28 Apr 2008 Kyoto – March 2008 (Podcast 135)
During a family visit in March 2008, we did a bit of travelling, visiting Kyoto and Hiroshima. Today we’re going to look at a number of images I shot during the few days in Kyoto. I’m sure most of you have experienced trying to photograph while out with friends, so you can probably appreciate that I didn’t spend a lot of time behind the camera. Still, I got a few nice shots, so let’s take a look.
We actually arrived about 10 days early for the cherry blossom, which was flowering quite beautifully in Tokyo while we were down in Kyoto. The Gion area was pretty nice, but didn’t really make for the type of photography that I want to shoot, with just too many people and buildings to simplify things. I’m sure I could have come up with something had I spent some time to look around, but it was not possible with my brother and his wife, two friends of theirs, and my other half with me. As you know, my significant other does put up with me a lot, and my brother is actually quite tolerant of my photography too, but still, I didn’t want to take advantage of that patience with others in the group. One scene I felt I could not pass up though, was what we see in image number 1758.
As we walked across a bridge over the Kamo River, the lights from some old restaurants were reflecting nicely in the river, and there were a few people sitting on the bank of the river, casting shadows onto the water. I decided to see if I could get a relatively long exposure to accentuate the reflections and shadows, as well as the lights from the restaurant. I think it turned out alright, but there was a problem. The bridge had cars crossing all the time, and larger heavier cars or trucks actually made the bridge vibrate, so although I tried a number of exposures, I could see when checking the image on the LCD that many were blurred. The only thing was to try as many exposures as time would allow. My brother stayed with me. My other half walked back to listen to a busker playing a mean didgeridoo with drums at the end of the bridge, and the others had walked on, and would wait for us at the other end of the bridge. With people waiting, I wasn’t going to be able to spend too long, but had a relatively long leash to work from. Anyway, I tried to get some even longer exposures, but the vibration of the bridge was not going to allow. I ended up trying a few at ISO 200 for 4 seconds, with an aperture of F8, and this is one of them. It’s sharp as tacks actually, but it was the only one that was really sharp. The 4 second exposure depicted the river as a smooth flowing body of water, with the lights reflecting nicely in various hues of orange, yellow and white. The people sitting on the bank had actually moved a little during the exposure, but it still works I think.
The following morning the first place we visited was Kinkakuji, which is a temple covered with gold leaf. This is a beautiful temple, and a must for any visitors to Kyoto. I actually have a relatively nice shot of this with a blue sky and fluffy white clouds, which you can see in image number 509, shot about three and a half years ago, during an Autumn visit. It was the last time my brother and his wife were here if I remember correctly. We won’t look at that photo today, but take a look if you are interested. On this day, the sky was uninteresting, so I didn’t bother to shoot the temple straight. There are millions of photographs of the temple from the normal tourist photo spot anyway. What I did though, was spend my few photography patience points looking for other things to shoot. First I found a rock in the pond with the reflection of the temple in the water around the rock. We can see this here in image number 1759. I basically just framed the rock so that the gold of the temple kind of enveloped it to the right and back, but not all the way around. I used an aperture of F8, to get everything in focus, a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second, with ISO 100. It’s not a great shot, but I find it relatively pleasing. With the few vertical lines and the line of the eaves in the reflection of the temple, the initiated might even be able to figure out what this is. Even for those that can, I imagine it will have some level of appeal. Though I was not entirely successful with this shot, I did just want to mention that it is always worth looking for a shot in the details, without going for the whole thing.
I guess I’m carrying on this theme in the next shot too, which is image number 1760. As I walked past the Kinkakuji temple, the sun broke through a gap in the dreary cloudy sky, and was causing a shimmering reflection on the underside of the eaves on the second floor of the temple. Of course, the shimmering is difficult to capture in a still photo, but I think you can see what I mean. The gold of the temple is great for reflections. I guess both casting them and receiving them. I framed the shot like in this way, so that we had some idea of what this is, but again was not really interested in showing the whole structure, with that still uninteresting sky. The break in the clouds was more over my left shoulder, and so still wouldn’t have make for a nice background. Also, had I gone wide, the reflections would have been lost, and that, after all, is what attracted me to the subject at this point. It is so easy to get engulfed in the subject, and forget what attracted you to it in the first place. I included two windows up on the third floor, either side of the doors. Notice though that I also added a third window to the right, on the back wall. I thought this was necessary to again give a sense of what this is. We can guess that the structure is square because of the symmetry of the windows and the corner with the third window. The all important thing is of course that shimmering light on the underside of the eaves, which I think have come across relatively well. I stopped down to F11 for this shot, again, to get everything in focus, and because of the bright relections, I used a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second. I could have dropped the ISO to 100 from 200, and used a 1/160th of a second shutter speed, but it was literally just a small break in the clouds at this point, and I was rushing with the family with me, so wasn’t really thinking about this sort of stuff too much.
Later that day we went over to the Kiyomizu Temple, which is also a very famous temple in Kyoto, and well worth a visit. In image number 1761, we can see that I was still focusing on the details. With the cherry blossom season just around the corner there were a lot of people around, but I saw these guys in a small temple in the complex, and couldn’t resist getting a few shots. I shot this with an aperture of F4, so that I didn’t get all of these guys in focus, and I focussed on the small statue in the bottom third intersection. This also allowed me to have focus on the statue in the top right corner, and the one in the left foreground, so it worked quite well. Again rushing, I was not all that happy with the overall composition. I actually cropped the bottom of the image away. I had included the bases, which are large lotus leaves on which the statues are sitting, but that left a large area of that sandy colour, and the red of the bibs being predominantly in the top of the frame seemed to make the image too top heavy. Great subject, and I wish I’d spend a little more time here to get something better. Still it’s not bad under the circumstances. I do like it, as with all the shots we’re looking at, but I know I could have done better had I really worked the subject.
Next is a panorama of the stage at the temple that we can see in image number 1762. I think I’ve mentioned before, but the Japanese have an expression that basically translates as doing something with the same determination as jumping off the stage at the Kiyomizu Temple. This means that you are putting everything on the line for your endeavour, or doing something with all your heart. Basically, years ago myth has it that people who were embarking on a risky endeavour would jump off this platform to test their luck. If they died or were seriously injured, their luck was not in and the endeavour would surely fail, which is pretty obvious if you died of course. If they walked away unscathed though, there luck was in, and so their endeavour was considered to probably go well. There was a bit of detail in the sky at this time, so I decided to try and bring that out in post, and I also decided to do a panorama with my 70-200mm F2.8 lens again and stitch the shots together later. I went into details of how to do this in episode 110, so if you want more details on shooting a panorama maybe listen to that episode again. I usually set the camera on a tripod and make sure it’s levelled so that the pan doesn’t run out. As I was in a hurry on this day though, I shot this hand-held. Also, to help me with the sky and the details inside the temple, I actually shot seven series of bracketed shots. I was going to do HDR merges of the seven frames, and then merge them. It turned out though that there was enough detail in the sky and temple that a bit of messing with the sliders in Lightroom were enough, so this is a straight stitch of the seven images. I turned the camera to vertical mode to make stitching easier. I find this works better, as there is less distortion and you get a nice big line of image for Photoshop to work with. Also remember to switch to Manual mode. If you shoot images that you want to stitch together in Aperture Priority the exposure will change each time you move the camera, because of the change in brightness of the elements in the frame, so you’ll find stitching either much more time consuming, because you have to adjust each image, or impossible, because the exposures are too far apart to fix without degrading the image.
Let’s look at a few more images. As we walked further through the grounds of the Kiyomizu temple there was a nice little group of three cherry blossom growing out of the side of the tree trunk, that we can see in image 1763. There was a great texture to the tree trunk, so I grabbed a few frames. This was shot with an aperture of F4 for a nice shallow depth of field, for 1/250th of a second at ISO 100. I had my 100mm Macro with me, but again, for the sake of saving some time, I shot it with my 70-200mm lens, and just focussed as close as I can, then moved myself back and forth until the focus was where I needed it to be. The bark being dark helped to bring out the nice blossom, and the angle of the light was just right, to the top left of the flowers, so I think this works pretty well.
That was pretty much it for this day. On the following day we were due to jump on the Shinkansen, or Bullet Train, and head over to Hiroshima. Before we did though, my wife and I took a walk around the grounds of the Nijoujou castle. This time rather than our company being a limiter of time, we simply didn’t have a lot of time before we had to leave the hotel. It was one of those time slots that was too long to waste just sitting around the hotel, but too short to really do anything very much with. It was a nice walk though, and as we made our way around the castle grounds, I spotted a small hatch in a section of wall, which ended up being the subject of image number 1764. I was really impressed with the fact that this kind of framed section of wall was almost the exact same aspect as a piece of 35mm film. I actually cropped a very small amount from the right side of this photo, but apart from that, the framing is exactly as shot. I shot this hand-held, so it took a bit of concentration to get it all straight, but it worked out OK I think. I have no idea what the hatch is for. Maybe it’s a kind of vent to air the underside of the building. Anyway, the mould or dirt on the white wall is what attracted me to this shot. The cracks add something too I believe. I was going to convert this to black and white, but I think the brown tones in the wood and the essentially beige coloured off white wall also add to the image, so I left it as it is.
So, that’s it for this week. Next week we’ll take a visit to Hiroshima, which you all will know, as Hiroshima was flattened by the A-Bomb that the US dropped in 1945, essentially ending the 2nd world war. I’ve wanted to visit Hiroshima for some time, and having seen so many documentaries on the horrors following the dropping of the bomb, it was a relatively poignant place for me to visit. I actually made sure that I had some time to photograph the A-Bomb Dome both in daylight, and after dark, when it is lit up, and so we’ll take a look at some of those images next week. All images are online already though if you want a sneak preview. I’ll put a link in the show notes to show all images from both Kyoto and Hiroshima.
Anyway let’s catch up again next week, if we don’t meet in the Photography forum at martinbaileyphotography.com. For now though, you just have a great week, whatever 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.