I’ve started living in Japan a few years ago. Even with a higher cost of living and a lower pay compared to what I received from my previous company, I accepted my new job in The Land of the Rising Sun. Wanting to see more the country was the primary reason.
I’ve been living in Kanagawa, a prefecture near Tokyo. Landscape photography is such a love of my life. Whenever I came back home from work, my free time were spent Googling my next places to visit, looking for best locations for long exposure photography. I was overwhelmed by the immense information I saw on the internet. Local online forums provided images and location information. Almost everywhere in Japan is quite interesting for photography. Every prefecture has unique places to shoot at. I’ve come to realize that Japan is not only a place for great food, unique culture, old architecture, technology, modern cities, manga and anime; it’s also a place for vast opportunity for long exposure photography.
So, rest days were turned to weekend shoots. Budget for my favorite ramen and Japanese beer was saved for train tickets and accommodations. Japan is not a cheap place to explore after all. So, for two years, I had been photographing different places around the country. But I know I have only photographed a small fraction of the entire Japan but surely these places did not disappoint for every place I’ve visited sparked wild imagination. For that reason, Japan has easily become my favorite country for long exposure photography.
So, here is the main reason that makes Japan an epic location for long exposure photography.
Japan has a lot of water. With a coastline length of more than 29,000 kilometers and about a hundred lakes, the country offers vast and diverse shooting locations for beautiful blurred movement of water in your landscape photography.
Torii gates are one of my favorite subjects in long exposure photography that involve water. These unique and static man-made structures on moving water and against stormy skies are perfect elements for a distinctive and stunning long exposure capture. There are thousands of torii gates spread around the country and many of them are built few meters away from the shore. One of my favorites is the Konpira torii gate in Shosanbetsu, Hokkaido. The best time to photograph this shrine is in winter and when the tide is high. The ice that forms on its ‘hashira’ or pillars gives an ethereal feel to anyone that witnesses it in person. Getting to Shosanbetsu in winter requires driving because it is very far from the train station and taxis are quite rare in that area. However, there are other floating torii gates in more accessible locations such as Shirahige Shrine in Shiga, Hakone Shrine in Kanagawa, and Itsukushima Shrine in Hiroshima.
Speaking of water, sea stacks are common in many seaside areas and they are great static elements for coastal long exposure photography. Entrance to these places is absolutely free but one must keep in mind that these geologic formations like shrines and torii gates have some kind of historical and spiritual significance to Japanese people. Being quiet and discreet when shooting is an unwritten rule. Sea stacks are usually labeled and the word ‘iwa” which means ‘rock’ is attached to the end of their names. A few examples are Meoto-iwa (Married Rocks) of Futamiokitama Shrine in Mie, Ebisu-iwa and Daikoku-iwa in Hokkaido and the mysterious unusually-shaped rocks of Hashigui-iwa of Wakayama.
If you are looking for calmer waters, the seven lakes around Mount Fuji will not disappoint. They are very close to Tokyo and there are regular buses that connect the metropolitan and these lakes. The best condition to do long exposure shoots is when the water is still. Mount Fuji reflects beautifully on these lakes during clear and calm days. One must consider weather and season when including the iconic mountain in the frame because most often it is covered with clouds year-round. The best time to see the Mount Fuji is from October until March when the chances of clear days are higher. In addition, the mountain is surrounded with cameras that you can view real-time online. These cameras provide current weather and viewing conditions of the mountain from different vantage points. If you get really lucky, nature can gift you with lenticular clouds hovering over Mount Fuji in winter time. A shutter speed not more than 30 seconds and not less than 8 will be just right to soften the edges of the clouds. Exposing too long, it may dissolve totally your clouds and lose its lentil-like shape.
Also, Japan has countless stretches of rivers and waterfalls owing it to the country’s mountainous geology and wet climate. I’ve been to a few waterfalls such as Hirayu Falls in the Northern Alps, Shiraito Falls in Shizuoka, Nachi Falls in Wakayama and the icy falls of Shirahige in Hokkaido. These natural water formations create spectacular long exposure images when captured during autumn season. The use of CPL will help a lot in improving waterfalls photography by enhancing foliage colors and removing glare.
If you are into cityscapes and want to maximize your stay in Tokyo, Sumida River and Tokyo Bay offer great views of the Tokyo skyline. One of the best spots to do long exposure photography is along Asakusa where elements such as bridges, skyscrapers and rivers can fill your frame. At nighttime in Odaiba, tourist boats moving to and fro on the northern Tokyo Bay can be an appealing foreground for a seemingly endless skyline in the background. With the right shutter speed, these boats will create interesting streaking lights. The suspension Rainbow Bridge connecting Odaiba and Shibaura has captured the eyes of Japanese cityscape photographers because of its colorful light shows during nighttime. But during daytime and when it is foggy, taking a long exposure shot of this bridge can produce dreamy and mysterious-looking photographs.
There are two great things about traveling around Japan; the availability of transport and the accessibility of locations. I don’t remember any moment where I wasn’t able to arrive at any destination because of the lack of transport. It seems that there are no dead ends. Every place is connected by roads or railways. You can take a bus, a taxi, a train or rent a car for a more flexible travel. You will always arrive at your chosen destinations. For this reason, I will keep on coming back and will explore more places in The Land of the Rising Sun.
Everyday we wake up with a specific purpose. It could be a routine mission of going to work, to school or to a supermarket. Or we wake up for the mere fact that we need to get up because we cannot stay asleep 24 hours a day 7 days a week as it is part of our daily rhythm. Our alarm yells every five in the morning annoyingly telling us that we need to move our lazy asses. To many including me, not being able to put food on the table has become our daily inspiration, unfortunately. So everyday, we meet our bosses and co-slaves to dance to the tune of this entertaining song called “labor world.” Yes most of us do this and persist on doing this because we have to. Because the escape door from this tragic routine seems astronomically distant. We are miserable asses doing unhappy jobs day and night. For this reason, a hero to serve as an inspiration becomes an utmost importance. And this hero is not only for our daily lives but also for our artistic ventures.
By the way I will not discuss “inspirational life-related stuff” in this article. The above paragraph is just an introduction. So, let’s talk about the importance of a hero in photography. I hope you are not visualizing any Marvel characters when I say hero. Dammit!
In the field of photography, all of us have a champion in our hearts. Whether you are aware of it or not, surely you are looking up to somebody. It doesn’t matter if you know him personally or not. Let’s call him/her a “hero”. Hero in the sense that he/she inspires. He makes you get up and shoot early for a sunrise even though he is not an alarm clock. This hero exhibits seemingly unmatchable skills and talent. He is normally one of the “rock stars” of the craft. But hey, they didn’t get to that position over a midday nap. Like musical virtuosos in the past, years and years of practice were dedicated to the mastery of instruments and the creation of great symphonies. That’s why we can easily sense tremendous musicality on its tunes and melodies. Same principle is applied to the creation of astonishing paintings and sculptures. They are not created on the same day the artist decided to pick up a brush. They are the products of years of continuous efforts, honed talents and dedication. The best of the bests. The greatest of the greats. The pinnacle of human artistry. These artists of the past serve as unmatched heroes in the present time. They inspire generations and beyond. They will never be erased from history.
In photography, there are three persons that I consider my heroes: Marc Adamus, Michael Kenna and Rarindra Prakarsa. There are a lot of them out there actually. Even though they are complete strangers, they’ve managed to inspire me even without uttering a single word; just a showcase of great photography was enough. They’ve made me persevere. They’ve enthused me to learn more about the craft. Though, I am not as good as them they have made a better photographer in me.
Having a hero doesn’t mean being a copycat. You’re just being aware of the value of the right jumpstart. It really doesn’t matter if you try to copy somebody else’s style or works at the beginning of the path. For me, that’s being on a right track. However, do not stay on somebody else’s path too long; long enough to lose your true self somewhere down the road. Just use your hero’s marked trails to reach a good vantage point of your dreams. And from there, you begin treading your own path. Create your own style. Don’t live a photography career under somebody else’s shadows. Always remember that nothing shines on the dark side of the Moon because it is always blanketed with darkness. However, be aware that darkness is very useful for you to see the faintest of lights. Use this shadow to point which light in the dark sky you want to go. Follow this light until you’ve come face-to-face with it.
Your heroes had been to the same kind of challenge. They persisted. They persevered. They followed their chosen light amongst the billions scattered in the night sky. Like what they did, follow your own light too and reach for it. You will notice that the farther you walk towards it, the brighter it appears. As you come closer, you begin shining too. Reach for it and become one with it.
Upon your arrival face-to-face, grab hold of this impeccable light and f*cking place it in front of your trembling chest and let it penetrate the very core of your heart. Fuel it with your burning passion and pump it with your unstoppable fervor until it reaches its detonation point. Feel its flawless power as it flows turbulently in every twist and turn of your shaking veins; like a furious current making its way through a meandering river. Scream to the top your lungs and spread your arms and legs in the sky as you glow and release the chaotic power brought about by the fusion of yourself and your chosen light. Every f*cking eyes watching from a distant will be temporarily blinded as they watch you shine. Slowly, this yet-to-contain-power will calm down and contract into a crystallized glowing legend that is you. Behold the birth of a Super Saiyan. A Super Saiyan in the world of photography.
The world now is in front of another legend. You ain’t no Ansel Adams. You ain’t no Marc Adamus. You are the motherf*cking (insert your name). A hero. A legend. A beacon of passion and determination. Sounds really cool huh? Yeah. Why the hell not? Your name is the name of our new hero. Your name will echo through the years to come and your works will never be erased by the rising tides of time. Your name will be carved by the sharpest chisel on the surface of the hardest rock. Yes your name, we don’t care if it sounds awfully tagalog like Inodoro Panghi, Jr. What’s important is who you are and what you have become.
You are no longer living under somebody else’s shadows. You have become the light which others look up to. You are a hero now. You have acquired a great power to inspire, enlighten and move. You have the power to impact and influence. Use this power wisely. Guide others to find their chosen light too.
Rules are everywhere. Wherever you go, you are under the spell of “obedience to the laws”. Consequences are waiting to both ignorant and deliberate dissenters. These rules are not a bad thing. In fact they have made our society more liveable. It brings order to the chaotic. Even in writing this article, I had to adhere to writing rules (e.g. syntax, gramar, punctuations, etc.) in order to deliver a clear message. Since rules are almost omnipresent, we can definitely find it even in the world of art; photography as an example and also the focus in this article.
Given that photography is under the category “visual art”, the rules that are applied to painting and illustration can also be applied to it. The “thirds” and “symmetry” rules have proven to be visually pleasing compositions in the field of landscape photography and other genres as well. Our great organ “the brain” through “the eyes” has an innate ability to perceive what is beautiful or unattractive by sensing how the elements and forms are arranged inside the frame. Hence, we must often if not always adhere to the rules because ordinarily, we cannot trick the mind with our lower than mediocre artistic expression. In our society, there is collective taste for aesthetics where majority of the population agree on a particular definition of beauty. Using this general consensus of beauty, you will agree if I say that Richard Gomez’s yellow penis on black canvas (artwork???) is a solid bona fide bullshit, won’t you?
Similar things happen in photography surely for this discipline is considered an art, visual art to be more specific. So, we often hear the expressions such as:
You should add a bokeh in your shot. You should have shot this at f/2.8
Bro, your image is too soft. You should have set your aperture to f/9 or f/11.
Next time shoot at low ISO. Look. Your image is too noisy.
You should have included a foreground.
Let’s go back to that place and shoot during transition. We were late for the sunrise this morning.
Always follow the rule of thirds. You’ll never go wrong with that.
And the list goes on and on. You may call them general knowledge, tips or skills whatsoever but they are followed by you and me because they are the “rules” of beauty. You’ll never go wrong applying the rules. Rules that have visual consequences if ignored. I have nothing against “following the rules”. In fact I am law-abiding-photographer. I definitely know the value of following the rules. To every photographer out there especially the neophytes, OBEYING THE RULES IS EXTREMELY IMPORTANT. It is your manual or handouts that you get when you open the box of your first microwave oven. But the only difference is you need to read this one and the literal manual for your new appliance is doomed to be thrown to the bin of course. Photography rules are treated the otherwise. You need to store it in your brain like how you copy and paste porn videos from your perverted friends. Rules are precious. You need to know them by heart. That’s the bare-minimum, the acceptable level, the threshold level between mediocrity and excellence.
After years of obeying the rules, layers upon layers of practice and knowledge acquisition, camera shuttercounts have reached their limits; you’ll come to realize that the rules you follow are not absolute. They are simply guidelines that you need to adhere to in order to reach the door to the peak of your creativity. You’ve reached the point of enlightenment that rules can be bent if not totally broken. And anywhere you go applying the rules has become a second nature; as easy as chewing a tendered meat; as easy as speaking your native tongue. By adhering to the rules, you have become the rule unto yourself. You can bend as you wish. You can break as you please. You are the great motherf*cker who holds Thor’s hammer swinging it left and right destroying every law. And for every rule that is shattered a masterpiece comes to a rising.
By mastering the rules who have gained the ability to rise above the conventions of the common and ordinary. You have dared to be different while everybody else drifts away like identical fallen leaves on a river being carried downstream by a quiet flow of water. You have become the first flower to blossom in the field, the very first to attract hungry bees, the very first to scatter grains of pollen and turn them into seeds.
Again, I would like to reiterate that following the rules is not a bad thing. It is not the greatest thing either. Adhering to the rules is to live a photography career generally accepted by everyone. It is a good thing and can be great as well. However, sure greatness comes when you think outside the box, when you distance yourself from established conventions, when you dare to be fresh and different.
TO BEND AND BREAK IS THE PERFECT RULE. Go outside. Find new perspectives and f*cking own them. There’s no other person responsible for your photography but yourself. I ain’t telling you how to do it. I am also on the process of figuring it out. The answer is hidden amongst the wilderness. Let’s go check it out.