a third world country.

What many envision China today, perhaps through news programs, tourism, or the Beijing Olympics, may be a rapidly developing economy with shining beacon cities like Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing. However, few casual tourists or tie-wearing business people will have the opportunity to venture into China’s countryside, to rural roads less traveled, and to what one scholar termed as “China B.”

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Power lines stretch across resting winter farmlands.

In my recent travels to China during Lunar New Years, I had the opportunity to travel to an old town on the outskirts of Xi’an, in the Shanxi province, right in the middle of the country. Along the 1.5 hour car ride, I pointed my Sony A7 out the window and capture a side of the country rarely seen. Every image below was shot with a Sony A7 with a Zeiss 35mm f/2.8. The lens focused quickly and confidently, but it was the micro-contrast of the images that really inspired.

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4+1 Photography Tips for the Business Traveler

Imagine this scene. You’ve been walking through the forest/city for days, mentally preparing yourself for the moment your subject/scene will appear before you. You know your camera, you’ve studied the weather, the lighting, the time, you can even see with your mind’s eye that one image that you want to capture. Finally, the time and place is right. Your subject is there, the light is right, the camera is purring in your hands. You look through the viewfinder, you feel the rush, the connection between you and that small part of the world you see in front of you. Click. The perfect photo. The trip was worth it.

A view of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. A little known fact is that, according to my dodgy guide (who even introduced me to the last nephew of the last emperor, not a scam, promise) entry to the City was not forbidden, it was just that males entering the city had to be castrated to do so - which justifies the name. An even lesser-known fact is that I hiked up the hill in Jingshan Park behind the Forbidden city to take this photo wile every hung-over from a late dinner with collaborators in a business suit.
A view of the Forbidden City in Beijing, China. A little known fact is that, according to my dodgy guide (who even introduced me to the last nephew of the last emperor, not a scam, promise) entry to the City was not forbidden, it was just that males entering the city had to be castrated to do so – which justifies the name. An even lesser-known fact is that I hiked up the hill in Jingshan Park behind the Forbidden city to take this photo while very hung-over from a late dinner with collaborators – in a business suit.

The above scenario is what dedicated photography trips are all about. You choose the place, the time and think about the images you want to come away with. Most importantly, you have set aside a good amount of time to allow you to concentrate on getting that perfect image. That means time to explore the scene, time to try different viewpoints and techniques, time to make sure that as many of the key elements of your image come together before that crucial final capture. This is the stuff photographers’ dreams are made of and the reason why people pay considerable sums of money to embark on these highly organised and professional led trips.

A view along the river Rhine in Strasbourg, France. Camera on a portable mini tripod, photo taken while eating a decidedly mediocre lunch with a work colleague.
A view along the river Rhine in Strasbourg, France. Camera on a portable mini tripod, photo taken while eating a decidedly mediocre lunch with a work colleague.

What if you don’t have the time and/or money to do that though? What if you do have the opportunity to travel, say since work sends you to different places around the country/world, but not the dedicated time to allow you to take photos? Is it time to give up, take some quick snapshots through the taxi, buy a souvenir at the airport on your way out and call it quits? Not to fear fellow business traveller, photography beyond casual snapshots and selfies is still possible, provided you’ve done a bit of homework and are dedicated enough to make it happen. Let’s see how you can have your cake and eat it.

A view from the top of St Peter's Cathedral in Munich, Germany. One of the good things about work travel is that lunch time can usually be your time and is also a time where popular spots are free of tourists. In this case I didn't have to cue up to climb to the top of the bell tower, which meant that I was up, photographing and down within 40 minutes.
A view from the top of St Peter’s Cathedral in Munich, Germany. One of the good things about work travel is that lunch time can usually be your time and is also a time where popular spots are free of tourists. In this case I didn’t have to cue up to climb to the top of the bell tower, which meant that I was up, photographing and down within 40 minutes.

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The World’s Top 10 Sunsets

I have seen some spectacular sunsets around the world but there are still many places that I would love to travel to and capture with my lens. It is always exciting going to a new place and seeing new things for the first time. I love how each place has a uniqueness to it even if it is within the same country. Last summer I was out shooting a great deal in Toronto and every night the sky would paint a new picture for me to capture through my lens. The cityscape always had a different backdrop. Shooting at sunset into nightfall is one of my favorite times to start snapping.

Here are some of the places I hope to visit one day and have the pleasure of witnessing the sunset with my very own eyes:

10) Kenya

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Image taken by Roberto Coletta | Kenya, Africa |

Since I was wee I remember always having a fascination about visiting Africa and going on a safari. I am a huge animal lover and would love to be able to experience the sight of such spectacular animals in their natural habitat. Elephants, giraffes, lions, zebras and tigers are some of the most magnificent animals on the planet. It would be a dream come true to one day have the opportunity to capture both the animals and the sunsetting at the same time.

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Cities at Night from Space

If there is one type of photography I most want to explore, it would have to be astro photography.  I don’t just mean taking photos of galaxies and nebulae from a mountain top with a telescope adapter, but I mean actually taking photos while floating in space. As a mere earthbound mortal, I’m not sure if commercial space exploration will be available in my life time. But in the meantime, we can live vicariously through the photos taken by the lucky astronauts in the International Space Station.

How many cities do you recognize? What does your home town look like at night?

New York City

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New York City (Nikon D3S @ 400mm, 1/30s, f/2.8, ISO 51200) – The lights illuminate the undeniable shape of Manhattan Island, surrounded by the four other boroughs of the city. North faces left in the photo. The narrow unlit area in the middle of Manhattan is central park. NYC, the city that never sleeps. With all those lights, seems about right.

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Beijing (Nikon D3S @ 400mm, 1/40s, f/3.2, ISO 51200) - The concentric "ring roads" of Beijing surround the Forbidden Palace in the city center. North is up in the photo (rotated from the NASA image) and the city's brightly lit financial and commercial centers are located in the eastern parts of the city, between the 2nd and the 4th rings roads,
Beijing (Nikon D3S @ 400mm, 1/40s, f/3.2, ISO 51200) – The concentric “ring roads” of Beijing surround the Forbidden Palace in the city center. North is up in the photo (rotated from NASA’s original image) and the city’s brightly lit financial and commercial centers are located in the eastern parts of the city, between the 2nd and the 4th rings roads.

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