My Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure tour for 2017 was a huge success and incredibly productive. This is part three of a travelogue series to share with you the locations we visited including a selection of photographs to illustrate our progress.
At the start of day eight, we got up early and headed back to one of my favorite spots on this winter landscape tour, the boat graveyard. This is where nine boats have been abandoned on the ground beside a fishing port, and in the winter, the snow enshrouds them, forming what I consider to be one of the most beautiful subjects I’ve photographed.
I mentioned last week that we seemed to be constantly on the edge of a weather system that brought us sunshine one moment, then heavy snow the next, and this pretty much always presents us with awesome skies as backdrops for our photos, or in the case of this image, the sky can become a major part of the photograph (below).
As detailed and complicated as the sky can get here, I love the simplicity also provided by the fact that there is nothing behind the boats but a narrow strip of beach, and the sea. I shot this at 16mm with my 11-24mm f/4 lens, but if you go much wider that this, or go further along and turn your camera back to the right, you actually start to get the edge of the fishing port in the right side of the frame, and I generally like to avoid that. My shutter speed for this image was 1/30 of a second, at f/14, ISO 100.
Not Seeing Issues with the 24-105mm Mark II
In addition to these wide shots, which I do enjoy shooting at this location, I also like to go long, as I did in this next image (below) which I shot with my new 24-105mm Mark II lens, at 93mm. A number of people have emailed me asking about the 24-105mm lens, as there have been some not-so-favorable reviews published. All I can say is that I am not seeing any of the issues described in these reviews with my copy of this lens. It’s as sharp as it was in my initial tests at all focal lengths and in all shooting conditions, and I’m still very happy with it.
Most of all, I am really enjoying photographing without a gap in my focal lengths. For a tour like this, and even now for most international tours when I don’t want to take my 200-400mm lens along, I’m shooting with the 11-24mm, the 24-105mm, and my 100-400mm lenses. This along with two Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies is like the holy grail of camera gear for me, and I’ve never been happier with my kit.
Anyway, back to this photograph, as you can see, the 93mm focal length from a bit of a distance enables me to zoom in on a smaller portion of the boats, also making the waves in the distance a little larger, adding to the story of the harsh conditions in which these subjects sit. This focal length also enables us to enjoy more subtle details, like the texture of the snow and the fishing net draped over the bow of the boat. I shot this at 1/20 of a second, at f/14, with ISO 100.
Just ten minutes after the previous image, the snow was back with a vengeance and I made this photograph (below). You can see that I was still at pretty much the same angle as the previous image, but I pulled back to 32mm so that I could capture the snow driving through the air. The snow cloud had made the sky very dark, although I have enhanced the sky in these images with my black and white conversion in Capture One Pro. I’ve also added an Adjustment layer over the sky to make it darker still and bring out the detail in the snow.
There is more to the port at this location, but I rarely shoot it, because every time I start to walk away, the weather changes, presenting yet another opportunity, so I just keep going back and shooting some more. On this occasion, I did go through to the port and shoot a few images, but my boat graveyard remains a firm favorite, so we’ll skip those photos and move on to the later shoot.
Before going to lunch, we visited the fish drying frames in Wakkanai, and with permission of the owners, had a good walk around them and made photographs like this (below). I used a ten stop neutral density filter to give me a 40 second exposure here, which makes the sea in the distance smooth over, and the clouds which were moving from right to left also smoothed over.
I was actually happy that the nettings used to keep the birds off the fish that’s drying in the frames has also blurred on the top, making it less obvious. The netting on the sides is still visible, but the top has smoothed over considerably as it was catching the wind and moving more. The wind was a challenge with the long exposure, but I found that if I placed myself between the wind and the camera, and pushed down on the top of the tripod legs, I was able to get a nice sharp image. I’m sure by now you can guess my other settings, but for good measure, this was shot at f/14, ISO 100.
After lunch, we spent the rest of the afternoon in one of the fishing ports in Wakkanai. This is a nice spot, with lots of boats in various locations and formations. The boats are brought up on land like this over the winter to stop them getting crushed, as the sea ice works its way down from Siberia and often fills these fishing ports. In this shot (below) I was attracted by the foreground boat on the ground, but with five bigger boats lined up behind it, almost like a kid playing on the ground with his big brothers looking over him.
As you can see the sky was a very uniform gray, and therefore in some respects not as interesting as I’d have liked, but in black and white I like how this makes both the boats and the sky look almost the same tone, and this also in my mind helps us to concentrate more on the form of the boats and the Japanese writing on them. As there wasn’t much to smooth over, I shot this without a neutral density filter for 1/6 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100.
Running with the gray sky, I found this boat without any distracting elements in the background, and photographed it in portrait orientation (right).
The almost milky feel of the bow of the boat with that uniform gray sky for some reason really appeals to me, and this has turned out to be one of my favorite images from the trip.
I was initially a little distracted by that large chunk of wood dangling from the boat on the left side of the photograph, but for some reason, even that now appeals to me.
Maybe it’s because it makes the image just a little asymmetrical, despite my tendency to line up a shot like this so that the center of the boat runs perfectly down the middle of the frame.
I shot this also at f/14 for a 1/6 of a second at ISO 100.
As the day drew to an end, with the heavy overcast sky blocking out most of the light from the sun, I found myself with a small problem to overcome as I shot the next photograph (below).
Because there were a lot of grasses that had not been buried by the snow, I decided to pull back a little for this next image and include them, but the wind was blowing them around quite a lot, and I was down to more than a second exposure at ISO 100, so I decided to increase the ISO to 400, for a shutter speed of 0.3 seconds. I then used my cable release so that I could start my exposure when I saw the wind die down, so that it wouldn’t blow the grasses around too much.
There is still a little bit of movement in some of the heads of the grass, but that amount I’m happy to leave in, as it shows the dynamic nature of the foreground, but much more than this, and I feel it can come across more as a distraction. I actually went on to shoot some more images at ISO 800 and 1600 to get the grass perfectly still, but I preferred this version with that touch of movement.
The following morning, we left Wakkanai, and started our drive to Soya, the northern-most tip of Japan, where we’d stop at a couple more fishing ports before heading down the coast to our new home for the next two nights. We stopped first at a smaller port with a single line of boats, and I made this photograph (below).
Here I was working mostly with the snow drift and texture in the snow. I also used a ten stop neutral density filter for a 25 second exposure, this time at f/16. I probably should have gone back to my favorite f/14 for a 30 second exposure, but I honestly can’t remember why I didn’t do that. At this point I’d managed to catch a cold that was going around the group, and was running on auto-pilot for most of the day. I was actually relieved that it was a drive day, so that I could get a bit of a rest of the bus. I think the group generally enjoys the drive days too, as we are full on for the rest of the time, when we don’t have to drive far to our locations.
A little further along the road, we stopped again at Soya Fishing Port, and I was a little disappointed to see that there wasn’t good snow cover in front of my favorite line of boats, that I usually shoot there, and there was something piled up near the end of the line too, so that shot wasn’t to be this year. I do quite like this photo though, from the other end of the port, with a line of smaller boats that were up on the land, and I included just the back of a larger fishing boat to add scale (below).
I also did a few long exposures of this scene, but I ended up preferring this image at 1/40 of a second instead. I just like the detail in the clouds for this one, so my long exposures didn’t make the cut. Another element that I like, but you probably won’t be able to really see in the web version, is some fox footprints that run up the snow a little way in from the right side of the photo. I was back to f/14 for this image, at ISO 100.
We took our group photo after this, at the monument marking the actual northern-most tip of Japan, and beneath the clouds we could actually see the Russian island of Sakhalin in the distance, which was a nice bonus for the group. We continued on for an hour before lunch, then had another couple of hours drive down towards Monbetsu where we’d spend the next two nights.
We did have just 20 minutes of light left though, as we passed the port at Sawaki, so we finished the day with a short but very exciting shoot of the waves at high tide that were washing right the way up to the harbor wall next to the road, as you can see in this image (below).
Even as we started shooting the light was so low that without neutral density filters we were getting shutter speeds of more than a second at f/14. My favorite photo from this session was a two-second exposure at ISO 200. You actually get a different effect in the waves depending on wether the waves are rolling in or drawing out. Most of the time for this look, I prefer to capture the waves when they are drawing out, leaving these beautiful streaks around the rocks and tetrapods in the sea.
Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2018
We’ll wrap it up there for this third travelogue, and conclude this series next week, picking up the trail at the start of day nine. I have now updated the tour page and started taking bookings for the 2018 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure tour and workshop, so if you think you might be interested, please do take a look. You can find the page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa, and if you have any questions at all, please drop me a line via our contact page.
See details of the tour and sign up for next year here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa
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