Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 694)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 694)

Today we continue our travelogue series covering my recent Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure. I’d like to start by answering a question to last week’s post from Paulo Silva. Thanks for the great questions Paulo! Although I’ve answered in the comments for last week’s post, I’m going to include my answers here too as this is probably useful for others as well.

Why do you use apertures so small as F/16 with such wide focal length as 22mm? For the longer I understand if you want to keep everything in focus but as wider than 22mm or 35mm, wouldn’t you get the lens best performance (keeping everything in focus) and using a little bit wider aperture (say f/8 to f/11), having in mind that diffraction usually starts to show with f/11 and smaller? I know that it depends on the lens you’re using, and my experience is only with APS-C sensors in which diffraction happens sooner than with Full Frame sensors.

Another question, if I may, is where did you put your focal plane? At the trees or did you use some kind of hyperfocal distance?

Question from Paulo Silva

OK, so my settings are usually the result of thinking through what I want to do with the elements of the image, and also based on testing my gear to understand what it is capable of. There is also a hint in the text for last week’s post with regard to those particular scenes. Here too is a gallery of the images, to save you going back to the previous post:

The main reason for those particular images is because I wanted to get a shutter speed of between 1/20 and 1/40 of a second to cause the snow to streak slightly. It’s hard to see in the web versions, but it makes a beautiful pattern over the trees at these shutter speeds. If that requires me to stop down to f/16, I’m fine with that, because I test my lenses as described here https://mbp.ac/594 to see where diffraction starts to kick in. I built the functionality into my Photographer’s Friend app to also display diffraction warnings when calculating depth-of-field, which I also reference, but I’ve found that my gear does not start to visibly show the effect of diffraction until I stop down to f/22, but the depth-of-field does increase.

For example, the hut and tree shot with the dark sky was shot at 91mm, and at f/16 the close foreground snow is starting to come out of the depth-of-field. For the snow pillows shot, I was trying to get a slow shutter speed to record the water movement.

For the dawn mist in Biei shot, you’ll see that I opened it up to f/11, because, firstly, I was hand-holding, but also because the foreground snow was not going to be important, so I didn’t need to stop down so much. For the blue waterfall, I opened up to f/11 and adjusted my ISO to get a 1-second shutter speed, again, so make the water look the way it does. For the raven’s in the tree shot, I opened up to f/11 to get a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second, but I didn’t want to go any faster, because I wanted the flying birds to blur slightly when flying.

I have to admit, that these are perhaps better examples of my thought process because the low light causes me to decide where the trade-offs will be played out. With brighter scenes, I generally just shoot pretty much everything at f/14, but this is more out of habit. Before I really tested my lenses I used f/14 as my soft-ceiling, and f/16 was pretty much the highest I would go, but that is no longer the case.

I am aware that some people like to shoot at f/8, mostly because they’ve read somewhere that this is the sweet spot for the lens, but this in my experience is generally completely unnecessary, and often causes them to have to focus stack, etc. I rarely focus stack, and I mean like, almost never, and the thought of having to do that to overcome an obstacle that does not exist turns me completely cold. Before anyone makes a decision like that, they need to test their lenses and find out where diffraction starts to become visible for all of their lenses. 

Also, as you said, crop factor cameras will start to see diffraction at wider apertures, so you do need to test, but my app also shows the warnings accordingly when crop factor sensor sizes are selected. In case you haven’t seen it, you can check out Photographer’s Friend here.

People also, in my experience, have a very poor understanding of depth-of-field, and very few people understand that depth-of-field is directly affected by the megapixels (resolution) of the sensor in the camera. You get shallower depth-of-field with higher resolution cameras, if, as I do, you check critical focus at 100%. This is what I enabled with the Pixel Peeper mode that I built into my Photographer’s Friend app. When enabled you can clearly see the difference in depth-of-field as the sensor resolution increases.

Regarding Paulo’s question about where I focus, most of the time I am focusing on the main subject, to give it the clearest pixels. I occasionally focus around a third into the screen when I need more depth-of-field, but I generally feel that the main subject is best. With the shadow of the tree shot, for example, I recall focusing on the middle of the shadow, as it was about one third into the scene, but also because the shadow was the main subject of this image, not the tree itself. This also helped me to get more focus on the foreground snow.

The Coast

OK, so let’s continue to discuss the next ten images from this trip. After leaving Biei we headed over to the coast, which is a relatively long drive, so after our morning shoots before we leave, the next opportunity is usually the Shinto Torii gate that you see in this image. I had been excited about the fact that it was going to be a high tide on both evenings that we’d be able to visit this Torii, but as you can see from the sky, it was relatively clear, and I’ve found over the years that a clear sky, which indicates high atmospheric pressure, has more effect on the sea that the tides at this particular location. If it was overcast, meaning low pressure, the sea would have been up over the concrete base and the sky much more interesting.

Torii Gate at Dusk
Torii Gate at Dusk

Some members of the group got some really nice shots with the sunset reflecting in the pools between the rocks in front of the gate, which was great! We’d come back here the following evening, but once again despite it being high-tide, there was a clear sky, so it didn’t really work again.

We also spend a lot of time at some other locations in this area while we are there though, and one of them you can see in this next image. I like this spot because there are tetrapods lined up along the shore, often covered in ice like this, and then there is a line of tetrapods out in the sea, which add an element of interest to break-up the otherwise somewhat monotonous sea.

Icy Tetrapods
Icy Tetrapods

One thing that came up as we shot here, is how do I focus to get both the foreground icy tetrapods and the distant tetrapods sharp, and this is also related to Paulo’s earlier questions, so I’ll explain. Now that I’m using the EOS R with the electronic viewfinder, I can do this directly in the viewfinder, but in the past, I would do this same thing in LiveView. Basically, I zoom in on one of the extremes in the focus, either the foreground or the distant objects. Then, having set my aperture to something hopefully small enough to get both subjects in focus, I hold down the depth-of-field preview button, which I have mapped to the exposure lock or asterisk button on the back of my EOS R.

Then, say if I’m looking at the near subject, I physically move the focus out with the focus ring, until I see the near subject start to go soft, then pull back a little again, so that it’s still in the near end of the depth-of-field. Then I zoom in on the distant subject and check that it’s also in focus. Sometimes I have to pull the focus back a little to check that it does out of focus when I do, as it’s easier to then see when it comes back into focus. There is also focus peaking indication in the EOS R which helps, as everything that is highlighted has a sharp, in focus, edge.

You can see how little snow we had this year in this next image. Normally this beach has around 50 cm of snow and is difficult to walk on, but this year we were able to walk around quite freely. Rather than fighting it, I used the sparse snow as part of the composition for this shot, using it as leading lines towards the outcrop of land and the tip of triangular tetrapods.

Sugar Coated Beach
Sugar Coated Beach

Just in case, we swung by the Torii Shinto Gate one last time on the way out of town for on the last day in this area, but with the lower tide and clear sky the water was so far back that I found out for the first time that there is a second concrete base under the one you see in the earlier photo, which was also visible, so I had the group stay on the bus, and we started our journey to the next location, shooting some of my favorite spots along the way, the first of which, you can see in this next image.

Three Types of Tetrapods
Three Types of Tetrapods

I shot this with my medium format film camera, the Rolleiflex, and I’m pleased that I did because my EOS R had mysteriously switched to 12-megapixel mode without any warning the frame after the previous image of the beach. I noticed it around fifty frames later, and have no idea why it switched. This happens when you put an EF-S or crop-factor lens on the EOS R, but looking at when it switched, I had not even taken the lens off the camera, and I don’t own an EF-S lens, so nothing should have caused this to happen. I tell you, in general, I’m very happy with my Canon gear, and I love the EOS R, but when I found out that this had happened I felt like throwing my camera into the sea. Luckily the Rollei came to the rescue, and I still have some high-resolution images from this part of the trip.

I really like how we have the three distinctly different types of tetrapods at this location. The practice golf-balls in the foreground, the angular tetrapods in the middle, and then the rounder-legged tetrapods out in the sea. The word Tetrapod actually means four-legged and is a trademark for the original company that made them, but I just call all of these wave-breakers tetrapods.

We swung by the boat graveyard that I also love to shoot on the way to the next location, but again the lack of snow didn’t make it look very pretty. Luckily we had some snow while we were there, so we were able to get some nice shots the following day. On the first day in this area, we continued on to the Noshappu Fishing Port and photographed the boats there, and as we got settled into our shooting, the snow started, giving us a nice clean white foreground in the most part.

Noshappu Fishing Boats
Noshappu Fishing Boats

This is another shot from my Rolleiflex that I was quite happy with. I actually had a few problems developing my film from this trip, as I tried different developing chemicals, based on a recommendation from a previous post about developing my own film. The original Ilford DD-X that I was using gave great results every time, but I found that I needed to tweak the Adox Rodinal development process quite a lot before I could get results I was happy with from the Lab-Box that I shared with you in Episode 682.

The main problem was that I started out diluting it at 25:1 as that gives faster development times, and I was also agitating every thirty seconds based on advice from the Lab-Box folks, but it turns out that both of these things resulting in very grainy negatives when working with Rodinal. I started diluting at 50:1 for almost double the development time and also reduced the agitation to 10 seconds every minute, and also not turning the handle on the Lab-Box as fast, and I’ve found that this gives me much better results.

Here’s another shot from the Noshappu Port, this time shot with my EOS R. I’m really pleased that I’m able to get very similar looking images from both cameras in many cases, obviously when I’m converting my EOS R images to black and white, that is.

Line of Boats at Noshappu
Line of Boats at Noshappu

I found myself looking at my focal length quite regularly as we shot, and whenever I was around 50 millimeters focal length, I reached for the Rollei to get a film shot, as it’s a 75mm lens, which is about 50mm in 35mm sensor terms.

It snowed some overnight, so the next morning we revisited the boat graveyard for much better-looking scenes than the previous day. We also had a great sky at times, with the low sun illuminating the clouds from the side adding some nice texture, enhanced a little in Capture One Pro mind.

Boat Graveyard with Wild Sky
Boat Graveyard with Wild Sky

I feel somewhat privileged to watch these boats slowly decay over the years, and this year was no exception. More of the cabins seem to have collapsed and more bits are falling off as these boats succumb to the elements.

This next photo is a secondary Boat Graveyard further into the port than the first and was pretty nice this year because of the lack of snow. There’s a rugged feel to this shot that I find appealing, helped, once again, by the sky detail that I pulled out using Capture One Pro.

Second Boat Graveyard
Second Boat Graveyard

There’s a little more grass and dirt showing through than I’d like, but I think that just adds to the overall grungy feel, so I’m pretty happy with the results of our visits.

I’m generally a glass-half-full sort of person, so rather than concentrating on what we lost through the lack of snow, I really enjoyed getting into the stuff that we gained. The next image is usually out of bounds because the snow is too deep to get to this part of the port, but that wasn’t the case this year.

Boat Cabins
Boat Cabins

I believe these boats are still sea-worthy and in use, so this isn’t a graveyard, as such, but I still like the overall rugged feel and mood of these shots, and all in all, I was very happy with what we got this year.

In the afternoon, we swung by the fish drying frames, and once again I shot them with my Rolleiflex as well as my EOS R. I like both shots, but I think the square format suits this shot, so I’ll go with the Rollei version.

Fish Drying Frames
Fish Drying Frames

We were lucky again here, as we’d been told when we spoke with the people that own these frames a few days earlier that there was no snow on the ground. There were only a few centimeters of snow when we got there, but that is enough to clean up the scene like this, so once again we were very fortunate.

We’ll finish there for this episode, as we’ve reached our ten photos. I have not had time to create an extra episode for next week, and I am leaving for the first of this year’s two Japan Wildlife trips tonight, so we’ll be skipping next week, but I’ll be back in two weeks time to conclude this travelogue series and start to update you on the wildlife tours.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour

If you are interested in joining the Landscape tour in 2021 or future years, check out the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa.


Show Notes

Check out details of future Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventures here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2017 Travelogue #2 Haboro (Podcast 558)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2017 Travelogue #2 Haboro (Podcast 558)

Today we continue with part two of my travelogue series on my recent Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure tour for 2017. This was an amazing trip with a group of very talented and enthusiastic photographers, and probably the most productive of my Hokkaido Landscape tours so far, thanks to the incredible weather conditions we were presented with.

When I talk about good weather conditions though, you might think I’m talking about beautiful blue skies, but that is totally the other end of the scale. For this tour we need gray skies and lots of snow. Day four of this tour was perhaps a little too extreme though, even for my liking. As we made our way from Biei over to the West coast, a cold weather front that was slamming down on Hokkaido had blocked roads going south, but luckily we were heading north, and our excellent driver was able to battle through to Haboro where we’d spend the next two nights.

We had to abandon a couple of locations that I was hoping to shoot, for today at least, as high winds and spray from the sea would have made them pointless, but before we went to the hotel, we did get to spend a good chunk of time at the Konpira Shrine Torii, which is a Shinto Gate in the sea, that you can see in this photograph (below).

Konpira Shrine Torii in Storm

Konpira Shrine Torii in Storm

This was a real battle with the elements, as the wind was so strong, even my sturdy Really Right Stuff tripod was shuddering during these 1/15 of a second exposures. I wanted to do a little longer to capture more wave movement, but they just weren’t working even with my pushing down hard on the tripod to keep it from moving, but this shutter speed just about worked.

I’m happy with the position of these waves, and think this photo at least partially conveys how harsh the weather was. I was shooting at f/11 and an ISO of 400 to maintain that 1/15 of a second shutter speed, and was happy to have come away with at least a few shots that were actually sharp in these conditions.

The following morning, we drove back down the coast to the first location that we’d abandoned the previous day, and when we arrived, there was a patch of heavy snow, so we went with our driver to turn the bus around, and as we got back, we actually had a pleasant clear patch that lasted the time we were there, but still gave us some beautiful dark skies while highlighting the texture in the snow quite beautifully, as you can see in this photo (below).

Tetrapods Near and Far

Tetrapods Near and Far

The sun was also catching the distant set of tetrapods in the sea, giving a nice highlight on them too, which I thought was nice. The rough sea was still causing a lot of white water though, and this time I chose to smooth that over to a degree with a two minute shutter speed. I used a 10 stop and a 3 stop neutral density filter nested, for 13 stops of additional darkness, which was perfect for these lighting conditions. I was back to my old faithful aperture of f/14 and my ISO was set to 100.

I was continuing to use my new Mark II 24-105mm lens for much of my work, as it’s wonderfully sharp and very versatile with that wide zoom range, but it wasn’t quite wide enough for the next photo (below) which I shot at 14mm with my 11-24mm f/4 lens.

Driftwood Under Snow

Driftwood Under Snow

For this photo I wanted to include the full arch of driftwood under the snow on the beach, but also include that expanse of sky with the stratocumulus clouds just above the horizon, but also that wispy bank of snow cloud that might be classed as cirrus clouds in the foreground. I love it when various weather conditions are this close together, because the sky changes so quickly and gives us lots of various opportunities. I was also here still playing with that beautiful texture in the snow. I shot this at 1/80 of a second at f/14, ISO 100.

As we drove back up the coast to the second location that we’d skipped the previous day, the snow set in again for a while, and I couldn’t help thinking once again that we were getting the exact types of weather for each scene that we shot as and when we needed it. It really was uncanny.

As we walked down to the beach where I wanted to photograph the tetrapods, we were presented with this scene, that once again plays not only on the snow texture, but the bright sun also caused this wonderful shadow which is obviously a major part of this image (below).

Snow Beach Fence

Snow Beach Fence

Once again, it was also great that we had a nice dramatic sky in the background, rather than clear blue, that you might expect to see with the foreground being so bright. For this I also used a total of thirteen stops of neutral density for a one minute thirty-second exposure at f/14, with ISO 100.

As I’ve mentioned before, all of these images were converted to black and white in Capture One Pro, and because the new Mark II 24-105mm f/4 lens is still not supported for Lens Correction, I am still manually selecting the old 24-105mm to fix the slight bowing that is easy to see on the horizon on a photograph like this. My 11-24mm lens is now supported, which is great, although it actually has much less distortion than the 24-105mm Mark II anyway, so I’m hoping that Phase One get to this soon.

Once we had all photographed this scene in our various ways, all different and all unique, we trampled through this pristine snow down to the beach, and went over to a group of tetrapods that I know of that are half buried in the sand. We found that there was a rope and a lot of old fishing net tangled around a tree trunk that was washed up on the tetrapods, so I got a large knife from our bus, and cut most of that away, and proceeded to shoot this photograph (below).

Obira Tetrapods with Tree Trunk

Obira Tetrapods with Tree Trunk

When photographing the sea, especially when there are some good waves, I sometimes like to use a shutter speed of 1 second, which enables me to capture a good amount of movement in the sea without smoothing it completely over. I also often use a two-second timer when shooting landscapes, so that I can take my hand away from the camera before the exposure, which reduces the risk of me introducing vibration through my hands.

In cases like this though, when I want more control over the actual moment at which the exposure starts, I do still use a cable release, and turn off the two-second timer. This enabled me to perfectly time this image as a large wave washed up well past the tetrapods and tree trunk, and merge with a stream of water that was running down to the sea from the right to the left of this frame. This caused some beautiful swirls in the water, and I think my one-second shutter speed captured this perfectly on this occasion.

I also dropped on my large ND filters again, for another shot of the same scene, but for a three minute exposure this time. I like both photographs, but you can see that they are although obviously the same subject, the scene is depicted very differently by increasing the shutter speed from one to 180 seconds, allowing the sea, which was still quite rough, to smooth over to create this much more silky and surreal look (below).

Tetrapods and Driftwood

Tetrapods and Driftwood

We can still see a trace of how the sea water washes up past the tetrapods, and merges with the stream flowing from right to left, and causing the trail of the water to flow around the tetrapods and back to the sea. Both of these images were shot at f/14 with ISO 100, and a focal length of 43mm, although I did compose them slightly differently.

We went for lunch after this session, and then went back to the Konpira Shrine with the Torii gate in the sea that we visited at the end of the previous day. With the storm now gone, we didn’t have to battle with the wind, but the sea often takes an extra day or so to calm down, so we still had some great waves that we could now photograph with much slower shutter speeds, such as the 50 seconds that I used for this photograph (below).

Konpira Shrine Torii and Icy Beach

Konpira Shrine Torii and Icy Beach

Again, I was using my cable release, and timing my shots so that they started when higher than usual waves washed the foreground, but then at 50 seconds, the sea continued to wash up high and smooth over the gaps between the rocks. I like this shot mostly because there is a patch of highly textured foreground in the bottom right corner that is covered in snow and partly frozen, which I think adds a nice additional element of interest. I also like how the rough sea makes the line of tetrapods to the right slightly less defined than the Torii gate and the foreground. This gives a sense of depth to the image.

The following day, we were to drive a few hours further North to Wakkanai, where we’d spend another two nights. On the way, there’s a spot that I’ve found where there are a number of different types of tetrapods. Technically, only a certain type of wave breakers with four legs, are called Tetrapods. Using the word tetrapod to simply mean a wave breaker, this spot offers nice varied layers of them, which I love photographing when they are covered in snow, as we see in this photograph (below).

Practice Golfballs and Ice Monsters

Practice Golfballs and Ice Monsters

What attracts me to this particular image is that I was able to place these large balls that look like those plastic practice golf balls, completely covered by snow, all along the foreground. On this trip, I’d invited a talented videographer named Rob Bampton to video this tour, and I will be sharing the results of that probably in March, when we’ve had a chance to edit the video.

Rob asked me at this location though, why I hadn’t included the horizon in my composition. I actually had been shooting both, and will share another in a moment. My reason for not including the horizon in some of these images though, is because it enables me to simplify the shot a little more. Here I think just having the three distinct layers works well, and enables us to view each layer and appreciate the entire composition for its simplicity and minimalism.

In this next shot (below) I’d taken a few steps forward, to reveal an extra layer of golf-ball tetrapods down in the water, and an extra layer of tetrapods in the sea to the right. Here I feel that the additional layers make the shot intrinsically more complicated, and the wider focal length and more acute angle also makes the horizon closer to the top right corner of the tetrapods, so I think including the distant horizon works better for this composition.

Tetrapod Layers

Tetrapod Layers

I guess the point I want to make here though, is that I don’t think we necessarily need to include a horizon, just because it’s there, just out of frame. I think we should include or exclude any element only when it adds to the composition, as I feel it does in this second image from this location. Another reason I think it works in this second image, is because of the acute angle, the horizon helps to cap off and rebalance the image.

In the previous image, the top layer of tetrapods is already almost straight, and doesn’t necessarily need to be rebalanced. Both images were physically perfectly level by the way. I always use the digital level in my camera, and unless I have a creative reason to photograph a screen skewed, I generally have it straight.

A little further on our journey, we stopped for a toilet break at a place in the middle of nowhere, were there is a huge line of wind turbines, harvesting the wind to create electricity. The line of turbines that you see in this image is actually only about half of them. There is a similar number to my back as I shot this photograph (below).

Wind Farm

Wind Farm

We were in a bit of a snow storm again, with high winds and snow blowing across the scene, so we just grabbed some shots from a snow bank before moving on, but I like this shot enough to share it with you. This is also coming back somewhat to something that I mentioned in my 2016 top ten images podcast a few weeks ago, which is that I am tending more and more to add a human element to many of my photographs.

Thinking about it, that may well be a tendency I’m developing more through running this tour, as much of what we do after the first three days is about man made objects in the landscape, such as the tetrapods, the Shinto Torii gate, this wind farm, or the boat graveyard that we visited after this. Because we were shooting hand-held, I increased my ISO to 200, to give me a 1/100 of a second exposure at f/14, my go-to aperture for landscape work.

After our rest-room break, we forged along the coast, to one of my favorite spots on this tour, the boat graveyard. We would come back to this location the following day, but this is my favorite shot from the end of day six (below). Once again we found ourselves on the edge of a weather front, with flurries of snow, sometimes quite heavy, giving way to breaks in the clouds that made for some quite dramatic skies.

Breaking Snow Storm

Breaking Snow Storm

I shot this at f/14 with a 1/8 of a second shutter speed, at ISO 100, so you can probably appreciate once again that the available light levels were quite low for a daytime photograph. This is partly what makes these locations so special though. We have some crazy skies in the next few images that I’ll share from this location in next week’s episode, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2018

We’ll wrap it up there for this second travelogue, and pick up the trail again next week at the start of day seven. 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.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2018


Show Notes

See details of the tour and sign up for next year here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


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