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What’s in the birthday box?

Who doesn’t love getting presents on their birthday? When I was a kid, it was all about quantity—the thrill of seeing a pile (the bigger the better) of gifts waiting to be opened, the sheer delight of ripping through present after present.

That’s changed a bit over the years. I’m happy to open just one present on my birthday, knowing it’s been selected with care by someone who knows me well. Being the person who knows me better than anyone, my husband always hits it out of the park.

Birthday gift sketches on kraft paper

This year, Marlon had me at hello. It was impossible not to cry upon the sight of these doodles on kraft paper, and I almost didn’t want to open the package. Our family, our journey, our story so far…

Marlon's sketches on kraft paper1

 

… our dreams, our future and all the stories to come.

Marlon's sketches on kraft paper2

Stories of which I am clearly, and happily, this family’s designated documentarian.

Sony RX100 II

As much as I love my DSLR and lenses, I’ve been dying for a point-and-shoot ever since Tala was born. As the pack mule for my and Tala’s stuff, I really feel the added bulk and weight of a DSLR and one or more lenses. Digging in my bag for the camera, not to mention changing lenses, seems to take forever, like Tala’s moving at warp speed and I’m underwater.

I wasn’t satisfied with my iPhone 4 camera, but needed something small, light, and fast. Having lived in the land of manual settings for the last three years, I couldn’t go back to just any old point-and-shoot.

Enter the Sony RX100 Mark II. I first heard about its predecessor, the Sony RX100, from The Diplomatic Wife, a conscientious shopper who did her research and found it a consistent favorite on lists of top digital compact cameras. Marlon took a big risk buying me a camera without any involvement or research from me, but he nailed it with this choice.

 

The Sony RX 100 MII gets raves on most reputable tech sites, such as Digital Photography Review and Gizmodo. What I’m loving about this camera: small size, big sensor. “How many megapixels?” is for noobs; it’s the people who ask about sensor size who know where it’s at. Simply put: the bigger the sensor, the more light and thus information a camera can capture, which translates into better images (for a more detailed, well-written explanation, check out this article).

This camera also has the all-important shallow depth of field (two words: blurry background) I just can’t live without, plus the option to shoot on manual, shutter speed priority and, my personal go-to mode, aperture priority.

Best of all, it slips into a coat pocket, making it discreet (for those times when I want to be a stealthy blogger ninja), convenient and easy to whip out for split-second flashes of brilliance/activity/cuteness. A great compact camera for me, more pictures and videos of Tala for everyone. Win-win for all!

JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam

I discovered the street art of JR a few months ago while visiting Berlin. After seeing his large-scale paper pastings in Berlin, I became interested in his work and hoped that one day I might be able to participate in one of his art projects. So this weekend I was thrilled to find JR’s Inside Out Project in Amsterdam, right in my own neighborhood!

The Inside Out Project is a global participatory art project launched by JR when he won the TED Prize in 2011. Instead of taking photographs of people and pasting them in different location all over the world, as he normally would, JR invited the public to share their portraits as a way of standing up for something they cared about.

Since then, more than 130,000 people in over 108 countries have taken their own portraits, sent them to JR via the Inside Out website, and received large format posters to paste in their own communities. Most of them are groups that have used the Inside Out Project to make statements on everything from LBGT rights and violence, to dreams and memories. The Inside Out Project has also sent traveling photobooth trucks all over the world, most notably this year at Times Square in New York.

This weekend, the Inside Out Project came to the Unseen Photo Fair at the Westergasfabriek in my neighborhood park.

Inside Out Project by JR at Unseen Amsterdam

So cool! How could I not participate?! So on Saturday afternoon, Marlon, Tala and I queued up at the Inside Out photo truck to have our portraits taken.

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Newborn photo session

The photos from Tala’s newborn photography session arrived yesterday… and I can’t stop looking at them! These were taken when Tala was a little over three weeks old, and already I can’t believe how small she was just two short weeks ago.

Not only did lifestyle photographer Melody Rae do a wonderful job capturing our home and our family in these images, but she was also generous with them—we received over a hundred post-processed photos, with color and black-and-white versions of each. That way we can just choose which ones we want to print, without having to pay a set price for prints.

I love the way the photos all feel so relaxed, like it would be on a regular Sunday at home. We couldn’t have gotten this same vibe at a studio. It’s hard to choose favorites, but here are some of mine.

Family photo black & white

Family photo shutters black & white

Tala and Daddy black & white

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Behind the scenes: Newborn photo session

Wow, this week was tough. Marlon went on a business trip for two days, the first time he’s traveled since Tala was born. Though I had babysitting help for a few hours in the evenings, flying solo in the wee hours left me completely exhausted.

So I’m looking forward to this weekend to catch a break, enjoy having Marlon at home, and spend time together as a family. Spring sunshine and warmer temperatures—as the forecast promises—will be a big plus!

I’m also looking forward to sharing the photos from Tala’s newborn session. We booked lifestyle photographer Melody Rae for a photo shoot right here at home before my  mom and my sister returned to Manila. My sister took some behind-the-scenes photos of Melody in action, so here’s a little sneak peek until I get my hands on the goods.

Posing parents

Newborn session with daddy and lola

Newborn session behind the scenes

Newborn photo shoot with duyan

And yes, it’s the duyan! We gave our traditional Filipino bassinet a modern makeover in the last few weeks of my pregnancy. Then Marlon rigged it up on the balcony to welcome the arrival of sunny spring weather, and just in time for the photo session with Melody.

But more on that next week… till then, have a wonderful weekend!

My maternity photo shoot

I knew from the start of my pregnancy that I wanted to do a maternity photo session. I thought I’d wait until I was ready to pop to capture my body in its full pregnant glory, but I changed my mind during a Skype date with a friend who was then in her eighth month of pregnancy.

When I asked if she was going to have maternity photos taken, the ferocity of her response surprised me. “Oh my God! No! Ayoko! Feeling ko ang laki-laki ko! Wala ako sa mood mag-posing posing!” Basically, she felt ugly and huge, and the last thing she wanted was to get her glam on in front of a camera. I thought she had some kind of hormonal goggles on, because to me she looked great.

But her response also made me think. If my gorgeous, tiny, delicate friend felt like a grossly ugly blimp in her last month, then there was no hope for me! So, my maternity photos had to be taken when my baby bump was a respectable size, but while I could still feel… cute.

I got in touch with our wedding godmother Dada, whose doctor/photographer husband Raul took some great portraits for the Ateneo Chamber Singers’ most recent album. Raul was game, and booked some studio time for our first weekend back home, two weeks into my final trimester. And this is what came out of those two hours in the studio.

Ever wondered what couples mean when they say “we’re pregnant?” Wonder no more. Sympathetic pregnancy is not a myth!

Can you tell Marlon and I had a blast with this photo shoot?

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People-watching in Granada

For me, the best trips have the luxury of time: time to do nothing and soak up everything. In Granada, I could have gone to a museum or visited the Capilla Real to see the tombs of the Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella (and Juana and Philip—yes, the one they named the Philippines after). Instead I chose to just sit down, walk around and watch people.

Oh, and photograph them, of course… with my new 60mm lens! Every shot is a small victory in my war against shyness; maybe one day I’ll actually be bold enough to ask someone if I can take their photo. For now, I stand from a distance, fascinated by people and charmed by the many surprises of daily life elsewhere…

… such as a retro-cool jazz ensemble singing dixie and swing hits from the 1920s and 30s, right in the middle of Plaza Bib-Rambla. Listening to them felt like being in an episode of Boardwalk Empire. 

Granada jazz ensemble

So much fun, and so stylish too!

Granada jazz singers

In the streets of the Albayzin: the Hogwarts Rondalla.

Granada street musicians3

I kid, I kid. I don’t know what else to call a band of merry old men in long black capes, playing the guitar and singing with such gusto that they attracted an impromptu street party around them, with lots of laughing, dancing…

Granada street musicians2

… even advertising. This enterprising fellow was waving his signboard in time to the music, hoping to draw the street party into his bar. Funny.

Granada street musicians1

Some of my favorite subjects, after the jump…

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Brooklyn leather camera satchel

The best gifts come from people who know you best. Don’t you agree?

Take my husband, for example. He knows I’m always carrying around a DSLR with at least one spare lens. He knows I have a terrible habit of using my nice, “grown-up lady” bags as camera bags, which is great for me but not for the bags. (I once horrified a friend by taking my DSLR with the clunky wide-angle lens out of a buttery soft Bottega Veneta handbag.) He knows that I’ve been in the market for a sturdy brown leather bag for a few months now. Most importantly, he knows that I pin pictures of all my bag crushes on Pinterest.

This is how he completely bowled me over with his birthday gift: the Brooklyn leather satchel from Ona.

I absolutely love the vintage style of this bag, as well as the chestnut leather that’s just begging to get all nicely worn and beat-up. The cross-body strap makes it easy to carry… and it looks great with everything! I can totally see this becoming my go-to travel bag.

Not only is this a good-looking satchel on the outside, but it’s also a camera bag on the inside. Removable inserts (attached with Velcro) allow it to store a DSLR and up to three lenses. Generous padding cushions the whole kit.

As if this wasn’t awesome enough, tucked into the padded interior was another birthday surprise… a Canon 60mm Macro lens!

I discovered this lens at The Hive Berlin, when Yvonne of Fraulein Klein (who takes beautiful photos) used it during her photography workshop. Like my 50mm lens, it’s a fixed-focus lens with shallow depth of field. However, it’s a lot sturdier, more light-sensitive, and easier to use for macro photography.

I will post test photos when I’ve gotten to play around with it a little more. This definitely completes my photography wish list and I think I’ll be very happy with my current set of lenses—all four of them!—for a long, long while.

10 things that are more fun in the Philippines

Inspired by the recently launched Department of Tourism campaign, I looked through two years worth of photos (without the help of Google, all of them are mine) to come up with my own list of things that are more fun in the Philippines. I’ve put up only 10 here but the possibilities are endless.

Can I just say, this was so much fun to do? Can the Negative Nellies out there please give it a try? It’s better for your heart and your wrinkles, I promise. Although may find it difficult if you are devoid of humor—a rather rare and life-threatening condition for a Filipino.

But wait, there’s more!


Oh, and here’s the one I included in my previous post. This makes it 11, but at least I have the complete set in one post. 
Twilight, Salad, Getting Buzzed: taken at the Bohol Bee Farm, Bohol. 
Morning Coffee, Exfoliating, Seeing Red: taken on Alona Beach, Panglao, Bohol. 
Of course, the tarsier (Treehugging) was also shot in Bohol.
Sunblock: White Beach, Boracay Island, Aklan. 
Breaking Dawn: Bantayan, Cebu. 
Finding Nemo: snorkeling at the Virgin Island Marine Sanctuary in Bantayan, Cebu. 
Christmas: Filinvest Marikina.
The images are yours to use and circulate. Please remember to credit me or my blog when doing so. Go forth and spread the love—and have fun! #ItsMoreFunInThePhilippines

A (birthday) gift that keeps on giving

My wonderful husband has once again proved that he knows me so well. How? By getting me a birthday gift that I absolutely love.
Want to know what Marlon’s gift was? I’ll give you three clues. These three pictures all have something to do with it.

Any guesses? See if you’re right after the jump!

Nope, Marlon’s birthday gift was not an evil eye pendant, a paisley shawl or a juicer. What those three photos have in common is that they were taken with my awesome new toy… a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II lens!

The 50mm f/1.8 II lens is a fixed focus lens, also known as a prime lens. Fixed focus means exactly what it says on the tin: you can’t change the focus, i.e. zoom in or out. That’s not what this lens is about. What it is about, is a low f-stop number (1.8), which translates to a larger aperture and shallower depth of field.

To put it in four simple words: blurry background, sharp subject. Those four words make all the difference in a portrait or detail (macro) shot.

Prime lenses are also also sharper than variable focus (or zoom) lenses, making that contrast between blurry background and sharp subject even better. 
Take this photo, for example. I was caught not by the woman, but by the gooeyness of the sweets she was serving up. The sharpness of this prime lens plus its shallow depth of field are great for blurring her (and the other servers) into the background and highlighting the sticky, shiny drips of syrup.

I do have to get used to carrying more than one lens, and quickly switching lenses on the go. But that’s part of the package and I’m happy to do it. Though I love my current wide-angle lens to bits, achieving shallow depth of field was definitely one of its weaknesses. 
Now that I have this new lens, a whole new world has opened up to me. Surprisingly, it’s not shooting photos of food… but of people.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m terribly shy about shooting photos of people. I always felt as if taking out my camera with its big-ass wide-angle lens was like switching on a glaring red neon sign and activating a loud warning siren. ALERT! ALERT! YOU ARE BEING PHOTOGRAPHED!
This new lens enables me to be more discreet. For one thing, it’s a lot smaller, so it’s much less obtrusive. The fixed 50mm focus length allows me to stand a comfortable distance away from my subject and still get a good shot… without getting in someone’s face.

As you can probably tell, I’m loving my birthday gift. And you can see from these photos, Turkey was the perfect place to take my new baby for our first ride.


Interested in learning more about fixed focus/prime lenses? Here’s a helpful article on zoom vs. prime lenses. Happy reading!

Trains on the brain

It seems I’ve been in this train-obsessed phase as of late. It may have started with a short film that I watched in my very first screenwriting class (yes, I’m taking a class! More on which later). Strangers by Erez Tadmor and Guy Nattiv is set on a late-night train (in what looks like Paris) and I liked it a lot (so clicky the linky!).

For reasons that are apparent if you’ve seen the film, it stayed with me. So for my first screenwriting assignment, one of my three short drafts was set on a train. Following the age-old advice to “write what you know,” I wrote about a routine (commuting by train) and nestled it in a memory (the Paris metro). It went over quite well, and it’s going to metamorphose into a short screenplay over the next two weeks.

My final assignment for photography class was due the same week. I was cramming, with just one afternoon before the class to shoot a series of photos on a single theme. It was a debilitatingly hot day, I had zero ideas for themes or subjects, and all I wanted was to stay indoors. I thought I would just hop on the train, wait for ideas to come to me and get off wherever something fired up my wilting imagination.

Then it hit me. I didn’t even have to leave the train station!

Thanks to my sister, who sent me this great article on the best places to practice motion blur shots, I achieved my two-pronged aim of completing my photography assignment AND beating the heat!

A reversal: still train, moving people. By the way, all these long exposures were taken with no tripod. My teacher was amazed and said I must have an iron grip.

I stayed for a good twenty minutes without realizing it was bawal to take photos in the MRT station. Wala namang humuli sa akin

Finally I stepped off the platform and into the train… where I was lucky to sit right across from this adorable little girl. Who by the way was both eating and drinking in the train.

Then I transferred to the green line and off at Kallang station, because I remembered that I had been there once before and found it very striking.

Motion blur is fun! Wheee!

And THEN I realized I had always been curious about the old railway station at Tanjong Pagar. It’s a train that actually takes you all the way to Malaysia. Built in the 1930s, the station stands on property that’s recently been turned over to Malaysia by the Singapore government.

Diba, parang Grand Central lang? My thought bubble upon seeing the station for the first time was: Meron palang ganito sa Singapore? I was really sorry I didn’t have a wider lens to capture the whole interior. There were many, more accomplished (or at least better-invested) shutterbugs there the same afternoon with bigger lenses than mine.

I was happy to have visited while it’s still a fully operating train station—operations will be shifted to Woodlands, closer to the Malaysian border, starting July 2011.

A significant proportion of the crowd at the station seems to be old-timers who go to the station to kill time and grab a bite. 

In fact, I’ve heard more about the authentic Malay grub at the canteen from people I know than about them actually taking the trains.

The mood seemed a lot more slow and sleepy than any of the other train stations I normally pass through.

But no matter how many things change, I guess there will always be someone rushing to catch the train.