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

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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


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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

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Hokkaido Feb ‘06 Part III – Eagles at Sunrise (Podcast 27)

Hokkaido Feb ‘06 Part III – Eagles at Sunrise (Podcast 27)

Hello, and welcome to episode 27. Following on from episodes 25 and 26, I’m going to show you some more images from a trip to Hokkaido from the 17th to the 20th of February 2006. This is the third of a what I now know will eventually be a four part photo-journal of a trip. Today I’m going to talk about a two hour trip out on the Sea of Okhotsk from the Rausu port, in which I shot a beautiful sunrise and hordes of Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed eagles. We also have a bit of housekeeping to do today, so please listen out for that at the end of the Podcast.

Rausu Fishings Boats #1

Rausu Fishings Boats #1

OK, so another early start on the third day of the trip, leaving the hotel at 5AM for the port at Rausu. Rausu is a fishing village on the Shiretoko Peninsula, that you can see sticking out to the East of the island of Hokkaido. While we were waiting to find out if the boat would go out, I couldn’t resist jumping off the bus and walking down to the waters edge to capture the first image I’d like to take a look at today, which is number 895. Remember you can view this first image on your iPod, but to view the rest, you’ll need to use iTunes and click through the images with the little arrows above the thumbnails, then clicking on the thumbnail itself to open them. Or you can go to my Web site at martinbaileyphotography.com and enter the numbers I give you into the field under the Podcast section on the top page or on the Podcast page itself. If you’re at a computer though probably the best way to view the images is to find this episode in the table on the Podcasts page. Here you’ll find all the links and thumbnails to images which you can view in my gallery by clicking them. Note that I’ve changed the Podcast page this week so that it opens the images in the same window instead of a new one, so that you can just use your browser’s back button to return to the list.

Anyway, getting back to image number 895 of the fishing boat in the Rausu port; here we see a number of boats moored in the port with the lights shining brightly as they prepare to put out to sea. This was shot at 120mm with my 100-400mm F4.5-5.6L lens at 5:23AM. I selected an ISO of 800 as you can see, it’s totally dark still at this time of the morning. To ensure that the scene was not registered as bright as day, as my camera would have liked, I exposed this with minus 1 and 2/3 of a stop, which also stopped the lights on the boats from blowing out. This gave me a shutter speed of just 1/80th of a second at F5. I could get away with F5 as the main subjects were quite a way off, but I was pushing it with this shutter speed. I shot about 4 or 5 frames here though, and I think only two of them were just a little soft. This one was incredibly sharp, so this is a tribute to the 100-400mm lenses Image Stabilizer. Either that or I was frozen solid and acting as a human tripod. It probably goes without saying, but I really like the play of the lights on the partially frozen surface of the sea in this image.

Fishing Boats Leaving Rausu Port

Fishing Boats Leaving Rausu Port

The next shot, number 899 which I captured around 45 minutes later as we set out a little way to sea, has the mountains behind the village making a backdrop for the scene of the fishing boats on there way out to sea too. It not easy to see the boats well in the small Web version, but I think you can still appreciate the mountains. I was still exposure compensating to the tune of minus one stop, as it was not yet bright enough for my camera to handle the situation properly. This gave me a shutter speed of 1/200 of a second at F5.6. I was at ISO 1600 now too, as I was now standing on a boat rocking around on the sea, and needed a fast shutter speed to stop camera shake.

One other thing you’ll notice here is that there is no drift ice on the sea here. Apparently there’d been ice two days earlier, but it had drift out to sea. One plan that was considered was to sail right out to sea to find some drift ice, but none of the boats in the area reported seeing any, so we decided to go out a little further shoot the imminent sunrise. This would also give us plenty of time to go back into the port where there was lots of drift ice and shoot the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles.

Okhotsk Sunrise

Okhotsk Sunrise

So let’s take a look at that imminent sunrise in shot number 901. At 400mm I needed a faster shutter speed, and although I’d now dropped the ISO to 400 while looking directly at the sun low in the sky, the shutter speed was 1/500 of a second at F5.6. You’ll notice a fair amount of grain in this shot for 400mm, and to be honest I’m not really sure why this is, probably because of the lighting conditions. I thought for a short while we were going to see one of those wine glass shaped sunrises as the sun’s aura started to extend up above it as though reaching for the low cloud, but it wasn’t to be. This is about as misshaped the sun got. I still kind of like this though, and the gull flying to the right of the sun’s disk adds a little interest in a print of this.

Shiretoko Sunrise13 minutes after the last shot, which was captured at 6:19AM by the way, the sun had rose considerably in the sky, and I once again put the gull’s silhouettes to use in shot number 904. Still at ISO 400 the grain is now greatly reduced, though the shutter speed was now 1/1000 of a second at F8. I exposure compensated this at minus 2/3 of a stop to ensure the sun’s disk didn’t blow out. I was basically keeping my eye on the histogram as I shot, looking for the clipping warning, or the little white areas that flash black when they are close to or completely over exposed. This allowed me to make the clouds partially enshrouding the sun to come out nice and dramatically dark, and keeps the colours in the shot saturated. There are a number of other shots of this sunrise on my site too, so if you’re interested, click around on the filmstrip under the photos to see the others.

After the sunrise we headed back into the port to shoot the eagles I mentioned earlier. Again there are loads of shots from this location on my web site, so I urge you to click around if you have time. The first one I want to talk about today is more of a documentary shot that I want to use to explain how we get the chance to shoot so many eagles here in Rausu.

Rausu Steller's Sea Eagles Feeding

Rausu Steller’s Sea Eagles Feeding

Take a look at shot number 914, in which you’ll see three Steller’s Sea Eagles standing on the drift ice eating fish scraps. The boat is basically chartered by photographers for the sole purpose of photographing the sunrise and the eagles, and they take a number of plastic trays full of fish and squid scraps out with us, and throw it out onto the ice. This attracts literally hundreds of eagles and gulls that gorge on the free feast.

I recall actually that when I came here in February 2004 I was standing near the front of the boat from where the captain was throwing fish from a plastic tray out onto the ice. It wasn’t until I got back into the bus that I realized that as he’d swung the fish backwards to gain momentum before throwing it, he’d been splashing oily fish juices onto my nice new Gore-tex down jacket and it stunk. I franticly wiped it off with some tissues but I remember getting a whiff of it every so often over the remaining days of the tour.

Anyway, now that we have lots of eagles in the area, there are many like the three in the last shot, standing on the ice eating their scraps. In fact, did you know that eagles cannot eat in flight? Hawks can eat on the wing but eagles have to land and eat like these guys are here, with the prey held in place with their talons. So, the first few eagle shots from the boat that I uploaded were captured with the 100-400mm, and thinking that I’d probably gotten a few decent shots, I decided to try my luck with the 600mm F4 lens, after all, I’d had it hanging from my shoulder since leaving the port and it was starting to feel really heavy. There’s no way you can hand-hold this lens, so I’d brought a monopod with me onto the boat. I mounted the lens onto the monopod and started shooting. This first shot was made with the 600mm lens, at F5.6 for 1/200th of a second, with ISO 400. I was getting many more soft or just totally blurred images shooting with the 600mm at slower speeds than would be advisable for this focal length, and I’ve not really used my monopod with this lens until now either, but I got enough really sharp images to have made switching worth while.

Breakfast Lost

Breakfast Lost

So in addition to shots of eagles on the ice, there are also lots of aerial shots to be captured too. Let’s take a look at shot number 907, which was actually made with the 100-400mm lens. I’m talking about these two shots in reverse order because I wanted to show you the eagles eating from the ice, before I showed you this one, which shows two juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles fighting it out over fish head and in fact dropping it, meaning that neither ate it. It’s quite common to see these birds battling it out in mid-air over their meal, but I was pleased to actually capture them dropping their scraps here, and also with the red sky of the sunrise in the background adding to the drama. This was shot at F5.6 for 1/800 of a second at ISO 400.

Changing Places

Changing Places

Now it’s back to the 600mm F4 lens for shot number 919, which is a bit of a fluke shot. I had the White-Tailed Eagle on the right in the frame and saw it was about to take flight and so started to shoot, and as I did, a juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagle came in and took the White-Tails place on the ice. I didn’t get the entire bird in the shot, but it shows them changing places well I think, and adds to the feeling of movement as the second bird enters the frame. I was again using a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second here at F5.6, but now at ISO 800 as it had once again started snowing, and the light was pretty low.

Sent to Coventry

Sent to Coventry

I find this next shot a little comical. Take a look at shot number 922, which I’ve titled Sent to Coventry. It looks as though the three Steller’s Sea Eagles on the large chunk of drift ice in back are talking about the lone eagle in the foreground, as if he’s been sent to Coventry, or driven out of the group. I shot this again with ISO 800 at 1/800 of a second but now at F8. I was trying to get enough depth of field to be able to make out the guys in the back there talking about this proud eagle in the foreground.

There’s one last thing that I want to tell you before we move on from all these eagle shots. The captain of boat from which we were shooting stops it’s engines every so often to allow you to shoot without the vibration that the engines cause. However, these times are not long and only few. This is not such a big problem when shooting hand held, and probably less of a problem than trying to keep your horizons straight from a rocking boat deck. However, as I mentioned earlier, I was using a monopod all the time while shooting with my 600mm lens. The monopod would of course transfer all of the vibration of the boats engine to the lens and pretty much without down ruin all of your shots, not to mention possibly even shaking some screws loose inside the lens. So what I did was to rest the monopod’s foot on my right boot. My big warm boots have a large rubber toe area, and made an excellent damper to protect my lens and my shots from the vibration. This does as an extra thing to worry about, as I had to change my footing every so often as the boat rocked. This was not so stressful though, and helped me to get some great sharp shots, so I’d recommend this method of shooting to anyone in a similar situation. Oh yes, I said just one last thing before moving on, but just though of one more. Make sure you keep the strap of your lens or your camera around your neck at all times while on a boat like this. It would be a crying shame if you were to loose your balance and in turn your equipment into the icy waters below.

Ice Pillars 2006 #1

Ice Pillars 2006 #1

So having shown you eagle shots last week as well, I think we’re just about all eagled out, so let’s talk about something else before wrapping up for today. Take a look at shot number 923, in which we can see a whole load of ice pillars or stalagmites with a few stalactites hanging down too. This shot is of the interior of a cave that in the summer is home to the Hikarigoke, or Luminous Moss. I’ve never seen the Luminous Moss in the summer, but it’s supposed to shine in lots of different colours. It dies off in the winter, and these ice pillars take it’s place. For this somewhat abstract shot I’d closed down my aperture to F9 to get a little bit more depth of field with my 100-400mm lens. The exposure was for 1/2 a second, so you can probably appreciate that it was pretty dim in the cave. It would detract from the strange beauty of these ice pillars to shoot them so dimly though, so I gave the image plenty of light to do them justice.

Ice Diving

Ice Diving

After this we drove for a few hours through the afternoon arriving in the town of Utoro at around 2:30PM. As we drove into town there were lots of deer at the side of the road, which we shot from the bus windows a number of times, and then as we continued to drive along the coast we spotted the guys in shot number 925, diving in the gaps between the drift ice in the sea. I’d never seen this before, but we saw a number of groups as we drove further along the coast. I chose this shot to upload as they gave us some big smiles and waved when they saw a bunch of camera lenses sticking out of our bus windows. Actually when you look at this photo at 100% some of these guys faces look pretty cold as they seemingly force a smile, but most are simply smiling naturally, which I found amazing while diving in a frozen sea.

Drift Ice at Sundown

Drift Ice at Sundown

After this we headed for the Shiretoko Nature Center and I got some great shots of the Hokkaido or Ezo deer, but as we’re already at 10 shots for today I’m going to leave talking about that until next week, which will be the final part of this photo-journal. Let’ take a look at one last shot that I made after visiting the nature center, which is shot number 933. This is looking down on the Utoro Bay from the Puyuni Promontory. We’d come here hoping to get a nice sunset over the sea, but it wasn’t to be. As the rest of the group started heading back for the bus though, there was just a little colour in the sky, and I chose to use this to set off the unfrozen part of the sea in this shot, against the drift ice that was packed up against the shore here in Utoro. Utoro is by the way on the other side of the Shiretoko peninsular and as we saw in the earlier shot of the guys diving, Utoro did have a fair amount of drift ice. Not as spectacular as most years, but still made for some different images at least. So with the sun going down let’s call it a day, but remember I have some housekeeping after this, so please stay tuned.

Beep/Click

First of all, it’s a new month, so please drop by Podcast Alley to vote for this Podcast if you like it. This will help to keep the show in the public eye and obviously the more interest we can generate, the more time I’ll invest in creating it. There’s also a place that you can submit your vote from on my Podcast page.

The winner of the Martin Bailey Active Member Prize for February was Keith Guthrie from London, UK. Keith has already chosen his print, which is number 528 if you want to take a look. I’ve also posted a link in the Announcements forum for you to take a look. Although we’re probably going to stop the active member prize soon in favour of a photography assignment, probably at least for March, all you have to do to be in with a chance of winning an original print of any of my images is post in the forum at least once during this month. That’s all!

Next up; and I’ll be talking about this for the next couple months, I’ve started a survey of listeners, and it would be excellent if you could take five to ten minutes to complete the online survey. It will help me learn more about you and hopefully lead to me finding a sponsor for this Podcast. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a listener or how frequently you listen to this Podcast. There is a small link on the top page and a larger link on the Podcasts page at my Web site at martinbaileyphotography.com. It’s totally anonymous and really does only take 5 to 10 minutes, so thanks in advance!

Also, I’ve updated the Podcasts page to give you a number of different ways to display the episodes. From now on, by default, only the last 12 episodes will be when you first access the page. If you want to view the entire archive, click on the link in the index or under each episode in the table that says “Display text index of all Podcasts to date and latest episode”. As the link says, this will display all Podcasts to date, and the very latest episode. There’s another link to “Display all episodes in index and one big table”. This is pretty much as the page has been to date. One other new change is that now, when you select an episode from the index, it will jump directly to that episode and not display any other episodes in the table. The index though remains, and you still have the links to change how to display the index and tables or return to the default view of the 12 latest episodes. Finally, there’s a URL box at the bottom of the details for each episode to allow you to copy a link that will display that episode with a full index to your clipboard. This is so that you can easily mail all your friends to tell them about this Podcast. Nudge, nudge…

So that really is it for this week. I hope you have a great week.


Show Notes
The Music in the first 28 Podcasts is copyright of William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


Audio

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Hokkaido Feb ‘06 Part II – Eagles, Ice, Swans (Podcast 26)

Hokkaido Feb ‘06 Part II – Eagles, Ice, Swans (Podcast 26)

Hello, and welcome to episode 26. Following on from episode, I’m going to show you some images from a trip to Hokkaido from the 17th to the 20th of February 2006.

Juvenile Steller's Sea Eagles Passing

Juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles Passing

First let’s take a look at image number 870, of two juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles passing mid-flight. The young birds have a distinctive dark outline to their white tails, and speckles of white on the under-wing that they loose as they reach adulthood. This and the rest of the Eagle shots I’m going to show you first today were also shot at the Akan International Crane Center, in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, and my favourite location for nature photography, both wildlife and landscape.

I had kept my aperture at F11 and my shutter speed at 1/800 of a second, the same as most of the crane shots I showcased in episode 25, but as the sky was now grey as it was about to start snowing, I upped the ISO from 200 to 400. This allowed me to continue to capture these majestic subjects despite the turn in the weather.

At 2PM every afternoon the cranes are fed fish, which is one of the main reasons they congregate at the crane center, but also this attracts Steller’s Sea Eagles, White-Tailed Eagles and Black Kites. I was shooting with my Canon EOS 5D and a 600mm F4 lens. I support this behemoth of a lens with a Glitzo tripod and a Wimberly head. The Wimberly allows me to shoot from a tripod with almost as much freedom as shooting hand-held, which is really necessary when tracking birds in flight.

Timing was crucial with this shot, as I really wanted to get another bird in the frame to add interest. I focus most often using the AI Servo mode, but as this uses the 15 focus points in the center of the frame, when I want to compose with the bird to one side, not in the center, I have to switch to One Shot focusing. Of course, there’s no time to mess around changing the settings of the camera when split second decisions are necessary, so I have changed the 5D’s custom functions to make the AF Stop button of the 600mm F4 Lens switch to One Shot focusing while held down. Conversely, if I am in One Shot mode and hold down the AF Stop button on the lens, I am switched to AI Servo, which really helps.

Daunting White-Tailed Eagle

Daunting White-Tailed Eagle

Let’s move on to another eagle shot, number 872 in which we can see a White-Tailed Eagle in a very menacing pose. Looking very much the part as a raptor, king of the sky, this bird was eyeing up how to get to the fish being handed out to the cranes below. Shot with the same settings as the previous image, I really like the overall feel and balance of this one.

White-Tailed Eagles

White-Tailed Eagles

Forty five seconds after the last shot, I captured image number 873, in which you can see that it has just started to snow. You can see here again I was still trying to get two birds in the single shot. In the background I think is one of the juvenile Steller’s Sea Eagles again, but it is too far out of the depth-of-field to be in focus. Again the main subject is a White-Tailed Eagle, displaying the beautiful snowy white tail from which it gets it’s name.

Ruler of the Snow Plains

Ruler of the Snow Plains

Five minutes later and it was now snowing quite heavily as I captured image number 874. This is probably in my top five favourite shots from the trip and definitely one of my best shots so far this year. I wanted to shoot the White-Tailed Eagle in amongst the Japanese Cranes, and I managed that in this wintry scene. I had by now opened up the aperture to F10, as I’d lost more light as the snow set in. The ISO was still at 400 and the shutter speed 1/800 of a second.

Japanese Cranes 2006

Japanese Cranes 2006

We spend another hour or so after this at the Akan International Crane Center before going to the bus and driving for a few hours to the hotel in which we’d spend the night of the 17th. One of the last shots at the center during this trip was number 881. You can see that by now the snow had given way to a beautiful blue sky, and the cranes we’re now leaving for the day with their bellies full of free fish.

I’d been awake since 4AM to get to the Haneda aiport by 7 to meet up with the group, so it was difficult to stay awake, though it was great to watch from the bus as the sun dropped lower in the sky, turning the white snow slightly golden before dropping below the horizon.

The following morning once again it was up at 4AM to go to the Bihoro Pass which overlooks the frozen Kussharo Lake, with its distinctive island in the middle, and wait for the sunrise. Although the last few days had seen markedly warmer weather for Hokkaido at this time of the year, at 5:30AM when I was setting up my tripod on the Bihoro Pass it was -20 degrees Celsius or -4 Fahrenheit. Luckily for me I’d got lots of nice warm clothes on and luckily form my EOS 5D, I’d also clad it in a fleece cover with a solid fuel hand warmer in a specially designed inside pocket, so we were both OK.

Kussharo Lake from Bihoro Pass at Dawn

Kussharo Lake from Bihoro Pass at Dawn

The first shot I uploaded from this spot was 882, but the first one I’m going to showcase today is 883, shot at 5:50AM. I decided to include the road below for this shot and wait for a car to pass, so that I capture a trail left by it’s lights. You can tell how dark it still was at this time not only by the brightness of the car’s lights, but also this image was exposed for 4 seconds at F11, even with ISO 200. I kind of like the similar colours of the sky as it lit up as the sun approached the horizon, and the trail left by the cars lights. I actually shot my trusty WhiBal card a few minutes after taking this shot to set the custom white balance, as with the 5D’s white balance set to the Daylight preset, the shots were coming out incredibly blue. This is of course true to life for these temperatures, but our eyes do a great correction job, and so I chose to help my camera do the same. I ended up taking the white balance reading from the images shot after the WhiBal shot and applying it to the first few images too.

I also played around with the white balance of the RAW image file in Digital Photo Professional to see if I could correct the white balance manually using the Kelvin slider, but even selecting up to 10,000K still had quite a strong blue caste, so I’m pleased I used the WhiBal. It not only allowed me to get rid of the blue cast, it also brought out the red of the sun’s glow. This is actually though more of a difficult decision than it might sound, to correct the white balance as I did, as the blue cast does make the scene look very cold. Remember it was minus 20 degrees C. I’ll post the Daylight White Balance version in the Podcast forum and put a link to the post in the show notes so you can take a look and see the difference. I might even make it a poll so you can tell me which version you prefer.

Moon and Tree from Bihoro Pass

Moon and Tree from Bihoro Pass

As I climbed the hill to get to a higher vantage point, shot number 884 jumped out at me. In the opposite direction to the sun, the moon was still shining pretty brightly through the hazy cloud from the mountains, and the trees in the foreground set the scene for another of my favourite shots from this trip. This was made at F14 for a 1/6 of a second.

Ice Flowers

Ice Flowers

I found when I was descending the mountain that I had actually lost one of the rubber feet and the low angle tripod mount from my Manfrotto tripod, probably when I stuck my tripod into the snow to get this shot of the moon and the trees. Something to be careful of I guess when working in hard deep snow.

We headed back to the hotel for breakfast after the Bihoro Pass shoot, and then set off to the bank of the frozen Kussharo Lake that was visible in the sunrise shot we just looked at. At around 10AM we arrived at Sunayu, a spot where hot springs run into the lake keeping the water relatively warm and stop the lake from freezing over totally for a few meters.

This means that there is a certain amount of steam that rises from the edge of the frozen lake, and this often freezes on the rocks nearby as we can see in shot number 887. I was pleased I took my 100mm macro lens when I saw a few rocks at the side of the lake covered in what the Japanese call ice flowers. These are frozen crystals, but the temperature here now was above freezing, so they were melting quickly. I shot this at F8 for 1/160 of a second with ISO 100. F8 gave me enough depth-of-field at this distance to see the first few centimeters of the ice flowers.

Ice Buckling

Ice Buckling

I actually made this photo while walking along the shore to see the Omiwatari, which literally means God’s Walkway. This is a natural phenomenon, caused by the ice which is frozen by the harsh temperatures at night warming up as the sun rises in the sky, causing it to expand and rupture. In shot number 891 we can see the ice ruptured and jutting out of the lake and leading into the distance. This is the God’s Walkway. We can also see a guide explaining the phenomenon to a couple of tourists. At over 10 centimeters or 4 inches thick, there’s not much chance of the ice breaking and them falling in, though the ice is continuously creaking and moaning as it expands, which is really quite spooky, but then every so often, there is an almighty crack, that sounds similar to a couple of trucks crashing into each other head-on, as the ice cracks big-time. The crack that you can see in the right foreground actually rose forming a step of around 15 centimeters or six inches after one almighty crashing sound. The guide actually had the tourists lying down on the ice a couple of times to feel the cracking with their bodies. She was very confident when she first turned up with the tourists ignoring my claims that there had been some big cracking sounds. Apparently it had been -27 degrees Celsius or -17 Fahrenheit during the night here, and was now around 5 degrees C or 41 degrees Fahrenheit, so the ice was warming up quite quickly. Then after hearing a few of the noises herself the guide told us that this amount of activity was quite unusual, as she guided the tourists off the ice.

Steamy Kussharo Lake Swans

Steamy Kussharo Lake Swans

The last image from this spot and this episode is number 894, was shot ten minutes down the coast of the Kussharo Lake near the parking area at Sunayu. Sunayu literally means sand and hot water, and this is as I said earlier where hot springs water flows into the lake, stopping the water from freezing for a few meters. This hot water is responsible for the steam in the shot of the swans, all eagerly awaiting the next free meal from a tourist. The swans that fly in from Siberia for the winter stop here because of the warm water and food from tourists. Without this they’d head a few more hundred miles further south to warmer climbs.

This was one of the last shots from Kussaro Lake 12 o’clock midday. This was to be the last photo shoot for this day, as we drove the whole afternoon over to Rausu in the Shiretoko Peninsula, to go out onto the sea in a charter boat to shoot more Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles on the ice floes. I’ll get to that in the next episode though, as we’re already up to 10 shots for this Podcast, and I don’t like to attach too many to a single episode.

Beep/Click

So let’s call it a day. At the point of recording this I’ve still to sort through the last two days photos and get them uploaded. I’m an episode ahead of schedule now, so I’ll take my time getting through the rest of my shots and bring you another episode some time next week.

So have a great weekend, and I’ll speak to you again soon. Bye bye.


Show Notes
The Music in the first 28 Podcasts is copyright of William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


Audio

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