Wednesday, July 20, 2016

In Case You Were Wondering


I am sorry to anyone who is subscribed to only this blog. You may have noticed that nothing has been posted here in quite a while. I can assure you that I am still blogging.

I have moved the blog to my new website. I was almost 100% positive that I made a post explaining that but I happened to look at blogger and realized I never did.

So with that said, if you did enjoy my blog it has not stopped. However, my blogger page will no longer be updated. Instead all past and future blogs will be on my website. Please take a look at it. See ya there.


Tuesday, April 5, 2016

My Secret to Great Photos?

   Would you believe me if I told you that I have the secret to capturing awesome photos? That I have the secret to photography? If you believe that then I also have an awesome deal for you on a brand new personal space ship to Mars.

My point is, there is no secret.

   I get this question a lot from people who have seen my photos. It goes along the lines of, "How do you take such great photos?"

   Before I go any further, I will never say my photos are the greatest in the world. I am not the greatest photographer and there are so many photographers that I personally look up to. However there are people who enjoy, and believe in, my work.

   I would love to be able to give them a solid answer but the fact is it is impossible. Recently I got this question again from a friend who also enjoys what I do, but she asked it in a different way. Her question got us onto the topic of editing.

   Editing an image is important. Just like a writer doesn't write one draft and call it a novel, it is almost impossible to press a button and achieve an artistic image. This isn't solely a digital thing either. This has been done since photography was invented. Film prints were edited too it was just a lot more tedious. (Not that digital editing is easy, let me tell you...) There are also a lot of different editing techniques which range from completely taking elements out or putting them into an image, to simple color shifts, and small tweaks.

   Back in the film days a negative was produced from your exposed film. That negative was your image information exactly as it was shot. After that the image was edited for print to make darks darker, lights lighter, etc. The same applies to photography today, only today we have something we call a RAW file.

   If you've ever seen a photo on your computer it's name probably looks like (name).jpg That ".jpg" means it is a JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group) file, which means it has been digitally manipulated from the original scene by your computer and/or camera, usually to make it smaller in size and still look like what your computer THINKS is the best. But there is the problem. Our computers and cameras are not human beings with brains, eyes, and emotions. So it does the best job it can, and for every day photo sharing that is fine. However, if you want full control over your photo you must shoot in RAW, and RAW looks UGLY.

Let me first show you the difference between a RAW image and a final product.

RAW file unedited

RAW file edited

   Take a good look at both of those images. The first is the RAW file without anything making any changes to it. (Technically it has been compressed to upload to this site but we can ignore that) What that RAW file is, and why it looks so ugly, is all the information my camera could capture with nothing left out or changed. (I'll use Jared Polin's analogy.) Basically I told my camera, "I want a cake. But I don't want you to make it, I want you to go to the cake section and buy every single ingredient they have there and do not leave out anything, even if it seems like I wouldn't need it. Later when I make the cake, I'll decide what I want to put in and take out." Like that my camera pulls all the information it can from the scene and does nothing with it except saves it onto a card. Afterwards, I make the decision on what to brighten, what to darken, which colors should be more prominent and which shouldn't, and so on.

   If I had told my camera to capture a JPEG, it definitely would produce a nice looking image. Cameras have gotten good at that. I would just have to give it the right settings (unless I was in automatic which I don't use either) and BAM it would bake me a cake that it thinks is good. The problem is that it has no soul to it. I had no control over how it looked (tasted) in the end. What if I wanted the sky darker? What if I wanted the cake sweeter?

   So my point is that you cannot simply press a button and call it a day if you want great images. There is a lot of work that goes on after that button is pressed. I spend more time at a computer editing than I do actually taking the photos. One full hour of shooting could yield a good two hours of editing.

   So then why isn't editing the secret to great photos? Well editing definitely is half of the equation. But there is a lot to be said about the moment when the shutter button is pressed too. Sometimes I only have one chance to capture something, and then it is gone forever. Other times I have to take a photo, move an inch to the left, take it again, move back a step, take it again, go around to the other side, take it again, etc. (Sometimes only to find out the first shot was the one!) Developing an eye for photography is arguably more important than editing, and that doesn't come over night. I would even argue that your artistic eye isn't something that can be taught either.

   All of this neglects the fact that photography, even from it's creation, is a very technical art form. We take for granted just how difficult photography is because we can pull out a camera and take a picture anywhere now. But in making it more accessible for every day snapshots, it did not make photography as an art any easier, in fact digital photography has, in some regards, made it more difficult. So technical knowledge is also crucial.

   Still none of this is a magic bullet to "great photos." I don't know what it is really, that's part of what makes art so engaging. Learn to pour your emotions into your photography and that may very well be when you learn the secret to photography.

RAW unedited

RAW edited

RAW unedited
RAW edited

Saturday, March 12, 2016

A Wider View

   I am not that well practiced in landscape photography but I do enjoy it immensely. For a long time I have been needing a wide angle lens. Not just for landscapes but for everything. I like a wide perspective as I tend to enjoy photo journalism more than any other type of photography. That being said, the go to lens for a photo journalist would probably be a 50mm lens which I already have. This lens is kind of middle of the road in all aspects. It is a great lens and lives on my camera probably about 90% of the time. But again, I do love a wider perspective for a few reasons.

   For one, you don't need to stand as far from your subject with a wide angle lens to get them and their surroundings in the frame. In this photo to the right, I am basically at arms length away from the booth and I was able to capture everything about this man's work space. But there are other benefits too like being really small and light. These wide lenses also seem to transform a scene by giving you a feeling that you are seeing everything that is going on when the photo was taken.

   So as I said, I love wide angle shots. Before now I didn't have anything wider than a 50mm though. Actually, that is a lie. I did have a 35mm lens that I bought a long time ago for my Nikon D5000. Or was it my D3000? I don't know. But this lens was meant for those crop sensor cameras meaning that, on them, the field of view was actually more like 50mm on a non cropped full frame sensor camera. When I bought my full frame camera, I kept the 35mm thinking it would be fine. I was right and I was wrong. The lens worked just as it was intended to but since it was designed to be used on smaller sensors, there was a lot of vignetting (dark corners) when put on full frame. I was editing my photos that I took with that lens one day and noticed I had taken the same photo with both my 35 and 50. When I saw my edit of both they looked exactly the same. Because there was so much vignetting I was actually cropping the 35mm image so much to get rid of those dark corners that I was ending up with a 50mm field of view anyways. So I reluctantly sold my 35mm... I loved that lens but there was just no purpose for it unless I get another crop sensor body as a back up or something.

   So once I sold it, I had my 50mm as my widest lens. I knew this was going to be a problem, but I didn't know how much of one until I went on my trip to Taiwan. This photo on the left is from that trip. It was taken with my 50mm, the widest lens I owned. While it looked fine, there is a whole lot more to that place that wasn't represented because of my lack of a wider lens.

   Recently I was in Seoul and I decided to head to my favorite part where new and used camera gear is sold in Namdaemun. This place is awesome because there is just this long row of camera stores waiting for you to go and play with all the toys you can drool over. For camera geeks like me this is definitely our red light district. Anyways I went with the intention of getting a reasonable price on a used wide angle and it wasn't very hard to find one. I bought a Nikon 28mm f2.8D. An older lens, but that means nothing to me really, sometimes the older lenses are better. This one had a few superficial cracks on the body but the glass was fine.

   Unfortunately rain had me running for cover the whole weekend I was in Seoul and I inevitably didn't get to test my new toy much except for the last day I was there when it all cleared up. I grabbed a few shots here and there, but nothing I really thought was noteworthy.

   With that in mind I dedicated this whole weekend to just practicing with this lens. It really is a game changer when you switch from 50mm-200mm perspectives all the way down to 28mm. It requires a lot of practice which I was excited about as it kind of changes things up for me and keeps things fresh. Below I will include some shots taken with the 28mm this weekend. All shots in this blog post (except the Taiwan shot) were taken with the 28mm.

   Okay so what do I think of the lens? I am not too sure to be honest. I wasn't expecting this to be a top performing lens at all. It is quite an old lens and definitely not one of the best lenses Nikon has ever produced. With that said, it is not a very sharp lens. Especially in the corners but in all actuality I don't mind a slightly less sharp lens. There is some noticeable barrel distortion which I also don't mind. I mean, it is a wide angle after all. There is also a lot of vignetting and light fall off toward the edges. It is far better than the 35mm though and seems more... natural. The vignetting on the 35 just looked very harsh and dark. Vignetting on the 28mm just makes it look like an old lens, which it is. However, I was very shocked at how poorly it renders color, how terrible the contrast is, and the amount of terrible color fringing. These are not deal breakers, but it does mean that shooting something against a bright wall or something is not going to look good, and post processing to get colors and contrast right is going to be a bit tricky. Also, I don't know if it is my camera's light meter or the lens but my light meter keeps overexposing some scenes and underexposing others. Not by a lot but it is all over the place.

   Overall I am happy with the lens. If I had the money I would definitely get something better performing but I am happy nonetheless. Here are some shots I took this weekend with it. Tell me what you think about them.

Also I am going to try and post to my flickr and instagram more often so please do check that stuff out as well. If you like my photos please do me a solid and share my stuff with your friends and family, I'd like more viewers/readers if at all possible.

Thursday, February 25, 2016

First Solo Samgyeopsal Experience

   If you have been in Korea for more than like...2 hours undoubtedly you have had samgyeopsal. It doesn't matter where you are in Korea, you can close your eyes, point in a random direction, and find a samgyeopsal restaurant. So this particular occasion was not at all my first experience with the deliciousness that is Korean barbecue.

   If you are not sure what samgyeopsal is do not worry. I had never experienced any Korean food before coming to Korea, but my first meal here was samgyeopsal. It will probably be yours too if you come to Korea. If it isn't, you're doing something wrong! Samgyeopsal is basically the same pork belly cut as bacon (I think). The difference is that bacon is usually processed in some way. Usually it is smoked or marinated first before being sold and cut thin to crisp up well. Samgyeopsal is generally not tampered with, except maybe a little salt, thick cut, and served raw. You also get small side dishes that vary from place to place but generally consist of kimchi, onions in some sort of (AMAZING) vinegar, garlic, lettuce wraps, and other stuff. It is served raw because in front of you in the table is an open grill for you to do all the work yourself. It's part of the experience and sitting there watching and smelling your own meal cook while chatting with friends over a bottle of soju is an amazingly fun time...

   But that is where this gets complicated for me. Samgyeopsal consumption is a very social affair. I am not just saying that either. As you may well know I usually prefer to be alone a lot. Well, that's my story anyways. Point is I eat alone, shop alone, live alone, travel alone, and do everything on my own. I also happen to love samgyeopsal. However, to Koreans, these two things do not compute. It is seen as really weird to eat samgyeopsal alone. As I said before it is a very social event. It is so weird that I have been turned away from restaurants because I wanted to eat alone. I was really frustrated, I have no choice but to eat alone, and because of that I have been eating the same things for 6 months unless I cook which is just too expensive to do every day. (I like cooking though)

   I had an idea though that some restaurants weren't exactly opposed to me eating alone but they thought I wanted a meal for half price. (Many didn't care what I was paying though, I was alone, conversation over, come back when you have a friend with you.) But, not knowing how to say what I wanted to say, that I wanted the normal order for 2 even though I am alone, I was turned away at the door.

   A couple of days ago though I got a new mentor teacher. I couldn't ask my old mentor teacher about this for... reasons. But I went to lunch with my new mentor teacher and asked her if she could ask what I couldn't. That I really wanted to come back and eat samgyeopsal alone but I am fine with paying, and eating, for two. Portions for 2 are pretty small, the picture above is an order for 2. The idea is, you have a bunch of side dishes but, sorry Korea, I don't like all the side dishes. (Sorry!) Anyways she was kind enough to ask and she found me two restaurants that agreed to serve me alone! After 6 months FINALLY I managed to get my point across.

   So tonight was my first experience. I went into the restaurant and ordered without a hitch! It was awkward though, the other customers were looking at me like I had come from Mars, and even the staff seemed to be a little amused that I was serious about eating alone. I could imagine what they thought. "Does this foreigner even know how to eat Korean dishes correctly?" "What a sad sap." etc. I had the feeling I had a lot to prove.

   A lot to prove... When I left my apartment I took with me 20,000won in cash and figured that should more than cover it. I seriously underestimated my ability to eat however (got rice and another single order! Happy tummy for sure.) and samgyeopsal is not at all a cheap meal since it is meant to be eaten with 2 or more people splitting the cost. "No big deal," I thought, "I'll just use my ca-" I had forgotten my card. Imagine... these people really didn't have to let me into their restaurant alone. They don't know me and they don't know if I can even handle myself in a respectful manner. Already it was kind of weird what I was doing and now I was going to be short on cash because I forgot my card at home. How much of their fears would I be proving correct if that had happened? So I did something I never do and used my U.S. card. I had no idea if it would go through either. It did, thankfully, but now I just wonder how much this meal is going to cost me after my greedy ass bank finds out I used my card.

Whatever, crisis averted!

Sorry guys this post is really poorly written. I never really write these posts to win any literary awards but I am generally a better writer than this. Not sure why I couldn't get what I wanted out of my head correctly. Perhaps my brain is just too overloaded with amazing samgyeopsal right now.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Land of Six Seasons

   It is raining a lot here. Since the other night it has been raining almost non stop. I love rain. The sound that lulls me to sleep, the reflections that make ugly black roads look like rivers of color, the smell that wafts in through an open window. For some it is a time of melancholy but I can't really agree with that.

   It is also getting warmer. It is still cold, and with rain on top of that it feels even colder. Nevertheless it is slowly warming up. All signs seem to point towards spring at long last. I welcome spring without reservation but the fact that it is getting warmer has me a little on edge. True, I don't exactly like the cold much either but... well let me explain.

   I was talking with my mom some days ago and I grudgingly dubbed Korea as "The Land of Six Seasons." See, Korea has spring just like any other part of the world. Rain here and there, mild weather, blossoming plants, and so on. It also has summer just like any other place does... for a while anyway. That seems to give way to what I like to call, "Satan has just left hell to melt your face off" summer. Summer in full bloom in this country is no joke. That too fades away slowly, too slowly, into fall. Fall with it's many colors and steadily dropping temperatures. Steadily they drop until you are now upon winter. However, unlike other countries Korea does not just stop at winter. Oh no, instead Korea seems to want to compete for the title of "Coldest Place on Earth." The contest gets so intense that it enters into a completely new season. This new tier of winter is so cold that you will be walking to work and see snowmen huddled around a fire, each of them talking about how they should probably get inside because they can't afford another sick day at work...

So I have dubbed Korea the Land of Six Seasons.

   I have only been in this country for six months but I feel I have experienced a lot. I have read, and heard, a lot of my peers' thoughts on their experience thus far in Korea, and I think the overwhelming consensus is that this time has been a time of personal growth for them. I think I can agree with that. For some this was the first time away from Mom and Dad, or the first time they had to cook for themselves, or pay their own bills. For me that was not the case but personal growth has been a thing all the same.

   That is true for anything really. All of our experiences inevitably lead to growth in some way. But I have started to look at the paths of some of my peers from my past and found that not only have our lives taken different directions, but as of right now at least, they are not even anywhere close. Those who were closest to me couldn't be further away and that has nothing to do with physical distance.

   For where I grew up, that is really saying something. In my hometown it is not uncommon for generation upon generation to stay stuck in that same dusty, boring town. For some they stay by choice but others not so much. So many people from there aspire to stay there doing the same things as their fathers and their fathers before them never breaking the cycle. There is nothing wrong with that per se. For some that is enough in life but for me it never has been.

   I am a foreigner in this country and am constantly reminded of that. Sometimes in subtle ways, other times in more blatant ways. When I look back at my hometown, and all the people in it, I feel like I would be just as much a foreigner there too. The experiences I have had, not only since I moved from there, but also since coming to Korea, are experiences that are just absolutely unrelatable, foreign, to what is going on back in my hometown. I don't understand it, I couldn't imagine a life of cyclical redundancy (10 points if you get that without using Google) the likes of which I felt were guaranteed by staying in my hometown. I don't pretend that my life is any better than that of my peers who stayed after high school, but we are not anything alike any longer. Not even close.

   But now I am a foreigner twofold. I think the word "foreigner" gets a negative connotation attached to it but I don't feel that way. True, there are some inherently negative aspects that come with the label, but I see those more as opportunities for adventure. So I am a foreigner both by definition and by ambiguity if you will. Yet here I stand feeling all the more fulfilled because of it. For me personal growth certainly has come from this. I have grown in so many ways and that has put a lot of distance between who I was and who I am.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Ni Hao Taiwan [1] Back to Busan

Hey guys. As you may know I went to Taiwan at the beginning of the month. I recorded some blogs while I was there and haven't had the energy to put them all together yet. But here they are at last.

Keep in mind that I record these videos mostly for my family. That being said, they may seem a little boring at times. My family is ever curious about my adventures and for them I record these videos. I share them publicly because I think that someone will find them at least a little bit interesting. I personally like watching travel vlogs and I know I am not the only one. Anyways here is the first video. More to come later.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Family Away From Family

   If there is a such thing as a home away from home, then there is certainly such a thing as a family away from family.

   Recently I have been missing my family quite a bit as I am sure any American does around the holidays. It is not easy being all the way across the world alone knowing that you should be with your family eating Thanksgiving dinner. On top of that, feeling selfish for being that far away. You know it is all your decision, not theirs, and yet you have to put the distance between yourself and them. It is a real tug of war.

   This week however has shown me that family does not always have to be blood related. The Tsai family and Chen (who will not allow me to share her picture online!) opened their hearts to me for one week and instantly I knew I was with family, not just friends. They didn't have to, and yet this whole week was filled with running from this spot in Kaohsiung Taiwan, to that spot, and trying really hard to overcome the language barrier between us.

   It did not matter that we didn't understand each other's words all the time. I understood their love, warmth, and caring. The sentiment was plain to anyone around, and was certainly not lost on me.

So I want to say, "Thank you," "謝謝," to the Tsai family, and to Chen, for showing me that there is no replacement for blood family, but there can certainly be additions to it. You will always be in my heart and this will not be the last time I come to Taiwan to see you.

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Without a Right Arm

   I did something today that I don't do very often. I did not take a camera with me when I went out. I didn't forget it, it was on purpose. Today I was just not in the mood to carry all of my photo gear with me. Photography has a lot of tools required to get the job done. Sometimes you just don't want any of that. So today I did not record any video, did not take any photos, and felt like I was missing my right arm. It felt so weird not to have a camera on me.

   I have not been posting a lot of my Taiwan photos to my blog because a lot of them are going elsewhere and I don't have the time to write a full blog post each day. I tried that while in Japan and I felt I was more focused on the blog than I was just seeing Japan. That isn't to say that I don't like blogging, I just need to find the right balance. I think I have done that this trip. I have been taking photos, other than today, and you can view them on my flickr page here. Photography is something that will not stop even if everything else does. I want to use my flickr page more. I used to use it all the time and then I started to neglect it after a while. Please take a look at it from time to time and you may see photos there that will never go on this blog.

   I have also been working on a website for the blog and my photography for some time. I am simply not happy with the work I have to showcase on the site. Either I am too overcritical of my work (which is highly likely) or I don't have enough of a cohesive portfolio. I don't know which it is but I have revised over and over to no avail. Once I finally do have something I am happy with though this blog will be updated with my new site info.

   Anyways about today. Today I just simply wanted to walk around unhindered by camera gear. I really didn't do much but I did go to a night market, there are many here, and in this market I saw an elderly lady selling gum. Not from a stall, she was just sat on a chair with two wicker bowls filled with small packs of gum. I really wish I hadn't seen her because I can't stop thinking about her. This lady wasn't homeless, you could tell, she was just simply trying to earn an income for herself. Two things crossed my mind. One, she can't be making that much money from just selling gum. Perhaps a little pocket money but not enough to support herself. Second, I thought about my own grandmother. There is no way I would allow my grandmother to feel she needed to sell gum on the street in order to support herself. If she wanted to make a little extra cash then okay, and perhaps that is what this lady was doing, I have no idea.

   You know what? She is more than likely someone's mom. I could never allow my mother do that to make ends meet. My mom, however, has a long way to go until she reaches that age. So maybe it is a good idea to kick her out to the curb with a box of gum now so she gets practice for the future... Just kidding Mom!

   I don't know what the lady was doing. Perhaps she really was just doing it to stay busy and get out of the house. I can understand that. But if not, there is no way I could live with myself knowing my mother or grandmother was forced to do that. There is no shame in any sort of legitimate work, big or small, but after a certain age you should gain the privilege of sitting back and enjoying life.

   Well this post went all sorts of directions didn't it? I just can't get that poor lady out of my head. I couldn't just pass her by either, so I bought some gum, though I wish I could have done more.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

I Met a Chen

   Taiwan- Touch Your Butt Heart.

   I met a Chen!

   Yet again I am in another country lost and confused. It feels really good to be in that situation all over again. It is far too easy to fall into routines when you are comfortable with a place. Stagnancy is painful for me. I have only lived in Korea for a bit less than 6 months but already I was developing routines. Now, don't get me wrong, routines and being comfortable with a place is a good thing. But there is no adventure in it, no mystery. In my short time in Korea I have gotten to a point where I am confident doing all the every day things I need to do. Yeah, from time to time I still get lost and confused, but not as much as what it was when I began my journey in Korea.

   So now I am in Kaohsiung Taiwan. I am recording a lot of video too and I plan to put the video up as one long video when I return to Korea. I don't know how long it will be but I am here for a week so we will see.

   Today I met a person I have been wanting to see for over 4 years now. Chen has been a great friend to me, and one that I have never had the opportunity to formally meet. We met on a language exchange site called This is a site where you keep a kind of journal in a language you are learning and native speakers can correct your mistakes for you. In turn you do the same for them. It is completely free and a really good way to practice a language and meet friends from all over the world.

   If you were to ask me 4 years ago, "Where is Taiwan on this map?" I would have looked at you funny and asked, "What is a Taiwan?" I didn't even really know Taiwan existed except that a lot of computer parts are made there. But through Lang-8 I met Chen and everything changed from there. She was so kind and fun to talk to. Eventually I was introduced to other friends of hers and I developed relationships with every one of them the likes of which I don't even have with people back home. Because of this I became fascinated with Taiwan and I wanted to learn all about it. It wasn't long before I wanted to visit Taiwan and meet the friends I had made.

   Life has a funny way of getting in the way of things though. At one point I actually had a round trip ticket to and from Taiwan but a month before I was to take off, stuff just got in the way and I had to end up cancelling. Time and time again I would tell Chen, "I am going to Taiwan on blah blah date." Yet time and time again something would come up.

   Finally today I got to meet a friend I have been trying to meet for so long. I don't think I can explain how that feels. Also, I got to meet another friend I met through her who I call "big sister." Of course me being Alex, with my fantastically amazing memory, forgot to get pictures with both of them. Soon though! We will meet again tomorrow so...

   Chen is just as much of a wonderful person in real life as she is online. She is tiny, timid, quiet, and every bit as nice as she seemed online. I feel very lucky to have met Chen. After my first failed attempt to come to Taiwan, I started to forget why I was so interested in Taiwan at all. I guess it was that failure that really made me lose that spark. Now I am remembering why I was so interested in this place. Chen has helped me with that.

   Thank you, Chen, for being a friend, for being the spark that relights a fire of wonder and amazement in me. I hope that in 50 years you are as much my friend as you are today.