Tuesday, September 30, 2008

A Century - One Hundred Posts and Counting ...

This is my one hundredth post to this blog.

A toddy tapper coming back with his day's collection through the backwaters of Kumarakom in a traditional country boat.

I started this blog to share photographs with my family and friends, somewhere along the way, it expanded in scope to become a medium for me to track my photographic evolution and changes in my style and technique as I continue along this path of learning photography as a medium of self-expression. It continues to be a vehicle for sharing photographs with family, friends and the greater internet community, and to collect their appreciation, feedback and critiques. And in some cases, to serve in documenting my travels & experiences for the benefit of others.

But above all, this serves as one memory that I can look back upon continuously, deriving some inspiration from the subtle signs of improvement that show up in my body of work as time goes on.

After the rain

When I initially started learning and experimenting with photography around eight years back, I never "slotted" myself into any particular genre of the art. Recently however, my primary interests in photography have revolved around travel, adventure, nature & people. This itself is quite generic, and I am fine with this lack of "specialization" that some regard as key to defining and developing a style of one's own. Maybe one day in the future I will find a particular genre more appealing than the rest, but for now, I photograph the moments and/or subjects that I feel must be preserved.

Another discovery is that I do love monochrome photography, they have a quality that is not just restricted to the old time charm that they evoke in the viewer. To strip away multitudes of color is to see the world with different eyes, and this is one key aspect of making interesting photographs. When we play with focal lengths, depth of field, noise, saturation or any other creative effects, what we are trying to do is to convey a vision that would not appear "normal" or "natural" to our eyes. In fact, a 2D representation of a 3D world itself is inherently manipulative and unnatural, and hence a creative tool.

Identifying images that come into their own in monochrome is an interesting exercise in itself.

Flowers at Lalbagh

Hopefully I will continue to have the time to pursue this interesting and challenging hobby, and to keep this blog updated with newer photographs.

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Monday, September 29, 2008

Lalbagh Flower Show

Lalbagh Botanical Gardens in Bangalore, India was commissioned by Hyder Ali in the year 1760, and was completed by his son Tipu Sultan. The garden has more than 1000 species of flora, many of them imported from different countries. The Glass House, modeled on London's Crystal Palace, is the center of attraction.

Biannual flower shows are organized every year in January and August, on the occasion of Republic Day and Independence Day of India respectively. I took these photographs during a quick tour of the August flower show. Some dignitaries were coming to visit the show, so I had restricted access to many areas, including the glass house.

The Lalbagh gardens have always been a favorite haunt of mine when I started out with photography. Having a square kilometer of landscaped gardens with flowers, trees, butterflies, birds, a lake, lotus pond & other such interesting and varied subjects to shoot helped me learn different aspects of photography in the nicest environment possible.

There are three memories in particular I have regarding my earlier wanderings around Lalbagh.

The first is with respect to having a following (a fan base as I like to call it). With my long barreled 75-300 lens mounted on my Canon film SLR (quite a sight when zoomed to 300mm), I would get off the beaten track, into the wild outgrowth trying to photograph butterflies. Now, these are one of the peskiest of creatures to photograph, they never bother to show any consideration to the earnest photographer who is trying to capture them in their glory.

The strange man, with the strange instrument glued to his eyes, making like a statue - this sight never failed to inspire curiosity amongst the crowd that will always be thronging Lalbagh which ever day of the week it is. So wherever I go, I would have this entourage of 5 to 10 people, keeping a respectful distance behind me, and still trying to peek over my shoulder at what it is exactly that i am aiming the camera at.

Needless to say, one or other of them would get impatient and make a sound, driving away the one butterfly that condescended to sit patiently for the one microsecond that it was willing to spare for the desperate photographer.

The second memory is of being asked questions regarding camera and photography. Just because I am holding what seems to be a very expensive camera, people come to the conclusion that I must be an expert in all aspects of photography & equipment. So every ten minutes or so, someone holding a regular point and shoot (most often the Kodak 800 or whichever model, the one with manual film advance and comes for Rs 800 or 900 with a Kodak Max film free), would come up to me ask me questions like why is his flash not firing, or film advance knob is not turning anymore, or the most common request - can you take a photo of our group?

The third and funniest memory is of getting suspicious stares from all the couples hiding in nooks and corners, under trees, on the benches, behind the bushes. Both of us share a common interest - getting away from the crowd, however, with very different purposes in mind, I must add!

The very moment I stumble upon any such couple, they would instantly loose their interest in each other, and gain an equally intense interest in the surrounding flora and fauna. That interest would last until I pass through their field of vision, trying to suppress a smile and praying that their curses would not have any permanent effect on me.

Lalbagh remains open from 6 AM to 7 PM daily. Entry is free from 6 AM to 9 AM and from 6 PM to 7 PM for the benefit of joggers, other times, a nominal entry free of INR 10 is charged.

More links related to Lalbagh:

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Test your Color IQ

Being a photographer, I was intrigued when I saw the mention of a Color IQ test over at The-Digital-Picture. The test is by X-Rite, a company offering color measurement & management SW & HW tools. As per the web site, the color IQ test can be used to determine how accurately your eyes see color.

My Color IQ score

I scored 8 on this interesting test (with 0 being the perfect score & 99 a high score in my age group), so I haven't done so badly. Looks like the test targets only a limited range of the color spectrum, I am not sure what implications this has (if any).

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Photo of the Day

Sunset at Kumarakom

Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF-S 17-85mm F/4-5.6 IS USM Lens. Shot at 17mm with ISO 100 and an exposure of 1.6s at F/4.

Since I had not taken my tripod along on the trip, I rested the camera on a flat slab and set it to self timer mode. After focus and exposure lock and initiating self timer, I left it on the slab for taking the picture. A low ISO of 100 was used to capture detail and reduce noise in the long exposure.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Photo of the Day - Oriental Darter

Oriental Darter

From WikiPedia: "The Oriental Darter or Indian Darter (Anhinga melanogaster), sometimes called Snakebird, is a water bird of tropical South Asia and Southeast Asia. It is a cormorant-like species that has a very long neck. It often swims with only the neck above water. It is a fish-eater."

Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM couple with Tamron SP AF 1.4X TC. Photographed at Kumarakom.

Thanks to Vimal for helping me identify this bird.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Photo of the Day

Transit walkway at Frankfurt airport

Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF-S 17-85mm F/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at 17mm. Exposure of 1/15s @ F/11, ISO 400.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Backlighting Plants

Backlighting can be used to bring out the details in a leaf, and also to add a "glow" around the edges of objects in a picture. It also helps in separating the subject from its background. I used the evening sunlight to backlight leaves below and capture the intricate details in them as well as add a glow to the spider web and the edges of the leaves and stem.

The backlight exposes the veins in the leaf, and adds a glowing edge to the leaf edges, the sole strand of spider web and also exposes the minuscule strands on the stem with a white glow.

The seed(?) can be seen through the glow on the fine strands that are backlit.

Backlighting generating a highlight on the leaves plus strong geometric composition from the black stem makes this an interesting composition.

All photographs shot using a Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM Lens in the backyard of my house in Trivandrum, Kerala. Shooting wide open at F/4 throws the background out of focus completely and the backlight ensures even better separation of the subject from its background.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Lowepro Fastpack 250 - Camera & Laptop Backpack

Image courtesy Lowepro

Once the number and size of my camera equipment started increasing, I realized the need for a good backpack that can carry my camera equipment and laptop as cabin baggage on flights. After a bit of research on the net, I narrowed down the Lowepro Fastpack 250 as a suitable choice for me. One of the prime factors was price, most other backpacks offering such capabilities were priced much higher than the US $90 I paid for my bag.

I use this bag to carry the following gear:
  1. Dell D620 Laptop
  2. Canon EOS 400D
  3. Canon EF 70-200 F/4 L IS USM Lens
  4. Canon 17-85 F/4-5.6 IS USM Lens
  5. Canon 50mm F/1.8 Lens
  6. Canon Speedlight 430EX Flash
  7. Mobile, Chargers, Batteries, Paperback Book, Headphones, Cards, Cables
  • Thoughtful construction, easy accessibility, good protection & build quality
  • Laptop up to 15.4", 1 DSLR with lenses and accessories
  • Side camera compartment is useful & practical
I wish a rain cover was included as a standard accessory with the bag, the bag itself is not supposed to be weatherproof, so I have to be careful how I use it under bad weather. The other crib that I have is that there is no obvious way to carry a tripod as an attachment to the bag.

Web Links
  1. Product page at Lowepro
  2. Review at digitalcamerareview.com
  3. Fastpack 250 review at PhotoWalkPro
  4. Review on ZDNet
There is a larger Fastpack 350 available for 17" laptops or bigger lenses. I used the Fastpack 250 for my recent trip to Kumarakom, Kerala and was quite happy with the bag.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Photo of the Day

Left Alone

One fallen leaf lying away from the rest on the moss covered ground makes this picture. The shallow depth of field achieved by shooting wide open at F/4 on the Canon 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM Lens aids in keeping the leaves in sharp focus while the ground before and after the leaves is blurred.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

A different view

If we are shooting common subject (like a Hibiscus flower), we should apply different composition, lighting or post processing to ensure an interesting photograph.

Converted to B&W and a blue tone applied to give a different feel to the picture. The lighting is also different, one of the petals is highlighted with backlighting.

The leaf coming out of the picture on the bottom left adds a nice touch to this picture.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Photo of the Day

Alien Landing

My nephew had left his Power Ranger's toy on the glass table top. The reflection of the sky on the glass gave me a nice background for this "alien landing" shot. The curvature of the glass adds a nice touch instead of a continuous background.

Maybe I should have cropped a little off the bottom (especially the dark patch) as the aspect ratio is quite skewed for this picture.

Friday, September 19, 2008

My Equipment

I use the following photography equipment:

Camera Body
  1. Canon EOS 400D
  1. Canon EF 50mm F/1.8
  2. Canon EF-S 17-85mm F/4-5.6 IS USM
  3. Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM
  4. Tamron AF 28-200mm F/3.8-5.6 XR Di Aspherical Macro (from my film days)
I have Tiffen or Marumi UV filters on all the lens at all time.

  1. Tamron SP AF 1.4X TC (for use with 70-200 L)
  1. Canon Speedlite 430 EX
  1. Lowepro Fastpack 250
  1. Canon Monopod
  1. 2 x Canon NB-2LH
  2. 4 x 2500 mAh NiMh for flash

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Photo of the Day

While taking a tour of Trivandrum Zoo, I came across this small channel of water emptying into a drain. I liked the way sunlight was illuminating the channel, and the colorful leaves that had fallen into it. Used a slow shutter to capture this image of "flowing" water.

Tech Specs: Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM with Tamron SP AF 1.4X TC at 147mm. Exposure of 1/5s at f/11, ISO 100.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Photo of the Day

We celebrated Onam in Purva Riviera on Saturday, 13th September (Onam was on 12th) with a traditional pookkalam (floral rangoli) competition, and this picture is from my photographs for that day. The remaining photographs can be viewed on my Picasa Web Album. You can also view a slideshow of the pictures here:

Onam is a traditional festival of Kerala with two significances - it is a harvest festival and a harbinger of spring, it is also a festival to celebrate the return of mythical king Mahabali. From WikiPedia: "During Onam, the feast and festive mood of the people, dressed in their best, is considered reminiscent of the prosperous and truthful life of the subjects during Bali's flawless reign. People wear new clothes (Vastra) during Onam. The 'Vastra' also stands for heart. Thus the significance of wearing new clothes is about making the heart new by removing all bad thoughts and feelings. People forgetting their sectarian outlooks, join together to welcome the auspicious 'Thiruvonam' day."

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Photo of the Day

I liked the interplay of light and shadow on these creepers on the wall. Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF 70-200mm F/4 L IS USM Lens combined with Tamron SP AF 1.4X TC.

Shot in Trivandrum Zoo, more picture from Trivandrum Zoo here.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Photo of the Day

Click on the image to view it full size.

Wings of Fire

Canon EOS 400D with Canon EF-S 17-85mm F/4-5.6 IS USM Lens at 79mm, Exposure of 1/100s @ F/5.6, ISO 400. Shot during Kumarakom trip.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Kumarakom - Paradise in God's Own County

Click on the images to view them full size, otherwise you're not getting the full picture!

Kumarakom is a picturesque village in Kottayam, Kerala famous for its backwaters, resorts and houseboats. Located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake which is the largest backwater in Kerala, Kumarakom is a very popular tourist destination. The Kumarakom Bird Santuary hosts many species of migratory birds and you can find a wide variety of flaura & fauna.

Map courtesy Maps of India.

Getting There

Kumarakom is around 15 KM drive from Kottayam. The nearest airport is Cochin Internation Airport. As of writing, an average taxi fare from Kottayam is INR 600 (one way) and from Cochin Airport is INR 1600. You can either ask the resort to book you a taxi or catch one at the airport or railway station.

Fishermen heading home at sunset. The Vembanad lake is famous for its local variety of fish - Karimeen (Pearl Spotted Fish), Chemmeen (Shrimp) and Konju (Prawns).


We stayed at Lakesong resort by Eastend Hospitality group. There are plenty of other resorts around including super luxury, ultra expensive ones like Radisson, Kumarakom Lake Resort & Taj. Radisson for example has lake facing villas with each villa having its own private swimming pool. There are also other lower cost options like Illikkalam Lake Resort.

Most of the resorts have an Ayurvedic center and will arrange houseboats as a part of the booking package. With respect to food, I chose the modified American Plan so that all meals were included, without which food can burn quite a hole in your pocket.

April to Sep is typically off-peak season for resorts and houseboats in Kumarakom and Oct to March is peak season. Christmas/New Year time would be the most difficult period to get a booking. Rates are also much higher during peak season so we chose to go in Sep beginning to get a better deal and also because the crowds will be much less. One disadvantage during this period is that the monsoon can wreck havoc with your plans, we were very lucky in this regard and had only light showers to deal with.

One set of cottages in Lakesong resort, Kumarakom. The construction was utilizing red brick and wood in the tradition Kerala style and the cottages and other buildings in the resort were really beautiful.

Balcony of the cottage. In the cottages that we stayed in, the balcony faced the inner water body, basically canals from the lagoon. There were ducks & geese around who would strut around the canals.

Most of the resorts in Kumarakom are located on the banks of the Vembanad Lake. Access to the lake front is either right outside your cottage or a short walk away.

Local fisherman diving for oysters from a Kettuvallam, the traditional fishing boat. He would dive and collect oysters (my assumption) from the lake bed.

The lake is covered with patches of Water Hyacinths that show up as dark shadows in this picture. One of the fastest growing plants, some species of Water Hyacinths are known to double its population in two weeks.

Lush green views are the norm at Kumarakom, if you are facing land that is! During off-peak season, you get the entire resort almost to yourself.

Rains are a more or less constant companion during this season in Kerala. One just needs to accept this and keep updaing plans dynamically!

Not exactly my preferred mode of transportation, especially since it was raining! The canals crisscrossing the resort was an excellent idea, it was so pleasant to see water all around.

Kumarakom bird sanctuary is very famous for migratory birds. There are also plenty of other bird species found near water bodies, and one gets to see literally hundreds of birds during the boat cruise.


Houseboats are very common on the lagoon, along with the smaller boats (Kettuvallam) used by the local people. There are around 160 houseboats in Kottayam and more than 600 in Alapuzha.

We arranged the houseboat cruise/stay through the Lakesong resort, however, it is possible to book houseboats directly if you prefer not to stay on land. Like in the case of resorts, there are all sizes and shapes of houseboats available at various price ranges. One can choose to hire a houseboat for a day cruise only or for over night stay.

We took a three bed room house boat since there were 3 familes including my parents and sister's family.

The seating/dining area towards the front of the houseboat. They even had an LCD television hooked up to a small home theater system. Bring your own DVDs if you want to watch anything other than Malayalam or Hindi movies!

Spacious bedrooms with fan and air conditioning. Except for the windows opening out to few feet above water level, the gently rocking motion of the lake and the sound of the engine, one can hardly make out that we are in a room floating on water.

Amongst the three attached bathrooms on the houseboat, this one had a shower cubicle and another one had a bath tub! The water for these comes from overhead water tanks and the sewage is supposed to be treated and pumped out (and not dumped into the lake, thankfully!).

The three bedroom houseboat we stayed in was more than 100 feet long and access to all rooms is through this long corridor. The room are all on one side and the windows open out to the lake.

A fully modular kitchen in the houseboat, complete with all equipment including gas stove and chimney. The staff on the houseboat prepared tasty Kerala dishes for us, including excellent fish preparations.

The Kettuvallam of a local toddy tapper. Toddy (or Kallu in Malayalam) is the local liquor obtained from coconut trees. We tasted the sweet liqueur directly from the tapper as he came back with his day's collection.

This canal runs right into the lobby of the Lakesong resort and one can enter the lobby through a traditional Kettuvallam.

A Kingfisher stood patiently on the bridge looking for fishes in the canal. Before I could change my lens from wide angle (17-85) to zoom (70-200), it had dived and caught one fish and proceeded to gobble it up, periodically hitting the fish against the bridge to kill it (I guess!).

Coconut palms and backwaters, the magic of Kerala. The sunset is special to Kumarakom though, and used to light up the sky like it was on fire. I was lucky to be blessed with more or less clear weather during the two evenings I spent in Kumarakom. Unfortunately, it rained heavily in the morning, so I did not get a chance to see what the sunrise looked like in this amazing place.

I almost slept through the first sunset as I kept the alarm for 5 AM instead of 5 PM on my mobile on the day I arrived. Lucky for me, my father woke me up at 5:30 PM and I rushed out to capture some of my best sunset photographs. Since this posting is more of a travelogue, I will include the other photographs in subsequent postings.

Contact Information

Eastend Lakesong Resort
Tel: +91-481-2526300
E-mail: lakesong@eastend.in
Web: www.eastend.in

Kailasom Houseboats
Tel: +91-481-2525980
E-mail: info@floatingcastleindia.com
Web: www.floatingcastleindia.com


More about Backwaters in Kerala at WikiPedia. Official website of the Kerala Tourism organization at http://www.keralatourism.org/.