Fushimi Inari-taisha

I recently vitsited Kyoto, Japan. Before I left on the trip a friend of mine who had been to Kyoto before me showed me her pictures of Kyoto and said that she would be interested to see what kind of pictures I would take at Fushimi Inari-taisha (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fushimi_Inari-taisha). I thought of it could be a good challenge for me.

On my first day in Kyoto I went to Fushimi Inari-taisha midday. It was very crowded with tourists. At times the stream of torists moving through seemingly too narrow torii was so thick that I could not stand in one place, I had to move with the stream. It was hard to get any picture of the place. So, I did not. Instead I spent my time exploring the place, experiencing it first hand.

Next day I went there in the very early morning. It was dark and cold. The city was asleep. Occasional taxis on the narrow roads were asleep too with their drivers sleeping in reclined seats. The subway was  closed in such early hours and I walked along the streets of the quiet Kyoto to Fushimi Inari-taisha for an hour. I walked the path that would become all too familiar to me in the mornings after that.

When I got to Fushimi Inari-taisha it was still very early and I had it to myself until the first train would bring early-risers. I took some pictures but they somehow did not capture the place the way I felt it. They were too obvious, lacking uniqueness, my personal experience with it. They were technically perfect but that was too low bar for me. I wanted to go beyond technical.

On the morning of the third day I realized that I kept approaching photographing Fushimi Inari-taisha the same way I approach landscape photography paying attention to details. Every picture had every detail sharp in highlights, mid-tones and shadows. But that was not what Fushimi Inari-taisha was about. It was about mystery. It was about unseen and unheard. It was about my deepest wishes and deepest fears hiding away from light in the dark shadows of night. They were there for me to find, they were there for me to imagine.

Only after abandoning the idea of capturing every little detail in each picture I started getting pictures that spoke to me. A hint of torii, a striking pattern of shadow and light, a light revealing nothing but a few characters of Japanese script was enough. The rest could be filled by one’s own fantasy.

Once I saw the magic of the place I fell in love with it. It became the destination of my nightly pilgrimage.

On the last two days of my stay I finally got to the summit of Mount Inari (I had too many interesting photos to take at the lower levels before). As I got to the shrine at the summit I felt moved, touched by the experience of all those days and prayed following the local customs I had observed for so many times all the previous days. It just felt appropriate, like that was the single purpose of climbing all those steps.

I could not get enough of Fushimi Inari-taisha. On the departure day I stayed there as long as I could taking more and more pictures. Even as I had to leave I saw even more pictures that I did not have time to take.

Snow in the Palouse: The Night I Came

Snow in the Palouse, cold, windy… I went there again to see it, to photograph it, to experience it. And I was blown away by the beauty of it again.

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I arrived there at night on the longest night in the northern hemisphere. Most of the drive was in the dark and most of it was snowless. But the temperature drop was noticeably. As I was driving I was watching outside temperature on my car dashboard. I wanted to know when it drops below freezing to drive slower in case there are ice patches on the road. As I got to the crossing over Columbia river I was watching in awe how temperature was dropping down another degree every 10-20 seconds. It was unbelievable: how temperature could go from +4 to –7C in a span of just a few kilometers.

As I was getting closer to Colfax the snow started showing up. It was getting thicker and thicker. It felt like the Palouse was the only place that had snow, isolated island of snow surrounded by bare land. And it was all in deep fog. It was beautiful. I just had to stop and photograph.

I stopped at the entrance to one of the side roads that was covered with too much snow, not drivable. I went to photograph a small farm by the road. I stayed close to the main road as snow was too deep to wonder off. I was taking picture after picture with long exposure. A snow plow truck passed by cleaning snow from the road. Smashing me with the powerful spray of wet snow and dirt. I was not angry, I was strangely calm, nothing could disturb me soaking up the beauty around me. And after all I saw his tracks – he tried to drive the truck farther away from me but splashing me was unavoidable.

I spent several more hours just driving around looking at all of it, enjoying all of it. Finally, past midnight I stopped, climbed into the back of my car and fell asleep, tired and happy.

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On a Foggy Night

For a week the area where I live had fog. Every day. Every night. Whole day. Whole night. It was beautiful, smooth, thick, milky white fog. I love fog. It adds mystery and depth to everything.

Unfortunately, I was busy whole week and could not get out to photograph. But one night I just dropped everything I did, picked up my camera and went out on a walk around the neighborhood. While I may have not done any greatest hits, I still enjoyed reconnecting with what I love using even smallest moments I can carve out of sometimes busy days.

Here is in some sense a good representation of my suburban neighborhood and probably many other neighborhoods across US: proudly displaying their flag on their home, keeping cars outside despite having garage because the garage is filled with things that they still cherish, things that they find it hard to part but which they will unlikely to ever use again.

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Happy Halloween

I took this photo in the Palouse back in August this year but was holding it back to use it to wish everyone a happy Halloween. Enjoy this image of an abandoned house on one very stormy summer night. It looks very much like a haunted house.

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From Real into Surreal

“The thing’s hollow – it goes on forever – and – oh my God – it’s full of stars!” – Arthur C Clarke “2001: A Space Odyssey”

When I was a kid I loved science and I loved science fiction, not the kind with goblins, demons and fairy tale creatures but the kind about interstellar voyage and discovery, distant stars and worlds around them.

One of those stories that I remember particularly well was about a world with three suns, a world where darkness had no place, a world without stars, with intelligent race who believed there is only small space around them, that they are alone in the Universe. Every so often a global cataclysm was sweeping thru the planet as all three suns where aligning and giving a gift or curse of night with all the stars in the sky. Every adult on the planet would turn mad from the shock of realization that there were infinite number of worlds in the Universe, that they are not alone. What remember from the story the most is that feeling of shock and awe of seeing so many stars.

Now I’m a grown up man but I still love science fiction. How is it relevant to photography? What if we imagine a world where stars can be visible even during day…

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A while ago I published this photo from my trip to the Palouse: Taking Advantage of Imperfections. I like the photo. It has some surreal quality to it. But to me it was not finished yet or at least it was not what I intended for it.

I wanted to create an imaginary world where sun and stars can be seen at the same time. I took the same photo at night with intention to merge the two into one. When I did it it became even more surreal. At the same time I recognized that the pattern of stars from that view point was completely random. They were randomly filling the sky making it more interesting but not adding anything to the composition.

If only I had Milky Way spreading its wings around the Sun, along the sun rays extended by imperfection in my polarizer – that would be really interesting. So, on my recent trip to Rainier I photographed Milky Way positioning it within frame where I ‘d like to have it on the final image. Here is the end result the way I intended it. To me it looks even more surreal than before and at the same time somehow very harmonic.

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I’m interested in what you think about these to images?

Lights in the Night

I’ve probably mentioned before that I love photographing at night. Ok, if I have not then I’ll say it now. I love photographing at night.

There are several reasons for that. First, I like element of surprise in night photography. Human eye cannot see that well at night (though you’ll be surprised to how well it can see once you give it time to adjust to low light). Thus I don’t quite see how photo will look like. After setting up first exposure just having a general idea, I take it and I get a surprise as I can see things that a human eye cannot see: details and shapes that are too dark to see, movement of clouds and stars at long exposure.

The second reason why I like night photography is because it gives me an opportunity to play with light: flashes, flashlights, gels. That’s where creativity really kicks in. Rather than capturing what’s presented to me in the best way possible, I create something out of my mind.

On this trip (just as on many others) I’ve dragged the whole gang out of cozy rooms into bitter cold two hours before sunrise to get some time for night photography. This time I played with flashes. I’d work on the ice and after certain number of steps would put a flash against the ice and fire it.

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Enchantment Lakes [17]

Day 4. Last Night

For our last night at Enchantment Lakes we setup our camp by Lake Viviane. At first we set it up on an open area by the lake. But the wind was picking up. After some discussion we relocated the camp to a site where big boulders and trees were shielding us from the wind. We’ve made a really good choice.

Later, before going to sleep, I wanted to setup camera for another long night exposure. Once I stepped out of our camp site I felt the strength of the wind and decided not to leave camera out on tripod out of worries that the wind would knock it over.

By the last night at Enchantment Lakes I finally figured out the right combination of clothe, sleeping mat pressure, face cover (from freezing air) to get a good sleep. I dropped off to sleep quickly.

I was woken up in the middle of the night by the wind gusts that were squashing down our tent. That was inside our camp site protected by boulders and trees. Outside the camp the wind was roaring. I fell asleep just to be woken up again and again by the top of the tent squashed onto me by a wind gust.

By the morning wind quieted down a little bit and I fell in deep sleep.

Enchantment Lakes [9]

Day 2. First Night at Lake Perfection Camp

As the sun dropped behind the mountains and it started getting darker, we headed back to setup our base camp.

I could not get much sleep again. I still was not very comfortable but that was not the only reason. At night I was woken up by wind gusts and what appeared to be rain. It was rain but it did not have water in it. It was rain of larch needles shaken off trees by wind gusts. I realized it once I got out of tent to get everything we had left outside into the tent.

Enchantment Lakes [3]

Day 1. Sleepless Night

As I wrote in the previous post our first camp was next to Upper Snow Lake. By the time we made and ate dinner it was dark. And there is not much to do when it is dark in the wilderness. So we settled for a sleep.

I was excited: my first night in the wilderness. I may have been too excited to get any sleep. Or maybe it was just too uncomfortable. I had too much clothe on and was too hot, I had no pillow, the mattress was blown too stiff, the air was freezing and freezing air was causing runny nose. (Only by the last night of the trip I found the right combination of all the things to get a good night sleep.)

Anyways, I could not sleep. I was just lying trying to get some rest. At about 1am I, finally, gave up, got out of tent and decided to enjoy the night a little bit. And I was rewarded with Aurora Borealis. It was not the biggest I’ve seen but it was fun.

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Once that was over I decided to photograph star trails. It took me about 15 minutes of trial-and-error to find Northern Star – the center of the spin. Once I found it and figured out the right exposure I set my camera off on the longest exposure I’ve ever had – 1.5 hours.

The good thing of being in the wilderness is that I could leave camera up for whole night and nobody would steal it. So, once I started exposure I went back to the tent and finally got some sleep.

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Dream of Stars

When I was a kid I could spend hours watching night sky, dreaming of traveling to the distant stars and other worlds. But I’ve never dreamed of photographing them.

Isn’t the technology amazing? Just a few years who would dream that any ordinary person could photograph stars and see Milky Way the way human eye cannot see. Aren’t these an amazing times we live in?

P.S. Stars, I still dream of you.

Milky Way
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