Fireflies

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

On the 11th June, I visited the Pola Museum of Art. This museum was opened in 2002 but I hadn’t known its existence until a couple of months ago. Tsuneshi Suzuki had been the former president of the Pola Corporation, one of the Japanese cosmetics giants. He passed away in year 2000, and the museum inherited his collection of art and antiques.

The museum’s collection was impressive. I mean, it couldn’t be compared to the collections of the Metropolitan or the Louvre. But it was a very impressive collection for a private art museum in Japan. The museum had a good number of Western modern paintings such as Renoir and Monet and French Art Nouveau glassworks and oriental ceramics. I really liked the works by Emile Gallé and Daum Brothers.

I visited the museum on Saturday. Surprisingly enough, the place wasn’t too crowded. The most famous piece of art work housed in this museum is probably Girl in a Lace Hat by Renoir. Thankfully, I could ‘monopolise’ it for several minutes without being bothered or interfered by anyone. I personally prefer to keep some distance from a painting to see it as a whole but that simply wasn’t possible in crowded museums because someone would surely get in the way.

Jakuchu Ito is my favourite traditional Japanese painter. A big exhibition had been held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno to commemorate his 300th birthday. It began on 22nd April, which happened to be my mum’s death anniversary.  After visiting my parents’ grave in Kawaguchi in the afternoon, I called at the museum on my way back to the foothill of Mt. Fuji. It was Friday and, when I got there, it was still 4:00 p.m.: office clerks were supposed to to be still working. But the museum was ridiculously crowded. It was simply impossible to appreciate art works under such circumstances. And later I came to know that it was the least crowded day in the exhibition period – people had had to wait for hours to enter the museum after that day. I had a similar experience in Kyoto when I visited the Kyoto National Museum to see their special exhibition for traditional paintings by the Kano-School painters in the early Edo period.  From those experiences, I came to a conclusion that, in Japan, you should avoid special exhibitions held in big cities because they are always extensively advertised and, as an inevitable result, are terribly crowded. Instead, look up the collections of each museum on their websites in advance and visit them for their regular displays.

Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

On my way home from the Pola Museum in Hakone, I stopped by at Gotenba to shoot fireflies with Mt. Fuji. We were in the midst of the rainy season. As it had been raining or overcast for a week, I had wondered if I wouldn’t have any chance to take photos of Fuji with fireflies this year. Luckily, I could capture this image before the clouds blocked out the summit.

This place had been known only by a small number of people. I came to know it through a local photographer a couple of years ago. When I arrived there, there had already been four photographers waiting for the sunset, and I thought it was rather crowded. But, to my surprise, more and more photographers came along as time went by and the place was swarming with a couple of dozens of photographers at the end of the day.

This is why I’m reluctant to tell you the exact locations for my photographs when I’m asked. There are simply too many people in Japan, and it is part of the Japanese mentality that everyone wants to take the same photos. Nowadays, some websites provide users with locations for uploaded landscape photographs in the form of GPS data and everyone uploads photos on social media such as Twitter and Instagram: even a place like this can attract too many photographers.

There was a novice photographer who tried to capture fireflies by firing the flash, which was a rather typical mishap under such conditions and was of course utterly nonsensical – you cannot capture their lights using the strobe. He devastated photographs taken by the rest of us. So I had to yell out before anyone else got furious:  ‘Could you please stop firing the flash? You are messing up our photos.’ My voice was loud but I tried to keep the tone calm. In my opinion, it is important to use polite language in such a case.  If you cry out something like ‘What the fuck are you doing?  Stop firing the flash you idiot!’ it will very likely to end up in a furious row. I’ve witnessed some photographers (often old male photographers) uttering something like that and causing commotions.

Mt. Fuji with the Chureito pagoda in spring
Mt. Fuji with the Chureito pagoda in spring

As Japan is rapidly ageing, there’re a way too many pensioners who are not working any more. In the good old days, I had been able to exercise my privilege as a freelance and enjoy beautiful landscapes without being bothered by other people. Not anymore. But as I said, everyone wants to shoot at the same place at the same time such as Diamond Fuji from Lake Tanuki or Mt. Fuji with cherry blossoms and the Chureito five-story pagoda in spring. Many of my acquaintances take photos of Mt. Fuji and my stream on Facebook is flooded with the same scenes taken by different people. To put it the other way round, it is still possible to take beautiful photos of Mt. Fuji without being jostled about, if you avoid such popular places at the most attractive time. Alternatively, you can go to remote places that require hours of hiking to access such as the Southern Alps.

Mt. Fuji over the Kofu basin taken from Mt. Houou in the Southern Alps.
Mt. Fuji over the Kofu basin taken from Mt. Houou in the Southern Alps.

The ageing population of Japan, combined with the declining birth rate, is supposed to be a fatal issue. But do we really need more people in this small archipelago? 127 million people are living in a country smaller than California. The population of Japan exceeded 100 million in 1966—50 years ago. Until then, it had never exceeded 100 million. In fact it hadn’t exceeded 35 million until the Meiji Restoration in the 19th century. The country is overpopulated, and too much population is destroying the country’s nature. Many people assume continuous economical growth is necessary. But what will be waiting for the entire human race after more years of continuous growth? Destruction of nature, famine, expanded economic discrepancy leading to aristocracy or fascism. To me, it does look like a balloon being inflated until it bursts. I can only imagine dystopian futures as long as the human race continues this.

Apart from the declining population, of course, the unbalanced demographics are also an issue. One thing I don’t understand is the policy regarding Euthanasia or ‘death with dignity’. Both my parents died of pancreas cancer and both came to know the fact that they had the cancer at stage four, which meant too late to cure. My mum pleaded the doctor to kill her when the pain became unbearable. She knew it was incurable from her experience with my father’s death, and thought it was pointless to just prolong her life in agony knowing that she would never restore acceptable QoL. But, of course, the doctor could not kill her since he would get arrested. The patient wanted to die. Her family also wished peaceful, painless death. The doctor also wished to assist if he could. But we could do nothing. As a result, she lived for a month since she had started to plead for death. What’s the point to add an extra month of agony to the end of her life? The great part of the cost needed for that agonising extra month was paid by the National Health Insurance, for which financially-challenged younger generations have to pay their insurance fees every month. Shortage of physicians is another social issue in Japan in addition to the overwork of nurses, and they’re working hard to extend the life of patients who don’t want to live any longer.

Death is inevitable. It will surely come to me one day. When I’m unable to do anything creative, I’d like to die quietly and calmly.  If you don’t agree with me, that’s fine. You don’t have to. But how can you impose your belief on others who don’t share the same belief with you and want to control how their own lives end? Our lives are not yours.

By the way, the day I took those photos was my 45th birthday. Many thanks to those who congratulated me.

The Bhagavad Gita for Landscape Photography

Nikon D810A + AF-S 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

Listening to audiobooks has been one of my favourite activities for nearly a decade. It is a great pleasure to gain knowledge while driving, walking, jogging, cocking, and ironing shirts like a character in a novel by Haruki Murakami. Lately I started listening to audiobooks while shooting landscape photographs. Because you often need to wait for the right moment when shooting landscapes, there’s nothing left to do until you press the shutter button after you set up your tripod and camera. So I was listening to the Bhagavad Gita translated into English by Eknath Easwaran while shooting the sunset yesterday.

A brief description for those who are not familiar with the Bhagavad Gita: The Bhagavad Gita is an ancient Indian text which is part of the epic Mahabharata. The Gita is a dialogue between the supreme guru Krishna and his disciple Arjuna, who is facing the duty as a warrior to fight his relatives. In Hinduism, Vishnu descends to Earth in a from of an avatar to restore the world. Krishna is said to be  the eighth avatar of Vishunu, Buddha is referred to as the ninth avatar, and the tenth (and last) avatar Kalki is predicted to appear in the future .

Lord Krishna says:

“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work. You should never engaged in action, nor should you long for inaction. Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself — without selfish attachments ,and a like in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.” (2:47-48)

I saw thin clouds over Mt. Fuji and left the house in anticipation of a dramatic sunset. Yes, I went to Lake Yamanaka because I expected a good result. In a strict sense, this action seems to indicate attachment to a good result. But it can also be regarded as part of my dharma (duty).

Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR
Nikon D800E + AF-S Nikkor 24-70mm f/2.8E ED VR

As a photographer, I should try my best to take good photographs making full use of my knowledge and skills. But, once I make a decision on where and when to shoot, I just take care of things I have control over such as finding the best composition and getting perfect focus and appropriate exposure. Then I detach from the result: “I may capture a beautiful sunset or maybe it will be mediocre. But in either way, I will be content.” How nature changes its appearance is beyond my control, and I shouldn’t worry about things I have no control over.

I’d like to point out the fact that yoga mentioned in the quotation from the Gita doesn’t mean physical exercises. In the West, the physical postures (asanas) of Hatha yoga (one of the branches of yoga) became very popular and now people call such physical exercises yoga. In my opinion, it’s as absurd as calling the act of sitting on a floor zen. In this part of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna talks about Karma yoga, which is is the process of attaining Nirvana in action. The Bhagavad Gita also teaches two other paths to self-realisation (Bhakti yoga and Jnana yoga), but I don’t write about them for now.

This was how far I could apply the knowledge of the Gita to my photography. I’m sure I will gain more insights from this ancient wisdom and apply them to my everyday life as I read (and listen to) it over and over. But I can safely say that it wasn’t too difficult to detach from the fruit of my action in this case since I love nature in any form.

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 14-24mm f/2.8G ED

The exposure time of the above shot is 300 seconds and I had to wait for another 300 seconds for noise reduction. So it took 600 seconds (10 minutes) all together. It gets cold in winter in the area and I don’t use my Kindle when the temperature is below the freezing point. But it is getting warmer now. I find Kindle is quite useful when waiting for a very long exposure to finish after sunset or before dawn as it lets you read books in the pitch dark. Perhaps it is also a good idea to meditate while waiting for a very long exposure to finish. But I wouldn’t do it in Yamanakako as this area isn’t that deserted and I may appear too far-out. I meditate in nature when trekking in the backcountry.

Gitzo New Traveler Tripod GT2545T Review

Shooting Fujisan with the Gitzo GT2545T captured with the Nikon D800E + SIGMA 35mm f/1.4DG HSM | Art
Shooting Fujisan with the Gitzo GT2545T captured with the Nikon D800E + SIGMA 35mm f/1.4DG HSM | Art

I’ve used a Gitzo G1228MK2 Mountaineer tripod for mountaineering and travel. Although it is a good portable tripod, I’d always wanted to reduce the weight of my backpack. Gitzo just renewed their Traveler Series tripods. The latest models seem to have some great advantages over their predecessors:

1) By adopting the Carbon eXact technology, the final leg of the new traveler tripod is 22.5% thicker than its predecessor, and thereby providing better stability

2) Provides near eye-level shooting without extending the centre column._9E64534

A Sunway Foto levelling base is installed in the tripod. The height of the car in the pic is 1665mm. If your height doesn’t exceed 6 feet, you don’t feel the viewfinder is too low.

3) Although it provides better stability, the weight remained nearly the same (1.34kg/2.9lb)

4) The folded length is 44.5cm (17.5″) also remained nearly the same, and so it can be carried in the hand luggage.

The tripod comes with two centre columns, one standard column (31cm, 119g) and short column for ground level shooting (8cm, 42g). For me, the standard one is too lengthy but you cannot put on the weight hook to the short one because it has no screw hole. I also noticed that the centre column weight hook was not included in the package, which was rather disappointing. Because the tripod is light-weight, the weight hook can be handy when the wind is strong.

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Honestly speaking, I don’t want to carry two centre columns and change them frequently. I ended up purchasing a GS2511KB short centre column (19.5cm), which comes with the weight hook. The ground level shooting  isn’t possible in a strict sense but you just need to extend the centre column by 1.5cm to do near-ground level shooting. The weight is slightly lighter (97g) too. I wanted them to include a 18-cm centre column with a weight hook rather than providing too lengthy and too short centre columns, since the short column doesn’t have to be that short. It just shouldn’t touch the ground.

DSC07400

I attached to the tripod a Gitzo GLEVEL2 bubble level and the Benro B00 arca-swiss compatible ballhead, which weighs only 227g and features a separate pan lock function. Because I sometimes take panoramic photographs by stitching multiple shots, the bubble level is necessary. Needless to say, if you can carry a levelling base, it would be much more handy but they usually weigh over 200g. I want to make my setup as lightweight as possible. To perform flawless panorama stitching, the ballhead must rotate on the base and be locked separately. So far I’ve never found any usable ballheads lighter than the Benro B00. For example, an RRS BH-30 Pro with B2-mAS clamp weighs 280g and Markins Q3iTRQ-BK weighs 380g.

A Day Trip to Nagano

Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR
Nikon D810A + AF-S Nikkor 70-200mm f/4G ED VR

I went on a day trip to the Nagano prefecture and visited many places yesterday. I usually visit one place  to take a special landscape photograph. At times, I stay at the same place for a couple of days. But sometimes I want to take photographs in a more casual way and so I took a lot of hand-held snapshots this time.
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SIGMA 24-105mm F4 DG OS HSM | Art

Diamond Fuji from the Southern Alps
Nikon D800E + SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM | Art
HDR image created out of 4 brackets to expand the dynamic range.

Many photographers with a big budget buy the so-called trinity, that is f/2.8 constant aperture wide, standard and telephoto zoom lenses. Why? Because it is the common knowledge that is the way to go for any serious photographer. But my ‘go-to’ standard zoom lens is a f/4 constant aperture zoom lens, SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM | Art, although I can afford more pricey standard zooms. I’ve taken tens of thousands of shots with this lens . Let me explain why I prefer this lens.

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Nikon AN-SBR2 Black Rapid Quick-Draw Strap

Yuga Kurita Nikon AN-SBR2 Black Rapid Quick-Draw Strap _9E53013jpgYuga Kurita taking a photo of Diamond Fuji with a camera attached to the AN-SBR2

I have been using the AN-SBR2 Black Rapid Quick-Draw Strap for nearly a year. I can say this is one of the best items I ever got. Before I got it, I had been using normal straps that came with cameras I bought. They are, of course, usable. But the product has some remarkable advantages over them.
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Blue Pond and Green Ravine

I travelled around the Northern Japan with a close friend of mine for a week.  I just got a new car, so I drove all the way up to Aomori and took a car ferry there, and then, landed in Hakodate. It was a lot of fun.

Yuga Kurita Biei Blue Pond Aoike_4E00036Nikon D800E + SIGMA 24-105mm f/4 DG OS HSM

After landed in Hokkaido, we visited the Lake Toya area and went to Muroran to join the Google+ 4 year anniversary photowalk. But it was heavily raining. I didn’t want to get soaked to take mediocre shots so we quickly left there and headed to Biei.

We eventually had a nice, photographic day in Biei on the third day in Hokkaido. In Biei, we of course visited the famous blue pond. Honestly speaking, I somewhat doubted that the colour was exaggerated by processing but it was actually very blue.

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富士山写真家 栗田ゆが