When you think of Japan some things that might come to mind are ~ technology, futuristic, robots, proud peoples, samurai, traditional, geisha, “The Karate Kid”, and of course “The Bullet Trains”

*Quick side note- For those wanting a HDR video tutorial on how to post-process a moving object using Photomatix Pro, please see here .

Ok, back to the blog entry 🙂

Here in Australia we have comparatively loud and slow trains and I remember one style in particular nic-named “the red rattlers”, they were phased out in the first decade of the 21st century. They were affectionately named after their colour yes, a beige/maroon tone, and also due to the loud rattle the wheels would make when going over an area of the tracks where two sections had been welded together. The rattle would come in two quick beats followed by a gap and then two beats again, and so on. It was of course from the two separate wheel axles of the train cart traversing the track welds. So a trip from Redfern to Museum station, in Sydney, would be accompanied by the jolting melody of the red rattler ….. bang-bang ….. bang-bang ….. bang-bang …..

We would see these majestic films of the Japanese bullet trains gliding across the landscape seemingly in flight. It’s not with jealousy which I’d view this imagery but in wonder and awe. I also secretly hoped that one day Australia too would have Bullet trains connecting her major cities to the outback.

It is with all this in mind that I wanted to portray the “shinkansen” in a way that described what they meant and represented to me, and I guess many other Australians. It was therefore important that I was able to shoot it from in front of the peaked nose, built for speed, which are there most defining feature. I was faced with a few physical challenges~

  • A- there were fences on the shinkansen station platforms outside of the major cities. Inside the major cities the front of the train went right up to the tunnel walls making it near impossible to get a shot, plus I was always in a hurry to get to my next destination. Heading to the very end and being setup with my tripod to capture the HDR brackets meant that I would end up missing that train and I would have to get the next shinkansen, which can be 1-2 hours where as the normal J-rail trains run every 5-10 minutes.
  • B- There are various styles of Bullet trains and many of them have flat box like front engine carts which was not what I was after at all. It needed to be that sleek aerodynamic pointy nose that I had so often seen on the television. The various types had their set lines and can be found using the information provided by J-rail. I was lucky when I found the sleek style train that I was after was the very train I was getting south from Tokyo to Osaka.

So it was with all my research and exploration that brought me to this very spot to capture the Bullet trains of Japan, at Kyoto station. I had to wander to the very end of the platform and setup my tripod after I got off my train and wait around 30 minutes for the next shinkansen to arrive so that I could get the entire nose of the train in the frame. I also had to take the exposures on my camera as the train was moving passed me in my set position looking through the gap in the protection rail on the edge of the platform. Japanese trains stop so precisely that the doors consequently open onto all of these gaps all the way down the platform. In the city there are arrows on the ground indicating where the doors will stop and open and they are spot on every time, I loved it ! 🙂 Anyways back to describing the shot, the train didn’t stop in this gap so I had to fire off my HDR shots as the train glided past me. Using a Ultra wide-angle lens was also a very important component  of making this image as it was important to be able to accentuate the shape of the train and place it within the scene. A 28mm, 25mm or 50mm could capture the train but you wouldn’t be able to see all the other interesting stuff here at Kyoto station.

I’ve added this strip of the 5 frames that I captured to create the final image of “The bullet Train” and to also illustrate the fact that the train was actually moving when I photographed it… This is actually the first bracket I have shared here on the blog but it is my hope to share some of the magic behind the curtain so that you can start understand how I make my imagery so you can appreciate them for what they are. It might also start to help you hone your own skills as an artist.

Bullet train HDR bracket

Then after all the work I put into the shot with research and pre-production, the on location work and then finally back in the studio the post-processing I ended up with my shot I’ve wanted for a long time 🙂

Software Used:

Photomatix PRO – Is a MAC and PC HDR software for creating stunning HDR images. They have a free trial, but if you end up buying a copy of Photomatix you can get a 15% Discount with the coupon code LukeZemePhotography

– On1 Perfect Effects  An amazing Filter program to stylise the image. a standalone Filter program which can also be launched from Lightroom, Photoshop or Aperture

Imagenomic’s Noiseware 5-noise removal software, discount code “LukeZemePhotography” for a 10% discount.

Some tips on how I did the post-processing

I used the DeGhosting tool in Photomatix Pro (tutorial how to use it for moving images in HDR) to ensure the trains didn’t create ghost images throughout when combining the 5 frames from the HDR bracket. I then took the tonemapped image and masked in elements from the 5 original frames in Adobe Photoshop, you can also use Adobe Elements which is much cheaper option. It was then time to make my adjustments and I used On1’s Perfect Effects to play with the contrast and colour. I made a few tweaks with the lighting in photoshop and then masked out any noise using Imagenomics Noiseware. I used a Nikon D800 + Nikkor 14-24mm on a tripod and used these settings ~ Aperture- f/6.3, Iso- 100, the 0 bracket shot had a shutter speed of  1/250 and I opened up the lens all the way to 14mm.

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