No Contemplation

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/2.2, 1/3800 sec, ISO200)

Senso-ji Temple, Asakusa. One of the most photographed spots in Tokyo. I have been here before about a year ago. Just long enough to forget how busy this place is.

But this time it was not only very busy on top of that the light was poor. Not the best conditions to take pictures or to seek contemplation.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/5.6, 1/1250 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/6.4, 1/950 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/8, 1/180 sec, ISO200)

But to just stay in the hotel was not an option. After such a long flight I need to walk my legs off. And of course I need to get tired to avoid that my jet lag keeps me awake until early morning.

So I went there again to take some pictures. As always I brought my Asia business trip setup: my Fuji X-Pro-2 with XF 14/2.8 R, XF 23/2 WR and XF 35/1.4 R. Three small and light primes that I still prefer over my new XF 16-55/2.8 WR for those trips because of three reasons:

  • 14mm is much more dynamic than 16mm
  • the 35mm is just magic at f1.4 and f2.0
  • it gives me a much smaller camera when one of those lenses is attached

Of course like everybody I hate to switch lenses. I like the convenience of a zoom but for those trips I just prefer the small primes even though it means that I have to switch lenses. I already tested that when I was in Seoul, Korea in July. I wrote a review of the lens and my conclusion was that it didn’t work for me in Asia because but I looked forward to use it in on my vacation in the South West of the USA. There it really worked for me and I took more than 60% of all images with it.

On my vacations in the USA I mostly shoot landscapes and for that I simply prefer zooms. The XF 16-55/2.8 WR is perfect most of the time and if I need a wider lens I simple switch to the XF 10-24/4 OIS. In Asia it is about the same. I use the 23/2 and if I need a wider lens I switch to the 14/2.8 and if I want to isolate something I use the 35/1.4. It’s as simple as it sounds and that’s why it works.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/2.8, 1/950 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/2, 1/1600 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/1.4, 1/16000 sec, ISO200)

But back to the poor conditions. If the sky is rather bright and featureless it is best to avoid the sky in the picture altogether. And this is what I did most of the time. I got used to it because in South East Asia the situation is even worse. If you are close to the equator you can’t take any pictures except early morning and close to sunset. But of course I also want to take pictures during the day so I developed this “avoid the sky”-technique.

Around lunch time I preferred to visit dark pagodas where the strong daylight together with the smoke from the joss sticks created those fantastic rays of light. The best thing you can do around lunch time in South East Asia beside simply having lunch of course.

Here in Japan spring was just around the corner which means cherry blossom. But I was about a week or two too early. Those blossoms are fake.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/4, 1/1700 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/5.6, 1/450 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/8, 1/280 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/8, 1/100 sec, ISO400)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO320)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO400)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/5.6, 1/320 sec, ISO200)

Inside it was very busy too. So busy that it’s easy to forget that this is a real temple and that people come here for their prayers.

But this temple is not different to the cathedrals in Europe. Far more tourists than prayers. Of course that has also some advantages. You don’t stick out even though an estimated 90% of the tourists came from China. Not like in South India where I was the only white person in the temple. Among all the tourists you can freely take pictures unnoticed. But of course like every photographer I still prefer if no other tourists are around even though it makes you feel uncomfortable sometimes.

But that’s something I have learned during my visits in India. You get your best pictures when you are outside of your comfort zone. I don’t want to sound negative. This temple in Tokyo is still a must see. Just don’t expect that it’s a place for peaceful contemplation.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/5.6, 1/150 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/4, 1/100 sec, ISO320)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (14mm, f/5.6, 1/100 sec, ISO250)

In the temple it’s rather dark while the outside light is super bright. A contrast of the scene that exceeds the limits of film not to mention slide film. With newer sensors it’s a different story. They are capable to deal with a lot of dynamic in the scene. And that’s without getting into multiple exposure HDR images.

Recently I got the new iPhone Xs. I’m not a person that switches phones every year. I switched from an iPhone 6 plus. Of course the phone is much faster so I can take faster phone calls or need less time to read emails or the news. Everything the same just faster. On a more serious note: The phone works just perfect but by far the best thing is the camera. This is a giant leap forward from my older phone and I start to understand why more and more people get attracted to smartphone cameras. The new iPhone tries to mimic the human eye which means it handles an enormous dynamic range. Of course such a small sensor has a rather poor dynamic range but the iPhone now is fat enough to make a couple of images and merge them in real time so that you finally get what you see. Regarding colours and white balance it’s just the same. You push the button we do the rest has finally become true.

Why I’m writing all that? Because I’m still old fashioned. I never felt limited by slide film. I grew up with deep black shadows and I find them aesthetically pleasing. And that’s why my images still look a little bit like slide film. At the end it is a matter of taste. BTW: I just installed LR CC on my iPhone to get my black shadows back.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/2, 1/5000 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/5, 1/550 sec, ISO200)
FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (35mm, f/2.2, 1/3800 sec, ISO200)

If you are still reading this you have my full respect. In this blog post my thoughts meandered around widely. I think it has to do with my memories or lack of memories from this visit. Sometimes a temple visit can be a deeply moving experience. That’s especially true in India where it can be overwhelming. Those Indian temples are very crowded too but they are full of prayers or people just sitting around staring at things. Sometimes at me. Still it is a much slower pace in general and it’s much more peaceful.

My visit at the Senso-Ji Temple was rather short. I had to run away. Maybe I will come here again but only if it happens that I’m in Japan during the winter months. I expect it will look very different then. But around spring time there is no chance to find contemplation.

FUJIFILM X-Pro2 (23mm, f/2, 1/900 sec, ISO200)