These images all come from a small lakeside park in New Hampshire not far from where my in-laws live. I love going to this place. There’s rarely anyone around, and yet I’ve taken a number of favorite images here over the years. These autumn images are no exception.
One of my favorite things about this spot is how quiet it is. Sometimes I just need quiet. Don’t we all? I don’t get much of it where I live now. There’s been construction next door to both my house and my office for several months now, but even aside from that there’s constant traffic. I don’t mean to complain – there are many things I enjoy about city life – but I often miss the quietness of the New England countryside.
Part of why this place is so quiet is because it’s in the middle of nowhere. It’s off a small highway that doesn’t go anywhere especially important. There aren’t any famous spots nearby. I don’t know if there are any restaurants or even a gas station in the area. There’s a small post office and an old church, and houses scattered about. It’s an easy spot to pass up, and many people do.
Yet almost every time I come here, I find something of value either for my mind or my camera, and often both. I’ve visited this location dozens of times over the years. I don’t think I’ll ever tire of it. I’ve photographed it in sub-zero temperatures and in the summer heat. I’ve photographed it in the spring, summer, autumn and winter. I’ve shot wide angles, macro images, and even flown my drone here. I’ve taken countless images, and Lord willing, I’ll take many more. It’s not a famous place. It’s a quiet place. And that’s exactly why I love it.
One thing I love about photography is the ability to, in a sense, travel back in time. Yes, actual time travel is impossible – not just technologically, but logically; but I digress. Photographs allow us to be transported mentally to a moment that is of value to us. As a photographer that is especially true, because I can not only go back and look at my images at any time, but I also have a large quantity of unedited images sitting on storage devices that I can go back an edit when the urge strikes me.
When I edit these photographs I’m focusing on details. I’m not only looking at the colors, but at fine points in the clouds or trees or rocks that comprise the image. I have the opportunity to explore the scene in a way that I may not have even done in person. As I do this, it reminds me of little things from the day – an earthy smell, the sound of geese flying in the distance, or perhaps the feeling of the breeze brushing against my skin. Sometimes it’s a specific memory. Other times, it’s a mental recreation based on a myriad of similar experiences. It doesn’t really matter; it’s true to the moment, and it’s valuable to me.
It may seem banal at this point to talk about photography bringing one back in time. It’s cliché. I get it. But perhaps we let the mundane joys of art get lost sometimes, in an effort to be novel. It may not be novel, but I find the fact that we can capture the light of a given moment and hold on to it indefinitely to be extraordinary. These moments cannot be reproduced. You can never go back, it’s utterly impossible. Time marches on relentlessly. And yet, here is this moment standing in front of me, a testimony to the fact that yes, that memory is real. It hasn’t confused itself with some long forgotten dream, or been created by some quirk in the wiring of my brain. It really happened, I was really there, and I can embrace that moment as reality.
These images all come from a spectacular day in the White Mountains in 2017. I got up very early and drove up to the mountains so I could hike for about an hour to this spot. I was hoping for a glorious sunrise over the mountains, but when I arrived it was drizzly and cloudy. I hoped things would clear up, but when I reached the top, I could see even less than I could at the bottom. I was disappointed, but given the effort it had taken to get here, I thought it best to wait a bit. I’m glad I did. After an hour or so of waiting in the clouds, things started to clear. As it lifted, this almost heavenly light began to break over the increasingly visible autumn colors below. I was all alone, my only company the occasional gaggle of Canada geese flying across the valley. I stayed at this spot for a couple of more hours, and took hundreds of images. What a morning!
I’ve been a little homesick recently. I love Japan and I believe in the work my family does here, but I still miss home. I suppose it happens every year around this time especially. The closing months of the year are especially nostalgic. I’m glad I have so many unedited images from that day. It gives me a chance to travel back and experience it all again, almost as fresh as the first moment the clouds began to break.
Since travel to Japan is still impossible for most people due to the pandemic, I imagine there will be a lot of people wishing they could be here for cherry blossom season, daydreaming about hanami and the beautiful sights of this unique event. While I can’t open the borders for you, I can at least provide some beautiful images to enjoy while you daydream. Below are some of my favorite images from cherry blossom season here in Japan, prepared as backgrounds for your devices. A few are made as HD desktop wallpapers, and a few others are made for mobile devices.
**Please note, these images are available only for personal use as a desktop or mobile device background.**
I hope you enjoy! Please make sure to follow me on Instagram and Youtube to see more from the season and the rest of the year here in Japan!
One of the questions I am frequently asked (right after, “what camera do you use?”) is: “how did you get that photo?”
There are a lot of ways to answer this question, but the most fundamental answer is simple: go when no one else would, and you’ll see what no one else will.
When it comes to photography, most people just show up and take whatever they happen to see when they get there. Sometimes people get lucky. I’ve gotten lucky plenty of times. But my best images – my most compelling work – comes from outings when I went when no one else would.
Typically, this involves early mornings. I am not a morning person. This can be compounded by the seasons. For example, in Japan, there is no daylight savings time like in the United States, so morning comes very early during the summer months. Sunrise can be as early as 4:30am, which means you may need to get up at 3:00am to get somewhere interesting. But when you get there, and see an incredible sunrise with no other person in sight, and get the shot that you’ve been dreaming of for months or even years, you will know it was worth it.
This doesn’t just apply to landscape photography, though. This idea is equally valid, if not even more valid, at famous tourist destinations. Recently on Instagram, someone asked me about a photo I had taken in Kyoto. They noticed that there was no one in the shot, and were surprised to see such emptiness at a famous tourist destination. If you’ve ever been to Kyoto, you likely understand why this would be surprising. But my reply was the same:
Go when no one else would, and you’ll see what no one else will.
During one of my trips to Kyoto, I visited the famous Bamboo Forest, and took one of my favorite images there, without a single person in the shot. I didn’t have to mask or clone stamp anyone out. How did I avoid such edits? By being there by 5:00am. I enjoyed a solid hour of very few passersby, shooting to my heart’s content without getting in anyone’s way (or anyone getting in mine).
This adage doesn’t just apply to the time of the day – it can also apply to the time of the year. Popular locations are naturally going to be packed during the months most convenient for travel (typically the summer). Even at early hours, you can expect lots of photographers at certain destinations. If you can go during the down season, you’re less likely to be left competing with other photographers, and you may even see sights others never will.
Consider winter in the White Mountains as an example. There aren’t a lot of people who want to get up before 5:00am and drive on icy roads just so they can go hike in the snow and freezing cold. (I am not one of those people either, by the way.) Nevertheless, those who do are at times rewarded with sights that few others will ever see. Frost covered trees, fresh snow packs, and much more can be enjoyed if you’re willing to make the journey.
Of course, it’s not always possible to do what I’m talking about, for a variety of reasons. Anyone who knows me also knows that I love cherry blossom season in Japan. In Tokyo at least, there are few places you can go that no one else would, regardless of the time of day. Due to the sheer volume of people, there’s always someone there if it’s the kind of place any normal person might want to be. During cherry blossom season, this means you will necessarily be fighting with crowds. Even at my favorite secret spots, there will inevitably be other people around.
So, yes, this adage isn’t the only aspect of photography worth thinking about. But it is an important one.
Taking beautiful photographs involves more than just showing up. You need to choose not simply where you will be, but also when you will be there. Be willing to go the extra mile. As with many things in life, you will find that relatively few others are willing to go it with you.
We are once again on the cusp of another new year, which means it’s time to choose my top 10 images taken in 2018! I hope you’ll enjoy these images, and feel free to share your own favorites in the comments!