Traditional Japanese Dress Portrait Shoot (Podcast 415)

Traditional Japanese Dress Portrait Shoot (Podcast 415)

At the end of March I did a studio shoot with two families in traditional Japanese kimonos, and was able to get some behind the scenes shots of the professional kimono fitter actually dressing some of the subjects. Today I’m going to walk you through the studio set up and a few of the resulting images from the shoot.

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I don’t do a lot of this kind of work, but there are a few families that have asked me to do portrait sessions with them a number of times over the years, and I really enjoy working with them. This year the main event was to document something that is a tradition in some parts of Japan, which is to dress the 13 year old girl of the family in Kimono for a visit to the local shrine. Unfortunately, the weather closed in just as we were getting started, so the shrine visit went out of the window, but the shoot went ahead.

Studio Setup

My wife, who’s become a very competent assistant, and I went to the family’s home on the Saturday night before the Sunday shoot, to set up our studio. They have a large enough living room that by removing the sofa, we had enough space to shoot a small group, up to five people or so, though this still required some Photoshop work to remove the sides of the background for some of the wider shots.

Once we got into the shoot, I took a step back and grabbed this photo of the room with my Profoto Lighting in place, so I’ll walk you through that first. As we can see, I had some white seamless set up as a background. I know this can look a little sterile, but I’m really into the simplicity that a plain white background brings to an image. I’ve used a number of different coloured muslin backgrounds over the years, and they just seem dated to me now.

Profoto Studio Gear and White Seamless

Profoto Studio Gear and White Seamless

My lights are all Profoto D1 Air 500 W/S Monolights. These are not the most powerful D1’s available, but they are powerful enough for my needs. I bought these around four years ago now, and added a second pair of D1s around three years ago. I might choose some of the newer Profoto Lights if I was buying now, but I don’t do enough of this type of work to warrant replacing these, and probably wouldn’t anyway, as they still do everything I want them to at this point.

To the right, you’ll see my main or key light which is a 3×4′ Profoto Softbox, and to the left, I have a 2×3′ Profoto Softbox, adding some light to the other side of the subjects face. To light up the seamless background, I used the two umbrellas that came with one of my D1 Monolight kits. I won’t go into detail on all of the lighting stands etc. but I’ve embedded a B&H widget below with all of the studio gear I use included, and of course you are supporting the Podcast/blog by buying with these links.

I did this shoot with my Canon EOS 1D X tethered to Lightroom with a USB cable. Although the Profoto Monolights and Softboxes are pretty much Daylight white balance, I can recreate the exact colours in my subjects, especially the beautiful kimonos I’d be shooting on this day, by calibrating the camera with an X-Rite ColorChecker Passport.

I included the ColorChecker Passport in one of my early images, and created a camera profile, which I applied in Lightroom, then created a Develop Preset including the profile, and I was then able to assign that Develop preset to every image that was automatically imported to Lightroom via the tethering cable. As you can see in this screenshot (below) I had the preset that I created called “Profoto Studio” assigned right there in the tethering window. (Click on the image to view it larger and you will be able to read the text more easily.)

Profoto Studio and Lightroom Tethering

Profoto Studio and Lightroom Tethering

You can also see from this screenshot, that I was using the Profoto Air USB dongle, which enables me to control all of my Moonlights from my computer, and save my settings etc. I set the group on each of my lights to something different, so that I can control them all individually. The Key light was Group A, which you can see was set to 8.1, my second softbox to the left set to Group B with the power at 5.2, almost three stops less than my Key light, so that there was an obvious main source of light, and the second softbox just filled in shadows.

I positioned my two umbrellas at the same distance from the background, so I could have used just  one group to control both of them, but there’s a chance that I might have wanted to move these around during the shoot, so I called the Group C and D and set the power of them both to 6.5.

Some people like to angle the background lights more towards the background, but that can leave the centre of the background a little dark, especially when you have a group blocking out the spill from the main lights, so I like to have the angle quite shallow. The light from these two umbrellas also spills over onto the subjects, and reflects onto them from behind off of the white background, but I actually quite like that effect, which is why I set up like this.

To set the power of each light, I used a hand-held light meter, recording the brightness of each light and adjusted the power so that I was getting f/8 at ISO 100 at 1/200 of a second exposure, which is what I was going to be shooting at. Once you have the light meter set to your ISO and shutter speed, it basically just tells you your required aperture based on the light it reads as you fire your lights, so it’s really easy to get your lighting all set in a few tests.

Of course, the reading changes as you move closer or further away from your lights, but this is where the positioning comes into play. I moved my key light a little further away and turned the power up, so that it would provide a wider light that was already tapering off some by the time it hit the spot that I would place a single subject, but because it was further away, I’d be able to increase the number of people in the group, with some closer to the light, without it getting too bright and over-exposing the closer subjects. As the members of the group are placed further away of course, they start to pick up more light from my second soft box, and the entire group is nicely lit.

Once I was all set, I saved the settings of each light with the Profoto Studio software, so that if anything should change I could easily get back to these settings during the shoot. Another great thing about this software is that you can if you want, change the power of all of your lights and have them stay in sync. Say for example I wanted to shoot with a second camera with a different aperture, as I did a few times, I can change all of the lights by a few stops and they stay proportionately synched together, which is very handy.

Another thing I sometimes do is just use a neutral density filter on my second camera. Say I’m going to shoot at f/8 on one camera, and f/2.8 on a second camera, that would let in three stops more light, so I can put a three stop ND8 on my second camera, and just shoot away without adjusting my lighting. I actually find this much easier than messing around with the setting during a shoot.

The Kitsuke Shoot

We left the gear setup on Saturday night, and then went back bright and early on the Sunday morning to photograph the Kimono fitting, which in Japanese is called Kitsuke. The lady that we see in these Kitsuke photos is a professional and actually very well known kimono fitter, as well as a number of other traditional Japanese activities like playing the Koto and the tea ceremony.

In this first photo, we see the Sensei with her arms all the way around one of the young girls, wrapping the large belt around her. This is more of a documentary shot to show you what’s happening, but I was conscious to try and capture nice movement in the long furisode sleeves, and a theme through many of these photos was the sense of abandonment as the young girls just seemed to trust the sensei quite a long time as the fitting progressed. It actually took around 45 minutes to fit each of the girls, and I ended up with almost 100 photos of each session.

Kitsuke #1

Kitsuke #1

Kitsuke #2

Kitsuke #2

To the Japanese, the tying of knots is quite significant. I suppose it is with most cultures, as it represents finalisation, and a binding of people or things together.

The final touch to the kimono is the tying of the silk rope that goes around the Obi, or belt. After this last knot that we see here is tied, the lose ends are tucked under the rope so that, well, there are no loose ends.

As we progressed to photograph portraits of these girls with their families, whenever the ends of the rope would come loose, the sensei or a mother or grandmother would run in and tuck it back in.

I should also mention that the kimonos that these girls were dressed in actually belonged to their grandmother’s, and so have a lot of history and significance to their families. I was honoured to be able to photograph these kitsuke sessions in this way, with the beautiful simplicity that the white background and soft lighting provides.

As we progressed through the Kitsuke sessions with the second 13 year old now, I was mindful of composition of course, and tried at times to focus more on the actual dressing, and at times used a more dramatic composition such as this one, where I cut off the faces of the girl and sensei mid-way.

Kitsuke #3

Kitsuke #3

Kitsuke #4

Kitsuke #4

The tying of the bow on the back of the Kimono is of course another significant aspect of the kitsuke session, and because we are usually drawn to eyes, removing them kind of takes away from the weight of the eyes, freeing us to look around more. Of course, we still go back to the human faces, but not with so much immediacy as we would with the eyes in the shot.

Also note that although I’ll often have to ask people to look at the camera or look at a certain point, I didn’t request eye contact at any time during the dressing. I literally just wanted to document it, as though there was no photographer in the room.

Here again we see the sensei rounding up the length of silk belt into what would become an even more beautiful work of art in position on the back of the kimono.

Another thing that you might have noticed that I was really happy about, is that the kimono fitter also wears full traditional dress, including a beautiful formal kimono with it’s own obi and bow, and tabi, the toed footwear that most people probably associate with Ninja, although these are common here in Japan.

After a photo session, I usually provide my clients with a CD or USB memory stick with a selection of images resized for them to browse or use as the desktop wallpaper on their computers, and a smaller size that they can post on Facebook etc. Once I have my selection of images down, I also batch convert the set to black and white, using a Silver Efex Pro preset and the batch processing functionality in Photoshop. I know that you can batch process right there in Silver Efex, but when you have some 400 files to process it isn’t as smooth as Photoshop.

Kitsuke #5

Kitsuke #5

Although I usually do straight untoned black and white, for this shoot I just felt sepia was going to be a better option, as it seemed to match the timeless feel of the traditional clothing much better. This next shot is an example of how the images looked in Sepia. Note too that I was careful not to use an colour filters in Silver Efex too, as there was a wide range of colours in the various kimonos, and I needed to batch this work to save time, so I wasn’t able to go through and inspect and adjust each conversion before applying it. The results were just what I wanted anyway, so there was time saved and all was well.

On a business note, I wanted to just mention that I did not request payment to photograph the kitsuke sessions. I provided photos for the families, but I just really wanted to make these photos for myself, and I had each of the three young girls’ parents and the kimono fitter all sign model releases, and I’ll be submitting some of the images to be considered for inclusion in my Offset stock library.

Family Portraits

Getting a Son to Smile

Getting a Son to Smile

So, more than two hours after the Kitsuke sessions started and having dressed three young girls and two men, we were ready to start the family portrait sessions. In a meeting a week before the actual shoot, we’d already established a list of poses that each of the two families wanted, and we worked through each pose, shooting a number of possibilities for each, getting various facial expressions for each as well. I’m not going to go through the details, but we’ll finish by looking at a few of my favourite shots from these sessions.

For example, although we of course get the straight family shots, to me, I actually often prefer moments like this, when a mum tries to get a rebellious teenager to smile for the camera. Something else to note here is how I cropped this down to an 8×10 aspect ratio.

Although it was possible to shoot some groups photos vertically without including a bit of the floor in front of the seamless or over the top of the roll on the background supports, sometimes I just went in closer, or wider for full body length shots, and either cropped the image down to exclude the edges of the seamless, or I selected the messy areas around the seamless in Photoshop and used Content-Aware Fill to clean up the edges.

I could of course have extended the background support up a little, but as we messed up the seamless we cut away the messy part and rolled out more paper to clean it up, and I needed to be able to easily get to the clips that stop the seamless from unrolling, and this is as high as I can reach without using steps, so I generally just deal with this in post, as it doesn’t affect many photos, and it makes the shoot more efficient, which is better for the customers.

As Big as Dad!

Almost as Big as Dad!

Another way to give a teenage boy a reason to smile is to pitch him against dad, and give him a chance to prove that he’s now almost as big as him.

Note that the Dad here was wearing a traditional man’s kimono, and the son was wearing his school uniform, something that is often done for traditional portraits here in Japan.

I thought it was fun to get the two of them in this pose though, acting a little bit tough, but still obviously enjoying the shoot.

Note too that we now had people wearing shoes, which meant that the seamless got messed up pretty quickly which is why we had to cut it a few times.

This also caused me a lot of extra Photoshop work cleaning it up, which couldn’t really be avoided, other than changing the seamless more often, which again slows down the progress of the shoot so I try to wait until it’s getting pretty bad when I can.

The dad of the other family that we photographed on this day is actually from England, and has lived here since he was nine years old. One of the few people that I’ve met that have lived here longer than me. He speaks good Japanese too of course, so it was fun being able to communicate fluently with him in Japanese when necessary. Here we see a straight family portrait.

Family Portrait

Family Portrait

Again though, my favourite of the entire family here is one of those moments when they aren’t posed, as we see here. It’s not just me that likes these photos of course. I often find that although we need the standards, the families generally enjoy photos like this more too, so I also ensure that if I capture something like this, I include it in my selection.

Affectionate Preparation

Affectionate Preparation

There are lots of other photos that I’d love to show you, but let’s finish today with one last fun shot that we finished the shoot with, where I got everyone back on the seamless to go out with a bang. Remember that because I was shooting tethered, every photo I made appeared on my laptop screen a few seconds later, and the entire group was in stitches when we looked at this one come through, and we finished the session with a huge round of applause, not for me of course, but for all that were involved.

Grand Finale

Grand Finale

I wanted to finish with a thought here, that although I don’t do this sort of work often, I really do enjoy it when the chance arises. It’s not only great fun to work with people like this, but we really enjoy watching the children of the families that we shoot grow. In an ideal world I’ll still be photographing these families when the kids are all grown and have kids of their own, but I guess we’ll just have to see how that one pans out.

If you are interested in seeing more images from this shoot, I’ll probably share a few more over on my Google Plus account, so please follow me over on G+ if you don’t already, and check these out as I upload them.

Studio Gear

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Top Ten Non-Nature Photos from 2012 (Podcast 356)

Top Ten Non-Nature Photos from 2012 (Podcast 356)

Following on from last week’s Podcast, in which I showed you my top ten selection from my nature work in 2012, this week, we’re going to take a look at my favorite non-nature photos. This is a mix of street photography, traditional Japan work, and general snap shots. Again, it was a difficult task to whittle these down to just ten, but having gone through the exercise, I thought I’d share the results with you today.

I talked a bit about the statistics, how many photos I chose from etc. last week, so I won’t go into that again, but I did want to mention that the process was as time consuming as selecting from my nature work. I guess this is proof of how my photography is becoming more wide ranging now that this is all that I do. When I had the old day-job, I had to pick and choose my shoots much more strictly, because I had very little time to dedicate to photography, and so when I could go out, I generally chose to shoot what I love the most, which is nature.

MBP_2012_Best_Twelve

Since leaving my job in 2010, to concentrate on photography full time, I have been able to do more varied work, between my nature shoots. I’ve shot things like the Tsukiji Fish Market, that I visited with Scott Jarvie, and the Google+ First Birthday photo walk. I don’t think I could have done these things while in my old job. I was also able to travel the world with my Pixels 2 Pigment workshops, and then spent most of the time between the workshops shooting cityscapes and street photography, as well as meeting family. I was also able to shoot some traditional Japan shots during a private tour that I did in December, and although I obviously gave my customer the best angles, it was still possible to get some images of my own that I quite liked, and a few of them made it in here too.

I haven’t ordered this top ten as I did with my nature work, so in no particular order, let’s take a look, and first up is a shot from inside the Tsukiji Fish Market. I’d been meaning to visit for a around 20 years, and when Scott Jarvie visited in April I figured it was finally time to get down there and see the place for myself. If you listened to Episode 331 you’ll know that I had a great time, and came away with a bunch of photos that I was quite happy with, like this one.

It maybe isn’t the most artistic shot from the series, but I just love the various boxes and people, going about their work, and for the first time in a long time, even the Japanese writing that seems totally natural to me, looked fresh and almost Bladerunneresque. I always knew that I was wasting a huge opportunity living in Japan and not making photographs like this, but time was getting the better of me. I’m really pleased to be able to do this sort of work now though.

Tsukiji Fish Market

Tsukiji Fish Market

In September when I visited the US to continue my Pixels 2 Pigment workshops tour, I spent the first five days in Fairfield Ohio, for a long overdue visit to my see my Uncle and Aunt, and two of my three cousins that live their. On a guided tour of my cousin Tammy’s lovely house, I was amazed to find the beautiful light in this next photo, entering the attic space from a window behind a lovely old bed, and with lots of other well placed stuff that Tammy collects.

Tammy's Attic

Tammy’s Attic

Having exposed for the highlights behind the bed, the rest of the room fell dark or into silhouette, for this softly lit, and maybe even a little spooky feel. I knew as soon as I saw the shot that I had one of my favorites for the year, and it remained that way. This was shot at ISO 2000 by the way, and thanks to the 1D X, is totally noiseless, even in the shadows. You gotta love the technology that we have now.

I spoke about this next shot a few months ago as well, but one of the things that I really wanted to do while in New York was to shoot the Manhattan skyline. I arranged to meet a couple of friends, Scott Katzenoff and Ron Cunniff, and had a great time doing long exposures of the city. I have a second shot from this location that I really like too, of the Manhattan Bridge through the bottom of the Brooklyn Bridge, but I chose this iconic skyline for the top ten, for that very reason, it’s iconic. It’s a skyline that I would never have thought I’d get a chance to see, never mind photograph in this way.

Manhattan Skyline

Manhattan Skyline

Another iconic subject that I was happy to have shot this year, was the Golden Gate Bridge. The low cloud and mist makes the Golden Gate a very photogenic bridge, along with how they light it of course. September in San Francisco was a lot colder than I’d imagined, but the memory of standing their on the side of a cliff with my friend Jack Andrys will stay with me.

Golden Gate Bridge

Golden Gate Bridge

I think this is a big part of the experience when shooting this sort of photograph that I don’t get so much from my nature work. There are times when I recall who I was with, especially when they are photos from workshops and tours, but I find that I get so wrapped up in the subject with my nature work that I focus much more on the subject, even in my recollection of the shoot. With the sort of work we’re looking at today though, the company I was in at the time I made the photograph is almost as important to me as the photos themselves.

As with any editing process though, none of that is included in the image, so the viewer of course doesn’t see that. This makes it very important to remove that emotion from the selection process, or you could end up with lesser images in your set based on the emotional attachment that you have with the image. It’s important to select images based on their own merit, not how they make us personally feel, and that is often very difficult to do.

Next up are a few photos from the Google+ First Birthday Photo Walk in Tokyo. This is Katsuya Tanaka at the gate of Zoujouji Temple, one of the places we visited. Again, this photo is as much about who I was with on the walk, but I really like this shot, with the contrast between the dark weathered metal, and the red colored gates, and then Katsuya of course, doing what we do. I don’t know about you, but I have hundreds of photos of photographers photographing, and it’s nice when the photo actually appeals to me as a photo, like this one does.

Zoujouji Fish Market Gate

Zoujouji Fish Market Gate

Here is another photo from the Google Plus First Birthday photo walk, a shot through the main temple building at Zoujouji, with a family sitting in silhouette, listening to the priest’s sermon. Here of course I was attracted to this scene first by the beautiful green through the doorway and also reflected in the highly polished temple floor. I then shot a number of frames trying to get the composition right, with the people’s heads in a good position as well.

Houwa

Houwa

On the way out from the Zoujouji Temple, this young monk came along to ring the five o’clock bell, so a group of us quickly scurried around trying to get a good angle. When I first shot this, my favorite was a view from the front, where you could see the monk’s face, but as the year went by, and I reviewed my photos a few times, I found myself gravitating to the back view, as I think this shows the swinging action and intent of the monk more dynamically. Also note that this is not another shot of Katsuya, from the red gate shot earlier.

Zoujouji Souryo (Monk)

Zoujouji Souryo (Monk)

These next three shots are images that I really like from that private tour in December that I mentioned. I spent 12 days with a gentlemen and his two sons traveling around Kyoto, Takayama and then Nagano for three days with the Snow Monkeys. We had a great time and I ended up with a handful of images that I quite like too, starting with this one, of the Buddha statue at Kiyomizu Temple, in Kyoto.

Here I plugged up the blacks a little in Lightroom, and increased the saturation of the gold color a little, to make the statue pop more against the dark background, and I’m quite happy with how this turned out. The danger here again though is that this is a recent photo, and they are always more likely to end up in a selection than older ones. I’m hoping that this and the next two shots remain favorites as time distances me from the experience of the shoot.

Kiyomizu Temple Dainichinyorai

Kiyomizu Temple Dainichinyorai

This next shot is a dragon gargoyle on the corner of the roof over the incense burning pot in front of the Nanzenji Temple in Kyoto. We were too late for the autumn color, but a few places still had some golden leaves on the trees, and here I thought they kind of look like fire, aptly surrounding the dragon. I ran this through Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 4 to enhance that fiery color, and bring out the detail in the dragon a little more too.

Nanzenji Dragon Gargoyle

Nanzenji Dragon Gargoyle

Finally, here’s a photo from the Fushimi-Inari Shrine, where there are hundreds of these vermilion Torii gates, forming tunnels that I’m sure you’ve seen photos of already. I got a few shots of the gate tunnels, but liked this shot of the writing on the gates more for this selection. From the front, the gates are unmarked, but from the back, you can see the name of the person or company that paid for each gate. The gate in the center of this shot was actually gifted by Kitamura Motors, probably a car dealership, which might not be quite as traditional as you might have hoped, but I still like the overall feel of the shot, with the clean pillar here surrounded by slightly more worn pillars.

Kitamura Motors

Kitamura Motors

On a technical note, had I left the exposure to the camera for this shot, the main, center pillar would have been severely overexposed, because of the darker areas either side fooling the meter to brighten the entire scene up too much. Even for shots like this, I find using manual exposure easier, and just exposing to the right, meaning that the data on my histogram is almost but not quite touching the right shoulder of the graph. If you keep that under control, you rarely have to worry about anything else, and this shot is straight out of the camera.

So, that’s it. My 2012 Top Ten non-nature shots. As I looked back through the year, for both these and my nature shot top ten, I see just how productive 2012 was for me, and I feel very fortunate to have been able to visit the places that I did, meet the people that I met, and to be able to make a living doing what I love.

Regardless of the sort of images that you shoot, if you put together a top ten of your own work from 2012, do share a link in the comments of this blog post, or on Google+ etc. I saw some beautiful work posted by listeners following last week’s nature top ten, and I look forward to seeing more of your work following this episode too.


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Nikko Part II – Synergy of Culture and Nature (Podcast 41)

Nikko Part II – Synergy of Culture and Nature (Podcast 41)

Much of the Nikko area in Tochigi Prefecture, a few hours drive north of Tokyo, is perched high in the mountains, and is very close to the Japanese people’s hearts. Nikko is the synergy of Culture and Nature. Last week we looked at some shots from two Sundays I spend in Nikko in May 2006, and this week, although we’ll initially look at another view of the famous Kegon Falls and some landscapes in the area, we will also take a look more into the cultural side with some shots from the Toushouguu Temples and Futarasan Shrine areas.

To give you a brief outline of the Nikko area, Nikko is split mainly into two areas. The area we visited last week perched high in the mountains at around 1,400 meters, and then the Nikko City itself, where there are 103 Shrines and Temples. Nine buildings are registered as World Heritage national treasures and 94 of them registered as important cultural property and natural environments. Forty two of these buildings are in the Toushouguu Shrine area, 23 are in the neighbouring Fatarasan Shrine area, with the remaining buildings in the surrounding area. Before we take a look at just a few images from the Nikko shrines at Toushougu and Futarasan, let’s look at a few more shots from the highland area that we also discussed last week.

The first shot for today is image number 1000 of the beautiful Kegon Falls. This was shot with my 16-35mm F2.8 lens, using a tripod of course, and the ISO was set to 100. The shutter speed was 1/4 of a second with an ND8, 3 stop neutral density filter, to show a certain amount of movement in the water by making it a flowing stream and not freezing the motion as a faster shutter speed would have done, and the aperture was F11. Most of the scene was quite far away from me, and at a focal length of 21mm, that is plenty to attain pan-focus. That is, where everything is sharp from the nearest object in the image to the farthest.

Kegon Falls in the Rain #1

Kegon Falls in the Rain #1

Again, as I mentioned last week, the fact that it was raining on this day meant that the fresh spring greenery, being all wet, was recorded as a beautiful lush green that is just not possible on a bright sunny day, even at the same time of year. The overcast sky helps to give even lighting to the scene, as basically the whole sky is just one big diffuser box, like the ones you can put on the front of flash units. The cloud is creeping over the top of the mountain in the top center to left from the Chuuzenji lake that we can see in one of the shots I showed you last week, and this helps to add depth to the shot as the trees in the top right of the shot are quite highly contrasted against the mist and the farthest parts of the scene are basically quite low contrast because of it.

Also before anyone says it, no this shot does not need rotating a degree or so to the right. I always use a spirit level in my flash shoe when using a tripod and I can assure you this image is straight. The waterfall is flowing with such force due to the rain that the volume of water is pushing it further away from the rock face as usual making this optical illusion. I really like this and the other shot that I uploaded of these falls, just because of the misty, moody feel. I think this shot has a lot of atmosphere, and I hope it comes across in this smaller version that you’ll see in iTunes or on my Web site.

I had shot the Ryuuzu or Dragon Head falls also after shooting at this location on this day, but as we discussed that last week, in comparison to the nice bright day version from the previous week, we’ll skip those images today. After shooting the Ryuuzu falls we headed down the Irohazaka, which is a very steep winding road that leads back down to the Nikko city area. Let’s look at image number 1009. On the way down the Irohazaka, when there are not so many cars and tourist buses around, you can sometimes pull the car up at the side of the road and get out to shoot some pictures. The bus drivers as they come around the bends, which is usually where the best shots are visible from, get frustrated if you have a tripod setup taking up part of the road, as this makes them have to work harder to swing their bus around. For handheld shots you can get right up against the white crash-barrier at the side of the road as I did for this shot, and that way you don’t annoy anybody. I had a bus driver shouting at me last autumn for getting in his way, but I don’t see any no photography or no parking signs, so generally try to avoid doing this just to keep the peace. If the shot is available no other way though, just try to get as close to the barrier as possible without being in danger of toppling over it.

Misty Spring Mountain

Misty Spring Mountain

This particular shot was again shot with my 16-35mm lens at ISO 200 as I was hand holding, and still at F11. Exposure time was now 1/100th of a second which is plenty fast enough for hand holding at 31mm. I was also using plus 1/3 of a stop exposure compensation, as the large expanse of white mist and cloud and the bright green foliage was fooling the camera’s meter into under exposing this image just slightly. I also shot some images from this point that were a little bit wider, containing more of the mountain to the left, but I felt that it was not adding anything to the scene, so I went again with this slightly more tightly cropped version.

Nioh Statue

Nioh Statue

After descending the hill completely and reaching the Nikko City area, we now headed for the Toushouguu temple area. On the way into the main area there is a gate called the Omote Mon, which basically just means the front gate. This gate is guarded by a security guard to stop anyone going in that has not bought a ticket, but it is also guarded by a Nioh Statue at either side. I shot the one on the left on the way in, but the more successful shot was actually the one on the right as I came out an hour or so later, but we’ll look at that first. It is image number 1012. You will see a fearsome looking fellow, painted in the bright red that is common to many Japanese temples and shrines. Red is believed to ward off evil, and this guy looks like he will definitely be accomplishing his purpose.

I hand held this shot resting my elbows on a wooden ledge, looking up at the statue. I chose this perspective as I find looking up at this guy with his sword about to thrust down upon us helps to make him look as menacing as he can. I was shooting at ISO 400 with my 24-105mm F4 lens, wide open at F4 to get as much light onto my sensor as possible. I had the image stabilizer turned on and the shutter speed was 1/8th of a second at 70mm. I shot in a burst of about 3 or 4 shots though due to the slow shutter speed and indeed some of them were slightly blurred. I selected -2/3 of a stop exposure compensation as the shadows behind the statue would have fooled the camera into over-exposing the statue, even though as I’ve mentioned before, I always use center-weighted metering. Note that by Center Weighted, I’m using the Canon definition, which is where the camera weights the priority in the center but still is averaged for the entire scene. Please do not confuse this with Evaluative Metering, where the entire scene’s average is used, or Partial metering, which is where the center 8% of the scene is metered, or Spot metering, where just the center 3.5% of the scene is metered. To confuse matters, it seems that Nikon use the term Center Weighted to refer to what Canon refer to as Partial Metering, you’ll need to check your manual if you want more information on the various metering modes available for your camera. Basically though, I pretty much always have my camera set to Center Weighted metering, sometimes switching to Partial or Spot metering for more accurate readings from a small area.

Shourou (Belltower)

Shourou (Belltower)

Moving on though, let’s take a look at image number 1011. This is actually a bell tower inside the Toushouguu grounds. I chose this shot to upload and to talk about today to give you a taste of the sort of architecture within the grounds, but this really does not do Nikko justice. The temples themselves are difficult to get full shots of, because even on rainy days like the one I visited on, the place is usually teaming with tourists. Most shots you see of the temples and shrines at Nikko are either just the tops of the buildings, to cut out the tourists, or they have the full building but the bottom half of the shot is indeed full of tourists. I dare say, if you really wanted some nice serene shots of the buildings you could spend the night in a hotel close by and get there as early as possible in the morning to beat the crowds and get your images, with some patience. I personally have never done that so far, and I’m not that bothered about doing so, despite the obvious beauty of the buildings.

Without going into too much detail, the temples and shrines of Nikko came to be from an original commission for a small temple to be built to house the body of Ieyasu Tokugawa, a Shogun lord, born during the feudal period of Japans history. Ieyasu is accredited largely with bringing peace to Japan, and when he died on April 17th, 1616 at the age of 75, he left a will instructing his body to be enshrined for one year in Mt Kuno in his hometown of Shizuoka. After that he had instructed that a small shrine be build in Nikko in which he was to be enshrined as a God and said he would be the guardian of Japan. Nikko is in the North of Japan, and for a long time the North was regarded as evil and barbaric. Ieyasu wanted to be enshrined there to protect Japan from the evil that lay within, and he wished for eternal peace under the Tokugawa government.

Although he’d requested just a small shrine, his third successor Iemistu rebuilt the area in today’s form which is really way more than Ieyasu had originally requested but probably more befitting one of the most powerful and influential Shoguns that Japan has ever known. The Nikko temples and shrines cost around 40 billion yen. That is 40 billion in the US or I guess 40 thousand million in the UK. This equates to around 400 million dollars in today’s terms. 4,540,000 people were involved in the reform, which took just one year and 5 months, and was completed in 1636.

Five Storied Pagoda

Five Storied Pagoda

Most of the inner buildings are covered in ornate carvings and many painted in bright colours or clad in gold leaf. I appreciate their beauty but have never to date been able to photograph them in a way in which I like, partly because of the crowds, but also probably because I prefer more subdued colours as opposed to bright sparkling, almost gaudy colours. Having said that, the next shot, image number 1013 of the bright red Five Storied Pagoda just outside the Front Gate with the Nioh statue we looked at earlier, could well be considered gaudy, to a certain degree. I posted this shot and included it in today’s Podcast to talk about the thinking behind the shot.

As I turned and walked down the stone steps after shooting the Nioh statue, I noticed this lady standing looking at a map to the right of the pagoda, and her striking red jacket match the red of the pagoda, and there was no other subject in the shot for a second or two. I snapped off a couple of shots before a number of other people walked into the frame, but was pleased to have noticed the matching colours and to have acted quickly enough to get at least an OK shot. In my haste I did make this hand-held shot slightly skewed. I had to rotate it in Photoshop after the event, but saved something out of the moment. It was shot at exactly the same settings as the last shot, as I didn’t have time to change anything, but the exposure compensation was now at -1 stop, as I think I had shot my last shot of the Nioh statue at -1. I hadn’t worried too much about the aperture though, as although F4 is quite wide, it was going to be enough to get the pagoda in focus and I just made sure that I focused on the woman in the red coat as she was to become the focal point of the shot, not the historical building that has already been photographed millions of times before this capture.

As you descend the stone steps from the Front Gate of the Toushouguu grounds, if you turn right and walk between the grounds and the 36m tall Five Storied Pagoda, you’ll be faced with the scene from image number 1014. This whole row of stone lanterns and the red wall leading down the right of the image is called Shinmon, or God Gate, and it leads to the Futarasan Shrine. For this image I closed the aperture down to F8 to get a little more depth-of-field, but I didn’t want pan-focus as this was have reduced the feeling of depth that we get from having the scene go slightly out of focus as we get deeper into it. I was still at ISO 200 and was hand-holding at 1/15th of a second, and -1 stop of exposure compensation. The shot looks normal as far as brightness is concerned, but this is thanks to the exposure compensation. On overcast days such as this you will often find that the camera wants to make them brighter than the scene really is, so under compensating a little can help to normalize things.

Futarasan Shrine Shinmon Gate

Futarasan Shrine Shinmon Gate

I could have used a tripod here, but I’d also like to stress that on this day I was with my better half and a friend visiting from India, so I couldn’t really take very much time on my shots. I had to get the shot, and get a move on pretty much most of the time. The only time during this day that I used my tripod was to shoot the falls that we looked at last week and earlier today. I enjoy using my tripod when I can, especially for landscape work, as it helps me to think more carefully about composition etc. but I think it’s also important to be able to shoot hand-held when necessary too and still get results.

The next shot is number 1016, and was shot inside the Futarasan outer grounds. This is actually a building or kind of a wall around the garden next to the Shrine’s office. I included this as I like the contrast between the bright greens and the reds, but also the witches broom propped up against the wall in the center of the image adds a little reality to the overall image. From this we can learn that people are living and working here, sweeping up fallen leaves in their daily lives. Again I was under compensating by 1 stop, with an aperture of F5.6 and shutter speed of 1/125th of a second with ISO 200 still, and still using my 24-105mm F4 lens at 55mm for this shot.

Futarasan Shrine Office Buildings

Futarasan Shrine Office Buildings

I you walk back out of the Futarasan Shrine, to right is a bank, which is what I shot in image number 1017. Again, I just like the contrast between the bright green of the wet moss in the foreground here, with the red fence out of focus in the background adding a little extra interest. I didn’t want to keep my company weighting while I changed lenses, so despite having an F2.8 100mm macro lens in my pocket, I chose to go with the 24-105mm lens already mounted, and just opened it up to the widest aperture of F4. This was enough to throw the red fence out of focus as I wanted, so I’m quite pleased with the results. So as to keep the green bright now though, I’d raised the exposure compensation to -2/3 and the shutter speed hand held was 1/50th of a second for this shot at 75mm.

Moss with Red Fence

Moss with Red Fence

The last shot for today (1019) was something that I spotted from the car on the way out of the Nikko area on the way back to the highway to head back to Tokyo. This is a simple shot of the raindrops ripples in a rice paddy shot with my 100-400mm lens at ISO 400 at F5.6 and a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second. I was OK hand holding as I was resting the lens on my car door with window open. The lens was getting wet, but it’s splash proof because it’s an L lens, so I just wiped it off after I finished shooting. This simple shot kind of wraps up this two part series from two Sundays in Nikko in May of 2006. I will be going back to Nikko many times since becoming a little more free after buying a car in December 2005, but for now, this is my most recent Nikko experience.

One thing that I must say before closing, about Nikko and for that matter much of Japan, is that both Buddhism and the Shinto religion can live side by side in places like Nikko without everybody trying to kill each other and blow up each other’s places of worship. Although this is a pretty touchy subject, and I’m sure that many of those that were held captive in prisoner of war camps will have a very different opinion, in general the Japanese are an incredibly peace loving nation. I do so wish that many of the other countries and religions around the world could take a leaf out of their book and live together in peace and harmony as the main religions of Japan do today.

Even if you didn’t tune in last week, most of you will have now noticed that this Podcast is now available as an Enhanced Podcast, which means if you listen on an iPod the images I speak about will change automatically as the Podcast progresses, and are viewable freely by navigating between chapters. For anyone that does not use iTunes or and iPod to listen, I have also created a new feed that you can subscribe to that contains the MP3 version of the Podcast that has no chapters, but will enable you to continue to listen as you have done to date. The address for this feed is available on my Podcasts page and is also in the show notes.

Finally, remember that there is still just under two weeks left of the Rainy Day assignment, which closes on June 25th, so if you still haven’t posted your entry, please take a look at the detail in the Assignment Forum, and if you didn’t listen to the original Podcast on this assignment, you can go back to Episode 37 for more details. There are some great images already uploaded to the assignment gallery, and I can’t wait to see what the rest of you make of this assignment.

Thanks very much for listening, and enjoy your week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes
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