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.
Happy New Year everyone, and welcome to the first episode of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast for 2009. Today we’re going to look back at my personally selected top ten images of 2008. I’ll talk a little about why I like each of them as well, so let’s jump right into it.
So, as usual it was pretty tough to identify ten images from the year that I really like. My first cut, literally just going through Lightroom just hitting the B button on my keyboard to add my favourites to a Quick Selection, gave me a batch of around 50 images right off the bat. Another run through that batch reduced it to 25, but then it started to get really tough. I find this encouraging though, as fifty significant images in one year is pretty good. That’s a rate of almost one a week, so I’m relatively happy with myself here. Anyway, further very difficult decisions including a lot of advice from my art director, read wife, resulted in a list of eleven images. The one that I cut from this eleven was image number 1974, which was the Chinese Soldier that I shot a portrait of during a trip to China in November. I love this photo, and really wanted to include it, but decided to remove it and leave only nature photos in the final selection. A move that I am already being questioned on from people that follow me on Twitter and saw a link to my Top Ten a few days ago, but the decision is made now, and I do really like my final cut of entirely nature photos. Note too that I am going to go through these chronologically, and not in the order of how much I like the images. The final cut was difficult enough without confusing matters any more.
So, the first image is number 1668. This was shot on a trip to the Tatsusawa Falls near Inawashiro, on January 4th, so I’d gotten off to a good start in 2008. You may recall that I mentioned these falls and we looked at this image in episode 120. I’d included a recording of myself trudging through thick snow to get to these falls, as the road was too thick with snow for even my 4WD SUV to get through. I had turned on Highlight Tone Priority on the 1Ds for this, and was convinced that the depth of the blacks in the rocks under the water in this shot was down to how the 1Ds had shifted priority from the dark areas to the light end of the spectrum, but as I’ve shot through the year, I’ve not seen this again, so I’ve started to think more than this was maybe just a fluke of the light, and that I got a little lucky here. I had of course been very careful with the exposure, and I haven’t had to play with this in Post Processing to make it look the way it does. I’d also I think used the Singh-Ray Variable ND filter here to give me a long shutter speed of 8 seconds, which helps to give that incredible silky look of the water flowing over the rocks, and probably helped to deepen the blacks as well. It turns out that I wasn’t all that impressed with the rest of the shots of the full falls in the snow, and this was the only shot from the day that remained a favourite, but I’ve kept coming back to it throughout the year. If I had to prioritise, I’d say this was in my top three.
Snow and Stream
Next up, is another shot from January, which I actually shot during our Hokkaido Workshop, and it is image number 1704. This shot has also come up in one or two Podcasts throughout the year, and has been my best selling print this year. It looks absolutely gorgeous on Hahnemuhle Museum Etching Fine Art paper. The texture of the paper adds to the texture of the snow, and makes for a stunning artifact, even if I dare say so myself. This was shot at F11 for 1/250th of a second, at ISO 200, and I was very conscious to maintain the brightness of the scene. The whole place was covered in frost and the mist rising from the river was dreamlike and captivating. I’ll never forget this, and then in the distance, the reason for me releasing the shutter at this particular time was the crane, dancing with a partner. The partner can be seen rearing up, ready to jump too, but they didn’t jump together, and so I got the solo dance in my final image.
Ootaki (Big Falls) #4
We actually move forward in time now by around 5 months, to image number 1816. Another waterfall shot, This is Ootaki, or Big Falls, literally, in a small town called Tateshina in the Nagano Prefecture. I posted a number of shots from these falls, but this remains my faourite because of the way the water flows into and then out of the shot, with a definite path to flow through, although the small stream of water in the bottom right is not the main route for the water. We can see the main route to the left, but that, for me at least, kind of goes unnoticed with this composition. I love the texture of the water, rendered how it is with a 1/5th of a second exposure, not as fast as to freeze the water, but not slow enough for a totally silky flowing look. I also love the vibrant spring greens in this shot. It is complete image and composition in my opinion.
Sea of Red #1
Another big jump in time now, almost three months to the end of September, for image number 1914. I have hacked the hell out of my iPhone with a red silicon cover and all transparent buttons, just so that this photo can be my permanent wallpaper, and I just love it, all centered around this image. Of course, the reason I chose this shot, is because I also just love the shot. The reds really pop, and I’ve used my usual wide open aperture to minimize depth of field, to isolate the single red equinox flower that I positioned against the trunk of the tree to make that pop too. This was shot with the 300mm F2.8 lens. I’ve mentioned before, that one of the main reasons I picked up the 300mm F2.8 was to shoot shots like this. I love to single out small areas of flower beds in this way, with wide open apertures, but the areas that need to be sharp, tack sharp. This is one of the best examples of that. Before we move on, note too that I positioned the equinox flower and the tree trunk on the left third, and the second tree trunk along the right third of the shot. The equinox flower itself is on the top left third intersection. The rule of thirds is still a very powerful compositional tool, and not to be underestimated in any way. Centuries of artists, even from well before photography was invented, can’t be wrong.
In image number 1935, we have a second example of using the 300mm F2.8 to isolate a small part of a large scene, with very shallow depth-of-field. Whereas the last shot was taken with the aperture totally wide open, for this, I stopped down two clicks to F3.5, as I wanted to get that dragonfly entirely in focus. I also find that F3.2 or F3.5 still usually give me the look I’m after so tend to use these apertures a little too, especially with the 300mm, but it is definitely not to sharpen up the image at all. It’s as sharp as anything I’ve used, even wide open at F2.8. This was shot at the end of the same day as the last shot too, incidentally. What I like about this is that we have the added element of the dragonfly in there, kind of peering out over his domain at the end of a busy day. The sun had gone down below the mountains at this point, but was still high enough to be creating a bright sky, which helped to create this atmospheric image. As usual I was careful to position all of the elements in my bokeh, or the out of focus areas of the shot, like the purple cosmos flower in the top left and the pale pink one in the bottom left. I also positioned the white cosmos along the right side, but the final element of interest that probably makes this a favourite, in addition to the dragonfly, is the butterfly near the right edge, hiding in the bokeh. I also have to admit, that I had not even seen this little guy when I shot the photograph. He’s not there on any of the others either, so he really has just flitted in and out of the scene momentarily, to make my photograph just that little bit better.
Dragonfly with Butterfly
Wild Flower Cosmos
Next, let’s look at an image that I haven’t made much of a fuss about, but which has remained a favourite, and that is number 1943. This is another one of my flowerscapes, this one, with a very country garden feel to it. This one has remained a favourite, because of the simple-complexity of the image. Now, I know you are all sitting there right now thinking what the hell is he talking about. Simple-complexity!? What I mean by this is that there’s a lot to look at, but on the whole, it’s very simple. There are various types of grasses, intermingling, and the two main white cosmos flowers set in there. Then, there is the blotches of white from other cosmos flowers in the distance. I positioned my camera though so that the two foreground flowers had plenty of green behind them, not white, and also this allowed me to position the line of foliage in focus against a predominantly darker green background. This helps us to take both the foreground and background element for what they are, without over complicating things. What I also like about this shot is how it gets quite dark towards the bottom of the frame, helping to give us a good solid base. As I recall shooting this, I also get nice memories of a warm October afternoon, just sitting on the ground with my tripod set up around my legs, and just playing with the compositions through the viewfinder, using the 70-200mm F2.8 lens. This was like heaven for me on a lazy afternoon. I can think of few better ways to spend time, at least one’s that I can talk about on a family Podcast.
On the last day of November, I shot image number 1997, with David Lee, an MBP community member’s 14mm F2.8 II lens. Even while looking up at this image on my LCD with LiveView, as I pushed the camera up between the trees on my tripod, and released the shutter with my cable release at full stretch, I knew it was going to be a favourite for the year. The colours, and the amazing perspective that the 14mm afford us is really helped to make this shot something special, for me at least. With a pretty slow shutter speed, at 1/20th of a second, it is still remarkably sharp, but I guess we’re under the rule of thumb of using the focal length as the minimum shutter speed for non-Image Stabilized lenses, so it all turned out good.
As I settled on my top ten images for 2008, it was a little surprising to me that 6 of the images were actually three pairs of images that I shot on the same day. The sea of red equinox flowers and the dragonfly in the cosmos were shot on the same day. This shot was shot on the same day as the next one we’re going to look at, and the last two images were also shot on the same day. I don’t know if this is related to getting into the zone as they say, but I’m wondering if I am reaching a certain level of creativity while in the field, that helps the images just seem to flow more freely. I’m going to have to keep my eye on this little phenomenon, to see if there’s anything in this.
The next image, shot roughly an hour after the last one, is number 2000. I just love the colours reflected in the water here, and the separation that we get from the simple foreground red pine needles that take up only a small portion of the screen, compared to the relatively large area of out of focus image. The water does get slightly more focused as we get to the bottom of the frame, obviously being closer to the camera, but the objects reflected in the water are far away, and retain a slightly dreamy bokeh feel. The banks of the pond add a nice central element, and the trunks of the trees, and their reflections frame the left side of the shot for us. This image actually started out being a quick shot before I changed the lens, to get more of the scene in, but after changing, I realised that the tight crop worked better, which was not that surprising, as I continue to maintain that getting closer is the best way to make a shot more powerful. This is no exception.
Tree on Wintry Shore
So, I said in the last episode that I was not going to select my top ten images, as there was a few days of 2008 left, and I had photography days in my scopes. Well, I proved that it ain’t over until the fat photographer sings, with the last two images that we’ll look at today, both shot on the last day of the year. Ironically, I’d returned to Inawashiro, which is where I’d shot the falls on the 4th of January, that we looked at first today. I was back at the lake that gives the area it’s name, and shot image number 2058. This is a really quite simple image, and as Landon pointed out a few days ago in a comment against this image, it’s a far cry from the brightly coloured images that make up a lot of the rest of my selection. Like the Distant Dance image though, I love to immerse myself in a snow covered icy landscape, and that is what I’d done here. I actually recorded some audio shortly before and just after dawn on this day, and I’m hoping I can include that in a Podcast soon to give you more details on the shoot, but I’d basically spent the last few hours of the previous day, and the first half of December the 31st on the beach of this lake, shooting in the driving snow. I was mainly photographing the swans and the pintail ducks that live here, but before I left, I wanted to get a shot of this lone tree that was just sitting on the beach in the snow, waiting to be photographed. It’s difficult to see the driving snow in the Web version, but if you look close, you can see that the snow is driving across the scene almost horizontally. I had sat in the snow, happy to be wearing quilted trousers, and I opened the legs of my tripod to the second notch, so that they were much wider than usual, to help me combat the wind and keep the camera nice and steady. I shot a number of images, some including ducks flying by, and there’s another one that I upload that has three swans flying above the tree, but I like the simplicity of this cut, and so selected this over the swan version. The detail is amazing, and I had paid attention to the formation of the waves, to add a little drama.
Twelve minutes later, I was hand-holding, still with the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, and had shot a few images of the swans flying through the dramatic landscape, which are also uploaded, but then I noticed more light behind me than had been their until then, and as I turned around and shot image number 2061. There was literally just a few moments when the clouds raised from the surface of the lake, to show a bit of brightness and detail in the far shore of the lake, and right at that time, six swans were flying over to their roosting ground. I got one shot, and luckily I’d nailed the focus on the swans, and I was still at F11, so the depth-of-field was enough to get the distant shore in focus too. I only shot a handful of other photos after this, and then decided to go back inside to my wife who was patiently waiting, having fed the pintails four bags of bread. I was determined to not push my luck too far during this trip, as I’d brought my wife along for a break. I’d left her in bed for the dawn shoot though, so I was feeling happy with my crop of images for the day, and so, we took a steady drive back to Tokyo not long after this. Finishing a great day, and in many ways, a great year.
Momentary Break in the Storm
So, that’s it. My 2008 top ten. I hope you enjoyed looking at them with me. As I say, I’ll bring you more details of the shoot from which I selected the last two images within the next few weeks.
Please remember that the voting for the Portraits assignment is currently in progress. You need to be a member at mbpgalleries.com to vote. This is a different account to the main web site but once you have created that account if you don’t already have one, just log in and look for the vote buttons above the images in the assignment gallery. You will be able to vote until the end of Sunday the 11th of January, so please take the time to do so. It’s an amazing gallery again. I actually ended up drawing too much attention to the two images that I had considered uploading, so at the end of the day, didn’t upload anything myself. Shame on me, I know.
Anyway, let’s call it a day for today. I’ll be back next week, to announce the winner of the assignment, and set the stage for the next one. For now, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.
As you just heard, about a month ago, I went to the Showa Memorial Park here in Tokyo to shoot the poppies there. I was going to do just a normal showcase type Podcast on the day, but having thought about it, a lot of what I would have spoken about was related to how I focussed on the subjects in a lot of these shots, and as focusing has come up in the forum a lot recently, I figured I’d adapt this Podcast to concentrate on some of my manual focusing techniques a little. This is not going to be comprehensive, and some of what I will talk about will require specialized or more recent gear to use the techniques but this is what I’m doing right now with regards to focusing in my own photography.
There are a few observations about focusing that I probably should talk about first. For general focusing of larger scenes, or snapshots around town etc I don’t find I have to take any more care with regards to focusing as just using the camera’s autofocus. One thing I do find is that despite having 45 focussing sensors in my 1Ds I often select the center focus point. In fact, I’d say that 95% of my photographs are made with the center focus point. I will sometimes select a different focus point when working with a tripod to focus on a particular part of the image, and also for wildlife, say when tracking birds across the scene, I sometimes select all focus points and allow the camera to select the rights ones, especially when using the AI Servo mode to track moving subjects. This works well most of the time, except when the surroundings are of higher contrast than the main subject, which I find confuses the camera, and focus is moved to the higher contrast background unintentionally. When this happens, I usually find myself back using just the center focus point, even in AI Servo mode.
On the topic of contrast; note that autofocus sensors are really just looking for contrast in the scene. If you use autofocus with multiple sensors and can’t seem to get the camera to lock on to the point you expect it too, one trick is to line up the sensors with lines on the subject. If there are people in the shot, the eyes are always going to be the best place to lock on to. Firstly, you should focus on the eyes in most cases, just for photographic reasons, rather than technical reasons. The eyes should always be sharp, or your subjects will look lifeless. From a technical perspective though, eyes are outlined and have the darker or different coloured iris, so it makes a good contrast to lock in to. Otherwise, just look for lines of contrast in your subject, horizontal or vertical work best, and align one of your active focus points with that. This usually helps your camera to lock in to the part of the scene that you want to focus on.
There are some situations though when I simply do not use autofocus, or I use autofocus to get an initial focus quickly, but then tweak it with other methods. Today I’m going to go into a little more detail about these methods. Let’s take a look at the first shot from this series of poppy shots to start the ball rolling. The first image is number 1780. Here we can see a poppy bud that is partially open, with the flower about to bloom. Now I’m going to use a little artistic license here and talk about one technique that I have used for a while, but didn’t actually use here, so bear with me. Quite often, for subject like this, that are pretty low to the ground, I use an Angle Finder C, from Canon. This fits to the viewfinder once you removed the normal plastic and rubber eyecup from the back of the camera, and allows you to look down into the viewfinder from above. You can actually turn it a full 360 degrees, and it locks into place at one quarter and I think also one eighth positions around the entire 360 degrees, as well as being totally free to move to all other angles. This is useful in itself, especially as I say for low work, but the other thing that I sometimes use with this angle finder is the ability to magnify the viewfinder to 2X what you would normally see. For macro work, I always switch to manual focusing. It just isn’t work trying to mess around with autofocus at these distances and with so many parts of a usual macro scene for the sensors to lock into. It can be quite difficult to see if you really do have your focus on the right part of the scene when shooting macro though, and because the depth-of-field is so shallow at these focussing distances, even with a relatively small aperture, getting the focus exactly right can be a challenge. If you switch to the 2X magnification mode though, you will find it much easier to focus, because you can simply see the subject better. I also find the angle finder to be very bright, which really helps too. If you have a camera with a crop factor, or focal length multiplier, then you will almost certainly be working with a darker viewfinder than a 35mm film SLR or a DSLR with a full-sized sensor, so the bright viewfinder the angle finder affords you can be even more useful here. This image was shot at F4 by the way, for 1/500th of a second at ISO 100.
Silk in Waiting
Even when I’m not shooting macro, as I often shoot with wide aperture lenses, and often with the aperture close to or actually wide open, focus accuracy is a very important to me. Especially when I’m shooting at a slower pace, where I can take my time on focusing, I take as much care as possible to get it right. Since upgrading to the 1Ds, there is one tool that I have quickly started to depend on, and that is LiveView. This is available on many of the latest camera releases at all levels and across the spectrum, not just Canon, so I won’t be reducing the audience to 1Ds owners here, but if you don’t have one of the more recent generation cameras just bear with us for a while here. When I first heard about this feature, to be honest, I was not all that interested. I didn’t think it would be useful. I could not imagine myself holding the camera out like a compact digital, and composing the scene on the LCD, and you know what? I still don’t. With the better optics and clear finder on an SLR, I don’t think LiveView will ever replace that. There are reasons to use LiveView for composition and shooting, say when you physically can’t get your eye to the viewfinder, but that’s a different topic.
Anyway, although I was not enthused about LiveView to start with, once I found out that you can zoom the image on the LCD to 5 and 10X, I realised there was a tool here that I had not be conscious of until that point. Obviously, if you can zoom in on the subject on your LCD, with the clarity of the LCDs these days, you can tweak the focus to make sure it is exactly where you want it to be. Let’s take a look at image number 1782, and I’ll explain the process a little more. We can see here that I’ve found a patch of poppies with some nice white poppies mingled in, and framed it up so that there are lots of poppies in the foreground, creating some nice foreground bokeh, and there are orange and yellow poppies, with a few more white one in the background, creating a dream backdrop for the image. As the poppies trail off into the distance, the scene gets slightly darker towards the top, adding overall balance to the image. One of the main reasons I bought the 300mm F2.8 lens last year was to enable me to capture this sort of image. I have been looking forward to this field of poppies blooming for the last six months.
To get back to the focusing though, when I first set my camera up I used the center focus point to focus on the stamen of the white flower in front of the pair to the left, then I recomposed the shot as we see here. If you recall from previous episodes, I have set my camera up so that I do not focus with the shutter button. When I press the shutter button, the camera only takes a light reading. I have to press the focus button on the back of the camera with my thumb to actually focus. What this means is that I can leave my lens in autofocus mode, but the focus will remain unchanged until I hit the focus button on the back of the camera again, which saves a little fiddling around flicking the button on the lens barrel to turn off auto-focus, which I really don’t want know because the subject on which I focussed is no longer where the focus sensor is. If you were doing something similar to this, and you are happy with the focus you gained from autofocus, or maybe even tweaked the focus while looking through the viewfinder, then you could just go ahead and take the shot now.
I however, will now use my LiveView tool to check the focus and tweak it as necessary. I have set up my camera to go into LiveView when I hit the Set button in the middle of the Quick Control Dial on the back of the camera. The mirror flops up, and the scene is displayed on the LCD. I have also set up my camera so that it gives me an approximation of the actual exposure that the shutter speed and aperture will give me at my selected ISO, and if you hit the info button on the back of the camera you also get a live histogram, so you can also check that your exposure is where you want it to be at this point. The main reason I’m in LiveView right now though is to focus, so I use the Multi-Controller noggin thingy to move a small white frame around the LCD. When I hit the Magnify button at the top right of the back of the camera, I zoom into to see the part of the image that I selected with the white frame at 5X magnification. You can press again to go to 10X, and then again to go back to viewing the entire image with no magnification, but I find that 5X is plenty to fine tune the focus. If you have a bit of camera shake you might have to half press the shutter button here to turn on your Image Stabilization so that you can see your subject better, but this isn’t always necessary. Once you are in LiveView on the 1Ds you are actually forced to use Manual Focusing, but that’s alright, because you really want to be doing this in Manual anyway. So, you just turn the focus ring on your lens, while viewing the subject in the LCD and you can control exactly where the focus falls on your subject. On this occasion, as I said, I focused on the yellow stamen of the white poppy on the left. I found that the autofocus had actually focussed on the front petals, which is understandable because there is a nice contrasty line there, so I had to move the focus back into the scene very slightly. Another benefit of using LiveView is that the mirror is already up, so then I just have to hit the shutter release button on my cable release, and the image is captured. This image was shot at 1/1600th of a second at F3.2 by the way, with the ISO set to 100. There was plenty of light to work with, as you can see in the resulting image.
One other thing that can be a challenge when shooting with a very shallow depth of field is paralleling your main subjects, if you intend to focus on multiple objects. The LiveView feature can help here too. Let’s look at image number 1783 and you’ll see what I mean. Here we can see that I have captured three white poppies in a line, to the left of the frame. This is no coincidence of course, as I was looking for this type of detail. To make this work though, they all need to be acceptably sharp. As best as I could, I positioned my camera in a way that appeared to make my film plane, or digital sensor, parallel to the three flower heads. To check that this was really the case though is difficult when the flowers are as small in the frame as this. Again, I used LiveView and zoomed in on one of them, but once you are zoomed, you can use the Multi-Controller to move around the image, to check other areas without coming out of the zoom mode. It’s a little bit juddery, because the camera is processing a lot of data to give you this image, but it works fine. I was able to see that I was not quite square, and adjust my camera position to get more parallel to these subjects because tripping the shutter. Until now, to do this I would have shot multiple images, and zoomed in on the image after capturing it, but this is time consuming and you end up taking home more images than necessary, that will probably just eat up disk space if you aren’t a little ruthless with your deletion policy. This too was shot at F3.2 with a shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second this time, again of course still at ISO 100. Note that this lens can be used totally wide open and still give sharp images, but I just wanted literally just a fraction more depth-of-field than wide open would give me, just to pull things together a tiny bit more.
We Three Poppies
One last image I want to look at is number 1786. Here we can see that I have focussed in very closely on a the center of a yellow poppy. With regards to the composition, I’ve shot this type of image many times, and have often tried to include all the stamen, though not go past the edges of the petals when possible. Having zoomed in on some of my previous shots though, I noticed that I didn’t really need to include all the stamen and it in fact may have given me a more dramatic shot if I didn’t, so I decided to go a little closer here, cutting them off to the left and top of the frame slightly. The light levels had dropped slightly as the sky became a little hazy, but this was acting like a big diffuser, so I was happy enough about that. The thing is though, this flower was blowing around in the wind a little, so I used my Wimberley Plamp, which is a plant clamp, to hold the flower in place just a little. The Plamp clamps onto your tripod leg, and then you have like a large clothes peg that holds the flower steady from its stem. There is a hole in the plamp large enough that it doesn’t apply any pressure, crushing the stem in any way, so no harm is done to the flower.
This doesn’t stop the flower moving altogether though, so I upped the ISO to 200. Still, at F4 this meant that I had to slow my shutter speed down to 1/320th of a second, which is touch and go with a flower that is blowing around in the relatively strong breeze. A number of the shots were blurred, but as I was waiting for the moment the flower stopped moving before rocking back the other way, I got a few nice sharp images as well. So again, back to focusing, I used LiveView again here. This time not to help me focus on a distant subject, but really just to fine tune the focus on in this macro world. Whenever I photograph something, I look for something that is different from the rest of the scene or subject. Here, the black hairs in the center of the flower stood out, in a sea of yellow. With LiveView I could see how much of the surrounding stamen would be within the depth-of-field as I manually changed the focus around those hairs, and it was looking good, so again, I tripped the shutter at this point. The main benefit here is that again I was working low to the ground, and might have usually used the angle finder to zoom in and check the details of this image, but I was actually looking down on the flower from almost above it, and so the angle finder didn’t really make sense. I’d have had to set it up and look into the angle finder from the side, which is a little awkward when you are low down, so again, the LiveView just worked well for me here. Note that there is also a little level on the side of the viewfinder on the 1Ds to put a little shutter across the viewfinder to stop stray light getting in while you don’t have your eye against the view finder. If light gets in through the viewfinder it can affect metering, and also cause ghost images on your photograph as it reflects down into the optics and on to the sensor.
As I say, this is not a comprehensive episode on focusing by any means. Really what I’m doing right now in some areas of my photography, mainly with regards to manual focusing and the fine tuning of. I’ve mentioned some other techniques in the past, like the use of focusing rails for macro work, especially once you magnify at more than 1:1 or life-size. That whole series was episodes 42, 43 and 44, and I think I talked about focusing rails in Episode 43. I’ve talked about using the back focus button a little as well, and also touched on using AI Servo a few of times too. I will though no doubt follow up on this subject again, as I notice other things that I find myself doing, that might be of interest to you.
One last thought about focusing, or the problems some people have before we finish. In the digital age, it is now so much easier for us to just zoom right in to 100% and check pixel for pixel if our images are sharp. Some people say this is going too far, and depending on what you want to use your photographs for, this might be true, but if you ever intend to sell your images commercially, anything that is not tack sharp will rarely make the cut, especially when you are up against other photographers, because they will almost certainly have submitted tack sharp images for consideration. There are always going to be times when you make an artistic decision to include deliverable blur to depict movement or something, but this should be obviously deliberate and add to the image. If a shot that should be sharp is not, you’ll be at a disadvantage, so I myself suggest that you do pixel peep, and check your images for sharpness. When you do so, and find that the image is not sharp, it is not always obvious what caused the lack of sharpness. Focusing errors are much more common than people think.
One way to find out if you have messed up the focusing is to check to see if anything in the image is sharp. Zoom in on your main subject and then start to scroll around the image to see if anything in closer to or further way from the camera is in focus. If you can find something that is, it means your focusing technique was flawed, and you’ll need to improve. If nothing is in focus, assuming that there are things in the frame that should have been, then this could something else, probably camera shake. Subject blur is also a possibility. Was your main subject moving when you took the shot, or were you moving. Image Stabilization technologies will help here, but only to an extent. The longer the lens, the more likely you are to get camera shake, and need to compensate for that with shorter shutter speeds. I’ve been into this a number of times in the past too, so I won’t go into it today. There is of course always the possibility that your lens has problems, and not focusing properly, and cheaper lenses actually can sometimes not produce images as sharp as some of the more expensive professional lenses. If you doubt that your lens may have issues, I suggest you listen to Episode 101 of this Podcast in which I discuss how to test a lens for focusing problems. As long as your lens is OK, then it all comes down to technique. Also note that some camera manufacturers make interchangeable focusing screens for some cameras in their range, and this usually includes one or two that are designed to help you with precise manual focusing, though this is sometimes at the expense of a slight drop off in brightness of the viewfinder. If you do a lot of manual focusing though, this might be worth considering, so check your camera’s manual or your camera makers Web site.
So, as you’ll notice we are a little late this week. The main reason for that is because I finally bit the bullet and bought a new A3+ or 13×19” paper size printer last weekend. I haven’t been able to make much progress with my apartment move plans, which I need to do before I go for the 24” wide printer that I have my eye on, and also, I was nervous about making a jump from Epson, who’s printers I’ve used for many years, to Canon, who’s camera’s I’ve used for many years, but never used their printers. The 24” wide model I’m looking at is from Canon, and I wanted to get a handle on how good their printers really are now, and I figured that it would help me to get a wider colour gamut than my 7 year old Epson printer can give me. After a few teething problems, I’m now making prints of the quality that I expected, with a few other gripes mind. This basically took a fair amount of time though, at the expense of the preparation for this Podcast, so we’re a day or so late. I will be bringing you a review of the Canon Pixma Pro 9500 pigment ink printer in the coming weeks though, so hopefully that will make up for it.
Remember that voting is currently in progress for the Abstract Assignment, and the voting system in the Assignment album at mbpgalleries.com will be on until the end of June 1st or maybe the 2nd as I’m going to be caught up in something around that time. You need to be a member to vote, but please do come along and do so, as the images that have been submitted for this assignment are amazing, as usual. For now though, you just have a great week, what’s left of it and I’ll be back next week with the assignment winners and to set the stage for the next assignment. Bye for now.
Last Saturday, which was April the 14th, 2007 for those of you that will be catching up on the archive later, I visited the Hitachi (Seaside) Park in the Ibaraki Prefecture, about 90 minutes from my home in Tokyo. Now, before you start thinking that the Japanese electrical appliance manufacturer Hitachi are into the Park and Garden business, the name actually comes from the name of the City that houses the park, which is called Hitachinaka. Also, the English translation of the name having “Seaside” in it might lead you believe that this is a beach park, but in reality, this park is just by the sea, and only a part of it is like, a sandy-beachy type recreation area. It’s a really huge place though, and I only concentrated on a number of the flower gardens, and that took me a full day from the moment they opened until shortly before they closed. I got a load of great flower shots though, and today I’m going to focus on some of my favourites.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I rely on photography location magazines quite a lot to get ideas of where to go to shoot, and I found this location in the same way. On Friday night, I spent a couple of hours going through my magazines and noticed this park that I’d not come across before, and found that the tulips and daffodils were going to be blooming right now. I checked the Web site to see that they were saying the daffodils were in full bloom, and the tulips were about 30% open. This turned out to be a bit misleading, and I’m starting to understand more how these places calculate what they call best conditions, or fully blooming. What I think they are doing is counting the percentage of flower heads that are open, regardless of how close they are to dropping off. For example, the daffodils were almost all open, and they were marked as being in full bloom, but 80% of them had been open so long waiting for the last 20% that they were almost dead. This gives an overall really tired look to most of the garden, and to be honest, I almost didn’t venture much further into the daffodil area having seen the first parts. Of course, we photographer’s don’t get our shots by giving in easily though, and I’m very glad I didn’t too, as we’ll see later. I looked at the Web site again yesterday, two days after I visited, and saw that the daffodil area was no longer marked as in best condition too, so the information is definitely being kept up to date.
Anyway, the other part of this percentage of blooming flowers thing is, that the tulips, of which only 30% of the flowers were open, were still very fresh, and on the whole in very good condition. When I made my mind up to go here I was thinking that I might have to go back the following weekend to shoot again, once the tulips were out in force. I won’t be going back so soon though, as I found them to be just perfect for what I wanted, just as they were. Had I waited until the tulips were supposed to be at 100% open, many of the flowers I shot there today would have be well past their sell by dates, so I’m glad I didn’t wait. One other area that we’ll take a look at that was also at 30% was a man made hill on which the park has planted 4 million Nemophila or Baby Blue Eyes flowers. This probably would have been better on the whole in a few weeks time, but still, the flowers that were blooming were all nice and fresh, so I made the most of what was currently blooming, getting in nice and close, and one nice wide angle, which we’ll look at too.
Having given you a bit of background, we’ve got a lot to get through today, so I’m not going to dwell on each shot too much, and just try to plough through them pretty quickly. I’m going to try to look at twelve images, which is two more than the usual maximum, but this is actually exactly one third of the 36 shots I’ve posted from the day. I’ve put a link in the show-notes to display all 36, and if you want to view them in the order shot, remember to click the last number of the bottom right of the thumbnail page, then click the last image, and then use the left arrow key to work your way back through the images. Of course, I’m going to call out the numbers of the images as we go through them as usual, so you can either enter that number into the field on the top page or the Podcasts page at martinbaileyphotography.com to jump to each shot, or you can view the images by clicking the thumbnails for this episode on the Podcasts page, or of course you can follow on your iPod or in iTunes if you’d prefer.
Dandelion with Visitor
So moving right along, let’s take a look at the first picture which is number 1373. I was actually walking up to the entrance of the park when I noticed a few dandelions on a lawn, and got down with my 100mm macro lens to shoot them. I positioned myself so that I could get really close on one of the flowers, and have two other flowers way out of focus in the background, forming some nice large blotches of yellow. I uploaded on shot just like this, but lady-luck smiled on me as I was shooting the flowers, and a small wasp just happened to buzz by and land right in front of my lens. I had to refocus quickly and raise myself up a little more to get more of the visitor in, but the result was a nice pleasing shot and I kept the blotches of yellow in the background. I was shooting at F4 for 1/1000th of a second at ISO 100, so you can tell it was a nice clear day with lots of available light.
The park unfortunately doesn’t open until 9:30AM, but we’d arrived at 8:30. To get out of Tokyo before the traffic really starts to build up, barring the days when an accident occurs stopping the traffic at any time of day, I usually aim to get on the road before 7AM. If I leave home after seven, I can pretty much guarantee it’ll it at least another hour or two to my journey, and a lot more stress. Basically though, with leaving early, I was here in time to have some breakfast in the car and take a steady walk to the gates. I bought my ticket and then picked up a map from beside the ticket machine and started to get my bearings and figure out how to make my way through the park. My plan was to shoot the tulips hand-held quickly, and then make my way to the hill of Baby Blue Eyes then check out the daffodils before coming back to the tulips. The tulips is literally just a few minutes from the gate in an area called the “Egg Forest Flower Garden”. It’s called the Egg Forest because there are large eggs with holes in for kids to climb around in scattered throughout the area. This is a great idea I think for making this a totally family area. I didn’t shoot the eggs myself, concentrating on the flowers.
Hitachi Park #03
The image I want to look at from this first batch of tulip shots is number 1376. Here we can see a simple composition, that’s strength comes really from the striking colours. I focussed on the single tulip that was facing me from this batch and the wide aperture of F2.8 allowed the flowers in the background to get gradually more and more out of focus. The light was really beautiful, still coming through the trees at an angle, despite the having risen almost four hours earlier. I was shooting in Manual mode again for control, and using my EOS 5D and the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, with a shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second. It actually took me a long time to select the 12 shots for this episode from the 36 I uploaded, and the reason I couldn’t drop this one, despite me also having another vertical all tulip shot to look at later is just the overall power of the shot. I feel this simple composition becomes so strong because of the deep greens with those amazing reds throughout.
I shot a whole bunch of other shots during this first session in the Egg Forest, but then quickly made my way to the Baby Blue Eyes hill, and still shooting hand-held, I started to make my way up the hill looking for nice spots to single out. The flowers as I said earlier were only about 30% open, but this here too I’m sure meant that the flowers that were open were much fresher and more photogenic than they probably would be in a week or so when the hill is in full bloom. I had found a few nice patches and have actually uploaded a total of seven shots of these flowers, but we’ll just look at two here. The first one is 1387. Here you can see that I’d found a tall flower that made a change from the blue flowers. I spent a little time sitting on the dirt path at the edge of the flower trying to parallel the tall flower with the highest blue flower on the right. It took some doing but I just about pulled it off. I’m not 100% sure about the red-ish line of colour across the top of this shot, but it seems nicer than the ones without it. I feel as though it makes a nice target for the taller flower to reach for. I shot this again with my 70-200mm F2.8 at F4 for 1/2000th of a second at ISO 100.
Hitachi Park #14
I made my way up to the top of the hill and joined up with the missus who’d got tired of waiting for me and gone ahead. We knew there was a view of the see from the top of the hill, but was a little disappointed to see that it was basically some kind of harbour wall with cranes and tankers scattered around. Not very photogenic, though I wasn’t really hoping for anything here, but a slightly nicer view would have been better, and made the small climb a little more rewarding. It’s surprising how colourless the park was from here too. You can look across the entire area, but as just about the whole place is covered with trees, all you can see is the canopy, and almost none of the flowers. Still, the flowers look great with the trees intermingled, so I wouldn’t like to have seen this any other way.
Image number 1388 was shot about half way down the hill, looking back up it. The sky had been clouding over and then clearing again for the last 30 minutes or so, and was now showing an interesting face, so I decided to go for the super wide angle to emphasise the expanse of blue flowers against the blue sky. I used a circular polarizer to bring out the blue a little as it was getting a little hazy, and it worked out OK I think. I made a bunch of exposures here as people moved around and wanted to choose the right one later when I got home. I chose this with a few people sort of standing around taking photos and a kid in a white shirt throwing his arms around as he ran around all excited. I’d used Jonathan Sachs’ DOF, a depth-of-field and hyper focal distance calculator on my Pocket PC phone to figure out what the hyper focal distance was for my lens at 16mm at F16. This is actually just 50cms, so if I focus my lens at 50cms at F16, everything from 33cms from the cameras sensor to infinity will be in focus. So I set my focus looking at the scale on the lens barrel and forgot about the focus, then fine tuned my composition. The thing I love about working with really wide angle lenses is the perspective you get, especially when looking up at something like this. I think the people add to the scale and perspective of the shot, so I was quite happy there were a few people wandering around up there.
Baby Blue Eyes Hill
One other thing to note before we move on is that I was pleasantly surprised to see that new 16-35mm F2.8 lens from Canon has no vignetting at all, even when shooting at 16mm with a small aperture, with two filters attached. Now, before you take that statement too literally, note that the manual for this lens says it supports one filter, and if you were to use two big fat rimmed filters, you may well have problems. With a UV come protector filter and a polarizer, both from Kenko, and both made especially for wide angle lenses, I couldn’t see anything. The down side of this new lens though is that I now have to carry more circular polarizer filters around with me. Until now, for the last year or so since buying the 5D, all my lenses have taken either 77mm or 52mm filters. Now though, the 16-35mm has jumped to an 82mm filter size, so I not only had to pick up an additional filter, and they aren’t that cheap, I now have to carry a 52mm, a 77mm and an 82mm polarizer with me. I’m still considering whether or not to get an 82mm neutral density filter. I’m thinking I’ll wait until I know I’m going to need one, but that probably won’t be long, as I’m hoping to get out shooting some waterfalls again soon. Anyway, remember that if you are buying thin banded filters, you can probably also get away with two and no vignetting with the new 16-35mm lens.
Watercolour Daffodil – Hitachi Park #18
The next shot, number 1392, is one of my favourites from the day. Sometimes the excitement of the day can affect the way you feel about the resulting photographs, and that’s why I try not to get too excited for a few weeks, but if I’m still saying this in a few weeks time, this may well end up being one of my favourites of my own photos of all time. I printed it out on 13×19″ fine art paper last night and it blew me away. The lighting was perfect, with a bright, yet colourful background and a whole bunch of little purple flowers scattered throughout the scene, and nice large patch of yellow that I positioned behind the daffodil’s head to form a halo. This was enhanced because the foreground flowers were in shade, increasing the contrast between them and the background. Holding the print in my hand last night, it felt more like a water colour than a photo! I hope this doesn’t where off, because right now I’m really excited about this shot and so glad that I ventured into the daffodil area of the park, despite the patches of flowers either side of the path leading in there looking decidedly tired. I shot this at F3.5 for 1/250th of a second by the way, with my 70-200mm F2.8 at full stretch.
Next let’s look at image number 1393 which I shot just a few paces down the path from the last one. For this shot, to the embarrassment of my other half, I was sitting on the path, leaning back on my camera bag, kind of like I was sitting in a reclining armchair. I rarely feel self-conscious when getting in weird positions to take photos, but I must admit, I felt the eyes of a few passers-by while shooting this one. Not to the point of embarrassment but I knew they were looking. Anyway, I basically wanted to get down low enough to be able to shoot this pair of daffodils through some other flower heads, to form these large patches of white blur, or what I tend to call foreground bokeh. These guys are maybe kind of comical, looking a little like they’re standing back to back, and about to walk 10 paces away from each other then turn and fire in some kind of a floral duel. I shot this at F3.2, just one click off wide open, for 1/160th of a second. This and the last shot were hand-held by the way.
Hitachi Park #19
Hitachi Park #22
Let’s move on to image number 1396. Here, every so often a breeze got up and caught the heads of all these daffodils, so I fitted an ND8 neutral density filter to my 70-200, and dropped the ISO down to 50, and selected an aperture of F22 to get a nice long shutter speed of 6/10th of a second. This was long enough to catch a lot of movement in the flower heads. Some of the flower heads stayed stationary long enough to register a little more in the photo, giving us something more to latch onto while being thrown around the shot by the other movement. The tree trunk place in the top right and the line of almost stationary yellow daffodils along the top of the frame also help to keep some order in the mayhem of the majority of the shot. This is another example I guess of staying open to ideas as we hunt for photo opportunities.
After this, we had some lunch, and then made our way back around to the tulips in the Egg Forest Garden, and from here, I’d like to look next at image number 1397. Here we see a sea of red, with most of the screen occupied by incredibly powerful red tulips. Again, I’ve chose the black face of the tulip looking at me to focus on, but selected an aperture of F16 this time to give me more depth-of-field so that we can make out more of the different coloured tulips that run across the top of the frame. I’ve also included that tree trunk up there in the right third to and a second tree trunk in the top right corner to stop our eye from running right off the frame having been taken up there by the larger tree trunk. I’d moved the ISO back to 100, and the shutter speed was down to 1/60th of a second now at F16, so I was using a tripod again.
Hitachi Park #23
Let’s look next at a grab shot from the middle of the afternoon’s shooting which is number 1399. As I made my way through the garden I noticed a woman in a beautiful silver grey kimono setting up her camera for a photo with hubby, so I dropped my camera down, still on the tripod and levelled it waiting for the scene to develop. As I waited, really just a few seconds, a little boy ran across the shot as the farther in the middle squatted down to photograph his little boy, and just released the shutter a few times. This was my favourite as the little boy reaches the edge of the shot to the right and the lady in the kimono stood up having set the camera’s timer running again to make her way back over to her partner for the next frame. I’d quickly selected an aperture of F4.5 because I didn’t want much more of the scene than the center band with the activity to be in focus. This photo to me though really gives us a feel of the mood of the afternoon. There were lots of families there in the park enjoying the warm weather and each others’ company.
Day in the Park
Let’s move on to image number 1400. In this shot I like the less formal effect given by the scattered tulips in the foreground, with the other groups in the background behind the trees, rather than the somewhat stiff lines and shapes in some of the other shots. The previous day when I selected the location while looking through a magazine, I found later on looking through my final selection of images that my other half was really not all that impressed. She’d thought it would be too formal and that she didn’t think we’d have a very good or productive day. The shots in the magazine that although portrayed the park very nicely, were all shot at like f32, totally sharp from front to back, and very documentary. There’s nothing wrong of course with documenting a scene in that way and I made a few similar images from the day too although I’d like to think they are nowhere near as stiff. I find it much better to section out areas of the garden to emphasise the part of the scene that has captured my imagination. This is just another example of that. I also found that I really gained an appreciation for the skill of the architects that designed this space. They positioned trees at just the right places to bring out the best in the scene, quite often from multiple, if not all angles of view. They really are masters of their trade. This one by the way was shot at F4 with a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second, again at ISO 100.
Hitachi Park #25
Let’s look at image number 1401 now, which is hopefully a good example of how, rather than avoiding the straight lines of a somewhat formal garden, we can use them to our advantage for some graphically pleasing images. Again, observation is very important. Surveying the scene for areas that work is a must. Here I’d found a view in which the patches of tulips and the angle of the ground, complimented again by the position of the trees, all comes together to along with the light and dark from the angled sunlight making its way through the trees, to make a pretty pleasing shot. I selected a wide aperture of F4 and shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, and focussed on the yellow band of tulips in the top third of the image. I’d tried focusing on a number of other patches of flowers, and also really liked the one in which I’d focussed on the foreground patch of yellow, but decided to go with this one. I tried focusing on the line of red closer to the top of the frame too, but that didn’t really work at all. Note too that the angle that brings out the best in the subject is not only gained from where you stand, or the angle of view of any given focal length of your lens, but from the height of the camera. For pretty much all of the images today I was either crouching, sitting or lying down, or had my camera on my tripod at some height other than eye level. I also had to be pretty patient here, as there were people walking through the scene all the time. I basically had to wait for a few minutes each time for the scene to clear of people before snapping of a few frames before the next back of folks walked in.
Hitachi Park #26
Hitachi Park #28
I want to finish with one more shot of all red tulips, which is image number 1403. This scene caught my eye because of the light catching just a few heads of these tulips, but they all seem to be looking in the same direction towards the sun. As I metered for the brightest flowers, this threw the other flowers into shadow, and made for quite a moody shot I though. I love the solidarity of all these flowers just standing there, gaining the last few hours of warmth as the sun drops lower and lower in the sky. I shot this at again at F4 for 1/500th of a second. I’d been shooting in Manual mode the whole day, really wanting to in control of the exposure, stopping these bright reds and yellows from clipping, which keeping them as close to the right side of the histogram as possible for maximum punch.
We headed around through the small fairground area after this and took a few shots in a small field of rape flowers before heading for the car to make our way home. All in all it was a great day, very productive and very exciting. I know that most of you will never come to Japan, and if you did, you’d more than likely not make your way over to places like this, but if you have gardens like this near you, I hope some of the angles or shooting techniques I’ve shown you today will give you some hints on ways to make the most of them.
That’s it for today. Yesterday I closed the Simplicity Assignment for uploads, and turned on the voting system. Please do come by to the mbpgalleries.com Web site and take a look at the album half way down the top page, and please do take a moment to register if you are not already a member and vote for your favourite image. There are some really amazing shots in there, and I’m really looking forward to see what you guys choose. Thanks as usual to all those that took part. If you do register to be able to vote, remember to also sign up at the main martinbaileyphotography.com Web site with the same user name and email address so that I can keep tabs on who’s who when, or if I do eventually get around to linking these two sites. Voting will continue until the end of Sunday the 29th of April when we’ll find out who the winner of an original print of one of my photos is, and more importantly, who will take the annual grand prize based on all of the accumulated votes, which this year is going to be an amazing Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag.
Other than that, have a great week, whatever you have planned. Bye-bye.
Welcome to this weeks episode. Last week we visited Oirase, in the Aomori Prefecture, where I spent a few days shooting a few weeks ago, which for the sake of listeners that catch up on the archives when this episode is old, was from the 10th to the 12th of July, 2006. On the afternoon of the 12th, I headed over to Hachinohe, the port at which I was going to board the ferry for the seven hour journey to my favourite part of Japan, Hokkaido. Hokkaido is the island that you can see at the very top of a map of Japan. If you use something like Google Earth to see a map of Japan, just search for Japan, then zoom out so that you can actually see it, and Hokkaido is at the very top, and most maps, including Google Earth will show you the capital city of Hokkaido which is Sapporo. Well the ferry that I took arrives at a port called Tomakomai which is just East of Sapporo along the coast. This is a few hours drives south from the scenic towns of Furano and Biei, where I spent the first few and the very last day of my trip this time. We pick up the trail today with some images from these first few days.
Because I planned this trip just a few weeks before actually going, I ended up in a hotel pretty far from the towns I was interested in, which are Furano and Biei. This meant that there was still a good hours drive to these towns, but I set out from the hotel at around 6AM on the 14th and arrived at my first location which was Farm Tomita, a place that I visited a few weeks earlier than this on a Photography tour run by the Japanese photographer Yoshiaki Kobayashi. You’ll have heard me talk about Kobayashi-sensei in the Podcasts about the February trip, but that was actually the third time I’d visited Hokkaido with him, having come in February 2004, July 2005 and February 2006 as well. I know that Kobayashi-sensei also listens to this Podcast too, so thanks very much for all your help on the tours and also for the advice in planning this trip too. I really very much appreciate it.
I guess this brings me to a point that I hadn’t planned to, but come to think of it, probably should mention. Networking with other photographers and gathering information on your locations from the internet etc. is pretty important when putting together your itinerary. For example, last week I mentioned that the leaves in Oirase were going to be new and fresh at this time of the year, but I gained that information by searching for that information on a number of Web sites. Likewise, I’d asked Kobayashi-sensei about the best times to visit some of the venues which I planned to visit, which really helped too. I myself often receive email from photographers planning visits to Japan asking about the best times of year to shoot various subjects or visit specific areas.
The thing that I really like about photography is that I find that very few people, that I interact with at least, are secretive about where to go and when. I know that this happens in some circles, but the way I see it, I don’t own many of the things I photograph or the techniques that I use for that matter. The subjects I shoot are either totally natural scenes or beings that are just part of the scheme of things, or they are things that have been put there by people that we are allowed to photograph, as with some of the flower shots we’ll look at in a moment. The thing is if you show the same scene to a hundred different photographers, and ask them to give you one print from their shoot, you will no doubt get a hundred different unique images back. Unless you are there are the same time, people are likely to shoot the scene under different conditions, with different focal lengths and exposures, from different camera positions etc. There is a multitude of variables that makes the end product different and the biggest variable of all is the human element. Every person that looks at a scene will view it through their own personal filter of the world. This filter is not a tangible thing, I’m speaking theoretically, but the way we see the world is not only based on the physical thing we are looking at but our perception of that subject is heavily influenced by everything that has happened to us from the moment we are born, perhaps even before that, until the moment we release the shutter to make our exposure. Even identical twins are shaped by personal experiences in their lives to that point and therefore will probably shoot very different images. Also, if we shot 10, 20 maybe even a hundred or so shots of the same scene, when asked to choose just one to show to others, each individual is again likely to select a different type of image. One may select a sweeping vista, the other a macro shot. We might see a small yet distant part of the scene cropped out of the vista with a telephoto lens. The possibilities are probably infinite.
Of course, in addition to what I, Martin Bailey bring to my work from a compositional, or artistic perspective, there is the technical side. Having a mastery of your equipment and photographic techniques may give you the edge over the less confident or technically adept photographer fumbling with his or her gear while the opportunity is lost. Of course, the beginner is going to produce the odd pearl. If they didn’t, they quickly loose interest in photography as they’d lack the feeling of accomplishment and praise from others that we need to fuel our desire to continue and learn this art and in many ways science. However, as we do become more technically adept as well as artistically, we find that producing more good images, and more constantly, becomes much easier.
The way I see it, most of what I know and practice in my photography right now is based on stuff that I have learned from other photographers, either first hand, like the things which I have learned from Kobayashi-sensei on his photography tours, or directly from books or the Internet, and also from you guys in the Martin Bailey Photography Forum. There is a certain amount that I have thought of myself, but the chances are that in this big wide world it’s already been thought of by someone else anyway. So being secretive and keeping my own knowledge to myself, is really a myth, because it’s not my knowledge. It knowledge from a century or so of photographic exploration and I am just holding some of it temporarily. Not passing this information on in my mind would be an incredibly wasteful, if not selfish thing to do. Also, for me to continue to grow as a photographer both technically and artistically, I need to continue to gather information from others as I have so far in the forms mentioned earlier. Without people continuing to share their knowledge either directly or in the form of books and other learning aids, the information flow would stop and we’d all be stifled and start to stagnate.
To summarize before we move on, I believe in both gathering and sharing information openly. We should have the confidence to know that what we do will be different, even if only slightly, from what others do. In some cases, we might enter a situation where we’ll mimic a famous view of a certain place. That’s fine too. At the least, for our own personal records its fine, but you may well end up with a very good version of that subject that stands out from the crowd. I don’t think there is anything wrong with this at all, as long as that is not all that you do. Once you’ve made that shot, try and experiment and take it further, and this is when your own filter of the world will come in giving your work your own personal touch.
At the Farm Tomita, there is a field on a hill in which they plant rows of different coloured flowers and plants. The field is “the” standard for holiday brochures and much of the publicity for the area. When I visited this spot in August 2003 in my own first visit to Hokkaido, I didn’t even find the field, but it was way too late to capture it in the glory in which it is portrayed in many publications. When I went back on the 2nd of July in 2005 we were a few weeks early. The red band that is made up of poppies was not there, so in general the image is pretty drab and uninteresting, to me at least. I’m not going to include the image today for that reason and if you come back to the site in the future, it may well have been pruned out, but for now, if you take a look at image number 674 on my Web site you’ll see what I mean.
When I went back this year, the poppies had started to bloom, and the scene was very much how I wanted to shoot it, but not quite there. Again, I realized that the timing of my visit was a little early, and I’d kind of expected it as the weather has not been great this year so far. I could see though that the field was very close. One more week and it would be perfect, so I bore this in mind over the next few days and I actually changed my plans and extended the trip by one day so that I could come back here one more time before getting the ferry back to the mainland the following week. I’ll discuss the results of this final day’s shoot in the last episode of this series in a week or so, but for now, let’s take a look at something that I did shoot here on this first visit on July 14th.
In image number 1049, you can see how sparsely the poppies were blooming. I love this particular photo, and it is different from the majority of shots of this field that I’ve seen, so the result of what I initially found disappointing is that I’m very, very pleased to have visited at this time. In the background you can see the violet, pale white, dark green and light green, and the orange and purple striped that colour the hill and the undulation of the hill itself, but I’ve used my new 70-200mm F2.8 lens wide open to throw even the poppies in the background out of focus, turning them into just red splodges. I shot this scene at a number of different apertures and I actually was torn between this shot and the F22 version, but I was drawn to the shot by the single pail pink poppy in a field of red, and this is what I focused on. So to draw the viewer’s attention to that rather than the entire scene, I chose this version. I also find the red splodges more aesthetic than a sharp image, even though it would have more to look at. Another thing to note here is that I’ve gone around the back of the hill and am looking through the line of trees back down the hill for this shot. The designated spot for shooting your, “I’ve been to Farm Tomita” shot is the opposite side.
Poppies Starting to Bloom
This image was shot without any exposure compensation in Aperture Priority mode as there was nothing challenging exposure-wise. As I said, the aperture was wide open at F2.8 with a shutter speed of 1/1000th of a second and ISO 100. One other thing to note about this shot is that the Landscape Picture style does make the reds very Velvia. This won’t mean much to those that have never shot Velvia slide film, but it has very saturated reds and is rumoured to be what this Picture Style is based on. The problem with this picture style and to a similar degree with Velvia film is that the reds get blown-out or over-saturated quite easily. We usually use the term blown out for white highlights, and there may well be a proper word for this with colour if it is not over-saturated, but basically the result is the same as a blown out highlight. What this means is that you basically loose all detail in the patch of colour and you end up with unnatural fringing.
In the past, to overcome this I started changing the Picture Style to Standard, which tones down the colours to prevent this. Remember that I shoot nothing but RAW and so I can make this decision on seeing the results in post-processing and don’t have to worry about it in the field. The problem with this though is that is tones down the colours throughout, and I don’t want that. I was a Velvia shooter in my film days, and do prefer nice saturated colours for much of my work. What I did for this and the next image was, in Photoshop, create a Saturation Adjustment Layer and lower select Just red in the pulldown to only adjust the red layer. Then I lowered red to around -20. What that does though of course is lowers the red saturation for the entire image, but I don’t want to do that. There are only a few areas that are over-saturated, so I only want to see this effect on those areas. To do that, I add a mask to the adjustment layer by clicking the mask button on the layer pallete, and then fill it with black with the paint bucket to hide the effect across the entire image. Then I take a paint brush and use white to paint over the areas that are over saturated, revealing the -20 saturated red from beneath the mask. This allows me to selectively tone down the blown-out reds.
Let’s also take a look at image number 1051, as I used that technique with this image too. I’ve toned down some of the reds in the blurred poppies in the foreground and background, but the reason I wanted to look at this image is because in this case, even parts of the main subject on the right were over-saturated. It’s not easy to see in the small sized Web version, but there are some water drops on the bottom of the main subjects petals, and around this area was also way too red, to the point where some of the detail in the shadows and water droplets were also lost. When I was using the same technique that I just explained to lower the saturation on these highlights, I could actually watch the detail and texture of the petals dropping back in before my eyes. What this has allowed me to do is to keep the overall incredibly rich red that attracted me to these flowers, but not at the cost of overly saturated highlights.
Really Red Poppy
On the technical side, as I was working very close to the camera’s minimum focusing distance here, I closed the aperture down to F5.6 to get the whole flower head of the main subject in focus, and had -1 stop of exposure compensation as the background was pretty dark and this would have over-exposed the flowers. This resulted in a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second with ISO 100. Due to the harsh sunlight by now I was also using a large reflector positioned at the bottom left of the frame in relation to this shot to bounce some light back into the shadows of the poppy. If you take a look at the time I shot this image, it was only 8:39AM, but the sun rises around 4AM in Japan at this time of year, so it was now well past the golden hours.
In the next image which is number 1053, we can see what at first might appear to be a composite image. We have a line of birch trees climbing a hill but the striking thing about this is the hill itself is not green but violet. This is the original field of lavender that is responsible for the success of Farm Tomita. There’s a plaque near here explaining, but some fifty years ago, the bottom had dropped out of the lavender market, and the owner of the farm was in his tractor ready to plough this field up. He just couldn’t bring himself to do it though, and left it as it is. All the other farmers in the area stopped growing lavender and threw away their seeds, except this one guy. A number of years later, the market came back, and then as Japan became a wealthier country and people started to enjoy traveling around the country more, this became a tourist spot. I don’t know the figures, but it would not surprise me now if this guy makes more now from selling ice cream, melons and dried flower ornaments to tourists than he makes from directly from the lavender for which it’s famous. The farm is still a working farm, and you can see them making lavender oil in one of the buildings still today, but I’m sure this is no longer the main source of income. This image was shot at F11 for 1/13th of a second with ISO 100. Minus 2/3 of a stop exposure compensation stopped the trees and field from becoming overexposed due to the shadows near the middle of the frame. Apart from that there’s nothing special technically about this image. Note that I aligned the intersection of the diagonal hill and the trees with the bottom right hand corner of the frame to create a triangle of the lavender field.
Lavender Field with Birch Trees
Now although I did have my 100-400mm lens in my vest pocket, I decided to try my new 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens with the 1.4 Extender, making it a 98, virtually a 100 to 280mm lens. I was actually surprised to find that not only does the center focusing point work with this extender, but all of the focusing points still work. I guess this is because even with the extender we’re still at F4 throughout the focal length range of the lens. This was a nice surprise. The not so nice thing was that I had actually tried contact lenses for this trip in a bid to get rid of the problem of light entering the finder through the gap between my eyes and my glasses, and was experiencing incredibly bad headaches through these first few days. At the end of this day I think it was, I stopped using them, and the headaches cleared up a day or so later, but at the point of shooting this, I remember feeling that is was very difficult to keep my creative juices flowing. Having said this it was also very difficult to walk away from the fields of various flowers that the people at Farm Tomita plants for the pleasure of the tourists that flock there each day in the summer. I love the oranges playing off with the pale whites in this image. I focused on the orange poppy sticking out of the batch in the foreground here and used an aperture of F4 to render the poppies in the background as orange blotches amongst the white as I did with the red poppies in the earlier shot. As the shot is mainly white, I added two thirds exposure compensation to prevent under exposure and keep the oranges bright. The ISO was 100 and shutter speed 1/400th of a second.
After a Lavender ice cream and buying two packs of two $25 melons for family and friends, we headed off to Biei a twenty or thirty minute drive north of Furano. Biei was made famous as a scenically beautiful place really by the photographer Shinzou Maeda. Unfortunately Shinzou Maeda passed away a few years ago, but he left the Takushinkan, which is his photo gallery. There’s also a few small fields of flowers here a small path to walk amongst some silver birch trees. It’s literally just a few hundred feet, but it makes a nice change and it was actually quite cool in there under the broken canopy of leaves that we can see in image number 1058. For this image I used my 16-35mm F2.8 lens at 17mm and pointed it up at probably around an 80 degree angle. Not quite straight up, so that you can see the trunks of many of the trees in the foreground, but also trees from my side and from behind me also converge in the shot, with a similar effect as a 360 degree panorama. This was shot at 1:26PM and you might be able to make out that the sun was almost directly overhead in the top third of this shot here. To stop the trees and the leaves from being underexposed I added two stops of exposure compensation. This meant that what was basically a blue in other parts of the sky at least, was rendered pure white, but we kept the green in the leaves and the tree trunks white. An aperture of F8 is plenty to render most of the shot in focus at a 17mm focal length, and I didn’t want to go much smaller as the shutter speed was already 1/40th of a second, and I was hand-holding. I could have gone slower, but it is really not necessary depth of field wise.
Now, the next shot, number 1059 is about as far as I currently like to go in Photoshop with regards to manipulating images. Towards the end of the first day that started in Furano and was now ending in Biei, I was standing shooting on the top of a hill, looking out across this amazing dramatic sky. The problem was, there was three stops difference between a correctly exposed sky, and correctly exposed hills. With a nice line across the distant mountain tops, this was a perfect candidate for a gradual neutral density filter shot, which until recently I would have done. But now, I prefer to shoot two images, one for the highlights, and one for the shadows, and merge them in Photoshop. I allow myself to do this as I’m really just mimicking what I can do with the filter, but this way not only allows me to fine tune where I join the two images, but also it makes me faster in the field. I don’t need to mess around getting my gradual NDs out and lining them up etc. What you see here is two images, both shot at F16, with the sky exposed for 1/160th of a second and the hills exposed for 1/25th of a second. I’ve reduced the saturation of the hills as them being correctly exposed made them quite green. The method was similar to that I mentioned earlier, but I applied a mask to the sky which was pasted in as a layer, then painted over the sky with white to reveal it, leaving the hills concealed to allow the correctly exposed hill to remain in the shot. Note too that I’d switched to manual mode following some test shots to see how many stops difference there was between the hills and the sky and just shot a number of pairs of images with the three stops difference as the sky changed. This is the pair I chose to use. I would draw the line at using a sky from a totally different time from the hills, as this is something that I could not do with a physical gradual ND filter. This is just my own personal rules. You don’t have to agree with it.
Sky over Biei
The following day, I went back to the Biei area, and just had a lazy day, driving around the hills, picking out areas of interest to shoot, like the closeup of some barley in image number 1063. There’s really nothing technically challenging about this. It was shot with my new baby, the 70-200mm F2.8 at F2.8 for 1/2500th of a second at ISO 100. I’m really just playing with the textures of the barley against the golden backdrop that the wide aperture creates for us. I’ve shot a number of other images, including one that I’ve uploaded right across the way from where I shot this, and as I did last week, I’ll include a link to see all the images from the Hokkaido trip to the show notes. Right now, I’ve only managed to process the first two days worth of shots. The same link will start to show you more images as I get them uploaded, so you’ll eventually be able to see all the shots from the 8 days I was in Hokkaido by the time I’ve completed this series.
Reflection in Rice Paddy
The following day I was going to head off to a different part of Hokkaido, but for today, let’s close with one last shot, which is number 1064, of the sun reflecting in the corner of a rice paddy at the end of my second day. This was shot at 5:20PM, around 1 hour 50 minutes before sunset, so the sun was still high enough in the sky to not only clear the hill that it was about to fall behind, but also to reflect back at me in the water of the paddy field. Shot at F16 for 1/30th of a second, ISO 100, this is a simple composition, but the repeating patterns make for a pleasing image. There is actually a line of rice shoots coming in from the bottom left to break up the monotony a little and then as I say, the sun reflecting in there adds a nice touch. You’ll also notice a touch of flare in the bottom right below the sun’s reflection, but this doesn’t bother me too much and I perhaps even like it being there adding to the sun’s effect.
So I hope you’ve enjoyed spending the first two days of the Hokkaido leg of my trip. I will be continuing to talk about the trip for the next two or three weeks, until I’ve covered all shots that I think will be either interesting from a technical or an artistic point of view, or maybe just because I like them and want to share them with you. I’ve still not gotten through the post processing of the remaining days though, so I’m not sure exactly how many episodes this will take.
I was reminded over the weekend that the Podcast Awards nominations had been announced and unfortunately this Podcast was not included. If you voted, thanks for trying. This is very much appreciated. I’m really not all that cut-up by the fact that we were not nominated, as I myself don’t do a good job of marketing this Podcast. Having said this, it’s really a time thing. Just preparing for and creating this Podcast each week already eats up a lot of my spare time, so I need your help to make this Podcast the best that it can be, and to do that, we need to grow it. I hear constantly how much you guys enjoy the Podcast, you like the content and delivery etc. and you definitely want me to continue. Many of you have told me that you have subscribed to many photography Podcasts and this remains your favourite. Wow! What a compliment is that!
I know too that many of you try hard to spread the word and I am infinitely grateful to you for this. But without a much larger listener base we really just aren’t going to even make a dent against some of the other shows when it comes to getting this show rating in things like the Podcast Awards or Podcast Alley etc.
In one months time we’ll be a year old. The first episode was released on the 1st of September 2005. Let’s try and give the show a boost as a first birthday present by getting serious about spreading the word. As I asked last week, please think of any friends or family that you think might be interested in this Podcast, and forward them a link martinbaileyphotography.com or direct to the Podcasts Page. There’s also a small button that you can copy from a post in the forum and link-back to this site. I’ll put a link to this in the show notes. It would be great if we can see a jump in listeners next month for the first anniversary and finally start to be in with a chance to make a dent in the Photography Podcast scene.
I hope I’m not overstepping my mark by asking you guys to do this, and humbly request your assistance. Thanks again for listening today, and have a great week doing whatever you do. Bye bye.