Tuesday, August 21, 2018


The first time I photographed a Japanese Tea Ceremony was in 2004 at the Hakone Japanese Gardens in Saratoga, California. At the time I knew nothing about this ceremony, so I just photographed the moments that looked interesting. I had no idea it would take so long or could be so complex just to make some tea! 

At that time in my career, as a professional photographer, I was using the second generation of digital camera (the Fuji Fine Pix S-2 Pro). So, when I encountered scenes with very low light I used the camera in B&W mode to maintain quality images. Back then digital cameras were very noisy at any ISO’s 400 and beyond if even slightly under exposed. They were particularly ghastly in color due to “color noise”. This tea ceremony was in very low light and even at ISO 400 I used fill flash at 1/30 second. As the ceremony wound down I turned the flash off and went to ISO 800 and 1600 at 1/15 second. 

f6.7 @ 1/15 sec., ISO 800; Lens @ 153mm
When she turned to the audience and paused, at the end of the ceremony, the directional light on her hands was great. Quickly going to 800 ISO gave me a hand-holdable 1/15 sec. to capture this dramatic image. I don’t know that today I could have captured this scene any better using my 2018 DSLR.

Some more B&W jpegs straight out of the camera….

 f4.8 @ 1/30 se.c, ISO 400 with Flash Fill
I’m still amazed how good these B&W images look using my 2nd generation digital camera from 14 years ago.

f4.8 @ 1/30 sec., ISO 400 with Flash Fill
These fill flash images look this good because we were using the new (back then!) Gary Fong lightsphere flash diffusers on our on-camera flash. 


Four years later digital cameras have advanced significantly. I now have two of the Fuji FinePix S-3 Pros (we always bought two at a time; and since I was on the Fuji Talent Team, we got our cameras direct from Fuji USA at cost! The Fuji FinePix S-3 Pro had their unique Super CCD SR sensor that expanded the cameras’s dynamic range to 13.5 EVs; the highest scoring dynamic range of ANY camera, when it came out in 2004. In fact, to date (2018) it’s still one of the highest scoring cameras (DXOmark.com) for dynamic range; the top cameras are currently scoring around 14.5 EVS.

So, going back to the Hakone Japanese Gardens for one of their annual events (the Matsuri 2008) I was ready to try that Low Light Tea Ceremony again, this time using my Fuji S-3 Pro.

This time I kept my camera in color mode…

f2.8 @ 1/45 sec., ISO 800; No Flash
This scene would be difficult for a lot of todays digital cameras! The girl is in white in a dim environment and there’s that window with direct sun falling on greenery outside. This is a very high dynamic range scene.  With the Fuji Pro S-3 set to Wide Dynamic Range the girls white kimono has excellent detail and you can actually see detail in the outside greenery,. No other cameras in 2008 could do that; they would just record the window a pure white and clip the highlights in her kimono. In fact, most cameras today would do poorly with this type of scene.

Here’s another from that scene…

 f2.8 @ 1/45 sec., ISO 800; No Flash
These images were shot as JPEGS and because of the low light I used ISO 800 to be able to hand hold my camera. What makes the resulting image quality still more remarkable is that digital cameras have Less dynamic range as the ISO goes up (along with more noise). That’s why most professional photographers try to keep their ISO’s down to 100 to 200 ISO; that’s where most cameras have their highest dynamic range. Well the Fuji S-3 and later S-5 cameras had better dynamic range at 800 ISO (13 EVS!) than most cameras do at 100 ISO.

So, when evaluating your next camera purchase the camera does matter, the sensor size matters, how it handles dynamic range matters, along with ISO noise and your skill with analyzing your subject all matter. Have questions, don’t hesitate to ask…’Til next week.

Author: Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman 
Training Site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com
Client Site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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