Sunday, December 26, 2010

Merry Christmas

It's my 2nd year in a row to spend the Christmas season away from home. Although I miss my family and the warmth of the my home country, it is not as depressing as I thought it was gonna be. Japan is really a very nice place to live in. The Japanese may not share the same Christmas spirit we have back at home so it is always nice that I have good friends to celebrate Christmas with. So, all is still good.

This was shot at Kyoto Station last October. They already had a Christmas tree that early. A lot of couples dating in this area and torridly kissing in public. =)

Kyoto Station Christmas Tree

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Golden Sunset of Lago de Oro

Next month I will be returning to my beloved country the Philippines. And I'm looking forward to my trips outside Manila. I want to go to Palawan, Bohol, Pinatubo, Boracay etc. But my schedule is too tight, I have to attend my friend's wedding and also spend time with my family. I just hope I could shoot sunsets like this one when I go home because I'm running out of interesting pictures in my hard drive.

This shot is newbie shot of a sunset in HDR. It was taken more than a year ago. This is one of the few lucky shots where it turned out to be OK. It was badly composed so I had to crop and align it with the horizon. Exposure was also horrible. The only correct thing I did was to shoot in RAW so I was able to recover some details during post processing. I love how the sun is so round and golden. I've never seen a sunset like this even here in Japan (Maybe because I'm working too much). So when I get back, I will be looking for sunsets like this one.

Checkout my HDR Workflow to learn how I make my images
HDR Workflow

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The Golden Sunset of Lago de Oro

Friday, December 17, 2010

Northern Star of Mt Fuji

Almost forgot to post my photo for the day. As with all the previous photos, most of the involve Mt. Fuji. Probably this will be the last Mt. Fuji picture for this month because it's really getting stale. So, I will try to dig up more pictures from other places and see if my post processing skills have improved.

This shot had to be taken because I saw the cute ducks in the area. I could get near because it was very muddy. I sank when I tried to come closer. Also, the Sun was aligned with the mountain making me think the it's the northern star guiding the wise men towards the mountain. (LOL) Also, the sun rays bursting from the clouds made the shot a lot more interesting.

Checkout my HDR Workflow to learn how I make my images
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The Northern Star.. LOL

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Boats of Kawaguchiko

Can you find Mt. Fuji? It somewhere there hidden in the clouds. You can see at least part of its famous snow cap. Although the clouds are amazing, I'd rather prefer a good clean shot of Mt Fuji as the sun came down. I can get beautiful sunsets at my place back in Kanagawa but never a shot with Mt. Fuji and a sunset

Checkout my HDR Workflow to learn how I make my images
HDR Workflow

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Boats of Kawaguchiko

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

When Fuji Was A Little Shy

Shot in the middle of the day. Not really the perfect time for HDR however the sky was really blown out so I needed the extra exposure for the sky.

This is one of many pictures that I was trying to include Mt. Fuji in the frame. The mountain was already a little shy as half of it were already covered in clouds. It was such an unlucky day for us to visit the mountain on such a cloudy day. I wanna go back here again on spring to properly capture its beauty

Interested on how I create my HDR images? Then kindly visit my site below

When Fuji Was A Little Shy

Tuesday, December 14, 2010


I find the grungy HDR look on abandoned structures really suitable because it brings out the contrast and details of the image. Obviously, I am no so versed with the kind of HDR so here is my half baked attempt on trying to add some grunge to the image. For interior shots with bright windows, -3 to +3 with 1 stop increments is necessary to capture all the detail inside and outside the house. Unfortunately, I forgot to do that. I could have brought more detail outside the window and on the corners of the image.

This was shot near the Momiji Tunnel in Kawaguchiko. It was my friend's dream to shoot an abandoned structure so we definitely had to check out the place. Good thing here were no scary animals or insects near the area so I was safe to shoot around the place

If you are interested in learning my general workflow on how I create HDR images, please visit my site below


Monday, December 13, 2010

Backstreets of Gion

Had a disappointing weekend. Went all over Tokyo just to find the Galaxy S Android phone but to no avail. Every store we go is out of stock. They say it will be available hopefully by January next year. When I decided to get an iPhone4 instead, I was not eligible for the 24 month installment plan because the validity of my working visa has less than 2 years on it. What I hate more about it is that if I came 3 days earlier, I would still have 2 years on my visa. (Yes I was only late for 3 days). I didn't realize the network provider (Softbank) was this strict. I could get an iPhone4 if only I buy the phone completely in just one magical swipe of the plastic card. But I can't afford the hefty 57k yen price tag. So, my attempt to become an Apple Fanboy ended in dismay and disappointment.

On to my image for the day. If you carry your tripod like a nerd (as Trey Ratclif would say), low light shooting is definitely not problem. I love low light shooting because it is even easier to remove the tourists in the shot. Shutter speed would be around 30 seconds for this to work. So, just make sure to set you ISO really low and an a really high aperture value. Anyone who just passed will not even register in the sensor.

Backstreets of Goin

Friday, December 10, 2010

Arashiyama River Banks

After our short mystical trip to the Bamboo Forest, we headed out for the Oi River of Arashiyama. It was not as colorful yet as expected but still I had to take the shot for documentation purposes.

It was so cloudy, I really had a hard time fixing this photo. Adding a little brightness washes up the photo easily. And adding contrast brings most of the detail back to backs. I did local adjustments both in Lightroom and Photoshop to make the photo a little acceptable.

If interested, I have my general workflow on how to create HDR images. Do check it out

Arashiyama River Banks

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Forget Mt Fuji Just Shoot the Sunset

When I was in Kawaguchiko, all my compositions tried to include the glorious Mt. Fuji. When the iconic mountain became shy, I had no choice but to completely ignore it's presence and just compose the photo like a normal sunset.

Check out my HDR workflow below if you are interested in finding out how I create this images
HDR Workflow

Forget Mt Fuji Just Shoot the Sunset

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Which Path Do We Take?

The incredible gates of Fushimi Inari! No doubt in my mind that this is the most magical/mystical place in Kyoto. I waited almost half an hour just to get a clean shot. Fail! I got tired of waiting because I had more places to visit that day. Too bad I didn't get the shots I want but I intended this to be an ocular visit only. So next time I come back, I'll make sure I'll get it.

For this shot I used textures one again because the plain shot was really boring in my opinion. Whenever I feel that the shot didn't capture the essence of the place even after post-processing, I tried to add something extra, like a texture, or convert it to black and white, or creative filter or when worse comes to worst I even discard the image. This image was close to being discarded.... but I LOVE KYOTO... so here it is now! LOL!

If you're interested, I have my HDR workflow below. Please do check it out
HDR Workflow

Which Path Do We Take?

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pagoda of Kiyomizu-dera

It was so cloudy that day that it was hard to get some details from the sky. I resort to creativity when the picture doesn't come out right even after all my editing work. Textures is my usual go to technique to turn a dull picture into something a little less dull (LOL).

A big thanks to skeletalmess for this texture. I'm thinking if I should create a simple guide on how to use textures to add a little bit of creativity to your images.

I have shared my HDR workflow just in case you are interested to know how I create this images

Pagoda of Kiyomizu-dera

Monday, December 6, 2010

Kyoto's Golden Pavilion

The Kinakaku-ji (Golden Pavilion) is one of three must visit places in Kyoto (other two is the Fushimi Inari and Kiyomizu-dera). Locating a good vantage point of the Golden Pavilion is really easy because the temple itself and its garden is so beautiful, it's almost impossible to find a bad angle.

Reflection of a Golden Pavilion

The view from the back-side is also magnificent. 

Golden Pavilion

And reflections are perfect.

Cliche Golden Pavilion

The only thing I hate about this place is that tripods are not allowed. I had to bump up my ISO to increase my shutter speeds for hand-held bracketing.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

HDR Workflow

Everyone has their own workflow - whether it's uniquely your own, borrowed or a derivative of another. HDR requires a lot of work, therefore an efficient workflow is required to minimize your time for each HDR image you process.

There are a lot of tools you can use for you workflow, but I have found that the following programs are the best to use:
  • Lightroom - For organizing and performing essential editing of your photographs.
  • Photomatix - Arguably the best HDR merging software available. It also has plug-ins for Lightroom which makes this the first choice for your workflow
  • Photoshop - Who has used a different software other than photoshop? (I bet no one.)
With these 3, you are all set to select, merge, edit and touch up your beloved HDR images.

First, as many HDR tutorials I have seen, I'd like to show you where we are going with this workflow. Below is my final image posted in Flickr

The Bamboo Forest Trail

Below is my idiot proof workflow when I processing my HDR image.

1. Select your bracketed photos.
I always group them into stacks to avoid clutter which makes them easier to manage.

2. Export bracketed photos to Photomatix.
Just right click on one photo and go to Export->Photomatix Pro.
Note: It is important that the Lightroom plug-in is checked when installing the Photomatix software.

3. Set the settings before the HDR merging process.
  • "Align images by matching features" always seem to provide a good output so I always leave them on even if I used a tripod while shooting.
  • I leave the "Crop aligned result" unchecked because I want to do the cropping myself.
  • For the ghost, noise and chromatic aberrations, I do it inside photoshop so I leave it unchecked as well.
  • Finally, I wish to import my HDR image back to Lightroom together with it's source images. Isn't that extremely useful? Hit the "Export" button and you're one your way to Photomatix

4. Start from default settings in Photomatix.
Whenever you load a new image, set it to default because each image is different and it might require a different setting. If you believe me on that, then set it to default by selecting it in the Presets at the lower left.

5. Set your desired Photomatix adjustments.
Some people spend an awful lot of time in this process thinking they would be able to create the final image. In some images it may be possible, but 70% of the time Photomatix cannot generate your perfect image in mind. What Photomatix can do is most of the dynamic range of the photo, so I process the contrast, saturation, exposure adjustments either in Lightroom and/or Photoshop. Given that, the only sliders I change are the following
  • Strength - I set this to 100% and leave it there no matter what image I'm processing since I can always mix the original picture to reduce the HDRness of the photos. It looks better when masking the original photo rather than reducing the slider.
  • Microcontrast - This is to add a little punch to the picture. But I don't change much since my editing software will do a much better job.
  • Smoothing - This is the slider I play with the most. Move it from 0 - 10 until you find a setting that suits your taste but for the love of God, don't set it to the negative values!
After changing those settings, I hit the Save and re-import button. Everything else I adjust at Lightroom and Photoshop. Note that I don't do those grungy/surreal HDR style because I find them really horrible. (Sorry, it is a matter of preference)

6. Move HDR image to the top of the stack.
This is not really an important step to make you image look better but I find it useful when I am reviewing my library. I would instantly know if the stack I created already has an HDR image especially when it is collapsed.

7. Load the image to the Develop module.
So finally, here we are at Lightroom to adjust all the things we need to adjust to make this image standout. I usually follow the 7 point system when editing (technically, it's 6 since you cannot modify the camera profiles).
  • Camera Profile
  • White Balance
  • Exposure
  • Contrast
  • Clarity/Vibrance
  • Fill Light
  • Local Adjustments
I suggest you get the DVD Scott Kelby's 7-Point System to better understand this. Scott Kelby teaches amazing stuff that will surely make your editing much better.

Before the adjustments

After the adjustments

Others would be satisfied with this image and would already export the image as a JPEG and upload it to their favorite photo sharing site. But if you're like me and would still like to do more retouching, we go to Photoshop to do this.

8. Load the image to Photoshop for further processing.
If Lightroom is the go-to guy for adding that je ne sais quoi or "that certain something" to your image, then Photoshop is the king when doing touch ups and repair to your photo.

I usually mix the original photo the the HDR image. I open the files as layers in Photoshop.

9. Align the images.
Just to make sure that the images are perfectly aligned, it won't hurt to perform this process. Sometimes the output of the photomatix changes the size of the HDR image. This step ensures the image sharpness when you are mixing the original photo.

10.Layer in the original photo.
Some people create a layer mask and start painting to mix the two pictures together. When I'm lazy, I usually just set the opacity from 50-70% depending of the picture.

And that's it. I'll save it and export it as a JPEG.

I originally planned this to be a screen cast but my laptop is just super slow. So please comment if you have any suggestions for improving my workflow. Comments are always appreciated =)

Below are my other photos that used the same workflow.

Forget Mt Fuji Just Shoot the Sunset

Star Road

Golden Pavilion

Shibuya Ghosts

Awesome Sunset Behind the Pagoda

Here is a magnificent sunset caught in Sensoji Temple in Asakusa. I've been here a couple of times and it is almost impossible to take a shot without capturing the tourists as well. So it is hard work for HDR photographers just to make the photo right. A lot of mixing was done with the original photo just to get rid of the ghosting. For some, they just shoot with a single exposure and just do a single RAW HDR image. But if a sunset is involved, I don't think it will capture so much detail. I usually bump up the ISO to minimize the movements of people so that it will be easier to mask them back to the HDR image.

Sunset Behind the Pagoda

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Cloudy Mt. Fuji Sunset

A slightly disappointing sunset from Kawaguchiko. I was expecting the iconic mountain of Japan standing tall with all its glory as the sun comes down. Unfortunately, the clouds suddenly came and covered almost all of the mountain. Only part of the foot can be seen from the mountain =( Good thing the clouds were interesting enough for me to take the shot and enjoy the moment as the sun sets.

Cloudy Mt. Fuji Sunset

Friday, December 3, 2010

Smooth Flow

This picture started as color but ended up in black and white when I couldn't balance the colors I wanted to see. I normally don't do black and white because I want to see colorful and vibrant images. However, when things don't go as planned in post processing, I try to salvage the picture by turning it to black and white. Don't get me wrong, a lot of picture are beautifully executed through b/w. I am just not that good with b/w yet to understand if a scene would look better that way.

This was shot near the Ryuzu Falls in Nikko. We were not able to reach the falls because the sun was coming down fast and we have no lights to guide us in the forest trail. We had to exit the trail soon and this was the best I could do.

Smooth  Flow

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Lost in the Forest

This was my third trip to Nikko for this year. And, I wish to see its transformation as the season changes to Autumn. So far, Winter is the only season that eludes me.

For this trip, our plan was to hike from Yumuto Onsen down towards the Chuenzji-ko. Theoretically, it is possible to accomplish this hike in one day because the trail is not so long and is inclined downward. However, we didn't take into consideration the beautiful scenery that enveloped us as we took each step down the trail. We couldn't resist to stop and take a picture almost every few meters because any shot angle we took was absolutely stunning.

As the sun was about to set, our pace became slower because the sky and the clouds were getting ready for the golden hour. It was just unfortunate that we were still somewhere in the forest trying to find our way out. In this shot, the sun glow was faintly present behind the trees. But what really caught my attention is the mirror-like river the guides our decent towards the lake.

Lost in the Forest

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Tokyo Star Road

Every time a friend of mine visits Tokyo, I always take them to Tokyo Tower. So I've been here quite a lot and I don't know why I still take take same pictures again and again. Tokyo's city lights are just mesmerizing and I am always drawn to the window to set up a shot.

I didn't bring my tripod because I don't want to be serious when I'm touring my friends but the urge to capture the beautiful city lights of Tokyo properly was too strong to resist. So, I ended up using my camera bag as my tripod to properly angle the shot correctly from the the ledge near the window. I had also a jacket with me to cover the camera to avoid any reflections from the window.

If you are interested on how I create my HDR images, check out my general HDR workflow below

Star Road

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dark Clouds Approaching

Normally, when the sun is coming down, the camera is always pointed to the sun. But this time, I saw awesome dark clouds approaching at the back so I just had to take a shot. Evidently, it revealed me and my friend's shadows.

Most photographers stay at one spot until the sun comes down. I, however, try to move a round a little, trying to find better angles as the sun comes down. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes I wished I just stayed at the same spot I started with. Nevertheless with sunset shots, you can never go wrong as you have your tripod and you plan to do HDR.

Dark Clouds Approaching at Sundown

Sunday, November 28, 2010

The Sun and Pavilion

Trying not to get cliche when taking the Kinkakuji. I tried to setup a shot where the sun and the temple are together making it double golden (LOL). But, it was too cloudy and the sun was not at full strength so just looks like a white ball from the back.

I shot is a 7 exposure shot (-3 to +3) hand held. For a Nikon, this would have been relatively easier. For a Canon user, I had to hit the shutter button 3 times just to get the dynamic range. (-3 -1 +1, -2 0 +2, -1 +1 +3). I just dropped the repeating exposures during post-processing.

It sucks to be a Canon user when doing HDR! It is unfortunate that I previously worked for a canon related company and tried to stay loyal. Should have gone to Nikon when I discovered HDR

Golden Pavillion

Friday, November 26, 2010

Zen Garden of Tenryuji Temple

When you can't use a tripod what do you usually do? I most of the time analyze the scene of a single exposure can capture the entire dynamic range without sacrificing my low ISO settings. If is is not possible, I crank up the ISO to a level where the highest exposure's shutter speed is well above 1/40. This is to avoid any camera shake during the shot. Photomatix Pro does a good job aligning the images.

Below is the shot of the Zen Garden of Tenryuji Temple. I was a horrible cloudy day to for us. So, when I saw the clouds clearing up a little, I went back to this area to shoot again. Autumn colors are always amazing.

Zen Gardens of Tenryuji Temple

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Yasaka Shrine Illumination

After our Geisha hunting in Gion, we decided to find more illuminated temples just before we go back to our hotel. Our legs were already killing us at this point, but it is not everyday we are here in Kyoto. I already saw a lot of picture of the Yasaka Shrine in Flickr and I found it really beautiful. What I didn't know is that the shrine was also located here Kyoto so when I saw the lanterns, my mood suddenly lit up and eventually forgot about my hurting feet.

I have a big problem when I am shooting night lights. There is too much lens flare with my Canon EF10-22USM lens. Is this because I shoot with long exposures? Or is my lens just broken? I hope it is the former. I will try to experiment with different night lights next time I'm out

Yasaka Shrine Illumination

Monday, November 22, 2010

Gliding Across the Steets of Gion

It is not everyday you see a woman like this unless you work in a Geisha house. As mentioned in my previous blog, we were like paparazzis, waiting for a Geisha to pass by. When that moment came I didn't notice she was already in front of us so I had no time to check my camera settings and prepare for the shot. Kinda like Luke Skywalker, I just used the Force and shot without thinking. And surprisingly, the result was absolutely magnificent.


Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cemetery Gates of Fushimi Inari

Since I saw the national geographic shot of the Torii gates of Fushimi Inari, I know right then and there that I had to go to that place. And finally, after about a year or so, I finally made one of my dreams come true. I have always been fascinated with Torii gates cascaded together. Architecturally, they look magnificent but I don't think it is the real reason why I'm so drawn to them. It is one of the those magical places where even if you take a 100 pictures, you will never capture the mystical feeling of the place.

Cemetery Gates

Friday, November 19, 2010

Geisha Hunting at Gion

I realized it is hard to be a Paparazzi. You have to have no shame and your equipment should be at lest decent enough to properly capture those short and rare moments even at horrible conditions. In Gion, we were like Paparazzis waiting for Geishas to transfer from one house to another. It was hard because I had my camera attached to my tripod and I had no time to change my wide angle lens. I was able to see at least 6 Geishas within the area but only manged to capture 1 shot properly (will be posting it soon).

When I got tired of waiting, I settled for the old school feel of the streets of Gion. It felt like I was in a scene from Memoirs of a Geisha except for the taxis that passed by. I would have stayed longer in Gion but there were more temple illuminations to visit. Next time, I will dedicate one whole night for this area.

Geisha Hunting at Gion

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Kiyomizu Temple

Kiyomizu Temple is one of three places I need to visit during my short trip to Kyoto (Fushimi Inari and Kinkakuji are the other two). I've seen some night illumination, sunset, and blue hour shots of the temple and they were all jaw dropping. So my expectations were a little bit high when I came here. It was too cloudy that even my -2 exposure was not ble to capture some detail of the sky.

Textures to the rescue. ^_^

Kiyomizu Temple

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Bamboo Forest

Finally, I made it to Kyoto just before my 1 year mark in Japan. I've been living in Yokohama since December 2009 and the farthest I was able to visit was only Nikko. There were only 3 places in mind that I'd love to visit and completely forgot about this place. Good thing I didn't arrange my own itinerary. I would have probably missed this place.

Also I am about to create my own tutorial on HDR. A lot of people are now getting hooked at it. Although Trey Ratcliff's tutorial is available, it is a little bit complicated for beginners. So, I'd like to create my own simple work-flow on how to make the images look more HDR realistic. Hopefully I can finish the tutorial over the weekend.

The Bamboo Forest

Friday, November 12, 2010

Autumn Colors

Still trying to crack that editor's pick in Most of my pictures that I thought would make it to the Editor's Pick or at least the Featured section ended up in the Latest section of the site (where the rejects are!). Ouch!

Anyways, this one made it to the Featured section. What's strange is that my picture in HDR spotting is linked to my Flickr. I get thousands of views in HDR spotting while I get only 10-20 view referrals in my Flickr account. Weird huh? Well I guess the only winner in this site is the one who created it. He is probably getting a lot of dough because of the advertisements in the site.

Autumn Colors

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Shibuya Ghosts

I've read somewhere that a journalist shot a picture of the Shibuya crossing, published it into a magazine and then got sued for invasion of privacy because he was able to capture a man and his mistress kissing. So, good thing this was a night shot and it is almost impossible for me to get a non-blurred shot of the people.

Shibuya Ghosts

Monday, May 3, 2010

Edo Wonderland: Grand Ninja Theater

When you were a kid and you have tried to wear a t-shirt on your face to look like a Ninja, then you definitely need to visit Edo Wonderland in Nikko. This place draws out your childishness just like when you visit Disneyland for the first time.

Edo Wonderland is a theme park that was made to look like it was a village during the Edo era. This also means that all of the theme park staff are dressed old school (samurais, ninjas, geishas, etc..). As an added treat, they provide costumes as well so you can literally feel and enjoy the atmosphere of Edo Wonderland.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Landmark Tower Reflection

This is the tallest building in Japan and has the second fastest elevator in the world. I was able to use the still water as a giant mirror and was lucky enough to shoot the tower before the strong wind blew.

Landmark Tower Reflection

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Kadayawan 2009

Durian, the fruit you hate the smell but you love the taste (for some). This was taken in Kadayawan Festival 2009 in Davao. There were tons of amazing floats but I think this one stands out the most.

Durian Float

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Singapore Lights

What I love the most about Singapore besides it being clean is the colorful city lights. I don't know what building this is but the amazing range of colors on the windows immediately caught my attention. It's unbelievable how Singapore has transformed itself into a beautiful city. How I wish the Philippines can do the same.

Rainbow Windows

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Lambs and Sunsets

I think Lago de Oro has the most amazing sunset I have ever seen. (Coz I haven't seen much). People usually go here to for wakeboarding because it is the closest to the city. However, I was more interested with the sunset. If ever I have the time to comeback here, I'll just shoot the sunset and forget about the wakeboarding

Lambs and Sunset


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