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Blue Evening Over Chiba City

I mentioned in my last post that my daughter and I recently took a visit to the Chiba Port Tower in Chiba City. This tower is very interesting and quite unique. At 125 meters tall (over 400 feet) this tower would normally be around 40 stories, but it actually only has 4 floors. The first floor is where you enter and access the elevators, while the other three floors are all at the upper levels. Two of those floors are observation decks, while the other is a small restaurant/cafe. Everything in between those 3 floors and the first floor is essentially a large elevator shaft. While it’s not the most impressive tower or observatory in the world, it does offer some great views of Tokyo Bay and Chiba City and allows for the use of tripods which comes in really handy when trying to take nice photos from observatories at night. Today’s photo is the Makuhari section of Chiba City, and while not as exciting perhaps as Tokyo skylines, I think the view from the Chiba Port Tower is still pretty impressive.

Photo of Chiba CityClick Here To Purchase A Print

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Summer Storms Over Japan

Last night I took an impromptu trip to check out the Chiba Port Tower with my daughter. It’s summer in the Northern Hemisphere, and in Japan that means lots of humidity, heat, and otherwise fatigue inducing weather. As a photographer, that’s not especially inspiring to go out and shoot, but it has been several weeks at least since I really went out just to shoot last, so I figured a nice indoor observatory would be a good way to do some more shooting.

While the Chiba Port Tower doesn’t have especially amazing views, particularly during the summer when viewing distance is significantly decreased, but I’m glad we went because we got treated to quite a show. Off in the distance, maybe 20 or 30 miles away (I’m awful at guessing distances, so don’t take my word for it), summer storms were lighting up the night sky. While we couldn’t see most of the actual lightning bolts, we could see the strikes blasting light throughout the massive clouds. Thankfully I had my 70-300mm zoom lens on me so I could shoot the storms, and even more thankfully the tower allows the use of tripods, without which this shot would have been impossible.

Photo of storms over JapanClick Here To Purchase A Print

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Skytree Nightfall

There’s a reason magic hour is called that – the colors in the sky in the hour after the sun goes down can be incredible. Unfortunately, aside from the various observatories in Tokyo, there aren’t a whole lot of great places to photograph those colors. While I still prefer the combo of those colors with a great scenic beach or mountainous landscape, the view of the Tokyo Skytree and surrounding buildings from the Arakawa River can be remarkable as well.

Camera: Nikon D7000
Lens: Nikon 70-300mm VR
Shot Info: f/13 | 30sec | ISO100 | 70mm

Photo of Tokyo SkytreeClick Here To Purchase A Print

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Movement of Shiraito Falls

Today’s photo comes from the lovely Shiraito Falls in Shizuoka Prefecture, Japan. I posted several photos from this waterfall several months ago, but I had a lot of work to do on this one before it would be ready for sharing. The main reason it took so much processing is that I didn’t expose for the shot as I should have. Check out the three exposures I used for today’s photo:

Three Exposures Of Shiraito Falls

As you can see, all of these are way too dark. Even the final photo doesn’t expose nearly enough for the shadows. I wanted to show these photos though because it’s a good lesson on several points, primarily on the importance of getting the exposure right in camera and the value of shooting in RAW, so you can squeeze out all of that juicy digital information when necessary. So how did I take these exposures and create today’s photograph?

It’s a long process, but essentially I tweaked the photos multiple times in Lightroom and then exported those files into Photoshop CC. In Photoshop, I then blended those edits together for different areas using layers, masking, and several other smaller features for detailed edits. The upside is I recovered a basically unusable selection of exposures and made a lovely shot of the waterfall. The downside to this process is that it was both time consuming and ultimately resulted in some loss of detail in the final image. Moral of the story? Correct exposures matter, but don’t trash an image straight away just because it looks bad at first. You might be amazed at what you can do!

Photo of Shiraito Falls JapanClick Here To Purchase A Print

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Evening Begins In Tokyo

I may have said this before, but Ueno Station in Tokyo is one of my favorite train stations. Much of the photography you see out of Tokyo is focused around the Central or Western areas – places like Shinjuku or Shibuya, for example – and I think places like Ueno are comparatively less popular. Personally, I think the area surrounding Ueno Station is much more diverse, particularly as a photographer. There are shopping streets with great atmosphere, Ueno Park which is filled with interesting locations, and the station itself, which is surrounded by dozens of pedestrian overpasses, which come in quite handy for doing long exposures on a tripod. And since it’s less crowded as compared to central Tokyo, I find I’m less in people’s way while taking photos. Anyway, this is one I shot along one of those overpasses, toward I think the Northeastern side of the station, as evening was beginning across the city. This is a great time to shoot photos like this. Plenty of people moving about, lots of cars still going here and there, and especially in early October, a great cool breeze to keep you company.

Camera: Nikon D7000
Lens: Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8
Shot Info: f/11 | Multiple Exposures (HDR) | ISO100 | 11mm

Photo of Tokyo at nightClick Here To Purchase A Print

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Sem's - ah, sugee…
Tokina lenses are good?
I’m considering buying one, the 12 28 F/4 or nikon 16 85 F/3.5 – 5.6
in this photo, are you using Adobe lightroom?

sorry for my poor english -_-!

leslie - Thanks! :) Yes, I love my Tokina lens. I’ve used it tons since I bought it. Very sharp and sturdy build.

As for this photo, I used Lightroom, Photomatix, and Photoshop CC. This is a true HDR photo, so it is made up of three different exposures.


A Yomiuri Giants Game at Tokyo Dome

This past weekend I had the opportunity to go to a Yomiuri Giants game at Tokyo Dome with my oldest daughter and some good friends of ours. We had a blast! As both a photographer and a baseball fan, I thought I’d share the experience through photos and talk about a few of the differences I noticed between American and Japanese baseball.

This was actually my first ball game at an indoor baseball stadium. I must admit I’m a bit biased toward open air stadiums, but I was pleasantly surprised with the experience at the Tokyo Dome. That said, my first impression upon entering the stadium was that the field looked kind of small. But my friend pointed out something interesting which likely affected that – at ballparks in the US, the outfield bleachers are a pretty large portion of the stadium, but at the Tokyo Dome the majority of the seats are around the first and second base lines. You can get a feel for what it looked like in this panorama I made. It’s a 4 photo pano, taken on my D7000 with the Tokina 11-16mm lens, stitched and edited in Photoshop CC.

Photo of Tokyo DomeClick Here To Purchase A Print

Before the game gets started, and throughout the game, one difference I noticed is the prevalence of mascots and the presence of cheerleaders. I’ve never seen cheerleaders at an MLB game, but the cheerleaders at this one came out several times throughout the game to do their thing along with the mascots. And yes, that IS Pikachu on the field in the first photo.

Photo of cheerleaders at baseball game

Photo of Yomiuri Giants Mascot

Of course, the basics of the game are more or less the same. Pitchers have to get outs, batters have to get balls in play. I will say that running seems to play a larger part for the team than you might see in the MLB. We saw several bunting situations that you probably wouldn’t see in the States for example, and I think a lot more of the team has speed as compared to US players. Anyone who has watched Ichiro play probably won’t be surprised to hear that though.

Photo of Japanese pitcherYamai pitchingPhoto of Yomiuri Giants battingPhoto inside Tokyo Dome

The fan experience I think was probably the most obvious difference between games in the US and Japan. From food to cheers, it’s a whole different ball game. For example, where would you find edamame (soy beans) at a baseball game in America? Thankfully, they did have hotdogs too.

Edamame at ball game

Need a refill on your drink? Just ask a vendor to come over and fill it up using their handy backpack dispenser (I bet their backs hurt after these games!).

Vendor selling drinks at baseball game

When the team’s down, drape out a huge banner and sing along with the band, and don’t forget to beat your plastic bats together!

banner at a baseball game

Here’s a short video showing one of the chants they were doing as they were trying to get back in the game.

Although they got into the game, I was impressed by how calm most of the fans were. When foul balls came flying into the crowd, there wasn’t a huge fight for the ball. In some cases, people hardly even stood up. Fans were also extremely courteous. At one point during the game a person behind us spilled some popcorn … and began picking ALL of it up! Toward the end of the game, people walked around with trash bags so you could toss things before leaving. That was convenient, and a very different experience from anything I’ve seen in the US.

Overall, the game was a great experience and I hope I can go again sometime. If you’re ever in Japan during baseball season, I definitely suggest you take the time to visit a ball game. If you like baseball as much as I do, you’ll be glad you did. Oh, and for the record, the Giants lost, but it was still lots of fun.:)


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Sem's - hi les,
I really enjoy the blog has been created by you.
because I also really like photography, and I also use a Nikon DSLR ^^^
and more by chance again, I also love Japanese culture!, because a long time ago i lived in nagoya when elementary school (maybe around 1989 -_-! , just a few months and along with my grandmother, and then come back there about 2 years ago for a vacation.
with this blog, I can still enjoy that beautiful country, despite not stay there again.
probably around next year, I’ll be there with my wife..

I will be a fan of your blog! haha ….

leslie - Hi Sem, thanks so much for sharing your connection to Japan, and for the kind words. It’s always great to hear from people who read my blog and enjoy my photos. Hope you enjoy your next trip to Japan! :) Thanks again!

Photographing Summer Fireworks

Everyone loves fireworks! They’re beautiful, bright, and just generally awesome. And no matter where you live, you’re likely to have at least one day during the year when your town hosts a grand fireworks display. In Japan this is certainly the case, particularly during the month of August, when fireworks festivals are held across the country. As a photographer, a fireworks display is lots of fun to shoot, but it can also seem a bit difficult to capture the majesty of each burst. How do you photograph the movement, the color, and the general atmosphere that makes these events so magical? Read on to find out…

Fireworks in JapanClick Here To Purchase A Print

What Camera Do I Need?

There’s a lot you can do with whatever you have. Many cameras, even fairly inexpensive ones, may come with a firework mode built in. If your camera has that, try it out! You might be surprised how intelligent these modes can be for specialized situations. That having been said, in general, the more control you have, the better. In the case of fireworks, that means being able to keep the shutter open as long as you like, and not all cameras can do that. But wait! Don’t run out and drop $6000+ on a Nikon D4s or something. A camera like the Nikon D3200 would be perfectly fine. It sells for less than $500, and that’s with the superb 18-55mm kit lens! Whatever you’re using, the main thing is that you know how to use it, and that you can keep the shutter open at least for a few seconds.

What Lens Should I Use?

As I often mention here on my blog, it’s good to capture of a range of photos. With fireworks, you might want to zoom in on some of them and be wide on others. Keeping that in mind, a basic kit lens like the 18-55mm lens I mentioned before is going to work like a charm. You’ll be able to change quickly and easily, adjusting your lens to the changes in the show. For the photos in this post, I used two lenses: the Tokina 11-16mm f/2.8 and the Nikon 35mm f/1.8G. The wide angle did come in handy at times when the fireworks became larger (and thus wouldn’t fit in the frame of a smaller lens), but in general you’ll probably be all set with a standard kit lens.

What Accessories Do I Need?

There are two accessories I highly recommend if you want to take photos of fireworks. You might could get by without them, but they’re game changers in my opinion.

  1. A Tripod
    Any tripod will do, but the sturdier the better. You’ll be keeping your shutter open long enough to introduce camera shake with just a little movement.
  2. A Shutter Release Cable
    While not as essential as the tripod, it can save you a lot of hassle. Not only does it reduce vibration, but also helps you keep your eyes on the sky.

So that settles your basic needs for shooting fireworks. The next question is, how do you shoot them?

Fireworks Bursting With moonClick Here To Purchase A Print

How To Take Firework Photos

Taking photos of fireworks really isn’t that difficult, once you know what you’re doing. And it’s also a very rewarding endeavor if for nothing else than getting compliments from friends. People will look at your photos and say “wow, that’s amazing!” with consideration of just a few important points.

  • Timing
    The very first thing you should keep in mind has less to do with your camera and more to do with your own eyes. Taking stunning photos of fireworks requires good timing. If you wait until you see the burst to snap the photo, you will have already missed what you wanted to capture. You must anticipate the burst and open the shutter before that. If you want to also capture the trail that leads to the burst, you’ll need to be prepared for that as well.
  • Aperture
    Since you’ll likely be shooting in the evening, you might think you want a wide aperture to let in lots of light, but actually you can keep your aperture quite tight and still see plenty. This is because fireworks are, surprisingly enough, very bright! In the photos here I was shooting usually around f/11. This allows me to keep things nice and sharp, and also allows for a slightly longer shutter speed which I’ll talk about next.
  • Shutter Speed
    This is one of the most important factors in a good firework image. If your shutter speed is fast, you won’t capture much movement. If you slow it down some, you’ll get nice smooth light trails. Of course, you may not always want trails (e.g. those cool fireworks with shapes like hearts or smiley faces), so keep in mind what you’re going for and control the speed accordingly. If you are using a cable release, this is as easy as holding down the button until you think it’s time.
  • ISO
    I prefer increasing my ISO to lowering my aperture when it comes to fireworks. Not too much, of course – I stayed between ISO 200-500 in these images – but enough to get a little more out of the shadows.

Again, shooting fireworks really isn’t that difficult. If you know how to control a few simple aspects of your camera, you’ll be on your way to sharing your own breath taking firework images. I will say though, to whatever degree you can, plan to get to the show early and stake out a good spot. Especially here in Japan, it gets really crowded, and you don’t want to be competing with other heads for a view of the show if you can avoid it.

I hope this helps with taking your own photos, and I hope you’ll enjoy some of my own photos I took using these same methods.

Matsudo Fireworks FestivalClick Here To Purchase A Print

Fireworks burstingClick Here To Purchase A Print

photo of people watching fireworksClick Here To Purchase A Print

Fireworks on moonlit nightClick Here To Purchase A Print

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