Last Friday I spent a few hours in the Jindai Botanical Park, my local park, and the reason I moved to Chofu in Tokyo eleven years ago. I took a gimbal that I use to steady my Canon EOS R5 and a new 7″ monitor that I’ve bought for it, partly to test my setup, but I also have wanted to provide some video footage of the Autumn leaves for some time now, so I made my visit into a little project to make a video, basically taking you along with me for “A Stroll in the Park”. I edited the video relatively quickly after getting home on Friday, and then on Sunday, with a rough idea of what I wanted to do for music, I spent a few hours creating what I think is a relatively relaxing piano track that I timed to perfectly match the length of the video. I also set the tempo to a relatively steady pace, as I wanted it to complement just walking through the park.
Here is the resulting video, which I hope you enjoy, and we go on for the Podcast today to explain some of the things I did to make the video and I’ll talk about some of my favorite photographs as well.
So, let’s talk about the process and the photos, etc. as well. First up, here are two photos of the gear that I took with me, out on my table in the studio as I prepared, and packed it into my bag. I also attached my tripod to the bag before we left. As you can see, the gimbal doesn’t really fit into my current bag, so I’m thinking of options that will better suit this type of gear, but for the purposes of this little project, I was fine with just dropping the gimbal into my large vest pocket when not in use.
The Jindai Botanical Park has a number of car parks nearby, and I select which one I use based on what I want to do. The large car park near the main entrance is generally fine, but as you pay by the hour, it can turn out quite pricy. We were in the park for just under three hours, and the car park cost $8 or ¥800. If we want to have a walk through the little group of shops or visit the water garden at the other end of the park, there are some private car parks that charge ¥800 for a whole day, so if I know I’m going to be in the park for more than three hours, I generally park in a private car park near the Jindai Temple.
On this day though, we parked near the main entrance and walked through to the pond where there is a little pagoda that my wife and I generally visit first when we get to the park and enter through the main gate. I sat on one of the benches there and set up my gimbal, so that is where the video starts. I then shot some footage as we walked through the park, along the brook that fills the pond, and across the quaint little stepping stones that I included in the video, then on through one of the main rest areas to the area where the maple trees are that turn yellow and red at this time of year.
I didn’t use what I call the rolling legs technique to steady the video more than the gimbal would already do, for two reasons. The main one being I didn’t want to look like an idiot while on a walk in the park with my wife. If I was on a professional job, I would have bent my legs and walked as steadily as possible, but it wasn’t a professional job, it was a walk in the park. And that is the second reason. I really just wanted the video to feel like you were strolling along beside me, and as you’ll see, the gimbal does a great job of steadying the center of the frame, so you don’t feel nauseous, but the edges of the frame move with my footsteps, so you can see that we’re walking.
I edited the footage to a number of clips that lead us through the park then walk through the maple trees while filming, to give you a feel for the atmosphere. I love this area of the park and don’t think I’ve visited in any season without walking through there, and I think the video helps you to understand why. Once I get to the end of the path, I turn around and come back to the center, but then I packed away the gimbal, and spend another hour or so shooting stills and video with my 100-500mm lens, mostly zoomed all the way to 500mm. All of the footage while walking through the park was shot at around 35mm and I zoomed out to 24mm while walking through the maple trees to show a little more of the colorful canopy.
We’ll look through a number of stills that I shot now, and if you watch the video, you’ll notice that most of them are the same framing as the clips shot from various positions along the maple tree path. In this first shot, we see some of the yellow maple leaves but can also see some patches of orange, which I’ve not noticed in the past. I wondered if the conditions this year would give rise to some hybrid colors if that’s possible, so I’m going to try to go back in a week or so before these leaves fall if only to check.
At 500mm with this lens, my widest aperture is ƒ/7.1, and that was what I shot all of today’s images at, so I won’t keep repeating this. There are also only two that were not shot at 500mm, so I won’t repeat that either. I did most of my exposure manipulation with the ISO and shutter speed, and this was shot at 1/400 of a second, at ISO 400. Once I’ve found some leaves that appeal to me, I start to look at their background and see if there is an angle that I can shoot from that gives me a pleasing background.
When Canon first announced the RF 100-500mm lens, there was the usual spate of complaints that you see online, and one of the main ones was that the aperture at 500mm was too small at ƒ/7.1, but as you can see from this and the rest of the images today, at 500mm ƒ/7.1 provides plenty of smooth bokeh, both in the background and foreground. Complaining about this aperture shows nothing more than a lack of understanding of depth of field.
This next image is a contrast from what I usually shoot. These leaves were in the shadows underneath some brightly lit leaves, but I really like how they fell into almost complete darkness and showed only as silhouettes against the patches of lighter bokeh in the background. This sort of shot is one of the few times that I don’t use my usual expose to the right technique. I could have exposed to the right then darkened this down, but it’s not necessary to get good image quality. I dropped my ISO to 160 for this at 1/200 of a second.
I used the same ISO and a shutter speed of 1/160 of a second for this next shot, where the orange leaves were getting a lick of light, and you can see the darker leaves from the previous shot just poking into the bottom of the frame here.
You’ll notice in the video that the contrast between the shadow areas and the spots that get lit through gaps in the canopy can be quite great, and this is one of the reasons that I like this spot. I like to work with extremes, as they provide creative opportunities. Without the shadows, the highlights wouldn’t work in many of these images.
The following image though is all about the contrast between the colors yellow and green.
I sampled 10 of the key colors from this image automatically in an application called Spectrum that I use when I’m curious about the colors in an image, and really like the color palette from this image. We can also see in the second screenshot here that all of the colors are neighbors on the color wheel, and neighboring colors are generally complementary, but there is enough contrast in the colors to separate the elements out.
We’re back to more of a light and dark contrast in this next image though, as I once again play with the shadows and highlights in these beautiful leaves and their backgrounds. Notice too how I have positioned the batch of leaves just left of center over a darker area of the background, to give them the separate required to appreciate their form. This image was one of the two that I pulled back from 500 to 428 millimeters to get the framing that I wanted. With my shutter speed at 1/160 of a second, I also increased my ISO to 640 for this exposure.
I have to admit though, and long-time listeners may also recall, that I do have a soft spot for the yellow leaves that we see in this following image. Especially with the dark background, I’ve enjoyed shooting this kind of image at this location for probably around fifteen years now, even when I lived in the center of Tokyo, and sometimes drove out here to Chofu to visit this park. I also pulled back a little for this photo to 451 millimeters. I dropped my ISO to 100 for this, with a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second.
Between all of these shots, I was, of course, switching into video mode, and I left my little RODE mic on top of the camera the whole time so that I could capture the ambient sounds. There is also one point in the video where you hear the large temple bell, which I believe rang out at noon. I always find the sound of these big bells very soothing, so I was happy to have included that in the video.
Next, we see some of the deep red leaves that are at the start of the path through the maple trees. Again, I enjoy the contrast between the dark patches in the background and the out-of-focus other red leaves. We’re back to 500mm for this and the rest of the images, and my ISO was at 250 and my shutter speed was also 250th of a second.
The following image may be worked better towards the end of the video, but I do like the light and dark areas of this image, with the dark tree trunk separating the two sides. You’ll notice how in the video, with this, and many of the cuts, I focussed on a patch of leaves in the foreground before moving the focus out to the red leaves. I enjoy the out-of-focus areas of images and like to play with that when shooting video as well. I’m still focusing with the focus ring on the lens mind. I haven’t invested in a focusing setup for the gimbal, as I’m generally doing OK with the lens, although you’ll probably notice that I did shake the camera a little a few times in the video.
This final image is a reflection on the surface of the brook that runs through the park. For this, I focussed on the silhouetted maple leaves against the patch of red, but as you’ll see in the closing scene of the video, there were many layers to this image as I focussed through to eventually settle on the leaves sitting on top of the water, before fading to black for the ending credits.
Since DSLR cameras became video aware I’ve been shooting what I call moving stills, which are generally around 30-second clips framed like photos, but when you look closer they are moving. There is one section in the video where the leaves are so still, if it wasn’t for one leaf rotating on a thread of a spider’s web, you’d think it actually was a still photograph, but everything in the video is video, with no stills.
I’ll put B&H links to the main gear used in the show notes for this episode, and will follow up soon with an episode dedicated to talking more about the Weebill-S gimbal and supporting kit that I’m using with this. I also have a bit of information on what to avoid when buying a gimbal for the Canon EOS R5 and EOS R, so stay tuned for that if you are interested. All in all, it was a fun little project, and I enjoyed the entire process, and I hope you enjoyed joining me for a stroll in the park.
Today I walk you through two days of shooting in the beautiful Oriase Keiryu, which is a mountain stream not far from Towada Lake in Aomori, the northern-most prefecture of Honshu, the main island of Japan.
At the end of October, one of my best friends here in Japan got married, and my wife and I were invited. The wedding was near my friend’s home in Akita, a prefecture of Japan way up north, on the western Japan Sea side of Honshu, the main island of Japan. The wedding was incredible, easily the largest wedding I’ve been to, with around 150 guests, and we had a great weekend meeting some other old friends from my college days here in Japan.
As the wedding coincided with the fall color in some areas up north, we decided to drive there, taking my camera gear and rainproof clothing, and extend the trip by a few days to pull in a visit to one of my favourite spots in that area, the Oirase Mountain Stream.
Long time listeners might remember that we discussed photos from this area back in 2006, in episode 46, and again in episode 200 from 2009, after my second visit to the area. Both previous visits were in the summer time, when the trees were beautifully green, and the weather decidedly warmer. I’d always wanted to visit during the fall color though, so this was the perfect excuse to extend our trip.
As we expected, the only problem with visiting at this time is that the area is full of tourists, but we were still able to pull the car over at many of the most picturesque spots, and walked along the river up to a few miles at a time. It rained most of the two days, but that’s how I like it. The colors are literally more saturated when it rains, and the cloud covers removes the need to deal with contrast and harsh shadows, although I do have one shot when the sun came out that we’ll look at for comparison.
Choushi Ohtaki Falls
Our first stop was at the Choushi Ohtaki Falls, as we see in this image (below). As you can also see here, the usual brown coloured leaves had pretty much all fallen from the trees, but this makes the remaining Kaede, or maple leaves looking more prominent, as they seem to fall just a little bit later than the other coloured leaves.
Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall
I actually don’t buy into the strong foreground school of thought when it comes to photography. I see a lot of people these days shooting images with lots of foreground elements, and quite often I feel as though these are forced, as people try hard to compose images as they’ve been told they should.
I really think that you should only include foreground objects when they either really add to the image, or when you simply cannot remove them without plunging to your death or into a river for example. Even then, the foreground better look acceptable, or the photo may not be worth making. In this photo, I actually really like the foreground.
I think the logs help to lead the eye into the image, or lead it back into the image from the bottom edge once you’ve viewed the rest of the image. There was one obviously cut log in that little pool on the bottom left, which I didn’t like, but when I cropped that out in camera, I lost some of the natural logs, and the composition felt forced again, so I went wider, and removed the cut log in Photoshop.
After a walk along the river for a while, we walked back to the car, which took us back past the falls, and I shot this image from a higher vantage point. There are actually wooden stairs that run along the side of the valley at this point, so I set up my tripod with one leg shortened, resting on the hand-rail, and the other two at different lengths on the steps. The problem with this of course is that every time someone walks on the stairs, they shake, ruining your photo if you don’t watch out for this.
Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall (Higher Perspective)
I think I must have spent around 20 minutes blowing the water droplets off the front of my lens, as I waited for a break in the almost constant flow of tourists, and managed to get a few frames during the lulls. The previous photo we looked at was shot at 28mm with my 24-70mm lens, and for this shot, I’d changed to my 16-35mm and made this photo at 17mm. The first image was a 1.3 second exposure, and this was 0.8 seconds. Both were shot with an aperture of f/14 and the ISO set to 100.
I was using an ND8 neutral density filter to reduce the exposure by three stops, so that the water looks like it’s flowing like this. Some people say that this is too long, but it’s personal preference. Personally I like to shoot waterfalls with between a half and a one and half second exposure. A quarter of a second is really as short as you want to go if you like that flowing water feel, and of course, the shorter the exposure, the more texture you’ll capture in the water itself.
The trade off with long exposures in areas where there are leaves or other moving elements in the frame of course, is that you can capture a lot of leaf movement. I personally quite like that sometimes, and I feel it can add some dynamism, but it can also sometimes be distracting, so I try to wait for moments when the wind dies down when possible, as well as capturing the movement when it works.
The Mountain Stream
Here’s another shot from a little further down the river (below). Again we can see that the brown leaves had pretty much all fallen, with many on that rock in the bottom right, and this also results in many bear trees in the shot too, which was in some ways disappointing, but it does help the Japanese maple leaves to really stand out, and in my opinion give the shot a someone Japanese feel to it, which I like.
Oirase Keiryu (Mountain Stream)
This was again shot at ISO 100 at f/14, but this time with a 3.2 second exposure. I like to go a little longer when possible, when there isn’t a waterfall in the shot. Waterfalls can go a little bit too soft for my liking as you go much past a second, but just for flowing water, I like the really smooth look of longer exposures.
Here’s another similar shot (below), which again feels quite Japanese to me, with the yellow maple on the left, almost looking like something out of a traditional Japanese garden. I’m happy enough with the foreground here. The rocks aren’t too uninteresting with a bit of moss and other leaves growing on them.
Oirase Keiryu (Mountain Stream)
It was actually getting dark by the time I shot this photo, so I had removed the ND8, and still had a shutter speed of 0.8 seconds, but that’s why you can see a little more texture in the water than the previous shot.
High-Tech Weatherproofing for the 5D Mark III
It was raining again as we started shooting the following day, and here’s a photo of my high-tech rain-cover for my 5D Mark III. People often ask what I do to protect my cameras in the rain, so I figured I’d show you. This is literally just a cloth. It’s actually a “tenugui” which is a long piece of cloth, often with a nice pattern or a printed scene or character on it, and over the years I’ve inadvertently become a bit of a collector. I probably have around 20 of these, but I find them really useful for various things, including keeping my camera dry, so I generally have one in my pocket at all times.
I never cover my lenses, because they are all weatherproof L lenses. I just drape or tie the tenugui around the body like this. It doesn’t keep the body totally dry, but the wicking effect stops the water from building up so much that it starts to make its way into the camera. I take the tenugui off when I’m using the camera, and just give the camera a wipe, and then when it gets full of water, I wring it out, and continue using it.
Use this technique at your own risk though. If you want your camera to be totally dry, I recommend getting a rain cover, but that’s hypocritical, because I never use one. If I really need weather proofing, I use my 1D X, which is totally weather sealed.
If you fell for Canon’s marketing blurb about the 5D Mark III being better weather sealed than the Mark II, you might also think it’s weather sealed, but I can assure you it isn’t. I tested that marketing blurb in Iceland last year and killed my 5D Mark III after almost a day in the rain. All they did was improve the weather sealing in a few areas, but the camera is not fully weatherproof.
Rainproof Clothing & Hat
In general us humans are pretty well sealed again water, but getting wet, especially when it’s cold can make you miserably uncomfortable, so it’s important to keep yourself dry too of course. As you can see in this iPhone photo courtesy of my wife (below), I generally wrap up in rainproof pants and jacket, and that incredibly fashionable red hat that I’m wearing is GoreTex too. It’s the Seattle Sombrero from Outdoor Research, and I’ve been very happy with it so far.
Martin in Oirase Keiryu
I like the wide brim on this hat because it does stop the rain from running down my face. Woollen beanies are great for keeping warm, but when it rains, unless you can find one with a GoreTex lining, they can be pretty miserable to wear, and depending on your lodgings, they sometimes don’t dry overnight either, and there’s nothing worse than pulling on a cold wet hat as you head out the next morning. Well, there probably is, but it’s better avoided if possible.
Note that I also have the rain cover on my Gura Gear Bataflae 26L back pack as well. The Bataflae is OK with light rain, but when I’m going to be out in heavier rain, or for long periods in the rain, I generally use the cover. It slips over the bag easily, so isn’t a pain to use at all, even when you are accessing the contents of the bag relatively often.
To give you an idea of how the quality of light changes, here’s a photo when the sun came out for a few minutes during our visit. I don’t necessarily dislike this photograph, but my personal preference is definitely for overcast. The leaves were still wet, so are still more saturated than when they are dry, but I’m not a fan of the increased contrast that the sunlight brings. Let me know what you think in the comments of this post. I’d certainly be interested in your opinion on this too.
Oirase Keiryu (in direct sun)
It really wasn’t that long before the rain came down again, and for a minute or two, it rained while there was still some direct sunlight coming down into the valley, which I tried to capture to a degree in this photo (below). It’s not one of my best, but I am attracted to the quality of light in this image. I used a shutter speed of 1/100th of a second so that the rain drops would elongate slightly, emphasising the rain fall. You might not be able to really make that out in the web version mind.
Fall Leaves in Rain
There are large parts of the river that looked decidedly drab without many leaves left on the trees at all, but before we left, we did find this one last spot, where the river flows either side of a small island, and there were plenty of Kaede trees still in full colour here (below).
Oirase Keiryu (Mountain Stream)
I shot this at 1/4 of a second at f/16, ISO 100, with my 24-70mm at 55mm. Notice how I framed either side of the image with the large tree trunks. It’s often a difficult decision, whether or not to frame like this, but I felt it worked here, ending either side of the frame nicely, as there wasn’t much more of interest after these two trees.
It’s a seven hour drive back to Tokyo in good traffic, or ten hours if Tokyo get’s busy, as it did for us the following day. Either way, it’s not practical to drive back after a shoot in Oirase, so we’d arranged to stay for two nights. This also gave me a chance to go back and rephotograph the wooden jetty that I photographed here back in May of 2009.
The 2009 version was one of my favorite photographs of that year, and has remained in my Nature of Japan portfolio since too, but I like the results of this return visit too, as we can see here (below). This is out the back of a small cafe on the Towada Lake, and unfortunately the old lady that we met there five years ago has had a stroke, and now living in a nursing home. Her son is currently running the cafe though, so it was nice to talk with him for a while, over our hot chocolate, and between my visits out the back to make another exposure.
Towada Lake Jetty 2014
The jetty has been cut back by about 5 meters since I photographed it before, but this time I shot it from further back, and for this particular frame, I had my tripod much lower than before. This was a 3 minute 40 second exposure, during which snow cloud started to make its way down the bank of trees on the other side of the lake.
The wind got up and it started raining on our side, so when I checked the camera after this exposure, there were large droplets of water on the front of the lens. The weather stopped play after this, as it wasn’t going to work with the long exposure and the rain, so I was happy that I was able to clone out most of the water droplets for this shot. The ones before this were from a higher perspective and with a much cleaner line across the top of the far bank, which I didn’t like as much.
I converted this to black and white in Silver Efex Pro, and had initially added a bit of a vignette to make the top of the photo darker, matching the dark bottom corners, but I removed that later, as I also like the lighter area at the top. The vignette on the bottom corners is natural. It was almost totally dark by the time this exposure finished, and I was not using a neutral density filter at this point.
Monthly Wallpaper Subscription
Note that I will be making this last photograph my monthly wallpaper for December, before we switch to a few beautiful winter scenes in January and February. I actually released the first photograph that we looked at today as November’s wallpaper, and as a special bonus, if you subscribe to my monthly wallpaper during November, I’ll throw in the Choushi Ohtaki Waterfall shot for free. That’s in addition to the ten wallpaper that you also get free when you subscribe, and that is of course followed by a new image every month for as long as you stay subscribed. Click on the link below to subscribe and for more details, visit https://mbp.ac/monthlywp
OK, so we’ll start to wrap it up there for today. I hope you enjoyed our visit to Oirase, after a five year hiatus. I have to tell you, I really enjoyed shooting the fall colour here in Japan for the first time in a few years too. I have been traveling at this time or simply too busy to get out for the last few years, so this was a welcome couple of days. I’m now trying to make time to get into the mountains closer to Tokyo before this area stops now too, though I fear I might already be too late on that one. 🙂
I’d also like to let you know that I might be updating the theme on our Web site again over the next week. I’m doing some final tests at the moment, and will probably go ahead with another switch, but I’ll do this on the live site, so things might look a bit weird as I gradually make the necessary changes. Just to let you know.