Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Lombok Part 2 - Gili Meno

Welcome to part 2 of my Lombok blog which focuses on Gili Meno which is one of a chain of three small islands just off the coast of Lombok.

I have previously visited all three but Gili Meno was my favorite as it is the quietist and least developed. It also has some stunning beaches with the gorgeous Mount Ranjani backdrop.

The above shot was taken at sunrise and is of our hotel receptionist catching his breakfast !!! The shot is taken with the delightful X100 and photo opportunities like this abound. The island is so small that you can shoot sunrise early and then in the later afternoon stroll round to the other side to shoot sunset - cool yeah?

Another take on the awesome sunrises, I really like shooting against the light with the X100. It seems to behave extremely well and has fantastic dynamic range. It's a bit intangible but somehow for me it captures more of how I feel about a scene than any other camera I have.

Anyway, enough on the photos for now, let me give you some tips on the logistics of getting there, where I stayed and some generally useful info for travel photographers.

Getting There

Is a breeze and very cheap. I would suggest you spend a day or so in and around Senggigi and then book the Gili Meno trip at any of the many agency outlets in the town. Don't pay more than IR 90,000 (S$13) for the round trip. I know this seems ridiculously cheap but that's the rate and that will get you collected at your hotel, taken on a mini bus (primitive and no aircon) to Bangsal Harbor where you will catch a local ferry to the islands. Gili Meno is direct and its best to get the early morning one as the sea is calmer.

The ferry will be crowded and colorful so keep your camera handy !!! A couple of things to be aware of; firstly, the bus is not allowed into the harbor road and drops you at a cafe about 10 mins walk from the beach and boats. There are numerous horse and cart rigs that will take you down for IR 20,000 and its good fun. Secondly, once you get there you need to get onto the boat which will be bouncing around in the surf !!!!!! This is where the nimble porters come in and they will carry you and your luggage for around IR 10 to 20,000 dependent on your size and how much luggage you have. Make sure to have small notes as there is no way they will give change. Once on the boat its good fun and you will find the locals good natured and willing to share a laugh with you. Some of them will be hawkers on there way to the island for the day and they will be sizing up the possible opportunity and you will certainly see them again. One other thing you may want to consider is to either wrap you camera and lenses in ziploc bags as I do, or buy a waterproof bag or sack. I have seen these for around the s$ 70 mark tops. This will give you peace of mind against a dropped bag or splashing from the surf.

As I said, the trip itself is interesting and you might get some nice shots on the boat. Its also worth shooting the loading and unloading which can also be good fun if the surf is up. The return trip is a simple reverse and, again, advice would be to get the early boat back as the sea gets a bit rougher in the afternoon. Its also simple to charter boats for the trip or to hop around from island to island but to be honest I found the trip good fun and don't consider chartering worth the extra cost. If you want to go that way expect to pay IR 400 to 500,000.

Once your there...

It's very easy to get around and most of the hotels are a short walk or horse and buggy ride from the harbor. There is no motorized transport allowed on the island so this is your only option.

The island itself is pretty tranquil and you should have no problem finding a nice secluded beach spot or finding some nice landscapes to shoot.

The above shot shows the kind of boats that are available if you want to go snorkeling or island hopping. I am far from expert but can highly recommend the snorkeling as this is one of the few places where you will be able to see giant sea turtles in the wild.

Accommodation on Gili Meno is mainly of the chalet or beach hut type. personally, I think I struck gold :) We stayed in the  Gazebo Meno complex and it was great. I booked it through Agoda and it cost US$50 per night, what a bargain. Despite the poor reviews on trip advisor and elsewhere I found it to be wonderful. The chalet was roomy, clean and secluded but 2 mins walk to the nicest beach you can imagine. In fact, all of the sunrise shots in these posts were shot on that very beach in front of the chalet.

Sunrise on Gili Meno from the Gazebo Meno beach, awesome.....shot on the trusty X100. I make no apology for the number of these sunrise shots in the post, it was simply breathtaking and the colors fabulous.

As I said, the chalets were spacious and very comfortable if a little tired.

The decor was traditional and the aircon worked a treat - what more can I say ????

On to the photography

You will have no problem finding interesting locations on Gili Meno but here are a few suggestions anyway. Apart from the awesome sunrise at Gazebo Meno beach I would suggest taking a wander around to some of the ruined hotels from the slump that followed the Bali bombings. There are two in particular that are worth a visit and both have unique characteristics and opportunities. My suggestion would be to visit them in order in late afternoon and there is a good reason for this that I will explain later. First up is the Bougainvillea which is reached by simply walking to the right from Gazebo Meno and wandering along the beach a way. The ruins make a great setting and can be nice and contrasty in the afternoon light. The following two shots are with the D3:

I really like the contrast in the one below. It's not flattering for the model but I think it makes a really nice, interesting portrait. It could also have stood up nicely to a B&W conversion but I liked the red sarong that Riyanti was wearing.

Here's a different, framed type of shot, taken on the X100 in the ruined gate entrance to the hotel. Its very atmospheric and the wall textures are amazing. I didn't try it on this trip but I think incredible results could be had here with a simple strobe for the future.

I would suggest leaving the Bougainvillea around half an hour before sunset and heading round to the next suggested location which is the Bounty. Again this is a ruin from the slump a decade ago and its about 15 mins further round the island on the sunset side.

This is an amazing place and is full of opportunity, you could happily shoot here for ages. The one thing to watch out for though is a sunset bounce that occurs just as the sun sets. The sun bounces off of the sea straight into what was once the reception area, bathing in it in a gorgeous sunset glow for around 5-10 mins.

The above two X100 shots give some idea of the lovely color that drenches the wood lined space. I think on this first visit I got caught a little unawares by this effect and, as I said, it doesn't last long so I went back the next night and tried some different takes with the D3 and the 24mm and  50mm F1.4's.

I wouldn't say that these shots are necessarily better but I do like the way the Nikon kit has captured the light and they have the benefit that once the 'bounce' goes you can move smartly to the beach and use f1.4 to squeeze the last few drops of sunset light.

This shot was taken just before the sunset light gets going and gives another aspect on what's possible there. 

As I mentioned above, there is also the option to move to the Bounty beach and again, there are numerous ways to approach this and here are a few ideas. First up there are a few boats on the beach and the light is nice for shooting beside them. I would have preferred to have had some kind of strobe or even a reflector on hand for these but they still came out not too badly.

Also keep an eye open for the fishermen landing small catches and coming up from the beach. These three photos are all with the X100 and regular readers will remember that I tried the same shot with the Olympus E410 (see the post on it) but couldn't get the exposure right and there wasn't enough in the raw files to bring up the fisherman's face. well luckily I had the X100 over my shoulder and managed to squeeze off this one shot which to my eye is way better than the E410 effort.

Finally, here is a shot taken using the little Manfrotto MP3 - DO1 travel tripod (reviewed in a previous post) at small aperture and with the ND filter activated to give a slow shutter speed. I quite like this shot even although its not an extremely long exposure its still enough to render the water nice and milky smooth.

All of these shots were taken within a very short distance of each other and just to close off on the sunset side of the island here are a couple of whacky ones that I took for the filter review post using the Olympus E410 and some cheapo grads from ebay.

I think these are both using the tobacco and mauve grads stacked, a bit weird but not unattractive in an arty way - maybe Olympus will introduce this effect on their Pen series !!!!

As you can hopefully see, there are many and varied settings on Gili Meno that can be shot in an infinite variety of ways. I want to close the post with a look at some strobe work I attempted while there. One of my objectives for the trip was to rectify some mistakes that I made on my last visit when I messed up the flash shoot that I set up on the same beach in front of the Gazebo Meno chalets. Well to be honest, I didn' achieve what I wanted and I am a bit disappointed. I carted a light-stand, flash and small umbrella only to find that it was a bit breezy on the beach and I struggled to get the set-up I wanted in the surf. Anyway, I tried to make the best of it and managed a few shots. Firstly, I used the D3 with the SB900 shot into a small umbrella and the result wasn't too bad. There was a really dramatic sky and I underexposed the ambient light by two stops to get this effect. 

Here's a second try, full length this time and again the exposure is good but I found the the umbrella and single strobe not really up to it. I would have much preferred to have had a softbox as main light and something to fill in behind to lighten the dark shadows.

This was really unfortunate because when I went back further to get more of the background in, the light set up cast a strange looking light and dark spread that I found really hard to control. You can see it clearly in the shot below.

Well, back to the drawing board and a great excuse to travel back again to get it right :)

Just to close out, and by way of thanks to Riyanti for modeling and posing on the trip, here are three shots that she took with her deadly little Canon S90. Two are really nice sunrise shots on Gazebo Meno beach (I never tire of these) and the final one is a somewhat haunting shot of one of the ferry travelers.

What a great angle, the camera must have nearly been in the surf !!!

And hows this for a bit of fishing ballet ??? 

Well, as usual I hope you found something interesting in here, part 3 is underway and is based around the final part of the trip back in Lombok and with more strobe work.

See all again soon and keep shooting,


Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Happy Accidents........

Hey Folks, this is a short, sharp post on something to watch out for when you are traveling - happy accidents.

I have mentioned before how I hate carrying tripods, light-stands, flashes or anything that slows me down or makes me uncomfortable. Having said that, I also like shooting at sunrise and in particular at dusk. I really love the very last light of the day and this is especially so in places that have gorgeous sunsets and light like Bali & Lombok. So, what else can you do? Well you can do one of two things; shoot at high ISO with fast glass and/or look for alternative light sources. How so? I hear you say. Well consider the above shot, I think it looks reasonably natural, but contrasty with well balanced light. It is in fact taken with the light from a huge floodlight in front of the Pacific Beach hotel on Coco Beach Lombok.

Here is the light in another setup:

You can see quite clearly how the setup works and incidentally, thats Mt. Agung on Bali in the background. Here is a shot from that set-up taken with my Fuji X100.

Personally I think this is a pretty cool shot and it looks as though its been done with a large strobe. The only thing to watch with these shots is that the contrast can be very harsh (something that I like anyway) and you need to watch the white balance although in this case the light was pretty white and there was no significant colour cast.

Here's a slightly tighter shot that I think works great and belies the simplicity of the set-up. Another point to add here is that I used Sekonic light meter to get an accurate reading from the models face, I think this is essential in this type of situation. You could get there by trial and error but its very quick to switch to manual and go with an incident reading for the exposure.

When I first spotted this opportunity I thought it would be a bit limiting as to how I could exploit it but, as you can see from the above shots, with careful positioning of the model I was able to get a good variety of shots.

This one above is pretty dramatic and, in fairness, by this time it was extremely dark and even with the floodlight I was on pretty high ISO's and the shots were getting a bit noisy.

Finally, here are a few shots from my Batu Bolong shoot on Lombok taken in almost pitch darkness. In honesty, they are not that great and extremely contrasty, however, if I hadn't used the floodlighting and had a fast camera lens set up (D3 and 24 & 50 F1.4), I wouldn't have had any shot at all and there is something atmospheric about the photos that capture the feel of the temple late at night.

Its worth trying a few different angles to see how you can make the harsh light work for you.

In summary then, keep your eyes peeled for artificial light sources that can help you when you don't have strobes, use a light meter if you can and try a few different set-ups (portrait, context etc) and angles.

I did mention at the start of the post the other option of a camera that can handle High ISO and some fast lenses. I have to say that the more I travel and shoot in this kind of light the more critical I think this is. I always seem to be shooting on the limits and both the Nikon kit and the X100 are proving great partners in this respect. Here's a final shot to close that was taken in natural low light with the D3, 24 at F2 and ISO 1600. The key with these shots at this time of evening is to try to get near a reflective surface to help light your subject and if possible expose to the right (almost overexpose) to contain noise. The feel is totally different from the artificially lit shots but its always nice to have that choice to make.

Thanks as usual on this trip to Riyanti for sparing her shooting time to pose so nicely.

Until next time, keep your eyes open and happy shooting.


Saturday, September 3, 2011

Lombok & Gili Meno Part 1

An Alternative to Bali

Hey folks, just got back from a truly awesome trip to Lombok with three nights in the middle on Gili Meno island. I have so many photos and different settings to show that I decided to split the blog into three parts. I will also go over some useful details on the trip itself, hotels, beach huts and the logistics of the travel experience. Lombok is a relatively undiscovered destination and is a genuine alternative to Bali although some would argue its not as culturally rich. Either way there is loads to shoot for travel photographers.

I took much more gear than normal because there was some equipment that I wanted to try out for travel photography and that included an Olympus E410 & twin lens kit, some ND grad filters, a light-stand with Nikon SB 900 strobe and umbrella, my D3 kit (detailed in a previous blog) and the trusty Fuji X100.

I must say that it was a bit of a pain to cart all of this around and I wont be doing it again in a hurry. It goes against my ethos for what travel photography should be a about. Having said that, it forced me to take a more diverse range of shots than normal and that can only be good.

We were also lucky to have Ryanti on the trip to model. Regular readers will recognize her from other blogs and she is a real asset on the trips and although she would rather be shooting photos rather than posing, was happy to help out as usual, even although that meant the occasional near drowning :)


Lombok is a pretty easy flight from Singapore and there are a few carriers who fly the route including some budget ones. My preference is Silkair who are a Singapore Airlines lower cost subsidiary and they currently fly 4 times a week on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday. I have found them reliable and the flights comfortable with an included decent meal to help on the approx. two and a half hour journey. The outgoing flights land at sunset and be prepared with a small camera as you can often get some nice shots on the short walk from the aircraft to terminal building.

Accomodation is easy to come by and we booked the Sendok Guest House through Agoda and it came in at a very reasonable US$ 34 per night, fully inclusive of taxes and breakfast.

The Sendok is in Sengigi which is the main tourist and holiday area in Lombok and a good choice as a central location from which to base yourself.

This was, I felt great value for money, especially at this time of the season. Staff were also well trained and helpful.

This is a good point to dispel a myth that is in circulation that the largely Muslim Lombok shuts down over the Ramadan period. This is simply not true and the whole place appeared to be functioning normally with all restaurants and bars open as per usual. This was a bonus for us however as, despite being peak season (August) the town was very quiet and it was very easy to get accommodation and meals etc.

Other logistics were also simple. Visa on arrival, as usual make sure to get the voucher before going to the immigration counter. Very important - keep your luggage receipt from the airline, the customs officers like to use that to check the number of bags you are trying to leave the small terminal with.

There is a taxi office on the right hand side once you exit the terminal and expect to pay around IR 60,000 for the trip to Sengigi, make sure they put the meter on !!!!!

Once in Sengigi there is a choice of either using taxis for longer jaunts, booking the reasonably priced local tours or hopping onto the local pick-up truck styled buses which are extremely cheap IR 2K to 3 K per trip.


I wouldn't bother too much about sunrise at Sengigi or anywhere on that side of the island, the sun rises from behind the mountains and there it is pretty bright by the time it comes over. 

It is of course still worth getting up early to get the morning light although I would suggest heading along to the fishing beaches at Kampong Bugis.

Sengigi itself, while clearly a holiday/backpacker type town, is also still a functioning fishing village and the boats come in between 9 and 11 in the morning.You could have breakfast or coffee at the very nice 'Office" bar and restaurant where you can watch for them arriving.

The beach itself is great for relaxing and its very easy to charter a boat for snorkeling or just laze in the sun.

Unfortunately, by the time the boats arrive the sun is well and truly up and consequently the light is not so good.

I found that my best shots came from going for detail and shooting against the light. 

I shot these against the light with my Fuji X100. I am fast coming to the conclusion that the X100 is the perfect travel camera, it is light, strong and versatile. it exposed these perfectly without any fuss or compensation and the files stand up to a fair bit of processing if that is your thing. More about the X100 later.

When you are shooting the sails you need to be quick, they furl them very quickly to prevent damage from the strong breeze. The fishermen themselves are a bit shy but its worth being friendly to them and some pens for the kids always opens things up.

There are many restaurants in Sengigi itself but I can highly recommend that you go the short distance to 'Alberto's' Italian restaurant which is just along the road towards Batur Layer. Its on the beachfront and is a lovely location for either lunch or better still head along towards sunset when its really lovely.

Another option is Coco Beach which is a short taxi ride from Sengigi in the other direction and there is a nice outdoor restaurant at the far end of the beach near the rocks. This was a favorite destination for me and there is a very nice evening light there. On a clear evening there is also the bonus of being able to see Mount Agung on Bali and it makes a stunning sunset backdrop. More on this in Part 3 of the blog but here's a taster.

Another nice location for evening shooting is Batu Bolong which is again no more than a short taxi hop from Sengigi. 

Again, I will cover this more fully in part 3 as we did a whole evening shoot there with some flash as well. The temple itself is small but in a very nice location. Its worth trying to go when there is normal activity and the 'Kliwon' praying is usually on  Thursday evening and there is much more activity on a Saturday. The keeper and people around the temple are very friendly and they will happily advise you on prayer and special occasions. This is of course a very religiously important site for Lombok's Hindu population so you need to be respectful at all times and its important to be dressed properly and not clamber about on the statues. The location wont work for you unless you have some sort of interesting subject so another alternative would be to pay some models to come along in local dress for you. This can be easily arranged at any of the hotels where they have evening dancing (Quinci Villa, Sheraton etc) you don't need to be resident in these hotels, simply go along for evening dinner. Quinci Villa food and setting is excellent and highly recommended. S$50 will get you a full dinner and drinks in a delightful setting.

This part 1 of the blog has of course hardly scratched the surface of all thats available on Lombok but I wanted to use it as an introduction on some of the basics around getting there and the best places to stay and eat once there. It is also specific to this particular trip so I don't cover things like the wonderful falls at Sindanggila which will be covered next time I go.

I also haven't really gotten into the travel photography aspects in any great detail and will focus much more on this in the Gili Meno and final Lombok blogs.

Hope this has been interesting, see you for the Gili Meno part 2. This is a dream location for photographers so watch out for it I should have it ready early next week.

Keep shooting, cheers,