Friday, April 12, 2019

Three Passes of Everest Trek

The top of the Rhenjo La pass - one of the three passes crossed on this trek 
The trek across the three passes in the Everest region the Kongma la, Cho la and Rhenjo la has become quite popular of late owing to the better infrastructure in terms of lodges and facilities below the passes. Having said that it can be quite an ardous trek as all the passes are well over 5000 metres in altitude and good acclimatisation is a key to this trek.

For the complete photo essay  please do visit http://old.outlooktraveller.com/printarticle.aspx?285825



THE INFORMATION




GETTING THERE
There are a number of flights every morning from Kathmandu to the mountain airstrip of Lukla, the start of the trek. Tara Airways (www.yetiairways.com), Summit Air and Sita Air  all run the maximum number of flights to Lukla. The fare is presently USD 360 for foreigners and USD 270 return for Indian citizens.  In bad weather, Lukla flights get disrupted and the only option then is to take a seat on a helicopter (www.simrikair.com.np) back to Kathmandu (USD 450-500 one way). 
Update - Due to the Kathmandu airport being closed from April 1 2019 from 10 pm to 8 am daily Lukla flights are going from Manthali airport Ramechap. It takes 4-5 hours to drive from Kathmandu to Manthali. There are basic hotels in Manthali where you can spend a night. 

PREPARATIONS
The best season for the trek is April to Mid May and again from Mid October to early December. Though the passes are crossed later in the season as well, there is always the possibility of heavy snowfall closing down the route. If there is heavy snow during the trek, the passes are best avoided and the route can be done by following the valleys instead. We trekked in late April and were rewarded with a riot of mountain flowers including the rhododendron in the valleys capped by the soaring peaks. Bottled mineral water is available but very expensive, so please carry iodine/chlorine water purification tablets. You need to carry enough water with you at least one litre at a time and this can be refilled at the lodges. Trekking poles are a must as there are three passes to cross with slippery trails and scree.  The tea houses (lodges) will provide beds and quilts but a warm three season plus sleeping bag is essential. The trek crosses 5400 metres so do not underestimate the effects of the altitude or the walk. This is a difficult trek and you need to be fit and properly acclimatized to succeed.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Bhutan | Photographs from the Land of Happiness

Prayer wheels at Chimi Lakhang near Punakha
I was in Bhutan last month and also did the Druk Path trek which we could not finish due to heavy snow.  Here are some photographs from this beautiful country.

Taktshang  Tigers Nest Monastery

Prayer wheels made out of bottles Tigers Nest in the background

Close up of a prayer wheel

Students working on wood carving at the Zoric Chisum Institute Thimpu

Punakha Dzong in the late afternoon

Doorway at Punakha Dzong

Chortens at the Dochu La pass

A woman leaves the butter lamp room at the Changangkha Lakhang in Thimpu

Dechen Phodrang interior Thimpu

Entrance to a restaurant Paro

Paro valley in the autumn with paddy ready for harvesting

Drying red chillies in a Paro street

Paro Dzong and the National Museum (on top) at night

Bonde Lakhang outside Paro

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Everest Reflections on the Solukhumbu



I spend five days at Archana Press Okhla, New Delhi printing our new book Everest - Reflections from the Solukhumbu.

The book will be launched on May 28th 2019 at Kathmandu.

The details of the book are:
EVEREST
Reflections on the Solukhumbu
Photographs by Sujoy Das | Text by Lisa Choegyal
Foreword by Sir Chris Bonington | Preface by Dr Lhakpa Norbu Sherpa

Drawings by Paula Sengupta

Some  photographs from the press while printing the book are below.










To find out more about the book and the release dates etc. do email me at sujoyrdas@gmail.com


Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Tips and Tricks for Better Photography



After my two posts on tips and tricks for mountain photography in this blog, I am giving below some general tips for everyday photography which I am sure would be useful. 

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 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

Monday, March 11, 2019

Mountain Photography Workshop | April 6th 2019 Kolkata



On 6th April 2019 in Kolkata, India I will be conducting a short workshop of mountain photography. It will be a hands on session with my photographs explaining the  approach, the technicalities, different subjects and situations and the reason behind the photographs.

I will share with the participants my thirty odd years of experience photographing in the mountains.

The programme is organised by  ‘THE HIMALAYAN ’s a Trust, non-profit in nature that was formed in May 2017. It was conceived to attract like-minded people in the promotion of Himalayan lore and preservation, through Travel, Expeditions, Explorations and Adventure, and support of its Nature, Ecology, Culture, as well as the well-being of its people. The primary inspiration has been the vision of Mr. Meher H. Mehta FRGS and a handful of likeminded mountain lovers - a vision that encompasses the incorporation of a balanced, incisive as well as interactive dissemination platform for the reporting of Himalayan Activity–of Climbing, Science, Literature and the yonder, in a manner befit to stimulate the intellectual yearning of the erudite mountain lover, as well as to kindle the fertile mind of the incorrigibly romantic young mountaineer.

Admission is free to register for the workshop do send an email to thehimalayan2017@gmail.com

I hope to see many of my friends, fellow photographers and mountain lovers at the workshop.


Saturday, March 2, 2019

Mountain Photography at Night

92 sec f 6.3 ISO  800
On  our  South Col treks , I often try to do some night photography when the weather is clear and the stars are out. Recently in Nepal  I was able to  experiment with a lot of mountain photography at dusk and at night.  I am sharing some tips and useful suggestions in this post:

TRIPOD
It goes without saying that the first requirement for night photography of mountains is a strong rock steady tripod. Monopods and table top tripods are not real substitute to a good tripod. I know this means lugging up and down the mountain another 1 to 2 kgs of weight but if you need to shoot long exposures then you need the tripod. This will really help you to get rock steady photos at long exposures. I use an Oban tripod one of the entry level lightweight model weighing around 1.5 kg.

VR/IS
If your camera is on a tripod set VR or IS off - you don't need any vibration reduction as the tripod is supposed to be rock steady!

AUTOFOCUS
Please do set autofocus off and focus your lens manually - my experience is that with autofocus on the camera hunts for a correct focus point at night!

ISO
The newer generation of DSLRs have pushed high ISO performance to 3200 and 6400 with some amazingly good results but I am conservative in this regard – if I can put my camera on a tripod I still prefer the lower ISO settings 200-1000 with longer exposures.

APERTURE
I would usually select a middle of the range aperture like f5.6 , f6.3 or f8 unless I need depth of field from foreground right up to infinity. In that case I may even stop down to f16!

SHUTTER SPEED and METERING
After setting the ISO and aperture the balancing factor would be the shutter speed. It is hard to select the shutter speed in low light and make a perfect exposure. There is a lot of black and deep shadows in the photograph and usually the metering is fooled by this resulting in some over exposure. As a rule of thumb setting the exposure compensation to -0.7 and bracketing two stops around the meter reading usually gives one good shot! Speeds can be as low as 15 sec, 30 sec and sometimes even one minute using this bracketing technique.  Most DSLRs wont go below 30 sec so you would have to switch to bulb mode  fire the shutter with a remote release and then close it again. 
30 sec, f7.1 ISO 200 
WHITE BALANCE
I usually set the white balance to Auto and keep it that way - in case there is any extraordinary colour shift I would correct it in processing. but this is not usual.

RAW
Oh and finally do shoot raw - makes a huge difference to the final image!

For more night photos please do visit  www.sujoydas.com   

Saturday, February 23, 2019

Kathmandu TIA Airport | Partial Closure 10 pm - 8 am


As per the information received from the TIA authorities Kathmandu airport will be closed for repairs from 10 pm to 8 am daily from 1 April 2019 to 30th June 2019.

The logic of closing the airport during the busy spring tourist season baffles me - this could have been done in the winter off season but who is to argue with the Nepal authorities?

The result of this closure will have several ramifications this spring:


  • International flights which were landing at night will all have to be rescheduled during the day thereby adding to further airport congestion and delays. Baggage handing will also have significant delays. 

  • Domestic flights will possibly also get affected with more international flights coming in during the day, they will not get priority.

  • The early morning flights to Lukla from Kathmandu starting at 6 am will be affected as they will only be allowed to fly after 8 am and that too if they get a departure slot. At this point we are not sure if Lukla flights will operate out of TIA airport.

These two circulars below from Tara Air and Summit Air indicate that Lukla flights  will be flown from an airport called Ramechhap  150 km from Kathmandu and a four hour drive. So in order to get a Ramechhap Lukla flight at 6 am it will be necessary to leave Kathmandu around 1 am in the morning - not a very enjoyable journey on bad Nepal roads! I understand that the  accommodation in Ramechhap is extremely basic so staying a night there is not a very palatable option!

I expect the Everest passenger traffic will be down this spring and those who can afford it will charter helicopters from Kathmandu.  After the current helicopter scams, charter costs Kathmandu- Lukla have been hovering around $2800 for a helicopter - five persons.

I will post further updates as and when I receive further information.




South Col Expeditions treks every season in Nepal and Everest. For more details do visit www.southcol.com

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Long Telephoto Lenses on a Budget

Many of us who are wildlife and bird photographers yearn for super fast big glass! Oh, what could we not do if we had a Nikon 600 F4 or a 400 F2.8! Sadly, the cost of these lenses are prohibitively expensive and out of reach for most of us. It is also not so easy to use these big lenses and proper technique and support are essential to get good results.

So what alternatives do we have? How do we capture that Alpine Accentor in the high Himalayas with affordable equipment?



This post discusses some of the so-called "budget" telephoto prime lenses and zoom lenses which are capable of  good photographs with proper technique and reasonable light. The crop factor with DX bodies should also be considered - a  300 f4 Nikon would give 450 F4 with a DX sensor and a 500 would give a reach of 750 which is huge! However, longer the lens the more difficult becomes the photograph and eventually you need a rock steady support for the camera! The zoom lenses would be slower than the primes but would have the advantage of a single lens covering a range of focal lengths.

Sigma 150-500 F5.6-6.3 $899
The Sigma 150-500 f5.6-6.3  is possibly the most popular third party zoom for wildlife. If you visit any of India's national parks a large number of shooters will have this lens.  It is very good value for the price point, if you can manage with a 6.3 aperture at the long end! At the shorter end it becomes a 150mm F5.6 which is about at least a stop slower than the 80-200 or 70-300 range of zooms! For a review visit  http://www.kenrockwell.com/sigma/150-500mm.htm


Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 $1069
The Tamron 150-600 F5-6.3 is a new lens - it is similar to the Sigma but has an extra 100mm reach on the long end.  It has similar issues as the Sigma regarding speed and possibly greater issues regarding hand holdability due to being 600 mm at the long end! With a good sturdy support this could be a match winner especially for birds!  http://www.drkrishi.com/tamron-150-600-review



Nikon 80-400 F4.5-5.6 VR $1995 street
The Nikon 80-400 f4.5-5.6 VR lens is often used for shooting mammals. A very popular choice in the game parks in Africa for Nikon shooters,  it has a decent zoom range. In good light it can deliver stunning results and a good beanbag  support can allow hand holding at low speeds due to VR! If you are not looking for birds at a distance this might be  a good choice. However it is definitely much more expensive than the third party zooms though is sometimes available refurbished and on sale!
 http://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-80-400mm-vr



Canon 100-400 f4.5-5.6L $1699
The Canon 100-400 F4.5/5.6 is similar the the Nikon above and used by Canon shooters and has similar features. For a review visit
 http://www.photozone.de/reviews/204-canon-ef-100-400mm-f45-56-usm-l-is-test-report--review






Nikon 300 F4 AFS ED $1369 street
This is a prime Nikon 300 mm f4 lens which is capable of producing excellent quality and sharpness. Mated with a TC 1.4 converter it gives a range of 420 mm and on a DX body that would be more than 600 mm! This would be my first choice if quality was paramount and I could sacrifice the multiple focal lengths of a zoom!
http://www.bythom.com/300AFSlens.htm



Canon 300 F4L $1449
This is an extraordinary good lens from  Canon 300 f4L - it belongs to their L series of glass and produces excellent sharpness and contrast. Highly Recommended by photozone.de who are usually miserly with their praise, it would be the first choice for a Canon shooter on a budget along with a 1.4 converter.
http://www.photozone.de/reviews/172-canon-ef-300mm-f4-usm-l-is-test-report--review

Nikon 200-500 F5.6 E $1397


 The Nikon 200-500 has become the preferred lens for wildlife and bird photography on a budget. If you cant afford the professionsl 200-400 F4  then this is possibly the next best choice. You lose one stop compared to the professional lens but the price performance factor is unbeateable!  For a review of the lens please see  https://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-200-500mm-f5-6e-vr











 This is the new Nikon 300 F4  ED VR lens $1996 which is superlight lens with amazing performance - you can also mate it to one of the TC teleconverters to good more reach. The lens is on the expensive side but compensated by excellent performance and weight as well. For an excellent review of this lens do visit https://photographylife.com/reviews/nikon-300mm-f4e-pf-ed-vr




  As you can see I personally prefer the primes with a tele converter to the long zooms - this is also because I usually have a lens like 300 F4 Nikon in my bag when shooting wildlife! On the flip side if you have one body only you need to change lenses and dong this you may often miss the shot!

Essentially you need to weight up what your needs are at a  price point which you can afford  and then make the correct decision! Good luck!

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