Street photography in Tokyo, Japan: Asakusa temple
© 2013 Alfie Goodrich. All rights reserved.

The temple in Asakusa & some new workflow

In Tokyo there are shots I always try again or try and improve on whenever I get the chance. This is one of them: shooting 'the smoke thing' at Sensoji Temple. I call it the smoke thing cos I am not sure of the exact word in Japanese. Maybe 'mi-yo-ke'. Not sure. It's where you buy and then burn insence, to take away bad luck or give you good health. You waft the smoke over yourself before entering the temple.

It's situation is such that you have a great view of the temple gate behind. But that's where the sun is coming from on a bright day.. and a bright day is the best time to get the smoke accented because backlight always helps you see smoke in a photo.

That leaves us the faces and the inside of 'the smoke thing': dark. Very much darker than the background.

So, HDR? Maybe but I don't honestly like HDR very much and bracketing is obviously a no-no with moving subjects. So getting a decent picture of this place [with background and foreground well exposed] is therefore either about flash [too intrusive for me] or just getting a well exposed enough RAW file which has highlights not TOO overexposed and shadows not TOO under-exposed.

The next stage is about bringing data back from particularly the highlights.

I used to do this with Silver Efex Pro's 'Pull Process' filter, modified to not include the grain which the default filter adds in.

It did a good job.

But having just gone with Adobe's Creative Cloud, upgrading to CS6 and the newer Silver Efex Pro2, I have been playing with the 'Low Key 2' filter and adding control points where I don't need the effect.

The Low Key 2 filter is doing a great job of bringing back highlight data... like the skies and the temple in the background.

The only criticism of this file is the strong white line along the edge of the wooden roof, at top left. I could solve that if I spent more time on the shot....

The smoke across the guy's face looks a little like he has a skin problem. Not great but once you figure out it's smoke then I guess that isn't so bad. :-)

All in all pretty happy with this shot. I grew up in a time where you really had the choice of going with the bright stuff or the dark stuff [especially if you were shooting transparencies]. A well pitched exposure, good developing and the darkroom, with the right grade of paper, gave you good flexibility with making a fairly broad dynamic range come out in a print. It's just nice to be able to do it all now with the lights on and without getting dermatitis from all the chems! :-)

Gear and tech-specs?
Nikon D700
14mm f/2.8
Shot in monochrome
ISO 400
1/320th sec
Processed with Photoshop CS6 and Nik Silver Efex Pro2's 'Low Key 2' filter.


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  1. Awesome! You did a great job with this +Alfie Goodrich! It's a very unique photo of a popular spot! I would never have thought of such a cool composition!

  2. Viewpoint is EVERY-thing, +Mark Esguerra. Getting in the bowl of ash with the 14mm and angling up, to get the faces, just makes a more interesting composition. And, cos it looks weird to be holding a large, expensive camera in there, people stare at you… like the guy on the right. Nice eye-contact being the result 🙂 Thanks man.

  3. Great capture, and informative write-up of your post-processing and thought process. Love the composition!

  4. Thanks +Tim Gupta. This was the third shot I took here. The camera was held upside down in the ash-bowl to get the slight up-angle needed to get the two temple structures. It takes a couple of goes to frame properly when the camera is away from your face. But this shot is un-cropped, so third time was third-time lucky 🙂

  5. " I don't honestly like HDR very much" 🙂

  6. That was the name the nazis used for it. In Japanese it's known as manji and is obviously the Hindu symbol, hence reversed, +Hrvoje Peranovic

  7. Alfie, I know you use Nikon's raw developer, but try developing this RAW through Camera Raw. PS uses the same engine as LR although a different interface. I've never seen a tool that does highlight recovery nearly as well.

  8. I will try that as an experiment. I just hate losing all that picture control information from the camera and right now this amount of highlight recovery does me just fine 🙂

  9. Well, +Charles Lacz, just tried it and my method got back as much highlight information than Camera RAW through Photoshop did….

  10. there's a swastiga in these candles

  11. For all those of you who have seen the swastika….. and to clarify its relevance in this context.

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