A Trip To Kyoto

For the past two weeks my brother was in town to visit, so we got to explore a lot together. Mostly we wandered around Tokyo, but he really wanted to see Kyoto, so he was kind enough to treat me to a trip there with him for his first visit. Since I was there with him I didn’t take nearly as many photos as I might normally, but I did still manage to fit some photos in here and there, so I thought I’d share some of those with you all. Enjoy!

Of course, any visitor to Kyoto has to see the famous bamboo forest in Arashiyama. We visited the main one, and also visited a less famous one not too far away.

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Photo of Bamboo Forest Kyoto

Japan Bamboo

Bamboo Forest Path

We also spent a good amount of time exploring the small side streets around Kyoto. Especially in the famous Gion District, there are lots of great little scenes and shops which are worth photographing.

Kyoto Side Street

Japan Ramen Shop

Kyoto Alley

Gion District Kyoto

Japanese Restaurant Kyoto

Here are a couple of unorganized ones from various places. The photo of the torii gates is from Fushimi Inari Shrine, which was insanely crowded, thus preventing me from taking many photos.

One Thousand Paper Cranes

Kyoto Riverside restaurant

Fushimi Inari Shrine Kyoto

Hope you’ve enjoyed the photos from Kyoto! If you ever get a chance to go, take it! It’s well worth the trip. And by the way, if you’d like to see some of my other Kyoto photos, check them out here.


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Pub Wall In Tokyo & New Quick Tip

Tokyo is, to quote the eminent philosopher Forrest Gump, “like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.” This is especially true for photographers. Wandering around Tokyo is akin to a treasure hunt. The city is full of unique scenes to photograph, tucked in places that could be easily overlooked, and may well have never been discovered by any camera before. You could be walking down a relatively uninteresting street, only to turn the corner and end up spending an hour there with your camera. Such was the case with this picture. Well, I didn’t spend an hour here, but I did turn the corner and find this lovely decorated wall. The wall is, as you might guess, part of a restaurant, or more accurately part of a pub near a train station in Tokyo. Many of the train stations in Tokyo are surrounded by pubs like this, inviting in the salary men each night as they head home from work. The name of the place, Yotteke, is associated with intoxication. Although I personally don’t drink alcohol, I will say their food looks delicious and the decorations are fantastic!

With today’s picture I’ve also included a Before & After version, as well as new Quick Tip video talking about using the highlights and whites sliders Lightroom. The distinction between these two sliders may not be obvious to many users (same with the shadows and blacks sliders) so I hope this short video will help clear that up so you can use them more effectively. That distinction actually came in handy for this particular image. You can watch the Quick Tip video just below the image.

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A Review of Polaroid Swing

For several months, I’ve been using a new app on my phone called Polaroid Swing. Almost every photographer out there knows the Polaroid brand. Actually, my first camera ever was a Polaroid – I won it in a Halloween costume contest in the 80s when I was around 3 years old. The company has always been about offering a unique way to photograph the world, most famously with their instantly printed photos which come straight out of the camera. Many people my age or above have fond memories of, in the words of Outkast, “shaking it like a polaroid picture.” With their new app Swing, Polaroid is once again venturing to change the way we see and share the world, this time through our mobile devices.

Wasn’t I a cutie?

Polaroid Leslie Taylor

The idea behind Polaroid Swing is simple – take a still image and add just a touch of motion. Each picture has about 1 second of motion in it, and when it is displayed the viewer can move forward and backward by either scrolling with a finger or tilting the phone left and right. This interaction aspect is one of the best parts about Swing, and something it does better than other similar apps. For example, Instagram’s Boomerang app also adds a touch of motion to a scene, but it only plays forward and backward over and over for a few a seconds until it stops. There is no way to actually interact with the picture. Polaroid has found a way to interact with the picture that feels natural and pleasurable. It’s really fun to move the images back and forth over and over, even playing with speed as you do. The tilt option is my favorite for general interaction, while the finger scrolling option helps when you want to freeze a particularly interesting frame.

The tilt function at work:

Polaroid Swing Tilt Function

Once you take an image on Polaroid Swing, you can choose from a few filters. As of this writing, there are two color based filters and one monochrome filter. Although there aren’t any adjustments available at the moment (more on that later) the filters are good and work for most situations that I have encountered. The filter called “Type 9” is probably my favorite so far, but I’ve used all of them with different scenes.

A Swing made with Type 9 (scroll over for movement on desktop/laptop)


What I have really come to love about Polaroid Swing is how it has opened my eyes to a new visual experience of the world. As a photographer, I’m used to thinking in terms of still images. And of course nothing can replace the still image. There are many cases where motion just doesn’t make sense, plus it’s a great challenge to visually express motion in a still image. But I have come to see there are many cases where that touch of motion creates visual opportunities that wouldn’t exist without it. Or at least, having a bit of motion makes the image a lot more interesting. As an example, the above image of salary men walking through Tokyo could be done in a still image, but the motion here adds something special. Another example is the picture of sushi going by on a conveyor belt (see below). It’s conveyor belt sushi – movement is part of the fun! Yet, a video is too much while a still image is not quite enough. Polaroid Swing offers a perfect medium to share the experience.

Sushi + Polaroid Swing


With all of that said, the app does have some room for improvement. My guess is at least a few of these will be addressed in future updates, but for now, here are some things I think would improve the Swing experience:

  • More filters (some maybe for purchase?) and more user control over how to apply filters
  • An option to lock focus (it was nearly impossible to focus on fireworks for example)
  • Higher quality pictures
  • Easier embedding options
  • A profile page with my pictures that can be accessed on desktops/laptops

Again, I’m sure some of these are in the pipeline, and I certainly look forward to when those updates are released.

In the meantime, even without any of those options, Polaroid Swing is a great app. It’s lots of fun, super easy to use, and most importantly has helped me see the world around me in a slightly different way. That not only makes Swing a great app on its own, but ultimately helps make me a better photographer in general.

Check out Polaroid Swing and download it for free right here


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Why I Love Mobile Photography

Most people assume that taking great photos requires lots of expensive gear and software. In fact, many go so far as to equate the two: upon seeing a beautiful photograph, the natural response is to say “you must have a nice camera!” While it’s true that equipment can be important in photography, it’s not true that you need expensive equipment to take great photos. The advent of mobile photography has proven this, I think, beyond a doubt. The cameras in smartphones are smaller, cheaper, and less flexible than their DSLR counterparts. Despite this, mobile photography has become it’s own genre – a genre embraced by even the most seasoned pros. I’ve seen incredible images taken on mobile devices, and have even taken some great images myself. With that in mind, I’d like to share a few of my favorite mobile photos, along with some reasons why I have come to love mobile photography.

iPhone 6 || Edited in Lightroom Mobile

iPhone beach

#1: Change In Focus

With professional cameras, the focus tends to be on equipment and technical know-how. With mobile photography however, the focus is on photographic vision. It’s all about how you see the world as a photographer. The better your sense of elements like composition and lighting, the better your images will be. In reality, this is true in all types of photography, but the simplified interface of mobile photography emphasizes it.

iPhone 4s || Edited in VSCOcam

iPhoneography Japan

#2: Convenience and Portability

Another great thing about mobile photography is that it’s something you can do almost anywhere at a moment’s notice. I don’t always have my main camera with me. It’s big, it’s heavy, and it’s just not convenient for everyday use. My phone, on the other hand, fits in my pocket and is with me almost everywhere I go. True, the images won’t be as large or as sharp as the images taken on my DSLR, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t high quality. The quality is plenty good for prints and stock photography, and of course it’s perfect for sharing on social media.

iPhone 6 || Edited in VSCOcam

iPhone 6 photography

#3: Post Processing

Perhaps the best aspect of mobile photography is that you can take and edit your image on the same device. There is a veritable sea of apps available today for mobile editing. Honestly, you’ll probably spend more time choosing which app you want than you will actually editing a particular photo! Many social sites like Instagram provide their own set of filters to add to your photos. If you want more control, you can use free apps like Lightroom Mobile and VSCO cam. These apps make it easy to edit your photos without ever having to touch your desktop or laptop.

iPhone 6 || Edited in Lightroom Mobile

Nubble Lighthouse iPhone

As great as it is, mobile photography does come with its own challenges. There are certain kinds of photography that will be difficult, if not impossible, with the camera on a mobile phone. For example, you’re not likely to be doing astrophotography on your iPhone anytime soon. But as you can see, there are a lot of perks as well – enough to make mobile photography a worthwhile investment of your time and focus as a photographer. So grab your phone, get outside, and happy shooting!

Check out more of my favorite mobile photos here


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Summer Fireworks 2016

This past weekend in my town here in Japan, my family was able to enjoy the annual summer fireworks festival. From the end of July through much of August, towns all across the country hold their own special fireworks displays, and people come out to watch them, often wearing traditional Japanese clothing. Being as popular as it is, it can get very crowded – there were at least tens of thousands of people line up along the Edo River to watch the fireworks this year, and quite possibly that number reached into the hundreds of thousands. Thankfully, you can go early in the morning and lay out a blanket for later if you want, so I went with one of my daughters by bike and found a good spot to shoot from. Unfortunately there were some lights I didn’t see during the day time that interfered with some of the shots I wanted, but I got some photos I like, and I thought I’d share a few with you here.

If you’re interested in learning about how to photograph fireworks for yourself, make sure to check out this article: Photographing Summer Fireworks

summer fireworks japan

Matsudo Fireworks

Single Firework

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