Monday, November 28, 2011

The Bali Journals: Part 1

And so the adventure begins... first, an excruciatingly long nine hour flight from Honolulu to Seoul, S. Korea on S. Korea’s national carrier... my first experience with this airline. The pluses: Economy Class seats offer a bit more leg room than other carriers I have previously flown, each seat having it’s own video monitor and a vast array of video programming, everything from recent & current hits fresh out of Hollywood to classic films from Asia to english subtitled Korean News programming ( repeatedly discussing the pros & cons of the newly formed free trade agreements forged between the USA and S. Korea from a decidedly non-USA perspective. Refreshing.) to several tired, old American sitcoms. There was also the ubiquitous interactive video gaming & flight-mapping to entertain and while away the torturous in-flight hours. Coffee served in-flight was actually very decent and far superior to the weak, tepid swill thrust upon you by most other carriers. Another plus for me was watching the very odd, crisply starched costumes worn by the cabin crew, who were very attentive, almost to the point of annoying during the first three hours of the trip, constantly plying up & down the aisles with their drink, food & snack carts, odd starched neckerchiefs jutting out in geometric angles resembling alien antennae. Minuses: Korean food... something I generally enjoy was edible but only barely & no hard liquor available, though wine (I declined) was constantly and generously offered throughout the duration. The relatively generous leg room in Economy Class came, apparently, at the sacrifice of seat cushion thickness. After nine hours confined to this torture device, my bum is still aching 48 hours later. 
Daylight followed us the entire time as we crossed to Pacific, arriving at Inchen Airport, on the outskirts of Seoul, just before sunset. Inchen Airport appears well appointed with a multitude of shops, spas, cafes, very well ventilated smoking “aquariums” and an airport hotel for those long layovers. On my way over, I had only an hour before my connecting flight to Denpasar, Bali. On my return , there’s a 10 hour layover and I will further explore Inchen and report my findings.
The flight to Denpasar, another 7 1/2 hour ordeal was only half full, populated by mostly young chinese groups apparently enjoying their relatively new freedom to travel and the benefits of a booming economy. Seasoned, courteous & patient travelers they are not. We’ll leave it at that. This leg of the journey found me with a two-seater row all to myself, the extra space to stretch out was more than welcome. My bum still paid the price. I did manage to sleep for an hour or two before arriving at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar, Bali, though nearly an hour late. My fellow travelers/plane-mates began crowding the aisles even before the plane had come to a full stop at our arrival terminal. I decided to hang back in my seat, regardless of the desperation of my aching bum, to avoid the potential of being trampled in the aisles. Finally off the plane, we paraded thru the maze of long hallways plastered with travel posters depicting all the mysteries awaiting us on the Island of the Gods until we eventually queued up en-masse at the series of immigration desks where uniformed guards waved us to approach, one by one, to pay our Visa On Arrival Tax, then to another series of desks where stern faced immigration officials lacklusterly stamped our passports and sent us on our way to retrieve luggage and pass through Customs checkpoints. As luck would have it, Customs officials were less than interested in the contents of our collective baggage at the late hour, waving most of us through the checkpoints without even glancing at our bags, then past a line of money changer kiosks and then out the doors of the Arrival Terminal where we were instantly enveloped by the warmth & humidity of the equatorial night & set upon by the waiting throng of drivers, taksi (taxi) operators.
Making my way through the mass of anxious drivers shouting “You like transporrrrrt, boss?”, I found chief fixer, driver extraordinaire, and my brother from another mother, Adi, waiting patiently and smiling profusely thru the crowd of faces & waving arms. Exchanging warm greetings, we hoisetd the bags into the back of the car and headed through the night stillness towards Legain, my first destination of the journey.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Friday, November 18, 2011

The opportunity to make a dream come true has presented itself... the designing and building of new studio space... though there will be some small compromises in square footage, a draftsman has already been retained and initial plans are underway for a very adequate shooting & office/production space attached to my home. This move will save a couple of grand in overhead each month, an hour of driving time each day, and the ability to work when I want to, at any hour of the day or night. Construction, given permits are approved and in place, should begin sometime in early spring. Can't wait!

Sudden changes in island weather, hot & muggy to cool, wet & breezy,  during the past week or so left me down & out for a few days, along with almost everyone else I know. Head cold to cough... nothing serious but the crud is definitely making the rounds here in the 50th State. Last weekend, a Vancouver-based interior designer client flew in to art direct a multi-day architectural assignment... she arrived on island sick, assistant B showed up sick, I was in the beginning phases of recovery. Still... the work got done and with good results. After all, if nothing else, we ARE professionals! This gig was the first opportunity to really work out with the newly acquired Nikon D3x and I must say, this camera lives up to all the hype and positives reviews heaped upon it. Gorgeous, huge, clean image files, the ability to again use all of my older wide, fixed-focal length lenses, incredibly fast card writing and download times... and combined with the new camera controlling software I blogged about in my last entry, things have been kicked up a notch.

And even though we are only hitting the end of November, this week has been spent wrapping up business for the year. Two more small assignments to produce & deliver early next week before I board a plane early wednesday morning, bound first for Seoul, South Korea where I will be enjoying the non-customary Thanksgiving meal of Kalbi & Bim Bim Bap at an airport kiosk before boarding another plane to transport me to the Indonesian Island of Bali where I will spend a month working on at least two additional editorial assignments plus a myriad of personal projects begun long ago and put on hold due to lack of travel funds during the past two years.

Excitement is already building as I make preparations for the trip... new International Driver's Permit arrived by mail yesterday, passport double checked for requisite extra pages usually required by Indonesian Immigration, new flight cases for camera gear, lodging secured via email... almost all the pre-preparations for a month abroad are now completed.

But enough of that for now... I'll be blogging as regularly as time permits from 2 degrees south of the equator.

Until then, I wanted to direct your attention to some work I stumbled upon earlier in the week thanks to photo blogger Jorg Colberg and his blog Conscientious:

Fine Art Photographer Jane Fulton Alt has been a creative force for quite some time. A recent series she titles The Burn has really caught my attention. Photographing controlled burns of prairie lands has yielded spectacular, ephemeral images which she describes as:
"... [the] moment when life and death are not contradictory but are perceived as a single process to be embraced as a whole."
The Burn Series (and her other work also) is well worth a look. Find it here.

Happy Thanksgiving to all. I'll be reporting in during my travels...

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Indulging My Inner Geek

Upgrading digital hardware can be a frustrating experience. Being a user of Nikon equipment makes things even more challenging. Don't get me wrong... I love the Nikon gear. Ergonomically speaking, these top-end pro camera bodies feel great in my hand, much more so than any of the competing manufacturer's brands. Granted, this is a purely subjective measure but an important one when you find yourself gripping one of these tools 4-8 hours a day. 

A string of natural disasters, earthquakes & tsunamis in Japan and now the current flooding in Thailand, have put Nikon even further behind the new product release curve for professional level products. Expected word on release of a new D4 series super camera expected last month never materialized. Finding a new D3x model, at least here in the US, is next to impossible... most dealers list the camera as backordered with no clue as to when stock might arrive. Dealers that have stock on the shelves are selling them for outrageous prices far above the MSR price. Desperately needing to upgrade my trusty D2x, I opted for a mint-condition used D3x. It arrived last week and I'm quite happy with the decision based on the limited use I've put it thru since it's arrival. 

Another recent upgrade was in the laptop computer department. The old Apple G5 laptop still works fine... has been an amazing piece of equipment actually. It's been dragged around the world several times, used in inclement weather situations and has never failed me. Compared to the latest generation of processors, however, this thing is a dinosaur... adequate but slow. A new MacBook Pro has recently replaced the old G5.

For the type of work I do (mostly still-life, food & architecture) the ability to shoot with the camera tethered to the laptop, both in studio & on location, is essential for lighting & composition checks. The software I have used up to this point has been another Nikon product, Nikon Capture. While slow, a bit clunky and somewhat unstable from my perspective, the software was adequate and allowed for the instant image previews required for my type of work.

The new MacBook Pro, of course, came loaded with Apple's newest operating system OS 10.7.2 (Lion). And... as is the case with with all new operating systems, some old software works and a lot of it doesn't. I haven't yet gotten around to testing things like print drivers and the like... I don't use the laptop for fine-editing or printing in most cases. The one software I need for my work, Nikon Capture, doesn't work at all on the new system... calls to Nikon Tech Support informed me that an upgraded version is on the way, but there is no idea when the new product upgrade might be released. This, I initially thought, could be a real problem, especially when it comes to shooting in the field. My options, it seemed, where to continue using the old laptop until the new software was released, or creating a new partition on the hard drive of the new laptop and then loading on older version of the Mac OS on that partition, sorely to run old software. Neither option was particularly appealing.

Taking to the web in search of information on other options, I came across the website of German software manufacturer with a product specifically designed for tethered shooting using Nikon DLSR's (all of them) and the new Mac OS. Soforbild tethered shooting application for Macs does almost everything that Nikon Capture was able to do, short of adding meta-data information to image files as you shoot them, and it does it faster, cleaner and... perhaps a little easier. The Soforbild software also opens faster and based on my limited experimentations thus far, is far more stable and less clunky that the previous Nikon option.

Sofortbild allows for complete control over image quality, exposure & aperture settings, white balance, ISO and camera firing directly from the computer. It also offers Live Preview capability for cameras equipped with that function. Files   download to the laptop far faster than they ever did using the Nikon product. Best of all, Sofortbild is available for download at no cost... free... gratis! You can find Sorfortbild here. The developer asks that you make a donation towards further development if you like the program as much as I think I do. Time & further testing will be the final judge, but so far, I'm pretty ecstatic to have found this option.

W.S. Merwin Redux

An intimate portrait of U.S Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin, captured one lazy afternoon a few months ago at his estate in the palms, has resurfaced recently in the online journal YES Magazine. Find the entire story online here.