Morocco 2017 Tour Travelogue Part 2 (Podcast 596)

Morocco 2017 Tour Travelogue Part 2 (Podcast 596)

Just back from my first tour of Morocco, this week we continue our series of travelogues to walk you through our antics in this majestic north-western corner of Africa.

Having just about finished my edit of my photos, I now have around fifty in a collection, so I’ll continue to whittle that down to forty so that we can complete this series in four episodes. We pick up the trail as we leave the beautiful blue city of Chefchaouen, and made our way to Fes. 

We had lunch near Meknes, outside a barbeque style restaurant, and I recall this as perhaps one of the best meals I had in Morocco. The food was seasoned perfectly for my tastes. As we walked to the bus to continue our journey, I grabbed this photo of a donkey tied up outside another restaurant, waiting patiently for his master to finish his meal (below).

This is more a documentary photo, but I liked the relationship between the donkey and the men eating. Donkeys seem to play an important part in the lives of the Moroccans that live and work in the medinas and small towns. We’d sometimes be walking through an alleyway and have to move to the side to let a donkey through, often carrying huge loads, like gallons of water or gas canisters stacked high.

Patient Donkey

Patient Donkey

After this, we continued our journey and stopped at the ruins of a Roman town at Volubilis. I have to admit, this is one of the locations that was recommended to me that I was not very impressed with. If I was a tourist, I’d probably stop by to check it out, but as a photographer, wanting to make beautiful photographs, it probably wasn’t the best use of our time, so we’ll most likely be skipping this next year, and head straight to Fes. 

As we were there though, I tried to make something of our visit and found an angle to photograph this archway with the sun poking through a corner in the stone forming a sunburst (below). It’s actually a UNESCO World Heritage site, so I wished I’d found it more interesting, but I don’t think I was the only one that didn’t really appreciate this stop.

Arch of Caracalla

Arch of Caracalla

I converted this image to black and white in Capture One Pro, as the sandstone colors didn’t really work for me either. The sunburst is more a product of forcing the sun’s light through a corner, but I did also have the aperture set to f/14, which probably helped somewhat as well, although I’ve done sunburst shots at f/8 in the past.

Colorful Fes Alleyway

Colorful Fes Alleyway

We went to a location to enjoy a view of Fes at sundown after this, and then the following morning ventured into the medina, which is over 1200 years old and has around 9,000 alleys, one of which you can see in this next photograph (right).

Again, I’m trying to respect the wishes of the local people to not be photographed, but at a distance, the two women obviously have a heavy presence in this shot. The visual mass of the human form is always somewhat larger than the actual percentage of area that it takes up in the image.

I found this alleyway to be absolutely beautiful though. As I mentioned last week, on this trip I was working in Aperture Priority quite a lot. It was frustrating at first because I’m not used to any automated exposure modes, but as the light changed so much, such as when we shot into a side street alley like this, Aperture Priority and Auto-ISO was pretty helpful once I got used to it.

I had also set my minimum shutter speed to 1/250 of a second, in a bid to freeze any action that might be happening, and was glad for that setting a lot of the time. The downside is that when there isn’t much movement, like in this shot, my ISO still jumped up to 2500 to give me a 1/320 of a second exposure at f/11. Luckily though, even the 5Ds R does great, even with ISOs up to 6400, as long as you expose the image as bright as possible, protecting your highlights, and not letting the shadows plug-up too much.

After this, we made our way over to the tannery, which is a site that perhaps has to be experienced to really grasp the atmosphere. We were given a sprig of mint on our way into a building, then we climbed its stairs to around the fifth floor, to come out on a balcony with the view that you can see in this image (below).

Chouara Tanneries

Chouara Tanneries

Although I didn’t really find it that bad, apparently the smell was quite strong, so many of the tour participants had their mint sprig in their nostrils as we picked out and composed our photographs. I went wide for this first image to show how the tannery is enveloped in the surrounding buildings, and also to show how many people were working there at any one time. 

For this second image from the tannery (below), I zoomed in to capture just one worker, standing in one of the vats with the liquid up past his knees. The content of some of these vats are natural, like the red color from pomegranate skin, but some of them can apparently be a little toxic, although that doesn’t seem to stop the workers from getting in with their bare legs. 

Chouara Tannery Worker

Chouara Tannery Worker

Copper Craftsman

Copper Craftsman

The name of the Fes hat comes from the fact that they were made in Fes, and craftsmanship seems to be a big part of the Fes culture. We photographed this man hammering away at his copper pan. 

He, and a younger man, possibly an apprentice, put on a bit of a show after this, where they both hammered at the same pan making a nice rhythmical beat. Not a great photo opportunity, but I shot some video of this which may find it’s way into a slideshow of my Morocco work, as time allows.

We continued photographing in the alleys of Fes, and I have a number of other images that I’m happy with. There was some craftsman dying silk made from the agave plant, which is used to make tequila, and we also visited a pottery workshop and watched some of the people there painting the plates, and also creating the incredibly intricate and ornate mosaics that play such a big part in the Moroccan culture. 

We also had lunch in a restaurant that was absolutely gorgeous, and yet from outside it was just another sand colored alleyway, which made us think about how deceiving the exteriors of some of the buildings can be.

The following day, we left Fes and wound our way through the Middle Atlas Mountains heading to Erfoud. The locations that we visit are spread out, and some of the days are spent mostly on the bus, although we sometimes made planned stops to give ourselves a chance to stretch our legs. Sometimes though, we just see something that looks interesting so we’d see if it was possible to stop to photograph it, as was the case with this next image (below).

Shepherd with Sheep and Mountain Stream

Shepherd with Sheep and Mountain Stream

As we rounded a bend having just crossed a small stream, I noticed the young shepherd in this photograph with his sheep, walking across an expanse of land. That alone would have been nice to photograph, but he was open to walking his sheep back over to the mountain stream so that we could photograph them there instead.

I’m happy with this image, as it shows a man at work in nature, in one of the oldest professions we have, giving it an almost biblical feel. I recall spending a few moments struggling with Aperture Priority here, and quickly jumped back into Manual, as the light was not challenging like it is when one minute you are photographing a light street, then the next minute photographing down a dark alley.

I stayed in Manual as we pulled up to photograph a kasbah, which in this case means a storehouse or keep for farm produce, as the sun shone down into the valley for the last few minutes before it would cast it fully into shadow (below).

Kasbah Keep

Kasbah Keep

I purposefully let the adobe kasbah fall into almost full silhouette, so that you have to work a little to see any detail in the building, but it is there if you look close. I like the layers that this exposure gives us in the mountains with the suns rays creating another layer to the right.

In front of the kasbah, there were two men and a woman working with the corn. As is often the case, the men were actually just sitting around, and the woman was doing most of the work, peeling the outer leaves off the corn and throwing it into a large circular area that they’d made, obviously wanting to dry out the corn to help preserve it for the winter.

We were able to photograph these three people, but I’ve dropped their photographs into a single image as a tryptic (below) to share with you today, as I don’t have much to say about each individual image. The man in the blue turban just sat for us, and the guy in the orange spent most of his time with his hand out, waiting for his tip, which kind of spoils the experience a little, but I quite like the photo. 

Three Workers at Kasbah

Three Workers at Kasbah

We can see from the tattoo on the lady’s forehead that she is a Berber, an ethnic group from Northern Africa. They apparently tattooed the girls in the family to stop them from being stolen, or to at least be able to identify them as their own family if they were stolen. 

Scarf Seller

Scarf Seller

We stayed in a wonderful hotel in Erfoud on this day, before visiting a market the following morning, and had a wander around photographing the people there.

The people selling their wares can be a little tiresome because they will generally continue to walk with you until you either buy something from them, or they see someone else that is perhaps more likely to buy something from them. 

The handsome young man in this photograph was particularly persistent, telling me that my wife would love one of his scarves. I have a wider shot of him in which you can see the scarves, and I asked my wife if she’s have liked any of them, and confirmed as I thought that she did not. 

So, I made the right decision on this occasion, by giving him some money for his photograph instead. There wasn’t a lot of light in this market, so this was shot at ISO 6400 at f/4.5 with a shutter speed of 1/160 of a second.

As I mentioned last week, as much as I love the new 24-105mm f/4 lens for its versatility, I’m thinking to get the new 85mm f/1.4 IS lens when it comes out, as it will be invaluable for some of this street portraiture in Morocco during next year’s trip, and for other photography as well of course. 

We’ll pick up the trail next week as we head into the Sahara for two nights, to photograph our camel handler models, as well as perhaps the best portraits of the trip. 

Morocco 2018

Join us on the 2018 Morocco Tour from Nov 12 – 23! For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page.

Morocco Tour & Workshop 2018


Show Notes

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Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Google Plus 2nd Anniversary Photo Walk in Tokyo (Podcast 377)

Google Plus 2nd Anniversary Photo Walk in Tokyo (Podcast 377)

It doesn’t seem like two years since Google Plus was launched, but last Saturday, on June 29, we celebrated Google Plus’ 2nd birthday with a photo walk here in Tokyo. I ended up with 21 photos from the day, and have select 10 to talk about with regards to my thinking behind the photos, and also just to fill you in on the day.

I’ve uploaded my 21 shots to the event photo gallery on Google Plus, and I’ve also uploaded them to my own Google Plus gallery, if you’re interested in taking a look. Because I want to put out a Podcast on this walk today, just two days after the walk, I won’t be making a decision as to whether or not any of these photos will end up as long term keepers, as the emotional connection with the day is too strong still.

Sky Tree Reflection

Skytree Reflection

I’ve got a feeling that a few might make it, but a number of them won’t. I’m definitely happy enough with the shots to talk about these ten today though, especially when you consider that this is really just a bit of fun. If I can make anything worth keeping out of it, that’s an added bonus.

So, we started at the Tokyo Skytree, a new broadcasting tower that was completed in March 2011 and has just started broadcasting it’s signal out to the Tokyo area. It replaces the wonderfully characteristic Tokyo Tower that for me, as for many, will probably remain one of the iconic structures symbolizing Japan’s economic growth as they rebuilt the country after World War II.

Tokyo Tower isn’t going anywhere just yet though. It will remain open and you’ll be able to travel to the top in the elevator etc. for a while yet. It’s just that there have been so many high-rise buildings built around Tokyo Tower that with it’s relatively low height of 333 meters (1,093 ft) it was no longer able to broadcast to the entire area, leaving some parts of Tokyo without a proper digital TV signal.

Anyway, I arrived at about 10am, 30 minutes before the meeting time, as I’d left early enough for the trains to run a little late, which they didn’t, but my plan was to walk around the tower trying to find some interesting angles if I had any free time before we started. This first image is one of a few of the Skytree that I’ve uploaded, and here I’d found a spot where the tower was reflected in the windows over an elevated passageway between the tower and the adjacent shopping area etc. I lined up the shot so that the reflection kind of completed the tower, as though you are looking up at an open railing rather than a set of windows.

I used Nik Software’s Silver Efex Pro 2 to convert to black and white, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I love black and white skies. They always seem much more dramatic than a straight color shot, and I also just like black and white architecture. I’ve found over the years that the majority of Tokyo architecture photos that I’ve shot just look better to me in black and white. This is true of all black and white photos of course, but removing the color helps us to see the structure and form of the subject, without the added color information, which can often be distracting. I was also conscious here of the amount of roof I placed on the right side, and that patch of textured siding at the bottom, wanting to give them weight, minimizing the space for the tower and sky, to add a little drama to the photo.

After photographing the Skytee alone for a while, I went around to the meeting point, and found a good sized crowd already gathered. I met a few friends that I hadn’t seen in person since the first anniversary walk a year ago, and there were a lot of new faces. Remember names was going to be difficult. I’m terrible with names at the best of times…

I found the registration queue, and let them know I was there, paid my money for the boat we’d ride on later, the entrance fee to Hamarikyu, and most importantly, my $40 for the party that we’d have when the walk finished. I was given a sticker with my Google Plus profile photo and name on it, a map and key times for the walk, and a Google camera strap, which is actually quite cool.

We had a steady walk around, and shot the tree some more before starting to walk towards the Asakusa area. We passed through a small park, in a small corner of which is the Ushima Shrine, and we were lucky enough to find a wedding ceremony in progress (below).

Mohican/Japanese Wedding

Mohican/Japanese Wedding

I switched between Aperture Priority and Manual exposure modes throughout the day, still trying to get used to Aperture Priority, which I had set when I shot this. I had Auto ISO set too, to give the camera more wiggle room, and with Plus 2/3 Exposure Compensation for this shot, the camera set my ISO to 1000 with a shutter speed of 1/80 of a second, at f/4.0. I had added a little exposure compensation to stop this from going dark, but I didn’t need much.

Yagishita-san Doin't His Thang!

Yagishita-san Doin’t His Thang!

I have to admit that I didn’t even notice that the guy in this shot had a mohican, which I thought was quite cool to say the rest of the wedding still seemed to be very traditional. We can also see the Shinto Priest wafting his Ounusa, like a wand with paper streamers on it, to purify the happy couple. We heard from the Shinto priest that blessed us during our Winter Wonderland Tour here in Japan this year, that bad spirits are sucked into the paper on the Ounusa, and then sent on their way, removing them from the people being blessed.

We had to shoot this from outside of course, and as my longest lens was the 24-70mm, I had to crop just a little bit from around the edges here to clean it up a little. Note too that I used the new Upright feature in Lightroom 5 to straighten the vertical lines, and it worked like a charm with one click.

Next up we see Shuhei Yagishita (right), a Tokyo Plusser jumping for us on a wall, in front of the Skytree. It was a relatively narrow wall, but luckily there wasn’t much of a drop on the other side, as I had visions of him doing a duChemin on us when I first saw him climb up there. He was a great sport though, and jumped a few times on request. I like the leg position and dynamism in this frame.

Note that with the black and white conversion here, I didn’t go as dark with the sky as I usually do, because Shuhei had a black t-shirt on, and we’d lose the separation if the sky was too dark. It would have been great if we could have done this when there was a big fluffy cloud behind his upper body too, but we didn’t have that luxury.

By this point, it was 12:30, and we would now have a couple of hours of free time to go and get lunch in the Asakusa area, and I found this next scene under the highway as I headed over.

Downtown

Downtown

This was actually quite a colorful store, and the first of these images that I considered leaving in color, but as I worked through my set, I found myself with so many photos that would be black and white, I started to really want to do the entire set in black and white. I processed each of them individually, using various settings, and various color filters and color channel tweaks to emphasize or deemphasize colors depending on the photo.

Old Gentleman Taking a Rest

Old Gentleman Taking a Rest

Note too that as this was under the highway, the only light in the scene was that which was pouring in from the left of the frame, so I reduced the Highlights slider in Lightroom to -18, and then reduced the highlights in Silver Efex slightly too, to tone down the left side which was slightly overexposed in my original.

Sitting on the bench on the left of the last photo, was this old gentleman (right), enjoying his cigarette. This is one of those times when I turn on the under-excercised street photographer in me, and fought my anxiety to ask permission for a photo. Although I’ve started to enjoy this type of photography over the last couple of years, I still don’t give it enough time to really get comfortable with this, and as far as I believe, many people never get over the anxiety of walking up to strangers and asking them if it’s OK to photograph them.

It makes it a lot easier when you speak the language though, and although this gentleman looked quite stern as I approached, I smiled and said hello, and knelt down so that I wasn’t looking down at him, and asked if it would be OK to photograph him, adding that I thought his beard was absolutely incredibly cool, and I did.

I shot two frames, and then showed him them on the camera, and his face lit up, so I shot a couple more. This was the second to last, as he blinked in the last photograph. I found that he was a local, living in this area, and after a very brief conversation, I thanked him again, and moved on.

Sensouji (Temple)

Sensouji (Temple)

I entered the street of old stores that runs up to the Sensouji Temple from the side, just past the middle, and started to make my way up to the main temple. The Google film crew stopped and videoed me standing in the middle of the crowds for a while, but despite our group being over eighty strong, once I’d left the the video crew, I didn’t see a single person from our photo walk group until I made my way around to the afternoon meeting point at around 2:30, about half an hour after this shot from inside the main Sensouji Temple building (left).

I didn’t see any no photography signs, and none of the officials asked me to stop, so being somewhat respectful that this is a place of worship, I shot a handful of images like this. If you’ve ever been to a large shrine or temple like this in Japan though, you’d know that they aren’t quite the same as religious building in most other countries.

Although the Japanese will throw coins into the box in front of the area where the main ceremonies are held, then clap to alert the gods to their wishes, before holding their hands together and praying for a while, it’s not as serious as most countries, for want of a better word. Maybe sullen works better, but to many Japanese, a visit to a shrine is part of the tourism or day trip that they’re probably on, and although many locals will feel very attached to this place spiritually, for many here, it’s just another stop, something to tick off, before they move on to see the next Tokyo sight.

Again in Aperture Priority at f/11 for a deep depth of field, my ISO jumped up to 8000 here for a 30th of a second, but the 5D Mark III ensured there was too much grain in the shot. This also allowed me to capture all the beautiful detail in the roof of this building that I honestly had never really noticed before. There is always so much light pouring in from the doors that the ceiling is usually very dark, so this was a fresh look at the building for me.

After Sensouji, I headed back around to the banks of the Sumida River where we were to meet, and half the group would ride the water bus to Hamarikyu, a park that we’d walk around later in the afternoon. The meeting time was 2:30, which seemed a little over cautious when you consider that our boat wouldn’t leave until 3:20, but I got there on time, and chatted to others as I waited.

This photo (below) was shot from the roof of our boat, as we pulled away from the pier. By now, the light was further around the Skytree, so unlike the earlier shots, it was now easier to capture it’s metallic surface and all the detail. The other reason I shot this of course was because Himiko, the futuristic boat to the left had entered the picture.

Himiko with Sky Tree

Himiko with Sky Tree

Himiko was designed by Reiji Matsumoto, a Japanese anime and manga artist behind Space Battleship Yamato and a plethora of space adventures. I find it fascinating and incredibly cool that Japanese society, often considered very serious and staid, would commission an artist to design and create a boat like this. I think it’s things like this that help to keep the Japanese sane in their otherwise often very restrictive lifestyles.

The sail along the river to the Hamarikyu gardens was nice, with most of the group on top of the boat, and as we set off, a Google video crew had set up on one of the first bridges we’d travel under, and we all waved and cheered for the camera as we approached. They were filming on the boat amongst us too, with wide angle lenses extended out on monopods, swinging them over our heads. I’m quite looking forward to seeing the video, and I’m hoping it doesn’t turn out to be just a promotional video for one of their recommended plussers like last year’s video. I don’t see that happening this year though. They didn’t seem to be focusing on any one person.

I got a few shots from Hamarikyu, but this is a difficult spot to work. It’s very Japanese in some ways, and has great contrast with the towering architecture behind the park, but I’ve never really been able to get anything spectacular there. I spent most of the afternoon walking around with a guy named Camilo Medina, a talented photographer living here in Tokyo, and was enjoying the conversation as much as the photography.

We walked through the city a little more, then got on the Oedo train line for a few stops, over to Azabujuban, then walked for about 15 minutes from there to Roppongi Hills, where Google Japan is based. They’d kindly used there super-powers to get us press passed to the Sky Deck on the roof of the Mori Tower, the huge cylindrical building there, and we were given permission to use tripods, which was great!

As the sun drew close to the horizon, this first shot is before the city lights really started to come on. You can see from the blur in the clouds that this was a long exposure, but it was only 30 seconds. This was one of the first I did, but although I tried to go longer, there weren’t that many places where you could get a clear view out over the city with a wide angle lens, but without getting the railings around the deck in the shot.

Tokyo from Sky Deck

Tokyo from Sky Deck

The best place I found was where the resident photographers stood people for their tourist “I’ve been to the Sky Deck” photo, and there were people that kept coming down to the left side of this same spot, so timing was really difficult. I’m happy with this shot mind, which I basically shot with the camera pointed further up that I wanted to, to avoid people’s heads. It allowed me to get some nice sky movement in though, and we can see out to the sea in the distance, showing that Tokyo is very much a port town, though people don’t really think of it that way.

As the city lights came up, I shot this next image, which is just a six second exposure, no longer using a neutral density filter as I was for the last image. I wanted to do longer, but the obstructions were stopping me, and although there were times when I could get a clear view, there was a family that that come out on the deck, and their kids were jumping up on the hand rail, then time and again jumping back down onto the wood deck on which we were standing. This of course meant that during most of my longer exposures the deck would shake, and my shot was ruined, so I gave up on the longer exposures.

Tokyo Tower from Sky Deck

Tokyo Tower from Sky Deck

Again though, I’m happy with this shot, probably another that I had a hard time converting to black and white, but I like the way increasing the red and orange channels enabled me to make Tokyo Tower stand out as it does here. We can also see the red tail lights of the cars streaming along the highways that weave through the city too. Plus, the shorter exposure enabled me to tilt the camera down a little more, shooting between people going down here, and this enabled me to get the curve of the highway in, which I think adds a nice touch, kind of forming a circle around Tokyo tower. I love driving through the city at this time of night, and have driven around the tower on that road many times, so it was nice to get a shot from this perspective, thanks to Google.

Tokyo Plussers (Look in the Reflection)

Tokyo Plussers (Look in the Reflection)

Although it would have been nice to stay out on the Sky Deck for about another 15 minutes, we were being called in, and were already late for the party that had been planned, so we made our way back down. As I approached the last meeting point, I noticed a whole bunch of plussers’ reflections in some glass roofing over the open area where we’d meet, so I got this last shot for the day (right), looking up at the Mori Tower. To deal with the low light here, this was shot at ISO 6400 at f/2.8 for 1/25 of a second. If you are wondering why it’s all sharp at f/2.8, note that I shot this with my 16-35mm lens at 17mm, and at 17mm, the hyperfocal distance at f/2.8 is 3.4 meters, or 11ft, with the near focus starting at 1.7m or 5.6ft, so I was safe to go this wide. If that last sentence confused the hell out of you, stay tuned for an exciting announcement shortly. I have something for you that will help with that.

The party was a lot of fun, with great conversation with Camilo and also Brian Kemper, another Tokyo based photographer who is just a laugh a minute. The bear flowed, somewhat hindered by the shear numbers of our group, but a great evening was had by all. A great day in fact.

Any of you that follow me on Google Plus will know that it’s where I spend most of my social media time now. That’s not a lot of time, but of the time I spend in Social media, these days I’m probably on G+ 95% of the time, with a further 3% on Twitter, then 2% on Facebook. The thing that I enjoy about Google Plus is that it has shaped up into a real community. A photography centric community in many respects, so I really enjoy spending time there, when I have time to go online and share, or look at others’ work or what they’re posting about.

The other thing of course is that it enables us to bring that online community into the real world, as we did for this photo walk. It’s only the third I’ve been on, and it was a year since my last, but it’s great to be able to jump on a train, and go and meet some of the people that we interact with online, and I’m sure it’s like this in every city around the world. If you haven’t gotten involved in Google Plus yet, jump right in, and have some fun, and maybe also consider joining the MBP Community while you’re there. Our conversation is getting more lively by the week too, so I’ll put a link into the show notes, and it would be great to see you there.

My New eBook – Sharp Shooter!

Before we finish, I have some really exciting news to share with you, and that is that my second eBook from Craft and Vision, Sharp Shooter: Proven Techniques for Sharper Photographs, was released last week, and is now available from the Craft & Vision Web site! We start by covering what makes an image sharp in the first place, then I cover some hand-holding techniques, stabilization for long lenses and focus stacking among other things, and we also go into sharpening in post when it didn’t quite work out, and also sharpening for final output. I wrote a blog post to introduce you give you some more details, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/sharp if you are interested.

sharpshooter_spreads_cover-NEW

Remember these books are incredible value at only $5 a pop, but for those of you that pick up and listen to this episode quickly enough, if you use the promotional code SHARP4 when you check out, you’ll only pay $4 or use the code SHARP20 to get 20% off when you buy 5+ products from the Craft & Vision Library. These codes expire at 11:59 PM (PST) July 4, 2013, so just a few days from now. If you miss that, it’s still only $5 and if you sign up for the my newsletters with the buttons on my blog, you’ll receive an email when I release any future books, so you won’t miss the sale in future.

I’m really happy to get my second book in the Craft & Vision library, and I really hope you enjoy it if you decide to pick up a copy.


Show Notes

Martin’s 21 Images on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/102227359845636175866/albums/5895503804877505873

Google Plus Event Photo Gallery: https://plus.google.com/u/0/events/gallery/cav22j3eo2rtheqmjqf756jfigc

MBP G+ Community: https://mbp.ac/community

My New eBook — Sharp Shooter: https://mbp.ac/cvss

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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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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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Tsukiji Fish Market (Podcast 331)

Tsukiji Fish Market (Podcast 331)

Last week, I visited the Tsukiji Fish Market here in Tokyo with Scott Jarvie, and had a wonderful morning shooting around the market, and so today I’m going to share some of my experiences and photos with you, with some advice for shooting there yourself interwoven, including a bit of a Japanese lesson to help you make the most of your visit.

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

Over the last twelve years since I moved to Tokyo, I’ve certainly not made the most of the fact that I live in one of the largest cities in the world with regards to my photography. I’m not much of a street photographer, largely because I rarely like my resulting images, but also because I have simply prioritized my time to concentrate on my nature and wildlife work. I have though for a long time wanted to visit the Tsukiji Fish Market, so when I was in a Google Plus Hangout with Scott Jarvie who was set to come to Tokyo for a few days last week, I decided to go and check it out with Jarvie, and see what we could make of it.

I ended up with 26  photos that I really quite like, and have posted an album on Google+ if you want to check that out. I’ve selected 12 images from that set to quickly walk you through today though, but I did want to give you a heads-up about an important aspect that we missed because I didn’t know how early we needed to get there.

The Auction – 4am Registration!

On the Tsukiji Fish Market Web site, it says that they start registration for two groups of sixty people to enter and watch the Tuna Auction from 5:25 to 5:50 for the first group, then from 5:50 to 6:15 for the second group. The earliest train I could get wouldn’t have gotten me to the market until around 6:30am, and as Jarvie’s first train wouldn’t get him there until around 5:25, so I drove and parked in a nearby car park, and took a steady walk over to the office by around 5:10, thinking I’d get two spaces for me and Jarvie, and wait for him to arrive. You can imagine how shocked I was to find that by 5:10am, all 120 visitors spaces were already taken.

I asked why they’d all gone in less than 10 minutes, and was told that people start arriving at around 4am to secure their slot. I heard the same thing a number of times through the morning, that people generally arrive and register from 4am, so if you want to visit, and actually watch the auction, you’d better get up especially early, not that getting there by 5:10am is exactly what I’d call a lie-in mind.

Market Out of Bounds Until 9am

Hard Nut

Hard Nut

Another thing to note is that the Market is pretty much out of bounds until 9am once the auction is finished, so although you can go a little early, and get some shots from afar, if you don’t intend to get there by 4am to get into the auctions, you might as well take your time. As you can see in this image, there are security guards that will ask you to leave the market if you walk in their before 9am.

Jarvie and I snuck around the car park, shooting images like this one from the outskirts, and I do like the results, so I don’t want to play this down too much, but for the most part, we were killing time, and once we were allowed in to the market from 9am, the pace of shooting changed, and the resulting images where very different as well.

Stay Aware!

Driver

Driver

Another thing to note is that there are electric carts buzzing around the market all the time, usually in convoy, and not really abiding by any rules as far as road markings go. I heard these things bump together a few times, and they are heavy and hard, and would really hurt if you got clipped or even full on bumped into by one, so stay aware.

In fact, you should just always keep in mind that this is a working market, not a theme park or a tourist attraction. Be respectful at all times that you are a visitor and you are being allowed to be there out of kindness, not duty. A few years ago the market was taken totally out of bounds to visitors due to a lack of respect for simple rules and common sense, and it would be a shame if that were to happen again, so don’t touch anything, keep a relatively low profile, and generally just play nicely.

So, as we weren’t able to enter the auctions, where they lay out hundreds of Tuna fish to be auctioned off to the highest bidder, we had a walk around the Sushi shops in the nearby vicinity to the Market, and they in themselves provide some good photo opportunities. Here (below) we can see one of the lines of sushi shops that we walked around. There were a few shops that had a long queue of non-Japanese visitors outside, and I’m guessing that’s because they offered great sushi at very cheap prices. Jarvie and I decided though to go into Sushi Ichiba, the small establishment that you can see on the left of this shot.

Sushi Galore

Sushi Galore

It wasn’t exactly cheap, with what we selected being around ¥2,800, which is around US$34 but we didn’t have to queue up for an hour, and boy was it good.

Sushi Shokunin

Sushi Shokunin

Here’s another shot from behind one of these little restaurants, of a young Sushi Shokunin, cutting up the Tuna, removing the bits that wouldn’t be used, ready to be more thinly sliced and placed on top of the rice to make Sushi.

Cutting the Maguro

Cutting the Maguro

This day to me was very much about textures, with lots of old buildings and fittings like the shelves in this shot, so I decided to process most of the batch in Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4. I’ve processed them to the point where they are just starting to look a little like HDR images, but as a complete set, a body of work, I quite like the feel of these.

Quick Japanese Lesson

Note that for just about everyone of these shots, I asked for permission to photograph the subjects. In Japanese, may I take your photograph is “Shashin totte mo ii desu ka?”. If you are going to head into the market, or photograph people anywhere in Japan for that matter, keep hold of this, and listen a few times, repeating after me. 写真撮ってもいいですか?

Then, when you’ve finished, hopefully without taking too long and even if you do, make sure you don’t outstay your welcome, thank the person who’s photo you took with “arigatou gozaimasu” or “arigatou gozaimashita”, which both mean “thank you”, with the latter being past tense, which is sometimes preferred, especially if you were with the subject for a while. There are different ways to say these phrases, but as someone that’s lived here in Japan for 21 years now, you can trust me that this is about the best way to say these simple and yet practical phrases, in everyday use.

Back into the Market

By the time we’d eaten and loitered outside the entrance to the market for a while longer, it was finally 9am, so we headed inside to photograph the people that work here. I’d asked the gentleman on the right in this photo if it was OK to photograph them as they used a variety of what I’d prefer to call swords rather than knives, to cut up a tuna.

Big Knife!

Big Knife!

Tsukiji Fishmonger

Tsukiji Fishmonger

At this point, the guy in this photo came back to his stall, on the opposite side from the stall where they were cutting up the tuna, and had some fun in Japanese, talking about the large group of foreigners that had taken over the front of his work space.

After a minute or so, I decided to politely make him aware that not all of the foreigners he was talking about didn’t understand what he was saying. I turned and apologized for getting in the way, in Japanese of course. This of course was met with laughter from him and a few others on his stall, and a slight amount of embarrassment.

I continued to have a very nice long conversation with this guy, who as you might guess, despite the tough appearance, seemed to have a heart of gold. Part of our conversation was actually about how many people that work in fishing ports or related industries can be quite tough looking and rough, but inside, they are warm and generous people. I also learned that he was a baseball coach for a school baseball team, and we talked about how emotional it can be to watch the high-school baseball tournament at Koshien Stadium, that’s just finished here in Japan. We laughed a lot, and then one of the others on his stall came back with a few pieces of tuna on a plastic tray, and proceeded to open a packet of soy source over it, for me to try.

Sashimi Celebration

Sashimi Celebration

Jarvie Eats Tuna Sashimi

Jarvie Eats Tuna Sashimi

The raw tuna, or sashimi, was absolutely beautiful, and of course, I wouldn’t be much of a friend if I didn’t let them know that Jarvie was with me, so that he could try it too. This offering of food like this is quite typical of the Japanese once you’ve made a connection as we had, and I was really pleased to have been taken in by them as they did. Jarvie just mentioned on Google +, as I was preparing for this Podcast, that it made a big difference with my understanding Japanese, and helped us to get some photos that wouldn’t otherwise be possible, and I totally agree. Being able to speak the language makes such a difference at times like this. If you ever want a personal guide in Japan by the way, I’m not cheap, but I’d be glad to quote a price if I’m available during your visit, so drop me a line if you seriously want to hook up for something like this.

Tuna Freezer

Tuna Freezer

We continued to walk around the market, and was amazed by just how large the place is. Even for someone like me that hasn’t particularly enjoyed this kind of photography so far, there’s just a wealth of opportunities for great images, such as this guy looking for a piece of tuna in his freezer full of the stuff.

By the way, I shot my images mostly with the 70-200mm f/2.8 lens, my 50mm f/1.4, and my 14mm f/2.8 lens. I also used the 24-70mm f/2.8 a little as well, but these last three shots were all made with the 14mm, which is behind that slightly funky perspective.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

The light in the market can be amazing too, with reflections in the wet cobblestone floor, and in this last shot (below) you can see that we’d found a spot where the light was pouring in through a glass skylight.

Tsukiji Skylight #1

Tsukiji Skylight #1

I found the light, the people and the place to be quite magical, and will certainly be going back again soon, probably by 4am next time, so that I can get into the tuna auctions and see what I can make of that too. I’m actually quite happy to have found at least a bit of a voice in street photography here. I have of course been shooting and posting some street photography for years, but always found Japan frustrating because of the peace signs and cute poses when you try to photograph anyone. On this trip though, there was none of that, and this, along with some of the shots from a recent photowalk that I did too, might just start to turn it around for me with regards to this relatively unexplored, on my part of course, photographic genre.

Tsukiji is Moving to Toyosu

One last thing that I wanted to touch on before we finish is that the Tsukiji Fish Market is moving from it’s current location to a place called Toyosu, about 10 minutes down the road. The actual date is not set yet, but it’s expected to be within the next two to three years. I’ll try to remember to come back and update this post, but do note that if you are listening to this podcast or reading my blog post in or after 2014, the market might have moved, so do check beforehand.

I’ll also put a link to the official Web site in the show notes, and try to update that too, at least on the blog, if it changes in the future. Remember that you can get to the blog posts to check images to accompany the audio at mbp.ac/331, where 331 is the episode number. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the photos from this day on Google+, and I’ll probably drop them on Flickr as well as my own gallery too, whichever suits you, and do let me know what you think.


Show Notes

Tsukiji Fish Market Web site: http://www.shijou.metro.tokyo.jp/english/market/tsukiji.html [Removed dead link]

My Tsukiji photos on Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/photos/102227359845636175866/albums/5731832324940681889

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


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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