Archive for the ‘New Zealand’ Category

Looking back a little bit…

A couple of days ago I put together something nice from a trip to Utah last September. My earlier post was from our all-too-brief Narrows hike, but this was from a side trip to Snow Canyon State Park. It’s not often that clouds are actually the subject of pictures I take — usually they’re just up there to compliment the landscape — but this time it was the other way around.

All that to say, that’s not the image in this post. Since Tucker is still working up images from his Arizona trip and I’m sitting on Hawaii, Utah, and as it happens, still more New Zealand, I’m going with something that ought to play a little differently next to the red rocks of the American West. I was recently asked for a higher resolution copy of this post from 2011 and when I went to find it, I discovered that many of my older work files are corrupted!

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

Ugh. This is not what we talked about.

And it gets worse: a lot of my originals from 2011 are simply missing from my Aperture library, leaving many HDR brackets incomplete! In the spirit of trying to provide a print file for this scene anyway, I scoured the bowels of Aperture and wrangled up 9  of the original 15 shots that comprise the final image. Upon closer inspection I found no bracket to be completely gone so I fired up the magic wand that is Adobe Camera Raw and recreated the remaining frames from the original nine. Ill-advised, but this is exactly the situation where that was the only course of action. What started as a simple request became a curious challenge as I realized that a full reprocessing of the scene would yield differing results from the original attempt in 2011, results that would undoubtedly reflect changes in, well, me. I am very pleased with the change in style over two and a half years’ time and look forward to occasionally looking back on old images to see more of how my tastes have changed.

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can't even tell they're there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

Perhaps my favorite change is the small orange flowers. You can’t even tell they’re there in the first version: Milford Sound, NZ

Site links work again! Huzzah!

Hello again, it’s been a while. We’ve been recently plagued with some website coding problems that have kept the site from functioning correctly… but everything has been ironed out! We can continue posting and you can continue browsing. Thanks for sticking with us!

That being said, I thought I’d share some special images to celebrate our website’s repair. Way back when, I was a study abroad student in New Zealand and many amazing travel adventures ensued. I was lucky enough to get to drive out to Milford Sound twice in the time I was there and I hope to eventually find an excuse to go back. On both visits, the weather was cloudy and rainy, leading to some unusual clouds and a moody atmosphere. Suddenly, the sun punched a tiny hole in the clouds and shone directly down onto the water in the distance…

A truly bizarre sight. The weather seemed to have discouraged the kiwis from visiting that day and I had the sound to myself.

A truly bizarre sight. The weather seemed to have discouraged the kiwis from visiting that day and I had the sound to myself: Milford Sound, NZ

On the other trip, I turned to face the hillside climbing away from the sound to my right. The scope of the mountains running back and the streams coming down was baffling: Milford Sound, NZ

On the other trip, I turned to face the hillside climbing away from the sound to my right. The scope of the mountains running back and the streams coming down was baffling: Milford Sound, NZ

 

Kaikoura Panorama

Finally.

The day after arriving in New Zealand (it feels like just a few days ago-it’s been over a month!) Andrew and I got up early to go on a boat ride, but first we went out to the beach in front of our hotel and I shot a panorama with his camera. The view from the east coast of the south island, from the Kaikoura peninsula where we were, was pretty much amazing, and I tried to capture it with this picture. I lack Andrew’s finesse in processing these HDR panoramas, so it took me a while to get it into good shape. Now that I know how, I want to do more!!! Argh. Unfortunately I’m on my way back to Atlanta now, so I may not have a huge amount of picture opportunities in the near future. Fortunately, Andrew, Tucker, and I just got done with a trip to Yosemite, and I have some pictures from my trip to Australia, and Andrew also has been around to several other national parks, so we should have some serious HDRs in the pipe.

 

The beach wasn't actually so curvy, the panorama just distorts perspective some.

 

Otago Peninsula

So while I was still in New Zealand…Andrew and I saw some stuff. I’m actually in Australia now, but I still have shots left over from NZ that I wanted to post. I’m still working on the panorama…(I hope I can work something good enough to post with it ever)… I think I lack Andrew’s finesse with the panorama stuff (I guess that’s his specialty). One of the things I CAN do, however, is 1-shot HDRs and the standard type. Andrew and I went around the Otago Peninsula, which is near Dunedin, and saw/photographed some awesome wildlife, including sea lions, penguins, and albatross. We were spectacularly lucky to see this pair of sea lions playing together at Sandfly Bay, which we later learned from a local were a male/female pair. Then, we went to the end of the peninsula at Taiaroa Head and saw two Royal Albatross within minutes of each other, which we later learned was a fairly rare sight. Next we went to a penguin reserve and saw this juvenile yellow-eyed penguin, which uniquely was unafraid of humans, unlike normal yellow-eyed which are extremely shy. Overall, we were exceedingly lucky and fortunately were able to take some pictures of this amazing wildlife.

 

Hopefully Andrew will post some of the stunning video footage we got of these two playing...We didn't realize how fortunate we were to see them until later when we learned that there are only approximately 20 sea lions living in the entire Otago Peninsula area.

I admit freely I processed this somewhat heavily...I really wanted to focus on the penguin and the somewhat epic pose it was in. I was fortunate enough to steal a few shots with Andrew's 70-200 f/2.8L IS, which I discovered is an awesome lens. Perfect for this kind of wildlife photography where you don't want to get close but still want to get a close up kinda shot.

Traveling around NZ

So it’s been a while. But I finally got out of Atlanta, so I no longer have to endure the haze and heat. In fact, I now have to put on extra sweaters and stuff. I’ll be studying abroad in Australia for the summer, but before that, I came to New Zealand to visit Andrew since I’ll probably never be closer, or have such a convenient place to stay/guide person/fellow photo enthusiast with me. Anyways, we’ve been driving all over the South Island and doing all sorts of crazy things (We went skydiving during an earthquake, for example, not on purpose I suppose, but still) and so much so that I’ve hardly had time to take any pictures of all the places and things we’ve seen. After we went skydiving, we hiked around Queenstown and got a good view of the area, and naturally took some pictures. Also, Andrew is showing me how to make some of those awesome HDRamas he’s been posting, so I’m trying to get that looking good as well and should eventually post it.

 

We hiked up Queenstown Hill to get this view across Lake Wakatipu. It was an OK view...although I had just seen Queenstown rushing toward me from 12,000ft just a few hours earlier, so I may be a little biased. I decided on a 16x9 crop because I felt there was a little too much dead space in the sky above those clouds.

Milford (Sight and) Sound

Last weekend, Karl and I took a quick jaunt out to the Fiordlands to see what we could find. I’d been maybe 5 or 6 weeks earlier but the weather then was on the unremarkable side so I was hoping for a little bit of sun. What we found was rather stunning.

It’s a pretty amazing place in and of itself and it’s very easy to lose your scope of how huge it actually is. Simply walking around near the car park, you’re thinking, “wow I’m surrounded by these big mountain things jutting up out of nowhere.” So you walk over closer to the smallish harbor where they have 3- or 4-story cruise boats designed for touristy day trips. But, it’s only when those boats head out onto the sound and draw up even with the cliffs that you realize that the large boat from earlier was now a minuscule little dinghy in comparison to the mountains. It’s helped along by the fact that on each of the two times I’ve been, the mountains rise up and disappear in thick cloud cover, giving the very believable impression that they extend upwards into infinity. All in all, it’s one of the most surreal places I’ve ever seen and I’m happy to say I was able to return with a couple images that I’m very pleased with. Though it would be physically impossible to fully communicate how awesome this place is, I certainly had a decent attempt.

Though not as readily apparent as many of the other panoramas, this was made using our panorama technique but the final crop didn't take on a super widescreen ratio. Someday when I have an unhealthily large amount of money, I want to upscale and blow this up for a monstrous print for my home: Milford Sound, NZ

In light of a recent birthday around here, I’ve been thinking about where I’ve come from in terms of ability. I shall now wax philosophical for a little bit. How would the above have looked if I had processed it last May when I thought Photomatix’s “grunge” preset was a really cool place to start at with my brackets? If I recall, the first thing I ever posted on T.A.G. was a cramped shot of a staircase outside the Disney Concert Hall in LA — how would that have turned out if I had worked on it last week? Recently I’ve noticed that, whether I’m meaning to or not, I’m taking a great deal of time during processing to try and steer the final “look” of an image in a more and more subtle direction. Sometimes it’s fun to do something crazy every once in a while, sure, but making the software fingerprint more and more invisible can be a very rewarding challenge. It’s no secret that HDR doesn’t exactly have a good track record in terms of respectability and I would be the first to admit that most of the first shots I was happy with came out looking like the exact same stuff I find today when I Google search “flagrant misuse of HDR.” A lot of people unfortunately came to associate the worst of HDR as the best that HDR had to offer. I think it’s taken me a year to figure this out, but I definitely think that it has its place in the toolbox of techniques. And, like any technique, it can either be used to improve or overused to detract from the image.

I was working on another picture a few days ago when one of my friends who was in the shot dropped by and saw the work-in-progress HDR right next to the 7D’s original image. After looking at it for a few seconds, he concluded that even though the original image had a “truer” feel to it (in terms of the camera’s capabilities, complete with blown out skies and murky foregrounds), the HDR was much closer to how he actually remembered the scene. With the Milford Sound shot, my intention was to recreate the scenario as I saw it, how I remember it.

Knight’s Point: NZ West Coast

Well, my time in NZ is drawing to a close. As I thought back to some of this semester’s adventure, I went looking through some of my stuff from the trip to the food festival on the west coast. Recalling that the drive back to Dunedin along the coast had been nothing short of spectacular, I pulled out the shots from the Knight’s Point pull off along the road back. It’s essentially this outcrop of rocks way down the hill that sit just off shore. I imagine they’re significantly larger when you get right down on them — I think puttering around this cove in a little boat would be the best way to appreciate Knight’s Point, but we don’t own a boat so that didn’t happen. At any rate, I’m running over to the Fiordlands this weekend for a quick camping trip with a visiting friend from LA…hopefully the weather will cooperate just a little bit and Milford Sound will be a bit more visible than it was earlier this semester.

Like many things in New Zealand, the pull-off afforded a fairly understated view of the amazing rock formation: West Coast, NZ

Evening at Lake Taupo (a.k.a. More NZ Sunsets)

Well since it seems the burden of keeping the site fresh has fallen squarely on me, I will be happy to oblige with more stuff from the North Island trip a few weeks ago. After touring the Te Puia geothermal area in Rotorua one fine morning, we hopped in the rental and moseyed 70km south to the town of Taupo. It wasn’t our initial plan to head due south from Rotorua, but a weather scare earlier in the week led us to rethink driving way east out to Gisborne. Honestly, there doesn’t seem to be a lot to do there and the novelty of being among the first 20 or so people on the planet to see the sun come up would have worn off pretty quickly. Instead, we made a beeline to Wellington from Rotorua and stopping a night on Lake Taupo seemed like a good idea. We didn’t realize it at first, but Taupo happens to be the location of these really interesting-looking Maori rock carvings we had read about before leaving Dunners. So, before heading on to Wellington we chartered a couple spots on a small replica steamboat to take us out to the carvings since they are only accessible via boat or kayak. The boat took us right up to the carvings — we could almost reach off the boat and touch them actually. We were feeling pretty special right up until when the boat’s captain informed us that the carvings were done in the 70s. Despite not being the centuries-old relics we were initially led to believe, the carvings were actually a cool example of how the Maori culture is still a very active one. As we learned earlier at Te Puia, they don’t see their heritage as something of the past to be proud of because it’s still something of the present to be proud of.

Oh right, so the picture.

This is from the night we arrived in Taupo. We were initially banking on asking the people running the hostel where a good place to see the sunset would be… until they straight-facedly recommended the hostel’s balcony. Which faced east. We smiled and nodded and opted to drive around the lake until we found something nice…

On a quiet little cove of the lake. I took a few that included the sailboats which were off frame to the right but decided to go sans-boats since "Boats on a Lake" is Tucker's department: Taupo, New Zealand

Wellington Sunset – Mt. Victoria

Well, this past week on the North Island was nothing short of awesome. The sun sure did a lot of shining despite rain being forecast for the entire island for an entire week… just goes to show how completely unpredictable New Zealand’s island climate can be when it comes to weather. Our road trip ended in Wellington, right at the southern end of the North Island. By far my favorite city in NZ so far, Wellington has an awesome vibe that strikes a really nice balance between hardcore city life (it’s the nation’s capital after all) and natural beauty. I was particularly impressed by the Botanical Gardens, accessible from the immediate downtown area by a 5 minute ride on a vintage cable car. In fact, I straight up fell asleep for the better part of an hour when we sat down to relax in a grassy clearing on our walk through the garden back down to the city. And, there’s no way I could write this travel blurb on Wellington without mentioning the amazing “Zealandia” habitat only 15 minutes out of downtown. It’s an incredibly ambitious attempt to restore a large section of land (an entire valley actually) back to the original tropical rainforest environment it was before humans first came to the area, involving the placement of dozens of endangered species back into the valley and a careful attention to guiding the flora back to prime condition. I only had an hour and a half there but could have easily spent the whole day.

At any rate, after Zealandia closed at 5 o’clock I went across town up to the top of Mt. Victoria to catch the sunset…

Very windy up here. I think I read something about Wellington being the windiest city in the southern hemisphere: Wellington, New Zealand

Sunrise Panorama

Well it’s about time I shared this one. It’s been in the works since we got back from Mt. Cook and I’m very pleased with how it turned out. In fact, it’s definitely my favorite panorama I’ve ever put together. From Mueller Hut we went about 20 minutes further up Mt. Ollivier’s ridge to get to a suitable vantage spot to see the sunrise at about 7am. One of the most utterly jaw-dropping experiences of my life. This panorama represents 11 bracketed sets, processed and stitched together to form a single 86 megapixel image.

Next week is our mid-semester break and I am spending it on the North Island. Can’t wait to see what they’ve got in store up there…

Couldn't have asked for a finer way to start the day: Mt. Cook, New Zealand

Mueller Hut and Mt. Cook

Greetings once more from NZ! I had a few images from a few weeks ago that I’ve been working on and was planning on posting… until we returned from a fantastic weekend in Mt. Cook National Park. So while I do a bit more housekeeping with those older pictures, I’ll throw up a brand new (literally, this shot is from this morning) Mt. Cook image to make up for the 19-day delay since my last post!

Mt. Cook… the tallest peak in New Zealand. It’s only four hours away from Dunedin and is absolutely stunning. Intending to stay overnight in Mueller Hut near the summit of Mt. Ollivier, we arrived at the Mt. Cook National Park Visitor Center at 8:15am to secure four bunks in the first-come-first-served-style system. However, there was already a throng of people waiting for the doors to open (even though we’d left Dunedin at 4:15am to get over there!) and we were within two people of the cutoff. Undaunted, we brought a 4-man tent to the top of the trail and camped under the hut — It was easily the most difficult hike I’ve ever attempted and I wasn’t even carrying the tent!

Beyond the hut, the ridgeline continued up to the summit. Looking back towards the hut shortly after sunrise the following morning offered the below vista…

Mt. Cook is the tall peak in the upper right area with an icy Hooker Lake in the valley beneath. If you can't find the hut, then, well... Mt. Cook, New Zealand

Peter’s Pool at Franz Josef Glacier

On the way back from Hokitika, we conveniently had to drive straight through the Franz Josef and Fox Glacier areas. Our plan was to stop off for just a few minutes and keep on trucking but a few minutes turned into a few hours and a hike once we saw how spectacular Franz Josef was. Peter’s Pool is a small, still pond that offers a spectacular view of the glaciers and it sits about an hour’s walk away from the foot of it. I went back and forth for several days on how I felt about the tree limbs in the upper right corner and in fact had taken and processed an entirely separate framing of this scene that did not include the limbs but sacrificed foreground on the left. But, I eventually decided I liked the branches since they make a sort of opposite corner complement with the pond grass in the bottom left corner. Amazing place to visit — if you ever, er, happen to find yourself on the west coast of the South Island, Franz Josef is a must see!

The observant among you may notice from the image's title that 9 shots were used for this. Indeed, I decided to settle in for a little while here and do 3 separate brackets with 1 stop increments between images. Admittedly, it wasn't entirely necessary to do so, but I think I just wanted to soak up as much of the glacier as I could since I'm not really sure when I'll be back: Franz Josef, New Zealand

Hokitika Sunset

Once a year, New Zealand holds the Wildfoods Festival in Hokitika, a small (and I mean really small) town on the west coast of the South Island. It is probably the one day all year in which more than 100 people are within 3 miles of the place. And, as is usually the case in New Zealand, the fewer people there are the more spectacular the scenery. The festival itself was amazing and there were many strange things being eaten… and worn. After everyone had had their fill of ridiculous stuff, the crowds flocked to the beach to watch the sunset and later set their own fires to huddle around. The Tasman Sea lays between New Zealand and Australia and though I’ve seen previous images of the Tasman at sunset (like this one from last August), I tried to come at it with my own idea of how I wanted it to look. I rather like how it turned out so I’ve made seven different flavors of it available over in the desktop section. After the festival we took the scenic route back to Dunedin, heading south down the coast through Franz Josef and Fox Glaciers and then cutting east across central Otago. Suffice to say, there were plenty of other gorgeous places to stop along the way back so I’ll have my hands full of things to process for quite some time to come…

The nearly 30 beach fires that followed produced enough smoke to almost suffocate us but it was absolutely worth it! Hokitika, New Zealand

 

NZ Pan #1: Botanical Gardens Terrace at the African Garden

Well, it’s about time I get some of these up… I’ve lately been working on panoramas of different places I’ve gotten to go to and it has been eye-opening. I’ve been sitting on the raw files for maybe four or five different pans now, trying to tease the best possible results out of the sets, one of which was composed of 11 shots to be combined, or a total of 33 raw images with the minimum 3-shot bracket for each of the 11. Yet, some scenes have been begging for a 5-shot bracket but the amount of work necessary for that is questionable… whereas normally if I’m 3-shotting a scene I will elect for a simple two stops in each direction, for the pans, if a 5-shot is needed I’ve just been skimping and increasing the bracket size to 2 2/3 or maybe 3 and going from there. Anyways, enough numbers — suffice to say that this is one of my favorite end results and quite possibly the image that does the best job of capturing a mood that I think I’ve ever managed. When I see this (and skirt around in its 15,612 x 4,834 pixels worth of real estate) I am very vividly drawn back to this exact moment in time, about 5 seconds before the only battery I had on me went completely dead in the middle of taking the would-be 7th bracket for this scene (on the far right). More so than other posts, I really encourage you to click through to the full 17MB file so you can really get a feel for the view from the Botanical Gardens Terrace. As the Kiwis say, cheers!

Few places in the world like this. Here's hoping I can find as many as I can while I'm here for such a sort period of time: Dunedin, NZ

Dunedin Farmers Market

Every Saturday morning, the parking lot at the train station turns into a bustle of kiwi locals scrambling for the freshest produce to come to market. There are stands that sell everything from cuts of meat to fresh apricots and blackberries. There’s even a place that will prepare you a fresh French crepe for breakfast! I went last week as well but the weather was fairly bad… this past Saturday though, the sun peeked through the clouds in a few places and made for a rather fun scene.

 

The mood is fun and laidback and the atmosphere nothing short of welcoming. The kids running around the tree and the man with the girl on his shoulder are right at home here: Dunedin, New Zealand