First Sunday of 2015: Hiking Bukit Shahbandar (Again)

If there is one thing more uncertain than predicting the weather before a hike, it is coming up with a blog title that differentiates one from the other. We hiked the 9 Pondok trail on the first day of the new year and three days later we’re back hiking the same trails. Another day, another adventure through the forest and rocky terrains except with fewer company than our last hike. Also, Jong (red tee) a Miri resident who trained exclusively on these hills for his successful 2014 Mount Kinabalu climb joined us for the first time this year. Our morning began with a drizzle as we left our house in Seria that quickly escalated to a heavy rainfall by the time we reached the Seria By-pass. There was turning back or changing of mind because of bad weather — we remained positive, optimistically hopeful that the weather would clear up by the time we’re near Jerudong — it did, to everyone’s delight :)

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A group photo here at the intersection to Pondok 7. This trail is very popular for hikers that prefer a slightly less intense hike, by passing the more challenging and often slippery trails (when wet) that connect Pondok 4, 5, and 6.

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A cloudy morning makes for a dramatic photo moment. I am not too fond of dark clouds but I’m far less fond of environmental portraits with washed out sky. Lighting the subjects here is another matter with the PowerShot G11’s tiny flash just isn’t up to the task. I had to meet things halfway by exposing for the clouds to retain as much detail as possible, setup flash for slow sync and shooting RAW to pull brightness from the otherwise underexposed faces. You only need to look at our shadows to see direction and intensity of sunlight. Click on image to view larger version.

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Jong who was once upon a time the face for Muffin & Co. is incredibly fascinated by Shahbandar’s flora, in particularly the pitcher plants or ‘monkey cups’ as they’re commonly called, or even “somboi-somboi” as they’re called in local Bruneian context.

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Whether you choose to hike 7 or 9 Pondok trail, Bukit Shahbandar offers trail runners and hikers a variety of terrain to keep things interesting. I would get bored rather quickly if there was only one kind of terrain — an hour to get there from home and another hour to get home — would be quite the buzz kill.

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The short rocky trail between Pondok 6 and 7 has some amazing scenery with Pondok 7 offering a higher vantage point overlooking the rooftop of two (maybe three) huts in the distance.

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Descending from Pondok 8 the hike to the last hut, is met with a steep, rocky climb all the way to Pondok 9. Alternatively, there’s a by-pass side trail for anyone who wishes to give this a miss.

see MapMyHike for trail map and workout stats of this hike.

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If this part of the climb looks vaguely familiar to you that’s because it is — scroll up to see my blog header image and that’s a wider perspective. Quite deceptive to think that’s the top of where Pondok 9 might be when in fact it’s only the start of the climb. Like the Pondok 5 lookout photographing people and exposing them correctly here is also quite challenging considering the camera is aimed directly at the bright sky the natural tendency of camera’s automatic metering is to underexpose rendering shadow areas (of trees) and faces dark. Once again, the G11’s DSLR controls saved the day! Click on image to view larger version.

Photographing KFC’s Premium Italian Desserts

September 2014 was all about franchise food photography. I had bookings to photograph KFC, Starbucks, Sushi Tei, Auntie Anne’s and Gloria Jeans food menu, all in the same month. A week before the Starbucks assignment, I photographed KFC Brunei’s Premium Italian Desserts in three offerings: Profiteroles, Tiramisu and Chocolate Tartufo. Of the three, I have sampled the Tiramisu and Choc Tartufo — can’t say which one I liked better but as far as sweet desserts go, I guess I would take turns having them again. Now to find time to sample the Profiteroles.

As I have no behind-the-scenes photos of the assignment to share, here are close-up images of the mouthwatering desserts used in the actual packaging instead. According to KFC Brunei’s Facebook announcement, these desserts are now available in all stores nationwide.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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