I decided to take advantage of the new snowfall to go take some photos. And, since I almost always find the part more interesting than the whole, ended up with some macros. No surprise there. A big surprise was the fact that, shortly after taking these photos, I discovered my precious Voigtlander 125/2.5 was mechanically broken, and its barrel would not de-extend. I’m going to send it in to get it fixed, and pray these aren’t the last photos taken with this rare classic.
I’ve always loved pansies as much as I’ve hated the name. I like how, in this first one, the two new sprouts or whatever coming off the stem just happen to be in the 2-3 mm of the image in focus. Serendipity strikes.
This one deserves to be clicked and viewed enlarged. In fact, a friend of mine just got a new printer capable of huge A2 prints (23.4 x 16.5 in), so I think I’m going to have to make an egregiously large print of it.
And, though this buried petal screamed for attention, I didn’t get an image I really liked, despite a long time trying…
So I upgraded to a D7000 yesterday, giving my mom the old trusty D90 in trade. (Thanks mom!)
I want to play with it, but I have been swamped with work. So, today I found a fallen leaf on my way to Starbucks to do some translation, and snapped this photo in between paragraphs. I like the new camera a lot.
So the other day Maki took Genbo and Zoe to a party for a co-worker, but I stayed home to work on a huge translation. In other words, I left 10 minutes after they did, camera and tripod in hand, to take some long exposures in the nearby park.
These next two remind me of these, which I like very much.
OK, there are still a few blossoms on the cherry trees, so this post is not technically late. I returned to the exact place pictured in the first shot of this post with a mission to take some non-boring sakura pics. Since I wanted to use my new neutral density (ND) filters, however, I knew I wanted to do something with running water. These are basically just darkened glass you put in front of the lens to allow you to keep the shutter open for longer, thus capturing motion, without blowing everything out. The trick, as I quickly learned, is to find something moving in close juxtaposition with something not.
After many, many false starts, I finally settled on this one rock in the stream with some blossoms stuck to it. I had to take off my shoes and bring my tripod down into the stream to get the right perspective, but it was worth it. Not only was I able to arouse some levity among the passers-by, but I also got some very nice shots. (At first the water was extremely cold, but I just lost all sensation in my feet after a few minutes, which is good, because the rocks were sharp, too.)
These first two shots are some of my favorite that I’ve ever taken. I love how the ND filters let me keep the shutter open long enough to make the water all silky, while still capturing the rock-stranded blossoms in perfect clarity. The whisps of light you see are reflections on the water’s surface.
This first one, especially, deserves to be clicked on to see at full size.
Here I was fortunate enough to be in a position to capture a bunch of blossoms blown into the stream by a particularly fierce gust of wind.
…Or not. I cannot tell a lie.
I don’t usually get much culture beyond poopy diapers and Thomas the Tank Engine, so sometimes it’s refreshing to go into Kyoto and indulge myself. As I had last year, this year I went to my favorite shakuhachi-busking corner at Kiyamachi below Sanjo, right beside a babbling brook and under a bunch of cherry blossoms, to play for everyone and hopefully make some change. That last is of course ancillary to the whole enterprise, but adds an element of fun and chance human interaction.
I played just to the left of where you can see in this photo. Lots of people stopped on this bridge to watch me play.
These next three photos were taken by my friend Jeffrey, who dropped by with his son Anthony to watch and take photos before going to a photography exhibit (shown below).
Reminder to self: Iron shirt first next timefull exif
One of my favorite things about doing this is talking to people. This time I met three old ladies, in their 60′s or 70′s. At first they stopped and listened for a few moments, then each gave me a 1000 yen (about 10 dollars) before moving on. This was remarkable for its generosity, and I gave them a bow-while-playing. A while later they came back again, and started requesting certain songs. At this point it was obvious that, although they spoke decent Japanese, they were definitely from somewhere else. I asked and they said they were from Korea. So, I played them the two Korean folk songs that I know by heart. It was very nice, although the entire experience was tinged by the knowledge that most likely the only reason we could communicate at all was because they had grown up in Japanese-occupied Korea, and had been forced to learn the language at school.
Just as I was putting my flute away an elderly Japanese couple approached and started talking to me. The lady said that she really liked shakuhachi, so I took my flute out again and began to play a simple song. At his wife’s urging, the husband began to sing along with me. It was a nice little impromptu duet, and I was glad to have Jeffrey there to capture the moment. Afterward, as I was packing up again, I learned that the lady likes exactly the kind of classical shakuhachi music I specialize in, which is pretty remarkable. It’s the kind of esoteric genre that only those who actually play it make an effort to listen to. (All the songs I play in situations like this street performance are purely shakuhachi arrangements of well-known, 20th century songs.)
After that we all went to a photography exhibit by Sawa Kenji (佐和賢爾), a Buddhist priest and my photography teacher (although that implies a more formal relationship than actually exists). I had seen one of the photographs before, laid out on the floor of his temple, so I had lured Jeffrey out with the promise of an incredible show, and he wasn’t disappointed. I’ll let the photographs below speak for themselves, but in case it’s hard to tell each scene is covered in three or four exposures, which are combined to make unified images. We got there at the very end of the last day, and I just happened to have my flutes with me, so I gave a short impromptu concert there for him and everybody else before they turned on the lights and started taking the photographs down. It was a nice moment.
Today I took in my venerable Nikon 16-85 3.5-5.6 VR and traded it in (I repeat, Maki: TRADE-IN) for a Tamron 17-50 2.8 VC. In other words, I lost the “Nikon” label and some reach on the telephoto end for the ability to take better photos in poor light and create nice bokeh. A good trade-off, in my opinion. Here I’m taking advantage of the 2.8 aperture to create some nice bokeh I never could have with the Nikon. At 50 mm the Nikon was an unbearably slow f5, so all that stuff behind the statue, such as the tree and the woman with the red umbrella (had to wait while for a colorful umbrella to pass) would have been boringly in focus.
I’m just starting to go over all the photos I took back in the States, but these two grabbed my eye immediately. They were taken at the SF zoo. Both are, in their way, examples of fortuitous timing. In the first, I managed to catch the flamingos at just the moment when the center one was catching some great sunlight while all the others, somehow, were not.
And here, just the right angle of setting sun manages to make these few leaves and some stray spider silk into (what I think is) a beautiful image. That, and my trusty Nikon 70-200, a huge hunk of glass that photos like this make me glad I persist in carrying around.
So today was the second day of my photography group’s exhibition, and my day to go and “mind the store.” It was the first time I saw my pieces printed and framed, and I was very pleased. Here I am hamming it up in front of my piece, Mountain Storm, which is an abstract macro of a piece of pottery about 5 mm (1/4″) across.
For a better view, click here.
Now that I have a mountain, I want to continue the series and see if I can make interesting depictions of rivers, oceans, or or the sky using similar techniques. The hard part is to make it interesting and somehow emotionally impactful. Yes I know that isn’t a word.
Here is my piece next to another tryptic of some Kabuki actors. I described the process of how these three photos were selected here. I like how they placed the most abstract piece next to the most dramatically human and concrete.
I like each of these photos, and I like them together.
This is the sensei’s piece. The location is Izumo Jinja, a huge shrine. The tree is white because people have tied thousands of fortunes to it. When you’re at a shrine or a temple in Japan, you often buy a fortune for a dollar or two. People usually bring the good fortunes home, but tie the bad ones onto a nearby tree, from which they are collected once a year and burned en masse.
“Where Spirits Reside,” by Kenji Sawafull exif
So, after I went to my photography teacher’s place with a single pottery macro and he told me to reshoot it as a nature-inspired tryptic, this is what I came up with. I won’t bother posting a thumbnail here, since the image is so long. Click on that link and then expand the browser window to see the whole thing.
The title of the piece is 山嵐, or “Mountain Storm,” although it sounds more dramatic in Japanese. Each piece in the tryptic will be printed on A3 size paper, which is 16.5 inches (420 mm) across. The length of the pottery shard (graciously given by my friend Koji Kamada (鎌田幸二)) pictured in all three frames is smaller than the width of my thumbnail.
I can’t wait to see them hanging on the wall along with everybody else’s pieces!
One challenge I had while shooting is that a very slight change in angle of the light (from an LED flashlight) completely changed the characteristics of the image, since the glaze has all different kinds of metallic crystals, reflections from which are very sensitive to changes in direction of light source.
Here are two shots representing today. I spent it, like I do all Saturdays, with Genbo and Zoe (since Maki works on Saturday, her days off being Wednesday and Sunday). This is just a shot of them at the front of the train. I love Genbo’s protective arm around his sister.
Here is my new macro setup. You can see the ultra-sophisticated use of the sandbag instead of the tripod. Yes, this is primarily because I don’t have a real tripod, but also because in this case a sandbag really is the best way to go. I have two extension rings and a teleconverter attached to my lens, which means one long piece of equipment including four joints. This means that it should be supported all along its length to prevent sagging, and the best way to do that is a sandbag.
I was shooting some abstract macros of my friend Kamada-san’s work. Tomorrow the guy who leads my photo group and I will work on them, deciding what to print for a group show. I’m pretty happy with what I got, and I’ll post what we decide on later. (Here are the shots I am going to bring tomorrow. Somehow we’ll figure out how to arrange them into a triptych. I was thinking about portraying them as a mountain with clouds, but they also look a lot like a breaking wave to me as well. There’s also a cool shot in that gallery that shows me holding the shard, so you get an idea of scale.)
Two days ago I met with my photographers group, which is planning for a group exhibition in a couple weeks. I brought a few candidate photos, and the leader of the group selected a macro of my friend Kamada-san’s pottery for me to present. Only, he told me to make it into a tryptic, or three-part piece. So, I’m going to reshoot it in the next few days and see what I can come up with. But doing a coherent three part piece of an abstract macro is hard. Should be interesting, though.
Here are some people arranging some pieces of another tryptic, this time of Kabuki actors. They are using a projector to show the computer screen on the wall so everyone can participate. The guy who took these photos brought in about 50 different shots to select among, and they selected a combination that I suggested, which was significantly ego-stroking to leave me smiling for a few minutes. Only, I suggested it with the two outer faces looking inward, whereas the sensei (the back of whose head is front and center here) immediately recognized that it would be better with them facing outward. And, of course he was right. His own contribution to the exhibit was tailored, I think, to be good but subdued enough not to take all the attention from everybody else’s work.
I’ve talked about my potter friend Koji Kamada (鎌田幸二) twice before. This time I asked him for some fragments of broken pieces to play around with and he was nice enough to oblige.
These shots were taken with my ZF 100/2 macro lens, my very crappy tripod (I used a 5 second timer, on the theory that all the wobbles from pressing the button would have extinguished by 5 seconds after pushing the shutter), my SB-900 flash, and a PK-13 extension tube. This 27.5 mm ring is just an empty tube that fits between the lens and the camera. Working on the same principle that when you move a magnifying glass farther away what’s in it gets bigger, this little ring can magnify images by a lot. And, since it’s just empty space in there, there is no loss of image quality. What you do lose is light, and the ability to focus very far away, but both of these are negligible for table-top macro photography.
Since I used a macro lens with an extension ring, what you are seeing are very, very close-up images of these fragments. Unfortunately my Nikon D90 does not glean any photographic information from the lens, but these were all taken between f11 and f16. Even at these small apertures, the depth of field is still incredibly small at this short distance.
Finally, in this series the one that really benefits from clicking to enlarge is the second one, since its horizontal orientation means that it gets shrunk by a lot to fit into the space. And, this is the one that best exposes the boundary between stone and glass (which is really what the glaze is).
Last weekend I went on my first model shoot ever. I’ve mentioned here before that I belong to a photographer’s group here in Kyoto. Every odd month they meet to critique each other’s work, and every even month to go shoot something. I usually don’t go on the even months because I don’t like sacrificing Sundays with my family, but I just couldn’t resist this one time because it was an outdoor nude model shoot. They have a few different models who do this sort of thing for the group (and the sensei in particular, who is very well known), and it was the first time I was able to tag along.
The model was both very nice and very skilled. Skilled as in, being able to stand on a rock in a freezing cold river in various stages of undress for long periods of time and not complain nor lose concentration. She didn’t look cold, even though she had to be, especially when the sensei went and doused her with river water.
I have a lot more photos from this day I want to share (even that are suitable for a family blog), but the sensei asked me not to post more than this for now. A few people from the group are going to be using these photos for competitions, and he didn’t want me to “give away” the model and location before that. I was going to stress that this blog isn’t exactly frequented by the Japanese photography elite, but it wasn’t worth belaboring the point.
(Update: Upon looking at this post again, these photos also illustrate what a great firetrucking lens the 70-200 is. Couldn’t have gotten these shots with anything else.)