Recommended wordpress plug-ins

These are the WordPress plug-ins that I rely on, in no particular order:

  • WordPress SEO – Optimize and analyse your posts to understand how they will perform in a search engine and create better sitemaps.
  • Wordfence Security – You don’t want to know how many people or bots are trying to login as administrator on your WordPress site right now, this plug-in helps you detect the issue and stops them in their tracks and adds other security related features.
  • UpdraftPlus – Backup/Restore – What to do if your webserver or database crashes? Your site hosting service doesn’t take any backups of your content.
  • W3 Total Cache – This plug-in helped me to boost the performance of my wordpres site immensely. It enabled caches but also helped me to speed up the server by suggesting to enable a few Apache features.
  • Relevanssi – Improves on the standard WordPress search, allows people to find the topic they’re searching for better
  • Anti-spam – I hate to use captchas myself and they’re getting more and more impossible even for a human, I never leave a comment if I cannot get through the captcha the first time but what to do about the mountains of spam? With this plug-in, genuine comments come through but no spam while using no captchas or similar features, works great!
  • Google Analytics Dashboard for WP – All the Google Analytics information in your site’s dashboard.
  • Broken Link Checker – The larger the site grows and the older it gets, the more links that you once supplied or were added in comments might become outdated. Find and take action of the links that stopped working.

If you use scheduled posts:

  • Automatic Post Date Filler – If you schedule several posts, this smart little plug-in suggests the right date and time for the next post without you having to keep track.
  • WP Missed ScheduleSometimes WordPress misses a post for some reason and doesn’t retry automatically, this plug-in takes care of that.

Cheat or not?

I started out on film, printed my B&W photos myself and tried to master the usual darkroom techniques as cropping, dodging and burning to improve composition, lighten the white of the eyes or darken the skies and backgrounds, etc. The first thing you would do was to pick the right paper to get the desired contrast. Pre-flash it to control blown-out highlights, if needed. You get the idea.

Now, recently I have seen some comments in forums and in some Facebook groups dedicated to film photography where people wouldn’t like to adjust a scanned image to adjust contrast or use any of the other basic Lightroom adjustments, they feel like it’s cheating if they would. I do appreciate them shooting on film, but I don’t see how bringing out the best in your photo in the darkroom is any different, they are basically the same techniques.

And that is if you ignore the impact of the software you used when scanning, it probably corrected the levels and contrast already unless the image was scanned RAW.

Photo books that inspire

Not meant to be a complete list, just the list of photo books that I own and that continue to inspire me for one reason or another. Use the comment section to add photo books that you would like to recommend.
Here goes, in no particular order and not split up into categories:

  • An ode to travel photography with gorgeous photos from Tibet, Japan and Italy among many other countries:
    Fosco Maraini, Maraini: Acts of Photography, Acts of Love, Joost Elffers Books, 1999, ISBN 1-55670-973-0
  • If you ever want to get into landscape photography, this, or any other books with photos by Ansel Adams:
    Ansel Adams, Ansel Adams 400 photographs, Little Brown, ISBN-13: 978-0-316-11772-2
  • Awesome street photography in W. Eugene Smith’s Pittsburg project:
    W. Eugene Smith, Dream Street, Lyndhurd / Norton, ISBN 0-393-32512-1
  • The perfect execution of a project; Nakamura went to Miharu in Fukushima Prefecture and took the gentlest of portraits:
    Nobuo Nakamura, Miharu, 2000, ISBN4-938737-42-6
  • A must have if you like jazz or if you like the photos of Eugene Smith, a treasure if you like both:
    W. Eugene Smith, The Jazz Loft Project, Knopf, 2009, ISBN 978-0-307-26709-2
  • To show that a city can be photographed in a beautiful way although this might not longer be true because of the parked cars ruining every shot these days:
    Eugène Atget, Paris, Taschen, ISBN 978-3-8365-0471-3

In my bag Pentax 645NII


– Pentax 645NII
– Pentax 645 FA 45mm f/2.8
– Pentax 645 FA 75mm F/2.8
– Pentax 645 A 150mm f/3.5
– Pentax 645 A 200mm f/4
– Fotodiox Pro PT67-PT645 adapter (Pentax 67 to Pentax 645)
– Pentax 645 extension tubes
– Extra 120 film insert
– AF-360FGZ flash
– F&V K480 video light
– Lowepro mini trekker bag that I have had for years

Hakone: Goshinkasai Motomiya Reisai Festival

Two Shinto priests are using a bow drill to light a fire while two others are trying to keep them out of the strong winds.

Every October 24, on top of Mt Komagatake in Hakone, the Goshinkasai Motomiya Reisai festival takes place. It is an important festival for the Hakone shrine and it consists of lighting a fire of which burning coals will be distributed to all related shrines in the area.
This year, the top of Mt Komagatake was covered in clouds which gave a special feel to this matsuri. In the photo to the right, two Shinto priests are using a bow drill to light a fire while two others are trying to keep them out of the strong winds. Once the torch was lit, the Guuji (head priest) of the shrine brought it to the pyre and light it. The ceremony continued with a miko dance and offerings of sasaki branches and prayers. By this time the pyre was ablaze and the priests circled the fire clockwise and anti-clockwise after which some coals were collected in a special box and brought to the nearby shrine.
The ceremony had taken place in some ancient ruins of what once had been a much larger shrine. Once this part of the ceremony was finished, we walked over to the tiny Hakone Shrine Motomiya (“original shrine”) and got in for the second part of the ceremony. The torch is lit and the Guuji (head priest) is on his way to the pyre to light it.The shrine was packed but I was happy to stand in the back and bowed when everybody else bowed and clapped my hands twice when everybody else clapped their hands twice. Before the start of the ceremony outside, we each had made a donation to the shrine for which we had received tickets in return. Once the ceremony inside the shrine was finished, this ticket gave us a naorai, a thank-you gift from the shrine with an Ofuda, a nice bentō, some sake and katsuobushi shavings.

Access to Mt Komagatake

Access to the top of Mt Komagatake is via the Komagatake rope-way which is not covered by the Hakone Freepass, but the freepass gives you a small discount on the price of a round trip ticket. Inexplicably, there is no bus connection from Hakone or Motohakone to the Komagatake rope-way station which probably explains the few non-Japanese at the matsuri. Although the rope-way is only a little over three quarters of an hour walk from Motohakone, about 2km lead over a treacherous and dangerous road with many curves and no space to walk on either side. It is probably best to take a taxi to the rope-way station.

A Miko offers a branch of a sasaki shrub to the fire kami now the pyre is lit.

The Guuji offers a branch of a sasaki shrub to the kami. The altar already contains many other gifts of fruits, fish and sake.
The Guuji offers a branch of a sasaki shrub to the kami. The altar already contains many other gifts of fruits, fish and sake.

Shinto laymen
Shinto laymen

The pyre ablaze
The pyre ablaze

Kamikochi — a photographer’s dream

Taishoike pondWe had taken the bus from Takayama JR station to Kamikochi and got off in front of the Taishoike Hotel where we had reserved a room in advance. Typhoon #9 of 2007 had just passed over the area and the weather was just getting better. The hotel was the usual small Japanese room but it had a pleasant surprise in the form of a nice view from the communal bath and an excellent dinner from a table with the same breathtaking view over the Taishoike pond. The next morning I woke up around around 5AM and after I took a look from the window, I grabbed my photo gear and took some of my favourite photos from the hotel room window. We got up and dashed outside where the first hikers were just getting ready. The Taishoike pond was covered with some early morning fog which together with the lonely decaying trees created a very surreal sight and it was difficult to put the camera down.

Kappabashi bridge and beyond

We checked out of the hotel and arranged for our luggage to be dropped off at the bus terminal for collection the next day and continued on foot towards Kappabashi bridge. It is close to the bus terminal and it is the main destination of most visitors who have their photo taken on the suspension bridge and buy some omiyage (souvenirs) to bring back for the family and colleagues who stayed behind.Kappabashi

Behind the bridge is a campground and the visitors centre which was worth a visit. Much more stunning scenery was awaiting us beyond Kappabashi, so it was time to move on and we continued on the anti-clockwise loop. By now we ran into warnings for bears and the people we met on the footpath became quickly fewer and fewer but more and more of those people were dressed in hiking gear and would have bells attached to their rucksacks to warn any bears you might otherwise scare.
Eventually we arrived at the Myojinkan Ryokan and Myojin-bashi bridge. This is the furthest most people go and where they turn around to return to Kappabashi and the bus terminal.

Tokusawa Lodge

From the Myojinkan Ryokan, we kept on the right side of the river and continued over the now empty footpath. The riverbed became narrower and the landscape wilder while we made our way to Tokusawa. Tokusawa Lodge

At Tokusawa there are two lodges and a campground and it is used as base for people going rock-climbing. The atmosphere and people were completely different from Kappabashi. The lodge we had reserved, Tokusawa Lodge, was like an European chalet on the outside and the rustic inside immediately warmed up to me. The room was like any ryokan and dinner and breakfast were simple and traditional but plentiful. Electricity was only available between 16:00 and 21:00 but everybody was so tired that nobody really minded.
To reserve you’ll have to contact the Tourist office in Matsumoto.

Tips if you plan on travelling to Kamikochi:
  • Access to Kamikochi is by bus only and buses leave from Matsumoto and Takayama. Try to avoid the weekends as it gets really crowded and there usually is a big traffic jam of buses getting into the bus terminal. Alternatively, get off at the Taishoike Hotel and walk the rest and I would even recommend this option for people travelling outside of the weekend as you won’t have to go back and forth to the bus terminal when visiting Taishoike.Myojin-bashi
  • For a small fee you can arrange for the hotel to transport your luggage to the luggage room at the bus terminal so you need only take the things you need during your stay with you.
  • Hotels around Kappabashi are expensive, consider the Taishoike Hotel which we thought was really value for money considering it included an excellent dinner and breakfast. The view over Taishoike from the dining room was awesome.
  • Yearly, Kamikochi has a photo competition and the results of the previous year’s competition can we viewed in one of the buildings at the bus terminal. Make sure to pick up an entry form when you check out the photos.
  • The walks as described are mostly flat over excellent footpaths along the riverbed; however, there are lots of proper hiking opportunities. At normal walking pace, it’ll take you about 45min from one point to another, see map. However, reserve a lot more time if you are a photographer.
  • One thing I missed myself and still curse myself for is a visit to the Bokuden-no-yu cave bath at Nakanoyu onsen which is located just before the entrance of the bus-only tunnel entrance to Kamikochi at the Nakanoyu bus stop.

Herlinde Koelbl Lecture

Yesterday evening I attended the lecture “Eyes Don’t Lie”  by Herlinde Koelbl which was held in the series Photomeetings Luxembourg which was just as interesting as yesterday’s lecture. Luxembourg is not London so it is important that when a few important photographers and photo editors visit Luxembourg for a series of free lectures that you make sure you attend :-)

I particularly paid attention to the way she approached her projects. Now that I want to approach my photography also more as a series of projects, I was very happy that Mrs. Koelbl spent quite a lot of time on that subject. 

I will make sure the to visit the vernissage at Galerie beim Engel for the photos of her latest book, Targets. The photos she showed us during the lecture were powerful stuff!

John G. Morris lecture

Yesterday evening I attended the lecture “A Personal History of Photojournalism”  by 97 years old John G. Morris which was held in the series Photomeetings Luxembourg, and it was a pleasure to hear the stories he had to accompany the wide-range of photos that he presented to us. Having been photo-editor at Life magazine, Magnum, Washington Post, New York Times, etc, etc, and having worked side by side with so many of the greatest photojournalists of the last century, you can be sure that he had us spellbound for the duration of the 90 minutes talk.
I was, of course, mostly aware of all his achievements, but the one thing I wasn’t aware of were his efforts in working for peace which I do applaud. It’s clear that none of the war photographers can be counted among the ‘hawks’ and I do understand their worry that their photos might be used to glamorize a war.

I’m looking forward to his upcoming book, Getting the Picture, that he intends to finish at his centenary.

Infrared: Efke IR820 film

After having used infrared film in 2012 and earlier, I have been struggling a bit with fogging. I’m pretty sure the problem was due to the fact that it takes a while to load my Pentax 67II; my Pentax 645NII is much easier to load in a darkened room so I went back to this camera even though it meant that I had to remember to switch off the exposure data recording on the side of the negative as this also fogs the Efke IR820 film.

Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

This summer I wanted to try again, I followed the notes that I had taken for this film and used F/11 and 0.5 seconds as exposure on that fine and sunny day.

Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

As I was only experimenting, trying to see if I could successfully expose and develop a roll of Efke IR820 film, I only exposed a handful of negatives. Of course, then the weather changed and the clear skies and burning sun were gone.

Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds Efke IR820 at EI 100, developed in APH 09 1:40 for 11 minutes, agitation: 2 inversions every 30 seconds

I didn’t want to wait too long before developing the film, so in the end I decided to expose the last frames as a normal ISO 100 film without using the Hoya R72 filter. What do you know, the results are a bit grainy for an ISO 100 film, but overall it isn’t a bad film.

Temple 32: Hosho-ji

This will be a series of occasional blog posts going into a few more details of the Chichibu 34 Kannon Temples pilgrimage that I walked in October/November 2013.

One of the most impressive temples of the pilgrimage is Temple 32, Hosho-ji. The much photographed Kannon hall is located next to a cave, very picturesque, but there is also a path that will lead you to another kannon statue and a nice view.

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

When waiting for the stamp, the monk pointed us to a set of stone  ‘footsteps,’ standing on the footsteps ,you could just make out a kannon statue on the top of the rock. It takes about an hour to visit and the path involves a bit of climbing and holding onto iron chains and railings for dear life. There were signs up there in kanji which I, unfortunately, couldn’t read but after a while I made it up to one of the statues.

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

I would have liked to explore the other directions but with my wife and friend waiting below, I chose to climb down again.

Travel, techniques and background information