Sunday, August 19, 2007

Sunset at Borobudur

We took a day off from Bali and flew to Yogyakarta to visit the Buddhist monument, Borobudur.

We arrived at Borobudur late morning when the sun was high and photography was difficult. After climbing to the top of the monument and being enlightened with the history of Borobudur, we departed for the Saraswati Hotel for lunch. Lunch was wonderful in the cool refreshing dining room and we decided that poolside at the hotel would be our home until late afternoon when we would return to the monument for that golden hour of photography. These photographs were taken during this time and are some of my favorites.

Our journey to Borobudur was a day filled with surprises and I am glad to have had the opportunity to see this magnificent monument.

Thanks to Wikipedia for the following:

“Borobudur is a ninth century Buddhist Mahayana monument in Central Java, Indonesia. The monument comprises six square platforms topped by three circular platforms, and is decorated with 2,672 relief panels and 504 Buddha statues. A main dome is located at the center of the top platform, and is surrounded by seventy-two Buddha statues seated inside perforated stupa.”

“The Buddha statues are in niches at the Rupadhatu level, arranged in rows on the outer sides of the balustrades. At the Arupadhatu level (or the three circular platforms), Buddha statues are placed inside perforated stupas. Of the total 504 Buddha statues, over 300 are mutilated (mostly headless) and 43 are completely missing.”

“At glance, all Buddha statues are equal, but there is subtle difference between them in the mudras or the position of the hands. There are 5 groups of mudra: North, East, South, West and Zenith, which represent the five cardinal compass according to Mahayana.”

Read more about Borobudur.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Back in the US

Almost home! After about 26 hours of travel time we have landed in Washington, DC and I am awaiting my final flight to Chicago. Because of the free ticket, I am doing a little backtracking but being able to fly business class made the extra flight worth it.

It is good to almost be back home again and it is definitely good to be back in the US.

It was after my trip to Turkey in the 90s that I realized just how good we have it in the US and when the US Customs official says "Welcome home, Mr. Childs" I really do mean it when I say "Thanks, it's good to be home again."

Off to the gate. The last leg is here.

Monday, July 30, 2007

The Long Road Home

Bali is in the history books and it was a fantastic trip. I saw many new things and experienced the charm of the people of Bali over the past two weeks. I can only hope that my photos have captured some of the emotion and vibrancy of the island and its culture.

Now it is time to journey home. It will take about 28 hours including the layovers in Tokyo and Washington, DC. My travel companions have departed for various locations including London, New York, Florida, and Viet Nam. Photos from the trip will start to be posted after I get settled back at home. I have taken almost 4,000 photos and they became somewhat difficult to sort through on a daily basis. I have seen some that I am very happy with and there are a couple of shots that I particularly like, especially the sunset shots at Borobodur.

My first leg home was on Thai Airways and Thuchawate and the staff made the flight very pleasant. Next up is the long leg from Tokyo to Washington, D.C. on ANA and the final jump is from Washington, D.C. to Chicago. It will be interesting to compare the service on all the different airlines.

My special thanks to Tewfic El-Sawy for setting up a trip that was as enjoyable as my trips with him to Cambodia and Bhutan in 2006. You can visit his site at to see more of his travels. I learn more from him on each trip that I take and look forward to the next one, wherever it will take us.

If there is a lan connection on the ANA flight I will add some parting thoughts. If not, I will be studying a presentation that I am to give on 01 August at work.

It will be good to be home again.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Free Friday

It is Friday morning in Ubud and we have a free day!

Well, it might not be totally free since this is to be a shopping day and if there is one thing that abounds in Ubud, it is shopping. If it is art or craft related, it can be found in Ubud. There are very few shops that will not bargain, so how much you actually spend is somewhat dependent on your negotiation skills. Our general rule of thumb has been to start off at something around 60% of listed price and then you are off and running.

There are several restaurants and shops that we have frequented that we have particularly enjoyed. Nomads is a restaurant that was founded a number of years ago and serves the most delicious food and desserts. For lunchtime, Café Moka can hardly be surpassed for its fresh French baguette sandwiches. The Dirty Duck restaurant is very popular and got its unusual name because just as the restaurant was completing construction, a family of muddy ducks walked through and left muddy foot prints on the floor. The workers all exclaimed “those dirty ducks” or words to that effect and the name stuck. They are famous for, of all things, fried crispy duck.

We have also been a number of times to Dragonfly, a restaurant and wireless internet café. The breakfasts are wonderful, the staff is truly helpful to internet neophytes like me, and you are always welcomed back. Located on Jalan Dewi Sita road, I highly recommend it when you want to connect.

The Agung Raka Bungalows have gone out of their way to make our stay pleasant and to provide us with guides and drivers that are both knowledgeable and helpful. I would return to stay here anytime.

We went to see the Buddhist monument, Borobodur, yesterday in Yogyakarta. Imagine a temple that took 100 years to build, was actively used for 100 years, and then covered in volcanic ash for 800 years. It was re-discovered by Sir Thomas Raffles, the Governor of Java, and the volcanic ash was painstakingly removed from the entire site. Over 2,000,000 stones were then catalogued and moved to a staging site so that a firm foundation could be built on the site and the monument re-built, stone by stone. It was very impressive to see and as the golden hour of sunset approached, we went into high gear taking photos. A long day, we didn’t get back to Bali until 1:00 AM.

Thus, Friday off.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Bali Time

It is the 22nd of July, Sunday and we have the morning off for a change. We have just had breakfast at Dragonfly, one of the internet hotspots in Ubud. It is nice to have a morning off for a change. Usually we are having breakfast early and then off for a shoot.

There are more than 15,000 temples on the island and we have attended a number of the festivals. It is imperative that you have a sarong if you are to be admitted onto temple grounds. I have been impressed with not only the number of festivals at this time of the year but also with the friendliness of the Balinese people that we have met and who have welcomed us. The festivals take a great deal of preparation by the villagers and we have had lots of fun seeing the villagers at work and at play.

Work time for the festival starts at about 4:00 in the morning for the men who are preparing most of the food that will be used in the festival. To see twenty men sitting around wooden blocks chopping meat into a paste like consistency that will be used for satay is a sight. All of them carry two knives for the preparation of the meat. We are very careful not to offend any of them! Never, never, offend a man with a well used, razor sharp set of knives! Lots of chilies, garlic, shallots, and bamboo spikes and you are ready for cooking. We also have seen several suckling pigs being roasted over open fires, on long stakes turned by hand.

When all is ready, the people get dressed in the most beautiful sarongs and finest clothing. I have been very moved by the interaction between the fathers and young sons as prayers are said and blessings received. The traditions are being passed along from generation to generation.

The Balinese calendar is based upon a 210 day calendar year and the festivals are timed for that calendar. July is a big month for festivals and there are many each day. On two occasions we have been driving and have seen festival goers and actually stopped the cars to see where the festival was taking place. Imagine a busy highway (busy for Bali), and walking at the side of the road are approximately 1,000 people carrying banners, food, with a band and all dressed and headed to the temple grounds. Two cars pulled off to the side of the road and 8 doors flew open with 7 crazy photographers with cameras in hand trying to get to the head of the procession. It was approximately a mile walk to the temple grounds and we were allowed only into the outer courtyard because we were not wearing our sarongs. We shot for about ten minutes and when our drivers caught up with us we immediately got into proper dress. Tewfic had told us to always have our sarongs in the cars. Showing the respect to the Balinese people, we were allowed into the temple grounds to photograph the ceremony.

Today, Sunday, we will be photographing Balinese dancers who will be performing for us in a private shoot.

I will have some photographs posted soon! I promise!

I am learning Balinese time very quickly.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Selamat Pagi!

Good Morning. It is 7:30 in the morning on Monday 16 July and I hope that this will become a habit. If I can type for an hour at this time before we start shooting, I will be able to share thoughts while they are still fresh.

Early morning is, I think, a special time at the Agung Raka Bungalows in Bali. The air is clear, usually still, always humid, and generally all you hear is the running water from the rice paddies as they are irrigated. The Agung Raka is a group of “bungalows” that sit amongst working rice fields. I am in a bungalow that is the furthest from the entrance and I have an unobstructed view of the rice paddies from my lower deck area.

The bungalows are two stories high with the sleeping quarters upstairs and the bathroom downstairs. We are fortunate to all have air conditioned bungalows and we have Tewfic to thank for that. He is the photographer who set up the tour and came two weeks early to check on all the arrangements. We were originally supposed to have only three air conditioned units and at the time I had opted to not take one. There are no screens here so to get any air at night would have meant being very sure that the mosquito net around your bed had no holes in it!

My bathroom has one of the most original skylights ever designed. You look straight up into the open air and if it is raining very heavily, well, you are just going to get wet. I have made peace with the very large spider that was in the tub the first morning. Our accommodation is that, if he eats lots of bugs and mosquitos and scurries away when I am around, he will live to see another day and I won’t have a panic attack whenever I see him. He is still alive and I am still calm.

Same arrangement with the 8” gecko that was on the wall of the sleeping quarters when I first arrived.

The working day starts early here in the rice fields and I have yet to be up before they start. There are three plantings of rice in this area per year and we are fortunate to be able to see them preparing the fields for the next planting. Everything is done by hand and given the heat of the day, this is the “coolest” time to work. If you are prone to intense labor while wallowing in the mud and water, then this is the life for you.

The first thing that we did before setting out to visit any of the festival sights was to purchase sarongs. Imagine seven of us at the market looking at all different styles and colors. There is everything imaginable and they are primarily one size fits all for the men. The cotton one that I purchased would probably wrap three times around most of the Balinese men here but it does fit me, so I am told. One day I may even decipher the methodology of putting it on correctly. It will NOT be worn on any casual Friday so don't anyone get their hopes up. Photos have been taken and will be printed upon my return. What fun to bargain with the locals at the market. Group buying got us from $18 US down to $9 US for a sarong and belt. I had fun taking charge of the bargaining and I am quite sure that the owner only made 400-500% profit from the sale.

Our first stop in our new native costumes was to a cremation ceremony. We were welcomed into the compound by the family because we showed respect by being in native dress and our guide had a word with the son of the deceased man when we arrived. The ceremony was very elaborate and I have a number of photos. They will be on the next post along with a more detailed explanation of the ceremony.

There are many temple festivals ongoing in and around Ubud. We have been to four temples that were in various stages of setup for the festivals and we will be attending our first one tonight. Last night we attended a dance festival and I was able to get a front row place in front of the dancers. Very colorful and 12gb of photos.

I am getting the high sign that it is time for wheels up for the afternoon shooting so that's about it for this edition.

All is well, the food is delicious, it is hot, humid, sunny, cloudy, and the photos are coming along nicely. It is also now the afternoon of the 17th of July.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Wheels Up - Time to Go!

The countdown clock has hit zero and the grand adventure to Bali has begun. I am flying All Nippon Airways (ANA) to Tokyo and then on to Bangkok. When I went to Asia in 2000 I flew Singapore Airlines and had a wonderful flight. In 2006 I flew Korean Air and thoroughly enjoyed the flight. Also in 2006 I flew United Airlines and there is really no comparison between the US domestic carriers and the Asian carriers. I have been fortunate to have flown business class on each trip.

ANA is so far living up to expectations. One of the first and most lasting impressions on each Asian carrier is that the flight attendants truly appear to be glad that you are flying with them. That makes such a difference. As usual, I was asleep by wheels up and woke up about 45 minutes into the flight to find that there was a warm moist towel to wash my hands with and a cool glass of green tea to enjoy.

I opted for the Japanese lunch and it was fantastic. The meal consisted of several courses:

Zensai – Prawn roulade, baked golden brown squid, simmered whelk shell, smoked duck breast, and sweet corn terrine.
Kobachi – an assortment of simmered vegetables
Shusai – Sake-steamed cod with special sea urchin egg sauce
Sunomono – Snow crab and lightly vinegared mozuku seaweed, steamed rice, miso soup and assorted pickles
Desert – A wonderful parfait, mocha a la mode

The cold sake was also very smooth and added just the right touch to a fantastic meal.

This is the longest leg of the trip – 13 hours to Tokyo. I have watched two movies including “A Good Year” based on the book by Peter Mayle. Albert Finney stole the show in that movie.

It is almost 9PM in Chicago and we have a little over 3 hours before arrival in Tokyo, then a 5 hour layover, and finally, a 6 hour flight to Bangkok.

And yes, for everyone who reminded me, I am getting up every two hours and walking around for 5-10 minutes (when I am not sleeping, watching a movie, or eating).

The 6 hour flight to Bangkok found me very tired and I was not only asleep before wheels up, I didn’t wake up until two hours into the flight. Another meal on the plane and this time I opted for the international cuisine rather than the Japanese meal. Somehow, grilled eel after having been up for about 20 hours was not my first choice.

Bangkok is Bangkok. Hot and humid. I was lucky and it did not rain for the day and a half that I was there. I met up with some friends for dinner and then a little karaoke. I did NOT sing, it would have emptied the club and the uproar would have made CNN. I did do a little shopping and am ready for a 4AM wakeup for my flight to Bali on Thai Airways. Now the real part of the trip begins. It is a 4.5 hour flight to Denpasar, Bali and then a 45 minute ride to Ubud where we will be based for the two weeks. Unlike Bhutan where we were constantly on the move, we will only unpack one time in Bali.

I was afraid that this blog would be impossible to create while on the trip because the edit page comes up in the language of the local country where you are accessing it. I made the right guess and the language screen popped up and I got it to English. Shame on Google for not making that choice a little clearer.

Monday, June 11, 2007

The Faces of Bhutan

While in Bhutan, I became enamored with the people that we met and the many faces of Bhutan. At the Prakhar festival we had the great fortune to visit with the monks who were dancing and also to photograph the people who were attending the festival. Two of the photos in this post reflect the faces of Prakhar.

Many of Bhutan's young men are novices studying to become Bhuddhist monks. This is a very honorable position for a young man and it was great fun to meet and photograph them both at school and after their studies had ended for the day.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Bhutan - The Monks of Prakhar

In 2006, I had the great fortune to be able to witness and to photograph the dancing monks in Prakhar, a small village in Bhutan. The dance festivals are central to the religious life of the Bhutanese people and are great expressions of art, dance, and are performed to honor Guru Rimpoche. The monks who dance in the festival are to me, some of the most gifted performers that I have had the pleasure of seeing.

The costumes are very ornate, heavy, and voluminous. The monks were dancing in the courtyard of the monastery on a very uneven surface of cobblestones - barefoot! As can be seen in the photos above, they are world class and were breathtaking to watch.

I hope that you enjoy these photographs as much as I enjoyed taking them and if you have the fortune to travel to Bhutan, a highlight of your travels will be to attend a festival.

Wow! It's Here!

I am not sure if I fell under the spell of having the newest Canon on the block, but I picked up my brand new EOS 1ds Mark III last week and have been out getting familiar with it and the new 580EX II flash. The initial learning curve was pretty low and soon I was off shooting. As you can imagine, one of the first settings that I tried was the high speed continuous shot mode. I can now personally attest that 10 frames per second live is just as fast as it sounds in the marketing videos.

After using the 1ds Mark II for almost a year, the controls on the Mark III are easy to use and very intuitive. I wish that the Mark III had been available last year when I was in Bhutan with Tewfic El-Sawy. The festival dancers that we captured would have made a magnificent flash show.

The clarity of the image when matched with the Canon f2.8 lenses is just short of phenomenal for me and I know that I am going to really enjoy both the Marks when I am in Bali.

I am disappointed, however, to find that my Apple MacBook Pro, Adobe CS2, and Adobe Lightroom do not recognize the Mark III raw file. My Epson P2000 reads a file in the raw image but the forums are indicating that it is actually reading the embedded .jpg file from within the .cr2 file.

Do I like it? You bet I do. Does it shoot like a dream? So far. Have I read the horror stories in the dpreview forums? Yep - but it is a brand new model and there will always be some bumps.

One definite drawback to taking the new Mark III and 580EX II flash to Bali - Two more manuals to read.

29 days, 2 hours, 58 minutes until wheels up.

Monday, May 28, 2007

Shots from Bhutan

Since I am having some difficulty in getting my website,, up and running the way I want it and because I have now picked my favorite photos from my trek to Bhutan, I thought that I would post some of them on my blog. This will let me get the website done properly and will also let me post my favorites. In just a few weeks we are leaving for Bali so time is growing short.

Here are a couple of my favorite photos from Bhutan.

The first is a photo of a younger woman who had been working in the fields and who I caught at a moment of rest. The colors are very vibrant and show the diversity in the the fabrics and the color patterns found throughout Bhutan.

The second photo is of a young novice monk at school. We were given permission to visit the school and spent several hours with the novices while they were in class and also later during the evening chanting.

More to come...

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Travel Insurance

I was having lunch yesterday at work and the topic inevitably rolled around to my upcoming trip to Bali and a trip that my co-worker and his wife were about to embark on to Europe on a cruise. He and his wilfe will be travelling over to Europe several days in advance of the cruise and will be staying several days afterwards in order to do some exploring on their own in a rental car.

I asked who they were using for travel insurance and got a blank stare in return. "Why would I need to have insurance on the trip? That is just an added expense." I asked him what he thought he would do if there was an accident away from the ship while he and his wife were on their own and he said that he was comfortable paying for anything on site and that he would make a claim when he got home.

We talked about my travels to Asia in 2006 and he felt that those places were so far away that having travel insurance was a real necessity. I had travel insurance for both trips in 2006 and will be booking another policy for the trip to Bali. For me it is a small price to pay to be assured that if there is a medical emergency, there is a team of experts that can be contacted to help with the details including but not limited to emergency medical/dental, medical evacuation, travel accident, baggage theft, trip cancellation, and more. It really depends on the policy.

I have traveled with World Nomads coverage on my last two trips and they are certainly not the only travel insurance company that is available. If you want to learn about some of the benefits of travel insurance, visit their site. As with any recommendation, do your homework before you buy.

You may never need it. But if you do, it can make all the difference. Will my friend and co-worker opt for it? I am not sure but I at least I gave him some things to think about.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Shoot, Shoot, Shoot

It has been a while since I picked up the Canons and went out to shoot for an afternoon. With the Bali trip coming soon, I knew that it was time to get back in the shooting groove. So I packed the 1ds Mark II and the 30d and headed to the Chicago Botanic Gardens for some hiking and moving around after the cold winter and chilly spring. Since I am a member at the Gardens, it is easier to wander around and look at the different areas that are finally beginning to bloom.

It was almost thirty minutes before I took my first photo and I enjoyed watching and visualizing what I wanted to photograph and how to transfer the image from my mind's eye to the Canon's electronics. I must have been a sight as I walked because I have been told, and have experienced firsthand, that sometimes the very best scene is the one that is directly behind you. Imagine seeing me with two DSLRs and a backpack meandering along on the pathways performing slow pirouettes to ensure a 360 degree view.

When I got home and downloaded the photos to my laptop, it became apparent that some rust has formed since the Bhutan trek in November of 2006. What I had wanted to capture at the Gardens and the feelings that I wanted to have in my photos was missing from many of them. With digital photography, it is very easy to delete everything that you don't like. I have learned, however, that if I don't like a photograph there is usually a reason and I keep them as learning tools. I didn't like some of the Gardens' photos for purely technical reasons and others because they could have been better framed or positioned.

So it is back to the Gardens to shoot, shoot, shoot.

1 month, 27 days, 1 hour, 16 minutes, and 10 seconds until I leave for Bali.

But who's counting.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Lists, Lists, Lists

Well, the timeclock at the bottom of the blog is clicking downward to departure day for Bali and it is time to start thinking about "the Lists" those inevitable scraps of paper that start to form in my head and then have to be reduced to writing. When you are 8,000 miles away from home, there is no guarantee that you will be able to find what you need and the wrong place for your battery charger is on the shelf at home. Therefore, the lists. I wind up with camera lists, computer lists, clothing lists, manual lists, hardware lists, and lists of lists.

When I first traveled to France in 1967 with my Minolta ALs, all I really worried about on my camera list was did I have enough film to last the whole summer. Even if my planning had been off, there was film to be had for a price. What I found at the Eastern end of Bhutan was that there wasn't even electricity to be had for a price!

Today, with the advent of digital photography and the world of electronic gadgetry, the lists have gotten a little more complicated. I have traded rolls of film for compact flash cards, card readers, multiple chargers, an Apple MacBook Pro, an Epson P-2000, a laCie ruggedized hard drive, blank DVDs, a cell phone, and on and on and on. If I don't write everything down long before the trip, I will forget something.

So the lists have begun. After all, the clock says that I only have 2 months, 13 days, 2 hours, 2 minutes and 45 seconds until I leave.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Planning for Bali

This is my initial posting to my travel blog, RNC Photography. I hope that it will become a spot where friends and interested parties can follow me on my travels. I had the great fortune to travel with Tewfic El-Sawy on two trips in 2006. We went to Angkor Wat in Cambodia in February and then to Bhutan in November. These were the first two trips in almost 40 years of shooting that were specifically undertaken with the sole purpose of photography.

There were four of us with Tewfic in Cambodia and eight of us with Tewfic in Bhutan. I am unsure how he will be able to top those trips but in July, we are travelling with him to Bali. The travel plans are underway, the airlines are booked, and vacation time has been scheduled.

Tewfic has a blog, The Travel Photographer, located at:

and I highly recommend it for informative, creative, and thought provoking posts on travel photography.

For the record, I used to shoot Nikons, now I happily shoot Canons.