Saturday, March 3, 2012

Notes from My Recent Trip

I just got back, well let's say about a week ago, from my trip and now I'm more or less adjusted to the time difference, and (somewhat) adjusted to my day job.  That is, mild mannered, cubicle confined program manager for a software company.  Whenever I get back from a trip, I feel the withdrawal and the stark contrast of living a "creative" life day by day, and being surrounded by "life" as I wander the streets of various Asian cities.  It's not easy for me to put myself back in a box, and go back to the daily grind.  But, it "pays the bills" as they say, and keeps me funded for travels, photo shoots, and life in general.

During this past trip, I stopped in Bangkok for about four days, prior to hopping back to Hong Kong, which was really just a gateway for me into Southern China.  I only stayed one night in Hong Kong.  I had elected to go to Bangkok for a few days mainly to get away from cold weather for a few days, leaving fairly cool weather back in San Francisco and knowing it would be even colder in Southern China.  I also wanted to visit a few friends in Bangkok, and do a couple of shoots with some models that expressed interest in working with me.  I'm really glad I made the stop in Bangkok, and much as I wanted to stay, it turned out to be just the right amount of time.

Below is a shot of Nardia, pretty much out of camera, that I took while in Bangkok.  There will be more on my Flickr stream as I get around to doing the editing work.

Bankok, actually Thailand in general, is a very easy place to visit.  It's modestly priced, especially the hotels, and one can get by speaking almost no Thai.  I can speak a little bit, which I find helpful in establishing a little more "street cred" when catching a motorbike taxi, or inquiring on the price of something.  I had pre-booked a rather large room with many generous south-facing windows, with the idea of doing a few shoots in there.  I'd been to this hotel before, so I was pretty confident it would work out well (if my models materialized).  I was not disappointed.

My first day there, after very little sleep and plenty of jet lag, I hopped on a motorcycle taxi bound for Ital Thai Pier, where I boarded the water taxi en route to Platinum.  I've mentioned this extraordinary discount clothing mall in earlier blogs, so won't go into much detail here.  I knew I could find a few things that would be useful for the upcoming shoots, and I also figured I could buy some items to bring home since the prices and selection are so incredible (even if quality is mixed).  It's a fairly complicated ritual to actually find something specific, and a buyer is a bit better positioned if they're just browsing opportunistically.  However, I did specifically want to find one or two shops I'd visited before.  Even having been there a couple times in the past, I had a heck of a time locating the one (women's costume) store I was seeking.  I DID eventually find it, though I had a fairly substantial collection of other items in my bag by that time.

One example of something I found in Platinum was the red and white pullover sweater that you can see Nattimus wearing in some of our shots.  This was a case where I walked by the store (they're all very small shops), saw that sweater on a mannequin, and immediately thought, "That's Natti!".  I was so pleased when she came to the shoot and seemed as happy to model it as I had felt when I saw it.  I had similar experiences with other items, and so it was that my first morning was soon used up and I was back in the water taxi bound for the hotel and my upcoming afternoon shoot.

That first day, I had what was mostly a "fun shoot" with a friend of mine (Arm, above) and one of her girlfriends (Jan, top of the blog) who had never modeled but wanted some nicer pictures of herself.  It was a good chance for me to try out my travel gear without much pressure of working efficiently or worrying about results too much (on top of being in a blur due to jet lag).

My travel rig evolves with each trip.  The last time I traveled with plans to do model photo shoots, I had brought one of my monolights, along with a honking and heavy power line transformer (about 10 pounds worth).  It was nice to have abundant power at my disposal, but not so nice to drag that along through airports and train stops.  So this time I brought only two Vivitar HV 285s, one light stand, a universal grip head, umbrella, and 5 in one reflector/diffuser.  I wasn't sure if I'd have enough lighting power to get the results I was hoping for, and I knew it would be a pain thinking about batteries and recharge time, but in the end I'd say it worked out pretty well.  Here's a picture of how I typically used the setup, without the umbrella shown.

I pretty much used the two lights aimed at the same umbrella most of the time, though sometimes I would aim one through the umbrella and another at the ceiling for diffuse light, or bounce both off the ceiling at different angles.  I used both lights most of the time, which allowed me to set the power to 1/4 or 1/8.  That helped to get the flash cycle time to be quicker, and I figured it would allow my batteries to last longer.  So, double the number of lights, but set at half the output compared to just one flash.  It was definitely a compromise compared to having my monolights, and I had to set my ISO at 200 instead of 100 for normal studio shoots.  I'm pretty happy with the results, all things considered.

I'll write more about my trip in a second entry, just to get this published and keep it from being too long.

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