In this post I'll explain how I shot and processed some digital stills I took at Naminoue shrine in Naha, Okinawa. The sun was about to set when I first arrived and the light was fading quickly. While this meant I had to work quickly, it also gave me the opportunity to shoot in that very magical time just after golden hour when the light is beautifully balanced in a way it is at no other time of day (except just before sunrise). The colour temperature of the fading daylight was quite high, well above 6,000 Kelvin, whereas the tungsten bulbs illuminating the grounds were likely around 3,000 K. This could result in some awkwardly colored images, or some truly artistic mood shots. Look at what I present below and you can decide for yourself.
This is fairly straightforward shot of a boy hanging a New Year's wish inscribed on a cedar board on a rack reserved just for that purpose (the Japanese word for these wishes is 'ema'). There is something spiritual and optimistic about Japanese shrines at this time of year and I wanted to see if I could infuse the image with some of that spirit.
Choosing to focus on the inscriptions in the foreground, and shooting wide open to gather all the light I could, I let the boy, go out of focus. This suggests that it's the rack of wishes and not the boy which is the true subject of the photo. This is partly because I wasn't in a position to get his explicit permission to use his image in a commercial photograph, and partly because the story I was telling was not about him. It's the photographic equivalent of writing in passive voice.
And here is a closeup of one of the ema. The focus here is on the centre of the placard. Placing the in-focus part of the shot at what would be the left 1/3 line creates a point of interest in that critical area and dutching the shot gives in an angular sweep from bottom left to top right. To me, this kind of in-focus vs out-of-focus combination in a single shot gives a picture the little something extra that helps put it into the "professional" zone.
My third and fouth shots are of 0mikuji, or New Year's fortunes written on paper and tied to a tree or a purpose built string. In this case, I needed to make sure the focus was tack-sharp so that the text could be read. I elected to focus on the Japanese text rather than the English, first because I'm in Japan and that's the cool thing to do, but also because the Japanese text is in red and brings life to the otherwise fairly low chroma photo. Again, notice the sweep from corner to corner and the depth produced by the line as it goes off into the distance from the bottom.
My final shot is a favourite, because of all the elements in it, which all tell different but related stories. First, the omikuji in the foreground has some interesting text, which I kept in focus. Next, the branch takes us into the frame. The out-of-focus people in the background give the infuse the shot with some energy and the dutch angle gives it an edge. The bokeh through the pine needles is a nice finishing touch.
And that was New Year's at Naminoue shrine. Actually, there's more, but I'll save those for another day.
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