Friday, February 22, 2013

Climb Every Mountain. Is it worth it?

     Frederick Mount invited me to another photo op.  Knowing what he does, I expected another enjoyable night of going through abandoned buildings and another good talk.  Boy, was I in for a different experience!

     I was late (as always) so Fred and his companion went ahead.  At Yongmasan station, I got a bit confused with the route (as always) and walked up and down the street.  I was told to climb up some stairs but I ended up climbing up to the top of a hill... only to find out I was at the wrong place.  Again, I tried another stairs up.  And yes, I was on the right path.  But I lost communication with Fred at that time so I couldn't confirm.  But yes, I was on the right path.  The path to Yongmasan.  This time, I climbed up a mountain.

     I have not done these mountain hikes for a long time and I'm out of shape.  So It took a lot of me to reach the top.  Halfway up, the foot path forked and I chose to go to the right.  It was the wrong choice.  It was supposed to be a path for those descending from the peak.  So as I come across people, I was a bit embarrassed as I can see their expressions of puzzle, why I'm going the wrong way.  Oh well, just chucking it down to experience.

     I stopped somewhere to take a view of what's below the mountain.  It wasn't much.  But it reminds me of how my friends back in the Philippines describe my hometown at its current state.  You see, I came from the mountainous parts of the country.  I lived in a valley called La Trinidad.  It was once called, "The Salad Bowl" of the Philippines.  Its neighboring city was more popular (Baguio City) and was once dubbed, "The City of Pines."  I don't know about Baguio, but I'm sure La Trinidad isn't known as Salad Bowl anymore... more like house bowl.  So I took a picture of this view on one side of Yongmasan.  I used my phone since I'm already tired and I still have a lot to climb, setting up my gear will just take a lot of me at this moment.  My intention was to upload it on Facebook to ask my friends back home if it does look like this.

Imagine Home
Apart from the big buildings, I imagine my beloved valley back home to now look like this.  Once filled with strawberry fields and swamps, it scares me to think it now loos like this.

     I got a bit distracted by my phone's camera options.  I was surprised it's got a panorama shot setting.  As I experimented, I figured out how it works.  But there wasn't much of  a worthwhile scene around to shoot pano.  Maybe if I climb up a bit higher.
     Indeed there was another stop just about a couple of minutes from my first stop.  There was some nicely built shooting spot in place.  I assume it was really made for photographers as there are no chairs around.  Just a perfectly flat surface looking down on a better view of the city below.  Here, I took a quick panorama shot with my phone.

Fresh Air?
Well it's not much.  I'm paying more attention to what technology has become nowadays.  The last phone I used to take pictures was an HTC Desire HD, and I wasn't impressed.  This one though, did.
     Climbing up more of the mountain, I reached what I thought was the peak.  Apparently the mountain was more like a twin.  Where the peak of the first one was misleading.  Reaching that twin's peak, there's another path leading to the top of the higher twin peak.  And here I thought I've reached the goal.  Gasping for air, I spotted something that reminded me of Scott Kelby's Google seminars.  On most of his critiques, Scott often mention that it takes the effort of going to the right place, at the right time, with the right gear.  It's actually common knowledge amongst photographers.  It's not as simple as finding the pretty spot.  Time and gear is involved to get "that" picture.  Not just "a picture."  But really, it doesn't sink in until one experiences it himself.  It the reason why such lectures are mentioned over and over and over.  Like a parent/teacher/preacher lecture.  Something you already know is right but don't really follow... until you'll actually experience its significance.

Path to Two Worlds
Again, a pano shot with my Galaxy S3.  What jolted me here in reference to Scott Kelby's lectures, I happen to be here at a spot where there still some steam coming from the rocks, as temperature is changing very fast.  The sun is setting on one side of the city as it shows a bit of warmth in this golden hour, while there's nothing but reflected light on the other.  Should I have arrived on this place a couple minutes early or late, the view wouldn't be in as much effect as this.
    Despite my new fondness of my toy (phone), I realized I'm running out of time to reach the other peak.  It gets really dark really fast, in just a few minutes.  So on I went to the supposed peak.  By the time I got there, I only saw a bunch of Korean hikers.  Some resting, some playing, some drinking, some taking pictures.  I don't see Fred.  And this high up, there's no phone signal.  So much for rushing up to meet my friend.  All I could do was wait for the local hikers done with their picture taking so I could set my gear up there and then.  I might as well take pictures while I'm there.  It was such great relief Fred himself found me.  Apparently, the good spot to photograph was still a bit further on the other side of that peak... yeah... more walking.

     It was another photography spot, I suppose.  There was another platform big enough for 5 people with gears set up.  There I met Wesley Chang.  I think he's more a videography guy venturing into photography.  Nevertheless he's a comfortable guy to be with.  He seems to relate to me as he knows the conditions and lifestyle in the Philippines.  He says he's from Guatemala which is almost similar to Manila.  Maybe that's why I'm comfortable with him.  Except that Fred and Wesley aren't fat.  And in this part of the mountain, is a bad thing.  They're cold and it shows.  He he he.

     The time to take pictures has come.  The three of us each have our gears set up.  Tripod up, camera mounted, and ready for panoramas.  It was obvious that the two were really waiting for the right time.  Meanwhile, I suddenly got shy again.  I don't get shy around Fred.  But Wesley is new, so I got self conscious (as always). I couldn't bring my A game this night.  So I just told myself I'd just come back some other time by myself... again.

     I still got some shots and took this chance to see how fast the precious blue hour goes.  It was a pretty short time.

This was one of my first shots of this view.  It shows a bit of the Namsan Tower.
    The image above didn't satisfy me at all.  I got the sunset, the blue sky, and the city lights.  But that strip of white was annoying the hell out of me.  The supposed "snake" (which was what I really wanted to highlight) doesn't look convincing enough to me.  Then the trees below are just painful.  But I laughed when I started criticizing my shot.  Because despite the painful climb up this mountain, I was wishing I got a bit higher than where I was.  Asking for more pain in hopes to capture the image I wanted.

A Closer Look
Running out of time, I thought of taking a closer photo of the supposed snake.  If it wasn't for the photography tips I kept hearing over and over, I would not have come up with this picture right out of my camera.  I often go wide (like the previous picture) trying to take as much info on the subject.  Then maybe dissatisfied and cropped the hell out of it, taking away the snake's tail, and end up with this image.  This time, I went with their advice:  Take pictures of the scene on different perspective. Zoom in, zoom out, go left, go right, tilt, take different angels, just move!
     Blue hour was long past and after a couple of small talks, we all decided to start climbing down the mountain.  But I got an idea that I wanted to test out before we left.  Sort of a last hurrah... Although I kept telling myself I'll be back to this place some other time, that would be much much much later.  I know how lazy I am.

Right Stuff, Wrong Time
What I could have done earlier in time.  Although this photo pleased me a lot more than the ones above, the element of "right time" was missing, in my opinion.
     THIS!  This should have been the shot I took earlier before.  It's also a panorama but taken from down to up, instead of left to right.  I figured this isn't new news to photographers, but I rarely see such a pano done this way.  I only thought of this idea when I watched a video demo of a ballhead.  But if only I thought about this during a full deep blue sky, and maybe raised my tripod's center column... errr... I probably wouldn't do that at that time... it was quite windy already.  But I just wish I was a bit higher.  Just a foot higher from my spot could have made the difference

   I'm glad Fred invited me on this hike.  Despite the hike, something was kindled inside of me.  I came up with some ideas that really demand some stuff that I learned this day.  But as in most cases, a lot can be easily said.  I can't count how many times I told myself to come climb Yongmasan one more time and take decent pictures... at least better than these ones.  But it's just easier said than done.  At least for someone not so disciplined, like me.  But we'll see. 

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