Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Tips and Tricks : Instagram Worthy Food Photography

Have you ever opened your Instagram and scrolled through those food and/or coffee pictures that made you go, dayum, those magazine-worthy pictures must've taken tonnes of efforts to put together. What if I told you, that you (yes, you!) can also replicate those shots with minimal costs involved with some simple hacks. (I have seen people charging up to SGD $100 for a course on how to compose and capture your food photo, let's save the dollars for a cup of coffee for us, shall we?).

And oh, I have taken my shots primarily on my Samsung Galaxy Note 3 phone, if you have those heavyweight cameras and lens, good for you. For this 'tutorial' of mine, we are going to enlighten ourselves with the Art of Flatlay.

1. Towards the Light

As cliché it may sound, the light is indeed your best friend when it comes to getting THE PICTURE (regardless if you are using the camera or the phone). Strategic location when it comes to café, choose the spot that is nearest to the natural light (e.g. daylight/sunlight, generally nearer to the window) and you will find yourself needing to edit LESS on the post-production process.

Bro Tips: That will means, sometimes, you will be sitting somewhere that is less air-conditioned or be more exposed to the sunlight, but oh well.

2. The Flatlay

Also known as taking the picture from the top, the shots are generally taken higher from the subjects. You may or may not have encountered them, but the extremist enthusiast sometimes put their subjects in improbable places like the floor, or be in improbable positions such as on the chair. Flatlay may sometimes be inapplicable for food such as soft-swirled ice cream in cones, if that is the case, take it from the side. No written rules for how YOU should take your picture, let your creativity take you to your sweet spot. 

Bro Tips : People Stare. People Talk. Haters are going to hate anyway. Don't bother them. Unless of course if the café or restaurant owners red-carded you that is.

That is how most of my unedited pictures look like from flatlay-ing
3. Background

The background on where you subject sits on is important. That is, it should carry an aesthetic value on its own without overpowering your subject. Favorite background includes wooden table (with those rustic grains or painted with monochromatic tones), white cloths, and intricate tiles (normally those who love taking their food with the floor - not that I am condoning you to put the food on the floor, but hey!). 

My favorite tone - Wood/Earthy. Note how the background works with the woods, ceramic and the plant decor.
4. Classic Styling

Unless your audience are dead set on minimalism, sometimes you need to spice up your coffee or food shot by giving it some accentuation. You will notice how these props help to empower your picture even better.

i Organic decor
Flower petals, dried flowers, twigs, leaves, fruits, herbs - Some of them are found in the cafés you visit, some Instagrammers bring their own petals and herbs along for photoshoot purpos

ii Signature decorations
Once you are comfortable with your style of instagramming, you will tend to include your personal take to your shots. Trending props include calligraphy artwork and figurines. 

iii Sensible complements
Coffee beans scattered near the coffee cup, kitchen cloth and napkins along those white plates, salt / pepper shaker - These are a few examples of sensible complements that you will generally find nearby your food and works well in the shot.

iv Product Placement
Putting trending branded materials give the picture that extra edge. Magazines such as Kinfolk and Cereal are favorite accompanying printed material. Otherwise, bracelets, iPhones, watches - really, anything that tickles your fancy.

5. The Negative Spaces

Sometimes less is more. You can have all the props ready for you but sometimes it pays to only focus on what you want to focus on your feed. You might want to hide all those chairs nearby your shots (either cropping or darkening) to give it the classic on the table shot. Give breathing room to your subject so that they can be the star of the picture.

Focus given more to the waffle.
6. The Edit

Sometimes (well, most of the time for me), it takes a little bit of TLC and touch up for the picture to turn out near perfect (on your interpretation at least). Always take the shots slightly wider to give room for picture cropping if needed. Adjust the contrast, saturation, brightness, sharpness of the picture if necessary till you get to the adjustment that is pleasing to the eyes. 

Bro Tips : For selective adjustments such as photo healing (to get rid of certain unnecessary patches) and background color tampering, I use free app such as Snapseed and for those filter-philes, VSCO is a popular filter app that gives your picture that extra personality.

Left : VSCO
Right : Snapseed
There you go. there is only so much that the basic can help, the rest really depends on your take on the picture and how it fits organically in your Instagram feed. The Instagrammers that are doing better banked on their feed consistency and that is how you can approach yours. 

Bro Tips : Waffle and Lavender Latté by Fluffed Café & Dessert Bar

Thursday, June 30, 2016

Handcraft Review : CraftbyZeus Bracelets

Beads are symbolic and used widely for prayer and devotion in various religions and civilization, as well as health and monetary denomination in certain countries. In tandem of modern trends, craftsmen reinterpret and remodel the traditional beads to fashionable, trendy accessories that appeal to all age and gender.

Taking inspiration from the exotic South East Asia, CraftbyZeus delivers quality handcrafted pieces, suitable for a complementary fashion accessory. Every handcrafted bracelet are scrupulously decorated with beads made of imported semi-precious stones and stone chips, irregularly coloured and distinctively patterned held by durable beading cord. The beads are accentuated by up to five assorted Tibetan silver and Nepalese charm which gives each bracelet customization flexibility and a sense of individuality.

Premium bracelets by CraftbyZeus
CraftbyZeus offers a selected array of collection. I chose Aegeon from the Veekaro Cobalt Signature because I was drawn to the aesthetics of the darker blue and matte black beads. The other collection such as Enigma of Angkor and Retro Shanghai 1930 speaks to the diversity of the accessories based on themes that suits your personality.

Alternatively, if you feel like having the beads assembled your way, there is a customization option at their website where you can arrange the beads and charms whichever way that tickles your fancy. 

Navigation friendly site to help choose the bracelet of your choice
You will be given an option to specify your wrist measurement to ensure that your bracelet fits perfectly. Each bracelets are made to order, just hit to their website CraftbyZeus for more info. Each bracelet comes with a slick design case, a special wiping cloth and a carrying pouch, suitable for those on the go and about. Loving the Great Gatsby vibe on the case design!

Also, do use the discount code IVAN5 upon purchase. Do let me know which design you choose! :)

In the Blues
Aegeon, Veekaro Cobalt Signature collection
Check out their Instagram and Facebook Page as well
Website : craftbyzeus.com

Saturday, June 11, 2016

Discovering Bangkok : Bangkok Temples

Thailand is predominantly Buddhist and home to more than 30000 temples, it is absurd if you were to visit all of them (kudos if you have checked them all). Converging the list to Bangkok itself, there are more than 100 temples, a fraction of them are frequently visited by the others, am lucky to visit at least 3 of those temples, known as wat in Thailand (and passing by a number of them on the road)

Yaksha, Wat Phra Kaew
Bro Tips : Wat (วัด) is generally a term for Buddhist temples in Thailand. Other variations of the same meaning word are used in Lao, Laos (ວັດ, vadand Khmer, Cambodia (វត្ត, woat).

As Bangkok heat can be slightly unbearable, it is advisable to wear comfortably but decently, as it is only respectful if one is dressed appropriately at the temple compounds (long pants at least below knee level, no tight fitting clothes, no revealing clothing, etc).

I started my journey from Wat Arun (also known as Temple of Dawn) because I was staying at the same side of Wat Arun from the Chao Phraya River. I got there as early as 8.15 am, and I was surprised as to why the place was quite quiet (or maybe visitors don't mind heading there in the late morning).

Intricacy, Wat Arun
The intricate ceramic motives encrusting the iconic central prang (Khmer styled towers) surrounded by four satellite prang makes the Wat Arun compound an artistic attraction. It is a shame that the central prang was under renovation/construction when I visited (which is most likely why there wasn't much visitors that day).

Reconstruction, Wat Arun
We then took a boat ride across the Chao Phraya river (for 3 baht) to head towards two other prominent temples - Wat Pho and Wat Phra Kaew.

Bro Tips : The ticket comes along with a free bottled water

Cruising through Chao Phraya 
Wat Pho, one of the oldest temple in Bangkok, is known to be the home of the Reclining Buddha (representing Buddha entering into Nirvana). The gilded statue (at 15 x 46 m) is one of the largest statues in Thailand itself (impressive feat). Speaking of feet (pun mode on), do notice that the sole of the Buddha's foot has 108 panels with symbols that Buddha is associated with.

Right opposite of the statue, are 108 bronze bowls, representing 108 auspicious characters of Buddha where visitors can drop coins into them as it is believed that it will bring good fortune.

Somehow, there was more than 108 coins given. And I thought that I missed a few bowls
Aside from the Reclining Buddha itself, the temples also offer Thai massage courses (it is said that the temple is a revered school of traditional medicine and massage) too. Probably my next trip here I shall enrol myself into a course or two.

Bro Tips : The temple complex has much to explore as well. Among the notable attractions include
i) Phra Maha Chedi Si Rajakarn, the Four Great Chedi (Thai word for stupa, where each chedi commemorates the reigns of Rama 1 - 4 during the Chakri dynasty.
ii) Phra Ubosot, central to four phra vihara (vihara - a secluded place to walk or a Buddhist monastery) is the ordination hall for Buddhist rituals. Note the nine tiered umbrella (symbol of the authority of Thailand) over the gilded Buddha statue in this sacred building.
iii) Phra Mondob, Scripture Halls containing a library of Buddhist scriptures.

Many more historical attractions here, well, I guess you should visit this place to find out more. :)

Getting out from the Wat Pho compounds, we then traversed towards the Grand Palace, where Wat Phra Kaew is located. This place, compared to the other two temples compound that we have visited was the most swarmed (particularly from a certain Asian country known for their obnoxious travellers), which made the visit here a tad uncomfortable.

The entrance fare towards the Grand Palace and Wat Phra Kaew is significantly pricier, at for foreigners. The Royal Guards here are more stringent as well, anyone dressed indecent will be denied entry (sarong can be rented at no cost, they do take deposits though). They even have security checking for bag's contents.

The Phra Ubosot in Wat Phra Kaew is the main reason why visitors flocked here, for the Emerald Buddha. Historical record shown that the Emerald Buddha have traveled from Chiang Rai all the way to Bangkok. The Emerald Buddha is so revered that aside from the King, no one is allowed to touch it (or photograph it for that matter).

Wat Phra Kaew, the most sacred Buddhist temple in Thailand, is also the place where you can find iconic figures that pops in mind when you think of Bangkok, from the golden Phra Si Ratana Chedi to the Phra Mondop library and the ferocious yaksha , demon guardians of the temple.

As your entrance ticket also include the former residence of the King, which is the Grand Palace, do not forget to check that place out too.

Bro Tips : 1.2 km east of Grand Palace is another landmark, known as the Giant Swing, used during an old Brahmin ceremony

Wat Arun
34 Arun Amarin Road, Kwang Wat Arun, Khet Bangkok Yai. 
Accessible via cross-river ferry at Tha Tien Pier. 
Daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 100 baht per entry

Wat Pho 

Sanam Chai/ Maharaj Road, next to the Grand Palace. 
Daily, 8 a.m.-5 p.m. 50 baht per entry.

Wat Phra Kaew

Located inside the Grand Palace, Na Phra Lan Road. 
Daily, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. 500 baht per entry.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Tips and Tricks : True Love Café

One of the compelling reasons for me to visit Bangkok is to visit this Husky and Malamute dominant café (Well, it portrays more as a dog playground, but we'll get more into that shortly).

The inviting café façade
Getting there, the nearest BTS would either be Ari or Sanam Pao, but by all means they are not *exactly* walking distance (approximately 1.65 km from either stations), highly advisable that you chart a taxi or a tuk tuk for to go this street called Soi Ari Samphan 2 (it is located in a housing area, and the street is a long stretch towards a dead end, so no short cuts if you are thinking of attempting one)

Bro Tips : There are allocated slots for each sessions; 1230 and 1530 Tuesdays to Sundays, and an additional slot of 1830 on weekends (subject to weather conditions as well).

Be there slightly before the allocated slots, as they do charge per entry - 350 bahts per person. Before entering they also requested that you fill in a questionnaire, one question in particular bothers me - "Any of your pet have recently deceased?". Not too sure if they are trying to detect if the guest are having Post Pet-loss Depression, Bringer of Animal Disease or Animal Sadist (If you know the reason do enlighten me as I didn't ask the owners the reason).

The cover charge entitles you to one dessert, one drink, and of course the interaction experience with the dog. It will be unjust to fully review on their dishes because frankly I (and I am pretty sure 95% of the guests at that time) only tried out their dessert (a choice of cake or ice cream cake) and a drink. Was not impressed with either one of them, but hey, we're here for the dogs.

So I was told that the dogs are only released (from their air conditioned rooms - Bangkok can be ridiculously hot) at 4pm during the 3.30pm time slot, which gives diners ample time to eat/drink before the interaction. The café is extremely particular about hygiene and guests have to follow the house rules diligently or they can be denied interaction with the dogs.

After donning and unflattering, disposable blue footwear, and sanitizing our hands, we were greeted at the enclosure just outside the café. One of the staff laid the house rules again and briefed us on how to interact with the dogs.

Bro Tips :
i) The Huskies are not exactly the most obedient breed. Photographing them could impose a challenge.
ii) Chasing the dogs will only tire yourself. So just wait for the next available, stationary dog for your selfie or photo opportunity.

In the enclosure there are three sections, mainly designed to separate the dogs that do not fancy each other that much (high school much?).

Unfortunately for me I couldn't stay for the dog stampede back to their air conditioned rooms for dinner (it'll be great for those phones in slow-mo mode to capture them) because I was chasing time to hit to the airport, but if you are staying on the whole run, do remember to get your gizmos ready. 

Bro Tips : Getting out of the café towards the airport could be a little bit of a challenge.
i) Walk - Not exactly near to Ari station, but walkable if you don't mind the heat.
ii) Tuk tuk - There won't be as much ready-to-ride tuk tuk available as this café is pretty secluded, but the staffs would be more than glad to call one for you (Just get ready around 50 baht, that should suffice).

True Love Cafe
153 Soi Ari Samphan 2, Samsen Nai, Phaya Thai, Bangkok 10400, Thailand
Opens Tuesday to Sunday, 1230-1430, 1530-1730 (additional slot of 1830-2030 on weekends)

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Tips and Tricks : Chatuchak Weekend Market

It is probably the unofficial mandatory thing to do for those visiting Bangkok for the first time to go to the Chatuchak Weekend Market. 

Chatuchak (Thai : จตุจักร), often known as JJ market houses a ridiculous amount of more than 8000 stalls, and you can basically buy almost anything you need (or don't need but buyer's impulse tells you otherwise). 

Chatuchak's famous Coconut Ice Cream - Remedy for broken heart and hot weather
Bro Tips : Chatuchak market is divided into 27 sections, plan well for what you want to buy and you should be able to find what you want.

Map of Chatuchak Market, intimidating right?
Image from chatuchak.org
Categories according to Sections. Save this in your phone. You're welcome.
Source : bangkok.com

Getting to Chatuchak is no rocket science, but it pays to know where to stop exactly if you are taking the BTS or the MRT. Taxi drivers would most likely stop you at one of the small exits and you can navigate based on your JJ market map from there.

Bro Tips:
Via BTS - Get down at Mo Chit station, follow the horde of people, 95% of them are most likely going to the JJ market.
Via MRT - Get down at Kamphaeng Phet, where you will alight at the middle of the market

It could be terribly scorching towards the afternoon, therefore if you can, try to be there during the opening time of most of the stalls (say 9 a.m.). Of course, the basic checklist before going for any activities where you will be exposed to the sunlight most of the time - Wear comfy clothes and shoes, sunblock optional, and equip yourself with a bottle of water to stay hydrated. 

Paella in Thailand
Never the less, the abundance of food and beverage stalls means you can always grab a fresh bottle of orange juice or beer along your labyrinth journey. Don't forget to try the local som tam (papaya salad), grilled seafood and my personal favorite, the coconut ice cream (I can't find the same tasting ice cream back here in Malaysia, well impressed).

Somehow find myself addicted to the orange juice here. Behind, DuckCafe sounds like cute clothing line
The range of cheap clothes and affordable souvenirs here simply mean that you should not go home empty handed, heck even a non-regular shopper like myself found myself buying at least three t-shirts here (average 150 baht, MYR 15)

Wish that these are found in our pasar malam 
Hand made Thai soaps
Note that the shops here are open on weekends (9 a.m. till around 6 p.m.) and selected shops (plants etc) opens on Friday evening (6 p.m. till late). If I were to revisit my weekend here, I would go there earlier and solely focus here for half a day, this is a bargainer's playground and the plethora of food here makes this place a foodie's haven too.

Bro Tips : You can also slot some time for some good food massages here. And Thailand being Thailand, they are affordable for your hourly rate. 

'Some' loots from the Weekend Market. :P

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Discovering Bandung : Craters (Tangkuban Perahu & Kawah Putih)

Bandung is geographically located on a river basin & surrounded by volcanic mountains, and it has cooler climates compared to other cities in Indonesia, which is why one should visit the natural crater wonders when in Bandung aside from the infamous factory outlet shoppings. 

Arguably the more notable kawah (craters) that became Bandung's major attraction are Kawah Ratu & Kawah Domas, located at Tangkuban Perahu, 25km north and Kawah Putih, located at Ciwidey, 50km south of Bandung city. Two vastly different attraction - and I will share which one I preferred and which one you can probably skip.

The Nay

Due to the logistics and location factors of both craters (Tangkuban Perahu and Kawah Putih), it is advisable to slot both visits on separate days. Question is, if you HAD to choose one crater experience, which one to choose? 

Tangkuban Perahu (Translate: Upturned Boat, namesake of the local legend of Sangkuriang) is rather remote from the Bandung city itself, it is advisable to chart a personal driver to transport you (and your crew) to Tangkuban Perahu and back. 

Now, if your driver were to drive you up to the Kawah Ratu lookout point (on a weekday), it will incur a cost of IDR 25,000 (MYR 7.60) per vehicle on top of the entrance fee of IDR 200,000  (MYR 61) for foreigners. The rates are rather ridiculous as weekends rate are inflated to IDR 300,000 (MYR 90.90) for foreigners.

$ Current Expenditure : IDR 625,000 for three visitors.

Bro Tips : Be Indonesian, the entrance fee is only IDR 20,000 (MYR 6.05)

The Kawah Ratu Crater
The elevated lookout point will give you a view of Kawah Ratu, a scene that looks like where the spaceship from Krypton has crashed on. At approximately 11am, the place is mostly swarmed with more peddlers than tourists, which is fine by me. What is not, is that a licensed guide (based on his badge credential) kept following us persistently and without giving us an option of accepting or declining his service in the first place.

Overlooking Kawah Domas
After giving us a quick history of Tangkuban Perahu and Kawah Ratu, he persuaded us to visit Kawah Domas as well. Since Kawah Domas was in our to-go list, we didn't mind him being our guide (with administrative fee of IDR100,000 - MYR 30 per person). 

$ Current Expenditure : IDR 925,000 for three visitors.

Bro Tips : Just like Poker, it's best that you fold when your hands are going down south.

The legendary tree found en route to Kawah Domas
All is not lost as the guide is pretty informative and 'helpful' in taking pictures for us etc while walking us through the downhill path to Kawah Domas. I don't exactly categorize the path as dangerous or challenging, the challenge is that you have prying eyes from the guide's 'henchmen' who appears midway during our walk and head towards Kawah Domas. The guide mentioned that they will be giving us free feet mud massage down there, with no charge (that's where I started to get a bad vibe, free? Free?)

Mud Spa
Once we have reached Kawah Domas, the henchmen then gave us a pretty decent feet massage, take it as a mud spa treatment. The trick comes RIGHT after that, the henchmen/masseur then transformed into peddlers, and started to persuade us to buy keychains and magnets, for exuberant price of IDR 400,000 (RM 121) for 4 magnets or 10 keychains (and that is also due to the fact that we are Malaysians, their neighbors, and we got that deal that we simply can't refuse, according to them. Other foreigners they mark the price up to IDR 600,000). 

You CAN choose not to buy, I gave them a gratuity of IDR 200,000 for the foot massage given, and not so much for the souvenir (they claimed that it was made by the volcanic rocks, hmmm). My two other friends were duped persuaded and they bought souvenirs worth IDR 600,000 and IDR 400,000 respectively.

$ Current Expenditure : IDR 1,925,000 for three visitors.

After the mud massage, and posing at the hot pools that can boil eggs (was not in the mood for cooking, so we skipped that), we then proceeded with a slight ascend back at the jungle trail to the exit of Kawah Domas. But of course, the ka-ching did not stop there. The guide expected us to give a gratuity for his service. Tipping is an Indonesian culture for sure, but we gave in anyway since we felt that he was informative and helpful enough.

$ Current Expenditure : IDR 2,125,000 for three visitors.

Almost boiled my other eggs
Two craters, and we have raked out almost MYR 215 per person, just for this trip. If you are generous enough to contribute to Bandung's economy, I more than welcome that idea. But this, to us, is simply not worth the trip here (not to mention the 4 hours to and fro journey from Bandung city).

The Yay

On the contrary to Tangkuban Perahu, the entrance fee for three (IDR 50,000 per foreign visitors) plus the car entrance fee (IDR 6,000) only costed us IDR 156,000 for Kawah Putih (Translate : White Crater). That was all we spent.

A short walk trailing the horde of visitors, we reached the turquoise sulphuric lake, surrounded with white shores and mists. We were in awe of this other realm, postcard worthy scenery. Aside from notable sulphur scent, this is definitely a better visit compared to Domas and Ratu.  Of course, you don't get any 'free' massages here, but there are plenty peddlers that are selling souvenirs here as well, and as always, buy only if you feel like buying - no obligations.

Kawah Putih is located in Ciwidey, a quaint market town that also not shy of attractions such as river rafting, strawberry farms and a breathtaking waterfall named Curug Citambur. If you are not in a hurry or if you are bunking near Ciwidey, you can definitely spend a whole day discovering Ciwidey and its vicinity.

We may not have covered the other attractions but there are other photo worthy places that you can target here, such as the tea plantation...

or the Ranca Upas deer enclosure...

Deers at Ranca Upas
and even an abandoned railway track that used to link Bandung and Ciwidey. Much to see, too little time.

This is just an opinionated entry of mine, after all a little balance in ups and downs during travel makes the trip more memorable, no?