Adventures in Ducking the Tripod Police

Kiyomizu-dera Spring Lighting Event

I began making my way to the Kiyomizu-dera Temple in Kyoto Japan around 5:15 for a sunset and blue hour shoot. Sunset was a little past 7:00 and tonight was a special spring lighting event that required an event ticket to enter the temple.  As I made my way up the steep narrow street (everything worthwhile in japan is at the top of a hill) I realized there was a line of people down the left side of the road.  This can’t be for the event I thought, I was still a 10 minute walk away.  As I continued up the street, I realized, this was for the event, and I began to get excited.  I wasn’t sure what to expect and apparently this is a big deal.

Thankfully, I was with a group of photographers and we had asked our local guide to hop in line a few hours prior.  I made my way up the street and met up with our guide Yumi, who was holding down 6th place!  Good thing I thought, this is a big to-do and I was told it might be difficult to secure a spot on the overlook in order to get “the shot”.  All seemed to be going well with only 5 minutes until they opened the gates to the ticket counter when I was informed by our group that you had to be in line to purchase a ticket. Panic struck, and I began to lose hope that I would get this shot.  As the group discussed our options (or lack of) the gate opened, and chaos ensued.  I looked around and realized that there was no one was really keeping track of anyone, so myself and a few others in our group slipped into line and flowed into the temple with Yumi and hundreds of others.  Yumi dashed to the counter and pointed to us as she purchased tickets, we waived and moments later were handed our entrance passes.

The race began! Once past the ticket checker I fell into a brisk walk.. then a slow jog… then as fast I could go without making the temple security concerned there was something wrong with me.

Through the lower temple buildings, up more stairs, past the main hall and finally to the overlook where I would be capturing my picture.  First to arrive at the railing I quickly surveyed the composition left, then right, and finally settled on the spot I would stake out.  I dropped my bag between my legs, and was soon engulfed by the crowd of on-lookers and photographers who finally caught up to me to capture the beautiful sunset.

I was told they did not allow tripod use in the temple on my way in, so I was thankful that the crowd was 4 people deep from the railing, essentially blocking me from anyone who cared.  It was at this point that I heard the first security announcement, first in Japanese, then in English. “No tripods allowed, please keep moving”.  I glanced over my shoulder to see the megaphone wielding security detail, careful not to make eye contact. Their job was to make sure there was  adequate space for people to walk on the overlook, and to end all tripod use.

I carefully attached my Nikon D750 to my tripod and extended one of the legs, while resting the other 2 on the railing in front of me.  This minimized my footprint and I was able to stand over everything, blocking the view from the tripod police.  “No tripods allowed, please keep moving”  She was right behind me, only 8 feet or so from where I was parked. The sun was starting to set, I checked my settings over, finalized the shot, and began to take my bracketed exposures.  60 minutes to go…

I soon found a not-so-comfortable crouching position that kept me completely out of site from the temple authorities while also protecting my tripod from the ever rotating on-lookers seeking a sunset selfie.  The repeated “No tripods allowed, please keep moving” began to worry me less and the first 40 minutes went by without a hitch. Soon however the sun set taking with it the throng of on-lookers and their iPhones. Suddenly I found myself vulnerable to the ever watching tripod police as the crowd thinned out.

“No tripods allowed, please keep moving”  Thats it, I had a good run, but my discovery is inevitable. I’ll just keep gazing past my camera, and hope for the best.  “Sir, no tripods allowed”  I soon heard, spoken very close, and without a megaphone.  I’ll just pretend I didn’t hear anything.  I felt a tap on my shoulder, followed by  “excuse me sir”.  I turned and was face to face with the authorities.  Shows over.  “Hi!” I smiled and pretended to have no idea why she was talking to me.  “Sir you can’t use a tripod here” she replied.  “Oh this?  Oh no big deal, its tiny, no problems, I was just taking some pictures. I’ll just finish up and thank you so much. I grinned and did my best to look innocent and clueless, hoping for a break. We both locked smiles for what seemed to be an eternity, knowing whoever spoke first would lose this courteous standoff.  I was hoping she would let me continue, and I can assume she was hoping I would pack up my tripod.  “…Ok, please try to finish up soon” she replied and with a smile she turned and left.

With the free pass from the authorities I captured the remaining 15 minutes of blue hour. I packed up my things, gave a thankful smile and nod to Mrs. Megaphone and made my way to the temple exit to head back to my hotel for the night.

Here is slice from my photograph “Spring Glow at Kiyomizu-dera”.  For the full high-res version, visit my portfolio page

Spring Glow at Kiyomizu-dera -slice