Top 5 Tips for Photographing Skylines

During a recent trip to Asia, I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Hong Kong. This city is home to a spectacular array of buildings and skyscrapers epitomizing modern architecture. I took advantage of this perfect opportunity to hone an important photographic skill: capturing a city skyline. Here are my top 5 tips for helping you to get the most out of your next travel opportunity.

Do your homework!

That's right: preparation is everything in photography. Before you are on your way to your next destination, pick major landmark buildings that you definitely know you want to photograph, and know how to get to them from where you are staying.

Bank of China Hong Kong
The famous Bank of China building, designed by renowned architect I.M. Pei, was definitely on my list of sites to see.

Top 10 Museum Photography Tips

Museums house some of the most beautiful works of art and artifacts known to the world. Travelers make museums the first stop on their itineraries. Unfortunately, many museum photos do not quite capture the essence of their subjects.
I have taken home more than my fair share of blurry and forgettable museum photos. Using my recent trip to the LA County Museum of Art (LACMA) as inspiration, I want to provide specific tips to help fellow photographers and museum enthusiasts capture memories that they can cherish and share. Some of you are more advanced than I am, and I welcome your comments and suggestions for better museum shooting techniques. Here we go!

 Have a plan: know what you want to see!

Not all museums allow photography, some private collections are for viewing only, and I don't believe that any museum permits flash or tripod-assisted photography, so plan ahead. And if there is a certain piece of art that is on your bucket list, make it your priority, because time passes quickly in a museum. For example, you may not get very many chances to see the Mona Lisa, or the LACMA's recently acquired Levitated Mass.

Levitated Mass: 340 Tons of art.

Canon 5D Mark III: Low Light Performance

With the plethora of museums and galleries in the Los Angeles Area, there are abundant opportunities to photograph fine art. However, most museums prohibit the use of flash to prevent the bleaching of color pigments. Tripods are also not permitted, as they can be a hazard to foot traffic.

This poses a dilemma for photographers: most works of art by master artists are very old and delicate. Color pigments on these pieces are often dark and faded, and museums purposely keep artwork dimly lit. Under these circumstances, the only way to take memorable photos of masterpieces is to use fast glass and a very light-sensitive sensor.

The Los Angeles County Museum of Art (or LACMA) houses one of the finest art collections in Southern California, so I paid it a visit this weekend and tried to challenge the low-light performance of the Canon 5D Mark III. The following are all hand-held photos taken in relative haste to be unobtrusive to the swell of weekend museum visitors.

The first challenge was a piece by Flemish painter Jan Steen, who utilized a very dark color palette representative of Dutch masters of the 17th century in the vein of Rembrandt.  When viewed with the naked eye, the details of this painting, completed in 1668, are very difficult to discern. However, even without direct lighting, this photo of Samson and Delilah taken by the 5D Mark III in fully automatic mode actually appears over-exposed!

Canon 5D Mark III, 1/50 Sec, f/2.8 ISO 1600

Canon 5D Mark III: Superb Image Resolution

The Canon 5D Mark III is now a well-stocked item at most major retailers, which was not the case until just a few weeks ago.  The problems found in early production batches have been ironed out. I was hoping that this camera could provide a refreshing boost over the quality of images produced by my venerable but aging stable of cameras. In my next few posts, I will discuss my impressions of the various features of this camera. As always, I'd like to know what you think of this camera too.

The feature that most intrigued me about this camera was the 22 megapixel sensor: I was very anxious to take photos of some complex scenes and and analyze the details produced by this camera. Here, I have selected three images from my first few outings. They are all handhelds, and the camera settings were not necessarily optimized for maximizing resolving power. There is much to learn about the complex but powerful autofocus system of the Canon 5D Mark III. Nevertheless, I have found the image resolution to be AMAZING!

Photo 1: Taken from the Manhattan Beach Pier just last weekend. The time of day was unfortunately somewhere close to 1pm, hence the flatness of the image. Nevertheless, mission accomplished.

Canon 5D Mark III Manhattan Beach Lifeguard Station
Canon 5D Mark III, 1/800 Sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, 200mm

The Rose Bowl Flea: New Life for Old Technology

The Rose Bowl Stadium in Pasadena is known nationally for hosting one of the four annual college football games that determine the national champions. This hallowed sports arena also hosts an unlikely event that is well-known to Southern California locals. On the second Sunday of every month, thousands of bargain hunters pack the parking lots of the Rose Bowl hoping to find unique items for home or wardrobe at the largest flea market in California. This link provides details for attending the Rose Bowl Flea Market. This market is a definite must-see for visitors!

Rose Bowl Flea
Sunday Morning at the Flea

The Freshest Seafood in LA is at Redondo Beach Pier!

If you're like me, then healthy food is an important part of your life, taking up substantially more of your time and budget than the average person. Some of the best and tastiest sources of low-fat heathy food comes from the sea. Unfortunately, much of the seafood that makes it to market is often not very fresh. If you live in the LA area, save yourselves the anxiety of questioning the provenance of your next crab or oyster, and pay a visit to Quality Seafood. Be prepared to take some time to walk past the shops and restaurants on the pier, which provide a relaxing and scenic backdrop for your market trip. Here are some highlights from my trip there last week.

Redondo Beach Pier
Another beautiful day by the sea.

Blizzard's Diablo 3: A Lesson in Customer Satisfaction Reviews

Now more than ever, corporations must be focused on delivering value to their customer, or the feedback will be immediate. Diablo 3 was in development for a decade, yet Blizzard and parent company Activision seemed to have paid little heed to their legions of loyal Starcraft customers who bemoaned the loss of critical features such as LAN play in last year's release of Starcraft 2. Diablo 3 did little to address the most significant shortcomings identified by Blizzard fans. I discussed a few of these issues as potential pitfalls in one my postings last week.

Judging from the feedback across the internet on the product's opening day, it seems that Activision/Blizzard chose a risky strategy by trying to control the customer and further monetize player activity by forcing them to log into the proprietary That strategy may have backfired, judging by this snapshot of first day purchasers at I don't think I have ever seen such a polarized set of customers on a product. It's like looking at poll results for the upcoming presidental election.

Facebook Valuation Pre-IPO: My Estimate

The wait is almost over: the biggest technology Initial Public Offering (IPO) in years is coming next Friday. We will all be able to own Facebook shares when the stock is introduced with the FB ticker symbol. The price per share of the stock will most likely start at the height of its ipo range, at $35. The question is: will it be worth it?

Before we begin, let me clearly state that my analysis here is just for fun: I am NOT a financial advisor, and you should do your own analysis and get professional advice before making any investment decisions. For all I know, Greece could default on its debts causing the world economy to collapse, and we could be trading chickens and pigs for currency tomorrow.

If you want to skip my analysis and just get my predicted FB value per share (and miss all the fun!), just scroll down to the end of the posting.

Tesla Model S at Newport Fashion Island

Fashion Island is a premier retail mall located in the hills above Newport Beach. Known for high-end stores catering to wealthy locals, it is not surprising to see cars with six-figure pricetags displayed in some of the outdoor open areas. What is surprising is the very flashy Tesla indoor showroom occupying a prime corner location, displaying their incredible Roadster and the intriguing Model S. The Tesla staff was very knowledgeable, and graciously allowed me to take photos for this post.

Tesla Fashion Island, Newport Beach, California USA
Tesla Fashion Island, Newport Beach, California USA

Walter Isaacson Discusses Steve Jobs at Caltech

Speaking to a packed Beckman Auditorium last Wednesday, Caltech professor Jed Buchwald hosted a discussion with Walter Isaacson, historian and author of the widely read Steve Jobs biography which distilled over forty interviews with Jobs over the course of his last two years. Many luminaries were present, including university president Jean-Lou Chameau. Here are some tidbits of the evening.

When he worked at Atari as a teenager, Jobs was known as a drug-using hippie with a "prickly" personality who did not take showers. And Jobs had a stare, which he would use to make a point: unblinking, uncomfortable, intimidating. When Apple began, Jobs did not grant stock options to Apple employee #5. Such a consistency of character could not be endearing.

Walter Isaacson Steve Jobs

Diablo 3 Launch and the Gaming Software Industry

The most globally anticipated game of 2012 will soon make its debut, just in time to suck up all of your free time this summer. Irvine-based Blizzard Entertainment announced that at midnight on May 15th, their Diablo franchise will release its third installment. It has been 12 long years since the release of Diablo 2, making this perhaps the longest software development cycle ever!

To celebrate, there will be several launch events held around the world, including one in Blizzard's own hometown of Irvine, at the Spectrum shopping center's Giant Wheel court. Judging by the photos of previous launch events, you may want to steer clear of the mayhem unless you are a truly devoted fan. Think Comicon flash mob!

Diablo 3 Launch at the Irvine Spectrum Big Wheel
Fiats will be replaced with fanboys in two short weeks!

Sandra Steingraber Living Downstream for Earth Week

I attended the Caltech screening of Sandra Steingraber's biographical film, Living Downstream last Thursday night. Shown as part of Caltech's Earth Week activities, The film chronicles Dr. Steingraber's 30-year battle with cancer and her concurent fight to eradicate the production of carcinogenic pollutants from American industry.

First, I applaud the university's Net Impact group for putting together another educational event, keeping the community aware of important issues that we often overlook in our busy lives. Often, we treat these issues with apathy or inaction until some of us are suddenly, personally, and sometimes devastatingly affected.

LA is no stranger to pollution. I did not experience the air pollution afflicting the city during the 1970s, but I understand that LA was the poster child for air pollution, where dark brown smog clouds would choke citizens daily. Though the air is much cleaner today due to stricter California clean air codes, the smog still exists. And those are only the pollutants we can see.

Deer in San Gabriel Valley is a Sign of a Healthy Ecosystem
Deer in San Gabriel Valley is a Sign of a Healthy Ecosystem

New Apple iPad to PC File Transfers: 3 Easy Ways

As mentioned in my previous posting, my first major task with my new iPad was going to be transferring photos from my PC to my iPad. I am sure that that there are many ways to accomplish this task. I have already found three easy ways.

1. Apple iCloud

I was most interested in finding an Apple-centric solution to be better acquainted with the Mac ecosystem. The new iPad has iCloud functionality built into version 5.1 of the iOS. You can download Apple iCloud for Windows here. I installed this on my Windows workstation, but there are a couple of extra steps not described by the Apple instructions.

First, the installation did not place a shortcut on my desktop, nor did it add any programs to my start menu. I had to run a search on my hard drive for the installation, and create my own desktop shortcut icon to my iCloud installation.

The other small problem I experienced was with Photostream. I set up two folders on my computer: one for Photostream uploads to the iCloud, and another for Photostream downloads. I then put photos into my upload folder: and....nothing. I restarted the iCloud program on my PC, doublechecked my folders setup, but still no luck. As a final resort, I restarted my PC. Voila! My first images appeared in the iCloud. More importantly, they became available for viewing from my iPad's photo application. Mission accomplished!

Manhattan Beach is Cloudy
iPad to PC file transfers are cloudy but fun!

New Apple iPad First Impressions: Retina Display is Brilliant

Well, what to do while waiting for the 2012 MacBook Pros? Why not buy the new Apple iPad? My itch to buy a new gadget got the best of me last weekend while I was browsing at the Pasadena Apple store. I was very tempted to buy a MacBook Air. However,the new iPad had something that no other computing device has: the high-resolution Retina display. I was sold!

As a part-time photographer, I couldn't wait to see my most prized photos in a Retina display. I was in for a treat: every photo must be viewed with the new iPad, as the high dynamic range and sharpness will make you feel like you are seeing them for the first time again.

So, the $1000 question is, which variant did I buy? I plan to download apps galore, and probably store a few photo portfolios as well. Despite knowing that a 64GB SD card is less than $100, I decided on a 64GB model. The 4G LTE is a nice option, but I opted not to purchase it since every coffee shop in LA has wifi access, which suits me perfectly.

I plan to spend a lot of time with the iPad over the next few weeks, and I will share the highlights with you in upcoming posts. If you have questions about the iPad, feel free to leave a comment, which I will promptly answer. And yes, this entire post was written using the iPad!

SpaceX: New Hope for America's Space Industry

Elon Musk, the founder of Paypal and Tesla Motors, was interviewed on CBS' 60 Minutes a couple of weeks ago. His newest commercial venture, Space Exploration Technologies, more commonly known as SpaceX, is on the verge of a significant milestone: becoming the first commercial company to re-supply the International Space Station(ISS). The SpaceX Dragon space capsule is set to launch on April 30th and dock with the ISS soon afterwards.

The Los Angeles aerospace industry has not escaped the effects of national budget issues. Just last week, the Obama administration announced that NASA would suffer a $300 million budget cut to planetary exploration, a potential blow to the esteemed Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena.

Saturn V rocket at Kennedy Space Center
A Saturn V rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
Can America return to greatness?

2012 Macbook Pro: Why I will Buy One this Year

Allow me to describe my current state of affairs: I have never owned an Apple computer. I have used many Apple computers in college, but the value equation has always tipped heavily in favor of anonymous, utilitarian Windows appliances. I have only recently stepped gingerly into the Apple whirlwind with the addition of an iPad2 to my collection of computing gadgets.

I could go on and on about the virtues of my PC: quad-core i7 processor, a solid state drive, liquid cooling ... true home computing bliss. Just one problem: like a pet horse, my PC is impossible to take anywhere!

Recently, I realized that my nascent blog and other web projects would require me to spend much more time online. To meet all of my obligations, I definitely need to bring more computing power while on the go. Neither my smartphone nor my iPad would suffice as substitutes for my all-mighty desktop. They simply do not have the industrial-strength processing, screen real estate, nor sufficient ergonomic virtues to help me get through extended periods of work.

With these facts in mind, I set out in search of a new laptop. I attended CES 2012 earlier this year, and from the products displayed by vendors, this year promises to be the year of the laptop. I figured that my choices of light, portable easy-to-use laptops would be numerous.

Laptops come in all shapes and sizes. Light and Portable!

Caltech Watson Lecture: Dr. Jonas C. Peters on Making Molecules

Watson lectures are a staple of the Caltech community. LA residents are treated to presentations on cutting edge research from one of the world's most prestigious scientific institutions. Wednesday night was no exception.

Dr. Jonas Peters made his presentation on "Making Molecules" to a full house at Beckman Auditorium. His current research is focused on building organo-metallic molecules to assist in replicating the energy processes found in nature. What the heck does that mean, and why should we care? Two issues resonated with the audience.

Question: Are you a maker, measurer, thinker or tinkerer?

Natural Products Expo West: Sustainable Organic Products for a Better Future

Fitness guru Jack LaLanne was famous for many quotes. One was, "If man makes it, don't eat it." You, the technology-savvy crowd, my fans, do not always have the luxury to give such careful forethought to diet in a world where one must keep up with the pace of Twitter feeds, and ready-made foods are so easily accessible. Help is on the way!

One of the largest exhibitions showcasing innovations in healthy living just concluded in Anaheim this weekend. The annual Natural Products Expo West convention is closed to the general public, but was very well attended by international manufacturers, distributors and other members of the natural products ecosystem. I am fortunate to be able to attend every year, and as always, it was very educational.

Natural Products Expo West: the Mecca for Natural and Organic Products

Canon 5D Mark III First Impressions

It's finally here! Today, Canon formally announced the availability of its newest full frame camera, the 5D Mark III. Why is this so important? It has been over 3 years since Canon released a full-frame DSLR camera that was:

1. HD Video capable.
2. Relatively lightweight and wieldable for long periods of time compared to the 1Dx.
3. Relatively affordable for the enthusiast who wants a camera significantly more substantial than a Rebel.

When reviewing the specifications, this camera appears to be more evolutionary than revolutionary. Let's look at the three specifications that matter to most photographers. In pixel resolution, it has only increased from 21 to 22 megapixels. Secondly, for low-light photography, the stated maximum standard ISO has been pushed to 25,600: however, the real improvement will have to come from the newly designed photodiodes, which may only provide incrementally better performance. Finally, the Mark III's new and faster DIGIC5+ processor only allows for an increase in continous shooting speeds to 6 frames per second, up from the Mark II's 3.9: will it be fast enough to capture just the right moment in action photography? Or do we still have to depend on luck, as I did when I captured this image on a recent trip to Manhattan Beach.

Manhattan Beach Surfer caught with a Canon
Catch the wave if you can!

CES 2012 Final Thoughts: Cars, Celebrities, Olympics, oh my!

In eleven months, Las Vegas will again be host to this madness. And like this year's show, it will evolve as technology advances. Notably absent will be Microsoft, who will not be attending the show in spite of a much anticipated Windows 8 release this year. Their floor space was sold to other manufacturers within hours of becoming available, testament to the continuued marketing power of the CES, which was questioned over the last few years. Manufacturers will again jockey for supremacy of their various domains.
CES 2012 Samsung Series 9 Laptop
Thinner than Air?

CES 2012 for Photographers and Videographers

It will be a big year for Nikon and Canon, as they both introduce full frame HD Video-capable DSLRs. Nikon has already announced their D4 and D800 camera bodies. Canon has responded by announcing their 1DX, and the Canon Rumors site has indicated that another big product announcement may follow on February 28th.

Nikon D4 CES 2012
Hey, the D4 is nice, but don't walk away: there's a security guard right behind you!

CES 2012 High End Audio

Las Vegas Venetian CES 2012

Welcome back for my second post recapping CES 2012. One venue not to miss was the Venetian Hotel, and not only for its Euro kitsch: obvious tourists included!

Three floors of the hotel were completely devoted to high-end audio products. Over one hundred vendors previewed the finest in amplifier and speaker technology. As a CES attendee, the key is to get to the elevators in the early morning, before the crush of the main crowds.

The world is constantly changing, even in an industry traditionally governed by physics, where great sounds can usually only come from heavy speakers.

Even the purists are bending the rules to conform to an ever more digital world. This year is a breakout year for a relatively new type of product: the music server. Despite its questionable audio pedigree, mp3 files will vie with SACDs for high end audio source material.

Welcome to CES 2012!

There is no better way to start off this blog: The 2012 Consumer Electronics Show concluded last month in Las Vegas. For those of us in LA, it was a short drive to reach this legendary international conference. For even seasoned attendees, this year's CES was an incredible event. Manufacturers seem to have awakened from a recession-induced slumber, and are now ready to peddle some very innovative new products to a clearly receptive crowd of retail buyers and admirers over 150,000 strong. 

CES 2012
Welcome to the show!


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