Exploring the old town of Asakusa

Asakusa is one of the first precincts I saw in Tokyo, when I first visited Japan about 20 years ago. I think I originally went there on the recommendation of my highschool Japanese teacher. In any case, I've been there a few times now, and it always feels like a very familiar part of Tokyo when I see it.

It's got a lovely old-town, traditional feel to it, and is home to a number of historic Buddhist temples. The Asakusa Kannon Temple, or Sensoji, is perhaps the most well known (and photographed), and I was pleased to see that nothing had really changed when I visited earlier this week.

According to a local fact sheet, Sensoji Temple is Japan's oldest Buddhist Temple "for ordinary people". Inside the complex there are permanent stalls, which sell handmade sweets, rice crackers and other local delicacies, and all sorts of traditional Japanese souvenirs and gifts.

The grounds of Sensouji Temple (HDR'd)

Worshippers flock into Senoji Temple, Japan's oldest public Buddhist Temple
One of the things you can do in the complex, is have your fortune "told", for a mere 100 Yen (or AUD$1.20). When in Japan, do as the Japanese do, right??

So, there is a tin, which you are instructed to "shake politely". A long skewer with a number (written at one end in Japanese symbols) falls through the hole. You match the number on the skewer to the corresponding box on the wall (there are probably 100 or so boxes), slide the box open, and take one sheet of pre-printed paper - this is your fortune. The fortunes are graded from "Excellent Good Fortune", to "Regular", to what we gathered was "It's all Turning to Shite Fortune". Mum and I chose the first two, respectively, and were quite happy to leave it at that.

After you've read your fortune, you tie it to one of the nearby metal bars. Not sure of the significance of leaving it there, but we did as everyone else (locals and tourists alike) was doing, had a giggle and headed off to look for lunch.

You too can have your fortune read at the Temple

Pick a trinket, any trinket! Stalls in the Sensoji Temple complex

A day in Narita

The township of Narita seems to be largely overlooked by tourists although is frequented by airline cabin crew because of its proximity to the airport.

Just 15 minutes by cab from Narita's International Airport, Narita's main attraction is Naritasan Shinshoji Temple, or the more familiar, Naritasan. It's one of the largest Buddhist temples in the region and thousands of Japanese flock to the complex every day. We were lucky enough to see it on a Sunday under perfect blue skies.

Our first glimpse of the complex came from the front window of our ryokan - we had a fantastic view over the entire main entrance, and were close enough to hear the gonging of the bells at 6.00am and 5.00pm each day.

On our first morning in Narita, we saw a procession of monks in traditional kimono-like robes and wooden platform clogs, shuffle over to this building in the photo below, bow at the entrance, and come back out again 10 minutes later, shuffling away as quickly as their clogs would take them. We gathered this was part of the daily prayer ritual. After they'd finished, an attendant came out and swept the area, and then moved a large wooden chest in front of the doorway, into which people tossed coins before they came there to prayy throughout the day.

One of the buildings in the Naritasan Temple complex
According to the Japan Guide website, Naritasan "was built in the year 940 around its main sacred object of worship, a statue of the Buddhist Fudo Myoo deity. Kobo Daishi, the founder of the Shingon Sect and one of the most important figures in Japan's religious history, is said to have carved the statue."

A number of buildings and shrines are dotted throughout the complex, which then backs on to Narita Park, a peaceful oasis in the middle of this bustling little city. The Great Pagodo of Peace looked lovely with a touch of frost in the foreground. It's all very ornate and well cared for, and the grounds around the complex are spotless.

The Great Pagoda of Peace
Visitors typically arrive at one of the train stations at the top of the hill that leads down to Naritasan. We saw it both early morning when things were quiet, and mid-afternoon when the crowds swelled!

Main street of Narita, brimming with people, traditional foods and crafts
The main street is lined with shops and stalls, selling all manner of food specialties and crafts from the region. We saw soba noodles and rice crackers being made by hand, fresh eel being consumed as quickly as it could be filleted and barbequed; and gelatenous sweets and candied fish that looked slightly more dubious.

Fancy a candied fish??
There are stacks of restaurants in the area, and over 60 (I read) that specialise in barbequed unagi (eel). This was clearly a crowd favourite judging by the queues of people waiting to get into the unagi restaurants. We had rice and noodle dishes for lunch, with the obligatory rice, miso soup and green tea.

Narita is definitely worth a visit if you get the chance. I've visited on stopovers to Europe, and it's easy to get into the city from the airport. Staying in a ryokan, like Wakamatsu Honten, where we stayed, gives an even more authentic feel to it all - it's Japanese, but not as "in your face" as Tokyo. You actually get a feel for traditional Japanese life.

There's more photos of Narita and Naritsan on my Flickr feed.

Looking for a real adventure? Try a traditional Japanese breakfast...

One of the best parts about staying at a ryokan, is that you can order traditional breakfast and/or dinner to be served in your room.

Breaky at Wakamatsu Honten ryokan, where we stayed for two nights, was amazing. The presentation was immaculate, and the food ultra fresh. That's the way with Japanese food - it's incredibly fresh and flawless. It's typically pretty healthy too.

Japanese breakies aren't for the faint-hearted or fussy. Mum and I have often had no idea what we've been eating, and sometimes it has been hard to distinguish whether the tasty morsels have been animal, mineral or vegetable. It's a good thing we're game, cos if we'd be pretty hungry if we'd have waited for cornflakes to be served.

Breakfast, like most meals in Japan, consists of rice (gohan), miso soup (or some variety of clear soup), pickles (and there seem to be hundreds of pickled things to choose from - ginger, cucumber, root vegetables - you name it, they'll pickle it), some sort of fish (we've eaten a LOT of salmon), and oddly, a small packet of dried seaweed - like the kind you use to make nori rolls. The breaky at Wakamatsu Honten also included a little salad, tofu and sliced oranges.

Oh - and then there's green tea. Which accompanies every meal - sometimes two or three cups. There seems to be an endless supply of ocha (Japanese tea), kocha (black tea) and kohi (coffee).

Traditional Japanese Breakfast
Our one dinner at Wakamatsu Honten, which was a real treat, and something I was fortunate enough to try here about three years ago - was absolutely incredible, taste and presentation-wise. As well as the obligatory rice, pickles, soup and green tea, there were small plates of the freshest sashimi, delicious morsels of seafood terrine, grilled eel, grilled pork belly and a bubbling hotpot with Japanese mushrooms and all manner of yummy stuff.

Both breakfast and dinner are served on a delightful mish-mash of serving platters, bowls and dishes. It's as much as the overall presentation as it is taste, and the Japanese are very focussed on the "power of five". I came across this fascinating blog post about how Japanese cooking seeks to incorporate the five senses, fve colours, five tastes, five ways and five attitudes.

With so much care, and attention to detail in preparation and cooking, it's no wonder that Japanese food, pretty much everywhere in Japan, from supermarkets and fast-food outlets, to the high-end restaurants, is outstanding!

Traditional Japanese Dinner

Sashimi - it's all about fish!

Pickles of some description accompany virtually every meal

Crab claw rolled in crushed rice crackers

Inside a ryokan - a traditional Japanese guesthouse

It's been a long time between blog posts because Mum and I have been travelling! Last Saturday night, we arrived in Japan for a week's holiday.

Our plan was to stay in Narita for the first two nights, then Tokyo (about an hour by train from Narita) for the next five. Having visited Japan a couple of times before, we wanted to stay in ryokans in both cities - traditional Japanese guesthouses, quite similar to B&Bs.

The ryokan at Narita was somewhat of a luxury version, and much larger than the one in Tokyo. It was huge!

You might notice that there are no beds in traditional ryokans. As you can see in the first couple of pictures, there is minimal furniture altogether, and it's quite lightweight and easily moved. The sliding panels (which feel like rice paper mounted to wooden batons), slide back and forth to section off parts of the living space.

Once dinner is over each evening (in the Narita ryokan, we could choose to have dinner in the room), the Futon Man comes to the room, bows furiously before entering the living area, moves the table, and rolls out the futons, which are stored in cupboards in the room. He repeats the whole process each morning, stripping the sheets and rolling the thin mattresses up for storage.

The floor is made of tatami matting, and you do not wear shoes anywhere in the ryokan. They're left at the door and swapped for socks, which are typically provided by the ryokan. If you want to walk around the ryokan, say down to the lobby or communal bath, you can wear slippers provided in your room.

This particular ryokan had a bathroom, although many have shared facilities outside of the rooms. It was tiny, but came with the mandatory electrically heated toilet seat (great for those chilly winter days), and a deep bath and shower area. I'll cover bathing Japanese-style in another blog post!

Ryokans also provide yukata's (similar to kimono's), to wear in the room and around the ryokan. That's the folded thing in the last picture. Whack it on with your slippers, and you're feeling well and truly Japanese desu ne!

365 Challenge #286 - Lensbaby & Selective Blur

My Lensbaby Composer and Fisheye Optic arrived this week, and I've had a chance to play with them tonight. Wow - the selective blur, which is the trademark Lensbaby photo look, is hard to get used to. But fun!

It's an all-manual focus affair, and you can't automatically dial the aperture up or down - that's also a manual affair whereby you use a little magnet tool supplied with each optic to drop in little discs that correspond to the aperture you want to shoot at. Manual..er, right...

Both images below use the Lensbaby Composer with the Double Glass Optic and the f/4 aperture ring. At the moment, I'm less worried about composition, and more just experimenting with the look that Lensbaby optics can create.

Methinks the Lensbaby toys will get a good workout in Tokyo!

365 Challenge #285 - Back on deck!

My 365 Challenge is back! I'm still writing a post about the major events of the last week and want to do it justice...but here's a pic of my place, almost back to normal, and slightly rearranged. Taken with my new Lensbaby Fisheye Optic. It was a happy little surprise in a week of madness.

365 Challenge #284 - The Day Brisbane Flooded

When I started to write this post last week, it had been more than a week since blog posts - but I do have a valid excuse. Earlier this month, we witnessed one of the greatest natural disasters in Queensland - the Flood of 2011.

Following weeks of heavy rain, rapidly filling dams, a devastating flash flood in the Lockyer Valley which claimed the lives of 18 people, and a king tide, the Brisbane River rose to a level of 4.46m on Thursday, 13 January 2011, completely engulfing much of Australia's third largest city. This peak was still a metre off the peak during the legendary 1974 flood - which was compounded at the time by a cyclone. The mind boggles about what would have happened had the river once again risen to that level.

The statistics related to flood damage, displaced people and shattered communities was shocking. Incomprehensible! On 16 January, a Courier Mail article reported that:
- At the flood peak 11,900 homes and 2500 businesses completely flooded.
- At the flood peak 14,700 homes and 2500 businesses partially flooded.
- 67 suburbs affected.
- 1200 evacuees at RNA Showgrounds and QE2 emergency centres over the weekend.
- 92 schools across Queensland had at least one building inundated, plus seven TAFEs and 19 teacher residences, while a further 29 schools had their playing fields inundated, while 86 childcare centres are also inaccessible. 

Ipswich, a hub city west of Brisbane, also sustained substantial damage.

I remember seeing on the news at one point, that over 150,000 homes in Bnsbane were without power.

Online mapping company, Nearmap,created an amazing, high resolution image of the disaster zone. There are also some amazing Before and After transition images of the worst hit areas.

Evacuating Teneriffe
I live about 15 metres from the Brisbane River in a ground floor, riverside apartment at Teneriffe. I started to move my possessions to a 3rd floor storage unit at Fortitude Valley on the Tuesday morning before Thursday's peak. When reports got more dire - at one point they were predicting a peak for the Brisbane River of seven metres - my father and I simultaneously decided that a more thorough  evacuation was needed. Just as I was about to call him, he rang and said he was on his way up from the Gold Coast, with the rest of my family and a box trailer.

By that time, the river and water in some low-lying drains had risen substantially enough to flood the access streets to my storage unit - so Plan B was now stuffed. A friend who lives round the road in a 3rd-floor apartment in Teneriffe kindly offered her place as a temporary storage unit. So Plan C kicked in, and we dumped a trailer load of boxed contents around at her place, before filling the trailer, my brother's station wagon, and my own car with yet more stuff, to take down to my parents place at the Gold Coast. That became my temporary home for the next few days.

After a very nervous night of reading BOM reports and anything else I could find in the wee hours of the morning on my Blackberry, Dad and I headed back up to Brisbane to seal and sandbag the drains in the shower, drop a sandbag in the loo, and generally move whatever was left in the apartment to the highest points - the kitchen bench, top cupboards in my bedroom etc. We even pulled up the carpet and underlay in my bedroom. I should point out that I had already established that my insurer - NRMA - is one of the many insurance companies NOT to offer flood cover - so I took whatever precautions I could to minimise damage. We moved the fridge onto the concrete floor of the bedroom so that when the power inevitably went off, it would leak it's contents there rather than on the wooden floors in the kitchen. And then we had to lock up the place and leave, sandbagging the front door and bedroom river as we left.

Another very nervous wait ensued on the Wednesday. Power had been cut to my office at Fortitude Valley and throughout the city, and Brisbane was an eerie ghost town when Dad and I drove back over the Storey Bridge en route to the Gold Coast.

That night, I (like I'm sure many thousand of other people were doing), stayed awake into the wee hours of the morning, glued to updates from the Queensland Police Service Facebook page. I have to say, this was one of the best sources of up-to-date information throughout the entire flood crisis.

Somewhere between 1.00am and 3.00am on the Thursday morning (the river was due to peak at around 4.00am), they began to revise down the peak from 5.5m. I remember looking at the clock for the last time at about 3.00am, and the estimated peak was 4.5m - a metre less than the peak '74. I didn't actually understand what that meant from a practical perspective - but this blog post I found some days later, shows comparisons of the water levels around an iconic sculpture at the Powerhouse at New Farm.

The Aftermath
I got up at about 6.00am, turned the news on straight away, and was stunned at the devastation I saw. Entire houses consumed with brown, muddy water - some suburbs completely submerged. Entire industrial areas such as Rocklea, where much of Brisbane's fresh produce comes from, was metres under water. Semi-trailers had been thrown around like toy blocks, and wound up around trees, or streets away from where their owners had left them. We saw pictures of mini-skip bins on top of houses. Iconic buildings such as Suncorp Stadium looked like a giant sludgey soup bowl. Riverside apartments were hammered, parts of the CBD were metres under water - it looked like a war zone.

My friend in Teneriffe texted me at 7.00am to report that, miraculously, my apartment was fine, and that no water had come through the entire complex. Reports by the Building Managers at Mactaggarts later confirmed that water from the river had come up over the boardwalk, and some 2 metres into the complex's garden - about 3-4 metres away from the historic woolstore building itself. Through the night, residents from higher floors had heavily sandbagged the large storm water drains in the middle of the complex, to try to prevent us flooding from the inside out - fortunately, these were not put to the test.

We still wanted to be sure that no water had come up through the internal drains, so Dad and I headed up to Brisbane to investigate. The Pacific Motorway was the quietest I've ever seen it at peak hour, and once again, the streets of Brisbane were eerily quiet. We stopped momentarily at the Kangaroo Point cliffs to have a look over the river and CBD. The river was absolutely roaring - I've never heard it make that noise or flow so fast. All manner of debris was being swept down the river - and that was only the flotsam and jetsam we could see - god knows what was lurking underneath.

Arriving at the apartment, it was a surprise to see no flood water around the parts of Teneriffe I was sure would flood - parts of James Street had been flooded the days before as a result of the rain, but that had all cleared away. Heaps of people were walking around by the river - parts of the boardwalk still under water. The photos below show the submerged bus turning circle at Teneriffe Pier, and how close the water came to one corner of the Mactaggarts building.

Teneriffe Pier and Teneriffe Bus Stop were out of action for a few days
The Teneriffe Boardwalk is submerged
The clean-upText messages and phone calls clogged the airwaves for the next few days as people sought to find out who amongst their families and friends had been flooded. It was one of the weirdest mornings ever - and ironically, it was a beautiful sunny day - the best weather Brisbane had seen in what felt like weeks.

Much has been written since about the amazing community spirit that kicked in that morning in Brisbane, and indeed throughout all the flood-ravaged areas in Queensland. I prefer to think of it as the Australian spirit, because we saw the same sort of national love following the Victoria during the Black Saturday Fires, and other past disasters.

It has been heart-breaking to hear of the many stories where people lost everything; the waste of food and stock, the destruction of so many properties; the enormous cost to the economy and general widespread disruption it all caused.

But there have also been amazing stories of courage, mateship and community spirit - and judging from the status updates on Facebook on Australia Day, all Australians are feeling mighty proud to be just that - Aussies!

A postscript...
As a postscript, I noticed this little wooden plaque in a temple in Narita this week. And on a couple of occasions, Japanese people have identified my Australian accent and asked about the "big floods in Queensland". They certainly new about it, and wished Australians well...

Let's hope that the affected families and communities can get back on their feet soon!

More of the photos I took the day that the river peaked, are on my Flickr page.

365 Challenge #283 - water play!

Yet another day in Brisvegas, and after a bout of shopping and a nanna nap, it was still pizzing down outside and cabin fever set in. I turned to Flickr for photographic inspiration. I knew I wanted to incorporate water into today's 365 Challenge - hell, there's enough of it around in Queensland at the moment.

What I love about Flickr, is that a whole bunch of photographers show their shots, then often share how they did it. I'd shot pictures using oil, water and food colouring before, but I did a simple search on "oil water" to see what ideas other photographers had come up with using these ingredients.

I came across a Flickr user called daitoZen, who had posted some awesome shots in the style I was looking to achieve, and then found that he'd also included a couple of photos of the camera and lighting setup he used to create the shots. Cool! It was pretty straight forward and then my own imagination kicked in as I tried various apertures, shutter speeds, flash strengths etc.

In terms of the technical details for these pics, I shot them all with my Canon EOS 5D II and the Tamron 90mm macro lens, with a flash/studio light fired remotely.

For the top picture, the settings were: f/5.6, 1/50 sec, ISO-100.

For this image, which reminds me of the universe, the settings were: f/13, 1/20 sec, ISO-100.

And for this image, where I changed the blue water to clear tap water, added more oil and put pieces of red paper under the glass bowl I was shooting into, the settings were: f/10, 1/40 sec, ISO-100.

Next time you're stuck for ideas about what to shoot indoors when the weather's up the creek (or when you're ankle deep in the creek - which is what Teneriffe will be id it don't stop raining soon....check out Flickr and you'll invariably find inspiration there!

One of the biggest camera shops in the world...

 It's now just two weeks before I fly out to Tokyo, and I've been researching things to see and do during my week there.

Of course, I began researching camera equipment and have been trying to get a feel for whether gear in Japan is cheaper than in Australia. Virtually all travel guides, blog posts and news articles reference Shinjuku as the photography equipment hub in Tokyo, and Akibahara as the electronics centre. And then I started to read about retail juggernaut, Yodobashi - which has mega stores in both Shinjuku and Akibahara, and a total of 21 stores throughout Japan. My credit card is twinging nervously at the thought...

There doesn't seem to be an English version of the Yodobashi site, but by all accounts, these are two of the largest camera shops in the world. I came across a Flickr feed of photos taken in the Yodabashi mega stores and reckon it's going to be about as close to camera heaven as I'm ever going to come. That said, I've heard the B&H store in New York is pretty impressive!

Frommers reports that the original Yodobashi store in Shinjuku stocks over 30,000 products and reputedly sells between 500-600 cameras daily. That's a whole lot of shootin' gong on! Apparently the newer Akibahara store is even bigger - and both are open from 9.30am to 10pm everyday. Imagine being able to pop out and buy your next L-series lens at 9.30pm one Tuesday evening. Drool!

The various reports I've read suggest that camera gear is generally not going to be cheaper in Japan - but that it's worth a haggle. You can bet I'm not going to die wondering!

14 sleeps to go, and counting!

365 Challenge #281 - somewhere under the rainbow

The rain eased for a couple of hours this evening - it's been SERIOUSLY hammering down all day, and the sound of no rain actually made me stick my head out the window to see if my ears were lying. Nope - no rain. Even now - an hour later - there's no rain. If it keeps going like this, we might actually start to have some semblance of a summer!

Anyway, I digress. When I looked out the window, there was a real golden/pinky tinge to the sky, then this slash of a rainbow appeared.

I was on a conference call with a colleague when I noticed all of this, and couldn't help but sneak this pic in - juggling a cordless phone and a 5D Mark II with the 70-200mm lens was not an easy feat, but it kinda worked.

365 Challenge #280 - Cabin Fever!

So - it's raining again this evening in Brisvegas....storming like Armegeddon's on the way.

I'm once again feeling just a tad restricted in terms of my 365 Challenge, and have resorted to playing with my recently purchased Dymo Labeller. Whoohoo - it's a laugh a minute at this woolstore.

If it's still raining tomorrow night, you might be lucky enough to see a picture of my new shredder. Next to photography, shredding old documents is my new favourite hobby.

In the mean time, I'm off to label all my herb jars....

Give me another lens, baby!

I'm still in Camera Gear Acquisition Mode....dear God, when will it end?

Anyway, I have been stalking the Lensbaby site for a while now, and decided to buy a Lensbaby Composer lens plus the Fisheye Optic in time for my trip to Japan. I love the crazy, creative effects these little lenses seem capable of producing, and thought they'd be relatively cheap substitutes into the worlds of tilt shift and fisheye photography - which for the most part, are pretty specialist lenses anyway.

So, that weird looking white thing above is the Lensbaby Composer - a double glass optic which produces a sweet spot of focus surrounded by graduated blur. Basically, you manually focus the lens, and then tilt it round to where you want the sharp part of the photo to be. A bendy lens - how cool is that! There's an awesome gallery of images created with this lens in Lensbaby's Gallery.

I also bought the Fisheye accessory because I really like the surreal look of fish eye photos - and I reckon this light little baby would be great for travelling. You can check out a bunch of pics taken with this combination of Lensbaby accessories, on Flickr here.

Now - a word about postage costs. A couple of Australian retailers sell Lensbaby products, but they are substantially more expensive to buy in Australia than the US. So with the exchange rate as strong as it is, it's currently cheaper for me to buy this stuff from the US even after adding shipping costs.

The Lensbaby site itself quoted postage costs for what I imagine would be a fairly small little package, of USD$100. B&H Photo quoted USD$60 to ship this stuff to Australia. Amazon, where I ultimately bought this gear, charged me USD$21 for postage (with the prices for the lenses being identical to those quoted on the Lensbaby site). I've been buying stuff from Amazon.com for years and they have a pretty amazing range of products. They're also really fair on shipping costs.

Australian retailers are whinging loudly at the moment about online stores (in Australia and overseas) taking business from them. They could rectify this problem and keep business in Australia by being a tad more competitive on price. Just sayin'...

Anyway, I can't wait to get the new toys and give them a whirl in Japan - which incidentally, is just 17 sleeps away. Whoohooo!

365 Challenge #279 - Getting back into tennis!

I'm not really into setting new year's resolutions, but I do find I'm inspired to ponder new possibilities at this time of the year.

Tonight, I was pondering how I could make getting fit fun - I HATE the gym. I always have - and each year I get enthusiastic about a new gym membership for the first 6 days, weeks or months, and then it fails in an epic way. I waste money by not going; then I feel guilty about wasting money; then I resort to comfort eating and bonding with chocolate to console self about the guilt; then I decide I need to get fit - cos hell, all that chocolate isn't shaking itself off, and the whole sorry story starts again.

And then I remembered that I used to love tennis. I played it heaps as a kid, and can still hear coach John, from Matchpoint Tennis down at Kirrawee's mantra "racquet back e-a-r-l-y".

So I looked around for tennis lessons tonight, and found a cool looking centre not too far from my place. I've signed up for a 3-night "holiday clinic" next week, with a view to joining a squad which practices once a week.

Ok - having a bash once a week isn't necessarily going to get me fit fast - but it's better than the current exercise regime of zip. Nada. Zilch.

And perhaps it will open up more photographic opportunities for me - and an excuse to buy one of those thumping big lenses that sports photogs use.

I'm liking this "resolution" more by the day!

Why 365?

On 6 March 2010, I started a 365 Challenge - that is, undertaking a personal challenge to take a photo every day. I chose the theme, I set my own rules - and my initial rules were that my 365 Challenge would be of pictures taken in my 1-bedroom apartment.

I'd seen other photographers do it, and wondered at the time if I was willing to make that sort of committment. I really didn't think I'd have the time. Hell - I was as busy as anyone else out there!

But, 278 days into into it, taking a photo everyday has become the exception rather than the rule. It now feels wrong if I don't pick up my camera every day. Ok - there have been a few days where I have not taken a photo - whether it was busy-ness, lack of motivation or whatever, there were a few days when the project waned. But, for the most part, this has been one of my most enduring projects - certainly in terms of doing something daily, and doing it publically.

For me, doing the 365 Challenge has represented a number of things - a photographic journey, but more importantly, a daily pictorial journal of stuff going on in my life. Sometimes we take the minutiae for granted!

I have always been a prolific writer and journaller, but since starting my 365 Challenge, I have never written as little as I have in the last 278 days - perhaps it's no coincidence that this blog started in May - a couple of months into the photography project. I love writing about what I'm passionate about, and my 365 Challenge has certainly been evidence of my ever-growing passion about photography.

There are heaps of resources about how to do a 365 Challenge - this post from DPS has some great ideas to keep you motivated. It suggests you use a theme each week. That certainly might be one way to go about it - mine has been far more random than that. You can also join groups on Facebook to keep you motivated - I did that for a bit, but ultimately found more motivation in doing my own thing. Sometimes it's a tedious thought - "Shite - I have to take a photo today". Other days, I'm full of ideas and can't find enough time to shoot what I want to shoot.

My main goal in the 365 Challenge has been to make everyday things look interesting - or to at least shoot everyday things in a different way. I've learnt a whole lot about what my cameras and lenses can do - and I continue to learn as I go.

My 365 Challenge has seen my photography journey progress through lens upgrades, camera body upgrades, workshops and gadget purchases - none of which I'd ever have anticipated when I took this initial photo of a Moroccan rug on Day 1, in March last year.

Now, I turn to Flickr and other photo-sharing sites, to seek out new ideas, and ask "how did they do THAT?"- and that becomes part of my challenge - seeking out new techniques, new effects, new potential styles.

I'm still not sure I've found my own style, or am any closer to knowing where I want to take my photography - if anywhere but beyond the hobby it currently is.

But what I do know without question, is that doing a 365 Challenge is awesome fun - at times funny, sad, frustrating and exciting - but it's something I want to see through to completion, and then ponder my next batch of photography-related goals.

Oh - and what happened to restricting my 365 Challenge to my apartment? I caved on about Day 100 - I was travelling a lot for work at that time, but also feeling a tad restricted by the subjects a 1-bedroom apartment presented - so I expanded my project to the big wide world. Hey - it's my project - they're my rules, and I can break them.

If you're pondering doing a 365 Challenge, or even a weekly or photography challenge, just get in there and do it. If you miss a few photos, don't stress - just get back into it and keep going. Remember at all times you're doing it for fun!

So...qhat are your photography goals for this year??

365 Challenge #277 - Grasshopper

Grasshopper, originally uploaded by Melanie Surplice.
This little grasshopper was less than a centimetre long, yet causing massive destruction on my mother's mint plant - there were huge holes all through the leaves where this hungry little dude and his mates were busily chomping.

My nephew thought it was pretty cool when I touched this guy's hind legs and he went pinging onto the next leaf.

Still getting used to the nuances with macro work and depth of field - I took this shot at f/4.5, but it feels like it needs to be a smaller aperture. Or on a tripid - or something. Anyway....the little dude smelled very much like mint, and was quite happy to pose for me.

365 Challenge #276 - the floodgates at Wivenhoe Dam

Happy New Year! Woke up hangover free, and decided to venture out to Toowoomba for a day trip. We drove past the sign to the Wivenhoe Dam, and decided to go check out what a dam at 125% capacity looked like - personally, I thought someone had got their percentages wrong....I mean in my mind, 125% means 25% more full than the dam is capable of holding. But more about that in a sec.

It took a few attempts to get to the Spillway Lookout - couldn't quite find the right road to take, but we eventually made it, along with every other man and their dog.

According to Seqwater, "Wivenhoe Dam (Lake Wivenhoe) is built on the Brisbane River, approximately 80 kilometres from Brisbane.  It was designed by the Water Resources Commission and built in 1984. Its primary function is to provide a safe and reliable water supply to the south-east Queensland region."

As I mentioned earlier, thanks to the massive volume of rain in South East Queensland recently, the dam is currently at 125% capacity - so they'd recently opened the floodgates to let some of the water out. And spew out it did! The mist played havoc with the camera gear, so it was a case of get in, get a few bracketed shots so I could do some HDR processing, then get outta there!

Here are some facts about the Wivenhow Dam:
  • Wivenhoe Dam consists of an earth and rock embankment 2.3 kilometres long and 50 metres high, measured from the lowest foundation to the crest, with a concrete spillway section on which five steel crest gates have been installed. 
  • The gates measure 12 metres wide and 16.6 metres high and are among the largest of their type in the world.
  • The dam has a total storage capacity of 2.6 million megalitres.  At full supply level it will hold 1.15 million megalitres, or about 2000 times the daily water consumption of Brisbane.
And what about that 125% thing? Well..this explanation on the Seqqater site helped to clarify it for me.

"During a flood situation, Wivenhoe Dam is designed to hold back a further 1.45 million megalitres as well as its normal storage capacity of 1.15 million megalitres. Floods may still occur in the Ipswich and Brisbane areas but they will be rarer in occurrence. Wivenhoe’s flood control facility, together with the existing flood mitigation effect of Somerset Dam, will substantially reduce the heights of relatively small floods.
It is anticipated that during a large flood similar in magnitude to that experienced in 1974, by using mitigation facility within Wivenhoe Dam, flood levels will be reduced downstream by an estimated 2 metres.
Full supply level or 100 percent capacity (in the water level analysis) is indicative of the optimum level intended for town water supply, and does not take flood mitigation levels into account."
So - looks like a dam can be more full than 100%. This is reassuring living so close to the Brisbane River!

The Wivenhoe Dam is an impressive structure, and well worth the drive out to see it, particularly now while the flood gates are open. It would just be nice if this damn rain would let up a bit! :)