Fickle Fate of Favorite Photo

Tuesday, June 25th, 2013

My most ‘acclaimed’ photo is a good example of the somewhat fickle nature of aesthetic opinion. And furthering the fickleness of this photo, I wouldn’t have captured it at all if Elizabeth hadn’t seen the scene first, taking her own version on the balcony of our Tokyo hotel during a colorful sunset evening last June.


My first success with it was a 3rd place win in the Around the Cities round of the Amateur Photographer of the Year competition, a contest run by the popular UK magazine Amateur Photographer which draws over a thousand entries a month. Foreshadowing the uneven path this image would take, the judges were almost apologetic in explaining that it was the best of the pictures that met the theme, so they decided against choosing it for first or second place (click on the above image to read the caption, and figure out for yourself why a shack in the woods and a deserted bridge would place in a contest of this theme).


Belonging to 3 different camera clubs (do not ask), this image ended up in 6 different club competitions. It didn’t win anything 2 of the times. Entered in a theme competition ‘Architecture’, it won an Honorable Mention, meaning it was in the top 25% of entries that night, also qualifying it for the end of the year competition. As shown above, at the end of year competition it was awarded the blue ribbon for digital projected image, and Best In Show.

It had placed 2nd in the other club in a monthly competition for the theme ‘A Different Point of View’ , finally ending up with an Honorable Mention at that club’s end of year competition. I don’t remember now if it was one of the judges who didn’t give it any ribbon, but one of the four monthly competition judges complained that the rectangles in the center of the image were offset, and wasn’t that a shame.  It should be clear at this point that different judges do have different points of view.

Tokyo Balconies on display in Fenton House

Meanwhile, the Royal Photographic Society, which I had joined in the UK and continue to support, is always looking for ways to encourage their non-UK members. It organized an exhibit from the ‘Overseas Chapters’. The US chapter selected my image, making it one of approximately 100 images that spent a month being exhibited at Fenton House, the Royal Photographic Society’s headquarters in Bath. This exhibit is also scheduled to be in London at the Royal Photographic Society Cave from the 11th to 31st of July, so if you are in London this summer, you can see it.

The picture also generated some attention on a photo critique site where I spend some time, called Photosig. Ending up as my second highest scoring image.

Evening Balconies

In one of the club competitions that didn’t go so well, the picture ended up displayed on its side (don’t ask).  I thought it did have some potential in alternative orientation, but the lacy ironwork seemed unbalanced, so I Photoshopped it, copying the top half, pasting and flipping it, positioning it over the bottom half of the photo, and then rotating it 90 degrees.  I actually like the result a lot.  It has a degree of surreality that I think is interesting. And it fixed that judge’s concern about non-symmetric windows. Several other people like it too, and the surreal version of Tokyo Balconies ended up as my 3rd highest scoring image on Photosig, just behind the non-manipulated version.

For those who are following my series on before & after photos, the non-manipulated version of this image is one that spent no time in Photoshop. The original camera RAW image was processed in Lightroom for global exposure, contrast, and color saturation. White Balance was left As Shot..  The color turns out to be a very important aspect of this image. I experimented with black & white, but it just turns out blah. This is essentially what we saw off our hotel balcony at 6:48 PM

ISO 800, f/18, 1/20 sec (there’s a lot to be said for both steady hands and image stabilization)

My Tokyo Hose

Sunday, June 23rd, 2013

Blue Hose Final Version

There is something irresistibly sinuous about a garden hose, exhibiting a natural elegance as it mimics the French curve. I found my Tokyo Hose last summer in trendy Shibuya.

Blue Hose As Captured By the Camera

Always on the lookout for found still lives, this one struck me as almost perfect as originally presented, and I did not ask my subject to make any changes in her pose.  If I had it to do over again, I think I would have moved the bucket, but that turned out to be one of the easier digital darkroom operations. Taken at 17mm and f;8, ensured enough depth of field for the entire image to be adequately sharp.  Perspective was the first fix, easily corrected in Lightroom (Distortion +7, Vertical –30, Horizontal –7, Rotate –0.9), resulting in a square image that looked like it had been taken directly downwards from an impossible position centered over the hose.  This still left me with the unwanted bucket, and some unsightly reflections from the harsh midday sun, so I moved to Photoshop for some outpatient surgery.


Copying another section of tiles and pasting it over the bucket simplified the image, turning a garden scene into a near-abstract.

The next task was to take care of the unsightly reflections by copying better looking tiles, and pasting them over the ones with the bright reflections. I ended up making 4 patches like this. I created mask layers over 3 of the top 3 tile layers and then brushed black over the mask to blend in the seams.  The hose was the most fiddly part, because it needed to look realistic, but I didn’t have a dark gap to hide a transition.  I also used curve layers, (1, 2, and 3) to correct the exposure and contrast of several of these patches to more closely blend with their neighbors. My final step was to create an empty layer, setting the mode to Overlay, and filling it with neutral gray. This is a quick and easy way to make a Burn & Dodge layer, and it has the advantage of being editable.  Painting on it with a white brush, as I did in the upper left corner, opened up the darker tiles, making them a closer match to the tiles around the hose, and ensuring a symmetric and simple background. 

I’m very happy with the way it turned out. I’m not sure that Japanese hoses are innately more elegant than any other hoses, but to me, this particular bit of blue rubber tube is suggestive, even symbolic, of the Japanese obsession with elegance and form.

Tuna Auction

Monday, July 16th, 2012

Moving Tuna Taking advantage of our circadian rhythms, Elizabeth and I arrived at the Tsukiji Fish Market just before 5am, which was just early enough to get us into the second and final tour of the daily tuna auction. After a 45 minute wait, we donned blue vests, walked through the busy traffic, and were directed into an observation area in a huge room, filled with deep frozen tuna.


All of the tuna had been prepped for the auction with a several different paint and paper labels.  Most interesting was a deep cut just above the tail, used by the buyers to inspect the quality of the fish. A series of boot-clad fish assessors, each with a wooden-handled metal hook, examined the fish meat in the cut, often shining a flash light on it, and sometimes smelling or tasting it.

Evaluating Tuna

Some of the inspectors also checked out a slot, apparently where the entrails were removed.

Tuna Auction

The auctions took place in a rolling fashion, moving across the floor from group of fish to group of fish.  As the auctioneer got closer to the groups of fish near us, buyers, with numbered tags on their hats, started congregating at the tail end of a group of fish.  Some guys continued checking out the frozen tuna right up until the auction started.

Auctioneer and Bidders

A stool was set up so the auctioneer could see the bidders.  Although he used different syllables and sounds than an American auctioneer would use, it was the same sort of verbal deluge of enthusiasm that you’d expect, so it was immediately clear to me and Elizabeth that the auction had started.


In short order, 10 tuna were individually auctioned off as the buyers raised their hands to indicate that they wanted a particular tuna at a particular price.

Making notes

An assistant kept track of who bought which fish, marking them after the auction by sticking pieces of paper to the frozen fish with a bit of water. Soon after the auction, porters used metal hooks to hoist the individual tuna onto hand carts, or electric carts.  Most of the fish were then butchered in the market with big band saws and were either sold at booths within the market, or were trucked away by wholesalers or large institutional buyers.

Moving tuna after the auction

Apparently, the market has had an off again/on again relationship with tourists, who wander around, slowing down the busy traffic, without actually buying much.  As a compromise, two tours of the tuna auction are offered every morning before 6am, but the main market isn’t open to visitors until 9am.

Breakfast restaurant

We wandered around at the booths that were open around the edges, mostly selling vegetables, but there were also booths with scales, knives, seaweed, and rice.  We chose a restaurant that wasn’t too crowded and an early breakfast of sashimi.

Sunday in Harajuku

Sunday, July 15th, 2012

Girls performing in Yoyogi Park

I spent an unexpectedly sunny Sunday in stylish Harajuku, starting in the lively Yoyogi Park.

 Bubbles in the Park

A popular picnic and hangout site, especially on a Sunday afternoon, it attracts a lot of people who like share their art in a busy yet mellow public setting.


Musicians bring their stand, music, and axe, sitting on a bench, practicing their scales or etudes. 


Dancers practice their moves.

Yoyogi Park Drummers

Several pickup groups played long elaborate jam sessions on the drums. None of these guys were busking—they performing purely for the sake of being with fellow musicians and sharing their art.

Jump Roper

And in some cases, it wasn’t completely clear what form of performance they wanted to share.

Dress up day in the park

And a lot of people just wanted to dress up a little bit and people watch.



Crossing a busy road on a pedestrian bridge, I walked across to a nearby sports park, where a group of young people were practicing a synchronized dance. 

Steamed Dumpling StandI

A market was selling organic farm products, and I bought a steamed bun for lunch.  Thousands of young people were patiently lined up at the nearby stadium for an afternoon concert by Japanese megagroup Bump of Chicken. I decided to head for the shopping area to see if I could find some of the cosplayers.

Ometesando Avenue

Tree-lined Ometesando Avenue is sometimes referred to as Tokyo’s Champs Elysee.  Lined with posh shops and well-heeled shoppers, I could see the resemblance, although the crowds were unbelievable, and I didn’t stay long. 

Photo shoot

Harajuku style refers to the various flavors of extreme clothing that can be found on parade, arguably setting global trends…for something.


Harajuku has a reputation of attracting Japan’s extravagantly costumed young people. Having my fill of maid culture the previous day, and on the lookout for something different.   I found a gothic lolita helping a gothic crossdresser with his makeup.

British Bikes in Tokyo’s Electronic City

Saturday, July 7th, 2012

Newly restored Triumph

Akihabara is where the Otaku, they highly enthusiastic Japanese geeks, go for electronic toys and lunch with a French maid. Instead of pop culture dining and manga figurines, I found Trinity School, a small workshop on a side street, where a couple of experienced mechanics have spent the last 10 years teaching a group of enthusiastic apprentices to restore classic bikes, often European ones.  I had a nice chat with the guy who runs the school, who had just taken a restored Triumph out for a road test. 


Most of the cycles were Triumphs and BSAs, but a smoky room in the back included a vintage Harley, and pre-war BMW will be an upcoming drivetrain restoration project (I expected the drive shaft, but not the H-pattern hand shift on the right side of the tank).


I watched one of the students adjust the carb on a 1952 Triumph, which was propped up on a stand so the wheel could spin, and I watched another student cut the threads on a bolt on a turret lathe.


They also have done some non-motorized bikes, like this very funky Moulton (which also goes to show why you need to cover your Brooks).  With both Sturmey-Archer and Lucas to worry about, these students are going to learn a lot about vehicle mechanics.