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
As a former marketing executive, I do know a few things on how to speak to people.
Here is my method to gaining access to photograph private property.
I live in New England. And although we have miles of beautiful coastline and tons of historical buildings to be found, I like to find “off the beaten path” photo ops. Locations I feel I’ve discovered or earned. Driving around in search of these, I often find fields, farms, remote houses, abandoned buildings, ponds etc.. which would be great to shoot under the right conditions. However all too often, these locations are on private property. Although legally I could shoot them from the street, that isn’t usually the best option for the shot, and its also kinda creepy.
So, I came up with a simple, very effective and affordable method to win over these private property protectors, gaining you free roam access to their land, usually as often as you’d like.
Heres what I do. I write them a letter, and I send them a gift.
First lets cover the letter. Coming from a marketing background, I know a thing or two about getting peoples attention, holding it, and selling them on the product or idea that I’m pitching. In this case I want their permission to roam freely and photograph their property at will. So the letter is carefully broken up into the following sections.
This short paragraph introduces who you are, what you do and needs to paint a picture that you’re a good person. Not some creep that wants to snap pictures through their windows. I usually start the letter with “Dear Neighbor”, calming their fears that I’m not a stranger, I live near them! I also mention where I live (The road not the actual address. They could be crazy!) And I also usually mention passing by their “field” or “barn” etc.. and how beautiful it looks at sunset. Now we are talking about them, and everyone likes when they are being talked about.
I also include a headshot of me behind a camera, smiling. Show them who you are, it helps them to understand who is speaking to them. (Unless you’re really scary looking, then omit headshot
Now I get right into it. I start this with a very non-direct request to photograph their property. Something like “I was wondering if you would mind if I photographed your beautiful barn…” I then add another line to make it about them again, this time really raising the complement. “Although I travel the globe and photograph famous landscapes and buildings, I would really like to add your barn to my portfolio…”. I then close the paragraph with the type of shot I would be looking for, setting the stage so they understand they can’t just call me and schedule a day and time for me to stop by, and that the shot must be on my terms under the right weather conditions. Something like “I specifically would love to get a foggy morning with interesting clouds. It may happen tomorrow, but it could take months. Thankfully I’m only a few minutes away”. Now they understand it can’t be scheduled and could happen any day.
3. Respecting their privacy.
This short paragraph addresses why I didn’t just stop by and ask, and shows that I respect their privacy. “I would have stopped by in person, but in this day and age that is not always welcome…nor did I want to pressure you face to face” It’s short, but shows you understand they have private property for a reason.
4. Addressing their concerns.
Before giving them reasons to say no, I come right out and address the concerns I know they would have. It includes lines like “I would park in the street” “I would not disturb or move anything” “I would give you a heads up before coming by” “I won’t steal your dog” and finally “I would provide you with a framed picture if you wish” After listing and addressing any concerns they have, and throwing in a picture for them to hang on the wall from a professional photographer of their property, why wouldn’t they say yes?
I then give them my contact information, with numerous ways to get in touch. Including Cell, Home Phone, Email, Website and Smoke Signal. (You can’t lose with humor)
And the icing on the cake, I mail them a disposable camera. These can be purchased in bulk for around $6-$7 each and mailed for around $3 in a box with your letter. Everyone loves to get a box in the mail, so you know they will open it, unlike a simple envelope. In closing I add a paragraph on why I mailed them the camera. “Please accept this disposable camera as my thanks for your consideration. With digital cameras so popular, it isn’t often the art of simple old fashioned photography is enjoyed. Use it for a gathering, document a trip, or I’m sure you can find some beautiful pictures around your property.” If you really want to get nuts, you could throw in a gift card to CVS to cover the cost of the prints, probably $5 or less I would imagine.
This method has been very effective for me and I have a number of great places to shoot this spring and summer. It is simple, inexpensive and you’d be surprised on how many people call you up. Some of you may wonder, why not just drop it off in their mailbox? That is in-fact against the law, and why start a relationship off the wrong way. I hope this method of reaching out to people helps you gain access to new places and better pictures you may have never been able to take.
If you would like a copy of my template, shoot me an email. Brian@fabianophotos.com
I awoke to an overcast sky this morning, ending my chance to get one more beautiful sunrise in Grand Cayman. I had one sunset left while here and thankfully had covered the locations I wanted to photograph during our stay, so the last sunset of my trip was open to spots that didn’t make the cut previously. I had one in mind, though it was 30 minutes from where we were staying. The family wanted to do some touristy shopping so we headed into George Town (a 45 minute ride).
I told everyone AIS (ass in seat) at 4:45 which would give me enough time to drop them off and get to the sunset. However, I did not account for traffic! It took 30 minutes longer than I anticipated to get back and I was giving up hope that I would get in one more shoot before leaving. We passed this spot only 10 minutes from our villa. I kicked everyone out of the rental, sped back and setup in just enough time to catch the last rays of sunlight. Even while shooting I didn’t think much of the shot. Probably because I was rushing, and felt unprepared.
I framed it quickly and first focused on waves crashing, knowing I was losing light. I snapped every good crash I could. Once the light was gone, I switched to 5 bracketed exposures and focused on the rest of the shot.
See the final photograph here You never know. #DiscoverthPhoto
Prior to heading to Grand Cayman for a family vaca, I did some research to find some off the beaten path places to get some good photos. The Caymans, though beautiful, do not have many well known places for portfolio quality photos, so I dug deep on google. I found a post from someone (can’t remember, sorry for lacking the credits) who described a set of stone steps leading to a stone wall to the left of Barefoot Beach where you could get a nice sweeping picture of the beach. Lucky for me, Barefoot was only a 15 minute ride from the house I was staying in. After finding Barefoot on Google maps (many beaches in Grand Cayman are very tiny, and if you don’t know they exists, you would drive right by) I headed off to scout the location Found the path to the beach pretty easily, however realized that unless it is dead low tide, you could not safely walk to the steps. So we (I was with my brother) headed back to the road and tried to find a way to the cliffside.
A few hundred yards down the road we hopped a fence and made our way through the thick vegetation. Minutes later we discovered an abandoned walkway that wrapped around the cliffside, for probably 1/4 mile. I later learned the construction of a large resort was canceled after hurricane Ivan swept through, and all that remained was the stone path. After hopping the wall I found a good vantage point to capture the sunrise hitting the cliffside next to the steps. It would take 3 mornings to get the light I was looking for, however I was very happy with the result. It was an amazing experience sitting alone on that cliff listening to the waves and watching the sun rise. The shot I got was a bonus.
Will be posting the final soon!