Snow-less Monkeys – A Summer Visit Travelogue (Podcast 480)

Snow-less Monkeys – A Summer Visit Travelogue (Podcast 480)

A few weeks ago, I took my new Canon EOS 5Ds R over to the Monkey Park at Jigokudani, where we photograph the Snow Monkeys for the first three days on my Winter Wonderland Tours. This though was the first time I’ve visited during the summer, so the now Snow-less Monkeys showed me a very different face, making it an almost magical visit, in a different way to my winter experiences.

This was also the first time I’ve visited the snow monkeys alone. Even on my first reconnaissance visit, I went with a couple of friends, so as much as I love taking my winter groups there, it made a change to be there alone. Also, because of the lack of the snow, there were very few visitors in the park. This is totally understandable, as the winter is spectacular, but the summer should not be discounted, as we’ll see through the photographs that I’ll walk you through today in this travelogue style episode.

I’d been hoping to visit the snow monkeys during the summer for a while now, because the new babies are born in May, and I really wanted to photograph them while they are still very small. Each year I seem to be too busy to get over there, but with the release of the Canon EOS 5Ds R and my need to shoot some test shots, I thought this would be a good opportunity to see how the long lenses fared with this new ultra-high resolution camera. You can see my review of this camera in Episode 478, including some 100% crop images from this series, so I won’t go into much detail about the camera today.

Jigokudani, which translates to Hell Valley, is up the mountains in Nagano prefecture, about a 4 hour drive north-west of Tokyo. I left early on the morning of June 22 (2015) and after grabbing some lunch on the way, I arrived shortly after noon and started shooting.

In the winter time, especially when the weather starts to close in, the snow monkeys crowd into the hot spring pool to keep warm. Not surprisingly, in the summer, when the temperatures start to rise, there isn’t really any need to bath to keep warm, but it was nice to see a few monkeys going in and out and the pool during my time in the park.

In many ways, the mother monkeys show a lot of affection for their young, but in some ways, there’s a lot of tough love going around as well, as I witnessed as this mother carrying her sleepy baby under here belly walked straight into the pool with him still down there. The baby quickly clambered up onto her back, but looked a little bewildered for a while as he regained his sense of place.

Six Week Snow Monkey on Mother's Back

Six Week Snow Monkey on Mother’s Back

This was shot with the 100-400mm Mark II lens at 400mm, f/5.6 for 1/500 of a second at ISO 200. Again,  although I’m not going to go into much detail about the 5Ds R today, this is the time that I started to realize that shooting hand-held with long lenses at this resolution is absolutely possible. Even at 100% these images are tack sharp, as I showed in my review.

Another obvious difference in my photos from this visit is the present of green. Even in this first image, the water is green as it reflects the color of the lush green foliage from around the pool. In this next photo (below) it was also strange for me to capture green leaves near the baby monkey, although it isn’t anywhere near as pretty in this photo as when the monkeys are surrounded by snow.

Who Me!?

Who Me!?

I really liked the pose in this photo, as though the baby monkey has been caught doing something he shouldn’t be, with that very human “Who me?” pose. This was also shot at 400mm, with a 1/500 of second exposure at f/8, ISO 400.

Drowsy Six Week Old Snow Monkey

Drowsy Six Week Old Snow Monkey

Next up, is probably my favorite snow monkey photo from this visit. This six week old snow monkey stopped for a moment during his play, and looked over towards me, but with such a cute out or sorts kind of look on his face, so I couldn’t help capturing this image (right).

The monkey’s half coconut mouths are still made of incredibly pink, soft skin at this age, and make you just want to reach out and scrumple it up, like a kitten.

The pixie-like ears are lovely too, but here those dopy looking eyes just stole my heart. For the last six months my photo of the yawning red fox from Hokkaido has been on my iPhone lock-screen, but now I’ve changed it for this photo, so I get to smile now every time I unlock my phone. 🙂

Once again, this was shot hand-held at 400mm, 1/500 of a second, f/5.6 at ISO 400.

Aaaaaaah!

Aaaaaaah!

I struggled with the decision of which of a series from around this next photo I would include in this episode. There was a mother grooming a baby, and pulling her face in all directions.

Some of them had the older sibling looking on, much as a small human child might watch mother tending a new born baby, and others such as this shot, the year old sibling was just going about their business to the right.

I chose this shot though, as this was the point when the baby seemed to lose her ability to simply bear being tugged around, and opened her mouth showing her discomfort.

The light had dropped a little at this point, so I had increased the ISO to 1000, still shooting at 1/500 of a second, at f/6.3, and now using the 200-400mm lens with the built-in extender engaged at 442mm. This is a big lens though, so I was now also using a tripod with a gimbal head.

I composed this next photo much tighter. I often like to include the mother’s face too, but here I wanted just the baby to be the main subject. Again, I like the hand position here, with the left hand kind of shielding her head and the right hand clutching firmly on her mother’s furry arm. This photo to me is more about the vulnerability of these six week old babies. I shot this at 1/250 of a second, f/6.3, ISO 640 at 490mm.

Six Week Old Snow Monkey

Six Week Old Snow Monkey

Six Week Old Snow Monkey in Mother's Arms

Six Week Old Snow Monkey in Mother’s Arms

I also find it interesting that many of the babies showed large patches of black skin below their still very thin fur. I didn’t realise that they had these markings as you can’t see this once the fur has grown more later in the year.

This next image (right) is another favorite. Again a somewhat vulnerable pose, but just look at he affection shown for the baby by the mother, by the way she’s holding the baby’s face!

I’ve said before, that I know this is anthropomorphic, I tend to personify pretty much everything, including inanimate objects, but with these guys being so like us, it’s hard not to do this.

I shot this at 1/160 of a second, f/6.3, ISO 640 at 560mm. I actually over-exposed the fur on the mother’s head here, so that I could get a good exposure on the baby’s face which was in deep shadow otherwise.

The mother’s tend to keep their new baby’s quite close to them sometimes, but they also simply let them run around and play with other babies as well, and I caught two of them keeping each other company in this next photograph (below). Again, I just want to scrunch their mouths up, they’re so cute! It might not come across well in these photos, but these little guys are probably only around 20 centimeters tall when they’re sitting down like this, so the palm of my hand would envelop their entire face and head, so it wouldn’t really work, but I’d love to give it a try.

Two Baby Snow Monkeys

Two Baby Snow Monkeys

Of course, you’re not allowed to touch the snow monkeys. It’s OK if they touch you though. At one point, I sat down on a bench that they have out during the summer, and felt something tugging on my photographers vest. One of these babies had jumped up on the bench beside me and was tugging at the straps on the side of my vest. After a while he turned around and started playing with my camera bag, then a year old monkey came flying out of the rocks and pulled the baby off the bench and started play-fighting with it in the dirt below. I have some video of this that I might include in a slideshow at some point if it works. This photo (above) was shot at 1/320 of a second, f/8, ISO 800 at 560mm.

The park closes at 5pm which left me with a couple of hours before it would get dark, and I’d booked into a cheap business hotel in a nearby town, so I’d grab something for dinner at the convenience store on my way there later, and this gave me a couple of hours before it got dark, which I used to drive up to the Shigakougen highlands, and do some landscape work after this. I went back their on the afternoon of the second day too, so I’ll report on the landscape work I did during this trip in the next episode.

Next up, here’s something that you don’t see in the winter either, from the morning of the following day, June 23 (2015). When it’s cold the monkey’s sit in the snow with there bony behinds, to keep the contact area with the cold snow to a minimum. In early summer though, these rocks were probably quite a comfortable temperature for them, as I saw them lying around on the rocks quite a lot. I thought it was so cute that this baby decided to have a feed as him mum chilled out on the rocks though (below). I shot this at 1/400, f/7.1, ISO 800 at 400mm.

Baby Snow Monkey Feeding as Mother Lays Down

Baby Snow Monkey Feeding as Mother Lays Down

One thing that I wanted to do while I was here during the summer is get a shot of the monkeys with the fresh summer greenery in the background. Unfortunately I didn’t see any mother’s with their new babies in this environment–they all seems to be hanging out close to the hot spring pool–but I kind of like this shot of a mother with a year old youngster and the green background. You just can’t get this sort of image in the winter when the valley walls are covered in snow. Of course, I prefer the winter. The snow puts these monkeys in an incredibly beautiful environment, but this is something different (below). Shot at 1/250 of a second, f/8, ISO 400 at 200mm.

Young Snow Monkey with Mother

Young Snow Monkey with Mother

White Baby Snow Monkey

White Baby Snow Monkey

There was one mother that seemed to be keeping her new-born very close to her, and that was this one, that had given birth to an almost totally white baby (right).

She let the baby move up to a foot or so away from her a few times, and I shared one of those photos in my 5Ds R review, but photographically, I wasn’t able to really capture anything that I liked of this baby.

I’m sharing this one as our last image for this week, as I wanted to include it as a record, because this is quite a strange phenomenon. The baby isn’t albino. It has pigment in it’s eyes and some black patches of skin like the others, but it’s fur is just almost totally white.

Apparently there was a pale colored monkey born last year too, but it reverted to the normal coloring before the winter came, so this may be the only time we’ll see this. I’ll certainly keep my eye out for this little monkey during our 2016 Winter Wonderland Tours though.

It was a pleasure to spend time with the snow monkeys over these two days in the summer months. I still prefer the winter, but there were plenty of photographic opportunities at this time of year too, and this is of course the only time that you can see the new-born babies, as they’re much bigger when we visit in winter, although they’re still as cute as can be. 🙂

Like I say, I’ll share some landscape work from the Shigakougen (Highlands) next week. I actually ended up shooting some stitched panoramas with the new 5Ds R, giving me image over 140 megapixels that can be printed at 24 x 43 inches at 450 ppi, which I’m hoping to do soon, as I can free up some time. Stay tuned for a report on these things if you are interested.


Show Notes

Pick up a Canon EOS 5Ds R from B&H Photo here: https://mbp.ac/bh5ds

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Podcast 326 : 2012 Snow Monkey & Hokkaido Tour/Workshop #1

Podcast 326 : 2012 Snow Monkey & Hokkaido Tour/Workshop #1

From Feb 13 to 24, 2012, we took a group of photographers to Nagano to photograph the amazing Snow Monkeys for three days, and then on to Hokkaido for a further nine days. This was the fifth iteration of my now very popular Winter Wildlife Wonderland tour here in Japan, and today and then again next week, I’m going to take you through some of the photographs that I came back with.

In previous years, I’ve gone through a blow by blow account of our entire trip, usually requiring a three or four episode series of Podcasts to get through it, but the content of our trip this year was pretty much exactly the same as 2011, so I’m going to make this a two part series, and we’re going to concentrate on just 12 of my images each week, and just touch on the location details as necessary. If you want to here more detail about the locations, do go back and listen to episodes 279, 281 and 282 from 2011 as well.

Before we jump in and start looking at the photos, here are a few statistics about my editing process. This photography adventure has us shooting wildlife or landscapes from dawn ’til dusk some days, and shooting for at least 5 hours a day, even on the short days, so we come back with a lot of photographs. I shot just over 7,000 images and I’ve been to these locations more times than I can remember. I don’t shoot any where near as much as some of the participants for who are on their first visit.

I won’t go into detail on the actual rating system that I use, as I’ve covered this in other episodes, but basically, I go through my images in Lightroom, and give 4 stars to anything that’s good enough to publish and hit the X key to reject anything that was either technically faulted, as in blurred, or not exposed how I’d intended it to be, and I also delete perfectly good images, if I was shooting in burst mode and ended up with many images of the same subject. With wildlife, as a bird is flapping its wings for example, you often use burst mode more than for other more controlled subject types, simply because you’re trying to capture the best or most pleasing wing position. The same goes with the Snow Monkeys for example, as they have incredibly expressive faces, and you want to be able to capture a few variations and pick the best later. So, by the time I’d finished deleting images on my first kull, I was down to 4,500 images and 417 that had 4 stars against them.

The 417 images that I’d initially chose were selected as much as possible down to just a few of each subject. For example, I might have 10 frames of a certain subject doing a certain activity, like Snow Monkeys in a huddle, but from that, I’ll only select the stronger compositions, and images that I also don’t have in my library from previous years. There’s not much point in reposting something almost identical to my previous work. Of course, if you are shooting with a higher resolution camera, there is merit in replacing images from previous trips, but I was back there with the same cameras that I’ve been shooting these locations with for the last three years or so, so that isn’t going to be the case.

Then, I spent the next week after getting back from the tour, going through my selection numerous times, weeding out the lesser images, until by March 4, I was down to 120 images. This was still way too many to show people though, so I continued to work through my images each day until I reached a tight edit of 60 images on March 9. This can be an agonizing process, and I kicked out a whole bunch of images that I really liked, but that just didn’t add anything to my image library, and I want to show the minimum number of images possible, so as to keep my audience engaged. Even sixty would be too many images for a portfolio of course, but that’s not what I’m creating here.

Anyway, once I had my 60 finalists, I uploaded them to my gallery, and to Flickr, and a smaller selection was added to Google+, so some of you will have already seen these, but let’s jump in and start to look at a very tight edit of my final selection. First, let’s look at a couple of Snow Monkey shots, the first of which is this huddle of five monkeys.

Five Monkeys

Five Monkeys

Here there was a group including the alpha male, three of the wives probably from his harem, and a youngster. They were huddled in this way on top of a box, which is one of the reasons why I cropped in tightly like this for this image, to exclude the box, and this is kind of an important lesson here. Some people will choose to include the box and that’s fine, but I usually try to exclude that sort of thing. But even if that had not been the case, you often find that a tight crop can enhance an image anyway, so it’s always worth bearing in mind.

I also chose to photograph the monkeys at this time because they were all looking this way, with the one on the left almost looking directly at the camera. These Japanese Macaques have such expressive almost human eyes, that really pull you into an image. I think the eyes add so much to this image, that I included it in my set, despite the large dark patch above the monkey’s heads. I would have much preferred it if I could have gotten a white background all across the top, but it wasn’t possible from any angle, unless I’d grown by a foot or so.

I found another huddle though, again on top of a wooden box, but this one did have a white background, so I really like this next shot too, especially as the two monkeys in the middle were huddling around a baby, who’s face we can just see poking out from between them. This again adds so much to an image in my opinion.

Five Monkeys

Five Monkeys

Note that I lightened the baby’s face by about half a stop of exposure in Lightroom, by brushing it on with the Local Adjustments tool. This just helps to bring out the face a little more, as it was quite dark there, in between the two adults. By the way, the main lenses I use at the Snow Monkeys are my 24-70 and 70-200mm lenses. You are very close to the monkeys. So close in fact that you have to be careful not to touch them when shooting by the pool, and these two shots were made at 200mm and 165mm respectively.

I only posted one monkey shot where they were actually in the water in the hot spring bath at this location, mainly because space is limited down by the pool, and I didn’t spend much time down there, preferring to allow as many of my group to go down there as possible. I’ve posted lots of these kind of photos from previous years, so the few that I did get, weren’t really going to add anything to my image library.

Japanese Serow

Japanese Serow

Most years while we’re at the Snow Monkeys location, we see a Japanese Serow, which is a type of antelope, high on the valley side, and I’ve photographed him many times, but until this year, I have never gotten any photographs that I really liked, because the background has been too messy, or his pose was just not very interesting. This year though, I was happy to get three shots that I really do like of the Japanese Serow, and this is the one with the best background, and the pose isn’t bad either.

These are curious looking animals, with their ten centimeter or so horns, that you can actually see better in the other two shots, but can just make out in this shot too. Their thick set and coat make them look quite bulky, which they need to be to get through these harsh winters, but they’re still quite a nice animal to shoot. This by the way was shot with my 300mm F2.8 lens, with the 1.4X Extender fitted.

After the first three days with the Snow Monkeys, we flew up to Hokkaido, and for the first few days, we were shooting most of the day at the Akan International Crane Center, but again, since I’ve shot there so many times already, I have to get something that beats my previous year’s images to make it worth showing, and one that I was happy with was not of the cranes, but the White-Tailed Eagles that come in at 2PM to steal the fish that are thrown out for the cranes. I got two frames of a pair of eagles either fighting, or courting, it’s sometimes hard to tell, and this is the second of the two images. I posted the first in my gallery too, showing the eagle flipped over and the other zooming in on him, and this second frame shows them just after they’ve past each other.

Near Miss

Near Miss

I shot this one with my 5D Mark II and the 300mm F2.8 lens with the 1.4X Extender fitted again, but as these guys were quite a way off, I’ve had to crop this one a little more than I usually like to, but I’ve still got enough resolution to do a 13×19″ print, which is about as much as I can stand to crop, but I had no control over how far away the eagles would be when they did this of course, so I have to live with it.

In this next shot, a single White-Tailed Eagle came much closer, and although I have lots of shots of these beautiful birds in flight, I chose to keep this one in because I really like the wing shape here.

White-Tailed Eagle

White-Tailed Eagle

This is also one of the only locations where I often find myself including a bright blue sky in my shots. I’m not partial to blue skies, but this place usually gives me some nice eagle and crane shots where I think the sky really adds to the images. This was shot with the 300mm without the extender, but on the 1D Mark IV and was only cropped very slightly this time.

If you’ve been following this Podcast for a while, you’ll probably remember my Distant Dance photo from February 2008, which was the first time I took a workshop group to Hokkaido, and we visited the Otowa Bridge, in the hope of it being cold enough, and the air still enough, for there to be frost on the trees, and mist over the river. Well, on that first visit, it happened, and was magical, but although we’ve had year’s when it was still quite pretty out there, it didn’t happen again quite the same for the following three years.

I’ve been praying for frost and mist before each trip ever since, and I think my prayers were answered a little too much, at least for the first few hours at the bridge this year. As the sun rose, and convection kicked it, the temperature dropped from -21°C to -26°C, and there was no wind at all, but with temperatures this low, although the trees were beautiful, there was actually too much mist to be able to see the cranes in the river.

In this shot, you can see just how beautiful the scene was, and luckily there were three swans in the foreground to add interest, but you’d never know looking at this shot that there were around 200 majestic red-crowned cranes sleeping in the river, shrouded by the mist.

Dawn on the River

Dawn on the River

This is a stitched panorama, shot at 300mm on the 1Ds Mark III, so a relatively wide shot. Of course, I really like this shot too. It’s a beautiful scene unto itself, and if you look really closely, you can actually see some of the cranes in the left side of the image in the mist. Note by the way, if you expand your browser window as wide as possible and click on the images, you can view them at 1280 pixels wide, which will hopefully enable you to appreciate the detail more.

Here’s another photo of the swans from the last image, but this time shot at 600mm, so that you can see more detail in the trees to the right of the scene, and the layers formed by that beautiful mist. I know that it’s difficult to make out three swans here, but basically it’s two swans with their heads under their wings sleeping, with one in the middle with his head up.

Misty Awakening

Misty Awakening

It’s important to note here too that I was shooting in manual mode, with the meter showing the image over-exposed by around two stops. If I left it to my camera, with the current metering system, it would have been rendered much darker, and no where near as beautiful and delicate as this. This may well change with the RGB aware metering in the 5D Mark III and 1D X that will be with us shortly, but for now, this is a big issue to keep in mind in these locations.

There was a couple of hours after sunrise where the mist was simply too thick to see the cranes in the distance, and also with it being so cold, the cranes took their time livening up and moving around. That was a bit of a blessing in disguise, as it would have been totally frustrating if we could hear the cranes honking and dancing but not be able to see them. Fortunately though, the mist did start to clear at around 8:15, and we were able to get some very atmospheric shots, like this one, where you can perhaps make out two cranes honking in the middle of the frame, with a flock of pintail ducks flying over their heads.

Song For The Pintails

Song For The Pintails

This again is a stitch, to extend the image over to the right a little. I made a note to continue to shoot multiple images across the scene once I’d shot something that I thought might work, and I was pleased that I did. I ended up with some very wide panoramas, that I’m looking forward to printing, but for the Web let’s look at one more that’s wide, but not the widest.

Short Flight (Panorama)

Short Flight (Panorama)

Here I noticed a crane taking a short flight from one part of the river to another, and grabbed a couple of frames, then again, ran across the scene for a few more frames, to enable me to make a panorama. I actually posted just the single image with the crane in flight as well as this panorama, to give me more printing options, but I prefer these wide versions, especially with large prints in mind.

After an amazing few hours at the Otowa Bridge, which incidentally translates to “The Sound of Wings Bridge”, we went for breakfast, then back to the Crane Center. Here’s one of the images that I got of the cranes that I simply could not throw out. The orthodox photographer in me wanted to throw this out, because there was too little space left on the left side of the frame.

See Ya!

See Ya!

Basically this was one of those shots where I’d noticed the crane flying over-head, but by the time I’d rased my camera and focussed, the bird was too far past, and I didn’t have time to reframe. For some reason though, maybe the artist in me, as opposed to the technician, I really like this. As much as I tried, I just couldn’t throw it out.

The following morning, we went back to the bridge, but it wasn’t cold enough to get any frost on the trees, so we decided not to shoot there, and as we got ready to go back to the bus, my friend, photographer Jeremy Woodhouse, who we met most days in Nagano and Hokkaido, told me about two apple trees nearby that I didn’t know about. He actually drove around there to show us where they were, so rather than going home empty handed this morning, we spend 20 minutes photographing these lovely trees on the snow covered hills.

Apple Trees

Apple Trees

I’ve learned lots of little added bonus spots over the years, from friends like Jeremy, and Japanese photographer Yoshiaki Kobayashi, and as the tour leader it’s great to have a few options like this, so I’m very grateful to these guys for sharing as they do. Of course, I share my own information with others just as much, so that we all end up with better tours each year, and in turn, happier customers.

On the third day in Hokkaido, six days, or half way into the tour, we moved over to the Kussharo Lake, where we photograph the Whooper Swans that spend the winter in the little pools warmed by hot springs that flow into the lake, and prevent it from totally freezing over. Here is the last image for today, which I shot laying down in the snow, with my angle finder on my camera, so that I could look down into the finder, rather than straining my neck trying to look into the finder on the back of the camera.

Swan Lake

Swan Lake

I had the camera rested on my hand, which was resting in the snow, and framed up the scene, waiting for a swan to spread its wings like this. On the first day with the swans, it was bitterly cold, so I didn’t want to lay in the snow for long, so I was pleased when after about 20 minutes this swan did as I wanted. There was also another swan positioned perfectly in the mist to the left, which adds to the overall atmosphere of the shot, so I’m very pleased with this one.

That’s it for this week, and we’ll pick up the trail later on in this same day, with more swans shots from the Kussharo Lake in episode 327 next week.

Note that I’m about to release details of two Snow Monkey and Hokkaido Photo Adventures in 2013. The first will be with Chris Marquardt, so we’ll be providing some of the workshop elements in German, although I’ll also be there, so even if you don’t speak German, Chris and I will be helping the group in English too. This first tour will be from January 28 to February 8, 2013.

The second tour is going to be from February 18 through March 1, 2013, and you can see details of both tours on my Workshops page. If you’d like to receive notice as soon as the details are released, you can also sign up for my Tour Newsletters (at mbp.ac/news, and I’ll put a link to those in the shownotes).

Note too that although I can’t say who it is this week, if you are catching up on this Podcast more than a few days after this episode is released on March 13, 2012, you’ll see that we will have a very special guest with us on the second too. I’ll be able to mention who that is next week too, but I have to tell you that I’m really excited about this, and I think you will be too.

One last bit of housekeeping before we finish, and that is that I was interviewed recently by my friend Ibarionex Perello, of The Candid Frame podcast. I’ve secretly wanted to be on that Podcast for many years, and it turns out that Ibarionex hadn’t asked because he thought he’d interviewed me a long while ago. When we were chatting last year and the subject came up, I reminded Ibarionex that I hadn’t been on his show, so he kindly changed that. If you don’t already subscribe to The Candid Frame, please do. It’s one of the few other Photography related Podcasts that I listen to regularly, and I know you’ll enjoy it. I’ll put a link to my interview in the show notes, or you can find it by going over to thecandidframe.com

Thanks very much for listening today. Remember that you can find me on Google+ and Twitter etc. All links are on the top page at martinbaileyphotography.com, so do drop by and take a look. I’ll be back next week, with another episode, but in the meantime, you take care, and have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Subscribe to Tour Information Newsletters: https://mbp.ac/news

The Candid Frame Interview with Martin: http://thecandidframe.blogspot.com/2012/03/candid-frame-132-martin-bailey.html

Music by UniqueTracks


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Snow Monkeys (The Japanese Macaque) (Podcast 187)

Snow Monkeys (The Japanese Macaque) (Podcast 187)

I’m adding an excursion to photography Snow Monkeys as an option to my 2010 Winter Wonderland Workshop. It will be a two day trip to Nagano, at the end of the week before we will leave for Hokkaido, with a Saturday night and Sunday to enjoy Tokyo between. I’ve been wanting to add this as an option for the last few years, and many people have requested it, but I had not yet visited myself, and so felt uncomfortable adding this option. Well, to remedy that, this year I went on a reconnaissance trip, and today we’re going to look at a selection of the images that I came back with.

I’ve mentioned before the importance of editing down images from a shoot to a very special few. After a few hours on the afternoon of day one, and a full second day’s shooting, I came back from Jigokudani in the Nagano prefecture, where the monkey’s live, with so many amazing images, that I simply could not edit down to just a handful. As I realized that I was not going to be able to get down to say 10 representative images, I set my sights on 30, and even that was just not possible. I toiled over my final cut for three days, after getting down to under a hundred, and finally whittled my selection down to 45 images that I uploaded to my Web site and my Photostream on Flickr. Luckily people also really seemed to like the images, and commented that they were glad that I didn’t leave any out, which made me feel better about my decision to not cut any further.

I think part of the problem in cutting images out of this set was because the snow monkeys, or Japanese Macaque, are so close to us humans that we feel a much closer connection than we might to other wildlife. There’s a sentience in those eyes, which although can be found in many animals, I just found it so human that I was moved by these monkeys. I didn’t want to make this a multi-episode series, so I tried hard to find just ten, but because there are three slight, but significant variations of the same subject that we’ll look at later, I ended up with 11 images to look at. We’ll try to skirt over some of the usual details on some of these though, so that we don’t spend too long.

Macaque #1

Macaque #1

Let’s jump in and look at the first image that I want to talk about though, which is image number 2245. If you are new to this Podcast, you can view the images in iTunes or on your iPhone, and if you subscribe to the Enhanced Podcast version, the images will automatically change for you as we progress. If you want to follow along on my Web site, go to martinbaileyphotography.com and click on the Podcasts link in the top menu, and locate this week’s episode in the list. You can also just type the episode number into a new field that I added in the Podcasts menu, and when you hit enter or click the button, you will be transported to that Episode, and will be able to see the show-notes and all the thumbnails to images that we are discussing. You can also just enter the number I call out to the field in the Podcasts menu, and jump directly to the image as well.

I took two camera bodies with me, so that I could switch quickly to use a different lens as opportunities arose, and I used four lenses for the shoot. One of the lenses I used a lot, and for this image, is the 135mm F2 lens. This is a wonderful portrait lens, so you can hopefully appreciate that from my initial planning of the shoot, I’d been conscious of the fact that I was going to be shooting portraits. I also knew that we would be able to get very close. I wasn’t sure just how close, but it turned out that much of the time we were so close that if we’d reached out our hands, we’d literally touch the monkeys. Here I used the 135mm F2 lens wide open, at F2, which gave me a beautiful dreamy feel, and the strands of hair from the monkey actually look like they’re radiating out into the white background. The depth-of-field is incredibly shallow here, so only the monkey’s right eye is in really sharp focus. With us having to stand on a wet step elevated a couple of meters up from the lower grounds around the hot spring pool in which the monkeys are bathing, there not really much room to maneuver back and forth. You’re actually also often reaching to your right or left a little more than you’d like to get a nice background, and so it’s easy to introduce a little camera shake if you don’t try to maintain relatively fast shutter speeds. When shooting at F2, I had a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, at ISO 100 for this shot, but at some points, and when stopping down the aperture a little, the shutter speeds dropped significantly.

Macaque #5

Macaque #5

For the next image, number 2241, I was still using the 135mm F2 wide open, this time for 1/320th of a second. After you’ve been shooting for a while, and start to get used to the fact that you are standing next to a hot spring bath full of macaques, you start to try to capture little actions and expressions that make these wonderful monkeys seem a little more human or at least separate them from less dexterous animals. I caught this guy scratching his chin, and he also looked almost straight at me as I did so, which was nice. Notice how I included his reflection here, in the water of the bath, and gave a little room for the ripples, circling out from around him. As I was a little bit further away, we have slightly more depth-of-field as well, though still very shallow, how I like it.

Menacing Yawn - Macaque #14

Menacing Yawn – Macaque #14

In image number 2232, I was lucky enough to have my camera trained on this guy as he yawned. It looks more like a menacing show of aggression, but it really is just a yawn in the hot tub. The people around me didn’t get this. It’s really mostly luck, that I had my camera up to my face. Everyone that saw the yawn start then tried to capture it wasn’t quick enough. Well, I say luck, but I find it incredibly important to have the camera trained on something for as long as your shoulder and arm muscles will allow. Whenever possible, if I do have the camera up to my eye, just waiting, I also try to open my left eye, for two reasons. I find that when I’m shooting constantly with one eye closed, when I eventually open it, it seems to get a bit lazy, and I can’t focus with it properly. The other reason is to enable me to survey the surroundings, because you may not be trained on the animal that is going to perform for you. You will won’t see everything, but it gives you a better chance of seeing something else, and acting on it.

The last three images were shot in the couple of hours that I had at the hot springs in the monkey park on the first day. I’d concentrated on using the 135mm and I’d also used the 85mm F1.2 lens for closer shots. I got some nice shallow depth-of-field portraits, which was my plan, but using prime lenses, even on two cameras does have its drawbacks. I felt that I’d missed a few shots and so decided that on the second day, I’d keep my 70-200mm on one body, to give me some extra reach when needed, but also be able to zoom out as far as 70mm when necessary. Also, it was more overcast, and snowing lightly for most of the day, and so I was going to be happy of the Image Stabilization, which neither the 135mm F2 or the 85mm F1.2 has. I was switching between the 135mm F2 and the 24-70mmm F2.8 lens most of the day on my second body.

Mother & Child - Macaque #16

Mother & Child – Macaque #16

As I walked down the path towards the bath in the park, I noticed a mother monkey hugging a youngster to keep warm, and shot a series of images from which I selected three to upload, and I want to look at all three here. The first one is image number 2230. I crouched down to almost the same height as the monkeys to shoot these images. In this first one, I have a nice angle on the face of the mother, with her eyes closed, and also we can see quite a lot of the face of the young macaque. I raised the ISO to 400, because there was not a lot of light, and shot this with the 70-200mm at its full extent, 200mms. I closed the aperture down to F4 to give me a little bit of depth-of-field, because I wanted both faces sharp, but I didn’t want any more than this in focus. I wanted this dreamy feel to the edges of the fur too, and I’d have started to lose that had I stopped down to F5.6 or smaller. The aperture of F4 gave me a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second, which was nice to have, because I was a little unsteady and was shooting hand-held. I shoot with a tripod most of the time, but I didn’t want to start messing around just now, or I may have missed this moment. I actually shot the whole two days without a tripod here. It was just necessary to maintain the freedom that hand-holding affords you for this shoot, as fast paced wildlife shooting often does.

Mother & Child - Macaque #17

Mother & Child – Macaque #17

For image number 2229, I knew that I’d got a few shots from my initial position, so I used the wildlife photography trick of moving in a little at a time. If you try to move in to the optimal position in one go, you can often scare your subject, and I was still not sure how close I could get to these guys when they are not in the bath. I moved in closer, but then zoomed out to 160mm for this shot in which I basically now I’m shooting almost perfectly from the side of the mother’s face. I’ve cropped in just a little tighter on the head here too, and we lose the view of the youngster’s face a little, but this too is a touching shot in my opinion. The way the mother seems to be pulling the youngster, with her chin on its head, and the eyes closed, really seems to show the affection that she has for the child. Now, I’m sure that a part of this is just trying to warm herself up with the child, like a hot water bottle, but I know that there is some affection and an aspect of protection in there too. With the second face not so prominent now, I was not so worried about depth-of-field to get them both sharp, so I opened up the aperture by one click to F3.5. Luckily the second face is still pretty much in focus, but I wouldn’t have worried too much if it wasn’t.

 

Mother & Child - Macaque #18

Mother & Child – Macaque #18

In the last of this series of three, image number 2228, I zoomed out just a little to 150mm, and here we see the mother’s eyes open, giving us a slightly different atmosphere to the image. I haven’t cropped in quite so tightly on the head, which puts the now open eyes on the top right third intersection, and the youngster’s face is close to the bottom left third intersection, so a nicely composed image too. In all three images we have a relatively clean background, with a slight dark patch in the top left of this one, but overall the colour matches the monkeys, making for a pleasing colour palette for these images. For all of the images that we see in this set, I had reduced the red saturation to +25 in Lightroom. I generally apply +18 for Green and Blue and +50 for the Red channel when I import, but I a second preset that only applies +25 to the red channel, when there is something that is already quite red in the shots.

In image number 2227, I was again looking for those little actions that help us to connect with our cousins, and here I caught a youngster comparing his thumbnails. He had literally lined them up and was looking at them as if to say, “Wow! I have two of these, and they’re just the same!”. Many times I saw these macaques doing something that showed just how intelligent they are, and was pleased when I captured the moment like this. As I say, the second day was a little darker, and we can see the light snow falling in this image. I’d raised the ISO to 400, and with F4 on the 70-200mm lens I had the shutter speed set to 1/400th of a second here. Again I’ve given room for the reflection of the monkey in the water, and I also tried to include the larger ripple rings here, as well as that gold coloured stone in the background. Although I didn’t do this for that last three images, pretty much all of the others have a slight vignette added in Lightroom, which I think adds to the image and helps to draw us in to the subjects.

Two Thumbs? - Macaque #19

Two Thumbs? – Macaque #19

For image number 2222, I closed the aperture down a click to F4.5 for this much closer shot of a very pensive looking male. This guy was sitting right at the edge of the pool and I was literally at the closest focus distance for the 70-200mm F2.8 lens here. I just love the intelligence in those eyes. I can’t help also thinking though that he’s wishing there weren’t so many damned photographer’s sticking their cameras in his face. At any one time for the most part of the day there must be a good 15 to 20 photographer’s around this pool, and a handful or non-photographer tourists as well. With this in mind, the macaques are incredibly calm, rarely showing any signs of being annoyed with the humans around them, though there is the odd fight between the monkeys themselves.

Macaque #24

Macaque #24

Let’s look at image number 2215, to give you a little more context of the surroundings. More of a documentary photograph, here I used the 24-70mm F2.8 lens at 32mm, with an aperture of F8 for 1/60th of a second to show you the surroundings. As you can see there are a lot of monkeys in the hot springs bath, just hanging out and keeping warm. You can also see that there is a fair amount of steam coming off the hot water, which can and does get in the way of some shots. As cool air blows through, you lose some chances, because the scene totally whites-out. You have to time your captures to when the mist is lighter. Of course, it does add to the atmosphere sometimes, so there’s no need to wait for it to totally clear, but when it’s too heavy, you really have a problem to see what’s happening. If you are in the path of the mist too, to the right of the bath, and the right of this shot, it steams up the front element of your lens too, which is obviously another problem that you have to deal with.

Communal Bath - Macaque #31

Communal Bath – Macaque #31

There was a beautiful old lady monkey that we see to the left of image number 2203. I’d noticed here keeping on licking her chapped lips. They must have been playing up something rotten, because ever 10 seconds she’d lick them like this. I actually shot a number of portraits right up close from the edge of the pool, and stopped, thinking I’d gotten a sharp shot or two, but when I looked on the PC, they were not sharp. I’d gone very wide aperture and didn’t quite make the shot, I think because I was leaning out uncomfortably backwards to get far enough away to get her at my minimum focus distance, and so I was pretty annoyed with myself for this. Still, I did wait for that tongue to flick out and lick her lips here too, and I generally like this scene, with the younger females around the old matriarch, seeming to me at least to be showing respect in the way they are carrying themselves around her.

Dry Lips - Macaque #43

Dry Lips – Macaque #43

I want to finish with image number 2201, in which we can see a family, with I think daddy monkey grooming mummy monkey, and baby monkey sitting there between them. I love the expression on mummies face, as she is being pampered. It makes me think that we humans think we have it all figured out, and for sure, it is a tough life for these monkeys, living so far north in the cold mountains of Nagano, but when you think that these guys have a warm bath to soak in, a caring hubby to groom you, and a little one close by. They are surrounded by other members of their society all living in relative peace. In some ways these guys seem to have it all figured out much better than we do.

Family - Macaque #45

Family – Macaque #45

This is not only the last shot for today’s Podcast, but also the last one that I uploaded from this set. It was shortly before 3PM, and not long after this the monkeys tend to leave the hot spring bath. I guess they have to dry off before nightfall, when the temperature drops considerably out here in the mountains. So, shortly after I shot this I called it a day, and went back to the hotel I’d booked, and took a steady drive back to Tokyo the following day. Happy with my reconnaissance trip, as I say, I’ve decided to add this as an option to next year’s workshop. I think I should be able to make it so that if this was the only part of the trip that you wanted to join, you probably will be able to, but for anyone coming in from outside of Japan, I’m sure it will make more sense to join both this and at least the first leg of the Hokkaido trip. There will be a short break after the monkey shoot before we head up to Hokkaido. The monkeys are about a four hour drive from Tokyo, but not in the same direction as Hokkaido, so we will have to go back to the city then regroup to fly to Hokkaido. Right now I’m planning to get us back to Tokyo in the Saturday afternoon, and give you Saturday night to party or do whatever you want in Tokyo. You’ll then have Sunday to do a little sightseeing, and we’ll head off to Hokkaido bright and earlier on the Monday morning. I’m doing the monkey trip before Hokkaido so that people that want to concentrate on wildlife shooting don’t have to do the Landscape shooting part, at the end of the Hokkaido tour. Of course, I personally think that the entire trip will be amazing again, so would really like to see people sign up for all three legs, but I didn’t want to force wildlife shooters to go on the landscape portion, and I think the way I’m planning it will give people the most possible flexibility in their options.

I’m just working the last few details before I publish the dates and prices etc. on my Workshops web site at mbpworkshops.com, which I plan to do by the end of April. If you are interested and want me to keep you informed about these and any other workshops I do, please drop me a line at workshops at martinbaileyphotography.com, and I’ll add you to my distribution list. Of course, no one else will see your email address, and I will never pass this on to third parties for any reason.

So, I hope you enjoyed sharing my experience at the Jigokudani Monkey Park in February 2009. If you are interested, I’ll put a link in the show notes to a livecam where you can check out the monkeys in the bath. I’m not sure that they are in the bath all year round, so if you listen to this episode from the archives in other seasons, you may not see anything, but check it out in the winter months, and you’ll definitely see the monkeys all relaxing in the bath, and doing their thing. I took a look at the livecam today, towards the end of April, 2009, as I prepared for this episode and there were very few monkeys in the bath. Note that the web cam doesn’t run through the night, and because Japan is GMT + 9 hours, this means that you will need to check in your evening or early morning if you live in the US or Europe, depending on your time zone. The cool thing is though, that you have links to snapshots taken throughout the day on the left side of the screen, so you can check to see if there were any monkeys there at all, on that day, and the previous day.

One other thing to mention today is that if you use Twitter, please do follow me. I can be found at Twitter.com/MartinBailey, with no space between my names. Last week Scott Bourne was kind enough to include me in his list of the top 10 photography related twitterers to follow, that he posted on photofocus.com, which was great. Thanks so much for that Scott, if you’re listening. I’ll put a link to Scott’s list in the show notes as well, in case you want to check out who else you should be following.

If you’ve just found this podcast because of that, then welcome aboard. If you like what you see and hear here, then do tell your friends and spread the word. We have a great community on our Photography forum at martinbaileyphotography.com as well, so please do check that out when you have a minute too. For now, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the Livecam at the monkey partk in Jigokudani, Nagano prefecture, Japan. Remember that Japan is GMT : 9 hours: http://www.jigokudani-yaenkoen.co.jp/livecam/monkey/index.htm

Here is Scott Bourne’s “Follow Friday – The Top 10 Photography-related People on Twitter” list: http://photofocus.com/2009/04/17/follow-friday-the-top-10-photography-related-people-on-twitter/

The music in this episode is from the PodShow Podsafe Music Network at http://music.podshow.com/


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Posted on behalf of Martin by Michael Rammell, a Wedding Photographer based in Berkshire, England. Michael also has a long-standing passion for Nature & Landscape photography. To catch up with Michael, visit his Web site, and follow him on the following social networking services.

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