28 Jul 2006 Oirase (Aomori Prefecture) (Podcast 46)
Welcome to this weeks episode. I apologise for the lengthy hiatus between this and the last episode. It’s been exactly three weeks since I released episode 45 to today. I did release episode 45 around 4 days early as I was preparing for a lengthy vacation in which I planned to do a lot of shooting. I said in that episode that I may well not release another episode the following week, but at that time I was hoping to find time to prepare for and record an episode over the weekend, but it just didn’t happen. Then when I got back from my almost two week break, processing the first few days images and being incredibly busy in my day job this week, both catching up on mail and tasks from while I was out among other things, meant that I have taken until today to prepare, record and publish this episode. So once again, I apologise for the delay and thanks to those that mailed me concerned that I might not be OK myself. I will be sharing experiences from my two weeks travelling over the next few episodes so you’ll be able to see that I am very much alive and kicking. I do just want to say that on occasion I have and will continue to disappear without stating exactly why. The reason I do this is that although I know that you are all listening with the best intent, for your own love of photography and willing to learn through my own experiences, but the truth is, the Internet is also a tool that can be used by unscrupulous characters that may well be listening for when people are away from home with a view to enlighten them of some of their possessions in the meantime. I myself take pretty much every piece of camera equipment that I own when I’m away from home, and I often leave my better half there too guarding the fort, so it’s not a huge worry, but I don’t want to temp fate any more than necessary. So sorry for being a bit of a sly fox in these regards but please try to understand my reasons for doing so.
And with that, let’s get to today’s main topic, on the first part of my vacation in which I spent a few days shooting in Oirase, in the Aomori Prefecture at the very northern-most point of Japan before crossing the sea to Hokkaido.
Oirase is as located at the northern-most point of the main island of Japan before the island of Hokkaido which I’ve visited and spoken about on this Podcast many times. On the night of the Monday the 10th of July I arrived at Oirase which is around 660 kilometers or 410 miles from Tokyo, and also spent the following night of the 11th there before going to the port town of Hachinohe on the 12th to make the crossing to Hokkaido where I’d stay until 21st. I actually extended my stay from the 20th to the 21st for a number of reasons, but I’ll get to that in future episodes as we work through my account of the various shoots.
I should probably say before I go on that all there really is here, at least the only reason for my visit is a river, with a bunch of waterfalls on either side along its length. The river runs for around 14 kilometers from the Towada Lake to roughly where the hotel I was staying in, where it splits in two separate directions and continues on its journey. The attraction for me at this particular part of the year is in the fresh new leaves that cover the trees right now. For the Aomori Prefecture, being so far North from Tokyo, and with the help of the cold weather fronts from Siberia, Winter stays for a long time. The colour of the trees here in July is probably what you’ll see around Tokyo in April or May.
The drive from Tokyo to the hotel took around 9 hours mostly highways that run the length of the country. This is not bad going for this distance, which is I suppose a tribute to the engineering skills of the guys at Toyota. I left my apartment at just after 7AM and arrived at 4PM. After a quick sit down and a cup of green tea, I donned my photographer’s vest, dropped a few lenses into the pockets, through my tripod over my shoulder and went out to explore the river that flows by the hotel.
The other thing that I threw into the inside pocket of my photographer’s vest, was a nice big juicy 70-200mm F2.8 IS USM lens. If you follow the forums you’ll have maybe seen me write a few times that I would dearly love to own one of these lenses. I’d heard so many good stories about them, although I’d never had an opportunity to peak through one at all. Another lens which I guess I would like even more is the 300mm F2.8. The problem here is this lens is about 3 times more expensive than the 70-200mm. The reason I want the 300mm F2.8 is because it has a ridiculously shallow depth-of-field at its shorter focusing distances, which gives us a lot of power when it comes to composing fine art images.
Now, a few weeks before I was due to go to Oirase and Hokkaido, I bought a magazine that had a number of shots comparing the 300mm F2.8 images and F2.8 shots made with the 70-200mm also at F2.8 but from a closer stand-point, so that the subject was framed pretty much the same, and what I saw was a scene with although not the same, but a very similar depth-of-field. The foreground and background blur looked beautiful in both shots. Then, just a few days before I was due to go I bought another magazine detailing all available lenses for Canon cameras and in there I found some comparisons of the 70-200mm lens with and without IS and the F4 version of the 70-200mm which is also an excellent lens, and I was now bought on the idea that I had to have one for my trip and future shooting.
Also, if you follow the forums, you’ll now that I had ordered a P-4500 portable storage and image viewer from Epson, as I feared that I would not have enough room to store a whole two weeks worth of images on my current P-2000 with a 40GB hard drive. The problem is that all of the shops around Tokyo are sold out of the P-4500, including the shop at which I had placed my order, so I cancelled my order. I won’t be going on any trips this long in the near future anyway, and by the time I do, there will be either something better available, or the P-4500 may be cheaper. This meant basically though that my $600 or so that I intended to buy the P-4500 with was now at ends. I went to the Web site of a store that I often sell old equipment to and buy new stuff from and saw how much they would buy my old 10D and 20D for. That with my EF-S 17-85mm IS lens that I used with my 20D and so will no longer need, but added up to exactly $600 short of the cost of a 70-200mm IS lens. It was fate. Now I had to have this lens for the trip or there was no longer any point in going.
One other reason that I couldn’t prerecord an episode on the weekend before my trip was because I was putting all the gear I would sell into there boxes, finding all the cables and CDs etc, getting them ready to go and sell. Which is exactly what I did, and by the Saturday night, I was the owner of a nice new EF 70-200mm F2.8 IS USM lens. Now that’s a happy teddy for you.
I find that as I manage to upgrade my arsenal of lenses introducing more L lenses like the 16-35mm F2.8 and that amazing conglomeration of glass which is the 600mm F4 and now having added the 70-200mm F2.8 IS USM lens, I feel each time, very much like the first time I put on a pair of glasses when I was 20 years old. Most of my family had a tendency to need glasses from our teens or early twenties, and for a few months, maybe even a year or so from when I was 19 years old, my eyesight had deteriorated, just slightly. Even now I can still see pretty well today without glasses, but when I remove them everything seems a little fuzzy. Now when I first looked through a good quality F2.8, I should also probably not forget the 50mm F1.4, and as I say, the 600mm F4 lens for the first time, it felt very much the same as when I first put on a pair of glasses when I was around 20 years old after a period of not being able to see everything clearly. Everything just pops out at me!! It was amazing all the detail that there is to be found in the world. Well, I felt very much like that again when I looked through the 70-200mm F2.8 lens for the first few times. The big aperture of this mid-range telephoto zoom throws the non-focused areas of the image out of focus very quickly producing some beautiful bokeh.
An example of the shallow depth-of-field of this lens is the first image we’re going to look at today which is number 1035 of a hydrangea flower that I found in the shadow of some trees during a stroll by the river shortly after we arrived at the hotel at Oirase on the first afternoon. In this image, shot at F2.8 for 1/125th of a second at ISO 200, you can see that I have focused on the second flower on the left hand side as we view the photo. This allowed the right of the two front flowers on the right of the back and the leaf hanging down in to the left of center under the blurred front flower to remain in focus, and pretty much everything else is nicely blurred. I chose not to focus on the foremost flower, as this would have been too orthodox and would also have thrown the back of the flower much further out of focus. I wanted that dreamy look, but did not want the flower head to be totally blurred from the middle to the back as it would have been. I also positioned another flower head to the top left of the main one in this shot to show us that the plant was flowering in various places. I have actually cropped this image very slight across the left and bottom, as there was another blue flower that had crept into the frame in the 5% that I can’t see. I do usually pay close attention to this, but still, on occasion, especially when hand holding, something creeps in forcing me to crop the image. I do these days also consider cloning out the odd distraction, but if it gets large, I find it easier to deny its existence by removing the space it was occupying when I shot the image, rather than removing it from its space.
I wandered over to the waters edge, and decided to pick out an area of the river to see what I could make of that too. In Image 1037 you can see the result. I stopped the 70-200mm down to F16 and shot this with an exposure of 3/10ths of a second at ISO 100, of course using a tripod. I exposure compensated to the tune of plus two thirds as the white water would fool the camera a little into underexposing. This allowed me to capture a lot of texture in the surface of the water, with lines visible in many areas and some splashes also recorded showing movement in the water other than just the flowing motion itself. I often shoot water at even slower exposures than this, and tried this here too, but I really like the texture of the water here, so decided to go with this. Another point of interest that you cannot see at this size, is that although most of the rocks are natural, the one in the very center is actually a piece of reinforced concrete. You can tell this by the stones sticking out of the cement, but what you can see easily without looking at this full-size is two pieces of thick steel wire that has been bent around back towards the rock, probably as it tumbled down stream in high waters.
For the ten minutes or so I’d been at the waters edge looking for a nice area to single out for the last shot and actually shooting it, there was mist rolling out from where the river came out of the trees into the open area I was standing on behind the hotel. Content that I’d got the shot though, I turned to the same place to see to my initial disappointment that the mist was gone. Luckily though for me in the few minutes that I wandered along the waters edge nearer to that spot the mist came back and I shot image number 1038. This was shot again at F16 for half a second at ISO 100. This time I applied minus one stop of exposure compensation because the dark area below the trees was this time fooling the camera to overexpose the shot quite a lot. The good thing about the darker patch under the trees though is it allows us to see the patch of mist as it rolls over the water, also making the water across the bottom of the image a fair bit brighter too. You can see here the nice lush greens that I was talking about, partly due to the leaves being fresh on the trees, and more importantly, because of the damp atmosphere without any harsh sunlight to cause bright reflections and de-saturate the colour.
I rarely talk about this aspect of composition, but also note here how I used the rule of thirds. The water and rocky area takes up the bottom third of the image, with the multiple tree trunks centered around the line drawn down the right hand third and then the main patch of foliage to the left upper third completing the all-round composition. Of course rules are made to be broken, and I often do, but I’m still a firm believer in the rule of thirds and bear it in mind at all times, until I see an opportunity to break it.
Forty five minutes had elapsed from the first hydrangea image we’d looked at today, and I was happy that I’d bagged a few nice shots in the last hour of daylight before going back to the hotel for dinner. As I walked along the road back towards the front of the hotel though, I noticed a patch of weeds growing out of some grass between some trees. Still in awe of the brightness and sharpness of my new 70-200mm lens, I crouched down and framed shot number 1039. At 170mm focal length, I shot this at F4 for 1/15th of a second at ISO 100. This was hand held and the lenses image stabilizer was doing a great job. I paralleled the flower head in the left with the tip of the flowering grass that arches across the center of the shot to the area of the top of the frame above the main subject. I like this shot for that dreamy feel that the wide aperture affords us, but to critique my own work, I can’t help wishing for a little more space at the bottom. I feel as though the foliage at the bottom of the image start too abruptly. If I had around another 20% or so at the bottom of this scene I think it would have been a real winner. I guess I was just a little bit too enamored with my new lens and maybe just a little bit too tired by this time to really think the shot through.
The plan for the next morning was to follow a path that took us a little further a field from the hotel, through some woods and touching on the river itself a little more. To be honest though, the area around the hotel was not all that interested at all and the river itself in this area was uninteresting too. There were also hordes of little black flies that seemed intend to get into your eyes. One actually did get into my better half’s right eye at one point and I had to hook it out with the corner of a handkerchief, causing a 30 second drama on a sunny morning by the river. Thankfully though, there was plenty of nature to immerse ourselves in for a while, and I shot the next three images during this walk among others.
First let’s take a look at image number 1041. I want to briefly talk about a technique for shooting living things here that I recall from a nature documentary years ago, probably on the National Geographic Channel. I wanted to get in close on this pair of grasshoppers sitting together on a leaf. The position of these two guys just sitting together on this big leaf, looking like they’re contemplating either jumping off, or maybe just enjoying the view from the leaf in the warmth of the morning, was just too good. The first thing I thought was that I’d like to try a shot from around this distance so that you could see their environment and the fact that they are sitting on the leaf peering out across their green surroundings. The thing was though, they may well jump away startled if I just come right down on them with my 100mm Macro lens. So the first shot I took was from about twice the distance. If they jumped as I moved closer, I’d at least have a shot, and I could probably crop it to what I wanted. The next step, I moved to around this distance, and they didn’t jump, though the left one moved slightly, obviously aware of and uncomfortable with my presence. I got the shot though. Next, I tried to move in even closer, but the grasshopper on the left turned to one side. She didn’t jump away yet, but she turned away.
You can see the results in the next image 1042. This pair of shots actually has a lot of humour in them too, looking to me like a couple quibbling. After this, I pushed my luck too far, and the jumpy guy on the left couldn’t take it any more. She jumped away and left her friend alone on the leaf. The morale of the story is, when shooting animal or insects that can see you or smell you, start shooting from a safe distance first and gradually get closer and closer. This way if they do move away before you get your shot, you may well have something you can salvage by cropping or maybe even find that what you got is close to what you want without cropping. If you just go straight to the distance you want and they move away, you’ve got nothing. Both of these images were shot at 125th of a second at F5.6 with ISO 200. When I first saw the opportunity I quickly switched to Manual and took a couple of test shots looking at the results and the histogram to get it right before moving in. This way I didn’t need to worry about the effect that the background of the size of the darker insects would have on the exposure and they occupied more and more of the frame.
A little further along the bank of this uninteresting stretch of river, was another Hydrangea plant that we can see in image number 1045. I decided here to play with something else I’d been thinking of, which is singling out the tiny little bulb in the middle of these hydrangea flowers, but with a shallow enough depth of field to throw almost all of the rest of the petals out of focus. Actual, did you know that the part of the flower I’m shooting here is actually not a flower. It’s all for show to attract bees and insect and give them something to land on to get to the actual flowers which are all bunched together in the top right of this shot. Anyway, handheld at F4 for 1/250th of a second still at ISO 200, I shot both this side and the same flower. I was still in Manual mode having just opened the aperture by one stop to F4, and halved the shutter speed to 1/250th of a second, basically giving me the same Exposure Value as for the grasshopper shots. Had I stayed in Aperture Priority mode, the dark background of this shot would have made me have to compensate the exposure. That’s not a big deal and I would have done it without issue. But if you take a look at the next shot made with exactly the same settings, you can see that the flower on the right side of this head is exposed exactly the same, but the background is much brighter. This would have fooled the camera to underexpose this shot, again making me play around with the exposure compensation. Many people are afraid of going to manual, though few will admit to it, but once you get used to using manual and making changes to the exposure by adding stops of exposure and removing stops of aperture and visa-versa, it enables you to work much faster in the field. Now sure, this hydrangea plant isn’t going anywhere, but my missus was. I was spending too much time covering a few hundred meters of river bank and my missus was getting impatient. Just like the busy sports photographer or portrait photographer with a busy client, I have very little time to play around with the settings of my camera and just need to get busy, busy. If you don’t already, get used to manual mode. It will help you get your results in most photographic genres.
OK, so just two more images to look at today, starting with image number 1047. This is very much the sort of shot that I was visualizing when I planned my visit. I actually found it much more difficult than I expected along this fourteen kilometers of river to find a place I could compose a shot like this. I shot a whole load of images of various patches of the rapidly flower river, and many, even as I shot them, contained the odd branch or log in a position that ruined the shot. Sometimes it was just a distraction, but the result is that I only got this one shot that I liked enough to want to upload to my site and talk about today.
This was shot with my 16-35mm F2.8 lens at 30mm. I set the aperture to F22 for an exposure of one second at ISO 100. I chose this composition with the river flowing into the shot at the top just right of center and placed the green rock in the bottom left there to stop the flow of water from the back and force it left in our view as in reality. The rock with the grass on it in the middle was dangerously close to being bulls-eyed, but I was pleased to be able to position it just off center, and in the direction that the water was flowing. The patch of green helps to frame the shot along the top and I chose this position and angle of view to hide a patch of green that was creeping into the frame on the bottom left. This allowed me to keep the left wide open for the water to flow out of. I also liked this particular image because you can see the green rocks under the water in the bottom center, and the water flowing along the top below the rocks is slightly reflecting the green of the trees above. If you look closely you can actually see a log sitting on the rock just right of the patch of green in the top left, but I don’t find this distracting at all. It’s actually probably one of those small things that doesn’t stand out much, but is a joy to find, so I’m kind of happy its there. I also have to admit that I didn’t even notice this in the shadows when I was shooting the image.
On the last day the plan was to drive to the ferry port at Hachinohe and spend the night there before taking the seven hour ferry ride to Hokkaido, the island at the northern-most point of Japan. This was going to take a few hours, and there was stuff to check out so I decided to spend most of the morning shooting then head off. I mentioned earlier that the area has lots of waterfalls, and over half of them on this morning. I was not happy with the results though. I was starting to feel that the outcome would not be good while shooting, mainly because again, the area is very wild and most of the waterfalls are positioned on the other side of the river and as the river is totally lined by trees, this makes it difficult to compose a shot without it being heavily encroached by tree branches.
One double fall that I did find that is not on the other side of the river is called the Shimai or Sisters Falls. In image number 1048 you can see the left of the two falls. I got an OK shot of the right side too, but I like this one a lot. You can see what I mean about that lush green of the new leaves, and I’ve used them to frame this very dainty fall, or probably cascade as Landon told us in the forum a while back. This was shot at ISO 100 for 2 seconds, again at F22. For both this and the last shot I was using an ND8 three stop neutral density filter to give me a long exposure to accentuate both the flowing water and in this case the movement of the trees. Actually, Landon also made a comment on this image about the movement in the tree in the top of the image. Thanks very much for your feedback Landon, this is always very much appreciated. As I mentioned I am playing with purposefully adding this kind of this to show movement as an added point of interest. I chose this from a bunch of images, the others of which did not have the movement. Landon also states that he’d need to see this large to determine whether the movement is a distraction or adding something to the shot, which I can easily appreciate. Again, thanks for your valued feedback Landon and Marisa too for that matter. It’s great to hear what you guys think of my work.
And that’s about it for today. Once again, I apologise for the delay in getting this week’s episode out and for missing last weeks altogether. If you were thinking of unsubscribing, please don’t! I’m back and won’t be going anywhere for a while. I am going to try and get next week’s episode out on either Monday or Tuesday as scheduled. I have to admit though I still haven’t processed any of my shots from the Hokkaido shoots yet, and that is where I want to go for the next few episodes too while the details are still fresh in my mind. If I can get enough processed to prepare the next episode over the weekend, there should be no problem with sticking to the schedule.
Before we finish, I haven’t said it for a while, so I’d quickly like to say that thank you for listening. I’m incredibly grateful for all of you that listen and take the time also to tell me what you think of the Podcast, the Web site and the Forum etc. I never cease to be amazed at the number of people that download each Podcast and take the time to get involved in the forum that you guys make one of the best places I know on the Internet to hang out and talk about Photography, equipment and other stuff. It would also be amazing if we can start to drive the site to critical mass, driving the site and Podcast to the next stage, which I think is going to be even more exciting for all of us. So if you can think of three friends that are interested in photography and you think might be interested in Podcast, please mail them a link to my Web site or Podcast page and ask them to take a listen.
So, if you will be out shooting soon, if you bear some of the tips I’ve slipped into today’s episode in mind hopefully they’ll be of some use. Tune in next week for what I hope will be equally if not more worth listening to. Happy shooting, or happy what ever you do. Bye bye.
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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.