Spring is in the air here in Tokyo, and the Cherry Blossom has come early. Although at the time of writing it’s pretty much fallen from the trees, replaced by the green leaves that you’ll see in some of the shots that I’ll share today. As usual, I have been busy with one thing and another, but I didn’t want to let the blossom pass by completely without a single photo, and the relaxation of just being out with my camera is more necessary than ever, so on Saturday, I grabbed my gear and set out for a walk around my local area where there are a few rows of Sakura Trees that I was sure would provide at least a few opportunities.
I started with some wider shots of the tunnel formed by the blossom just after the nearest train station to our apartment, but as is often the case, I’m not really a fan of the wide shot. Tokyo is an urban jungle, and although makes for great street photography, I find it too busy and not really pretty enough for my tastes. For that reason, I tend to shoot very tightly cropped images of the blossom, as you’ll see, although I do have some shots that appear to be wider, but, in fact, are shot at 500mm on the long end of my RF 100-500mm lens.
I’ve selected ten images from my two-hour walk and will walk you through my thoughts as I shot each image. These aren’t really anything special, but in the spirit of sharing my life as a photographer and business owner, this is about my lot at the moment, and hopefully, you’ll be able to gain something from this.
The first thing that I look for as I try to decide what to shoot, is some flowers that can be isolated to a degree. The other thing that appeals to me is flowers that are mostly in the shade or being caught by the light shining through a gap, like these first few sprigs of flowers that were blooming in the base of one of the first branches from the main trunk of the tree.
As I said, the green leaves were already starting to mingle with the blossom, which is a sign that the blossom is coming to an end. The light was catching the leaves towards the top of the frame, increasing the contrast somewhat, but also adding a splash of slightly more vibrant color, which I don’t dislike. For me though, the main appeal of this shot is the blossom in the left foreground. I shot this with the Canon RF 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens with the aperture set to ƒ/2.2 so the depth of field is intentionally very shallow. I focussed on those foreground blossoms and let everything else gradually go out of focus.
When working with such shallow depth of field, I generally move my selected focus point so that I can place it over the main subject, rather than focussing with the center focus point then recomposing. The plane of focus moves slightly as you refocus, and can cause the main subject to slip out of the depth of field, so I try to avoid that. It’s also important to note that I was shooting handheld, so I also will be rocking slightly as I breathe, so moving the focus point also reduces the time between focusing and releasing the shutter, and that also helps me to avoid moving and again losing focus on the main subject.
This next image (below left) is a similar deal. I found a sprig of blossom shooting from the main trunk that was mostly in the shade. I went with a vertical orientation for this, mainly because horizontal would have allowed the edges of the trunk to come into frame, and I wanted to avoid that. Because I’d gone vertical though, I placed the blossom on the top third. I was physically looking up at the blossom, so this composition helps to give them some perceived height. This was shot at ƒ/2, so a slightly shallower depth of field, and again, I moved the focus point around so that I didn’t lose focus on the flowers. I’m actually generally trying to ensure that I get some of the stamen sharp, as I find that these details are the most important element to give the overall impression of the sharpness of the blossom.
There is a water duct that flows alongside the road where I was walking, and the cherry blossom trees have some branches that reach out over the water. There are some places where it was possible to isolate just one sprig of blossom with a relatively clear background, like this, but because the branches and twigs were much further away, I had to switch to my RF 100-500mm lens at this point and would continue to use it for the rest of the shots I’ll be sharing.
At 500mm with this lens, my widest possible aperture is ƒ/7.1, and that is what I shot this at. Because the longer focal length causes the depth of field to become shallower, I actually have a shallower depth of field for this shot at 500mm and an aperture of ƒ/7.1 focusing at around 1.6 meters or 5 feet than I did for the previous images, shot at 50mm with an aperture of f/2 at around 55 cm. This is why I really enjoy playing around with the 100-500mm as a close-up lens. It not only enables me to frame up things that are further away and sometimes not even physically approachable with a macro lens, and it still has wonderfully shallow depth of field.
Note too that to keep the eye in the frame for this shot, I applied a vignette to this image in Capture One Pro, and reduced the exposure of the vignette by around two stops. There was also some natural vignetting which helps to keep the look quite natural.
I walked back to the trees by the road and found probably one of my favorite clusters of blossom, that you can see in this image. I like the balance of these flowers, almost forming a starburst, or like an asteroid shower, all coming from a single point in the center of the flowers. They are also relatively clean, and don’t have a significantly large green leave in with them, so I like the relative minimalism of this shot.
I positioned the blossom on the left side of the frame as there were more flowers that seemed to be “looking” to the right, so I wanted to give their gaze more space. The focal length was 451mm, and that being slightly closer allowed me to open up the aperture slightly to ƒ/6.3.
As I walked along further, there was another bridge over the water duct, so I stepped out onto that and shot this next image. This was towards the late afternoon sun which was out of frame to the left of the camera. It’s a busy shot, but again, at 500mm the aperture of ƒ/7.1 enabled me to isolate some of the blossom with the focus plane.
You might also notice that there are multiple lines formed by the out-of-focus twigs and branches, which is caused by the aperture of the RF 100-500mm lens. It’s not the best bokeh I’ve seen in a long lens, but with this kind of subject, I still find it relatively pleasing.
Sticking with the Japanese photography terminology, in addition to the word “bokeh” which we’re all used to using, there is a compound word called “maebokeh” which means foreground bokeh. This is the technique of placing subjects in the foreground, between or as in this next image, around the main subject. This technique can be very appealing, and indeed, this is another favorite shot from my walk.
It was tricky, timing-wise because the breeze was moving the foreground blossom around continuously, so I had to shoot around thirty frames to get one that I liked. Ironically, this was one of the first of the batch, but the experimentation was necessary to give myself some options and something to compare the images against. This was still at 500mm with an aperture of ƒ/7.1 and I find the foreground bokeh in this shot to be much more pleasing than the previous shot.
The next image (below left) is similar to an earlier image, but I wanted to include this as well, for a few reasons. Firstly, despite the majority of this image being beautiful, clean blossom, there is a patch of decay starting to form on the bottom-left flower. This is, to me, somewhat in line with the Japanese concept of “Wabisabi” or beauty in imperfection.
I’ve seen some cups made by Japanese potters that have bugs painted on the inside. This was originally done to hide imperfections in the vessel but became a way of intentionally adding an imperfection in the spirit of wabi-sabi. I also own a number of cups that I’ve bought with my wife over the years that are made from clay that uses a high level of soil, so they are very earthy and rough. They are some of my favorite cups to drink sake from. I should put a few hours aside to photograph them and share them with you as well, as they are quite beautiful in their own right.
Here is another vertical orientation image (above right), though this time it was purely for aesthetic reasons. The blossom and accompanying buds and leaves were slightly taller than they were wide and just felt that portrait orientation would suit that more. Plus, from a stock photography perspective, it’s always nice to have some vertical options as well. One of these portrait aspect images will probably find itself on the cover of the eBook that I’ll put together for MBP Pro Members as soon as I’ve released this post.
This next image is somewhat different to the rest of the closeup shots, simply because there is more detail in the bark, and a wider area of blossom, buds, and leaves included. This is actually a little too busy for my liking, as I really prefer a minimalist look. Come to think of it, I actually used a Luma Tone Curve and darkened the bark down very slightly in most of the other images, just to make the blossom more prominent and reduce the competition for the viewer’s attention.
We’ll finish this relatively short episode with one last image, which I shot from the side, so that the bark of the tree overlaps with the right edge of the blossom, to kind of give it a peekaboo feel, as though the blossom is looking around the side of a building. Again, shallow depth of field with the 100-500mm lens at 300mm and an aperture of ƒ/5.6, and once again, I was careful to get the stamen sharp, as it feels like a mistake to me when I see the stamen out of focus in shots like this. I think those little orange balls of detail help to anchor the image visually in the midst of the rest of the blurriness.
Like I said, nothing really special, but I like to keep you updated with my antics, and as I mentioned recently, these short shoots of things that I enjoy photographing are keeping me sane as I work on other tasks that are not always as enjoyable as being out with the camera. If you still have some blossom in full bloom near you at the moment, I hope this might give you some ideas on how you might compose something perhaps a little more minimalistic than the wider shots that can sometimes feel more natural to shoot. And, of course, if you have any shots of your local blossom to share, feel free to drop a link into the comments below.
Here’s my first short movie “Meguro River Sakura” as this week’s Podcast episode, along with just a little bit of background information on the project.
The Podcast stream and iTunes will contain only the iPod/iPhone optimized version. You can view the full sized version below, or on YouTube. It’s High Definition video too, so if you select “Full Screen” or hit the full screen button, the video will expand to fill your screen. Turn up the sound too, then sit back and enjoy.
This first short movie started out as practice using my new Manfrotto 519 Pro Video Fluid Head. I didn’t want to just point my camera at any old subject and waft it around to get used to the tension etc. of the head, so I decided to give myself a project. As the cherry blossom (sakura) was in full bloom last weekend, I decided to shoot enough footage to make a story out of it.
I started from a distance, where you can see people gathered and looking, photographing something from a bridge. The next shot is a little closer, and we can see the traffic of the busy road between me and the people gathered on the bridge. Then I pan across to reveal the cherry blossom. The music starts, and we get another 7 minutes or so of imagery from the afternoon.
I ensured that I got wider shots, long lens shots. Shots of the various ways in which people enjoy the Sakura. I was very lucky too. People turned up on jet-bikes and in boats. There was a group of “salary men” having a hanami, or cherry blossom viewing party, and a lady in a kimono, among other things.
I imagined that I wanted to try to capture people leaving and going home as the ending, but as the afternoon progressed, I realized that if I held on for another few hours, I’d be able to shoot the red lanterns that would illuminate as it got dark, and a few shots of these from various angles could become my closing scene.
On the actual shooting, the Fluid Head took a bit of getting used to, and I was also pulling focus myself, without the aid of any additional equipment on the lens. I did use a Zacuto Z-Finder DSLR Optical Viewfinder to help me see the focus better on the LCD screen. This works great.
I shot about 22GB of video over six hours, and used up two fully charged 1D Mark IV batteries. I edited the video down to 8:29 minutes in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4.
The resulting short movie may not be Star Wars, but I think it all came together pretty well for what was essentially my first bit of practice with video, other than shooting what I call “moving stills”, which are 15-30 second clips while I’m shooting stills, that I intend to embed in still photography slide-shows at some point. On my Hokkaido workshop this year though, one of the participants showed me how to pan with a large thick elastic band around the lens, and I realized just how much a little bit of movement of the camera helped to improve video footage. It was because of this that I decided I really needed to figure out how to fit my cameras and bodies fitted with Really Right Stuff lens plates to a fluid head, like the Manfrotto 519.
I was hoping that some company would come up with a good solution, like a fluid head with Arca-Swiss standard dove-tail plate compatibility, but these are still not available as of April 10, 2010, and there was no information on how to rig this available on the Web either. At least not that I could find. So, I finally spend the time to figure out what I needed to use the Manfrotto 519 fluid head with my Really Right Stuff lens plates, and it works a treat. I’m very happy with my new set up. I can now use all of my lenses and bodies fitted with RRS plates with the Manfrotto 519 now, with the help of a couple of additional parts. I’ll be following up with what you need to do this yourself in the coming week.
During a family visit in March 2008, we did a bit of travelling, visiting Kyoto and Hiroshima. Today we’re going to look at a number of images I shot during the few days in Kyoto. I’m sure most of you have experienced trying to photograph while out with friends, so you can probably appreciate that I didn’t spend a lot of time behind the camera. Still, I got a few nice shots, so let’s take a look.
We actually arrived about 10 days early for the cherry blossom, which was flowering quite beautifully in Tokyo while we were down in Kyoto. The Gion area was pretty nice, but didn’t really make for the type of photography that I want to shoot, with just too many people and buildings to simplify things. I’m sure I could have come up with something had I spent some time to look around, but it was not possible with my brother and his wife, two friends of theirs, and my other half with me. As you know, my significant other does put up with me a lot, and my brother is actually quite tolerant of my photography too, but still, I didn’t want to take advantage of that patience with others in the group. One scene I felt I could not pass up though, was what we see in image number 1758.
As we walked across a bridge over the Kamo River, the lights from some old restaurants were reflecting nicely in the river, and there were a few people sitting on the bank of the river, casting shadows onto the water. I decided to see if I could get a relatively long exposure to accentuate the reflections and shadows, as well as the lights from the restaurant. I think it turned out alright, but there was a problem. The bridge had cars crossing all the time, and larger heavier cars or trucks actually made the bridge vibrate, so although I tried a number of exposures, I could see when checking the image on the LCD that many were blurred. The only thing was to try as many exposures as time would allow. My brother stayed with me. My other half walked back to listen to a busker playing a mean didgeridoo with drums at the end of the bridge, and the others had walked on, and would wait for us at the other end of the bridge. With people waiting, I wasn’t going to be able to spend too long, but had a relatively long leash to work from. Anyway, I tried to get some even longer exposures, but the vibration of the bridge was not going to allow. I ended up trying a few at ISO 200 for 4 seconds, with an aperture of F8, and this is one of them. It’s sharp as tacks actually, but it was the only one that was really sharp. The 4 second exposure depicted the river as a smooth flowing body of water, with the lights reflecting nicely in various hues of orange, yellow and white. The people sitting on the bank had actually moved a little during the exposure, but it still works I think.
The following morning the first place we visited was Kinkakuji, which is a temple covered with gold leaf. This is a beautiful temple, and a must for any visitors to Kyoto. I actually have a relatively nice shot of this with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds, which you can see in image number 509, shot about three and a half years ago, during an Autumn visit. It was the last time my brother and his wife were here if I remember correctly. We won’t look at that photo today, but take a look if you are interested. On this day, the sky was uninteresting, so I didn’t bother to shoot the temple straight. There are millions of photographs of the temple from the normal tourist photo spot anyway. What I did though, was spend my few photography patience points looking for other things to shoot. First I found a rock in the pond with the reflection of the temple in the water around the rock. We can see this here in image number 1759. I basically just framed the rock so that the gold of the temple kind of enveloped it to the right and back, but not all the way around. I used an aperture of F8, to get everything in focus, a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second, with ISO 100. It’s not a great shot, but I find it relatively pleasing. With the few vertical lines and the line of the eaves in the reflection of the temple, the initiated might even be able to figure out what this is. Even for those that can, I imagine it will have some level of appeal. Though I was not entirely successful with this shot, I did just want to mention that it is always worth looking for a shot in the details, without going for the whole thing.
I guess I’m carrying on this theme in the next shot too, which is image number 1760. As I walked past the Kinkakuji temple, the sun broke through a gap in the dreary cloudy sky, and was causing a shimmering reflection on the underside of the eaves on the second floor of the temple. Of course, the shimmering is difficult to capture in a still photo, but I think you can see what I mean. The gold of the temple is great for reflections. I guess both casting them and receiving them. I framed the shot like in this way, so that we had some idea of what this is, but again was not really interested in showing the whole structure, with that still uninteresting sky. The break in the clouds was more over my left shoulder, and so still wouldn’t have make for a nice background. Also, had I gone wide, the reflections would have been lost, and that, after all, is what attracted me to the subject at this point. It is so easy to get engulfed in the subject, and forget what attracted you to it in the first place. I included two windows up on the third floor, either side of the doors. Notice though that I also added a third window to the right, on the back wall. I thought this was necessary to again give a sense of what this is. We can guess that the structure is square because of the symmetry of the windows and the corner with the third window. The all important thing is of course that shimmering light on the underside of the eaves, which I think have come across relatively well. I stopped down to F11 for this shot, again, to get everything in focus, and because of the bright relections, I used a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second. I could have dropped the ISO to 100 from 200, and used a 1/160th of a second shutter speed, but it was literally just a small break in the clouds at this point, and I was rushing with the family with me, so wasn’t really thinking about this sort of stuff too much.
Reflections from Water
Later that day we went over to the Kiyomizu Temple, which is also a very famous temple in Kyoto, and well worth a visit. In image number 1761, we can see that I was still focusing on the details. With the cherry blossom season just around the corner there were a lot of people around, but I saw these guys in a small temple in the complex, and couldn’t resist getting a few shots. I shot this with an aperture of F4, so that I didn’t get all of these guys in focus, and I focussed on the small statue in the bottom third intersection. This also allowed me to have focus on the statue in the top right corner, and the one in the left foreground, so it worked quite well. Again rushing, I was not all that happy with the overall composition. I actually cropped the bottom of the image away. I had included the bases, which are large lotus leaves on which the statues are sitting, but that left a large area of that sandy colour, and the red of the bibs being predominantly in the top of the frame seemed to make the image too top heavy. Great subject, and I wish I’d spend a little more time here to get something better. Still it’s not bad under the circumstances. I do like it, as with all the shots we’re looking at, but I know I could have done better had I really worked the subject.
Next is a panorama of the stage at the temple that we can see in image number 1762. I think I’ve mentioned before, but the Japanese have an expression that basically translates as doing something with the same determination as jumping off the stage at the Kiyomizu Temple. This means that you are putting everything on the line for your endeavour, or doing something with all your heart. Basically, years ago myth has it that people who were embarking on a risky endeavour would jump off this platform to test their luck. If they died or were seriously injured, their luck was not in and the endeavour would surely fail, which is pretty obvious if you died of course. If they walked away unscathed though, there luck was in, and so their endeavour was considered to probably go well. There was a bit of detail in the sky at this time, so I decided to try and bring that out in post, and I also decided to do a panorama with my 70-200mm F2.8 lens again and stitch the shots together later. I went into details of how to do this in episode 110, so if you want more details on shooting a panorama maybe listen to that episode again. I usually set the camera on a tripod and make sure it’s levelled so that the pan doesn’t run out. As I was in a hurry on this day though, I shot this hand-held. Also, to help me with the sky and the details inside the temple, I actually shot seven series of bracketed shots. I was going to do HDR merges of the seven frames, and then merge them. It turned out though that there was enough detail in the sky and temple that a bit of messing with the sliders in Lightroom were enough, so this is a straight stitch of the seven images. I turned the camera to vertical mode to make stitching easier. I find this works better, as there is less distortion and you get a nice big line of image for Photoshop to work with. Also remember to switch to Manual mode. If you shoot images that you want to stitch together in Aperture Priority the exposure will change each time you move the camera, because of the change in brightness of the elements in the frame, so you’ll find stitching either much more time consuming, because you have to adjust each image, or impossible, because the exposures are too far apart to fix without degrading the image.
Cherry Blossom Trio
Let’s look at a few more images. As we walked further through the grounds of the Kiyomizu temple there was a nice little group of three cherry blossom growing out of the side of the tree trunk, that we can see in image 1763. There was a great texture to the tree trunk, so I grabbed a few frames. This was shot with an aperture of F4 for a nice shallow depth of field, for 1/250th of a second at ISO 100. I had my 100mm Macro with me, but again, for the sake of saving some time, I shot it with my 70-200mm lens, and just focussed as close as I can, then moved myself back and forth until the focus was where I needed it to be. The bark being dark helped to bring out the nice blossom, and the angle of the light was just right, to the top left of the flowers, so I think this works pretty well.
That was pretty much it for this day. On the following day we were due to jump on the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, and head over to Hiroshima. Before we did though, my wife and I took a walk around the grounds of the Nijoujou castle. This time rather than our company being a limiter of time, we simply didn’t have a lot of time before we had to leave the hotel. It was one of those time slots that was too long to waste just sitting around the hotel, but too short to really do anything very much with. It was a nice walk though, and as we made our way around the castle grounds, I spotted a small hatch in a section of wall, which ended up being the subject of image number 1764. I was really impressed with the fact that this kind of framed section of wall was almost the exact same aspect as a piece of 35mm film. I actually cropped a very small amount from the right side of this photo, but apart from that, the framing is exactly as shot. I shot this hand-held, so it took a bit of concentration to get it all straight, but it worked out OK I think. I have no idea what the hatch is for. Maybe it’s a kind of vent to air the underside of the building. Anyway, the mould or dirt on the white wall is what attracted me to this shot. The cracks add something too I believe. I was going to convert this to black and white, but I think the brown tones in the wood and the essentially beige coloured off white wall also add to the image, so I left it as it is.
So, that’s it for this week. Next week we’ll take a visit to Hiroshima, which you all will know, as Hiroshima was flattened by the A-Bomb that the US dropped in 1945, essentially ending the 2nd world war. I’ve wanted to visit Hiroshima for some time, and having seen so many documentaries on the horrors following the dropping of the bomb, it was a relatively poignant place for me to visit. I actually made sure that I had some time to photograph the A-Bomb Dome both in daylight, and after dark, when it is lit up, and so we’ll take a look at some of those images next week. All images are online already though if you want a sneak preview. I’ll put a link in the show notes to show all images from both Kyoto and Hiroshima.
Anyway let’s catch up again next week, if we don’t meet in the Photography forum at martinbaileyphotography.com. For now though, you just have a great week, whatever you do. Bye bye.