Google Plus 2nd Anniversary Photo Walk in Tokyo (Podcast 377)

Google Plus 2nd Anniversary Photo Walk in Tokyo (Podcast 377)

It doesn’t seem like two years since Google Plus was launched, but last Saturday, on June 29, we celebrated Google Plus’ 2nd birthday with a photo walk here in Tokyo. I ended up with 21 photos from the day, and have select 10 to talk about with regards to my thinking behind the photos, and also just to fill you in on the day.

I’ve uploaded my 21 shots to the event photo gallery on Google Plus, and I’ve also uploaded them to my own Google Plus gallery, if you’re interested in taking a look. Because I want to put out a Podcast on this walk today, just two days after the walk, I won’t be making a decision as to whether or not any of these photos will end up as long term keepers, as the emotional connection with the day is too strong still.

Sky Tree Reflection

Skytree Reflection

I’ve got a feeling that a few might make it, but a number of them won’t. I’m definitely happy enough with the shots to talk about these ten today though, especially when you consider that this is really just a bit of fun. If I can make anything worth keeping out of it, that’s an added bonus.

So, we started at the Tokyo Skytree, a new broadcasting tower that was completed in March 2011 and has just started broadcasting it’s signal out to the Tokyo area. It replaces the wonderfully characteristic Tokyo Tower that for me, as for many, will probably remain one of the iconic structures symbolizing Japan’s economic growth as they rebuilt the country after World War II.

Tokyo Tower isn’t going anywhere just yet though. It will remain open and you’ll be able to travel to the top in the elevator etc. for a while yet. It’s just that there have been so many high-rise buildings built around Tokyo Tower that with it’s relatively low height of 333 meters (1,093 ft) it was no longer able to broadcast to the entire area, leaving some parts of Tokyo without a proper digital TV signal.

Anyway, I arrived at about 10am, 30 minutes before the meeting time, as I’d left early enough for the trains to run a little late, which they didn’t, but my plan was to walk around the tower trying to find some interesting angles if I had any free time before we started. This first image is one of a few of the Skytree that I’ve uploaded, and here I’d found a spot where the tower was reflected in the windows over an elevated passageway between the tower and the adjacent shopping area etc. I lined up the shot so that the reflection kind of completed the tower, as though you are looking up at an open railing rather than a set of windows.

I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 to convert to black and white, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love black and white skies. They always seem much more dramatic than a straight color shot, and I also just like black and white architecture. I’ve found over the years that the majority of Tokyo architecture photos that I’ve shot just look better to me in black and white. This is true of all black and white photos of course, but removing the color helps us to see the structure and form of the subject, without the added color information, which can often be distracting. I was also conscious here of the amount of roof I placed on the right side, and that patch of textured siding at the bottom, wanting to give them weight, minimizing the space for the tower and sky, to add a little drama to the photo.

After photographing the Skytee alone for a while, I went around to the meeting point, and found a good sized crowd already gathered. I met a few friends that I hadn’t seen in person since the first anniversary walk a year ago, and there were a lot of new faces. Remember names was going to be difficult. I’m terrible with names at the best of times…

I found the registration queue, and let them know I was there, paid my money for the boat we’d ride on later, the entrance fee to Hamarikyu, and most importantly, my $40 for the party that we’d have when the walk finished. I was given a sticker with my Google Plus profile photo and name on it, a map and key times for the walk, and a Google camera strap, which is actually quite cool.

We had a steady walk around, and shot the tree some more before starting to walk towards the Asakusa area. We passed through a small park, in a small corner of which is the Ushima Shrine, and we were lucky enough to find a wedding ceremony in progress (below).

Mohican/Japanese Wedding

Mohican/Japanese Wedding

I switched between Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes throughout the day, still trying to get used to Aperture Priority, which I had set when I shot this. I had Auto ISO set too, to give the camera more wiggle room, and with Plus 2/3 Exposure Compensation for this shot, the camera set my ISO to 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second, at f/4.0. I had added a little exposure compensation to stop this from going dark, but I didn’t need much.

Yagishita-san Doin't His Thang!

Yagishita-san Doin’t His Thang!

I have to admit that I didn’t even notice that the guy in this shot had a mohican, which I thought was quite cool to say the rest of the wedding still seemed to be very traditional. We can also see the Shinto Priest wafting his Ounusa, like a wand with paper streamers on it, to purify the happy couple. We heard from the Shinto priest that blessed us during our Winter Wonderland Tour here in Japan this year, that bad spirits are sucked into the paper on the Ounusa, and then sent on their way, removing them from the people being blessed.

We had to shoot this from outside of course, and as my longest lens was the 24-70mm, I had to crop just a little bit from around the edges here to clean it up a little. Note too that I used the new Upright feature in Lightroom 5 to straighten the vertical lines, and it worked like a charm with one click.

Next up we see Shuhei Yagishita (right), a Tokyo Plusser jumping for us on a wall, in front of the Skytree. It was a relatively narrow wall, but luckily there wasn’t much of a drop on the other side, as I had visions of him doing a duChemin on us when I first saw him climb up there. He was a great sport though, and jumped a few times on request. I like the leg position and dynamism in this frame.

Note that with the black and white conversion here, I didn’t go as dark with the sky as I usually do, because Shuhei had a black t-shirt on, and we’d lose the separation if the sky was too dark. It would have been great if we could have done this when there was a big fluffy cloud behind his upper body too, but we didn’t have that luxury.

By this point, it was 12:30, and we would now have a couple of hours of free time to go and get lunch in the Asakusa area, and I found this next scene under the highway as I headed over.

Downtown

Downtown

This was actually quite a colorful store, and the first of these images that I considered leaving in color, but as I worked through my set, I found myself with so many photos that would be black and white, I started to really want to do the entire set in black and white. I processed each of them individually, using various settings, and various color filters and color channel tweaks to emphasize or deemphasize colors depending on the photo.

Old Gentleman Taking a Rest

Old Gentleman Taking a Rest

Note too that as this was under the highway, the only light in the scene was that which was pouring in from the left of the frame, so I reduced the Highlights slider in Lightroom to -18, and then reduced the highlights in Silver Efex slightly too, to tone down the left side which was slightly overexposed in my original.

Sitting on the bench on the left of the last photo, was this old gentleman (right), enjoying his cigarette. This is one of those times when I turn on the under-excercised street photographer in me, and fought my anxiety to ask permission for a photo. Although I’ve started to enjoy this type of photography over the last couple of years, I still don’t give it enough time to really get comfortable with this, and as far as I believe, many people never get over the anxiety of walking up to strangers and asking them if it’s OK to photograph them.

It makes it a lot easier when you speak the language though, and although this gentleman looked quite stern as I approached, I smiled and said hello, and knelt down so that I wasn’t looking down at him, and asked if it would be OK to photograph him, adding that I thought his beard was absolutely incredibly cool, and I did.

I shot two frames, and then showed him them on the camera, and his face lit up, so I shot a couple more. This was the second to last, as he blinked in the last photograph. I found that he was a local, living in this area, and after a very brief conversation, I thanked him again, and moved on.

Sensouji (Temple)

Sensouji (Temple)

I entered the street of old stores that runs up to the Sensouji Temple from the side, just past the middle, and started to make my way up to the main temple. The Google film crew stopped and videoed me standing in the middle of the crowds for a while, but despite our group being over eighty strong, once I’d left the the video crew, I didn’t see a single person from our photo walk group until I made my way around to the afternoon meeting point at around 2:30, about half an hour after this shot from inside the main Sensouji Temple building (left).

I didn’t see any no photography signs, and none of the officials asked me to stop, so being somewhat respectful that this is a place of worship, I shot a handful of images like this. If you’ve ever been to a large shrine or temple like this in Japan though, you’d know that they aren’t quite the same as religious building in most other countries.

Although the Japanese will throw coins into the box in front of the area where the main ceremonies are held, then clap to alert the gods to their wishes, before holding their hands together and praying for a while, it’s not as serious as most countries, for want of a better word. Maybe sullen works better, but to many Japanese, a visit to a shrine is part of the tourism or day trip that they’re probably on, and although many locals will feel very attached to this place spiritually, for many here, it’s just another stop, something to tick off, before they move on to see the next Tokyo sight.

Again in Aperture Priority at f/11 for a deep depth of field, my ISO jumped up to 8000 here for a 30th of a second, but the 5D Mark III ensured there was too much grain in the shot. This also allowed me to capture all the beautiful detail in the roof of this building that I honestly had never really noticed before. There is always so much light pouring in from the doors that the ceiling is usually very dark, so this was a fresh look at the building for me.

After Sensouji, I headed back around to the banks of the Sumida River where we were to meet, and half the group would ride the water bus to Hamarikyu, a park that we’d walk around later in the afternoon. The meeting time was 2:30, which seemed a little over cautious when you consider that our boat wouldn’t leave until 3:20, but I got there on time, and chatted to others as I waited.

This photo (below) was shot from the roof of our boat, as we pulled away from the pier. By now, the light was further around the Skytree, so unlike the earlier shots, it was now easier to capture it’s metallic surface and all the detail. The other reason I shot this of course was because Himiko, the futuristic boat to the left had entered the picture.

Himiko with Sky Tree

Himiko with Sky Tree

Himiko was designed by Reiji Matsumoto, a Japanese anime and manga artist behind Space Battleship Yamato and a plethora of space adventures. I find it fascinating and incredibly cool that Japanese society, often considered very serious and staid, would commission an artist to design and create a boat like this. I think it’s things like this that help to keep the Japanese sane in their otherwise often very restrictive lifestyles.

The sail along the river to the Hamarikyu gardens was nice, with most of the group on top of the boat, and as we set off, a Google video crew had set up on one of the first bridges we’d travel under, and we all waved and cheered for the camera as we approached. They were filming on the boat amongst us too, with wide angle lenses extended out on monopods, swinging them over our heads. I’m quite looking forward to seeing the video, and I’m hoping it doesn’t turn out to be just a promotional video for one of their recommended plussers like last year’s video. I don’t see that happening this year though. They didn’t seem to be focusing on any one person.

I got a few shots from Hamarikyu, but this is a difficult spot to work. It’s very Japanese in some ways, and has great contrast with the towering architecture behind the park, but I’ve never really been able to get anything spectacular there. I spent most of the afternoon walking around with a guy named Camilo Medina, a talented photographer living here in Tokyo, and was enjoying the conversation as much as the photography.

We walked through the city a little more, then got on the Oedo train line for a few stops, over to Azabujuban, then walked for about 15 minutes from there to Roppongi Hills, where Google Japan is based. They’d kindly used there super-powers to get us press passed to the Sky Deck on the roof of the Mori Tower, the huge cylindrical building there, and we were given permission to use tripods, which was great!

As the sun drew close to the horizon, this first shot is before the city lights really started to come on. You can see from the blur in the clouds that this was a long exposure, but it was only 30 seconds. This was one of the first I did, but although I tried to go longer, there weren’t that many places where you could get a clear view out over the city with a wide angle lens, but without getting the railings around the deck in the shot.

Tokyo from Sky Deck

Tokyo from Sky Deck

The best place I found was where the resident photographers stood people for their tourist “I’ve been to the Sky Deck” photo, and there were people that kept coming down to the left side of this same spot, so timing was really difficult. I’m happy with this shot mind, which I basically shot with the camera pointed further up that I wanted to, to avoid people’s heads. It allowed me to get some nice sky movement in though, and we can see out to the sea in the distance, showing that Tokyo is very much a port town, though people don’t really think of it that way.

As the city lights came up, I shot this next image, which is just a six second exposure, no longer using a neutral density filter as I was for the last image. I wanted to do longer, but the obstructions were stopping me, and although there were times when I could get a clear view, there was a family that that come out on the deck, and their kids were jumping up on the hand rail, then time and again jumping back down onto the wood deck on which we were standing. This of course meant that during most of my longer exposures the deck would shake, and my shot was ruined, so I gave up on the longer exposures.

Tokyo Tower from Sky Deck

Tokyo Tower from Sky Deck

Again though, I’m happy with this shot, probably another that I had a hard time converting to black and white, but I like the way increasing the red and orange channels enabled me to make Tokyo Tower stand out as it does here. We can also see the red tail lights of the cars streaming along the highways that weave through the city too. Plus, the shorter exposure enabled me to tilt the camera down a little more, shooting between people going down here, and this enabled me to get the curve of the highway in, which I think adds a nice touch, kind of forming a circle around Tokyo tower. I love driving through the city at this time of night, and have driven around the tower on that road many times, so it was nice to get a shot from this perspective, thanks to Google.

Tokyo Plussers (Look in the Reflection)

Tokyo Plussers (Look in the Reflection)

Although it would have been nice to stay out on the Sky Deck for about another 15 minutes, we were being called in, and were already late for the party that had been planned, so we made our way back down. As I approached the last meeting point, I noticed a whole bunch of plussers’ reflections in some glass roofing over the open area where we’d meet, so I got this last shot for the day (right), looking up at the Mori Tower. To deal with the low light here, this was shot at ISO 6400 at f/2.8 for 1/25 of a second. If you are wondering why it’s all sharp at f/2.8, note that I shot this with my 16-35mm lens at 17mm, and at 17mm, the hyperfocal distance at f/2.8 is 3.4 meters, or 11ft, with the near focus starting at 1.7m or 5.6ft, so I was safe to go this wide. If that last sentence confused the hell out of you, stay tuned for an exciting announcement shortly. I have something for you that will help with that.

The party was a lot of fun, with great conversation with Camilo and also Brian Kemper, another Tokyo based photographer who is just a laugh a minute. The bear flowed, somewhat hindered by the shear numbers of our group, but a great evening was had by all. A great day in fact.

Any of you that follow me on Google Plus will know that it’s where I spend most of my social media time now. That’s not a lot of time, but of the time I spend in Social media, these days I’m probably on G+ 95% of the time, with a further 3% on Twitter, then 2% on Facebook. The thing that I enjoy about Google Plus is that it has shaped up into a real community. A photography centric community in many respects, so I really enjoy spending time there, when I have time to go online and share, or look at others’ work or what they’re posting about.

The other thing of course is that it enables us to bring that online community into the real world, as we did for this photo walk. It’s only the third I’ve been on, and it was a year since my last, but it’s great to be able to jump on a train, and go and meet some of the people that we interact with online, and I’m sure it’s like this in every city around the world. If you haven’t gotten involved in Google Plus yet, jump right in, and have some fun, and maybe also consider joining the MBP Community while you’re there. Our conversation is getting more lively by the week too, so I’ll put a link into the show notes, and it would be great to see you there.

My New eBook – Sharp Shooter!

Before we finish, I have some really exciting news to share with you, and that is that my second eBook from Craft and Vision, Sharp Shooter: Proven Techniques for Sharper Photographs, was released last week, and is now available from the Craft & Vision Web site! We start by covering what makes an image sharp in the first place, then I cover some hand-holding techniques, stabilization for long lenses and focus stacking among other things, and we also go into sharpening in post when it didn’t quite work out, and also sharpening for final output. I wrote a blog post to introduce you give you some more details, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/sharp if you are interested.

sharpshooter_spreads_cover-NEW

Remember these books are incredible value at only $5 a pop, but for those of you that pick up and listen to this episode quickly enough, if you use the promotional code SHARP4 when you check out, you’ll only pay $4 or use the code SHARP20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ products from the Craft & Vision Library. These codes expire at 11:59 PM (PST) July 4, 2013, so just a few days from now. If you miss that, it’s still only $5 and if you sign up for the my newsletters with the buttons on my blog, you’ll receive an email when I release any future books, so you won’t miss the sale in future.

I’m really happy to get my second book in the Craft & Vision library, and I really hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick up a copy.


Show Notes

Martin’s 21 Images on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/102227359845636175866/albums/5895503804877505873

Google Plus Event Photo Gallery: https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/gallery/cav22j3eo2rtheqmjqf756jfigc

MBP G+ Community: https://mbp.ac/community

My New eBook — Sharp Shooter: https://mbp.ac/cvss

Music by UniqueTracks


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India, Dec 2006 – Part #2 (Podcast 67)

India, Dec 2006 – Part #2 (Podcast 67)

Today we’re going to continue what I now know is going to be a three part series, a travelogue of a recent, very brief, trip to India. I was in India on business and decided that it was about time I took an extra day and visit the Taj Mahal. We’ll continue to view some shots of the Taj itself and I’ll explain the thinking behind the shots and any relevant post processing and the shooting info for each of the shots. I also have a few pieces of info about things I did wrong on my shoot and the reasons why. For those that are new to this Podcast, there are various ways to listen and view the photos along with the dialog, and if you haven’t figured out the best way for you to listen already, please locate episode zero in iTunes, the Podcast page at martinbaileyphotography.com or in your favourite Podcast aggregator and give it a listen. It’s a short Podcast I released on Nov the 4th this year as an introduction to the show and explanation of the various ways to listen, so it should be of help for newcomers. And with that, we’ll get right down to today’s topic as we continue the travelogue of my trip to the Taj Mahal.

We finished in the last episode having looked at image number 1180 which we will not look at again today, but just to recap, this was a shot of the Taj Mahal from the front, as the sun was trying to break through the haze on the horizon at dawn. It was shot at 6:41AM, after I’d had a few hours very disturbed sleep during what turned out to be a five hour drive from Delhi airport to Agra in the state of Uttar Pradesh. I’d not confirmed the travel times personally, which I deeply regretted as I only had 90 minutes, pretty low quality sleep, in a bed at the hotel before getting up and heading off for the Taj before dawn. By the time I’d made my way through the security and had my tripod taken from me among other less important things, I was now walking from the gate from where I got the first glimpse of this amazing piece of architecture through the gardens to the foot of the structure.

I stopped at a right angle in the path that was to take me around to the right and then back in to climb up a small flight of stairs to stand on the base of the Taj Mahal, when I stopped and decided to get a few shots with my 24mm TS-E lens. That’s a Tilt/Shift lens that allows you to correct the perspective of tall subjects such as architecture when viewed from a lower vantage point. You know how building taper in towards the top when shot from below, well it helps to reduce that effect or remove it all together. The Taj was now bathed in sunlight as the sun had broken through the haze, and the plan was to be in a position to show you a nice shot of the Taj from the right with the towers all nice and straight, with no convergence. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, the lack of sleep meant that by now I was losing the ability to think through what I was doing properly. As I shot with the Tilt/Shift lens and I remember thinking “why is this not working the way it should”. Actually after I’d had a little sleep in the car later in the day on the way back to Delhi, the answer came to me in a whoosh of disappointment and embarrassment. I’m sure I actually blushed when I realised my mistake, despite not actually saying anything about this out loud. What I was seeing was the towers only being corrected very slightly, and the top and bottom of them was out of focus, which is what happens when you Tilt the lens to move the focus plane to one other than parallel to the film plane. What I should have been doing was shifting to correct the perspective and reduce or remove the convergence of the structure inwards. Basically I was using the lens in totally the wrong way, and totally failed to realise it. So the 15 or so shots that I shot here with this lens were no good.

So why am I telling you this if I have no shots to show you. Well basically I always show you my successful images, and really just wanted to impress on you firstly that we all make mistakes. So why am I telling you about such a huge embarrassing mistake? Well, I think again I want to impress on you again the importance of proper planning. I’d relied on an acquaintance to tell me how long it was going to take to get over here, and had failed for one reason or another to properly plan this trip. This left me in a position where I really had not had enough sleep to be functioning properly, and although this was the only technical mess-up, it was a real disappointment. Not so much a disappointment that I didn’t get these shots, but I did get a lot of other great shots, and I don’t think the shots from this particular angle would have added that much to the output of the trip. But I was more disappointed in myself for making such a fundamental mistake. Had I been functioning properly, there’s no way I’d have looked through the view finder and seen what I was looking at without realizing what I was doing wrong. I guess what this means is that I’ve just not used this lens enough yet for it to be second nature, which is strong reminder of the importance of knowing your equipment like the back of your hand. I was running on auto-pilot from both a technical and creative point of view, and on auto-pilot the only things that work are things that are second nature. So some important lessons learned here.

Romantic Taj

Romantic Taj

Anyway, let’s take a look at the next image I shot, just after switching from the 24mm TS-E lens to my 16-35mm F2.8 lens, which is number 1182. You’ll see that there is a lot of convergence of the verticals in this shot due to the wide angle and looking up at the scene from below, but at least I didn’t have the mistakes I’d just made with the 24mm TS-E lens. The building was now fully lit by the morning sun as I just mentioned, so I was now working at ISO 100. I shot this at F8 for 1/60th of a second, at 32mm, so there was no longer any worry of camera shake at this focal length. There is a 3/4 moon in the sky just to the right of the middle band on the tower and a couple walking around the edge of the platform around the Taj adding a few additional points of interest and scale. The couple actually had a hug shortly after this, but it was not easy to make out what was going on, so I decided to leave their moment private and go with this version. I decided to convert this to black and white in Adobe Lightroom Beta 4, because I was able to darken the blue sky by lowering the blue channel, and raise the reds to bring out the orangey-yellow colour of the Taj itself making the architecture lighter, raising the overall contrast of the image while adding a little mood. I also tweaked the white balance to warm up the tones, which increased the contrast between the colder blue of the sky and the yellow-orange architecture. I think it works pretty well for this shot, which is perhaps one of my favourites from the trip.

Taj Mahal Front Arch

Taj Mahal Front Arch

From here, we walked around to the front of the Taj Mahal, and put on some white cloth shoe covers which the guide had provided. I think he got them at the gate when we entered. These are to protect the marble base on which you walk around the structure once climbing the small flight of steps. The other option is to take your shoes off, which I actually would have preferred but didn’t know until we climbed down the stairs at the other side later and seeing the shoe boxes and people removing their own shoes. The first thing that struck me on climbing the stairs is the scale of building. If we look at image number 1185, we can see the main archway in the front of the Taj Mahal with a number of people to give scale to the structure. When viewed from afar, this archway doesn’t look that big. We can see that the sun is now bathing the front of the building, casting a shadow across the front of the archway. I also like the lime green of the young ladies clothes making her way to the doorway, adding a splash of colour. We can also see the inlaid semi-precious stones above the arch, using the same technique as that we can see being performed by the craftsmen that I shot environmental portraits of later in the day.

I used 1 stop plus exposure compensation here to stop the light structure from making the shot dark. I wanted to keep the colours vibrant and the overall light feeling that I was now getting. The exposure was 1/25th of a second at F11, with ISO 100. I was shooting at 35mm so I was pushing the shutter speed a little, but at this wide angle it turned out OK. We went inside main building at this point, and guide explained that the Mughal Emperor Shāh Jahān was laying in rest in the basement of the structure, alongside his favourite wife Arjumand Bano Begum, for whom the structure was built. Apparently the mausoleum was constructed between 1631 and 1654 by a workforce of 22,000. The wife, also known as Mumtāz married the Emperor at the age of twenty, and died at the age of 39. When I asked how she died, the guide gave me a somewhat embarrassed smile, as though he didn’t really want to say, but went on to tell me that Mumtāz was married to the Emporer for 19 years, and during that time gave birth to 14 children. She died during the birth of the 14th.

Sun Over the Guest House

Sun Over the Guest House

Just about everything in the Taj Mahal complex is symmetrical. To the left of the mausoleum is a mosque, and to the right, is a building the guide called a guest house, which is pretty much exactly the same shape as the mosque. In image number 1186, we can see how high the sun was now in the sky, as I’d positioned it behind the taller of two domed roofs of the guest house. No exposure compensation here. I let the camera darken the foreground elements almost into silhouette because of the brightness of the sun. I allowed the rays of the sun to just start to burst out from behind the tower for to give this star effect. As with the earlier shot containing some other domed roofs of this same building, image number 1179, that we looked at in the last episode, I caught this scene too with some birds in the sky. I actually shot about five or six frames, and each had varying numbers of birds. On consideration while viewing the shots though, they all just seems to get in the way on this occasion. I think the sun bursting from behind the roof and the ornate shapes of the domes is enough, and the birds only overcomplicated the image, so I went with this simpler version. It was shot at F6.3 for 1/800th of a second with the 70-200mm lens.

Doin' Her Thing

Doin’ Her Thing

As I walked a little further around the back of the main building, I shot two very similar scenes also containing this guest house in silhouette. One was just the back corner of the mausoleum, and the guest house, again with the sun hidden particially behind structure, and the second was an opportunistic grab shot. We won’t look at the first shot, but as I stepped back from shooting it, a young woman walked into the scene and knelt down to shoot the building, and as she did so, a young man kind of sauntered around the corner in the sunlight. The result is image number 1189. This is another favourite of mine from the trip. Still no exposure compensation, allowing the subjects to fall almost into silhouette against the bright sun, and this time we also have a lot of sunlight bouncing back up from the marble tiles on the floor. I shot this at F16 for 1/125th of a second, at ISO 100. I’d zoomed out a little to 80mm to get the foreground subject in the frame with a little room to breathe as well.

In the next shot, image number 1190, I took my 16-35mm F2.8 lens and opened it right out to 16mm to accentuate the convergence of the building and towers against the bright morning sky. This was captured again at F16, for 1/30th of a second, ISO 100. We can see that the people walking around the building are all leaning inwards at a pretty steep angle. I was kind of playing a little here, with the scene and the equipment, but I liked the results, more so than I think I expected too. Again remember I was on autopilot and really didn’t think I was getting that good results. I had a brief mail conversation with one of the long term members after I returned, and had actually said that I’d not been very creative at all due to the gross lack of sleep. On reflection, apart from the mess up with the 24mm TS-E lens, and a lack of motivation in the drive back to Delhi which I’ll get to next week, I think I did pretty well during this couple of hours at the Taj. I just couldn’t remember much of it until I went through my shots.

Monumental Mausoleum

Monumental Mausoleum

So let’s take a look at one last shot from the Taj Mahal for this series and to close on for this episode, which is image number 1192. Finally here we see the Taj Mahal mausoleum in all it’s glory. Full lit from warm early morning sun with a reflection in the pools that run through the gardens in front of it. I’ve seen this photograph many times. I’m always disturbed by the fountain heads running down the middle of a perfectly head on shot though. Apparently the British, in their wisdom, decided it would be a good idea to add these fountains so that they could still enjoy a view of the Taj on dull days when the reflection was not so good. They are rarely turned on now apparently and I personally think they just get in the way. What I did though was to position myself slightly off centre, so that the reflection did not run in line with the fountain heads. I shot some in line, but as I suspected, I didn’t really like them. I was also conscious of the position of the two people in traditional dress walking along the left side, and shot as they were visible between the bushes. This is really just to add another few points of interest. I used the near sides of the mosque and guest house either side of the mausoleum as markers to ensure that I was getting the main subjects pretty much straight. I shot this at 29mm with my 16-35mm lens with an aperture of F16 for 1/50th of a second.

Taj Mahal Reflection

Taj Mahal Reflection

Apart from the fatigue from bad planning and a hectic business trip, I really enjoyed my few hours here. I came away with a few nice shots and memories of an amazing experience.

In the next episode, which will be the final part of this series, we’ll look at some environmental portraits and a few shots from the drive back to Delhi. As I’ll be releasing this in the same week as the first part, we are now back on schedule for the average of one release a week.

Remember that voting has now started for the “Sound!” assignment. You need to register on the member’s gallery site at mbpgalleries.com to vote, but once logged in, you will be able to voting using the small black vote button above the images in the Assignment album. To see the assignment album scroll down to the middle of the page and click the thumbnail. When you click on vote the button your vote will be added, but remember each member only has one vote. You can change your mind anytime though until voting stops. Just hit the button again and the system will ask if you want to reassign your vote before going ahead and doing so. Again the quality of the images entered has been incredibly high, so please do take a look. Voting will be turned on until the end of December 31st and I’ll announce the winner in the first show of 2007.

And with that, thanks for listening. Although I’m going to try and get another episode out before Christmas, if I don’t, do have a very Merry Christmas. I hope Santa brings you everything you wanted, and more. Happy holidays. Bye bye.


Show Notes
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India, Dec 2006 – Part #1 (Podcast 66)

India, Dec 2006 – Part #1 (Podcast 66)

Thanks very much Robert for that message. I’m so pleased that you like your prints. Unfortunately it’s taken me around two weeks to release a Podcast after receiving this message, so we’re pretty close to Christmas now. If anyone else does decide to order a print or two as belated Xmas presents I will get them out as soon as possible, so they would be with you shortly after the day.

As I say, this is going to be slightly belated episode. Today is going to be the first of a two, possibly three part travelogue about a recent, very brief, trip to India. I was in India on a business trip with my day-job, and decided that it was about time I took an extra day and visit the Taj Mahal. We’ll look at some of the portraits that I shot while there, plus some shots of the Taj itself. I also have a few pieces of advice if you ever decide to visit yourself. I also have a little bit of housekeeping to do, but we’ll save that for the end of the show, so let’s get straight down to it, and talk about my trip.

Hotel Doorman

Hotel Doorman

So, as I said, I spend a few days in India recently. Basically just two days in the IT center of India, Bangalore, for meetings related to my day job. Then I took an extra day before heading back to Japan to visit the Taj Mahal, which I something that I’ve been dying to do for a few years now since my first visit to India. First let’s touch on one of my weaker areas of photography, portraiture. On the second morning while waiting for someone to come to the hotel to pick me up, I did something which is becoming a bit of a habit now, which is to ask the doorman of the hotel if it would be OK to take his picture. The result was image number 1174 in which we can see the doorman of the hotel I stayed in for two nights. I chose the 50mm F1.4 lens for this shot, as it is nice and bright and a good focal length for portraits, and because it’s quite a small lens, it’s not intimidating, which I think is important when shooting portraits.To fill the frame like the 50mm you have to get quite close to the subject, and as I’d taken my gear in a bag that allows me to top load the camera still attached to the 70-200mm F2.8, I was tempted to just shoot at 70mm, but I decided to switch to the 50mm before shooting for this very reason. Also, because it’s a F1.4, stopping down a couple of stops to sharpen up the image still gives you an aperture of F2.8, which is the starting point for the 70-200mm, although that lens is still pretty sharp wide open. The other thing of course is that 50mm is considered about the same perspective as the human eye, so the results should be just about the most natural for us to look at.

In this shot, because of the shallow depth of field obtained by shooting at F2.8, you can see that the outline of the red turban and the gentlemen’s ears are already going out of focus. Although I chose a position that gave me a blank piece of hotel wall for the background, it also is way out of focus, which is of course what I wanted to achieve. In post-processing I removed the usual boost to the Red channel that I usually apply to give my images a nice Velvia look, just really from stopping the red in that vibrant turban from blowing out. Also the skin tones were a little over done at my usual settings too. The location of the shot helped me to get some nice lighting effects without having to think about lighting too much. It was under the eaves in front of the hotel lobby where cars stop to drop off and pick up passengers. This means there was no light falling directly on the subject, but plenty coming from the side. And also there was another wall-less section behind me to allow some light to fall upon the subject from the front and create some nice big catch-lights in the subjects eyes. Really just a coincidence but with it allowed me to quickly see that I was going to be fine shooting right there without repositioning the gentlemen. The only regret for this shot is that pale stripe on the hotel wall that runs across the image at the height of the doorman’s neck, but the wide aperture stops this from being overly distracting.

Detho

Detho

When I went back inside, right after I put the 70-200mm lens back on the camera and put it back into my bag, the subject of the next image, number 1175, started scraping the candle wax that had dripped onto the base of a large candelabra in the hotel lobby. He’s a great looking guy who smiled broadly as I asked what he was doing, and I couldn’t help but as him if it was OK to photograph him too. He agreed and as he did, my ride turned up, but this was too good to miss, so I took a minute to think about what I was doing. I didn’t want to waist this excellent chance. I tried first composing the shot with the candelabra, showing the young man about his task, but it was too distracting. Also because the subject had his back to the window, and I wanted to shoot with natural light, there was a lot contrast between the subject and the bright window. So I came around and crouched next to him. I later learned by the way that this guy is called Detho. Again, because I had switched back to the 50mm F1.4 lens, so I had to get pretty close to the subject, which I felt was unnerving him a little, but because of the slightly challenging lighting here, it took me a few shots to get the exposure right. With the light coming in from my left and all of the dark areas in the shot fooling the camera to over expose, I made a few jokes as I checked the histogram and corrected the exposure, which seemed to relax Detho a little too. This is the second to last of about 8 frames I shot in the space of about 40 seconds or so. I ended up shooting at minus one stop exposure compensation because of all the black in the shot. From both a lighting and an expression point of view, I feel in this shot to be the best of small the batch. Also, as you can see if you are looking at the image, I managed to include the candelabra that he was cleaning in the reflection of the black marble on the wall in the back there, so you can still get an idea of the surroundings.

I actually thought that this young gentlemen was perhaps not Indian, but when I asked the person that had come to pick me up later, he said that he was probably from the North of India, where some of the population have more oriental features than what we might think, as they are closer to Nepal. This had never really occurred to me until now, but I suppose is kind of obvious when you consider just how vast India is. By the way, in return for these photos, I agreed to mail a print of the photograph to both the doorman and Detho, which I intend to follow through on during this week. It’s the least I can do for them allowing me to shoot two great portraits. As most of you know, I’m not a big portrait photographer, and although I do shoot enough portraits to be getting gradually better, it’s still one of the weaker areas of my photography. I didn’t have many other opportunities to do any street photography, for reasons which I’ll get into later, probably in the next episode, and we will look at a couple of other environmental portraits then too, but for now, let’s just say I’m relatively pleased with the results of this first few attempts.

So, I went off to complete my day’s work, and then headed off to the airport at Bangalore to switch back from businessman to photographer, and flew to Delhi to make my way over to Agra, and the Taj Mahal. Now, I usually try to do lots of planning before any kind of photography trip to give myself the best chances possible to get some great shots once there. However, with the preparation for the trip from a business side, and other responsibilities really overwhelming me lately, I didn’t have a lot of time to do any real planning as such. I had investigated the possible weather conditions and the time that the sun would come up, and I had actually relied on an acquaintance to tell me how long it was going to take for a driver to get me from Delhi airport to Agra. I’d been told 90 minutes to two hours, so my plan was to arrive in Delhi at 9:20PM, take a few minutes to find the driver and get rolling, then arrive at the hotel in Agra no before midnight. That would allow me to get around four hours sleep before getting up at around 4:30 to be ready to leave the hotel at 5:30, in plenty of time to be standing at the gates of the Taj Mahal when they open at 6:00AM. This was always going to be tough, because I’d had a series of nights to this point where I’d not slept well through travelling, but if I could get four hours of quality sleep, I figures I’d be OK.

This is where the plan started to fall apart. The first piece of advice if you ever intend to travel from Delhi to Agra by car – give yourself plenty of time. We travelled at night, so apart from the odd truck heading full speed our way on our side of the road and the dangers of a half-asleep driver keeping me from getting the ‘quality sleep’ I was after, it took a full five hours. I arrived at the hotel at 3:00AM. After knocking the hotel staff up to tell me where my room is, and actually getting in there and getting to sleep, it was around 3:20. So I ended up having a few hours of very disturbed sleep in the car, and 90 minutes of very weird sleep indeed in the hotel. If you think of the time I spent in the hotel, including 30 minutes to have breakfast and check out later, I’d say I was here for about two hours, or 120 minutes. When you consider that the hotel cost me $120 for the night, that’s exactly $1 a minute. Not quite what I’d hoped for, but there you have it.

So moving on, I had booked a guide for what I had hoped was going to be a full day, but it was now obvious that we needed to head back to Delhi early in the afternoon to make the flight home. The guide arrived at the hotel as request at 5:40AM, and we started our one mile drive to the Taj. Tourists have to park up a little way from the area and travel the last half a mile or so by electric car. This is to keep car exhaust fumes to a minimum, as they yellow the marble of the Taj Mahal itself. It was on the drive over there that I heard about warning number two. For your reference in case you ever make it out here yourself, you are not allowed to take a tripod inside the grounds of the Taj Mahal. This is kind of understandable because some people might go and stand a tripod on the marble around the building itself, but I would have liked to have seen specific areas where it is not possible to use a tripod, rather than the entire compound, as most of it is just tarmac paths and garden. I guess also though on busy days, if everyone had tripods stood everywhere they’d get in the way somewhat. What this means though, is that all of my shots, including those during twilight as the haze cleared, had to be shot hand held. Apparently it is possible to get permission to take a tripod in, but it requires prior application to some place in Delhi, and because I hadn’t planned the trip properly, I hadn’t done this. I did check that photography was OK, but I hadn’t noticed anything about tripod.

Again for your reference, in addition to tripods, the security check at the entrance relieved me of my portable storage, because it contains a hard drive, which are not allowed, so take plenty of memory. I was not allowed to take my cable release, because it has a remote control function. I wasn’t too cut up about this though because I didn’t have my tripod. You can’t take mobile phones inside either, which I thought a little bizarre, and you cannot take any kind of food inside. I was pretty cut-up about the fact that I could also not take in the snicker bar that I’d taken brought all the way from Tokyo to eat if I started to flag during my few pre-breakfast hours, but I didn’t really miss it. My equilibrium was already shot from lack of sleep.

I should say that the items that you are not allowed to take inside with you are placed in a locker, not confiscated for good. My tripod didn’t fit into the locker, so I now have a nice number 10, my locker number, written on the top of one of the legs in permanent white pen. A reminder of my trip I guess. I also was told by the locker room attended that I was to pay him a nice tip when I got back for looking after my tripod for me while I was inside. When I came back from the locker room, an American guy was having two hand-knitted teddy bears taken from his back. The security guard was giving a great story of how the teddy bears could be used to photograph the Taj Mahal in a derogatory manner, and the American guy having his teddies confiscated was not a happy teddy himself. My guide tried to explain better than the soldier doing the checks was, but gave in when the teddy-bear-less American started getting frustrated with him too. The guide left him to it saying “I don’t work here, I’m just helping out with the language problems. Don’t moan at me.”

First Glimpse

First Glimpse

Anyway, we walked for a minute or so from the gate to another tall building with a gateway, and it was as I turned and looked through this gateway that I got my first glimpse of the Taj Mahal. Let’s take a look at image number 1176. We can see here the interior of the building, which is lit by artificial light making it look very orange, with the Taj in the distance, looking decidedly blue in the twilight. I quickly cranked by 5D’s ISO up to 1600 and hand-held this for 1/2 a second at F4. I was shooting at 80mm so this I was surprised when apart from a fair amount of grain from the high ISO and longish exposure, the shot showed very little camera shake. A testament to the Image Stabilizer on my 70-200mm F2.8 I guess. I was relying on IS totally, as I could not lean against anything for additional stability without losing the position of the Taj through this arch. It was 6:22 when I shot this, and you can see that there were already a number of tourists standing on the steps waiting for it to get a little lighter. Of course, the Taj itself is a little soft as I was shooting at F4, but I’m quite pleased with this shot as a personal record of my first sight of this marvellous piece of architecture

First Glimpse

First Glimpse

I shot a few frames from these steps myself, wanting some views of the Taj in the pre-dawn light, but I chose to upload one from a little later, which we’ll look at a little later. For now, I wandered around to the side of this gatehouse and shot image number 1177, against looking through an archway. Still looking very blue before dawn, this time I switched to my 16-35mm F2.8 lens to frame the scene with the arch. I used minus two stops of exposure compensation in Aperture Priority mode, to keep the shot dark. If you don’t have your monitor calibrated, you may well not see much detail in this shot at all, but this is really very much how I saw the scene. Leaving the camera to its own devices of course would have meant the shot would have been rendered much more brightly, and the mood would have been lost. The shutter speed for this shot was 1/8th of a second, again hand-held, and the aperture was also wide open at F2.8. This again means that the Taj was going to be a little soft, but as this lens is pretty wide, shooting at 33mm, I was going to get much more depth of field than when shooting with a telephoto at the same aperture.

I made my way back around to the front of the gatehouse, and as I waited for more light to fall across the Taj, shooting it every so often, I shot image number 1179. Again shot at F4 with the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, I isolated two domes, which are the roof of the guest house to the right of the Taj Mahal, but from this perspective only visible poking up from a line of trees that form a base for another pretty dark, moody shot. A pair of birds flew through the scene as I made about three or four exposures, and I chose this one to upload. I now had the ISO down to ISO 400 in this as well as the last shot, as the sky got a little brighter, though it’s not really noticeable in the photographs yet.

Distant Domes

Distant Domes

I shot image number 1180 at 6:41AM, and now we can see the warmth of the sunlight hitting the structure of the Taj Mahal. I was only exposure compensating to the tune of minus one stop now, which was again to really just record on film what I saw with my eye, and not falsely brighten it up. My aperture still F4, I was now getting a shutter speed of 1/25th of a second. The sun actually should have been on or above the horizon at this point, but was not cutting through the morning haze enough to really light the structure. It was around this time that I realized there was some scaffolding around the front left tower my perspective that is, which was a little disappointing, but can’t really be helped I guess. We can also see from this shot that the four towers that surround the Taj Mahal are actually leaning outwards slightly. The architects designed it this way, so that if the towers should fall down in an earthquake, they would fall outwards, away from the main structure so as not to harm it. Confident that I’d gotten the shot I wanted in this light as things just started to warm up, I set off on a walk through the grounds towards the foot of the Taj Mahal itself, but for now, we’ll finish on today and then pick up the trail in the next episode.

 

From Twilight

From Twilight

So that’s about it for this week. As I say, we’ll pick up the trail in the next episode, hopefully released later this week if I can make the time. I’ve not yet prepared for the rest of this travelogue, so I’m not sure right now if it will be a two part or a three part series. We’ll have to wait and see.

Just a little bit of housekeeping before we finish. Firstly, thanks to all of you that uploaded your images to the Assignment that has just finished, which was on “Sound!”, and note that voting has now started and will run until the end of December the 31st. You need to register on the member’s gallery site at mbpgalleries.com to vote, but once logged in, you will be able to see a small black vote button above the images when viewed full size. When you click on the button your vote will be added, but remember each member only has one vote. You can change your mind anytime though until voting stops. Just hit the button again and the system will ask if you want to reassign your vote before going ahead and doing so. Again the quality of the images entered has been incredibly high. The number of entries dropped considerably for this assignment though, due I’d imagine to the difficulty of the theme. I myself didn’t even manage to post an entry. I had a few ideas for a shot but just couldn’t find the time to execute on my ideas. Let’s try and get participation up a little again for the next assignment, which I’ll be announcing the details of at the same time as announcing the winner for this assignment in the first episode of the New Year.

Also, I’d like to quickly apologise for the irregularity of the Podcast releases of late. I’ve been incredibly busy with both my day job and my photography, and just catching up in what little spare time I can make has been very difficult. To compound that I’ve had a number of computer related issues that seem to be dogging me a little hindering my progress. I’m not quite out of the woods yet, with some serious photography planned in the coming weeks, that will also of course mean a lot of images to process. I also have a trip to the UK planned for a family wedding in the New Year, so I anticipate that I will still be keeping you waiting the odd week for a while, but hopefully I’ll be able to catch up and release multiple episodes in the same week when coming up for air, so on average we should still see one episode a week. Anyway, please bear with me. My commitment to produce one show per week is unchanged, although the release schedule might continue to be a little bumpy for a while longer.

Finally, I wanted to say a huge thank you to those of you that have written Reviews for the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast in iTunes. This Podcast has been in the top 25 of the Visual Arts section for a long time now, but thanks to a recent spurt of Reviews, the show icon is actually in the top half of the featured section at the moment. This will help to generate more interest in the Podcast which in turn will help us to continue to grow, so again, a huge thank you to all of you that have been kind enough to write a review. If you haven’t done so yet, please do go over to iTunes and navigate to this Podcast and click the “Write a Review” button under the show details.

And that really is about it for this week. Tune into the next episode of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast to hear about the rest of my mini-trip to India. Until then, have a great week, whatever you do. Bye bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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