I used to be better at photography. Somewhere along the line, I got lazy and started letting my cameras do the work for me. In these posts (Outtakes) I’ll talk about some of the ways I’m re-training myself and trying to break out of the ruts I’ve gotten stuck in.
Hanami, Hanami, Hanami Again
It’s hanami (cherry blossom viewing) season again and that means it’s time for my annual attempt to take photos of the cherry blossoms that don’t look like every other photo of cherry blossoms that are out there. For an example of one I really like (that I took, years ago) take a look at this one on my Society 6 page.
This year, we decided to go to a local hanami festival held by an onsen (hot springs resort) for a day out and to scarf up all the seasonal treats we could find. And to maybe take a few photos. And, as so often happens, I did take a lot of photos that I was quite happy with in-camera, only to become disappointed with the second I saw them on a large screen. So, this write-up will talk a little bit about what I wanted to achieve and what I could or should have done differently.
Let’s start with the conditions we found at the park: the weather was cool and overcast; it had rained that morning so water droplets covered every surface. Every once in a while, slight breeze crept up and stirred up the flowers and the surface of the pond. Workers at the festival sent the occasional gust of steam and smoke up from their grills and fires. It was, in short, very pleasant.
One of the biggest issues any photographer faces is Gear Acquisition Syndrome. There is always one more piece of (expensive, shiny) kit that will allow us to make the perfect photo. Running right alongside GAS is shoulder fatigue brought on by trying to carry too much equipment at one time.
The remedy to both these problems is to travel light and to force yourself to use what you’ve got on hand. This not only makes you rely on, and thus know intimately, your equipment, but it forces you to look at scenes creatively and to try to find new angles and approaches that suit your on-hand gear.
I hadn’t bothered preparing any kit beyond my camera and my favorite lens. I’ve been trying, in recent years, to combat Gear Acquisition Syndrome and to relieve some of the weight from my camera bag. Which means keeping as light a kit as possible and learning to work with what you have.
I took only my Pentax K-3 and my Tamron 90mm. Neither of these is pro-level gear. They are, at best, prosumer, and more realistically high-end amateur. That’s not to excuse my lack of results, but to illustrate that the point of this is to work with what you’ve got, not what you wish you had.
Also, having said that, I love both pieces of kit. Pentax have always done well by me, starting with the K1000 I learned on back in high school, and continuing through various bodies and the transition to digital that brings us to today. Likewise, my very first camera kit had a Tamron 90mm Macro lens that I just loved and I was delighted when I learned that the lens had been updated for the digital era.
I hoped that the macro abilities of the Tamron would let me get in nice and close on some flowers while also letting me capture the occasional larger scene if I could get enough distance from it.
The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
The good news is that I got lots of great pictures of my kid. Very natural, very spontaneous pictures that will go into the family photo albums with a few comments about the day and what she did. So, good job, Dad.
But I wanted to get pictures of flowers. I rate the day as moderately successful. I succeeded in capturing a few nice individual blossoms, and the Tamron was indeed able to get nice and close enough that I could fill the frame and still focus on all the key details.
I was also able to get one nice scene – the photo in the gallery above of the road with the cherry blossoms framing it – but it took very little thought. It was almost more of a lucky snap than a composed photo. And that’s not a bad thing, but I feel like if I had taken more time and thought about my manual settings more I might have been able to do a little better.
The disappointments, for me, are that the colors in the final images are so muted. Although I was conscious of my surroundings and settings, I need to read up more on how to make my colors pop even with such an overcast sky. (Back in the day, I would have been able to use different kinds of film to achieve the best colors. These days…research.)
Most importantly, and truthfully, outside the scope of this post – my family and I had a great day out at the park and festival. Something I feel is important to remember when I start getting super critical of my own work and fretting over how I could have done better is that we enjoyed our time as a family and I was grabbing photos in between playing with my kid.
That said, my biggest failure in this session was to account for the movement caused by small breezes that I didn’t even notice. Which is to say, I knew the wind was there, but I did not think about how it would cause small tremors in the branches and the flowers that would cause my focus to shift at slower shutter speeds. Given the condition of the lighting, I feel like the addition of a simple tripod to my kit would have given me a lot more control over the situation and let me produce a lot more images.
And I think that’s the take-away: keeping my kit small is important, but a tripod is such a useful tool, that having a collapsible one in the back of the car is worth the money and hassle just so that it’s there when needed.
Not a bad day, not terrible photos, but not great either. I managed to get a few images, but they’re not world-changing and they don’t have much to say other than “hey, here are some flowers.” And that’s ok, but I’ll throw a tripod in the kit for next time and see if I can do better.