When I’ve examined past photography I’ve done, the pictures I enjoy the most are the ones I’ve taken of wildlife. When I lived in Taku, I spent many weekends exploring the town on my bike, stopping to take pictures of interesting vistas. Usually that meant taking pictures in rice fields. Once I was done taking pictures of the wide world around me, I enjoyed getting down low and exploring the world that we rarely take the time to visit. I’m a big fan of Nintendo’s Pikmin series. Getting down to the ground and really observing the world under our feet helps me understand what inspired Shigeru Miyamoto to create the series (he was inspired by his time working his garden).
Taku might not be a great place for finding work or shopping, but it is a great place for getting photos of all kinds of wildlife. The rice fields attract all kinds of animals and bugs. Bugs and frogs love the flooded fields and shade under the rice plants, and everything else loves the bugs and frogs. The variety of life in the countryside helps create very distinct seasons. Frogs announce the rainy season, cicadas sing the songs of summer, crickets play an autumn lullaby, etc.
All different kinds of flowers bloom at different times of the year, too. My favorite are easily the lotus flowers. Everybody thinks of cherry blossoms when they think of Japan, and the cherry blossoms are nice, but for me, lotus flowers are way more interesting. They last longer, they’re bigger, the plant itself and the environment it grows in is more interesting, and the kinds of wildlife attracted to them are more interesting than those attracted to cherry blossoms. They’re overall just a cool plant and flower.
(Two photos above taken two months ago.)
But, as I expected, when I went to a lotus field in Taku, the flowers were all gone and the plants were mostly dried up. The good news is that there were still plenty of occupants left to photograph.
There is one red flower that grows on the ground around rice fields that catches my eye, too. I don’t know its name, but my fiancé tells me that it is a poisonous flower. It always grows at the end of summer and highlights the edges of rice fields while they are around. They contrast nicely with the green rice plants they grow around.
While I was out in Taku, I visited several local attractions, including Seibyo. Seibyo is a Confucian temple, a rare sight in Japan. Last time I was there I spotted a snake at the edge of a small pond, so I kept my eyes out for snakes while I was there this time. I was lucky enough to spot one once again, this time roaming around, hunting for some grub.
It was a big guy, probably about a meter long. I was probably about 8-10 feet away from it when I saw it. I tried to get a little closer while it appeared busy hunting, but it spotted me and started moving away. I started trying to take some video of it from far away when I noticed some strange movement. I got closer and as I suspected, it had captured a young frog. I watched it swallow the little frog alive.
It was the first time I had ever seen a snake eat anything in real life. What really got me was the little squeaking noise it made as the snake slowly worked it into its mouth. I know that frogs often eat other frogs as they grow up, but I still couldn’t help but feel bad for it. On the other hand, the snake needs to eat, too, and there are a lot of frogs everywhere in Taku (I regularly find flattened frog skeletons on the road). Life eats life. Witnessing it first-hand was a bittersweet experience.
Taking photos in rural Japan continues to be a pleasant, surprising experiences.
Over the weekend, my fiancé went to a business seminar. The speaker told her story about starting a business importing baby slings from the US.
Following the seminar, we discussed the possibility of starting practical photography lessons based on some of the things that she learned at the seminar. At the seminar, she learned that business owners have to think about pricing and customer services they wish to provide. Those services, in a sense, create the character of the business. For example, a business can go for low margin, high volume pricing, or it can go for the luxury market. It can provide barebones support at low prices, or it can provide superior support and guidance for extra money.
Before going into the details of the photography lessons my fiancé and I are contemplating, I’ll go into detail about the two examples of businesses with unique personalities that stood out to both the seminar speaker and my fiancé.
The first example was a business in Akihabara, Tokyo. For those that don’t know, Akihabara, is the techno-nerd mecca of Japan. The example business in Akihabara is a business that sells nearly anything technology related. Computer parts, audio electronics, video equipment, etc. No matter what you want, they have it or can get it for you. However, it has a peculiar characteristic: it has only a small store front with an old woman at the front. The woman knows nearly nothing about most electronics or technology. Instead, the woman takes orders for equipment, such as the general nature and use of the equipment, the desired shape, size, colors, etc., desired functions, and any other relevant specifications for the equipment, no matter how specialized. If the shop doesn’t have the equipment in stock, they will find it, wherever in the world it is, and special order it. That’s possible due to the store owner’s connections with businesses throughout the world. It meets the specialist’s needs, but doesn’t provide any more than the barebones in product support or a particularly pretty environment.
The second example business presented by the seminar speaker was a nationally well-known business named Yodobashi Camera.
A typical Yodobashi Camera has more than just cameras. It sells printing materials, cellphones, photography lighting and accessories, toys, home appliances, bicycles, speaker systems, TVs, massage chairs, etc. It’s somewhat similar to an American Best Buy, but the variety of the products available in each genre are greater than at Best Buy.
One of the genres of products they sell are computers and computer parts. At any Yodobashi Camera, they sell all the parts necessary to build a computer. For a computer nerd such as myself, the basement floor is one of the happiest places I can be. I could spend all day at Yodobashi. On top of having a large store with a variety of equipment to browse and choose from, Yodobashi provides one extra service that the seminar speaker talked about. That service is help with building computers. They will spend all day with a complete beginner who says they want to build a computer, and they will teach that customer everything they need to know in order to build their own computer.
In contrast to the previous business in Akihabara—which provides superior support to specialists that just need that one specific thing—it is the knowledge that Yobodashi provides that goes above and beyond what you can expect from other similar businesses. If you need a product for cheap, Yodobashi isn’t the place to go. However, if you are a beginner in need of specialist knowledge and support, Yobodashi is the place to go.
It’s that business strategy—selling knowledge—that led to the conversation about photography lessons between my fiancé and me.
The idea goes like this: photography lessons are good, but lessons held inside are stale, boring, and fit only for the very basics of learning camera functions. When it comes to learning how to take good pictures, there is no substitute for going outside and experiencing something worth photographing. So, I suggested to my fiancé, what about providing outdoor photography lessons (like photography walks or photography tours) in the Saga area?
I and my fiancé have different photography backgrounds and interests. While my fiancé went to school specifically for photography and immediately began working as a freelance photographer, I began and spent a long time doing photography as a hobby. My fiancé spent time learning from local photographers, whereas I spent time learning online from famous and nominally famous photographers and camera reviewers. Because of our diverse backgrounds, my fiancé knows quite a lot about wedding photography and studio photography, but my interests, knowledge, and experience are mostly focused on nature and street photography.
I think I’m also more in touch with current trends in the business of photography and the many ways people can make money with photography (although my fiancé is much more knowledgeable of the details of running a photography business than I am). I follow some more of the techie photographers online, and I also occasionally check out high-level and mid-level photographer’s blogs. A common service provided by photographer’s is education, whether through books, online courses, videos, tutorials, etc. One common form of education many of the photographer’s I follow engage in is photo walks or photo tours. They do one-on-one lessons or small group trips outside. Usually they go to some famous location, like a national park or large city, and teach students how to do photography in those places.
Photo walks/tours have several benefits for both teachers and students. They both get to engage in real-life photography, in a situation that is very typical. Students in a classroom have to imagine how to use the lessons they learn in a practical situation, but students on a photo walk can go directly from lesson to practical photography. There is an immediate connection between learning and application.
Another advantage is that everybody gets to get out. Many people spend a lot of time indoors (especially pro photographers), so everybody gets to simply enjoy being out in nature or in city environments. We get to share our job or hobby with others, and we get to share time living life. My fiancé is an outgoing lady, so she’ll have a great time talking to and getting to know other people.
One of the big advantages that I see for my fiancé is the ability to give photo walks even with children around. In the future, when we have children, it will be tough to do wedding photography, but we can design photo walk courses specifically for families with children. In that case, it would be natural for my fiancé to take her children with her to be both a participant and subject of the photography. Later, as they grow up, we can even give them cameras of their own to learn with.
There are a number of requirements to beginning giving photo walks. To start with, we need to do a little research to find out how other photographers in Japan do photo walks. We just need to know if there appears to be a market for photo walks in Japan, typical pricing, typical locations, etc. We just need a rough idea of how others do their photo walks.
Another requirement is designing courses. In order to design them, we have to plan certain locations, plan lessons, then test those courses. There is such a variety of things to teach in photography, so finding things to teach will be fairly easy. However, finding things to photograph will be the bigger challenge. A photo is only as interesting as the story it tells. When people are taken on a tour, they expect to be treated to an experience beyond a simple photography lesson. They want to see and do things that they might not otherwise see or do on their own.
There will be a lot more practical challenges to overcome in order to start giving photo tours. However, my fiancé are both very interested in the idea, so I expect to start doing limited photo walks next year and then grow from there.