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Fujisan (Mount Fuji, Japan)

I visited Japan in 1986 as the first American to have an exhibition at the Pentax Forum in Tokyo. I was invited by Pentax to exhibit there because someone from the company in Japan chanced to see an article about my telescapes in Popular Photography magazine.

Coincidentally, about a decade before, I was the only Pentax dealer in the U.S.A. selling their cameras exclusively, solely by demonstration (using my own equipment), and without a retail store location.

A well-known Japanese photographer graciously offered to take me for a couple of days to see the famous landmark Mt. Fuji, or “Fujisan” as it is affectionately called by the Japanese, and nearby scenic areas. Unfortunately both mornings were very foggy.

We left Tokyo by 4-wheel-drive minivan at 3:30 a.m. and arrived at a viewpoint looking out at dense fog obscuring everything beyond the 25-foot range of the headlights. My photographer friend asked me if I had a 5,000-yen Japanese note. I pulled it out of my wallet and turned it to its backside as instructed. He placed it on the dashboard and said, “This is exactly the view of Fujisan you would see if it wasn’t foggy.”

I must say it was small comfort indeed to have to take his word for it.

The next morning we went up to a hilltop before dawn in another attempt to get a view of Fujisan. My friend told me that visitors often never get to see it during winter sunrises because it’s usually very foggy and cloudy. I held out very little hope this time because the fog was very dense even at that elevation and we couldn’t see anything beyond the tall grasses alongside the road. I set up my camera anyway, after being told approximately where Fujisan was, and waited for whatever light was going to appear. Oh, yes, it was also very windy — just one more thing which seemed to be conspiring against us.

As the sun rose, obscured by a heavy cloud bank to the east, the fog slowly lowered, Fujisan broke through the layer, a wisp of fog hovered over its peak and I took this picture. Although the fog decreased rapidly as the sun rose higher, I realized that the fog was, in fact, an absolutely essential ingredient to the moment.

Notice that the bottom of the grass stalks are in focus, as well as the peak of Fujisan, even though they are separated by many miles. This is possible only because the 300mm view-camera lens I used was tilted so that the plane of focus is inclined nearly horizontally to pass through both subjects. This would be impossible with any other type of lens.

The leaves were blowing vigorously in the wind so it wouldn’t have been any advantage to focus sharply on them as the light was too dim to allow a shutter speed fast enough to stop their motion. Focusing sharply on the relatively stationary stalks below and adjusting the shutter speed longer to emphasize rather than minimize the motion of the leaves above has the benefit of reinforcing the feeling of motion.

The trick is to be able to make these decisions before you have to take the picture rather than after you get home and realize you should have done something else. My engineering background has taught me to constantly research, test, retest, experiment, calibrate, practice and prepare — preferably before the need arises. I find that when an opportunity for a rare photograph presents itself I am usually given only one chance!

Nishi Hongwanji
Buddhist Temple
(Kyoto, Japan)

The west (Nishi) Buddhist temple in Kyoto. This is the very first photograph I took with a 600mm large-format (6" x 8") telephoto lens I had just purchased a few days before directly from Fuji’s headquarters in Tokyo, thanks to my father’s boyhood friend, who was the manager of Fuji Photo Film Hawaii.

I usually like to test out a new piece of equipment thoroughly before using it but in this case it was only possible to get a rough idea of the lens performance by visually examining the image it produced, using telescope eyepieces I’d brought along for the occassion.

The feeling of serenity one gets from walking the grounds of the temple is in harsh contrast to the busy, noisy, multi-lane highway running by right in front. By crossing to the other side of the highway and extending my tripod as high as possible to shoot over the passing cars, it was possible to avoid the distracting aspects of the surroundings and concentrate on the real “soul” of the temple.

It is more the power of photography to be able to exclude what is not significant rather than the more common attempt to include everything being experienced in person.

I think most artists would agree that it’s essential to get a feel for your subject so it’s clear to you what you’re trying to convey. In contrast, it’s not necessarily essential to the amateur who may use the camera merely as a quick and simple way to record the physical appearance of a place visited or an event experienced — certainly a worthy enough goal and not one to be belittled by someone like me having quite different goals.

However, hopping out of your car to take a snapshot at a viewpoint you’ve never been to before, at a time that happened to be convenient for you to be there, then hopping back in the car to hurry down the road to the next unknown viewpoint, obviously will result in quite a different photograph than if you had spent some considerable time beforehand “simply” walking around, appreciating the constant changing of light and weather throughout the day, contemplating what about the place makes it different than any other. It is the latter photograph that I always strive to capture.

Your impression may in fact be quite different than someone else’s but it’s exactly that personal opinion which makes it worthwhile to take your own unique photograph.

Also you, in viewing these photographs, may have a completely different impression than that which I was trying to record for myself but I feel this is not only perfectly acceptable but welcomed. If an image generates some emotion or memory meaningful to you then I’m satisfied that I’ve been extremely successful as an artist.

Although it may be selfish, the goal of my photographs is ultimately to satisfy myself.

Ice on Kawaguchi-ko (Lake Kawaguchi, Japan)

Ice breaking up into fantastic patterns on the surface of Lake (“Ko”) Kawaguchi was photographed later on the same morning during which we were sitting in the car at dawn in heavy fog lamenting not being able to see Fujisan.

A normal camera can only focus on a plane parallel to and at a single distance from the film plane, which would have resulted in a single line of sharp focus on the surface of the ice at that particular distance but with the foreground and background going progressively out of focus away from that line. “Stopping the lens down” to a smaller aperture can improve the out-of-focus areas but can never eliminate the unsharpness completely.

It’s critical for this picture to have everything equally in sharp focus. I was very glad to have the ability to tilt the camera lens forward to focus sharply on the entire surface of the lake rather than only a single line of ice. The convenient through-the-lens viewing ability on the sharp focusing screen of a Pentax 6x7cm camera body on the back of a Toyo 4" x 5" view camera enabled me to quickly and conveniently determine when the tilt of the lens was just right to achieve this perfect focus everywhere over the surface of the ice.

Great Sand Dunes (Colorado)

I had been waiting around the campground for 3 days in the rain before finally deciding to make a rain tarp out of a plastic garbage bag and shoot a few pictures in the rain. I’m glad I did.

Sandstone Wave (Dinosaur National Monument, Colorado)

This was taken from a parking area with a 1000mm (20-power) refracting (non-mirror) Pentax telephoto. Probably millions of people have “seen” this without really “seeing” it. The sandstone was a sandy beach at one time but over the eons has become pushed up nearly vertical (after being turned to stone).

Spraybow on Lower Yellowstone Falls

The spray from the falls allowed a “rainbow” to appear. The exact conditions for this scene probably occur only twice a year (once in the fall as the sun’s arc is descending toward its low winter path and again when the sun is exactly in the same position, in the spring as it’s ascending toward its summer high), since the angle of the sun’s arc across the sky changes enough from day to day to make a very crucial difference.

This morning started out very cloudy on the eastern horizon and it was a little discouraging as I began to realize, after setting up early as usual in the freeze of pre-dawn darkness, that it was certain the sunrise would be heavily obscured and the light wouldn’t have any interesting color at all but would just become a lighter and lighter gray.

Just before sunrise, as could only be determined by my wristwatch and not by the light, I was joined at Artist Point by a serious amateur photographer who was on vacation with his very beautiful and very expensive 4" x 5" Sinar view camera. Since the light wasn’t any good we at least had someone else with whom to have a pleasant conversation.

After about a week on the road alone I find myself resorting to talking and, worse yet, singing to myself — and writing down amusing lyrics from country-western songs, just about all that’s available if there is any signal at all to stop the radio from endlessly scanning, cycling continuously over the entirely empty frequency band.

The other fellow finally gave up, packed up his camera gear and said that he was going to hike around the canyon a bit so the morning wouldn’t be a complete waste. We wished each other better luck with the light for the remainder of our trips.

I wasn’t in too much of a hurry to pack up since the tour buses wouldn’t be arriving for some time yet and I could enjoy the view, even as it was, while leisurely putting things away before heading back to the car.

There are times when I’m glad I’m slow and lazy. While I still had the 800mm Nikon lens set up on the Toyo 8" x 10" camera with a Pentax 6x7cm camera body on the back, the sun suddenly rose above the cloud bank and shone deep enough into the canyon to create this spraybow. I had only one chance to take a spotmeter reading and record this photograph before the spraybow moved much too quickly off to the right and disappeared.

Notice that the full width of the spraybow, if you imagine the colors progressing through deep red, orange, yellow, green, blue and violet, covers about half the frame, evidence of the unusual distance and magnification involved.

Royal Arches, Yosemite National Park

This scene is just above the campground at Camp Curry on the valley floor but probably not many people have been able to enjoy it because it’s so small in the normal field of view.

Harris Beach, Oregon

Trees on Sand Dunes, Oregon

I had to set up my tripod and 1000mm lens and stand in the trunk of my car at the time to be able to see over a fence to take this picture.

Shastina, Mt. Shasta, California

Shastina is a small cone on the northwest side of Mt. Shasta; Mt. Shasta is the cone just becoming visible at the upper left. Just a few minutes after I took this picture, the fog visible just behind the first ridge in the foreground became thicker and obscured the whole mountain. If dawn had been a few minutes later, there wouldn’t have been any photograph. The slight amount of fog is just enough to delineate the foreground ridge. I must lead a charmed life.

The photograph was used as the cover shot of “Downhill Racer” (the paperback novel, not the movie), although I have difficulty picturing Robert Redford racing down Shastina.

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