Thursday, May 4, 2023

Japan Photo Tour: The people, the cherry blossoms and more

After numerous years of delays due to the pandemic, we were finally able to take our guests to Japan last month! Even though I have been to Japan numerous times, it was the first time going with M&M Photo Tours, leading a photo tour to this amazing country. We timed the trip to try and catch the cherry blossoms in full bloom, and the timing was spot on. More to come on that in a little bit later in this blog post (and in another post coming soon).

It was also the first time for me to use the new Canon R6 MK II camera. For this trip, I decided to bring the Canon R6 MK II and my Canon R5. I brought 3 lenses with me: the Canon RF15-35mm, the Canon RF24-105mm, and the Canon RF70-200mm.

After landing in Tokyo, I needed to stay awake for another 4 hours in order to get time adjusted. I had yet to meet with our tour guests, so I went for a walk and tried the new camera. 

By the time I got to the hotel, it was already dark, but I love taking night photos, so this was fine with me. With all the lights on the storefronts, and masses of people returning home from work  I figured that motion pans would be fun. This was one of the first snaps from the Canon R6 MK II, taken at 1/5 sec.

I saw this small side street and loved the lights and busy walking traffic. Since I did not have a tripod with me on this evening, I decided to test the image stabilization (in camera and in the lens). I leaned against a wall and took this photo with a one second exposure, handheld. No problem at all!

Speaking of motion, the next morning was the first time for our group to head out for photos. As we waited for our train to arrive, I thought that this would be a perfect place for our first group shot. As a passing train entered the station, I asked everyone to stand still, so that I could get them sharp, but with motion of the train. I set the camera for a 1/20 sec for this photo.

For our first stop, we visited the Great Buddha of Hase-dera. It was an overcast day and we had white cloudy skies. It was great light on the Buddha, but really boring for a background. This was a great chance to demonstrate the new "Sky replacement" feature in Photoshop to the group, when I was teaching post production a couple of days later.

This bronze statue is about 35 feet tall and dates all the way back to the 13th century. There were a lot of people shooting straight onto the statue, so I showed everyone how we could shoot from an angle, and farther away, and use the foliage as a frame.

After visiting the Great Buddha, we walked to the Haze-Dera Temple and we all had a great time roaming the grounds .

We did not see any cherry blossoms in this location, but the architecture and other foliage was beautiful.

I took a lot of photos there, but my favorite was this detail shot of these "six jizo" sculptures. 

On our second day in Tokyo, we went to Ueno Park, which is the best place to see the cherry blossoms in Tokyo and it was awesome. When we first arrived, I looked around and saw these decorations and thought that they would make a perfect foreground for the blossoms. I had our guests start here and then we broke off to allow everyone a chance to grab photos of their own.

We saw a combination of white cherry blossoms and pink ones. So beautiful!

The next day we visited another temple. I found it interesting, but since we had overcast weather once again, it was not terribly photographic. But we saw this young lady who was dressed in traditional Japanese clothing and I saw an opportunity for some really nice portraits. It turned out that she was in this location to celebrate her 20th birthday with her family. It was a win / win for us because she loved having her photo taken, and it gave me a chance to teach some portrait photography techniques to the group. I moved her to this location to get a good background and nice side-lighting. For this photo, I grabbed my Canon R5 and I went with my favorite portrait lens, the Canon RF70-200mm lens.

We went to a couple different places around the temple for more photos. I took this photo with the Canon R6 MK II and used the Canon RF15-35mm wide angle lens to show more of the scene. Because I did not have a flash with me at the time, I knew that she would be really dark in the bottom of the frame. But I also knew that this could be fixed later, so I took the photo and brightened her in Photoshop later.

After photographing the young lady, we were standing around waiting for the other guests to meet back at our spot. I heard drumming noise and turned to see these people coming into the main area of the temple. It was a bridal party walking towards their wedding ceremony, with the bride and groom in the middle. More good timing.

One evening took the train to the Shinjuku station and we visited the famous alleyway informally called "piss alley".  It is nicknamed this because in the 1940s there were no bathrooms in the area so people would just go to the bathroom anywhere in this alley. This narrow alley is now home to many small places to eat. Since it was really dark, I recommended that our guests crank up their ISO to 3200 to get photos of these tiny eateries.

We visited many beautiful gardens, this one being one of my favorites. I took portraits of each of the guests and then asked one of the guests (thanks Dave!) to take a photo of me here. There was a light rain falling. If you zoom into the photo, you can see the rain drops falling everywhere.

Any time we saw people in traditional clothing, we tried to stop them for photos. 

The next stop on our tour was Nikko. In this area we ventured off to the Kanmangafuchi gorge. It was a really pretty location, and in this case the overcast weather once again worked to our advantage. Due to the low light, we could slow our shutter speeds and blur the water. I set the Canon R6 MK II to ISO 100 and f/20 which gave me a shutter speed of about 3/4 sec. And just like on the first night in Japan, I was able to use the image stabilization to shoot this handheld at the slow shutter speed and get a really sharp image (with motion blur of the water).

Hiking a short distance up the trail, along the edge of the Daiyagawa River, we came across the well known Narabi Jizo statues. These statues are lined up along the wall which stretches for hundreds of feet.  Again, we had perfect light for photographing the statues, with no harsh sunlight or shadows. I really loved this location for three reasons: 

1. It is not as popular as other tourist destinations, so it was not crowded with people.
2. The ancient stonework and colors were really pretty.
3. I love photographing repeating patterns.

The statues all wear these red hats and scarves, since they are treated as live people and kept warm from harsh environment.

After shooting many images of the statues, I was trying to figure out a unique way to photograph them. I saw this rain covered tree limb and focused on that, letting the statues go out of focus. I showed this to the other guests and we all took turns holding the tree limb down to get the best composition.

We were just about finished photographing the Jizo statues, when a couple of our guests came down from the hillside above and told us about a beautiful old cemetery. Even though we only had 10 minutes more before we were all supposed to meet by our bus, I hurried up the hill to grab some photos. It was stressful trying to shoot in such a short period of time, but well worth it!

These last photos (of the first half of the Japan Photo Tour blog) is of the Skinkyo Bridge. This red lacquered bridge was built in 1636 and crosses the Daiya River. It is known as one of the nicest bridges in Japan.  As we all stood there taking photos, all I could think of as "How can we shoot this differently than the standard photo taken by everyone else?" So I decided to teach everyone who to zoom the lens while shooting a long exposure shot.

This was my favorite image of this experiment. Some people might love it and others may not like it all, but I was happy to get something "different".

I have many more images from this trip to share with you all, and this will be coming in a "part 2" blog post in the next week or so.

We will be returning to Japan next year for another photo tour. If you are interested in going, check out the photo tours page here.


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1 comment:

Unknown said...

That was a great tour Jeff. Thanks for all the tips and out of the way locations.
Ron and MaryAnn.