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I’ve never been one for taking lots of photos of myself, and so I’ve never quite understood the whole “selfie” obsession. But I recently realised that up until my trip this year, I’ve never been truly exposed to the “selfie” generation either.

I love to take photographs. As I’ve said before, it means I actually notice more around me, and appreciate where I am, and what I’m doing, even more than if I didn’t have a camera/phone in my hand. But I’m lucky to be in New Zealand, were there are few tourists. And my last trips were to Australia and Iceland/Norway, all of which also have low populations and were not filled with tourists when I was there. So I was blissfully unaffected by selfie-takers.

Tokyo, Kyoto, and Seoul, on the other hand, were filled with both local and international tourists. A majority of the tourists were taking selfies, frequently ignoring the beautiful flowers or the architectural details or the historic places, just hoping (or ensuring) they look good on camera. It happened everywhere in Japan, where renting a kimono for a few hours is popular for visits to temples or gardens. It was maybe worse in Korea.

Our first day in Seoul took that theme to the extreme. It was a Korean public holiday – Memorial Day. We decided to go to the Palace, and found that not only were there international tourists, but it seemed a lot of locals on their day off, or families out for the day or travelling within Korea for the long weekend. In other words, it was quite busy. As in Japan, both locals and tourists love to dress up in national costume (with the added bonus that wearing national dress gives free entry), and take photos. As inveterate people-watchers, we found it fascinating. There were families all dressed up, a group of Korean-American guys, having a great time, the occasional ethnic-Europeans looking a bit awkward, tourists from Asia (we heard Chinese, Thai, Singaporeans) There were a lot of groups of girlfriends, all taking endless photos of each other. And couples.

The vanity. Oh, the vanity.

I imagined the conversations:

Boyfriend: “What do you want to do on Memorial Day?”
Girlfriend: “I could dress up and we could go to the Palace and take pictures.”
Boyfriend: “ Sure … that sounds … um … great.”

Sometimes the boyfriends/husbands were dressed up too. But frequently they were the ones behind the cameras/phones. I felt sorry for a woman on her own, carefully posing for her selfie, scrutinising her face after the shots, no friends or partner to share the experience with. I hope she got a good photo to put on social media.

In the museums, or the off-the-beaten track locations we visited in Japan and Korea, there were fewer bus tours, tourists who tended to be older, and independent travellers from NZ (yep, that was us), Australia and France. Selfies were not the focus for anyone. Sanity reigned once again.

Then in Vietnam, we spent six days at a beach resort. I put my camera away for the whole visit (though my phone came out to snap the occasional photo of a cocktail at happy hour), but every day we saw young women getting into the pool in elaborate, carefully chosen swimsuits, purely to get their photos taken. They all did exactly the same poses. There was no originality – except perhaps in their choice of swimsuit. The pressure to conform, to display their bodies, and to do so in a sexual manner, to be as perfect as their photo/camera apps can airbrush them, to objectify themselves. It made me sad for them, and for women in general. We haven’t come so far after all. And that’s not how I thought this post would end.

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When we bought our house, there was one scrawny cabbage tree in our lower garden.  It barely reached our living area deck, but in recent years, once it reached a decent height, it has shot up. It has also split from its long trunk and finally has a few different branches. I loved it when I could see it through my kitchen window. And in more recent years, it’s now level with our bedroom window upstairs. Soon it will outgrow that too.

Cabbage trees or Ti Kouka are a NZ native tree. We see them everywhere, and they always make me smile. So having one in my own garden is special. Even if it is, in fact, very common.

P1100960 cabbage tree house

 

Linking with #ThursdayTreeLove here.

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Other people’s blogging and photography projects have inspired me again this year, but I’ve already completely missed capturing photos of local art around the city for February. (And apologise to Travelcraft Journal for missing it.) I’ve been frustrated by just being busy, by commitments to others, and by the weather. Oh yes, and on the few times I’ve had time and opportunity to do it, by my memory!

But today I want to try something new again. Happiness and Food has a regular item about trees. I love trees – they provide shelter, and drama through our windows, and they are home to my beloved tui and other birds. So this month, I’m going to start with the oak tree on the corner of our deck. It’s where the kaka play and copulate (occasionally, they haven’t visited the tree for a while), and where the tui love to sit and flit around, always flying off just when I grab my camera. It’s where we sit for shade on summer evenings when it is perfect to sit outside for a drink. In winter it is sculptural, and in summer it just adds to the green I see looking out the window. In autumn, I mourn as the last leaves disappear, and in spring I watch the buds eagerly for the first new, green leaf. And in the last year or two, as I’ve been learning how to use my camera properly, it has been the perfect subject on which to practise.

I didn’t like the tree when we first moved to this house, but now I couldn’t imagine the house without it.

These are photos I’ve taken previously:

 

 

 

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… on my very first photoshoot:

  1. Check all the settings before you start, especially the ISO if you last used your camera to take a night shot!
  2. Check the white balance.
  3. Learn about white balance so I can check it.
  4. Don’t be so scared of losing focus on parts of the body that you don’t change the focal length.
  5. Even when the background is scenic, vary the focal length.
  6. Don’t rely on autofocus. (Don’t worry, I didn’t.)
  7. When teenagers are the subject of the photoshoot, don’t bring the parents or other on-lookers, ie distractions.
  8. Be bossy! With the subject(s), and especially the subject(s)’ parents.
  9. Be kind, and learn to relax the subjects so they have fun!
  10. Move around. A lot.
  11. Maybe my left knee isn’t up to doing photoshoots.
  12. Review the composition regularly. Is it seemly?
    and a bonus tip, but very important,
  13. Wear sunscreen.

Still, I’m pretty proud of the results. It helps to have photogenic subjects!

 

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Yesterday I finished a major project. It was the third of the photobooks I have created from our trip earlier this year to Iceland, the Baltic, and Norway. I’m very proud of it, as our photos from Norway in particular are beautiful. It would almost be impossible to visit Norway and come away without beautiful photos. Some of my favourite photographs were taken out the front of the car as we were driving, and some required a bit more thought or design; here are just a few.

Fjaerlandfjord, with boats in the foreground and snow on the mountains

Fjaerlandfjord, from our beautiful hotel, is the cover of our Norway photobook

A bookshelf on Fjaerlandfjord, with Boyabreen glacier behind

Mundal, on Fjaerlandfjord, is an international book town

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route, surrounded in snow

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route

Fb reminded me that this time last year I had already booked our flights and the Baltic cruise, and I was right in the middle of researching and planning our travel. I realised last night that, on and off, I’d spent a year planning and organising our trip, being on the trip, or completing photobooks after the trip. Of course, those aren’t the only things I have been doing, but I do feel that now I have some real space to think about other things. It’s time to move onto other long-neglected projects, and you know, that’s quite an exciting thought.

 

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My major project at the moment is sorting through hundreds of photographs from our trip. Both my husband and I had cameras – his a compact but with an enviable 40x zoom lens, and mine a mirrorless with interchangeable lenses – and we snapped away merrily at anything that took our interest.

There’s a point of view, often expressed scathingly, that those of us who like to take photographs (I’m focused on travel photography, rather than events or family gatherings) become observers, rather than staying in the moment, really experiencing what is around us. I heard this opinion again recently on the radio here, and then saw another article about it, and I have to confess that I’m getting a bit sick of the holier-than-thou attitudes of those who profess it. They seem to assume that photographers just want bragging photos they can put up on Instagram or Facebook and that by looking through a lens, we’re not actually looking with our eyes. As with anything, there are always extremes, and I like to walk the middle road.

I take photographs, but either before I take shots or after or both, I drink in the experiences. We spend a lot of money on our travels, and I am determined to embrace them – the sights, sounds, food, and feelings – to the limit. As I am a writer, I like to fully experience something so that I can describe it later. For every photograph of a fjord in Norway or a grand building in St Petersburg or every volcanic cone or lava field in Iceland there were dozens taken in my mind or written about in my head, and believe me, they take much more concentration and awareness of where I am and what is happening around me.

When I take photographs, I try to capture what had me gasping in awe, or laughing in amusement, or reeling in horror, in those photos. Whilst I’m an opportunistic photographer – I take what is in front of me (or within easy walk!), rather than carefully planning and composing shots – I also try to think about what I’m taking, and why I am taking it. I’m not good at taking photographs of people, as I feel rude and voyeuristic, though I adore looking at others’ shots of interesting people or people in interesting places. I wish I was braver!

I find thinking about composition or zooming in gives me an added appreciation of the view or events in front of me. Zooming, in particular, allows me to capture small nuances that might otherwise be missed. For example, I’ve learned a new appreciation and love of birds since I’ve had a camera that could capture them in detail. And sometimes there might be an unexpected bonus when we look at our zoomed-in image.

For example, here’s a long shot of a farmhouse dwarfed under a rock face, and then the close-up when we were able to find an off-road park.

But I was truly delighted when we got home to discover that this shot included a lot of old turf buildings outside the main farmhouse.

P1030951 cr

The unexpected turf buildings

Blown up they’re grainy, but even when I look at the long shot, I now know they’re there, and it tells me so much more about Iceland and farming life and living there in the past.

I don’t take photographs just for Instagram. In fact, until we left on this trip I didn’t even have an Instagram account, and I probably posted more photos (maybe one or two every couple of days) on Facebook for family and friends who were interested. Equally, because I adore travel, I also adore seeing other people’s photographs too.

I don’t take selfies for a lot of reasons. But when they’re too frequent – they always seem to be more about the person (“look at me, look at me, look at me,” as Kath would say) than the place or events occurring where they are. Though my father always said that he liked to see a photograph with a person in it, so we always take a few shots with one of us in it or both, and likewise, when family or a friend is travelling, I love seeing their faces pop up in exotic places. Most recently I’ve loved seeing friends’ faces in Istanbul and Macchu Picchu and Scotland.

Unlike a lot of people, I actually do things with my photographs when I get home, and love looking back at favourite trips in our photobooks (and albums in the pre-digital days), or with the photos hung on my wall or the ones that flick up in my screensaver (which is one of the best ways to regularly see your favourite photos). I have a good memory for people and places – but seeing the photos keep the memories alive. And besides, it means we’re getting better value for money for those flights and accommodation every time I look at a photo and smile.

It’s not a case of “pics or it didn’t happen.” Many of the most memorable occasions on our trip could not be captured in a photograph. Driving across the vast sand and ash plains of southern Iceland, desperate to beat the predicted high winds that could sandblast our rental car (and empty our bank accounts), was a bit scary but quite exhilarating. Likewise, it was wonderful driving through the huge lava fields of southern Iceland, enjoying the textures and play of light of the lichen and moss growing on the lava, imagining what it must have been like as the lava flowed. The three or more hours we spent sailing through an archipelago of islands when leaving Sweden gave us a wonderful snippet of rural and weekend Swedish life. Standing out on the deck of our ship as it spun on a pinpoint in the river in St Petersburg, pushed and pulled at the same time by tugs, was a special treat few would ever get to experience. Photographs couldn’t really capture these experiences (although I tried), and yet these were such special parts of our trip.

My name is Mali, and I unashamedly like taking photographs. Doing so helps me stay in the moment.

 

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As you may have realised, the photography challenges I leapt into at the beginning of the year have disappeared. A brief period of illness, then travel, then rain, and then travel planning all meant that I just didn’t have the time or the inclination to get out and take photographs. I hope to try it again, or maybe pick it up after our trip. Of course, when we’re away I’m going to be taking pics madly (and perhaps sharing some with you via a new Instagram account – look for TravellingMali), although I had hoped to have had more practice before I left, but isn’t that always the way?

I’ve joined a couple of social media groups – one for the challenges I was doing, and one for my particular camera – and have been learning a lot from them (eg. how little I know), and I’ve also been reading various websites to learn more, so I don’t feel like a complete failure!

It’s possible I might get to see the Northern Lights when I’m in Iceland – though with the nights getting lighter when we’re there, I am by no means counting on it – and I’d dearly love to be able to show you all a photograph of the lights … or a puffin. Ironically, the Southern Lights were visible from Wellington last Sunday, but I didn’t know about it until the next day. Typical, isn’t it, that I plan to cross the world to see the phenomenon, and all I needed to do last week was cross the city!

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