Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Arms Of Steel

Late last year I landed myself a nice little contract to photograph wild birds of Bhutan. Just PERFECT! Finally I can now consider the possibility of upgrading to a camera body with a higher pixel count.

I ordered myself the darling of the present breed of professional camera bodies - the Canon EOS 5D MK IV. Only to realize, too late, that the pixel counts aside, the camera was equipped with a sensor size that was inappropriate for bird photography - it came with a full frame CMOS - not the most ideal for bird photography.

Well, too late to do anything - I had to order yet another body - this time with a CMOS size designed for bird photography - the Canon EOS 90D, equipped with a APS-C sensor, with a form factor of 1.6X.

Disaster yet again - the images produced by the body was grainy and not as sharp as it ought to be. I tried all sorts of settings - to no avail. I gave up and went back to my full-frame EOS 5D MK IV.

It was during the course of running the camera body through a series of tests that I finally derived much satisfaction - about myself - as a photographer. Look at the following image:

Blue-fronted Redstart - near perfect image captured under extreme difficult conditions. Photographed at 3:10 PM yesterday the 20th February, 2023.

Tell me - how many photographers do you know who would dare attempt to shoot an image at this near impossible setting: at aperture f/5.6, ASA 100 and shutter speed of 1/8 - employing M shooting mode? Very, very, very few, if at all! I even got the tail tack sharp - remember a bird's tail is hardly ever still.

You gotta have arms of reinforced steel to be able to produce this sharp image at the given camera settings. Consider further that the lens in use, combined with the camera body, weighed in at a combined weight of over 5 KGs - and NO TRIPOD in use - except that the lens was rested on my car window.

Only a passionate photographer will understand the joy of accomplishment at this level - SIMPLY MIND BLOWING! - although I say it myself 😋.

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

On The Wings Of The Dragon: Part VII

When the tourism industry was on its way to being toppled off its pedestal like a hated tyrant towards the end of the third quarter of last year, few had any idea of how impactful it would turn out to be for the country. Not since the creation of the Department of Tourism in 1972 by His Majesty the Third King, has there been an upheaval in the industry - at a scale and devastation as we have seen in recent times.

If we do not act fast - and fast is not fast enough - we will live to see the profuse of wreckages in all their gory details - the water would have long passed under the bridge of no return. For now however, I want to speak of one industry that we seem to have forgotten:

Bhutan’s Airline Industry

Have they been spared? That would be a silly question to ask! I am told that the Druk Air - our National Flag Carrier is, for now, making do on one-way-outbound-tickets: a business generated by the Bhutanese exodus to Australia and elsewhere, not inbound tourists. Word has it that TashiAir - our second airline has not even released their Winter Flight Schedules.

I fear that over time the National Flag Carrier may not be in a position to generate money enough to pay for their annual aviation insurance on their idling aircrafts.

Years back, during early 2019, I began my 6-articles series titled “On The Wings Of The Dragon”. I encouraged the wresting of the Druk Air from the clutches of the Druk Holding and Investments (DHI) - on grounds that they were being abused - to the detriment of the nation and the people of Bhutan. Please read all of the past 6 article on the subject at the following:

I opined that as a National Flag Carrier, Druk Air had to serve a responsibility far, far greater than profit. That, in any event, given their overall carrying capacity and the number of routes they served, there was NO WAY they could make profit - unless they do so at the cost of the nation and the people of Bhutan.

And, this is what the Druk Air has been doing over the years - charging among the world’s highest airfares and undermining the growth of Bhutan’s tourism industry. For the interest of one lone company, the interest of the nation had been bound to the stakes and burnt to dust. Ask any tour operator and he/she will tell you horror stories of how some deals got terminated the moment clients heard the cost of Druk Air’s air ticket.

I hope finally sense will prevail and we can look forward to at least one right thing - the rationalization of the airfares of the Druk Air so that it makes sense to the international travelers, and we do not have to duck every time the issue of Druk Air’s air ticket comes up during the course of the negotiations.

Sunday, February 12, 2023

For Want Of A Nu.10.00 Genja Ticket


The President
Association of Bhutanese in Perth

Dear Association President,

Greetings from Bhutan. It is my hope that this finds you safe and sound, down under.

I believe that the pleasantries of a formal introduction can be dispensed with since I have already spoken to you on WhatsApp - so you know who I am. What you do not know is: what do I want from your Association? The following is my story.

I have few relatives studying/working in Australia - a little over half a dozen of them - one among them being you. Of that many, a nephew recently bought a parcel of land in Thimphu and wanted me to represent him in the signing of the land transfer documentation, to be executed as a matter of official record with the Land Commission.

The all-important Genja Ticket

It turns out that the rule in vogue is that the Letter of Authority in my favor has to be executed with his thumb impression (not signature) affixed over a legal stamp. Now that was simpler said than done - understandably, it appears that getting Bhutanese legal stamps in the land of the Koala is akin to looking for a needle in a haystack. It took him three days to finally get the stamps from some friends and have the paper executed.

I was unnerved - I mean here was a situation that could very well cause, what they call, a disastrous slip between the cup and the lip. A perfectly good deal could be jeopardized - for want of a Nu.10.00 legal stamp. I decided that we cannot allow this to happen - not particularly when I am trying very hard to get the message across to every single Bhutanese in Australia and elsewhere that we need them to buy land back home in Bhutan, and not in Australia or elsewhere, so that they are encouraged to eventually return home, to reap the benefits of their toil.

Thus, few days back I drove over to the GPO and bought four sheets of legal stamps - each containing 50 stamps each, making up a total of 200 stamps. This should be good for atleast 100 land transections. I am happy to let you know that the Genja Tickets have been forwarded to your Association by DHL on 08/02/2023. The packet should be in your hands any day now - please confirm, upon receipt.

It is my donation to the Bhutanese community in Australia. I shall appreciate if you could distribute the stamps freely - to any and all those who may stand in need of them - with my wish and hope that they make tons and tons of money - so that they can buy acres and acres of land back home in Bhutan, and eventually come back and settle down to lead a life of leisure, and of calm and peace.

Bye and take care.

Friday, February 10, 2023

Preparing For A Serious Photographic Assignment II

It was now time for the acid test - to determine if the camera and the lenses were as squeaky clean as I believe they ought to be!

First I went through the boring prescribed routine - cranked up the lens’ aperture to f/22 and shot a few frames with the lens aimed at a perfectly white sheet of paper. The result was as expected - not a blotch nary a spot! But shooting a white paper is sooooooooo boring - so I chose a different subject - a metal work with some intricate design carved on it. The following was the result:

It took me three days to photograph this quality of image - primarily because I needed to shoot outdoors so that I can get the desired effect on the background, while ensuring that I am able to capture the details with the greatest of sharpness. What it entailed is that I use the narrowest f stop (f/22) on the lens and ensure that the distance between the object and the front of my camera lens - and the distance between the object and the background is such that I get a smooth, buttery background that you see in the image.

My problem is compounded further by the fact that the subject is a dangling one - that which is dangling in the air. This means I have to factor in the wind factor - the slightest of wind can ruin the image. The slightest of shake of the subject can render the image blurrrrrrrrrrrry.

You can imagine the mathematics that go into producing an image that looks like it is going to pop out of the frame any second!

In the topsy-turvy world of photography - f stop 22 is considered narrowest, while f stop 1.2 is considered widest!

You have to agree that the image is simply stunning - the lens has captured every microscopic detailing on the shinning amulet. I love the splendid craftsmanship - supposedly fashioned in Tibet. I am sure it was cast from a mold - I do not believe that it is a handiwork of a silversmith - producing such near perfect and unceasingly even job of carving is beyond the skills of any modern-day carver.

By the way, the poker-faced shop owner who sold me the Talisman assured me that it had magical properties that would protect me from evil spirits that roam places such as the Duthroe (crematorium) and hospital maternity wards. What a lot of baloney!!! But hey - if Buddha, Jesus and Muhammad thought up something no less bizarre and convinced the whole of humanity with something called RELIGION, why can’t the poor blighter try his cock-and-bull story on me?

Remember - the most successful consultants make their living selling you dreams that they themselves are unable to live. Fund managers become rich by selling you ideas as to how to manage your funds - if they were any smarter, they should be busy managing their own.

Sunday, February 5, 2023

Preparing For A Serious Photographic Assignment

This article is intended for readers who are amateurs, semi-pro or professional photographers.

From what I know, a large number of photographers in Bhutan are constrained by the lack of in-country professional service - to clean and service cameras, in particular dirty/stained sensors inside their Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) cameras.

I have an ongoing project where I am required to photograph intricate designs and motiffs. In preparation, my camera gear underwent a thorough spring clean operation. The camera bodies in use are Canon EOS camera system, equipped with two different sizes of sensors: 1.3X and 1X. I am using Carl Zeiss Macro-Planer 2/50 ZE f/1.2, 50mm macro lens, and Canon EF f/1.4, 24mm wide angle lens for the job.

The angst is further aggravated by the misconception that camera sensors are prone to scratching - if you attempt to clean it yourself. Nothing can be further from the truth. With proper care, the camera sensors can be cleaned by any one equipped with the right tools, and nimble fingers.

It is the same with the camera lenses – irrespective of how expensive they are - they can be cleaned by anyone with the right tools and attitude.

I migrated to the use of digital cameras in 2003. I have never once had the need to send my camera for servicing to a professional service center - I have always done it myself, and quite competently I can assure you.

Photographers go into a nervous fit when someone touches their camera lens because they think that the lens will get scratched. Not true - the lens can withstand a fair amount of bare-hands handling - as long as they are not abusive. The only two problems that I know of with camera lenses are that because of continuous exposure to the elements, dust particles settle on the front and back glasses of the lens. But they are not a problem - just wipe them off gently with a soft nonabrasive cloth. Even better, always have a UV filter mounted on the lens - it will prevent scratching and collection of dust on the front glass of the lens. The other problem is the fungal growth inside the lens’ elements. Well, if you have this problem, there is not much you can do - except that next time you are shopping for a lens, buy a better quality lens from a respectable manufactures - as they say - if you pay peanuts you get monkeys. In plain language, ensure that the weather sealing of the lens’ construction is top notch - so that there will be no mildew formation.

Caring for the camera’s CMOS/Sensor is a little more complicated - but nothing to be nervous about. You need three basic consumer level items that can be bought over-the-counter in camera shops or can be ordered on-line. The items are:

1.  Strong handheld air blower;
2.  Good quality sensor cleaning formula; and
3.  Sensor Swabs - swab size will depend on the size of the sensor inside your camera. They come in various sizes, mainly: 1X, 1.3X etc.

Various digital camera sensor sizes

The cleaning process and the method of use of the cleaning systems will be elaborately described in the accompanying literature of the products.

WHAT IS IMPORTANT is that your lens, and the sensor, should be clean at all times. Particularly if you have an important photographic assignment coming up, you need to check and ensure that your camera gear is in top form. This can be established by taking a few sample test shots. Particularly if your assignment involves macro or close-up photography, you will need to make sure that there are no grimes on your sensor or the lenses.

Close-up and macro-photography will entail cranking up the lens’ aperture to the region of the stratospheric: f/22 & f/32. This means that the lens will pick up even the invisible spots on the sensor. It will show up on the final image – something you DO NOT WANT.

For bird photography, it is not so important because we shoot between aperture settings of f/4 & f/5.6 at the most. At this aperture range, the lens will not pick up any dust on the lens’ front/back, or grime/dust on the camera’s sensor.