So even as I write this, things are winding down with the 5 Day Deal. This was the deal that offered $2,500 worth of Lightroom presets, Photoshop actions, ebooks and video tutorials and more, all for $97. This offer is good until Oct 19th at 12 pm Pacific time U.S. All this marketing and screaming about this deal (and it really is a good deal) started me thinking it’s time to give back. So here is what I want to do.
I am going to give you an option of two gifts if you will. One is really for the serious photographer who wants to have a website the other is for the follower of my work that just really enjoys the photos.
A few months back I did a Depth of Field with an action/adventure photographer whose name is Dan Carr. Dan lives and works in Whistler, Canada. I met Dan years back when we wrote a blog together. Dan has become an expert on marketing techniques for photographers such as Search Engine Optimisation (SEO) for websites. This is a fancy way to describe how to get your website ranked high on Google. Our interview ran long, really long. Dan had a lot of great information. So I made a 20 min bonus podcast with the remaining interview. This has been locked away in the archives and now I have made it available to you is made available to you.
If you are a photographer who wants to up your game with your website this 20 mins is very helpful for clearing up a lot of misconceptions about web traffic, .com verses .net hot to get better rankings in Google and more.
I have traveled the world accompanied always with my camera. Photography is what I do. As a result, I have a lot of incredibly stunning images from all over Southeast Asia, South Asia, Africa and Europe. I have taken the time to carefully select some of my best images and have created 24 high-quality desktop images. These don’t have a calendar on them. They are not dated in any way. You can use them for a lifetime. I made these high resolution so you can use them on Retina (HD) screens and see all the details. I also made sure that these images were not visually busy and in fact, they give you a great relaxing workspace.
So what’s the catch? They say nothing is free, right? But this is as close to free as I can make it without.. well, actually being free. In order to receive either Option A or B, all you have to do is to sign up for my newsletter. I only give away premium material like these to my newsletter subscribers. It’s a perk for them.
Everyone has a camera. Learning what to do with it is the challenge. Photo by Matt Gillooley
Learning to be good at photography is a lot harder than most people let on. We’ve all heard it countless times how nowadays everyone’s a photographer. That may be true, however when I was first learning I never had the guts to call myself a photographer. I never felt my images were good enough to claim this skill. I may have owned a camera, but did that make me a photographer? So how does one improve?
I went to a brick and mortar school. But if I would be honest, I don’t think it help me that much. I didn’t really start growing in my photography till after the digital era began. I could browse the net looking for classes or website that might help.
Over the past several years photographers have started coming out with how-to photography e-books. Just as the digital world made cameras accessible to everyone, e-publishing has done the same with knowledge. But let’s not stop there: video. YouTube and Vimeo have changed the way we learn.
A medium cracks the serpent whip to begin the ceremony.
This is the last in a four-part series on the 9 Emperor Gods Festival that took place at the Tow Boo Kong Temple in Butterworth, Penang, Malaysia. You might find it helpful if you read the FIRST, SECOND and THIRD parts of this story before continuing.
On this the final night of the nine-day festival Taoists gather to pay homage to the nine gods and send them back to heaven. More people gather on this one night than any of the previous nights. This is special. The evening started with my crew arriving at an already packed temple. Everyone was standing in the courtyard holding three or four long joss sticks. If you don’t know what a joss stick is, think large incense sticks. These are usually lit and then placed in a sand laden urn as a prayer offering. But tonight they will be carried in the procession of the gods to the sea.
After we had waited for some time, the mediums, who by now we know by sight, come out and sit on their stools to ready themselves to be possessed by the spirits of the children and the monkeys.
I want to pause here. I have heard people criticize other reports of this and other festivals for being inaccurate. Let me say; this information is straight from the participant’s mouths. Every night I would ask questions of devotees and record their answers when I could. These are stories that these followers have lived with for their whole life, yet everyone I asked seems to give me a different response. So to be clear, these are not my words, but theirs.
Back to the mediums. They sit and readied themselves and then the leader again, cracks the serpent whip. Each of the nine mediums starts to sway and move and then eventually stand up and take on the attributes of a child or often a monkey.
Each of the nine mediums starts to sway and move and then eventually stand up and take on the attributes of a child or often a monkey.
Cracking the whip to start the ceremony.
All the mediums seem to be energized by the cracking of the whip.
Another medium cracks the whip. Note the pacifier in the mediums mouth.
They ready themselves and the crowd to meet the veiled gods. Each god is removed from the inner sanctum of the temple and brought ceremoniously to a waiting float in the shape of a boat. After they are loaded onto the boat no time is wasted, the floats proceed out the temple and onto the route of the procession. A huge crowd follows each float always holding up the burning joss sticks. The route wanders around and then ends at the ocean side.
The boat/float that contains the gods is met by a huge crane that is quickly attached to it. The crane then lifts the boat from the transport and slowly swings it over to the shoreline. Here after some effort, the boat is eventually disconnected from the crane and attached to another boat by a cable.
A medium makes a pathway for the gods.
Note the pacifier.
The gods are removed from the temple under a cover. Here a flag is used to create a barrier.
The gods are moved through the crowds.
The under cover the gods make their way to the boat where they will ride to the sea.
The dragon figurehead of float as it leave with the gods to the sea.
The crowds of devotee following the floats.
The crowds of devotee following the floats.
Alway eager to have their photos made.
Even the mediums want their photo made by Simon Bond.
This medium blessing a devotee whiel waiting for the boat/float to arrive.
Riding atop the float.
At this point we were told the ship with the gods would be pulled out to sea and set on fire and that would be the end of the festival. But to our surprise, they lit the vessel on fire right there on the beach. It went up in flames in a matter of seconds. The gods were released back to where they came from as the crowd prayed and worshiped.
The boat waits to be hoisted to the beach.
A crane hoists the boat with the gods to the seaside.
Floating through the air like something out of Peter Pan.
Easing the boat to the shoreline.
One of the lead mediums giving direction.
Securing the boat.
Last minute blessings.
Fighting the surf while trying to tie the two boats together. The motorboat will pull the other out to sea.
The fire being lit.
It only takes seconds for the boat to be consumed in flames.
It only takes seconds for the boat to be consumed in flames.
Clearing he debris so the boat can leave.
Saying farewell to the 9 Emperors.
After some time the flames had died down, and the smoldering craft was pulled out to the open sea. The festival ended, and we were left to walk back to the temple and our car sandy and wet.
In closing, this festival was one of the most spectacular festivals of the year. We covered the events from one temple. But there were dozens if not more temples in the area that were doing all of the same events but on different nights.
As if walking through hell, these devotees walk over burning coals and paper.
Just a suggestion, but you might want to read the the first two parts of this series before continuing. You can read the first part HERE and second part HERE.
Click on the photos to see them at full size.
At this point in my saga, I am just over half way, day seven of the 9 Emperor Gods Festival. On this evening participants walk on live coals and fire. I say coals and fire because in some ways it is like two different events.
By the time we arrive (I photographed this with Pete DeMarco and Simon Bond) the bricks in the Tow Boo Kong Temple courtyard have been pulled up and a shallow fire pit has been made. The fire has been burning for some time by now. It is mostly coals with only a few burning embers.
Two men take a long flat plank between the two of them and start smacking the coal bed.
Two men take a long flat plank between the two of them and start smacking the coal bed. This action effectively readies the bed by compacting the coals and stamping out any flames. After they get it looking they way they want temple officials start throwing salt on the red hot coals. For some reason, this changes the surface to black with the red embers under it. My thoughts are it also drops the temperature of the surface or insulates it.
The first to cross the coals where the mediums. This was while the coals seemed to still be very red.
However, with that said, while the coals are still very red a whip is cracked and one of the lead mediums takes off running over the coals. He does this two or three time as if to test it for the rest of the soon-to-be walkers.
Then without any warning, the group of mediums, the same ones from the oil ceremony and the spear piercing all start walking rapidly across the live coals.
One of the mediums casually walking across the coals.
Then without any warning, the group of mediums, the same ones from the oil ceremony and the spear piercing all start walking rapidly across the live coals. Quickly following them are anyone else who wants to walk the coals. I was even encouraged to walk the coal by one of the “baby” mediums.
Quickly following them are anyone else who wants to walk the coals. I was even encouraged to walk.
By this time any red coals on the surface were long gone. If one ever did appear someone would stop the procession and toss salt on it and then let it continue. The line of participants seemed to be endless. Some did it two or even three times. Many brought clothing, idols even young children in their arms as they walked over the coal. I was told the purpose for this was an attempt to clean them of bad karma.
Many brought clothing, idols even young children in their arms as they walked over the coal. I was told the purpose for this was an attempt to clean them of bad karma.
Then without any notice, several members of the festival committee started tossing folded paper money onto the coals. The paper was not real currency, but money printed for the spirits. The money, of course, smoldered and soon burst into flames. While the raging fire burned people continued to cross the coals. Watching these people pass through a raging fire was the most visual and impressive part of the evening.
While the raging fire burned people continued to cross the coals. Watching these people pass through a raging fire was the most visual and impressive part of the evening.
The last bow to the fire before it was all over.
Soon it was over. The fire burned itself out, and people wandered away. Already thinking about Sunday evening, the last night. The night they send the emperors back to heaven.
The medium must now walk the long distance of the parade route.
If you are reading this before reading the first part HERE, then you might be at a slight loss as to what this festival is about. Do yourself a favor and go back and catch up before reading on.
The Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods is at its core a Taoist festival that focuses on nine emperor gods that are now celestial stars. On this, the 5th night of the festival, spiritual mediums skewer their cheeks with long sharp stainless steel poles. The poles look to be 4 to 4.5 meters (around 15 ft) in length.
A guest performers from Taiwan.
Guest performers rest before the show starts.
Prayers are offered at the temple alter.
A dragon sculpture and fountain at the Tow Boo Kong Temple.
Prayer are offered non-stop throughout the night.
I asked Philip, one of the festival organizers at the Two Boo Kong Temple, who are these mediums? He said they had been born for this as if it is a unique gifting.
As the long poles are lined up in readiness for the event, oranges are stuck on the end of each pole’s point. Partly to keep people from playing with them as well as to act as a type of disinfectant.
The mediums begin to shake after the serpent whip is cracked.
Then one by one they start to get up and move and sway.
They start to squawk like monkeys or talk like babies.
They start to squawk like monkeys or talk like babies.
The mediums need to get ready for the piercing by allowing a spirit to enter their body. They sit and pray. Then as soon as another medium cracks a serpent shaped whip the group starts to convulse and the spirits enter their bodies. They take on different personalities, mostly of children or babies. These are obvious by the baby talk and pacifiers (or dummies) they start sucking on. Other turn into monkeys with whooping, and squealing.
The scars from the piercing are real and last a lifetime.
They are then lead to a stool and very quickly but carefully the skewers are pushed through one side of their cheek. Here in Penang, they don’t seem to put anything other than the pole through their cheeks, unlike in Phuket where mediums push large objects through their cheeks.
Some of the mediums had their left cheek pierced, others their right.
The mediums then carefully rise and bow before the temple and it’s gods. Then slowly move to the front of the parade. This ritual is done nine times with each of the nine mediums.
Oranges are uses to both protect the public from the pear tips as well as a way to disinfect the spear.
The orange is removed and the spear is pass down to the men who will be placing it through the medium's cheek.
A medium himself, this man hold one of the younger men as he get ready to have the spear placed through his cheek.
The right spot is carefully found.
The sharp spear brought carefully up to the correct spot.
Then the spear is pushed through to the middle.
the medium rises...
bows to the temple and then leaves to join the parade.
The parade itself is unremarkable. It is like any other parade in the U.S or around the world. It is made up of everything from pom-pom dance teams to floats and dignitaries. The only difference between this parade and the Belton, Texas 4th of July parade, is Belton doesn’t have men with 15 ft steel poles running through their cheeks.
As if it were obligatory, the parade like so many others around the world has it's own pom-pom team.
Floats with local dignitaries and clubs made up the parade.
The mediums with their spears through their cheeks walked the long route of the parade with help.
Every so often a medium would stand on a stool and encourage the crowd to cheer.
Every so often a medium would stand on a stool and encourage the crowd to cheer.
The parade route was long and slow. The mediums needed to rest frequently.
The parade does a huge loop and ends back at the temple where it started from. Those people who didn’t want to walk the many miles in the parade were left at the temple grounds with a live theatrical production to watch and plenty of food to eat.
The next big event happens on the 7th night: Fire Walking.
The mediums dip their hands in the hot oil without any perceived ill effect.
Living in Penang is sometimes like living in Epcot Center. Many different cultures, and parties and festivals all the time. Seriously, it seems every month there is a festival or a holiday. Many of these are visually spectacular like Thaipusam or Chinese New Year. No other festival in Penang is more visual and varied than the Festival of the Nine Emperor Gods.
The Nine Emperor Festival is complicated, to say the least. I love to get as much info about what I am shooting from the local community when possible. It seems everyone, even folks that are associated with the festival are unclear of the details. It is at this point when I lean heavy on Wikipedia.
In short, what the festival is about is disputed by more traditional Taoist. In popular belief, according to Wikipedia it goes something like this:
“On the eve of the ninth moon, temples of the deities hold a ceremony to invoke and welcome the nine emperors. Since the arrival of the gods is believed to be through the waterways, processions are held from temples to the sea shore or river to symbolize this belief. Devotees dressed in traditional white, carrying incense and candles, await the arrival of their excellencies.
A carnival-like atmosphere pervades the temple throughout the nine day festival. During this period of time, the constant tinkling of a prayer bell and chants from the temple priests are heard. Most devotees stay at the temple, eat vegetarian meals and recite continuous chanting of prayer. It is believed that there will be rain throughout the nine days of celebration.
The ninth day of the festival is its climax. A procession which draws scores of devotees sends the deities back home.”Wikipedia
As a photographer, the important part of all this is knowing the schedule. There is no point in showing up after an hour’s drive to find that the only things happening are speeches by dignitaries. Fortunately, I found this schedule at the Tow Boo Kong Temple website. Tow Boo Kong is the largest Nine Emperor Gods Temple in the area.
1st Day Deity Nan Dou Birthday Celebration
3rd Day Deity Bei Dou Birthday Celebration
Playing with Hot Oil Ceremony
5th Day Spear Skewing Celebration
6th Day Selection of new Urn Trustee
7th Day Fire Walking Ceremony
8th Day Fort Crossing Ceremony
9th Day Deity Dou Mu Birthday Celebration
My first day to visit this year was on the third day. Having only read about the “playing with hot oil” I was intrigued.
The Chinese drama under the yellow lanterns. Not the best lighting.
When we arrived ( I was photographing with two other photographers from Penang, Simon Bond and Pete DeMarco) things looked rather tame. There was some drama being performed in the temple under, of all things, yellow lights. I had packed light. I brought my Cactus RF-60 flash, but that was completely manual. I also had my very tiny Nissin i-40. The Nissin is almost half the flash the Cactus is, but it is TTL and allows for rear curtain sync. If you read my blog you know I love to use rear curtain sync at events like this. But, I soon realized the limitations of the Nissin. 1. The flash just could not overpower the yellow lights from where I was forced to be. 2. The recycle speed seems to be very slow. I am not sure how much of that is the flash or how much the batteries.
Pouring the oil into the wok to heat it once they start the fire under it.
After awhile it was time for the hot oil ceremony. The men from the temple organizing committee started to build small brick like ovens, but more like a chimney. They placed a huge wok on top of each oven and made fires under them. They had it barricaded off. However, I noticed several photographers with the local press inside the barricades so we joined them. No one said anything.
It was good that we did. The makeshift ovens had an opening that faced away from the crowd, and this is the opening where the spiritual mediums would eventually spit the hot oil and make massive fireballs.
Possessed by spirits of children, the mediums dance around the fire playfully.
After the fire was roaring, the men poured oil into each wok. Then after about 20 minutes of being heated by the fire the mediums arrived. They were hooting and squeaking like monkeys. When I asked about this, I was told that most of them receive the spirit of a child or a baby. But some get the spirit of a monkey.
The medium reached into the hot oil with their hands and then scooped it into their mouths.
The mediums went right away to the oil and began reaching into the hot oil with their hands and then putting a handful into their mouths. They would walk around and then spew it into the fire resulting in a fireball.
This dancing and spitting went on for about 15 to 20 minutes and then ended quite quickly. Just as soon as the mediums left the committee members added large branches of herbs into the oil to cook them.
Blowing the oil into the flame to ignite it.
The whole purpose of the playing/dancing and spitting of the oil is to bless the oil. The oil will then be sold to locals over the next few days as medicinal and the funds raised will help the temple.
All this and it was only our first night. Next visit will be on day 5, the spear skewing celebration and float procession.
Here is Nayoung being a temporary model so I can adjust the background exposure and the power of the flash.
If you have spent any amount of time on my blog, you know that I have a phobia about off-camera lighting. I love to use on-camera flash and play with dragging the shutter. But off-camera – that’s the kind of stuff that makes my palms sweat and my body break out in hives. I am not sure why it is so befuddling for me. Maybe it has to do with my many learning disabilities or the fact that I waited way too long to learn this trick and now I am an old dog. Whatever the reason, it has been a journey of two steps forward, one step back.
This is photo is pretty much right out of the camera. This was pretty close to what I wanted for my background exposure.
My off-camera flash mentor is Piet Van den Eynde, my Miyagi of light. You may recall, Piet sold me his Jinbei HD600 strobe. It is a 600-watt monster that competes with the big boys like ProFoto’s B1, only at about a third or less of the cost. It is the Jinbei that I have been using to confront my fears. Why the Jinbei and not a speed light? Well, for one thing, it is entirely manual and believe it or not, shooting manually with a flash is proving easier for me and is giving me a great foundation. Once you learn the fundamentals, only then can one move on. Wax on, wax off. Another reason I chose the Jinbei is because it is so powerful; it can overpower the sun and allow me to use this flash anytime and anywhere.
When shooting in manual it is just a matter of making an exposure then adjusting it. In this exposure, the flash needed a lot more power.
For the past few weeks, I have been getting to know a couple of new photographers in my town, Simon Bond, and Pete DeMarco (another Pete). Simon and Pete are both relatively new to the area; they arrived here while I was away in the U.S. over the past year. These guys shoot a very different style than I shoot.. They are more into creative techniques and photo magic such as light painting.
Simon and Pete invited me to try out light painting. Simon has a new toy he is still learning to use. They wanted to introduce me to light stick called a Pixelstick. They suggested we go to the very southern tip of the island to a place called Vanilla Bay and shoot against the sunset. The only real issue is there has not been a significant sunset for many days. It has rained every day here since arriving back to Malaysia in September. But the weather changes here by the minute, so who know? We risked it and drove to Vanilla Bay.
We were a rather large group: Pete and his partner Nayoung, Simon and his wife Jayoung, Vijiakumar Shunmugam from a local Facebook photo group,and Chrysmic Qmin and her boyfriend Yaan Sin Lee. Qmin acted as our model.
Pete, Simon and their respective partners and I arrived early to scout the right location and set up the gear. Sometimes the best moments are serendipitous. As we arrived I noticed two boys flying red balloons from fishing poles. The boys were silhouetted against a late afternoon sky.his was too good to pass up.
I quickly asked Nayoung to stand in as my model while I frantically tried to get the exposure of the sky correct. What I have learned, (wax on) is to first expose your scene for the background. Get it as dark or as light as you want it. Of course, all this is done in manual mode. On my X-Pro2 I needed a flash sync of 1/250 sec. so I simply adjusted the aperture to get the desired exposure.
A side note here: the biggest enemy in my photography and I would wager in yours is panic. I was quickly trying to get the exposure before these boys left or their balloons popped. I kept telling myself, “Slow down!”
Eventually, it all comes together!
It’s a good feeling to get it right in the camera.
Once I got the background exposed the way I wanted it I had to set up the flash unit and softbox. “It is still pretty bright out, do I use the grid or not?” Trial and error. I left it off for the time being. I told myself, “Just set it up and take a few frames to balance the exposure on Nayong (wax off).” It was way too light. I needed to lower the power of this monster. Bam! I got it!
Above are the results of my effort. But it was only after a few frames, and the boys left. Of course not without a portrait of their own.
Chrysmic Qmin and her boyfriend. They asked for an impromptu couple shot between setups.
Later that night I became the VALS or Voice Activated Light Stand ;-). In other words, I held the light all night. But it gave me a chance to observe Simon and his Pixelstick in action. I began watching how he maneuvered it. I had to try. I had an idea. Could I make angel wings? If I turned on the stick while standing behind her and moving the stick to form a wing then turning it off and repeating the same move on the other side it should make wings. In theory. The problem is, I can’t stand behind her when the flash is popped. So I have to run out and after the flash goes off start drawing my wings. Easier said than done on coral rock at night with a 5 foot Pixelstick in your hand.
My first attempt at angel wings looked more like a peacock tail!
After thinking it through , this was a much better attempt. Not bad for two tries.
On my first try I just about broke my ankle (actually cut it on the coral) Oh well, the show must go on. The second try was better. Maybe the blood loss slowed me down. By this time of night, everyone was exhausted and frankly, it was time to go home.
A good night of inspiration and hard work using new tech. It was also a night of relearning old lessons: don’t panic, slow down, be purposeful.
Tomorrow I am off to some pretty fun places with my piece of tech, my Fujifilm X-T2. Be looking for new photos and some thoughts on this amazing little camera in the days to come.
I am pleased to announce the second Location Portraiture and Lighting Masterclass in Varanasi, India. Well, ok it’s really the second time we’ve run the class, but the first time we’ve used this name. I am teaming up again with Adobe Photoshop Lightroom Guru and Wizard of Light Piet Van den Eynde. We will be releasing full details in the days to come. But let me assure you this will be an amazing class! Piet and I have been working all winter hammering out the details to make this class one that will be both highly educational, exciting, challenging and memorable and I think we have succeeded. We will be covering techniques and skills that are often skipped over on other workshops of this price or length. We will be covering the broad topics of: Continue reading →
Most of the time when photographers talk about layers in a photo, they speaking about postprocessing in Photoshop. In this post, I am talking about visual and narrative depth in an image. To make a photo visually appealing, you need to create a sense of depth both physically as well as narratively.
Given that most cameras do not have stereo vision and so by default shoot a two-dimensional image, creating a sense of depth has always been an issue for photographers. We are always struggling how to translate depth into only two dimensions. So we have to suggest at depth. We do this in a very simple way.
This valley is certainly dramatic and the side of the valley leading up to the edge of the frame does give it some depth. But look at the next image...
Here by positioning my buddy David on a ledge looking over the valley makes the immenseness of the valley is much more apparent.