Tag Archives: digital photography

Little Inaka

When my son was born in 2008, I still had a fair bit of freedom. It was a good year for earnings from photography and writing and I was beginning in earnest to complete my book project on the Japan Alps. When I was away, my wife took our infant son to her parents’ home.

In 2010 things changed. My wife became pregnant with our second child and it was not so easy for her to bring our growing boy to her parents’ house as there was not enough space and he was restless. I wrapped up my book project a little early, managed a few more hikes and a trip abroad to attend my sister’s wedding. After that, my adventures seemed to have come to an end, at least for the time being.

Not wanting to give up photography entirely, I began a project of shooting locally. I purchased a used DSLR and chose some places that were within reach. I would wake up in the early morning and go out somewhere to shoot, trying to make it home by 7:30 to help get ready for the day. Three years later, my son entered elementary school and I had to be home by 6:45. We moved house and autumn brought later sunrises. My three years of early morning photography were also temporarily wrapped up. I had, however, amassed a few hundred photographs or more and set about putting them into a book. The result is this: Little Inaka.

The locations are the Sakitama Burial Mounds in Gyoda City, Hatcho Park in Yoshimi Town, a rural area in Higashi Matsuyama City, and a rural area straddling Ina Town and Ageo City. All places are in Saitama Prefecture, Japan.


A tumulus at the Sakitama Burial Mound Park in Gyoda City

Getting Tougher for Film Users

When photography became accessible to the average citizen it was said that painting would become obsolete. Why would anyone need to spend time mixing paints on canvas when a realistic image could be captured in a second? Yet painting has persisted and still plays an important role in the worlds of art and media today.

Then colour photography threatened to make black and white photographs a thing of the past, and yet still today many people want to at least render their images in monochrome if not shoot with monochrome film. And has 3D imaging threatened to make 2D photography obsolete at any time soon? I don’t think so.

So, by considering how these above technical innovations were said to make their predecessors obsolete but still haven’t, I always believed that there would be a place for film photography no matter how far digital photography advanced. However, disconcerting change is in the air.

Several weeks ago, I went to a photo shop that I used to frequent when I used to live in the area. I wanted to get prints made from some digital captures of my children, have prints made from slides, and get some slides scanned. The digital images were printed in about five minutes. But the prints from slides were not so easy. The service I had been using for a decade or more was no longer available. That particular shop could not take my order. Asking about the scans they had only one service to offer and it was not a really good one (small size files from the scans) yet still a bit expensive (210 yen per 25mm scan).

I went to another shop, actually a different branch of the same chain, and was able to order my scans from slides without too much trouble. But the prints from slides continued to be an issue. That shop said they used another service though the direct print service was discontinued. Getting prints from 35mm slides was not so difficult then. But one slide was a 6×7 and getting that one printed was a possible concern. The clerk had to call the lab and verify that they could make a print from my medium format slide.

At last the orders were placed and I went home wondering why it had to be so difficult. But my troubles were not to end there. Two weeks ago I went to buy frames at another big chain store in Japan and as I passed the film section I happened to notice the Fuji Quick Load film I use for my 4×5 camera was not on the shelf. There was regular 4×5 sheet film that you have to load into film holders, but the Quick Load type which is inside an envelope that you put in a holder was not. This film is more convenient to carry when you are going away for a few days or more because you only need one holder and then you can carry as many envelopes of sheet film as you like (I think I took about 40 with me to Utah and Nevada in 2010). Regular sheet film has to be loaded in holders that can only take two sheets at a time. For day trips you might only need to take along three or four holders to get six to eight shots. But if you are traveling for several days or more you have to take a caseload of holders.

I asked the clerk about the film and she said it was discontinued. I followed up with a check on the Internet and learned that Fuji announced the end of production in December, 2010, just after I had returned from the U.S. Had I known at the time I would have bought a few more boxes. But even though they know me at that shop and I told them to alert me of specials, no one said a thing about it when I came in the shop a few months later to develop some Quick Load sheet film I had shot. And since I still had leftover stock from my trip to the U.S. and my time for outdoor photography is rare and precious now, I haven’t been in need of restocking my supply. So by now there is no more Quick Load film to buy and it seems I’ll have to look into picking up some regular film holders if I want to keep using my 4×5 camera for a few more years to come.

That is if they don’t decide to quit making sheet film altogether. On one web site, the author reported that Fuji had justified the discontinuation of the film by pointing out low sales. However, film sales have been dropping across the board, not just in Quick Load film. The web site author encouraged us film users to ensure film survives by continuing to use it. For my own preference, I like that I get all the right colour and everything in one shot and I don’t have to spend time at my computer touching up and changing a load of digitally captured images as I know many people do. I don’t have PhotoShop and can’t imagine spending money every time a new version comes out or buying a new computer every few years to keep up with the processing power required to run the software. As it is, my DSLR is not top-of-the-line quality and I find I am rarely pleased with the colour in the resulting images I shoot. My film scans look much better. And who can argue with a good 4×5 transparency?

I will admit though, the idea of using just one camera again (like I did way back when) and a set of lenses and filters does appeal to me. What if I had everything I needed in one kit rather than carrying three formats of cameras and their lenses up a mountain? One camera, two lenses, and a few good filters – how simple that would be. But at the moment I have no desire to retire my Tachihara 4×5. I still feel there is a certain honour in using it. It should last decades if properly cared for. Even the best digital camera these days doesn’t have such a promising lifespan.

A Day at Harunasan

Harunasan from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Harunasan from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

I will admit that I never felt much of an inclination to visit Harunasan. Though it is one of the mountains visible from my area, one of the three Jomo Sanzan (上毛三山) mountains of Gunma Prefecture (along with Akagiyama and Myogisan) and a Nihyakumeizan (二百名山), there was nothing in particular about Haruna that called to me. So I finally had an excuse to visit the mountain when Wes (Tozan Tales and Hiking in Japan), who joined the discussion for Yama-to-Keikoku’s September issue last year, notified me of his winter holiday plan to visit Haruna with his wife and asked if I could join them for a day. Certainly I was pleased at the thought of a hike with good company and a day in the mountains is still a day of exercise, fresh air, and photography for fun. So there it was: I was going to visit Harunasan for a hike at last.

Harunafuji and Lake Haruna at dawn

Harunafuji and Lake Haruna at dawn

Wes’s plan included three full days of hiking around Haruna, from December 25th to the 27th. I chose to meet up with him and his wife on the 26th because the 25th was a family day for me and the 27th was his wife’s birthday and I didn’t want to intrude on her special day. As it turned out, in spite of fine weather lasting all three days, the 26th was the least favourable day to visit. First, there was a terrific cold Siberian wind blowing through that day and second, the visibility was poorest that day as many clouds obscured the mountain views. Wes and his wife had much more luck mountain spotting on the 25th and 27th and there was no bone-rattling wind howling through.

Ice on Lake Haruna

Ice on Lake Haruna

I drove up to Lake Haruna just around sunrise. The peaks were turning orange and I thought of where I could get a good photograph; however, once I passed the frozen side of the lake I was arrested by the orange reflections in the blue ice and stopped the car. I had brought my DSLR and just in case, my Pentax 6×7. I first grabbed just the digital and tripod and dashed across the street to capture some icy scenes. The wind quickly punished my foolishness of not having brought gloves. Before the first exposure I had to dig in my pockets and pull out a pair of mitts I had stuffed in there quite some time ago. The lure of the ice was too strong and before long I was down along the shore shooting ice abstracts and icy views across the lake.

300mm ice abstract

300mm ice abstract

At last, the call of nature sent me back to the car and driving to a public restroom that I had passed just a little down the road.
Back at the lakeshore, the sun had come up and was shining on the ice. I took my whole camera bag, thinking I was going to take out the 6×7. But the sunlit ice didn’t inspire as the shaded ice had and soon I decided it was time to go back to the car, eat something, and then find Wes’s hotel.

Ice detail on Lake Haruna

Ice detail on Lake Haruna

His description of the location was very good and it was easy to find. I tidied up my small car and put my son’s junior seat in the hatchback. I needed room for two adults and I couldn’t count on Wes’s wife, Kanako, being small enough for a child seat. I went into the hotel lobby and looked at a book about mountains of Gunma while I waited for the couple to come down. Soon we were ready to find the trailhead for our first hike.

The target was Haruna’s second highest peak, Soumasan – 1,411 metres (yes, I was a bit sad about no doing the highest peak but Wes and Kanako had done it the day before and Haruna is not far from my house with only just over two hours of driving between here and there). We passed Haruna Fuji and left the lakeside, driving past a moor and up a slope to reach the parking lot. We all bundled up in preparation for the wind, especially me as I had already shared some chill-inducing, blustery moments in it.

Wes begins hiking on the trail to Soumasan

Wes begins hiking on the trail to Soumasan

The hike was not to be long. With 1.6 km to the summit it was hardly a stroll to the corner store. The peak looked steep, rising up like a camel’s hump, but we only encountered one part with rusty iron ladders and chains.

Wes on the ladder section up Soumasan

Wes on the ladder section up Soumasan

The rest was rather easy, though the wind howled through like a bullet train at times. On the summit we were quite comfortable. A small structure for a shrine and several jizou kept the wind clear of us. The sun shone down and Wes checked the air temperature and found it was a balmy five degrees Celsius. We could see Fuji across the Chichibu Mountains and Asamayama’s white skirts hung below a gathering of clouds. Akagi was also being shy and the mountains of Nikko and Oze were not to be seen. In spots here and there, far and farther away, we were able to make out snowy flanks of mountains but no grand view presented itself other than the haze-enveloped Kanto Plains and the blue Chichibu Mountains.

Wes on Soumasan

Wes on Soumasan

The Kanto Plains from Soumasan - 1,411m

The Kanto Plains from Soumasan – 1,411m

Wes and Kanako with Soumasan in the background

Wes and Kanako with Soumasan in the background

From Soumasan we headed over to a large volcanic rock tower known as Surusu Iwa. Though it looked imposing – like a rotten molar jutting up from an otherwise toothless jaw bone – there was a steep gully on one side with a ladder near the top that we scaled. Surusu Iwa afforded up an inspiring view of Haruna Fuji and some lesser neighbouring mounds.

Surusu Iwa

Surusu Iwa

Me on Surusu Iwa with Harunafuji and Lake Haruna behind

Me on Surusu Iwa with Harunafuji and Lake Haruna behind

After some fun photos we descended and returned to the road to hike back to the car. Interestingly, we came back to the road right along the Melody Route. Parallel grooves have been etched into the asphalt with different groove spacing so that when a car drives over the grooves at a steady speed, the tune to “The Itsy Bitsy Spider” can be heard. We played the tune ourselves as we drove back to the lake.

We stopped for a lunch of noodles near the Haruna Fuji cable car entrance. This was also where a great display had been set up for night time illumination. Wes showed me a photo he had taken the night before and also a snippet of a video he had captured of fireworks over the lake.

The Haruna Story: Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Haruna was a conically shaped strato volcano. Explosive eruptions destroyed the cone and normal eruption activity restored it at least twice. The most recent eruption was about 1,400 years ago.

The Haruna Story: Hundreds of thousands of years ago, Haruna was a conically shaped strato volcano. Explosive eruptions destroyed the cone and normal eruption activity restored it at least twice. The most recent eruption was about 1,400 years ago.

There was one more stop planned and that was at Haruna Shrine. For this we had to drive back down the mountain a couple of kilometres. Maps both new and old showed an exciting walk to various shrine structures through what appeared to be a forest of rock towers. Earlier at Surusu Iwa I had noticed that the rock was similar to the breccia that composes Myogisan, a mountain famous for its rock towers and pinnacles. Unbeknownst to me, Haruna apparently also had a rock tower area. I went up the trail with high hopes and soon we came across our first natural feature, a stone arch up on the cliff side opposite us.

The arch near Haruna Shrine

The arch near Haruna Shrine

We were in the late afternoon light as we stopped here and there to photograph the temples and occasional natural scenes as well. There were some very impressive cedars of noteworthy girth and ice in the ravine below. The rock towers, however, were not easy to appreciate because they loomed over the trees immediately behind the temples and at least one was cloaked in wire fence to prevent rocks from tumbling down. In the shade of the deep ravine there was no sunlit to illuminate the rock towers and against the bright blue sky they did not make for good photographs. At the end of the temple area there was a wall of concrete in the ravine serving to control the erosion of the ravine, and just beyond that I spied a pillar of rock reaching into the sunlight. This was the Rock of Nine Folds (九折岩), and indeed from a certain angle it looked as though it had been folded in zigzag fashion like origami. I managed a few shots before I had to dash to catch up with Wes and Kanako who were already on the way down the path that followed the water’s edge back to the entrance.

The Rock of Nine Folds - 九折岩

The Rock of Nine Folds – 九折岩

The final stops for the day were at a frozen waterfall and then at the arch again. There was a hasty pullover on the way back up to the lake as the moon rose up behind two peaks. After dropping off Wes and Kanako at their accommodation, I made another quick stop at the lakeside to shoot the twilight glow over the water. And then it was time to go back home.

Moon over a hotel at Lake Haruna

Moon over a hotel at Lake Haruna

Now that I know a little about Harunasan I think I will likely return sometime in the near future. I would like to see those rock towers in different light and hike up past the Rock of Nine Folds. I’d also like to get up to the highest summit. For now, I think it might be a nice place to visit with the kids when things warm up a bit.

Harunafuji and Soumasan viewed from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Harunafuji and Soumasan viewed from Panorama Park in Konosu, Saitama

Not Much to Wrap Up This Year

For the last three months now, I have been trying to come up with a decent next post. I wanted to write about something positive for my present situation, a kind of “keeping the spirit alive” post. This year has been one of slowing cutting back and going into a kind of hibernation. What things I gave up last year – memberships in photo associations, magazine subscriptions, being on a submission list – were augmented further this year as my activity in photography shrank to even lesser levels. In a way, it is difficult to avoid thoughts such as, “I used to climb and photograph mountains,” or “In my 30’s, I traveled, photographed, and was regularly published.” I have to keep reminding myself that this period of low activity is only temporary and that within a year or two I will slowly rebuild my busy-ness.

So, let me consider what the year 2012 brought me in positive respects. I managed at least two day trip outings this year and climbed my 32nd “Hyakumeizan”. I also made time here and there to get out and shoot local scenery around Konosu/Gyoda/Kumagaya, Ina Town, and Higashi Matsuyama in Saitama. These short outings afforded me the opportunity to simply enjoy using my camera and spending sometime with nothing more to do than enjoy a walk in fresh air with charming scenery around. I have yet to compile enough images for any kind of project, however, it has given me a purpose to continue photographing even in areas close to where I live and work.

Country road in Higashi Matsuyama

Country road in Higashi Matsuyama

Though I sent out only one submission this year and it was returned unpublished, I still managed to get in print in three publications. Fuji Film Japan used an image of mine for the cover of their magazine, an image that was picked out from the stock agency that has many of my images. And Yama-to-Keikoku magazine ran a few of my images in a magazine supplement in January and then asked me to participate in a discussion which was later published in September. I still have one submission out there and I am hoping for positive results.

Roadside garden, Higashi Matsuyama

Roadside garden, Higashi Matsuyama

Finally, a big thanks to the Kakizawa Clinic in Kumagaya for using my photographs as decoration in the clinic. Every three months a new selection of five images is chosen and displayed and thanks to them I have maintained at least a meager income.

I guess one thing that has helped with regards to “keeping the spirit alive” this year was the purchase of a DSLR. With this I have been able to continue enjoying photography without having to consider the cost of film. Though I still prefer the colour of film, I have taken the liberty of experimenting more with the camera again and that has been fun.

Yellow forest blur, Ageo

Yellow forest blur, Ageo

It’s hard to think clearly about my plans for next year. I always prepare a list around the New Year and a rough schedule which gets revised once in the summer and once again in October. I have a list already started and one of the top priorities is to push my manager (busy as she always is) to correct my write-ups about foreigners who love climbing mountains in Japan. I had so thought it could be all done by the end of the summer but various troubles cropped up at work this year, including an employee off in hospital for a month, and even when I leave work after 10 P.M. she is sometimes still there. So I hesitate to ask her to get started on checking over my Japanese.

So, here’s where 2012 ends on this blog. I hope to be back in January with a report about a day trip to Harunasan in Gunma and who knows what else.

Mound and Moat, Sakitama Burial Mounds, Gyoda

Mound and Moat, Sakitama Burial Mounds, Gyoda

Rock detail, near Nagatoro

Rock detail, near Nagatoro

Morning in Higashi Matsuyama

Morning in Higashi Matsuyama



A New Camera – part two

Again, why the Sony? Minolta was always known as the camera manufacturer for serious amateurs. I could never afford the professional Nikons and Canons. I was never in a position to be that kind of professional. Nevertheless, my Minolta photographs were getting published. Many years ago, renowned Canadian photographer, Sherman Hines gave a presentation at Whistler, British Columbia. He showed a collection of slides which impressed his audience. Then he told them that all the photographs had been captured with a compact camera. The magic was not entirely in the camera but in the photographer’s ability to shoot and his/her understanding of the camera. If you know how to use your camera, know what it can do for you and what it can’t, you will be able to produce great images. With the 350’s 14.2 megapix I knew the file size was large enough. The reviews gave a lot of praise to this camera, and my experience with a good compact digital camera had already taught me a lot about histograms and white balance. I figured that if I was later going to be in a position where I could afford something much higher up the line then it wouldn’t be much of a waste to spend the 22,980 yen now, a small price to pay (in comparison) for acquiring DSLR freedom for the time being. The one nagging fact that remained was that I was buying a camera that was already four years old. My camera was obsolete before I ever held it. And yet is it really? If I can produce publishable images with it, then I see no problem.

So, where does this leave my film camera collection? The Maxxum 7000 has been in retirement for 11 years now. The 807 is 12 years old and still working. The medium format cameras have given me a bit of grief from time to time (same exposure as with the 35mm but the 120 slide is darker – shutter speeds need adjustment; maximum depth-of-field employed but the middle is out of focus – film not sitting flat over the plate). These two I have often considered selling, but what I really want is the Pentax 645 NII – a film camera! The 4×5 is still the beast producing either stunning works or failed images with the focus not quite right (an image from Oku Nikko that I had great hopes for sending to Yama-to-Keikoku for the 2013 calendar submission call has turned out to have focusing issues).

In a way, it would be easy to leave this gang on the shelf for now and just concentrate on getting good digital captures. As I stuffed my remaining film stock – 35mm, 120 format, 4×5 sheet film – into the freezer to protect it from the rising temperatures of April, I thought that it might be better if I still tried to use it during the next two or three outings. But knowing me, I might very well just expose it without proper care just to get it out of the way and spend more time working the DSLR. That wouldn’t be right. As a serious photographer I should consider any film exposure in a professional manner, with the idea that each exposure might just be worthy of a magazine, book, or calendar page. Just as the 4×5 has joined the 35mm on outings and received due care and attention, so should any of these cameras when they join the DSLR. Or it’s also possible that I might concentrate on the film cameras and neglect the digital camera. It’s up to me to be sure that I use my equipment to its best potential no matter how frequently or infrequently I intend to use it.

One idea is to take a film camera along on any outings and use the digital one for exploring subjects and compositions and once a really pleasing one has been found, bring out the film camera to capture it too. I have done this with my compact digital camera on a couple of occasions where I found inspiration to shoot with film while seeing what was possible with the compact camera. Another thing I have already been doing is taking the camera with me to work and shooting when I have time. Wednesdays are best because I have a 3-hour break during which time I make the 50-minute walk from a kindergarten through a rural area to my main school. I could always have brought my 35mm film camera for shooting; however, since I almost always shoot Velvia 50 that would mean bringing the tripod and adding bulk to my load to carry around for the day. One big advantage to using the DSLR is that I can make hand-held exposures more easily since I not only have the image stabilizer built in but I can also adjust the ISO at any time to 200 or 400 and still get very good results. That means on a bright day I can easily pass my walk back by leisurely shooting macro shots of roadside and field-side nature. There is also a marshy area along the way with turtles, frogs and waterfowl. I may still yet be able to produce material for my stock agency.

Now I am looking forward to my first hike with this camera. You can bet the film cameras – at least one if not two – will be part of the fun. But I want to try using the Sony alpha 350 on a tripod and with filters, just like my film cameras.

The Bottleneck

On Saturday mornings I have a student who is a research scientist at a pharmaceutical company in Japan. I have known him for over three years now and I am familiar with his life and work. Over the years he has been moved up in the company and now has many responsibilities that keep him very occupied at work. Often he has to attend meetings, make reports on projects to the upper management, review his subordinates’ progress and take care of visitors such as other researchers or professors. There are receptions and business trips as well. Outside of work, my student pursues his role as a research scientist with equal energy and a great consumption of time. He attends seminars – sometimes as a specially invited guest – in the U.S. and Europe, writes and reviews papers for publication, writes and edits manuscripts, and even manages to get some research time in now and again. These past few weeks have kept him unusually hopping and he admitted to being “very tired” when last we spoke. He is single and it comes as no surprise. A man that dedicated to his passion and to achieving his goals has no time for romance, marriage and children.

Last week after our class I reflected upon my own situation. My work keeps me pretty busy too although it is more a matter of scheduling and class preparation and teaching than important meetings and large responsibilities. However, I do spend long days away from home, leaving before 9:00 in the morning and typically coming home after 10:30 at night. At home I usually have the kids to look after or some household chores to manage. My time is pretty full too. Sadly, it is not full of the pursuit of photography. Well, I often feel frustrated that I can’t spend the time I need to on preparing photos, writing articles or even blogs, organizing and filing photos, or searching for new places to find business. But that doesn’t mean I would trade my time with my family. It is very apparent though that to be that dedicated to one’s career dream or life work family gets squeezed out of the picture. My student said he envies people who can make the pursuit of their research their full-time work without having a job that occupies so much time. I could certainly relate. What if writing and photographing were my full-time job?

Once there was a time when I was single and free and I certainly could have applied myself more to becoming more professional. But there were always reasons and excuses – usually a sensible day job that took up time or a lack of money – that I let prevent me from achieving more. These days I certainly want to be writing more and preparing more ideas for photo submissions. I have lots of other things related to the business of photography to do, but I just don’t have much time for them these days. My personal time and free cash is very limited and with both in short supply there is little I can do to move along. When I re-visited Ryogamisan in May this year – my only outing and hike this year so far – I felt as though I was being squeezed through a bottle neck. I could hardly move with family occupying nearly all of my time away from work and money being virtually impossible to conjure up for photography. Yet from my bottomless pit of optimism I saw myself as passing through a bottleneck and believed I would be coming out the other side soon. I recall descending the mountain and feeling very positive about the things I felt I could do in order to keep doing photography.

But the fact is that many of those things cost money and take more time than I have and so progress is slow. When I found an old file on my computer called “Photography Projects” I opened it and found there were things I wrote down in 2009 that I should try to complete yet had still not completed. Sometimes I imagine having three days, then five days, and finally three weeks to catch up on all the things I want to do. That time, unfortunately, is just not available.

Even if I had sufficient time in a week to keep up, I would no doubt waste it anyway. I am easily distracted when I am busy and I can involve myself very seriously in other things that are not so pressing. At least I have avoided spending too much time on writing blogs lately!

So, one of the things that has given me a creative outlet over the last few months has been playing with applications on my iPhone and manipulating photographs. I enjoyed my results so much that I made a book on Blurb out of it.

I guess these days, I don’t have much enthusiasm for doing photo-related things in a serious business way because I can’t spend the time on it that I need and I hate starting and stopping projects all the time. I want to just be able to spend time on a project making good progress. I also think, however, that sometimes I do tend to waste time because of poor time management or sometimes simply due to my feeling that work and family have kept me too busy.

One of my iPhone application creations used in my book The Small Print


From my book The Small Print


Another iPhone app creation in my book The Small Print

Can you guess what this started out as?

A Visit to the Stock Agency

Wednesday morning I went to Ginza to bring photographs to my stock agency. I hadn’t been there since January 2007. My visit was long overdue, I reckoned. How I came to work with that particular stock agency and the details about stock photography are worth a post of their own, however, today I want to write about the three topics I discussed with the staff and my observations and opinions about those topics.

The photographs I brought down were only a selection of my 35mm slides captured over the duration of 2008 and 2009. I have not yet organized my medium and large format transparencies. On the top of the stack of slide sheets, held in a very full binder, were my photographs from New Zealand. The foreign landscapes drew immediate interest from the two women staff members and they called over a male colleague whom I had never met before. There was much buzz about the images and comments were made such as, “The air is so clear, the atmosphere so alive,” and, “There are very positive feelings in these images.” To which I mentioned that my wife and I were married in New Zealand and the photos were captured during our honeymoon.

“That’s it! Your photographs exude happiness and love,” said one of the female staff, beaming at me. “Yes, look at this series here – there is a very positive outlook toward a bright new future,” the other woman chimed in.

“I guess it’s like the beginning of a new and happy life,” I ventured. A chorus of agreement came from all three staff. The man added that my photographs contrasted greatly with the photographs of a much older photographer whose work they received. His work was dark and moody, expressing finality and demise, the opposite of what they were seeing in my work.

“You shoot with the same film and maybe even the same camera, but as a foreigner there is a noticeable difference in the images you produce,” I was told.

I agreed that I had noticed a difference in styles between people of different nationalities (I have actually written a 1,600-word essay on the topic of how cultural differences show in landscape and nature photography, and it has been rejected by two western magazines so far), but what interested me more were the comments about the mood and emotion expressed in my photographs. As I mentioned to the staff, New Zealand has cleaner air being in the Southern Hemisphere due to there being less continental land mass to contribute dust, volcanic ash, and pollution from fires or human industry, and that New Zealand’s much smaller population means there is more space for natural and rural landscapes. They claimed, however, that even though New Zealand was naturally so well endowed, my photographs had a distinct stamp on them.

It is not the first time that Japanese people have commented on the emotional expression of my photography. One person I had never met once left a comment for me saying that from my photographs she could tell I was a sincere and caring person. All the years I spent interacting with the camera clubs of the Greater Vancouver Area back home in Canada, or during the five dozen or so slide presentations I gave to camera clubs, outdoor clubs, nature clubs, and at libraries in the same area, no one ever mentioned the emotional content of my photographs as a reflection of myself. I wasn’t even aware that there was any emotional content. People would ask about the technical aspects (what film, what filters, what time of day, what location, etc.) or comment on the quality of the light or any peculiar features in the subject, or say how a particular image made them feel. My own approach to photography is simply to seek out things I find interesting or beautiful and record them on film as well as I can, and when the occasion presents itself, capture beautiful moments in natural light as well. When I was first ever asked if I had made some conscious effort connect a spherical rock with the moon or the earth and if I had had cosmic visions while making the photograph, I felt it rather anticlimactic to respond with, “No, I just thought the rock looked very nice.”

The way many Japanese people have responded to my exhibited or published work has sometimes left me feeling as though I am still standing in shallow water, unable to see the depths of my own soul that apparently comes out in my photography at times.

After everyone had calmed down about New Zealand, the man returned to his work and the two women continued to pour over my slides, the rest being all Japanese landscapes, mostly from the three ranges of the Japan Alps. I inquired about the number of people shooting digital and the demand for digital photography. I was told that some photographers they represented used digital exclusively, some used both film and digital, and many others continued to strictly adhere to film use. There is still an appreciably large demand for film images from photo editors in Japan, they said.

I expressed my concerns about purchasing a digital camera: the cost being very high for a top-notch model which would be rendered obsolete in a few years. One of the two women included the cost of a personal computer as part of the cost of digital photographer, and I brought up other associated costs as well, which I mention in the post preceding this one. I told them that I would hesitate to pay 400,000 yen for a top-of-the-line model when I could still make great photos with a less expensive model. But how would it look in a photo credit to see that my photograph was captured with an 80,000 yen camera? What would people think? “Oh, he’s only using a Canon Kiss (for example) so he must be just an amateur. A real pro uses a Canon 5D II,” or whatever is in the hands of the real pros these days.

I was told that the most important thing for art directors and photo editors was file size. They don’t care what camera was used. The question always asked is, “How big is the file?” Expensive cameras come with many bells and whistles, most of which I would never use. I was told that I didn’t need to splash out for the fully loaded model. As the most important thing is file size, a cheaper camera that can shoot around 12 mega pixels is fine. If I put the same care into capturing digital images as I do with film images then the work should speak for itself, I was told. Though I am not in a position to buy a digital SLR yet, it’s nice to feel that I don’t have to eyeball the cameras that cost as much as a five-year-old used car.

Having brought only 35mm photographs, I had to ask about another issue that has been on my mind a lot recently, so much so in fact that I am working on an article in Japanese for submission on the topic. I mentioned that in Japan there is a great preference for medium or large format photography over 35mm photography. One of the woman responded by saying that for photo editors in Japan, the final presentation of the published images is of paramount importance. The focused areas in an enlarged photo should appear tack sharp. For that purpose, medium format (typically 645, 6×7 format, or panorama formats) or large format (usually 4×5 inch) are preferred. Harkening back to the discussion about large digital file sizes, I could see how size mattered.

I mentioned how for many western photographers, what mattered was capturing the moment. Many pros, particularly those who had to travel on foot up mountains, made their careers using only 35mm in the days before digital. Galen Rowell is an excellent example of a guy who always believed it was better to travel as light as possible and even forwent a tripod at times, using other tricks to ensure sharp images. He felt it was better to travel lightly and swiftly and not miss the moment as opposed to weighing oneself down with a heavy pack of camera gear and missing out on shots.

I told them about my dilemma with carrying a pack full of cameras and gear. In the days when I traveled with only a 35mm body and two or three lenses, I shot so many images. The camera was quick and easy to use, and the zoom lenses gave me a broad range of focal lengths from which to choose. I rose an hour or less before sunrise and reached my sunrise photo shoot location, often scouted the day before, and as the light of daybreak progressed, I was busy swinging the camera round on the ball head capturing shot after shot. When the show was over I could pack up quickly and move on down the trail to the next location.

Now with three camera bodies – 35mm, 645, and 4×5 – and a selection of lenses, I struggle up the mountainsides and try to reach camp and set up before sunset so I can get over to a good viewpoint to shoot the evening light. In the morning I sometimes wake up two hours before sunrise and climb to a vantage point in the dark. I have to study the possibilities before the sun comes up and make a plan for equipment use, and arrange my gear on the ground accordingly so it is easy to grab. I find I am shooting fewer images and spending more time handling my gear. I also have missed some superb moments because I was either struggling up through the forest with a heavy pack, resting longer than I had budgeted for due to the fatigue of carrying such a heavy pack, or because the time it took to prepare the larger cameras for the shot was longer than the duration of the light I had hoped to capture.

With a mountain trip coming up this weekend, I have been deliberating which cameras to bring. The 35mm only would liberate me to shoot fast, easily, and plenty but would not bring me any larger images to slide under the noses of the Japanese photo editors. Adding the 645 would mean having a camera nearly as fast and with three fixed lenses, but also it would add weight. Or should I go with the 6×7 to get larger slides but with fewer options with only two lenses and a shallower depth of field? Or should I stop being a wimp and encumber myself with the 4×5? In my alpine weekly calendar there have recently been two very good examples of reasons to shoot with a 4×5 camera over smaller formats. But what if I bring it like always and end up exposing only a few sheets of film, like on my last few outings? Is it worth it to haul that much weight around?

The two women at the stock agency told me that the 645 should be just fine and I didn’t need to concern myself with how even bigger transparencies would possibly mean more sales for me.

When those discussions were over, it was time to finish up my visit and head to work, and on the train back to Saitama I was turning the days discussions over in my mind.

The Real Cost of Digital Photography

I have a book by the late Galen Rowell called, “Galen Rowell’s Vision – the Art of Adventure Photography.” It’s a compendium of all the articles he wrote for Outdoor Photographer magazine over his years as a regular contributor. In one article entitled, “Around-the-World F4 Shakedown” he writes about his experiences testing the Nikon F4 against his F3 when the F4 was first released. His article concludes with the lines, “Who knows what the 21st century will bring? I do know that I can’t afford not to be using the emerging technology.”

His words ring home the message that most serious professional photographers understand – that in order to stay on top of business the pro must keep up with the latest technological developments in photography. In the days when film cameras were all there was, keeping up with technology meant testing out new films, buying new cameras when a better model was released, and buying new lenses, filters, strobes and whatever else was necessary to capture better photographs more practically, economically, and conveniently. For someone like Rowell who traveled to remote corners of the world and often climbed up mountains in extreme environments or visited harsh climates, keeping up with cameras and photo accessories was so important that he even designed some of his own gear that was marketed with his name.

The biggest cost in film photography, as digital photographers enjoy pointing out, is the cost of film and processing. “Why don’t you buy a digital camera? You’ll save so much money on film.” For the serious amateur, yes, I agree. Buy a digital camera – a good one – and you won’t need to worry about all the money spent on film and developing. Plus you can reduce storage space at home and lighten the weight in your pack. But for the pro who is serious about keeping up the big time professional field as Rowell was, digital photography is actually not any cheaper. From my standpoint it’s actually a lot more expensive.

In the Winter 2010 issue of Outdoor Photography Canada, photographer Michael Grandmaison writes that he has changed his digital camera three times in two years. When I met him in 2005 shortly after the release of his book of Canadian landscape photographs, he had been using a film camera to capture all his images. That means he is at least on his fourth camera since I met him. In the same period of time, I bought a Tachihara 4×5 field camera to add to my equipment that consists of a now 10-year old Minolta, a Bronica 645 which I bought used in 2003, and a Pentax 6×7 that I bought used back in 1993. Though the medium formats have gone in for adjustment and repairs, they are still as good as they were when I first took them home. The wooden Tachihara should still be operating just as well as ever in 50 years if I take good care of it (though I might not be around to use it then). The message in Grandmaison’s words is that the top professional needs to spend money faster than ever in order to keep up with the latest developments in the rapidly evolving technology of digital photography.

It doesn’t end with buying a new camera every other year though. In the same issue of OP Canada, Mark Degner reviews the LensAlign Pro, a device to help digital users be sure that their lenses are giving them maximum sharpness. “You owe it to yourself to check out a LensAlign Pro if you want to get maximum sharpness out of your cameras and lenses.” The Pro Plus goes for $249 US and the regular LensAlign Pro for $179 US. On the next page is the Spyder3Elite, a monitor calibrator, which is a device that is critical to use “if you want to have consistency in your prints… or you want to share or sell your images… Colour management and monitor calibration are necessary evils of digital photography.” The price for the Spyder3Elite is listed as $349.99.

Those devices aside, one must also consider having a computer. Though it’s been said that one doesn’t need a computer to shoot photographs digitally, it is essential to have one for photo editing, sending photo files to clients via email, managing any bulk work, and preparing your images for home printing. Computers are not as expensive as they used to be but consider that they generally last for about 4 to 5 years under heavy use and you’ll be looking at shelling out for a new model by the time you’re on your third digital camera. I can’t imagine a serious pro making a healthy go of his or her business using a 7-year old computer that is “slow” and running with obsolete software.

Software is another issue where everyone is taking about PhotoShop or LightRoom and how useful these programs are. I remember reading a review of the latest PhotoShop edition back in 2001 or 02. The reviewer praised the new edition for correcting so many of the problems and inconveniences of the older version. Had I laid out the hundreds of dollars for the software back then I would now be working in the Stone Age if I did not upgrade with each new edition.

Storage devices are also a “necessary evil”. Thankfully the prices have really come down on memory and external hard drives and flash cards now can hold much more information than before. That’s a blessing since cameras now can shoot at 12 mega pixels or more. Also, everyone is advised to save their files on external devices because all computers can be expected to crash at the end of their operating lives. It’s not a question of if but when. Not only that but backing up files on another device and storing it in another location is advised too so as to insure one’s files against total loss by fire or flooding. So you’ll need two hard drives for every time you want to save files outside of your computer’s hard drive.

If you have a closet full of slide binders then you’ll also need a reliable scanner which you will have to keep upgrading every few years and most likely you’ll need a printer too.

Add up the cost of all these things along with the regular gadgetry and gear that photography requires and it quickly becomes a hefty investment. Of course, these days there are very few photographers making a living from using film exclusively. Most are using their digital cameras while keeping a trusty film camera at the ready on a shelf in their homes and offices, just in case. But for me who is still using film almost exclusively (save for a compact digital for snapshots), the cost of film is much more manageable than keeping up with the digital and computer development race. I have my camera and accessories, my light table, and a loupe. I need to buy extra binders or slide sheets once a year or so and film use is regulated as I can afford to pay for it. Compared to pros like Michael Grandmaison, I am spending considerably less on photography-related goods each year. On the other hand, compared to pros like Michael Grandmaison, I am earning considerably less from photography each year. We are not even in the same ballpark! Or rather, he is on the field and I’m a little-leaguer watching from the stands.

Sadly, however, it seems that unless you are a fine art photographer making good money off your film photography, working in digital has become a “necessary evil” for any commercial photographer – be it wedding, outdoor, or studio photography – and keeping up with the latest gear is a virtual necessity. You have to spend money to make money, and now you have to spend even more.

The next time someone says to me that digital photography is cheaper I’ll reply with, “Unless you’re a full-time amateur, it really isn’t.”

January – Where My Photographs Are

Nature Photographer magazine – “Confessions of a Mountain Photographer” article and photographs

TabiShashin (旅写真) – photograph of rocks at the Miura Peninsula

2009 Splendor of World Mountains / 美しき世界の山 calendar – September photograph from the Canadian Rockies

World Nature Big Photo Exhibition / 世界の視線 大写真展 – At the Tokyo Gekijo (東京劇場 ) in Ikebukuro from January 27 to February 1

Am I Ready for Digital?

Digital photography has been around for a long time. In Michael Crichton’s book Congo, published back in 1980, he describes digital photography as used by Earth Resources Technology Services.

Photography was a nineteenth-century chemical system for recording information using light-sensitive silver salts. ERTS utilized a twentieth-century electronic system for recording information, analogous to chemical photographs, but very different. Instead of cameras, ERTS used multi-spectral scanners; instead of film, they used CCTs – computer compatible tapes. In fact, ERTS did not bother with “pictures” as they were ordinarily understood from old-fashioned photographic technology. ERTS bought “data scans” which they converted to “data displays,” as the need arose.
Since the ERTS images were just electrical signals recorded on magnetic tape, a great variety of electrical image manipulation was possible. ERTS had 837 computer programs to alter imagery: to enhance it, to eliminate unwanted elements, to bring out details.

When I was in high school I remember hearing that the New York Times had just assigned two digital cameras to its photographers and how that meant the photographers could send the images they captured to the editor almost immediately without having to develop the film, print the photos and mail them off. Then throughout the 90s, digital photography slowly became more accessible to the average shutterbug. By the time I came to Japan in 1999 there were quite a few people I knew who were shooting with digital and friends lent me photography magazines that first had digital sections and later were committed solely to digital photography. Even the local camera clubs included more and more digital photographs in their exhibitions.

I recognized the convenience of digital photography but I didn’t like the quality. Prints captured by digital cameras were easy to spot from even a metre and a half away. Dark areas had red spots; the edges of objects were pixilated, colour contrasts were unrealistic with whites and light colours often washing out. It also seemed that everyone who shot with digital had a good computer with PhotoShop running on it. I had money for neither computer nor expensive programs, and the memory cards were rather expensive too. I didn’t have the patience to sit in front of a computer for hours tweaking and altering my photographs. I was of the old school of slide photography that said the photograph is finished once the shutter closes. On top of the quality issues I had with digital photography I also felt that there was a border line somewhere that, once crossed, made a digitally captured and manipulated image no longer a reasonable representation of nature. One woman summed this up for me when I saw her take a photo of a mountain in poor light and I commented that the light was better only a few minutes before. She replied, “That’s what PhotoShop is for.”

In addition to all this, I felt digital cameras were making people lazy. Since they could get good photographs just by snapping freely people were filling their computer memory with hundreds of vacation snaps, but only the most serious photographers were really trying to improve their actual photography. When I returned to Canada in 2005 and visited some camera clubs I was pleased to hear that people were glad to know I was still using film. And in fact, the initial rush to digital has somewhat subsided. Many film photographers are going back to shooting with film more again, or at least bringing both film and digital cameras along with them.

Recently, I admit the quality of digitally captured photographs has improved and caught up to film. Though I still tend to spot the digitally captured photos at exhibitions, I have seen some images that fooled me into thinking they were film photos. The landscape photography market in Japan leans heavily towards medium and large format film photography and so I find I am using my 35mm less and less, despite that it is easier to use than the slow and bulky larger equipment and cheaper too. The magazine market still uses a lot of 35mm photography but there are more and more digital images appearing, and in magazines in Canada, the U.S. and the U.K. I have noticed more people are shooting with digital cameras. Now that you can get a 10 mega-pixel camera for the same price as a 35mm film camera, or for a little more money a 12 mega-pixal camera, there seems to be little need to think about ever buying a new 35mm film camera. For submitting images to magazines abroad it is also easier to be able to do it all on disk and not worry about my original slides being possibly damaged or lost.

Basically, I began to feel the day that I would purchase a digital SLR was coming near. I knew I didn’t need PhotoShop if I put the same care into capturing images with digital as I do with film. Memory is now much cheaper and memory cards have come down in price greatly. The other week I bought 640 gigs of HD memory for around 12,000 yen. But what has really made me feel the time has come is that my financial situation has almost bottomed out for now. In 2009 I will be slowly recovering from the expenses of 2008, and as a result I will have little money for film. Now that I have a car I only need cash for gas which has almost become so much cheaper than before. Gas prices here are now what they were about 6 years ago. So I don’t need to worry about train and bus fares or car rental costs, and I can avoid the expressways and drive by local highways at night in order to save on highway tolls. But if I want to go out this weekend I have to buy film. If I had a digital SLR I wouldn’t have to worry about that at all. Just hop in the car and get out and shoot.

So I think once my finances have steadied and I am back into a comfortable zone I will think about picking up a digital SLR. At least I can go out and not miss the seasonal changes because I don’t have money for film. Maybe by the end of next summer…