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Transforming My Travel Expressions!

As a photojournalist, my primary concern is to get photo right. Getting the shot may be one in a million chance when I am covering an event or a festival, obtaining the essence of the jubilant moment. This takes precedence over the time-consuming step of using Photoshop to crop things out or to adjust the cloudy skies. I’ve had pictures that looked great from ground up but not from heavens down. Why? The contrast factor & the metering that can’t measure it as accurately as I would like. When I started processing some of them, I thought it would be great if these could be HDR-ed, High Dynamic Range imaging. HDR photos are produced by using three different exposures of the same photo, which you take using the ”˜bracketing’ mode on your camera, however, when I took my travel photos, I never thought of HDR. What can I do with one image? After searching on the internet, I found a fantastic program for Mac-users to achieve HDR pictures with just ONE image. That’s right. If you have ever wanted to experiment on HDR for your great looking photos, get the HDRtist Pro. No complicated steps, no hard-to-comprehend instructions that deter you from even trying.

The HDRtist Pro is a great fun & easier method to add mood to my travel pictures. Let me show you what I did to my photo of Gunung Batur in Kintamani, Bali.

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This is an unmodified, straight off the camera shot I took at the caldera of Kintamani. HDRtist Pro helped me to achieve a high dynamic range of this photo with just one click of a button & no hassles with different shots even though it could & would be better with 3 photos of different exposures combined. This is a screenshot of the process. It renders the picture into a combination of a tonal range that is the closest to the original.

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After cropping part of the land & the result is a pleasing transformation of Gunung Batur by the lake of Kintamani!

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I wanted to experiment with another photo & the results were stunning. Here is a padi field in the countryside of Ubud, central Bali where the pace here is easy as arty people congregate to find inspiration for their next masterpiece or to take some home. I stayed in a guesthouse called Kunang-Kunang & woke up to sounds of ducks in the morning!

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This photo looked quite ordinary after looking at what I did with HDRtist Pro. Once again, I applied the magic motion of a few sliders on the Adjustments tab here:-

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…..and was greeted with a picture that I could not recognise was the place I woke up to for 4 days!

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If you are a blogger, a photographer, an enthusiast, an illustrator or just someone who wants to tell a story through your photos, get HDRtist Pro to enhance your expression. For a fraction of what you would pay for Photoshop, you can get a superb application with great results every time, transforming your pictures into art.

Footnote:- I will experiment on Funtastic Photos after this & give you a run-down on what I think soon!

Roughing It At Rottnest

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I am here in Perth, Western Australia, courtesy of Tourism Australia & Tourism Western Australia & the main event I was covering was called PUPS – Perth Underwater Photo Shootout, which was held at Rottnest Island on the 12 March 2011. This is the biggest underwater photo shootout in Western Australia with 35 divers contesting to get top spots for the prizes of a dive trip in exotic locations in Indonesia & Malaysia amongst the other sponsored goodies that attracted this large number of participants. Leaving in the morning on a fully equipped dive boat with Perth Diving Academy, everyone had assembled their photographic setup to be ready for the first dive the moment the boat stops.

Despite the perfect weather, the sea condition wasn’t particularly good with 2 – 3m swells & 3 – 5m visibility but what we faced underwater on the first dive was even more daunting. Being thrown forward & backwards, wedged into crevices almost mounted on the ceiling before being thrusted by the next surge of motion only to crash into a mini mount. The sea was throwing a tantrum that day & as Humpty Dumpty was clad & layered in a 5mm Farmer Jane suit, having to offset my buoyancy with a 12kilo weight belt didn’t help. I can’t even begin to tell you how many mounts I have come to ”˜know’ & little caves that I find myself in. You get the drift???

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The varied types of seagrass & seaweeds in Rottnest Island.

Dave Baxter, the extraordinary underwater photographer who had put together this feat of an event, was my buddy for the day. I can imagine how much laugh he would have had watching Humpty Dumpty sauntering & gasping, having to turn back & see if I’m stuck somewhere beneath the mounts. I couldn’t take a single decent shot on the first dive let alone nice pictures but after reviewing them on my Mac, I was able to show you what a wild time I had by these ”˜super artistic’ (fluke) shots generated by the motion of the ocean!

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Put in a collage for fun…..

As one of the appointed judges, I was not running in the competition but I got one of my prized ”˜catch’ on the second dive. A friendly & curious wrasse followed me around, watching me up close & wondering why I was turned turtle (ahem…it was a balancing issue with the ultra-buoyant wetsuit & 12kg weights on my belt). The wrasse often came right up to my mask (Dave took pictures) & would even allow me to stroke its tail! It had no problems whatsoever with trusting (clumsy) giants in neoprene & has the curiosity of a cat! Here’s one shot of it while it was staring at my mask:-

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Presenting – Le Amigo D’ Wrasse! Unedited, uncropped, unadulterated. Even speckles are left for posterity!

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When it stared at my camera…..

Perth Diving Academy provided the diving services on their big boat & the day ended with a barbecue at the yacht club. Judging has been postponed to 29 March. Next on the itinerary would be my journey to Exmouth & Coral Bay!

Tioman Rediscovery!

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The start of the dive season saw a new & uncharted discovery of two submerged reefs in Tioman. Virtually unknown by dive operators due to the hit & miss factor of such locations, Gary, my dive buddy & I, went to locate the reefs with the help of a local. Almost hitting decompression as it was a constant 27 – 28m dive, one of the accompanying instructors beckoned me to go over to where he was & showed me the very marvel that people pay tens of thousands of dollars to visit the remotes of Indonesia to see…..the elusive SEA APPLE! (Pseudocolochirus sp.)

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Having bartered with fishing boats for their by-catch, I’ve traded Coca Cola with fishermen for these beautiful sea cucumbers to place them in Tenggol waters in hope that they will breed but they all seem to disappear from the bay in preference of cooler waters. Now that we have them at our doorstep, it will certainly be a joy & wonder to show divers this jewel of a sea cucumber! The one pictured above is sleeping. When they are awake & feeding, colourful fern-like branches would stem from the top to trap food! The Malays call it Gamat Bulat, a name befitting its roundish/spherical posture when tensed.

At this reef, we saw many critters & fish, a refreshing change from the usual dive sites of Tioman.

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The sea fans are exceptionally big, covering the whole of Gary as he posed as my model underwater! Here’s what it looks like, minus the Gary…..

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I will be conducting an exploratory dive trip to make more discoveries & hopefully document other critters. Send me an email if you are interested to join the trip!

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Making our way to the village of Genting towards the southern part of the island, I must say, eating at the pak cik’s cafe was awesome. The spice was just right & we had dollops of chilli paste that came with our grilled fish. The guys at Samudra Divers were excellent cooks too! They brought the whole kitchen & whipped up a storm on the last night of our stay! I’m definitely returning with my students!

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Scientific Solution for Atolls in The Indian Ocean

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Whisking pass the city on the KLIA Express is one of the least stressful part of the travel……when you are not rushing. Realising too late that my 24” luggage handle was broken by the airport handlers on my trip back from Egypt, I had to physically push it on wheels, amongst the crowd & my other bags. I spent the last fortnight in the most expensive resort island in the Indian Ocean where rates start from US$1000 per night to US$6,700 per night. Celebrities, royalties & anyone with cash to burn deserve to have unprecedented privacy.

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Managing the underwater work in a scientific project for the resort, we went out even in rough seas. The wind caused the boat to rock 45 degrees side to side. Internet connection here is via satellite transmission & with 600+ staff in the village, there was no way I could upload any videos of my previous work. I spent my time assisting the team of scientists in getting the job done on land as most of my work is in the ocean. Going out is a challenge & so is coming out of the water. There were moments where we decided not to climb back onto the ladder-less cruiser & swim 300m back to shore with the surf instead. By the time we return to base, I had become so exhausted. Imagine going out like this twice a day.

What’s good though, is the people I get to work with on this island with 200 villas. I got to see plenty of what I don’t normally see, such as the Manta Ray passing overhead while I was working at the bottom! I was too stunned to take a picture but I did shoot everything else in my line of sight though! Got a Honeycomb Moray while he was being cleaned. This picture was taken up close.

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Sneaking in a leisure dive or two yielded pretty good results as I got my chance to come very close to the most fearsome Titan Triggerfish & filmed it! The coral reefs are teeming with life & pelagics will occasionally swim overhead.

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Look at his teeth!!!

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Chancing upon a Cleaning Station, all these fishes congregate here to have parasites removed from their bodies. It’s like our car wash queue! God’s design for the reef is so beautiful & marvelous!

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That brings me to this observation. A typical female’s 5C’s are Cash, Condo, Car, Carat & Credit Card but the picture above contains MY 5Cs……can you guess what they are??? Clam, Crab, Christmas Tree Worm, Coral & Crevices! These are stuff that I live for! Even if only one of you appreciates my work & pursuits in obtaining the most bizarre footages in what I call a NatGeo phenomenon/encounter, it would be worth my while to keep producing them for you. I have achieved all that I’ve set out to achieve & nothing makes me happier than to find these & discover new things in my oceanic adventures. If you have nothing to live for, you have lived for nothing.

As we were bound by the contract, I can’t really say where I am but from my title, I’m sure you can guess where I’ve been for the last 2 weeks & pray that I get to return home for Chinese New Year! What a way to end January 2011!

Wonderful World of Mabul!

The cloud of silt smoked wispily from beneath the crab. If it hadn’t been the medium of water, you would think the crab’s bottom was on fire. Hovering closer to take a look, I realised that it was using its hind legs to sift the sand to get to its prey, the Sea Biscuit urchin! Every year, I dedicate one trip to a far-off destination, to capture creatures that would completely blow my mind such as this funny crab. Seeing someone upside down, filming a scuttling crab with its morsel must have been quite a sight for the creatures. During night dives, especially in sites where there are plenty of sea urchins, there is no telling what you might hit when you are concentrating on your subject and the only source of light. I didn’t collide with anything and thank goodness for that.

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Check out the video!

Spending 5 days on the oil rig resort called Seaventures was pure bliss. Located off the island of Mabul in Sipadan, our ”˜escape’ route was down the ocean below, lowered by the elevator that accommodates 7 people at a time. We had a great crew serving us while having the time of our lives when we sieved out the bizarre residents below the rig.

On the night that we arrived, it coincided with Mid Autumn Festival for the Chinese, what we fondly call ”˜Mooncake Festival.’ According to what Ive been told as a kid, this festival is about a rebellion of the current rulers of China then….commemorating an uprising in China against the Mongol rulers of the Yuan Dynasty (1280”“1368) in the 14th century. They devised a plan to time the rebellion to coincide with the Mid Autumn Festival. Permission was sought from the emperor to distribute thousands of moon cakes to the Chinese residents. These mooncakes, seemingly to bless the longevity of the Mongol emperor, contained the uprising message inscribed on the cake itself! Though Wikipedia stated a different story of a piece of paper with a message ??????? – Kill the Mongols on the 15th day of the 8th month, that’s inserted into the mooncake, I was told it was inscribed. The rebels successfully attacked and overthrew the government on that night and the Ming Dynasty was established soon after. I associate lanterns to this festival because I used to lit them up on nights leading to this day when I was a kid. Prior to being in Mabul, I bought 18 paper lanterns, packed them in my suitcase and on that night, we lit them up and hung them with the help of the crew and other guests in the resort……TA DA…!

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We averaged about 4 dives a day, taking as much in as I could with one of my strobes doing the disco light on me all of a sudden. Disabling that I resorted to one strobe & one light instead. Great weather greeted us when we arrived, stormy weather in between, reminded us of nature’s fury as we scrambled to grab our things off the tables into shelter. Just as the most difficult times in the most difficult of situations, the storm will pass and the rainbow is a reminder of not only God’s promise but that the sun will shine again.

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Footnote:- Over the next few days, I will blog about the things I’ve seen. I have to get ready for yet another assignment next week which would see me in another part of Indonesia. Till I find some time to upload the videos, you can follow me on Twitter for real time updates!