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,


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