Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 700)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 700)


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This week I’d like to start by giving us all a pat on the back. This is a milestone episode, as we just reached number 700! I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve been releasing this podcast almost every week for coming up to fifteen years now! I’m also incredibly humbled by the fact that many of you have been following my antics for most of, if not all of that time. Thank you so much for sticking around!

We’re going to do a regular episode though, and conclude my Japan Winter Wildlife Tour #2 travelogue series, with a visit to Lake Kussharo to photograph the Whooper Swans, and then on to Rausu to photograph the sea eagles. I once again have way more than 10 photos to discuss, so although we had some fun photographing the landscape a little after we finished at the sea eagles, I’m going to skip those photos and give preference to the wildlife work, because this is really what this tour is all about.

Let’s start with a shot from the Whooper Swans. As you can see, there was a slight mist over the lake, which was still not frozen, due to this being the warmest winter in Japan for thirty years. I love the graduated horizon line of the lake, caused by the mist and the swans here have an almost painterly look, due probably in part to the quality of light, but also the fact that I was panning with them with a 1/50 second shutter speed.

Swan Lake
Swan Lake

I wish I’d not clipped the wing of the swan on the right side of the image, but I’m pretty happy with this all the same. I also kind of like that it’s a grey cygnet that is leading the pack here, rather than an adult, which I think may have been a little bit too obvious as a composition. That was pure luck of course and totally a hindsight observation.

Water-Brake

I’ve become quite partial to this next kind of swan-panning shot as well. As the swans start to waterski on the lake as they land, again, at a 1/50 of a second, the water makes some beautiful textures that I can kind of get lost in visually. I also really like the slightly ruffled feathers under the near-wing of this swan. The lake being thawed this year contributed to keeping the swans cleaner than they sometimes are when it’s frozen. I imagine it’s because they are not forced to sit around in the shallow water at the same location, rubbing against the algae and sitting in their own mess. Either way, this is a completely fun way to shoot these awesome, yet sometimes clumsy-looking birds.

Water-Brake
Water-Brake

In this same location the following morning I used an 1/800 of a second shutter speed to freeze the movement instead of blurring it, and fell lucky with this next shot, as four swans lined up with a mallard duck at the end looking as though they are just starting off on a race of sorts. The mist had cleared, though it was still overcast, and the faster shutter speed enabled me to freeze the mountains on the far side of the lake, so I consciously tried to keep my camera higher to include the top of the mountains in the frame.

And They're Off!
And They’re Off!

Japanese Long-Tailed Tit

The little guy in the next image is a Japanese Long-Tailed Tit, and probably one of the cutest birds I’ve ever photographed. I’ve seen these before in the trees near where we stop to photograph the swans, but never managed to get a shot so far. Fast-movers though, at 1/1600 of a second, this tiny bird is slightly soft, so I increased my shutter speed for a few more frames, but I like this one the best, as he flew down from his perch, on which he stopped for a less than one second at a time. A very difficult bird to photograph.

Japanese Long-Tailed Tit
Japanese Long-Tailed Tit

Fleeting Fox

Another fleeting moment in this next image, as a Northern Red Fox found something in the hole that it was digging that didn’t agree with him, so he ’bout turned and shot off like a bullet. I was not ready for that speed again, so his head is blurred, but I think that, along with his pose, adds to the dynamic feel of the shot, so I’m going to run with it, like the fox.

Fleeting Fox
Fleeting Fox

It was so nice to have snow, like this, until the end of the season. Just a week until the start of March at this point, the warm winter had taken its toll, but the occasional cold front had kept most of our locations topped up with snow, and from the number of hand-warmers we got through on the bus, I think the participants probably didn’t believe me when I kept saying that it was warmer than usual.

Indeed, as we got into our first morning photographing the Sea Eagles the next day, with the wind chill and the cooling effect of the sea-ice, even this mad-dog and ex-English-man didn’t have the nerve to call it warm. We did have sea-ice, but to be completely honest, I wish it hadn’t come down in the Nemuro Straits at all this year. The warmer conditions had meant that the Steller’s Sea Eagles were nearing the point where they’d find a thermal to climb to set them off on their way back to Russia for the summer.

They weren’t moving much at all, and the staff of all the boats were starting to wind down for the season as well. I would not accept that the birds simply wouldn’t move, and managed to talk the skipper of our boat to let us charter his second boat for the group for the second two days. This won’t always be possible, but it did give us the freedom to call the shots and salvaged the situation. The ice was closer on the second day, but we spent some quality time near the harbor wall as well, and got this next image, which is one of my favorite Steller’s Sea Eagle shots of the season.

Steller's Scuffle
Two Steller’s Sea Eagles in a Scuffle

Once again, I’m going to live with the clipped wings and tail, as I think the bulk of the shot is interesting enough to not throw it out. I love the detail in these birds, and those talons and claws look absolutely lethal! These really are magnificent birds.

White-Tailed Eagle Departs

Later in the day, we headed back down the Notsuke Peninsula, where I’d photographed the fox two days earlier, and although I don’t usually stop for sea-eagles out there, we did find the White-Tailed Eagle in this shot sitting in a more interesting spot than usual. We waited until he flew, and sure, it’s a butt-shot, but this is one that I’m happy with. The surroundings, with the driftwood and perch, and those beautiful distant mountains on the Shiretoko Peninsula made for an almost perfect scene for this proud raptor to start his journey from.

White-Tailed Eagle Departs
White-Tailed Eagle Departs

I actually pulled back to 366 mm rather than trying to go full-frame, to ensure that I included more of the surroundings. I also used the Advance Color Editor in Capture One Pro to warm up the orange tones, as I found it a little bit too bleak for the wood, which I somehow felt needed to look a little warmer.

Although it was difficult to set up and actually get them to go for fish in the water this late in the season, and the eagles were pretty much constantly flying away from the sun, we did manage to get a few images of them taking fish from the water, rather than off the ice. I was not going to give up on these photos on this trip, both for myself, and most importantly, for my guests.

Steller's Sea Eagle at Work
Steller’s Sea Eagle at Work

Hopefully, it will look pretty natural to you, but I had to increase the shadows slider to plus 80 to bring out even this amount of detail in the dark underside of this Steller’s Sea Eagle. Definitely a rescuable image, and pretty much as good as it was going to get under the circumstances.

At almost exactly the same location, just 50 seconds later, I got this shot of a White-Tailed Eagle doing pretty much the same thing, but with much better wing positions. The shadows slider is up at 70 for this shot too, and for both of these images I warmed up the blues slightly, again, using the Advanced Color Editor in Capture One Pro. I just felt that it needed a slight saturation boost.

White-Tailed Eagle at Work
White-Tailed Eagle at Work

As I said, we’ll skip three landscape images that are sitting in selection in chronological order, as I like to keep my posts down to ten images when possible and finish with one last wildlife shot. It’s been a number of years since we’ve seen any, but finally, our luck was in with a sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the Shiretoko National Park on our final morning of the tour.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Peekaboo
Great Spotted Woodpecker Peekaboo

Although the foreground branch is slightly obscuring the back of her head, I really like how this woodpecker is peeking back at us through this window between the arch of a broken branch and a second branch that is holding it up. The smattering of falling snow is a nice added touch to help us wrap up this three-part travelogue series covering my last Japan Winter Tour for this season.

Participants’ Comments

Before we finish though, I did my traditional walk around the bus to get a comment from the participants, which I’m going to play you now. Please listen with the audio player above, starting from 10:17, to find out what each guest had to say about the tour.

Japan Winter Wildlife 2022

If you’d like to join me on the 2022 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour, when we next have spaces available, please check out the tour page, and contact us if you’d like to be put on the waitlist for the 2021 tour.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

Show Notes

Check out my available tours here: https://mbp.ac/tours

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 699)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 699)


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This year’s Japan Winter Wildlife Tours provided us with a bumper crop of Red-Crowned Crane photos, so despite my sharing six of them already in the previous episode, today we’re going to look at ten more, with a bit of information about each image.

The first thing I noticed as I worked on my selection is that I have become quite partial to the square crop, probably due to the new-found love of medium format with my excursion into film from last autumn. That aesthetic has really grabbed me, and I love the freedom of not having to think about whether it’s portrait or landscape orientation. It just is!

So, three of these images are square format, and two are cropped to 4:5 aspect ratio because I thought that suited the images too. The remaining images are all original ratio, with four of them being landscape on one portrait. For my portrait-oriented images, I generally just slip the camera into portrait mode by rotating it in the tripod ring, or literally by turning the camera when shooting hand-held. Since I started working with the EOS R just over a year ago now, I made a decision not to buy the battery grip, so I have to crank my hand over to reach the shutter button, but with these cameras being so much smaller than their DSLR cousins, that has really not been a problem.

Crane Threesome

Anyway, here is the first shot, which is from the Akan Crane Center. The first nine images are all from February 21, from two different locations, and the final image is from the following morning. As I mentioned briefly last week, the cranes were relatively cooperative this year and performed for us in openings more than they have been in recent years.

Crane Threesome
Three Red-Crowned Cranes Singing Together

For a while, the increasing number of cranes had made it difficult to get shots like this, without other cranes completely blocking the view, and that of course, is a very good thing. The increasing numbers, I mean. But photographically, it was getting pretty difficult to make uncluttered shots. The warmer weather though has meant more farmland poking through the snow, and that causes the cranes to disperse a little, with more feeding in the surrounding areas, and less of them concentrated in the crane centers.

Another part of this is that they stopped feeding the cranes live fish at this location a few years ago, mostly so as not to attract the sea eagles, which could have brought avian flu, and that would not be good for the cranes. As usual, when something changes, many of the other photographers that bring groups to Hokkaido were complaining, but also, as usual, I instantly saw the positive side to this. The Akan Crane center is now less crowded, on the whole, and the fewer cranes, conversely, brings more photography opportunities.

Let’s Make This Time Well-Spent

As the Corona Virus sweeps around the world, there are of course people losing loved ones, and I in no way want to make small of that, but if you and your loved ones can stay safe at this time, let’s also try to find a bright side. How often do you really get time to spend at home, with your families, with nothing special to do? Usually, we gather at Christmas and other special times of the year, but then the focus in on the event, and everyone rallies around to make that special. Right now, millions of people are being asked to simply stay at home, with no special meals, nothing more than each other, or just yourself, if you live alone.

This to me is a wonderful opportunity to catch up on those things that we always wanted to do, but couldn’t really find the time for. Even just reading those books that you bought but simply put aside, or going through the hordes of photos from trips that we went on, but didn’t get time to look through, because life got in the way. Well, guess what? It isn’t getting in the way anymore, so let’s use this time to do all of those things that we can do when staying at home is the order of the day. These are hard times for many, and really, if you lose a loved one, or lose yourself for that matter, my heart goes out to you, but if you stay safe, and make it through this, we’ll hopefully be looking back on this outbreak in a few years time and actually have some good memories of how we spent our time in self-isolation. Let’s make it count.

Crane Landing

Back to the cranes though. I love the ruffled feathers on this crane as the wind he created catches up with him as he touches down on the snow. With them being so graceful we often forget how much energy it takes to get these birds into the air and keep them there, so it’s a great reminder when we see this disruption in the feathers as they land.

Ruffled Landing
A Crane’s Feathers Getting Ruffled on Landing

As you can see, the light was pretty harsh on this day, with lots of texture in the well-trodden snow, but the detail in the feathers kind of makes up for that. It’s also nice to have a bit of a catch light in the crane’s eye, as we don’t always get that from this angle. We can move around to the right a little more, which I sometimes do if it looks like something is going to happen, but I prefer this location as I believe it generally gives a higher number of opportunities. I’d have been shooting this crane from behind if I was not where I was.

Ito Crane Sanctuary

Later in the day, we moved over to the Ito Crane Sanctuary, where we continued to get some lovely shots of these awesome avians. Depending on where you stand, and the luck of the draw, we sometimes find ourselves with a pretty low angle, shooting up at the birds slightly, which can be nice. As you can see in this image, it gives us a darker background for the birds, which I like to see some of the time. These two were doing a courtship dance on the hill at the sanctuary, with one of them getting slightly more excited than the other.

Crane Courtship

This was shot at 490 mm, and the crop is just to bring it to a 4:5 ratio, not actually cropping the height at all, so you can tell that we were relatively close. By comparison, the first image that we looked at was shot at 756 mm, using both the internal and an external 1.4X Extender on my 200-400mm lens.

Cranes' Song
Cranes’ Song

I am coincidentally thinking of selling this lens, now that Canon has announced their upcoming 100-500 mm RF mount lens. As much as I have enjoyed using the 200-400 mm lens, since the updated 100-400mm was released that’s generally all that I am taking with me overseas, so I’m now using the 200-400mm only on these trips, and only really for the cranes.

I imagine that the Extender that is also going to be released for the RF mount will also work well with the 100-500, for a total range of 140 to 700 mm, and that will make it a very versatile combination.

As an aside, I checked the focus distance used for this shot using Raw Digger and found the Focus Distance Upper to be 42.04 m and the Lower was 33.46 m. I checked because the back bird is quite soft, obviously out of the depth of field slightly. This is why I still shoot wildlife at around f/11, but it was still outside of that depth of field.

I went into Raw Digger for these distances, so that I could calculate the actual shooting distance, and see how much actual Depth of Field I have, using my Photographer’s Friend app. I found that I would have been focussed at 37 meters or 120 feet, but Canon’s depth of field is way off. I’d have needed to stop down my aperture to f/115 to get that amount of depth of field at 30 megapixels. Even if I turn off Pixel Peepers mode, and use the archaic 8 x 10 print at arm’s length calculation, I’d have needed f/56. I think I’ll contact a friend at Canon and see if I can get some light shed on how these calculations are being done, and why they are so far off.

I like the shot either way, and was happy to see catchlights again, but my mind wanders like this from time to time, which is probably a good thing, as it helps me to think of cool new features for my app. 🙂

One of the reasons I like the Ito Crane Sanctuary is because it has some very nice trees, in particular the tree that you can see in the background of this next image. Although the tree is not complete, I think it adds a nice additional element to this shot, as a crane flew into the sanctuary. I also like that we have a few flakes of snow in the air. We didn’t get very much snow falling on this trip, but to be able to see the air here is nice.

Crane and Tree
Crane and Tree

This is uncropped, and I like how the tree on the far right frames that edge of the image as well, so I’ve left the bird on the left third, which also makes us feel as though he’s leaving the frame. He may have been taking off, but from the pose, I think this one was gliding in because a take-off requires much more frantic flapping.

Here’s another image with the base of that tree, and the beautiful grasses around it, helping to give some context for this crane which has just landed and is arching its back, stretching his muscles to relieve the tension caused by flying. I do this sometimes when I stand up after sitting for a while, but I don’t look even a millionth as graceful as these guys.

Arched Back
Arched Back

I do like to see the animals in their environment like this as well. Again, it’s the warm winter that’s helping those grasses to show through as much as they are. Often times there is so much snow that they get mostly buried. That’s nice too of course, with just the tree sticking out of the deep snow.

The dancing continued, to the point that even whittling down my selects became quite a task, let alone deciding which shots to share here, but these next few are some of my favorites. Although you can’t see the head of the right crane, I really like the way these two birds are weaving around each other as they dance, and I especially like that you can see the pink on the bottom of the feet on that right crane. That’s not something we see often, so was nice to get a shot of here.

Pink Feet
Pink Feet

Flamenco Cranes

This next image is literally one of my favorites from the entire trip. These are the same two cranes, just two frames later, and actually still the same second as the previous image, so this is an extension of the previous pose, but now, to me, they look like two flamenco dancers striking the same pose but in reverse, again, weaving around each other in maybe a tango, rather than flamenco, but a passionate dance all the same.

Passionate Dance
Passionate Dance

The last shot from February 21 is this image, as a couple started to move in preparation for their dance. It’s obviously not the optimal dance moment, but I just like the poses, almost like a couple at a family wedding, getting up to dance having had too much to drink, knowing that they’ll regret it in the morning but they’re going to do it anyway. OK, so I may be reading too much into that, but I have a vivid imagination.

Wedding Dancers
Wedding Dancers

This final image for today is from the following morning before we moved on to photograph the Whooper Swans. I was hoping to catch the cranes with their breath highlighted by the in the morning light but unfortunately, it was cloudy. The cranes still have to breathe though, and the dark background at the top of this photograph helps us to see that breath in the chilly Hokkaido morning air.

Cranes' Breath
Cranes’ Breath

Shortly after this shot we boarded our big bus and headed north for a couple of hours to Lake Kussharo, where we’d start to photograph the Whooper Swans for a few days. Next week we’ll cover that, and then move on to the Sea Eagles to complete the tour and conclude all three of this year’s Japan Winter Tours.

If you’d like to join me on the 2022 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour, when we next have spaces available, please check out the tour page, and contact us if you’d like to be put on the waitlist for the 2021 tour.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

Show Notes

Check out my available tours here: https://mbp.ac/tours

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 1 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 697)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 1 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 697)

I’m sitting in my studio on the second day of March 2020, having just completed this year’s three Japan Winter Tours. Despite this being the warmest winter for 60 years, and having no snow for the Snow Monkeys on one of our visits, all in all, it turned out to be an awesome winter tour season, and I have around 550 images from the three tours that I absolutely love. It was not without its challenges, and a great deal of luck helped to provide me and my groups with opportunities that I feel incredibly grateful for, and I’m completely stoked that the participants on my tours managed to come away with many images that I know they’ll treasure as much as I do mine.

Choosing to update our iOS app Photographer’s Friend between the second and third tours was a silly decision to make at such a busy time for me, but the changes I made were well worth it, and I’ve just finished writing an email to a user that helped me to think of another tweak that I’m now itching to code, but I’m going to try my best not to let that rule me too much over the next few weeks, and my goal is to put out at least five episodes of the podcast this month, to make up for only releasing two each month for January and February, as I am committed to releasing a minimum of three per month for our MBP Pro members, so let’s get to it.

Whooper Swans

We pick up the trail on February 2, as we arrived at Lake Kussharo to photograph the Whooper Swans. In this first image for today, we see one of the parents leading in four cygnets, as they flew to the area where the beach is warm and the lake is usually thawed there for a strip, from geothermal activity. It’s nice to see the swans raising such large families. Four is, I think, the most I’ve seen in one family here in Japan, though I have seen two adults with seven cygnets in a remove lake in Iceland, in 2015 or thereabouts.

Four Whooper Swan Cygnets with Parent
Four Whooper Swan Cygnets with Parent flying in to Sunayu at Kussharo Lake

Usually, these birds would land either on the ice of the frozen lake, or in the thin strip of water thawed by the geothermal activity, but with this year having been warmer than usual the lake was only frozen in the shaded corner that we visited first, and as you see in this next image, it was not frozen at all at this location. This is only the third time I’ve known the lake to be not frozen like this in the 17 years that I’ve been visiting Hokkaido in the winter. As I often say though, I enjoy making the most of the new opportunities we are presented with as the status quo shifts, and I can’t help but think that this kind of winter going to be less of an exception as global warming seems to be digging its claws into the planet.

Swans on Kussharo Lake
Swans on the Unfrozen Kussharo Lake

For this shot, I pulled back on my Canon EF 100-400mm lens opening it up to 100mm to include the wider group of birds, but also pointed the camera upwards slightly, to include the top of the mountains on the far side of the lake. We also have that band of shimmering light along the horizon line that we often see caused by the cold air above the lake.

In case you missed this, I’m no longer calling out all of my camera settings, because the Meow Lightbox software that I’m using now displays this when you click on the images, and they just released an update that makes it even prettier than before, so don’t forget to click on the images and take a look whenever you want to see the settings I used when shooting.

We also did our usual panning, with a 1/50 of a second shutter speed to capture the movement in the wings of these beautiful birds as they take off from the lake. This image is one of my favorites from Tour #1. The head is slightly soft, but I love the look of the wings in this shot, and the wake in the water as the swan runs through it really appeals to me.

Swan Wings
A Whooper Swan stretching its wings upwards

There was also a bit of the warm light of the sunset reflecting in the water, giving it a pinkish color, and the top of the frame is slightly darkened from the reflection of the mountains on the distant shore of the lake, and that helps to keep the eye in the image.

Apocalyptic Fumaroles

We cut our swan time a little short on this trip so that we could spend more time with the cranes as we’d been delayed in Tokyo due to bad weather in Hokkaido, so we’ll move on now, to the last major leg of the tour, as we move to the fishing town of Rausu, for the sea eagles. As usual though, on our way out of town, we stopped briefly at Iouzan, or Sulphur Mountain, for our group photo and to quickly shoot the apocalyptic fumaroles there.

Sulphur Mountain Fumarole
A Fumarole at Iouzan (Sulphur Mountain)

There was only a slight breeze when we visited, so the steam hung around for longer than usual, making the timing more critical, to enable us to actually get a view of the sulfur-stained fumaroles.

As I prepared for this episode I looked through my sea eagle shots and found myself left with 160 images that I’d be happy to share. It was a bumper crop for sure. Out of these I selected my favorites, and still found myself with 36 photos. I don’t want to bore you with shot after shot of sea eagles, as magnificent a bird as they are, so I’ll skip the first day of eagles, and we’ll come back to them in a moment.

Northern Red Fox

On our second visit to the Notsuke Peninsula while in Rausu, we were able to photograph this beautiful proud looking Northern Red Fox sittings on top of some tetrapods. This is one of the only fox photos from both trips that I was happy with. I like the almost coordinated dried flowers against the patch of snow, and the nice clean coat on the fox is nice too.

Proud Red Fox
A northern red fox on tetrapods

I’m not sure if it’s some sort of mange, but many of the foxes on the peninsula currently have no fur on their tails or just a tuft on the end, so we found ourselves giving them names like pencil-tail and pipe-cleaner, which is kind of sad.

Steller’s Sea Eagles

The following morning we went out on the new boat that the company we use had just put into service, which was quite an honor. The owner of the company had rushed things through so that we could be first. The dawn shoot is when the eagles are most hungry, although it does leave us somewhat short of light, so much of the work is done with high ISO, starting at 6400 or sometimes higher, but then quickly trying to bring that down while increasing the shutter speed to 1/1600 to freeze the action. Ideally, I like a slightly deeper depth of field, but f/8 is just about enough to get the bulk of the bird in focus.

One Talon Catch
A Steller’s Sea Eagle plucking a fish from the sea with one talon

The catch, with the splash of water, as the fish is pulled from the sea is one of my favorite shots, but I also really like the pose in this next image, as the Steller’s Sea Eagle approaches the fix and raises his talons at the last moment. This is probably one of the most difficult images to get with the EOS R because the frame rate is too slow to rely on simply mashing down on the shutter button, hoping to capture this moment in a burst. I literally have to watch and release the shutter as this happens, so most of the time this is the first shot I get, followed by something like the previous shot.

Talons Out
A Steller’s Sea Eagle with Talons out for the fish

Without doubt, my favorite photograph of the trip is this next one, which I shot at the end of the third eagle shoot on the third and final day in Rausu, We pulled the boat up alongside the quay wall, and because that has snow on it, the light is bounced back up onto the underside of the eagles putting them in beautiful light. I was really close to the bottom of the tail in this shot, so I’ve cropped it in a little from the top too, to balance it out, but I love the detail in this image, and how the flight feathers are spread as he tries to control his flight so close to the wall.

Menacing Steller's Sea Eagle
A Steller’s Sea flying above the harbor wall in Rausu

White-Tailed Eagle

I find myself drawn towards the Steller’s Sea Eagle, as it really is an awesome looking bird, but we’ll wrap up the sea eagle shots with this one of the White-Tailed Eagle, also above the quay wall moments later, as he swoops down to grab the fish that the boat operators threw up onto the wall to attract the eagles. I like how the fine falling snow is visible in this shot, and I love how we can see the faint shadow of the eagle cast into the snow below it.

White-Tailed Eagle Swooping Down
White-Tailed Eagle Swooping Down on a fish on the quay wall

Oshin Koshin Falls

After our final eagle shoot, we checked out of our hotel, and made our way around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula and back up to Utoro on the other side, for our final night, and a bit of relaxing landscape work before we fly home. Here is one of the shots of the top of the Oshin Koshin Falls.

Oshin Koshin Falls
The Top of the Oshin Koshin Falls

I often make my photos of these falls black and white, because there is usually a lot of black rock showing through, but on this visit, the back of the falls was also frozen, and perhaps is was the light bouncing around from that ice, but the ice around the falls was glowing with a beautiful faint glacial blue that I had also not seen before, and I certainly didn’t want to remove, so this year’s shot stays in color.

Participant’s Comments

As usual, I recorded a comment from each of the participants as we ended this tour, which I included in the audio, starting at around 10:33. You can listen using the player at the top of this post. We’ll continue our travelogue series next week, as we embark on my second Japan Winter Wildlife Tour for 2020.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2022 Now Open for Bookings

This year was actually the last time for now that I planned to run the second tour that we’ll talk about next week because some of the locations that we visit are now so crowded that I don’t think it really works at the moment. Because of that, the one trip that I am planning in 2021 is already full, and I have now started to take bookings for the 2022 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshop.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

I will decide whether to make the third Japan Winter Tour a wildlife or a landscape trip based on information I gather in the coming months, but I am doubtful that it will be a wildlife tour, so if you would like to join me in Japan for the winter wildlife, please check out the details of the 2022 tour here. If you are reading this way into the future, check for the most recent available tours in the Tour & Workshops menu at the top of this page.


Show Notes

Check out the 2022 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour here: https://mbp.ac/ww2022

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 695)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 695)

This week we conclude our three-part series to walk you through our antics as I traveled with a wonderful group of photographers on my 2020 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Tour.

As with previous days, we were lucky to get a flurry of snow to cover the ground sufficiently to provide the beautiful scenes that we were hoping for, and that I’d been concerned that we might not get, with us having the warmest winter for 60 years this year. Having just gotten back from the first of my Japan Wildlife trips in Hokkaido, I’m happy to say that we had a cold front come in for most of the time we were up there, and there’s another forecast for next week when I set out for my third and final Japan trip of the year.

We pick up the trail on day eight of my Landscape Tour today though, as we left Wakkanai and headed first for the fishing ports near Cape Souya, and the northern-most tip of Japan, so let’s look at a shot from there to start with. As you can see, the snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough, and quite clean at this spot too, without much grass showing through.

Souya Harbor Boats 2020
Souya Harbor Boats 2020

I’ve processed most of my images from this trip in black and white, as I feel that it suits the subject matter most of the time. I also like to see a little conformity in the sets of images that I come back from these trips with, although as we’ll see later, there were a few shots towards the end of the trip that, in my opinion, worked better in color.

The next photograph, on the other hand, was shot on medium format black and white film, so I don’t really have a choice, but I think these images suit the Hokkaido Landscape work really well. For this I used an ND400 which gives me 8.6 stops of darkness for a 60-second exposure at f/16, to enable me to smooth over the sea like this. I had an ND8 and ND400 filter custom made here in Japan, to fit on the bayonet filter holder on my Rolleiflex to make this possible.

Sawaki Port Tetrapods
Sawaki Port Tetrapods

There’s a little more grain in the sky than I’d like, but I was just about getting to grips with the Rodinal developer chemicals by this point, and the SilverFast scanning software that I have also been using on recommendation is producing grainier scans than I’d like, but I guess this is more natural grain in the film, and my Canon scanning software is cleaning that up more, rather than SilverFast introducing it. Still, the six rolls of film that I developed and scanned during my week at home between the two trips was probably the biggest learning experience since I started shooting and developing my own film again a few months ago.

Shortly after the previous shot, at the end of day eight, I shot this image on the same beach, this time with my EOS R and, if I recall correctly, by this time, it was dark enough to give me a 2-second exposure without any filters on. I used a Bluetooth remote for my camera to time my shots perfectly for the drawing out of the waves, as this gives better texture and patterns in the water than the waves coming in.

Sawaki Port Rocks and Sea
Sawaki Port Rocks and Sea

These shots don’t all work, but if you shoot a number of them, you can start to see how the waves and timing affect the shots, and then select the most pleasing one later. That’s certainly something that I want to be doing more with digital than with my film camera, although I will probably experiment more when I’m back out by myself, rather than with my wonderful group on a workshop.

The following morning, back in the port on day nine, the tide was further out, and there was a coating of frost on all of the rocks, so I got down low for this next shot, shortly after the sun had risen. With the sun’s disk in the frame, I allowed it to overexpose slightly, as did a little of the water with the sun reflecting on it, but at that exposure, the dynamic range of my camera was plenty to still capture lots of shadow detail, without any part of the scene completely plugging up and going full black.

Sawaki Port at Sunrise
Sawaki Port at Sunrise

I spend a lot of time on my tours talking about exposure, and this is one of the best landscape locations to illustrate the benefits of Exposing to the Right, both for image quality, but also to protect the shadows in a wide tonal range scene like this. I covered this in detail in Episode 503, in which I covered using the Zone System for digital photography.

As we drew closer to the time that we were planning to leave the beach, we noticed some pancake ice forming on the surface of the sea, so I grabbed a number of shots with the three tetrapod pyramid tops sticking out the water, as you can see here.

Pancake Ice and Tetrapods
Pancake Ice and Tetrapods

It’s a cool phenomenon, as the sea starts to freeze and form the little circles of ice. It didn’t feel cold enough for this to form, but I guess that’s because we are all wrapped up to protect ourselves from the elements. Plus, I warm up a great deal when I’m photographing things, as opposed to just standing around in the cold. Later in the day, we went for a drive around the area but the warm winter was not helping with the landscape, so we went back to the hotel and did a few hours of workshops, before heading back down into the port for another quick shoot before the sun went down.

The following morning though, the snow came to our rescue, so we initially photographed the port one last time for this trip, as it was presenting us with a slightly different opportunity with the snow-covered tetrapods that you see here. Ideally, I’d have moved to my right a little more here to get better separation between the two tetrapods near the middle of the frame, but one of my guests was in that spot, and the guests always take preference. It’s fine though, and I still really like this shot.

Snow, Rocks and Tetrapods
Snow, Rocks and Tetrapods

The snow running right down to the water’s edge shows how calm the sea was on this final visit, and that also allowed the snow to settle on the tetrapods and rocks rather than being washed away, which is what usually happens.

We were planning to move on to our final location for the last two days of the tour, but there was no way we’d have gotten out of town without spending more time shooting the beautiful scenes that the previous day had not delivered, and you can see what I mean in this next image. This is not hoar frost, although it looks like it. I’ve seen this happen before at this location a few years ago, so I’d had my fingers crossed.

Okoppe Winter Wonderland
Okoppe Winter Wonderland

It’s very fine snow that has stuck to the trees and coated the land and other foliage. The bamboo grasses in the foreground give you an idea of what I mean too. On the previous day the soil had been showing through on the fields, and the trees were black and pretty bleak. This Winter Wonderland-style scene, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that I love to encounter on this trip, and we were fortunate to get this on this visit, with it being so warm compared to most other years.

The snow started to melt off the trees relatively quickly, so this is one of the last shots I got from this morning, of a silo in a farmer’s field, albeit a little bit of a Christmas Card type of a scene, and I mean that in a somewhat negative sense. Still, it’s a pleasing shot and helps to illustrate the conditions, so I thought I’d include this before we move on.

Okoppe Silo
Okoppe Silo

Note that these two images are some of the few that I left in color, as I mentioned earlier because I really felt that their color added something to the images. I used to remove the color in images when it got in the way, but for a number of years now, especially with this trip, my default is to convert to black and white, and I only leave images in color when I feel that the color is adding something to the scene.

It was back to fishing boats for much of the last two days of the trip, as we visited a fishing port on the Saroma Lake. We had a smattering of snow again, helping to clean things up, and I loved the sky that we had on our first visit, as you can see here.

Toetoko Fishing Boats
Fishing Boats brought up on land for the winter at Toetoko Port

This once again shows how useful it is to Expose to the Right, to control the highlights and protect the shadows. Without using this technique, which you can read about more in Episode 381, the shadows fall too dark to give much definition. By using this technique, the boats come out of the shadows easily with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro and Lightroom etc.

Participants’ Comments

As has become tradition, at the end of each tour, I record a comment from each of the participants, which I will play you now, in the audio for this post. If you want to hear what people said about the tour, please listen with the audio player above. The comments start at 10:23.

We are going to conclude this travelogue series with what I believe is a fitting film shot, of the boats at the same fishing port. Again, I’m really happy that the film I’m using, which for this trip turned out to be exclusively Rollei RPX 100, is giving me such similar results to how I process my digital work in black and white. Apart from the square format and more apparent grain, these images feel very similar to me, and shooting film on this trip was a lot of fun.

Boats on Film
Toetoko Fishing Boats shot with the Rolleiflex 3.5F

I actually thought that I’d need to mollycoddle my now 55-year-old Rolleiflex, to protect it from the elements, but having gotten it wet on a number of occasions, although I did wipe it down, I’m happy to report that it did not rust, and is still as shiny as ever. a True tribute to German craftsmanship. Note that I have used my new script for assigning and updating the EXIF data on my scanned film, so if you click on these images you’ll see the shooting information, just like my digitally shot images. I have a few more tweaks to make, but I hope to be able to share that in March when the dust settles after my winter tours.

I’ve also spent the last few days working on an update to my Photographer’s Friend app for iOS. I was contacted with a request to add a couple of medium format sensor sizes between 35mm and the 645 format, which I’ve done. In the process though, I updated the app to the latest version of Swift, the programing language used to create it, and then decided to add a Light and Dark theme throughout the app, and a few other tweaks.

If I can overcome a few remaining issues that I’m working on, I hope to submit the update to Apple before leaving for my third trip of the season next weekend, so stay tuned for that if you have version three of the Photographer’s Friend, as it will be a free update. I will not be updating version two, and you can see which you have by tapping on the About Photographer’s Friend link at the bottom of the Help menu.

One other thing to keep your eyes out for is that although the night view has been replaced by the more comprehensive dark theme, you can still switch themes easily by simply shaking your device, and that’s useful if you are using the app at night and want to protect your night vision. I also think that the dark theme looks great anyway. By default, Photographer’s Friend will now simply follow your system preferences unless you shake it.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour

We’ll wrap it up there for this week though. If you are interested in joining the Landscape tour in 2021 or future years, check out the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2021
Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2021

Show Notes

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

Check out our Photographer’s Friend App for iOS here: https://mbp.ac/app

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 694)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 694)

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

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

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

Question from Paulo Silva

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Coast

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

Torii Gate at Dusk
Torii Gate at Dusk

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

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

Icy Tetrapods
Icy Tetrapods

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

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

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

Sugar Coated Beach
Sugar Coated Beach

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

Three Types of Tetrapods
Three Types of Tetrapods

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

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

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

Noshappu Fishing Boats
Noshappu Fishing Boats

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

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

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

Line of Boats at Noshappu
Line of Boats at Noshappu

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

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

Boat Graveyard with Wild Sky
Boat Graveyard with Wild Sky

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

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

Second Boat Graveyard
Second Boat Graveyard

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

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

Boat Cabins
Boat Cabins

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

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

Fish Drying Frames
Fish Drying Frames

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

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

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour

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


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.