Five Things (I Would Photograph If I Were Any Good)

The first digital camera that I owned was an HP Photosmart 635 camera back in the early 2000s. It ran on a pair of AA batteries, took SD cards no larger than 128MB, and started disintegrating after the first six months of rather light use1. The experience was not particularly great, so I generally didn't want to use the camera very often. Later, when cameras started appearing in phones, the image quality was so poor that I often refused to take a photo because the pixellation would "ruin" my memory of the moment. In 2006, when I first visited Japan, I borrowed a friend's Olympus digital camera and was quite impressed with the results. Later that year I bought a Canon A95 and used that to take about 2,200 photos2 over the span of 7 years. It wasn't until Nozomi joined the family that I actively wanted to take pictures of the people, puppy, and places around me … which meant using a 4th Generation iPod Touch more often than not.

Over the intervening years, I've taken far more photos than I can keep track of. iCloud tells me that there are 24,818 pictures in my library, but these are just the ones I've kept, which is not the same as the number I've taken. The images that are blurry beyond recognition, horrendously out of focus, or just plain awful seldom see the next day. When "the cloud is the limit" to the number of pictures a person can keep, it's more important to ensure that every photo we keep has value in order to reduce the amount of visual checking and rechecking that goes on later. One thing that I can say for certain is that since 2011, my pictures have become noticeably better. Subjects are in better focus. The rule of thirds is observed a lot more. I try to frame static subjects when the opportunity arises. The use of focus to have the subject appear sharp while the background is blurry has also proven quite enjoyable and is easy as heck with the prosumer Canon DSLR we picked up before The Boy joined the family. However, this is pretty much the limit of what I can do to make a good picture. 90% of the photos I take are simply not worth sharing.

So, being Sunday, today's Five Things will involve five subjects that are not family and that I would like to learn how to photograph properly.

The Night Sky

Night photography has proven quite tricky with the DSLR and all but impossible with the phone. When the moon is shining bright, illuminating some fluffy while clouds from above while a city illuminates them from below, I am often awestruck by the beauty of it all. Light against the darkness. The contrast is easy to appreciate. Unfortunately my knowledge of ISO levels, exposure times, and other night photography techniques is insufficient to adequately capture the fleeting moment where the distant city, the fluffy clouds, and the incredibly bright moon are balanced "just right".

Parks from 15cm (Above the Ground)

Many years ago I wondered what the world looked like from Nozomi's point of view, as her eyes are generally just 15cm from the ground when we're out for a walk. So I started taking pictures with my phone at her level to reveal a world of giants. Trees that are impossibly tall. People that are skyscrapers in an of themselves. Grass that is tall enough to obscure a discarded bicycle just metres away. Some of the pictures did turn out quite nicely, but a lot had the wrong focal points. With a bit more practice and perhaps a better use of a mini-tripod, I'd love to create a series of images that can be shared with the world.

Historic Locations Permeated By Modern Tech

When Reiko and I take the boy to castles and other historic places around the area to introduce him to the history and culture of the country, I am often amazed by how many people are experiencing the location through their phones and/or tablets. The contrast intrigues me. To capture this in an image — or series of images — would be incredibly interesting.

Janitors

One of the many things that visitors to Japan often comment on is the lack of litter in the streets despite the ever-present dearth of garbage cans. While many people will hold onto their garbage until they can find an appropriate place to dispose of it, some people will "accidentally" drop things on the ground and just keep walking. When this happens, a janitor will usually be along in a matter of minutes, find the refuse, and take care of it. These people can also be seen sweeping stairs, cleaning public washrooms, organizing magazine racks, and just about anything else that would involve keeping a place tidy and organized. A lot of Japanese people that I talk to barely notice the janitors who keep our public areas clean for barely minimum wage, but I tend to see them everywhere I go and occasionally stop to thank them3. I would love to capture some of these people doing the things they quietly do in a well-framed image that conveys not the action being performed, but the human behind the broom. The images I've captured thus far have been fraught with lighting errors and focus problems.

Distant Worlds

What science-loving geek wouldn't want to take pictures of distant planets? The better the resolution, the bigger the smile. There's no denying that the earth is pretty amazing and has a lot of subjects to photograph, but the universe is a big place. There's a lot more we can all see and share with each other.


  1. Being single and a workaholic, I didn't really have many opportunities to take photos outside from one or two road trips every year.

  2. 2,200 photos according to the internal counter, which I have never reset.

  3. Most janitors are not accustomed to being thanked, which is a shame.

Mornings in the Park

Warmer temperatures have made the mornings a lot more enjoyable over the last two weeks and this has resulted in longer walks with the boy and, more often than not, Reiko as well. In addition to the fresh air and exercise, these walks are an excellent opportunity to explore the neighbourhood together. The boy is as curious as anyone his age would be, which means there are new discoveries and a barrage of questions every couple of minutes … or seconds. Fortunately he does stop for air every once in a while, which allows me to make use of the nice Canon camera.

The Boy Surveys the Park

As one would expect, Nozomi is also enjoying the springtime weather. Over the next few weeks her winter coat will begin to shed, which will make her appear younger, thinner, and much cooler. Time permitting, she'll also get a proper trim.

Nozomi in the Park

With two days of idyllic weather forecasted for the weekend, Reiko and I have made some tentative plans for a pair of picnics. One day we'll go to a nearby park with a large number of cherry trees and ample space for the boy to run. The other day we'll make the trip up to Inuyama to enjoy the park surrounding the castle with the in-laws. Camera batteries will be charged. Memory cards will be prepped and ready to go.

This weekend is going to be fun.

Nozomi the Puppy

Some people walk away from the computer during their lunch break. Me? I like to fiddle around with pictures while trying to learn how to make a very specific kind of image.

Nozomi the Puppy

If you're interested, the full-resolution image can be downloaded here.

Cherry Blossoms

For two weeks of the year people all across Japan get to enjoy the definitive sign that spring has sprung as parks and riverbanks transform from brown and grey to green and pink. This is often accompanied by friends and family heading out to sit under a cherry blossom tree, picnicking and enjoying the company while taking in the pleasant aroma of flowers in bloom. That said, it's always a good idea to remember that age old rhyme:

April showers bring May flowers.

No sooner had the first blossoms started appearing on the trees did the grey clouds move in, drenching the ground in much-needed rain, and otherwise rendering outdoor activities in the presence of cherry blossoms all but impossible. Luckily, Nozomi and I did manage to get in a walk between showers.

The Riverside Walk.jpg

Click Here for the Full Resolution Image (6MB)

While Nozomi does not really look at the trees or sky very often, she did seem to enjoy sniffing the petals that had fallen to the ground. She may be "just a dog" to many people, but she's just as capable of enjoying the little things in life as the rest of us.

Cherry Blossoms and Rain.jpg

Click Here for the Full Resolution Image (0.7MB)

The weather forecast for this coming week does not look good for people who want to head out and photograph these lovely blossoms, but there's no reason why we shouldn't try anyway. A little rain never hurt anyone, after all.