One of the pleasures I find in taking Mt. Fuji photographs is using the bulb mode (or long exposure) at nighttime. The amount of light emitted from a full moon is only about 1/465,000 of light that comes from the sun. That does not sound like much, but if you think about the tremendous amount of light the sun emits that keeps all creatures on earth warm enough from 150 million kilometers away, you realize that the amount of light from a full moon is actually not so small. Nighttime photography, by harnessing the light from the moon, can reveal scenery that normally remains hidden. It can create a distinctive image made possible only by a camera.
A distinctive feature of the moon is that its movement is irregular compared to the sun. The reason for this is because the moon orbits the earth in an oval trajectory and is much closer to the earth. The sun is 150 million kilometers away from the earth, so its movement does not seem to change from year to year. For example, on New Year’s Day the sun will rise from the same place every year. However, because of the moon’s distance from the earth is much closer, at 350 thousand kilometers when nearest and 400 thousand kilometers when farthest, and its trajectory is oval, it will shows similar movements only once in 4 years, and it takes 24 years before it repeats the exact same movement. So, you will not be able to see the moon exactly the same way you see it today until 24 years from now.
When taking nighttime photography, the moon functions as your lighting device. The moon rises in the east and sets in the west, just as the sun does. The timing of your shooting opportunity will depend on the position of the moon that beams light towards your subject, Mt. Fuji. The time of moonrise changes every day by approximately 50 minutes. For example, if the moon rises at 19:00 today, it will rise at about 19:50 tomorrow. Also, the moon moves 15 degrees each hour, or 360 degrees in 24 hours. As you stand facing towards Mt. Fuji, the moon will gradually move to your left or right or towards you or away from you, depending on the direction you are facing; north, south, east or west. The best timing for your photo shoot will differ accordingly.
For example, at eastern Shizuoka Prefecture or the Izu Peninsula where I live, when you face Mt. Fuji the moon rises from the mountains on your right-hand side and sets in the sea on your left-hand side. In this case, the moon will provide the best lighting for about two hours before it reaches the highest point in the sky (the celestial meridian). After the moon passes the celestial meridian and starts setting westward (in the direction of the sea), the subtle angles of the ridgeline and snow on Mt. Fuji lose their detail and the photograph becomes uninteresting
The moon has been the subject of Japanese poetry for many generations. As reflected in the common saying “Saigyo of flowers, Myoue of the moon.”*1, the moon is an important subject to describe Yamato Damashii (spirit of the Japanese) and has been cherished by so many writers, poets, calligraphers and painters to become a symbol of the Japanese culture.
*1: Saigyo and Myoue are Japanese poets from the 12th to 13th century. Saigyo is known for choosing flowers (especially cherry blossoms) as his subject while Myoue is known for his poetry about the moon.
“The moon shines on each and every village, yet resides only in the mind of the beholder.” (By Saint Hōnen)
(Interpretation: The light of the moon shines on the entire world and reaches even the most remote village. Yet, the beauty of the moon can be seen only by the observer whose spirit is pure.)
The poem is a Waka written by Saint Hōnen, the founder of Jōdo-shūbranch of Buddhism. The moon is a metaphor for the light (salvation) by the Amida Nyorai (Amitābha Tathagata). It is a poem I am really fond of that I would recite during nighttime photography sessions, enticed by the beauty of a full moon.
The next poem is a bit unusual but is also well known (and very difficult to translate, but goes something like this.)
“Shiny-shiny shine, shiny-shiny-shiny shine, shiny-shiny shine, shiny-shiny-shiny shine, so shiny-shiny moon.” (By Saint Myoue)
Shiny-shiny (“aka-aka” in Japanese) describes the brightness of the moon. Saint Myoue is the founder of the temple Kōzan-ji, which is one of the 17 historic monuments of Kyoto that is registered as a World Heritage Site. Myoue was very fond of the moon and wrote many poems about it. This poem is said to describe not only the brightness and purity of the moon, but also the “ideal image of a person” in the mind of Myoue, a man dedicated to the pursuit of life’s truth.
Japan is blessed with four beautiful seasons that it can be proud of. The four seasons are created by the fact that the earth rotates around the sun at a 21 degree angle. And that 21 degree angle is sustained and stabilized by the gravity of the moon.
The heavenly body called the moon is indispensable to the existence of mankind, and it goes without saying that the cycle of the four seasons it brings about has deeply affected the traditional Japanese belief in animism (worship of nature).
Most of the 20 photographs presented below have been photographed on film.
The prevalence of the digital camera has taken a good amount of fun out of taking pictures at night, and the prerequisites for such photography have changed so much. Unique visual effects and eye-opening imagery, made possible by the mechanics and process of the film camera, cannot be reproduced by the modern digital camera that touts its super-high photosensitivity. The exposure time necessary for moonlit objects to be captured on film used in a traditional film camera is much longer than the digital camera. During the long exposure time, the scene in front of the lens changes considerably, and that change creates the extradimensional image unique to nighttime photography. Because of its low photosensitivity, the film camera enabled us to encounter an out-of-this-world visual experience.
The charm and excitement of nighttime photography lies in the image created by the soft glow of the moon and the passage of time interwoven into a tapestry.
It is ironical that, against the will of the innovator, advancement in civilization or technology sometimes destroys an irreplaceable means of expression.
※ Gaku's Strolling vol.4 include Ten photographs
※ Gaku's Strolling vol.5 include Ten left photographs