Posted in Photography

More Night Photos

Since coming to Thailand almost two months ago (oh god, time has passed by quickly), I have been experimenting a bit with night photography. It has really fascinated me for a few years, but it’s quite difficult to get into. First of all, you need a decent camera, then you need a lot of knowledge, then you need a good place to do it, and then you need lots and lots and lots of luck. It also helps to have an app like PhotoPills on your phone, but even then you virtually need a doctorate in astronomy just to figure out how to use it.

Anyway, I began experimenting on the roof of my apartment building a few weeks ago, shooting the stars with pretty mixed success. This was probably my best photo:

Night Photo with light painting

A little later, I attempted to shoot photos of a lightning storm, which is more difficult and infinitely more dangerous. I got lots of photos but none really turned out well. This was probably the best:

Lightning Over Phuket

Beautiful… but a bit blurry.

A few nights ago, I was about to go to bed when I noticed that it was quite clear outside. Now that the rainy season has arrived, it is typically rather cloudy in the evenings, but all of a sudden we had an unexpected clear night. I then noticed just how starry it was… I pulled out my phone and checked PhotoPills, my weather app, and a guide to the nightsky.

They all told me the same thing:

This was the perfect night for shooting the stars.

No clouds, no moon, and the Milky Way rising above the horizon at about 11pm. Great!

I realized that my boring old roof wouldn’t provide a great foreground, and so I decided to hop on my bike and drive along the dark roads to Promthep Cape, where I previously shot some cool sunset photos.

The roads were dark and quiet, and thus pleasant to drive. The air was also surprisingly cool, too, which made a real difference from the sweltering heat of the day. Towards the cape, I began to worry that I wouldn’t find anywhere sufficiently dark because the street lights even in the middle of nowhere were quite bright.

At the cape, I found a dark path and wandered to where I felt I would be able to get a decent shot. The fishing boats on the horizon were brightly illuminated, which wasn’t ideal because it would blow out the horizon portion of the photo. Moreover, mosquitoes were swarming around my ankles and I had no desire to get dengue fever… I realized that my roof was great for taking the time to set up a series of shots, but here I’d have to be faster.

I shot a handful of photos that were more or less satisfactory. Here are my two favourites:

They are not the greatest photos in terms of composition. If I had spent longer, I could’ve gotten something much better. However, in terms of actually shooting the stars, I think these worked really well. I have my fingers crossed for another perfect night like this… but I’m not holding my breath.

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Posted in travel

Driving to Phang Nga National Park

I have been staying in Phuket, Thailand, for about a month and a half, and in that time I have not actually done much exploring. Mostly I stay at home, working, or go to the gym. I’ve been to the beach a few times and I’ve gotten to know the southern part of the island pretty well, but until today I had never really gotten out and explored.

Last night, I looked on Google Maps for places within a day’s drive of Phuket, and decided that Samet Nangshe Viewpoint seemed like a good place to visit. It’s a good few hours’ drive from southern Phuket, especially with weekend traffic. So this morning, about 9am, I set off on my Honda Click, aiming for Sarasin Bridge, which connects the island with the mainland.

Driving through Phuket was not much fun, to be honest. The roads are busy and dangerous, and in places they have large potholes or – even worse – have become completely warped in the stifling heat. You often find yourself sandwiched between a speeding lorry and a row of haphazardly parked cars, hoping no one opens a door and kills you. Other times, you’re going around a bend, being tailgated by a speeding minivan, hoping that the warped road does cause the bike to slip out from underneath you.

After the airport, which is about an hour’s drive from Saiyuan (where I live), the roads get better. For one thing, from the airport to the bridge there is at least a bike lane to drive in. That doesn’t mean that minivans and lorries don’t occasionally veer into it, but generally it’s a much safer passage. By the time I hit the bridge, I was pretty tired and it had only been an hour and a half.

The View from Sarasin Bridge

I stopped and walked part of the way across the bridge. Men were fishing, and I saw a few of them catch some medium sized fish. In fact, I could see that the water was rich with fish, as many of them darted about near the surface.

Then it was time to jump on the bike and find Samet Nangshe. Getting there wasn’t entirely straightforward, but at this point I didn’t care. On the mainland, driving was much more pleasant. Phuket had been busy and the roads were dangerous, but here they were open and well-kept. I pulled off the highway and headed into the countryside on narrower roads that wound through green forests. Sadly, it was not real jungle as all that had evidently been cut down and replaced by – I think – gum trees. Certainly, they were planted in neat rows and had been tapped for some sort of sap. It was sad, but at least I was amidst greenery rather than buildings.

The route to the viewpoint was pretty well signposted, even when seemingly in the middle of nowhere. The only thing was that the distances listed on the signs were completely arbitrary. I had noticed that on the road up through Phuket. I would see a sign that said:

Sarasin Bridge – 24km

Then, ten minutes later:

Sarasin Bridge – 26km

How does that make sense? On the way back it would get even worse, and I had to start completely ignoring the signs or I would go mad.

Near the viewpoint, I saw a small road wind off towards the mangroves and couldn’t resist following it. It took me to a small fishing village, where people hired out long-tail boats to see “James Bond Island”. This island, actually called Koh Tapu, is famous as the location of Scaramanga’s hideout in The Man with the Golden Gun. As with most things in Thailand, a little attention turned into a relentless procession of tourist hordes, and it has been thoroughly commercialised. I was tempted to take a boat there by myself (as they only cost 1,500baht), but decided against it. I didn’t feel like being surrounded by tourists. Maybe another day I would return.

Long-tail Boat at Phang Nga Bay

I returned to the main road and then headed on to what I thought was Samet Nangshe Viewpoint. I found a car park and bought a ticket for 30 baht, then hopped on a little truck, which whisked me up the hillside. On the way, I talked with a Thai family. They enlightened me to the fact that this was not Samet Nangshe Viewpoint. In fact, Sam Nangshe was another 200 meters along the road. I had stopped at Samet Nangshe Boutique Hotel. Oops. Oh well, unperturbed, I alighted and decided to look around. It was, after all, high on a hill and just a few hundred meters from the famous viewpoint. Moreover, there was almost no one here…

Panoramic View of Phang Nga Bay

Well, the view certainly lived up to my expectations. I grabbed a grossly overpriced cup of iced tea and sat looked out at the view. What can you say about a scene like that?

After an hour of watching the view (and admiring the Thais’ tie-dye shirts), I set off again. On the long route back to Phuket, I saw a number of little villages and enjoyed cruising the quiet country roads.

Crossing back into Phuket was a descent into chaos, but at the airport I stopped and went to Nai Yang Beach. This beach is quite famous as the place where you can see planes coming in to land, passing low over the sand. I had read that it was now out-of-bounds and that visitors were met with signs proclaiming the death penalty would be sought for trespassers! However, I could see no such signs and so I went to see if I could shoot a photo of the planes.

When I first got to the beach, I was met by a woman who told me, “This is a National Park, you should pay 200 baht.” I told her I’d think about it and drove away. About 200 meters away, I just parked and walked onto the beach. Evidently, there is only one checkpoint and you can just go around it.

After an hour, I had only seen one plane come in to land and a dozen taking off. The problem with getting a photo was that you couldn’t really see them taking off until they were in the air… They were so damned fast that they were already up in the sky before you could frame the shot. The one that landed did so just as I arrived and was too far away to make it work.

Plane Taking off at Nai Yang Beach

When I got home, it was 6pm and I’d been driving for most of the 9 hours since I’d left. I was exhausted, and my hands were purple from sunburn, but it felt good to have explored a little. I will be in Thailand for a year, and although it’s a cool place to live, sometimes it’s easy to get trapped into not doing much. You have to get out and see the surrounding areas, just like you would if you were on holiday.

Posted in Photography

Another Sunset

I think I take too many photos of sunsets and I don’t know why. In a sense, they always look the same. Then again, it’s always a challenge. Shooting directly into the sun isn’t exactly easy, and most of my photos at sunset look too bright or too dark, or just plain boring.

Yesterday, I went for a walk around Naiharn Lake, and just as the sun was about to set I jumped on my bike and headed for the “windmill” that overlooks Naiharn and Ao Sane. (Those quotes mean that it’s not really a windmill; it’s a wind turbine that everyone romantically calls a windmill.)

It was a little busy but not nearly as crowded as at Promthep Cape, a little further to the south. I stood around and watched as the sun slowly dipped towards the horizon, and shot a few photos.

 

Posted in Photography

Lightning over Phuket

I have always loved thunder and lightning, and ever since I took up photography, I have wanted to shoot a lightning storm. That, of course, is problematic. Lightning strikes when and where it chooses, and so you can hardly plan this sort of thing. Moreover, when it does strike, it is gone in a split second.

So how do you take a good photograph of lightning?

After doing a little research, I decided to try various forms of long exposure – somewhere between 10 seconds and 30 seconds. I suspected that 30 seconds might be a bit too long, bringing in too much light, but it was worth a try. As with shooting the stars, I attempted to focus on infinity by finding out from the PhotoPills app where that would be on my lens.

Last night, a long lightning storm off the east coast of Phuket gave me my opportunity. I headed up to the roof of my apartment building and set up my tripod.

(Note: Do not do this. It’s not smart to be on the top of a building in a lightning storm.)

I first tried my GoPro because it’s so much faster to set up, and it can take photos continuously. I tried 20- and 30-second exposures, and managed to capture a few lightning strikes. However, only one really came out well:

(The second pic, which is simply a zoomed-in version of the first, looks like the universe is splitting open. Watch out for Thanos or the Terminator, folks.)

Next, I set up my DSLR and got serious. The lightning storm had continued for more than half an hour and showed no signs of moving on, so I played around with the settings on my camera and tried a number of angles. Unfortunately, the height of the wall around the edge of my roof made it impossible (or at least very difficult) to get a shot of the city, but I was mostly just interested in getting the lightning.

The results were pretty mixed. On the camera, the photos actually looked fantastic, but when I got them on my computer I could see that the wind had jiggled the camera around a little and blurred the images. I’d be annoyed except this is really my first attempt at shooting lightning, and I’m pretty proud of at least one of these. (The one in landscape style.)

The lightning storm moved closer and so I headed indoors. Shortly after, the skies exploded and we were hit hard by a good old tropical rainstorm.

If anyone reading this has any advice on shooting lightning (or other night photography tips), please do share in the comments.

Posted in Photography

Sunset from Promthep Cape

Promthep Cape is the southernmost point of Phuket Island, and it is said to provide some of the best sunsets in the region. To be honest, I’ve see hundreds of sunsets in my life, and when people say “this is the best” or “that is the best”, I roll my eyes. A sunset is a sunset. They are beautiful and magical but they are all pretty similar. It’s more a matter of how the clouds form than the actual landscape. And when the landscape is the sea… well, it shouldn’t matter as long as you are on the western coast of somewhere.

Anyway, I digress. I was talking about the famous Promthep Cape, at the south of Phuket. It’s a nice little bit of land, though grossly overcrowded at sunset. Annoyingly, it’s overcrowded with Chinese… so that means you have to tolerate screaming and shouting and all kinds of ghastly behaviours peculiar to these people. Still, if you can put up with them (think: headphones), then you will be rewarded with some pleasant views and a nice cool sea breeze.

I managed to squeeze among the tourist hordes and get a few shots of the scenery and sun, although for the most part I struggled to get anything I really felt proud of. As I said above, as sunset is a sunset. This shot from my back door recently was better than what I saw at Promthep Cape, and I didn’t have to put up with screaming Chinese to get it. I just stuck my head out the door.

Phuket Sunset
Why do I imagine a fleet of chinooks coming over the trees and The Doors playing…? 

Anyway, I managed to get a few decent photos, and then climbed down a dusty trail to the actual cape, where it was quieter than the vantage point up near the road. I stuck around til after dark and shot a few more photos before the flies drove me away.

And, finally, a panorama taken just after sunset, in the peace and quiet as the tourists departed…

Promthep Cape panorama

Posted in Photography

Playing Around With Night Photography

I’ve been interested in night photography for a long time, and I have posted a few photos on this website. However, it is a difficult thing to master… and in fact, difficult even to be able to do the basics.

Here is a selfie I took under the stars a few years ago:

My selfie with the stars

It’s definitely among the best night photos I have taken. I used a GoPro to shoot this because GoPros are simple and actually surprisingly good for night photography. You can see a light by my life hand – that’s my phone as I remotely triggered the shot.

Using a DSLR allows for far more versatility but it is of course far harder. When you throw in the fact that Nikon’s app (for setting up and triggered photos) is useless, you can begin to imagine how long it takes.

When you are shooting photos at night, you need long exposures, and sometimes many of them. Making a mistake can cost you a great deal of time. And mistakes are easily made when you can’t see a damn thing. For a start, how do you focus in the dark? It took me until last night to figure that out.

Last night I went up on the roof of my building with both my GoPro and DSLR, and took a number of photos. I started with a 3 hour series of long exposures to capture star trails, – something I had never done before. The results weren’t great, but I suppose they were probably better than I expected. I simply plonked my camera down on a mini-tripod, set the timer, and went back indoors for a few hours.

The next day, I used StarstaX to piece it all together. Unfortunately, despite it having been a really clear night, a few clouds moved in for about half an hour in the middle of my shot, and sort of ruined it. Oh well, try again another day. Here’s what I got:

You can see in one photo I have just made do with the clouds obscuring much of the sky, while in the other I pieced together what I could minus the cloudy photos.

My roof proved actually quite interesting (it’s a new house for me, so that was a surprise) and so I grabbed my DSLR (a Nikon D5600) and tried a few shots:

After a good few failed shots, I figured out how to focus on infinity, and managed to get a decent picture of the sky and the (telephone?) aerial. For the second picture, I lined up the shot and then walked around flashing my phone light on the ground. The slimy green goo on the concrete (after it had just rained) looked pretty damn cool.

Post production was a bit tough, as it always is (for me, at least) with night shots. I fired up Lightroom and tweaked a few settings, but it was hard to get the stars to pop while also reducing the nearby light pollution. I think these two pics came out ok.

Finally, I got a selfie with my GoPro. I took one with my DSLR but it didn’t work too well because the mosquitos were biting me and so I moved ever so slightly, blurring the picture.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5458.

Actually, I took another, but for this one I went a bit overboard editing it on my iPhone… I look like I am about to be abducted by aliens.

DCIM101GOPROGOPR5457.

Posted in travel

Back in Thailand

Followers of this blog, or, for that matter, my Facebook and Instagram, will know that I often come to Thailand. It’s one of my favourite countries in the world, and it’s only a short hop away from China, where I live and work.

I’ve been to Thailand about once a year since 2011, most recently visiting Koh Tao and Bangkok in 2017. A year before that, I explored Chiang Mai in the north, and I’ve also seen various other places around the country.

This time, I came to visit some old friends who live in Phuket. Phuket has never been of great interest to me because it’s rather touristy for my taste. I once spent a night here on my way to Koh Lanta, and didn’t much care for the traffic. It tends to draw vast numbers of Chinese group tours and drunk English idiots. None of that at all appeals to me.

Still, I flew over from Hefei last week and spent 6 days catching up with some old friends, bitching about our days in China and soaking up some sun. They showed me around some fantastic restaurants, where we sampled local food as well as some international cuisine.

Here are a handful of stories and photos:-

One morning, as my friends were both working, I took a walk up Monkey Hill. It was a hot and humid morning and the steep path up the hill wound on for two long kilometers. As the name suggests, there was an abundance of monkeys:

Monkey

(Note: I don’t know why, but almost all my photos from that morning are out of focus and barely worth looking at. I’ll just post this one of the monkeys, which isn’t entirely bad.)

In addition to monkeys, there were many lovely birds, some interesting lizards, and even a family of wild boar!

Wild Boar

I was thoroughly pleased by the outing.

Later, we hit the beaches, first heading south to Nai Harn and then north to Bang Tao. At Nai Harn we had hoped to go snorkelling, but the waves were massive that day. Still, we had a pleasant day by the beach and then watched the World Cup 3rd place playoff at Sunshine Bar in Rawai. Sunshine is a ladyboy bar, making for a very interesting evening. Almost a dozen ladyboys danced constantly for several hours as two old ladies screamed commentary in broken English into a microphones. It was, amazingly enough, a great evening!

(The above post is from my Instagram, which you can follow if you like random travel stuff and stupid pictures of Chinese menus….)

Next, we spent a day at Bang Tao beach in the northwest of the island. It’s a long, very pleasant strip of sand, although there’s not much there. It’s low season at the moment, which means even the few bars and restaurants that you’d normally find are now closed.

Near the beach is a small island. My friend and I foolishly attempted to reach it in spite of strong currents. We made it to the island, but in breaking free from the current, I swung my foot up from a deep channel, catching a sharp piece of rock or coral, and sliced my big toe open in the three places. It bled profusely and soon began to hurt. I hopped around in pain, landing my other foot on a sharp spike of coral with my full body weight, causing it, too, to hurt and bleed.

Well, folks, I can’t complain too much about any of that. It was sheer stupidity. I was lucky to swim back to the beach and have another friend waiting with a first aid kit. Annoyingly, after a few painful days, I found there was a few sharp pieces of coral actually broken off in my foot. They had to be removed, which was not fun at all.

Anyway… it was a lovely beach:

After the island hopping, we wandered up to a swanky resort located not far away. It is the sort of place where celebrity DJs play to billionaires in a pool with a swim-up bar. It is the sort of places where ESL teachers like myself are certainly not seen.

Except…

Did I mention it is low season?

Thankfully for me and my two friends, with no other customers the resort was more than happy to let us plebs inside. More than that, they were willing to waive the $150 entrance fee (!!!!) and also offer us ludicrously cheap drinks. Needless to say, much tipsiness ensued. It’s odd how easy a drink goes down when you’re floating in a pool with your own private DJ and a team of bartenders and waitresses who normally serve the super rich….

Adam in fancy pool

With an obscene amount of alcohol consumed, in the most luxurious environment I will probably ever know, it was time to head off and watch the World Cup final. What with the sunburn, blood loss, and a half dozen pina coladas (don’t judge me; it’s the tropics) and an equal number of beers, it was a small miracle that I managed to stay up.

On the way to the bar, I did see another unusual sight:

Cat vs Spider. #thailand #phuket #cat #catsofinstagram #spider

A post shared by David (@huainanman) on

 

Yeah, that’s right. It’s a stupid little cat playing with a very, very large spider. I filmed this two minutes before the beginning of the match and ran off midway through the fight, so I don’t know who actually won. My money’s on the spider, but then I also thought Croatia would win….

**

This morn I took off for Krabi. I’ll hopefully get more chance to take photos in the coming days and post them soon. Stay tuned.