Lakes of the week

It's a good habit, getting up early. I did it in Japan, too. Problem was, my ability to get anywhere before the first trains started running at 5:30 or 6:00 AM made it impossible for me to catch the sunrise any time except the dead of winter.

Japan lies so far towards the eastern edge of its time zone that the sun comes up at around 4:15 AM during the summer. Even in the dead of winter, I had barely enough time to get on the train to Izu Kogen station and then race down the path to the Jyogasaki Coast before the sun rose over the island of Izu Oshima.

Living in Tokyo I never wanted or needed my own car. Getting almost anywhere in the city is convenient, safe, and not too expensive if you are willing to use the trains and do a little walking. And getting a driver's license is a hassle for Americans. Brits and Kiwis and license-holders of other favored nations that have a national permit system can apply and automatically receive a Japanese license. But because licenses in the USA are obtained within the State of residence, I guess a such reciprocity cannot be arranged, therefore US citizens must take a written and vehicular drivers test to get their Japanese license. And you can't use the so-called "International Drivers Licens" you get at triple-A if you are a resident of Japan.

So I never bothered with a car, or the time and expense of getting a Japanese driver's license.

But down the coast in Ito, a car would have made sense and would have given me a lot more flexibility to explore - especially around the edge of the light where a landscape photographer take advantage of the changing contrast and color around sunrise and sunset.

Landscape Photography's Biggest Secret

I figure the biggest secret of "daylight" landscape photography is this: If you are not in place 30 minutes before sunrise or 30 minutes before sunset, you lose. Sure, there are exceptions. But in the great majority of places, the element that really makes the scene extraordinary is the light.

Take Saturday morning, for example. Here's a shot taken at 8:08 AM at Dream Lake:

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8:08 AM: Dream Lake after sunrise.

A pleasant scene. But here is a shot from about the same place, exactly one-and-a-half hours earlier:

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6:38 AM: Dream Lake as the rising sun strikes the mountain backdrop.

The orange peaks against the blue sky, the reflection in the dark surface of the lake, and the deep sloping shadows framing the scene make for a much more interesting and dramatic view. All thanks to the light.

More from the same morning

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5:30 AM: Crescent moon - more like "sliver moon" actually.

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6:26 AM: Mountain stream. Leaving the shutter open for a quarter of a second gives the flowing water a misty dreamlike quality.

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6:46 AM: The sun appears.

Deadwood along the margin of Emerald Lake.

Deadwood along the margin of Emerald Lake in black-and-white.

Well, just because you missed sunrise or sunset doesn't mean all is lost: there is still a lot you can shoot any time of day. On my morning hikes, I try to get the expansive landscape shots around the "magic hour" around sunrise, then do closer-in shots after the sun is up. Macro photography especially benefits from plenty of light.

Wild flowers and downed wood.

Wildflowers and downed wood.

Stream and peaks.

Stream, wildflowers, and peaks.

Trees reflected.

Trees reflected. Despite the harsh sunlight at the top of the image, there is lots of deep color in the reflections in the water.

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