Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Galen Rowell

Rowell shoots next to Yosemite Falls in 1992. Photo by Ron Kauk

Galen  Rowell needs no introduction to the photography community, This great photographer would have been 76 years today.   A cruel twist of fate took him away on August 11, 2002 in a plane crash.
 Though Rowell was primarily a landscape photographer, he was not averse to other forms of photography as well. He spent long hours waiting for the right light for his photos. Living in California, the nationals parks like Yosemite, Sequoia, Kings Canyon were his back yard  including Owens Valley in the Sierra Nevada and  it is here that he did some of his most splendid work.

A Rowell photo has a distinctive stamp on it and if you are familiar with his work you would probably recognize the photographs. Some of Rowell's quotes are below:

 "If your artificially lit shadows are as bright as your naturally lit highlights, the resulting image will always appear overlit."

"Is is hard to believe the sense of liberation that comes from debunking the notion that serious photography requires a seriously large tripod."

"I chose 35mm as my sole means of photographic expression because I wanted to be relatively unencumbered. I tried larger cameras , but the bottom line is that my imagination more directly connects with the final image in 35mm."

"I can't wait to go out in the field and search for examples of chaos in clouds, trees and turbulent waters to juxtapose against the more predictable and immutable patterns of nature."

"We usually pass over a photograph devoid of emotional reaction to its subject and say ' This doesn't do anything  for me. ' Of course it doesn't! The photographer didn't have his or her heart in it."

“Photography was a means of visual expression to communicate what I had seen to people who weren’t there. At first I was disturbed that 99 percent of my images didn’t look as good as what I had seen. The other one percent, however, contained some element–a beam of light, a texture, a reflection–that looked more powerful on film than to my eye. Without this I never would have been drawn toward photography as a career. I became fascinated with trying to consistently combine photographic vision and a visualization in my mind’s eye to make images that exceeded the normal perception before my eyes." Galen Rowell







Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Ladakh Flora I

Most people who have not been to Ladakh imagine it to be a barren wasteland devoid of vegetation and flowers. But in the summer months many of our Himalayan floral species bloom in this high altitude desert.  Some of the flora of Ladakh seen over different treks and expeditions mainly between the months of July to September are below in this two part post. The second part will follow soon.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Markha Valley Trek | Ladakh July 2016 - Route and Timings

Campsite at Markha below the monastery

South Col Expeditions trekked the Markha Valley from Chilling to Shang Sumdo in July 2016. The day wise route and timings along with altitude  is given below.

July 17th 2016 Leh to Chilling to Skiu
We left Leh around 8 am. The previous day it had been drizzling the whole day and this had helped in bringing down the temperatures. Leh had been very warm  for the last few days and the rain was most welcome. We followed the Leh Kargil highway to Nimu   which is the confluence of the Indus and the Zanskar.  After some photographs at the site we went down on the road to Chilling which is 28km away. The road contours along the Zanskar river and we reached Chilling by 9 45 am. The bridge across the Zanskar is broken so we had to cross once again by trolley. By the time we had all our equipment and team across it was 11 am. We started walking east and in about 45 minutes crested a small pass which was visible from the river. There is a new jeepable road between Chilling and Skui and we followed this for most of the way excepting using some short cuts which avoided the long bends of the road. In about an hour from the first pass we reached the entrance of the village of Kaya and walked further up through the village until we reached the river where we stopped for lunch around 1 30 pm. The sun was hot but clouds were gathering towards the west. We left our lunch spot around 2 pm and in another 45 minutes reached the campsites of Skui. Skui also has a number of home stays so it is now possible to do the Markha valley trek in season time without camping support. The camp was the same location as last time pitched near the river. As it was both sunny and warm I decided to go down to river and have a wash in the delicious cold water which was incredibly refreshing. The next day we have a long walk to Markha around 22 km.
Chilling to 1st pass 45 min; 1st pass to Kaya village 1 hour; Kaya village to Skiu campsites 1 hour
Leh 3500 metres 34 10 11 N 77 34 40E; Chilling 3183 metres 34 0 31 N 77 12 24E;
Skiu 3348 metres 33 58 44 N 77 16 18E
Chilling to Skiu 9.8 km  approx.

July 18 2016 Skiu to Markha
We left Skiu at around 7 25 am. We initially followed the jeepable road and in about 90 minutes reached the tea stop of Pendse. From here in about half an hour we found that the river had overrun the entire road and crossing was difficult without  getting into the water. Another French trekker who had crossed with difficulty helped our group by bringing big boulders and throwing them into the water to make a path. This crossing delayed us for around half an hour and we started off again around 10 am. By around 11 30 am we reached a tea tent which was Humarge and then set out for Sera village which was the lunch stop. Around noon a  rain shower with high winds hit us and descending to Sera we got totally soaked. Around 12 40 pm we entered the first tea tent of Sera and had our lunch along with some hot tea made by the owner. We left Sera around 1 10 pm and headed up the valley. The trail climbed in parts and around 2 30 pm passed a very pretty village with mustard fields in  bloom. From the village a climb of around 30 minutes brought us to some chortens on a ridge. The path then went down to the river bed and again climbed up to another small pass around 4 pm with chortens in three colours. At the end of this valley lay the camping grounds of Markha which we finally reached around 5 pm after wading through the fast flowing Markha river which had knee deep water.  It had been a long and tiring day and the most which we would walk during this trek.
Skiu to Pendse Tea Shop 1 hr 45 min to 2 hours; Pendse to Sera village 2 to 2.5 hours;  Sera village to chortens above Markha 2 to 2.5 hours; Chortens above Markha to camp ground 45 min to 1 hr
Markha 3760 metres 33 53 14 N 77 25 18E
Skiu to Markha 22.5 km.

July 19 2016 Markha to Hanker
We left Markha around 8 am and headed up for the monastery. The monastery has a beautiful view of the Markha valley. All the fields below were yellow and green with mustard flowers in full bloom. We descended to the valley and started walking due east following the river. In about 45 minutes we had to cross the river once again by wading across the water. The July rains for the past few days had caused the rivers to swell and walking across was no more a possibility. It had become very hot in the valley and in about an hour from our river crossing we reached  the  tea tents of Umlung. From Umlung the trail initially followed the river valley and then contoured around some mani walls and chortens from where finally Hanker could be seen. The final walk to the village took around an hour as there were sections which had to be carefully navigated near the river where the path was nonexistent and a slight lapse of concentration would send you into the water.
Markha to the river crossing 45 min to 1 hour; River Crossing to Umlung tea tents 45 min to 1 hour; Umlung to Mani wall above Hanker 1 hour; Mani wall above Hanker to Hanker Village 1 hour.
Hanker 3945 metres 33 50 13 N 77 30 6 E
Markha to Hanker 11 km

July 20 2016 Hanker to Lake Camp below Kangyatse
We left Hanker around 7 40 am and climbed out of the valley to immediately reach a line of chortens. The trail then contoured through cultivated fields of barley and mustard following the river. In about an hour it left the river and climbed up to a trail which crossed over a bridge and reached the tea tents of Taughutse in around two hours. From Taughutse the trail climbed out of the valley and continued upwards for around  two hours until it reached a small pass at around 4650 metres. It then passed a couple of mani walls to reach a small lake below Kangyatse peak. In July when we arrived there was a second lake below the first lake on the trail to Nimaling - this would probably dry out by September once the water in the Markha river goes down.
Hanker to Taughutse tea tents 2 hours; Taughutse to Lake Camp 2.5 to 3 hrs
Lake Camp  4660 metres 33 48 19 N 77 33 32 E
Hanker to Lake Camp 12 km

July 21 2016 Lake  Camp to Nimaling via the top route
The Lake Camp where South Col Expeditions makes a night stop on the Markha trek is not a regular stop for other groups. The reason is that it is hardly two hours from Nimaling, the base for crossing the Kongmaru La  around 5150 metres. However the location of the lake just below the peak of Kang Yatse makes this a superb campsite possibly the best on the entire trek. On this visit rather than do the conventional two hour walk along the valley to Nimaling I decided to climb another 300 metres or so to the grazing pastures below Kangyatse and then descend to Nimaling bypassing the valley route. We started late around 8 45 am and followed the trail from the lake due south towards Kangyatse. The trail then veered to the east and some cairns could be seen on top of a hill. We climbed to the top in around an hour. The meadows were simply  splendid  - yaks grazed on the lush green vegetation,  the ladakh pika or mouse hate scurried in and out of its burrow searching for food, overhead two lammergeiers soared with the thermals while a multitude of finches, redstarts and thrushes skimmed through the lush vegetation. On would imagine Ladakh to be arid and dry but not these meadows in summer above Nimaling. We came to a stream which ran below Kangyatse  and followed it gently upstream. Our altitude showed 4940 metres, almost 300 metres higher than Lake Camp. Across the valley we could see quite clearly the trail to the Kongmaru La. It was a sparkling July day with the temperatures around a comfortable 20 Celsius. A light wind blowing across the meadows helped to cool things down. We then walked in a north easterly direction towards Nimaling and started to descend from the pastures. In about half an hour we could see the tea tents of Nimaling below us and in another half hour we reached our camp site. For those of you who have some time and are on a camping trek, the Lake camp and the high route to Nimaling is greatly recommended.
Lake Camp to Nimaling via the high route 3 to 4 hours. However, there are no well trodden trails you need to follow the yak trails and navigate using the compass.
Nimaling 4731 metres 33 47 25 N  77 37 2 E
The distance we walked was around 7 km and we reached upto 4940 metres.

July 22nd 2016 Nimaling to Kongmaru la and down to Chukirmo
We left Nimaling around 6.45am. It was a cloudy morning and Kangyatse was floating above the clouds. We climbed steadily and in about an hour reached a meadow where a large number of Ladakh pika were scurrying in and out of their burrows. From here we could see the steep climb upto the top of the pass. In the meadows at an altitude of around 5000 metres there were some beautiful blue flowers flowering in the rocks. We reached the top of Kongmaru la around 9 30 am after numerous stops. The view to the north which is normally very expansive was under clouds and as we stood there a few flakes of snow started to fall. The descent from Kongmaru la was steep and for the first hour zigzagged around the hillside losing around 300 metres. It then entered the gorge of the river valley where the trail had been damaged due to floods. There were numerous ups and downs - climbing out of the river bed and onto the trail above the rocks and then down to the river bed again to avoid the landslide sections. This continued for about three  hours before the trail suddenly narrowed and we could see the tea tents of Chukirmo.
Nimaling to Kongmaru La  3 km  Kongmaru La to Chukirmo  8 km
Nimaling to Kongmaru La  2 to 3 hours
Kongmaru La to Chukirmo  4 to 5 hours
Kongmaru La  5250 metres 33 47 25 N 77 37 2 E
Chukirmo 4100 metres 33 49 29 N 77 39 7 E

July 23rd 2016 Chukirmo to Shang Sumdo to Leh
We left Chukirmo around 7.30 am and leaving the camp site had to come down to the river and follow the river bed once again. In half an hour we reached the village of Chogdo which had some nice homestays and some green camp grounds above the river which would be much nicer than Chukirmo. Stanzin mentioned that there could be a problem with water if we had used these camp spots.  The trail then continued down the valley for around two hours and we entered Shang Sumdo around 9.45 am. Our transport had come and we trundled back to Leh after paying the Hemis National Park fees. We were back in Leh by lunchtime looking forward to a hot bath and clean clothes.
Chukirmo to Chogdo 30 min to 45 min
Chogdo to Shang Sumdo  2 hours to 2.5 hours
Chukirmo to Shang Sumdo distance  13 km
Shang Sumdo 3550 metres 33 85 71 N  77 70 44E 

For  our earlier posts on the Markha do visit 

Monday, August 1, 2016

Nikon 105 F1.4 AF- S ED

Nikon has just announced the introduction of a super fast full frame telephoto lens the 105 F 1.4 AFS ED  weighing a hefty 985 grams ( just less than a kilo!) and priced at US 2199.95 $ . The Nikon USA web site (www.nikonusa.com) gives the details as below:

Meet the new standard by which all short telephoto lenses will be measured against, the world's first full-frame 105mm with an f/1.4 aperture. A marvel of optical precision, distortion correction and craftsmanship. It's fast maximum aperture make this an ideal optic for available light—recommended for portraiture or indoor sports. This short telephoto lens can defocus backgrounds with painterly finesse and isolate subjects with three-dimensional fidelity. For those seeking the ultimate in image quality in photography or videography, there's no close second.

Electromagnetic Diaphragm Mechanism
An electromagnetic diaphragm mechanism in the lens barrel provides highly accurate electronic diaphragm or aperture blade control when using auto exposure during continuous shooting. With conventional D/G type lenses, the diaphragm blades are operated by mechanical linkage levers.

ED (Extra-Low Dispersion) Glass
An optical glass developed by Nikon that is used with normal optical glass in telephoto lenses to obtain optimum correction of chromatic aberrations.

IF Lens
A NIKKOR lens in which only the internal lens group shifts during focusing. Thus, IF NIKKORS do not change in size during AF operation, allowing for compact, lightweight lenses capable of closer focusing distances. These lenses will be designated with the abbreviation IF on the lens barrel.

Select NIKKOR lenses have a focusing mode which allows switching from automatic to manual focusing with virtually no lag time by simply turning the focusing ring on the lens. This makes it possible to seamlessly switch to fine manual focusing while looking through the viewfinder.

Nano Crystal Coating
An anti-reflective coating developed by Nikon that virtually eliminates internal lens element reflections across a wide range of wavelengths. Nano Crystal Coat solves ghost effects caused by red light and effectively reduces ghost and flare caused by light entering the lens diagonally.

Silent Wave Motor
AF-S NIKKOR lenses feature Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor (SWM), which represents a significant advance in AF lens technology. SWM uses ultrasonic vibrations—rather than a gear system—to focus the lens, providing incredibly smooth, silent and precise autofocus operation.
LCD, Video and Photo Gallery images are for illustrative purposes only.

What about the earlier Nikon 105s?

We still have the following lenses many of which are available second hand (www.keh.com):

105 F2 DC This is the only autofocus lens for 105 mm prior to the new release.

105 F2.5 AIS manual focus
The was a legendary lens in it's time and is still coveted. Used by photo journalists the world over it was renowed for it' high speed, superb sharpness. It is still available second hand for around $150-300 depending on condition. Prior to this Nikon also had a number of 105  F2.5 lenses - K, AI, non AI etc.

105 F1.8 AIS manual focus 
 This was the fastest 105 before the introduction of this new lens. It is still available for around   $350-400 used but somehow always ran second to the F2.5 above

Nikon 105mm f/1.8

Pros and Cons of the New 105

  • Super fast 1.4 aperture
  • Excellent bokeh
  • Supern sharpness
  • Heavy lens almost a kilo in weight!
  • Price - at more than $2000 it would appeal to specialist and professional photographers

Monday, July 25, 2016

Sumit Basu | Time in Banaras

This review was published in The Statesman on July 31st 2016

Sumit Basu belongs to a rare breed of photographers who shoot black and white film and then processes and prints himself in his own darkroom. Painstakingly acquiring the chemicals and paper from select sources, Basu watches the image develop in front of his eyes like the masters of yesteryear – a far cry from the instant gratification of today’s digital technology.

Time in Banaras is Basu’s first book produced after spending more than two decades shooting in the city.  Mainly working with a Leica and Kodak Tri-X film, a photo- journalists favourite,  Basu has spent many days and nights wandering the lanes of Banaras.  He often uses a wide angle lens which gives greater depth and a different  perspective to his photographs.  The book has an engaging foreword written by the art historian Partha Mitter.

Though Banaras is a much photographed city, Basu’s images steer clear of picture postcard views.  The evening aarati, sunrise and sunset on the ghats, boys diving into the river, which are the clich├ęd images of Banaras do not find a place in this book.

Instead Basu focuses on the day to day cycle of life capturing the complexities of everyday living in dark and sombre tones.

A man lying on a ghat with a pet monkey for company is set off against a wide sweep of the river with a boat just leaving the frame. Another image, photographed way back in 1998, shows a  dog and a man perfectly balanced between the steps of a flooded  ghat. A young boy walks away from Gwalior Ghat leaving a circle of pigeons behind him, while in another frame a large Thums Up bottle painted on a wall is set off against a man cradling a cup of tea.

 In  Basu’s own words  “Black and grey were my colours as I wandered the streets in different seasons following the sun as it moved south and then north again after the spring equinox”.

Using the power of light and shadow to his advantage Basu is able to convey the impact of life and death in this holy city. A particularly poignant photograph shows a priest towering above the flames at Manikarnika Ghat while at Mukti Bhawan a couple awaits the death of a relative who hopes to attain salvation.

Many of Basu’s photographs capture the timelessness of Banaras like the cover photo which shows a woman praying on her terrace above the ghats while the daily chores of existence  carry on next to the river below her.

Patterns form an important part of Basu’s composition and he photographs the steps of Assi ghat with sleeping pilgrims and a line of boatmen awaiting passengers. Using  a top- down perspective , Basu captures an old woman climbing the stairs of Gwalior Ghat which  stretch down to the water below.

An interesting aspect of Basu’s work is that the subject is often  unaware of  his camera and the photograph is over in a fleeting moment.

 Some of the images are though provoking like the one of a white horse looking out from an old house where a bicycle is parked. One cannot help but wonder whose horse is it, who rides it and what is it doing there?

The last shot in the book shows in concluding finality, spent lamps strewn on a broken river bed,   possibly after an “aarati” the evening before,  which captures perfectly the pulse of this eternal city.

The Afterword written by Basu explores how the photographer views Banaras and his interaction with the city and its people.

The book has been printed in duo tone and this has resulted in some of the photographs looking soft and muted.  One wonders how much richer the backs and the whites would have looked had the publisher chosen four colour printing.

Some links to the book are below:


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Photography Tips and Tricks

Some useful tips and tricks to  help you shoot better photographs!

Tip 1: Add people to a landscape
Add a subject to the foreground of a landscape shot to give depth to the photograph.  An example of this is given in the shot above and below:

Tip 2: Use fill flash in daylight
When shooting people, in strong noon day sun use the pop up flash or even a speedlight to fill dark shadows especially under the eyes and bring out details. This ensures that the background is also exposed correctly and not washed out. An example of this is given below:

Tip 3: Kick the “I’ll fix it in Photoshop habit”!
You need to ensure that the photograph is taken in the camera not fixed in Photoshop – so white balance, exposure, lighting, focus etc all need to be bang-on! If you are not sure of the exposure bracket! Check the histogram on the LCD display to ensure that exposure is correct.

Tip 4: F8 and be there
Basically this famous photography axiom asks you to be ready to shoot. So rather than adjust white balance, aperture,  shutter speed , metering modes, focus modes etc  before taking a photo, you to need to set all this before hand. On a normal sunny day, I will usually set the following before I start out: WB auto, ISO auto set to maximum of 800, aperture priority around f8 or so, and matrix metering, AF-S for single focus. This allows me to shoot in most situations provide the light is reasonable. And, if I have time I would  bracket three to four exposure either by using auto bracketing  or manually -0.3, -0.7, -0.1, +0.3, + 0.7. This usually nails the photograph right in the camera.

Tip 5: To reduce noise at high ISO make sure your exposure is bang on target!  
Modern day cameras allow you to shoot at very high ISO’s like 1600, 3200 and even 6400 on top end models. However, the major drawback at high ISO is noise. So, one way of reducing or minimizing noise is to make sure your exposure in spot on. If you have underexposed even a little bit there will be ample noise in the shadow areas which is always difficult to get rid off. So try to ensure a correct exposure by shooting, maybe, a number of photos at different settings so that at least one is correctly exposed. This is an example of a photo shot an ISO 1600 but due to correct exposure there is hardly any noise:

Tip 6: On a tripod turn VR or IS off
This is a mistake which I have made a number of times. If you have a camera on a tripod you don’t need to switch on VR or IS as the camera is likely to be rock steady and does not need any vibration reduction.  Often in a hurry we forget this and shoot with VR or IS on.

Tip 7: For critical photos use RAW
When you need to use photographs for magazine stories, prints, exhibitions etc raw is the way to go. You can convert raw files using the correct version of Camera Raw with Photoshop and with proprietary converters like Capture NX2, View NX for Nikon.

 Tip 8: If you can, take along a small table top light weight tripod
Ideally most photographers would recommend a full heavy weight tripod but is difficult to carry around and also in some situations difficult to set up. So I have a small Slik table top which can also fit into a jacket pocket which I use when I need support. The Joby Gorilla pod is also an option and has the advantage of flexible legs!

Tip 9: Don’t put the camera away at dusk or at night
On the subject of tripods if you have one with you then photography at night and at dusk becomes a distinct possibility. Long exposures makes the world look a lot different and details in the dark night sky can often produce stunning effects.

Tip 10: Less is often more!
The proliferation of social media and the free photo web sites have made it possible for everyone to post their photos on the net even if they don’t have their own web sites or blogs. However, in their enthusiasm to post photographs of a holiday or journey I often find a facebook album of a hundred photos or more. Similarly, picasa web albums sent to me to review have similar number of photos. Usually with so many images the impact is lost and the good images get masked by the mediocre ones. So it often helps to edit tightly, remove duplicates and similars, weed out all photos that are not in focus, overexposed or underexposed, badly composed and leave the best ones for the viewers! Most of my albums rarely have more than twenty photographs and the majority have between ten and twelve!

Happy shooting!  

For more of my photographs do visit www.sujoydas.com

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Yellowstone | Geysers and Springs

Yellowstone is the oldest National Park in the United States and the area around Old Faithful, the most famous geyser in the world is dotted with geysers, hot springs and smouldering cauldrons of molten lava. There is a convenient board walk around all of these sights and some of the photographs from my walk are below:

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Calcutta | A River, A Bridge & A Monument

Last evening I was passing by the river in Kolkata when I stopped near the Princep Monument.  From this location you can see the monument, the second Hoogly Bridge and the span of the river. It had just stopped raining and the sky had been washed clean of pollution and haze. It was a typical early monsoon evening by the river. Some photographs shot on my Iphone :


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