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Goodbye (Photography) World…

April 29, 2011

What's next?
As if you couldn’t tell… I haven’t posted anything here in months. The reason is simple: I haven’t been making any images.

I love photography. But 23 years ago I made a conscious decision that I wasn’t interested in pursuing imaging making as a career. Why not? The simple reason is that I love it too much.

Instead, I make my living as educator. I am adjunct lecturer at a Japanese university. Unfortunately, non-Japanese academics are employed on a fixed-term contract basis and my contract is coming to an end soon. I have to find a new job and as anyone who ever had to look for a job knows, it is a time-consuming process. There is only so much time in the day and what little time I had for photography is now shifted towards my career.

After I secure a new job, maybe I can start to make some images again. I hope so. Until then… Mata Ne.

Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming, USA

September 5, 2010

I’m on vacation in the western United States, visiting family, relatives and friends and I took a day trip to Yellowstone National Park on September 2. I was really impressed by the park and the potential for photography is amazing. However, I was traveling with my family and this trip was about spending time with them, not about taking pictures. Of course, I brought my camera along, but I didn’t take the time to really create images. These are just some vacation snapshots.

We started our tour of the park from the west entrance and just after entering we came across some elk grazing in a meadow. The first thing that I noticed was that wished I had a longer lens. This was about 10am and the light was quite contrasty.
Yellowstone National Park: Grazing Elk

Our first ‘stop’ of the day was at Old Faithful. We arrived about 12:30, had lunch and watched the eruption about an hour later. We were sitting down wind from the geyser, so from our point of view it was mostly steam.
Yellowstone National Park: Old Faithful

After lunch, we headed out towards the lake and as we made our way around it we came across a bison herd grazing near the road. This big guy passed by the car close enough that we could have stuck our hand out the window and touched it.
Yellowstone National Park: Bison next to the road

One of our last stops on our way out of the north entrance of the park was Artist Point. This is the spot that I most wished I had the more time for photography. I only brought my camera (not my tripod or filters) so I couldn’t make an image with nice soft flowing water. Instead, I got this image. The highlights are blown out and water is rough, but it’s still an amazing spot.
Yellowstone National Park: Artist Point

All in all it was a great day. Of course I wish that I had been able to focus more on photography, but that wasn’t the purpose of this trip. If I ever get the chance to go again, I guess I would try to go much earlier, take a longer lens, tripod and filters (NDs, GNDs & a CP) and pick only a couple of spots. I wouldn’t try to make images of everything. That would probably take a lifetime.

A tale of two SIM cards and one iPad

August 28, 2010

Here’s the background to this story:

Apple’s iPad is distributed in Japan by the mobile phone carrier Softbank. Just before the iPad was released in late May 2010, Softbank announced that they would be SIM-locking or restricting the iPad to their network only. Many people, including myself, were upset by this announcement because the iPad would be sold unlocked and without a contract in the United States and other countries around the world.

There was quite a bit of confusion because, while Softbank said it would be SIM locked, Apple Japan said it wouldn’t be and then Apple changed what they were saying. Finally, Steve Jobs (Apple’s CEO for those who don’t know) commented in an e-mail to a customer that Softbank’s iPad would only be SIM-locked in Japan, but when traveling abroad it could be used with a SIM card from a local carrier. This was later confirmed by the Wall Street Journal. (A good timeline of this story can be found on the Mobile in Japan blog.)

While I was excited about the iPad, the SIM lock gave me pause. I spend most of my time in Japan (that’s where I live) but I typically spend about six to eight weeks a year in the United States and I really wanted to be able to bring my iPad to the States and use it by swapping out the SIM card.

After the WSJ confirmed the situation, I felt reasonably confident that I would be able to do what I wanted and I ordered an iPad. However, at the Softbank store when I made the reservation, I asked about the SIM lock situation and was told that it was SIM locked. I chalked it up to the sales clerk not being knowledgeable and proceeded with the order. When I picked up the iPad and signed the contract I again asked about the SIM lock situation and again was told that it was SIM locked.

The truth was that the SIM lock was not really a deal breaker for me. While I spend around two months a year in the States, I still spend most of my time (more than ten months) in Japan. While I felt confident that I would be able to change the SIM card and use the iPad when in America, I knew that I wouldn’t really know for sure until I got to the States and tried it. That day came yesterday.

I am happy to report that iPads purchased in Japan are not SIM locked outside of the country and can be used with a SIM card from another carrier. I bought a SIM card from AT&T, installed it in my iPad (purchased from Softbank) and was able to connect to AT&T’s 3G network. It works!

The process:

I went to an AT&T store, not a kiosk in the mall or the counter at Best Buy, but it wouldn’t matter. In fact, they didn’t have any iPads in the store and told me that they didn’t deal with them. If a customer asked about an iPad they referred them to Apple. The sold me a SIM Card ($15) and I had to install it myself. A little bit of culture shock there, I was expecting them to take care of the installation, etc. for me like Softbank did in Japan, but it wasn’t that big of a deal. I simply used the tool that came with the iPad to remove the Softbank SIM card, put the AT&T card in the tray and inserted it. Next, I turned off the airplane mode and allowed the iPad to connect to the network. This took about 90 seconds. Next, under settings->cellular data->view account, I created an account with AT&T by putting in my credit card and billing information. I could choose from 250 MB of data for $15 or 2 GB for $25. I will only be in the States for another 20 days, so I chose the 250 MB plan. The whole process from purchasing the SIM card to installing it to creating an account took about 5 minutes. It was very easy.

A couple of things:

I had to buy the SIM card for $15. I didn’t think that I would have to do that. I assumed that by buying data, I would be given the card for free. However, I can keep the card and use it the next time I am in the States, so it is a one-time purchase. Second, the 250 MB of data is good for 30 days and while I didn’t have to make a contract with AT&T, they will automatically bill me for more data every 30 days until I cancel. To cancel, I simple go to settings->cellular data->view account->add data or change plan on the iPad and touch the cancel plan button. But I have to do this before the 30 days are up and before I leave the States. Otherwise $15 will be billed to my credit card every thirty days.

All in all, I am happy with how things turned out — so far anyway. For $30 I am able to use my iPad when I am out and about in the States for the next couple of weeks.

I will update this post at the end of my trip when I cancel my data plan and with any other experiences/observations that I have about using the iPad on AT&T’s network.

UPDATE: A couple of days before I left the States I logged on to my account via settings on the iPad and canceled my data subscription. It was very simple. I received an email a little while later confirming the cancellation, but I could keep using the data. That turned out to be convenient because of an electrical problem, I spent two hours sitting on the plane at the gate in San Fransisco. It was easy to pass the time using the internet. I ended up using no where near the 250 MB of data, mostly because there is so much free WI-FI in the states.

When I got back to Osaka, I simple inserted my Softbank SIM card and was back on their network with no problems. I have to say that this was one of the easiest and most straight forward technology experiences that I’ve had in a long time. It wasn’t expensive, it worked perfectly and I have no complaints.

Obon in Kyoto

August 18, 2010

On Monday night I went to Arashiyama in Kyoto to take in some of the Obon activities.  It was a disaster. Again it brought out my extreme dislike of festivals in Japan. There were thousands of people there pushing and shoving being quite uncivil to each other. Photographically it was a nightmare. It was an extreme low light situation, so I brought my tripod, but because of the crowds, I couldn’t use it. Instead I cranked the ISO up to 3200 and ended up with really noisy images.

2010 Kyoto Daimonji

This is the Daimonji partially blocked by a tree. It was quite far away and if I could have used the tripod, I could have used my longest lens and maybe gotten a decent image. If I could have gotten over to the bridge I might have even been able to get a clear, unblocked image.

2010 Arashiyama Manto Nagashi #1

Frankly, I’m surprised that I managed to make any images at all. This one is of the floating lantern ceremony (manto nagashi). Thousands of paper lanterns with candles inside were floated down the river to lead ancestral spirits back home. Here the lanterns are being lit and put on the river. It would have been nice without the crowd.

2010 Arashiyama Manto Nagashi #2

The lanterns were floated on the south side of the river for about 100 meters and then pulled out. I guess they don’t want 10,000 open flames going all the way to the sea and possibly starting fires along the way. This is an image of the lanterns being extinguished and taken out of the river. It was so noisy and the noise reduction made the image so soft that it looks more like a painting than a photograph.

And that’s it for the summer festivals in Kansai for me. (Eight posts in four weeks!) There are a couple of firework things this weekend, but I think I’m going to stay home. Next week I’m off back home (the US) for the rest of my summer vacation. I’ll be taking my camera, but I don’t know how much I’ll be blogging because I don’t really have the software to process images on my laptop. I might post a few rough JPEGs and of course I will continue with the iPhone project on Flickr. Otherwise see you in a month.

2010 Nara To-Kae

August 10, 2010

Last night I went to the Nara To-Kae festival. Monday was the perfect day to go, not too many people.

2010 Nara To-Kae #1

The problem with this festival is that it is too big and therefore impossible to shoot everything. The images look best with the blue twilight sky, and once the sky goes black it is too dark to shoot. That gives you a 20-30 minute window and it is hard to move around the park in that amount of time.

2010 Nara To-Kae #2

So this year I focused on the field just east of Todai-ji, where they had lots of wheel shapes set up. (Last year I shot around Sarusawa Pond.)

2010 Nara To-Kae #3

The festival continues for another five days, so if possible I’d like to go again. I don’t know if it will happen though. It is supposed to rain tonight and tomorrow and then the Obon crowds will be out. We’ll see.

24 hours later… more fireworks

August 9, 2010

One of the nice things about the summer in Kansai (and there are lots of things that aren’t nice–weather for example) is that there are a lot of fireworks. In the month of August, within a reasonable journey from my home, I could go to a fireworks festival every Saturday & Sunday and most weekdays too. I kinda feel sorry for stateside friends who really only see fireworks once a year. Last night there was another fireworks festival in the next city over. I was thinking of going to the event, but… instead I made some images from my balcony.

More Fireworks 1

As you can see, I couldn’t get a complete shot of the bursts, but I kind of like the way the are framed by the building and trees on the distance hillside.

More Fireworks 2

I think that the car headlight and taillight trails add a nice touch to the images as well.

More Fireworks 3

The problem with these images is they aren’t quite sharp enough for me. I used the longest lens that I have, 300mm (about 480 on the crop sensor) which filled the frame quite nicely, but it is a low quality kit lens that I’ve had for almost 15 years. It isn’t very sharp and I really ought to upgrade it, but I so rarely use a long lens that I don’t think it would be worth the money.

More Fireworks 4

This image is from the finale. I was caught off guard (even though I knew it was coming) and I overexposed the middle. Oh well. It’s still kind of nice and really not bad for a image made from my balcony.

Finally, just for fun, here is the same view taken during the day. It clearly shows the hillside, the vegetation and the building that were blocking the fireworks last night. It also shows how low quality that lens is. At the very least, I think I should upgrade to the latest version of that same kit lens. I think it comes with IS now.

Takarazuka Fireworks

August 8, 2010

Last night I went to Takarazuka, Hyogo to see the summer festival fireworks. We watched them from inside a restaurant in a hotel on the river, which is a great way to see them sitting comfortably in the air conditioning, but it is a challenging photographic situation.
Takarazuka Fireworks 1

I couldn’t bring my regular gear, so I just brought my G10 and a Gorillapod so the photos are mediocre.
Takarazuka Fireworks 2

I managed a couple of decent shots, but even though I had the camera set for manual focus, the autofocus kept changing things, so some images are out of focus like this one. I still kind of like it though.

Takarazuka Fireworks 4

Another challenge was reflections in the window. I think I managed to get most of them out by adjusting the contrast and with some cloning.

Takarazuka Fireworks 3

There are plenty more firework festivals to go to, so I might be shooting some more. Hopefully I can get some better images.