Our first Chinese experience had been interesting to say the least. Somehow, I felt that we hadn't seen the real China but more the China of old. The times we had been free to wander though I didn't feel that we were in a totally different political environment. Yes there were high police numbers around the road networks of Beijing but that was understandable considering there was a major international conference going on. There was a military presence but it was ceremonial rather than threatening. We hadn't seen the centre of Beijing as our hotel was rather poorly placed in the suburbs but we had wandered locally at night and life was very much as it is in western countries, restaurants full of people having a good time.
The lasting impression though was the pollution, and we didn't see it at it's worst.As we settled in to our new life of luxury on board the massive Sapphire Princess night descended over the international cruise terminal at Tianjin.
One of the best things about our cruise package was the opportunity to meet some fellow travellers pre cruise either at the hotel or on the day trips that had been included. As we sailed off in to the night in what seemed to be freezing cold temperatures some of us gathered at an outside bar for our first celebratory drinks. Well, you have to be outside for sail away !
As I have already mentioned, I never expected this holiday to be a birding holiday, it was something totally different, something primarily for Claire to enjoy but that doesn't mean I wouldn't do too.
Any preconceived ideas about wild life at any of our destinations were firmly out of my mind particularly as most were city destinations and besides, my experience crossing the Atlantic earlier this year had prepared me for the eventuality of little at sea too so on our first full day on board I was happy to just explore the huge ship we were on. The weather outside was too cold for sitting around but the beauty of the ship was there were so many places you could find a bit of peace and quiet. For starters there seemed to be few, if any children on board ! My doubts over a ship with nearly 3000 passengers were soon overturned, it was far preferable to the small ship, the Marco Polo , that we travelled on last time. I guess the only thoughts of doubt that remained now was the height of the boat which meant being so far off the sea. This proved to be unfounded too as you could vary your height above water from the back of the boat giving better chances of spotting anything, and on deck 7 there was a circular deck allowing 360 degree opportunities if you could get there quick enough.
The other thing I had spotted was that there was photo course on offer so with nothing to loose I went along. The resident pro was a Ukranian lady and her first lecture covered getting to know your camera which covered everything from Point and Shoot to DSLR's.
Our pro didn't do the souvenir shots that were taken by the rest of the team and at every opportunity,
Someone was buying them despite the rather naff surrounds of stepping off the gangplank to be cuddled by something from Disneyworld or the likes.
From the first lecture, the salient points I took home were
1.Always give your camera time to think... half press the shutter button to focus.
2.Use flash creatively... something to put on my wish list as I don't have one.
3.Try using Black and White for dramatic effect... she was a big fan and all her portrait work seemed to be monochrome
4.Think about using the camera at 45 degree angle for effect
5.Don't drop your shutter speed below 1/60th if you are hand holding
Strangely, I had already been playing around with one idea earlier in the morning.
I had seen the opportunity in the corridor outside our cabin.... sorry, Stateroom.. makes it sound grander I guess.
At nearly 300 yards long it was an interesting space and I quite liked the effect.
Anyway, at the end of the lecture she took us up to her private studio which was very impressive. She promised she could make anyone look good with the technique of subtle lighting, monochrome imaging, correct posturing and by putting the subjects at ease. She even offered free drinks to relax you during her sessions. A volunteer was recruited to be a model, the lights were dimmed to nothing and she fired away with her D800 linked to a bank of diffused flash lights.
I couldn't resist sneaking a shot ! I tried to take advantage of a burst of flash and I must have got lucky.
Considering I was at the back of the small audience I was very impressed with the result.
For the techno's, as I didn't have a flash I set it to the widest aperture, f4 and a slow shutter speed of 1/60th ( as advised in the lecture) and auto-ISO. The shot was taken at ISO 25,600 on the 5D3.
If you thought the souvenir shots on display were expensive, her work was in a different league.
A single 8x10 photo, mounted on card and including post and packing to your home address was a mere $199.
I wasn't inspired to spend that kind of money but thoughts immediately went through my brain about our outside shed which could be turned in to a studio. I have the gear, all I need is the lighting system and some ability. I was immediately inspired !
With my model taking an afternoon nap I had to resort to something different.
Bit noisy this time, again at ISO 25,600, still the shot was interesting just a shame it had been done in the film "Blow Up" when the photographer accidentally photographs a murder in the background of his shot.
Up on deck it was time to try those angles again.
I guess much depends on preconceived notions of what you expect the image to portray.
Taken at night the same shot looks so much better, again it's down to lighting and the fact you can't see the sea.
Ah well over the coming 17 days there would be lots of opportunity to try things out.
The first day had passed very quickly but without seeing any wildlife at all. The following morning and undeterred I took my biggest lens out on deck and was delighted to find that as we passed a fishing boat at an unbelievably close distance, I noticed they were surrounded by gulls.
Before I knew it a couple floated briefly past the back of the ship, checking us out.
Now this might look exactly like a gull you might encounter on the prom in Llandudno
It certainly does to me, however, it's not. It's a Vega Gull, also known as an East Siberian Herring Gull. Well, they all count, a new record for me. Nice one.
As we steamed in towards Busan I was optimistic there might be some birds flying around the harbour too, it's a big fishing port.
Just time to try that angled shot again.
No, definitely not, looks like a bad accident. Stick to the traditional view.
and there we were, heading in to South Korea and Busan harbour for our first ever visit.
As everyone else got ready to get off the ship as soon as it docked, I hung around to see what was flying around. To my surprise and delight, a raptor took off and circled the harbour before disappearing.
A Black Eared Kite as it turned out, one I'd seen before but I was still pleased that my bird count had started to rise at last ! Another couple of gulls that I knew to be different were also in my sights.
This one, another first, the Black Tailed Gull.
We only had half a day on shore and we had decided to spend it locally as the boat was near the town centre and there was a free shuttle bus in to town. We headed straight to the main attraction, the Fish Market.
What an amazing place, South Korea's biggest and far in excess of anything I have seen before. It covered a huge building as well as having stalls on all the nearby streets.
Produce of the sea like you have never seen before !
Everything you can think of, just look at the size of the shellfish !
Makes Conwy Mussels look distinctly insignificant in size.
You could buy wet fish or delightfully presented dried fish.
Some was already cooked and could be eaten on the spot either in the street or in small seafood cafes.
Some was far from ready to eat, in fact some had become very attached to their vendors, obviously not too keen to head to the pot and you can't blame them.
If this had been 20,000 Leagues under the Sea she'd have been a goner ! ( I'm showing my age again!)
We could have spent a lot more time in the market but Claire kindly sat patiently on the dockside to let me have a gull photo session
before we headed off to the nearby shopping mall.
Impressive to say the least.
Floor to ceiling water display right in the middle of the building, superb shops and products on sale and apparently there was a better one somewhere in town.
Sadly our time was soon up and we headed back to the ship but allowed enough time to walk along the water front. A small group of Great Crested Grebes added to my Korean collection, which along with the pigeons and House Sparrows added up to 6 species in all. Things were on the up! We also had our first opportunity to see a complete view of our ship too, quite a size !
For the sail away we enjoyed a glass of wine from a friends balcony where there were excellent views and a surprise firework display to mark our leaving port.
Another photo challenge that has to be considered work in progress!
In the distance an illuminated road bridge.
I was impressed with South Korea. I hadn't known what to expect but I left feeling that it was me that lives in a backward nation. They seem to have everything sorted over there !
That night we dined well again, enjoyed a few drinks with our new found gang of friends and looked forward to the next stop...Nagasaki in Japan.