17 Apr 2007 Flowers, flowers, flowers! (Podcast 83)
Last Saturday, which was April the 14th, 2007 for those of you that will be catching up on the archive later, I visited the Hitachi (Seaside) Park in the Ibaraki Prefecture, about 90 minutes from my home in Tokyo. Now, before you start thinking that the Japanese electrical appliance manufacturer Hitachi are into the Park and Garden business, the name actually comes from the name of the City that houses the park, which is called Hitachinaka. Also, the English translation of the name having “Seaside” in it might lead you believe that this is a beach park, but in reality, this park is just by the sea, and only a part of it is like, a sandy-beachy type recreation area. It’s a really huge place though, and I only concentrated on a number of the flower gardens, and that took me a full day from the moment they opened until shortly before they closed. I got a load of great flower shots though, and today I’m going to focus on some of my favourites.
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I rely on photography location magazines quite a lot to get ideas of where to go to shoot, and I found this location in the same way. On Friday night, I spent a couple of hours going through my magazines and noticed this park that I’d not come across before, and found that the tulips and daffodils were going to be blooming right now. I checked the Web site to see that they were saying the daffodils were in full bloom, and the tulips were about 30% open. This turned out to be a bit misleading, and I’m starting to understand more how these places calculate what they call best conditions, or fully blooming. What I think they are doing is counting the percentage of flower heads that are open, regardless of how close they are to dropping off. For example, the daffodils were almost all open, and they were marked as being in full bloom, but 80% of them had been open so long waiting for the last 20% that they were almost dead. This gives an overall really tired look to most of the garden, and to be honest, I almost didn’t venture much further into the daffodil area having seen the first parts. Of course, we photographer’s don’t get our shots by giving in easily though, and I’m very glad I didn’t too, as we’ll see later. I looked at the Web site again yesterday, two days after I visited, and saw that the daffodil area was no longer marked as in best condition too, so the information is definitely being kept up to date.
Anyway, the other part of this percentage of blooming flowers thing is, that the tulips, of which only 30% of the flowers were open, were still very fresh, and on the whole in very good condition. When I made my mind up to go here I was thinking that I might have to go back the following weekend to shoot again, once the tulips were out in force. I won’t be going back so soon though, as I found them to be just perfect for what I wanted, just as they were. Had I waited until the tulips were supposed to be at 100% open, many of the flowers I shot there today would have be well past their sell by dates, so I’m glad I didn’t wait. One other area that we’ll take a look at that was also at 30% was a man made hill on which the park has planted 4 million Nemophila or Baby Blue Eyes flowers. This probably would have been better on the whole in a few weeks time, but still, the flowers that were blooming were all nice and fresh, so I made the most of what was currently blooming, getting in nice and close, and one nice wide angle, which we’ll look at too.
Having given you a bit of background, we’ve got a lot to get through today, so I’m not going to dwell on each shot too much, and just try to plough through them pretty quickly. I’m going to try to look at twelve images, which is two more than the usual maximum, but this is actually exactly one third of the 36 shots I’ve posted from the day. I’ve put a link in the show-notes to display all 36, and if you want to view them in the order shot, remember to click the last number of the bottom right of the thumbnail page, then click the last image, and then use the left arrow key to work your way back through the images. Of course, I’m going to call out the numbers of the images as we go through them as usual, so you can either enter that number into the field on the top page or the Podcasts page at martinbaileyphotography.com to jump to each shot, or you can view the images by clicking the thumbnails for this episode on the Podcasts page, or of course you can follow on your iPod or in iTunes if you’d prefer.
So moving right along, let’s take a look at the first picture which is number 1373. I was actually walking up to the entrance of the park when I noticed a few dandelions on a lawn, and got down with my 100mm macro lens to shoot them. I positioned myself so that I could get really close on one of the flowers, and have two other flowers way out of focus in the background, forming some nice large blotches of yellow. I uploaded on shot just like this, but lady-luck smiled on me as I was shooting the flowers, and a small wasp just happened to buzz by and land right in front of my lens. I had to refocus quickly and raise myself up a little more to get more of the visitor in, but the result was a nice pleasing shot and I kept the blotches of yellow in the background. I was shooting at F4 for 1/1000th of a second at ISO 100, so you can tell it was a nice clear day with lots of available light.
The park unfortunately doesn’t open until 9:30AM, but we’d arrived at 8:30. To get out of Tokyo before the traffic really starts to build up, barring the days when an accident occurs stopping the traffic at any time of day, I usually aim to get on the road before 7AM. If I leave home after seven, I can pretty much guarantee it’ll it at least another hour or two to my journey, and a lot more stress. Basically though, with leaving early, I was here in time to have some breakfast in the car and take a steady walk to the gates. I bought my ticket and then picked up a map from beside the ticket machine and started to get my bearings and figure out how to make my way through the park. My plan was to shoot the tulips hand-held quickly, and then make my way to the hill of Baby Blue Eyes then check out the daffodils before coming back to the tulips. The tulips is literally just a few minutes from the gate in an area called the “Egg Forest Flower Garden”. It’s called the Egg Forest because there are large eggs with holes in for kids to climb around in scattered throughout the area. This is a great idea I think for making this a totally family area. I didn’t shoot the eggs myself, concentrating on the flowers.
The image I want to look at from this first batch of tulip shots is number 1376. Here we can see a simple composition, that’s strength comes really from the striking colours. I focussed on the single tulip that was facing me from this batch and the wide aperture of F2.8 allowed the flowers in the background to get gradually more and more out of focus. The light was really beautiful, still coming through the trees at an angle, despite the having risen almost four hours earlier. I was shooting in Manual mode again for control, and using my EOS 5D and the 70-200mm F2.8 lens, with a shutter speed of 1/1250th of a second. It actually took me a long time to select the 12 shots for this episode from the 36 I uploaded, and the reason I couldn’t drop this one, despite me also having another vertical all tulip shot to look at later is just the overall power of the shot. I feel this simple composition becomes so strong because of the deep greens with those amazing reds throughout.
I shot a whole bunch of other shots during this first session in the Egg Forest, but then quickly made my way to the Baby Blue Eyes hill, and still shooting hand-held, I started to make my way up the hill looking for nice spots to single out. The flowers as I said earlier were only about 30% open, but this here too I’m sure meant that the flowers that were open were much fresher and more photogenic than they probably would be in a week or so when the hill is in full bloom. I had found a few nice patches and have actually uploaded a total of seven shots of these flowers, but we’ll just look at two here. The first one is 1387. Here you can see that I’d found a tall flower that made a change from the blue flowers. I spent a little time sitting on the dirt path at the edge of the flower trying to parallel the tall flower with the highest blue flower on the right. It took some doing but I just about pulled it off. I’m not 100% sure about the red-ish line of colour across the top of this shot, but it seems nicer than the ones without it. I feel as though it makes a nice target for the taller flower to reach for. I shot this again with my 70-200mm F2.8 at F4 for 1/2000th of a second at ISO 100.
I made my way up to the top of the hill and joined up with the missus who’d got tired of waiting for me and gone ahead. We knew there was a view of the see from the top of the hill, but was a little disappointed to see that it was basically some kind of harbour wall with cranes and tankers scattered around. Not very photogenic, though I wasn’t really hoping for anything here, but a slightly nicer view would have been better, and made the small climb a little more rewarding. It’s surprising how colourless the park was from here too. You can look across the entire area, but as just about the whole place is covered with trees, all you can see is the canopy, and almost none of the flowers. Still, the flowers look great with the trees intermingled, so I wouldn’t like to have seen this any other way.
Image number 1388 was shot about half way down the hill, looking back up it. The sky had been clouding over and then clearing again for the last 30 minutes or so, and was now showing an interesting face, so I decided to go for the super wide angle to emphasise the expanse of blue flowers against the blue sky. I used a circular polarizer to bring out the blue a little as it was getting a little hazy, and it worked out OK I think. I made a bunch of exposures here as people moved around and wanted to choose the right one later when I got home. I chose this with a few people sort of standing around taking photos and a kid in a white shirt throwing his arms around as he ran around all excited. I’d used Jonathan Sachs’ DOF, a depth-of-field and hyper focal distance calculator on my Pocket PC phone to figure out what the hyper focal distance was for my lens at 16mm at F16. This is actually just 50cms, so if I focus my lens at 50cms at F16, everything from 33cms from the cameras sensor to infinity will be in focus. So I set my focus looking at the scale on the lens barrel and forgot about the focus, then fine tuned my composition. The thing I love about working with really wide angle lenses is the perspective you get, especially when looking up at something like this. I think the people add to the scale and perspective of the shot, so I was quite happy there were a few people wandering around up there.
One other thing to note before we move on is that I was pleasantly surprised to see that new 16-35mm F2.8 lens from Canon has no vignetting at all, even when shooting at 16mm with a small aperture, with two filters attached. Now, before you take that statement too literally, note that the manual for this lens says it supports one filter, and if you were to use two big fat rimmed filters, you may well have problems. With a UV come protector filter and a polarizer, both from Kenko, and both made especially for wide angle lenses, I couldn’t see anything. The down side of this new lens though is that I now have to carry more circular polarizer filters around with me. Until now, for the last year or so since buying the 5D, all my lenses have taken either 77mm or 52mm filters. Now though, the 16-35mm has jumped to an 82mm filter size, so I not only had to pick up an additional filter, and they aren’t that cheap, I now have to carry a 52mm, a 77mm and an 82mm polarizer with me. I’m still considering whether or not to get an 82mm neutral density filter. I’m thinking I’ll wait until I know I’m going to need one, but that probably won’t be long, as I’m hoping to get out shooting some waterfalls again soon. Anyway, remember that if you are buying thin banded filters, you can probably also get away with two and no vignetting with the new 16-35mm lens.
The next shot, number 1392, is one of my favourites from the day. Sometimes the excitement of the day can affect the way you feel about the resulting photographs, and that’s why I try not to get too excited for a few weeks, but if I’m still saying this in a few weeks time, this may well end up being one of my favourites of my own photos of all time. I printed it out on 13×19″ fine art paper last night and it blew me away. The lighting was perfect, with a bright, yet colourful background and a whole bunch of little purple flowers scattered throughout the scene, and nice large patch of yellow that I positioned behind the daffodil’s head to form a halo. This was enhanced because the foreground flowers were in shade, increasing the contrast between them and the background. Holding the print in my hand last night, it felt more like a water colour than a photo! I hope this doesn’t where off, because right now I’m really excited about this shot and so glad that I ventured into the daffodil area of the park, despite the patches of flowers either side of the path leading in there looking decidedly tired. I shot this at F3.5 for 1/250th of a second by the way, with my 70-200mm F2.8 at full stretch.
Next let’s look at image number 1393 which I shot just a few paces down the path from the last one. For this shot, to the embarrassment of my other half, I was sitting on the path, leaning back on my camera bag, kind of like I was sitting in a reclining armchair. I rarely feel self-conscious when getting in weird positions to take photos, but I must admit, I felt the eyes of a few passers-by while shooting this one. Not to the point of embarrassment but I knew they were looking. Anyway, I basically wanted to get down low enough to be able to shoot this pair of daffodils through some other flower heads, to form these large patches of white blur, or what I tend to call foreground bokeh. These guys are maybe kind of comical, looking a little like they’re standing back to back, and about to walk 10 paces away from each other then turn and fire in some kind of a floral duel. I shot this at F3.2, just one click off wide open, for 1/160th of a second. This and the last shot were hand-held by the way.
Let’s move on to image number 1396. Here, every so often a breeze got up and caught the heads of all these daffodils, so I fitted an ND8 neutral density filter to my 70-200, and dropped the ISO down to 50, and selected an aperture of F22 to get a nice long shutter speed of 6/10th of a second. This was long enough to catch a lot of movement in the flower heads. Some of the flower heads stayed stationary long enough to register a little more in the photo, giving us something more to latch onto while being thrown around the shot by the other movement. The tree trunk place in the top right and the line of almost stationary yellow daffodils along the top of the frame also help to keep some order in the mayhem of the majority of the shot. This is another example I guess of staying open to ideas as we hunt for photo opportunities.
After this, we had some lunch, and then made our way back around to the tulips in the Egg Forest Garden, and from here, I’d like to look next at image number 1397. Here we see a sea of red, with most of the screen occupied by incredibly powerful red tulips. Again, I’ve chose the black face of the tulip looking at me to focus on, but selected an aperture of F16 this time to give me more depth-of-field so that we can make out more of the different coloured tulips that run across the top of the frame. I’ve also included that tree trunk up there in the right third to and a second tree trunk in the top right corner to stop our eye from running right off the frame having been taken up there by the larger tree trunk. I’d moved the ISO back to 100, and the shutter speed was down to 1/60th of a second now at F16, so I was using a tripod again.
Let’s look next at a grab shot from the middle of the afternoon’s shooting which is number 1399. As I made my way through the garden I noticed a woman in a beautiful silver grey kimono setting up her camera for a photo with hubby, so I dropped my camera down, still on the tripod and levelled it waiting for the scene to develop. As I waited, really just a few seconds, a little boy ran across the shot as the farther in the middle squatted down to photograph his little boy, and just released the shutter a few times. This was my favourite as the little boy reaches the edge of the shot to the right and the lady in the kimono stood up having set the camera’s timer running again to make her way back over to her partner for the next frame. I’d quickly selected an aperture of F4.5 because I didn’t want much more of the scene than the center band with the activity to be in focus. This photo to me though really gives us a feel of the mood of the afternoon. There were lots of families there in the park enjoying the warm weather and each others’ company.
Let’s move on to image number 1400. In this shot I like the less formal effect given by the scattered tulips in the foreground, with the other groups in the background behind the trees, rather than the somewhat stiff lines and shapes in some of the other shots. The previous day when I selected the location while looking through a magazine, I found later on looking through my final selection of images that my other half was really not all that impressed. She’d thought it would be too formal and that she didn’t think we’d have a very good or productive day. The shots in the magazine that although portrayed the park very nicely, were all shot at like f32, totally sharp from front to back, and very documentary. There’s nothing wrong of course with documenting a scene in that way and I made a few similar images from the day too although I’d like to think they are nowhere near as stiff. I find it much better to section out areas of the garden to emphasise the part of the scene that has captured my imagination. This is just another example of that. I also found that I really gained an appreciation for the skill of the architects that designed this space. They positioned trees at just the right places to bring out the best in the scene, quite often from multiple, if not all angles of view. They really are masters of their trade. This one by the way was shot at F4 with a shutter speed of 1/200th of a second, again at ISO 100.
Let’s look at image number 1401 now, which is hopefully a good example of how, rather than avoiding the straight lines of a somewhat formal garden, we can use them to our advantage for some graphically pleasing images. Again, observation is very important. Surveying the scene for areas that work is a must. Here I’d found a view in which the patches of tulips and the angle of the ground, complimented again by the position of the trees, all comes together to along with the light and dark from the angled sunlight making its way through the trees, to make a pretty pleasing shot. I selected a wide aperture of F4 and shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, and focussed on the yellow band of tulips in the top third of the image. I’d tried focusing on a number of other patches of flowers, and also really liked the one in which I’d focussed on the foreground patch of yellow, but decided to go with this one. I tried focusing on the line of red closer to the top of the frame too, but that didn’t really work at all. Note too that the angle that brings out the best in the subject is not only gained from where you stand, or the angle of view of any given focal length of your lens, but from the height of the camera. For pretty much all of the images today I was either crouching, sitting or lying down, or had my camera on my tripod at some height other than eye level. I also had to be pretty patient here, as there were people walking through the scene all the time. I basically had to wait for a few minutes each time for the scene to clear of people before snapping of a few frames before the next back of folks walked in.
I want to finish with one more shot of all red tulips, which is image number 1403. This scene caught my eye because of the light catching just a few heads of these tulips, but they all seem to be looking in the same direction towards the sun. As I metered for the brightest flowers, this threw the other flowers into shadow, and made for quite a moody shot I though. I love the solidarity of all these flowers just standing there, gaining the last few hours of warmth as the sun drops lower and lower in the sky. I shot this at again at F4 for 1/500th of a second. I’d been shooting in Manual mode the whole day, really wanting to in control of the exposure, stopping these bright reds and yellows from clipping, which keeping them as close to the right side of the histogram as possible for maximum punch.
We headed around through the small fairground area after this and took a few shots in a small field of rape flowers before heading for the car to make our way home. All in all it was a great day, very productive and very exciting. I know that most of you will never come to Japan, and if you did, you’d more than likely not make your way over to places like this, but if you have gardens like this near you, I hope some of the angles or shooting techniques I’ve shown you today will give you some hints on ways to make the most of them.
That’s it for today. Yesterday I closed the Simplicity Assignment for uploads, and turned on the voting system. Please do come by to the mbpgalleries.com Web site and take a look at the album half way down the top page, and please do take a moment to register if you are not already a member and vote for your favourite image. There are some really amazing shots in there, and I’m really looking forward to see what you guys choose. Thanks as usual to all those that took part. If you do register to be able to vote, remember to also sign up at the main martinbaileyphotography.com Web site with the same user name and email address so that I can keep tabs on who’s who when, or if I do eventually get around to linking these two sites. Voting will continue until the end of Sunday the 29th of April when we’ll find out who the winner of an original print of one of my photos is, and more importantly, who will take the annual grand prize based on all of the accumulated votes, which this year is going to be an amazing Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag.
Other than that, have a great week, whatever you have planned. 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.