Japan

Photography Tip - be careful using slow shutter for waterfalls in daylight

A waterfall in Japan I photographed a decade ago, long before my skills were competent....this was a 0.8 sec shutter speedA photography student recently asked me about photographing waterfalls and specifically about getting that soft cotton look to the water.  Well, to do that, it is rather easy, if you have the right gear and conditions, otherwise it is rather tricky.

The ideal gear to have would be:

  • tripod
  • neutral density filter
  • cable release

Obviously of course you need a DSLR too with an appropriate lens to frame the waterfall.  So if you can mount your camera on a tripod, attach a neutral density filter to the lens, then use the cable release to eliminate camera shake, all is good.  What if you do not have all of that?

The same waterfall with 0.6 sec shutter speedThese photographs were made when I did not really know what I was doing back in November of 2004.  I had a pretty good digital camera that had manual exposure abilities, but I did not understand aperture properly as these shots were all like at f/3.5!  Should have been f/11.  At least I had a tripod.  If you do not have a tripod, then there is no chance as no one can hold a camera for 0.6 seconds steady.  So you at least need a tripod.  If no cable release, then you can use the self-timer to have your hands off the camera as the shutter opens.  

The problem with shooting long exposures during the day is that it is very easy to overexpose the shot.  Very easy.  So the waterfall shots here do not look as good as they could because I could only get away with a 0.8 sec shutter speed.  Of course if I had used f/11, then I could have used a much slower shutter speed.  Either way, if I had a neutral density filter, essentially a very strong pair of sunglasses for your lens, then I could have left the shutter open for nearly as long as I wanted to get the ideal look to the waterfall without overexposing the rest of the shot at all.  So if you find that you like making these kinds of waterfall shots, and long exposures in general, do yourself a favor and get a good tripod, a cable release, and a good neutral density filter.  

Yours truly circa November 2004...whoops, missed the focus due to using too large of an aperture, something I would never do now.I took the time to even make a self-portrait.  I initially thought I back focused and because of using such a large aperture, I was out of focus, but I now realize it might have just been because I moved some during the 2 seconds the shutter was open!!  If you can believe it, I still wear that same hat everytime I go hiking and now trekking here in Florida.  I actually wore that shirt just last week too!  The photo was from November 2004 in a forested mountainside in Japan.

Photography Tip - a cloudless sky is the enemy of the landscape photographer

Clouds add a lot to a landscape photograph mostly by making the sky interesting -- Mountains in Yamanashi Prefecture JapanA bright blue, cloudless sky sounds like part of what would make for a very beautiful day, does it not?  Well, if you are a landscape photographer nothing could be worse!  I have heard it put that, "a cloudless sky is the enemy of the landscape photographer."  If there are no clouds in the sky, then it is just an expanse of a mostly solid color with no visual interest, especially if it is a middle of the day plain blue sky.  Even for sunset portraits, I definitely prefer to have some clouds in the background even though the sky is all orange, yellow and red.  

So the next time you are thinking to make a landscape photograph, make sure there are some good clouds to add that extra element of interest to you image.  

Sakura Cherry Blossoms in Tokyo Japan means Spring has arrived

Inokashira Park with sakura cherry blossoms in full bloom - Olympus 5060 digital cameraIt is the first day of spring, which in Florida does not have as much meaning as there is never really any winter so it's not a date to look forward to like it is in most parts of the world.  This is expecially true in Tokyo, where the end of March brought my favorite (and millions of others' favorite) time of year, cherry blossom season.  Sakura (the Japanese word, also a popular name for girls) bloom for about two weeks.  If things time out right, that means getting two weekends to enjoy the pinkish white blossoms.  Above is Inokashera Park, a place to see sakura in a more natural setting from land or water.  Many couples go out on small boats, but the legend of the pond is that any couple that does is then doomed to breakup!

The old & new of the Shinjuku area of Tokyo Japan with a river lined with cherry blossoms.This photo is from my neighborhood in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo and highlights the contrast of the ultra-modern, the traditional and the natural world all in one, which is why of all places I lived abroad, Shinjuku was the only one I felt a real connection with.  On this weekday, I had the cement river walkway all to myself.

Overlooking a pond in Shinjuku Gyoen during cherry blossom season

The pond and overlook temple above are in Shinjuku Gyoen, perhaps the most esteemed place to go to see sakura.  This park was within walking distance from my apartment and my favorite place to escape the city while still being in the heart of the city.  

Shinjuku Tokyo Japan light trails

The view I had walking home at night when I lived in the Shinjuku area of Tokyo, Japan - Nikon D80 f/29 ISO 200 5 sec tripod mountedThis is a photograph from my archives, taken back in October of 2008 at the start of my DSLR shooting from when I lived in Tokyo, Japan.  I lived in the heart of the city, Shinjuku, and getting home required walking over a pedestrian bridge with a great view, day or night, but especially at night.  I brought my Nikon D80 with me and a tripod I had just bought allowing me to make light trail images like this one.  Note that the brake lights appear on the left side of the road, as Japanese drive on the opposite side to the U.S.

Daibutsu the Great Buddha of Kamakura Japan

In Kamakura Japan there sits Daibutsu (Great Buddha) - Olympus 5060 digital cameraNine years ago I visited Kamakura, Japan for the first time the day after New Year's.  It was just a train ride for me from my apartment in Tokyo, but it felt like traveling back in time to a different era.  Kamakura is home to many ancient things, including Daibutsu, The Great Buddha, a statue some 44 feet tall.  You may be surprised, as I was, that the statue is hollow and you can go inside and climb some stairs to look out the eyes yourself!

Daibutsu of Kamakura Japan sits some 44 feet tall - Olympus 5060 digital cameraThese photographs were made long before I entered the DSLR world, and in fact to my knowledge there were no consumer DSLRs even available.  I had a 5 megapixel Olympus 5060 digital camera.  I do recall shooting from a tripod on this day.  The biggest holidays of the year for Japanese are on and around New Year's, so it was not surprising to see many visitors there on January 2, 2004.  

Buddha statues of all sizes are offered fruit on a daily basis - Olympus 5060 digital cameraStatues of Buddha all over Asia almost always have fruit as an offering in front of them.  I thought the scale of the large statue and small fruit was amusing in this composition as I imagined Daibutsu trying to pick up one of those small apples with his large hands.

The eyes of Daibutsu are 1m wide - Olympus 5060 digital cameraKamakura is a must see location for anyone visiting Japan.  Besides the statue of Daibutsu, there are many other ancient temples each with secret places to explore.  

Have a Photography Philosophy Part 1 - make photos for yourself

One of my all-time favorite personal photos, man contemplating Tokyo - Nikon D80 Nikkor 50mm @ f/8 ISO 400 1/250th (notice early in my DSLR photography learning I used settings I would definitely not today!)Earlier today I came up with an idea for a new photography tip series entitled, "Having a Photography Philosophy," as there are intangible things that going into photography beyond mastering exposure and even composition.  One of my personal photography philosophies has always been, even from the very start of getting more seriously into photography, was to first and foremost make photographs for myself.  It also may surprise you that I even carry this philosophy into shoots I do for clients.  The way I see it, clients have browsed my portfolios.  Therefore, they must like what they have seen to have hired me.  Thus, if I make shots that appeal to me, as I have always done in the past, then the photos I make for the client now will appeal to them as well.  Of course not every shoot allows for such creative freedom, but when I make portraits for clients or photograph cars for clients, I make shots I think look cool.  I want the final shots to also be ones I like.  This philosophy balanced with client input I believe creates very successful final images.

In my personal shooting I entirely shoot for myself first and foremost.  I go out to make shots that I like.  If someone else happens to like them, that is great, but not necessarily important to me.  After all, if you do not even like the photos you are making, how can you ever expect anyone else to like them either?  

The photo in this post is one of my all-time personal favorites.  If I could only choose one photo to remind me of what my life was like in Tokyo, it would probably be this one.  I walked by this very spot almost every day, and like the man pictured, never ceased to stop and stare at all the action, all the craziness, all the life before me.  It was also one of the very first, if not the first shot I ever took with my Nikkor 50mm f/1.8D lens that I bought in Bic Camera just to frame left.  So as you can see, this photo cannot possibly have the same amount of meaning to anyone else, which is why it is important to make photographs for yourself.

Autumn Leaves Red & Yellow in Japan 50mm bokeh fine art photography

Autumn leaves from my Japan archives made in 2008 - Nikon D80 Nikkor 50mm @ f/2 ISO 400 1/250th

Since it is now October 8th and the temperature is still 86F and rising here in Florida, I had to go into my Japan photography archives to find an autumn colors image.  Not that we ever get such color changing in leaves here, but still.  This autumn leaves image is also early in my photography learning, as if you read the exif data and have ever taken one of my photography lessons, I would never use those settings now, especially not ISO 400 when there was still so much shutter speed to play with!