Putting it All Together A First Attempt at a Digital Photo Essay

•February 26, 2010 • Leave a Comment

Sigatoka's broken bridge

Early January 2009 saw some of the worst floods in recorded history across the Fijian islands with many killed, thousands of homes lost and crops destroyed.

I was there on business at the time. I arrived at the back end of it and had my first couple of days quite badly disrupted while I tried to reach the capital, Suva on the eastern side of Viti Levu. The west side of the island had been badly affected. At one point, the main resort town and tourist gateway of Nadi was under twelve feet of water.

Two weeks after the flooding, when the main road between Suva and Nadi was mostly fit to drive on, my customer out there decided to get some volunteers together and head west, and then inland to deliver aid to some of the people who’d been affected by the floods. I was invited along to help and take photos.  Now, I wouldn’t want to over egg the help I gave that day as on several occasions I was too absorbed in taking photos.

Now, this blog is not the photo essay. The slide show below is pretty self explanatory and needs only this introduction.  Instead, I thought I’d blog about taking the shots to the slide show.  The slide show can be found here:

Fiji Sunday Flood Aid Road Trip


I took only a small subset of the equipment I’d bought to Fiji me:

  • An Olympus E-510 body
  • The Zuiko ZD 9-18 F4-5.6 ultra wide angle lens
  • Three four GB Extreme III CF cards
  • Two spare batteries.
No longer lens? No filters? Well that came back to bite me……


This was an all day trip starting from Suva at 7am and arriving back in the evening.  The lighting was variable; sometimes perfect and sometimes terrible.  And of course, the middle of a Fijian summer day blows highlights like they’re going out of fashion.  Contrary to my usual approach to photography, which is to wait for the right light at the right time of the day, sometimes I simply had to take the shot regardless.  I shot raw + SHQ though in practice I ended up using the raw files in all cases.

Since my only lens was the Olympus 9-18, all the shots were wide, with a maximum field of view of 36mm.  This proved quite nice for landscape shots and surprisingly good for people shots also, where instead of separating the subject from the background using blurring, the subject instead pops out of the photo:

A picnic at the end of the day

The drawback to just having a wide field of view turned out to be two fold, the main issue being that almost every shot had to have an element of sky, even when this was unwise.  At times, I wished I’d bought my 40-150 (FoV 80-300) lens with me to deal with this as no amount of burning can really sort out a badly blown sky:

Leaving aid at one of the farms

The second issue was sometimes I couldn’t get close enough in time to get the shot.  Many nice human interest shots were missed!  It is far quicker to zoom into something 50-100ft away than it is to to run over to it.

In terms of camera settings, all shots were taken at ISO 100 using the M mode of the camera and since they were taken with an ultra wide lens, have a wide depth of field.  Apparently, the E-510 has hundreds of other settings and scene modes but these somehow managed not to get in the way of taking photos (a fashionable but, quite frankly, baseless complaint from certain sections of the photographic community).


After shooting, the images stayed on my Lacie 1TB “Eye o’ Sauron” drive for over a year.  This is a problem for me from time to time.  On site, I only have my Dell so the images don’t go straight from camera to work flow and often get forgotten.  At the time, I played with a few images in Photo Shop Elements and posted to Flickr but only those images that were good as JPEGs out of the camera looked any good.  Adobe does no camera profiling in the Elements version of Camera RAW so getting a nice, wild Olympus look is none too easy.

In February 2010, Apple finally upgraded Aperture to version 3 and I decided to upgrade myself.  My day out in Fiji proved a perfect test for the new tool.  When Apple can be bothered to support Olympus’s cameras, they profile them beautifully so the default image looks like an Olympus image accept you have the extra latitude raw affords.  In other words, if it’s the Olympus look you want, you get raw with zero effort.  So, I decided on a simplified version of my usual work flow which consisted of:

  1. Selecting the raw files only.
  2. Selecting quickly, giving each of the 450 photos a few seconds each.
  3. Giving those exposures I wanted to use but which required cropping or straightening five stars.
  4. Giving any other photo I wanted to use four stars.
  5. Filtering on five stars and then doing the cropping and straightening.
  6. Filtering on four plus stars and doing the image adjustments.
  7. Upload straight from Aperture to a new gallery on Smugmug.
  8. Using Smugmug’s “Arrange Mode” to sort the photos into the correct order for the slide show.
  9. Adding a caption to each image.

That’s it; from camera to finished article in nine easy steps.  The total effort was a little under three hours.  Different to my normal work flow, the adjustments were the complicated part.  Because the light on the day was rarely perfect, almost every shot was a compromise so each had a different set of adjustments.  The good news is that Aperture’s subtle highlight and shadow functions are unchanged in version 3 with definition easily recovered from over exposed skies in many instances.

Spot the chicken

This blog has been put together using WordPress’s standard web interface as I’ve not yet found a blogging tool for the Mac that I actually like.  Scribefire (Firefox extension) and Bloggo are both ok.  In fact, I exclusively used Blogo before I wanted to include photos in this blog post.


Flying into the Age of Exploding Underpants

•January 6, 2010 • Leave a Comment

(and taking your camera, laptop and other valuables into the cabin with you)

Updated 28/01/2010 to reflect the Canadian madness has ended (see key tips section). I’ve also linked to an article on the Luminous Landscape with useful information on the same subject.

So, Christmas Day 2009 will go down in infamy as the day that changed the world forever. A mad but doubtless clever bastard managed to get a poor, deluded, brainwashed Nigerian to walk onto a plane wearing what is best described as a pair of exploding underpants. The aim was to destroy the plane as it flew low over Detroit on its approach to the airport. As has happened in just about every single hijack attempt since 9/11, ordinary members of the public, who have a clue these days, prevented this from happening.

The upshot is that we are probably going to have to put up with some changes to security arrangements when we fly for the time being. This is happening already on flights to America where a strict one piece rule is being enforced as to what you can actually carry onto the plane (for most originating airports, the maximum dimensions of this one piece have not changed though). For the photography enthusiast, this has potential implications.

Many photography enthusiasts (and pros also) wouldn’t dream of taking a holiday without a Canon 5D, Nikon D700 (or bigger) plus an expensive top of the line lens for every occasion. After all, nothing tells the world you’ve made it as a photographer better than Canon’s L glass.

Add to that a laptop and a couple of changes of clothes and suddenly you’ve i) got more stuff than will fit into one bag and ii) even if it did fit into one bag it would be well over the 7.5kg limit imposed by most airlines (though in practice, most airlines don’t ask about the weight of your cabin bag unless you give them reason to be suspicious).

So, what’s a traveller who wants great photos of that holiday or business trip to do? I have some thoughts….

Key Tips Before You Read on,,,,

Everything security related is subject to change. Anything I write here can very quickly be invalidated by a further security incident. With this in mind:


The good news about Canada is that all the bullet points below are no longer valid and hand luggage is “business as usual” when flying from Canada to the US.

  • If flying from Canada and the US, bear in mind this is a special case as all cabin bags are bags are banned
  • This does not stop you taking a camera or laptop (or probably even both) on board but it cannot be in a bag
  • Some forum posters have reported a clear plastic bag is allowed for your camera and/or laptop
  • Air Canada also say they are waiving some excess luggage fees on flights to the US, for the time being.

Europe (and probably most other places)

  • Before you pack, do check the web sites of both the airline and the airport and, if necessary, call them
  • Ensure you know the size and weight limits of your hand baggage
  • Ensure you understand whether one piece really means one piece of if it means one piece plus personal item (which can mean a purse, laptop bag or even a small camera bag)
  • Be flexible: If asked to check in something you really don’t want to check in, make sure the check in agent marks it as fragile
  • Don’t bother arguing with airport staff as this is a waste of your energy and could get you arrested for being right.

With the above in mind, I recommend considering the following for your photography related equipment:

You Could Check it In

Anyone who has to travel with lighting equipment already does this. Both Haliburton and Pelican make cases that will keep your gear safe in the hold of a plane. There are three downsides:

  1. It’s going to eat into your hold luggage allowance.
  2. I’m never 100% convinced that my valuable items are safe unless I’m carrying them.
  3. It wouldn’t be at all nice if your African Safari was ruined because your camera equipment didn’t make it with you? Would it?

If you transit through Cape Town or Johannesburg international airports, check in nothing that might be stolen. Cameras, laptops, DVDs and leather belts (yes, leather belts) are frequently liberated by airport employees (the locals refer to this as “affirmative shopping”).

You could ship it

I came across this blog via a message in my Twitter stream:

Traveling? Better Get a UPS Account

For traveling around around the US and Canada, this actually makes an awful lot of sense because UPS and FedEx (especially FedEx in every Kinkos, on every other strip mall) are everywhere, reliable and relatively inexpensive.

This also probably makes a lot of sense flying to/from Europe and the US. If staying in a hotel though, there’s a couple of things you need to do:

  • Advise them that your goods will be arriving before you do.
  • Check with them that they are happy to store your equipment for a couple of days (many US hotels will not allow so much as a a laptop in their luggage storage due to insurance requirements).

Your Friend the Netbook

Unless I’m transiting through South Africa, I always have a cheap Netbook checked in. It’s small, light, relatively well built and, thanks to its solid state hard disk, has no moving parts. On business I pack it as a spare laptop. For pleasure, it gets packed as my only laptop. This leaves more room in my cabin baggage for camera stuff.

Consider Taking Less

There are a number of ways of looking at this.

One is to take a smaller DSLR body. A Nikon D5000, for example, has more or less the same image processing as the D90 or D300. The same applies to smaller/newer DSLRs from Canon, Olympus, Pentax and Sony.

Another way is to look at taking smaller, consumer oriented lenses along. All the DSLR makers provide a reasonable effort these days (Canon in particular has improved while Olympus, Pentax and Nikon have always been good enough). Of course, they’re not as good as L glass but then again, the notion that one must have the best glass to take great (and even sellable) photos is, quite frankly, ludicrous.

Good glass can be addicting but it’s not necessarily essential. Consider why you actually need the bigger, better lens before deciding to bring it along (a faster lens, for example, is sometimes very necessary).

Also, don’t forget there are now smaller, mirror-less systems out there with Micro Four Thirds and now the Samsung NX system. More will follow.

Further Information

The Luminous Landscape has an excellent article on the issue.

I’M AT THE AIRPORT (Mileage Run Hell)

•December 21, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I really am and I’ve been spending a lot of time here over the past couple of days. As I’ve said before; when you travel you sometimes get what you get whether you like it or not. My travel woes are caused by weather delays at Manchester which is currently colder and more icy than Zurich which doesn’t make sense. Zurich is generally higher and more importantly Swisser than home.

So, my first flight from Zurich to Manchester was cancelled last night and this was followed by a further cancellation this morning. One thing this has thrown into sharp relief is just how lucky I’ve been. In 10 years of frequent flying, this is the first time anything like this has happened to me.

Also, the experience pretty much proves that what I doing here is not unreasonable. You see, this trip is actually a mileage run so I can requalify for my Star Alliance Gold card later (more of which below).

So what’s it like? It’s actually not that bad but certainly a little boring. I should stress this is not America and nor am I flying with Ryan Air (aka Eire-O’Flot) so I’ve not been put in a dodgy airport motel and I’ve not been told to fuck off and die by the airline.

I’m flying with Swiss and this means efficiency from the country that runs like clockwork. I got looked after.

My flight from Istanbul was delayed by an hour yesterday and I arrived in Zurich to find my onward flight to Manchester had been cancelled due to weather. No problem, I thought and walked over to the transfer desk in the other terminal. This is where the Gold card came in.

We’ve had a lot of cancellations across Europe an the US and the transfer desk was pretty busy. Looking at the speed at which things were moving, I estimated a three hour wait for the poor person at the back of the queue. I had a look around and eventually spotted the first class queue for people travelling in first and, crucially, for gold card holders.

My wait was 10 minutes after which I walked away with a voucher for a night at the Movenpick hotel with an evening meal and breakfast included. The hotel turned out to be a very nice, modern four star property with nothing to complain about. I even had the good fortune to meet a friend who lives out here for drinks.

Today has been more of the same. My flight got cancelled, the transfer queue was enormous and my wait this time was five minutes. I’ve been transferred to the evening flight.

So, I’ve spent the day at Zurich airport, mostly sleeping in the Swiss lounge but also doing a little shopping.

I’ve also been getting to know the iPhone (on which I’m typing this blog) since my poor MacBook seem to have developed a power fault. I’ve come to the conclusion I’m A shameless fanboi of the Jobsian cult. In all my years of using posh phones, I’ve never encountered such a versetile device.

A Plane To Avoid (most airlines have at least one)

•December 13, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I’ve adapted this article from a posting I recently made on the Flyertalk.com forums (the single best place on the web for learning how to travel well).

When you travel, sometimes you get what you get…..

I’ve done the LHR JNB (and back) run using South African Airways a few times now and previously it was on either a 747 or a high end variant of the A340. My flight out to JNB this time was on an A340-600, which was quite nice as economy class travel goes. So, I’ve always been reasonably happy with the entertainment.

I don’t sleep when flying economy (and I’m not that much better at it in business but I’m somewhat less cranky on arrival), so the entertainment is important to me. If I know the entertainment is poor (case in point, many American Airlines long haul flights, still), I plan my own entertainment, make sure the iPhone is fully locked and loaded and bring a good book along.

Last night’s flight on South African was an A340-200 and not what I expected. Entertainment was just the “main screens” (or teeny tiny screens if you’re in 62A/C) and consisted of one “child friendly” film, followed by complete darkness followed by another “child friendly” film starting before breakfast. Also, service wasn’t the best on this flight. I’d go as far as saying the FAs were a bit off, including one incident where I switched on the attendant light (seat belt sign was on) and waited almost 40 minutes for an FA to come along. In other words, the best part of eleven hours in prison.

Still, the flight had its upsides…… For some reason, they didn’t insist everyone put the blinds down. Flying past brightly lit towns and cities over North Africa (they all seem to have a brightly lit ring road and look like little islands in space) and then a brightly lit Paris at the very start of sunrise was a treat.

The moral of the story? For long haul at least, I should always know what type of aircraft I’ll be on in advance and plan accordingly. This time I just assumed good things based on previous experience instead of checking. The place to check out airliners is of course Seatguru and here is what they have to say about my Aircraft:


Now Seatguru is good but it doesn’t cover every airline. Nor does it cover every plane for an airline it does cover, but it’s the best resource I’ve found so far…..


•August 8, 2009 • Leave a Comment

So, I’ve had the pleasure of being stuck at home for the last week, apparently suffering from a highly contagious pandemic flu virus that originated from a pig. For hypochondriacs everywhere, I’ve kept detailed notes. So what’s it like to have Swine Flu?

Well, it’s actually quite difficult to quantify because it appears to be such a complex disease that seems to effect those it touches in different ways and very few people who get it (or not) are ever given a proven diagnosis because the health system wants to keep us all at arms length. Also, while it affects a small proportion of sufferers to the extent they need hospitalization, part of swine flu’s success seems to be that in many it is so mild that they continue their lives normally, spreading the disease through the community around then.

Here’s what happened to me, more or less on a day by day basis:

Wednesday morning on the way to work

I suddenly realised I had a bit of a bad head. Nothing to worry about I thought, and I went throughout my day at the office just feeling a bit worse than usual.

Like all “at risk” people, I’ve been living a bit like Howard Hughes since swine flu was nice enough to go pandemic on us and this has meant very regular hand washing and on Wednesday more so than usual.

Wednesday night

I felt crap and treated this in the usual manner: A bottle of red (big mistake I suspect). I went to bed and slept well.


I woke up feeling crap with a bit of a sore throat, had a lemsip and a cup of tea in bed. Later in the morning, I was sweating buckets into the bed sheets. Clearly I had a temperature.

Throughout Thursday, I generally felt weak and achy. I ran hot and cold, sometimes being too warm in a t-shirt, sometimes needing a fleece to keep warm.

It was Thursday that I first went through the NHS Pandemic Flu Line’s online test for swine flu. This indicated that they would “not provide Tamiflu” at this time.

It’s worth noting that Thursday was the only day I spent a lot more time on the bed than usual.


I felt a bit better on Friday. I was still running hot and cold but the head generally felt better and I still had a bit of a sore throat and a bit of a runny nose (normally, if I have cold or flu, I expect to be the snot monster).


Saturday, I one again woke up felling better than the day before. Things were looking up and I was seriously considering a walk out. Until that is I looked in in the mirror and thought “Hello freakin’ Gorgeous”. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m by no means a vain man and have never had a particular brilliant complexion but what I saw was pretty horrific. My face was covered in red blotches; clearly I had a nasty rash.

So, having had no real joy from the National Panemic helpline in my last dealings with them, I called the NHS helpline. This turned out to be a three stage process:

  • Speak to a totally unqualified person who was nice enough to be very professional about it
  • Speak to a nurse
  • Speak to nurse plus supervisor

In the end, nurse plus supervisor decided I should go back to the Pandemic helpline and fill in the form again. Half an hour later, this was done and I had a Tamiflu reference number.

My dad was dispatched to a clinic in Sale on a mission to get Tamiflu. He had to take ID for himself and me plus the Tamiflu reference number. His description of the Tamiflu distribution centre they’d set up at the clinic underlines the state of national hysteria (not to mention the war footing) over this disease: “Women running around in high visiblity clothing with one person to check the ID, another to provide the Tamiflu and one to show you out of the back door” (yes, he couldn’t go out the way he came in and ended up getting a bit lost).

My dad duly arrived home with Tamiflu and lots of printed information on the condition.

Late Saturday afternoon, I took my first Tamiflu and thankfully it passed without ill effect. On Saturday I decided just to take one tablet as it was quite late. Sunday onwards, I would take two tablets per day.

Incidentally, Saturday also saw the onset of diorreah and loss of appetite that would last through to Monday.

I wrote an email to my employer to let them know my trip to Fiji on Wednesday was off (bummer).


Sunday was more of the same. More temperature control issues and more loss of appetite. My face still looked awful. Throat was a little better. On Sunday, I decided on complete abstinence from Alcohol for a few days.


Once again showing signs of recovery. Appetite was back with a vengeance on Monday and even an accident with Chilies that turned the Chili Con Carne into Chili Con Carnage could not stop me eating.

I monitored and replied to a couple of emails. My trip to Fiji has been put back by well over a week (my manager has been doing his research).


Again, gradual signs of recovery in evidence and though I still looked awful, my face felt a little less lumpy when I washed it.


Face felt considerably less lumpy and I looked quite a bit better around the forehead. I would go as far as saying I was almost asymptomatic on Wednesday.


This morning I took the very last Tamiflu pill and I’m glad to see the end of these. Again, I’d say I was almost asymptomatic and hoped to go for a walk on Friday.


I risked a shave (very carefully) and found my face much improved. In the morning, I did a little work on my laptop. I went out for a walk in the afternoon and while out I got a call from my GP Practice to tell me to pop in at 4:50 to get a sick note.

I met the Doctor and ended up having a very circular conversation a bit like this:

10 Print “We can’t give you a sick note because we’ve not seen you.”

20 Print “Of course you’ve not seen me, I’ve had a highly contagious pandemic disease. You didn’t want to see me. No one wanted to see me.”

30 goto 10

We went around this a few times and in the end, we agreed the empty Tamiflu box with my name on it and the name of the distribution centre was good enough to sign me off from Saturday to Thursday”

So did I have Swine Flu?

They seem to prescribe Tamiflu on the flimsiest of diagnosis and for all I know, I could have had Chicken Pox (though this seems unlikely as, to the best of my knowledge I haven’t been in contact with anyone who’s had this condition). The British government has been on a virtual war footing on Pandemic Swine Flu and part of this strategy seems to be keeping clinicians at arms length from anyone who might have the condition (unless the victim happens to be dying from the condition).

Swine Flu Gotchas

Ok, a coupld of issues I observed with the National Swine Flu response:

First, had the automated system diagnosed me more quickly, my recovery time might have been better.

They say if you have any concerns or if your symptoms get worse, call your Doctor. If you happen to be registered with the most overloaded, badly organised, cash strapped GP practice in the country forget it. Do remember to keep as much proof as you can regarding the fact you’ve had the condition in the event you need a sick note.


•July 26, 2009 • 4 Comments

Edited on 27/07/2009

So, I seem to be suffering the bane of the modern digital photography enthusiast. I’m buried in a digital avalanche of my own photos. I’ve been lucky enough in the last year to have virtually free breaks in Sydney and Hong Kong off the back of business travel to Fiji and these alone generated around 1200 photos on top of the hundreds I’d already taken on breaks in Rome and London. So, I started to investigate how modern photographers manage their own pretty and colourful (though sometimes also in black and white) version of information overload. I discovered two things:

  • I needed something called a workflow
  • I’ve actually already bought one of the two industry standard packages (yes, as in used by the pros), didn’t really understand it, didn’t trust it and decided I didn’t like it.

The package in question is Aperture and is favoured by many Mac users (it’s only available on the Mac). The alternative is Adobe Lightroom and it is the real industry standard, outselling Aperture by a wide margin. Both do the same thing and had I bought Lightroom instead of Aperture, I would have misunderstood, distrusted and disliked it for all the same reason. Why is this? Well, there are a couple of reasons:

  • My background is in software and it is quite natural for anyone with a background in software to mistrust software on general principle
  • If you don’t understand what they are and why your using them, both package will attempt to conquer and subjugate your PC or Mac, taking all your photos and hide them in their very own monolithic über fascist all singing all dancing database (though to be fair Aperture and I suspect also Lightroom have options use the photos where they are)
  • Neither package is a photo editing package per se (though both do all the main adjustments and Lightroom goes further allowing the selection and adjustment of regions of a photo)
  • On the surface, Aperture at least is very raw centric, presumably on the assumption that real pros (read real men) shoot raw.

Now, that last point is quite a poor assumption. Plenty of professional photographers work at getting the exposure and all other settings right while their eye is glued to a view finder, thereby saving time slaving over a hot PC. Fortunately, as I got under the surface of Aperture, a lot of my problems with it went away (with the exception of my mistrust of software in general):

  • Firstly, Aperture imports photos into its monolithic über fascist all singing all dancing database
  • Even inside the database, all edits to photos are none destructive
  • Options for backup, archiving, copying between databases, merging databases and so on
  • It has a feature called ranking (more of which later)
  • Some really nice (albeit sometimes really expensive) plugins for everything from tone curves to sharpening
  • Lots of free plugins that enable to Aperture to publish any selection of photos to anything and everything ranging from Getty Images all the way down to Facebook (yes, Facebook)
  • It automatically links into Mobile Me to create albums (in turn those Albums can be published to a web page using iWeb)

So, with all these apparent advantages in mind, lets take a look at the actual workflow itself:

Step 1: Ranking

Ranking is the most important part of the process!

  1. Transfer all the photos to the MyPhotos directory on my Lacie “Eye of Sauron” 1TB external disk. This is the directory I will back up to ensure I always have access to photos outside of the database.
  2. Import them into Aperture and Aperture project
  3. Go through each picture and rank to the following rules:
  • Firstly, nothing complex; everything is ranked or not and all ranked photos are equal
  • If the photo is a keeper and is near as dammit perfect out of the camera, I create a new version from the Master JPEG in the project and give the JPEG a ranking of three stars
  • If the photo is a keeper but could do with the extra latitude that raw gives me, I give it four stars
  • If the photo is a keeper and is near as dammit perfect out of the camera but requires cropping or straightening, I create a new version from the Master JPEG and give it five stars

Step 2: Processing Ranked Selections

  1. Filter on five stars
  2. For each five star photos, crop, straighten or both and then set rank to three stars
  3. Filter on four stars
  4. For each four star photo, perform raw and none raw edits (including cropping and straightening if necessary) and set to two stars
  5. Filter on three stars
  6. Select all those three star photos I want to apply my standard adjustments to (contrast +6, definition +30, saturation +0.6, vibrancy +15 and a little sharpening) and apply my adjustments to all at once.
  7. Quick scan for any that need a shadow, highlight or levels adjustment and perform this.
  8. Fliter on two stars or above
  9. Select to export (I have Flickr and Smugmug plugins set up plus I usually create a Mobile Me gallery)
  10. And that’s all there really is to it. There are other things I’ve not looked at yet. I must sort out my backup strategy.

I suspect Lightroom can do pretty much all of this but I’ve not really played with it in detail.


What about alternatives to Aperture and Lightroom? Well these are thin on the ground:

If you’re a JPEG shooter, the best of the the bunch is in my opinion Lightraft’s Aurora. I had a play with this today and it includes ranking, filtering and publishing to the major photo sites including Flickr, Smugmug and Facebook:


For free we have Google’s Picassa. I’ve had a play with this and it seems reasonable for the money but I don’t really think of it as a workflow package:


Finally, we have Bluemarine which is ambitious but the authors admit it is very much not ready for the big time at this point



•July 14, 2009 • Leave a Comment

I wrote this for a couple of Chinese guys from HP who were visiting my customer in Fiji for the first time and thought I’d re-publish (with a couple of corrections) here.

For citizens of many parts of the world, Fiji is a very easy country to get into. You just turn up and they stamp your passport on arrival. People visiting for a vacation or to visit friends and family typically get three months on arrival. However, if you tick “business” on the Fiji Immigration card, they give you a mere 14 days and will explain that you need to visit the immigration office in Suva if you wish to get it extended.

Note: The maximum by which the Fijian Immigration department can extend a business traveller’s permit is four weeks, making the maximum length of your stay six weeks. If you need to stay longer, then you’ll need to hop out to another country (Australia and New Zealand being the obvious choices) and hop back in. The Fijian Immigration department doesn’t seem to mind this.

This is actually a very easy process but the Fijian Immigration department is very exacting in what they require from you in terms of documents. Like any process, we have some inputs, the process itself and an output (a stamp on your passport). I’ll start with a checklist of things you must have in order to meet these requirements:

  • You need a yellow form for extending a Fiji visitors permit (available from the Fijian Immigration department in the Civic Tower, Victoria Parade, Suva)
  • You need a letter of immigration from the organisation you are visiting in Fiji (more of which below)
  • Your passport (obviously)
  • A return ticket to your home country which must have the same date as you state on your yellow form
  • FJD 185
  • Some proof that you have funds to support yourself in Fiji (I generally take cash and let them copy the details of my Corporate Amex card which I never use anyway).

Now, in addition to the above, the letter from the organisation your are visiting is also subject to some fairly exacting standards. It must include:

  • Your name
  • Why you are visiting them
  • Why they need you to stay longer
  • When they need you to stay until (which must match the date on your yellow form and the date on your ticket)
  • All the details from the photo page of your passport
  • Additionally, the letter should be in the name of, and signed by someone reasonably senior in the organisation you are visiting.

So, with the inputs out of the way, let’s take a look at the process itself:

  1. Get the Civic tower at 08:15.
  2. Go to ground floor office on the left of the entrance.
  3. Wait at the counter window.
  4. Ask for a yellow visa extension form.
  5. Fill in the form (it is quite straight forward).
  6. Hand the form, your passport, flight tickets and letter from your client, church or NGO over at the counter.
  7. The immigration officer will likely inspect these items and stamp the form on the spot.
  8. You then need to take the form over to the office on the right hand side of the entrance to the civic tower.
  9. Go to the cashier’s desk in this office and hand over the form plus the FJD185.
  10. The cashier will take the money and stamp the form.
  11. Take the form (and everything else) back to the immigration counter and hand over.
  12. Wait.

Finally, I’ve thought of some questions you might ask:

  1. Could I be refused an extension to my temporary permit? Well, since being in any country other than your own is a privilege and not a right, yes they can. However, as long as you are compliant and the organisation you are visiting is in good standing with them, this seems unlikely (I don’t think it has ever happened to anyone visiting my client out there). Incidentally, the Immigration Officers are human so do consider being nice to them.
  2. How long does it take? Simple answer: Anything from 20 minutes to a week. They have a finite number of people but once you have your stamped receipt (which effectively seems to amount to their undertaking to extend you) and they have your passport, you should be extended (even if you go over your two weeks while waiting for them). Remember: Get to the immigration office early and get everything underway a good few days before your initial permit expires.
  3. I entered Fiji for the purpose of business, am at the end of my stay but like the place so much, I;d like to tack a holiday onto the end. Is this possible? No; unless you’ve planned all this in advance and the total length falls within 6 weeks, your only option is to hop out to Australia or NZ and hop back in (don’t forget you need a Visa, obtainable online within minutes for many, to enter Australia.
  4. I’ve actually come to Fiji on Holiday, am a the end of my three months and want to stay longer? It’s actually very similar though extending the permit probably costs less. You’ll not need a letter of invitation but the immigration office will probably place a higher burden of proof on you to demonstrate you are able to support yourself.
  5. Are there any better alternatives for the business traveller? Yes, you can get a six month work permit but the Fijian Immigration Authorities require a police report to show you are of good character. Last time I asked at Old Trafford cop shop about getting one of these, they didn’t have a clue what I was blathering on about.