MIST OPPORTUNITIES

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 Living in a big city in Indonesia, Hengki Koentjoro has plenty of opportunity to shoot colourful, energetic scenes. He talks to Stevie-Ella Keen about why he captures the serenity of nature through black & white instead

HENGKI Koentjoroimages aren t perhaps what youexpect from someone living in a big city Hengki s native country, Indonesia, is the fourth most populous in the world, and its capital, Jakarta, is bursting with bright lights, busy people, skyscrapers and slums. However, rather than focusing his attention on the colour and life of the city, Hengki chooses to step outside the urban environment and immerse himself in the humid tropics. This allows him to shoot in a still and calm natural environment, one full of tall trees and mountainous landscapes. Imbued with a sense of stillness and all in black & white, these images are his reaction to life in the city.

only normal to seek serenity when your everyday life is surrounded by the problems of a big city,  says Hengki.  You need to get your sanity back and get lost in nature to balance life.’

You can certainly get lost in Hengkiimages. His desire for balance and serenity can be seen in his images that are composed using a potent mix of depth and ambience. my love of mood and atmosphere that drives me to take pictures,  he says. are the elements I seek every time I photograph. Hopefully, I can capture the essence of the place.

Play Misty With Me is a series of images born from the mists of Java. Itan area inside the Pacific  ring of fire’, an arc of volcanoes and fault lines that encircle the Pacific basin and contribute to seismic activity in Indonesia s deadly earthquake and volcano zone. It also provides Hengki with the mists and endless highlands that are the subjects in this series. Rendering the lush tropics in black & white, the lack of colour only emphasises the dramatic shifts in tone between the white mists and dark foliage. Subjects are neatly outlined and isolated from their surroundings, and swathes of soft mist cloak any possible distractions. Hengki explains that he decided to shoot the mist because it is a mystery,  The more something is hidden, the more people will try to find out what s behind it/ says Hengki.  In mist, very little information is revealed and that creates mystery. Just like the darkest shadow, they both hide information. Knowing about the shifts and changes of the elements in the area means that I donhave too much trouble hunting down my subjects. Almost every morning in the highlands you ll find mist, but the best time is during the changing of the seasons.

The setting is crucial to Hengki. He is always looking for a scene that represents a certain atmosphere, and once he has found it he s not only happy to have a basic blueprint for what he wants to do, but also to allow the process to be spontaneous.

EQUIPMENT AND SETTINGS

It wouldn t be unfair to say that many, if not all, photographers have their favourite cameras, and Hengki is no different. His weapons of choice are a Canon EOS 5D and a Nikon D700-two models that he switches between when the situation calls for it He also tends to favour using wideangle zoom lenses.

 My favountes are the 24-70mm f/2.8G ED AF-S Nikkor FX lens and Canon EF 24-105mm f/4L IS USM,  says Hengki.  I rarely change them for different subjects. They pretty much cover the whole range I need.

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Hengki believes that depth is an important consideration to get the right atmosphere in his photographs. This is something that is characteristic throughout his work, so itprobably unsurprising that, when shooting, aperture size is one his first considerations.

4I choose the f-stop first to get the sharpest opening of the lens, usually 2 stops from the widest opening/ says Hengki.  For example, this will be f/5 6 on an f/2.8 lens I ll then shoot in aperture priority mode to achieve a sharp image.

All of Hengkiimages are black & white. He believes the depth of tone helps create the feel he searches for and suggests that black & white is more pliable and therefore gives the photographer more freedom of expression. Shooting in colour, itduring the post-processing phase that the images start to realise their potential.

 I play a lot with the tones, contrast and clarity in order to achieve the atmosphere intended,’says Hengki.  While aperture size is an important decision when creating depth, both lens choice and post-processing are also something I think about In order to create depth, I have to separate the back, middle and foreground distinctly so they will not look flat. One of the ways to do this is to use the vignette filter effect in Photoshop (Filter>Distort>Lens Correction) because it will single out your subject from the rest and thus create an impression of depth 

Hengki s favourite technique is to use a lens with a wide aperture, such as f/1.4. The shallow depth of field can create a beautiful bokeh effect (the aesthetic quality of the blur) that can simulate the feeling of depth. Changing the tone in post-production is another choice, which finds Hengki differentiating the tones by dodging and burning in the back, middle and foreground.

A further consideration is the fact that Hengki needs to avoid blown-out highlights in a primarily white subject. For this, he underexposes everything by 2 stops so he can preserve the details in the highlights.

latitude of digital cameras is amazing nowadays,  says Hengki  It can range up to 6 stops, meaning a 6-stop underexposed shadow can still have fine details.

Using long exposures for much of his work, Hengki explains how the technique helps him achieve the soft and calming mood present in many of his images.

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 I love long exposures because of the feeling of tranquillity and serenity, especially when used while shooting a huge ocean/ he explains.  A long exposure produces a smooth surface that conveys a surreal feel, as well as a huge space. While a long exposure may not work quite as well with mist as with water, Istill used it in the Play Misty With Me series on my Bromo [see page 21], Sparse, Stump and Borobudur images. These long exposures give the mist a smooth texture and contribute to the dreamy feel of the pictures In fact, it s just like using a soft filter 

Hengki also uses a 9-stop neutral density filter, occasionally using two filters together giving him an 18-stop density that allows him to achieve exposures of up to 5mins in bright daylight

IN THE BEGINNING

Hengki graduated in 1991 from Brooks Institute of Photography in Santa Barbara, California, majoring in video production and minoring in fine-art photography. Here, he spent a lot of time experimenting in darkrooms and was also introduced to Ansel Adam s Zone System, where he learned previsualisation-a technique to anticipate the final result before the exposure is taken.

This not only started my love with black & white and experimentation with tone, but it has also enabled me to   see ’in black & white/ says Hengki. know what red, green and blue will look like in black & white tonality so, based on this

knowledge, I can compose my tones

Hengkilove of photography began in his early teens when his mother gave him a Kodak Pocket camera. He loved documenting the things around him and the idea of freezing the moment intrigued him tremendously. Since then, he has kept a camera with him, especially on holidays. He says he believes this is where his love of nature photography started.

Tm passionate about nature, and frequently talk about its beauty and ability to restore balance to a busy life,  says Hengki. is a way of exploring nature s mystical beauty. The natural world has been good to me and I feel most

comfortable surrounded by Mother Nature Documenting its beauty is the least I can do. I suppose you can get lost in it and be free in expression.

Having shot in a multitude of locations, one place Hengki would love to visit is Britain. Td love to visit Britain and capture the atmosphere of rural villages against heavy mist and fog/ he say.  I also want to go to Iceland to capture the disappearing icebergs, although I must say I still have a great number of scenes still to capture closer to home. There are more than 12,000 islands in Indonesia and it will take more than a lifetime to capture them all.

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