Like a Fish That Found Water – Tatsusawa Falls 2021 (Podcast 756)

Like a Fish That Found Water – Tatsusawa Falls 2021 (Podcast 756)


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I’ve spent a whole lot of time over the last few weeks working on a new Patreon program and an all new MBP Community site which I’ll be providing more details on later, but I was able to take few days to wind down my whirling dervish and visit a place that is very close to my heart. Old time listeners will recognize the waterfall that I visited, as it was the image used for the Podcast graphic for a number of years in the early days.

Back then, I used daylight white balance for most things, as auto white balance was still very much hit and miss, and this resulted in my earlier shot having a very strong blue cast, and I recall one troll from the old community screaming “WHITE BALANCE!” at me along with a whole slew of possibly drug induced profanities, shortly before I deleted his account. The white balance comment was one of the only things he said during his crash and burn last few days in the community that actually did make sense. I decided to leave the image blue, and I loved it for that quality, but there was not doubt that it was not quite as natural as I’d hoped it would look. I won’t link the image here as I want to keep my current visit images at the front of this post, but I am also slightly concerned that the impact of the earlier blue image could overpower the visuals that I share, so there is certainly still something in that earlier image that I feel really worked.

This was mainly a business trip, to shoot these falls, but we tagged on a short diversion to visit the grave of my wife’s father, who’d passed away early last year, but the Tokyo pseudo-lock-down prevented my wife and I from attending his funeral, which was extremely upsetting for my wife. As Tokyo is currently enjoying a respite from the pandemic, with incredibly low new daily cases being reported, and the lifting of the request to not move between prefectures, we decided it was time to put some flowers on his grave, light a few sticks of incense, and pay our respects to the great man that lies within, along with the rest of my wife’s deceased family.

We did an about turn after that though, and hopped through the mountains to the Uranbandai area, and on to the Tatsusawa Falls. The actually name of the falls is the Tatsusawafudo Falls. Fudo is often used in temple names, and there is a small temple just in front of the falls, which give the place an even more spiritual feel, but the temple was built there by people that worship the mountains and nature, a common thing here in Japan, with the Japanese belief that there are gods in everything around us playing a strong role in our daily life.

The timing, according to plan, put me in front of the falls 10 minutes before the sun dropped below the horizon. The sun does hit the face of the falls around noon, as the sun shines through the valley, but I don’t like to photograph falls in direct sunlight. This first shot was actually 10 minutes before sunset, but the shadow of the valley walls and heavy tree growth afforded me a four second exposure without any Neutral Density filters, and as you can see in this first photo, it helped me to capture what I truly believe to be one of Japan’s most beautiful waterfalls.

Tatsusawa Falls
Tatsusawa Falls

I used an aperture of ƒ/10, at 24mm, which gives me adequate depth of field. I generally like to shoot waterfalls between a half a second and a full second, because the water can move around so much that it starts to decrease definition, if you do longer exposures, but there is not a huge amount of water that flows over the ridge of these falls so it works well even with multi-second exposures. Everything about these falls is, in my opinion, perfectly balanced. They are also pretty much a perfect 3:2 aspect ratio, fitting perfectly into the frame of a 35mm sensor camera. The low light and balanced appearance makes them the perfect subject.

The sun was below the horizon by the time I shot this next image from a little further back and slightly higher vantage point. I wanted to include some of the trees, and as you can see, the fall color was just setting in. I’d actually hoped for more color, as mid-October is when the trees around these falls are typically at their best, but it’s obviously not cooling down enough at night yet, so the color is a little late.

Tatsusawa Falls with a Smidgen of Fall Color
Tatsusawa Falls with a Smidgen of Fall Color

Not to worry though. I was honestly just incredibly happy to be in the field. Pulling back a little enabled me to include some of the forest floor, and we can see that it is very much typical Japan semi-tropical undergrowth, with the ferns and plenty of moss on the rocks. I have to admit that I’d slipped through a gap in the fence where it says no entry, as the boardwalk down to the face of the falls has fallen into disrepair, and is very slippy. The following morning I’d find myself flat on my back as I walked down the wooden slope, so I can appreciate why they are making it out of bounds, but I’ve never been one for staying behind keep out signs. I spent most of my childhood in an area of the local park that was marked Keep Out. It was more fun in that area than the rest of the park put together! Strangely, it’s now completely open with pathways etc. and I can’t for the life of me figure out what’s different, other than the pathways.

I made a short video while I was at these falls which I’ve edited slightly to share with you, so I’ll drop that in here too.

Tatsusawafudo Falls Video

We stayed at a hotel just down the road from these falls, and went back again after an early breakfast the following morning. I’d got my falls shots, and although I was hoping to get some high resolution video, there was a young man there when we arrived, and I didn’t want to get in his way, so I just shot some close-ups of the water hitting the rocks in front of the falls, as you can see in this next image.

Quiet Roar
Quiet Roar
Dawn Falls
Dawn Falls

I called this image Quiet Roar, as the sound of the water falling forms a definite roar, but there is still something incredibly serene about these falls. I’d spent most of the previous evening telling my wife how beautiful I thought these falls were, and apologized in advance for probably saying that another hundred times over the following three days. I’m still saying it now 12 days later, come to think of it.

Here too is a vertical shot of the falling water and rocks. I had to cut the foreground water short a little to avoid getting a larger rock in the bottom of the frame, but I think this still relays the serenity of the falls. I converted both of these last two images to black and white, as they were also black and white anyway, but I felt it helped to show the texture of the wet rocks and it also makes the water darker in the foreground, which I like to see.

A Fish That Found Water

I didn’t know at the time, but it turns out later that my wife had shot a few images of me down at the falls with her iPhone. Below is one of her images to show you an even larger view of the scene, but she almost had me in tears with her turn of phrase later that evening. Knowing how hard this last 18 months has been for me, she watched quietly as I did my work, and then later said that I looked like a fish that had found water. There is a Japanese proverb almost the same as what she said, but I just found this so beautiful, and so fitting.

Here I was, in front of a pool of water flowing down from one of my favorite waterfalls in Japan. I could have easily jumped into that pool and swam around, but it would not have been a shallow splish-splash. I’m talking the sort of swimming that you shoot video of from another 40 feet down, with what’s left of the late evening light streaming down into the depths. That’s how my heart felt as I stood there making a handful of exposures.

A Fish That Found Water
A Fish That Found Water

I posted years ago about my thoughts on what my friend Richard Annable had said, when he talked about the silence that he felt while he was photographing, sort of in the zone. I often feel the same way. Everything that concerns me fades into the distance when I’ve got a camera in my hand, and the world goes quiet, almost like I’m in a big bubble, and it is a strong, all protecting bubble. Boy did it feel good to be back in the field.

As I mentioned earlier, we went back to the falls the following morning, and I started by shooting the details of the falls, then we gradually made our way back down the mountain path to our car. It’s literally not even ten minutes to the car park in the summer. I’ve trekked in knee-deep snow, from much further away, as the snow kept me from driving closer, and that was a tough walk. In the summer, it’s a pleasant ten minutes taking your time. Here is a view of the river along which you walk to get to the falls.

A River Runs Through
A River Runs Through

Nothing special, more documentary, but it does show how the tree overgrowth keeps the light down. It was a few minutes before 12 noon when I shot this, and it’s still pretty dark. This required a shutter speed of and 1/8 of a second at ƒ/16, and that was exposing for the highlights on the water.

After this we drove around to the Goshikinuma or Five Colored Lakes, and walked for a while more. The lakes were beautiful but nothing hugely special with the fall color still a few weeks out. I did shoot one last image that I quit like, of some Koi carp. Fish that had also found some beautifully clear water.

4.5 Koi Carp
4.5 Koi Carp

I had lots of fun, and my soul was enriched by the time we spent up there in Fukushima. We both got the wind knocked out of our sales a little by the traffic jams getting back to Tokyo. It takes about four hours to get to the area we visited, and took us almost nine hours to get home, due to an accident which delayed us enough to catch the Friday evening traffic, which is never fun in Tokyo. Luckily we had enough fun that it spilled over into the coming days and I still feel very happy that we were able to get out, even for just a short time.

The Patreon Program

I had one other thing that I wanted to touch on quickly today, and I’ll follow up with a more detailed post soon, but if you’ve visited the Martin Bailey Photography website over the last week you’ll have already noticed that I’ve started a Patreon program. I’ve decided to lock the text of all posts that I release along with the podcasts and open it up only to people that make a small monthly pledge via the Patreon system. $3 gets you access to more than 750 posts from the last 16 years, but what’s more, that also gives you access to our new MBP Community that I’ve just finished setting up. There are six Patreon tiers, going up through $5 and $10 dollars for increasing benefits, including a new Patron only monthly Question Time, a streamed event that I will be recorded live, and I’ll be answering questions submitted in text form from $5 patrons or optionally in person from $10 and higher. There are lots of other benefits too, and the two top tiers are full blown Mentorships, including monthly one-to-one sessions and completely tailor-made assignments and tuition. The Mentorship tiers are limited due to the time commitment, so if you are interested, check out the details at https://mbp.ac/patreon.

MBP Community
MBP Community

The Podcast itself will remain complete free, as I’ve always promised. Now, if you visit a post as a non-Patron, you will see the audio player and a gallery of images so that you can still follow along with the images. There will also be a button to become a Patron, and help to support the Podcast and blog. If you find what I’ve been doing over the last 16 years valuable, your contribution and support will be very much appreciated, and I’m looking forward to getting a real MBP Community going again too.

The old forums were killed by scummy spammers that we couldn’t keep out. With a dollar amount as a gatekeeper, and a more robust forum system, I don’t think we’re going to have that problem this time around. I’d also quickly like to thank Karl, Peter and Mary, our first three patrons, for already jumping on board.


Show Notes

Check out the Patreon program here: https://mbp.ac/patreon

Music by Martin Bailey


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