Using a Ricoh GRD III and a Nikon DSLR to photograph streets, people, architecture and anything else that catches my eye.

Thursday, 20 October 2011

Monthly Favoutrite - Geisha of Gion

Every so often, we photographers capture an image which is quite special. These images may not necessarily be the perfect shot, or may not win any competitions. Quite often these images are really only important to the person who took it; to remind them of a time and a place, or for even more obscure personal reasons. I have a few of these personal favourites, which I will post every now and then.

So here is today's personal fave - Geisha of Gion. 

Real traditional geisha are a slowly disappearing symbol of Japanese history and culture. An exotic anachronism, a butterfly trapped inside a machine; geishas can be sometimes seen in certain parts of Kyoto, going about their business.  They are quite secretive in their movements, and are rarely captured on camera. (Interestingly, many normal Japanese girls will spend a day dressed as a geisha, as an experience day; and these are often mistaken for real geisha).

There is a small area of Kyoto called Gion, which is the cultural center of all things geisha.  The narrow paved streets which criss-cross between small traditionally built restaurants, bars and inns all come to life in the evenings with businessmen and other wealthy types wandering from bar to bar, together with a splattering of entranced tourists. The rustic brown buildings are all softly lit with yellow and red lantern glows. Laughter and secrets can be heard all around as you wander along these simple old streets...   then out of nowhere...   around a corner comes an angel of colour and elegance; her quick foot steps are silent as she passes everyone with her painted face held high...  in an instant she is gone, leaving whispers and gossip in her enigmatic wake.

So, it would be rude to stand around with a DSLR trying to collect butterflies with a flash gun, wouldn't it?  But it's not so bad to stand still, with camera held at chest level, flash switched off,

...and if I time it just right...

Thursday, 13 October 2011

In the pocket

On a recent post, I introduced the Ricoh GRD which I bought back in 2008. It took me a while to get used to this new camera; many weeks of disappointment, hundreds of questionable images, and a generally unsatisfied photographer. I did, however, persevere. After a while I started to get some interesting images.

The most important thing about having the Ricoh turned out to be the fact that I never left home without it. Unlike the DSLR, which is hardly pocket size; the GRD can slip into any pocket.  This can be said for any small consumer point and shoot camera, of course; but the difference with the GRD is that it is totally controllable - either fully manual, or through aperture and shutter modes.  This naturally leads the user to constantly experiment and try different ways of getting an image. Also, it leads to taking shots in a much more spontaneous nature, which in turn leads to a more variety of photography.

The GRD allows the user to store custom settings parameters, which can be selected at any time.  This is ideal for street photography, for example, where it can be set up with a pre-fixed focus, aperture and/or shutter speed, ISO etc;  but annoyingly, I never quite managed to master the art of getting good shots of people.  This is something I would learn later, with the GRD3.

Here are a bunch of images taken with the GRD; displaying differing subject matter, styles and formats.  These are just some of the images I quite liked, from a large number in my archive. They all have slight issues, mistakes, blurring, under/over exposure etc...   but they do at least show that it is great to have a second camera, in your pocket!

Roman Bust - City of Bath

'Big Issue' Seller

Golden Harvest Time

Japanese Lunch and a Beer



River Colne - Colchester

On Brighton Pier

Riverside Apartments - Colchester


2000 year old architecture

River Colne, again

Local Green Grocer

Boudica - modern statue in Colchester

Stone Cross

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Up My Street

I have taken a good many images of my home town of Colchester over the last four or five years, since I have owned a DSLR. I just think it is important to photograph the neighbourhood; everyone should try and archive a little of their locailty, I think these things will be more important to us when we are old and grey. I dearly wish I had more photographs of my childhood neighbourhood.

Colchester is an old town.  I mean very old.  It is Britains's oldest recorded town, dating back to Roman times. Originally settled by a Celtic tribe, the Romans took over in 44AD and moved in, building a large wooden fort on a hill. They were attacked and kicked out by Queen Boudica (one fearless leader), and the whole town was burnt to the ground. The Romans eventually got it back, and then it became the capital of Britain. We have quite a lot of Roman treasures and burried temples, and even the remains of a Roman circus and amphitheatre.   Also Britain's oldest Christian church was founded in Colchester.

After the decline of the Roman empire, around 407AD, there is a long period of Saxon and Danish rule, but with very little recorded history. These really were the dark ages. Saxons and Danes were just fighting tribal warriors with farming, fighting and general survival being the main pastimes.

By the middle ages, 11th century onwards, we were taken over by the Normans, who rebuilt and expanded Colchester. They built an impressive castle keep over the top of the original Roman temple, which is still the largest surviving Norman keep in the world. Religion was serious business in those days, and Colchester got some pretty impressive Abbeys and churches built during the medieval period. Trade, farming, fishing, arts and crafts...  all these things created a good amount of wealth and history.

The town eventually, over the next thousand years, grew and prospered, becoming the reasonable size rural town that it is now. The result is a pleasent town, of course not without it's problems, but certainly a great place to wander with a camera.

So I will probably create a few posts from Colchester from time to time. A good place to start is my own street, East Hill, which itself is the ancient eastward route from the Roman fort town to the sea. I can sometimes imagine Roman soldiers, sent from sunny Rome to rainy cold Britain, leaving their sea faring galleons, and marching up East Hill for the first time as part of their tour of duty.  East Hill does have some very old houses and buildings, some of them are nearly 500 years old. Mostly though, they are beautifully built Victorian and Edwardian buildings upto 200 years old.

So, here is my street...  East Hill, Colchester

Friday, 7 October 2011

More of the lone figure

Here are another four images which fall into the same subject as my recent post The Lone Figure, where I am trying to show a single person, usually from a distance. I quite like this type of image, even if the person is relatavely small within the background. Sometimes it can convey how small a person is compared to the city surroundings, and in other situations it can show the quiet parts of a city.

The first image, showing an old person ambling home through the Kyoto backstreets, is a little fuzzy. Trying to capture night time images without a tripod is a gamble. I try to use a lamp post to hold the camera against, but it doesn't always work. I like the image though, just because I like the scene.

The second image was taken in a somewhat shabby part of Osaka. I have to say though that the roughest parts of Japanese cities are probably safer than any place in UK. The buildings aren't exactly attractive, but everything is clean and graffiti free, and virtually crime free.

As for the third image; maybe I have a thing about parasols, as they keep appearing in my images. They are incredibally common in Japanese summers, as much so as the umbella in the winter.

The final image is taken within a very modern part of Osaka. The building in the background is the entrance to an art gallery; the main building being built underground. A lone figure sits on the steps, having managed to find a quiet place to read a book. In the centre of a city of millions, where are all the people?

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Ricoh GRD

I have to stress once again that my knowledge of photography is not exactly commanding. I understand the basics of exposure, focal length, depth of field, ISO and white balance. For me, this enough, as I can create the images I need using aperture mode, shutter mode and even manual. I understand the rule of thirds (which is a rule I like to break often). I think I have a good eye for composition. All these skills are things that improve with the years, and I am learning new things constantly. I also know that I have a long way to go, and I look forward to the journey.

One thing I know very little about is photographic hardware. There are so many types of camera out there, and they all have specific uses and enthusiastic users. I can only comment on digital cameras, as I have left the world of film photography a very long time ago.

Up to a few years ago, I believed that the DSLR was the last word in cameras. I was very wrong.

I was becoming more interested in street photography, and have never been keen on waving a DSLR lens around in a crowd. I needed something small but with all the controlability of my DSLR; something which is not so obvious to the target public. After following other photographers' images, and looking into how they worked, I realised that a great many of them had swapped their DSLR for something different. I noticed that a few particular cameras kept coming up: some rather expensive (Leica rangefinders) and some more affordable (Canon S90). These two are just examples. There are now a great many manufacturers entering this area of photography, and the choice is not so easy.  At that time (2008), the camera which finally caught my interest was the Ricoh GRD. 

The GRD is a very small and stealth-like compact, with a super high quality prime lens. The camera has a character all of it's own, producing RAW or JPG images with a very distinct look and feel. There are no whistles and bells on this little baby, but it does have complete control over shutter and aperture control within a highly customizable control set up. Finally, it is beautifully built, and strong, and small!

This was the first version of the GRD, which has evolved over the years, (soon to be GRD4) but managing to look and feel like a GRD. The camera has an incredibly loyal and enthusiastic following, which has been looked after and appreciated by Ricoh over the years.

Take a look at these images, from Flickr, to give an example of the kind of thing that can be gleamed from this little back box.(GRD2 & GRD3 maybe included here) / Tags / grd / Interesting

You can tell if a camera is great when it has a fantastic user forum. The Ricoh Forum is a prime example, which covers all of Ricoh's specialist cameras: Ricoh Forum

For all the geeks and pixel counters out there, the DP Reviews page has all the technical stuff.

I managed to find myself a second hand (but well loved) Ricoh GRD on the mighty ebay, for around £100. This was pretty good for a camera which was £400 new.  At that time, I think many people were trading up from the GRD to the newly launched GRD2.  The camera arrived promptly, and as usual, I charged her up and started shooting away.  My initial results were less than overwhelming, and I started to wonder if I had made a mistake in buying into the Ricoh world.  It really did take a long time before I started to get results which had always come easy with a DSLR.  It seemed that a lot of thought and work had to be put into the GRD to get good results.

I had to start at square one and learn how to use this strange little camera.  I certainly could not get the 'street photography' images I was hoping for.  Instead, I concentrated on capturing still objects, architecture, and places. I found myself taking my Nikon with me aswell, and quite often giving up with the Ricoh.

Here is a very early image, which gave me hope. This was quite heavily vignetted through Adobe Lightroom, which is one of those things I noticed in other people's work.  Photography is all about inspiration and influence.

I had in my pocket, a small but fully manual camera; which I knew would eventually give me the freedom to take my photography everywhere, without something forever hanging around my neck.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

The Lone Figure

Owning the Nikon D80 slowly gave me more power to create the images which I had in mind. Whether it be architectural, cityscape, landscape or just random photography. I started to find myself wandering the streets with my camera, and with my mind constantly thinking about my surroundings and whether they would be worthy images. I have since learnt, after meeting other camera enthusiasts, that this is how the photographers mind works. I am relieved to discover that I am not alone in this slightly obsessive street wandering, hunting images like a poacher.

I also found myself starting to take photographs of people, as I have shown in some of my previous posts. Most of these images are taken from a distance, in a slightly cowardly way. I wasn't confident about aiming my lens at people close up, and have always felt a little unsure about invading people's personal space.

So here I was taking pictures of 'people', whilst walking around city 'streets'. I really had no idea that this was actually a popular genre of photography. It wasn't until I later started diving through Flickr groups and collections, that I discovered that thousands of people actively involve themselves in 'street photography'. I was not alone.

So although I hadn't got close up to people yet, I did begin to collect quite a few images of people from a distance. Looking back on these shots, I discovered that I had either deliberately or subconsciously started taking shots of lone figures in large backgrounds. I find the lone figure an interesting idea, especially in a Japanese city, where it is quite hard to be far from the crowd.

Here are some lone figures... the sort of thing I am trying to convey.

In one image, we have a Japanese businessman stepping out into the quietest road I've ever seen in Tokyo. I like how his immaculate black suit stands out in the pale background of bright summer sunshine.

In another image, we can see a guy standing amongst a forest of signs, signals and information boards; yet he looks lost and confused.   Too much information.

In Osaka, one way to get away from it all, is to go fishing. The Osaka Castle moat is a nice place to give it a try. One of the few quiet places in Osaka.

The lady crossing the field with a parasol was actually taken in my home town of Colchester.