Back In Bali – looking with new eyes

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This short blog post is about our recent trip back to Bali. We (my loving partner Kim and I), try and get up to Bali at least once a year – it’s close (about a 5 1/2 flight from Sydney), cheap (roughly a third the cost of Sydney living), warm, safe, comfortable and familiar – which is what you want for a pure R&R break.

From a photography point of view this annual trip gives me a chance to see if my photographic style and technique has improved – to try and shoot many of the same things but with different eyes.

As you’ll see some of the shots of done some pretty heavy processing, others I’ve just converted to black and white and some I haven’t had to do a thing.

Bali Accommodation

This time we’re staying in a villa up at Legian, Pondok Ernita – we arrive at around 10PM – the last hour and a bit at the brand new airport they’ve rushed to have ready for the APEC conference.  There’s still a few bugs at the airport to work out!

The villa is nice, big, private and we’re close to the beach, restaurants, bars and shops (important for my Kim).  The cost difference is neglible when you consider the savings of not having to eat and drink out every day. There are basically two villas with a shared pool. My only complaint would be the small television – which is just a minor complaint – honestly I’d be just as happy without a TV on holidays but there are also times when you just want to relax and watch tele after a day of too much sun.  The lovely Marti is our house keeper and keeps everything ship shape while her husband Wyan the gardens and pool beautiful.   We’ve also good wi-fi which is probably the most critical requirement in today’s tech mad world – sad but true.

Bali Beach Dogs

The Bali beach dogs are still here and they are a lot healthier than they were thirty years ago.  Dog lovers like Franci from I Love Bali Dogs feed the pups each day (with the kind support of donations), find them homes (sometimes overseas) and work with sympathetic beach boys and local vets.  The Government is cracking down on beach dogs making sure they have rabies shots.

Surf

For many the Bali experience is about the beach, golden sunsets and a cold Bintang. It was the long big tubes of Uluwatu/ Padang Padang that started the initial Aussie surfer invasion way back in the late sixties and seventies.  Today surfing is as much mainstream as is Bali – from the young Aussie grommets on their first overseas surf trip; g-string wearing Euro blokes and babes at “Surf Schools” to grandpa hippies in search of the lost years.

Change

Shooting iconic landmark Tanah Lot is like photographing the Sydney Opera House, Bondi Beach or The Bridge.  The challenge is how do you shoot so it’s different and striking.  I opted for some long exposures and HDR’s (which nearly got me washed away by a large rogue wave).

 

Development

The new 12.5 km tollway connects Nusa Dua with the new airport and Sanur cutting travel time my more than 70%

Man time and Women Shopping

I’d drop Kim off at a street full of shops then head down to the nearest beach bar to write.  Several hours later she’d call to be picked up.

Note: If you ever need a bike, car or driver in Bali then highly recommend my friend Forrest at Bali Sriti Car Rental (Facebook link)

 

Loves, Hates and Likes – Finding Your Tribe of Lovers

This post is dedicated to the fans of my photography.

For the last few days I’ve been going back over some old shoots, applying some new processing techniques and then comparing to the original to see whether I’m creating a better shot (see below).  

I suppose the key thing to constantly remember is what different people like is very subjective and it seems as as a photographer that you always seem to get to a point of saying no more work on an image so that you can move forward.  That is, to be happy with the work at that point of time then let it free to see whether your audience loves, likes, hates or ignores.

An artist friend of mine has an interesting take on this whole Facebook/ social media “like”thing  – he says he’s only interested in “loves” and “hates” of his work – that “likes” are commodities of familiarity and that “Likers” don’t buy his paintings (at around $10K a pop).

From a photographic development (and business development) point of view this approach is consistent with the writings of popular marketing guys like Seth Godin – that you need to focus on your early adapters or lovers of your work who will then advocate and spread your message.  The idea that even though the world is such as big and diverse place, in this digitally connected age you will find your tribe of lovers.

With the lastest processing I think I’ve probably gone too hard on the sharpening and the gradient layer I’ve added seems to wash out the middle too much – (particularly on the old LCD screen I’m typeing this blog on).

Ten minutes later when I look at the image – my model Lanny beautiful, the processing hmmm – again – I’m happy (but not loving) so it will stay until I look at again next time.  

2013

Original – 2008

Gatekeeper HeartPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Model: The lovely Lanny

Everything Old is New Again

The thing about photography (and I suppose everything we learn) is that it’s always a process of constant improvment.  Malcolm Gladwell in “Blink” talked about the 10,000 hour rule – that is, whatever you set out to master will take 10,000 hours (or 10 years).

I’ve been reworking some old shots with some new B&W techniques to see if the are better. This shot was one of my first “storytelling” shoots – the central theme the shifting power balance/ roles in relationships over time. 

So, according to Gladwell’s theory I’ve another five years to go (or maybe not).  The thing is – it’s about our cumulative experience to discover our unique style.  

Original Processing technique (2008) 

Current Black and White Processing Technique

4133808- EditPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

 4083743- EditPhoto by Scott Maxworthymaxymedia

Models – good mates Don Rogers and Bettie Twizted

Creating High Contrast Black and White Portraits

I’m continuing to experiment with trying to create or increase dramatic impact within my portraits in black and white post production (ie lot’s of tone and sharpening experiments) BUT I always remind myself even though you can do so much in post – a good image nearly always begins with with your initial lighting; pose, wardrobe, stylist and makeup and of course the photographer and model.

Following is my current approach to creating these type of images.

Production

Lighting setup.  These were shot with just a single standard Canon Speedlight 580EXII with a Beauty Dish modifier shot at 45 left and above and about 1m away.  We’d darkened the room so that no other light sources interfered.  From my memory the strobe setting were at 1/32 power; Camera ISO 200; 105mm; f/9.0 at 1/100 sec.  I shoot everything in Manual mode. The back wall (about a meter behind the model) was dark but also slightly reflective which help create some rim lighting.  I shoot RAW file format as it gives me much more control in post production.  I’d also previously custom colour balanced using my X-rite Color Checker.

Post Production 

I’m currently using LightRoom 4.4 as part of my workflow and use ProPhoto RGB profile as it gives me the widest tonal range spectrum.  

The first thing I’m looking for is correct exposure.  With this shot when I clicked the Auto Exposure it gave me +2.45 (which is a lot – my bad).  Looking at the histogram I’ve no clipping.  I set contrast to ‘0’

I move the Highlights slider to -100 and the Shadows to +100.  This creates a pretty horrible HDR type of look but what we’re trying to do here is fill out all the shadow and highlight information to create the widest tone range to work with.

Now holding the ALT key down I move the Whites slider across until I get the first indication of where it kicks it.  I then do the exact same process for the Blacks.  The result is I’m getting the most range in the skin tones.

Skin softening

I open up the image in Photoshop and then I use OnOnes Perfect Portrait for my skin softening – there are lot’s of programs, plugins and actions out there.  My primary goal is to remove any blemishes, smooth the skin, sharpen the eyes and mouth.  How much smoothing depends on what you’re trying to create.

Save and back in Photoshop

I sharpen the mid tones using burning (around 8% opacity) and dodging of a High Pass Filter.  

Save and then back in Lightroom

I now convert to Black and White.

Do some adjustments with the tones; clarity; add a vignette; a final sharpening and then a final noise reduction.

The final result is quite strong – with better expsoure next time I should be able to reduce a lot of the noise that was introduced when I had to boost up the initial exposure.  Anyway, I feel like I’m getting closer to what I envisaged.