Aoi-ike and flash photography

Aoi-ike or Blue pond is a relatively new tourist attraction around Biei, Hokkaido; very beautiful with dead trees in a blue pond. Of course the pond wasn’t blue frozen over, so the choice for black & white film was no issue.

131 seconds exposure om Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.
131 seconds exposure om Fuji Neopan Acros 100 at EI 100, developed in HC-110 dilution E for 7 minutes. Agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds.

The scenery was lit up at night making it a magnet for photographers who, probably because they wanted to catch snowflakes in the foreground, couldn’t stop using their flashes resulting in images of walls of white in the heavy snowfall with no trees visible. I guess you need to know what you’re doing to get the effect right and probably using your flash in automatic mode wasn’t the correct way as it was pretty much pitch dark even with the lights so the flashes were bright like nuclear explosions. (A “feature” of a DSLR on a tripod is that everybody standing behind you gets to see the result on the tiny screen and I checked out the results of quite a few of my fellow photographers — it didn’t look like any of them had any “keepers.”) 🙂
Anyway, a lot of my long exposures were ruined by the flashes and I tried to out-wait them for an hour or so, but in the end I gave up and returned at another night which turned out to be exactly the same. In the end I returned during the day time as the pond was just a couple of kilometers from our hotel at Shirogane Onsen on the way to Biei.

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Travel tripod

There was a time that I thought that I would never need a tripod but when I bought my medium format cameras and wanted to explore long exposure and still-life photography, I bought a very sturdy Manfrotto 055XPROB that could handle my Pentax 67II and even my 4×5 Cambo SC2 large format camera. I think it is something each beginning photographer goes through: “I don’t need a flash or understand lighting techniques, I shoot everything with available light.” or “I don’t need a tripod, I shoot everything handheld.” Until you finally realize that these things actually can help to get better results when used correctly and that you’ve been holding yourself back for no reason.
I’m very happy with this tripod yet it was not something that I could take easily along on my travels because of its weight and size. I felt the need for a lighter tripod, yet a tripod that could support my Pentax 645NII medium format camera which is my camera of choice when travelling. So before my trip to Japan, I decided to buy a Manfrotto MKBFRA4-BH Befree as it had good reviews.

Exposure 7 seconds, f/16. Shot on Fujichrome Provia 100F
Exposure 7 seconds, f/16. Shot on Fujichrome Provia 100F

I had wanted to test the camera on the tripod but ran out of time. The new tripod certainly felt less sturdy than my main tripod and I felt a bit nervous as I started doing quite a few long exposures both in Tokyo and Hokkaido. To my relief the results were fine, the images sharp even with the longer lenses. I guess the moral of this post is: Test your equipment before setting off on an important trip as you need to know whether you can rely on it or not and not just hope for the best. 🙂

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SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens

During my last trip to Japan I brought my trusty Pentax 645NII medium format camera but also my Pentax MZ-S SLR camera with just one lens and in a pouch so that I could easily carry the camera around in my coat pocket and have always something available even when bringing along the rucksack with the Pentax 645NII was too tiring. I had only brought Kodak TRI-X on 35mm and had started to shoot it at EI 800 to give me possibilities at night and for street photography.


SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens
SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7

As I said, I had only brought one lens for this camera and in that case I prefer to take a 50mm prime lens. I have a pretty good Sigma 50mm f/2.8 autofocus lens but this time I decided to take the SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 lens that I had bought together with my Pentax ME camera back in the 1970s. The SMC Pentax-M 50mm f/1.7 was really an amazing lens at the time and it still is awesome with great sharpness and contrast, and performing still acceptably well at f/1.7. See Ken Rockwell’s site for a review of this lens. The great thing with Pentax cameras is that even a modern SLR as the Pentax MZ-S will work perfectly fine with any old lens with a Pentax bayonet mount, no matter how ancient.

At first I was a bit afraid that a manual focus lens was going to be troublesome or too slow, but it was very easy to use and the focus indicator of the camera was a great guide to know when the focus was correct. I’m not really quickly sneaking photos of people, I prefer to engage them and then take their photo so it was not an issue at all. All in all, I think I made the right choice, the f/1.7 aperture was very welcome and the resulting shallow depth of field was really helpful making these photos work.

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