Tag Archives: Garry Benson

Quick Guide to Travel Photography

By Garry Benson
Edited by Tracey Benson

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Travel photography is a creative adventure. Away from home, you have the opportunity to record the unfamiliar with a fresh eye. This can be as true of a regular family holiday as of rare and special trips to exotic places.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Purely as records of experience, travel photos are often irreplaceable – you cannot go back. This means that to find, take and bring home an accurate record you need to be well prepared. An important section of these notes are such essentially practical matters as what equipment to carry and how to look after it. There are also general tips on travel formalities and on the challenges of different locations. And a final section shows how to put it all together in a slide show or trip album.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

But travel photos can be more than by-products of a trip. Holidays and journeys give you the luxury of time – time to observe the beauties or oddities of the world and to compose images that capture the atmosphere and spirit of people and places. By travelling as a photographer and with a photographer’s selective eye, you can come home with a collection of evocative images.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

1. Planning a Trip
Anticipation is one of the pleasures of travel. And with some advance knowledge of where you are going, you will waste less time in the wrong places and come back with a more interesting photographic record. Also, you will take better pictures if you have packed the right equipment. So before you leave, do some planning.

The first stage of preparation is to research as thoroughly as possible the places you will visit by going online, using guides, travel books, brochures, magazines and postcards. Such visual material will provide a starting point for your own photographs and websites like Tripadvisor help to inform you about other travellers experiences. You should also find out what kind of weather to expect, if there are strict rules about access to particular sites, and the starting times of any special events to be held during your stay. For example, a nearby town might be celebrating a festival; or a night scene reproduced in a travel book may suggest a good subject for time-exposure pictures. All this research will help you decide what equipment is vital and what you can leave behind.

The need for planning does not stop when you get to a destination. If you’re alone, you can work out a photographic schedule according to the subjects that appeal to you most. But if you’re holidaying with family or friends you’ll have to organise your photographic schedule around your companions’ plans. So try to organise your more ambitious outings for the days when others are indulging in more conventional amusements. For example, if you need to take a long, steep climb for an overall view of a resort, wait until your companions are relaxing on the beach, rather than drag unwilling hikers along with you.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

2. Travel Formalities
Camera equipment tends to attract attention from customs authorities, particularly at airports. In some countries, the amount of equipment you are allowed to bring in is surprisingly limited, and if you are flying overseas with more than one camera there may be problems.

Try to check the allowances beforehand with the tourist information services and Smart Traveller. In practise, customs officials have wide discretion over how strictly they enforce the rules. A reasonable, cooperative attitude will often work wonders. Remember that the regulations are generally designed to prevent people selling items at a profit without paying duty. Always stress that your cameras and equipment are personal effects.

A good tip is to list cameras and lenses, with their numbers, so that the list can be registered with customs, both when you leave your own country and upon entering a foreign one. Alternatively, suggest that the details are entered by customs on your passport so that you are obliged to take out the same items you brought in.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

3. Local Research
However well you prepare the ground for a trip before leaving home, there is no substitute for on-the-spot research. The more information you can glean from local sources, the more chances you have of finding unusual viewpoints or rich photographic source material. Begin with that published information – guides, maps and postcards from bookshops and kiosks at stations, airports and hotels. Studying postcards is particularly useful: you can put yourself in the photographer’s position, and then consider other possible viewpoints and approaches. next, visit the local tourist office and travel agents. There, you can get free, up-to-date literature and detailed information on subjects that interest you. A list of organised tours, even if they are too expensive or not to your taste, can be helpful when you plan your own excursions.

Finally, remember that your best sources are all around you: the local people. Never hesitate to ask and ask again. A sound policy is to ask several people the same question, because not all the information you receive will be reliable. The staff at your hotel or guesthouse will usually be very helpful, but if possible take the precaution of checking out what they tell you at the photographic site. For example, if you want to get shots when fisherman are retuning with their catch, make your enquiries at the harbour.

The first step at any site is to make a reconnaissance visit. If time and the site permit, walk around the subject to assess every possible angle. Make running notes of the advantages and disadvantages of various approaches, and try to imagine how changing lighting conditions will affect each view. Again, postcards of the subject will provide useful comparisons. Deciding when and how to take the picture will depend on what you want to convey about the subject.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

4. Judging a Location
Once you have research a locale and have a clear idea of the subjects you want to photograph, you should consider the best conditions for taking your pictures. Of course if you are recording an event. Timing, and to a certain extent camera position, will be predetermined. But for more stable subjects – scenic views and interesting landmarks and buildings – the time of day and the viewpoint you choose are all-important.

For example, to help you choose the most effective conditions, find out both the time and the direction of sunrise and sunset; these will depend on the season as well as the place. Remember that the angle and quality of early light change very quickly; arriving at the site even ten minutes late may mean missing the best picture. Where the climate is consistent, you can plan your pictures precisely. Otherwise, be prepared to visit a site several times until the conditions are right.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

5. Putting it all together
Photographs are meant to be seen, and the lasting pleasure of travel photography comes when the trip is over and you can browse through your images. Selecting, arranging and presenting your pictures are as much parts of the creative process as taking photographs and deserve as much care.

The advance planning, local research and notes you made about pictures along the way will now pay off. Instead of a random heap of images, including some you cannot identify, you will have a unique and vivid record of your whole trip. You might choose to arrange your images consecutively, in order of then places visited; or according to one of more themes planned at the time. And keep an open mind – you may find that an unexpected theme suddenly occurs to you.

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Photographing Art for Print Publication: Part 3

This article is the final in a series of 3, by Garry Benson, which covers all the technical steps for succesfully taking shots of artwork suitable for print publication.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

On the left, the untouched image – on the right colour corrected image. The original was shot using the ‘Loo Paper’ alternative.

Many digital cameras behave like color slide film – the best images are often slightly underexposed, particularly when bright scene elements are involved. But this means you have a lot better detail in shadow and highlight areas that you can access to if you have access to image editing software. Use exposure compensation to feel out your own camera’s exposure sweet spots, but count on some variation with photographic conditions. When in doubt, bracket your exposures by about 1/3rd of a stop either side of your meter reading.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Most on-camera flash units are too good! They pump out a very strong blast of light, so if you’re close to an artwork and want a subtler light try adding a few layers of loo paper or kitchen roll. You need to experiment to work out the best exposure but make sure that the flash sensor (under the words FZ150) isn’t covered up as it measures the amoiunt of flash light needed.

Sooner or later, you’ll have to deal with other digital recording mode issues like white balance and in camera sharpening, but it’s usually safe to accept camera defaults for starters. Digital cameras have more to do in preparing to take a photo than film cameras. Like film cameras, they have to focus the lens, however they also have to take a pre exposure to get proper colour balance!

The good news is that they are able to achieve better exposed, better colour balanced and in many cases better focused images than film cameras. The bad news is that this takes a fraction of a second and could cause you to miss a great picture.

What can you do about it? There are a couple of approaches that are very effective. The simplest is to just push the shutter button half way down and keep it there until you are ready for the photo, and then press the rest of the way. Pressing halfway signals the camera to immediately choose focus, colour balance, and exposure. The subsequent delay when you take your shot is now quite small, comparable to film cameras. When I am shooting I keep the shutter button half depressed, and I get great shots, even action.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Invest in large memory cards for your camera. One of the most important reasons for using a massive memory card is to enable you to shoot at your camera’s highest resolution. If you paid a premium price for a 24 mega pixel digicam, then get your money’s worth and shoot at 24 mega pixels. Why not squeeze more images on your memory card by shooting a lower resolution and low quality compression settings? Because you could be missing out on a great picture and the quality will suffer. And if you take a beautiful picture at the low 640 x 480 resolution, that means you can only make a print about the size of a credit card.

One of the great hidden features on digital cameras is the fill flash or ‘flash on demand’ mode for when you want it (the name may change in different cameras). By taking control of the flash so it goes on when you want it to, not when the camera deems it appropriate, you’ve just taken an important step toward capturing great photographs. How many flash settings does your camera have? In ‘flash on demand’ mode, the camera exposes for the background first, then adds just enough flash to illuminate your subject. The result is a professional looking picture where everything in the composition looks good. Wedding photographers have been using this technique for years.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

A huge gallery exhibition like Cai Guo-Qiang: Falling Back to Earth is a challenge – there’s no alternative but to go with the gallery lighting.

Photographing art in a gallery situation will often present difficulties. When you have work in a gallery it is usually illuminated by spotlights and the colour balance is very ‘warm’, similar to the light you see at sunrise and sunset. Unless you have supplementary lighting or have a good flash unit on your camera, don’t submit these types of shots. The colour isn’t true, often spotlights create lots of shadows and you’re just not doing justice to your artwork.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

This image was presented for publication. Notice the blue daylight streaming in from the left; the fluros in the ceiling and the fact that to avoid reflections in the glass the photographer had to move to the left. See below for hints on shooting images through glass.

The solution is to turn off all the spotlights, house lights, fluros etc and just use your camera flash that is colour adjusted for daylight. If you have the luxury of a remote flash head setup place two of them either side of the camera at 45˚ and turn off your in-built camera flash. A cheaper solution is to use your camera flash, place some large sheets of white packing foam (save them when you buy a large item like a new fridge or 50″ LCD TV!!) close to the artwork at 45˚ and they will help ‘fill’ in the shot.

I scrunge up Alfoil on the other side and glue it on the foam sheet – this is for sharper, broken light and is also good for portraits. Oh, and if you’re using reflected light (off walls or ceiling) check the colour – white walls are best but any other colour will change the colour balance. If you’re shooting in daylight any stray window light will be OK as long as it’s not too strong or ‘modelling’ (from one side).

In a gallery open to daylight and no spotlights but fluorescent lights there’s another problem. Unless the fluorescents are special daylight ones the images will look greenish – again, turn off the fluoros and use your flash. One last hint; make sure you are taking the shot lined up to the centre of the work, both vertically and horizontally.

I was shooting a documentary in the APY (Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara) Lands in Central Australia when the producer received a call from her book publisher – all the gallery shots of paintings were unusable due to the mix of fluoro, spotlight and daylight on the images. Could I help? Well I waited until midday (good daylight balance), turned off the spots and fluoros and shot with a ‘soft’ flash (some layers of loo paper over the flash head) to soften shadows.

image7

Softening the flash effect also helps when photographing works under glass but inevitably glass is a problem. The best solution is to demount the work but galleries (and artists) get a little twitchy when this is suggested. The next best solution is to buy a Polaroid filter.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Sometimes you can use reflections to get a more interesting image. This poster in Avignon was interesting but with the reflections added it achieves a different result…

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

…and it’s an interesting way to get a ‘selfie’ – you can just see my reflection in this shot in the lanes of Venice, Veneto. ©2014 garrybenson

Polarizing filters need to be rotated to alter the effect they have on reflections. Slowly rotate the filter while looking through the lens and most reflections will magically disappear – but be careful you’re not lit or you’ll be reflected, camera and all.

Garry Benson
Garry Benson

The old images of ancient photographers hiding under black drapes seems crazy now, but a large (say 2 metre square) piece of black velvet is perfect for blocking out the shiny bits of your camera and tripod, not to mention my shiny bald spot! And it provides a perfect ‘black hole’ background when photographing small objects.

Sunglasses
Sunglasses

And the most desperate solution if you don’t have a filter? If you have a pair of good quality, clean and scratch free Polaroid sunnies you can use them as a filter by holding them over the lens and rotating them to block reflections. Definitely the last option as the quality of sunnies glass is not as good as the quality of your lens.

So as you can see by the above, the whole process of taking your own great photos of artworks is relatively easy – not! But why not try it, get some experience by shooting lots of images and like this once 15 year old trainee you will gradually learn how to take your own great images of your own great artwork. Just another hint – don’t forget to delete all those crappy experimental shots so only you know how bad they were!

Photographing Art for Print Publication: Part 2

By Garry Benson

This series of three articles covers all the technical steps for successfully taking shots of artwork suitable for print publication.

Traditional printing methods use patterns of dots to render photographic images on a printed page. While pixels on a monitor are square and in contact with the adjacent pixels, printed dots have space between them to make white, or no space between them to make black.

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

Colour photographs are printed using four inks, Cyan, Magenta, Yellow, and Black (CMYK), and four separate dot patterns, one for each ink. A dot per inch (dpi) refers to printed dots and the space between them, while pixels per inch (ppi) refers to the square pixels in a digital image.

Digital and film photography are far more alike than they are different, but digital image recording opens up many new, valuable and perhaps unanticipated opportunities. For starters, assume that everything you already know about getting good pictures still applies.

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

With the cost of another shot at nothing, why hold back? The pros typically take dozens of shots to land a few keepers. Now you can do the same – and there’s no better or faster way to learn. Instant feedback is one of digital photography’s most powerful advantages.

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

Before digital cameras became affordable for the consumer market, choosing what photos to take was a matter of finances and processing time. Everyone envied the contributing photographers for glossy magazines that had deep enough pockets to afford taking a hundred exposures to get that one keeper for the cover.

Digital photography has made it economically feasible for the amateur photographer to feel more relaxed and experiment by taking numerous exposures and sort through them quickly without the long processing time. Should you take the photo? Take 10 and choose the best!

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

In reality it’s not the camera that makes a good picture, it’s the photographer. You can buy the most expensive camera on the market, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll take better pictures. Novice photographers – and photographers who have no interest in editing their digital photographs – should generally leave their cameras set to capture JPEGs. If you save them as RAW files and high res JPEGs you have the best of both worlds.

However, to take advantage of the high resolution and quality of the camera’s sensor and image processing system it is pointless to shoot with anything other than the camera’s highest resolution and quality settings. When you take a picture in a JPEG format, the camera does things to it before it’s saved. The image sensor converts analog to digital, adds any specifications that were made, like white balance, sharpening, contrast, image effect, digital zoom, etc. After all of that is done, the image is saved to the memory card.

In a lot of cases, that is the best way to go, because the camera is very smart about interpreting the surroundings and adding the right specifications. Always shoot with the image size on the largest image setting possible and the quality setting on Fine (or Super-Fine if the camera offers it). As I said above that’s why most pro photographers shoot the largest possible images in RAW format (unedited in camera) and JPEG.

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

Don’t burn your digital images by doing too much post-processing and always maintain the original file as every time you work on a JPEG file (for example) you lose quality as soon as you save it (see the Hints that I’ll include part 3). It’s easy to reduce the size of image files post-capture if you want to send them in emails or post them on the Web but ALWAYS use the ‘Save as…’ command or work on a copy of the original. Be careful – it’s impossible to put back image data that wasn’t recorded in the first place because the camera was set on Small size and Normal (or Basic) compression.

Part 3 looks at practical explanations on exposure and white level as well as some handy hints for artists looking for publication opportunities.

Photographing Art for Print Publication: Part 1

Introduction
by Tracey Benson

Photographing art will be a trilogy of articles from regular contributor Garry Benson. This first post is also a playful and whimsical personal journey into understanding photographic techniques for documenting artworks. Garry talks about his background and career as an artist and cinematographer, sharing how this experience has informed his expansive knowledge of photography. We hope you enjoy these new posts.

Photographing Art Part 1
by Garry Benson

This series of three articles covers all the technical steps for successfully taking shots of artwork suitable for publication. What does this have to do with travel? Well, most of us spend our travel time visiting art galleries or buying art so for insurance purposes learning to shoot good images is important.

SLOW FADE TO BLACK. PLAY SOPPY MUSIC (Borodin’s Nocturne – String Quartet No. 2 in D Major).

At the tender age of 15 I had just started Year 11 at Kedron State High School when I was offered a job as a trainee cinematographer with a film production company in Brisbane. Back then everything was shot, processed and printed on 35mm film, so I had to learn the whole process. When I asked my boss how to become a good photographer he said ‘Take lots & lots of photos and then assess them.’

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

Do you remember the film ‘Newsfront’ about early Aussie newsreel camera men? Well, that was my life. When we shot newsreels for Cinesound News we had ‘short ends’ of 35mm film that I could load on to film cassettes and use. And every frame I shot was critiqued in painful detail by both the film editor in Sydney and my boss in Brisbane.

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson

A couple of years later at 17 I inveigled my way on to the sets of Theatre Royal & Bandstand at BTQ Channel 7, shooting stills of people like George Wallace Jr, Patsy Ann Noble, Bill Thorpe & the Aztecs, Col Joye & the Joy Boys and Little Pattie. I sold prints to the artists and to magazines like TV Week.

SLOW DISSOLVE TO…

© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson
© Garry Benson
Sunday Mail, 24 June 1989

In the 1980s I’d returned to Australia after a number of years working in film, TV and as a photojournalist in SE Asia, the Middle East & Europe. I was teaching photo-journalism and TV production in Adelaide, writing articles for magazines such as Craft Australia, Craft Arts, Pottery Australia and American Crafts magazine. I was editing & designing a magazine called SA Crafts – oh, and I was also weaving & exhibiting haute lisse tapestries. One day I had a call from a young lady called Janet De Boer who was about to launch her magazine into colour production – could I help?

© Garry Benson
Cover: Textile Fibre Forum

CIRCLE WIPE TO 2011…
‘Gazza, why can’t I take photos with my little digital camera that are good enough for publication in the magazine if I have an emergency?’ asked my editor Janet De Boer of Textile magazine, showing me one of her shots. ‘How do I know if my shots are good enough?’

GOBBLEDEGOOK WARNING
Technically speaking Janet would just get away with her shot, as her camera is 10 megapixels. I checked the images on my Photoshop program and the image was a JPEG, 3.1 MB, 180 dpi and 3648 x 2736 pixel size image, suitable for a medium size image in the magazine. When converted to a TIFF file that include all the CMYK or RGB channels the image would be around 28 MB.

The other problem is that any shot taken with a digital camera will need at least some degree of colour correction and exposure balance in a digital editing program – a task undertaken religiously by Janet’s designer Paul if the submitted image isn’t already colour & exposure correct.

For most artists there are two options – take the photo yourself or get a professional to do it. And ouch, yes, professional photographers do cost a lot of money. But think about this – how much would you have to pay to get your work seen by thousands of people throughout Australia & NZ? It’s a no-brainer!

Let’s say you want to take your own shots, how do you go about it? Well, just as in life there are people who chose VHS over Beta video systems; Mac over Windows or Nikon over Canon (a personal bias) there are two options – people with access to editing software (such as Photoshop) and people without that access. Photoshop costs anywhere from $1000 to $6000 and you need a computer to use it.

GOBBLEDEGOOK WARNING
And when you take a digital photo for publication you need to have a file of a certain technical standard. That’s a TIFF file, 300 dpi, at least 3000 pixels on the widest side and approximately 15-20 megabytes.

It’s literally impossible to work this out without software, so below is a guide to help you choose whether your camera is up to the challenge – but remember, the above rules are essential for printing quality images in a magazine:

Megapixels vs. Maximum Image Size
Megapixels Pixel Resolution*
4 2464 x 1632
6 3008 x 2000
8 3264 x 2448
10 3872 x 2592
12 4290 x 2800
16 4920 x 3264
35mm film, scanned 5380 x 3620

*Typical Resolution. Actual pixel dimensions vary from camera to camera.
**At 150ppi, printed images will have visible pixels and details will look “fuzzy”.

You’ll notice that the good old 35mm slide has a much higher resolution rate than any of the above digital cameras. Even though ‘dots per inch’ (dpi) and ‘pixels per inch’ (ppi) are used interchangeably by many, they are not the same thing.

Part 2
Looks at this conundrum – ‘In reality it’s not the camera that makes a good picture, it’s the photographer. You can buy the most expensive camera on the market, but it doesn’t guarantee you’ll take better pictures.’

Photowalking in Villaneuve

This is a post from Garry Benson from late in May when he was in Queensland. It has some beautiful images of the area around Somerset Dam in Queensland.

Images and text © Garry Benson 2014

Photowalking in Villaneuve

I’m staying with friends in a cottage next to the vast Somerset Dam in the Village of Villaneuve. Villeneuve is a very small village in the Somerset Region, Queensland, Australia, The town is named after the railway station, which in turn took its name from Frank Villeneuve Nicholson, owner of the property Villeneuve.

I arrived on Sunday night from Brisbane and went for a Photowalk last night and again at dawn this morning. Here are some of my images, unedited (apart from my watermark) and not in any order. I often find that sunset and dawn give the best opportunities for great photos. The light changes quickly but subtly and if you take lots of shots you’ll always end up with some interesting images.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

A Buddhist in Bali

Text: © Garry Benson 2014
Images: © Garry Benson 2014

Honouring the Gods is such a long-standing tradition in Bali that the island is named after the native word for ‘offering’ – Bebali. For the Balinese, to make the material world as beautiful as possible ensures a safe journey to the afterlife and a better reincarnation.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

The religious festivals of Balinese daily life are a continuous performance. Traditional music, dance, theatre and the arts are there to give pleasure to the Gods. The daily offerings are an excellent example – every banana leaf offering is covered with rice and marigolds, mostly grown in the highlands around Bedugul in the north of the island.

Bouquets of flowers and larger offerings abound, and in traditional towns like Ubud the daily hubbub of tourist traffic is punctuated by the sight of these beautiful ‘bebali’. Lavish sculptural offerings of food and gifts are created for odalan, or regular temple activities.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Tono Prayseta is an Ogoh Ogoh artist from the small artist’s village of Batubulan near Ubud.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

An Ogoh Ogoh is a classic Balinese figure that is closely associated with Nyepi – the Hindu Day of Silence or the Hindu New Year in the Balinese Saka calendar. The villages are cleaned, food is cooked for 2 days and in the evening as much noise is made as possible to scare away the devils.

On the following day, Hindus do not leave their homes, cook or engage in any activity. Streets are deserted, and tourists are not allowed to leave hotel complexes. No arrival nor departure flights at Ngurah Rai Airport in Denpasar – Bali. No tourist activities… The largest celebrations are held in Bali as well as in Balinese Hindu communities around Indonesia.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Ogoh ogoh is a kind of statue/giant doll made of light materials such as the combination of wood, bamboo, paper, and styrofoam so it is easy to be lifted and paraded. The name ogoh ogoh is taken from Balinese ‘ogah-ogah’ that means something that is shaken. In fact, when an ogoh-ogoh is paraded around it is always shaken by its carriers to make it look like it’s moving or dancing. There’s no set image – it can be any of dozens of frightening creatures.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

In culturally diverse Bali the celebrations of Hindu holidays are very important. For example Galungan celebrates the return of Balinese gods and deified ancestors to Bali. For ten days, Balinese families offer prayers and offerings, along with ceremonies to cleanse and balance the inner and outer energy on the island.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Galungan lasts for 10 days and features, among other things, Barongs (links with Vishnu) dancing from temple to temple in each village. The festival symbolises the victory of good over evil. The origins of Galungan are still a mystery, but essentially this is the beginning of the week in which the gods and ancestors descend to earth…and good triumphs over evil.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

The Balinese have maintained their unique culture for centuries despite many outside influences. 95% of traditional Balinese practise the Hindu-Dharma religion (known as Agama Tirta). This uniquely Balinese combination of Hinduism, Buddhism and ancestor worship is basically a monotheistic religion with one Supreme Being, Sang Hyang Widhi.

As a practising Buddhist when I took Refuge in Buddhism I made five vows:
1. Not to kill any sentient being.
2. Not to steal.
3. Not to lie.
4. Not to indulge in sexual misconduct.
5. Not to surrender to intoxifying substances.

The Balinese have their own Five Religious Principles:
1. Brahman, belief in One Supreme Being
2. Atman, Belief in Souls and spirits.
3. Samara, or Reincarnation
4. Karma, that action and practice is appropriately rewarded – that is good rewards good and evil, evil.
5. Moksa, the possibility of unity with the divine.

There are many parallels with Buddhism apart from the fact that Buddhism is regarded as a philosophy and we don’t believe in One Supreme Being.

A Balinese person’s life is marked by rituals, beginning in the seven month ritual of pregnancy followed by the birth ritual; the sixth month ‘baby touching the ground’ ceremony; the teenage’s toothfiling ceremony (perhaps in abeyance now); wedding and birthday celebrations and clan gatherings at temple anniversary ceremonies.

The ultimate ritual, Pitra Yodna, is coming next month – in July and August many villages prepare pyres for the elaborate cremation of the dead, to speed their souls to Balinese heaven so they can be reincarnated for an even happier existence in another physical form.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

One thing is certain. The tremendous growth in tourism has generated demand for the work of all Balinese artists and craftsmen, revived their traditional skills and fostered a thriving new industry. Whether it’s sculpture in stone, wood or styrofoam; fantastic kites or wallhangings, the art of Bali has a soul – and that’s also expressed by their daily offerings and lifestyle.

The Soul of Nature: Alam Jiwa

Images: Garry Benson
Text: Garry Benson

Nyuh Kuning (Yellow Coconut Village)
For the 10th year I’m home – at blessed Alam Jiwa in the traditional Balinese woodcarving village of Nyuh Kuning. It’s just a short walk through Monkey Forest to Ubud, the world-famous arts and crafts capital of Bali.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

Surrounded by shimmering rice fields with a view of sacred Mount Agung, the village is a showcase of traditional Balinese culture. Alam Jiwa translates as ‘the soul of nature’ and is a total of eleven beautiful two and three-story stone ‘apartments’ running along the border of the rice paddies.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

The owners of Café Wayan, Ibu Wayan and Pak Ketut have created an ambience reflecting the beautiful nature of Bali. The secluded setting of the six Alam properties in Ubud and a hotel in the Gilis all feel like retreats – yet also a connection to interact with Balinese culture.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

It’s just a short walk from Alam Jiwa to the Monkey Forest, the home to over 300 macaque monkeys. The Balinese believe these monkey to be spiritual beings who are protective guardians of the temple ‘Pura Dalem Agung’. They have free reign in the village of Nyuh Kuning.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

The overwhelming feeling of staying at Alam Jiwa is being part of a family. On arrival I’m always greeting with a huge vase of tropical flowers with a typical message ‘Welcome home to Garry Benson’. I know the staff and their families, and to see their eager faces and smiles when they welcome me back are wonderful.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

My hour long morning daily walk in Nyuh Kuning village is always a buzz. After 10 years I know a lot of the locals who smile & wave and sometimes chat. Just one of the paved streets about half a kilometre long had a total of 126 different sculptures.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

Each Balinese compound has its own temple dogs or guards, but the outstanding one for someone with a mudbrick house is this one. Beautiful stone mosaics, and dozens of small sculptures embedded in the walls.

The village is intentionally ‘house proud’ and the villagers vie with each other to have the most beautiful entrances. The main streets of the village abutting Monkey Forest are all paved and decorated, with a soccer field, a temple complex and local school. It’s almost a model traditional Balinese village and a wonderful place to stay, to walk around and enjoy the numerous restaurants etc.

Image Credit © Garry Benson
Image Credit © Garry Benson

It’s amazing that this traditional woodcarving village has such a wonderful array of stone sculptures, carved wooden doors and offerings, a constant joy to crazy photographers like me!

The Pleasures of the Greek colony of Paestum – in Italy!

Text: Garry Benson
Images: Garry Benson
Editor: Tracey Benson

Paestum
Two of my passions – there are lots – are old ruins and food, as evidenced by my car and my waistline. So when I was invited to a housewarming I was very excited as it was in Rivello, Basilicata, at my friends John and Dora’s newly converted barn.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Rivello is about 5 hours south of Rome, so with friends Zoë and Susan we headed off on the Autostrada via Naples for a three day visit. As a drive, it was a wee bit gruelling due to being on the wrong side of the road for an Aussie. That my two navigators had widely differing views of their role it didn’t help.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

After a great party and visits to local spots like Lagonegro, we agreed to take an easier (and quieter) route to Pompeii where we’d stay for a couple of days. So I decided the coastal route via Maratea, Sapri and the wonderful 7th century ruins at Paestum, right in the centre of a region known for its delicious mozzarella di bufala cheese. That’s the basic for one of my favourite Italian dishes, the simple but delicious Capresé Salad (I’ve included my recipe at the end).

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Along the way, you pass mozzarella farms where ‘vendita diretta’ signs show they’ll sell you dripping bocconcini (balls) of cheese made fresh that morning—usually within 300 feet of the scenically grazing bufale that provided the milk. (The yogurt, honey, and fresh ricotta are excellent as well.)

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Reids Italy website says:

It’s amazing to think that a culture could misplace three entire ancient Greek temples and forget about them for nearly a millennia, but that’s what happened when malaria and pirates drove the AD 9th century citizens of Paestum into the hills. Time forgot the crumbling ruins of this city founded in the 7th century BC until the 18th century, when a road crew rediscovered its remarkably well-preserved temples hidden among the weeds and poppies.

Map - Italy
Map – Italy

Reids Italy website goes on to say:

Poseidonia, or the City of Poseidon, was founded in the 6th century BC by Greek colonists from Sybaris. It trucked along nicely as the Roman colony of Paestum after 273 BC, and gained a small measure of fame for its enormous roses (which continue to bloom twice a year in gardens around the site).

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

Reids Italy website article continues:

Malaria decimated the population, and in the 9th century the Saracens wiped it off the map and out of memory. It wasn’t until the 18th century while building a road through the area that anyone other than farmers stumbled across the three incredible temples jutting out the of landscape, surrounded by blue-gray mountains. The three Doric temples at Paestum are said to be the best-preserved Greek temples in the world. These magnificent monuments date back to the 6th and 5th centuries BC, and are dedicated to the city’s namesake Poseidon (also known as Neptune, god of the sea), Hera and Ceres.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

You can admire these stunning monuments in all their  beauty as Paestum is off the beaten tourist path. The site takes 1–2 hours to see; and the museum another 40–60 minutes. It is possible to do it all in one morning by taking an early train from Naples (or leave the Amalfi Coast in the morning and head to Salerno and the connection), and lunching at the Nettuno restaurant on site.

Opening hours (from Reids Italy)

The Paestum archeological site is open daily from 8:45am until around sunset (last entry an hour before closing). The actual closing hour ranges from 3pm to 6:30pm over the course of the year, and it literally changes—in increments anywhere from 5 to 30 minutes—every 15 days (no joke); see http://www.infopaestum.it for a detailed chart.

The Paestum museum is open daily 8:30am to 6:45pm, but closed first and third Mon of every month.

Mmm, mozzarella: These plains of the Cliento coast are the epicenter of Italy’s mozzarella production, so be sure order some at lunch to indulge in the freshest mozzarella you’ll ever taste. The nearby beach: if you fancy a dip in the sea after a hot morning at the ruins, follow signs marked ‘mare’ for the beach, about a 20–30 minute walk from Porta della Giustizia.

Image credit: Garry Benson
Image credit: Garry Benson

My recipe
I love the summer fruits of tomatoes, bell peppers, and chilli, and each year grow pots and pots of Sweet Basil. This is the last of the homegrown crop, I’ll have to buy them from now on. One of my favourite side dishes is Insalata (salad) Capresé:
4 vine ripened tomatoes
6 grape tomatoes
4 Roma tomatoes
4 bocconcini, sliced
10 capers
10 de-pipped Kalamata Black Olives
1/4 cup torn basil leaves
salt and cracked black pepper
extra virgin olive oil, to serve
balsamic vinegar, to serve

Method
Step 1
Slice each tomato lengthways from top to bottom into thick slices. Place on a serving plate mix with the sliced bocconcini between each layer of tomatoes and top with capers, olives and basil leaves. Sprinkle with salt and cracked pepper.
Step 2
Just before serving, drizzle the salad with an oil and vinegar dressing.

Present with a small bowl of basil pesto (I add a bit of extra lemon juice for some tanginess.)

Hint: Like strawberries, to get the full taste of the tomatoes take them out of your fridge an hour or so before serving.

Photo Basics

Text: © Garry Benson 2014
Images: © Garry Benson 2014

Here are some simple tips and rules that can help you to create better pictures. Use them to lead you to create that extraordinary picture. Remember though, there are exceptions to every rule, so you think something will look good, don’t be afraid to try it!

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

This seems like a little thing, but often times just taking a pause before pressing the button and really looking through the view finder or in the LCD can go a long way to improving your shots. Check that everything is in the viewfinder that you want or that there isn’t too much there. Also, check that the camera is straight and level. I see so many shots that have the skyline askew – if you don’t have editing software you can adjust the level in iPhoto if you are a Mac user.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Try to use the highest image resolution available so that you can crop or edit the image without too much loss of image quality. You might have a smaller number of shots on your memory card but continually delete those shots that don’t work and you’ll free up space.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

If you’re shooting a person try to watch that objects behind the subject do not seem cluttered around the subject’s head. An example might be a plant growing out of their head, a lamp or a bright building directly behind someone’s head which will tend to detract from the picture. On the other hand, do it intentionally and end up with a goofy shot like the above.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Try shooting your subject from different angles not just straight on. Often times a unique point of view can really add dimension to a picture.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Don’t be afraid to climb up that hill, stand on a chair, or even lie on your back. Great artists will go to great lengths to get that perfect shot! Try turning the camera 90 degrees and taking a vertical shot instead of a horizontal shot.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

This particular technique works great when shooting a picture of one or two persons. If you’re working with children often the best technique is to get down to their level – the eye line really works well and they’re more comfortable.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

You will undoubtedly notice that time lag between pressing the shutter release and the exposure. This delay is necessary because your camera needs a little time for pre shot calibration and to balance the colours. Just hold the camera steady for a little longer than usual until you get used to the time delay and take the shutter to the first pressure. It’s like shooting a rifle – target shooters squeeze the first pressure then lineup their shot.

There is also a delay between shots as the camera processes the previous images. Some new cameras have buffers that let you continue shooting during the processing time, which is great for fast action photography. If your camera doesn’t have a buffer you’ll have to wait between shots, so look for a camera with fast shot to shot time.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

If your camera lets you to override the auto focus, you’ll want to use this feature if you take a lot of action shots, or if you are shooting through glass like this shot through my bedroom window. Even if your camera has a buffer, the auto focus may not react fast enough to give you sharp pictures if you shoot too quickly or the light is too low.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

 

Have you ever noticed that your shots sometimes have a cool, clammy feel to them? If so, you’re not alone. The default white balance setting for digital cameras is auto, which is fine for most snapshots, but tends to be a bit on the “cool” side.

When shooting outdoor portraits and sunny landscapes, try changing your white balance setting from auto to cloudy. That’s right, cloudy. Why? This adjustment is like putting a mild warming filter on your camera. It increases the reds and yellows resulting in richer, warmer pictures.

Often your shots will look slightly underexposed or darker on auto exposure. But this means you have a lot better detail in shadow and highlight areas that you can edit with your image editing software.

© Garry Benson 2014

© Garry Benson 2014

If your shots are consistently overexposed check the setting – you may be using an extremely high exposure setting like 2400 or 3600. In bright sunlight the camera can’t cope if you’re on a manual setting.

Get your camera out and go through the menus one by one. There are probably different menu settings for Record and Playback, and most display data such as shutter speed, aperture and date & time. Mine even has a Travel Date setting that tells me how many days I have left until I arrive in Bali!

A Hidden Treasure: North Coast Regional Botanic Garden

Text: © Garry Benson 2014
Images: © Garry Benson 2014

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

It was purely by chance that I noticed the Botanic Garden in Coffs Harbour. I now know that it is an incredible source of relaxation, research and recreation for Coffs Harbour residents and visitors alike.

In what was originally a night soil and rubbish depot in the 1900s, now exists a wonderful collection of botanic gems that the Coffs Harbour Advocate applauded when it was first suggested in 1973:

Garden a Visionary Plan… such a scheme would transform a neglected area in the centre of our future city into a garden wonderland…

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Early in 1981 the Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden was formed to transform the extensive area that became North Coast Regional Botanic Garden.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Working bees of dedicated volunteers started to remove all sorts of rubbish by the truckload, grub out weeds and unwanted trees, plan walking tracks and generally clean up the area. the local council made funds available the following year.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

It covers 20 hectares of Crown Land and is bounded on three sides by Coffs Creek, a wide mangrove-lined, tidal estuary. The garden was designed to feature natural forest, rare and endangered Australian species, and exotic plants from other sub-tropical regions of the world.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Officially opened in 1988, the Garden continues to expand, with the newest addition being a Japanese Garden featuring a lake, arched bridge and teahouse. There are five kilometres of well-made paths and boardwalks for visitors to explore this lovely botanic garden.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Garden Purpose
The North Coast Regional Botanic Garden is designed to feature the forest and plants indigenous to the local Coffs Harbour area, as well as rare and endangered Australian Native species, and species native to other parts of Australia in specifically designated areas. Exotic areas display flora from parts of the world suited to the sub-tropical climate of Coffs Harbour.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

Special sections have been set aside to feature important information. These include the waterwise garden, the mangrove boardwalk and the Aboriginal plants walk. Informational signage describes important topics such as the role of mangroves in ecosystems, biodiversity and methods of coping with the changing climate.

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

So if you’re in the Coffs Harbour area take an hour to explore his great botanic resource – you’ll love it!

© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014
© Garry Benson 2014

References
The Friends of the North Coast Regional Botanic Garden Website