A Walk in the Hills

I’ve probably mentioned the hills and paths that surround Stone Island Valley behind my apartment complex. It’s not much of a valley and dale might be a better word to describe it. Whatever you want to call it, it’s a nice place to take a walk because most people take their walks on the concrete road that goes up the dale and fewer people go up into the hills to stroll amongst the trees.

The hilltop path as it dips between two hills.

Not only are there fewer walkers on the path, but at most points you can’t see any houses or roads. I almost said you can’t see any signs of civilisation, but this would be false because the hills are full of grave markers and tombs.

I don’t know if these flower pots were blown over by the wind or if they were casually tossed there by someone.
The walking path passes by many graves and grave markers like these.

On my walk this day, I saw only one person and he was quite a distance away. He must have turned off somewhere, because he never caught up to me even though I frequently stopped to make photos.

In addition to a human, I saw and heard birds the whole time I was walking and as I was coming down off the hill near the end of my walk I was surprised by a deer who leapt out of some tall grass and ran for the hills. It was at the bottom of that path where I cam across a photogenic tree that I want to visit again in different kinds of weather. This might make an attractive colour photograph in late spring.

An interesting tree on a less-travelled path coming down off the hills.

I noticed today that WordPress automatically includes the captions I write in Lightroom to the bottom of each photo. This might be a new feature as it’s never happened before. Or perhaps I deleted metadata in the past when saving for the web. Anyway, it’s a convenience. I wish it would read the keywords, though. That’s what takes up the time.

To Pod or Not to Pod

On Sunday I took my tripod and a bag of lenses up Rock Island Valley again to make some black and white photos in peace. I didn’t feel like going up the same road again, so I crossed the footbridge seen in my previous post and went up into the hills.
   I tried making photos of the bridge and path before moving on, but it was a tripod-unfriendly environment. The ground was very uneven and to either side of the path was thick foliage and many thorny bushes. They frustrated my attempts to get the composition I wanted so I gave up and climbed the hill.

Tomb Steles

About fifty metres or so from the bridge is a grave site. There is a single tomb and then a line of these stelae along the side of the grounds.  There was no problem setting up the tripod, but I didn’t get a satisfactory composition. In this photo I could use the hill as a dark background, but from any other angle the sky showed up as a bright distraction between the trees. Maybe I’ll go back later with more patience and try to work the busy background into the composition.

Tombs

A hundred or more metres on from the first tomb is a group of three graves. There was a bit of muttering and cursing about the tripod because I had to stand on sloped earth to make this photo and the legs were not cooperating. I’ve made good photos of these tombs in the past, but I couldn’t seem to do anything with the place on Sunday’s trip.

Saranggol Walking Trail

As an aside, I hope you are looking at these photos on a decent monitor. They have lots of contrast on my home computer, but appear very washed out on the old monitor I have on my office desk.
   The sign says, “Saranggol Walking Trail”. (‘Saranggol’ means ‘Love Valley”). This is odd, because Rock Island Valley is on the maps but Love Valley is not. The Love Valley Walking Trail is not even in a valley. It goes along the tops of hills. The only mention of the walking path I could find on the Internet was on an old website that said the walking trail is named after the many ‘couple graves’ to be found on the hills. I’ve been all around the valley and the hills and I don’t recall any ‘couple’ graves at all. Many of them are on their own or in groups of three and four. Maybe there is information in the Chinese character grave inscriptions that I’m missing. In any case, Love Valley is not an official name for the area.

Path and Fields

On my way back home I made this photo, which I had failed to do earlier because of the tripod and maybe my lack of patience. I didn’t want to use the tripod, but I did want a wide depth of field, so I set the aperture to f16 and turned the ISO up to 1600. This high setting also gave me a high enough shutter speed to avoid camera shake. It only took me a minute or two to make this photo and be on my way.

Never Looked Better

Some people look better behind cameras rather than in front of them. Making a picture of myself in the apartment elevator is a habit from film photography. It uses up the last or second last frame on the roll and records which camera the film was in. Not necessary with a digital camera, but a habit is a habit.

I learned several things on my little walk along the hills. One, I need to practise being more patient. Photography is supposed to be my way of neatly organising a chaotic world and relaxing, not cursing aluminium legs and bushes. Two, landscape photography is difficult and I need much practice and study. I thought that black and white landscapes would be easier than colour landscapes because there are fewer things like white balance to worry about, but this is not the case. Brown leaves and grey tree trunks can be easily distinguished in colour, but in black and white they look more or less the same. Filters help, but only for some things. I need to practise seeing in black and white again. Three, image quality on the D810 is very impressive even at high ISO settings. I did some quick tests on my walk at ISO 64, 400, 800, 1600, 3200, 6400, and 12800. High ISO noise can be quite awful in colour photographs, but in black and white it’s not objectionable and looks like film grain. Sort of. I haven’t tried more rigorous tests or printed any results, but at the moment I think that going up to 1600 or 3200 is no problem at all. 6400 is not bad in a pinch and 12800 would be fine for snapshots.  On my next walkabout I might save myself a bit of weight and hassle by leaving the tripod at home. Or leaving it in my bag until absolutely necessary. But perhaps I should do some print tests of the high ISOs first . . . .

Despite a bit of annoyance with the tripod now and then, I had a pleasant couple of hours in the woods. I met a few hikers who said hello and a little old lady with a walking stick who seemed to get up the slopes more easily than I did. I should follow her around to get in shape.

Rock Island Valley

I was inspired by a few photographers I follow (here, here, and here) to try my hand at black and white landscape photography. The closest place for me to practise landscape photography is the valley just behind my apartment complex, called Rock Island Valley. I just wanted to walk up and down the valley and make a few test pictures at first, so I left the tripod at home, stuck a 50mm lens on the D810, and set the ISO to 1600 because it was quite an overcast day. In just an hour I had forty-odd photos on the SD card and I hadn’t even gone up into the hills. I am pleased that there are so many things to photograph just a few minutes’ walk from the apartment. I didn’t meet any people at all while on my walk, which suits me just fine.

Rock Island Valley. Bridge and Path. 2019

This path will take you up into a hill where there are some lovely woods, tombs, and even deer. This was a low contrast scene so I did some dodging and burning to make the bridge and path stand out more. I made this on a heavily overcast day, and I think it’ll be better if I return on a brighter overcast day. I’ll bring more lenses and a tripod to see if I can’t find a nicer angle.

Rock Island Valley. Trees. 2019

I used a green filter effect on the camera to lighten up the foliage in contrast to the brown tree trunk and branches. Again, I think that returning to this spot with a tripod and some more concentration will get me some good photos of this tree. I should have lightened up that little background patch in the upper left hand corner. Next time!

Rock Island Valley. Crockery. 2019

I found these bowls and pots at the edge of an orchard. I have no idea why they might be there.

Although these photos were all made at ISO 1600, they are quite clean. You can see noise/’grain’ if you look carefully in the out-of-focus areas of the photos, but it’s not more than you’d find in ISO 50 or ISO 100 black and white film. And it’s possible that the high ISO gives the photos some nice character. I’ll have to compare with ISO 64 when I go up the valley again. Which I hope is soon!

Bridges

On a ride down the Namdae River bicycle path, I made several photos of the undersides of bridges.

One of my favourite photographers, Sam Abell, learned the technique of ‘compose and wait’ from his father. I’m learning it from reading Mr. Abell’s books and listening to his lectures online. I spent a few minutes looking at the underside of this bridge and framing the supports and the concrete bicycle path. Then I waited. Several people walked by but their clothes were dark and blended in with the water in the background. A cyclist whizzed by but was moving too quickly for me to catch. Then this gentleman came by wearing light clothes, a light hat, and riding a light-coloured bicycle. Also, he wasn’t moving very quickly so I was able to press the shutter button before he exited the frame.

I didn’t have to wait in this case because the apartments weren’t going anywhere. I made one version of this photo without the ladder and catwalk on the left. It looked nice, but the underside of the bridge is so dark that it’s not obvious what is framing the apartments. And it’s slightly bland. So stepped to the left and included the metalwork. Now, I hope, the viewer can see that this must have been a bridge I was standing under. I like this photo, but I worry that there is too much visual weight on the left. It might be worth going back to this spot when the light is less harsh so I can leave out the catwalk and allow some details of the bridge to show. Stay tuned . . . .

As a side note, these photographs are straight out of the camera. If I don’t get it right in camera then the photo is a failure, as far as I’m concerned. I do admit to trimming a few pixels off the top photograph because the D810’s viewfinder is not perfectly accurate when using 5:4 crop mode. A tiny bit of sky appeared above the bridge that was distracting. Forgive me, O Saints of the Silver Salt.

P.S. Here is the other version of the apartment photo. If anyone is reading this, perhaps you could tell me your preference in the comments.