Seeking Inspiration at the Japanese Garden
Monday 1 June 2015 — Category: Outings
In previous articles I have declared my vow to visit Portland’s Japanese Garden once a month for an entire year. My photo outing to the Garden last week demonstrated how, after only three visits, that vow is going to be difficult to keep!
When I arrived at the Japanese Garden via public transportation about half an hour before it opened at 8:00 AM for members only, I was dismayed to find that it was quite overcast out, despite the optimistic weather forecast of sunny skies. It wasn’t as foggy as my first visit in March, but it was close. This disappointing turn of events meant that the dull, boring lighting would not be conducive to photography. I had already photographed the Garden in the fog in March — there was no need for a repeat performance!
When the doors finally opened, I was the only one taking advantage of the early member-only hours. Although I love to be alone, my utter solitude only served to strengthen my lack of inspiration. The Garden looked the same as when I had last photographed it only 26 days before.
On second thought, it actually looked worse because some of the plants that had been in bloom then had only shriveled blossoms clinging to them now. My enthusiasm to take pictures seemed just as withered! I thought that perhaps I should just go next door to the International Rose Test Garden where I could probably get decent shots of flowers even under an overcast sky.
Robin Wong in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, came to mind. Ironically, he had posted them on the exact same day as my previous outing to the Japanese Garden:
I think many photographers struggle too hard to achieve extraordinary results. I on the other hand chose to do the exact opposite. If you have not noticed, all my images are focusing on very ordinary subjects, ordinary people in everyday places, nothing out of the usual, nothing spectacular. I have said this before, and I will say it again, as photographers, it is important to find beauty in ordinary things. Instead of going to find the elusive “moments,” we have to open our eyes to realize that photography opportunities are all around us, all we have to do is grab the camera, go out and SHOOT. — Extract from Labor Day Shutter Therapy.
I realized that I needed a different perspective of the Japanese Garden. During the previous two visits I had taken mostly wide-angle and medium-focal-length photos, so I already had plenty of shots which give the big picture. Therefore I decided that for my third outing I would try to focus on the little details which I might normally overlook.
To help me do that, I mounted my Panasonic 100-300mm telephoto zoom lens, which has a 35mm-equivalent focal length of 200-600mm. I have learned through both my own and others’ experience that the focus is a bit soft at the maximum focal length, so I made sure never to exceed 250mm (500mm equivalent).
As I look at my previous two albums of photos taken at the Japanese Garden, I find that none of them were taken with this lens. In stark contrast, I kept the 100-300mm lens on my camera the entire time I was within the Garden. I have to say that this approach really helped me a lot.
The lighting was so dull and dingy that I decided to try some shots using remote wireless flash. I had experimented with this technique in my own backyard — see Remote Wireless Flash Test #2 — but this was the first time I had actually used it on an outing. I ended up with six good photos illuminated by flash, including the third and fourth pictures to the right.
My reborn inspiration helped me find some interesting shots, but it could only carry me so far. After only an hour I was ready to call it quits and move on to the nearby Rose Garden which was in full bloom. Out of the 86 photos I took during that hour, 22 of the best can be viewed in the new Portland Japanese Garden, May 2015 album. All but the last of these pictures were taken with the Panasonic 100-300mm lens.
I wonder if I will find the courage and inspiration to face my June outing to the Japanese Garden? Or will I wimp out and break my vow? By the end of this month we will know one way or another!
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