Tips for taking great food photos in dark environment

Among the biggest concern we Bali food bloggers faced upon dinner invitation, is whether we will be able to capture good food photos or not, as there are situations where even a modest DSLR couldn't cope with, like extremely with dim lighted dinners. What are the options that food bloggers have on such ocassions?

Pushing the light sensitivity

Most of modern day DSLR provides a wide range of ISO option. Ranging from the usual ISO 100, into the super sensitive ISO 1600 or 3200. Pushing camera's light sensitivity with using a very high ISO however, usually resulted in a too grainy photos. While it might look artsy for B&W pictures, it is not so stunning for food shots.

The maximum ISO with acceptable grain for a food shot differs with each camera models. My Samsung NX 300 for example, despite its impressive maximum ISO 25600, can only take good details and acceptable noise for food shots until ISO 800.

A glass of Kombucha and steak sandwich shot with ISO 800. Can you  notice the fine grains on photo's the lower part?

Long exposure food photos

To keep your photos sharp when shooting handheld, the venerable rule of 1/FL (FL is 35mm-format FOV) applies. It means if you are using a 50mm lens, the minimum speed to shot is 1/50 seconds, or 1/60 seconds ("60" on camera) rounded to the nearest camera option.

Unless there's a specific result you want to create using a slower shutter speed, stay above 60 to minimize movement shake. Old masters like Ansel Adams even suggested that the slowest speed to take sharp handheld photos are 1/5FL, Meaning the slowest speed for 50mm lens are 1/250 seconds ("250" on camera).

While it still challenging, long exposure is actually a working solution to take food shots in dark environment, all you need to do is to find a steady and tall enough object for your camera to rest upon. I usually uses bottles with lighter cameras, or tall glass with heavier cameras. Not much of a perspective choices, but you get the job done.

Tuna Steak shot from on top of a tall glass, further enhanced during editing to adjust the lighting.

Using flashlight for food photos

While using flashlight is an obvious solution, however on a public dining flashlight is as annoying as it is on a ballet performance. Its light is blinding, distracting, thus it might destroy whatever ambience the other dinner guests are trying to have. Therefore a flashlight is another no-no.

Using camera plus cellphone combo for food photography 

A cellphone in this case, will not be used for photo taking, but as a floodlight; you need one with LED lights surely, meaning most modern cellphones.

Different with common LED torch flashlights, camera's LED lights are usually on the warm end of the white (daylight white), to provide a natural tone for human skin. Also, a cellphone will most probably a tool every foodbloggers already have, so you don't need to invest in another photography gear.

While some of today's cellphone already have good enough camera, like iPhones and high-end Android phones, using it alone will result in a flat washed out photos as the photo subject will be lighted with direct lighting in a same direction with the camera's.

Using a combination of a camera and cellphone, you are free to move the light source around to control the subject's illumination as you pleased. Move it closer to the subject to create strong shadows, far from it for softer shadows. Highlight only a specific area of the food, create dramatic contrasts, all is possible with this combo.

Night shooting using three additional light sources: two from cellphone, one from LED torch.

Last but not least, photo editing

While the result might not be as pleasing as studio shots, there are already some digital photo manipulation tools capable to perfecting, thus leashing out the best of your photographs. My favourite apps is Photoscape on PC (freeware), since it has good preset features that could enhance your photo quality, as well as some cosmetic modification like creating frames, adding texts, etc.

For a heavier editing duty, especially when you shoot in RAW format, consider using the bigger guns like Adobe Lightroom.

These photos are taken using Panasonic Lumix FH7 + HTC Salsa combo, post-edited using Photoscape.

A reminder: documentation not photo session

Keep in mind though, that the purpose of your food shots during dinner invitations is basically to document the event (and shares them later in your food blog). For a proper food photography work, arrange a private session with the restaurant owner where you can shots during the daylight and bring along a more serious tool -- not during dinner invitations! Proper food photography takes time, and proper condition. Besides not everyone sharing the dinner table with you would appreciate it if you don't stand between them and their food.

The other acceptable workout should you are unable to take good food photos at all is to ask your host for their own food photos, since most established eateries usually already have those for press release, media relations, publications, and are taken by professional photographers. Just don't forget to give correct photo credits.

Any other tips you want to share? Leave it on the comments below. (byms)

Spending Hari Nyepi Day of Silence in Grand Nikko Bali

When Bali island shuts down

Hari Raya Nyepi will fall on 9 March 2016 this year, where for 24 hours long the island shuts down. No flights in or out of the island, no ferries operating, no cars or motorcycles passing, not even people walking on the street.

Nyepi gives off quite an eerie feeling at first, to imagine there's no way to leave the island for almost two days long. Despite the fact that we rarely travels outside Bali, or often in needs of quick getaway from the island. It's a sort of claustrophobia, but after several Nyepi spent in Bali we can (almost) outgrow the worries.

During Nyepi there's a very worthy trade off to get though, that can hardly recreated anywhere else on the planet: the silence and time-stopping experience.

As during Hari Nyepi the Balinese are prohibited from lighting fires, working, having entertainment or pleasure, anything that might interfere with the purpose of self-reflection is prohibited, hence the island's shutting down.

Only some critical facilities like hospitals, and tourism businesses like hotels are excluded from the prohibition, however the activities must also adjusted in a way that it wouldn't interfere the practice of Nyepi for general Balinese population.

Spending Hari Nyepi in Bali Hotels

As hotels are excluded from the stricter Nyepi restrictions, hotel guests can still do their daily activities within the enclosed hotel area. That's why during Nyepi Day, hotels are also populated by tourists from outside Bali looking to experience the silent moments.

If you've been lured by the idea of Earth Hour, then you will love Nyepi as it's a day-long act of preservation that Balinese has practiced for hundreds of years preceding the modern day's Earth Hour.

This special exclusion has also made hotels to act as temporary home for non Balinese residents choosing to stay in Bali during the Day of Silence, which is usually the case for families with little kids, like we did last year.

Nyepi Day in Grand Nikko Bali

Set in the cliffs of Sawangan Beach Nusa Dua, Grand Nikko offers the luxury of a five star resorts, with amazing view of the beach, and series of swimming pools guaranteed to make the whole family excited. The resort's huge area and assorted facilities also ensuring that we have plenty of areas to explore during our stay.

Located about one hour away from the street, the resort usually offers a serene atmosphere, and we're curious to find out how it will feels like during the Nyepi Day.

Checking in

We came quite late in the afternoon to the resort, due to little things that interfere with our intention of checking in earlier. (i.e.: office work). Luckily we're able to reach the hotel before the Ogoh-ogoh parade started. Otherwise we'd be reaching the hotel late at night as streets are usually closed and traffic rerouted during the Ogoh-ogoh parade.

What we didn't really anticipate is the stream of guests checking in! It seems like all of the hotel guests are checking in at the same time with us, hence queue was long and tiring. The hotel management carefully explained the situation that on top of the check in rush, they're running the show with just half of their regular workforce, as most of the hotel staff are off for their religious practice related with Hari Nyepi. Thankfully the sofas in the lobby are comfy, and there's a stream of welcome drinks coming in.

After waiting for some while we finally have our room ready, and heads down to our hotel wing facing the beautiful sunrise beach down below.

Our Family Room

Our little kid was so excited to find there's bags full of goodies awaiting for him in the room. He immediately open it and found some toys and t-shirt. To our amazement we also find a set of Play Station console, with choices of games to be played together between father and son.

The room itself  was huge, with large space near the balcony window, fit perfectly for our kid with his new toys. There's also a kid's bed at the other side of the room, so we can have our couple's good night sleep without the usual interference.

After settling down, I eagerly heads down to the beach to see what sort of facilities Grand Nikko Bali have. The hotel management informed us earlier that there will be Ogoh-ogoh parade coming to the hotel in the late afternoon, so I'm planning to do a quick walk around before heading up to the Lobby. Yes the lobby in Grand Nikko Bali is up there, 15 levels high, as it resides on top of the cliff, while virtually all of the hotels room lies down below.

Ogoh-ogoh parade at Grand Nikko Bali

The Ogoh-ogoh parade was coming about nightfall, and despite its rather small size compared with the ones paraded in the city, it's one entertaining show nonetheless.

The hotel guests lined up the entrance and watching in awe as the parade proceeds, it was organized by the nearby village where some of the hotel staff resided.

After the mesmerizing sight of coordinated performance and light show, I walked around the hotel a bit and managed to catch the receding sun, that marked the end of Caka 1936.

Beginning The Day of Silence

We gratefully welcome the new year's sun and prepare for breakfast. Boy we're hungry! Heading up to the restaurant, we found out that most part of the hotel are blacked out, in compliance with the Nyepi Day restrictions. The Day of Silence has started in Bali.

Breakfast was good and all of the family members get what they're looking for: sausage, cold cuts and salad for me, granola and bread for the wife, and... my kid as usual headed straight to the pancake station!

We managed to catch him before he did though, and forced feed him with something more nutritious first. Looks like this first born of mine ain't going to follow his dad's profession as foodies anytime soon... *sigh*

The beach during Nyepi Day

With the exception that hotel's guest have within the hotel, we then headed down to the beach to check things out, and find out what's the difference.

Beside of the less activity, we also found out that the access to the public part of the beach are now closed, and marked with a striking black and yellow tape. Behind the line, the hotel guests are still free to use the beach though it wasn't as highly occupied as the day before.

Heading up to the Kid's Club, Grand Nikko Bali offers a playful outdoor setting which includes a trampoline, and kids can also engaged in less physical activities like coloring, or playing video games indoor.

Nyepi Day's Evening

The hotel lobby looks quite dark at night. Downstairs however, there's more than enough light for us to dine comfortably.

Different with our previous experience of spending Nyepi Day in hotel, Grand Nikko Bali's quite isolated location makes it possible for them to offer dining service to the hotel guests in almost normal way.

The major difference would be, it's not like dinner on the other days as it was as full and as hectic as the breakfast hour, where all of the hotel guests are having dinner in the hotel due to the island's shutting down. Luckily Grand Nikko Bali has a lot of space to use, so despite the rush, all of the hotel guests are properly catered during the dinner service.

As with the type of food, our dinner offers a more lavish options of grilled meats and live-cooking station. While most of the dish we tried taste satisfying, I found myself making several trips to their grilling station, What can I say? I'm a carnivore!

The magical Nyepi Night

As the guests leaving the dinner and heading back to their own rooms, those who headed back to their villa next to the hotel compound get a wonderful surprise, a sky full of stars!

With the virtually zero ground light pollution, the sky above Bali during Nyepi night is very beautiful.

While it’s quite an eerie sighting at first, to see the hotel's surrounding in total darkness, but once your eyes are getting used to the almost total darkness, the view was stunning. Millions of stars are coming into sight, and we can even watch The Milky Way, our galaxy’s cluster of stars with your naked eyes, and enjoy the millions of colorful light play rarely seen on any other nights, a heaven for stargazers.

Thanks God, unlike in previous three years where Nyepi were often decorated with heavy clouds and rain, this time it’s a clear night until morning. Outside of the luxurious hotel facilities we experienced in Grand Nikko Bali, this night view is actually the high point of our stay, something we've been looking forward for the whole year, and Grand Nikko Bali makes it possible with the availability of different spots with clear open sky on the resort. (byms)

Interested to experience Nyepi Day of Silence in Grand Nikko Bali yourself? Click on this link and fill out the form to get information of the Nyepi Day promotion when they become available.

Grand Nikko Bali
Jalan Raya Nusa Dua Selatan,
PO BOX 18 Nusa Dua 80363
Bali - Indonesia
T +62 361 773 377,
F +62 361 773 388

Understanding Customers - How to tap into people's emotion and influence their choice

Hi Guys! Some while ago I found an article at Business Insider about people tendency to try something new, vs sticking with what's familiar. It addresses (one of ) the reason why people choose what they choose, including upon choosing what food to eat:
You Want What’s Familiar – A series of research studies by Marieke de Vries of Radboud University Nijmegen, in the Netherlands, shows that when people are sad or scared, they want what is familiar. When people are in a happy mood they are not as sensitive to what is familiar, and are willing to try something new and different.
Related to Fear of Loss — This craving of the familiar, and a preference for familiar brand is probably tied to our basic fear of loss. In de Vries's book, Neuro Web Design: What makes them click? I have a chapter on the fear of loss. When people are sad or scared, our old brain and our mid (emotional) brain are on alert. We have to protect ourselves. And a quick way to be safe is to go with what you know; what you are familiar with. A strong brand is familiar. A strong logo is familiar. So when we are sad or scared we will reach for a brand and logo we know.
It’s Easy to Change Someone’s Mood – It turns out it is remarkably easy to affect someone’s mood, especially in the short term (like long enough for them to make a purchase at a web site). In Marieke de Vries’s research they showed video clips of the Muppets (to instigate a good mood) vs. the movie Schindler’s list (to instigate a bad mood). People reported their mood as significantly elevated after the Muppets and significantly lowered after Schindler’s list. This mood change then affected their actions in the rest of the research study.
Related with food internationalization, I believe the article plays an important part in designing the food experience that would make someone new to try out Indonesian food -- or any other foreign cuisine -- which moves them further on the Food Experience Journey from Discovery into Onboarding stage.

Practically the article also gives a hint that people might give foreign food a try, if it looks like, or somewhat resemble familiar food they have already know.

Which reminds me of this recent encounter with a delicious sandwich from Chef Theodorus Immanuel at Vin+ Bali that looks like ordinary sandwich, but it actually contains something very traditional: A Balinese Ayam Betutu.

Unlike classical Ayam Betutu though, which its flavor spectrum leaning heavily toward savoriness and spiciness, the sandwich capped the heat, while also introduces mild acidity by using pickles, to gives off a "rounder" taste to the Ayam Betutu sandwich. The result is something that in a glance taste quite western, but with a kick of local taste.

For someone with Western upbringing, pairing the Ayam Betutu Sandwich with wine would even make the dish easier to accept, as it mimic the wine and dine culture. Creating a positive ambiance through comfortable room temperature, upbeat music, and uplifting fragrance would make the adoption journey even easier, and more pleasing.

How well would this works? Let me know what do you think. (byms)

Read the complete article here:

Family Staycation at The Westin Resort Nusa Dua Bali

"Let's go in and check out their resort, pretend we're going to held an event here" said my boss smiling before turning our rented car to enter The Westin Resort Nusa Dua front gate. Judging by Nusa Dua's reputation as the staying place of movie stars and presidents, this invitation alone gives a sheer feeling like we're doing something forbidden.

But that was about ten years ago, when the image of staying in one of Bali's top resorts is just a distant dream, especially for someone with entry level salary in an IT startup company.

Our perception of Westin changed however, since the early years of us moving to Bali. Westin has been a highly supportive venue, and a close companion for our Bali food blogging activity. Starting from the numerous invitations to Prego's Family Brunch, participating in charity shows for Unicef involving nation's rising stars, invitation to annual appreciation dinner, and last but not least, a staycation chance!

Just a fresh reminder, "staycation" is a form of vacation where we focus on experiencing the whole offers that a destination hotel have, to take advantage of the hotel's included amenities and facilities. Recently staycation has also been recognized as the sustainable tourism way to make our travel more eco-friendly. With the huge size of Westin Nusa Dua, and lots of entertainment options, we eagerly started our journey.

The Westin Nusa Dua Bali Experience

Westin has one of the largest hotel lobby on the island, definitely, with high ceilings all the way to the roof. The interior emits the conservative luxurious feel, dominated with dark brown solid woods and white marbles. This condition alone helps setup the feeling that we're starting something grande.

After a smooth check-in, we're escorted to our room in Westin's new hotel wing, right above Prego Restaurant, which has becoming quite familiar for us as one of the island's top family brunch destination. More on it later, as our staycation includes Sunday Brunch at Prego!

Our room exist almost at the end of the alley on the third floor. While it's not the biggest room we ever stayed in, it comfortably fits two huge beds, a couch, a receded desk, and there's also a comfy balcony with garden view.

By the way, please don't mind our kid's expression, it's something he caught from his friends at school which seems to be their smiling standard now, and he's been practicing this style constantly in every picture we shot that day. So this is his happy face, for now, please bear with it. And no it's not contagious, not to adults at least.

On the bathroom, beside of the large bath tub, we were also pleased to find the scented soap and bathroom amenities ready to help us refresh after our long travel.

Kids Activities at Westin Resort Nusa Dua

After we settled down, now it's time to scout around the resort for facilities that we can enjoy. Our kid surely love the pools, and there's even an artificial cave with waterfall that feels like you're on a treasure hunt.

The biggest draw for our kid attention though, was the resort's Kids Club, and beside the pools, that's his benchmark to determine if a resort is cool or not. After taking a long walk passing the lobby and the restaurants, we finally arrived at the Kids Club at the other end of the resort.

The first kids club

We're there just in time for a kite coloring session, and our boy thinks it's cool, so I left him there with all the small people. Outside there's also a lot of physical activity facilities, so if he ever get bored with the all the drawings and kite flying, he'd have a lot of options.

The second kids club

What's interesting with Westin's Kids Club is that it's a complex made up from three different facilities organized by age. The one that my kid in, was for children whose in early school years. For even younger children under 5 years old, there's a separated facility right next door. It was less populated than the main one though.

The third kids club!

If you think the two grouping is already impressive, turned out that Westin has a third section which devoted for teenagers! Here you can find youngsters enjoying their time watching movies, playing Playstation, or simply reading books from the library. It was set as a lounge, so it has this nice relaxing feeling.

Pinky White Beach and Interconnected Swimming Pools at Westin Resort Nusa Dua

Outside nearby, Westin has a pinkish white sandy beach complete with sheltered and non sheltered beach bunks. It's an ideal space to laid back and enjoy the serene beach with gentle breeze, something that Bali is best for.

Not ready to jump into the salt water yet? Westin's interconnected swimming pools is the one you should be at then. It's made up of several swimming pools with close distance from one to another, together creating a huge swimming pool complex, with the water that still feels fresh, despite its closeness to the sea. Something hotels in Kuta area are now struggling with, due to the sea water abrasion.

Breakfast at Westin Resort Nusa Dua

On the next day, we eagerly rushed down to Seasonal Tastes restaurant to have our breakfast. Staying truthful to our epicurean nature, breakfast is certainly something we're looking forward to.

We were quite surprised to see there's a Halal Food station set up during Breakfast. Beside of some hotels targeting domestic tourists, we almost never seen such feature, especially in a five-star resort like Westin.

Other than the halal station, most of breakfast items in Westin are clearly labeled whether they contains pork or not, vegetarian or not, that help the guests to quickly recognize which food matches their dietary rules.

Outside of the traffic and the commotion of breakfast, we found food at Westin was good, very well catered, heap of menu choices to pick, and we especially love their Indian food station, it was awesome! One of the best breakfast we ever had in Bali hotels.

Temperature is a bit challenging though, as we're staying in Westin during one of the hottest seasons in years, we found the heat is quite high, even on the corners of the restaurant which have air conditioners. As basically the restaurant is open spaced, make sure you dress lightly, and come early to get the coolest spot on the venue.

After we've done with the amazing breakfast, now it's time to try the waters, so we heads down to the swimming pools which located right outside of the restaurant. Sadly we found most of the ideal spots have been reserved, but this is something we now realize as a common happenings in Bali hotels: mark your ideal pool side bench by leaving something of your personal belongings, before you go for breakfast. This way you can ensure to get the best pool experience later after you eat, which usually meant shaded benches, and this is important as Balinese sun tends to be unmercifully hot. Good for skin tanning, but not for someone already on the dark side like me. The skin, not the force.

Family Sunday Brunch at Prego

To close our staycation experience in Westin, we're thrilled to end it on a high note with Westin's Family Sunday Brunch at Prego.

Prego is an Italian restaurant that focuses on "fun dining not fine dining" and it's Family Sunday Brunch is designed to entertain the whole family.

As Bali food blogger, my focus lies on enjoying the treats that Prego have:

My favorite part of Prego are their fresh pasta station, where I can order any kind of pasta Prego have, and it's a lot, cooked upon our order. Next is the cold seafood table where prawns, crabs, and mussels are lying down gorgeously on the ice rocks. The rather new grilling station is responsible for the delicious seafood bbq and meats, including steaks and kebabs.

There are special of the week's menu which revolves between fish or other type of meat, some options for soups, grilled vegetables, a long table of antipasti, lots of delicious cakes and gelato, and last but not least, the cheese station. Well in fact it's among my favorite stations in Prego, as they have a good selections of both young mellow soft cheeses, and old mature strongly flavored ones. I usually comes to this section first and assemble my plate of cold cuts, grilled vegetables, cheeses, seeds, nuts, and even fruit jams from the nearby bread station.

As a father however, I want to also ensure that my kid is having a good time as well. As he's quite picky with what he eats, he find the fresh pasta station as the only choice, and he always go with the Bolognaise.

Pancakes and chocolate cakes are also his favorite, but we don't usually let him roaming in those stations unless he finished his plate of pasta first.

Outside of the food, we find the activities in Prego Family Sunday Brunch really engaging. Whether it's playing Playstation games with newly met friends, outdoor activities like face painting or ball games, Prego has cute mini stations to cater for our kid's sweet tooth, like popcorn stall, ice cream cart, and cotton candy corner.

They even have magic shows that made our kid both entertained and curious.

Westin Staycation in conclusion 

It's been one kind of a stay, a little bit hectic due to the high season, but we find the quality service made up for what Westin might lacked. Our concerns are promptly addressed, the food was good, and our room was comfy. Nice surprise for the halal section on breakfast, and everything else creates memorable impression.

As a blogger with two kids, the availability and quality of kids activities sits high in our checklist, and with the three kids club which includes outdoor activities, kids friendly selection during our breakfast, large bath tub, and huge swimming pool, our kid was surely entertained.

Thank you Westin, until we meet again! (byms)

The Westin Resort Nusa Dua

Kawasan Pariwisata Nusa Dua, BTDC Lot. N-3,
Nusa Dua,
Kuta Selatan,
Kabupaten Badung,
Bali 80363

+62 361 771906

+62 361 771908