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Mindful Photography

I’d set my camera’s intervalometer to take 400 shots at 8-second intervals, I’d be at this spot for some time. Before me in the far distance stood the Tanzawa mountains, unfortunately, obscured by clouds today and just out of reach of my 16-55 lens Fuji lens. However, tonight I was here for the sunset and the rolling clouds. With the camera set and securely clamped to a wall on the rooftop car-park of my local shopping centre, I took a deep breath and watched the evening clouds float by one by one as if being pulled by invisible strings. The glowing sky illuminated by the last light of the day’s sun, as my part of the Earth rotated into the cool darkness of the night. With nothing to do as my camera went about its business, I stood there, observing the evening sky and marvelling at nature’s generosity. She provides us with a sunrise and a sunset every day, I often wonder how I manage to miss so many of them. But not tonight, I’m here and absorbed in this pocket of time. No thoughts of work, past memories or future plans could penetrate my mind and disturb the moment, I felt truly present.

Photographs are usually captured in fractions of a second, no sooner have you pressed the button, the pleasant sound of the shutter signals the end of the moment and it’s onto the next composition. But nature moves slowly and should be enjoyed at a leisurely pace.
How can we combine the mechanical speed and precision of photography and the slowness of the natural world, I’ve recently been practising two approaches that allow for a much slower and contemplative pace and I’d like to share them with you.


The first approach is shooting a time-lapse, that’s what I was doing on the roof of my local shopping centre. Ironically a time-lapse, when played back actually speeds up time, the clouds travel across the sky in seconds, but actually capturing a sequence of still images for a time-lapse is a long process measured in minutes not seconds, giving you plenty of time to be present and enjoy the passing of time and subtle changes of nature.
Many digital cameras have a time-lapse function but if not you can buy an intervalometer, they aren’t that expensive, you can set the number of images you want to take and the time between each shot, you will also need a tripod. All that’s left is to forget the past and not think about the future, just be present in the moment.


My second approach is long exposure photography and my favourite subject to capture is water, especially the many beautiful flowing Tanzawa rivers and waterfalls; the sound of flowing water and the roar of a cascade are music to my ears and increase the pleasure of the moment ten-fold. The silky dreamy images have an air of magic about them and always bring a smile to my face. To make a long exposure you need to limit the amount of light hitting your sensor (or film), to do this use an ND (neutral density filter) they come in a range of densities. Blocking the light will increase the amount of time the shutter needs to be open for a correct exposure. I have a variable ND which lets me dial in how much light to block, from 1 stop of light to up to 10 depending on what effect I want.

If you haven’t tried these techniques please give them a try and enjoy the time in-between pressing the shutter button and the end of the exposure or time-lapse. It’s the perfect chance to really absorb the scene in front of you and notice some of the smaller details.
Do you have any other approaches to mindful photography? Please let me know below.

Keep exploring!

Sam

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2020 Hike #2. Tonodake 1491m

I’ve always been a daydreamer, I’ve always had my head in the clouds of my self-made universe.

It was a hot summers day in Tanzawa, I’d left the city behind to escape the noise and pollution. I sought a simple way to spend the day, walking, observing, and talking about life (and photography) with my friend.

Our destination Tonodake, an old favourite, we took a new path to the top but there’s no easy way up, no shortcut to the summit, as we discovered later that day.

We headed to Ameyama pass, the morning sun poured through the forest canopy and splintered into fragments that scattered our trail with the magical light of a Ghibli movie. The trail clung tightly to the river banks and the refreshing music of the river accompanied us to Yushin, the heart of the Tanzawa mountains. 

As we reached Yushin, the terrain abruptly changed and we made our way along a wide rocky road high above the roaring river, landslides blocked our way, each one progressively more difficult to pass than the previous one. The final level almost defeating us. 

We stopped for lunch at an old abandoned lodge along the river, a once-grand place to stay in the heart of the mountains, now a shadow of its former self. It proved to be a great place to take a break and we soaked in the atmosphere and restored our energy.

Our journey continued and we came to a fork in the road and almost went off track, we quickly realized and turned back, this journey was already proving to be a tough challenge but the hardest part was yet to come. We finally crossed the hot, barren rocky river and began our accent to Tonodake, the last leg of our journey.

The final push to the top took us to our physical limits, the relentless summer heat had really taken its toll and our legs were tired from hiking most of the day. Now the mental battle began. 

After a lot breaks, just before the summit, we were rewarded for our efforts, a drink from a fresh mountain spring. Cool, clear, freshwater reviving our spirits and replenishing our bottles.

We finally reached the top, we sat and imagined Mount Fuji in the distance and we enjoyed the chilly grey air. 

My head once more in the clouds.

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My Last Camera…[?] • Exploring Creativity

As a passionate photographer, having a good camera is important to me, although I truly believe great art can be made with just about any picture device or homemade contraption. I enjoy researching, buying and using camera gear but it can be a very slippery slope and I can easily waste hours of valuable creative time filling my wishlist with things I don’t need now and won’t ever need. I bounce around the internet from review site to YouTube video to Amazon; the cycle repeats and my shopping basket spirals out of control.

Perevious cameras I’ve owned:

  • Canon AE1 Program (film)
  • Canon A1 (film)
  • Mamiya 645E (film)
  • Canon G3
  • Canon ProShot 1
  • Canon S90
  • Nikon D7100
  • Canon GX7 MII
  • Fuji XT20

I no longer own any of the above cameras, they’ve been and gone and I enjoyed using everyone of them but now it’s time to move on. I recently purchase a Fuji XT4 🙂 By far the most expensive and most sophisticated camera I’ve ever bought. I hope it will be my last.

Why have I bought an XT4? The photographer label I’ve worn proudly for over 20 years is slowly coming unstuck and I feel the need to add a few more labels to my creative toolbox and explore some new artistic trails. Not only is the XT4 a fantastic stills camera it’s also an amazing tool for capturing video and that’s the path I’m now taking. I’m putting a new sticky label on my toolbox. I’ve a lot to learn as I’m starting from scratch. The first stop will hopefully be a YouTube video. The final destination? I’ve no idea but I do know I want to explore this path as far as I can, to see where it takes me.

I’ll be taking detours and wondering off the path from time to time, I want to explore other creative arts, especially traditional Japanese crafts and tell more stories about the people, traditions and beauty of Tanzawa. I hope you’ll join me on this new journey.

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Tanzawa Explorer Evolution.

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They settle into the nooks and crannies of our hard drives, they hover over us in the cloud, they clog up our pockets with 0s and 1s.

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What do you do with your digital photos? I love photography, I love hiking in Tanzawa; I have a lot of images to manage and organize. But no matter how well-ordered my digital archives are, my images are still just 1s and 0s.

Last year I decided to do something about this and make a zine about Tanzawa, I’d never made one before but I saw a great chance to pick-up some new skills and have a new creative trail to explore. A chance to export my images from my hard drive and import them onto paper. I’d have something more tactile to share and to look back on. I also liked the thought of expressing my passion for Tanzawa through words as well as pictures.

Recently, with more free time than usual, I’ve been sorting out my possessions and I came across my first attempts at making a D.I.Y. zine. I wanted to make it at home and I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on it so I tried to make a zine from a single piece of A4 paper. When folded and cut you can make a small eight page zine, however when I say small, I mean really small. This was my first zine making lesson, I needed to go bigger. OK, same format but I’ll print onto A3 instead, at the time I didn’t have an A3 printer so I had to print it at my local convenience store – the cost started to rise. The result: not bad, a little bigger, a little more room for my photos but still not what I wanted – my second lesson in zine production and an evolution. Lets try a different approach, I’ll make a booklet and staple it together and call it Sanpo (the word for walk in Japanses). My zine was evolving and I was enjoying the process.

I set off with my USB stick to Kinkos print shop in Yokohama. I was very pleased with the result, my zine looked and felt professional but…………it wasn’t cheap, there’s no way I could afford to print 100 copies (my goal).

The next evolution.

How can my words and images reach a larger audience while keeping costs low? The answer: tanzawaexplorer.com and that’s the story so far. How will this site evolve? What is the next stepping-stone across the river? I’m not sure, but I’m enjoying creating while also learning and growing. While writing this I realised that my images have come full circle and returned to 0 & 1’s, but it has been a great journey and maybe the next step will be a Tanzawa Explorer book and I can set my pixels free from the computer and import them onto paper.

The conclusion

Start something new, something you know little about. It will be messy and hard at the start but once you climb that first incline and see some progress, you’ll have a clearer view of the land and you’ll find new paths and opportunities you wouldn’t of seen otherwise.

Thanks for reading, keep exploring and creating.

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Catching up with a friend, taking a closer look and letting go of control.

2020.6 #1 AZEGAMARU 1239m

THE HIKE

Waiting for the day’s first train at the station, it’s 5am and my mask is ready to go on. There are more people here than I was expecting and I feel a little nervous to be taking the train, something I haven’t done for months due to the relentless spread of the virus, now thankfully under some kind of control in Japan. As the mountains grow bigger I’m pleased to see more hikers boarding the train, I can almost feel their anticipation and longing for the mountains as they sit and chat like exotic birds in their multi-colored hiking gear.

I got of the train and found my friend parked at the station, we exchanged a fist bump rather than the usual handshake and we set of for the Tanzawa visitor’s center. We parked the car and walked down to the start of the trail which is opposite the Otaki campsite. Today’s circular route will lead us back to the visitor’s center. We did this route last year at the tail end of winter when there was still a bite of cold in the air and the trees were bare. This time a fresh green canopy sheltered us from the sun but a lack of fitness and the humidity ensured we worked up a good sweat.

1293m up and we reached the top Mt. Azegamaru, a nice cool breeze cooled us down but the buzzing of curious summer flies meant we couldn’t fully relax. But not to worry because the next part of journey is what I’ve been looking forward to most.

The journey down is easy going and the trail takes us down to the river, where the cold water flows from rock to rock and so does my creativity…

THE PHOTOGRAPHY

GEAR: FujiFilm XT20 paired with the Fuji 60mm F2.4 macro.

After successfully capturing the sunrise from Tonodake, I wanted to move from the wider landscape shots to the smaller details of Tanazawa, so I opted for my 60mm macro, an amazing lightweight, incredibly sharp lens I’d picked up second-hand last year. It meant I was restricted to more intimate compositions but I find having some constraints forces me to be more creative (and who really wants to carry all of their heavy camera gear on a long hot and humid hike anyway).

On the way up I’d found some beautiful mushrooms growing on an old fallen tree, a perfect subject for my macro lens. I’m not sure what type of mushrooms they are, if anyone can identify them please let me.

Nature alone is an antique, and the oldest art is a mushroom.

Thomas Carlyle

My camera didn’t really come out again until we descended from the the top of Mt. Azegamaru and reached the river (our playground). This is what I’d been waiting for, this was the prize at the end of the hike, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. This river would lead us back to the visitor’s center and my camera wouldn’t be returned to the bag until we reached the car.

Man is most nearly himself when he achieves the seriousness of a child at play.

Heraclitus 500 BCE, philosopher

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect but by the play instinct.

Carl Jung

I think hiking along a Tanzawa river is one of my favorite things in life. Every season offers something special, the icicles hanging from rocks in winter, the refreshingly cold waters of spring, the colorful array of leaves making their journey down the rapids in autumn and the refreshing sound that mentally cools you down during the hot humid summer. The rivers bring my emotions to the surface and it’s sometimes hard to try and capture that feeling with a technically perfect image, instead I like to play and explore the river like a child.

When our trail connected to the river I buried any thoughts of F-stops, shutter speeds, white balance and ISO settings, discarded control and experimented. The river is never still, it’s always in motion so I set my ISO to 100, my aperture to F22 my shutter speed to auto (this would give me a very long shutter speed). I no longer had to worry about the settings, I criss crossed the river, jumping from rock to rock I began to move my camera with the flow of water. This technique is actually called ICM (Intentional Camera Movement) the long shutter speeds combined with the cameras movement produces an abstract painterly effect. I hope you enjoy viewing the images as I did making them. Please get in touch if your interested in purchasing an image from this set or any of the other images on this site. Thanks for reading.

3 composition rules to master, bend and break.

This is a short beginner level tutorial on composing your Tanzawa images. Composition is about finding balance and harmony between the elements in your shot, it also helps the viewer to understand what is important in your image. I want to share three rules that help me in my photography, the first is the rule of thirds. I think this is the easiest and one of the most effective tools for creating a harmonious image.

So what is the rule of thirds?

When looking through the viewfinder, imagine the scene cut up into nine equal sections, like the image below.

As you can see the main element (the tree on the right) falls on or very near to the two intersections on the right. Placing your main focal point on any of the intersections will help create a pleasing and interesting image, I could of placed the tree in the centre but sometimes symmetry can be boring, where-as asymmetrical compositions allow the viewer’s eyes to explore the image.

OK, I get the rule of thirds, what are the other two rules you use ?

The next trick I’d like to share is the leading lines technique, please take a look at the image below:

Do you notice how the lines lead you into the photo, in this example they don’t lead to a main element but I wanted to capture the mystery of wandering a twisty, forested Tanzawa path with this one.

Onto the last technique now. One way to add depth and dynamism to your images is to try and create diagonal lines when composing your shot.

The diagonal lines running through this image create some nice patterns and also add a sense of depth to what is technically just a 2D picture. The intersecting diagonals create points on interest for the viewer but be careful not to over-do this one as you could end up with a very chaotic composition that may confuse the viewer.

I hope this short composition tutorial has been useful, there are many more composition techniques but these three are a good start to creating some great image of Tanzawa. Think of composition as visual signposts for the viewer, you can nudge them to the most important elements and leave them satisfied or intrigued.

I’d like to do more short tutorials, please let me know in the comments if this one was useful to you.

Keep exploring nature whenever you can, wherever you can and thanks for reading.

A-Z of Tanzawa

A is for Mt. Azegamaru
An easy hike to start of this list.
B is for bears
I haven't met one yet and I hope I don't.
C is for chopsticks
You can't eat cup-noodles with your fingers
D is for dictionary 
See entry for X.
E is for energy
You'll need it.
F is for frozen fingers 
Sometimes you have to take of your gloves to get the shot.
G is for granola 
A quick easy breakfast before sunrise.
H is for health 
One of the many benefits of hiking.
I is for incline 
Be prepared for some steep ones.
J is for Japan 
Where you can find amazing food and amazing hiking, a perfect combination.
K is for keys 
Don't loose them on the mountain, keep them safe.
L is for lost in your thoughts  
Hiking clears the mind of stresses and makes space for day-dreaming.
M is for monkeys  
There are around 10 troops living in Tanzawa.
N is for noodles  
Every hiker's best friend.
O is for opportunities to go hiking   
Look for them everywhere and don't miss them.
P is for pen and paper  
Nature is a great catalyst for inspiration.
Q is for quiet   
That's the way I like it.
R is for rolls of film   
Make sure you have enough.
S is for snow   
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow...
T is for Tom   
My mate from Satoyama Seasons, a good friend and an even better navigator.
U is for umbrella  
Do you take one?
V is for vendetta  
I love that movie so much.
W is for water  
Take plenty.
X is for xtra batteries  
So you can carry-on shooting until after sunset, see entry 
for D.
Y is for youth  
Hiking in Tanzawa keeps you youthful.
Z is for zealous   
Be zealous in your pursuits.

Thanks for reading to the end of this list. I really enjoyed making it. I’d love to read your A-Z of something or somewhere you care about it. Please link your list in the comments.

Mt. Tonodake Sunrise

There’s a sunrise and a sunset every single day, and they’re absolutely free. Don’t miss so many of them.

Jo Walton
  • CAMERA: FujiFilm XT20
  • LENS: 16-55mm F2.8

This was my second attempt at capturing the sunrise from the top of Mt. Tonodake 塔ノ岳. For the first attempt, myself and two friends hiked up this mountain during the night and reached the summit just in time for sunrise only to find ourselves in a cloud and unable to see 2 meters ahead. Disappointing but I still managed to find and capture this image.

Lone Tree

Watching the sunrise from the top of this mountain was at the top of my wishlist so we gave it another go, this time we hiked to Mt. Tanzawa from Miyagase Dam and stayed the night in the mountain hut. This was the first time I’d stayed there and it’s an experience I won’t forget.

The Mountain Hut (let’s start with the good)

  • The food was amazing.
  • They had a small TV and we watched the Rugby World Cup final!
  • Everyone there was extremely kind and friendly

The not so good…

  • They pack as many people as they can into the sleeping area, my friend and shared 1 tatami mat.
  • The cacophony of snoring was something else!
  • It was ridiculously hot

Unsurprisingly we didn’t sleep at all and left the hut at around four in the morning and made our way to Mt. Tonodake (about an hours hike away), we stopped for breakfast and watched the city lights down below.

We arrived at Mt. Tonodake just in time to watch the sunrise and we weren’t disappointed.

Is there a finer view in Kanagawa?
  • CAMERA: FujiFilm XT20
  • LENS: 16-55mm F2.8
  • NOTES: I used a tripod and shot a four frame panorama and processed the image in Lightroom.

A winter hike

What good is the warmth of summer, without the cold of winter to give it sweetness.

John Steinbeck
  • CAMERA: Canon GX7 II
  • ADAPTOR: Lensmate Quick-Change Filter Adapter Kit
  • FILTER: 10 stop ND

After reading about another possible disused logging railway line in Tanzawa my friend Satoyama Seasons and I went out searching for it…

Having a purpose for our hike was the motivation I needed to pack my hiking bag and camera gear and head to Tanzawa. We didn’t find anything this time and maybe our information was wrong but not finding any evidence of the railway mattered little, the searching was the most important part for us and ensured our senses were engaged as we travelled along the icy cold rapids of the river which eventually lead to the icy waterfall below.

Using the Canon GX7 II for nature and landscape photography was a great experience, it’s such small and lightweight camera that you don’t even notice your carrying it in your bag and you can easily slip it into you pocket and have it instantly ready to shoot. Having the Lensmate adapter and 10 stop ND filter allowed me to get the long exposure for the first image of the icicle. I think if you’re only printing to A4 (although I think you could get away with A3 if you use a low ISO), you’re just posting online or just love the process of hiking and observing the world through a frame, a small high end compact camera like the Canon is an excellent alternative to carrying around a big heavy SLR / DSLR.

  • CAMERA: Canon GX7 II

Hiking in the rain

“The best thing one can do when it’s raining is to let it rain.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

As we set out from Okura bus stop on our hike to Mt. Tonodake it began to rain and out came the leeches looking for a tasty meal, undeterred by the rain and little blood suckers we continued and after the gruelling climb we eventually rose above the clouds. I took the above image on the way up and the image below shows the amazing view we enjoyed while drying-off and eating our lunch. I’d been looking forward to my cup noodles and after boiling the water and a two minute wait while they cooked I was ready to tuck in only to discover I’d left my chopsticks at home! Hot tasty instant noodles and nothing to eat them with, I considered fashioning a set of chopsticks from a couple of twigs but decided against it, instead I went into the mountain hut and managed to buy a set of waribashi (disposable chopsticks) for ¥50.

  • CAMERA: Nikon D7100 (both images)