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This is the final episode in a three-part series to walk you through my first Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography tour in three years, and we had an absolute blast. We pick up the trail on our second visit to the Boat Graveyard, when I shot this image from the side, with the winter sun peeping through the clouds. I can’t help thinking that these boats are being tormented by their view of the sea on which they once reveled, but now, no longer seaworthy, they are stuck in their open icy graves.
More boats have been abandoned a little further into the boat yard, and this year, even the ships down in the main harbor area have fallen into disrepair. I’m not a huge fan of this second set of boats, although some guests understandably prefer this batch. I couldn’t resist shooting this when the sky started to get interesting.
With the snow in the area being considerably more sparse the usual, I decided to take the group to Cape Soya, the northern-most tip of Japan, and as we pulled up for what we initially only intended to be a rest room break, we saw that it had snowed lightly, and noticed a bank of snow clouds that were gradually becoming pink as the sunset to the west illuminated them from the side.
As you can see from this image, there is a strip of water that is shallower than further out, and this water is like a mill pond as the pink in the sky deepened. We were all running around deciding our optimal angles, and the excitement in the air was electric. This is the sort of scene and atmosphere that I sometimes see in my dreams and, for one reason or another, am unable to photograph, which drives me crazy. The best light lasted about five to maybe ten minutes, and then it was gone, but I got several images that I am really happy with, including some stitched panoramas that will look amazing when printed big.
The following morning, we went back to Cape Soya, this time on our planned visit as we rounded the cape to head down the east coast of the island. With the snow that fell on the previous evening and some fresh snow that was falling as we arrived, we were treated to another great sky as the snow clouds burst through the regular clouds, almost as though they were fighting with each other, especially the clouds that you can see here behind the fishing boats.
There is a lake near the place where we stopped for lunch, and we called in for thirty minutes before we continued our drive to the destination for the next two days. As we walked up to the fence around the lake, a few flocks of swans flew to the lake, and I got a hand full of images that I liked, with this one probably being my favorite. I enjoy extremes, either in the lack of contrast, like the subtle horizons in some of my minimalist landscapes that I’ve shared in this series, or like this, where the white of the swans really contrasts against the dark blue sky.
I was pointing my camera straight up by the time I shot this particular image. I continued to shoot as I arched my back past straight up, but this shot is my favorite of the set. This is actually the first time I’m using the high frame rate of the EOS R5 for the wildlife in Hokkaido, and it was nice to have a high frame rate again. I used the R5 in Namibia for wildlife at the end of my Complete Namibia Tour in 2022, but here in Japan, it felt fresh again, and made me look forward to getting started on my dedicated wildlife tours even more.
I was very disappointed to find that there was an ugly sea wall and what looked like a new fishing harbor being built, taking up most of the beach where we used to photograph in previous visits. There is still plenty to shoot in this area, but I’m hoping we get a lovely fishing port for next year’s visit to compensate for the loss. Of course, we are shooting most of what we do on this trip based on the kindness of people who either give us permission to shoot or through being accepted into some very small communities, so I don’t want to appear ungrateful. Still, I do hope it turns into something nice.
The other scenes that we shot in this area were still intact, and one of my favorites is this distant scene that we shoot with long telephoto lenses to isolate the top of a snow-covered hill and the copse of trees that is perched upon it. For this photograph, I stitched two images together because zooming out starts to include the tops of the trees just below what you see here, and I didn’t want them to spoil this scene.
I love the texture of the snow in this photo, and the sun was peeping out through a hole in the clouds, making some interesting shadows on the hillside. That fence leading down the hill also adds so much to this scene. I always enjoy coming back here.
On the previous day, we’d visited a fishing port, but the snow had been driven through, and the light was a little harsh, so I didn’t share any of those images, but the following morning, we went back after a bit of snow had fallen, cleaning up the tracks a little, and we had a better sky on our second visit. This is why I plan multiple visits to places because we don’t always get what we want on the first visit, and most of the time, my guests are happy to get a chance to return. Ultimately, the diligent photographer shares only the better images with their audience, and all works out for the best.
I was already completely satisfied with my photos of the copse on the hill from the previous day, but a number of the guests wanted to return, so of course, that’s what we did. Here is a stitched panorama made from images shot at a focal length of 100mm, showing the broader scene below the hill. The sky was clearer on our second visit, so we had some long afternoon shadows from the trees on the left.
In the narrower stitched panorama of the top of the hill that I shared earlier, I was shooting at 500mm, but for this wider panorama, I zoomed out a little to 343mm, and that did, of course, mean that I had the top of the trees entering the frame, so I have cloned them out in Capture One Pro, after stitching several frames together. I like the result a lot, and again, would love to print this out really big at some point.
To finish, we go back to ultra-minimalist again, with this photo from the same location, just capturing the line of fence posts along the ridge of an adjacent hill.
That is the final image that I wanted to share, so we’ll start to wrap up this series now, but I do have a recording to share from the bus the following morning, as we headed to our final shooting location and then on to the airport to fly back to Tokyo. For any of the guests that listen to this episode, I wanted to thank you for coming and for putting up with the remaining COVID regulations that the Japanese government still has in place. You were all good sports and I hope to travel with you again at some point.
Please listen with the audio player at the top of this post to listen to what each guest said in our recording.
I’m releasing this while traveling on the first of my two Japan Winter Wildlife Tours for this year. I hope you’ve enjoyed these three episodes. If this tour is of interest to you, we still have spaces on the 2024 tour, so check our tours & workshops page for a quick check of availability and click on the graphic to jump to the details for each tour directly from there.
Check out our Tours & Workshops here: https://mbp.ac/tours
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Thanks for a great trip Martin! Really enjoyed seeing it through the your photos. Of course, I had to go see if I got the same compositions 😉