Photographing Starbucks Brunei’s Menu

I cannot ask for a better month — two photo shoots in a month with two international franchises: KFC Brunei and Starbucks Brunei. Three premium desserts for KFC and a Starbucks menu just a week apart have kept me busy with post processing work. Somewhere in between I have had to rush a client’s request to uprezz (yes, there’s such a term) a panoramic landscape shot of Tasek Merimbun to 343 megapixels (45472×7543 pixels) to go onto a wall of JPMC Cancer Center. I am so glad that I had my computer’s cooling sorted before I have had to deal with an avalanche of CPU intensive processing work.


The setup at Starbucks Mabohai outlet: A pair of light stand mounted, radio triggered Canon Speedlite strobes including a third handheld Speedlite, 5D Mark III tethered to a 17-inch Dell Studio laptop for instant, critical review.

It is Starbucks policy to conduct their photo shoot in private but after juggling the idea of just a handful of preferred locations Starbucks Mabohai outlet was chosen even if that meant shooting in full view of passers-by and dine-in patrons. The display and merchandise section of the cafe was cordoned off for food styling and preparation and those who are familiar with my workflow know that I’ll bring a lot of equipment on location. A 17-inch laptop for tethered shooting is an absolute must when dealing with commercially critical images. I can’t imagine four pairs of eyes fighting to view the camera’s 3-inch LCD versus the convenience of a 17-inch display.


Testing light placements and checking exposure of the first item to shoot. A third unmounted light (not pictured) was used where required to provide additional lighting to hard to lift shadow details. Thank you Eric for this picture.

Fast forward five months and coinciding with Starbucks Brunei’s first anniversary, five warm meals are added to the menu.


Noctua NH-U12S Keeps My Overclocked Photo Editing Rig Cool

My photo editing rig uses Asus ROG Maximus V Gene motherboard with Corsair Vengeance 16GB 1866MHz RAM modules installed in all four available slots. These modules feature aluminium heat spreaders and they take up precious space making it impossible to mount a larger more effective CPU cooler. Preferring not to swap out the memory modules with low profile ones, I found that Noctua makes a cooler — the NH-U12S —  that’s 100% compatible even when fitted with a second fan. If all this fits your profile and you’ve been uncertain about this, you’ve come to the right page.This isn’t a review but a testimony of how well the Noctua cooler works under full load.


Download screenshots of my stable BIOS setup for reference if you have the same or similar ASUS ROG motherboard.

Noctua coolers are among the priciest in the market for good reasons (highly effective radiator coupled with one or two exceptionally quiet, high flow fans). Being pricey means you won’t find them in local stores. In fact, you won’t find them in Singapore stores either as I painfully discovered — contacting countless stores via email, Facebook even enlisting help of friends in Singapore to phone them, to no avail. I had no choice but to get one from an online store in the US.


A Noctua NH-U12S fitted with two Focused Flow NF-F12 120mm fans for maximum air flow.


From Noctua: “The NH-U12S is composed of a single aluminum-finned radiator with five nickel-plated copper heat pipes seamlessly integrated into the copper base plate.” While not clearly visible in this picture there is ample clearance between the slim profiled radiator and the Corsair Vengeance RAM modules to fit two 120mm fans.

The motherboard is mounted vertically inside a sexy and elegant SilverStone Fortress FT03 chassis so the picture you see below is in its actual orientation. The back of the board where USB ports, DVI and audio connectors including a high flow Cooler Master exhaust fan are located is pointed upwards to take advantage of hot air’s natural tendency to rise, according to its designer. Here’s a picture of the FT03 chassis next to the DELL U2711 LCD which also means I’m seated within earshot of any fan noises that might drive me up the wall.


ASUS Fan Xpert 2 is as the name suggests a brilliant fan controller app. I had the entire suite removed for over a year because I didn’t understand how incredibly useful it is at configuring and controlling the CPU and chassis fans to work the way you want them to. Looking at the screenshot below you can control up to five fans independently on this motherboard — if this isn’t cool and empowering I don’t know what is, says the geek writing this post! :)


Screenshot of Noctua cooler custom profile. NF-F12 refers to the Focused Flow fans mounted on the radiator.

CONCLUSION: All that’s been said and done, it all boils down to keeping the notoriously hot Intel Core i7 3770K @ 4.4GHz 1.20 volts processor cool when it’s crunching full throttle. At 100% CPU load on all four cores, I’m seeing an amazing 20 degrees Celsius lower across all cores compared to the stock cooler. I have had to down clock to 4.0GHz and lowered voltage to 1.15 volts with the stock cooler in order to keep temperatures manageable at full throttle.

Instead of standard overclocking stress tests to ensure system stability BIOS tweaks are tested under real world conditions using Canon Digital Photo Professional, Corel Paint Shop Pro X6, Photoshop CS6, Perfect Photo Suite 8, Autopano Giga. Of these, the CPU gets pushed to 100% load when I’m uprezzing images many times its original size with Perfect Photo Suite 8 or when stitching large number of images using Autopano Giga.


As an experiment, I had a panoramic image that measures 10543 x 3750 pixels uprezzed to 27000 x 9000 pixels (90 x 30 inches). The process had the machine throttle CPU load between 85% and 100% for 7 minutes to produce a 1.80 GB 16-bit TIFF file — processor temps stayed below 70 deg C.

Click on image to view full screenshot

The Empire Hotel & Country Club Beachfront Panorama Revisited

Can’t believe it’s been three years since I ventured out to the rooftop of The Empire Hotel & Country Club for a breathtaking panoramic shot of the hotel’s gorgeous beachfront. I happened to have just finished a photo shoot that day and had some time to kill before the hour long drive home. Directional shadows from the evening sun added an extra dimension to give this beautiful landscape a surreal, high contrast and dramatic finish. But something was amiss — the hotel’s very popular Pantai Restaurant was undergoing a full tear down renovation work at the time so the iconic roof isn’t in the picture.

Three years on, I made arrangement to revisit the rooftop for a fresh shot of the landscape this time with the inclusion of Pantai Restaurant. I coincided this shoot to fall on the morning my cousin and I had planned to hike Bukit Shahbandar. During the entire time I was on the rooftop, the sky remained overcast which explains why the image isn’t nearly as dramatic as the previous one — sun direction and timing makes all the difference. We were pressed for time so I wasn’t going to hang around to wait for a better moment.

Click on image to view a larger version ( 1.18 MB)


My host Hafiza preferred to stay near the door away from the unnerving edge where I parked the camera that’s mounted on a tripod.

I kept the camera bag in the car and brought along the PowerShot G11 for the shot below taken from the top deck of the observation tower at Bukit Shahbandar. I’ll have to drag my 5D Mark III and EF100-400mm lens up to the tower some day in order to get a better quality view of the Empire rooftops above the forest canopy. I think that would make the distant landscape more interesting when viewed close up.


A view of The Empire Hotel & Country Club landscape from the top deck of the Bukit Shahbandar observation tower. The white arrow indicates location from where I composed the hotel’s beachfront panorama. Photo: PowerShot G11