Testing the updated Nissin flash system for Fujifilm users in studio

Perception is reality. The last thing you want to do when you are shooting a model is to show up and look like you are struggling with your gear. Even if you know exactly what you are doing but have to fight fiddly controls and menus that make sense from an engineer perspective but not from a user perspective. This sends the wrong signal to your model and impact his/her motivation and performance. This is part of the reason I was looking for a very simple flash system, that does only one thing but does it reliably. Often, less is more. This is especially true when doing without superfluous functionalities will remove the need to have to delve into an over-complicated menu to change a basic setting.

Surely, I did not want to give a bad first impression to Izumi-chan, my model of the day who I was shooting for the first time. Everything went very smoothly though, as the Nissin flash system has proved super easy to use. 3 hours, 3 outfits, 1 i60A flash and 1 Air 1 commander unit mounted on my X-T2. To be complete with the gear picture, I used most of the time a Lastolite softbox that is designed to be used with hotshoe flashes.

The main change from the latest Nissin firmware update was that Fujifilm users can now do wireless radio-triggered HSS flash photography with their Nissin speedlights, so I wanted to illustrate the benefit. When shooting with flash, your shutter speed controls the amount of ambient light that will be visible in the picture. In the picture below, I am using a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second, slower than the max sync speed of the X-T2, which recorded enough ambient light for the black paper background to remain visible in the shot:

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By using a faster shutter speed of 1/800th of second I was able to kill the ambiant light, as if I had turned some switch off. Same ISO and same aperture. However, it did require to use the flash in HSS mode (which it did autonomously as I had autoFP selected in the flash menu), so to keep the flash exposure the same on the model all other things being equal, I needed to increase the flash power output.

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Anyway, not sure which picture is better, just wanted to show an example where HSS would kick in. The point is you have complete creative control. The shoot went on for 3 hours, and while there was no epiphany moment there was no frustration moment either. I simply enjoyed the freedom of being able to use my flash with a reliable radio trigger, sometimes in HSS mode sometimes not, while being able to adjust the power settings from the commander unit directly on the top of my X-T2. Just what I needed to focus on the pleasure of shooting with a great models without  the gear ever getting in the way.

Here are a few more shots from the session:

All in all, what I like about the Nissin flash system is that it is simple, capable and portable. Basically it does only one thing but it does it well without ever getting in the way, so I can focus on all the other stuffs. I think it’s a great system if you like effective gear that goes straight to the point, and/or if you are scared by off-camera flash.

How to make the difference between a shrine and a temple in Japan?

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According to estimates from the CIA World Factbook, the religious composition of the Japanese society is the following:

  • Shintoism 79.2%
  • Buddhism 66.8%
  • Christianity 1.5%
  • other 7.1%

Yes, the total is above 100% but it is not a typo, as many people will be categorized as both Shintoist and Buddhist.

2013 Year of the Snake-2

Let’s start with a (very tiny) bit of History…

Historically, from the 6th century when Buddhism was imported into the country, until the end of the Edo period, Shintoism and Buddhism remained intimately entwined, during a period of syncretism referred to as shinbutsu-shūgō. During these many centuries, both religions influenced each other, and shrines were built to warehouse the shinto spirits (Kami) the same way that buddhist temples protect Buddha images. The syncretism went so far that you could find shrines-part in temples, while some shrines would warehouse Buddha images, with bettō monks performing buddhist rituals at the shrines. In 1868 the new Meiji government attempted to name Shintoism the “true religion” of Japan, in order to orchestrate a cult of the Emperor, with the shinbutsu bunri law proclaiming the separation between Shintoism and Buddhism. Looking at the statistics above, one quickly realizes that even the imperial law cannot undo centuries of History, but this is a discussion that would deserve its own separate post(s)…

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Given the deeply-rooted connection between Shintoism and Buddhism in Japan, it is not surprising to find many similarities between shrines and temples. This will often confuse non-Japanese, and brings this question: how to easily make the difference between a (Shinto) shrine and a (Buddhist) temple without being an expert on religions? This is actually easier than you think, if you know where to look.

1) The name

Shrine or temple? The answer is usually easily found in the name.

Jinja (神社) is the most common Japanese word for shrine. However, other names or suffixes can indicate that you are in a shrine, including: jinja, jingu, taisha, myojin, gongen, -gu, -sha.

Similarly for temples, look for names ending in -ji, -dera or -in.

2) The Entrance Gate

If you don’t know the exact name of the place where you are, no panic. There are many other signs, starting with the entrance gate.

A torii gate (if not many) stands at the front of every shrine. It is the easiest way to identify that you are at a shrine. Torii gates are commonly made of 2 vertical posts with 2 horizontal posts at the top , though they can be as simple as 2 vertical posts with a (sacred) rope inbetween. Having said that, torii gates can come under many shapes and sizes. Here are a few examples:

The entrance gates of Buddhist temples almost look like buildings of their own. The most important gate is called the Sanmon, even though it usually not the first gate at the entrance of the temple. Here are a few examples:

If there is a building shaped as a pagoda, it is also a good indication that you are in a temple.

3) The guardians

In the case of a Shinto shrine, you will most of the time find a pair of statues of lion-dogs, guarding the entrance, called komainu. Fox statues (instead of lion-dogs) guarding inari shrines are also very common, but other less common variants such as turtles or wolves for example are also possible.

On the other hand, temples will be protected by a pair of Niō guardians. They usually look like wrathful and muscular demons. The one with the mouth open is called Agyō, while the one with the mouth closed is called Ungyō.

4) The purification ritual before praying

Each visit to a shrine starts with a purification ritual using the water fr the temizuya (small fountain): you rinse your left hand, then the right, and finally your mouth (this water is there to cleanse, not to be drunk).

While you will also find temizuya near many temples, the purification process when arriving at a temple is usually done by burning some incense in a large burner, and fanning the smoke towards you. The smoke is thought to have healing power.

5) Kami or Buddha

An obvious one, but if you see an image of Buddha… then you are in Buddhist territory, meaning you are in a temple.

In most cases, the kami (god/spirit) enshrined in a shinto shrine, is said to reside in a physical object (often a mirror, but could be a sword, a rock or else) called the shintai, stored in the honden (in a few exceptional cases, the shintai could also be a natural phenomenon, such as a peculiar tree, rock or waterfall…). The honden is the most sacred building of the shrine and is not accessible to the public.

6) How to pray

In a Shinto shrine: after you have thrown your coin into the offerings box and rung the suzu bell (if there is one), bow twice, clap your hands twice, and bow once more once you have finished your prayer.

Prayer at the shrine

In a Buddhist temple: the prayer is silent, do NOT clap your hands at the altar like you would in a Shinto shrine.

Conclusion

With just a few handy tips, it is easy to make the difference between a shrine and a temple. Being able to make the distinction is not only important to know how to pray and to whom address your prayer, but it is also a first step in being able to recognize how Shintoism and Buddhism can be entwined in the Japanese society. The first step on a long but fascinating (some would say enlightening 🙂 ) path.

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Geishas and Floating Hina Dolls in Tokyo: Edo Nagashibina

When people think about seeing geishas in Japan, the first thing that come to their mind is probably Kyoto (where geishas are called geikos and their apprentices maikos) with the Gion district or Pontocho. However, that does not mean you cannot be entertained by authentic geishas in other cities. In Tokyo, the main geisha area is the Kannonura street in the Asakusa district. One way to maximize your chances to see them from up close, is to find out the public events or festivals in which they participate. One of this events is Edo Nagashibina, a  ceremony during which children and their parents send into the Sumida river floating Hina dolls made with paper to dispel any potential misfortune waiting for them in the year ahead.

Again this year, 3 geishas from Asakusa were taking part in the official ceremony, and sent their own wishes into the river.

Edo Nagashibina 2017

In a red kimono, we had Rei-san:

In a dark green kimono, Tsugumi-san:

And in a blue kimono, Akane-san:

When you see geishas in the street, they are usually on their way to (or from) a work appointment, so they usually don’t have time to stop and talk to you. However, when they are on “official public duty”, they will let you take all the pictures you want as long as you don’t disturb the overall organization of the event.

Once the usual preliminary speeches are over, the geishas and the city officials joined the rest of the crowd on the Sumida river bank, where they release a flurry of balloons shaped like doves. Everyone can then let go his/her paper hina doll into the water.  Children from the Taito City “Ishihama Hachiba Children’s Center” have the extra privilege to do it from a boat especially decorated for the occasion.

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2017, year of the rooster

A happy new year to all my readers. May 2017 bring you happiness and take you one step closer to your goals.


As per the tradition in Japan, I started the year with a visit to the shrine (Hatsumōde), in order to get blessed for the year of the rooster, and bring back my lucky charms from the year of the monkey 2016 so that they can be burnt by the shrine.


I will be in Kyoto on the 21st of January for Fujikina, with the opportunity to touch and try Fujifilm’s upcoming GFX 50s medium format mirrorless camera. But more importantly I’m just looking forward to the trip to Kyoto, even though unfortunately for me Kiyomizu Dera’s famous main hall will just have been covered for renovation works that are expected to take place until 2020.


Talk to you soon 😉

Coming of Age Day (2016)

Coming of Age Day is held every year in Japan on the second Monday of January, to celebrate those who have become “adults” over the past year. The city townhalls hold ceremonies where the “new adults” are invited to receive some encouragements for their future. Many attend the event wearing traditional clothes, though this is mainly true for ladies (wearing the furisode, a long-sleeved kimono for unmarried woman), while the guys are mostly wearing suits. Here is a typical illustration of this:

 

Many people will couple this event with a visit to the shrine/temple with either their family or friend, to make wishes for the new year, so I usually go to Meiji Jingu to take portraits of them.

 

The complete gallery of portraits:

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