Lockdown is for the Birds

Brisbane, Queensland, 1 to 6 August 2021.

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 Australia, Brisbane, Butcher Bird, Kookaburras, Landscape, Magpie, Nature, Photography, Queensland, Rainbow Lorikeets, Travel, Wildlife

Butcher Bird.

At the end of the last post, we had stopped off in Brisbane for a couple of days en route to a photographic tour in North Queensland, when our progress was arrested by a sudden seven-day lockdown.  So we spent the next seven days with our friends Jim and Milena in their new home, and with the birds that either visited or lived there.

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The same Butcher Bird from the verandah (also then next two images).

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Back inside, with Percy and Polly (Rainbow Lorikeets) and Milena.  One of the lorikeets is interested in learning how to use the coffee machine.

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The other, not so much.

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On the verandah again, two Kookaburras.

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Juvenile Magpie soaring up for food.  this one has a damaged foot.

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Juvenile Magpie on the rail (the adults are black rather than grey).

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The Australian Magpie is not related to the Eurasian Magpie.  It is related to the Butcherbird, though.

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Kookaburra.

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Though we were in a city, we were able to go for a brief walk in a forest nearby.

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Inside with the lorikeets again.

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They are very fast inside the house and challenging to photograph.

Ironically, I had brought a Nikon D850 and 300mm f2.8 lens (plus teleconverters), specifically for photographing birds in flight, mainly from various bird hides I expected to encounter.  I did not anticipate the my BIF photography would be indoors.

These indoor images were all taken with a Fujifilm X-E4 and a 27mm f2.8 lens (40mm full frame equivalent), heavily croppped.  I couldn’t predict when and where they were going to fly I needed loose compositions.  They are all on 1/2,000 sec because the lorikeets are very quick and light levels were quite low so they are all on high ISOs, more that two thirds on 6400 or 12,800.  As well as that, this was a new camera and when I had set up Custom Quick Menus, I hadn’t realised that as well as the values on the Quick Menus, there were also many other values I needed to set or they would revert to the original camera defaults.  This meant I was shooting JPEG instead of RAW so many of the images are lacking highlight or shadow detail.

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This might represent an interesting lorikeet decal on the splashback except that it was a bit too transient for full appreciation at the time.

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Lorikeet and Jools.

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Percy and Polly powering past.

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Also a Budgie, even more elusive on the wing.

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… and here playing hide-and-seek.

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Back on the balcony, an adult Magpie in midair leaping for food, plus a Butcher Bird.

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  … Coming in to land ….

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Magpie pair.

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Again, a lorikeet as an interior decoration….

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Jim with Percy and Polly.

It was difficult to find lockdown information at this time as the Queensland Government told people not to ring them and if you did, you could wait for a long time and then drop out.  Eventually, we worked out that we were free to fly back to the ACT, even while the lockdown continued in Brisbane.  Jools did so first, I did so after receiving an email from the ACT Government advising against further travel. 

Now Queensland is out of lockdown and we are in lockdown in Canberra.  The main problem is New South Wales, which failed to lockdown for ten days after their first case and is now spiralling out of control with over a thousand cases per day.  (That won’t sound high if you live in Montenegro, Malaysia or Miami but is the highest we have seen in Australasia).  (The other problem is the low vaccination rate, due to the incompetence of the Federal Government).  Fortunately it doesn’t seem too bad in the ACT and we may be out of lockdown in a couple of weeks, though the situation remains precarious.

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Digital Photography

 I gave some of my old cameras and lenses to a friend who was a professional photographer in the film era but lost his equipment through fire and theft and has not photographed for many years.  So this is a brief summary of what has changed.  Hopefully it will be of interest to others as well.

This article doesn’t include an introduction to Photography.  You can find one here.

Digital photography is far more accessible than film was.  It is simple and cheap if you just buy a camera with a kit lens and set it on Program mode (or use a phone), blast away, and upload JPEGs to Facebook .  But to do it seriously is both much more complex and much more expensive than it used to be.

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Carillon, Canberra 1988, Part of French contribution to Bicentennial, 5×4 film.

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Index

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Exposure

Red crested cranes in river before dawn, Hokkaido, 2012.

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In the film days, you used a film which was a given ISO (originally called ASA) and now you can select an ISO for each shot.  But there’s more to it than that:

You can shoot JPEG or RAW (or both).  JPEG has your settings baked into the image and you degrade it if you later edit it.  Photojournalists may shoot JPEG so they can quickly deliver final images to their editor but for most people in most situations, shooting RAW is preferable.  JPEG has a limited gamut (sRGB) whereas RAW captures what the camera can (approximately LAB gamut).  This implies processing and more on that later.

Film had a rounded shoulder in its transition from highlight detail to overexposure, or from shadow detail to underexposure, but for digital, the transition is much more abrupt, so you need to be more careful about overexposure in particular.

The histogram is an invaluable aid to exposure.  It shows the tones, shadow to highlight, left to right in a box.  The shape of the histogram can vary but a line on the right edge is overexposure; a line on the left edge is underexposure.  Usually you want to avoid that but sometimes underexposure doesn’t matter and sometimes specular highlights make the right edge of the histogram irrelevant (eg live music).

In general you want to expose to the right – in other words, not have any blank space on the right of the histogram.  This is because detail captured decreases exponentially from the right of the histogram to the left.  In other words, the detail is in the highlights, not the shadows.  There’s a complication here though because the histogram on the back of the camera shows an sRGB image but as long as you’re shooting RAW you have something like an extra two-thirds of a stop of highlight detail available.  (It is a good idea to set the camera histogram to show aRGB but it still doesn’t make much difference).

You can also set the camera to bracket exposures where the contrast range may be too wide for a single exposure, and combine them later in processing if required.  Three exposures two stops apart is perhaps a good place to start for this.  I often leave the camera set for exposure bracketing when shooting landscapes on the fly because I may not pick when I actually need to bracket.  In many cases I may find it was not necessary so I delete unwanted images.  Others may prefer to be more economical in their culling and shoot single images where possible.

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Shutter

Cape Nelson 1987, Arca-Swiss 5×4″,90mm Linhof Angulon, f6.8, 4 hours, Fujichrome 50

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With film, the rule of thumb for minimum hand-held shutter speed was the reciprocal of the focal length (eg 1/100 sec  for 100mm lens).  The greater acuity of digital means you may need to add a stop or two (eg 1/200 or 1/400).  This changes again with more modern lenses and bodies with image stabilisation (vibration reduction).  It varies by individual though so the best way to understand what shutter speeds you can hand hold at is to do tests by focal length.

With DSLRs (apart from very cheap ones where this may not be available), for maximum sharpness in landscape images, you should use a tripod and lock the mirror up and use a remote release (or the self-timer).  Or even better, you can use live view which focuses directly onto the sensor with the mirror up.  (… though there are some limitations in the early implementation of this in the Nikon D3 for which this is written so that it may be advantageous to use the self-timer).

Mirrorless cameras of course do not have a mirror to flip but there can still be shutter slap to reduce sharpness.  This can be avoided by using electronic shutter except for artificial light or some cases of marked subject movement.

One of the few advantages of film was with star trails because you can hold the shutter open as long as you like (8 hours was the longest I did).  With digital cameras you are limited by battery often to 30 minutes to an hour, though with the phenomenal battery of the Nikon D3 this may be as much as 6 hours (I tested but don’t remember my findings clearly).

Nightscapes with stars in focus weren’t common in days of film (or maybe I just wasn’t aware).  For a starting point on exposure and shutter speed, refer the NPS Rule.  Phone app PhotoPills can do NPS calculations and also display where the Milky Way will be on the view through your phone.

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Filters

Lake Hume, 2006 (6×17 Film)

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There was much more use of filters in the days of film.  This included skylight filters and coloured gels (for commercial portrait photographers) to modify the colour balance of the film.  This is no longer required because you can either do it in camera or in post-processing.

UV filter are not required in most circumstances.  They don’t really protect lenses (though lens hoods do) and can accentuate flare.  The exception when they can be useful is for sea spray and desert sand storms.

Polarising filters are not much required in general landscape photography any more.  They can overpower skies and you can adjust those in post-processing.  They still have their uses though for dealing with reflections in water and for enhancing colour in forests, especially wet ones.  For DSLRs you need circular polarisers though instead of the old linear ones, though linear ones are fine for mirrorless cameras.

Apart from polarising filters, the most likely filters to use these days are neutral density filters, so you can get a daylight exposure of say five minutes for smooth clouds and water surfaces.  You may also need a dark cloth over the camera to prevent light leaks.  This can look impressive and I do it occasionally though I also find it a fashion trend tending to a bit of a cliché and generally prefer to do my long exposures without filters after dark.

When shooting black and white film, filters translated the colours in different ways.  You can still do that if you are using a Leica Monochrom or when using inbuilt filters while shooting JPEG in mono, but there is little point if you are shooting RAW.  You end up with a colour image and while you can still apply mono camera settings to it, you have much greater power for monochrome conversion in post-production.  It can be useful though sometimes to set your camera for a mono display to aid your composition even if your objective is not monochrome.

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Other Camera Operations

Bearded Dragon, Mt Ainslie, Canberra, 2019 (focus stacked)

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I have already mentioned automated exposure bracketing. 

You can also generate panoramas either hand-held (for distant panoramas) or on a tripod with varying degrees of complexity and expense for additional equipment. This requires separate exposures and overlapping by about 20%.

Another option is focus bracketing – combining multiple exposures at different point of focus to get a greater depth of focus than would be possible in a single exposure, especially but not exclusively for macro.  Stopping down to f8 or f11 helps.  On older cameras like the Nikon D3 you have to set the focus manually but many more recent models have various forms of semi-automatic focus bracketing.

All these operations require post processing, and I will cover that under the Processing section.

There is also the option for time lapse photography and video but since I have not done these I will do no more than mention them.

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Lens Calibration

Deception Island, 2011.

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DSLRs have a sensor that records the image and another sensor for autofocus.  If the two get out of whack for a particular lens and camera, the lens may be consistently front-focusing or back-focusing. 

Your camera may be able to record correction values for each lens.  This will not be the case though if you have a lower-range model and most cameras can only record one value for a zoom lens.  You determine those values with a testing utility.  I use FoCal; others may consider Lens Align simpler and cheaper.  Some people don’t bother.  It’s not an issue for mirrorless cameras (or when using live view on a DSLR).

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Tripods and Monopods

19 Twenty at the Abbey, Canberra, 2020.

Compared to the film days, tripods can now be carbon fibre as well as aluminium (or wood).  Aluminium tripods are cheaper but carbon fibre ones are the way to go where possible because they are lighter, more durable and more vigration resistant. Cheap tripods are still counter-productive but I suspect they’re not quite as rickety as they used to be.

For a detailed review of tripods and monopods, see this site.

Also here is a review of a new version of my favourite ball head, from Acratech.  Its open design makes it ideal for outdoors, beause it is easy to clean and doesn’t get grit around the ball.

 

Planning

Crested Tern, Montague Island, 2019.

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You can use applications to plan landscape excursions.  For example, The Photographer’s Ephemeris allows you to see the hours of different measures of twilight at a particular date and location, and you can even determine when the sun will peek out over a mountain at sunrise to illuminate your subject.  (The latter capacity does take time and dedication though).  I’ve already mentioned the phone application PhotoPills.

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Processing

Verraux’s Sifaka, Madagascar, 2015 (IR)

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If you are planning to shoot JPEG-only, with all the shortcomings that entails, you will still need an basic photo editor/ image database such as ACDSee Pro.

Most people will want to shoot RAW and that implies post-processing with a RAW processor and a pixel-level image editor.    In general I recommend the Adobe Photographic Plan for $14.29 per month.  This is primarily the desktop-based Lightroom Classic plus Photoshop and includes various capacities for processing on the web including on phones or iPads.  I often use FastRawViewer for the initial cull; it is quite cheap and the only way to get an accurate histogram of a RAW file.  Lightroom Classic is a very good RAW Processor, an excellent image database, very good for printing and has many other capabilities that alternatives do not.  It is also very good for very quick adjustments.

Note that image selection requires some processing including exposure correction and perhaps some cropping.  Lightroom‘s Auto Tone gives a very quick starting point.

However, I also use Capture One and often edit in that.  It is a superior editor, particularly for layers, masking and control of colours but is not as good as an image database and does not have many of the capabilities of Lightroom.  The learning curve is steeper than Lightroom though. You can buy it subscription of stand alone and it costs a little more than the Adobe Photography Plan.

Other alternatives for RAW processing are Luminar, On One Photo Pro and DxO PhotoLab.  I haven’t used any of them but according to reports I have read, Luminar and On One are not really options but DxO might be.  If you’re not subscribing to Adobe, you still need a pixel based editor which is likely to be Affinity Photo.  It is quite cheap and capable though not as powerful and Photoshop.  For example, only Photoshop has the capacity to invent missing data using content aware fill.

It requires care to make a choice of RAW processor though because if you change your mind your capability to export processed files to another application will be very limited.

I also sometimes use TK Actions which operates inside Photoshop to adjust images using luminosity masking, in other words, particular tonal ranges of an image.  This can be very powerful but is extremely complex and requires experience in Photoshop.

You can do mono conversions in Lightroom or Photoshop but Nik Silver Efex Pro is more powerful and I find Capture One is better again.

There is a variety of ways to do HDR processing which can be quite realistic, not the garish results that Photomatix used to champion.  The easiest way is in LightroomPhotoshop is a bit more accurate, especially if you have registration issues or moving objects between the frames.  There are also various manual ways to do it in Photoshop and there are various third party applications, of which I occasionally use SNS-HDR.

Panoramas you can also do in Lightroom or Photoshop.  My favourite utility is AutoPano Giga but it was bought out by GoPro and closed down, so you can’t buy it any more.  The best high-range utility is now probably PTGui though there are many other simpler ones.

You can process focus stacks in Photoshop (though not in Lightroom) and the main third party programs are Helicon Focus and Zerene Stacker which usually work better than Photoshop unless you have registration issues (eg from shooting hand-held).  I prefer Zerene Stacker as it has better editing capabilities.

I have much more detail in A RAW workflow … and Alternatives.

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Computers

Moai, Ranu Raraku, Easter Island, 2011.

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Assuming we are talking desktop computer, the main requirements for an up-to-date machine are lots of RAM (at least 16GB), adequate storage and processing on M.2 NVMe SSDs. 

Photographic monitors are important especially if you intend printing or to have images printed.  Eizo are the best, NEC nearly as good and somewhat cheaper (though Image Science no longer recommends them because NEC Australia does not guarantee against dead pixels) and some Benq monitors are good and more affordable.  All other monitors are likely to be a compromise.  Large monitors are good; 4K is not necessary.

Backup is also important.  You should have three copies of your images, including a remote copy which can be in the Cloud.

I have written a few articles on these matters:

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Printing

Aboriginal concert, Australian Institute of Aboriginal Studies, 1984?, IR colour film plus sabbatier effect.

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Digital printing has greatly improved since the days of the fume room.  You don’t need to dodge and burn each print, you do that to the image before you print it and then when you get it right it’s repeatable.

(There is one minor annoyance in terminology though.  Dodging in Photoshop is making parts lighter whereas burning is making parts darker.  That’s because the early Photoshop designers were black and white printers, which is a negative to positive process.  When printing Cibachrome it was the other way round.  Dodging made parts darker whereas burning made parts brighter.  Printing from slides was a positive to positive process.  And so is digital processing, so the terminology is the wrong way around.)

There is also a great variety of papers with a wide range of effects, quite unlike the limited range for black and white let alone colour in the film era.

You don’t get good quality prints from Harvey Norman, Office Works or similar places and custom prints are not cheap.  Even if you intend to mainly get prints made by a custom printer, it may be worthwhile to also do your own, especially if you will print more than a few.  Then you will have a better understanding of preparing images for printing on different papers and after all, arguably, if you get someone else to make your prints, they aren’t entirely your own work.

I have also written a range of articles on printing:

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Comments

Pimilea Physodes, Australian National Botanic Gardens, 2020.

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Your comments are welcome. 

  • Have I missed something? 
  • Do you have a different point of view?
  • Would you like more information on something?

At the water’s edge

Brisbane, Queensland, 31 July 2021.

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We are on our second day in Brisbane, staying with friends, en route to Northern Queensland, or so we thought.

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Australia, Brisbane, Landscape, Nature, Photography, Queensland, Reflections, Skywalk, Travel, Wildlife, Yachts

Though inside Brisbane, we are on a scenic drive that goes in part through a national park, and we are looking down some distance at a house on farmland.  It appears to be the mansion of a drug baron.  Perhaps a nineteenth century drug baron.  Probably opium, in that case.

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Near the road, we noticed this compact granny flat.  Specially adapted for natural air conditioning.

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And in the distance there are these massive ancient megaliths.  Some of them may be more than a hundred feet high.  How they carried the stones there is a mystery.

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It’s not fire season yet so this was presumably burning off.  These days severe bush fires can occur even in winter though.

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We proceeded on to Wynnum, where we visited a cafe and then wandered out onto the pier.  Beside the pier, this I believe is a gazebo martin (though usually known as a tree martin).  I tried to get them in flight as a test of camera settings for that purpose but they are very fast and I did not succeed.

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Wynnum pier.  The martins were building a nest in the roof of the right-hand gazebo.

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Next we visited the nearby East Coast Marina and I photographed some of the yachts sailing around and in or out of the marina, from the end of a pier.

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Also, a couple of dragon boats.  Going out…

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…then coming back in.

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Small yacht returning to the marina.

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Two launches and a yacht coming out.

The red sign at the left is not blank on purpose for the benefit of people who cannot read, rather it is a marker for the dredged channel.  The water can be otherwise quite shallow around here.

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A launch and a windsurfer exploring the possibility of flight.

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I think the same windsurfer.

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A small flotilla of launches coming in on the channel. 

You can see the channel marker in the mid background (in itself an indication the water is not as deep as it may seem).

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There was a parasurfer there as well.

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We are now around behind the marina and a paddle-boarder is proceeding out.  He may not require as large a mooring as those catamarans.

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The boat at front in the middle is an old pearling lugger with a Maori name, which may indicate it was used by Maori divers.

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We are now a bit further south at Cleveland Point.  There are a number of cormorants on this tree.

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With a slightly different angle, I am now shooting into the sun.  It is still a colour image but the extreme contrast has wiped out the colour.

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This is the old Cleveland Point Lighthouse, no longer in use.  It has an unusual design and was built in 1865.  It is a State lighthouse for local navigation so was not amongst the Commonwealth lighthouses I photographed in 1987 (Lighthouses tab, at top of page).

Half an hour after I took this photo, Brisbane went into a sudden COVID lockdown for at least seven days.  We worked that out later when we drove past a pub that had no patrons.  No flight for us to North Queensland early morning the day after next.

Fortunately, we were able to stay with our friends for the duration.  The lockdown did end after seven days but then there was a North Queensland lockdown for another three days.  That also ended after the three days and I would have waited and kept on going but I received a letter from the ACT (Australian Capital Territory) Government advising against further travel.  The problem was New South Wales where COVID was out of control by Australian standards because the NSW Government waited for 10 days before locking down.  Had I kept going I risked an ACT lockdown and either having difficulty returning or returning to 14-day hotel quarantine (as opposed to the much more benign home quarantine).

 

So after five days, I abandoned the North Queensland trip and returned to Canberra.

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Meanwhile, we stopped for the sunset at a beach a bit further south near Victoria Point.

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… as the light slowly receded.

MacLeay Island in the background and South Stradbroke Island beyond that.

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An obliging pelican swam up and posed for me.

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The light was getting very low and although I was using a lens with good image stabilisation, that does not compensate for subject movement and I underestimated what shutter speed I needed so the pelican in this image is not actually in focus.  (I decided to show it anyway because of the feel and the colour).

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A last image in the gathering doom….

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Then when we got back home, I went to change lenses on my cameras for more compact storage and discovered I was missing a lens – actually the new lens from my recent post on Setting Up the X-E4.  It had fallen out of my bag.

Clearly it wouldn’t be there the next morning so notwithstanding the lockdown, I went back to try to find it.  I thought it had probably fallen out of the bag when I bent down to take a photo using a small post as support. 

When we got back to where we had been, I immediately saw it on the road where the car had been parked.  It had fallen out when I got the bag out of the car, about eighteen inches to two feet.  Fortunately I hadn’t run over it.  It was unmarked, had no apparent ill effects and still worked fine including autofocus.  (Phew!)

Mount Tamborine

Brisbane, Queensland, 30 July 2021.

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Just before dawn, we headed off on our flight from Canberra to Brisbane, the first step of our journey to North Queensland.

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… though as it turned out, we would not get to North Queensland, rather turned back due to COVID lockdowns.

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We met up with our friends Jim and Milena, and later headed for Mount Tamborine.  This is a view looking inland over the plains.

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… and over farmland.

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The weather seems to have been changing considerably and is not quite how I remember it, though perhaps that is the infrared sensor and processing.

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We stopped at a cafe for lunch.

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And then we headed for the Mount Tamborine Skywalk, so the remaining images are from there.

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The bunga bunga pines are towering over the rest. 

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Eastern yellow robin (male).

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These two images looking straight down at some distance.

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.Infrared, Landscape, Mount Tambourine, Nature, Photography, Rainforest, Skywalk, Travel, Wilderness, Wildlife .

.Infrared, Landscape, Mount Tambourine, Nature, Photography, Rainforest, Skywalk, Travel, Wilderness, Wildlife .

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.Infrared, Landscape, Mount Tambourine, Nature, Photography, Rainforest, Skywalk, Travel, Wilderness, Wildlife .

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Setting up a Fujifilm X-E4

 

Briefly breaking from my photographic posts on travel, here is a post on how I set up a Fuji X-E4 camera I just bought.  The purpose is to demonstrate how by applying yourself to setup, you can get a very simple camera that can perform complex tasks.

I got my partner Jools a Fujifilm X-E4 as a birthday present and after it arrived I decided to get one for myself as well.  It will replace one of my X-T2s (a top model in its time) because it has full current Fuji functionality.  It will also replace my X100s, which is a sophisticated coat-pocket fixed lens camera, as the X-E4 is about the same size with the kit lens.

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The two X-E4s, one with kit lens.

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Curiously, Amazon describes the skill level for this camera as “Novice” whereas Ted’s Cameras describes the skill level as “Semi-Professional, Enthusiast”.  Essentially, they are both wrong but especially Amazon.  True, you can set the camera on “P” and just press the button and get it to work pretty well.  But the camera also has all the capabilities of the top model X-T4, which has more than twice the number of buttons and dials and which is twice the price. The main drawbacks are there’s only one SD card slot instead of two and it’s not water sealed.

The point is you can have it both ways.  You can have a very simple and compact camera that is very easy to operate and yet can do all the complex things with little effort.  You just need to spend some time setting it up to your own requirements.  What I have to say will also apply to other current Fuji models as well, and much of it to previous models and even other camera marques. 

This is just about setup, not a camera review, so if you don’t already understand the functions and operations of the camera and want to, see this review from Greg Cromie, or others on the web.

The X-E4’s lack of external buttons and dials has led me to customise it in ways I have previously ignored – specifically LCD screen swipes, Q Menu and My Menu.  I set it up so that in most cases I don’t need to specify individual menu choices – just the type of shooting I am doing.  That makes it very easy to use.

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X100s vs X-E4.

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General Setup

One of the first things I did was to change the default setting for Touch Screen Mode (AF/MF  SETTING > TOUCH SCREEN  MODE) from TOUCH SHOOTING to OFF.  The default setting meant that every time you accidentally touch the LCD screen it takes a photo, which is just crazy.  (Another potential option is to set it to AF but then if you touch a point on the screen to autofocus, you have to turn the camera on and off to get AF back to the shutter button).

Then I set default menu items using Photography Life’s Recommended X-T4 Menu Settings.  The functionality of the two cameras is the same though the interfaces are very different.  Most default items also don’t need to change.

After that I went through the manual and identified all the settings I might want to change while operating the camera and wrote them down.  I then identified which I could specify in the various ways to customise the camera.

  • Swipe actions are on p257 of the manual
  • Possible Q Menu items are on p251
  • Actions for the three customisable buttons on p254
  • Most actions are available when you set up My Menu options, apart from Setup Menu options.

So I’ll show you how I set up my camera.  Bear in mind these are my own idiosyncratic choices and I have distinct preferences as to how I use the camera.  I only shoot RAW, so JPEG-only settings are not required.  I also don’t shoot flash or video.

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Swiping right for Colour Balance (while taking a picture of a CD cover).

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Swiping

There used to be four directional buttons on the back of the camera that were customisable but they are gone and instead you can have certain functions appear when you swipe up, down, left or right.  To set them up you go to the menu on the back of the camera and select SET UP> BUTTON/DIAL SETTING > FUNCTION (Fn) SETTING.  This command also applies to the three customisable buttons but we’ll come back to that later.  I set mine up as follows:

  • Swipe left: Performance
  • Swipe up: Histogram
  • Swipe right: Colour balance
  • Swipe down: Virtual horizon (Electronic level)

For example, swiping for colour balance is useful because you can see the colour of your scene change as you change settings.  Similarly, you can also set the Q Menu background to transparent (SET-UP > SCREEN SET-UP > Q MENU BACKGROUND). 

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Q Menu

The Q Menu (or Quick Menu) appears on the LCD screen on the back of the camera when you press the Q button on the top of the camera.  You can have up to seven custom Q Menus plus the default Q Menu.  They can have 4, 8, 12 or 16 options though effectively one less because one is for navigation.

In my case I found 8 was the useful number.  No matter how many Q Menus you have, the items will always be the same (eg ISO might be choice number 3) but each item can have different values on the different menus.

You can set your custom Q Menus up so that either the camera saves values you change for the next time you turn it on, or so it reverts to the initial value. (Set IQ > AUTO UPDATE CUSTOM SETTING to ENABLE or DISABLE).  This choice only applies to custom Q Menus; the Default Q Menu always autosaves changes.  So if all you want to do is change values on the fly as required, perhaps you don’t need to specify any custom menus and can just use the default Q Menu.

I chose DISABLE.  So instead of changing the values of settings for different circumstances, I set up different custom Q Menus for different purposes, expecting to change the Q Menus and not the values of the items.  First I will show you what I set up, then how I went about setting them up.

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My Q Menu setup for Birds in Flight.

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Q Menus I Set Up

My Q Menus are an example, not really something to copy.  Contemplate your own preferences.  Your needs and priorities will be different.  Also, don’t worry too much about the detail just now.  The principles of the process are what is important.

My purpose, again, is to have a range of menus for different purposes that I just need to select and need not alter.  So I set up custom menus for these purposes:

  • Landscape/ General
  • Interior
  • Wildlife
  • Mono
  • Time Exposure

In more detail, these are the values I selected for each setting.  (I really only needed one less setting.  White balance stays at auto, I have also have it set by swiping, so it is mainly there to make up the numbers).

Landscape/ General

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Electronic
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

Interior

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto (may need to change to suit lighting)
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Mechanical (to avoid banding)
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

Wildlife

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Zone
  • Shutter type: Electronic, Mechanical if problems with motion
  • Focus Mode: Continuous
    • Not in Q Menu but set in Menu: AFC Custom Settings: 6: 2/ 1/ Centre
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

Mono

  • ISO: Auto (Max to 12,800; Minimum shutter speed 1/15sec)
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self-Timer: OFF
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Electronic
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Astia – Yellow filter

Time Exposure

  • ISO: 160
  • White Balance: Auto
  • Self Timer: 2 seconds
  • AF Mode: Single Point
  • Shutter type: Electronic
  • Focus Mode: Single
  • Film Simulation: Provia (Standard)

 

How to set up Q Menus

First go to SET UP> BUTTON/DIAL SETTING > EDIT/SAVE QUICK MENU.  Here you set the number of menu items you want (4, 8, 12 or 16) and then continue to specify what these menu items should be.   Next exit from the menu, press the Q button for the Q Menu and specify the values for the items of the default Q Menu.

Then you may want to specify up to seven custom Q Menus.  The easy way is to hold down the Q button with the Q Menu showing.  You can give each custom Q Menu a name and also set default values.  Remember to save the values as you go, otherwise you won’t get what you thought.  You can later change your custom Q Menu values using the same method.

For X-E4 and X-S10 only:  As well as the values that appear in the Q Menus on the back of the camera, each custom Q Menu also a whole range of default values that you set with the long press of the Q button.  So if you don’t set these here, settings that you have set in the Main Menu but don’t appear on the Q Menu screen on the back of your camera will change to their original defaults.  For example, I didn’t initially realise this and my Main Menu setting of RAW for Image Quality changed to the original default of JPEG (Fine) whenever I accessed a custom Q Menu.

 

Setting Up “My Menu” Items

You bring up the camera’s menu by pressing the [Menu/ OK] button and you can specify additional menu items under “My Menu”.  Putting menu items in My Menu saves you having to search through all the menu items when you need them.  Set up your My Menu with SET UP> USER SETTING> MY MENU SETTING.  You select the items from there.  Most menu items are available as long as they are not in the Setup Menu.

These are the options I set up for “My Menu” items:

  • AE BKT SETTING
    • You can press the Drive/ Delete button and select exposure bracketing.  Then when you press the shutter button your bracketing behaviour is whatever is set in this menu setting.   So you can set that up here, and may change it for different circumstances.
  • FOCUS BKT SETTING
    • You can specify to take a focus bracket from the Drive/ Delete button but you specify what happens in this setting and in the case of the Auto option, you also set it going from inside the setting.
  • AF-C CUSTOM SETTINGS
    • This is how the camera focuses in continuous focus mode, which you may want to set up and leave, or you may want to tweak for different situations.
  • RELEASE/ FOCUS PRIORITY
    • Setting whether AF-S and AF-C takes the photo when you press the shutter or wait for the camera to lock focus first. You may want to set this and forget it but I may want to experiment, for a while at least.
  • AF+MF
    • I have the camera to override autofocus when you turn the manual focus ring on the lens. I have this here in case I want to change that.

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Nikon D850 vs Fujifilm X-E4.  You might notice one is a little larger.

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Customising buttons

There are only three buttons you can customise on the X-E4.  I left the Q button to bring up the Q Menu and the AEL/ AFL button for exposure/ focus lock but set the front button (by default ISO) to VIEW MODE SETTING.  This is how the LCD screen and the electronic viewfinder operate.  Usually I leave it at Eye Sensor, but sometimes (eg in an audience) I may want to turn the LCD screen off and just use the electronic viewfinder.

I first tried setting VIEW MODE SETTING to be a swipe on the LCD screen.  This is an option you can set but it shouldn’t be because it doesn’t work (or at least, not for long).  Swipe to make it the electronic viewfinder and the LCD screen turns off and you can’t swipe to change it again. Instead, you have to find the menu item and change it there.

 

Loose ends

I would have liked to set performance on the Q Menu to Boost/ Low Light for wildlife and use it as Normal otherwise, because Boost increases the drain on the battery.  But it’s not available as a setting for the Q Menu so I set it to (Left) Swiping.  Previously I had self-timer there but I have that on the Q Menu anyway.

 

Outcome

It took a lot of thought and effort but I’ve ended up with a camera with full capabilities that is nonetheless very easy to use, either as a general camera or as a coat pocket camera.

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Comments are welcome. You may have a different view, I may have made a mistake, or you might like more explanation of something.  Bear in mind I’m about to be travelling so my response may be slow.

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Normal service resumes after this post with travel posts, though I may not post for a few weeks while travelling.  I will probably resume posting with North Queensland, then return to the last few Samarkand posts…..

 

North Queensland Itinerary

30 July to 15 August 2021.

(Click maps for a larger size if they are too small to see).
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Jools and I are planning to fly north to North Queensland for a couple of weeks. This would be quite a change from the currently cold climate of Canberra. 

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Current Queensland border closures.

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However, it all depends of COVID restrictions and border closures.  Australia is pretty much closed to the outside world so we can’t leave the country and there are also restrictions for internal travel.  Queensland currently has closed its borders to New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia but not the Australian Capital Territory (Canberra).  New South Wales is experiencing an explosion of the COVID Delta variant (by Australian Standards at least, 172 new cases yesterday), whereas Canberra hasn’t had a locally spread case for over a year.  We just have to hope that the borders will stay open for us at least for the next three days until our planned departure date.

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We are intending to fly north to Brisbane, stay with friends for a few days, then fly to Cairns.

Edit:  We got to Brisbane and then were caught in a snap 7-day lockdown.  Towards the end of that, Jools had already gone back and I was contemplating going on despite a 3-day North Queensland lockdown when I received an email from the ACT Government warning against further travel.  So I came back as well.  I was concerned I might have to come back to hotel quarantine.  ACT is now in lockdown so we’re now in lockdown there.

Hopefully we’ll be able to do the trip at a later date, perhaps next year.

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From Cairns, we drive south to the Atherton Tablelands, staying in rainforest for several days near Lake Eacham and Craters Lakes National Park.  We expect to visit Cathedral Fig Tree, Lakes Eacham and Barrine, Yungaburra, Curtain Fig National Park, Atherton, Hasties Swamp National Park (bird hide), Herberton, Mt Hypipamee National Park, Ravenshoe, Tully Gorge Lookout and Millaa Millaa waterfalls.  Wildlife we hope to encounter includes striped possums, platypodes (the correct plural of platypus since the word derives from Greek not Latin) and tree kangaroos.

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We then drive to Laura where we stay overnight and join two tours of Aboriginal rock art the next day.  We next drive to Cooktown where we stay for several days and join another Aboriginal rock art tour on the last morning.

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After Cooktown, we drive to Daintree National Park, where we stay for a few days.  The rainforest here comes down to the sea and we may encounter a cassowary.  Then we drive down to Kuranda, in the hills near Cairns and stay overnight.  The next day we drive back down the hill then take a cablecar back up to Kuranda and come down again in a small train.  From there we drive to Mossman Gorge, stay near there overnight and explore the gorge the next day.  Then we drive to Daintree Village where we stay overnight.  Early the next morning we have a photographic tour on Daintree river, then drive down to Cairns airport to catch our plane back to Canberra.

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I am planning to take both Nikon and Fuji photographic equipment.

I will have a Nikon D850 and a 300mm f2.8 plus 1.4x and 2x teleconverters as my prime telephoto equipment for wildlife.

To reduce weight and also carry a larger range of equipment, I will also have a Fuji X-T2, X-E4 and X-E2 IR cameras, together with 4mm fisheye, 8mm fisheye, 8-16mm, 23mm, 27mm, 35mm, 56mm, 80mm macro and 70-300mm lenses and a 1.4x TC.  (I could perhaps leave the 23mm and 35mm behind but they’re fairly small and light.)  Jools will  have an X-E4 and a 18-135mm lens and will be able to borrow the 70-300mm when I am using the Nikon 300mm.

Next will be a technical post on setting up the new X-E4 but there may be no posts after that for two or three weeks.

Ak Saray, Samarkand

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 3 October 2018.

(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)

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At the end of a long day (as per the previous four posts) we had some free time in the late afternoon so we decided to go for a walk near our hotel, which was also near Gur Emir (Timur’s mausoleum).

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Ak Saray Mausoleum, Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Rukhabad mausoleum, Samarkand, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan

In the park opposite the hotel, this is the Rukhabad Mausoleum, built by Timur in 1380 to house the grave of Islamic theologian Sheikh Burhaneddin Sagaradzhi.  The mausoleum is generally plain and unassuming, as is the interior.

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Here from a distance is the top of Gur Emir, Timur’s mausoleum, as we approach.

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(See earlier post for more on Gur Emir).

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Late in the afternoon, just before closing time, there were few people around, just a few locals passing by.

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Not far away is a mausoleum with a simple exterior.  I was not aware of this and an attendant called us inside as we passed by.

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The interior was spectacular and elegant and a great surprise.

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The exterior was supposed to include a turquoise dome but that was never finished.

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It has been very recently restored, in 2007.

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It is the mausoleum of Abdal-Latif Mirzu, sone of Ulugh Beg and geat grandson of Timur.

. Ak Saray Mausoleum, Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Rukhabad mausoleum, Samarkand, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan

Timur’s death lead to a civil war, which his son Shah Rukh won after several years.  He based himself in Herat and let his son Ulugh Beg rule Samarkand.  Ulugh Beg’s great achievements were as Crown Prince and ruler of Samarkand.

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Looking up….

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When Shah Rukh died, another series of civil wars broke out. Ulugh Beg spent his three years as Emperor fighting them.

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Ak Saray Mausoleum, Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Rukhabad mausoleum, Samarkand, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan

In 1449, he was defeated by his son Abdal-Latif Mirza.  He surrendered and then set off on a pilgrimage to Mecca but his son had him assassinated on the way.

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Ak Saray Mausoleum, Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Rukhabad mausoleum, Samarkand, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan

When Soviet scientist Gerasimov disinterred Timur in 1941, he also disinterred Ulugh Beg who lay with his head separated from his body.

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Abdal-Latif Mirza ruled for only six months before he too was executed.

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The magnificence of the mausoleum lives on….

We were very lucky to visit so late in the afternoon because we were the only visitors and it is quite small.

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This section said to represent the eyes and head of a bird.

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The steps to the undecorated funeral chamber below.  A body was discovered here with the head separated, presumably Abdal-Latif Mirza.

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Walking back to the hotel, we were able to enter Gur Emir (Timur’s mausoleum) in the last few minutes before it closed, free of the seething crowds.  This is the main chamber.

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I still have a few posts to go on Samarkand but they will have to wait as I am soon expecting to depart of a short trip to North Queensland, unless COVID lockdowns intervene.  More on that soon.

 

Shah-i-Zinda, Samarkand

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 3 October 2018.

(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)

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Shah-i-Zinda is a necropolis in Samarkand, with two dozen mausolea housing the tombs of Timurid nobles and royalty, dating mainly from the 14th and 15th centuries.  The mausolea are on each side of an avenue leading up a hill.  As well as being a spectacular location, it is a sacred place and a place of pilgrimage.

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Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Samarkand, Shah-i-Zinda, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan

This is the Ulugh Beg Pishtak, the entrance gate, built in 1434-35.

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Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Samarkand, Shah-i-Zinda, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan

This image was taken by Russian photographer N.V. Bogaevski in 1870, no doubt on a 5×4 or 10×8 glass plate camera.

Like most other historical monuments in Samarkand, Shah-i-Zinda had slowly fallen into ruin over the centuries.  Timur’s successors had quickly exhausted the gains of conquest with civil wars and were no longer able to upkeep and repair.  Consequently, much of the ceramic facings here are not original but are impressive nonetheless.

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We are now inside the Qazi Zadeh Rumi Mausoleum, built in 1420-1425.  It is the dome on the left not far past the pishtak in the historic photograph. 

Qazi Zadeh Rumi was a celebrated mathematician and astronomer who formed a scientific partnership with Ulugh Beg in the early fifteenth century.  His name means “Roman son of a judge” so he was presumably the son of a judge and he came from Turkey, which had been Roman.  He was not buried here though because the skeleton discovered in the tomb was a woman, possibly Timur’s nurse.

Following images show interior details of the mausoleum.

.Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Samarkand, Shah-i-Zinda, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan .

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The Qazi Zadeh Rumi Mausoleum has two domes and here they are, viewed from below.

. Architecture,

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Here we are in the avenue of the mausolea.

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Looking back at the twin domes of the Qazi Zadeh Rumi Mausoleum.

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We are looking through a chortak, or a gateway on the avenue.

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The Shadi Mulk Adi Mausoleum is on the left, where the woman is leaning against a wall, probably taking a photograph on her phone of the Uzbek couple opposite.

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And here we are inside the Shadi Mulk Adi Mausoleum, built in 1372, looking up at the inside of the dome.  This is the tomb of Timur’s beautiful niece, later joined by his sister Turkhan Aka.

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There were evidently several people buried in this mausoleum.  The tilework here is original.

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Alim Nasafi Mausoleum is at the front on the left and the avenue leads up through another chortak in the distance.

Ustad Alim Nasafi was a Timurid architect.  I’m not sure whether he was buried here or just designed the mausoleum.

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The pishtak of Alim Nasafi Mausoleum, built c. 1385.

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Inside, the dome from below.

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We are looking through a chortak to the Khodja Akhmad Mausoleum, built c. 1350.

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A door inside the Kusam Ibn Abbas Mosque.

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We are inside the ziaratkhana, or prayer room (looking up).  It was rebuilt in 1334 on 11th century foundations.

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A closer view of the chandelier.

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A wider view of the ziaratkhana.

The gurkhana (or funeral chamber) of Kusam Ibn Abbas, dating from the 11th century, is behind a wooden door at the left but this was not open at the time of our visit.

This gurkhana is the most sacred part of Shah-i-Zinda.  Kusam Ibn Abbas was a cousin of Mohammed.  He is said to have come to preach at Samarkand in 640 and spent thirteen years there, then was killed by Zoroastrians while at prayer.  Shah-i-Zinda means “the living king” which refers to Kusam Ibn Abbas, who is said to have lived on after he was executed.

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A more vertical view of the ziaratkhana.

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A view looking back through the last chortak.  The Octagonal Mausoleum is on the left and the blue pishtaks of Emir Zade Mausoleum and Shadi Mulk Aka Mausoleum are behind it.

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The remaining four images are from the Tuman Aka Mausoleum, constructed in 1404-1405 for Timur’s favourite young wife Tuman Aka.

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Architecture, Ceramics, History, Landscape, Photography, Samarkand, Shah-i-Zinda, Street photography, Travel, Uzbekistan .

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Bibi Khanum Mosque, Samarkand

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 3 October 2018.

(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)

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This is the pishtak (or portal) as viewed from the side.  It is 35 meters (115 feet) high, enclosing an arch 18 metres (60 feet high).  I don’t have an image of the pishtak from the front as we didn’t approach it from that direction.  Behind that entrance as you walk through it (i.e. off beyond the left side of this image) there is a large open space and then the Bibi Khanum Mosque.  There are two small mosques on each side and it is all enclosed by an outer wall. There was also a considerable enclosed area between the open space and the enclosing walls, though this is now gone.

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This is a seismically active area and here we may be looking at the handiwork of the earthquake of 1897.

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Pishtak, minaret and wall.

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Looking up at the top of that minaret.

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The top of another of the minarets.  I’m not sure which one.  There are four.

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This is the dome of one of the side mosques, seen from its rear. We must have entered to the left of here somewhere.  There were several periods of reconstruction though none in the eighteenth or nineteenth centuries.  You can see that much of the door is below ground level.  This is not the original wall; that presumably matched the door and the surrounding ground level has raised significantly, perhaps due to sand blowing in from the desert.

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Detail of Majolica tiles on a wall.

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A very elaborately carved panel or doorway.

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Looking up at the dome of the one of the minor mosques at the sides.

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The top of the dome of one of the minor mosques.  I don’t recall climbing up there for a closer view so my guess is that this was taken from the ground with a telephoto lens.  I will probably not recoil from this hypothesis even if someone can produce a photograph of me with my camera on top of the dome.

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This is the dome of Bibi Khanum Mosque, from a distance. 

The mosque is the largest in Central Asia and was easily the tallest building in Samarkand until the twentieth century.  Construction started in 1399, using plunder from the capture of Delhi in 1398.  In 1404 Timur decided the main pishtak was not high enough, ordered it torn down and rebuilt and executed those who had been overseeing the construction.  He took charge of the construction himself and directed it to proceed in all haste.  Construction stopped in 1405, the year he died.  By then, bricks were already falling from the ceiling onto the worshippers.  The structure slowly deteriorated due to some combination of construction haste, insecure foundations, poor materials and inadequate engineering.  Ineffectual efforts to maintain it were made until the seventeenth century. Then it was slowly stripped of marble and other valuable materials by locals for their buildings.

The Mosque is generally said to have been named in honour of Timur’s favourite wife, Saray Mulk Khanum though it is also possible it was named for her mother.

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A detail of the dome’s tiles.

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Details of majolica tiles and brickwork, probably from the vicinity of the main mosque.

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In the background is the rear of the pishtak or entrance arch for the Bibi Khanum Mosque (as distinct from the pishtak for the whole complex).  In the foreground is a Koran stand for a massive ancient Koran, donated by Ulugh Beg, that originally stood inside the mosque. That Koran was appropriated to St Petersburg by the Russians in the nineteenth century and restored by the Russians in the twentieth century, though not to the now-ruined mosque here.

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And here is a view of the pishtak from straight in front.

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We saw the spectacular magnificence of the mosque in the Ulugh Beg Madrassah in the Registan in the last post, and of Gur Emir (Timur’s Mausoleum) in the post before.  This is the interior of the Bibi Khanum Mosque which is not quite in such a high state or restoration and preservation.  More like a renovator’s delight.  There are some tile fragments stacked on the floor at left and centre.

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Here on the left is Bibi Khanum Mosque and its pishtak; one of the side mosques is in the background.

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This is an image taken by Russian photographer Sergei Mikhailovich Prokudin-Gorskii in 1905, showing damage to Bibi Khanum Mosque, still unrepaired since the earthquake of 1897. This an early colour process, combining three images taken through red, blue and green filters, probably taken on glass plates.  This is why there are a few people in the foreground who have moved and appear as different coloured shapes.

The Soviets started the repair of the mosque but most was done by the independent Uzbek government since 1991.

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I wasn’t going to include this image but the lone figure gives a good sense of scale.

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Here is a side mosque from the archway of the main mosque.  You can see a corner of the central open area, large enough to hold ten thousand people, and originally paved in marble. 

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Jools is photographing that same side mosque from the other side.  You can see here the extent of the enclosed spaces that lay between the open courtyard and the wall.

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The Registan, Samarkand

Samarkand, Uzbekistan, 3 October 2018.

(Click on any image to see it in a larger size.)

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As we turned up at the Registan, there was a wedding party having their photo taken.

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This is the Registan without a wedding event in front.  Ulugh Beg Madrassah is on the left, Tillya-Kari Madrassah in the centre and Shir Dor Madrassah on the right.  Samarkand was the capital of Timur’s empire.  The Registan was the ceremonial heart of Samarkand and was the place for markets, public announcements, military parades and public executions.  It was in a state of ruin at the end of the nineteenth century and restored primarily by the Soviets, who pieced together all the shattered debris lying on the ground.

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The dome of the mosque that is incorporated into the Ulugh Beg Madrassah.

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One of the domes of the Shir Dor Madrassah.

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Ulugh Beg Madrassah is on the left, Tillya-Kari Madrassah on the right.  Ulugh Beg Madrassah is the oldest of the three, built 1417 to 1420 when Ulugh Beg was Crown Prince, resident in Samarkand, while his father Shah Rukh ruled the empire from Herat (in what is now Afghanistan).  Other buildings in the square at the time fell into disrepair and were later replaced.

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Tillya-Kari Madrassah was the last of the three, built between 1646 and 1660.  The name means “gilded” and we will later see something of the interior of the mosque, featuring much gold leaf.

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Meanwhile, though, here are some images from the markets inside the courtyard of the Ulugh Beg Madrassah.

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The young woman’s backpack says “Golden Eagle/ Trans-Siberian Express”.

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Coming out of the Ulugh Beg Madrassah now, and looking across at the Shir Dor Madrassah, built between 1619 and 1636.  While public Islamic architectural art is usually abstract, we see here some of the more figurative elements that crept in in the seventeenth century.  Above the entrance arch are two tigers, each chasing a deer, and carrying anthropomorphic suns on their backs.

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This is the entrance steps of the Ulugh Beg Madrassah, which we are now heading into.

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Through into the interior courtyard, we are now heading into the mosque.

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First we have some details of the decorations…

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This is a closer view of the previous image.

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And now we get to wider views of the interior of the mosque, in all its gilded magnificence.

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This is not a tourist walking by, rather an official or attendant.

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On the left is the entrance to the mosque and on the right the minbar, where the imam climbs up to give an address.

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Painted rather than gilded, not sure if this is in the mosque or on the way out.

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Out in the open again, looking across at the Ulugh Beg Madrassah with the Tillya-Kari Madrassah on the right.

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Ulugh Beg Madrassah.

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One of the small corner turrets of the Tillya-Kari Madrassah.

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A detail of one of the domes of the Shir Dor Madrassah.

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A wider view.

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Now inside the Shir Dor Madrassah,  looking up inside one of those domes.

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Carpet weavers.

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Top of a portal in the interior courtyard of the the Shir Dor Madrassah.

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Markets in the interior courtyard of the Shir Dor Madrassah.

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Final image, out in the open again.

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