Barriers Suck.

I was introduced to the term barrier a number of years ago, in the context of building design. Barriers are things that stop people from using the building, and usually it’s geared towards things like stairs, or old-style doorknobs, or narrow doorways; things that stop people with physical issues from entering or safely using a building. There’s barriers everywhere. Financial barriers to getting a good education. Barriers to getting work visas. Barriers to accessing a free and uncontrolled press.

But if life had no barriers, then we’d have no people overcoming barriers. And that’s what makes those achievements special.

One of the biggest barriers in life is time. Mikele, Giovanni, and I were able to overcome that particular barrier, at least for one Friday morning. So we rented a car Thursday night and drove out to the Fuji Five Lakes area to shoot pictures of the fall leaves. Now, that may not seem like a huge barrier, but the money, time, and access to a drivers license is already a decent set of barriers in Japan.

And the leave-at-midnight-and-drive-to-shoot-sunrise thing – that’s a huge barrier. Not so much for photographers. But definitely for photographers whose spouses are not. I don’t know too many photographer’s families who are down with keeping photographer’s hours on family vacations.

And we haven’t even touched the elephant in the car. Well, half an elephant, anyway. Three photographers with full kit is a lot of gear. Carrying that gear is a barrier. Just before sunrise, and after taking the photos in this post, all three of us carried our heavy bags of gear up and down an insanely steep hill, looking for a maple-leaf-and-fuji shot that was just not to be. If you’re prioritizing light and small over image quality, you’ve hit your barrier.

So, once you’ve overcome all of those barriers, you’re left standing in the pre-dawn cold, looking for a shot. So you have to find it. You have to shuffle around in the darkness, looking for that composition that works for you.

Don’t worry about that cloud. Hopefully, once you’ve got everything all set up, it’ll move out of the way for you, you hope. See, weather is another one of those barriers.

So’s that Italian guy. Well, Gio’s a nice barrier, anyway. If you ask nicely, he’ll turn off his headlamp, and then you’ll be gold.

Really, it’s my fault. I was asking him to come over and help me out. He just chose to walk over a different way than I had anticipated.

So yeah, there are more barriers. You see, sometimes nature just isn’t going to cooperate.

When we lit up the trees, we could see that only one of them was actually displaying the full fall beauty that this particular stretch of the Lake Kawaguchi shoreline is famous for. So, yeah… That’s why they made red flashlights, right?

We discovered somewhere in the course of this shoot that Mikele’s foot on the car’s brake was waaaaay overkill. I had to scoot over there and ask him to stop that. Which of course, was hilarious. When I asked him, I watched the sudden dawning of realization smack him in the face. The sudden transition from “Huh?” to “Oh!” Because he at that moment had been thinking about his own shot, which was completely not impacted by the brake lights.

Light painting is the technique of using a light source as a paint brush to paint the correct light into your photo. So Gio and I spent some time guess-and-testing, probably looking like low-budget Snapes in the woods, waving our glowing red wands around.

Great. Got it. Kinda. Mostly. There were two more barriers. One is the wind. The wind is going to mess with your 30-second photo of leaves. So you have to wait for just the right windless 30 seconds to get still, sharp leaves.

The other is a classic photographer problem – depth of field. Ansel Adams was a part of a group called f/64, whose goal was sharp focus everywhere. In order to do this, they had to take lots of photos, and assemble the sharp bits into a complete finished whole. On this one, I didn’t have to go to those extremes, but I needed to use two photos, because the leaves in the foreground and the mountain in the background were not going to both be in focus.

So I’ve edited the photo in Lightroom, with spot adjustments, contrast tweaks, and a gradient so we can see the detail in the shadowy far bank, synched the two photos I need, and then popped them over to Photoshop, so I can put them together into one shot, remove some dust, and make a couple final local color adjustments, as well as some dodging and burning to hide those places where the two photos don’t match as well as I’d like them to.

Normally, I don’t go into that much detail about what I’ve done to process a shot. Partly because it’s probably boring for most of you, but also because I’m self-conscious about it. I spend more time shooting than post-processing, and I know there are a lot of people that spend way more time perfecting post-processing, and are going to tear apart my work. But that’s a barrier I can’t clear. Yet. Gimmie time. I’ll get better. But being comfortable bouncing between photo editing programs, and using each one for what it’s good at, that’s a barrier, too. All these barriers, they’re a filter. Each barrier is going to reduce the number of people taking that photo.

If you do something you love, you’ll never work a day in your life. Or so they say. Maybe it’s more, “Work hard constantly, and you’re body won’t notice that you’re not 15 until you’re like 90.” I know Mikele, Giovanni, and I put in some work on this trip, but it’s not really work. Because we loved it, hauling heavy gear around the Fuji Five Lakes area, looking for that one spot that was going to be just right for us. You wouldn’t have known from the laughing, but we were working.

You, the photographer, have to work. You have to put in the work to reduce that prospective number of photographers taking that photo to one. To just you. It’s an almost impossible task. The biggest asset you have is the biggest barrier to everyone else; it’s your brain. No one else is inside that skull of yours. No one is going to shoot like you do. So use that brain, and do something special with it.

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