A Snapshot of Japan Part 2 – The People

When you arrive in Japan the first thing that strikes you is that there are lots of people, and I really mean lots. Most are local residents, but then there are also the busloads of tour groups who arrive at the popular locations in their masses. When faced with the dilemma of photographing interesting scenes in crowded locations the solution is to include the people and make them the subject.

Here are a few shots of people going about their daily routine that were taken in Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka.

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A Snapshot of Japan Part 1 – The Cherry Blossom

The association of Springtime and Japan always brings the thought of cherry blossom to mind and what better way is there to capture this special event than with a camera in hand.

Join me in this first part of a series of articles covering my visit to the cities of Tokyo, Kyoto and Osaka as we explore the wonders of these ancient cities, their people and modern-day lifestyle.

Each year, the cherry blossom, or sakura as referred to by the locals, only lasts at its peak for around one week, so timing for photography purposes is critical if you are to capture the full beauty of the pink and white blooms at their best.

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The cherry blossom means more than just beautiful trees to the people of Japan as the sakura has ties to Japan’s history, culture and identity, and brings the feelings of hope and renewal of life.

The gatherings of groups of family and friends under the trees for flower watching parties, called hanami, are a very important part of Japanese life and tradition.

On the particular Saturday that we were there, we were told that 3 million people passed through the gates of the Shinjuku Gyoen National Garden in Tokyo between 9 am and 4 pm. The gardens occupy an area of 58.3ha or around 145 acres, but that’s still a lot of people for just one day.

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While the trees look spectacular from a distance with all their majesty, there are always photos of the small detail to be had within the bigger scheme of things.

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What better place for a photo when dressed in full costume than in front of the cherry blossom

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Watch for Part 2 to follow shortly

 

Impressionism & Abstract Photography – am I out of my mind

Many long years ago as a school student, my art teacher called me aside at the end of the year and informed me that he was going to give me two bonus marks for my final assessment. I think this was for the benefit of both of us, for me it meant a pass and for him, none of the class failed.

We both realised that art was not one of my strongest subjects so we parted our ways, probably pleased to see the last of each other. I moved on to the science subjects of chemistry and physics where everything was real and meaningful and there wasn’t a need to use one’s imagination in order to be creative. I still remember every action had an equal and opposite reaction. Well my reaction was to clap my hands and rid myself of the artistic world in which I was practically a failure.

It was around that same time that I took up photography, a hobby that included the physics of light and the chemistry of film development. I was happy.  Over the last 50 years I’ve slowly come to realise that photography and art go hand in hand to some extent but realism and photo-journalism had been my thing in the past. Everything sharp and accurate, that’s the way the brain worked, until recently. Great cameras, fabulous lenses with incredible optics, all in the quest for the pin sharp image.

Occasionally something would go wrong. The shutter speed was too slow, the lens didn’t focus where I wanted, or the camera moved when it shouldn’t. Those images would be blurred and useless but somehow they had some appeal. Little did I know that the dormant and artistic right side of the brain was showing signs of awakening.

It was only recently that I decided to undertake a course in Impressionist Photography run by one of my Facebook friends, Eva Polak, a New Zealander who specialises in this form of artistic photography. With great enthusiasm, I have discovered a new and refreshing dimension of photography, one that I’m sure will remain with me.

Learning the distinction between abstract and impressionism took a little while but once I got the feel of it, the creative juices began to flow. For me that’s a big achievement when I think back to my school days and that drawing stick figures was about the limit of my artistic ability.

Here are some of my recent and not so recent images that have now seen the light of day thanks to Eva and her course. All images were totally created in-camera except the last two abstract images that were produced from regular images but using editing software to create the effect.

 

Red Barn

Red Barn

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Dawn

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Tram Stop

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Innocence

Behind Bars

Behind Bars

Baby Face

Baby Face

Take Off

Take Off

Dazzled

Dazzled

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Sparkling Melbourne

Whirlwind

Whirlwind

Firefly

Firefly

Working the Sunset

Armed with a new lens in hand, a Sigma 12-24mm ART Series, and the first opportunity to put it to the test, what better than a colourful sunset to give it a try.

Over the duration of about an hour, it was interesting to see the constant atmospheric changes that were taking place and how the light affected the location. It soon became obvious that there were many opportunities to capture not just one sunset shot, but many images, and all so different to each other. I call that “working the scene”.

You never know just how interesting the images will look unless you keep shooting and constantly adjusting exposure settings as the circumstances require. Starting the session with a shot in aperture priority and allowing the camera to do the rest soon proved that some human intervention was required. The old friend exposure compensation soon came into play with a -2 stop setting proving to be the best to start off with while the sun was still fairly high above the horizon. At this point, blues and gold colours were rather dominant and reflections were colourful and artistic. The light changed constantly, and the colours in the clouds intensified from orange/red to subtle pinks and mauve. By moving around the location as the incoming tide changed the foreground, watching the sky and the reflections that it created and working the scene, time quickly passed. Once the light was gone the show was over for another day as darkness descended.

The moral of my story is to keep shooting and keep looking for the best location within the area you are working in, in order to maximise the variety of images that may be possible. Don’t forget to look behind you from time to time as often there is another shot to be had as can be seen from the last image in this series.

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Karawarra Australian Plant Garden

A visit to any garden in the Springtime is sure to provide plenty of opportunity to photograph beautiful flowers. Visiting an Australian Native plant garden certainly won’t produce the usual garden specimens of roses and daffodils, but there is plenty of beauty to be found once you look a little closer at our Australian natives.

Nestled in the Dandenong Ranges, the two hectare Karawarra Australian Plant Garden in Kalorama was established in 1965 and our destination for a photo shoot. While nearby, the Destiny Point Cafe, located on the Mount Dandenong Tourist Road proved a welcome lunch time spot on the day of our visit.

Here are just a few specimens from the 1400 different species of native plants that can be found at Karawarra.

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Ambleside UK – People and Their Dogs

After spending a week based in Ambleside photographing the beautiful Lakes District, we decided to devote our last afternoon to observing both the people and their dogs as they went about their day.

It soon became obvious that the town was a mecca for walkers and pet lovers with many of the numerous shops and restaurants displaying signs that dogs are welcome. Yes welcome to come inside, just not on wet days in some establishments.

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But who could resist admiring some of these adorable four legged friends.

With dogs of many shapes and sizes in every direction you looked it was possible at most times to stand on the corner of the street and count at least half a dozen dogs on leads with their owners in tow. Some dogs were anxious to get to where they were going._GNE8170 Mono_GNE8162 Mono_GNE8153 Mono

There were also the patient ones that were prepared to wait around while their human companions went about their business of having an ice cream or waiting for a friend._GNE8177 Mono_GNE8159 Mono_GNE8160 Mono

Wherever you looked dogs were welcomed and obviously a big part of the mature family. We noted at the time that there was a distinct lack of children around and the dogs were plainly now entrenched as part of the family, something we sometimes refer to as empty nesters._GNE8196 MonoLooking at the people was just as interesting. I guess this lady in the passing bus was just as amused by two strangers in town walking around with big cameras. Her expression was classic._GNE8163 Mono

The hotels were busy with locals and tourists alike. This was one of our favourite dinner spots during our stay._GNE8155 MonoA mild 12 degree (54F) day for us, but no doubt quite summery for these parts of Cumbria, saw the ice cream vendors doing a steady trade._GNE8193_GNE8175 Mono

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I guess what ever way you look at it, Ambleside is a lovely village and a great place to base one’s self for a tour of the Lakes District._GNE8180 Mono

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More details of our travels through Cumbria to follow shortly.

 

Aurora Australis – Southern Aurora and How To Capture It

It isn’t often that in the suburbs of Melbourne we get to see very much of the Southern Aurora, unlike our friends in Tasmania and south island New Zealand.

When solar activity is sufficient to create activity in the middle latitudes where we live then it certainly does stir up a degree of excitement. Only once have I seen a really strong aurora from the suburbs of Melbourne and that was when was just about 8 years old in 1957 or thereabouts.

I vividly remember going to the beach with my parents just a few doors down from where we lived in Black Rock to see the amazing sky show. A full curtain of waving red to pink light in the south-western sky certainly was a sight to see. No digital cameras in those days and film wasn’t an option either and it was black and white anyway.

Such as it was, the experience left a lifelong impression upon me.

Driven by the childhood experience, I was excited to have a wonderful trip to Norway and Iceland in 2014 where we managed to capture the Aurora Borealis (Northern Lights). Being in the Arctic circle in the Lofted Islands was an ideal place to see the lights. To get that close in the Southern Hemisphere we would need to head for Mawson or Davis Antarctic bases to see images like this.

Aurora Borealis - Lofoten Islands, Norway

Aurora Borealis – Lofoten Islands, Norway

With rarity comes desire so whenever there are sightings in Tasmania or here on the mainland it is a photographer’s dream to capture even a glimpse of Aurora activity. Last night was just one of those occasions. With predictions from Space Weather Live www.SpaceWeatherLive.com I was prompted to have a casual look at the sky to the south from our balcony.

With a pale dim shadow in the sky, the only way to confirm that what I could see was actually aurora activity was to photograph it and inspect the image for a showing of green colour. Here is what I saw.

Looking south over the rooftops

Looking south over the rooftops

That meant action, and the race was on to prepare the gear, grab a coat and hat and head for the nearest clear view of the horizon. By the time I managed to set up at Rickett’s Point, the nearest location, half an hour had elapsed and just about all evidence of the green glow had dissipated. In typical aurora fashion, where you need to expect the unexpected, two bright shafts of light appeared in the south-southwest. Luckily I had already sorted out focus and exposure and managed to capture this image before everything faded.

View SSW at Rickett's Point, Beaumaris just before midnight.

View SSW at Rickett’s Point, Beaumaris just before midnight.

With prior sightings in Norway, Iceland and New Zealand, this is the first time in nearly 58 years that I have managed to see the southern lights from my home town. Nothing as spectacular as what I saw in the northern hemisphere, however, a sighting that means so much in nostalgia terms that it is every bit as special.

If you would like to attempt shooting the Aurora here’s a few tips.

They are unpredictable as to whether you will see them or not as clear skies and no moonlight are really needed to have a chance. Solar activity has to occur and the blast of plasma from the sun has to strike the earth at a time when there is darkness in order for you to see the effect. Sometimes its directed more to the north pole so we miss out altogether. The best way of knowing if there’s a chance is to subscribe for email alerts from Space Weather Live in the link above.

You will need a decent SLR camera that can handle higher ISO settings, a tripod and preferably a cable release. Set the camera to manual focus and focus on infinity using a distant object. Auto focus usually won’t work in the low light. Set the camera to manual mode with a shutter speed of 15 seconds and an ISO of 1200 with the aperture at around f2.8 to f4.

If your image is too bright then lower the ISO setting. If it is too dark then expose for longer, say 30 seconds. Do not exceed 30 seconds otherwise the stars will streak as they move during the exposure.

To the naked eye you may only see a pale grey-greenish hue but your camera will detect all the light and colour present that the rods and cones of our eyes are unable to see.

You will be amazed at your skycapes even if there is no aurora.

Happy shooting.