More on Mood; Fleeting Moments (Podcast 39)

by | May 30, 2006 | Art Talk, Musings, Podcast

Last week I spoke about capturing or creating mood or atmosphere in your images, either by being at the right place at the right time, fore example to make the most of certain weather conditions, or by using technology and other props, either at the time of shooting, or in post processing. Today, I’m going to talk more about shots that to me have mood, or provoke a certain feeling, but that really could probably not be recreated very easily or rather, they could not be recreated at all for one reason or another.

As most of you know, I’m not a great portrait photographer, but I do shoot environmental portraits when I’m out and about if faced with an opportunity. One thing I’ve noticed, though this is no big secret, is that people are general pretty spontaneous. The faces or the actions and stances of the people in the images I’m about to share with you could very probably not have been conceived in advance, and probably not captured in the same way, with the same mood, had they been say hired models, dressed and brought onto a set or to a certain location. In fact, I personally would just never have bothered to make these images had they not presented themselves to me under these circumstances.

Let’s take a look at the first example. It’s image number 109. This was shot with my old 28-135mm lens at F5.6 for 1/125th of a second. The ISO was set to 100. I had visited the city of Narita, near the Tokyo International Airport, which for some reason little be known to me is in the Chiba Prefecture, two hours from Tokyo by train. In July each year they hold the Gion Matsuri, which is a kind of festival that goes on for three days. I had gone to the festival hoping to get shots just like this one. Incidentally, this shot was used along with four other shots of mine in an exhibition held in Italy, organized in collaboration TrekEarth. I don’t know if I mentioned this before, but TrekEarth was actually conceived and is owned by a good friend of mine from way back when, when I lived in northern Japan. I’ll drop a link to the site in the show notes. If you want to go on a photographic tour of the Earth with literally 100’s of thousands of images, you might wan to go and take a look.

Summer of '03 - Gion Matsuri #8

Summer of ’03 – Gion Matsuri #8

Anyway, getting back to the first shot for today, I was standing on the walkway that goes the whole way round the main temple in the grounds of Narita San, a temple complex in the middle of the City, and I noticed these five young ladies walking across the paved area towards to main doors of the temple. It’s customary in Japan to throw a few coins in a box at the main doors of the temple, sometimes you’ll clap your hands to attract the attention of the gods, and then pray. These girls were about to do that, but walking along in the heat of the day in their “Yukata”, a kind of summer kimono, and drinking their crushed ice drinks, I can imagine they didn’t have a care in the world. This was almost three years ago now, and these five young ladies will be older, and getting closer to the pressures of adulthood, but at this point in their lives, I get the impression that they were really just enjoying the day, enjoying each others’ company, and probably making the sort of laid back summer memories that will stay with them forever. I love this shot, and I am really pleased that I was there, with my 10D in my hand, with the right settings, ready to capture this particular moment in these five girls lives.

As I said, some fleeting moments are really just that. They could be recreated to a certain extent, but they’d never be the same. If I paid these young ladies a fee and asked them to walk across that paving, they would have become self conscious, and their expressions would have been different, and the shot would have been lost. Not to mention the technical difficulty of actually getting the paved area free of other people like this, which, in itself is quite rare during the three days of the festival.

Walking Proud

Walking Proud

The next shot I want to talk about, number 146, is actually the alley to the side of the main walk up to Sensoji, a very famous temple in Asakusa here in Tokyo. This is another spontaneous moment. I titled this image “Walking Proud”. As you can see the woman in the Kimono is walking along, full of confidence, and looking like she could break down buildings if she felt like it. I shot this once again with my 10D with my old 28-135mm IS lens, at 56mm. The aperture set to F7.1 and a shutter speed of 1/350th of a second, with the ISO at 400. At first I was disappointed that the image only existed for a moment in a cluttered sense, with the guy with the newspaper, and the other people all around getting into the shot. After I looked at the image at home later though, I found that I quite liked the overall mood of the shot, with the woman in the Kimono kind of cutting her way through all of these people going about their daily lives. I cropped the top of the shot a little as it was just more of the roofs of the buildings and a little overexposed, due to the fact that the alley is quite dark. The overexposed areas were distracting. So sure, there are things about this shot that I would like to have changed, but on the whole, as fleeting moments go, I’m quite happy with it.

The next shot, number 153, was shot on the beach at Kamakura, the place with the giant statue of Buddha that most tourists to the Tokyo area seem to make their way to. These three girls tried two or three times to get a photo of themselves with the sand in the background. They were obviously not happy with the initial results, squealing with laughter having checked the LCD and trying again. The guy in the background on the surfboard is a little annoying, but I couldn’t bring myself to clone out a whole human being. I also don’t mind it that much as a secondary element to make me think a little more about the scene on the whole. The girls though are again enjoying a moment in their lives that will probably stay in their memories for a long time, especially as they’ll have the photos to prove they were there. This too was shot with my 10D and the 28-135mm IS lens. The aperture was F8 and the shutter speed 1/200th of a second at ISO 100. Regrets for this shot are that I would like to have perhaps been a little further to my right so that I could get more of their faces in the shot, but that would have changed the angle, and we would not be able to see the lens of their camera, so may not have worked anyway.



For the next shot, number 532, we graduate to my 20D, for another spontaneous moment, which for me is simply magical. This was shot during a family photo session at a wedding in the Meijijinguu shrine near Harajuku in Tokyo. Now, I don’t know what had tickled these ladies funny bones, but they were having a right old giggle about something. The bride though, in her formal wedding kimono is trying very hard not to laugh too much, giving in to just a smile. I was shooting through people for this shot, and ended up cropping in tightly on the two outer ladies for balance, but in general I really was quite happy with this shot. There are some distracting elements in the frame though, and as the subjects were all in a straight line in front of me, I wished I’d opened the aperture up to around F2 with my 50mm F1.4 lens to throw more of the background out of focus. As it was, I shot this at F4.5 for 1/160th of a second, at ISO 400.


Weddings in Japan can be quite formal, almost suffocating sometimes, but despite this one being held in one of the most famous shrines in Japan, with all the formalities, for me, I got a distinct feeling that this was a wedding where close friends and family members can relax, enjoy each others company, and once again, make memories that will last. I just hope the official photographer captured this moment too, as it’s a real pearl.

Visit to the Temple

Visit to the Temple

The last shot I want to look at for today is number 366. Back to the 10D for this shot, and I was using the 100-400mm lens for this one. The ISO was set to 200, for 1/15th of a second at F8. To be honest, looking back at this shot, I don’t know how I hand held at this speed, even though the focal length was a 100mm. If I recall, the original is a little soft, but I am pleased I went with this speed as it allows us to see a little movement in the man’s right leg as he climbs the stairs with his little girl.

This man, judging by his clothes is probably a dentist, and has taken some time out during his lunch break, as it was 1:15PM when I shot this, to take a walk to the local temple. At the top of the stairs we can see the over exposed temple they are walking towards, as I was metering for this father and daughter at the time. The temple being overexposed is a little annoying, but it also to me signifies that light or hope that this man could be looking for in his religion. I love the way he decides to take along his small daughter, and they climb the stairs together towards their goal. The daughter is probably too young to know much about the Buddhist religion, and probably as doesn’t yet even care. What she does care about is getting some of her busy dad’s precious time, to take a walk to the temple to break the monotony of her day. She’s almost certainly too young for this time with her dad to remain in her memory, though I could be wrong. If this is a rare thing, she may take the memory of this day into adulthood. Whatever the case, I’m once again pleased that I was at the foot of these stairs, with my camera. Although I’d have preferred to have had the camera on a tripod, I managed to scrape a reasonable shot out of the situation, and again, captured a moment in time in some people’s lives to bring a smile to my face when I view it.

I wouldn’t say that all of the shots I’ve talked about today will provoke feelings in all of you. But hopefully you will be able to appreciate why I chose these images to discuss mood. These kind of fleeting moments in peoples’ lives are often precious and lasting. I hope you enjoy looking at these images too and learning how I came about them as much as I enjoyed shooting them and looking at them now.

If there is anything that you can take away from today’s Podcast, it is probably once again the need to be ready with your camera to make the best of any situation that might present itself to you. Fleeting moments, are just that. They last but a moment and they’re gone. True happiness in peoples’ faces or in their posture and actions is often something that cannot be easily reproduced, or as I said earlier, probably not something that we could conceive during the planning stages of a shoot or a day out with our cameras. All we can do is to make sure that your camera is turned on and around your neck or in your hand ready to shoot. I know that the 2 second delay that my 10D took to power up used to have me half pressing the shutter button while walking around, making sure that it was awake and ready to go at the blink of an eye.

I remember loosing shots that still haunt me today while driving through India on a business trip and not being able to stop the car, but also not being able to catch the moments in some scene’s that went past the car window in less than 2 seconds as we drove by. The technology has now caught up with our needs. The 20D and now the 5D and the new DSLR’s from Nikon too, all power up in a tiny fraction of a second. There used to be a problem of shutter lag with compact digitals, that is the time it took from depressing the shutter button to the actual image being shot, but I believe now is almost as none existent in compact digitals as with Digital SLRs. Of course, this was never a case with film cameras anyway. So basically, whether you use film or a DSLR bought within the last two years or so, we now have the tools to capture these moments. It’s now down to us as image hunters to get out there and see the moments, and have the instinct to put our equipment to good use.

So I hope you’ve enjoyed this week’s episode. I definitely enjoyed putting it together as always. There are three pieces of news to share with you before we finish today. The first is that today, on May the 30th, 2006, we reached the 300th member at Apart from the odd spammer who’s account I didn’t have good reason to delete, generally every one of the 300 members is a vital part of the community and plays a huge part in keeping the forum a pleasant, constructive and fun place to hang out. If you haven’t visited yet, please swing by the forum at my Web site and sign-up if you have a minute. As I mentioned recently, if you have any friends or family that are interested in photography, please send them a link to the Web site or Podcast page and hopefully get them interested too. The more people listen the more worthwhile this all is, and the more incentive I’ll have to continue to invest my time into creating the Podcast.

Also, if you have a Web site, last week a kind listener mailed and asked me for a button to place on his Web site to link back to mine. I will create more, but if you also wouldn’t mind placing a link on your web site, the buttons are now available for download with some sample HTML code in the forum. I’ll add a link to the show notes to the related post.

And finally, another listener called Rick has been giving me excellent feedback on how to improve the site for Pocket PC use, where the relatively small form factor and slow download speeds can be a little restrictive or at best cause frustration. In reply to Rick’s requests I recently created a Podcast “Light” page, that is linked from the top of the main Podcast page if you want to bookmark it. Also last week following more feedback, I created a new page for viewing the large images when you click the thumbnails from the Light page. This new page contains no EXIF shooting data, comments, film strip or shopping cart, but it does have the added feature of being able to click through all the images I’m talking about freely using the left and right arrow buttons below the full size image. I like being able to do this so much that I also added a small text link to the images on the Light page below the thumbnails on the standard Podcast page too. Once you have clicked one of the links, you can move through the full size images freely in the same way. Note that the actual thumbnails on the main Podcast page still link to the full display page with the film strip and comments, and the shopping cart to buy prints. Along with the streaming player that you can launch from my site that will change the thumbnails in a timed slide show, allowing you to click the thumbnail to view it as I talk about each shot, there are now a number of different ways to view the images along with me in addition to iTunes. Remember that I cannot produce timed slide show type iTunes shows until Apple release a Windows version of their chapter tool. I will start to create them as soon as it’s possible, but for now can only apologise for the lack of this feature. Hopefully though you’ll be able to find a way of following along that suites you, from all of the methods we now have.

Oh, and one last thing, it will be the start of June by the time many of you listen to this, so it would be great if you could vote for this Podcast on Podcast Alley. You can do this by adding your email address in the Podcast Alley Vote section on my Podcasts page, and clicking the vote button. It will help to increase interest in the Podcast if we can get a decent placing.

Thanks once again for listening, and for all your support and suggestions, and for the kind words that keep coming in via the forum or from the Contact form on my site. One last reminder to be sure to check your email address when registering at the Web site or sending me a mail via the Contact Us form, as I’ve recently started receiving more and more mail delivery errors due to incorrect email addresses.

Anyway, with that, I’ll sign off for today. What ever you’re doing this week, have a great time doing it, and a great weekend coming up. Bye bye.

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