Urban Landscape + Lifestyle Photography

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Finding fall color in neighborhood parks in Japan

A Neighborhood Park - Tokyo, Japan

A Neighborhood Park – Tokyo, Japan

Living in Central Texas, I don’t get a good chance to make photos of fall color. Sure, we do have some leaves that turn an orange brown. Then there is the occasional yellow but nothing that inspires. At least we do get a touch of autumn so that we can say we have all four seasons.

I was pleasantly surprised that the fall color comes to Tokyo late, and even at the end of November and early December, there was ample opportunity. While I did go to a famous Tokyo park to find color, today’s post is about the small neighborhood parks. In some ways, it’s a lot easier to make solid photos in these smaller places. The trees are spaced further apart which makes it easier to make cleaner compositions.

A Neighborhood Park - Tokyo, Japan
A Neighborhood Park - Tokyo, Japan

I’ve been posting a lot of gritty black and whites from my Pentax Q7. Today’s Q7 pictures are all in vivid color — just to show that I didn’t shoot exclusively in monochrome. There is a “Brilliant Color” setting on the Pentax, which looks great on the back LCD, but is much too saturated (even for me) for fall color. It works great for other subjects, which I’ll talk about in a future post. These photos were all shot with the standard mode in JPEG and further saturated in post production.

A Neighborhood Park - Tokyo, Japan
A Neighborhood Park - Tokyo, Japan

I came upon the first park during a photo walk with my friend Tony through a working class section of Tokyo. It didn’t look like much from the street, but step inside and I found a surprisingly nice balance of colors. The place is kept up but not pristine. You can tell there are barricades and other obstructions that add background clutter. Even so, I think the colors are so striking that the images work, for the most part, if you don’t look closely. You can tell it is a city park with lots of people. I guess even these nature shots still fit somewhat with my urban landscape aesthetic.

A Neighborhood Park - Yokohama, Japan

The next, much quieter park, is located in a residential neighborhood in Yokohama. The trees were nicely spaced around the pond and the water certainly added to the back drop.

I took all photos with the 08 Wide Zoom, which is the priciest lens in the Q system. I was hesitant about buying it since it costs more than the entire Q7 camera kit. But with the weak yen and a much lower list price on the lens, I decided to get it. The 08 Wide Zoom is known to be an excellent lens optically, and for the most part, I wasn’t disappointed. The wide-angle works great for my urban landscapes and it’s the type of lens I’ve had a lot of experience using. The 3.8 to 5.9mm range comes out to 18 to 28mm when accounting for the 4.7x crop factor.

A Neighborhood Park - Yokohama, Japan

Shooting wide-angles can be challenging since it’s so easy to get extraneous clutter into the frame. You also need to get close to your subjects and make sure you have something interesting in the foreground, mid-ground and background. I don’t think in telephoto (focal lengths above 50mm) but I found they work better for isolating subjects. I later switched to my telephoto for nature shots, but that’s a story and pictures for another post.

A Neighborhood Park - Yokohama, Japan

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Trains in Japan: Hustle, Bustle and Motion Blur

Train at Crossing - Yokohama, Japan

Train at Crossing – Yokohama, Japan

With some 37 million people in metro Tokyo, you need a fast and efficient public transportation system. I was endlessly fascinated by the dynamic trains that shuttle the millions throughout the area. Nothing like a little motion blur to give the impression of movement.

Rushing off the Train - Tokyo, Japan
High Speed Exit - Tokyo, Japan
Rushing through the Station - Tokyo, Japan

Of course, people stream out of the trains and through the stations with equal break neck speed. Luckily I was only stuck in the super packed trains a couple of times. For the most part, the transportation was manageable and very efficient. I easily got to my destinations in and around Tokyo and Yokohama with trains and the occasional bus. A wonderful change from the modest public transportation we have in Austin.

The View up Front - Tokyo, Japan
A train enters Ueno Station - Tokyo, Japan
Bustle at Ueno Station - Tokyo, Japan

Photography on the trains and stations was enjoyable and a constant source of interest. I found that even when I was tired after an entire day of shooting, I would still try my hand at street shooting during the ride home.

Smooth Exit - Tokyo, Japan
Subway Blur - Tokyo, Japan

The Pentax Q7, being so small and unobtrusive, was the perfect companion. I found that a shutter speed of 1/10 to 1/15 of a second generally worked well for producing the optimal amount of motion blur. This isn’t too difficult with these modern cameras, no tripods required. Use a moderately wide lens and in-body image stabilization makes it easy.

I find that you need a good balance of motion and stable anchor points for the best effect. If everything is moving, then it just looks like a mistake. You need to have sharp focus on key parts of the frame, like turnstiles or station platforms, and have blurred elements like people and trains that convey movement.

Smooth Exit - Tokyo, Japan
Escalator Blur - Tokyo, Japan
Waiting for it to stop - Tokyo, Japan

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Photography in Japan and my new camera system

Resting - Yokohama, Japan

Resting – Yokohama, Japan

I just came back from my whirlwind photographic tour of Japan.

Most everything I did was photography related. I got to meet some friends that I’ve made via Flickr and my blog. I bought a new camera system. Above all I shot photographs like crazy — about 8,000 frames over the course of 12 days. My careful and measured shooting with film, over the last couple of months in Austin, went out the door when in Japan with my digital cameras.

I only shot 1 roll of film with my Nikon 35Ti, primarily comparisons between it and the Fujifilm X100S. It’s so funny how I shoot so little with film but so prolifically with digital. I guess this is not unusual. When each press of the shutter means real bucks spent, you get more cautious. It can certainly help improve your photography when you’re deliberate — thinking carefully and composing meticulously before committing to the shot. That said, I also believe that trying new things and shooting a lot can also be very instructional. With digital, I take more chances because the barriers are so low.

As usual, I took Instagram photos. Ironically, I actually spend a decent amount of time framing and processing shots for Instagram, though all on my iPhone 5S. It seems counter intuitive to put effort into Instagram but I use it to showcase what’s possible via smartphone photography. I have a habit of taking things too seriously and wanting to make it as good as possible. Instagram started out casually but evolved into something less spontaneous than originally intended.

Shinjiku Color - Tokyo, Japan
Park Hyatt Sunset - Tokyo, Japan
Shooting the Fall Color in Rikugien - Tokyo, Japan

The Fuji X100S was pressed into service for a little over 1000 shots. After 10 months and 24,000 shots later, the camera controls are now second nature. I could have easily used this one camera to document my Japan trip but I was up for doing more. Of course, I like to create HDRs which the Fuji is not ideally suited. I also wanted to have a really unobtrusive camera, even smaller than the X100S, for street photography.

Pachinko Neon, Raumen Museum - Yokohama, Japan
Alleyway in Ueno - Tokyo, Japan

Which brings me to my new camera system. I call it a system since, in addition to the camera body and kit lens, I also bought a slew of other lenses. It’s really a complete setup capable of doing everything I need it to do. The Pentax Q system is the smallest mirrorless interchangeable lens system on the market. I got an especially attractive price on the Q7, the previous model, which has the same internal components as the latest Q-S1.

The camera is a blast. There’s no exaggeration when I say it’s the funnest camera I ever used. It works great for both my HDRs as well as creating moody black and white street photographs. I shot like crazy with it, nearly 7000 frames. I tried and succeeded, I think, to create images different from my usual.

This is going to be my creative camera where I explore different aspects of photography. With its smallish sensor, it doesn’t ultimately match my other cameras for image quality, but I don’t care. It’s such a delightfully fun camera and it lowers the barrier to creativity.

Ameyoko - Tokyo, Japan
Umbrellas, Ameyoko - Tokyo, Japan
In coming, train station - Tokyo, Japan

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S and the Pentax Q7 in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

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Off to the land of the rising sun

Kokeshi on Display, Store Window - Kyoto, Japan

Kokeshi on Display, Store Window – Kyoto, Japan

I’m leaving for Japan tomorrow for about 2 weeks. As you can guess, there will be a lot of photography, mostly in the Tokyo area this time. As an urban photographer, I’m looking forward to shooting in one of the largest cities in the world. By metropolitan area, Tokyo still ranks number one with 37 million people. Considerably larger than Austin’s modest 2 million.

I find that in big cities, my mind is overwhelmed by the photo possibilities. A consequence of training to see in a moderate size city like Austin. Of course, I’ll only visit and capture a small sliver of Tokyo. Two weeks are not a lot of time, after all.

I’m bringing my Fujifilm X100S and my Nikon 35Ti. Both compact cameras with 35mm equivalent lenses. One digital. One film. I’m not planning to shoot much film, I’ll bring only 4 rolls, just in case. Digital is still going to be the primary method.

The currency exchange gods are in my favor and the Yen recently fell to a 7 year low against the U.S. Dollar. What does that mean? A great opportunity to buy cameras of course. Yeah, I know, I already have too many. I no longer deny that shooting and collecting many different cameras are a source of fun for me. Especially as I’ve gotten into film.

I thought about buying a bunch of old film cameras in Japan, but I’ve decided against it. I didn’t want to add undue stress testing cameras during my short stay. I want to maximize my shooting time and enjoy myself. Instead, I’ve started buying cameras here in the U.S., even if they might be a little more expensive. I’ll buy from Precision, KEH or Adorama where I can adequately test equipment and return it if necessary.

However, the weak Yen makes for a fantastic opportunity to pickup new digital cameras. I have one in mind, along with some lenses. That’s the camera I’m going to use to create my urban HDRs. I’ve mentioned the camera before but I’ll hold off talking about it until I get it and shoot with it.

As usual, during my trips, I’ll be doing updates through my Instagram Account. I suspect that I’ll have minimal or no updates on this blog until I get back. Have a great Thanksgiving to my U.S. readers. Thank you for continuing to visit my blog.

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The F1 Fan Fest again, so much street shooting in a weekend

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

2014 F1 Fan Fest – Austin, Texas

The day after I took these Halloween portraits on 6th Street, I went to the F1 Fan Fest. The Fan Fest is a way to bring a little of that Formula 1 racing excitement to downtown Austin. I’ve yet to go to the F1 races themselves but I’ve made it to this downtown event 3 years in a row. It’s a place for street photography and a chance to capture something different in Austin.

Of course, year to year, things don’t change much. After 3 years, everything seems about the same except, perhaps, it was a bit smaller this year. Part of the challenge is, as the downtown continues to grow, the open lots for special events decrease. I think at least two previous parking lots are now active construction sites, soon spawning more high-rise towers, I imagine. I wonder what’ll happen to this event when all downtown lots give way to higher tax generating structures.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

I listened to more concerts this year than in the past. The Fan Fest sets up multiple stages with live music throughout the day. I happened upon an interesting and eclectic band from Brooklyn called Red Baraat, and stayed there for the entire show. I even went retro and bought their CDs instead of an electronic download. Of course, what always entices me is the shooting opportunity. Give me some colorful lights at night in an urban atmosphere and I’m game.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

I also stayed much later than expected and went to the Joan Jett and the Blackhearts concert, the headliner for that night. I can’t say I’m a Joan Jett fan, per say, but she made her mark in the 80s so I identify with and recognize her music. I noticed a lot of folks that were near my age. I know Ms. Jett is older than me, but from my vantage point, the dark-haired, black leather clad singer looked and sounded the way she always did. Perhaps it was a collective way for all of us middle-aged folk to have high school flashbacks.

I got in late but slowly inched forward as the crowd shifted. I especially like it when I capture the beams of colorful light. I snapped a number of frames perfectly lighting the audience. I only brought one camera, the Fujifilm X100S, with a 35mm equivalent lens. My Olympus with the 50mm f1.4 equivalent or even my DLSR with a slew of lenses would have gotten me closer via a telephoto. Ultimately, though I’m satisfied with what the 35mm point of view gave me.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

Missing this year was the big Infiniti car race venue. Maybe it fell victim to the lack of space or maybe the return on investment wasn’t there. Gone also was a large Fiat display that I remember from years past.

The energy drinks where out in force. Both Red Bull and Monster had elaborate setups to entice the crowed. I guess if you can’t drive F1 cars, you can feel the alternate buzz from their sugar and caffeinated concoctions. Of course they had attractive spokespersons and pumped up music. Monster cross promoted with the X Games skateboard demonstration.

2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas
2014 F1 Fan Fest - Austin, Texas

Between the late night / early morning Halloween shooting on 6th Street the night before to another late night at the Fan Fest, I was worn out. At least I got about 5 miles of walking on each night. The photography distracts me from all the walking so I guess it’s a decent way to get some exercise. I considered going to an East side Dia de los Muertos parade the next day but decided to bag that. Even I have limits on the number of photography events per weekend.

It was a film free weekend too. I might be curious about film but I’m still practical. Digital is a lot easier at night and I still find it more desirable for fast-moving or fast changing action. It’s kind of nice to use both and I’m not such a purist that I restrict myself to either side of the divide.

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I took all the photographs with the Fujifilm X100S in JPEG and post processed with Aperture 3.

If you find these posts interesting, please consider using my affiliate links for any future purchases.
Make sure to click on the photographs to a see larger version. Hover over the photos to see the picture details.