In Japan, Part 2

In December, I made a post about my October trip to Japan with about a dozen images. There was a lot of interesting and positive feedback asking to see more.  In this post, there are some images from Takayama, Hiroshima, and Kyoto, the former Imperial Capital of Japan.

The traditional, ancient buildings in the Gion, the Geisha District of Kyoto, was a wonderful place to wander around at night.  It was surprisingly quiet, considering at one time this was the happening nighttime place several centuries ago.  I did not have my tripod with me, so I had to make due with my little table-top tripod for these shots.  That limited me on my vantage points, using trees, fences, buildings and even cars on which to prop my six inch tripod.

There are some sumptuous tones in the shadows in this image.  That is one of the pluses of modern digital cameras.

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It was the light reflected off this bicycle in an alley in the Gion that caught my attention.  The lighting coming out of the entryway added a warmth to the cool blue of the evening.  I shot several variations of this, using a telephone pole to steady the camera.

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Below is a tea-house in the Gion.  It gave some light to the otherwise darkness.  Yes, it was still open, and I was temped to go in as it looked inviting.

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Here is a local roykan, a traditional Japanese hotel in the Geisha District.  The blue-toned willow tree moving slightly in the light breeze adds interest.  All the lights upstairs makes you wonder what’s going on in the rooms…

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There was these interesting clapboard siding with strips on many of the houses in the Gion area.  This image was lit from a couple of distant street lamps.  The texture of the wood and traditional Japanese roof tiles intrigued me.  It was quite dark in this area and I put the mini tripod and camera on a railing, cropping out a car just below the image to retain the historical flavor.

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This is a kitchen light spilling out into a back alley.  This, mixed with the green mercury vapor lamp on the fence from a light a the end of the street gave a nice mix of color.  I’m sure this image during the day would not be worth shooting… but at night it’s a different story!

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There are nearly 2000 temples in Kyoto alone.  We visited a number of them.  This one in the Gion was open and unattended.  Trying to get this shot without a regular tripod was a challenge.  That bright lamp coming from within could not be blocked, because I used my mini tripod/camera against an immovable flag pole.  I wished it was a foot to the right, as it would have blocked the lamp with the support column.  You can see the importance of camera placement, especially at night.  Still, I like this image that shows traditional Japan that few tourists see, especially at night.

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Here is an image in Takayama during the Autumnal Fair.  This is the back of the street vendors, with the river on the left.  It was the back light through the tents that interested me.  That is a giant torii on the left.  I took several night shots in this area, this being the last one.  With 40% showing left on the battery, it decided to die prematurely, and I had no spare with me at the time.  This is why you always need extra batteries in our modern digital age!  I retired that battery on the trip.

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One of the important cities to visit in Japan is Hiroshima.  The violent history of WWII is remembered here, with numerous shrines, memorials, and museums.  The most recognized is the “Atomic Dome”, which was an Industrial Exhibit Hall prior to the blast in August 1945.  It survived mainly because it was almost directly beneath the blast which occurred 2000 feet above it.  The downward force didn’t knock the brick walls down. Everyone in the building was killed instantly in the blast.

From a photographic standpoint I felt I needed to feel the presence of the place to shoot it effectively.  I walked around photographing for over an hour alone in the late afternoon, exploring the different angles.  I then knew what angles I wanted to shoot at twilight.  It was an overcast evening.  The next three establishing shots were all done on a tripod within 17 minutes, as the light changed.



151020720a_600pxNote how the artificial lights have come on as night approaches.  They used reddish sodium vapor lamps in the lower floors and more neutral high discharge lamps on the structure itself which really works.  In the foreground was a fountain.


151020731a_600pxI worked intensely over the next 20 minutes getting the shots I scouted earlier.  The bright colors against the stark gray building and mysterious shadowing gives this image drama as if it was staged.



Of all the shots I did at twilight, I think this is my favorite, as it appears to be a monolith–a survivor 70 years later.  It’s an unusual view of this widely photographed icon.  Several people who watched me shoot came in with their cell phones to try the same view.   Of the literally hundreds of people taking photos only one other person had a tripod, a British tourist.  That’s why it’s worth carrying one–to get the shot few others can.



Death Valley Workshop

First, happy new year to you all.  Can’t believe another year has gone by.

In early December I co-lead a Night Photography workshop with Lance Keimig in Death Valley.  It was a small, intimate group.  Because of that, the participants got some quality time to ask questions and learn some pointers.  Here are a few images from the long weekend.

151206358a 600pxMany of you know I love Death Valley and its solitude and starkness.  It’s probably my favorite national park and I have been going for over 40 years.  On one evening we went into the hills near Zabriskie Point, which has little vegetation giving it an other worldly quality.  It’s also dead quiet.  This shot was made after sunset looking east.  The last of the evening glow is illuminating the higher hill in the center in this 30 second exposure.


151206372a 600pxIt became very dark in the canyons and hills after the last glow of the day.  There was no moon that night.  I decided to do a short exposure, high ISO image.  This enables you to render the stars as pinpoints.  In the 20 seconds I lit the hillsides with a little incandescent flashlight raking from the side to give some definition and foreground interest, yet still having a sense of mystery.  One of the attendees was about 30 feet away also making an exposure with my lighting which looks very different.


151206384a 600pxThis image was made about 50 feet away from the other shot and again is short exposure, high ISO shot, but the clouds came in so there are no stars.  I used an incandescent flashlight on the background hills and a cold almost blue LED lamp to light the dried brush in the foreground.  Making the color balance neutral for the brush, rendered the sky a mars-like orange with mustard colored hills.  It took about a dozen tries to get this just the way I wanted it.  I love the texture and mixed lighting.   I don’t typically shoot this way but I have to admit, it was fun to try something different and I reveled at being in the remote area.  It actually feels intimate to be in barren nature like this.  There was a week’s worth of images to be made all within 100 feet.


151204322a 600pxOn one evening we went shooting in the date palm garden in Furnace Creek.  There was a little bit of mercury vapor (greenish) light spilling from the Ranch a few hundred feet away, illuminating the trees.  Again, I decided to do a short exposure, high ISO image.  It renders the stars as pinpoints, as the exposure is “only” 20 seconds.  Longer exposures than that will leave star trails like in the two images below.  Today’s modern, highly sensitive digital cameras can shoot at ISO3200, 6400 or more.  This “astro photography” style of pinpoint stars couldn’t be done until just a few years ago.  Note that you can see the Milky Way on the right side.  The black horizontal “smudge” on the right is actually a cloud.


151204324a 600pxI’ve been doing night photography so long that I like the star trails, as they add the dimension of time to the image.  The smoothness and “flowing” of the star trails reminds me that we are moving as the earth spins.  This is how I envision the night sky, photographically.  It is a low ISO200 shot for 5 minutes at f5.6.  Note how the few clouds have moved and the Milky Way has blurred during the exposure.


151204323a 600pxThe star trails ‘moving’ vertically from the top seemed very dramatic, so I decided double the time to 10 minutes to see more star trails.  Of course, I had to stop down from f5.6 to f8 to keep the exposure the same.   These three exposures were an exercise in different “types” of night shooting of the same view.  The third one is my favorite, but you might think otherwise.

Without getting to technical, in the past with film, you had just the two variables of shutter speed (time) and lens aperture to get the proper exposure.  Today, you have the third variable of being able to change the ISO (the sensor sensitivity or the equivalent of film speed) at will.  This was a difficult concept for many of the students, but once you understand it, you have more options on how to shoot for different effects.  I use this “third variable” option often.


151205351ab 600pxOn another evening we went to Rhyolite, NV, a lonely ‘ghost town’.  Nearby is a museum called the Goldwell Outdoor Art Museum.  It’s open 24/7 and very mysterious and spooky at night with the white fiberglass sculptures in the open desert.  It’s pitch dark at night with no moon, so you have to light it.  I worked with one of the students and we lit this together during the 20 second exposure.  No compositing here!  I used a half-dead (warm colored) incandescent lamp on the Grim Reaper-like figure while she used an LED lamp on the background building for interest and color.  I then balanced the warm light to white, making the LED very blue.  It’s another high ISO image, as the pinpoint stars are an important part of this image.  It took us quite a bit of experimenting to get the lighting just right.  I always suggest to find the angle and compositon you want and then spend the time to get the exposure and lighting right.  Sometimes the image has to be “honed” or “polished”.  I’ve shot this figure many times over the years and they are all very different.  To be quite honest, I’ve never been to the museum in the daytime in all the years I’ve been going!


151207461a 600pxOn the last evening we went to remote ‘ghost town’ in Nevada called Gold Point.  It was very remote and a two hour lonely drive from Death Valley.  There were lights on in town, and in the buildings but no sign of people.  I felt like we were in a Twilight Zone episode and it was cold (in the 20s), quiet except for the wind (which made it seem so much colder).  Scenes like the above were everywhere.  I’ve been in many ghost towns during the day and at night but this one was very creepy.  I felt there were eyes watching me as I roamed the four block town.  This shot is all available light.


151207489a 600pxHere you can see the light on the porch of the cabin in the middle is lit.  There was no one and nothing inside.  The yellow truck on the right license plates showed that it hadn’t been registered (or probably driven) since 1980.  I made a 10 minute exposure to pick up the definition of the blackness of the surrounding hillside against the night sky.  All the light is from a single sodium vapor orange street lamp out of the image on the right.  It seemed that there was absolutely nothing beyond the town, as it was so dark with no lights, towns or anything else but raw, open desert in all directions.  We called it a night early because of the bone chilling winds and dropping thermometer and two hour drive back.


On another note, my photo stock agency, Alamy, is featuring me this month.  Have a look and there is also a link to images that I’ve posted with them to market worldwide.  I’m always adding images, too.  It’s a varied group, for sure!


In Japan

It’s been too long since I posted any new images, and I feel it’s time.

Some of you might know I spent most of October in Japan on Honshu Island.  I visited the major cities of Tokyo, Osaka and Kyoto, but also really enjoyed the smaller cities and back country travelling on local buses and narrow gauge railways.  Takayama, Miyajima, Shinagawa-Go and Kanazawa come to mind.  It was the generosity and friendliness of the people that really made the trip a memorable one.  Even though I don’t read or speak Japanese, complete strangers helped me in train stations, on buses and even on the streets.  Most everyone speaks some English.  We even met strangers who invited us into their homes–a special experience in a country like Japan.

Yes, I took lots of photos, many at night.  I travelled with two cameras, (a Canon 6D and a Sony a6000).  Of course, I had my travel tripod and a small table-top tripod, too.  Sometimes lugging a tripod around all day can get very tiresome, since I was only on foot or using public transportation.  The table-top tripod was with me most of the time.

151016273a 600pxI dedicated one evening in Osaka to shoot in the city center and stumbled upon Nakanoshima Park which is on an island in the Okawa River.  The shapes of this old bridge buttress caught my eye, with the modern city in the background.


151016286a 600pxThis highway came over the island park, across the river.  It seems I can’t get enough of bridges lately!  The blue light in the center is from a reflection of a blue LED light off of a pier.


151016292a 600pxThis majestic tree towers right up to the overhead highway.  It seems like all the trees in Japan are trimmed regularly–not just in the many gardens but alongside highways.


151016309a 600pxI took a stairway up to a bridge to leave the island and saw the interesting light within the steel structure of the bridge, with the city beyond.  This is where I saw one of the few homeless people hiding in the shadows during my month in Japan.


151016314a 600pxThe mixed lighting on the stairway along with the shapes intrigued me.  Simple, yet complex in design to find the right vantage point for the composition I wanted.  No cropping here.


151019516a 600pxWe made a special trip to Itsukushima Island, more commonly know as Miyajima (“The Shrine Island”).  Most visitors make the day trip out of Hiroshima, but we stayed in a local ryokan inn to be able to see the famed torii gate in the water at night after the day-trippers have left.  Even so, there were hundreds of people, both Japanese and foreign tourists who stayed and quietly watched the sunset.  The current torii is from the 16th century, replacing the 12th century one.  It was very mystical for all of us.


151019555a 600pxI wandered the grounds for a couple of hours afterwards to photograph and there were very few people out.  The little town of 2000 souls had all but shut down by 9pm.  I felt I almost had the place to myself.  Japan is a country of cameras and picture-takers.  It’s a real passion for them and the the reason why most cameras come from Japan.  It was nice never being hassled taking photos most anywhere–even with a tripod!  The exception was in temples.


151019533a 600pxThis view is typical of the paths around the many temples, pagodas and shrines on the island.  A few people walked through (but didn’t show up) during this one minute exposure, but they didn’t even see me and my tripod in the shadows.


151019549a 600pxOn the way back to the ryokan, I noticed that the tide had gone out revealing the algae on the rocky shore.  The evening was windless and dead still for this one minute exposure.  I positioned myself behind one of the pine trees (that seem manicured), blocking the lights, while back-lighting on the algae.  This is one of the images I made that really says “Japan” to me.

There are many other views and locations that I might post in a future blog, based on the feedback.  I’d love to hear from  you.


Upcoming Book Signing

Just a quick note to let the folks in the Bay Area know that I’m having a book signing Friday night at the Oakland Museum from 5pm-9pm.  Many have purchased the book online and asked about getting it “personalized”.  Stop by with the book or simply stop by and say hello.

There will be several food trucks and all sorts of things to do at this weekly event at the museum.  Come join in the festivities.  Have a look at the details.

I’ll be in the Redwood Burl area.  The books will be for sale for $75 (cash or credit card) and the proceeds go to help the Oakland Museum.

If you don’t want to drive, or want to avoid parking and bridge toll fees, take BART and get off at the Lake Merritt station.  The museum is only one block north at:

1000 Oak Street, Oakland.

Here is a map and directions to the museum.

If you can’t make it, the book is available via the publisher Nazraeli Press and will be shipped to you directly.

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The Bridges of Portland, OR

Recently, I was in Portland on business.  Portland is such a different city in July than what is was back in February, the last time I was there.

The sky was mostly clear and the weather in the high 80s to high 90s.  This time of year, the sun sets after 9pm, so I went out for some late night shooting for a couple of evenings.

150714300a.resizedThis is one of the reasons I was in Portland–to shoot the new Tilikum Crossing Bridge.  It is the longest bridge in the world–that doesn’t allow private cars or trucks (it’s for pedestrians, cyclists, buses and a new light rail line.)  For a bridge like this, twilight and at night was the best time to shoot.


150714282a.resizedIt’s great to photograph a bridge that is new and not open yet, as it’s so clean and fresh and empty of traffic.  This bridge is quite elegant in design, too.  It opens in mid-September.


150714294a.resizedPeople who know my work know I like the graphic abstract views and this bridge offered many!


150714278a.resizedThere were many symmetrical views to be had, too, including this twilight shot.  It seems lately that I’ve been shooting many bridges.  I really enjoy it, as the grand scale and the design on may of them lead themselves well to well thought out photography.


150716387a.resizedThe following evening, I searched of an overall view like the one above.  I didn’t like the look or texture of the water (from the stiff wind), so I used in interesting photographic trick…


150716386a.resized…I used a 10 stop neutral density filter.  It is simply a very dark gray filter you screw onto the front of the lens.  You can barely see through it as it’s so dark.  While the previous exposure was 1/30 of a second at f11, with the ND filter it became 30 seconds at f11.  This long exposure smoothed out the texture in the water which makes your eye go to the bridge as the water appears as smooth as the sky.  The magenta-colored clouds also softened a little, too, as they moved a bit in 30 seconds.  This gave me the look I wanted.


150716407a.resizedOf course, I waited until the perfect match of twilight and ambient light to get this view, along with several others from a different vantage point and with different lenses.


150716415a.resizedI continued to shoot beyond twilight until almost midnight that balmy evening.  This image of the new bridge with a dock behind it and the Ross Island Bridge in the distance has interesting layering and texture.  The foliage in the foreground is moving in the breeze, softening that part of the image.


150716425a.resizedThere is an esplanade along the Willamette River for pedestrians and cyclists (Portland is a very bicycle-friendly city).  In this image, there is a large red neon sign behind me for OMSI (the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry).  The light from the sign was spilling onto these benches.  It was barely noticeable to the naked eye at the time, but I knew the camera would see it.  In the background is the Marquam Bridge (also known as the I-5 bridge.)  Yes, it’s the same Interstate 5 that I’ve been shooting in Southern California over the past few years–just 750+ miles north.


150716433a.resizedFurther down the esplanade, I saw this park bench.  It was being lit by a TV crew that was filming an announcer with downtown in the background.  I took advantage of this interesting light.  Otherwise, it would have been very dark in the foreground.


150716435ac.resizedEarlier in the day, I saw this boat ramp that was being used by kayakers and other boaters that my former assistant, Justin and I explored.  He moved to Portland from LA a while back.  It had a great look at night with the city reflecting off of it with the boats.  I quickly increased the ISO (camera sensitivity) from 200 to 800 to make this a 2 second exposure, as I wanted to see the figures silhouetted at the end of the dock.  They would have probably been too blurry at 8-10 seconds.


150716439a.resizedMy goal was to get some nice skyline views of Portland and I got this one with the Hawthorne Bridge.  Twilight is just about finished for the day.  The red lights reflected off the water are from the Marriott Hotel and the green lights from Bank of America Financial Center.


150716442a.resizedAt around 11pm, a crowd of cyclists stopped by the Hawthorne Bridge and decided to have a party, complete with music and a bonfire–on a Thursday night, no less.  The people of Portland never cease to amaze me…


20150713_210344ac cellphone shot.resizedYou always have to be on the lookout for interesting images.  Walking back to my friend’s place after dinner with some of Portland’s fine brews, I noticed this view on someone’s front yard.  There was a yellow light and the yellow Adirondack chair in front of a deep blue house.  It was twilight.  Having only my cell phone, I snapped this.  Sometimes you have to use the camera you have even if it’s a just a phone.  That’s photography today.


On another note, book sales for my Bay Bridge Book have been brisk–which is good!  Many of you have bought your copy from Nazraeli Press’s website and I thank you.  I’m in the process of arranging for a book launching party in the near future in the Bay Area.  I will post the details here when I get it confirmed.  In case you missed it, here is a link to the website for my book:

Also, I wanted to mention that I will be co-leading a photo workshop on night photography with Lance Keimig December 3-6 in Death Valley.  We have some sign-ups already and I’m looking forward to it, as I love DV that time of year when it’s in the high 70s and there are few tourists.  Learn many of the tricks and styles of night shooting with the very capable digital cameras of today.  Here is a link to the details: