Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 2 (Podcast 462)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 2 (Podcast 462)

This week is the last of a two part series to walk you through a selection of photos from my second Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour for 2015. We pick up the trail on day seven, with one last Whooper Swan photo, before the majestic sea eagles, and a surprise visit from a beautiful Northern Fox.

Towards the end of last week’s episode, when I walked you through the first 12 photos from Tour #2, I mentioned that the swans often run along the water in front of the frozen lake as they take off. This is the photo I was thinking of, and the unsteadiness of the water often gives the swans an ungainly look as they splash along the water gaining speed to take flight (below).

Whooper Swan Dash

Whooper Swan Dash

Man in the Mist

Men in the Mist

Also, as I mentioned last week, I generally shoot panning shots like this between 1/25 and 1/40 of a second exposure. 1/25 has a much higher failure rate for sharp heads, but can result in more aesthetically pleasing blurred shots. 1/40 of a second has a high success rate, but less wing movement. This particular image was shot at 1/30 of a second, so the head is slightly less sharp on close inspection, but beautiful wing movement is recorded, so it can be a good if somewhat risky balance.

Next is a fun shot that I made after breakfast on day seven, as we visited Sulphur Mountain, for what is usually an apocalyptic scene with the volcanic fumaroles spewing sulphuric steam into the atmosphere. As it was so warm in Hokkaido for pretty much most of this winter though, it was too misty to any more than a few close-up grab shots of the fumaroles, but I quite like this fun shot of two of our tour participants in the mist (right).

I have a couple of frames in which the subject to the right is more prominent, but I like the minimalism here, and just a hint of the figure looking quite sinister to the left of the image.

As we drove over to the fishing town of Rausu, where we would spend three days, going out each morning to photograph the sea eagles, we took a look at a couple of locations where I know there to be Ural Owls, but they were not on their nests this day, so we continued on after lunch to the Notsuke Peninsula.

As warm as it has been, with temperatures floating around freezing point most days, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see this, but it seemed very strange to be able to see the dried grasses and patches of dirt showing through what is usually just pure white snow plains (below).

Ezo Deer at Notsuke Peninsula

Ezo Deer at Notsuke Peninsula

The Ezo Deer are happy enough with the situation, as they can start their spring eating a little early this year, and were often so busy with their feast that they wouldn’t even look up for a photograph as we stalked them from the bus on the road that runs along the thin fishhook shaped strip of land that juts out into the sea on the east coast of Hokkaido.

We went out to photograph the sea eagles at dawn on all three mornings that we were in Rausu, and although the sea ice was very close to the shore on the first morning, high winds drove it out from our base in Rausu towards the Kunashiri Island on the other side of the Nemuro Strait from the second day. Still, we had three great mornings, with the middle shoot being a bit slow.

I’ll share a few eagle shots from the second morning in a moment, but after our first morning, we headed back out to the Notsuke Peninsula, but shortly after we got there, I received a phone call from a friend to tell me that one of the Ural Owls that we’d gone to photograph the day before, was currently on its perch, so we headed over there to photograph this adorable avian (below).

Ural Owl

Ural Owl

I often switch to portrait mode for these owls, because that enables me to fill the frame with the tree trunk, but for this shot, I used the landscape orientation, and showed the edges of the tree to give the owl a little more context, and I thought that worked pretty well here, and more than anything, I was happy that I’d been able to provide the group with an owl photo, following a couple of no-shows the previous day.

Back to the sea eagles now though, and here’s a photo of a Steller’s Sea Eagle from our second dawn shoot with them (below). Here he’s coming in to land on the sea ice, and I just love the detail in his feathers, and those crazily cool talons, and pensive stare as he concentrates on his approach.

Steller's Sea Eagle Coming in to Land

Steller’s Sea Eagle Coming in to Land

The following morning, having found a good perch in the foreground for the eagles to sit on as the sun came up, we waited for the sun and eagles to do just that, as we can see in this photo (below). The eagles generally just sit on these high perches of ice, and seem to just enjoy the sunrise as we do, but sometimes, as we see here, they jostle for position on these perches, and I was able to capture this particular jostle while the sun was still close to the horizon.

Jostling for Position

Jostling for Position

One tip to keep in mind when shooting things like this, is that once the birds are in front of the sun, auto-focus gets all flustered, and generally doesn’t work until you see a more distinct silhouette, like in this photograph. If you are working from a boat like this, it’s a good idea if you use the back AF button to focus, to get focus while the birds are away from the sun, and assuming you don’t move closer to or further away from the subject, just don’t press the AF button again as the bird moves in front of the sun. If you do that, the focus can start to search and you’ll miss your shot.

Of course, you have to disable the focus from the shutter button as well, and this is a common way to set up a camera for wildlife and sports photographers. I won’t go into detail on this now, but if you are interested, let me know and I’ll do an episode on this, and go through the merits and demerits of focusing in this way.

Another thing to remember at times like this too, is to try not to look at the sun through the lens too long. You’ll end up doing it for a few seconds to get your image all lined up and composed nicely, but once you have your composition set and the lens focussed, move your eye up slightly, so that the sun is obscured, at least partially, by the top of the viewfinder.

This way you can still see enough to maintain focus and your composition without frying your eyeballs. Note too that this is only possible while the sun is very low in the sky. Once the sun rises much more than you see in this shot, it’s very dangerous to look at it directly through your camera, especially with a long lens, and even when it’s obscured slightly.

OK, so here’s my messy sea ice shot. It’s nice when we have sea ice, especially when it creates a nice an uniform background as it did in the earlier eagle shot. It can be quite messy though, as you can see in this next photograph, of a White-Tailed Eagle taking a fish from the sea (below).

The Catch

The Catch

I can live with the messy sea ice in this shot though, as I just love the wavy shapes and lines in this image. The wave formed by the lower line of the neck of this eagle is almost mirrored by the arch of the water that the bird has kicked up as he drew the fish from the water.

Of course, it’s easier to get a much cleaner background by shooting the eagles in flight, as I did with this next image (below). We have the mountains behind Rausu in the background here, and I went in really tight with the new 100-400mm lens from Canon at 271mm. I could have pulled out further of course, but sometimes I just like to really crop in tightly to capture the incredible detail in the magnificent raptors.

Pensive Flight

Pensive Flight

Here’s one last fun shot of the Steller’s Sea Eagles before we move on (below). This is not a multiple exposure or anything like that. These three stooges had been sitting on a bit of ice, just chewing the fat, as they do of a morning, and decided it would be fun to walk across this little chunk of ice to a larger piece, and I was lucky enough to capture the comical moment.

Not a Multiple Exposure

Not a Multiple Exposure

After our third dawn sea eagle shoot, we had some tough decisions to make, as the weather was closing in on us again. If you remember from the previous episodes, on Tour #1, there had been major road closures across eastern Hokkaido forcing us to stay in one hotel and extra night, and preventing us from getting to Rausu for two days. We brought the situation around by positioning ourselves to get in early enough on our second day to shoot the eagles, and then we shot twice more on our last day there, but it had been a difficult couple of days.

Well, although we’d finished three great eagle shoots on Tour #2, if we’d moved on to Utoro, where we do some finishing landscape work and have a great last dinner, there was a good chance that we would not be able to leave Utoro on our last morning, forcing us to miss our flight. There was also a good chance that our flight on this side of the island would be cancelled, so it was decision time.

We decided to change our plans, and abandon our last day in Utoro, in favour of traveling across the island to a different airport, so we changed our flights as well as our hotel for the last night. We did have enough good weather and time left to go through to the pass to Shari, at the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula for lunch though, and that also took us past the spot where we usually stop to do some intentional camera movement shots of the birch trees, as we see here (below).

Birch Trees in Snow

Birch Trees in Snow

We had a lot of ground to cover through the afternoon though, to get to Kushiro, and our new hotel, and to be in position for our newly arranged flight. Not wanting to spend the entire afternoon on the bus though, we headed for the Mashuu Lake, where we would have 45 minutes or so to shoot before heading on, but then just as we reached the area, we found this incredibly cute young Northern Fox (below) just sitting at the side of the road, and he posed for us for about 15 minutes before we had to leave.

Fox's Yawn

Fox’s Yawn

We all got lots of great photos of this young guy, but after we’d been there for a while, and I was shooting over the head of one of our participants, he got up and moved away, giving me his seat. Just as he did, the fox did this huge yawn, and although I wasn’t quite lined up properly, I was already focussed, and got what was probably my favourite photo from the entire tour.

I was a little annoyed that I’d got so much space above this little guys head, but this is a perfect space for the time and date on my iPhone lock screen, and it will also be great for adding copy on an ad or magazine cover for example, so I’m looking forward to getting this uploaded to OFFSET the stock agency that represents my work. I’ll share more of this little guy later, but I hope you like this shot. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

The last photography stop of the tour turned out to be Mashuu Lake, as you see here (below). This is a beautiful spot, but now with only thirty minutes left, as we spent 15 minutes shooting the fox, we only had time for a bit of a flying visit before we had to continue on to Kushiro.

Mashuu Lake

Mashuu Lake

We had some great local food in a quaint old bar that night, and then woke the next morning to a cancelled flight, as the weather had closed in even earlier than expected. Yukiko our tour conductor worked her magic, and after around 90 minutes of phone calls and planning discussions with me, we decided to change our flights again, and take a risk on driving over to yet another airport that still had some free seats on the next three flights, and had not yet cancelled their first flight of the day, which was a good sign, as all other airports were cancelling their flights as quickly as we could check on availability.

To cut a long story short-ish, our plans panned out, and although we lost our afternoon on day eleven and the morning on day twelve, we were repaid with a some wonderful fox photographs, a bonus landscape shoot at Mashuu Lake, and we still ended up back in Tokyo an hour earlier than planned, much to the relief of our guests who mostly had international flights to catch the following day.

As usual, at the end of the trip, I went around the bus with my iPhone and recorded a brief message from each member of the group, which I’ll play you now.

[Listen to the audio to hear what the group had to say.]

Also, one of the participants Rich Dyson, a very talented UK photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has posted a detailed recount of our tour on his blog here, if you’d like to see the tour from a participants perspective. I am also going to be chatting with a few people from the tours in a Google Hangout at some point soon, so look out for those upcoming episodes.

2016 Japan Winter Wonderland Tours

OK, so that finishes my travelogue of our second Japan Winter Wildlife Tour for 2015. Note that we have been taking bookings for the 2016 tours for a while now, and both tours are already almost full, so if you would like to join us, check out the 2016 Tour page, and sign up sooner rather than later, to secure your place on a Japan Winter Wildlife Tour of a lifetime.

 


Show Notes

See Details of 2016 Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2016

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #1 Part 1 (Podcast 459)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #1 Part 1 (Podcast 459)

This week we start a two part series to walk through 24 photos from the first of my two Japan Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido winter wonderland wildlife tours for 2015. As you’ll hear next week, the weather gave us some unique challenges on this tour, but as usual we had an amazing time, and came away with some pretty cool photos.

We started our tour with a three day visit to the adorable Snow Monkeys, which are a three hour drive north-west of Tokyo, in our chartered bus. Although it was unseasonably warm, with temperatures floating around freezing point, there was still a good covering of recent snow on the hillside beside the hot spring bath in which the monkeys bath.

Snow Monkeys

Here is one of my favourite shots from this visit (below), with this snow monkey just sitting, in a wonderfully human pose, and also with what I consider a great expression on their face. I just love the wrinkles on this older monkey’s face, and that distant gaze which makes me feel that they’re deep in thought about whatever it is that monkeys think about.

Sitting Easy

Sitting Easy

I also  really like how it’s difficult to figure out what’s going off with the monkey’s right hand. At first glance, it’s as though the monkey has their right hand resting on their leg, but with the angle of their right arm, unless the have a severely broken arm, their actual hand has to be tucked down between their legs. What we can see here must be their left foot, sitting on top of their right leg.

The next shot shows two young monkeys playing boisterously, as they bite each others mouthes, in the hot spring pool (below). Between answering questions and otherwise looking out for my group, I love picking out moments like this as the youngsters play with each other.

The Bity Game

The Bity Game

I also spent some time photographing the monkeys advancing towards me again, still testing the 7D Mark II, now also with the new 100-400mm lens from Canon, but I’m going to save my findings for a later podcast episode, in which I’ll concentrate on updating my 7D Mark II review, so please stay tuned for that. I am very impressed with both the 7D2 and the 100-400mm though, and will add a few comments in this episode, but need a little more time to collate my thoughts on some of the shortcomings of the 7D Mark II, which I touched on earlier in my first impressions review and have not yet entirely overcome.

Eagles and Cranes

After the Snow Monkeys, we travel up to Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan for a further nine days shooting the incredible wildlife up there. Our first location is two days with the Red-Crowned Cranes, and the other wildlife that visit them, such as this White-Tailed Eagle (below).

Honing In on Prey

Honing In on Prey

At 2pm each day, they throw fish out for the cranes, which attracts these White-Tailed Eagles and Black Kites, which swoop down to steal the fish, making for a 20 minute photography frenzy, which is incredibly exciting. Although I still enjoy shooting my straight eagle-in-flight shots, I’m really trying now to capture poses that are a little different to my current range of shots, such as this look as the eagle hones in on his prey.

At the cranes, I ended up shooting most of the time with my 7D Mark II on the 200-400mm 1.4X EXT lens. This shot (above) was captured at 490mm, so the 1.4X Extender was engaged, but not at the full zoom of the lens. Of course though, because the 7D Mark II has a 1.6X crop factor, the effective focal length of this shot was 784mm, so much greater than I could get with my 1D X on the same lens.

I of course also have many photos of the cranes from the first day, but in trying to keep the number of photos I include down to 12 per episode, we’ll jump now to a photograph from the end of the fourth day, the first day in Hokkaido, when we visited a spot where the cranes sometimes fly to roost. For this photo (below) of cranes flying over the lighter part of the sky as we looked towards the sun, I actually brightened the sky to almost white and darkened the cranes down to full black silhouettes to really emphasise the form of the cranes.

Cranes Silhouette

Cranes Silhouette

While in the Kushiro area, we have two mornings where we visit the river at Otowabashi, which directly translates as the “Sound-of-wings Bridge”. Here we are hoping to be lucky enough for the temperature to be cold enough for hoar frost to form on the trees along the river, and for some mist over the water. Unfortunately on the two days we visited it wasn’t cold enough this time for the entire riverside to go white, but there was a patch at the side of the river where some beautiful hoar frost formed, as we see in this photograph (below).

Frosty Morning Cranes

Frosty Morning Cranes

We waited for some of the cranes to walk down the river to these trees, to capture this surreal scene. It’s always so magical to see, even if it’s only a small part of the river, especially when you single this out with the frame of the camera, when we can basically make everything else go away.

With the new Mark II 100-400mm lens from Canon on my 1D X, I had walked along the enclosure at the Akan Crane Center later in the day, and noticed a pair of cranes taking off coming directly towards me, so I selected one of the two, and tracked with it for the entire take off, until they went right overhead. With the lens zoomed right out to 100mm, here is one of the last frames before the crane got too big to fit in the photograph (below).

Red-Crowned Crane Flyover

Red-Crowned Crane Flyover

I have to tell you, I absolutely love this new 100-400mm lens. It is incredibly sharp, and having that kind of reach in a hand-holdable lens for the first time in almost 10 years is almost as much of a revelation as going back to a telephoto zoom with the 200-400mm last year, after shooting with telephoto primes for such a long time. The only thing that is taking a bit of getting used to is the twist zoom action on this lens.

In my opinion it should zoom faster through it’s range than it actually does. A number of times I found myself having to re-position my hand and lost a shot or two because I couldn’t zoom quickly enough through the range, although it did get easier as I used the lens, so it’s certainly something that you can get used to, and so not a huge issue.

Next up, here I’m still looking for more exciting poses, as this White-Tailed Eagle starts a dive to steel the cranes’ fish again (below). There’s just something so special about being out in the cold in front of a field full of cranes, and then having these magnificent raptors come and visit just for that 20 minutes or so each day, and perform their acrobatics for us. Although it’s a crane center, it’s hardly surprising that it fills up with locals shortly before 2pm each day, as everyone tries to photograph this spectacle.

The Swoop

The Swoop

Here also is a shot of one of the Black Kites which also visit at this time (below). Compared to the eagles these are smaller, and are often ignored by people here in favour of the eagles, but I probably shoot these just as much, because I think they are also incredibly beautiful birds. If you look closely at this photo you can also see that this kite has a fish in his talons, which I think adds a nice additional element to compliment this awesome creature.

Black Kite with Fish

Black Kite with Fish

A Bit of Panning

Each day, when we head over to the location where we photograph the cranes as they fly to their roost, I first swing by another location where there are sometimes many cranes that are about to set off on that flight. On our second day in this area there were lots of cranes, so I had the group do a bit of panning, with longer exposure than we usually use to capture the action during the day.

We set our shutter speeds to 1/25 of a second to record the movement in the wings of these beautiful birds as they took off and flew out of the reserve (below). In this first shot the sun was almost on the horizon bathing everything in beautiful warm light, as you can see from the wings of the birds here.

Cranes in Motion

Cranes in Motion

The cranes’ heads move up and down slightly as they fly, so it’s virtually impossible to get a totally steady head at these shutter speeds, but I’m still pretty happy with the results, and have selected quite a few of these in my final selection of images from this tour.

Here’s another photo which I made at 1/20 of a second this time, now at ISO4000 as it was almost dark, but this helped the background to go much darker now, so the cranes really stand out against the background (below). For most of the tour we shoot in Manual exposure mode and use the ISO to adjust the exposure more than aperture or shutter speed. For these panning shots, we selected the shutter speed first, because it’s important to get it down nice and slow, but generally we choose the aperture first for depth of field, then shutter speed to freeze or blur the action, then adjust the exposure with the ISO.

Cranes' Flight

Cranes’ Flight

It Snowed!

The following morning, we awoke to snow, so instead of moving on to the Whooper Swans according to our itinerary, I took the group back to the cranes for a third day, as they are so special when it snows. It just totally changes the scene, although it does offer it’s own challenges. On this particular day, the wind was blowing directly towards us, so we had to continuously use an air blower to blow the water droplets off the front of our lenses every time we shot, and then ensure that we turned the camera down and away from the snow when we weren’t shooting.

The results were worth it though of course. The cranes just look so much better when it snows, and they tend to get more excited too. Here there were multiple groups of cranes singing in unison (below). I generally try to avoid or remove parts of birds poking into the frame like the one on the right of this shot, but for some reason I actually quite like this one. It’s almost as though he’s sticking his head in the door to see what all the ruckus is all about.

Uhmm?

Uhmm?

I also really like the way the crane’s ruffle their wings up like that, as we can see from the left-most crane. When their wings are folded down, as in the next photo (below), it often looks as though they have black tails, but you can see from the photo above that their tails are actually pure white. It’s the line of black feathers along the back edge of their wings that they seem to use as decoration.

We’ll finish on this photo for today, as I hope this can help you to understand why I really do love to get some falling snow while we’re with the cranes. It not only cleans up the surface of the snow, but the snow in the air adds another dimension that you just don’t get with clear air.

Love Call

Love Call

Before we do finish, I’d like to let you know that we’ve just had a last minute cancellation for the tour that starts literally in just seven days, and although it may well be backfilled or too late by the time you read/listen to this, if you are interested in joining us, you can book your place here or see details on our 2015 Winter Wonderland Tour page. Note that our site manages inventory for these tour bookings, so if you take a look and the tour is marked as sold out, it means that someone else beat you too this open spot.

[UPDATE: This 2015 tour #2 cancellation slot has now been filled.]

2016 Japan Winter Wonderland Tours

Also, note that we have already been taking bookings for the 2016 tours for a little while now, and each is already over half full, so if you would like to join us, check out the Tours & Workshops page, and sign up sooner rather than later, as these tours are now selling out quite quickly.

 


Show Notes

See Details of 2016 Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2016

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido with David duChemin (Podcast 362)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido with David duChemin (Podcast 362)

I usually record an update after returning from the Snow Monkeys and Hokkaido tour each year, and insert a recording from the bus on the last day of each trip as well as my own reflections on our trip. For Tour #2 this year though, we were lucky enough to be joined by best selling author and amazing photographer David duChemin, so instead of just me talking this time, we sat down (via Skype) and had a candid chat about the time together.

As this was an unscripted discussion, there is no transcript for today’s episode, but here are some of David’s images, that we talk about during our conversation, as well as one of my Whooper Swan shots, that I specifically called out towards the end.

David in Hokkaido

David in Hokkaido by Leonie Wise

Snow Monkey by David duChemin

Snow Monkey by David duChemin

Hokkaido Trees by David duChemin

Hokkaido Trees by David duChemin

Birch Trees by David duChemin

Birch Trees by David duChemin

Steller's Sea Eagle by David duChemin

Steller’s Sea Eagle by David duChemin

Whooper Swans by David duChemin

Whooper Swans by David duChemin

Bihoro Pass Trees by David duChemin

Bihoro Pass Trees by David duChemin

Seven Swans by Martin Bailey

Seven Swans by Martin Bailey

Red-Crowned Crane by David duChemin

Red-Crowned Crane by David duChemin

And to finish with, here’s a photo of our wonderful group for Tour #2, on the 2013 Winter Wonderland Tour.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2013 - Group #2

Winter Wonderland Tour 2013 – Group #2

And if you’d like to join one of our future Winter Wonderland Tours & Workshops, details will be released on our MBP Workshops Web site, or you can subscribe to the newsletter for a heads-up on new tour details as they are released.

Snow Monkey & Hokkaido Tours & Workshops


Squarespace LogoThis Podcast is Sponsored by Squarespace

The Martin Bailey Photography Podcast is proud to have Squarespace on board as our current sponsor.

Visit www.squarespace.com/mbp and use the code MBP3 for a free trial and 10% off new accounts.

Show Notes

See David’s Hokkaido blog posts here…

Hokkaido Re-Cap: http://davidduchemin.com/2013/03/hokkaido-re-cap/

Editing Hokkaido: http://davidduchemin.com/2013/03/editing-hokkaido/

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

Subscribe in iTunesSubscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Podcast 283 : Blakiston’s Fish Owl Feeding (Video)

Podcast 283 : Blakiston’s Fish Owl Feeding (Video)

Here’s a short video that I shot on Feb 1, 2011, of a Blakiston’s Fish Owl Feeding in the town of Rausu, Hokkaido, Japan.

The pool from which the owl feeds is rocks covered with snow. The rocks were put there by locals, and they drop fish into the pool each night to feed the owls. This is done whether photographers are there or not, and is helping the owls to grow in numbers for the first time in decades.

You can also view the embedded video right here on your iPad, thanks to Vimeo!

Don’t forget to hit the full-screen button Full-Screen Button in the video window to view the video, erm, full-screen.

 

Note that there is an iPod/iPhone version of this video in iTunes, which is good for portability, but if you’re watching on a computer, the video above is better.

272 g: “The Nature of Japan” Exhibition Slideshow

Podcast 196 : Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

Podcast 196 : Good Things Come To Those Who Wait

There’s no doubt, that patience is a virtue. I can be very impatient with things that I can control. But, once I decide that I “need” a piece of gear for example, as long as I can budget for it, there’s little that can stop me from buying it. I’ve been burned with this a number of times too. Let me recall a story from some 7 years ago, which was when I found myself teetering at the top of a long slippery slope that I feel as though I’m actually still slipping down at break-neck speed.

Having shot with a film SLR for over ten years, I’d bought a Canon PowerShot S10 point and shoot in 2000. From the moment I bought it, I’d used the compact digital for most of my photography, though I still took the film camera with a bunch of FujiChrome Velvia slide film, when I was going to be shooting something special. I found the immediacy of digital incredibly refreshing, but was not all that thrilled with the quality of the images. Vibrant colors were a mess, there was way too much depth of field for my liking, so I figured that I’d take a look to see if there was now such a thing as a digital SLR, so that I could use some of my old EF lenses and get more control over the process. This was early 2002, and I found that Canon had a revolutionary camera called the EOS D30 on the market. At 3 megapixels it was a whole 1 megapixel more than my 2 megapixel PowerShot S10. I had to have it!

I almost ran to the camera store in Shinjuku, and once I found that there was a ¥20,000 (about $200) rebate on the D30 if you bought it before the end of the month, I’d parted with my ¥380,000 (about $3,800) before you could say “digitalitis”. I failed to read the tell-tale signs of the rebate to get rid of stock that would soon be old. Until that point, to me a camera had been something that served a purpose, and once bought, could be used for years until it basically wore out. I’d had my previous film Canon SLR body for ten years for heaven’s sake! Still, just two weeks after I took my baby D30 home, the D60 was announced. Not only did it have double the pixels, it was the same price as my D30! I was devastated! It was only after this that I checked and found out that the D30 had been out for two years at this point. My impatience and lack of understanding the market had thrown me a left hook that I couldn’t duck away from. I actually managed to resist the D60. I didn’t upgrade until the 10D was released. Then the 20D! Then the again legendary 5D! Of course then there’s the 1Ds Mark III and the 5D Mark II, but who’s counting!?

I had no way of knowing at the time by the way, that being able to view images at 100% would show me just how crap my original EF lenses were. I’d jumped of the platform almost with my eyes closed, and was at the part of the slippery slope where the angle is so steep, you’re literally free falling, with your behind just skimming along the surface, with barely no friction at all. I replaced all of my in the first year, mostly for L glass, and this was before I’d signed a pact with my wife to allow me to spend all of my photography income on photography. As the pixels increased, they showed me flaws in the non-L glass that I’d picked up, and prompted me replace those still relatively new lenses with L glass as well. Now some 7 years later I have just about everything I “need”, note the quotes, and I’m just rolling down the slope at a steady pace now. There’s no end to the slope in sight, but I’m going slow enough now that the wind in my ears has died down, and I can faintly hear the Canon board members, that I now realize had pushed me off the slippery slope in the first place. They were laughing, as they made their way to the bank.

Anyway, enough talk about my impatience when it comes to buying gear. Let’s talk about what prompted me to do an episode on this the topic of “Good things coming to those who wait”. The wildlife photographer in me has long admired the beauty of the pretty common turtle dove. This is in my opinion a greatly underrated bird. Sure, it’s only a little bit prettier than a common pigeon, but I like them. I like them so much that until now, whenever I’ve seen them on plain grey gravel, or brown dusty tracks, I’ve only admired them with my camera down. I’ve never even thought about photographing them in those conditions, because the shot would be as boring as hell. I knew that one day I would come across some of these birds that were in better surroundings, and when I did, I’d be able to do them justice.

Well, literally years after I decided that I wasn’t going to shoot a dull, drab shot of a turtle dove, although I never went out of my way to make a better image, I came across about six of these lovely birds in a patch of lush green grass that had gone to seed, and there was violet and yellow wild flowers intermingled in the grass. The mid afternoon light was shining through the trees, a little harsh, but still good light, and I realized that this was it. I had to make something out of this opportunity. I opened up my tripod legs, without extending them, as I wanted to be very low to the ground — as close as I could get to eye level of the doves without getting too much of the grass in the way. I stuck the 300mm F2.8 lens on the tripod, attached the 1.4X Extender between the lens and the body, and I started to shoot. I uploaded six images from this series, and the first one is image number 2269 (below).

Eastern Turtle Dove

#2269 – Eastern Turtle Dove

You can see how low I am to the ground in these shots, and in many I actually have eye contact with the turtle doves. The grass is obscuring the bird’s body, but I’m making art here, not documenting wildlife for an encyclopedia. Actually, note that in many circumstances it is necessary to get a straight shot with nothing obscuring the animal, but here I just don’t think it was necessary. Remember that I’d been waiting to capture this subject in surroundings that bring out the best in them for years. The heavily filtered light through the trees meant that I had to raise my ISO to 400, to get a shutter speed of 1/400of a second at F4. Autofocus was out of the question too, with the subject moving around very fast, in all that deep grass. I just kept locking in on the grass, and so manually focused for the whole series.

The first shot is a pretty straight pose, but in the next image that I uploaded, number 2270 (below), I caught a little bit of behavior. As I said, in the last shot, we had a bit of eye contact. These doves were well aware that I was there at the edge of their patch of grass, and every so often tilted their heads like this, like a dog trying to figure out what they are looking at. This is shot with exactly the same settings as the last image. We can see the dark shadow of a second bird in the background here too. I think there were six in total, so I just kept focusing on the one in the group that was in the best location and best light.

Eastern Turtle Dove

#2270 – Eastern Turtle Dove

#2272 - Eastern Turtle Dove

#2272 – Eastern Turtle Dove

Next is image number 2272 (right), in which the bird almost fills the frame. Again, I captured some behavior, as we can see a grass seed in the birds open beak. We can also appreciate the beautiful blue markings on the doves neck, and the orange outline, looking almost like fish scales, on the wings. The bright orange ring in the eye is very nice too, and this is of course what I was focusing on the whole time. You don’t get a lot of depth-of-field at 420mm at this shooting distance, so the bird does start to run out of focus at the extremes, but had I stopped down the aperture, I’d have lost that dreamy feel in the bokeh that I love so much. I’d much rather shoot wide open and risk losing missing focus, as I did on a number of these shots from this series, than stopping down for more focus, and loosing that dreamy look.

Finally, probably my favorite from the series is image number 2274 (below). Here I’d gone to a horizontal format, again, trying to get both horizontal and vertical shots whenever possible, got another nice head angle, and both of those beautiful big orange eyes tack sharp. The dove was very close to me for this, still at 420mm, but literally just a couple of meters away. There’s that violet colored wild flower on the left side of the frame, almost mirroring the position of the dove, and some nice longer grasses framing the bird as it looks back towards the camera. Here too, the beak is outside of the depth-of-field, as is most of the birds body, but the eyes, and the birds neck and chest are tack sharp, so this is a winner for me.

A few notes on technique; I was using my Really Right Stuff BH-55 ball-head, so panning around with these turtle doves was more tricky than say if I’d used my Wimberley gimbal head. The great thing about the Really Right Stuff BH-55 though, is that it has both a large main locking knob, to literally lock the ball-head down solid, in any position, and a drag set knob, which you use to set just enough tension to stop your outfit from flopping around. This means that you can still move the camera around to take photos, but enjoy the support of the tripod and ball-head. If you set the tension well, you can actually take your hands away from the camera and lens, and they’ll stay in that position, but you can still grab hold of them and move them if necessary. It’s a wonderful piece of kit.

A quick note on the manual focusing, which is how I focused all of these shots. I always shoot with my left hand cupped under the lens, and this puts my thumb and index finger right on the focus ring of the lens. Most modern lenses have what Canon calls “Full Time Manual Focusing”. What this means is that it doesn’t matter if you have the lens set in Autofocus mode or Manual focus mode, if you to grab and turn the focus ring, the camera stops trying to focus until you let go of the focus ring again. This means that you can focus manually, without flicking the lenses focus switch to manual, and also without the lens trying to focus while you hold the focus ring. This used to happen on many of the old lenses, from Canon at least. Anyway, with that left hand cupped around the lens’ focusing ring, I just had to keep adjusting the focus all the time as I was tracking the turtle dove. They do move around a lot, and have that quick juddery head and neck movement that can make it very difficult to focus on the eyes and head with this shallow a depth-of-field.

#2274 - Eastern Turtle Dove

#2274 – Eastern Turtle Dove

One other thing to note here as well is that I have my cameras set up to not focus when I half press the shutter button. This is of course the default action, but you can change the camera using the custom functions so that when you half press the shutter button all it does is meter the scene for exposure checking etc. and does not make the focus mechanism kick in. You then use the focus button on the back of the camera to actually focus using auto-focus. Splitting these two functions has merits and demerits. The merit of course is that it allows you focus with your thumb and then let go, then as you half-press or fully press the shutter button to take your photograph, the autofocus does not kick in, and focus on something that you did not intend it to. This is especially useful if you are recomposing your image after focusing. It’s like having the lens in Manual focusing mode, again, without touching the switch on the lens barrel. I’m mentioning this now, because it’s also useful to use the back-focus button at times like this, because if my shutter button started the auto-focus, if I didn’t have my hand on the focus ring when I half-press, I would start the auto-focus, and it would have started the lens searching, with all the grasses etc. in the scene, that I didn’t want to focus on. That can cost you shots in situations like this.

The down side of course is that when you use this mode, you can release the shutter even without achieving focus, and that means that you can actually forget to focus. I’ve been using this focusing method for about 18 months now after my friend Holly Sisson, from Toronto got me onto this, and I still forget to hit that back focus button with my thumb every once in a while. This never happens with medium to long telephoto lenses, because it’s obvious when you’re out of focus, but when using wide angle lenses when pretty much everything looks sharp through the finder, I do sometimes forget to focus. Luckily this is rare, and I’ve never forgotten to the point where I walk away from the scene without a shot, but it does still happen. Just something to keep your eye on if you try this focusing method.

Before we finish, I should say that by good things come to those who wait, I’m definitely not talking about waiting, and doing nothing. You have to continue to sow seeds. You have to either keep your eye out for subjects that you would like to shoot, if or when the conditions are right. You decide how much effort you put into getting to the right location at the right time. In this case, it was me liking the subject, but deciding not to shoot it in the conditions I’ve seen so far. I wasn’t that worried about visualizing what I could get, and then trying to investigate how I might find them in the conditions that I found them in on this day. They’re pretty photos, but not to the point where I would have really gone out of my way to photograph these turtle doves in these conditions.

#1704 - Distant Dance

#1704 – Distant Dance

You might remember my image of the Red-Crowned Cranes in the mist and frosty trees. This is image number 1704 (above), called Distant Dance. This and indeed that whole series that I shot on that beautiful morning during the 2008 Hokkaido Workshop where presented to me after many days at this location over the years. I’d commuted to this location for five mornings in a row at the end of 2006, and still didn’t get these conditions, despite it being just like this the day before I arrived. Some conditions will require investigation, perseverance, and at the end of the day, a bit of luck often helps too. The point is, you’d rarely come across a scene like this by just sitting around with your thumb up your behind.


Podcast show-notes:

This episode is sponsored by WebSpy, the Internet Monitoring, Analysis & Reporting Specialists.

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com


Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.