It’s hard to believe that a year has passed since I made a short movie showing the Autumn color in our local park, the Jindai Botanical Park and Gardens here in Tokyo. At the end of our November Question Time event for Patreon supporters last weekend, we talked about sharing our 2022 Top Ten images in the January Question Time, so I’ve been starting to reflect on the year a little mentally, recalling my May trip to Namibia, and feeling thankful that we finally seem to be returning to a semblance of normality as the pandemic gradually becomes more manageable and less of a threat for the majority of the population.
Unfortunately, as I went through my images of this year’s Autumn leaves in the park, I was somewhat saddened that many of the images were just repeats of previous years. The strange weather has made the leaves considerably less attractive than usual, and if it weren’t for a few other photos that I quite like, I probably would have given up on the idea of sharing any photos from this visit to the park altogether.
As it stands, I have nine images from the visit, and a couple of them that I am happy with, so let’s work through my shots anyway, starting with this image of the Crepe-myrtle trees in their Autumn dress and the sun shining through the canopy.
I like the sunburst or starburst effect of the sun shining through the trees. This effect is easily achieved with wide-angle lenses, even without stopping down the aperture very much, but I had stopped down to ƒ/14 for this shot anyway to get the leaves and foreground shadows sharp, although, in this image, that would have been achieved by an aperture of ƒ/8 or even ƒ/5.6.
The second image I shot of these trees, though, benefitted much more from the ƒ/14 aperture as I set my camera down on the ground to capture the grasses and leaves in beautiful detail. The closest leaves to the lens are going slightly out of focus, but everything is sharp from a few centimeters into the frame, so I’m happy with how this turned out.
I folded out the screen and had the digital level visible with the intention of ensuring that the horizon was straight, but as I put my camera down, a few people that I was hoping would walk out of the frame did just that, so I grabbed this shot before a few other people walked into the frame. The result is that I hadn’t leveled the horizon properly yet, but this was my best shot because of the lack of people. I could straighten the horizon in post, but I didn’t want to throw out any pixels, so I’m living with this for now, and I do like the shot, even wonky, so I’m not too concerned.
I did use an adjustment layer in Capture One Pro and brushed in a little bit of lightness in the shadows in the foreground leaves, just to open them up a little and provide a little more balance with the elements in the top of the frame. Another thing I did as I shot was to remove the twigs in the foreground, but again, I preferred this shot and think that the twigs add a little to the feeling of the image, so again, they stayed.
Here also is a shot of the yellow maple leaves, which are generally a lot prettier, but this year they have been eaten a little more than usual by bugs, and there are some red spots in the yellow, probably caused by some chillier than usual nights over the last few weeks. We even had a frost a few times, and that doesn’t usually happen in Tokyo in November.
For these leaves, I opened up the aperture as wide as it will go, which gives me ƒ/7.1 at 500mm with the Canon RF 100-500mm lens. This is because I wanted as shallow a depth of field as I could get for the leaves to keep the viewer’s attention on the foreground leaves and make the background leaves more like supporting actors. The background is very dark, as I aligned with a shadow area in this image, so the shallow depth of field didn’t have much effect on the distant background in this shot.
In the next image, though, I aligned the leaves with an illuminated area of the background to capture the out-of-focus leaves to provide a more colorful backdrop. I actually closed my aperture down to ƒ/8 for this shot to get just a slightly deeper depth of field, as I wanted the foreground leaves, which were all close to the same distance from the camera in this shot, to be in focus, while leaving the background as blurred as possible.
I like the textures in the background color, which were smooth over the red leaves, but some low grasses had an interesting effect on the bokeh in the bottom right corner, which I found somewhat appealing. Again though, the leaves themselves aren’t very attractive, and the bear twigs on the right are just about acceptable because they allow us to see that textured yellow bokeh.
Just one more leaves shot to go as we look at the red leaves a few meters away from the yellow leaves. These red leaves were backlit, so the light was shining through the leaves rather than shining on the leaves, and although these leaves were in slightly better condition, the shot is nothing special. I’ve only really kept it in the set because I kind of like the atmosphere, but I will probably not keep this in my finals if I review it again in a few week’s time, probably as I work on my 2022 Top Ten image selection.
After spending probably less than half the time I usually spend photographing the maple trees, we had a walk through the park, noticed that the cosmos flowers were already gone, leaving just soil now waiting for the winter to set in, and we made our way through to the corner of the park that has various types of Dahlia flowers at this time of year. They were mostly past their best, with a few blooms still worth shooting.
I noticed this honey bee in the center of a yellow Dahlia, so I hit the Exposure Lock button on the back of my Canon EOS R5, as I’ve customized the camera to remap that button to switch between One Shot and AI Servo focusing, and I used AI Servo to stay with the bee as both the bee and I moved around. This made it pretty easy to get the bee’s eye nice and sharp as it went about its business.
I do enjoy photographing these Dahlia flowers and converting them to black and white in Capture One Pro, then used a few adjustment layers to black out the background. I did take a patch of black velvet to hold up behind the flowers to help reduce the processing time, but my wife had gone to the restroom, and the angle was such that it wouldn’t have been possible to hold the cloth behind this flower anyway, so I did all of the dark backgrounds in post.
I generally start with one adjustment layer and brush over the background with a tone curve that has the highlights intact, but the shadows dropped down as far as I can take them. Then I do at least one more adjustment layer with reduced exposure, and I’m careful not to paint over the flower’s petals around the edges.
The next Dahlia shot received similar processing, but this felt like a firework to me, so I left its stalk more visible so that it looked like the light from the firework as it climbed to the point where it exploded. I also play with the highlights and shadow sliders on the background layer to increase the contrast between the layers of petals.
The final image that I wanted to talk about is this rose photo, which I again gave the black background treatment, but I left the unopened bud visible, as it felt like a thespian waiting in the wings, probably until the main actor here withered, giving way to the supporting actor.
Apart from the slightly unattractive maple leaves this year, I guess I’m relatively pleased with this selection, although often at this time of year, the maple leaves in Autumn dress usually steal the show. With me not being able to run the 2022 Japan winter tours this year, though, I can see probably at least one of these making its way into my 2022 Top Ten selection that I’ll share towards the end of the year or the start of January before I set off for the first of the 2023 Japan Winter Tours.
Share Your Top Ten in January Patrons’ Question Time
As I said, we will review Top Tens from any Patreon supporters of Tier #3 or higher that want to join the January Question Time event, which I’ll schedule for when I’m home between trips. If you’d like to be involved in that, and share your work with the group, ensure that you select your own top ten images from 2022 and support the Podcast for at least $5 per month, even if it’s just for January, and you’ll receive an invite via the Patreon message system and via the private MBP Community Forum, that comes as one of the Patreon supporter benefits. I hope to see you there!
Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.
Many of you will remember the drama with the Japanese Green Woodpecker from Episode 93 of this Podcast. Today we return to the same park as autumn sets in here in Tokyo, the weather cools, and the autumn flowers grace us with their yearly presence. As I’ve mentioned before, the summers around Tokyo can be quite oppressive, and even when you venture out, the greenery is pretty drab and flowers pretty much die off after spring until autumn. Now autumn is well and truly here, and I’m looking forward to the trees starting to burst into colour, which will probably happen in the mountains in the nearby prefectures within the next week or so, a few weeks late because of the hot September we had. In the parks though many of the autumn flowers are now in bloom and on Sunday the 7th of October, 2007, I went back to the Jindai Botanical Park with my eyes open for some favourites. Today we’re going to look at 7 of 17 images I just uploaded from the day.
I have to admit, this visit was kind of a throw away visit. With me and my better half stuck indoors for most of the last few months, I opted to go back to Jindai against my own best judgement. I wanted to go to different park, because I know what they have, but Jindai has a few areas which are quite heavily wooded, and therefore it’s a nicer park for an afternoon walk. I figured that it would have been better to let the other half have a nice afternoon in the park having been cooped up for so long, and was ready to put photography to the back burner if the flowers I wanted to shoot were not there. I was pleasantly surprised though as the afternoon progressed, as we’ll see later. First though, I wanted to look at a few of the shots from the rose garden which Jindai is actually more famous for.
Let’s look at image number 1551, which is the center of an incredibly red rose. Here I’ve concentrated on capturing the amazingly vivid red of this rose with as accurate exposure as possible, and focussed on the stamen and bits and bobs in the center of the flower. Without doubt the theme for this particular image is the colour red. It just screams out to us, but as we’ve mentioned before it can be difficult to capture this kind of vibrant highly saturated red without blowing out the red channel. The trick here is to use an RGB histogram if your camera has it, and meter for the highlights, as we’ve mentioned before, but really be careful not to allow the red channel to actually touch the right shoulder of the histogram, meaning that it would be over exposed. You can quickly kill all detail in the reds by going over without realizing it. I was shooting in Manual Mode so I can’t tell you how much exposure compensation you need to apply, but really just keeping your eye on the histogram is the key to capturing this colour correctly. It was really bright day as you can probably tell from the image, so with ISO 100 I was shooting at 1/500th of a second with an aperture of F4. You can tell that the colour is perfectly exposed because the detail is visible in the petals for all areas that are in focus. The reds do merge into a smooth block of colour where the flower is outside of the depth of field, but that is perfectly normal. Getting the main parts in the center of the flower sharp help to keep the shot sane in this sea of colour, and on this occasion I’ve included part of the edges of the flower to give us a reference on the size of the flower head.
Redder Than Red
Now, I’m really not a classic style rose fan, as we can see from this last image, but as I was thinking this day may be a throw away photographically, I was making my most of the walk around the rose garden, and shot a few other images here too, with just one more that I want to look at before we move on, which is number 1556. Here, once again, I found the situation that I’ve mentioned before that I’m keeping my eyes open for. Basically this is a shaded main subject with a bright background, that I’ve found makes for some very nice bokeh, which is the out of focus areas of an image. I found these very pale pink roses in the shade of the trees at the edge of the rose garden, but in the background was the rest of the garden, which was fully lit by the bright sun, and so made a nice backdrop with some splashes of colour for interest. I shot this at F2.8 again for 1/500th of a second shutter speed, still at ISO 100. This wide aperture allowed the background to go way out of focus, and I positioned a foreground flower in the middle of the frame too, which creates some crazy patterns in the bokeh. If you are listening and need to catch up on the photos later, you won’t really be able to appreciate this, but there is lots of stuff going on in the blurred areas here. There is plenty in sharp focus too, as the stem and leaves of the main subject to the left are all visible and a few leaves on the right side, so it really keeps us busy looking through the various dimensions of this essentially two dimensional image. It’s the ability to separate things out like this with a wide aperture that really add depth to the image, which I really like. I shot an F4 version of this too, but to be honest there was just too much detail in the bokeh for my liking.
Pink Rose Wonderland
There are a few other images from the rose garden on line, including a pretty wacky shot of a bee in a yellow flower which really looks as though I’ve overexposed the yellow that is fully lit, but again, I was watching the histogram, and this is actually not blown out. It’s a little extreme but still a nice vivid and somewhat wacky image. I’ll put a link into the show notes to display all of the shots from the day if you want to check these out later, but let’s move on to some other shots. After the rose garden which we’d left just after 1PM we had a real steady walk through the wooded area and sat on benches, and just chatted in the mottled shade of the trees on the nice warm afternoon. Shortly before 4PM, a few walks and a few sits down later we came to an area with a few dried up dead plants and there were a number of dragon flies flitting around, seemingly enjoying the warm afternoon as much as we were. There were a few large dried up sunflowers in the middle of a patch of soil, which I’d shot with a dragonfly perched on the top flower head, but it didn’t really work out as well as I’d have liked, so I didn’t upload it. As I was shooting here though I turned around and saw another dragonfly on a dried up plant, which is what we can see in image number 1558. I’d been shooting from far away and slowly getting closer, because I didn’t know when this guy was going to have enough of me and fly away. By the way, all of the images this day were shot handheld. I had my tripod, but really didn’t need to set it up with all the available light, although I had raised the ISO to 200 for this shot, which I made with an aperture of F4 for 1/200th of a second. Talking about the light, it was actually about 90 minutes from sundown at this point, so along with the colours in the scene, the light is starting to warm up now towards the end of the day. This all helps to add to the autumnal feel of the image, which I find quite pleasing. Note that I have of course focussed on the eyes, but that has also from this angle allowed part of the framework of the wings to come into focus too, which also adds to the image.
At this point I was thinking, well, I’ve got a few nice shots of the roses and now probably have a nice dragonfly shot, so maybe today was not a throw away day after all. Plus of course I’d enjoyed a lot of lazing around and chatting with the missus, which was really nice. It seems though that at the times when you really don’t expect or hope for anything more, a situation can just present itself to you, and that is exactly what happened a few minutes after shooting the dragonfly. Let’s look at image number 1559, in which we can see the scene I’d pretty much stumbled across. I said earlier that there were some flowers that I’d been hoping to shoot, and one of those types of flowers is the cosmos flowers we can see here. This is just a small patch of the flowers, maybe about 25 feet by 15 feet, or 8 by 5 meters, but it was enough to make some great images that I’m really pleased with. The other amazing thing here is that as we can see, the low sunlight was shining through a small gap in the trees behind the cosmos patch, which was actually right near where I shot the woodpecker shots a few months earlier. This was really magic light and only lasted about 10 minutes, so I was really lucky to stumble across this patch right at this time, totally unplanned and totally welcome.
Late Afternoon Cosmos #1
So let’s talk about the image itself. We can see that I’ve got down low here to include a patch of darkness which is the shade of the trees behind the flower patch. The sun is hitting the cosmos flowers themselves head on though, so there is some great contrast yet the frail flowers are perfectly lit by the warm sun. This is really effective, and I really couldn’t have wished for better conditions. The flowers themselves as well were just at the right level of blooming. There were very few dead-heads, or wilted flowers. The mix of pinks whites and purples as well is very effective. Had this been a field of all the same colour flowers it might not have been quite this effective. I’d dropped the ISO back to 100 here, as there was plenty of light, and was shooting with the 70-200mm F2.8 with the 1.4X extender or tele-converter at this point. Shooting at 280mm I was able to select a number of number of patches of flowers and just shoot away making images.
Let’s move on to image number 1562, in which we can see another patch of flowers. Here I’ve removed the 1.4X extender and shooting at 200mm with the aperture wide open at F2.8 for 1/400th of a second. I’ve included some flowers in the foreground for what I call foreground bokeh, a trick that I often employ to add a soft dreamy look to my images. To be honest, looking at this image after the event, I’m also wondering if there is a little ghosting maybe caused by the sun hitting the front element of the lens. I was not aware of this at the time and I don’t think the sun was quite that low in the sky, but the effect does look a little like a spot of ghosting. If that’s what it is though, I’m certainly not worried about it, as in this case it really seems to add a warm kind of depth to the right side of the image where we can see a myriad of flower heads coming through the softness, in focus enough to be of interest, but not totally in focus. On the left third we can see the largest flower head of the shot on which I’d obviously focussed, but this is accompanied by a four taller stems, two with flowers and two with flower buds, which really balances the image out nicely. There’s just so much going on in this image, and yet it still retains a dreamy late afternoon feel, which I’m over the moon with.
Cosmos Rhapsody #2
In the next image, number 1564, we see a whole new look. Here I selected a patch that was almost totally in the shade now, with just a splash of light hitting the main subject, a flower on the top right third intersection. This time we have a really pastel colour effect across the background with that really well balance pink, white and purple mix of flowers again. The light is also catching the stalks of the main subject and a few around it, adding contrast to the right side, and again a little more interest. The tall flower on the left side is slightly out of focus, but notice how I’ve made sure that purple flower to the far left is neatly in the image along with the taller flower to its right, which also add balance to the shot. Of course, as I’m now shooting the shaded flowers, I had adjusted the exposure as necessary. Still shooting with the 70-200mm F2.8, I selected an aperture of F4 and shutter speed of 1/100th of a second, and still at ISO 100.
Pastel Cosmos #2
Pastel Cosmos #3
With all the verticals in this image, I figured it would be nice to try a vertical aspect as well, which is what I did for image number 1565. In this shot we see more of the partially lit flower and its stems to the right, and I’ve just about got that purple flower to the left in as well, but the taller flower to its right is there almost mirroring the main subject on the opposite side, again maintaining the balance of the image. Because of the vertical aspect now we also see more of the background and so there are lots and lots of patches of colour to the very top of the image. Again this has the same pastel-like colours because the majority of the scene is now in shade. Also note that I have adjust the exposure again, changing the aperture to F3.2 and the shutter speed to 1/160th of a second at ISO 100.
You can tell here that even though I’m shooting in Manual Mode, once I have the scene metered and checked the histogram to make sure nothing is clipping, it’s easy to make small modifications just by counting the clicks either side of the same settings. For the last image I was shooting at F4 for 100th of a second, so I’d basically just opened the aperture up by two clicks of the dial to F3.2, and moved the shutter speed by two clicks faster to 1/160th of a second ensuring that the same amount of light hit the sensor as with the previous shot.
Many people shy away from Manual Mode but really, once you get used to it, it can be your friend. I probably use it more often than necessary because I’m so used to it, but in difficult lighting situations it really saves a lot of trouble. In the first two pictures of these cosmos plants that we looked at with the very dark background, there is no doubt that the camera would have metered the dark seen and tried to brighten it up, and totally blown out the flowers, rendering the shot useless. We can of course use exposure compensation, but then as we point the camera down and include more of the foreground, the meter would take a new reading and we’d have to reduce the amount of compensation. When using manual though once the camera is set to expose the flowers correctly I can include just one flower against a black background, or fill the frame with the flowers, and nothing changes. This allows me to concentrate on shooting not exposure once the initial settings and histogram checking is done. This is of course until the conditions change, like when I switched from the backlit flowers of the first two shots to the shaded pastel colour flowers in the last two shots, when I have to repeat the process. I’d have to do the same using aperture priority mode and exposure compensation though, so I’m still confident that Manual Mode is easier here, once you’re used to it. If you doubt me, give it a try the next time you have some challenging light. It will definitely help, even though it might be a little scary at first.
Anyway, bumping into this incredible light with the flowers are just the right stage in their blooming, even though I’d almost given up on the day really was a bit of luck. As we’ve said before, being prepared and being observant is always going to be necessary. Without finding the subject and having the right gear to capture it no amount of luck will help, but still, I felt privileged to have stumbled across this patch of flowers at such a great time of day and with them in such good condition and ending up with another few great images for my portfolio.
Start Ending: So, that’s about it for today. I hoped you enjoyed joining me in the Jindai Park again. I just wanted to quickly mention the Hokkaido Workshop next year again before we finish. For those of you that are new or haven’t listened to the respective episodes, I’m going to be running a photography workshop in Hokkaido next January, and I’m currently looking for people interested in joining us. It’s going to be the trip of a lifetime, not only because of what you’ll learn, but also because of the location. We’ll spend almost five days travelling around north-eastern Hokkaido in the peak of the Winter, so it will be a total winter wonderland. We’ll see the majestic Japanese Red-Crane Cranes, Steller Eagles, White Tailed Eagle and Ezo Deer and possibly some other wildlife. We’ll take in some landscape work as well, in this beautiful winter location. For full details and to book your place, go to www.mbpworkshops.com and also listen to episode 103 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast in which I went into full details. I’m looking forward to seeing you next January in my favourite place on earth, Hokkaido.
Also, a quick mention that the Documentary/Photojournalism Assignment is now closed for entries and voting is turned on until the end of Sunday October 14, just about anywhere in the world. At that point I’ll create next week’s podcast to announce the winners and to announce the theme for the next assignment, so stay tuned for that. Please do go over to www.mbpgalleries.com to vote as well. There are some great images in the assignment gallery which you can find just over half way down the top page. I also have one quick reminder about the Member Galleries Web site where members share your own images and critique each others’ work. It seems that some people haven’t seen the note on how to create your own album, and are uploading all of your images to the “Critique Me!” album, which should really only be used to upload image that you really want feedback on. I’m not singling any one person out, but I just want everyone, including future members to understand that you need to create your own album before you will have something to upload to. I know it’s not always all that intuitive though, so I thank you for your patience and cooperation.
And that’s about it for today. So with that, all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.
Many of you will remember the drama with the Japanese Green Woodpecker from Episode 93. Today we return to the same park as autumn sets in here in Tokyo, the weather cools, and the autumn flowers grace us with their yearly presence.
In episode 58 we visited Ichinuma, a pond in a highland plain called Shigakougen, which was the first colour of this Autumn for me here in Japan. I mentioned that I would like to go back to the same place a week later, although I wasn’t sure it would be possible. Well, I went back, last weekend which was the 14th and 15th of October, and today we’re going to take a look at some more shots from just a few hours each of these two days. I’m also going to talk about the need to be determined, persistent, and quite often resilient, as things don’t always go our way.
Also, before we move on to the main topic, I’d like to make a quick apology for not getting an episode out last week. I’ve been very busy recently with other commitments, and we’re continuing to have problems with the Web site, so I’ve had to spend most of what little spare time I could find, troubleshooting the issues and working with the technical support. I have now also rented a new server with a different company to the one I have the martinbaileyphotography Web site and the members’ galleries Web site server with, and I’m trying to move the audio files to this second server for download, but I’m having trouble with the settings on that server too, and things still are going as smoothly as I’d like. Anyway, without boring you with too many technical details, I am working hard to improve the situation, so please do stay subscribed, even if it takes a little time to get the newest episodes, from both a release schedule and download availability perspective.
So the weather forecast was for a cloudy start to Saturday, and then a clear sunny Sunday. So on Friday night, I talked the missus into coming with me, and I booked a hotel for Saturday night, so that I could get to the place that I wanted to shoot, looking down the mountain side from a pass called Shibutouge. The Sun was due to rise at 5:44, I think it was, and at this time of year I was going to have to get there probably an hour before that, believe it or not, to get a place to set up my tripod amongst the other photographers, each trying to make their own version of the scene. That means I need to get parked up by 4:44AM, and to do that after driving from Tokyo, I’d have had to leave my apartment shortly after midnight and drive through the night. Or drive through the evening, and sleep in the car before getting up for the shoot. Either would work for me, but I wanted to take my other ‘alf and take it easy a little bit this time, as I’d driven through the night the previous week.
Anyway, I still got up at 6:30AM on Saturday, to start the four hour drive before the traffic around Tokyo got too heavy, and would quite possibly add an extra hour or two to the journey. We loaded the car up and were on the road shortly after 7AM. I’ve found that getting out of Tokyo after 7:30AM can cost quite a lot of extra time, especially if there’s an accident or something. So basically this meant that we arrived in the area around noon, and had some time to talk a look around, and shoot a few shots before sundown, and do a little reconnaissance of the area I’d shoot from at dawn the next day.
Let’s take a look at one of the shots I uploaded from the first day, which is image number 1139. Last week when we looked at shots from this area, I said that the autumn leaves would probably be even better this weekend, but actually I was surprised to see, as we can see here, the leaves had already fallen from most of the trees in the area. This did allow me to get a nice graphic image of the white skeletons of the trees without the leaves, and there is just enough colour to keep the shot lively, but this shot now has an almost wintry feel to it, or at least very late autumn. You can see how I composed this with almost the same amount of reflection as the actual trees, with the edge of the pond just above center. I don’t like to position anything in the centre of the frame, especially horizons, which I guess this could be likened to, but sometimes it works, as I think it does here. I also composed this image with the edge of the lake that is getting closer to us coming round on our right as we view the scene, and the large evergreen tree on the left also, helping to stop our eyes from running out of the frame to the right or left. I used a tripod for all the shots we’ll look at today, and this particular image was made at F11 for 1/8th of a second. I was in Aperture Priority mode, and exposure compensating to the tune of minus two thirds of a stop. I pretty much always use center weighted metering though, and this was probably necessary because the centre of the scene is darker than the surrounding area. I’d say this scene would have been better metered, and probably need no exposure compensation at all had I switched to evaluative metering, but I’m just so used to using centre weighted, I rarely use any other, apart from spot metering on occasion. I also did quite a bit of cleaning up of the surface of the pond here. I usually don’t do much retouching of images, but I found there were a number of white specks on the surface of the water that looked more like dust on a scanned image than parts of the actual scene, so I cleaned them up.
Late Autumnal Scene
Now, I did go on further up the mountain to and shot a fair number of other photos in the next hour or so, but the trees had almost lost their colour in many places and the sun was getting so low in the sky by this point that many of the areas of the mountains were in shadow, so I really wasn’t turning out anything that I would consider up to my current standards. I went to the point that I was hoping to shoot from the following day, and noticed that the small lay-by or pull-off in which you can park around 10 cars was already full, and a number of cars were parked on the road either side. I entered the point into the memory of my car navigation system so that I could easily see how long it would take me to get back there the following morning, and made my way back to the hotel. It was going to take around 15 minutes, so I figured I’d better get up at 4AM and leave the hotel by 4:30AM to get to the same point an hour before sunrise to ensure I got a spot to not only park my car, but to set up my tripod. That’s exactly what I did, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned up at 4:45AM on the Sunday morning to find that not only were the same 10 cars or so that I’d seen here 12 hours before were still there, there must have been fifty or so cars parked either side of the lay-by, and people were turning up along with us. There was a large car park around 10 minutes walk from the best spot to shoot from, but I figured if I was to have any chance of finding a spot to stand my tripod here, I was going to have to be quick in getting out there, so I went past the line of cars once, turned around, and parked it at the other end of the line that I’d just driven past. Still a five minute work back to the lay-by, I really couldn’t believe my eyes at the number of people here waiting to shoot the scenes we’ll look at shortly. I wanted to photograph them just to show you guys, but I wanted to get setup and decided not to. By the time the sun rose and I could see everyone, there must have been at least a thousand people, maybe more, setup with their tripods all along the road for maybe a few hundred meters. They were standing in multiple rows, some in front of the barrier at the side of the road, on a small ledge that has been calved out over the years. There was another line behind the main line, shooting through the gaps, and a large number of people just wandering around not being able to find anywhere to set up.
I myself had found a gap, maybe two feet wide, and stuck my tripod with two legs running parallel to the barrier at the side of the road, well actually, at the back of the lay-by, and the legs were intertwined, with the two tripods of the people either side of me. It was tight, but there really was no choice but to get in here while the slot was free. I’m sure if I had not jumped in here, one hour before sunrise, I would have been one of the poor guys that came all this way out here only to wander around at the back, trying to find a gap to poke my lens through as the light changed.
By the way, this lay-by is the highest point of all the roads in Japan at 2,172 metres or 7,125 feet. Until the sun came up, it was really cold for this time of year, at 2 degrees Celsius or almost 36 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn’t raining, but I put on my rain proof trousers and jacket for the wind proofing they provide and a little extra protection from the cold. Still, it was a little uncomfortable, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this cold. I’ll definitely bring warmer clothes if I come back here in future years. Let’s take a look at shot number 1140 which was shot around 30 minutes before sunrise. This was shot at F5.6 with a shutter speed of 5 seconds. We can see the faint line of the mountains in the valley below, and just a couple of specs of light from the town down there too, but I shot this for that break in the cloud with the swirling lines and the small cloud that was flowing through the middle of the break. I’m not sure if this is a real winner or not, but I quite like the mood of the image and the abstract feel of the clouds, that are accentuated by the slight movement introduced by the five second exposure.
Break in the Sky
I shot the next image, number 1143, at 5:57. The sun was now above the horizon having risen almost 15 minutes earlier, and we can see here that a thick blanket of cloud along the horizon was stopping the sun’s light from hitting the landscape below. At the top of this image we can see where the clear sky starts, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky about that. The sun poked through a gap in the clouds a few times, and at this point, the gap was slightly smaller in the middle, making the sun split almost into two, looking like a pear of a eyes peeking through. The mountains in the valley are now more visible, as are the sea of clouds in the foot of the valley. This was shot at F11 for 1/80th of a second now, with minus one and one third of a stop exposure compensation to stop the sun and the golden lining on the clouds from blowing out too much. I used ISO 100 for all of these shots by the way.
All Seeing Eyes
It was now possible to shoot the scene I was hoping to shoot, but as we can see in image number 1141, shot three minutes before this last image, as I feared on seeing the trees the day before, much of the colour was now gone from the trees that would have made this the shot that a several hundred other photographers as well as me were here to capture. If there was no cloud on the horizon, in that perfect world scenario, this scene would already have been bathed in the golden light at the first few minutes of the day, and I probably could still have salvaged a much better image, but it wasn’t to be at this point. By the way, this was shot at 1.3 seconds at F11, again at ISO 100.
Autumn Too Short
Let’s look next at image number 1144, which I shot at almost 6:30AM, 45 minutes after the sun rose. You can see now that sun has cleared the clouds totally, creating an extremely bright light source in the top left of this image. Shot at F11 for 1/40th of a second, with minus one stop exposure compensation, this time I’d switched to my 24-105mm F4L lens, instead of the 70-200mm lens I’d used for all the other shots. This allowed me to include more of the scene, including the slope we closed in on in the last shot, and we can also now see part of a volcano mouth in the top right, and some vents letting of steam too. In the bright area there are mountains in the valley below, but these are just not visible because of the brightness of the sun by this point. As the sun had been hidden behind the clouds for the first 45 minutes, by the time it blessed the entire vista with it’s light and warmth, it was already quite harsh. We are really at the end of the golden time now. People, including myself, often call this light the golden hours, but in reality, it’s just a number of minutes.
Out of the Light
To salvage something of the situation, I switched back to my 70-200mm F2.8L lens, and closed in again on the only part of the scene that had any autumn colour of note left. We can see this in image number 1146, shot again at F11 for 1/30th of a second this time. This was minus 1/3 exposure compensation. We can see now that many of the golden yellow trees’ leaves are now fallen, with a fair few left in the bottom half of the shot, but many also now in their skeletal winter form. The thing with this shot though, and the reason for closing back in, is that there are still a number of orangey-red trees left. Had the weather been on my side the previous weekend, and I had already scanned the area to find the best spot to shoot from, I might have been in time for this hillside at it’s best, but again, this wasn’t to be this year, and the shots we’ve just looked at are about the best I could scramble together for now. I was really pushing the light too, and as I shot these last few images, the hordes of photographer’s that lined the road on the top of this mountain were now down to about the last 10% of their earlier numbers.
As I walked back to my car, now sitting alone, five minutes along the road, I started looking out for other photographic opportunities, and I did notice one last shot, which I think may well be my favourite from the day. Ironic, as it was not the scene I was here to capture! Anyway, let’s take a look at image number 1147, which I’ve entitled Natural Gradation. I’m looking back in the direction of the sun, with my hand held in front and above the lens hood to shield some sunlight that was causing flare that the lens hood could not stop. The tree to the left is an evergreen, still with leaves, but the one to the right has died. These trees are locked in ice for the few months from about now until next spring, and so the road is lined with white skeleton trees like this, that make for nice models. I shot one or two of them on the other side of the road with a nice deep blue sky behind them, but the results weren’t special. This though, I really like, with the gradation in the sky, from the just visible mountains in the valley, to the line of cloud at the top of the image. Of course, I’ve metered for the sky, allowing what is actually a pure white tree, to fall totally into silhouette. Again though, this is not a real winner. Had there been a hawk sitting on that tree, like one I shot in a different situation about this time last year, it would have been really special. That would take a different level of determination and perseverance though, the sort that nature photographers who sit in hides for weeks and months for just a single shot. I’m afraid however dedicated I am, I simply can’t afford that amount of time.
We went back to the hotel for breakfast, and I shot a few more scenes along the fifteen minute drive, and some of them are uploaded to my Web site. We’ll look at one more before we finish, but for now note that I’ll put a link to all of the shots from this weekend into the show notes. After breakfast, I stopped off at the Kanman falls, which is just a one minute stroll from a car park on the way down the mountain from the highland plains. The light was very harsh as I shot image number 1150 at almost 10:30AM. This image was made at F16 for 1/15th of a second, again at ISO 100. As I got to the point where I could see this vista, although amazed at the beauty of the scene, there was a lot of haze between me and the subject. You can see some remnants of that haze in this shot, but I had to do a lot of playing with the curves and saturation in Photoshop to get to this point. I also selectively brightened the water in the falls as it really just didn’t stand out very much as shot. I think I made something from this situation, but again, this probably could be a much better shot if I got here at the right time of day, probably before sunset, but I’m not sure. I’ll look into this more if I get a chance to come back, other than for the shot I’m now after from the main location we’ve talked about today. For this particular day, I didn’t want to get back home too late, and I still have a lot of other work to do, so I decided start the four hour drive back to Tokyo after this, leaving the harsh light to all of the tourists now making their way up the mountain in the opposite direction.
OK, so I’ve titled this episode “Determination, Persistence and Resilience”, so before we wrap up for today, let’s think about what I mean by this. Firstly, to get the shot we want, it is important to be Determined. You have to want that shot, and you have to go out of your way to get it. If you’ve followed my Podcasts for a while, you’ll know that I go to great lengths to get to a certain location, at the right time of the day, and the right time of year. The thing is as with this location and with, as another example, the flower fields that I finally captured the way I wanted this year after visiting Hokkaido in the summer a number of times over the years, there is no guarantee that determination, and the commitment necessary to get to a certain place at the right time, will actually get you the shot. From this area, I believe I have some nice shots of the colour of the autumn leaves reflecting in the ponds from last week, but I want to improve on them. I also think I have some nice shots from this location on the mountain pass, Shibutouge, but not what I wanted. There is a lot of improvement to be made in both subjects. So I have to be “Persistent”. I travelled 4 hours here and 4 hours back home last weekend, and the weekend before that, so I’m being persistent on a small scale, but as I don’t yet have what I want, I’ll be coming back next year, or at some point in future years. I’ve learned that I need to be here before sundown on the previous day and sleep in my car to get a better spot to stand too, which is going to take even more determination and persistence. I have, and will continue to build on my repertoire of locations, that I will continue to visit throughout the year building my portfolio and setting myself up for much more success as a photographer. It is not easy though as no amount of determination and persistence on our part is going to change the all important element, the weather. Adjusting to weather conditions is very important and is what enables us to come away from shoots with useable images, but it sure can get in the way of getting the exact image we want, or require for our portfolio. So here’s where Resilience comes in. We have to be able to take the knocks. Of course, I’m not just talking about setbacks caused by the weather, there is a steep learning curve to get to where we long to be as photographers. And once we get where we thought we wanted to be, we reset the bar much higher, and continue to improve. Everyone else is improving, so if we don’t too, we become stagnant and get left behind. Also, we will take knocks from other sources. We might receive a harsh critique for one or more of our images. This is always hard to take, but we have to learn to take the advice that seems to naturally make sense and that we are comfortable with, and work it into our shooting or post-processing workflow. We also have to learn to shrug off the advice that we don’t agree with, which is fine, and we need to reset our feelings so as not to become paralysed by the fear of making the same type of image. So when things are not going your way, or according to you plan or your wishes and desires, we must be resilient, and bounce back quickly, moving on to better things. Because if we are determined, persistent and resilient, there is almost certainly going to be some amount of success waiting for us further down the road. And once we get to that point, because we’re determined and persistent, we’ll reset the goals, and continue on to further success.
So that’s it for today. By the time most of you listen to this episode, the Assignment Album will be locked, taking no more submissions. I’ll be locking it tomorrow, on my Monday here in Japan, to make sure that all of you are able to upload your images right until the end of your Sunday the 22nd of October. If you are quick to listen to this episode, you might still have a few hours to upload your image if you haven’t already. There are some amazing shots in the album already though, so thanks very much to all of those that have already submitted your image. If there should be any more site problems that prevent you from uploading your image, please email your submission to me at firstname.lastname@example.org, before the end of your Sunday the 22nd, and I’ll add it to the album for you. I can change the owner to you in the database, so this isn’t really a problem.
Once the album is locked, voting will start. There will be a black “Vote” button above the images in the Reflections album that when clicked will add your single vote to the image you chose. If you want to mark an image that you think is just great as you look through the album but want to change your vote afterwards, all you need to do is hit the vote button again. You’ll then see a message asking if you want to change your vote to the new image and remove it from your previous selection. Just click to apply your vote if that’s what you intended to do. You can change your vote as many times as you like until the voting stops two weeks from now at the end of November the 5th. You don’t have to have submitted an image yourself to vote. All members can vote regardless, but you will need to register on the mbpgalleries.com web site, as I still haven’t gotten around to linking the two sites. I’d like to get as many people voting as possible though, so that we can really show all the entrants how much we appreciate them taking time out to shoot for this assignment, and this is your chance to let them know which shot you think is best. The standard is always very high though, so the decision will be tough.
Once again, I’m sorry for all the problems with the site recently. Please do stay subscribed. Things will be back to normal very soon. So have a great week, whether you’re out shooting or whatever you do. Bye bye.