Posted on January 17, 2014
There are those who wake up each morning bathed in a glorious sunrise…steam rising off the hot springs outside their door as they gaze across the sky, admiring a rising sun and the beauty of nature. A beauty whose only rival is the one they have laying across their chest as they rest in bed.
If this is you, then this post will likely not be of interest…
Instead, as the holiday season winds down and the bleak side of winter seeps in, this post is for those who feel the dark, deep cold of the season beginning to weigh on their spirit.
This post is for the person jogging down a mountain in twilight, hoping to make it to the car before the sky really opens up with snow and freezing rain…
While luck is on their side, as they make it to the car right before the sky opens, it is a short-lived moment of elation as they find out that once again “someone” left the dome light on in the car prior to the hike… and the only thing colder than the car battery is their sinking heart looking forward to a cold night before help arrives.
These are the moments that tend to define the depths of winter. Early winter has the excitement of a change of seasons: the feeling of the first crisp chill in the air, the beauty of the first snowfall and perhaps a dark-haired girl in a sweater with eyes twinkling as she takes a sip of her coffee.
But then through the rush of the holiday season, reality begins to set in: the first snowfall is accompanied with closed roads and slush. The crisp chill in the air is soon accompanied by a weekend cold, and the girl with the twinkling eyes…well, she keeps things fresh enough to make the winter blues worthwhile.
To most, the dead of winter is defined by crappy weather and long periods of time stuck indoors. And while we remain trapped inside our hellish cells of purgatory, just outside our doors the Whooper Swans are living it up. Frolicking and almost taunting us as they swim, soar and romance as we lay tucked up inside our homes.
Winter brings a strange mix.
While the winter landscape is incredible, the weather does not make it easy to jump out of bed and run around outside and enjoy the great scenes of sunshine and smiles. Instead, we are faced with the joyless scene of the grey & blues of winter.
However, when inspiration strikes and we brave the wind and cold, we can shed the blues and get a spark of summer in the dead of winter.
This spark of summer in the dead of winter is what we need to search for as February looms ahead. As after the initial thrill of a new winter season wears off, we are tested. The abundance of patience in which we start the season with vanishes quickly during the holiday season, leaving us with a sense of dread.
As we slowly drive each other crazy with our pacing and longing for warm, sunny days…ahead is the worst month of the year.
We can either hide our heads and suffer, succumbing to the cold and curse it in our misery, or simply shake off the chills and celebrate winter. A cup of Irish coffee, compatible friends and a great view from a frosted window looking out into the bleak, frozen glory of wintertime is a good start.
Somewhere there will be an opportunity to get out and enjoy what winter can offer. With Chinese New Year just ahead and signaling a close to the holiday season, I look forward to venturing out and making a watery splash to the great Year of the Horse.
Cheers to all!
NOTE: These photos were taken in Hokkaido, Japan between Lake Mashuko and Rausu. As luck would have it, we had every type of weather making for a great shooting environment. One of the best days was getting out to shoot in blizzard conditions as we were stranded with road closures (below photo is of John Shaw, one of the world’s best wildlife photographers).
Posted on December 19, 2013
At some time or another, I think everyone has wondered what it would be like to fly…to soar above our world and look down upon the chaos below with detachment. Our natural senses exhilarated and overwhelmed as we glide on the breeze, stretching out for our destination horizon.
The pure pursuit of freedom on the winds.
Perhaps an experience a bit like Jonathan Livingston Seagull…and as with Jonathan and the world in general, there would be avian politics to deal with, pressures of life perhaps no different from what we experience daily and hardships that create the challenges of life.
But just to be able to soar, to get a taste of that purity…I like the thought.
Our natural senses exhilarated and overwhelmed…a bit like a good dose of the spirit of the holiday season. Take away the commercialism, rush of shopping and mass of people, and what is left are people in a great state of happiness and joy.
People feel better about life, about others. There are sincere displays of gratitude and perhaps most importantly, compassion. The holiday season, whether Christmas, Diwali, Kwanzaa or another, each contain the key component that makes a holiday special: compassion.
Compassion can touch another soul like nothing else, it can be the greatest gift of all. Malcolm Greenhill wrote a poignant post on his blog (Malcolm’s Corner)about this the other day, how a small gesture of compassion from one person can impact another greatly.
A simple and powerful gift is compassion. Easier to give this time of year because of our spirit, yet to make it a habit and show compassion throughout the year and it becomes easy to imagine that we will all be flying as high as these eagles.
I wish to be more compassionate moving forward. I have been touch by others, likely without their knowing the impact of their kindness. How wonderful it would be for me to do the same for others, consistently, throughout the year.
Merry Christmas everyone.
Note: these photos were taken in a small coastal fishing town (pop. 6,200) of Rausu, the most northeasterly town in Japan, and gateway to the Shiretoko Peninsula. During the winter season, pack ice, which drifts down from the Sea of Okhotsk becomes the home to Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-tailed Sea Eagles who hunt for fish and put on a show.
Some of the best Japanese food I have ever tasted, fresh and crisp and where every night ends with a little sake and settling into one of the many natural hot springs in the area. Hokkaido is definitely a winter-wonderland.
Posted on June 3, 2013
Through ‘bending of light’, an artist is able to create unique, emotional and stunning photographs. Unfortunately, light also is the most destructive force as well, as I have an endless supply of photographs with blown-out highlights or underexposed noise (aways sad news after a shoot, but good to learn from those mistakes). I have learned that while the scene may look beautiful, if the lighting is flat and harsh, it is more difficult (if not impossible) for the camera to capture all the beauty we see.
Light is the piece of magic that fuels photography, and there is no better time to ‘bend the light’ to your imagination than the bewitching hours of photography:
During these hours, the creativity of the artist is allowed to flourish as the lighting provides a window of opportunities…the artist is allowed to dream, and if everything flows together the results can be spectacular.
The blue hour is the topic today, mainly because I found out that historically the ‘blue hour’ meant the time between 3:00pm and 6:00pm where the pubs in England, Wales and Scotland by law had to close their doors. Very sad for photographers, as in the summer those are the hours when light is often at its worst (harsh and flat), and to enjoy some spirits during that time would help the creative process prior to the magical shooting hours…
Why I am attracted to ‘dawn and dusk’ is simple: great blue hour lighting is rarer than great golden hour lighting. The photographer needs to pay more attention to both exposure and the subject at this time, more than at any other time during the day. A great sunset alone is worth a photo without regard for any specific subject other than the light. However, once you get into the blue hour, having a nice subject to help accentuate the wonderful light is needed.
The above shot at MaWan is perhaps 15 minutes after the official ‘Blue Hour’ but the glow of dusk to the right made this an interesting shot, so sometimes it is worth while shooting deeper into twilight.
Another reason I enjoy the blue hour so much, is from an explanation I received about the electricity of dawn from a photographer in Hokkaido, Japan. She poetically said: “Dawn is the time where the air is freshest and the electricity of all our dreams we had during the night are there for us to see, like frost resting on the trees along the Setsari River (Tsurui, Hokkaido). And it is at dawn when our dreams sparkle in hope that today will be the day when the dreamer claims them…instead of once again being tossed aside. This makes the moment before dawn so special.”
As a photographer, we have the opportunity to shoot and record such scenes…to keep the dreams alive. I also really liked her description, kind of a reminder that each day is a time to start anew, to look beyond at what the day can and will be. The above shot was taken in the fleeting moments of dawn with the sun ready to breakout in the bitterly cold, grey morning on the Setsari River with red-crowned cranes.
The blue “hour” is a bit of a myth, as the length of time varies greatly, but on average there is about 30+ minutes of great shooting. The website: http://www.bluehoursite.com is an excellent tool to use for planning your shoot. Once you have your time worked out, then choose an area that has interesting subjects: landscapes and cityscapes work well and also think creatively with some soft light for portraits shots; a bit more difficult due to slower shutter speeds but results can be interesting.
The fisherman shot above was f/4, and hand-held. Jacked up the ISO a bit and shot wide-open, but overall the results turned out OK.
Probably a good idea to also think ahead about “How to Shoot Blue Hour”, a worthwhile topic and I have been fortunate to shoot with other photographers who like to pass their wisdom on to others. The piece of advice I have always received: checkout the landscape, the time of year and weather because each day the available light will be different and so your exposures and shooting plans may change.
With limited lighting, it is important to determine how the slower shutter speed is going to affect the shot. Camera shake is the first issue, so a tripod is needed. If there is any motion in the scene, then take into account that there will be blurring and then try to make that an interesting part of the shot.
For the Blue Hour, generally I shoot at f/11 or higher as I want that great depth of field and detail, and by stopping down I am better able to achieve that ‘starburst’ quality with distant lights that can create just a little more intrigue within the shot. However, it can also be fun to shoot wide open, especially with great foreground activity, and being wide-open gives greater stability and allows you better opportunities to hand-hold your shots.
Getting the exposure correct during Blue Hour is a bit more complicated as well, so fire some quick shots and check your histogram. For Blue Hour, I use both spot and center-weight metering, depending on the shot, and will meter off the darkest point of my composition that I want to bring out. Checking the histogram (even if you bracket, which I often do), should result in technically better photos.
If I am shooting any landscape, I bracketed my shots (3-7 depending on lighting conditions), so I have the option of layering my photos in Adobe or run my files through the HDR program Photomatix, which captures the details of the shadows without blowing out those bright points of lights that make the scene so attractive.
For choice of lens, it is a personal preference but a fast wide-angle lens is one I use predominately, both to capture the “total essence and ambiance” of the scene…and when the camera is off my tripod, a quicker lens allows me to shoot crisper shots during the light-deprived Blue Hour, such as the above shot of a ferry, on a ferry heading to Hood Canal.
Blue Hour shooting is fantastic, as it also serves as a good warm up to shooting a sunrise and a warm down from shooting a sunset. Either way, you are going to learn a lot more about both photography and the area around you. Creative lighting situation always can be little challenging (I have walked away from many shoots with nothing to show), but there is always something new and interesting to gain.