Instagram: Happy New Year – 2016

Happy New Year. I trust that you had good holidays, catching up with family and friends, filling up with a feast with lots to drink… It is a time of renewed resolution, and I think it is appropriate for me to start by posting an article on this long-neglected blog of mine. If you have been following my Facebook page, you know I have not stopped photographing at all. I have yet to resume my service as photographer for families, couples and businesses, but when the time is right, that will come back as well. For this blog, for now, changing the style a bit, let me pull together some of my favourite instagram posts from the last half year, to look back what’s been happening with my photography life. Continue reading Instagram: Happy New Year – 2016


Kyoto weekend

KyotoGate at Kodai-ji Temple

Taking advantage of the long weekend in July, I made a short trip to western Japan. One day was spent seeking peace at a zen temple with calming garden in front of its terrace. Continue reading Kyoto weekend

Stormy bridge

stormy bridge 1

I remember how I felt when I saw image of digital TV for the first time in my life. It was not even a digital TV set, but an analogue TV with a digital set top box, I think. The image looked pixelated. I did not know why at that time, but now, having an understanding of how sharpness on digital domain works, I can say that it was because there was too much sharpness applied to it, or in other words, there was too much contrast around the edges. It was like everything had a pencil-drawn edge on it, rather than the smooth, fluid world that I see in the real world, or in the good old TV. Well, that is not the reason why the TV set sitting across from me now is one of those old analogue heavy box, rather than one of those modern slim LCD or plasma; I just don’t watch much TV and haven’t come up with a good excuse for buying a new one! But I can tell you, I am not a big fan of a clear evidence of digital image manipulation. It just doesn’t look real. Well, what is ‘real’ is a subject of discussion, and there is no single right answer. For me, I like the feel of just capturing the moment. I want my images to look like the impression that was burned on my memory. For that reason, my images do not need to be ‘unmodified’ but should feel ‘natural’ and ‘how I remember it’.

As a part of project at hand, I took this image I took on a cold New Year’s Eve in Kyoto, and combined with different weather. I am still learning this digital manipulation work. It is not something I get most excited about. But when I shoot on location and the situation is limiting, I do have to manipulate the images so that they reflect my intention more closely. It is not about what was there. We do not see all that was there. No. We see what we want to see, and disregard things that we don’t. Reproducing a moment in a photograph, as a photographer we’ve got to do the same thing. It is not just point-and-shoot.

So here are two images based on the same photograph from the bridge. How ‘real’ do they look? Can you see what changes have been made for each image to get to this stage? And what else would you do, if you are a perfectionist?
stormy bridge 2

Kyoto Hana-Toro in Arashiyama


I grew up in Osaka, a large developed modern city full of commercial people in trading, textile and engineering. Kyoto is only an hour away by train, our neighbour, but a little snobbish one of it. Kyoto is a Paris in Kansai, where people dress nicely, walk with their back straight, and bow gracefully as they pass familiar faces on the street and totally disregard you the stranger as they see right through you. Kyoto is a very different place compared to Osaka, in their culture, in their city layout, and in their mentality, though we are both very loyal to our hometown. Arashiyama, literally ‘storm hill’, on the south-west edge of Kyoto flat is somehow a little more closer to home for me. Maybe it has to do with day-trip of hiking there that the primary school took me as a kid. Maybe there was even a field day of painting there. I was really not a painter as a kid (nor am I) so I cannot quite recall where I had to spend a day pretending to draw something on my sketchbook.

Anyhow, what I was saying is that Arashiyama is a little less snobbish part of Kyoto for me, and when I saw a poster on train about Kyoto Hana-Toro (flower lantern) event, I picked up my little camera and put on the new pair of walking shoes that I was wearing in before a trip. My regular Canon SLR had just been brought into a service lab for cleaning and adjustment before the 1st year warranty expired. To back up that loss, I had been looking for a secondary camera and found a little Panasonic at a pretty reasonable price as its newer model hit the market. I managed to pick one up at its lowest price before the buyers looking for what they thought was better than the new model but was already of short supply started bringing the price up again.

I arrived at Hankyu train Arashiyama station in the mid afternoon on the first day of the light-up event on Friday the 10th of December. After picking up a visitor guide map from the tourist info, I set out walking. Hana-Toro is held twice a year, apparently, with Higashiyama (‘East hill’ – the area that includes the famous Kiyomizu Temple and its huge stage in the air) in March and in Arashiyama in December. I figured I could start in early afternoon to familialise myself with the place and do the location scouting before it gets dark, but as soon as I started walking and saw the colour full hill still scattered with colours of autumn in shade as the sun had already past to its west, I realised I should have been there in the morning, Early birds and photographers…

Maple leaves over the century-old moss - Adashino Nembutsuji Temple
the boundary
the scenary
大覚寺 回廊
corridor - Daikakuji Temple
Design of the temple
Design of the temple

I was too busy walking and looking for what may be just ahead of the next corner and the corner after that, but having not had lunch with a few hours of walking non-stop got me starved. But the problem is this is a tourist spot, and it is Kyoto; how could I expect good tasty food for reasonable price in a place like this? And Osakans are known for our fussy tastes with ordinary food. I walked around the main street, checked out the front of the large restaurants with tour buses, and passed the river and walked back along towards the Hankyu station. I think I have a nose for a good place and I know it when I see one. After walking for 15 minutes or so and getting even more hungry, I narrowed it down to two which are close to each other and decided to slide open the door of one which had a red banner flying with large letter saying ‘hand-made soba noodle’. Soba (buckwheat noodle, brown or green and rather crumbling) is not my favourite kind; Osakans generally love udon (flour-based, thick and chewy) more, but what choice do I have here? Also who can say no to ‘no extra charge for extra noodle’?

pork belly soba noodle set

‘Togakushi’ noodle house is on the Nakanoshima (middle island) area of Arashiyama, between the Togetsukyo Bridge and Hankyu station, in between the two river branches. Do try it. It is actually a very good noodle, subtle and tasty soup, fatty and tasty pork, and of course, pickled daikon radish (Kyoto is famous for its delicate tastes of pickles).

Sun sets over Katsura River
Deer and Moon, how classic
reflection in Arashiyama
reflection in Arashiyama
A pier
town for sleeping
Togetsukyo Bridge painted with colourful lights

Hana-toro started as the sun set, and the place got very crowded as visitors arrived from train stations. Togetsukyo Bridge and the hill on the back of town are brightly lit with saturated colours, and looked to me like a girl who looks her best being natural but was made up with excessive amount of cosmetics and white powders. I couldn’t quite enjoy the look of it. The lit trail in the bamboo forest that looked pretty in brochure was naturally filled with non-stop queue of visitors and was no place for a decent photo opportunity. And I didn’t plan to stay till late at night when there may be less of the crowd, nor did I have a chance to come back during the week while it is still taking place, as I was set to go for a trip from Monday morning. I chose a quiet dark path in the back of town and made my way back towards the Katsura. Now there are dozens of photographers standing every metre along the river bank with their tripod and big camera all pointed towards the famous bridge and the hill behind it. Sure, you enjoy taking the same photo as everyone else, I thought. I’d buy a postcard than pushing each other to secure my spot and the perfect angle, of what, a girl with too much make-up? I made a quick shot of it without even looking carefully through my view finder, and continued walking back to my train.