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Photography has changed the way I see the world around me.

Through it I discover new things and rediscover old ones. Like my island, New Caledonia.

This blog is just me sharing my world through my photography.

Hope you enjoy.

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SHIRAKAWA-GO

Japan

day seven

Traveling through the mountains via coach from Kanazawa to Shirakawa is fantastic. And especially beautiful as you head down the mountain and see the village in the valley. We arrived on a cool but sunny day yet we could see snowcapped mountains in the not too distance. Shirakawa-go is a small, traditional village within Shirakawa, best known for their gassho-zukuri style minka houses. Recognisable by their very steep and thick thatched roofs designed to easily shed snow. An interesting fact, the upper floors of the two and three story houses were used for sericulture, silk farming. Not sure if that’s still the case though. One thing’s for sure, they still grow rice. All the farmhouses have, at least, one small field around the house.

We strolled though the small village on our way up to the lookout, which has a magnificent panoramic view of Shirakawa-go. There are two lookouts or observatories, the Ogimachi Castle Observatory Deck and the Tenshukaku Observatory, both with quite similar views though the latter has a couple of restaurants and a few boutiques. Not much left at the Omigachi Castle Ruins near it’s observatory deck but the best view, in my opinion.

Rain had started to fall whilst at the observatories and didn’t really stop for the rest of the day. The weather changed quite quickly and we could feel the cold now too. We explored farther into the village, getting a closer look at the minka houses and crossing paths with not-so-scary scarecrows. There’s a lot to see around this tiny village too. Restaurants, cafes, boutiques, stores, museums, Shinto shrines, the Big Bridge, the Sho River, so much to see. We were here five hour and weren’t able to visit everything.

Cold and hungry, we ducked into Shiraogi, a restaurant that serves set meals. Very nice and inexpensive. Warmed up with soup and tea… OK, I had to try the rice ale too. Once finished, we made our way back to the bus stop for our coach to Toyama.

From Toyama we caught a bullet train to Ueda where we were staying for the night and catching up with my best mate, his wife and his family. We had just enough time to check-in before meeting up for dinner at a Japanese pub called Hananomai, near Ueda train station. After dinner we accompanied his parents and aunt back to Ueda Plaza Hotel, where we were also staying. We, on the other hand, headed to Uotami, another Japanese pub, just down the road from the hotel. All in all, a great catchup.

Just a couple of words on my thoughts about Shirakawa-go. In 1995 it gained the status of a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. Unfortunately, it is in danger of loosing this status. Here is an excerpt from a Wikipedia article on Shirakawa:

The local economy is dominated strongly by seasonal tourism. Due to the income from the tourists who came to see the gassho-zukuri villages, the financial condition of the village has been greatly improved, and tourist traffic increased further once the village became a UNESCO site. However, the increasing number of visitors has resulted in damage to the area from pollution, and by local inhabitants their homes into hostels, gift shops and parking lots, which in turn has endangered its World Heritage status. There is also a fear growing that the change to catering to tourists will harm the charm of the area's simplicity and fundamental Japanese scenery.

Shirakawa, Gifu (village)

Having visited this amazing village, I can attest to this. I really hope they find an equitable balance to keep their World Heritage status on one hand and profit from the economics of tourism on the other.

Once again, thank you very much for watching. Hope you enjoyed it. See you on the next one. Oyasuminasai my friends.

SHIRAKAWA-GO

Shirakawa, Japan

A small, traditional village situated in a valley along the Sho River. Shirakawa-go is best known for it’s gasshō houses but has so much more to offer. We spent about five hours here and it still wasn’t enough time to visit everything. So much to see.

We went to where all tourists and photographers go to capture an image of this beautiful village, the observatories. There are two, the Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck and the Tenshukaku Observatory. Though the latter you are not permitted to use a tripod. I got told off by the local photographer. I didn’t argue.

I took panoramas at both observatories. Both images are good but I chose to share this image because I prefer the view of the village from this point. It was taken from the Ogimachi Castle Observation Deck. I stitched the eight images in Lightroom which did a very good job. Well, as long as you do the necessary out in the field. Meaning, levelling your tripod and overlapping your exposures by, at least, a third of the image, LR will usually do a good job. I converted the panorama to black and white and used my split-tone preset than added grain to it. The reason being, I think it would look great printed on rough or corse paper, giving another dimension and adding to the mood of the image. Wanting to somewhat recreate that, I added grain. I like it. I like it a lot. And yes, I think this is one of my favourite images of Japan.

panorama from 8 images | 28 mm, 1/50th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

MAIKO

Kyoto, Japan

One of the reasons we wanted to visit the Gion District was in hopes of seeing a Geisha or Geiko as they prefer to be called in Kyoto and Maiko, apprentice Geiko. We were not disappointed as we saw a handful of them while strolling the alleyways. They are just stunning. Beautiful. And we both wished we had booked in advance a restaurant where they performed. Next time.

I’m not a portrait photographer but on very rare occasions I’ll tempt it. This evening didn’t start as one of those occasions but ended as one. We had seen a few Geiko and Maiko on our stroll and though Géraldine captured a couple of portraits, she wasn’t satisfied with the results. Not her fault though but largely due to seeing them too late and not being able to frame in time. Don’t get me wrong, we kept our eyes open but they seem to come out of nowhere. So I thought I’d try as well, hoping between the two of us, we’d come back with, at least, one satisfactory portrait. And we got lucky. Seeing these Maiko early enough to be able to snap half a dozen photos from full body to head shots. Unfortunately, only two are usable but two more than we had and are happy with.

So how did I get the shot? Preparation.

  1. I needed a fast enough shutter speed to freeze the action and get a sharp photo. Because of their attire, Geiko do not walk very fast so I thought 1/250th of a second shutter speed would be fast enough.

  2. I wanted a shallow depth of field to blur the background. ƒ/2.8 is the widest my lens opens too so I used that.

  3. Have an ISO high enough to give me a proper exposure. In those little alleys nearing sunset it was 400.

All I had to do now was frame and shoot. But I forgot one thing, to put my camera in Continuous-Auto-Focus mode. I had left it in Single-Shot-Auto-Focus which isn’t ideal for subjects moving towards you. Hence, getting only 2, out of 6 or 7, shots in focus. A real shame because the close-up portraits were pretty good but unfortunately out of focus. A lesson learned for me but, I hope, a lesson for someone out there.

Now you’re most likely to see a Geiko and/or Maiko from an hour before and after sunset as they make their way to an appointment. They’re not on the streets for very long as their place of preparation and their appointments are not far from one another. Just keep your eyes peeled and your camera ready.

This post was updated on the 24/07/19. I previously said the main subject in this photo was a Geiko but is in fact a Maiko, an apprentice Geiko. A huge thanks to my friend, Géraldine, for correcting me on that. The lady in the light pink kimono to the right is a Geiko. Sorry for the mistake.

75 mm, 1/250th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 400

HAKURO-JO

Himeji, Japan

Himeji Castle, also known as Hakuro-jo or Shirasagi-jo meaning White Egret Castle, is a prototypical architectural example of Japanese castles. It is magnificent ! Even from afar you can tell it is something spectacular.

Himeji was only a quick stop for us before heading to Kobe for the night. We didn’t want to visit the castle, just have a quick wander around the grounds and take a couple of photos. You need a half a day to visit the castle and it’s grounds. You can actually see Hakuro-jo as you approach Himeji Station and it’s only a ten minute walk from there. We couldn’t resist the stop-over.

Again here, I used one of my split-tone presets to give the ancient era feel to the image. Check out my last post for a quick rundown on my editing process for these types of images.

75 mm, 1/4000th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100

JINRIKISHA

Himeji, Japan

Leaving Miyajima, we headed to Hiroshima Station to catch a Shinkansen to Himeji to visit their famous castle. Surprisingly, you can see castle from the Himeji Station. From their you just follow the main street straight to the castle. Easy-peasy.

Along the way though, we saw these beautiful jinrikisha, literally meaning man-power-vehicle. Or rickshaw in English. Women pulling rickshaws are very rare, apparently, I haven’t seen any and the men I’ve seen were very fit and young. We saw jinrikisha here in Himeji and in Kyoto as well. Specifically around the bamboo forest. We didn’t try them out but saw Japanese in kimonos and tourists use them.

I edited this image with my favourite split-tone. The jinrikisha, the castle and the old stone and chain barrier lend itself to an old fashion photograph. Well, my take on it anyway. Editing these kinds of images I always set my white balance first before converting to black and white. Then I edit the monochrome image to my liking and finished off by adding my split-tone preset over it. Tweak it and that’s it.

53 mm, 1/200th second @ ƒ/11, ISO 100

ITSUKUSHIMA SHRINE

Miyajima / Itsukushima Island, Japan

Check out my last post if you haven’t seen the torii to this magnificent Itsukushima Shrine. When we arrived for sunset, I was a little disappointed to see it was low tide but glad it was for this shot. Though my friend was cold and we were hungry, we stayed a little longer after blue hour to capture more images. We were only here one night thus wanted to make the most of it. I wanted a centred composition with the reflection but to get it I had to get my feet a bit wet. Well, I tried to avoid it but it was a failed mission. I got the shot I wanted and that’s all that counts.

I have to say I’m blown away by my new camera and lens. It took me a long time to get it but the combination of the Sony a7 III with the Tamron 28-75 mm ƒ/2.8 is just awesome. In regards to this photo, though taken a 30 seconds and ISO 50, the raw file was very dark. Everything behind the shrine and the foreground was in darkness. The dynamic range on the raw file was amazing. I was able to bump up three stops of light noise-free without loosing any sharpness. I’m literally blown away by this camera lens combination and the quality of the images.

28 mm, 30 seconds @ ƒ/11, ISO 50

GENBAKU DOME

Hiroshima, Japan

Officially named Hiroshima Peace Memorial, this landmark is more commonly known as Genbaku Dome. Translated, it is what the rest of the world knows it by, Atomic Bomb Dome.

This photo has become one of my favourites from my Japan trip. I wanted a photo of the ruins with the Motoyasu River in the foreground and I thought I had it from the Aioi Bridge. Unfortunately, it was low tide which change the composition and mood of the photo. I did notice a small dock area and beginning of a path that lead underneath the bridge. Once down here I just loved the composition. I still wish I had a wider lens though, just to fit a bit more in. It looks a little cramp to me but nonetheless, one of my favourites. To me, black and white was the only way to go with this image. The sandstone lantern and wall, the carved rock and the Dome made me think of an era long gone. Once the black and white was done, I slapped on my split-tone preset, tweaked it and, oh man, looove it! I think I’ve captured a unique image too.

The Peace Memorial Park, which is build around and opposite the river of the landmark, is beautiful. There’s also the Memorial Hall for the victims, Memorial Museum, the Gates of Peace, not forgetting the flowers and sculptures. We didn’t get to see all of it but from what we saw, it’s well worth a visit. Well, it’s a must really.

28mm, 1/80th second @ ƒ/16, ISO 100

HIROSHIMA PEACE MEMORIAL

Hiroshima, Japan

Continuing from my last post, once we had finished lunch, we made our way to the Peace Memorial Park to see for ourselves the remains of the atomic blast of 6th August 1945. The Atomic Bomb Dome or officially the Hiroshima Peace Memorial.

We checked both Google and Apple maps for directions and they both us it would be a 25-30 minute walk. It took us 45 minutes. And we weren’t dragging our feet either. Go figure. We did get to see the city and especially liked the side streets with their small restaurants and boutiques, and beautiful old buildings.

When you think about the impact of an atomic bomb and the sheer destruction it can cause, you start to wonder how it is possible for this building to still be here, standing. I can understand why some would want it torn down but am glad to see it stand. A memorial of the bombing and a symbol of peace. To me, it’s also a reminder of how far mankind is willing to go to destroy each other. Very sad.

This photo was taken from the Motoyasu Bridge looking through it’s guard rail. At the time of taking the shot, there was no way of avoiding it, I wasn’t content having the modern building as a backdrop. Once home though I quite like it. Actually, now I’m a little pissed at myself for not having centred the dome with the Hiroshima Chamber Of Commerce building. Too late now. I went with a split-tone edit after I had edited another photo of the Dome beforehand. I liked it so much I applied it here.

40 mm, 1/640th second @ ƒ/5.6, ISO 100

FOUNDER'S HALL

KYOTO, JAPAN

As I mentioned on my last post everything is larger than life here. This is the terrace and huge side entrance of the Founder’s Hall of the Higashi Honganji Temple. As you can see the doors are huge, I’d say around three metres high. Just awesome. Again I asked Géraldine to pose to show how high these doors were. I think she’s around 160 cm tall.

You probably noticed she’s barefoot. That’s because you have to take your shoes off before stepping onto the terrace and inside the halls. They provide plastic bags to carry them because you may start from the Founder’s Hall and finish at the Amida Hall, which are joined by an extension of the terraces.

Photos of the interior weren’t permitted, as I mentioned in previous posts, so I can’t show you the magnificent hall. I guess I could have snapped a shot from the terrace but I didn’t want to offend anyone by doing so. There were people praying and they were preparing for a ceremony or something. It’s sacred and private and I respect that.

1/80th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 200, 32 mm

AMIDA HALL

KYOTO, JAPAN

The Higashi Honganji Temple has two halls, the Founder’s and the Amida. The roof of the latter is what you see here. You would have seen part of this roof on a previous post too. I asked my friend, Géraldine, to pose to show perspective and add a human element to the image. As you can see just by the railing that everything is grandiose. The structures are made of huge wooden pillars. Very impressive. It’s hard to believe these structures have stood for centuries. I can’t imagine the work that goes into maintaining it all. It’s a shame we weren’t allowed to photograph the interior because it is amazingly beautiful. Check this link to see interior photos from their website. You’ll be blown away.

1/500th second @ ƒ/2.8, ISO 100, 28 mm

BOARD GAMES & COFFEE

Walking through the little streets of Melbourne, I found the Marché Board Game Cafe. A lovely place and a must visit. And you’ve got to love the hipster bicycle. Brown leather seat and beige tyres, how often do you see that?… goes perfectly with the cafe’s entrance, the pavement and the old Abaris Printing building. Anyway, I just loved the scene thus took a shot.

1/60 sec @ ƒ/5.6, 41 mm, ISO 800

BANK PLACE

I just love these kinds of little alley ways with restaurants, cafes, bars and outside seatings. I’m the kind of person who like to sip an espresso, watching people walk by. And on rare occasions, I like to write. Bank Place, Melbourne, Australia. There are many of these alleys in the city. At lunch time and after work they come to life with hundreds of people. They get so busy, it’s hard to get from one end to the other. Great places.

I went with my own version of sepia on this photo, only because of the old buildings and the stone pavement. Most of my street photos contain only one, maximum two, colours. There are always exceptions. It’s just my way of appreciate the scene more.