So, as you just heard, I was over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, a few weeks ago. Today, we start a two part series in which I’m going to talk a little more about the trip, as we look at a few more shots from the day, and I’ll mix in a few tips on how I got some of the shots as usual.
We were played in there by me standing on the shore of Lake Inawashiro in the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan. The wind was high, and the snow was driving at me at almost horizontally. It was impossible to stand looking into the snow and record, so as I said, I turned my back to the wind and snow for most of the time there. It was just after 6:30AM when I started recording that intro, and it was still pretty dark, but getting gradually lighter as I spoke. I was into Civil Twilight though, as I confirmed by using VelaClock, a tool that I use on my iPhone to find out when the various twilights start, and what time the sun will rise. I’ll be talking more about VelaClock in another episode in the near future, so I won’t go into much detail today, but I did want to quickly mention that from the last update, VelaClock now has the ability to select different days in the past or future, which was the last thing I was waiting for, after information on the azimuth at which the sun and moon will rise and set, so now, in my opinion, this is a must have iPhone application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. It also now has the ability to detect your location with the iPhone’s GPS, and give information on that location, or you can input GPS coordinates into the home location for use when planning a trip. I’ll put a link to the VelaClock site in the show-notes, but just search for VelaClock in iTunes App Store and you’ll find it there.
Anyway, the sun was going to rise at about 7AM, but the heavy snow clouds were cutting out a lot of the light. There was no point in just standing there though, waiting for the swans to fly, because like I said, they tend to swim more when it’s gusting as it was, and probably wouldn’t fly in this weather until it got a little warmer after dawn. So, basically, I started to see what could be picked out of the landscape with my 300mm F2.8 and we can see an example of what I captured in image number 2039. You can tell how low the light still was, because I shot with an aperture of F5.6, and I still had to select a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, with ISO 800. In this wind, I was relying heavily on my tripod, and the Image Stabilization, because it really was gusting. Most of the shots were sharp though, as I shot mostly in the moments when the wind died down slightly, and the tripod served me well. Now, I have of course included a man-made object with this jetty that will be used in the summer months to board people onto their swan shaped paddling boat, but right now, it was only serving to add a point of reference in my photo showing how the snow was driving almost horizontally across the scene, and how really cold this place was. It wasn’t really bitterly cold, and nowhere near as cold as it gets in Hokkaido on the dawn shoots, but with the temperature being pretty much at around freezing point without the wind, when you calculate in the wind chill, it must have been around minus 10 or 15 degrees. I don’t know how fast the wind was blowing, so I can’t calculate this accurately.
I think I’ve mentioned before, but the main problem with shooting in conditions like this, apart from the obvious things like cold hands and actually seeing, is the fact that the snow hits the front element of your lens as soon as you point the lens directly at it. At this angle, I was still probably around a 45 degree angle away from the snow, and so could play with the scene a little. In the next image, number 2045, I was still working this same patch, just looking for areas of the scene to crop out with my 300mm lens. This was shot at 7:22, almost half an hour after the last shot. The sun was now above the horizon, though of course not lighting this scene, and probably in fact still behind the mounts behind me. The sky was of course though much brighter now, and so I had reduced my ISO to 200, and was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at F5 for this, so much more available light now, although still pretty bleak. This is one of my favourites from this series of shots where I just cropped out portions of the scene. I have uploaded a few more, and I will include a link in the show-notes to list all 30 shots that I uploaded from this day and the previous evening, in case you are interested in taking a look. I like the look of the dark trees with the driving snow and then the slightly soft background, caused by both the shallow depth of field, and the fact that there’s more snow back there. One thing to note here is that to bring out these blacks from the snow storm, I had to increase the black slider in Lightroom to about 20, from the default of 5, and increased the contrast and clarity some too, to bring out the definitions of the shapes a little more.
Snow Storm Trees
Getting back to the snow on the front element though, as the light levels rose, I really wanted to start shooting the area of the scene in which the swans roost, and so I was going to have to start and point my lens straight into the snow. I find that the only way to shoot in these conditions is to shoot quickly, then wipe the lens. If you only have a bit of water on the lens, you can usually blow it off with a blower, but in conditions like this, the front element gets covered pretty quickly, so there’s no option other than wiping it with a lens cloth. I keep one handy at all times when shooting, and simply had to shoot in bursts, then turn the camera towards me and give the front element a wipe, then shoot again for a few frames.
The other problem of course is that you can’t change the lens very easily, without risking getting snow, and therefore of course water, inside the camera, which is not good. It would probably be worth taking the risk if you really have to, but you would have to be very careful, and when you consider that I needed a long lens on the camera in case the swans did start to fly through the snow, I really didn’t think it was worth taking the risk. So, to capture images like number 2047, I basically turned the camera up into portrait mode, and shot a series of images, moving across the scene at about half a frame at a time, and then stitched them together in Photoshop. This was actually sixteen vertical images stitched together, with lots of overlap in each of course. The resulting image is 16,248 pixels long and 3,658 pixels high. It’s difficult to appreciate this in the Web version of course, but it’s one cool image to view in Photoshop CS4. The reason being that CS4 now uses the computers GPU or graphics processing unit to render images on the screen, and you can now grab the image and as you move it across the screen, the image scrolls fully intact, not like before, where it moved the image with a frame, then re-rendered the image after you let go of it. This means that you can basically zoom in to fill the screen horizontally, then just flick across it, viewing all of the detail in the image. There are a lot of swans in there, just waiting to be seen. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but I’m hoping that before too long I’ll be able to print this out on roll paper, and do a really big long panoramic print of this, to see what it really looks like in its entirety. The stitching was painless by the way. CS4 seems to have made even more improvements to an already good stitching utility.
This image was shot at 7:30AM, shortly before I finished the dawn shoot and went back inside for breakfast. I recorded another few minutes of audio before going back though, so let’s listen to that before we finish for today, ready to pick up the shoot after breakfast in the next episode. I kind of feel as though it would be nice to end with this clip, so let’s skip the housekeeping section for this week. Don’t tune out just yet, but I’ll just say thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.
Here’s a link to the VelaClock Application for the iPhone. This is a must have application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. http://www.veladg.com/velaclockapp.html
Music by UniqueTracks.
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Happy New Year to everyone. That was me all excited about my photographic experience and experiments with the 1Ds Mark III, on my way back to the car from the Tatsusawa Falls. There were a few things that I found interesting on closer inspection of my resulting images, but I’ll get to that a little later. To start from the beginning though, on Jan 3rd, 2008, I went back to the Inawashiro area of Japan, and on the 4th went back to the Tatsusawa Falls again. With the snow too deep to drive to the car park, I’d trudged through the snow for a while to get to the falls, and today we’re going to take a look at the fruits of my labour. Also, I have a statement from our current sponsors, DxO Labs, in reply to our concerns about their choice of DRM solution. I’ll read that out at the end of the Podcast. For now, I’m happy to continue with the sponsorship, so here’s a word from our sponsors.
DxO Optics Pro sets the standard for automatic correction of your digital images. Based on extensive analysis of cameras and lenses, this award-winning software enables photographers to improve hundreds of images very quickly, saving time and providing spectacular results. Version 5 of DxO Optics Pro runs on Mac and Windows. Version5 which has only just been released incorporates a new generation RAW converter providing more details, and less noise artefacts, for a new level of image quality.
I actually decided to head out to the area where the falls are literally on the morning of Thursday, January the 3rd, and called to book a hotel in the area shortly before lunch time. I drove for around 4 hours up to the Inawashiro Lake arriving with around 30 minutes of daylight left, to just capture a few shots of the swans that spend the winter at the lake. I stayed at the lake as I was not sure if it would be possible to get up to the falls through the snow, and also the hotel not far from the falls is about twice as expensive as the one I know near the lake. We’re not going to look at any shots from this short shoot before night fell, but I do want to look quickly at one from early the following morning before breakfast, which is image number 1663. This isn’t a great image, but I wanted to discuss my thinking behind the composition etc.
Swan’s Roost #2
As you can see, I found an area where the sandbank winds its way through the water in an S shape, and also the middle stretch of water makes a similar S shape, both kind of leading our eyes into the shot. There are lots of swans kind of lazing around as they start to warm up a little after the harsh cold of the night, and a few young swans swimming into the scene from the right. The back of the scene helps to give our eyes something to stop on and we can then run along the back of the image looking into the distance. Not a great image as I say, but I quite like the balance and the overall sort of communal feel of the swans in their environment. I cropped about 15% of the top and bottom of the image as it was just more white snow and more grey sky, not really adding anything to the scene, but detracting something if I left them there. I shot this with the 70-200mm lens on the 5D by the way, with an ISO of 400 and a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at F9.
After around 90 minutes of the shore of the lake, I went back into the hotel for breakfast, and tried to find out if it would be possible to get up to the falls. I received conflicting information from the two guys at the hotel reception. One said I could probably get up there, because I have a four wheel drive car, and the other said I probably couldn’t get up to the falls. Well, that was good enough for me to drive over and take a look for myself. In fact, I’d probably have driven over there anyway. I had planned to shoot the swans in the early morning for a little longer, but the scene wasn’t exciting me at all. I had been hoping for some morning mist, which had not materialized, and so decided to take my chance on the falls.
When I got over there after about a 30 minute drive, I pulled up to a small car park, maybe just big enough to park five cars, but this was still a fair distance from the closer car park, which is about a five minute walk from the falls without the snow. At the end of this further away car park though, there was a clear step of snow where the snow ploughs had obviously ploughed up to, but had gone no further. In this deeper snow I could see car tracks that had gone maybe 20 meters or sixty feet into the snow, and then backed up, back into the car park. My car is pretty high off the ground and four wheel drive, but I decided that I did not want to risk driving up there myself, especially as I had no shovel or anything to dig myself out if I got stuck. So, I shifted some gear around between the two camera bags I had in the trunk, as I was not going to take my 600mm lens with me, and set off to walk up to the falls. I don’t know exactly how far it is from the car park. I estimate about a mile, maybe less, but it felt like about three miles through the thick snow.
I was walking through a small trough made by a number of others that had also make the journey through the snow, but I assume these were Japanese people as the width of the trough told me that it had been made by someone much smaller than me. Many young Japanese are pretty big these days, but the middle aged people are much smaller, and I found myself quickly becoming frustrated at having to walk in a trough no wider than both of my feet put next to each other. I shouldn’t complain as this was much easier going than trudging through fresh snow, but still, I found it made for a tiring walk. Of course, there was still a fair amount of snow to tread down, and the walk up to the falls is slightly up hill. Also, I’m definitely not in as good shape as I used to be, or need to be for this sort of stuff, so despite it being below freezing, I found myself having to stop to catch my breath a few times, and when I finally made it to the falls after about 40 minutes I was so hot that I had started to sweat. I took my down jacket off for a while until I start to feel the chill again, before I set about the task of photographing the falls.
In image 1665, you can see one of my first attempts. Here we can see that I have taken a wider approach to the falls than my shots from spring of 2007. The falls alone did not make for a very captivating subject without the fresh green leaves on that branch that we see just off center here, now bare for the winter. Now the main subject, and indeed my reason for returning at this time was the snow. As I mentioned in my excited message that we heard in the introduction, I’m trying to gather more winter shots for my portfolio. I’m actually thinking of putting a Winter only portfolio together, and actually bought the rights to the music we were played in with for that purpose, but still need more shots.
Winter Tatsusawa Falls #2
I was shooting with the 1Ds now, having left the 5D in the car for my trek through the snow. For this image I had selected an aperture of F11 which gives a fair amount of depth-of-field at 35mm, and ISO 100 for 6/10ths of a second. That is plenty long enough to give me that smooth silky feel in the water, and I was of course checking my histogram to ensure that my whites were white, but not blown out. With whites of course, you really want to pay attention that you have them right over on the right shoulder of the histogram but not touching it. I’ve composed the shot obviously with the large tree along the left of the frame, and those two large patches of snow, kind of anchoring each of the bottom corners, with the stream running out of the bottom naturally. I would have liked a solid body of white all the way up the right side, but there are just rocks and trees and stuff over there, so it wasn’t to be.
In the next shot, image number 1666, we can see that I have included both of the falls. The main falls to the right are actually the male, as in masculine falls, and the smaller more slender falls to the left are the female falls. You often find this naming convention used for double falls here in Japan. I’m not sure if that follows in other countries. These falls are actually pretty much at right angles to each other, but the wide end of my 16-35mm lens allows me to get both of them in like this, with very little room either side. I adjusted the vertical positioning so that the blob of snow in the bottom left is kind of pointing out of the frame, in the same direction as the flowing water. This time I’d reduced the ISO to 50, and was shooting still at F11 for 1/8th of a second. You might notice from the EXIF data if you are looking at it on my Web site that for this and the last shot I was working in Aperture Priority mode, and I wanted to just touch on the reason for this. I’d started to five shot bracketed images so that I could maybe try some HDR merges, as I found that the water was quite dark in contrast with the pure white snow. What I noticed though after working like this for some time is the camera was adjusting the exposure by changing the aperture and not the shutter speed, which was not what I wanted. Of course, if the aperture changes the depth of field changes, and so I would not really be able to use the results to merge together in an HDR image.
Both Tatsusawa Falls in Winter
I could not think for the life of me though why this would be happening, but found that if I changed from Manual Mode which I use most of the time, to Aperture Priority mode, the brackets worked how I expected, with the shutter speed changing, instead of the aperture. When I got home I looked into this, and it turns out that one of the custom functions I had changed was behind this, although not obvious. I had changed my 1Ds so that in manual mode the Main Dial, which is the one near the shutter button, and the Quick Control Dial on the back of the camera, were switched around. For those that are interested this is Custom Function 4 – 5, Tv/Av setting for Manual exposure. It does state in the manual that when you make this selection the shutter speed will be fixed and the aperture changed when using auto exposure bracketing, but I’d not paid any attention to that when playing with my custom functions.
Anyway, with that explained, I should also say that HDR didn’t help much with the dynamic range, so I didn’t use that in my final selection. I had also mentioned in my excited recording that I had tried using the highlight priority setting to overcome dynamic range issues. Well, it turns out that I was slightly wrong about that too, as we’ll see in a moment. Let’s look at image number 1668. I’ve done a few things during capture here that I want to go into, but to start with, I had used the Hightlight Priority setting on the 1Ds Mark III. What this does as the name states is give priority to the highlights, which in this case is the snow. I saw immediately that the snow stopped blowing out at the same exposure with the Highlight Priority turned on. What I suspected, but couldn’t really tell from the LCD was that this actually caused a lot more grain in the shadows, which is the water and rocks in this shot. The thing is, Highlight Priority doesn’t really increase dynamic range, it just shifts it. What it gives you in the highlights, it robs from the shadows, so you end up with less bits to store your data in the shadows, which results in much less steps in the gradation from black to the dark to mid greys. I still like this shot as it is, with a lot of contrast between the blacks and whites, but I’m going to be more careful when using this feature in future. It will probably work much better when the majority of the shot is lighter shades, rather than a high contrast scene like this.
Snow and Stream
The other thing I’ve done here is that I used the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter. I’ll put a link to a page with the details of this filter into the show-notes, if you are interested, but basically this is a filter that looks a little like a polarizer, but is basically a Neutral Density filter, but as you turn it, it gives you, as the name suggests, variable degrees of neutral density, from 2 to 8 stops of exposure. I’ll probably do a full Podcast on this filter once I have more example images, but here what I’d done was put the filter onto my 70-200mm lens, with a stop-down ring, from 82 to 77mm, as I bought the 82mm Vari-ND so that I could use it with my 16-35mm F2.8 lens, but the 70-200mm F2.8 has a 77mm filter mount, so I need to stop that down with an adapter. Then the cool thing is that having set everything up, and deciding that I wanted about an 8 second exposure, my first shot showed me that my highlights were blowing out, I think it was, so instead of changing the exposure, I simply turned the Vari-ND dialling in more darkness, and reshot the image. I can’t wait to work more with this filter, so that I can talk to you more about it. One down side of this filter is that even though I bought the thin framed version, to reduce vignetting on wide angle lenses, it has significant vignetting at the wide end of the 16-35mm lens, even when I remove the protector filter, using only the Vari-ND, which was pretty disappointing. Apart from that though, I’m very happy with it. I shot this at F11 by the way, and as I said earlier, the Highlight Priority setting forces a minimum ISO of 200, so that is what I was shooting with.
I spent about 2 and a half hours at the falls, with a significant amount of that wasted because of the aperture changing instead of the shutter speed in my bracketing shots, but still I had a great time, just being out there in the cold, with my camera and the falls, and the snow. I didn’t really realize that I was going slightly uphill to the falls until I started to make my way back, as the going was much easier then. I stopped a number of times to shoot the scenes around me. Let’s look at one last one quickly before we finish, which is image number 1670. Here I had looked back along the stream as I walked along its banks to the right of this image as we look at it. With this patches of snow on the rocks in the river, with the snowy banks, I couldn’t help but shoot a few more shots like this one, which gives you a good idea of the run up to the falls. I shot this at F16 for 1/20th of a second, again at ISO 200. I think I was still using Highlight Priority here. I made my way past what would have been where I’d parked my car had it not been under a few feet of snow, and made my way back down to where I had parked, but decided on the way, in my excitement, to record the message that we were played in with. I just love the sound of trudging through snow, and this has really wet my appetite for the Hokkaido Workshop which is now under three weeks away.
So, that’s almost it for today. I hope you enjoyed joining me back at the Tatsusawa Falls. Before we finish, just a quick update on DxO Labs’ use of Interlok in their software that I reviewed a few weeks ago, and will be giving away as the next grand prize for our Assignment winners. As I mentioned in the intro, DxO Labs have gotten back to me on the concerns raised about their use of a product called Interlok to prevent piracy of their software and to enforce the time limit on the demo version of their software. Here’s what DxO have to say.
Thanks to Martin for providing DxO Labs with an opportunity to briefly comment on the ‘Interlok’ issue: We’ve used Interlock to manage and protect the license of DxO products for some time now. One thing we would not be able to do without Interlok or a similar solution is to provide a time-limited fully functional demo version. Certainly the use of Interlok is not something new nor is it something “hidden” with version 5 of the product. Rather than devising our own licensing software (which is clearly not DxO Labs’ core competency), we have always worked with solutions coming from companies specialized in this field. Based on the feedback we have received from Martin, his audience and others, we are reviewing how we could make the use of Interlok more obvious to the user prior to installation. After more than three and a half years of selling DxO products to a vast worldwide audience, we are yet to have confirmation of a single case where a user lost any data due to Interlok/DxO software. Were we to have such a confirmation, we would extend the guaranties as documented in the user license agreement.
In terms of the future: we’re always reviewing possible scenarios/changes to our licensing technologies. A change, if selected, would have to make sense and bring increased benefits. In that respect – the opinion of our user base / potential user base and opinion leaders is something that we always listen to very carefully.
You know, I’m still not entirely happy about the situation, but I can definitely understand DxO’s reasoning, and I applaud their openness, and willing to work with me on these concerns. Let’s just proceed with the sponsorship, and get that prize out to the person with the most accumulated votes at the end of the Long Exposures assignment currently in progress. And with that, all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.
Find details of the Singh-Ray Vari-ND filter here: http://www.singh-ray.com/shop/vari-nd-variable-neutral-density-filter/
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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.
You’ll probably have noticed that this week’s episode is a little on the late side, and the main reason for this is because I’d received enough email from people interested in the Hokkaido Workshop to make it worthwhile putting some time into actually planning it out more and seeing if it is really viable. So starting last weekend I did just that, planned it all out, put together and itinerary and made lots of phone calls, and created a new Web site for the Workshop. If you are at a computer now, take a look at www.mbpworkshops.com. I’ll put a link in the show-notes too so that you can check it out later. It’s a simple enough Web site but pretty much all the information you’ll need to decide on whether or not to join us is now online at this location. If anything is still not clear having taken a look at the main page there, but you are interested in coming along, please do drop me a line and let me know. Anyway, as this has taken up all my free time, I wasn’t able to prepare a Podcast, so also to advertise the Workshop a little more, I figured it would take today’s episode to go through the details of the workshop, to help you understand what it’s all about.
Firstly, I’ve got to tell you that I am really excited about this Workshop and I’m so looking forward to meeting all of you that join us in Hokkaido next year, for what I’ve affectionately started calling The Winter Wildlife Wonderland Workshop! It’s a bit of a tongue-twister, but it really sums up Hokkaido, situated at the very top, the Northern-most island of Japan. It is not just an incredibly beautiful place, but it’s home to some amazing wildlife. You’ll see the majestic Japanese red-crowned crane, Steller Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles. We’ll also see Ezo Deer, and if we’re lucky some foxes, and maybe even owls if we’re really lucky.
As the winter in pretty harsh in Hokkaido because the weather kind of drops down from Siberia and the first place it hits, is Hokkaido, there’ll also be some breath-taking Winter Landscapes that we’ll try to pull in as much as we can. For those that have listened to the Podcast for a while, you’ll know that I’ll be able to help you out with all sorts of shooting situations, as well as keeping you busy with shooting ideas and mini-assignments. I will also be making sure that you know everything you need to know to keep yourself and your camera going, in some pretty harsh weather conditions. I will be on hand the whole time to give ad-hoc advice and instruction to improve your photography and make your time in this Winter Wonderland the as rewarding as possible. To enable us to do as much as possible, within reason, some of the tuition will be given actually on the bus while travelling to prepare for a specific location. We will also have sessions at the hotel and hold review sessions to view each others’ images to find out what we did well, and what didn’t go so well, so that you can hopefully improve your techniques as the workshop progresses.
I’ve spoken to people over the years that have said they’d like to come to Japan to shoot, but have shied away because of the language barrier. If you are one of these people, there is no need to worry. Without blowing my own trumpet too much, I am totally fluent in Japanese both written and spoken, and will help you as much, or as little as you need. You might even be able to learn some Japanese while you’re here!
So, who is this Workshop for?
Anyone that can stand cold weather and loves wildlife, nature and photography, and anyone that wants to improve their photography while shooting the shots of a lifetime. Note that most of the tutoring will assume at least a basic understanding of photography and your equipment, but Photographers of all skill levels are very welcome. Even if you are an advanced or professional photographer you will benefit from this Workshop, and will take away some new skills and certainly some great photos. I’ve made some of the keywords on the Web page links to some example of the sort of subjects you’ll be able to shoot, so you can click these to see a few mini-albums, and I’ve added a row of thumbnails in the middle of the page to add a little visual element and to point out my favourites of the batch.
So, where will we go? There is a table with the itinerary in the middle of the page, but to quickly go through the details, we will meet at around 7AM at Haneda airport, which is about 30 minutes by train from Tokyo. Haneda airport is mostly for domestic flights, so you’ll actually fly in to a different airport called Narita airport if you are coming from another country. If you need help arranging a hotel on the Sunday night, please let me know and I’ll see what I can do. We will fly to Kushiro Airport leaving just before 9AM, and arrive mid-morning. We will have a chartered bus with a professional driver that will meet us at the exit of the airport. This is good, because you really need someone that knows how to drive on the icy roads and often bad weather conditions in Hokkaido.
First off, we’ll spend just 20 to 30 minutes to drive to the Akan International Crane Center. By the way, I’m going to include a number of images today, but will just call out the number, and not go into details on each image. I’ve spoken about most of them before anyway, but really just want to concentrate on explaining about the Workshop. Anyway, one of my favourite crane shots is actually a close-up, which is image number 1203, which you’ll be able to see now in iTunes or on your iPod. It’s also included in the MP3 files if you listen to those, and you can see them on the mbpworkshops Web site that I mentioned earlier or from my Podcasts page at martinbaileyphotography.com. When we get to the Akan International Crane Center we will spend anything up to the whole day shooting the cranes and trying out some techniques.
Before we even get there I’ll have talked you through the best way to meter these high contrast scenes, and we’ll start to put that into practice immediately. We won’t have far to travel after this to our hotel for the first night, but I am going to keep open the possibly of driving a short way to Tsurui Village as we get to the end of the day. This will depend on how many cranes there are at the Akan Center, but if there aren’t so many, we will move to the Itoh Crane Sanctuary before daybreak and hopefully try some panning shots as it gets darker. This travel won’t be in vein as I’m planning to book us into a hotel in the Tsurui Village itself.
Once we get to the hotel, you will have a chance to take possibly your first bath in a large Japanese bath, and then we’ll all get together in a large room for dinner, and we can then start to reflect on the day, and take a look at some of our images if people have ways or have indeed had the time to already select a few before dinner. I’ll also start to discuss what will be in store for the following day at this point, and continue to inject techniques that will be necessary as we continue the Workshop and Tour. We can have a few beers and get to know each better as well, but trying not to overdo it, as we have to be somewhere before dawn the following morning.
So, on Tuesday the 29th we’ll head over to the Otowa Bridge, and if you listened to Episodes 71 to 74 of this Podcast you might remember that this means the “Sound of Wings”. And this is exactly what we’ll be there for, to hear the sound of the wings of Japanese Red-Crowned Cranes, but hopefully not before photographing them in a misty river as the first light catches the mist. Now, I don’t want to get your hopes up too high here. It has to be minus 15 degrees Celsius or 5 degrees Fahrenheit before mist form on the river at dawn. I’ve visited this spot a number of times and not yet caught this. You can see a shot from this bridge but without the mist in image number 1253. If we are lucky though, we’ll be in for a treat, and we are definitely going to be there at the right time of the year to have the highest possibility of being in luck. If there are no cranes in the river, which is possible if it’s warm, well, not exactly warm closer to freezing than minus 15, we’ll head around to the Itoh Crane Sanctuary straight away, which is where the cranes would be if not in the river. There we’ll try and catch some cranes hopefully dancing with their breath freezing at it comes out of their mouths. We’ll call in here anyway, even if the cranes are at the river, and then we’ll catch breakfast.
After breakfast we’ll go back to the Sanctuary and shoot the cranes for the rest of the morning and then make our way over to the Kussharo Lake where we will spend the afternoon photographing Whooper Swans. An example image is 894.The lake will be frozen of course, apart from a small area where hot springs flow into the lake, which is the reason many swans choose to Winter here as opposed to heading much further south, to slightly warmer climes. Again, we’ll stay here until it gets well into twilight, so we’ll be able to get some panning shots here too, with a different subject.
Steamy Kussharo Lake Swans
The following morning, on Wednesday the 30th, it will be another pre-dawn departure as we head to the Bihoro Pass for a Winter Landscape shoot at sunrise. You can see an example shot from here in image number 886. Again, it will be cold, so you’ll need to be prepared. We’ll get to what you need shortly. After shooting from Bihoro Pass we’ll go and get breakfast, and then start a long driver to Rausu, where we will photograph Eagles and Ezo Deer, and if it’s there, so sea ice floes, before sundown. Rausu is on the South-Easter side of the Shiretoko Peninsula, which is registered as a Unesco Natural Heritage site. Because it’s on this side of the Peninsula though, there will be no sunset to shoot.
Sunrise Over Kussharo Lake from Bihoro Pass #2
The following morning though, on Thursday the 31st, weather permitting, we have another highlight of the Workshop. We’ll head out into the Rausu harbour on a chartered boat to photograph Steller Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles and probably also the Sunrise from the boat and also shoot the birds on the sea ice if it’s there, similar to shot number 267, from my 2004 trip. Again, there’ll be some techniques you need to shoot these birds, especially as they fly around the boat, which we’ll cover the previous night after dinner and I’ll help with again while on the boat.
Sea Eagles’ Conversation #1
The Eagles in the shot I just mentioned are Steller Sea Eagles, so to see the White Tailed Eagle, you can take a look at number 874. This was shot at the Akan Crane Center by the way, the first place we’ll visit on Monday morning. You’ll see a lot more of these in Rausu, but I like this shot because it has the cranes in it as well.
Ruler of the Snow Plains
After that we’ll go back to the hotel for breakfast, and then possibly find some eagles or deer in the trees surrounding the town as we start to head out to drive to Utoro on the other side of the peninsula. This is usually just a driver through the mountains, taking about 30 minutes, but in the Winter the road in impassable because of the snow, so we have to go around, taking about 3 hours. Here we’ll visit a nature center part way up into the mountains and hopefully be able to Photograph Ezo Deer in their element, as I did in image number 927. The other attraction in Utoro is there is a much higher chance of seeing some spectacular sea ice. The ice floes make there way down from Siberia to this point, and the reason why there’s less chance of seeing this in Rausu the previous day is because the Shiretoko Peninsula actually stops it to some degree from flowing around to the southern costs of Hokkaido. The other good thing about Utoro is that we are now on the North-Western cost of the peninsular, so at this time of the year, if weather permits, we’ll have a sunset to shoot at the end of the day, if you still have the energy.
Ezo Deer in His “Element”
By the morning of the last day, Friday many of you will be ready for a nice lie-in in a warm bed or futon, and we’ll probably give the bus driver a lie-in too, but depending on the weather, there will be another dawn shoot close to the hotel. You often find that the Deer come down into the town around dawn so we may well get some nice shots around the hotel without going too far afield. We’ll do some Landscape work after breakfast, and again, depending on conditions either shoot the ice floes, go back into the mountains for deer or possibly foxes, and then mid-morning we’ll start to work our way over to the Memanbetsu Airport taking in some Landscape shooting as time allows. Then in the mid-afternoon we’ll finish the Workshop and take the flight back to Haneda Airport in Tokyo and go our separate ways.
The itinerary is subject to change during the workshop based on weather conditions, and you also need to note that although I’ll do my best to keep us on track, there is always a chance in a place like Hokkaido that severe weather conditions could set in, stopping us from doing some of these things. Buy signing up you will be agreeing that I shall not be held responsible in this case.
So, what Photography gear do you need to bring?
You will need one, and preferably a second SLR camera so that you can keep a telephoto on one, and a standard zoom on the other, so that you can capture birds far away, but can also quickly grab a standard zoom to shoot them as they fly close by or overhead. Hi-end compact digitals might work if they are new and have virtually no shutter lag, but otherwise, an SLR is the way to go. You can be shooting film or digital, it doesn’t really matter, but if you have a choice, go for digital. Film can become very brittle in sub-freezing temperatures. If you shoot digital, make sure you have plenty of memory, or a laptop or portable storage to backup your shots to so that you can format your cards and fill them again.
With regards to lenses, you’ll need a telephoto lens, no shorter than 200mm, but 300mm or longer is advisable. If you have a 100-400mm zoom that will work great, and if you have a 400, 500 or 600mm lens, BRING IT! Standard lenses like a 70-200mm is perfect for both landscapes and closer wildlife and mid-range zooms like a 24-105 will be useful too as an all-rounder. If your mid-range zoom doesn’t go so wide, a separate wide angle lens, either prime or zoom for Landscape work will help too. We may have some uses for a macro lens, but if weight doesn’t allow, leave it out.
You’ll need a goot sturdy tripod, if possible taller than your eye level when standing up straight, as the legs will sink in the snow. If you can bring both, a monopod will be useful too, for shooting from the boat or panning shots, but this is not critical as you can use tripod with legs together for this. You’ll want to bring a polarizer filter to fit at least your wide and standard focal length lenses and bring lots of spare batteries – battery life is greatly diminished in sub-zero temperatures. If you shoot digital, bring at least four batteries, but I seriously advice you to bring more if possible. Even if you shoot film and only change your batter once every few years, bring a couple of spares, they may well go flat in the cold. If you do shoot film, bring enough for about three weeks shooting! Really, there’ll be a lot of photography, and you can’t buy film easily.
As I mentioned the Hokkaido winter is not for the faint-hearted, with temperatures ranging from 0°C (32°F) to possibly as low as -30°C (-22°F) for early morning shoots. It is important to protect yourself and your equipment from these conditions. For this, you will also need large plastic bags to fit your entire camera bag in and clips or ties to keep it air-tight, to stop condensation forming on your gear when moving into warm building from the cold and medium sized plastic bags to fit your camera in A) to stop condensation and B) to protect it while shooting in snow if it’s not weatherproof. Draping a towel over the camera in the snow also works, as it’s too cold for the snow to melt, so you can just shake it off every so often. A few large, strong rubber bands to keep the plastic bags in place on your lens will help too, but you may not need to do this in sub-freezing temperatures. If available, get a thermal camera cover for your camera with pockets for charcoal burners to keep your equipment warm and some kind of taping or foam padding on at least one of your tripod legs, to stop your hands from sticking to it in extreme cold. If you need help with the camera covers let me know and I’ll pick you one up and get the money from you later.
For yourself you’ll need some good thermal underwear, long-johns and thermal shirts, preferably long sleeved and one or two pairs of padded trousers, like the ones used for skiing but not brightly coloured or you’ll scare off the wildlife. Waterproof, preferably Gore-Tex® or similar trousers and down jacket are pretty much essential. You’ll need some thermal Boots with a sole good for walking on snow and ice, or some good quality winter hiking boots and thick warm socks. A nice warm hat that comes down over your ears or a hood on your down jacket will help.
You’ll need a thin pair of thermal gloves, with rubber grip on the fingers and palm so that you can operate your camera with them on and a second larger pair of over-gloves like down gloves, that can be worn over your first pair for additional warmth. Bring one or two polar fleeces, or nice warm woolly jumpers or sweaters if you’re from the States. One or two Hand Warmers and Foot Warmers that go inside your boots will help to keep the cold at bay. Like the camera covers, if you cannot get any of these items, let me know in advance, and I’ll see if I can stock these things for you. Note that if you use charcoal burning hand-warmers do not bring your charcoal on the plane, even in checked luggage. It will be confiscated. You will need to send it to the hotel on the first day or ask me to get it for you and send it on.
So, the all important question, how much is all of this going to cost?
Well, if we can get 10 people signed up for this, it will cost you US$1,950 or ¥220,000. You can pay in either currency, whichever suits you. If however, we get 15 attendees or more, this will come down to US$1,720 or ¥189,000, so bring your friends! If the price comes down after you sign up and pay, I will refund you the difference. Please don’t wait to see if the price changes either, as whether or not we do the workshop depends on us initially getting at least 10 attendees.
By when do you have to pay?
At least your initial deposit of $250 or ¥25,000 will be required to confirm your attendance and book your slot, payable by October 21st. If you pay the entire balance by October 21st you will receive a discount of $50 or ¥5,000. I will put a link to pay either way, in each currency on the Web site within the next few days. If you just pay the deposit by October 21st, the remaining balance will be payable no later than January 7, 2008.
What is included in the Package?
Almost everything after us meeting at Haneda airport until we say goodbye at Haneda airport. That is, it includes the cost of the flights to and from Hokkaido, all accommodation and meals while there, the chartered bus with professional driver to transport us all over Eastern Hokkaido and a modest charge for my Tuition fees and any supporting materials that I bring along, and all other administration fees. It includes admission fees to planned facilities and excursions, like the chartered boat and admission to the Akan International Crane Center.
What is NOT included in the Package?
Your flight or travel fees to Haneda airport, Tokyo, Japan, and travel Insurance. I tried, but I am actually not able to take out travel insurance in Japan for people travelling into Japan from other countries, so you need to fully cover yourself for the entire length of the trip in advance of departure. Note that I also cannot take out insurance for you in case you fall of the side of a frosty mountain or something. The conditions are harsh, and by signing up you will be agreeing to take a certain amount of risk and/or the necessary insurance out before leaving home. This also does not include insurance for your equipment and belongings if not included in your travel insurance. You are responsible for covering your equipment against theft and damage. The evening meals will include a few beers I imagine, but if you want more than I have budgeted for, you are welcome to order more and pay for it yourself. Finally, if we decide to do anything not in the original plan that incurs admission fees that may not be coverable by our budget, so we’ll have to pay individually.
So, if you are interested, what should you do next?
As I say, I will put a number of payment buttons on the mbpworkshops.com Web site within the next few days, so all you need to do is pay your deposit. If will remove the buttons if we should fill up all the spaces, so if the buttons are there, it will mean you’re OK to book. As I say, you can pay the full amount now too, and until October 7th, that will save you $50 or 5,000. If you choose to pay just the deposit, the balance will be due no later than January 7th, 2008. As I finalize bookings etc. this might come in a little bit though, so please do check back. Of course, once you’ve paid your initial deposit I’ll have your contact details so I would let you know of any slight changes in advance.
If you are interested but still have some outstanding questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me with the contact us button on the Web site or my main Web site at martinbaileyphotography.com, or mail me on email@example.com. If you do use one of the Web forms, please double check your mail address in the form, because if it’s not valid, I won’t be able to get back to you. You will also be CC in the mail, so if you don’t receive a copy of the mail, you’ll know something is wrong too. Either way, if you don’t hear back from me in 48 hours, please mail again.
So that’s it for today. Hopefully even if you aren’t planning to join us it was good to hear what we’ll be getting up to next January. I really do urge you to consider coming though. Sure, it’s not cheap, but when you consider all the things we’ll do and that I’ve included domestic flights, chartered bus and driver costs, as well as all the hotels and meals, you’ll be able to appreciate that I’ve really not added a whole lot for Tuition, and definitely very reasonable by comparison to many Workshops that you can attend in most other countries.
If you would like to join a workshop to brush up on your photography and meet some new friends, but my Workshop doesn’t quite fit your bill or your budget, then you might also want to consider a few of the other PhotoCast Network members’ workshops that are also being planned at the moment. Namely, John Arnold is currently taking booking for his PhotoWalkthrough workshop. It will be in the UK and being held at Crewe Hall which is a wonderful old stately home. The course is being co-hosted by Chris Marquardt of the Tips From The Top Floor Podcast. And the course will cover elements of composition, lighting, post processing and printing. And the cost includes nights in the hotel as well as bed, breakfast and evening meal in their award winning bistro. All the details are available at www.photowalkthrough.com/workshop and there’s an early booking discount of £50 for those that sign up before the end of December.
Chris Marquardt is holding four workshops in the US, titled “Learning to See”, each being 4 days, and extending over a weekend so people won’t have to take off more time than necessary. Workshops will start on Sep 22nd in Colorado, and then cover California, Minnesota and Florida throughout the month of October. The course will be highly interactive, focusing on image composition and the general topic of “seeing a picture” before you take it, and as with the Tips from the Top Floor podcast, everyone is welcome, no matter if it’s with an entry-level point-and-shoot camera or a fancy digital SLR.
So, with that, this really has turned out to be a Photography Workshop special! Again, I hope you found it useful, and I really do urge you to get involved in one of these. You will be amazed how much you grow as a photographer having taken some professional tuition. Thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.
The new MBP Workshops Web site is here: http://www.mbpworkshops.com/
The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/
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