On May 19 and 20, 2007, I visited the incredibly beautiful Tatsuzawa Falls near Inawashiro, in the Fukushima prefecture. In this episode I’m going to take you through the images I made during the magical 8 hours or so total time that I spent there while talking about some of the things I bore in mind while shooting and some of the preparation that helped me to maximize my chances of getting some great shots.
I arrived at the falls at around 5:30PM, after my car navigation system send me the wrong way, meaning that I had to ride a mountain gravel track so narrow that I scratched the sides of my Lexus on the branches of the bushes that lined the road. I was arriving in the area pretty late, as I’d taken my other half to her Sister’s house and called in for a cuppa before heading through the mountains from the City of Fukushima to the Inawashiro area. The falls are only a five minute brisk walk from the car park, but as I walked around the small shrine next to the falls, I almost had a tear in my eye at the site in front of me. Let’s take a look at image number 1438, and I’ll explain why. I’d been shooting for almost an hour when I shot this image, just before packing up for the day and going to find a hotel for the night. The main reason I’d chosen to come here at this time of year though was because of the fresh green leaves on the tree that we can see in front of the falls here. I knew that these leaves were about to show themselves at this time of year, but had not managed to find out if they were actually out yet or not. Even a call to the local town office didn’t get me a positive yes. They actually said that early June would be better, but I’ve seen these falls in books with this greenery shot at the end of May, so I was hoping I’d be in luck. I’d not had good luck the previous weekend though, with late snows hold back some of the foliage in the location that we looked at in episode 87, so I was really happy to see these leaves. And then of course, the falls themselves were such a picture, literally.
The sun had dropped below the horizon shortly after I arrived here, though even then there was no direct light falling on the area. As the hour passed, night set in, and by the time I left shortly after shooting this image, it was almost totally dark. I shot the falls with my camera set to daylight white balance, and that is was gave this image such a strong blue cast. I could of course have used a WhiBal reading to correct it, and indeed I shot the WhiBal just in case for this purpose, but I decided against correcting the white balance for this shot. I really like the cold, pre-night touch that this blue gives, though I understand it may not be for everyone. I needed no neutral density filter here, even to get an exposure of two and a half seconds, at f11 with an ISO of 200, so you can appreciate how dark it was when I shot this. It was this shutter speed of course that transformed the running water to a dreamy blur, falling into the scene and leaving its mark across the rocks at the bottom of the frame.
Having left shortly after this and finding a hotel in the nearby town, I started to think about my next visit the following morning. The sun rises at around 4:30 at this time of year, and I wanted to be at the falls around this time to catch them in the early morning light. I was also hoping that there might be some early morning mist, but it wasn’t to be. Anyway, I decided to get up at 3:45AM, and head back to the falls. I arrived at around 4:20 or so, and started shooting again as the light picked up. We can see a shot from this session in image number 1439. Similar to the last image in composition, but I got in a little tighter for this one, removing the top batch of leaves, singling it down to the single batch we see here. You will also note that the colour cast is not there this time, with the water registering very close to pure white. This has beauty in itself, and this is why I chose to upload a blue cast version and this one, although they’re similar compositions. This again was shot at f11, this time for 6/10th of a second, at ISO 400. You might be wondering why I used ISO 200 for the last, and 400 for this shot, even though I want a slow shutter speed to get that flowing effect in the water. Well, the problem is that it’s a fine balance between getting movement in the water, and movement in those leaves. As the breeze caught the leaves, the whole branch was swaying around, so I had to keep timing my exposures for the time when the bow stopped, before swaying back the other way, or for the times when the breeze dropped. I actually shot some images that purposefully had the leaves moving about, but it wasn’t as effective as I’d hoped, so I didn’t upload any of them.
I hung around for a couple of hours, having the whole place to myself, being the only nutter that would get up at that time to be here, and then I decided to go back to the hotel for breakfast. On my way back though, I stopped off along the way and shot a few other images. One of them is image number 1440. This is a simple shot of a wet leave on a mossy tree trunk. I shot this with my 100mm macro lens, again with an ISO of 400, as the wind was blowing the leaf around sometimes, and I set the aperture to f8, giving me a shutter speed of 1/8th of a second. The f8 aperture gave me enough depth-of-field to get the main leaf in focus, but not much else. It also gave me a nice earthy dappled effect in the background on the right side of the image which I think works quite well. It had been raining on and off for the few hours I was here, but was raining quite heavily now too, and as there was no mist to capitalize on, I didn’t spend too much time before breakfast, as I would have had to start getting plastic bags and rubber bands, and other hi-tech rain-proofing out. Before I forget, I’d actually been using a pair of Mon Bell Fisherman’s Gloves for most of this two hours, as it was really quite cold. These gloves will be in my list of things I wouldn’t like to be without next time I update it, as they are really useful. They are made of thick but flexible rubber, a little like that used for diving wet suits, but the cool thing is the end of the thumb, index finger and middle finger have an elasticized whole that you can push your finger tips through, which really helps for doing more detailed work like changing memory cards etc. Plus the rubber grip on the inside of the fingers and palm really enable you to just work as though you were handling your equipment directly.
Anyway, moving on, I went back to the hotel and grabbed breakfast, and then I went back to my room and jumped back into bed for an hour to try and catch up on some sleep. I got up again at around 9AM, and checked out and went back to the falls. On my first two visits, I’d noticed a few Grey Wagtails flying around. This is the bird with the yellow underbelly that we looked at last week. As you already know from the first two falls shots, it was too dark in the first two visits to think about shooting birds. There simply wasn’t enough available light, and I also didn’t want to get settled into a wildlife shoot, simply from a time perspective. Where as you can shoot landscapes, waterfalls and things in a relatively short space of time with the right planning and effort to get there at the right time, shooting wildlife takes more patience and therefore time. The thing is now though, I’d had breakfast and checked out of the hotel, and I was basically free now until I decided to leave. I even had a rice ball snack and a bar of chocolate in the car, so if I wanted to, I could stay for the day, especially with the wholesome breakfast I’d had. With this, I decided to take my 600mm F4 and big Gitzo tripod for this third visit. I’d packed the 600mm in my LensTrekker rucksack style camera bag, and I also have some lens pouches attached, so this is just a simple case of switching lenses from one camera bag to the other, with the new objectives in mind, and setting out again. Of course, this is only possible when working from a car. If I was travelling by public transport, I’d have to make this decision before leaving home.
Once back at the falls, at a normal hour, I no longer had the location to myself. There were four photographer’s standing one of the places I’d shot from over the last two visits, so I excused myself and made my way past them into another location, being careful not to get into their shots. It was from here that I captured image number 1442. This photograph is currently the desktop wallpaper on all computers I use. I shot it with the 600mm F4 without an extender, and cropped the left hand side some. I have to admit, these guys move around so quickly, that I pretty much bulls-eyed this shot, as soon as I’d focussed, without recomposing to move the wagtail off-centre. I did recompose for a few more before he flew off, and you can see another example on my Web site, but I prefer this shot, especially once cropping it to almost square like this. This was shot with the aperture wide open at F4, for 1/100th of a second, with ISO 100. I was pushing it here on the shutter speed, but the subject was cooperative, so I was in luck. I was consciously trying to include some of the same fresh green leaves that we saw in front of the falls in the first two shots, and from the angle I was shooting at, I was also lucky to get some of the falls in the right side of the frame too.
As I said, there’d been a couple of Wagtails wandering around, and I noticed that they kept going back to the same spot on the rock face to the left of the falls. I dropped the 1.4x extender between the lens and the camera body, and took a look, and found as I suspected, there were some young in a nest, looking back at me. In image number 1447, we can see one of the parents tending to the chicks with their mouths open wide, asking for more juicy flies. It was really quite dark as this rock face was in deep shadow, so I had to pump up the ISO to 800 for this shot, and still only got a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second at f5.6, which is the new widest aperture as I was using the extender. The chicks were already quite large, and I dare say that had I visited a week later, they’d have flown the nest already, so I felt lucky to have chosen this time to visit, and being able to get this added bonus for my efforts.
In the next image, number 1448, we can see another shot of a Grey Wagtail, this time perched on a bow of the tree in front of the falls, with a little more light than the last one. I used ISO 400 here, and got a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second at f5.6. I’m pleased with this shot because I caught the bird signing, in the middle of a quite colourful scene, with not only the bright green leaves, but also some splashes of red in what I think are seeds or maybe some buds containing more leaves, mixed in with the open leaves. For this shot I have cropped about 20% off the bottom of the frame to get to this size. Not so much to give us a bigger view of the bird, but more for compositional reasons. The bottom of the frame wasn’t adding very much to the shot at all, so I got rid of it, aligning the bottom of the frame with the branch coming in from the bottom left.
Let’s just look at one more image of the Wagtails before we move on, and that is image number 1449. Here we see one of the parents sitting on a log on top of the falls, with its mouth full of flies for the young in the nest. It always amazes me how these guys can continue to fly and catch more flies while already having so many in their beak. Still at ISO 400, I had set a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second here, as there was a little more light up here on top of the falls at this point in time, and I was trying to stop the white of the water from blowing out too.
Moving along now, let’s take a look at a few more shots of the falls, starting with image number 1450. As I said, I was now sharing the location with a number of other photographers and as the day progressed a number of groups came and went. At this point, a lady had come down and was making her way around the various vantage points doing her thing. Here we can see her to the right, and this is actually a little bit down from where I’d been shooting the birds in the nest earlier. I had now switched to my 16-35mm lens and was getting a few shots of the wider area now that there was a fare amount of light and the lush greens of the area above the falls were looking pretty nice. This was shot at 35mm, with an aperture of f11 for 1/20th of a second at ISO 100.
F11 is plenty to get everything in the scene in focus and if I recall correctly, I had just set my focus to a meter and a half in front of the lens here, and shooting away at the hyper-focal distance.
As there are two falls here, the man and the woman falls, I couldn’t really finish without showing what the daintier woman falls looks like, in image number 1452. Not all that good a photo, I kind of like the greens, but really more than anything wanted to document the location. Shot at 70mm with the 70-200mm f2.8 lens, I chose a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds at f16 with ISO 100 to get that flowing water effect again and to give me a relatively deep depth-of-field.
At shortly before 2PM, I’d probably gotten all the shots that I wanted, and as I had a good three hour drive back to Tokyo, even if the roads were clear, so I decided to start heading back. I shot a few more images on my way back to the car, and then on leaving joining the tarmac road after the short gravel road to the falls car park, I couldn’t help but pull over again and shoot image number 1454. For years I’ve been amazed by the various colours the seasons bring to the Japanese landscape, and this image is a great example. The fresh new leaves give a beautiful vibrant green, with the darker green of the evergreen trees adding contrast, along with the yellow and oranges of other new foliage, making a kind of tapestry on the mountain side here. I aligned the taller trees to the left and right along the edges to give us a bit of a frame, by zooming in a little to 100mm with the 70-200mm f2.8 lens.
And that just about does it for today. A few reminders here that planning and being prepared will often help you to be at the right place at the right time, as with getting the nice fresh green leaves in front of the falls here, and also a bit of luck helps too, as with the Grey Wagtails and their young. Coming prepared for as many possibilities as you can, and having a way to switch around your equipment on the fly also raises our chances, so that we can capitalize on what luck throws our way. And going the extra mile to get to a place at the right times will also pay off.
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