You do not have to look far for culture in Japan. This parade appeared at our hotel door as we were leaving and followed the same path as us for a block or two. Apparently there is at least one festival every day of the year, somewhere in the country.
The great shmutz on the shirt incident.
A few loose promises made to myself this trip.
No mobile phone (user or otherwise) images
No homeless or urban decay.
All fronts, no backs.
No more metro shots. God no.
Especially no metro and mobile phone shots!
And above all, no Geisha, especially the “fake” ones.
Oh well, maybe next time.
A filter provided by my environment.
Especially busy at crossings.
A Hive of activity as always.
This trip forced on me a change of basic technique. Loosing the use of one camera very early on, made me rely on a single camera and a pair of zoom lenses, which is not how I usually work.
The three primes, work horse lenses on every other trip, sat idly in my now uselessly overweight bag leaving me both a little frustrated and guilty that I was not using them. On the last night in Kyoto, I decided to go light and only take the 17 and 45mm lenses.
The value of their faster apertures soon came back to me, especially the 17mm lens’s very practical long transition Bokeh.
The true value of this lens comes with it’s ability to hold coherent detail in well out of focus areas. This matched with it’s slightly wide angle of view and small focal length (due to the format) makes it ideal for street style grab shots at wide apertures. This benefit comes at a price of course. You have to be aware of these included elements. The first image below could probably do with a little cropping to get rid of the left hand figure, still coherent (irrelevant) even at f1.8.
The main subject in the second image below is out of focus (best focus fell on the man in the hat to the left). If this shot was taken using my 12-40 or the Panasonic 20mm at equivalent or even slightly smaller apertures, this focus error would be a lot more obvious.
First the 17mm wide open or at F2.
And the 45mm, again mostly wide open or near.
As an ideal contrast to the 17mm and designed more commonly to suit, this is a true portrait lens with smooth and rapid Bokeh transition or in practical terms it easily makes a “hero” of the main subject. I personally (and this is highly personal), do not like to much the overtly super-Bokeh look. I generally prefer to have some subject context rather than just pleasantly smooth mush, so if I owned for example an f1.2 lens, after the one trick buzz of very strong drop off was exhausted* (although I fully admit it has a practical use to reduce ugly backgrounds), I bet it would be used at f2 or 2.8 most often, where it would have little benefit over the equivalent f1.8 lens.
For example the middle image of the set above, is a messy image. It only works (if it does at all for you) because of the balance of the messiness. With a faster aperture or longer lens, the plane of focus would be more defined and the out of focus subjects, the man’s sleeve and the distracting blob over the woman’s eye, less so. Would it make for a better image or not? I feel the “painterly” rendering rather it has rather than the more modern sharp/soft dynamic suits it better.
If you love your full frame, fast lens, super soft and powerful Bokeh rendering, then fair play and it is as relevant as any other technique, but remember, it is a bit like sugar. Too much can be addictive and mask other flavours. The best aperture may not be the widest available. A customer/colleague of mine recently showed me a series of work place portraits taken on his full frame camera a with an f1.4 105mm lens used wide open. The sharpness and smoothness of the Bokeh was impressive, but the strongest visual element in the images was the row of perfect “Bokeh Ball” yellow lights in the background, taking much of the visual power away from the human subjects. As good as they were, I could not help but think that they and the biting sharpness of the lens wide open were the true success stories of the image.
*Fully achievable at smaller apertures or even shorter lenses if needed, even if some post processing is needed. My one true “cut-out” lens is the 75mm f1.8, which is a powerful tool when used properly, but it wears thin when over used.
Another set from Harajuku
EM5 and 17 or 45mm, or EM1 and 12-40
A set of Harajuku images.
Sometimes, usually when you least expect it, so be prepared, the gods of light smile on you. Often this is semi predictable, other times it just happens and you just need to be grateful.
On a trip up to Kanazawa from Kyoto, after we had explored all of the sights ear marked as worth while, the walk back to the station dished up some light that can only be described as “Theatrical” in nature.
It started gently enough.
Then I started to get the feeling of something brilliant (literally and figuratively) burgeoning.
When the light takes on a character closer to a Hollywood film set you realise that the Hollywood look is only trying to control that rare perfection natural light is often stingy, but better with.
Content at this stage with a decent haul of morning tourist images and some more artistic ones later, I almost packed my camera away, but my wife suggested we veered left, away from the station and continued to enjoy the beautiful light.
One of the many reasons I married her is her solid intuition.
Then we started the walk back to the station.
As I and many others have said before.
Light is everything.
As a side note, every image was taken with the 40-150 kit lens. Probably not something I would have contemplated a few months ago, but there you go. My 75-300 would have been too long for several of the images and the 12-40 too short. The 12-100 would have been ideal and certainly optically better, but 3-4 times as heavy.
Fun with “Bokeh Balls”, or how to turn a pet hate into a bit of artistic licence.
All photos taken at Kyoto train station with the EM1 and 40-150 kit (probably not the cleanest Bokeh, but all I had, so perfect).
One of the things that draws me to photographing people is a natural inclination to be absorbed into their lives. When taking a mutually consenting portrait, I feel the first minutes should be spent without camera in hand. Time getting to know the person and the things that define them should come before the camera is applied.
In street situations, I feel the opposite is true. That highly desired intimacy and spontaneity is only possible if the process is entirely one way, anonymous, instinctive but always respectful.
It is also important to remember that light is the true hero, even if the subject is more mundane.
These images were all taken from the basically the same position on a road just outside of Kyoto proper.
Takes many forms
Once again I am disarmed by the warmth of spirit and dignity of the people of Japan.
Some would argue that the “facade” they display is hiding a darker and vastly less happy reality, but aren’t deeply felt and practiced good habits better than bad ones?
The old Tea district of Kanazawa. We rate this as one of the better “traditional” areas we have been to.
Very active, very lived in.