Well I am in Germany now training for my new job and awaiting a work visa for Turkey. I may be here anywhere from 3 weeks up to 4 months. I thought I would quick post up a photo I took of the 5 Story Pagoda at Miyajima. This island was such a cool little spot. The shrine, the temple, the pagoda… All super photogenic. This photo is kind of out there, but I couldn’t really reign in the sky with my current Photoshop skill set.
After Kyoto, we arrived in Hiroshima via the Tōkaidō Shinkansen; the first site we had to go to after checking our bags into the hotel was the Genbaku Dome, otherwise known as the Atomic Bomb Dome. The actual dome was 490ft away from the point of detonation excluding the 1,968 feet above the ground were the bomb known as “Little Boy” was detonated. Ever since that fateful day on August 6, 1945, the shrine has been left almost completely in its’ original state to serve as a memorial to those who died. I was amazed that a building built in April 1915 would even possibly be standing after such an event. You can see that the cracks in the building and the exposed edges have been sealed, but little else has been done.
Since I am leaving Japan a lot sooner than I thought, we have been trying to get out and see as many of the things we had planned on seeing during the last year we were here. This week we did a 3 day 2 night Shinkansen trip from Tokyo to Kyoto and Hiroshima. Quite honestly, it was nice to see all of this, but it is borderline work to jump off the trains, check your baggage at the hotel, and run from place to place trying to be as efficient as possible with so little time! Of course it will all be worth it once we process the photos, but it was a shame to not have more time to enjoy the sites along the way. We rode on the most modern Shinkansen, the N700, but I still think this E4 model pictured below is the coolest looking of them all.
Kyoto was our first destination along the worlds busiest hi-speed rail line, the Tōkaidō line. This line has a top speed of 270 km/h, but the N700 actually moves at 300 km/h (186 mph) on the adjacent Sanyō line. They look fast from the outside as they snake their way along the rails of Japan, but on the inside it is super smooth, and it doesn’t seem like you are really moving all that fast with the lack of noise and eardrum-busting pressure changes that I experienced with the German ICE trains when they enter tunnels. I read that the N700 is pressure sealed and when I was sitting next to the window, my leg could feel the frame of the train expand as it entered the middle of the tunnel and contract back into place as it exited the tunnel. I figure their must be a great deal of negative air pressure as it rushes through the tunnels, but I am no engineer, so that is just my theory..
Kyoto is a breeze to navigate. For only ¥500 (about $5) you can get an unlimited all day city buss pass, and on top of that, they give you a great map with all of the routes and nearby sites. The most difficult part is deciding which shrines to see, and with barely 24 hours to spend in Kyoto and a lot of shrines being closed at night, this made it difficult to see everything that we wanted, but that was our fault. We definitely were able to hit the most famous sites though. I would say the Golden Pavilion is easily one of the most popular sites I see on Flickr. I always thought this was the tackiest shrine I have ever seen, and in person, it still looked tacky, maybe I am just a jerk, but I really wanted to create a different take on this popular site. I think the gold looks perfect when paired with black and white.
The only beef I really had with Kyoto is that you are not allowed to use a tripod at most of the sites. Demonicus, my beloved tripod, was none too happy to hear about this. The bastards that made those rules are lucky they avoided confrontation with him as he pretty much hurts anyone he touches.
I haven’t been posting much and I really had to fight with myself to find the motivation to even process this photo real quick. I have roughly 5,000 photos in Lightroom from this year alone that I need to either delete or process and upload and I think this daunting task wears me out just thinking about it! Of course, many shots are multiple exposures, but that means a lot more work to propperly HDR, DRI, or both, then merge with the best exposure. Here is another shot during our trip to the Japanese Alps taken with the last remaining light of the day, looking towards Tsubakuro-Dake. It was extremely cold by this time and I am highly impressed with the people who decided to sleep in those tents that night. I have never had a warm night camping on snow, and I have never even tried to do it on the edge of a windy ridge.
This weekend we did an overnight trip to the Japanese Alps to climb Tsubakuro-Dake. I was amazed, in fact, it makes me quite frustrated to see such an awesome area and have to go back to big-city Tokyo. I would love to be living at the foot of these mountains because they are absolutely spectacular!!! Here is a 3-picture-HDR-stitch panorama taken from the peak, which is 2,763 meters high (9,065 ft.) We hiked up in a thick mist, which is exactly how I imagined hiking through the mountains of Japan would be, and even hit snow midway up the trail. We really had no clue what the scenery looked like on the way to the hut because of the heavy mist and thick fog near the ridge line on the final push. We ended up staying at a really nice hut that served pretty damn good food. In the evening it cleared up for a little bit and saw the most unexpectedly amazing view, and realized the actual peak was a mere skip and a hop away. Anyways, here is a shot of the Enzanso hut at night with the full moon about to peer through the clouds. Needless to say, it doesn’t feel right to stay in such a nice building near the top of a mountain, but I can’t say I didn’t enjoy the food, the comfortable rest, and the warmth since it was really cold at night. My dumbass forgot to check my camera ISO again and took all of my shots @ 800, which is pushing the D80 beyond its’ limit. I didn’t realize this until I was packing to head down. Doh! I hear this is the easiest hike of all the peaks in the Japanese Alps. This hike wasn’t all that difficult, even in the snow. Below is a picture of the mid-mountain hut that gets supplies via a rickety old tram. I recommend the curry Ramen. I feel kind of bummed I will be leaving soon and will miss out on more trips to this area. If anyone is interested to see some amazing pictures and stories of some sketchy ascents of other peaks in the area; look no further than this blog right here. Just don’t blame me if you suddenly find that you have just lost track of the last couple of hours going through the posts.
When we were in Beijing, we took a quick trip on the subway to see some of the more prominent Olympic venues. The buildings were definitely out of this world, especially at night, with all of the progressive designs that were implemented into these buildings and the amazing color they are lit at night, they were very photogenic. However, Every single building is blocked off with an unsightly fence. This is the best picture I could get of this building, and the closest as well. Maybe they open the gates up at certain days, but this is one of the few dissapointments I had on our trip. I really wanted to get some good up-close shots of some of these venues.. The Blue Cube, Beijing-
What would a picture blog be without the obligatory picture of a lonely horse? Well here it is. Found this lonely guy in the middle of the rice paddies. I think he needs a friend. Amber surely wanted to be that friend being from Idaho and possessing two X chromosomes and all. She absolutely loves horses.
I have been playing around with the Nik Software Suite trial and this is another one of the results, the first being the previous picture in my blog. I am really enjoying this software.. A lot! I use a lot of layers to experiment with my pictures before moving on to the next step, and now I basically just scroll through a ton of filters that automatically show me what it will look like. The best part is that is applies the filters as a layer, so you can adjust the blending to your hearts content using this method. The sharpening plug in is so far the best sharpener I have used yet. Definitely expensive, but I think this is going to be worth it.
I started the process of going though our worthwhile pictures that were taken in the rice fields of Ping’an and thought I would post a couple up before I put together a little trip report page for that area. This area is simply a photographers dream. Not only is it quite and completely distanced from the crowds in China, it is also a place where you could find one spot in the rice terraces and set up your camera 365 times throughout the year, and always come away with a completely new shot depending on the season, irrigation, weather, time of day, and slight angle variances of each shot. If you are ever in the Guilin area and have an interest in amazing scenery or photography, do not pass this area up!
Here we are, 2,160 meters up on the tallest of five peaks of Mt. Huashan in the Shaanxi Province of China, South Peak. The layout of the upper mountain makes it easy to summit all five peaks within about an hours worth of time if you have some spring to your step. The mountain is basically surrounded entirely by sheer cliffs accessed by a couple of narrow, often sketchy trails that would excite any lawyer in the states within a 500-mile radius. Taoist temples are sprinkled about this massive, flower-shaped spire of rock, lined with iron links of chain to accentuate the thousands of steps carved into the skin of the mountain.
The main trail is actually lit in a lot of areas, full of handrails, and has steps carved or paved anywhere that it is steep. It is still breathtaking in many areas, but this is not the crazy part. For 元30 per person you can strap on an old chest harness and take a walk on wooden planks that cross a section of sheer cliff that is well over a 1,000 foot drop straight down. It is kind of short and delivers you to a little shrine that has been carved into the side of the mountain.
This is the entrance to the plank walk, and in person it seriously looks sketchy. In some countries, just because you are allowed to do it, that does not necessarily mean it is safe. That thought made this very interesting, but those springs along the cable you run your carabiners across looked like they would do a great job of padding your fall. I just hoped that the anchors would hold. I was actually fine walking down the ladder with my back to the wall and my face towards the cliff.
Once I reached the planks where you walk across the cliff, things started to change, my boys became light headed, and I started concentrating on the precipice directly under me and it was beginning to whig me out enough to have to consciously not look down for more than a few seconds at a time. The entire time we were doing this, we all had frozen hands from the strong winds and rain that was constantly falling. My wife and the lone Canadian badass from Canada we came across in our mountain top dorm room, Sam, were both completely devoid of any worries. I felt like a wuss, but it sure was fun, albeit a bit short with only about 50 meters of plank each way.
We felt extremely lucky to be able to do this. For Sam and both me and wifey, this plank walk is the reason we booked tickets for China. There is a gate that opens at 9am to let you into this area, and we were worried it would be closed due to the strong winds and rains. Not in China. I love that country! For those interested in the logistics, you can take a train or bus from the Xi’an train station to the base of the mountain. The buses (East side of train station) head up for the West Gate entrance of Huashan (120km) at regular intervals and will cost 元30 per person each way. It was about an hour and a half and you are dropped off at the very base of the mountain and it surely looks more intimidating than it is. Entrance fees are 元120 per person. The first 4km are easy going, then you start getting into spectacular scenery and some perilous sections of trail from there.
Lodging on mountain is plentiful with at least 6 Inns, and during the weekday they were all but vacant and ran us 元100 per person in a cold, and very stale 6-person dormitory. There are private rooms, but they cost a lot more. We stayed on the East Peak since that has the best view for a sunrise. Don’t miss the breezy chance to drop trou, literally off the side of a cliff as the wind caresses your ass cheeks. A bucket of ramen will set you back 元15 and water about 元10. In case you were wondering, 元100 is roughly $15 US dollars, so this is really dirt cheap in the grand scheme of things, but expensive by Chinese standards. There is a cable car that takes you near the top of North peak and we elected to take that down just for the hell of it. That was 元60 for a one-way trip, although, I wished we had hiked down the trail below the tram, it had amazing waterfalls that Maynard, my trusty and sometimes fogged over Nikon, missed out on.
Getting back to the bus stop at the base of the mountain will cost another 元10 for a quick bus, and another 元10 taxi ride to the West Gate to meet the 元30 bus that heads back for Xi’an. If you are ever in Xi’an, do not miss this climb! It can safely be done at night, in the rain, or even in the snow as long as you are dressed right and bring a head lamp while carefully holding the hand rails and methodically placing your steps on the really steep sections. Do not miss this!
Today we headed up to Okutama to explore the many side roads and we ended up on this extremely steep road and followed it for miles until became a dirt road in the middle of nowhere, and then we followed that until it was very much in the far end of nowhere. As we were backtracking on the dirt road, I commented on how I preferred off roading in our newer super-compact car as opposed to my wifeys old super-compact car that has been part of many off road adventures in austere parts of Turkey. I would call it a beater, but I don’t want to jinx myself again.
As soon as we hit pavement, we parked the car so I could take the photograph below. Not the most interesting photograph, but it has an interesting story. See, as soon as I went back to the car and tried to start it up, I heard a of-all-the-places-we-could-suddenly-have-mechanical-problems type of sound aka the starter sounded like it was dead and we have an automatic with power brakes. No jump starting or coasting down to the main road, plus we don’t speak Japanese, on top of all that.. the road was so steep in places that a tow truck would probably never attempt going out there.
I decided rolling the car off the hillside wasn’t a good long-term solution and we packed up our camera gear and started the trek to the town of Okutama for some help. Luckily we quickly stumbled on 3 locals foraging for leaves to be used in their favorite tempura recipe and we were able to play charades to see if we could get some help. We went back to the car and when they heard the starter, they immediately knew that only the battery was dead and it could be jumped. They were right and that was the biggest relief I have had in a long time!
Thank you 3 guys foraging for leaves to use for a tasty tempura meal! I dedicate this picture–that would have been a lot better had I tried to piece together a vertorama to capture the beautiful overlook–to you guys!
Here is another one from Showa Park. I am sure the trees in the background are completely full of green leaves now. The day after the cherry blossoms all fell off, the green leaves started appearing on the trees all over the surrounding areas.
This is a blend of a DRI on top of an HDR using 5 exposures for both. I used the +1 exposure underneath it all to paint in the people since the DRI and HDR show lots of ghosts due to the the movements of the people. I topped it all of with a lush icing of LuciArt. That program is far and away my favorite way to add sharpening to images.
Lightroom amazes me the more I play around with it. I had another picture on of the many oddities to be found within Showa Kinen Park, but the neat spiral walkway was surrounded by unsightly, yellowish grass. I played around with the pretty much every option including about 8 gradient filters and ended up with this. The only thing I used Photoshop for was to run an unsharp mask on it since the Lightroom sharpening doesn’t appear to do as good a job at that.
Zombie? This picture isn’t a zombie, I am a zombie. I have a bunch of pictures I have been meaning to process from the beginning of the Japanese flower viewing season (hanami), but I have been operating on a temporary graveyard schedule with my wife this week which has proven difficult to get used to. Since my waking hours are spent in a drooling stupor– completely devoid of any and all motivation in life– I will have to post a photo devoid of any cherry blossoms or nature.
This is looking up at the Sanno Park Tower which is the same building I took the photo in “The Process” blog posting from about a week ago. This photo is frustrating because it looks like crap in my Flickr stream when it is a smaller size which seems to be the complete opposite of how most photos look in a smaller size. That and this photo has a bit of a “murky” cast that I was not able to shake.
My wife serves as a photographic consultant for a lot of my photos. Usually I will have two versions of the same photograph with varying levels of processing. I need her to balance my preference out because the synapses in my brain are definitely more excited by scenes that contain some element that you would most likely not see with the naked eye if you were standing at each scene. She prefers a more natural or lifelike look when viewing photos. Eventually one picture makes it to my recycle bin and the other goes online.
Tonight I over ruled her and this processed abomination won over the realistic looking version. I created a DRI out of 3 exposures then applied some sharpening and LucisArt ‘sculpture’ processing to it. Then I imported it back into Lightroom because I really like the ease at which it allows you to selectively desaturate your work. The 3 most important sliders to achieve this look are blacks to about 60, vibrance to 40, and saturation to -70. From there I slightly tweak each slider and the individual color channels. This look makes for some pretty neat portraits as well.
I took a trip to Akasaka last Sunday with the wifey. She wanted to see one of Tokyo’s renowned hair stylists so she could show up and ask for a haircut and style that would be most appropriate for her facial structure and hair type; the kind of makeover you see on TV where they tell you how they are going to cut it instead of the other way around.
I dropped her off and took a little walk about to an area I had been before. For once I left my tripod at home and really, really regretted it. Pretty neat little area, but I still keep getting my ass kicked by my D80 overexposing shots, but on the LCD screen they all look like they are spot on. I need to permanently dial it to -1 EV whenever I am using spot or center weighted metering which is about 95% of the time. Luckily, I bracketed a lot of shots and ended up with a few that should turn out okay.
And if anyone has a wife with naturally curly, caucasian hair and was wanting to get a ‘makeover’ from a trendy stylist in Tokyo.. Well, 3 hours later, wifey looked like someone put a high-powered tazer in her hair and juiced it up with 1,000 volts of electricity. Basically, what I am saying is… Beauty is subjective!