Podcast 201 : Towada Lake Images

Podcast 201 : Towada Lake Images

While in Aomori photographing the beautiful Oirase Mountain Stream, I stayed in a hotel at the Towada Lake, which is about 10 to 15 minutes away from the road that runs along the mountain stream that we looked at last week.

The Towada Lake is really beautiful when in full Autumnal color, but I was hoping that there’d be some opportunities while I was there, and there were a few, as we’ll see.

Pleasure Boat at Pier

Pleasure Boat at Pier

First up, let’s take a look at a pretty dramatic sky that I captured in image number 2317. I took a walk along the shore of the lake with my wife at the end of the first day in the area, before dinner at the hotel. The sun was about an hour from the horizon, but with the mountains, I knew the sun would go down from my perspective a little earlier, and the clouds were pretty dramatic too, so I was hoping something nice would happen. There are a number of pleasure boats that take tourists out for a spin around the lake during the day, and one of them was moored up at this long concrete jetty on the other side to where the sun was, so I set up my tripod, straddling the closed gate to the pier, and as I did so, the sun started to break through the gaps in the heavy clouds, and just as I was ready to shoot I was presented with this beautiful fan of sun rays. I wasn’t quite lined up with the center of the pier yet, as we can see by the lines, but as the whole shot was never going to be totally balanced with the boat on one side, I am not worried about this at all, though I did correct this in the next image we’ll look at.

I had planned to do some long exposures here, which I also did, but before we look at them there’s some other stuff to touch on for this image. To start with, the reason I didn’t do a long exposure here, was because if I had, those sun rays would have moved and the whole dramatic effect would have been lost. I could have gone with a slower shutter speed than I did, at 1/320 of a second, and still have got the rays captured OK, but I also wanted to leave some texture in the water for this shot too, which would have started to blur out had I gone much slower. The other reason as well of course, is that this all happened very quickly, and had I started to mess around with my neutral density filters at this point, the shot would have been gone, so I really just had to think quickly, and capture the image, and I’m pleased that I was able to do that. There was a lot of contrast in the original actually. To bring out detail in the front of the boat that we see here, I increased the fill light a little in Lightroom. I also used the local adjustments brush in Lightroom to lighten up everything from the horizon upwards, except the boat. This was required to bring out detail in the clouds, as they were very dark compared to the bright sunlight pouring through them.

Al, who just played us in will laugh when I say that I have recently bought Silver Efex Pro from Nik Software. I’d been resisting this for a while, but broke down recently and bought the whole suite actually. I’ll go into that in more detail in a future podcast, but for now, I just wanted to say that I used Silver Efex Pro to do the black and white conversion here as a final step. Although I could have done something similar in Lightroom, I love the overall feel of the images I get from converting in Silver Efex Pro, and the control you have over the process is very nice. Overall I think the final image is well balanced and worth spending a few minutes on, which is exactly a few minutes longer than I usually spend on my images in post processing.

Pleasure Boat at Pier

Pleasure Boat at Pier

From this same place, though I moved very slightly to the right, I shot the next image, number 2318. Now this has a different feel from the last one, as you can see, I did a long exposure here. Both this and the last image were shot at F11, but compared to the 320th of a second that I shot the last image at, here the exposure was 30 seconds. I also dropped the ISO from 100 to 50 to help me get this slow, but I had also coupled an ND8 Neutral Density filter with an ND400. This gives me almost 12 stops of darkness, as the ND8 is three stops, and the ND400 is nine stops. That would actually have worked out at 40 seconds including the extra stop from the ISO change, but I didn’t want to spend the time to get the self timer remote switch out, so I went with the longest exposure I can set on the camera, which is 30 seconds, or a difference of 11.5 stops slower than my first exposure of 1/320, again, including that ISO change from 100 to 50. I wasn’t thinking about this too much at the time, but the clouds were thinning out now, so the sky was burning out more now than the previous shot. In hind-sight, this all worked out pretty well for me.

Again, I did a little bit of post process to bring out detail in the front of the boat, and had to use a little highly recovery to bring the blown out highlights around the sun a little more under control, but the sky was brighter in general now, so there was no local adjustments needed for this shot, just a bit of slider work in Lightroom before I again converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro. In comparison to the first shot we looked at, you’ll notice that the water has smoothed over to lose most of its texture, especially on the right side where the sun is hitting it more, and I really quite like this effect. Again, I kind of like this look, as with the longer exposures I’m doing of the moving water and waterfalls that we looked at last week. The clouds here also are flowing out of the top of the frame because of the long exposure, which I also find quite pleasing.

The only color image that we’re going to look at today is from the afternoon of the following day. As I’d pretty much worked the mountain stream as much as I wanted to, I decided it was time to be a better husband and just relax with my wife, so we drove back to the hotel, and went for a ride on one of those pleasure boats. I wasn’t expecting to get anything great photographically, but did take my camera, and the 24-70mm F2.8 and 70-200mm F2.8 L lenses. I was pleasantly surprised to see the scene that I captured as image 2316 though.

Towadako (Lake) Shore

Towadako (Lake) Shore

The plankton in the lake give the water a beautiful cobalt blue coloring when the sun hits it, and with the sun also on this line of trees on the shore, then the dark mountains and heavy detailed sky in the background. I had the camera set to F8 for 1/125 of a second, at ISO 100. I was far enough from the sure that F8 was going to give me plenty of depth-of-field, but I wanted to keep my shutter speed high enough to stop camera shake, as I was shooting from a moving boat, with a certain amount of vibration from the engines. It turned out pretty well with bright foreground and somewhat foreboding sky, and that slightly lighter patch above the mountains. I was happy that I’d take my camera out for our relaxing excursion and I managed to not take many more photos until the evening, when I shot the next two images that we’ll look at.

Night Jetty

Night Jetty

On the way back to the hotel after the cruise around the lake, I noticed the wooden jetty that we can see in image number 2319. I came back later to actually shoot this, when it was getting dark, but as I studied the jetty, it became obvious that it was not publicly accessible. It was out the back of a small café on the side of the lake. We decided to go in for a coffee, and when we’d done, I asked what time the café was open until, and the lady that runs it said they open at 5AM and stay open until 10PM.

Night Jetty

Night Jetty

She lives on the second floor, and so basically is open all the time she’s awake. I asked if it would be OK to photograph the jetty later, and she said that was not a problem. After dinner, we went back, and we were allowed to go out back and start photographing the jetty. I made a number of exposures, the first half of which were using the ND400, for nine stops of darkness before it actually got dark. This first shot that we are looking at was a two and a half minute exposure. The water is almost totally texture-less, and the clouds have blurred nicely as they sometimes crept over the top of the mountains the opposite shore of the lake. There’s still a little detail in the trees at this point, which adds a little texture back, and the sharpness and clarity in the jetty itself are very nice here. Luckily, although this is a wooden jetty, its foundations are wooden pillars firmly set in bed of the lake, so it’s not floating on the water as I had kind of expected. Had it been floating it would have been constantly moving and there would quite possibly have been no picture here, at least not for a two and a half minute exposure.

Having gotten a nice shot in the landscape aspect, I turned the camera on its side for a portrait aspect shot, as we can see in image number 2320. This was shot at 7:40PM, and the sun had gone down almost forty minutes earlier, so it was pretty much dark now. I’d removed the ND filter, as I no longer needed it, and I still needed a 90 second exposure for this at F11. I was using the 24-70mm F2.8 lens by the way. Notice here how the jetty intersects almost perfectly spaces from the bottom corners. Through the viewfinder I’d gotten this close, and then fine tuned the composition almost blindly based on the feedback from my first few exposures. It was also perfectly straight because I use a spirit level in the flash shoe. I didn’t have to do any cropping or rotation though to get this image like this, so I was pretty happy with the alignment. As it was pretty much totally dark at this point, the mountains have lost their detail, but there’s some interest in the sky with the flowing clouds lit by the pretty low light in the middle of nautical twilight. This image also has some light from the café itself too, as the lady had now turned the lights on. The light from the café was pretty warm, compared to the cold natural light outside, but this actually helped to make the jetty stand out in the black and white conversion, again done using Silver Efex Pro.

This image is about as close to Michael Kenna’s work as I think I’d like to get. Of course Michael Kenna’s work is beautiful, but I don’t really want to emulate it. With the jetty and the smooth water, as well as the black and white conversion, I was very much aware that I was getting close to emulating his work here. The scene just cried out for this kind of exposure and post processing though, so I allowed myself the indulgence.

(Note that I have also posted the transcript from Podcast 190 , “Ten Steps to Great Long Exposure Images” as that is pretty relevant to this post.)


Podcast show-notes:

Music from Music Alley: http://www.musicalley.com/


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Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

So, as you just heard, I was over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, a few weeks ago. Today, we start a two part series in which I’m going to talk a little more about the trip, as we look at a few more shots from the day, and I’ll mix in a few tips on how I got some of the shots as usual.

We were played in there by me standing on the shore of Lake Inawashiro in the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan. The wind was high, and the snow was driving at me at almost horizontally. It was impossible to stand looking into the snow and record, so as I said, I turned my back to the wind and snow for most of the time there. It was just after 6:30AM when I started recording that intro, and it was still pretty dark, but getting gradually lighter as I spoke. I was into Civil Twilight though, as I confirmed by using VelaClock, a tool that I use on my iPhone to find out when the various twilights start, and what time the sun will rise. I’ll be talking more about VelaClock in another episode in the near future, so I won’t go into much detail today, but I did want to quickly mention that from the last update, VelaClock now has the ability to select different days in the past or future, which was the last thing I was waiting for, after information on the azimuth at which the sun and moon will rise and set, so now, in my opinion, this is a must have iPhone application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. It also now has the ability to detect your location with the iPhone’s GPS, and give information on that location, or you can input GPS coordinates into the home location for use when planning a trip. I’ll put a link to the VelaClock site in the show-notes, but just search for VelaClock in iTunes App Store and you’ll find it there.

Anyway, the sun was going to rise at about 7AM, but the heavy snow clouds were cutting out a lot of the light. There was no point in just standing there though, waiting for the swans to fly, because like I said, they tend to swim more when it’s gusting as it was, and probably wouldn’t fly in this weather until it got a little warmer after dawn. So, basically, I started to see what could be picked out of the landscape with my 300mm F2.8 and we can see an example of what I captured in image number 2039. You can tell how low the light still was, because I shot with an aperture of F5.6, and I still had to select a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, with ISO 800. In this wind, I was relying heavily on my tripod, and the Image Stabilization, because it really was gusting. Most of the shots were sharp though, as I shot mostly in the moments when the wind died down slightly, and the tripod served me well. Now, I have of course included a man-made object with this jetty that will be used in the summer months to board people onto their swan shaped paddling boat, but right now, it was only serving to add a point of reference in my photo showing how the snow was driving almost horizontally across the scene, and how really cold this place was. It wasn’t really bitterly cold, and nowhere near as cold as it gets in Hokkaido on the dawn shoots, but with the temperature being pretty much at around freezing point without the wind, when you calculate in the wind chill, it must have been around minus 10 or 15 degrees. I don’t know how fast the wind was blowing, so I can’t calculate this accurately.

Blizzard Jetty

Blizzard Jetty

I think I’ve mentioned before, but the main problem with shooting in conditions like this, apart from the obvious things like cold hands and actually seeing, is the fact that the snow hits the front element of your lens as soon as you point the lens directly at it. At this angle, I was still probably around a 45 degree angle away from the snow, and so could play with the scene a little. In the next image, number 2045, I was still working this same patch, just looking for areas of the scene to crop out with my 300mm lens. This was shot at 7:22, almost half an hour after the last shot. The sun was now above the horizon, though of course not lighting this scene, and probably in fact still behind the mounts behind me. The sky was of course though much brighter now, and so I had reduced my ISO to 200, and was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at F5 for this, so much more available light now, although still pretty bleak. This is one of my favourites from this series of shots where I just cropped out portions of the scene. I have uploaded a few more, and I will include a link in the show-notes to list all 30 shots that I uploaded from this day and the previous evening, in case you are interested in taking a look. I like the look of the dark trees with the driving snow and then the slightly soft background, caused by both the shallow depth of field, and the fact that there’s more snow back there. One thing to note here is that to bring out these blacks from the snow storm, I had to increase the black slider in Lightroom to about 20, from the default of 5, and increased the contrast and clarity some too, to bring out the definitions of the shapes a little more.

Snow Storm Trees

Snow Storm Trees

Getting back to the snow on the front element though, as the light levels rose, I really wanted to start shooting the area of the scene in which the swans roost, and so I was going to have to start and point my lens straight into the snow. I find that the only way to shoot in these conditions is to shoot quickly, then wipe the lens. If you only have a bit of water on the lens, you can usually blow it off with a blower, but in conditions like this, the front element gets covered pretty quickly, so there’s no option other than wiping it with a lens cloth. I keep one handy at all times when shooting, and simply had to shoot in bursts, then turn the camera towards me and give the front element a wipe, then shoot again for a few frames.

The other problem of course is that you can’t change the lens very easily, without risking getting snow, and therefore of course water, inside the camera, which is not good. It would probably be worth taking the risk if you really have to, but you would have to be very careful, and when you consider that I needed a long lens on the camera in case the swans did start to fly through the snow, I really didn’t think it was worth taking the risk. So, to capture images like number 2047, I basically turned the camera up into portrait mode, and shot a series of images, moving across the scene at about half a frame at a time, and then stitched them together in Photoshop. This was actually sixteen vertical images stitched together, with lots of overlap in each of course. The resulting image is 16,248 pixels long and 3,658 pixels high. It’s difficult to appreciate this in the Web version of course, but it’s one cool image to view in Photoshop CS4. The reason being that CS4 now uses the computers GPU or graphics processing unit to render images on the screen, and you can now grab the image and as you move it across the screen, the image scrolls fully intact, not like before, where it moved the image with a frame, then re-rendered the image after you let go of it. This means that you can basically zoom in to fill the screen horizontally, then just flick across it, viewing all of the detail in the image. There are a lot of swans in there, just waiting to be seen. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but I’m hoping that before too long I’ll be able to print this out on roll paper, and do a really big long panoramic print of this, to see what it really looks like in its entirety. The stitching was painless by the way. CS4 seems to have made even more improvements to an already good stitching utility.

Swan's Roost

Swan’s Roost

This image was shot at 7:30AM, shortly before I finished the dawn shoot and went back inside for breakfast. I recorded another few minutes of audio before going back though, so let’s listen to that before we finish for today, ready to pick up the shoot after breakfast in the next episode. I kind of feel as though it would be nice to end with this clip, so let’s skip the housekeeping section for this week. Don’t tune out just yet, but I’ll just say thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the VelaClock Application for the iPhone. This is a must have application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. http://www.veladg.com/velaclockapp.html

Music by UniqueTracks.


Audio

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