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Fast-paced photography

Fast-paced photography

The city of Saga is on a mission to attract more tourism. They’ve had an event recently with the rennovation of a museum and new exhibits there, along with some other local seasonal events (usually around Christmas and New Years).

They are working on a new tourism experience that I had the chance to photograph over the weekend. Along with Soejima Takae, I did the photography for a “model tour”, the photos of which will be used to promote the experience.

The tour is a half-day bike-ride and kayaking trip down a local man-made river.

In the past, I’ve done some school event photography that required quite a bit of moving around. I’ve done the photography at several schools for their Sports Day event, a school event in the summer where several track and field sports are played. That photography required a bit of running around to get into good positions, but most of the time I didn’t really have to move around. The photography for Saga’s model tour, however, involved a lot of cycling and quick dismounts. It was probably the most active photography experience I’ve had so far. It really tested my ability to quickly get into a good position and constantly evaluate the photographic environment I was in. I had to ride ahead of the tour group, find a good spot to dismount, move into position, then capture the right moment at the right angle, all within a short time span. No time for careful, deliberate, thought. I had to work based on instincts and skills I had already developed.

As I said before, the purpose of the day’s photography was to advertise that cycling and kayaking experience. Photos for the promotion need to communicate:

  1. Place. At least some pictures need to communicate that the tour is in Saga.
  2. Season. The tour is held in spring. That means blue skys and cherry blossoms in Japan.
  3. Fun. Show smiling faces and fun activity. Since it’s a group experience, showing that people going on the tour will have fun as a group was important.

With those messages in mind, I felt that I’d be mostly shooting wide-angle to capture both context and fun moments within the group, so although I brought my Olympus 40-150mm 2.8, I knew I’d mostly be using my trusty 12-40mm 2.8. I also took along a Pentax with a fish-eye lens to test out the fish-eye’s usefulness on the job.

I’d say that, in general, I did a good job. I think about 10-15% of my photos did a good job of hitting the above communication notes along with being technically good (in focus, etc.). In my experience, having 10% usable photos after doing personal or professional work has been pretty standard for me. I’m not sure how it is for more experienced professionals, but I think for someone at my level of experience, that’s pretty good.

The requirements of the job were in sync with my own personal need to get better at wide-angle photography. However, I have less experience with wide-angles than I do with telephoto photography, so my photos don’t really reflect my best work. Looking through the photos I took, I can see that my wide-angle instincts aren’t as well honed as my telephoto instincts.

Takae was my boss on this job. She had a few critiques of my work that I need to think about and improve on.

  1. I was working in a team of three photographers, but I was often so close to my subjects–who were the main subjects of certain photography opportunities–that I prevented my teammates from taking good photos themselves. This is a reflection of my desire to use wide-angles. I typically use telephoto angles to focus on one or two subjects. I was attempting to do the same with, only with a wide angle. Thus, I need to be more careful about photobombing my teammates.
  2. Related to the previous issue, for jobs like this one, Takae would like me to balance my focus more between the central photography subjects and the peripheral subjects. Like I wrote above, I like to focus on a few subjects, but for jobs like this, I need to step back and try to communicate as much about what is happening. I have to show both the central players as well as the peripheral players in as interesting a way as possible.
  3. Although it was not in the job description, Takae would like me to be able to do the photography for such a job in the future all by myself. In the future, even if the main requirements of the job don’t call for it, and even if I am working in a team, I should pretend that I’m solo and need to take all of the necessary shots by myself. That means not relying on my teammates to take some pictures and focusing on others. In other words, there may be significant overlap in the kind of photos that I and my teammates take.

It’s tough to find a balance between pretending to be solo vs. staying out of the way of my teammates, but I suppose my main weakness (when it comes to this kind of work) is my tendency to get tunnel vision. Of course, when it comes to taking pictures of bugs, flowers, etc. focusing on one main subject and making and interesting photo is important. I’ve gotten good practice doing that. So, learning to do this kind of photography will help me grow my artistic toolkit.

However, the good news is that I did get a chance to use my 40-150mm.


Spring shooting means BUGS

Spring shooting means BUGS

Throughout the winter months, the mere thought of going out and taking pictures turned my fingers into popsicles. I did go out a couple of times, but all I found was brown, dead grass and leafless trees. Is it possible to take interesting landscape photos in a brown, gloomy background? Maybe, but I tried and failed. I’ll try again next year.

However, winter is over. Time to take off my comfy Heattec tights, put on my bright orange t-shirt, and take a walk outside! Spring is here, and the colors of spring in Japan are pink and white.

Recently, I’ve realized that my girlfriend’s wide-angle photos are much better than mine. Her framing and composition is much better. Usually, I like to get close-ups of my subjects, and I enjoy the thinner area of focus shots that I get with my Olympus 40-150mm 2.8, so I’ve enjoyed the narrower angle of view for that last couple of years. But, after I realized my weakness with wide angles, I decided to limit myself as much as it made sense.

Some time ago, my girlfriend and I went to visit her grandma in Kashima. On the way, we saw some cherry blossoms blooming near Yutoku Inari shrine, so we decided to stop and take some pictures. That’s when I took out my Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 and took the two shots above and to the right.

Usually I like to get close-ups, to see what you won’t usually see in-person. My subjects are usually small, like bugs, so I like to get up-close and personal with them.

But, while taking the photos of cherry and plum blossoms with my girlfriend, we found some bees at work, so I got a chance to try taking wide shots of them, too. In particular, there was one bee that seemed to be caught on the stamen of a cherry blossom. Usually bees are busy buzzing around, but thanks to this little guy’s bad luck, I could get just a few centimeters away.

The nice thing about this picture is that we do get a close-up of the bee—with some details like the pollen in its hair and the little balls of pollen on its legs—but we also get to see the little guy’s workplace environment, too.

With a wide-angle shot, we get another perk: more focus. Pictures taken zoomed in have a more narrow depth-of-field, meaning that less of the photo will be in focus. That’s useful for a variety of applications, but in the case of small subjects, I usually get close. As with zooming in, the closer your focal point is, the shallower your depth-of-field will be. This means photos taken closer to your subject will have less in focus.

Sometimes you want that effect, but I’ve found that I often want more in focus, not less. Especially when I’m zoomed in and close to a subject, I need to be careful to compensate in order to get more in focus. For example, In the first praying mantis photo above, you can see the depth-of-field is quite shallow. Since I was close to it, I needed to choose a side-angle in order to get more of its body in focus. In the head-on photo of another mantis, I was not careful enough and focused a bit in front of it (it was running away, so I quickly dove in front of it to take the photo without checking my settings). However, with the last mantis, less in-focus makes it’s head pop out and draw your attention.

All of those mantis photos were taken zoomed in to 40mm.

However, the bee photo was taken at 12mm, much much wider. At wider angles of vision, more of the photo will be in focus. That means that I can get close and still have a deeper depth-of-field. While just the head of that last mantis is in focus, the whole body of the bee, as well as the flower it’s on, are in focus.

When it comes to wide angle photos, since the purpose is to show more context, it’s important to get more of the photo in focus. Thus, I also adjusted camera settings to get more in focus.

I’m looking foward to more bug photography this spring!