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A Photographic Guide to Hokkaido in Winter

A Photographic Guide to Hokkaido in Winter

I've recently returned from Hokkaido, Japan, where I spent a week doing research for my 2019 photo tour. The exploration took me to Biei for snowscapes and Tsurui-mura for wildlife.

Flying into Asahikawa from Haneda (Tokyo), it was easy to get to Biei and settle for the next 3 nights.

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Biei

Biei is a town located in Kamikawa Subprefecture, in the centre of Hokkaido. In winter it is known for its minimalist snowscapes, however most of these are on farms and most farms are private, making them difficult to access.

I found my 100-400mm lens was perfect for shooting over fences and into the fields, and this worked perfectly to get most of the shots I needed. In fact almost all my snowscapes and wildlife shots were done with this lens. 

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The winter light can be soft and luminous on the best of days, but be patient when it's looking flat and dark. The light and dark tones that reveal folds in the snowscapes are key to a successful image.

When shooting subjects like this, the challenge is to find at least three points or areas on the landscape, then use them to create a harmonious balance in your frame.

Try a great leading line and a dominant focal point to rest your eyes for detail and interest.

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The subtle red fox tracks were a small detail in some shots that really added to the ambience. Atmosphere was also brought about more easily with a little wind to kick up the powder snow.

Diamond dust with the morning light was a very special capture if the conditions were perfect.

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The white silence and purity of a clean landscape converts very nicely into black and white.

Tsurui-mura, Lake Kusharo and Rausu

For the second half of the trip I ventured to the South and North east parts of Hokkaido to visit three key areas: Tsurui-mura, Lake Kusharo and Rausu.

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Tsurui-mura was my base for photographing red crowned Cranes and Ural Owls. The crane sanctuary is a great spot to be at 9am and 2pm daily when they feed the birds, and every morning after sunrise they also gather on a river nearby.

Be prepared for hundreds of keen photographers to be shoulder to shoulder with you and their tripods. Most will be set with an 800mm lens going trigger happy at 10 frames a second.

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The cranes are in Tsurui-mura all year but most shooters love to combine the birds dancing in the snow during February.

Over the next two years however, feeding from the sanctuary will slow down to encourage the birds to be more self sufficient.

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At Kusharo Lake we focused on Whooper Swans and Marsh Teet birds. A wide angle was used for most of the very friendly swans.

For the little birds a 400mm lens and a fast tracking focus mode worked wonders. Once again we were very lucky with the weather conditions, and the morning mist and fog created a dreamy atmosphere.

The iced lake and snow capped mountains were an added bonus.

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For our last stop we ventured by car two hours north east to the coastal port of Rausu. Here we boarded a small cruise boat to search for sea Eagles to feed on the ice.

The Shiretoko Peninsula as seen on the long panorama shot below was stitched from 8 hand-held images.

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Gear

For this trip I carried a minimalist kit - a Canon 5D Mark III, 100-400mm f4-f/5.6, and a Carl Zeiss 18mm Distagon lens. If you decide to travel at this time of year, be aware that extremely cold weather can affect your gear and you, and your feet and hands are the most important parts to protect to avoid frostbite.

For my clothing I had 3 layers for every part of my body. I bought rubber high boots with good grippy soles to avoid slipping on icy surfaces. You can also attach spikes to your boots if needed. Heat packs that last 24 hours can be purchased from most convenient stores.

They are called Hokkairo not Hokkaido. These are handy to keep your batteries warm if extremely cold. Keep your camera in your bag to keep it warm when you're not shooting.

Join Me In Hokkaido

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Weekend Roadtrip: Shooting Canola Fields & Sugar Pine Forest

Weekend Roadtrip: Shooting Canola Fields & Sugar Pine Forest

Location: five hours from Sydney, five hours from Melbourne
Time: Weekend trip

On Tuesday last week I got a call from a photographer friend @johnnyjam1 to go on a road trip five hours from Sydney. Our goal was to shoot the famous Sugar Pine forest.

The drive to Laurel Hill where the Sugar Pine forest is located is a similar distance from Melbourne, which makes it a perfect half way point between the two cities. Staying close by in the sleepy village of Batlow will give you easy access to the forest which is only 15 minutes away.

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We usually get to a location the afternoon before to scout where and how we will shoot a sunrise. The Sugar Pines at Laurel Hill can be found off Kopsens Road, 15 minutes drive from Batlow. We stayed at the Apple Inn which was comfortable and affordable.

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First planted in 1929, the sugar pines are the straightest and tallest pine in the world. Looking up it can be quite disconcerting to see them swaying in the wind ready to snap and fall at least 50 feet.

Sugar pine is the largest, in height and diameter, of all pine species.

The wood of sugar pine is valued for its workability, dimensional stability, and satiny sheen after milling.

With snow predicted to fall we were excited to capture the snow flakes dropping for the perfect ambient shot. Unfortunately, the weather turned to clear skies. Nevertheless, it was awesome to get out of town and shoot for myself.

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Wounded trees of this species secrete a sugary exudate which gives rise to the common name. Sugar pine's large cones yield large edible seeds. These pine trees can grow to 200 feet tall with a trunk diameter of 5 feet.

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On our second day we decided to go to Coottamundra for a change of scenery to shoot the Canola fields. They are only the famous yellow colour for a short period in late winter/spring.

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The Canola fields are located on Old Gundagai road, and Rosehill and Jugiong roads near Cottamundra.

From germination to seed production, the life cycle of a canola plant takes about 3 ½ months, depending on temperature, moisture, sunlight and soil fertility.

I'm not sure how much longer we will see these yellow landscapes with recent changes in the weather, but regardless, make sure you visit in late winter/spring to see them at their best.

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Flying overhead you're likely to see planes spraying the fields. Because the term “crop dusting” automatically brings to mind the image above, today’s pilots generally prefer the term “aerial application” or “ag application.”

Regardless, these guys are really well trained and watching them in action from a distance is quite a spectacle. However I suggest you steer clear as the chemicals they drop are quite toxic and should not be breathed in!
 

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My Travel Kit

 I always try to travel very light and limit myself to two prime lenses. On this trip I decided to bring my Canon 5D Mark III, Carl Zeiss 18mm & Canon 50mm f1.2L lens.

I have a Sirui T024X carbon fibre tripod and Nisi Filters (10 stop, PL & 3 stop reverse soft grad). I also bring my 13 inch mac book pro and Lacie Fuel Drive.

My Bamboo Wacom tablet also works a charm for editing with LR, PS and Nik. Little extras like a headlamp, small reflectors and Samsung S8 also come in handy for behind the scenes footage.

My mate brought along his DJI Mavic to get some drone footage in both locations.
 

Join me on a Micro Adventure

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Five Tips for Shooting Black and White Landscapes

The next six months is prime time for shooting black and white landscapes, especially on those gloomy days which can add drama and "wow factor" to your images. I have some compelling reasons why I think you should consider converting from color to black and white.

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1. Bad Weather, Good Pictures

Some people believe they should only shoot landscapes on clear, blue sky days, but overcast days with some low cloud action can produce added drama and interest — especially to black and white images. Better yet, if the winds are strong a long exposure can add movement to the clouds and create an ambience of mystery and produce interesting effects and shapes.

Neutral density filters combined with slow shutter speeds of around 30–60 seconds will usually help you produce amazing and dramatic results. The perfect kind of weather for this is on days with skies full of fast moving low lying clouds. To help you plan ahead there are a multitude of phone apps available that help you find the perfect time and place. Check weather apps for weather patterns, wind direction, and strength, rainfall, and water levels of water ways after storms (particularly useful when shooting waterfalls), and tidal movement for coastal shoots.

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Popular apps include Sun Surveyor for checking angle of sun or moon, BOM (Bureau of Meteorology) to check chance of rain and wind speeds, Willy Weather to check tides, and The Photographer's Ephemeris for satellite imagery of potential locations in relation to light and wind direction, moon phase, tides, etc.

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2. Use the Right Gear

A mirrorless or DSLR camera which allows full manual control of your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO is preferred. A sturdy tripod tall enough for accessing the viewfinder at eye level and not light enough to blow over in the wind is a must. A wide-angle lens in the range of a 16-24mm allows you to capture more of the sky and clouds and anything of interest in the frame's foreground. A cable release, wireless remote, or mobile phone app for remotely triggering the camera's shutter and, in the case of the latter, viewing images. I use a Carl Zeiss 18mm lens and Canon 5D Mark III.

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3. Use Filters

Filters are vitally important for emphasising the required effects in your images. The proper use of neutral density (ND) filters can also take some time to master. ND filters that block up to 10 stops of light and will allow you to shoot long exposures even in the middle of the day. Most of the movement in the clouds and water in the accompanying photos were taken using a 10-stop ND filter. Most of these shots were taken in the middle of the day using 20-30 second exposures. It's best to manually focus your image first before attaching your filters. Every camera works differently when it comes to getting an accurate shutter speed reading. I use NiSi filters and have a 10 stop, a soft graduated 3 stop, and a circular polarizer.

 

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4. Best Camera Settings

You can set most modern digital cameras to shoot black and white images, but you’ll get more control over the tonality of your image if you shoot in color and convert to mono in post using a program like Lightroom, Photoshop, or Silver Efex. In postproduction, try to avoid the simple one-click "Convert to Mono" commands and look for options that let you control the tonal values of each color channel. In Photoshop, adding a Black and White adjustment layer above the main background layer lets you selectively change the tonal values of the Reds, Yellows, Greens, Cyans, Blues, and Magentas individually. Similarly, in Lightroom, you can choose the Black and White sliders in the Develop module to alter the tonality of each color channel.

Shooting in raw is the best option as it allows you more control in editing when you need to change the color temperatures. Having your histogram on while shooting can also help you check if you have a good tonal range of light and dark grays. Make sure you don't blow out the highlights as these may be difficult to fix in post.

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5. Make a Print

This last step I think is usually given the least amount of priority but is probably the most important. I love the fine art archival quality you can get with Hanhnemeule and Canson paper. You can spend money doing your own printing or use a pro lab that specializes in getting the best results. If you decide to print yourself make sure to calibrate your monitor, printer, and match your color profiles with whatever paper you decide to use. Try creating your own black and white landscapes, it can add a whole new creative dimension to your photography.

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Alfonso Calero – Travel Photographer from Sydney specialising in portraits and landscapes. Regular traveller with my small photo workshops/tours in Australia , Japan, The Philippines and Spain.

7 Steps to Stunning Seascapes For Beginners

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I am not an early bird but living in Sydney, Australia on the east coast leaves me no choice but to get up early once in a while for a dawn to sunrise shoot. The coffee and breakfast at a beach cafe make it worth getting up at the sparrow's fart (Australian slang for very early). I've been shooting seascapes for over 10 years and I have always found it to be one of the most rewarding and challenging of photographic subjects. No two seascapes are the same and once you add variable weather and sea conditions to the mix there are endless opportunities for photographers willing to get their feet wet, so to speak! I am still learning everyday how to stay dry and not get washed away.


01 USE A TRIPOD

It sounds obvious, but most beginners don’t bother with tripods; they should. Apart from giving you the freedom to choose a slower shutter speed, a tripod forces you to slow down and think about the image-making process. Where should you position the horizon? Should that rock be in the frame or would it be better left out? Should you use a slow shutter speed to blur the water, or would it look better sharp? Look for a sturdy tripod that can collapse down to provide a low shooting angle. Shooting low can create great drama in your images. I like to use Sirui Carbon Fibre tripods. Make sure to check your load capacity as it is worth spending the extra dollars to have a great tripod that will last for years. Always make sure to wash down your tripod after each shoot with fresh water. I have a friend who likes to shower with his tripod fully expanded. It sounds kinky but it's practical when water shortages are happening in some drought stricken areas of Australia. Even without droughts we still are careful with water usage.
 

02 LOW ISO

Choose your camera’s lowest ISO setting (normally 50, 100 or 200 ISO). This will not only minimize the appearance of noise in your image, but also allow you to use a slower shutter speed, which can be useful if you are trying to achieve the ‘blurry water’ effect you see in many seascapes. My Canon 5d Mark III allows me to go down to ISO 50. 

 

03 SLOW SHUTTER SPEED

If you want to create the 'milky water' effect you'll need to use a slow shutter speed – slower than half a second. With your camera on a tripod, switch your camera to Shutter Priority (S or TV) and choose a shutter speed between 1/2 and 10 seconds. If it is too bright you will get a warning message indicating that the image will be over-exposed at this shutter speed. At this point you have two options. First, wait until it gets darker. Second, and this is my preferred option, place a Neutral Density filter, which looks like a grey piece of glass, in front of the lens to artificially darken the scene. You can buy ND filters of varying densities, from light to dark grey. I use a +10 stop ND NISI filter for most of my seascapes and find it works very well. If there is abundant water movement then you might also be able to get some nice effects at 1/8th or 1/15th of second without the ten stop filter.

04 APERTURE

Even though you’re shooting in Shutter Priority you still need to be conscious of the camera’s aperture setting. Look for an aperture somewhere around f/11. While you'll get more depth of field as the aperture gets smaller (higher f-numbers) keep in mind that most lenses are sharpest at a setting of around f/11. Best to do some research in regard to the sweet spot of your lens as every lens has the perfect f-stop to produce optimally sharp images. I prefer to shoot in full manual mode and control ISO 50, F11 for aperture and then change my shutter speed accordingly depending on the effects I am trying to get. If needed, then I will add on my filter.

 

05 REMOTE

If you’re using long exposures a remote shutter release will help you keep camera shake to a minimum. Failing that, you can use your camera’s self timer to fire the shutter ‘hands free’. The best and cheapest option is to download an app for your smartphone to control from as a remote, but for that your camera will need Bluetooth capabilities.

 

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06 GRADUATED FILTER

To add drama to your skies try using a graduated filter which are dark at the top and clear at the bottom. A graduated filter can be really useful for shooting high contrast landscape scenes where the sky is considerably brighter than the foreground. I use a 3 stop soft grad Nisi filter for sunrises.

 

07 SAFETY

I have been soaked with waves and sudden swells many times. I have even fallen a few times on slippery moss covered sandstone rocks. Be careful when photographing near the coast. Conditions can change quickly and it's easy to get caught out if you're not careful. Don't become so preoccupied with taking photos that you forget what's happening around you. Err on the side of safety – there are worse things in life than missing the shot! I often check my location's low tide the day before. It's best to decide where and how you will be shooting as it may still be dark when you arrive. It is best to stand back for a few minutes and observe the tides. The Great Australian surf has taken many rock fishermen by surprise. I use rock fishing boots with spikes now to give me ultimate grip on these slippery surfaces. A head lamp in the darkness also allows me to be hands free with my backpack. 

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What's your favorite seascape tip? Share it in the comments section below.

A Photographer's Guide To Exploring Tasmania's Wilderness

A Photographer's Guide To Exploring Tasmania's Wilderness

Bicheno Boulders

Bicheno Boulders

For the last 10 years I have been regularly visiting this remote and pristine island state. Tasmania is about a 1.5 hour flight from Sydney to the city of Launceston. The diverse choice of landscapes and close proximity by car make this a unique and accessible environment still largely untouched.

Around 40 percent of Tasmania is protected National Parks and Reserves. If you are looking to get off the grid and discover a magical wilderness, this place is filled with adventure and convict history.

Here are some of my favourite spots to photograph in spring or autumn. I have also added a few other locations as side trips that are also worth a look.

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1. Cradle Mountain National Park

A two-hour drive from Launceston Airport will take you to Dove Lake and a spectacular view of Cradle Mountain. Like most mountains, it can be difficult to predict the weather. Tasmania National Parks have various walks that can take two hours or six days, depending on your level of fitness.

You can expect to see a few wombats, wallabies, and Tasmanian devils (in captivity). Unfortunately, there is a lot of road kill so best not to drive through these parks in the dark. The local wildlife tend to freeze and stop in the middle of the road when blinded by car lights.

The weather can turn on you at any moment so best to come well prepared with warm clothing and weatherproof gear. 

The area is covered in a variety of alpine and sub-alpine vegetation. Alpine coral fern and button grass dominate the alpine wet sedge lands near the mountain summit.

Tasmanian snow gums can be found at slightly lower elevations alongside pencil pine and waratah. Within the valleys surrounding the mountain, species such as myrtle beech and pandani (unique to Tasmania) form thick temperate forest with dense, mossy undergrowth. The geology of the mountain is Jurassic dolerite.

2. Bicheno

Bicheno is located 176 kilometres (109 miles) southeast of Launceston. It used to be a whaling town in the early 1800s. Today it is a charming seaside resort town and the local fishing industry's catch includes substantial quantities of abalone, crayfish, scallops, and trevally.

In the photo below you can see the famous Rocking Rock (80 ton piece of granite). There are a number of interesting access points onto the rocks which have a distinctive red colour as a result of deposits of red lichen; All perfect for a slow shutter and a 10-stop filter if you choose to shoot in the middle of the day. There is also a blowhole nearby that shoots out water up to 10 feet high.

Many of these rocks resemble sea creatures such as whales and sea lions. At night along the coastal beaches you might spot some fairy penguins coming in after sunset.

 

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3. Sleepy Bay, Freycinet National Park

Just a 30 minute drive from Bicheno is Coles Bay. Famous features of the park include its red and pink granite formations and a series of jagged granite peaks in a line called "The Hazards."

If you are lucky you might spot some Bennet's wallabies, brushtail possums, eastern quoll, echidnas, and wombats. Out in the ocean you might spot some humpback whales and bottlenose dolphins.

 

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Up in the sky or perched on trees are white-bellied eagle, black-browed albatross, brown falcon, and fairy wren to name a few. Banksia and Eucalyptus Gum trees dominate the area.

There are various walks but the most common would have to be Wineglass Bay which has been voted in as one of the top 10 beaches in Australia.

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4. Tessellated Pavement

The Tessellated Pavement State Reserve is on the Tasman Peninsula near Eaglehawk Neck. The region is popular with a short drive from here to Port Arthur Convict Settlement. Also known for a massacre in 1996 of 35 who were killed by a mad gunman.

It is the deadliest mass shooting in Australia's history. Since then, our gun laws restrict the private ownership of high-capacity semi automatic rifles and shotguns as well as introducing uniform firearms licensing. The area has a melancholic feel. The best time of year to photograph the chess board like pavement is in May when moss on the rocks is more abundant. 

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5. Horseshoe Falls

Only an hour and a half drive out of Hobart is Mt. Field National Park where you will find Russell And Horseshoe Falls.

Nestled in a moss forest are towering swamp gums, the tallest flowering plant on earth, and species typical of wet forests and cool temperate rainforests, such as dogwood, musk, and myrtle. Towards the falls, the track is framed by stunning tall tree ferns. The falls themselves are impossibly picturesque.

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Other Points of Interest

Liffey is an area where many farms have abandoned houses and sheds. Rumoured to have paranormal activity, this wool shed stands on its last legs. Liffey is also known for its cascading waterfalls.

Liffey

Liffey

New Norfolk on the Derwent River Poplars in May is when autumn and all its colours come to life in the Derwent Valley only an hours drive from Hobart.

New Norfolk - Derwent River

New Norfolk - Derwent River

Arthurs Lake

Finally, My last favourite location to add on this list is Arthur’s Lake. Also known as the drowned forest. Hundreds of eucalyptus trees stand tall in the lake providing shelter for trout. Arthurs Lake is a man-made reservoir located in the Central Highlands region of Tasmania, Australia.

The lake was created in the 1920s by the Hydro-Electric Commission of Tasmania damming the Upper Lake River, Blue Lake and Sand Lake as well as the Morass Marsh. The principal purpose of the lake is to support the generation of hydroelectricity.

Of course there are numerous other great locations in Tasmania yet to explore. Do you have any other suggestions of where and when to go?

Arthur’s Lake

Arthur’s Lake

MY TRAVEL PHOTOGRAPHY KIT

Camera: Fujifilm XT3 | Lenses: 35mm (F1.4) & 14mm (F2.8) | Tripod: Sirui T024SX | Macbook Pro 13 inch | Total Weight: 5 Kg.

Join me on My Tasmanian Photo Tour

7 Ways To Unlock Your Creativity

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Let's be honest, regardless how creative you may be we all have our highs and lows. In the field of photography, creativity should be an essential part of why we started. Our passion needs to be unleashed. Here are some ways to help you unlock your creativity.

Start a Project

Create regular projects for yourself until a series or cohesive body of work emerges. If you had to put together six to ten of your best images, what would they be about? Is there a narrative that you wish to express? What genre of photography are you looking to utilize? Keep a journal of your drawings or written ideas. I still have journals from years ago that I reference. The concept needs to be thought about properly. Merge your hobbies with your project. For example, I have combined my love of art, history, and culture. Why not try some new equipment or techniques for your project. You will choose between found pictures (e.g., photojournalism) and created pictures (e.g., conceptual). If you are lucky you might even be able to combine found with created pictures. Adding a composite of images in editing might lead to a series. A large part of the process is the wandering mind and experimenting.

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Be Ready

Sometimes the best images are completely spontaneous. Half the skill is recognizing the special moments when they arise. Even if you don't see anything that particularly inspires you, try to get in the habit of shooting every day to improve your creative and technical skills. It takes hard work and discipline to get in the mood. Find out if you are more creative early in the morning or late at night. Set yourself some creative challenges to explore for certain elements and principles in composition (i.e., look for texture and repetition of shapes). Here is a link to download my free ebooks about composition. Dreams, if you can remember them, are also a source of ideas. Salvador Dali, the surrealist painter, used to have an afternoon siesta with a paintbrush in his hand ready to paint.

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Pre-Visualize

What do you have to do to turn your idea into reality? What are the challenges and how can you solve them? Collect reference material. I enjoy using Pinterest to create my own mood boards for possible projects. I love to explore different styles of painting and periods of art. For example, I enjoy dark and moody landscapes that have a melancholic feel. English Painter Sidney Richard Percy depicts what I am drawn to. Also, I often use three books to check on photography and art: "The Art Book" by Phaidon Press, "The 20th Century Art Book," and "The Photography Book." Even though some of you may not have an interest in art, you have to admire a painter's ability to capture light and master composition.

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Change Your Perspective

I am glad I have not deleted some old photos to edit them again differently. Travel is a great way to stimulate your creativity. Visiting a new country, eating something bizarre, or learning a new language are all simple steps to re-wire new pathways. Experiencing a new culture and interacting with locals will surely give you a fresh perspective on life. In Claire Rosen's book "Imaginarium" she talks about divergent thinking and concepts that can come from a place, a person, an object, or an event to name a few. Be playful with your ideas and try not to think too literal. Comedian Robin Williams showed how this works best at 3:10 in this video.

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Shoot Less, Shoot Better

Shoot without looking at the preview, this will force you to be in the moment. This will also force you to concentrate more on your idea and not on technical data. Also, try to imagine that each shot is precious. If you slow down and think about what you're doing, the number of images you shoot might go down, but the quality of your images will almost certainly go up. Turn off your preview mode while you are shooting a short 10-20 minute challenge. If you still have a film camera why not shoot a roll or two. Set yourself a timeline to work through this exercise to brainstorm ideas. When editing your best shots look at them once to avoid being indecisive and being too self-critical. Go with your gut feeling and intuition to make quick choice.

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Trust

The only person you need to please is yourself. Don’t let anyone tell you how or what to shoot. Once you have an idea, follow it though to its conclusion. If there is someone else you trust and value their opinion, why not bounce your ideas off them? Collaborate with other artists who understand what you are trying to visually communicate. De-construct your ideas for time and budget. Sometimes I feel a need to gain more skills in Photoshop as a digital artist. Other times, I may need more experience lighting subjects to convey an emotion I am not achieving. The whole journey of discovery takes time, patience, and perseverance.

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Understand Yourself

This seems like a logical step but it is one that is often overlooked. To get a basic understanding of psychology I often read from experts like Jeremy Dean who focuses many of his articles on creativity. Over the last 20 years of using photography as a medium of my self-expression, it has been very gratifying to tap into my past as a source of inspiration. I think of photography like a window to my subconscious memories. The end goal is to grow as a photographer and develop your skills and style to express yourself. Regardless of the outcomes, I always find it a very healthy experience. Have you got other ways to get you ready for creativity?

Barcelona's 5 Best Photo Locations

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In the lead image above George Lucas Storm Troopers in Star Wars was inspired by Gaudi. For first time travellers to Barcelona these are my five favourites photo spots. I am expecting many readers to add their best spots that are not on this list. Please make sure to Google pin your exact locations in your comments. Much like my recent post on Tokyo I would love to see lots of sharing especially less popular locations.

The point of this article and many to follow is to expand on everyone's travel experiences and narrow down each location depending on the genre of travel photography they would like to focus. For this article I will focus on architecture and street portraits. I would encourage all other comments to also talk about other genres of travel photography such as abstract, conceptual, food...

For those who are hard pressed for time, here is a slow three hour walk to take you to must see destinations. Best seen in the late afternoon or early in the morning depending when you are more creative and relaxed. The loop walk can start and end wherever you would like to visit first. Here is my  Goggle Map.

The five spots listed below are general areas with some specific stops to look into. A self guided photo walk allows you to explore other paths and alleyways. 

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1. Plaça de Catalunya

In Plaça Catalunya you will find the meeting point for free walking tours of the city which usually run in most cities around the world. It's a free tour! That means that at the end of the tour, you can pay whatever you think the tour was worth. Their locations are what you would expect to see. It also serves as a great starting point to map your walking route and then change it to suit your photography needs. If you have time to spare and are feeling energetic then perhaps a walk with them first and then a second walk on your own next. The plaza has a nice ambience of street performers. 

Barcelona and Madrid are notorious for bag snatchers and pick pockets. I always carry a dirty old bag and only travel with one camera and one lens. Your rubber neck as a tourist should not be too obvious. Only take your camera out of the bag when shooting. Always have your bag clenched tightly to the front of your chest. No jewelry, expensive watches, or anything that looks flashy. You want to look and act local. These guys are very good at distracting you so whenever anyone gets too close to you watch your back. Avoid walking into very crowded and dark areas where they target tourists. In the comments section I would like to hear of any experiences you may have heard or encountered.

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2. Universitat

Universitat is a Barcelona Metro station named after Plaça de la Universitat, split between Eixample and Ciutat Vella districts of Barcelona, where the station is located in. The area is close to Universitat De Barcelona, therefore adding to an ambience of youth. For street portraits I prefer to shoot with and without permission depending on the time, place, and person. Most people don't mind you taking photos, but take the time to read the situation, particularly if you are traveling or in an unfamiliar culture. Be friendly and only bring the camera up to your eye when you are taking the shot. Explain yourself if asked and be genuine about your intentions. 

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3. Gothic Quarter

This area is riddled with side alleys. Bohemian and eclectic vibe. It's a suburb with a blend of working class people and boutique shops or hotels. Every street corner is a potential street portrait. Try to blend into the crowd as much as possible. Darker clothing works well. Bright jackets and white runners don't! Finally, observe, relax, and be very patient. You will be amazed what might reveal itself. Photographing a street portrait without permission can sometimes be hard to do. To avoid confrontation and still get a spontaneous photo, I would suggest you pick a street corner with some nice architecture. Wait for your subject to come into frame and snap a few quick ones. Most people will feel as though they have entered your shot by mistake. I know it's a sneaky move but the results can sometimes be rewarding. I often shoot with a Canon 85mm F1.2. This type of a lens gives me the distance I need for these alleyways. A longer lens might attract more attention. Blending architecture with the occasional street portrait can be a fun exercise. If there is a person I would like to speak with then I ask for permission. Your camera is a great excuse to make friends with the locals.

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Points of Interest in area: Pablo Picasso Museum, Jewish Quarter, Roman Ruins, Plaza De Sant Felip Neri, Plaza Del Re, Mercat del Born, Ciutadella Park & Barcelona Cathedral. 

4. Sagrada De Familia

Standing in front and looking up I can't help but think of Gaudi the architect doing the same just before he got run over by a tram. When he was admitted to hospital and died shortly after, many thought he was a homeless man. A trip to Barcelona without seeing this work of art would be a pity. Best to buy your entry tickets online as the lines go forever on busy days. 

5. La Pedrera and Casa Batllo

Both of Gaudi's buildings are just a few blocks from each other. The nearest subway station is Diagonal if you are feeling a bit tired toward the end of this walk. Barcelona today would not have as many tourists if it weren't for Gaudi's fans from all over the world. Once again, due to it's ever popularity, I would suggest buying tickets online to avoid the long lines.

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Other Points of Interest

Las Ramblas - Barcelona's most famous boulevard is a tourist mecca for pickpockets, but charming all the same if you don't get robbed.

Park Guell - A playful creation of Gaudi's masterpeice.

Museu Maritim - A fine example of civil Gothic architecture.

CCCB and MACBA - Cultural Centre and Contemporary Museum of Art

Olympic Park and National Art Gallery

Please add more suggestions for other locations in your comments below.

Madrid's 5 Best Photo Locations

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Once again in a series of articles for my frequently visited cities, I have compiled a list of locations for first time photographers to Madrid. The list is open to interpretation and I encourage you to go off the beaten path. It is a rough guide to get lost with a purpose. In my last two articles on Tokyo and Barcelona I focused on street portraits, architecture and night shots of the city. While in Madrid last April of 2016 I walked the city streets with my customers as seen in the Google map below.

The city has a population of almost 3.2 million with a metropolitan area population of approximately 6.5 million. The looped walk I have put together without stopping should take about an hour and thirty minutes. Most of my photo walks without a break last around three hours before fatigue kicks in. The city is vast so I have chosen to pick the most popular and easily tackled parts on foot. You can start and stop wherever you like. Puerta Del Sol is a central starting point as seen in the photo below.  

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Madrid Photo Walk

1. Puerta Del Sol

Compared to Barcelona with a grid map pattern, Madrid has more radial patterns. It's fascinating to research if the behavior of walkers varies according to how a city is planned. Let me know in the comments if you have any good evidence to show differences between radial and grid urban planning. With your smart phone gps following your path it's fun to get a little lost sometimes. Serendipity will lead you to some fabulous photos you would not normally discover. Other points of interest nearby are Plaza De Pontejos and Plaza De Santa Ana which are easily found on Google Maps.

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Orthopedic shop near Sol

2. Plaza San Miguel

If you are looking for good tapas at Mercado San Miguel and want to try a bit of everything from different provinces of Spain, this is the perfect place for lunch or a snack. Keep in mind it's not cheap but it's convenient. Kind reminder to exercise common sense with your valuables in these dark and crowded places. If you can manage to get a table close to natural light, food photography hand held works great with a 50mm macro lens. A small reflector also comes in handy to throw some more light into shadows.

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Madrid view from the Vincci Capitol Hotel Rooftop Bar

3. Barrio De La Latina

From Plaza Mayor is one of Madrid's most vibrant main squares. Another ten minute walk from here and you can reach a barrio with fewer tourists. Despite having gone through gentrification, the menu of the day is usually the best choice with 3 courses included for 10-12 euros. Weekdays during the day have much less foot traffic. The two main streets that are home to the majority of bars and restaurants are Cava Alta and Cava Baja. A good meeting point if you want to meet a friend at night is Plaza De La Cebada. Other nearby points of interest are Plaza de La Paja, Plaza del Humilladero, Plaza de San Andrés, and Plaza de Puerta Cerrada.

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Madrid Street Portraits

4. El Prado Museum

A trip to Madrid is not complete without a visit to this vast museum. Give yourself a few hours to thoroughly enjoy all the old and new art that is on offer from 10 am. The area is known as the avenue of the arts. Two other museums nearby are Thyssen-Bornemisza and Renia Sofia. I usually visit museums in the middle of the day when the sunlight is harshest. It also gives me a break from shooting as photography is not usually allowed. Art for me has always been an endless source of inspiration.  

 

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Plaza Mayor

5. El Retiro Park & Gran Via

The opulent few regularly stroll through this park. Everyone from dog walkers to joggers, locals love to relax here. This location can be welcome break from car pollution and heavy traffic. A must see destination in the park is the Palacio de Cristal glass pavilion. Keep in mind that the park is 350 acres. Another point of interest is the iconic Metropolis building which is on the corner of Calle De Alcala and Gran Via. It's a great spot to set up for a night shot with car lights and lovely architecture. Anywhere along Gran Via you will find equally impressive architecture. Any suggestion on other locations are more than welcome in the comments.  

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Metropolis Building on the corner of Gran Via and Calle Alcala

Alfonso Calero – Travel Photographer from Sydney specialising in portraits and landscapes. Regular traveller with my small photo workshops/tours in Australia , Japan, The Philippines and Spain.

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Tokyo's 5 Best Photo Locations

Tokyo is one of my favorite cities and I lived there for many years. While the crazy volume of traffic and crowds can be overwhelming at times, it's always an inspiring and surprising place to explore with a camera. So, where should you go if you only have a few days or less to shoot this incredible city? Here are a few of my favorite locations to visit with a camera, and the stories of some of the photos I have taken there.

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Being a cityscape and street portrait photographer I am always looking for ways to best combine these two genres of travel photography. It goes without saying that Tsukiji fish market is also on the list but I have not included here. However, you can read about it in my previous article. I would suggest a minimum of three days to explore Tokyo.

1. Akihabara and Harajuku

In Akihabara (aka Akiba) is where you will find electronic shops, gamers, maid cafes, manga, and anime collectors. Stroll in just before sunset. Ask a few cosplay dressers for a quick street portrait or drop into a cafe to be entertained by the cartoon grins of a waitress dressed in a French maid outfit. At dusk set up your tripod on a busy intersection to mix street car light movements and neon-lit buildings. The area is riddled with photo opportunities that should keep you busy all night. In Harajuku it is best to visit on a Sunday afternoon. You will start to see many groups congregating around the train stations nearby. Simply walk up to them and ask permission for a portrait. Offer to email them a copy if they'd like.

2. Shibuya and Shinjuku

Shibuya Crossing is a bustling intersection in the center of Tokyo where seas of people cross from multiple directions every time the traffic lights turn red. Go at dusk and take your tripod or monopod to capture the movement of the crowds while keeping the streets, buildings, and neon lights in sharp focus. There are plenty of opportunities for street portraits of young and trendy couples in the surrounding streets; Look for well-lit areas and nice backgrounds. A shallow depth of field (f/2.8) with a 50mm lens will help to throw the background out of focus and create some consistency in your portraits. Alternatively, a wide-angle lens (16-24mm) will also work if you wish to capture the surrounding buildings. Walk across the infamous Shibuya crossing with your tripod or monopod and set it down in the middle of the road while crossing. Set your shutter speed to around 1-3 seconds and click. You only have about 30 seconds to cross so you only have one to two shots per crossing. Repeat the process at different angles to get different backgrounds.

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Shibuya Crossing has to be Tokyo's busiest intersection.

Shinjuku, near Studio Alta at East Shinjuku train station exit, is a good spot to float around looking for shots of neon-lit streets and funky revelers. A tripod for the streetscapes will help you get tack-sharp shots at slower shutter speeds, down around 5–10 seconds, with car tail lights creating streaks in the image to add a dynamic feel to your pictures. Try and focus on back lights (red) more than front lights (white). Wait for large traffic flows and pick a corner that has curves to add a more dynamic look. There is a lane way near the station known as piss lane. Here you might find some great street portraits with permission. Be careful when photographing without permission as too many tourists have been invading this popular spot in the last few years. Having someone who speaks fluent Japanese with you will break the ice and you'll still manage some spontaneous portraits.  

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Near East Shinjuku subway exit.

3. Ueno

I used to live in the old downtown area of Tokyo, which is also known as Shitamachi, so there's a little bit of bias in this choice. This is also where my wife is from so I've spent plenty of time exploring the back streets and alleys with my camera. Nighttime in these areas is best explored on a weekday. Anywhere along a railway track close to a station you will find hole-in-the wall style bars and street stalls. Local businessmen flock to these cheap eateries for beer and light snacks.

Streetscapes are usually best shot from walkways looking down on traffic. Use your tripod and shoot with a slow shutter speed around 10–30 seconds to get some interesting trails of car lights. Neon lights also make for lovely backdrops. The high viewpoint will help to isolate and frame your shot better. Consider a black and white conversion.

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Buddhist Monk in Ueno, Tokyo.

4. Ginza

The Ginza is another great spot for street portraits and modern architecture. Visit at the end of the day when the sun is low and the contrast between dark and light adds some drama to the scene. If you're looking for amazing modern buildings to use as backdrops or subjects of your photos, the following Ginza stores are worth typing into Google Maps: Hermes, Bulgari, Mikimoto, Dior, Gucci, Louis Vitton, Prada, Ferragamo, and Zara. Best of all, most are within a three or four-block radius of the Ginza Station.

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Ginza's Wako Department Store is one of Tokyo's oldest.

5. Asakusa (Traditional Temple)

Asakusa is a district of Tokyo famous for the historic Sensō-ji Buddhist temple. The Kaminarimon Gate entrance to Asakusa Temple is usually crowded, but you can avoid the rush by visiting at night when the souvenir shops have closed and the tourists have gone home. If you do want to visit during the day, the best times to travel on the subway — and avoid being shoved onto a train carriage like a human sardine — are between 10 a.m. and 3 p.m. Another mini version of Asakusa is a place 45 minutes away by train called Shibamata also worth a look if you like this kind of ambience.

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Asakusa at dusk.

Of course there are many more areas in Tokyo you can explore so I would recommend a look at the very comprehensive site of Japan Guide for more valuable and up-to-date information. Traveling around Tokyo to get the best shots will have a lot to do with the best time and day of the week.

Alfonso Calero – Travel Photographer from Sydney specialising in portraits and landscapes. Regular traveller with my small photo workshops/tours in Australia , Japan, The Philippines and Spain.

Kyoto's 5 Best Photo Locations by Alfonso Calero

For first time travelers to Kyoto, it can be a bit confusing to choose where to shoot. Unlike my previous posts on Madrid and Barcelona which are about three-hour photo walks, this article will be similar to my Tokyo article which involves five different locations.

Here is a link to a great website to give you a better overview of each location and other locations worth a look. For those of you who have been to Kyoto, I would expect you to share your photos or suggest other locations.

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Kyoto is best tackled by train or bus. Buses are cheaper with day passes available but if you happen to be there during a national holiday there will be a lot of traffic. With my private photography tours, I often try to visit during weekdays and also try to avoid the crowds where possible. Below are some suggestions on when to visit and what sort of gear to take to each location.

Tripods are hard to use in most public locations as there are crowds and you become a nuisance when setting up. Most private entry locations such as gardens and temples prohibit the use of tripods. Shooting handheld for most of the trip is the fastest way to get around.

If there are at least four in your group a taxi is the quickest way to get around. I only took a Canon 50mm f/1.2 and a Zeiss 18mm f/3.5 shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III. The five areas divided are Central, North, South, East, and West. Within each area are a few suggestions. 

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 Google Map route Kyoto

The above map route only takes an hour if you wish to explore the philosopher's path during spring followed by the silver temple (Ginkakuji), Aqueduct (behind Nanzenji Temple), and finish off with a late afternoon to early evening stroll through Gion and Pontocho.

Central Kyoto

Kyoto Station

Kyoto station is massive when you exit the main entrance it feels like being in a cocoon. A hyper-lapse or time-lapse up and down the escalators is a fun way to get a feel for the vastness of this station. The escalators seem to go up forever to about five-floor levels. The exterior of the station looks like a cruise ship. Late afternoon or early morning light looks cool in black and white.

Kyoto Station is massive and filled with many architectural photography opportunities.

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Nishiki Market

Nishiki Market is one ground level of about 1 kilometer of food stalls. It's narrow and difficult to shoot in especially since everyone seems to be stopping to eat or take a photo. White balance can be tricky in some parts. The ambiance is electric and the diversity of food from all over Japan makes it worth a short look just before lunch.

 

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Nishiki Food Market

Pontocho

Lantern alley is my nickname for Pontocho. Once again, its narrow and crowded so be prepared to go shoulder to shoulder down two lanes at most. The area is riddled with restaurants and bars mostly catering for revelers and tourists.

Shooting handheld at around 800–1,600 ISO at 1/60s on 50mm worked a treat on f/2.8. I would suggest coming here for dinner after walking through Gion area which is only across the river.

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Pontocho

North

Kinkakuji

Kinkakuji, or the Golden Temple as it is known, like all other venues, requires a small entrance fee of about 400 yen. Traffic flow of people is controlled in one direction. The Golden Temple itself can't be entered but many vantage points around the pond and garden path will make for great shots. 

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Kinkakuji Golden Temple

South

Fushimi Inari

Just like the bamboo grove, Fushimi Inari is always open to public access. I would suggest you get here at about 7 a.m. If using a tripod make sure not to be in the way of other visitors. Japanese are too polite to say something and there are currently no restrictions here. However, I would suggest you shoot fast and move on as the crowds start to build up from around 7:30 a.m. Weekdays in most locations in winter or summer are easier to move about. This location has been voted by trip advisor as the most popular tourist destination in Japan. The torii gates along the entire trail are donations by individuals and companies, and you will find the donator's name and the date of the donation inscribed on the back of each gate. The cost starts around 400,000 yen for a small sized gate and increases to over one million yen for a large gate.

 

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Fushimi Inari

East 

Gion

Trying to find a Geisha in Kyoto is becoming increasingly difficult. Geiko (Senior) or Maiko (Junior) as they are known in Kyoto are well aware of their popularity. They are treated like movie stars and us the tourists are the Paparazzi. 

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 Geiko after dance class

Ginkakuji

In my opinion, I think the silver (Ginkakuji) temple is more picturesque than the golden (Kinkakuji) temple which has more Wabi - Sabi best described as a perfect imperfection. The mix of rock, sand, bridges, ponds, and perfectly positioned trees lends itself to a place where are artists can reflect on the finer aspects of Zen Buddhism. 

 

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Ginkakuji (Silver) Temple

West

Tenryuji

Tenryuji is a picturesque garden and temple with the focus more on the gardens especially in spring (cherry blossoms) or autumn (cypress trees). The gardens have a back entrance which is directly on the bamboo grove path which makes it very convenient to enter at 8:30 a.m.

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Tenryuji Temple and Garden

Bamboo Grove

Getting here at around 7:30 a.m. is important to avoid the crowds. The bamboo grove pathway runs for only about 500 meters in key spots with curves or straight lines. Cars are allowed to drive through here so tripods might be in their way. Wedding shoots are done here on a regular basis and large tour groups also walk these paths. 

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Bamboo Grove in Arashiyama