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Killing Time in Ikebukuro

Killing Time in Ikebukuro

Explore, Edit, Explore Again

After the photography shoot in Manila, I needed to spend a few days editing hundreds of photos.  It wasn't necessarily tough work, but it was very tedious.  What made it a little tougher was the sheer file size of the photos.  Shooting on a Sony A7R (in RAW) is the perfect way to choke the living daylights out of Lightroom, especially if you've imported a lot of them.  Much of what I needed to do involved gradient exposure adjustments and a lot of simple cropping.  I did what I could in Lightroom, and send the cropping work off to an editor back at home.

I spent a lot of time in a tiny hotel room near Mejiro Station, just north of Shinjuku.  Being away from the busy Shinjuku area, the hotel was very reasonably priced and conveniently placed in a wonderful little middle-class neighborhood.  Being away from Shinjuku, Shibuya, and Harajuku, it's quite simply just a lot cheaper.  Traveling isn't cheap, and a good business hotel with WiFi is all I ever really need.  Not wanting to stay cooped up all day, I ventured out at times just to get a bite to eat and to check out the local happenings.  One thing I did find was an excellent apple pastry at a pan-ya across my hotel.  Needless to say, I had a few of them over the next few days.

Most of my outings were in the Ikebukuro area, simply because there was an outdoor equipment store in the area.  If you do any kind of adventuring, you could spend hours wandering the aisles of L. Breath.  With the pilgrimage I planned to do, I did just that.

Trains regularly pass through the Mejiro neighborhood.

Crossed the tracks...

... and on my way to Ikebukuro.

On my way to Ikebukuro, I wandered past a beautiful little garden.  I'm OK with Katakana and Hiragana, but Kanji.... not so much.  The signs were clear (in Japanese), but my illiteracy kept me confused.  Either way, I thought I needed to find out.  I took a few quiet steps under an ornate entryway and into what I later discovered to be Mejiro Garden.  A caretaker looked at me with a pleasant look, so I kept walking in and found just the perfect little escape for the neighborhood residents.  It wasn't a big space at all, but its small wall of trees and still pond of water is meant to calm anyone.

Got lucky!  Just in time for a two-day matsuri (festival) in Ikebukuro!  Food, entertainment, and omikoshi!

When I got to the Ikebukuro, I noticed a row of tents and a stage at the far end.  To my surprise, a two-day festival was about to start and I was just in time!  I shot photos like a tourist with my LX100 that I purchased a few weeks earlier.  This little camera is just awesome, and helped me to capture great still images and wonderful videos.  I'll put together a video soon, and nearly all the footage will be from the 4K-capable LX100.  The rest will be from my Samsung Galaxy S6 Edge+.  That's not too shabby, but nothing when compared to the Panasonic with it's Leica-designed fixed zoom lens.

The Mejiro and Ikebukuro area are two wonderful little gems in the Tokyo area.  For me, there really isn't any where else to stay while I'm working or playing in Tokyo.  The convenience, the food, the people... just perfect.

Manila, A Quick Trip Becomes a Life-long Lesson

Manila, A Quick Trip Becomes a Life-long Lesson

Go Small or Go Home

With my first two nights being in a Narita hotel, there really wasn't time to do much.  I knew that I'd be back here after five nights in Manila,  so I quickly headed into Tokyo to find the perfect point-and-shoot camera.  I wanted something that I could use for documenting my work (and any downtime) in Manila and to use for the pilgrimage afterwards.

My camera bag is already packed full of heavily used photography and videography gear from Sony, Panasonic and Olympus, but I wanted something with a built-in, fast aperture lens and 4K video.  Although the list is growing, there aren't many out there.  Being familiar with Panasonic products, I settled on the Lumix LX100.  Yes, it's a couple years old, but it's hard to beat 4K, an f1.7 lens, and sensible ergonomics.  It's pretty safe to say that everything from here on out (at least for this trip's blog) will be done on the LX100.

A Glimpse of the Philippines with the Panasonic Lumix LX100

Motorbikes may not rule they road, but ain't nothing like feeling you're always in a biker gang.

This docile looking trio must be wondering why this guy isn't taking a seat.  The tricycles (or pedicabs) dart through the narrow streets and alleys of Manila like nothing else.

Busy and humid afternoon in Barangay Pembo, just over the highway from the financial district of Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

SM Aura in BGC.  It's a mall. A big one.  See Ronald McDonald on the right?

My Thoughts on Manila

Ok, so spending just five days in Manila really just means that my opinion may be very nearly worthless.  It's ok, though... it's just an opinion.

Everyone I met and worked with was very friendly and enormously humble.  It didn't matter if it is was during my on-site photography work, at the mall, or even in a poverty-stricken neighborhood. Ok, I may have been met with the occasional inquisitive stare, but nothing about Manila made me feel uncomfortable or unsafe.  

I know there's all this talk in the U.S. and other western countries about President Duterte and his methods, but personally, I'm not one to use my own ignorance to pass judgement on others.  (Remember, this is my worthless opinion.) In an attempt to cure that ignorance, I asked questions to those that appeared to me that they would answer candidly.  In a nutshell, the answers very clearly pointed out that people here feel much safer with their new president.  All of them said how they wouldn't dare go out late at night for fear of being assaulted or violently robbed.  With obviously very little tolerance for criminal activity, Duterte and the police are more than happy to throw anyone in jail.  Not sure if you've seen the news photos recently, but a Filipino jail is not where you want to go.  The people I spoke with now think almost nothing of heading over to the corner convenience store at night, and they all echoed the same basic message; crime, drugs, and corruption now have an enemy.

Most seem to truly believe that there will be prosperous times ahead, and have prayed for this change for a long time.  If my work in Manila is any indication, there may be much more foreign investment in the Philippines in the future, and the people there deserve it.  

If their enormously charismatic leader's methods are questioned, many of them were quick to say that outsiders fail to count the staggering amount of innocent people that have lost their lives to drugs and corruption.  Sounds like they've got a point.

An outdoor food court at Market!Market!  (No, that's not a mistake. It's supposed to be double.) Got my tasty pork adobo plate here.

On the last day in Manila, I realized that what I really gained from my first trip here was a deep and overwhelming sense of humility.

One U.S. dollar is a big deal, and most people here do their very best with every dollar or peso in their pocket.  I'm just as guilty as the next person when it comes to finding the most meaningless things to grumble about, and I promised myself that I would do much less of that nonsense.

Finding contentment and joy in the smallest things won't just be empty words, but words I will do my very best to live by.  Manila has undoubtedly changed me.



The Camera Body is not the Prima Donna

I recently responded to a question on Quora where a user asked "Which GoPro Hero 4 stabilizer should I buy without going bankrupt?"  We all know how expensive our equipment is and we shudder every time we realize that we need that one more thing to get that perfect shot.  One thing I learned about choosing equipment is to place less significance on any one item, and realize that the best shot is gathered when all parts are treated equally.  Here's my answer to that question that I posted on Quora:

One thing I learned about cameras as I moved into the professional realm is that the support equipment is as significant to a shot as a camera body.  There are tripod heads (just the head, not the legs) that cost much more than a good camera and lens.

Basically, don't let the camera body be the center of attention.  It really loses value much faster than your other gear.  The quality of your final shot is just as dependent on the stabilizer as it is the lens, camera body, lights, batteries, etc.

Here's my basic rule of thumb on camera equipment importance:
  1. Lens
  2. Lighting
  3. Stabilizing Equipment
  4. Audio (watch a YouTube video with bad audio... you won't for very long
  5. Camera Body (there'll be a new one released just about when you really learn yours)