The Cherry Blossom Comes and Goes for Another Year (Podcast 736)

The Cherry Blossom Comes and Goes for Another Year (Podcast 736)


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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.

Hazakura
Hazakura

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.

Sakura Starburst
Sakura Starburst

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.

Sakurascape
Sakurascape

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.

Foreground Bokeh Sakura
Foreground Bokeh Sakura

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.

Sakura Community
Sakura Community

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.

Peekaboo Sakura
Peekaboo Sakura

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.


Show Notes

You can buy the Canon EOS R5 used for these shots here: https://mbp.ac/EOSR5

And here’s a link to the 100-500mm lens: https://mbp.ac/100-500

And finally, the 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens: https://mbp.ac/RF50mm

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Podcast 332 : Sakura Photo Walk Report – Tokyo 2012

Podcast 332 : Sakura Photo Walk Report – Tokyo 2012

Kind of following on from last week’s Podcast, on my recent visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market, I’m going to step back a few days to the Saturday before that, April 7, when I joined the Sakura Photo Walk in Shinjuku, here in Tokyo. This was the first photo walk I’ve joined, and I wanted to thank Mark Esguerra for calling the group together, and Takahiro Yamamoto too, for leading the group through some of the backstreets of Tokyo around to the Metropolitan Building, and then also finding a great English Pub for us to relax in for the evening.

Use this audio player if you’d prefer to listen and there are other formats at the bottom of the post:

Today, I’m going to show you some of my favorite pics from the day, and talk a little about how valuable I found the experience of actually doing a photo-walk. This was just my first, but it certainly won’t be my last.

We were scheduled to start at 1pm at the main gate to the Shinjuku Gyoen park, but this is a very popular spot for Cherry Blossom viewing parties or Hanami, so when I arrived, about 15 minutes early, there was already a queue of over a thousand people or so at the gate. It turns out that there was a line of security guards checking people’s bags for alcoholic beverages, as they aren’t allowed in the park. This is kind of weird as most Hanami parties include getting totally bladdered under the cherry blossom trees, but I guess they’ve probably had problems in the past and now clamped down on this in the park.

Friendly Faceoff

Friendly Faceoff

It took us to around 2pm to actually gather, and I met Mark for the first time, as well as Takahiro, who’s work I really like, which was nice. I also was able to meet a number of other people that I’ve so far only known from Google Plus, such as Yuga Kurita, who’s actually a carbon-based, bipedal life form descended from a cat, and very nice person too. I also met Masanobu TanzawaAndrew Holian and Jason Thompson, who I’d met online, and Eric Seaholm, who we’ll see later. There were lots of other great people that joined, but it would take too long to mention them all here, so let’s move on for now.

The group quickly split up, and people went their own way around the park. I spent most of my time with Jason Thompson and Eric Seaholm, and we bumped into other members of the group as we walked and photographed. Although we were in Cherry Blossom season, I didn’t go to the park expecting to be able to photograph the cherry blossom as a main subject.

As we can see in this first photo (above) shot almost at the end of the day as the park was closing, the trees were beautiful, but because of the crowds I’d decided from the start to see what I could capture with regards to how the people were enjoying the cherry blossom. This was one of my favorite shots, as we have this western guy having a good chat with a punk looking girl with red and pink hair. I opened the aperture open wide to f/2.8 for a shallow depth-of-field, but you can also still see some women to the right that look as though they’re laughing at the fashion of the younger girl here. I also like how this photo gives you a sense of just how crowded the park gets at this time of year. Usually there’s enough space for kids to play with footballs and run around having fun, but not during Hanami time.

Someone Else's Group Photo!

Someone Else’s Group Photo!

Also at the end of the day, as people were getting ready to leave, this group of young men gathered for a group photo, being taken from my right, but I couldn’t resist snapping my own version as well. Even though this was a photo-walk, I still used my Black Rapid Double Strap so that I was nicely balanced, to avoid getting tired by being pulled to one side or forwards, with a single camera on a strap. The last shot was from my 70-200 f/2.8 lens, that I had on one side, and I was able to quickly switch between that and my 50mm f/1.2 lens on the other side, which is what I shot this with. Again, I shot this wide open, at f/1.2 this time, to send the background out of focus. Of course, with that shallow a depth-of-field, the people at the back of the group were also going out of focus, but I like the overall look. I’d need to stop down more for a group photo if I was the official photographer of course.

Although I’d been photographing for a couple of hours at this point, and the company had been great too, I must admit, I started to really have fun from around this time, and as we walked out from the Gyoen Park and across town. The route we took to begin with was not new to me, but as a group, I found myself in the kind of mode that I get in during the workshops and photography tours that I hold, and this is one of the things that I wanted to reflect on a little.

As in this shot (below), I’ve walked past this little alley many times, and I think I’d even photographed it once in the past too, but with the heightened senses I had through being on the walk, and possibly a sense of rivalry, that I had to try and get as many reasonable shots from the day as possible, I found myself raising my camera more than I usually would, had I been say just in town doing a bit of shopping.

Sakura Decoration

Sakura Decoration

Of course, the fact that they had the cherry blossom decorating the alley made it totally different on this day, and I may well have shot it anyway, but there’s no doubt that I was being pushed on by the fact that I was part of a photography group.

Feeding on Each Others’ Creativity

As I say, we get this on my workshops and tours too. The group feed from each other in a creative sense. Either through showing each other what you just shot on the back of the camera, or just from trying to outdo the next guy, but there’s an electric air of creativity that I certainly felt with this group.

Cosmetics Clown

Cosmetics Clown

Maybe for me it’s also partly down to my new found appreciation for street photography that has lay dormant for most of the time that I’ve spent in Tokyo, and currently starting to grab my attention more and more, as I mentioned last week.

Either way though, I enjoyed it, and felt that I was looking for photos in the city, as much as I do in the places of natural beauty that I spend so much time in outside of the city throughout the year.

I’ve found that recently I’ve been keeping my camera over my shoulder when walking in the city too, rather than carrying it in a bag, so that I can reach for it and shoot more quickly if something catches my eye, like this guy standing on a box outside a drug store, touting a sale that they were having on cosmetics.

It’s not as though this is the first time I carried my camera over my shoulder in the city, but again, felt more willing to raise the camera at anything that I found interesting, whereas I might not have in the past, if I was just out on a shopping trip.

As we walked, I noticed Eric Seaholm doing his thing, with his cool little four thirds camera, and couldn’t resist snapping this shot too. I had actually just raised my camera when Eric lowered his, but he kindly raised it again for this photo (below).

Eric Seaholm

Eric Seaholm

The shot was OK in color, but having chatted with Eric for most of the evening following this, I found this guy to be an artist to his core, expressing himself in many different disciplines, including movie making, so although I rarely mix and match my post processing styles, this one just cried out for a bit of Film Noir look in Silver Efex Pro 2.

Just down from where I photographed Eric, my usual route through the city would have kept me at street level, and around the front of the Cocoon Building that I have photographed many times in the past. But on this day, Takahiro Yamamoto led us up some stairs to a pedestrian overpass that I’d never used before. This in turn led us around the back of the Cocoon building, so my creative juices got another squeeze as we made our way through the city.

Funky Photowalk

Funky Photowalk

As I often do for cityscapes, I reached for my 14mm f/2.8 lens, and lined this shot (above) up with the walkway above street level along the bottom edge of the frame. It’s difficult to see in the Web version, but there are actually two young ladies from our group walking along the walkway in the bottom center of the frame, and I composed this so that the top of the Cocoon Building, that is home to some of Tokyo’s top art and fashion colleges, isn’t clipped at the top either. From this perspective, the ball to the side of the Cocoon takes center stage of course, but I like this structure too, so it’s a welcome addition.

A little further down, I had a clear shot upwards of the Cocoon Building with three other high-rises looking up at a slightly dramatic sky, helped a little with Silver Efex Pro. These sharp angles on the Cocoon are something that are new to me, and again, that’s thanks to the photo-walk and Takahiro bringing me around a side of the building that I’d never experienced or even thought to seek out.

The Cocoon Building

The Cocoon Building

And again, just a few more feet further on, we descended a spiral staircase at the base of the Cocoon Building, that just begged for a 14mm perspective. Luckily, the sound of my camera shutter for a couple of previous frames alerted the guy to the left of my presence, and he looked up, making this shot in my opinion (below).

Spiral Staircase

Spiral Staircase

A little further through town, we reached the Metropolitan Government Building, and they open one of their higher floors to visitors, with an excellent view out across the city. We got up their just after sun set, and there was still a bit of color in the sky, which some of the group capitalized on, but I wasn’t particularly taken by it, especially as the sun set occurs on the side of the building where there aren’t many tall buildings.

I found a spot with a view of the Docomo Tower, and as night fell, I recalled that the 5D Mark III now has multiple exposure functionality, so I had a play with that. Here you can see that I shot the first of two frames with the lens way out of focus, and the second frame focussed on the Docomo Tower and other buildings. Using the Average Exposure Control to merge the two shots, this gives you little balls of light spread throughout the city, which I thought was quite effective.

Bubbly Shinjuku

Bubbly Shinjuku

I also shot the second Government Building from the other side of the observation lounge, using the same technique (below) and though this was quite a cool look too. Of course, this is one of those looks that you could soon get tired of, but I reckon it works for these few shots, and I’ll probably shoot more as the opportunities arise. Of course, you could do this in Photoshop too with Blend Modes, but it’s much more fun to do it in camera.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.2

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building No.2

By the time I’d just about finished shooting this, my friend Ade came over and told me that everyone was heading down, so with the promise of beer, I quickly followed him to the queue for the elevator.

Before we headed a few more kilometers across town though, we spent a few minutes outside the building, and the group got some great shots here too. Actually, you can search for and see lots of shots from the group from this day on Google Plus by searching for #Sakuraphotowalk or #Sakuraphotowalk2012 .

Many people that shot this included the group in their photos, which looked great, but I waited until there were just two left, and shot this (below), just before rushing after them to the pub.

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Tokyo Metropolitan Government Building

Again, shot with my 14mm f/2.8 lens, and I made use of the in-camera level on the 5D Mark III for this. You can see from the line across the bottom of the photo that it’s very slightly off, but it’s close enough for me, and probably user error rather than the camera.

The rest of the evening was spent at the Hub Pub at Opera City. It was great just chatting photography with lots of like minded people, and I ended up reaching for the camera a number of times through the evening too. This is one of my favorites from the Hub, of Jason Arney looking at his phone, with the light illuminating his face.

Phone Light

Phone Light

Seven pints of Guinness later, and I was on the last train home, happy and content with the day.

As I said, this was my first photo-walk, not because I’ve been avoiding them, but because they just don’t happen very much here, and I haven’t had enough experience with street photography to call my own walks together, so it just hasn’t come together.

I really did enjoy myself though, and this, and the following week’s visit to the Tsukiji Fish Market have lit a new flame in me, that won’t take over my nature work, or my portraiture work for that matter, but I’ll hopefully be able to keep the flame burning enough for this kind of photography to augment my enjoyment of my photographic life.

As I said earlier, I felt very much like I did when I am on my workshops and tours, where being around like minded people helps you to feed off of each others’ creativity. The difference here of course being that this kind of photo walk is generally free, or even if you join a professional with a workshop element, they’re usually not very expensive at all, but they can help you grow as a photographer, so if you get a chance to join something similar in your area, jump at the chance. Like me, I don’t think you’ll regret it.


Show Notes

Google Plus Sakura Photo Walk Search: https://plus.google.com/u/0/s/%23sakuraphotowalk

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

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Podcast 238 : Meguro River Sakura (My First Short Movie!)

Podcast 238 : Meguro River Sakura (My First Short Movie!)

Here’s my first short movie “Meguro River Sakura” as this week’s Podcast episode, along with just a little bit of background information on the project.

The Podcast stream and iTunes will contain only the iPod/iPhone optimized version. You can view the full sized version below, or on YouTube. It’s High Definition video too, so if you select “Full Screen” or hit the full screen button, the video will expand to fill your screen. Turn up the sound too, then sit back and enjoy.

This first short movie started out as practice using my new Manfrotto 519 Pro Video Fluid Head. I didn’t want to just point my camera at any old subject and waft it around to get used to the tension etc. of the head, so I decided to give myself a project. As the cherry blossom (sakura) was in full bloom last weekend, I decided to shoot enough footage to make a story out of it.

I started from a distance, where you can see people gathered and looking, photographing something from a bridge. The next shot is a little closer, and we can see the traffic of the busy road between me and the people gathered on the bridge. Then I pan across to reveal the cherry blossom. The music starts, and we get another 7 minutes or so of imagery from the afternoon.

I ensured that I got wider shots, long lens shots. Shots of the various ways in which people enjoy the Sakura. I was very lucky too. People turned up on jet-bikes and in boats. There was a group of “salary men” having a hanami, or cherry blossom viewing party, and a lady in a kimono, among other things.

I imagined that I wanted to try to capture people leaving and going home as the ending, but as the afternoon progressed, I realized that if I held on for another few hours, I’d be able to shoot the red lanterns that would illuminate as it got dark, and a few shots of these from various angles could become my closing scene.

On the actual shooting, the Fluid Head took a bit of getting used to, and I was also pulling focus myself, without the aid of any additional equipment on the lens. I did use a Zacuto Z-Finder DSLR Optical Viewfinder to help me see the focus better on the LCD screen. This works great.

I shot about 22GB of video over six hours, and used up two fully charged 1D Mark IV batteries. I edited the video down to 8:29 minutes in Adobe Premiere Pro CS4.

The resulting short movie may not be Star Wars, but I think it all came together pretty well for what was essentially my first bit of practice with video, other than shooting what I call “moving stills”, which are 15-30 second clips while I’m shooting stills, that I intend to embed in still photography slide-shows at some point. On my Hokkaido workshop this year though, one of the participants showed me how to pan with a large thick elastic band around the lens, and I realized just how much a little bit of movement of the camera helped to improve video footage. It was because of this that I decided I really needed to figure out how to fit my cameras and bodies fitted with Really Right Stuff lens plates to a fluid head, like the Manfrotto 519.

I was hoping that some company would come up with a good solution, like a fluid head with Arca-Swiss standard dove-tail plate compatibility, but these are still not available as of April 10, 2010, and there was no information on how to rig this available on the Web either. At least not that I could find. So, I finally spend the time to figure out what I needed to use the Manfrotto 519 fluid head with my Really Right Stuff lens plates, and it works a treat. I’m very happy with my new set up. I can now use all of my lenses and bodies fitted with RRS plates with the Manfrotto 519 now, with the help of a couple of additional parts. I’ll be following up with what you need to do this yourself in the coming week.


Podcast show-notes:

Music created and produced by UniqueTracks.


Audio

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