By Rob Cottle
Last year I luckily found myself travelling to Tokyo and after having a play with the E-M1X before leaving, the idea popped into my head to show movement in my travel shots using the mind-boggling in-camera live Neutral Density filter.
This along with the extraordinary 7.5 stop stabilisation with a 12-100mm f/4 PRO attached, just seemed so creative and free. No need for the dreaded ‘3-legged equipment that shall not be named’. I never use one for wildlife as I like being mobile but had always taken one for travel and landscape work just in case I had to use long shutter speeds. Not anymore! It has been melted down and used as a bird feeder. This combination is not only liberating for the back but also the mind. If you have an idea, go for it, no missing subjects that may wander off whilst you fumble with filters or three-legged things, no awkward legs to get in the way of people (the tripod, not mine, damn I’ve said its name now!), less inconspicuous to passers-by and no filters to clean (which was a bonus as it was raining in Tokyo). A simple spin-off the program dial onto a custom stop that I had set up ready with live ND active and I was in arty heaven.
The in-camera Live Neutral Density function has yet added another tool to Olympus’s creative armoury, especially in daylight where you would normally have to use conventional filters. The live ND is a way of combining images to simulate an ND filter but amazingly, unlike dark conventional filters, if you turn on live simulation, you can compose and see the filter in action, live! I think Olympus is dabbling in voodoo!
For those who don’t have an E-M1X or E-M1 Mark III you can do this with conventional ND filters, especially the variable ones but working purely in-camera is so much more flexible and creative because you can try things as the composing juices are flowing rather than use your juggling skills, holding your filter pouch in one hand, picking out the filter in the other and lens in another (hang on that’s 3 hands!), whilst moving the tripod with your leg.
Torii Gate, Yoyogi Park, just outside the Meiji Jingu Shrine.
OM-D E-M1X with the 12-100mm f/2.8 PRO – ISO64 1.6s f/7.1
I do like to research areas before travelling (or at home for that matter) as I think it adds to the enjoyment and whole experience. It also helps a lot if you want to get the most out of a place, especially if time is short. So, I had a few subjects I hoped to capture on my list and a torii which is a traditional Japanese gate was one (translated as ‘bird abode’). This is a structure found at the entrance to Shinto shrines and symbolically marks a passageway from the mundane to sacred (a bit like walking into a cake shop!). The good people of Tokyo were taking a Sunday stroll along the Yoyogi Park pathway and walking through the torii (couldn’t find Boo-Boo-Boo anywhere). As it was the rainy season and drizzling, umbrellas were being held aloft, I could feel a plan coming on.
Starting with a conventional shot of the torii and those passing through didn’t give more than a record shot and a trip reminder. It wasn’t doing the scene playing out in front of me justice or maximising the potential. This seemed like the right time to try out the live ND, combine all the parts and add the extra element of using slow shutter speed to give the impression of a constant flow of walkers. I thought about zooming in more on the people but without the torii gate large in the frame it would have looked like it was taken in Wales (on a summers day :-)). Combining torii, people and showing movement, put everything into context with a twist. Composing so that the torii gate acted as a frame for the people below, the live ND was used at its highest setting of -5EV and the aperture was set to f/7.1. It was then a case of trial and error with the length of shutter speed and as the light wasn’t great, I was able to regulate it with the ISO, finishing up at its lowest of 64. I took several shots and found that around 1 to 2 seconds was about right, not too quick that it would look like camera shake and not too slow that would make people practically disappear. It was then a case of capturing the right amount of people walking through the torii to balance the image.
I only decided on the black and white conversion when I started to process the image. It had an almost infra-red look which I thought lent itself to the feel but it also seemed to balance the image better.
Senso-Ji – Temple in Tokyo, the world’s most visited spiritual site (according to Google, so it must be right!)
OM-D E-M1X with the 12-100mm f/2.8 PRO – ISO64 2s f/9
Again, the idea was very much like the torii. I wanted to show the constant stream of tourists, traders and pilgrims, flowing through the temple and grounds.
I started in portrait mode but this took away some of the interesting stalls surrounding the courtyard that acted nicely as a natural frame around the people. It also showed far too much of the very dull grey sky. Ideally, it would have been nice to have a blue sky but then you wouldn’t have the umbrellas (so every grey sky has a silver lining). Back in landscape mode, I composed the shot so that the surrounding stalls and their roofs led to the temple but so that the OCD in me was becalmed I kept the temple as symmetrical in the frame as possible. A consequence of perspective in the shot has meant the throng has also added leading lines towards the temple and a sense of 3D. I love the way the colours and movement add a sense of vibrancy and action, as that was so much like the atmosphere.
To find the most balanced composition, I ended up holding the camera as far above my head that I could (thankfully I had deodorised) and viewing the articulated LCD screen to line up the shot, took several until it looked like the right amount of people and movement. As you have guessed along with the live ND, the stabiliser on the E-M1X with the 12-100mm f/4 PRO attached came up trumps as I was hand holding for 2 seconds looking like a basketball player shooting hoops (I almost sound as though I know what that means). I used ISO 64 along with an aperture of f/9 purely to achieve a slow enough shutter speed to add a soupçon of movement to show the hustle and indeed a touch of bustle. I pretty much used the 12-100mm f/4 pro for most of my Tokyo visit. Sharp throughout the range and with the outrageous 7.5 stops 5-axis stabilisation, it is surely the ‘swiss army knife’ of walkabout/travel. Remember for this technique to work, the static features need to be sharp to show off the movement to its best.
OM-D E-M1X with the 12-100mm f/2.8 PRO – ISO800 0.3s f/6.3
I think you’re ahead of me here, yes, more movement in all its ghostly, swishy, vapour trail glory.
As the last image, I’m using the arty human velocity simulator again otherwise known as the live ND. I was lucky enough to be given the inside track on where to get a vantage point here by Australian Olympus ambassador Lisa (thank you). The only problem was, anyone, guess? Yes that’s right it was raining again and the viewing platform was outside on the top floor of a department store. So grateful for the weather sealing as I spent most of my Tokyo visit in the rain (coming from South Wales, I felt quite at home being part amphibian). The viewing platform had a glass screen that was covered in the rain that was causing all sorts of lens mayhem so, I ended up taking my socks off and using them as a rag!
When you first view the scene in front of you it is an overwhelming kaleidoscope to the visual senses, neon, huge screens, lights, traffic, people, advertising, videos, colour, glass filled buildings, tech, even more people, more neon and more screens etc and it’s difficult to calm the shutter finger down but that is what we need to do. Trying to distil a scene like this into a single image can be tricky so I captured several scenes but felt this had a nice overall feel to it. I started off taking a much wider view of things but there were very annoying ugly roadworks right in the middle of the left-hand road, just to the left of the bus, so I decided to compose that out of the shot as best as I could without cropping away too much. From this height and position, there was a nice composition to be had by using the buildings to add perspective looking down the road into the distance which also took in Shibuya at its theatrical best. Not entirely sure why but I used the live ND at it’s longest again of -5EV with an ISO of 800 (mistake, surely not! I could have used a low ISO instead of using the live ND but that would have made it far too easy!) and an aperture of f/6.3 giving a shutter speed of 0.3 seconds, just long enough to show movement but not too long to blow out all the visual highlights. Interestingly, looking back this was one of the best compositions but I just didn’t see it at the time. Which just goes to show, don’t stop at the first idea even if you think you have nailed it, throw the kitchen sink at it, especially if you have travelled and used your hard-earned cash.