When reality bites…

I recently took a trip to photograph wildlife in Japan. I went with expectations that I would feel the stillness, calm, and isolation that is often portrayed in the Japanese winter and wildlife photos that I have viewed. The reality is that the destinations are actually lined with photographers, tripods, and long glass all staking out their slice of prime territory.

With each passing year it gets easier to travel to far-flung places. The Internet provides near real-time access to iconic shots taken at these locations and spurs the desire for many to visit. I myself fall into this category in some respects. I want those iconic photos; however, I also want to deliver something different than others. I want to capture that extra special face or moment. I want to capture an image that lets the viewer feel an emotional connection to the location.

Today’s world can make this very challenging. The stewards of many of the world’s iconic locations shuffle you along a predetermined route to a predetermined spot to take a predetermined photo. Enter our new “smart cameras” that, if given free reign, “optimize” every camera setting for you. Your trip to the other side of the world is now almost guaranteed to yield photos that very closely match those taken by many other photographers making that same trip. On this particular trip to Japan, which just happens to be the home of both Nikon and Canon, the myriad of tourists were joined by a legion of local residents sporting high-end Nikon and Canon gear ready to capture the same photographic facsimile.

At the monkey park, isolating monkeys and their interaction with one another was one of the few shots that one could get without other photographers in the frame. Even then, the prime spots were filled two to three photographers deep. I had expected that photographing the Japanese Red Cranes in the “less iconic” location of Hokkaido to be different. That was a bad assumption. The birds were fed at pre-determined, published times. Everyone comes shortly before those times to set up and wait for the birds to fly in. Tripods are lined up around fenced areas and tiered ledges. The cameras are ready for battle. Fast shutter speeds and high frames per second prevail.

To create something different and unique when your reality is staged for you takes a bit of thought. First, remember where you are, think about the culture, and even look to the past. Being in Japan, I started to think about the delicate, artistic fine art pieces and how these birds would be were represented when used in such work. There was snow on the ground, but none coming down on the birds. There were somewhat ugly branches in the background, which needed to be downplayed.

Duplicating what I did last year in Palouse (see Multiple exposure…) I used a slow shutter speed to blur the straight lines of the trees. I then sought out flocks of cranes that had enough separation between each other to visually tell the story. Using multiple exposures on my camera I created soft, low contrast, ghostlike images. The images were gentle and delicate – much like how I envision these birds. It became graphic, minimalistic, and all about shape, lines, and form.

By using this multiple exposure technique, I created a mood that was not visually there, but representative of my concept and idea of the location.

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