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Monday, December 23, 2013

Gardens by the Bay

Welcome, welcome, welcome, to shinehigh photography! :)

I finally have the resources and the motivation to get this blog back up and running, and I will feature photo trips (like this one), occasional product reviews, rumors and impressions, and some tips and tricks I discover or find notable.

Gardens by the Bay is, well, a very artificial park developed recently in Singapore to introduce some nature into the highly urbanized country. I find it very ironic that these greenery and flora are introduced in such an artificial manner, but undeniably it's exactly this uniqueness that is attractive. And indeed the area is magnificent.

This is a very special photo trip for me because it officially marks the end of my months of grueling examinations (yes, I embarked on this immediately after my very last paper). Another notable thing was that while this trip was good for landscape and macro photography, I was stuck with only my 35 mm f/1.8 DX, which is a very versatile and lightweight lens but really far from ideal for landscapes. So you'll see how I tried to cope with the mid-range prime focal length (52.5 mm on full frame).


The place gets pretty cool (well, the temperature too) in the evening, when the supertrees will light up in a variety of colors, and there will be a form of a light show. It's a great place to hang out, not to mention you get a pretty good view of Marina Bay Sands, the skyscrapers nearby, and the Singapore Flyer. Of course, a wide angle lens will serve you well in this area, and in fact you can only capture a decent scene or a full supertree with a wide angle. But if you have anything short of that, it really forces you to get creative.

Supertree close-up, with the moon. 35 mm DX, 3'', f/5.6, ISO 200.

Here you can see the details of the supertree. It is essentially a trumpet-like structure with some plants densely wrapped around the column, and networks of metal branches that protrude out of the top opening. These supertrees are actually part of the special climate control system for the two domes, serving as something like the heat exhaust I believe.

I was lucky enough to capture the moon together with one of the supertrees, although the moon was pathetically small (the altitude is only around sea level here). I thought this composition gave a rather calm atmosphere of the night, contrary to the excitement of the changing lights most people witness in the area.

The other main attraction is of course the indoor gardens: the flower dome, and the cloud forest. The flower dome is essentially filled with flowers and plants, while the cloud forest features a large waterfall from an artificial mountain which you can climb (or ascend to, in an elevator), and flowers too, while less than that in the flower dome.

Waterfall. 35 mm DX, 1/1600, f/1.8, ISO 200.

And here's the waterfall, which I barely managed to fit into frame. I decided to freeze the water flow with a high shutter speed, instead of doing the typical long exposure to obtain a smooth water flow, to give a fresh and crisp feel of the environment inside, and somewhat show that the area at the base of the waterfall was showered by water droplets. Alright, I was lazy to mount my tripod for a long exposure too, but please, photographers should not be lazy, so don't learn this excuse from me.

Flowers illuminated by the sun's rays. 35 mm DX, 1/250, f/6.3, ISO 200.

While flare is probably on the most-hated list of most photographers, I find it fun to play with it at times. Here, the sun's position can be determined by the burst of light, and the flare looks like a ray of light shining down from the sun. I brightened up the flowers that were in the path of the ray, and made that the subject of the whole photograph. Admittedly I could do without the color fringing of the flare. Nevertheless, this is the photo that I am most satisfied with for this trip.

Pond in Cloud Forest. 35 mm DX, 1/500, f/1.8, ISO 200.

At the very top of the artificial mountain / waterfall there is this pond that had exceptionally still water that the reflection in the water seemed almost perfect. Of course, the water was shallow and there were no animals living inside. You probably have to go pretty low to get one of these angles; my friend had to lie down on a platform to get a good angle. So be prepared for such things.

Ripples. 35 mm DX, 1/200, f/2.8, ISO 200.

I got my friend to tap his foot on the edge of the pond, and it created some pretty nice ripples that I captured. Would be pretty nice if there were some reflections in the way that got distorted by the ripples, though that may instead add clutter to the photo.

Mist in Cloud Forest. 35 mm DX, 1/200, f/2.5, ISO 200.

If you're lucky enough you'll catch the mist spraying. It happens once every few hours. If you have the patience and a good ND filter you can take a long exposure and the place will really look like it's engulfed by clouds. Mist or fog makes this place look like it's floating at high altitudes, and gives your photos a nice mystical touch. I did try a long exposure but my ND was too weak and the walkway was vibrating thanks to people walking and running along it.

Sunsets are overused to symbolize endings, but anyway I shall end this post with a sunset (actually it's the afterglow of the sunset).

Supertrees in the sunset. 35 mm DX, 1/500, f/1.8, ISO 200.

When there is sunset, think of silhouettes. Yup, in such a case when the sunset is behind your subject, you only have the options of taking a HDR or a silhouette, or else your background i.e. the sunset will be blown out. I thought that while silhouettes may be very clich├ęd, it does appropriately show how the whole landscape is like. I didn't have the option of HDR anyway, because I took this from within the flower dome, and once I raise the exposure there will be horrible flare on the glass walls of the dome. These, by the way, are the supertrees, and the silhouette already seems sufficient in telling you how they look like.

Gardens by the Bay is really worth a visit, especially if you haven't been there before. Do explore the flower dome as well, and it's cheaper if you purchase a ticket that grants you access to both domes. There's also the Skywalk around the skytrees that you can consider exploring; I haven't been up there before but I trust that the view will be beautiful.

I shall conclude with a famous quote (to photographers at least) which is sometimes (not always) true and very appropriate in this context.
"The best camera is the one that you have with you." - Chase Jarvis
Make full use of whatever gear you have, and get creative with it. No doubt there may be equipment you need that aren't available with you, but when you can't acquire them, then what you have with you is the best that you can have. When equipment is out of your control, switch your gear to drive your imagination, for it can also (and most of the time, better) lead you to great photos. :)