Today we conclude our travelogue series from my recent Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure tour and workshop, as we pick up the trail on the morning of day eight, as we left Wakkanai and first visited the Souya Fishing Port at the northern-most tip of Japan.
Uncommon for Hokkaido in the winter, especially this far north, when we arrived at the Souya Fishing Port the sky couldn’t decide whether to snow or to rain. For the first thirty minutes or so it was raining, which is very out of character. This shortly gave way to snow though, which you can see falling in the first image for today (below).
I cropped this down to a 1:2 aspect ratio, as the foreground snow and top of the sky wasn’t adding much to the scene. After increasing the contrast in the sky, I like how we can see the plumes of snow as they blow in on the gusts of wind. I also set my ISO to 400 for an 1/80 of a second exposure at f/9, to avoid camera shake from the gusts of wind. My focal length was 28 mm with my 24-105mm lens.
Because we were shooting directly into the snow, this is one of those times when I wipe my lens with a lens cloth while keeping a second cloth draped over the front of the lens, then with a two-second timer, I wait until a split second before the shutter is released, and then pull the cloth away for the exposure. I then check to see if there’s anything on the lens, and if there is not, I know I’m good to move on. If there is a drop of water on the lens, I repeat the process until I get a spot-free shot.
We stop at a number of fishing ports on the way around the tip of Hokkaido, then drive down the eastern coast to our stop for the next two nights at a small town with a port that has some nice strategically placed tetrapods, as you can see in the next image (below).
I shot this at the end of the day, as the light came on in the lighthouse, leaving a streak of light on the water in this two-minute exposure. As the light was already very low, I think I was using the 2.0 Density ND filter in the holder on the back of my 11-24mm lens, which is 6.6 stops. I went for an equal amount of sand on the beach allowing me to also be almost square on to the tetrapods rather than bringing the lighthouse and distant tetrapods more into the frame, although that does look slightly awkward. My ISO was set to 100 and aperture to f/14.
The following morning before breakfast we went back to the port for an hour or so, and as you can see in the next image (below) it had snowed, and the sea was so calm that the snow was still settled right down to the water’s edge. The sun was just over the horizon on the right of this image, making the sky a little lighter there, but it didn’t quite make its way through the thick cloud, which suits me just fine.
I’m doing all of my black and white conversions in Capture One Pro and love the amount of texture we can see in the snow, especially on the tetrapods to the left, where we have all that great contrast with the dark concrete. I’ve also dropped a graduated mask down the sky and around the top of the tetrapods to the left and darkened the sky down a little.
I much prefer doing this in post, as a physical graduated neutral density filter would have to be dropped down across the top of the tetrapods, making them too dark. Also, those big square filters are a pain to use in the snow, which is another reason why I have been using circular screw-in neutral density filters exclusively for more than fifteen years now. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for a 13-second exposure at f/16, with a focal length of 15 mm, again with my 11-24 mm lens.
After breakfast, we set out for an exploratory drive inland. I have to admit that I wasn’t looking out of our bus window as I discussed plans with our logistics staff, but luckily one of the participants called out so we stopped to photograph this beautiful scene (below) still very close to our hotel. We cross this bridge every year and I haven’t seen the trees looking this way before, so I’m pleased someone was paying attention.
I really like the contrast between the light snow that had stuck to the top side of all of the trees in the foreground, as well as covering the trees on the bank of this estuary. And of course, those golden grasses that were still showing through because of the relatively light covering of ground snow add so much to this shot that I couldn’t bring myself to convert it to black and white. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/30 of a second at f/14, and I was using my 100-400mm lens at 182 mm to isolate a small section of the larger scene.
Across the road from the bridge over the estuary, there is a barn that appears to be abandoned, so I spent a while looking for an angle that worked for me. From most angles, there were foreground trees that covered the barn, but I quite like this final angle that I decided on, again with the snow outlined trees and those beautiful golden grasses showing through.
If I ever print this I’ll probably clone out the grasses poking in from the bottom edge, especially along the bottom right, but for now, I’m running with this version to save time. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/40 of a second at f/14, back with my 24-105 mm lens at 105 mm.
We continued down the road that we’d pulled our bus onto which is one road north, parallel to the road that I’d planned to drive down, and we found that the snow and perhaps humidity had caused the light snow to stick to all of the trees, not just those near the estuary, making for some beautiful scenes, as we’ll see over the next few images. In this first shot from inland, I really like how the deciduous trees covered in snow stand out against the evergreen trees in the background (below).
I have enabled Black and White in Capture One Pro for this image, but I can actually not see any visible difference, as the scene was almost completely black and white anyway. For this shot I was actually shooting hand-held, having just jumped up onto a bank of snow from the bus, and we were parked in a place that I didn’t want to stay at for very long. My settings were ISO 200 for a 1/100 of a second at f/14, at 105mm.
We drove along the road a little more and found a better stretch of road to park on and walked back a little to photograph the magical scene you can see in the next image (below). I use the word Winter Wonderland a lot in reference to my Japan Winter tours, but this photo is one of those that sums that up better than most others.
The trees here were absolutely beautiful, and a stream that was flowing under the snow caused some wonderful curves in the foreground snow in front of the trees. I removed a few clumps of snow-covered grass from the left and right sides of this image, but other than that and a bit of Clarity and a very subtle Luma Curve, this is pretty much straight out of the camera. Again, I’ve also enabled black and white, but the original was almost already there. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/40 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 70 mm.
This next image (below) is from the same location, just a little further up the hill, so that I could include part of the large black tree on the left. I’ve cloned out a larger number of blades of grass from the foreground of this one, to clean it up a bit, but this was otherwise really such a beautiful scene, and I love the contrast between the white birch trees and the darker trees, all sharing a common covering of snow.
I’m seriously considering making my own Christmas Cards with this image for this year, printing them on fine art paper. To be totally honest, I find the whole Christmas card thing very tedious, especially being in Japan where we don’t really celebrate Christmas, but doing something special like that might make it a bit more interesting. My settings for this were ISO 100, for a 1/50 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 50 mm.
The following day, we took a drive over to a place that I like, with a small copse of trees on top of a hill. This year we walked quite a way up and over a hill along the road, and at one point the light was catching the edge of a snowdrift adding an additional element of interest that I absolutely love, and you can see that in this next image (right).
I went with a 4:5 crop for this photo, reducing the sky mostly, as I found that it worked better. The gray sky wasn’t adding much, and I wanted to draw the eye down to the snow-covered hill and highlighted snowdrift, and that seemed to work better with the crop.
I also really like the line of the fence that runs down the hill. There’s just something about this location and subject that really appeals to the minimalist photographer in me.
My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/30 of a second at f/14, and I was using my 100-400mm lens at its full extent, so 400 mm. You can probably appreciate how low the light levels are even during the day with these low shutter speeds.
The following day, we went out exploring again for a while and found a beautiful frosty plain, so we all climbed down the bank beside a bridge to get a closer look. Moving in gradually so as not to get in each other’s way, we got to a point where we could each start to photograph the frosty grasses close up, as you can see in this image (below).
I had initially preferred this shot in black and white, but once again couldn’t quite give up on the golden color of the grasses. As I prepared to record this episode, I tried it again in color and darkened the grasses down a little bit with the Color Editor in Capture One Pro. I also drew in an Adjustment Layer over the sky to just darken it down slightly, as it was a little washed-out. My settings were ISO 200, again because there was a bit of wind, but this time I wanted to reduce the risk of the grasses moving, by increasing my shutter speed to 1/200 of a second at f/14, and my focal length was 50 mm.
Later in the day, we visited another favorite spot of mine, where there is a lone tree at the side of Lake Saroma, and as with the other shots from this area, there was lots of golden grass that would usually be more covered in snow (below).
Because I selected my settings to stop the sky from over-exposing, for this image the grasses had gotten a little dark, so I brightened them up with the Color Editor, but otherwise I quite like what they add to this image, and again, there is that snow on the dark bows of the tree adding an extra bit of contrast that we don’t normally get. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/100 of a second exposure at f/14, and a focal length of 35 mm.
The following morning we had a few hours to shoot before heading over to the airport to head back to Tokyo. We visited the lighthouse at Cape Notoro, but the wind was really strong, so I ended up spending most of my time there shooting video of the snow driving across the plain, which I’ll use in a production at some point.
Our last shoot was about 15 minutes from the airport when we shot some farm buildings and some members of the group got invited in for tea by a kind lady that lives there. I have a few shots but they aren’t great, due to the shadow of some power lines, another reason why I love to shoot in overcast conditions, so I’ll wait until I catch that spot on a cloudy day to reshoot.
After that, we recorded a comment from most of the members of the group, which I’ll play you now.
[Please listen to the audio with the player at the top of this post to hear what the participants said about the trip.]
So, that brings us to the end of this three-part travelogue series to share our antics in the northern-most island of Japan on my Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure Tour & Workshop for 2018. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.
If you think you might like to join this tour in the future, either let us know that you’d like to be added to the 2019 cancellation list, or secure a spot on the 2020 tour with special guests Nicole S. Young and Brian Matiash, who will be around to offer advice in addition to me, and will be doing a number of workshop sessions during the course of the tour. For details see our tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa
Details of the next available Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure: https://mbp.ac/hlpa
In this concluding episode of a four part series covering my Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure tour for 2017, we visit the Sawaki fishing port at Ohmu, go inland for some detail abstractions, and finish our tour with two days at Lake Saroma.
We pick up the trail at the start of day nine, when we returned to the Sawaki Fishing Port to photograph the rocky beach and tetrapods, that you can see in this first image for today (below). I really like the high vantage point, from the wall above the port, that we saw in the last image of episode 559, but with the sea calmer now, it was nice to be able to not only get down on the beach, but also lower my tripod for this low, more intimate perspective.
Rocky Beach and Tetrapods
I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says every image needs a good foreground. In fact, I’ve now seen way too many images that have a really uninteresting over-accentuated foreground, simply because people have had this drilled into them.
There are times however, when the foreground does have enough interest to warrant getting down low and showing the details, and I believe these wet black rocks fall into this category. I also like how the sun catches the wet rock more to the right side, and this gradually decreases over towards the left side of the frame.
The other so-called rule that I’m breaking with this image is that I put the horizon line almost along the center of the frame. This was of course done on purpose, as I like the balance afforded to the image by including almost as much sky as foreground, especially here because there is plenty of texture and detail in the sky. If the sky was just grey I would have pointed the camera down more.
Capture One Diffraction Correction
Another thing that I’d like to mention about this image is that I stopped down the aperture to f/16, which you’ll probably recall is a third of a stop smaller than my usual landscape aperture of f/14. I did this partly because I wanted a slower shutter speed, but also because I wanted good focus from the nearest foreground to the distant objects, but it does start to introduce just a slight amount of diffraction, which is what happens when light passes through a small hole, causing the image to become slightly softer, despite the deeper depth of field.
It’s not a huge issue at f/16, and I am usually more concerned about this at f/22 if I have to go there for some reason. One thing that I’d been looking forward to testing though, is the new Diffraction Correction feature in Capture One Pro version 10, that was released recently. I turned this on under the Lens Correction tool panel, and did notice that the foreground rocks became slightly sharper, so this seems to be working nicely. I’ll try again soon when I have to stop down further, but for now I’m happy that this new checkbox does something useful.
My other settings for this image were a focal length of 13mm with my 11-24mm f/4 lens, ISO 100 for a 0.6 second exposure.
Looking for Image Sets
After a morning photographing in the port, we went for lunch, then headed in-land, to see if we could find some nice landscapes. We did shoot some landscape work, with one image that I like with various patterns in the different types of trees, but from the same location I wanted to quickly share the next set of three images.
I first noticed this batch of twigs sticking out of the snow just off the road, and framed them up in a place that enabled me to surround the twigs with only snow, and nothing distracting sticking in or out of the side of the frame. If you click on the image to view it larger, you might be able to see the very fine tendrils on the ends of the twigs, which I thought made nice graphic elements for this abstraction.
Once I’d found the first image though, I decided to look for more, to see if I couldn’t create a mini set of images. A little further along the bank there was another group of twigs that I found somewhat pleasing, as we can see in this image (below). I actually prefer this to the first image, as there are less cut-off twigs, and more of those tendrils on most of these.
With two images in my set now though, I set out to find a third. Two is just a pair, but three is a set of images. Not finding anything initially, I crossed the road and started walking along, and as the patches of twigs started to run out, I found this last image to complete my set (below).
An Intimate Audience
The major difference between this and the first two images is that there is no crossing of the twigs. None of them overlap. I feel as though this one is almost like a dancer on the right, with a small, very intimate audience, watching from the left.
I shot all three images at ISO 100 for 1/20 of a second at f/14. They were already almost black and white, but I did convert these images to black and white in Capture One Pro, and although you won’t really be able to see in the web version, the texture throughout the snow looks almost like that seen in textured fine art media, like Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse Textured. Because of that, printing on a textured media would probably not work so well, but I’m looking forward to getting some time later in the year to print these out of a beautiful smooth matte paper.
After our in-land shoot, we started our drive south to Lake Saroma, where we’d spend the last two nights of the tour, in a beautiful hotel overlooking the frozen lake. Our first shoot the following morning was at the Toetoko Fishing Port. For my first shot from this location, I was photographing straight down between two lines of fishing boats (below).
Toetoko Fishing Boats with Footprints
There are line after line of fishing boats like this, but this is the only one that had relatively undisturbed snow between them, apart from the old footprints, which I feel actually add to this image, mostly because they are smoothed over a little. If these had been fresh prints it wouldn’t have worked. We had a great sky though, especially that small patch of detail at the vanishing point, so I was happy with how this turned out.
You will have already guessed that I shot this at f/14 with the ISO set to 100, and the shutter speed was 1/50 of a second. My focal length was 27mm with my new 24-105mm Mark II lens.
Video Coming Soon
As we started to photograph these boats, Rob Bampton, the incredibly talented videographer that I took along to cover this trip for us, flew his drone about a foot over our heads and straight down the middle of this line of boats. We laughed as the participant next to me felt the wind on her head as we got “buzzed”.
The footage that Rob captured here and throughout the trip is really quite amazing, and enables the viewer to really experience this tour first hand, so I can’t wait to share that with you, probably in March when I’ve completed all of my winter tours for this year.
Going wide for the previous shot enabled me to tell the bigger story of the multiple lines of boats, but I went a little narrower to 43mm for this image (below) so that I could show more of the details of these beautiful, rugged fishing boats, that have been brought up on land for the winter, to avoid them being crushed by the sea ice.
Toetoko Fishing Boat Sterns
The sun was coming from camera right, so the texture is the snow is beautifully accentuated and the backs of the boats lit with a lovely soft, diffused light from the somewhat overcast sky. I have a tendency to try to include all of my subject, so I sometimes find it difficult to crop off the top of the rigging on these boats to the left of this image, but I’d have had to go much to wide to include that, and that would have taken away the detail that we have in this final image. Sometimes you just have to make a decision, and cut off certain features of your subject for the greater good. Again, I shot this at f/14, ISO 100, with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second.
To my back as I shot the last few images, there was a line of larger boats, that we can see in this image (below). I was attracted to this line because of the way the snow has drifted forming ridges between the boats, but also because the larger boats gave us a better look at the screws and rudders, which I thought added something to this image over the previous ones.
Toetoko Fishing Boat Screws (Neutral)
Making Use of Color Channels
The bottom of each of these boats is actually a different color, with some being red, and some being blue. It can sometimes feel a little wasteful to throw out this color information, but I personally just much prefer to see these images in black and white.
This doesn’t mean that we simply ignore color in our black and white images though. In the above image, I left the color channels neutral, but in this next image, I reduced the red channel to -35 and increased the blue channel to +25, to give me this version of the same image (below).
Toetoko Fishing Boat Screws (Red Dark, Blue Bright)
Not only will you notice that the second boat from the right now looks a little lighter than the first and third boats from the right, you will also see that this new version now has much more contrast between the rightmost screw and its background, which was the red underside of the boat behind it. Part of my intension with this photo was to highlight the boat screws, so this interpretation enables me to do that much more effectively.
In the afternoon, we went in land to a location where there are some nice copses on hills, and first of all, I shot the next image (below) which I like for its simplicity. The trees are relatively sparse, and I like the fence that lines the top of the hill, then starts to work its way down the right edge in the heavy snow.
Copse and Fence
There was a slightly darker sky which I think works well here, and then a patch of snow in the foreground which is much steeper than the rest of the hill, giving the snow an area of slight variation too. This scene is quite a distance from the road on private land, so we can’t climb up to it, but with my 100-400mm Mark II lens I was able to get this framing that I’m happy with.
As we approached this location this year, I noticed an angle that I’d not seen before, so we went there after the previous shoot, and I created a number of new images, including this next panorama which is five 5Ds R images stitched together in Photoshop (below). I’ve made the web version of this image wider than usual, so open up your browser window nice and wide and click on the image to view it in more detail. Remember too that if you want to stop the images from automatically advancing, just place your mouse over the image.
Copses Near and Far
I was attracted to the idea of two separate copses on nearby hills, and how the fences seem to punctuate the hillside, in some ways almost stitching them together. This series of images were shot at 255mm, f/14 at 1/20 of a second, with ISO 100.
The following morning we visited a tree that I have shot many times now. There was a little less snow than usual this year though, so the grasses around the tree weren’t as buried as they usually are. This added a little complexity to our compositional decisions, but I was happy with the few photos that I got. This one (below) appeals to me because I was able to get a little patch of clear snow in front of the grasses, but also place these two tall grasses along the left side of the frame.
Lake Saroma Tree with Grasses
The main thing that I try to do when composing an image like this, is to find a place where I can get as few objects leading to the edge of the frame as possible. There are a few grass stems going out of the frame in the middle band, but the foreground was quite clear here. Also, this angle enabled me to place the sun behind the tree, so the bright area of the sky around the sun became easier to manage, and it gave more pleasing shadows, as they seem to radiate out from the tree. This was an 11mm focal length at f/14, 1/125 of a second at ISO 100.
The previous day we’d visited the Toetoko Fishing Port in the morning, so on this day we went back in the afternoon for some slightly different light. I had a photo to share with you from that session, but I chose to include the second example of using the color channels earlier, so we’ll skip that one.
The following morning, we basically have a couple of hours to shoot as we head to the airport, so we visited Cape Notoro, and photographed the lighthouse there. It was a little disappointing aesthetically to see that they’ve now put solar panels on the roof of the lighthouse and built a steel fence around it, so my best angle was this image with the foreground grasses hiding most of that (below).
Notoro Light House
This was also the first day of the trip where we had mostly clear skies, which I’m not usually a fan of, but as we had to fly back to Tokyo in the afternoon, this was probably better than a snow storm, which could have resulted in a delay return, so all was good. I shot this at 35mm with an aperture of f/14 for 1/160 of a second at ISO 100.
Again, all of the images that we’ve looked at today were converted to black and white in Capture One Pro, my new raw processing and image management software of choice. If you’d like to try it, you can download a fully functional trial version and if you choose to buy it, use the code AMBP for a 10% discount.
We’ll wrap it up there for this concluding episode in this four part travelogue. I hope you’ve enjoyed joining us vicariously as we circumnavigate the northern part of Hokkaido in this true winter wonderland minimalist tour and workshop. If you are perhaps interested in joining us on a future tour, please do take a look at the details on the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa, and if you have any questions at all, please drop me a line via our contact page.