Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 509)

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 509)

Following our Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour for 2016, this week we conclude our three part travelogue series to walk you through this minimalist photographer’s dream tour, illustrated with a total of 36 images.

Today we pick up the trail at the end of day seven, as we head back into the city of Wakkanai after photographing the Boat Graveyard that we saw at the end of the last episode, and we stopped briefly to photograph some avalanche prevention gates affixed to the side of a hill. This was just a quick, stop the bus, all jump off, shoot, then jump back on the bus again, kind of shoot, but I quite like the resulting image (below).

Avalanche Prevention

Avalanche Prevention

To photograph this I used my 100-400mm lens, hand-held, for a 1/400 of a second exposure. I increased my ISO to 400 to give me a faster shutter speed, but I ended up zooming out to 148mm, meaning I could have gone slower, but like I said, it was a quick jump off then back on the bus photograph. I was careful to not crop off the gates as much as possible, but there were actually two gates on the left edge that were just creeping in, so I cloned them out. I had seen these when I shot the image, so I allow myself to do that.

My rule with cloning stuff out is that I’m allowed to do it if I saw what I am cloning out when I made the image. If I didn’t see it, it stays, and I have to decide whether I should scrap the image, or live with it. This is a little bit heavy handed, for sure, but this is how I’ve trained myself to fully scan the frame when shooting. It stops me from being sloppy with my composition.

After lunch, we headed to one of the main fishing ports in Wakkanai, and were treated with a beautifully heavy and textured sky, as you can see in this image (below). This is one of those shots where the color was hard to throw out, as there was some late afternoon color in the sky, but Hokkaido in the most part to me is about the structure of a scene rather than the color, and a black and white conversion really brings out the detail in the sky, and the fishing boats give us a lovely base for the photo.

Wakkanai Fishing Boats

Wakkanai Fishing Boats

I was also happy that I could frame this in such a way that there were relatively clear gaps either side of the boats, and I moved left and right to find the perfect spot to include the lighthouse on the far left, and not include another boat that was just out of frame on the far right. This was a 1/5 of a second exposure at f/11, ISO 100, and a focal length of 28mm.

Wakkanai Fishing Boat - Urara

Wakkanai Fishing Boat – Urara

I love shooting lines of boats, as you might have noticed, but I really like it when there is one boat sitting alone, with relatively wide spaces either side, like the one in this photo (right).

This is just to the right of the line of boats in the last image, and I kind of wish that the raised object and boat mast was not there in the bottom left, but I don’t dislike that enough to clone it out.

I really love this perspective with boats though. It’s not a huge boat, but they feel powerful and daunting when framed up like this. I was also really happy that the darker clouds were all framing the boat, with lighter but still heavily textured sky above it.

This is totally natural. All of the changes I made in Silver Efex during the black and white conversion where applied to the entire image.

There is a little bit of a halo around the bottom edge of the boat either side, but that doesn’t worry me too much in this image. This was a 0.3 second exposure at f/11, ISO 100, at 28mm.

On the morning of day 8, we left Wakkanai, and headed for Soya Misaki, the cape at the northern-most tip of Japan, where on a clear day, you can actually see Russia to the north. We stop at a couple of ports on the way around the cape, and this next image is my favorite from the first stop (below). Those are probably fox footprints leading into the scene, through the beautiful soft, textured snow.

Boats with Fox Footprints

Boats with Fox Footprints

I tried two compositions here. This one, and a second with the footprints leading in from the bottom right corner. At the time of shooting this, I felt that the bottom right corner composition was better, but when I studied them on the computer, I decided to go with this image, because it felt more like I was being lead into the scene by the footprints. When the prints came in from the right corner, it felt more like I was being told a story about someone else walking into the scene, rather than me being in the story, in the first person.

Other than that decision, the image pretty much composed itself. There was a black wall that started to show on the left above the boat if I went any wider, and I wanted to leave a little bit of space to the right to give the boats and footprints room to breath. The black sky was amazing, but I didn’t want it to rule image. Also, there was a crane doing some maintenance in the port just to our left, and the shadow was hitting that back wall from time to time, so I had to wait until that shadow dropped behind the front of the middle boat. Lots of stuff to think about, but it came together pretty well I think.  This was a 1/200 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 70mm.

Next up is a line of boats that I’ve been photographing here since my reconnaissance trip for this tour in 2011, except this year there was an extra boat on the right end of the line (below). I shot this at 16mm with my 11-24mm lens, so a 16-35mm lens would have done the job as well.

Soya Harbour Fishing Boats

Soya Harbour Fishing Boats

I used a strip of ND 4.0 rated triacetyl cellulose filter in the gelatin filter holder on the back of the lens, as this lens has a large round front element, and so I can’t use my regular screw-in filters with it, and I hate those huge filter systems that I see people struggling with on my tours.

See episode 465 to see what I’m talking about, but the ND 4.0 filter is the equivalent of an ND10000, and gives me 13.3 stops of darkness, for a 210 second exposure, which is three and a half minutes, at f/11, ISO 100. That of course is why the clouds have streaked out the way the do here.

We continued on, down to the small town of Ohmu, where we were to spent the next two nights. There’s a lovely port at Ohmu with some very nicely positioned tetrapods, that we can see in this image (below). Unfortunately, the weather that makes Hokkaido so appealing for winter photography had started to close in on us. As we got off the bus to photograph this scene, I asked the group to shoot it as if it was our last visit, because we may end up stuck in the hotel for a few days.

Ohmu Port with Tetrapods

Ohmu Port with Tetrapods

Well, it turns out that this is exactly what happened. The storm came in on the end of day eight, and although we got up and went down to the harbor at dawn the next day to take a look, the beach on which we stood to make this photo was basically underwater. The sea was so rough that I got a face full of salt spray as soon as I got off the bus on the road above the port to see if we could shoot, and salt water is not good for gear, and we also would not have been able to keep it off our lenses long enough to get a photograph, so we went back to the hotel for breakfast.

We had planned to do half a day of workshop sessions at this location anyway, so we extended that to a full day and we kept our eye on the news of roads across Hokkaido being closed as the day progressed. The following day we were due to leave Ohmu for our next location, but despite waiting until 4pm for news of the roads opening, they didn’t, so we ended up doing some more workshop sessions and then stayed a third night at the same hotel.

The following morning, which was now day eleven, the roads were still closed, but with cabin fever starting to set in, we went down to the port, and although the sea was still very rough, and coming way up the beach, the wind had dropped considerably, so there was no longer any sea spray. Game on! We planned to shoot for 30 minutes before breakfast, but were ended up doing 45 minutes, as no one could stop shooting, including me. During this time, I made this photograph (below).

Ohmu Port with Sea Trails

Ohmu Port with Sea Trails

The tetrapods in the middle of the right side of the image are the ones from the previous image, so you can see how much higher the sea was coming up the beach. I was basically timing my shots so that I caught the waves drawing back out, leaving these lovely streaks in the image. At this point, I was using a 1 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100, at a focal length of 18mm.

For me, the lines created by the water and the foreground tetrapods grab my attention and lead my eye into the frame, where I find the lighthouse and then go further along to see the waves crashing against the wave break in the top left quadrant. I then come back around, down the line of tetrapods to the left then back into the scene and around to explore the detail in the right side.

Having finally dragged ourselves away we returned to the hotel for breakfast, and to the news that the roads were now cleared of snow and opened at 7am, so we could check out and make our way to Lake Saroma, the last location of the tour. We’d lost a day or so from each of these last two locations, but this is always a risk when photographing in Hokkaido, and, we made up for it over the next day and a half, as you’ll see.

Our first port of call mid-morning (pun intended) was a port on Lake Saroma, where they have line after line of fishing boats that have been brought up on shore for the winter. Here’s one of these lines, in this next photo (below). To the right, you can actually see that there’s another line directly behind these, and perhaps also make out another line starting in the distance on the far left.

Toetoko Fishing Boats

Toetoko Fishing Boats

This is an 80 second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 59mm, shot with my 24-70mm lens. I was really just attracted to the shear number of boats here, and liked the repetition. The great thing about this port though, is that unlike many of the other ports, you can easily walk around the back of the boats for detail shots such as this next image (below).

Fishing Boat - Sanpoumaru

Fishing Boat – Sanpoumaru

Out of 92 images from this trip, my current final count, only six images were left in color. I generally think of the Hokkaido landscape in black and white, and I could probably convert these boat detail images too if I wanted to create a cohesive set, but at this point, I’m just processing each image for its own aesthetic value, and so I’ve left the color in for now. One of the things that caught my eye with these boats, is the way the snow has drifted from behind them looking almost like the wake in the water as they actually sail the seas.

After a few hours in the port, we went for lunch, then headed over to a place where there are some nice trees on the top of a hill, and some other nice stuff to play with. Here is a photo (below) of the stand of trees along with a line of other trees below them. This is a little bit busier than much of the minimalist work we do here, but I still kind of like the lines of fences and the play between the stand of trees on top of the hill and the line of trees below.

Stand of Trees with Fences

Stand of Trees with Fences

This was a 1/30 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100, and a focal length of 263mm. Again here, I was using my 100-400mm lens, although I could have gotten away with my 70-200mm and a 1.4X Extender. The other thing I like about this photo is that because it’s shot with the 50 megapixel 5Ds R camera, I can literally zoom in to various parts of the image to enjoy a number of different images with the one photo. It’s been around six months now since I started shooting with the 5Ds, and I can tell you, every time I use it I just continue to fall deeper and deeper in love with it.

I can’t take full credit for this image, as Jenn, a participant that we’ll hear from shortly, had just made a joke that she was “starting to get the hang of this minimalist stuff” although she used a different word beginning with “S” instead of stuff. As we laughed and I looked up, we noticed a fox walking along the line of the fence, so I couldn’t resist shooting this myself as well (below). It is of course different to Jenn’s shot, but I wouldn’t have even looked up there if it wasn’t for her comment.

Fox with Fence on Hill

Fox with Fence on Hill

This is the 100-400mm lens right out at 400mm, and I had my shutter speed at 1/25 of a second, so the fox isn’t totally sharp, but it has enough body to keep itself in the photograph. My other settings were f/14 at ISO 100, although you could probably have guessed this by now anyway. There’s something very stark yet strangely comforting about this photo to me. This fox lives in a very harsh environment, and yet with his warm coat, he’s happy enough just walking around in the drifting snow, doing his thing.

The following morning was our last chance to shoot before we had to drive to the airport to fly back to Tokyo, and I decided to take the group back to two locations, and give them an option of which to shoot. I went back to the main port on the Saroma Lake to work the lines of boats a little more with around a third of the group, and the rest of the group worked the area around a tree that we have shot in the past, but didn’t get to as a whole group this time because of the day we lost to bad weather. This is the last photo of this series, from the port (below).

Fishing Boats with Snow "Fuumon" Wind Patterns

Fishing Boats with Snow “Fuumon” Wind Patterns

I’m really attracted to the patterns formed in the drifting snow as the wind whistles between the fishing boats, so that’s really what this shot is all about. There wasn’t a lot of texture in the sky, so this is just a straight 1/80 of a second exposure, at f/14, ISO 100, at 50mm. The texture in the snow is lovely here, and I also quite like the shadows to the right side, from the other line of boats just out of frame. My last shot of the tour is those boats to the right with their stronger shadows due to the sun coming through the clouds a little bit stronger than I usually like, but when it gives us this texture in the snow at the right location, I can kind of live with that. 🙂

As usual, after our final shoot, I got out a digital recorder and went around the bus to record a message from each of the participants, which I’d like to play you now.

[GROUP MESSAGE AUDIO – If you were reading, you’ll have to listen to the audio with the player above to hear what each participant said about the tour.]

It was really nice to hear everyone’s voice again there. I had a great time on this tour with these wonderful folks, and would like to thank each of them once again for joining us. Thank you too for listening to what we got up to over these last three episodes. I hope you have enjoyed it.

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017

We are now taking bookings for the 2017 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure, from January 8 to the 20th, 2017, and the places are already starting to sell, so please don’t hang around too long if you’d like to join us.

Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, and as you might have noticed, it is the minimalist winter landscape photographer’s dream. This will be our third year running this very special dedicated landscape tour in Hokkaido. For details and to book your place, please visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017


Show Notes

For details of the 2017 Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Adventure visit the tour page here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 508)

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 508)

Following our Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour for 2016, this week we continue our three part travelogue series to walk you through this minimalist photographer’s dream tour, illustrated with a total of 36 images.

We pick up the trail in the afternoon of day three when we were in the foothills of Mount Asahi, after shooting the last photo that we looked at in part one of this travelogue series. There are some birch trees and the darker trees that we can see in this fun photograph that I shot laying on my back in the deep snow (below). I know that this kind of image is done a lot, and I shoot them quite often too, but I just like doing this.

Trees in Mount Asahi Foothills

Trees in Mount Asahi Foothills

I shot this with my 11-24mm lens wide open at 11mm, to really distort the scene, making it look like the trees are all leaning in, although the reality is of course, that they are all just pointing pretty much straight up at the sky. There was probably only about six to eight feet between each tree as well. The exposure here was a 1/50 of a second, at f/11, ISO 100.

Before breakfast on day four of the tour, we walked to Shirohige or White Beard Falls, not far from the hotel, to photograph these beautiful blue falls. It was snowing as we photographed the falls, and there were varying degrees of mist forming, meaning that we had to either shoot in the pockets of clarity when the mist cleared, or use the mist to good effect. Here is a shot of the falls when the mist cleared (below).

The Man in the Falls

The Man in the Falls

I used a 0.5 second shutter speed, so the snow has recorded as quite long streaks in the image, but I quite like that effect. You can also see the beautiful blue from the mineral content in the water as well, although I have pumped this up slightly in post to make it a little more saturated. I titled this image The Man in the Falls, because of the profile of the man’s face that you might have already noticed in the bottom right corner of the images.

This was shot at f/14 with the ISO set to 200, so that I didn’t get too long a shutter speed. The snow would start to reduce the contrast in the image a little too much if I went more than half a second or so. The focal length here was 241mm with my the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens.

After breakfast we set off for a relatively long drive to the west coast of Hokkaido, and we pulled in a few seascapes as we drove towards Haboro, where we’d stay for the next two nights. This first image (below) is from down on the beach where there are some half-buried tetrapods, and I framed this in such a way that you can also see the distant tetrapods in the sea.

Obira Tetrapods Near and Far

Obira Tetrapods Near and Far

This is a 30 second exposure at f/16, ISO 100 at a focal length of 59mm with my 24-70mm lens. It’s also a Lightroom black and white conversion, as I mentioned last week, I’m finding myself using Lightroom instead of Silver Efex more and more, when a more subtle conversion suits the image. I love using Silver Efex when I want to make the image dramatic, but I’m enjoying keeping my work limited to the raw file right out of the camera when Lightroom gives me enough control, rather than having to create a TIFF file, to work with it in Silver Efex.

We were about to leave this location, but the sky started to give us some nice color, and we did not have time for another shoot at a different location before it got dark, so I extended our time at the same spot, which resulted in some images with some nice color in the sky as the sun went down, as we can see in this next photo (below) of the same tetrapods that were in the distance in the previous image.

Obira Tetrapods

Obira Tetrapods

This was a 75 second exposure at f/18, ISO 100 at 135mm. I have to admit that I had caught my dial and shifted to f/18 without realizing it. I normally don’t go smaller than f/16 and f/14 is my usual soft-ceiling, so I am pretty sure this was an accident. To get this long an exposure I fitted an ND1000 neutral density filter to my lens, for 10 stops of additional darkness.

On day five, we drove along the coast from our hotel to a place where there are some other nice tetrapods to shoot on the beach, but from this location, I actually found this next image quite fun (below), looking a little like a nuclear waste warning symbol. There is a concrete pier that runs out into the sea, and I noticed these three legs of a tetrapod just sticking out of the choppy sea as I looked over the edge of the pier, so I decided to do a long exposure of them with the ND1000 fitted again, along with an ND8 filter for 13 stops of darkness.

Tetrapod Nuclear Waste Warning

Tetrapod Nuclear Waste Warning

I processes this in Silver Efex Pro and added a bit of a vignette in Lightroom to darken the edges down a little. The sea was quite choppy, so the sunlight was catching the water causing light squiggles everywhere, so this is a fun image to view up close as well. I shot this with a 60 second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 65mm.

We also visited a new location where we’d found there to be a Shinto Torii gate on a concrete platform just off the beach in a little cove. As you saw from the last image though, this is one of the few days where we had a lot of direct sunlight, and although they were OK, our photos of the Shinto gate from day five turned out to be insurance shots. We had some much better dramatic skies on the morning of day six as we started our drive to our next base for a further two days, so we went back to the Torii for one last shoot before leaving the area, and this shoot resulted in this image (below).

Konpira Jinja Torii

Konpira Jinja Torii

This was a 30 second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 38mm, once again converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro. I have to admit, I’m getting a little bit tired of cleaning up the white lines around dark objects when you push the contrast in Silver Efex, so in this image, I worked with the naturally bright area behind Torii, and allowed that to stay light removing the halo from the image in Silver Efex rather than in Photoshop for this. I think that also builds on the idea that the gate has some religious significance as well, so I quite like the results.

Later in the day, we visited one of my favorite locations on this tour, which is the small fishing port not far from Wakkanai where we’d spend the next two nights. Wakkanai is the northern-most city in Japan, with a population of 37,000, so compared to the small fishing town that we’d spent the previous day in, it actually feels more like a city.

Anyway, back to the port, my first photo from this location is this one of what I have affectionately termed the Boat Graveyard, where there are nine fishing boats that look as though they are just left there to gradually fall apart (below). I was surprised to see such a large pattern in the sky when I processed this image though. I saw a couple of bright patches in the sky when I shot the image, but Silver Efex brought out those large streaks in the sky that I had not seen. The Rishiri island is over there behind the snow clouds, and I think the island is disrupting the air flow causing that cool texture to form.

Boat Graveyard with Disrupted Sky

Boat Graveyard with Disrupted Sky

I shot this with a 1/30 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 16mm. My final selection of images from this trip, which is down to 93 as I prepare this episode, actually still contains some 15 images of these boats, as the sky and amount of falling snow gave us lots of variation to shoot, but I’ll keep it down to two images now and one more from the next day before we finish today.

This next photo of the Boat Graveyard is really more about the winter sun. I hate it when the sun comes out completely on this trip, but there are times when it just pokes through the clouds enough to add an additional point of interest, as I believe it does here (below).

Winter Sun

Winter Sun

This was a 1/50 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 24mm. I ended up with a 50th of a second exposure because the sun was brightening things up a little, but this is still just about enough to be able to see some movement in the falling snow, which is what I like. Depending on the size of the snow and how quickly it’s falling, I like to try to use between 1/15 and 1/30 of a second when possible.

For the last few hours of day six, we went to a couple of the factories that have the fish drying frames that you can see in this next image (below), shot with the permission of the owners. These racks are great for creating graphically structured images, and this year there were some fish hanging from the frames in almost equal numbers on both of these racks, which I quite liked.

Fish Drying Racks in Snow

Fish Drying Racks in Snow

This was a 1/10 of a second exposure at f/11, ISO 200. In this first frame I was using my 11-24mm lens at 22mm. I got quite close to the racks and pointed my camera up, to cause this distorted look, which I personally quite like, although I know it annoys the hell out of some people, especially architecture photographers who like to see everything perfectly straight.

In this next image of the same racks, I walked back through the snow and part way up an embankment, and used my 24-70mm lens at 70mm, zooming in on the scene, which causes the perspective to look much more natural, with the verticals pretty much straight (below). You can also see that the gap at the end of the frames is larger in the zoomed image, enabling us to see more detail overall.

Fish Drying Racks in Snow

Fish Drying Racks in Snow

This was a 1/4 of a second exposure at f/11, ISO 200 at 70mm. Personally, I’m more about how an image makes me feel, and in the first photo of the racks, they feel much bigger to me as they taper off towards the top of the frame. That’s what happens when we look up at things, although it is exaggerated by the wide angle lens.

On the morning of day seven, we headed down to a location where I know we can walk out across some land and get to the sea, where I was hoping to find some driftwood etc. on the beach. When we got there though, I was pleased to find that we had a wonderful sea mist called “Kearashi” in Japanese, as we can see in this image (below).

Sea Mist - Kearashi

Sea Mist – Kearashi

This was a 1/200 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 70mm. The Kearashi as far as I’m aware is caused by the relative warmth of the sea on very cold days, so it’s much warmer than the air temperature. I think I recall seeing that it was about -9 or -10°C at the time, which is about 14 or 15°F, so cold, but not uncomfortably so. Even if you click on this image to view it larger, you might not really be able to appreciate all the snow flakes suspended in the air, which I love. I always really like it when I can see something in the air, adding to the atmosphere of a photograph.

The previous image is only about 10 minutes down the road from my Boat Graveyard, which we revisited for a while, before going back into Wakkanai for lunch. This is the last image that I’ll share from this location, but once again, you can see that I’ve been playing with the affect that the snow has on the scene (below).

Boat Graveyard in Heavy Snow

Boat Graveyard in Heavy Snow

This was a 1/125 of a second exposure at f/14, ISO 100 at 24mm, so I didn’t have as slow a shutter speed as I’d have liked, but the snow at this point was big and falling quite quickly, so it recorded pretty well in the image. I also seriously like the quality of light in this photograph, with the much darker patch of snow to the left side of the frame, almost like a shadow cast from the darker cloud below the winter sun, and the back boats are much darker than the ones closer to the camera, which are lightening up along with the snow in the right foreground. The texture of the snow is also really nice in this one, so it’s turned into a bit of a favorite from the trip.

OK, so that’s our twelve images for today. I hope you’ve enjoyed following along with this tour, and I’ll be back next week with the third and final part of this series, with twelve more images from the end of day seven through to the end of the trip.

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017

Before we finish, I wanted to mention that we are now taking bookings for the 2017 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure, from January 8 to the 20th, 2017. Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, and as you might have noticed, it is the minimalist winter landscape photographer’s dream. This will be our third year running this very special dedicated landscape tour in Hokkaido. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017


Show Notes

For details of the 2017 Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Adventure visit the tour page here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 507)

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour 2016 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 507)

Just back from our Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour for 2016, this week we start a three part travelogue series to walk you through the tour with a total of 36 images.

We start the tour with with an early flight to Hokkaido, following a night at a hotel at the Haneda airport, where we have a pre-tour dinner and start to get to know each other. Five of the participants of this tour were on my Winter Wonderland wildlife tours last year, so it was lovely to see those people again, and of course it’s always nice to meet the first time participants on any of my tours. I recorded a message from each of them at the end of the tour, that we’ll listen to at the end of part three of this series.

Once in Hokkaido, it’s a relatively short drive to our first location, in the rolling hills of Biei, where the photography is centered around a tree that I’ve been in love with since my first Hokkaido tour back in 2008. For the real long-time listeners among you, you’ll know that we used to visit Biei on the landscape leg of my tours before I decided to cut away the landscape leg and concentrate on wildlife, until I started this landscape specific tour last year that is. Now we spend the first three days in Biei before heading over to the west coast of the island then around the northern-most tip, and back down the east coast during our 12 day itinerary.

As you can see from this photo (below) we had a somewhat dramatic sky on this first morning, with the sun poking through the cloud enough at time to give us these sun’s rays amongst the heavy clouds. For this image I was a way down the hill to include the brow of another hill in front of the tree to give the scene a little more context, and also just because I like the shape. Despite the sun being out, if you look closely at the image you’ll also see snow in the air, which I think adds a nice additional dimension.

Biei Tree with Sun's Rays

Biei Tree with Sun’s Rays

My camera settings for this shot were f/14 for a 1/400 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 170mm, so you can tell I was a little distance away from the tree. I was shooting with two Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies on this trip, and three lenses; the Canon EF 11-24mm f/4L lens, the EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens and the EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II lens.

This kit was perfect for this trip, giving me a backup body in case one failed, but also enabling me to use two lenses attached to cameras at the same time. I will change lenses in most conditions, so that doesn’t really bother me, but it generally just speeds up my shooting workflow to be able to simply reach for a different camera for another focal length rather than changing lenses.

After working the area around my favorite tree for a few hours, we went for lunch, and then visited another location where I know there are a number of stands of trees that look beautiful on heavily overcast or snowy days, and you can see one of them in this photo (below).

Stand of Trees on Hill

Stand of Trees on Hill

The settings for this photo were f/14, 1/30 of a second exposure at ISO 100, and a focal length of 176mm.

On last years trip, it was sunny for most of the first two days, and that can seriously limit our shooting options, because the snow becomes too contrasty and sky is clear, giving us too much background. In my mind, the locations that I guide my group to only really come to life when it’s overcast, and when it actually starts snowing, it changes the scene again, as we’ll see.

It was cloudy or snowing for most of our time during this trip, which was really nice, although it was not snowing for this particular image. I often feel as though the shots of trees with heavy snow look like pencil sketches, but this image, converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro feels more like a pen drawing to me, which I also like.

Just along the road from the last scene is the tree that we see in this next photo (below) sitting nicely on the brow of a hill, with some “Sasa” bamboo leaves poking through the snow, which I feel adds a nice added element too. My final selection of images from this tour is 101 images, and I actually have two more shots of this tree left in the set, where there is some really nice light coming over the hill, but the tree is on the right side of the frame. For now, I have chosen this left position as that’s supposed to be more comfortable for left to right readers to view, although I think I actually prefer the other composition. I’ll think about flipping one of them too maybe.

Tree with Sasa Leaves

Tree with Sasa Leaves

I shot this at f/14, 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, with a focal length of 188mm. You can probably see a pattern forming here, whereas the 100-400mm lens or a 70-200mm lens are really useful for this leg of the trip, although my other lenses do get more use as we progress.

The following morning with the promise of different light, we revisited the tree that we went to first on day one. In this photo (below) you can see that the dawn light and overcast sky enables us to record the detail of this tree, rather than having it fall almost into silhouette, as it does in the first photo. Many of the trees in the Biei area have names, although I’ve never found a name for this tree on any map, so I selfishly call it Martin’s tree. I’m OK with that, because I have not found anyone else producing images of this specific tree, and definitely not as long as I have been doing.

Biei "Martin's" Tree

Biei “Martin’s” Tree

My settings for this image were f/14, 1/4 of a second, at ISO 100, this time at 255mm, a little longer that I would have been able to shoot with my 70-200mm, which I brought with me last year. You’ll probably have noticed too noticed that I shoot a lot in f/14. This is to get a good depth of field before diffraction starts to kick in. I know some people profess to shoot at wider apertures, but the image quality is totally there at f/14, so I use that aperture a lot.

There was a time when the sky started to go pink through the clouds as the sun rose during this dawn shoot, and I toyed with the idea of leaving this next photo of “my” tree (below) in color, but in the end, I gave in to the temptation of converting it to black and white like the rest. I just love seeing most of the scenery that we capture on this tour in black and white. To me it just so matches the subject matter.

Bie Tree

Bie Tree

This was also shot at f/14, for 1/13 of a second this time, at ISO 100 and a focal length of 135mm.

There is another spot that I like to take the group, where we have to walk a little bit down the road from a place where we can stop our bus, to a location where there is a beautiful tree on hill, as we see in this photo (below). This is actually the same tree that I’m using as the marketing image for the 2017 tour at the moment, although I might change that later as I live with this year’s work for a while.

Hanazono Tree in Snow

Hanazono Tree in Snow

This year it was snowing quite heavily when we photographed this tree, so this has become almost like the pencil drawing that I like, but the snow was coming straight for us, not across the scene, so I think for this subject, I prefer the clarity of last year’s image. We can’t control when it snows of course, and although we can try to chase the subjects that look best in snow, it’s sometimes difficult to time it just right. I still really like the subtle difference in tones between the line of the hill here, just above the fence posts, and the ever so slightly lighter sky. This was shot at f/11, as I needed a slightly faster shutter speed to overcome some nasty wind. The ISO was left at 100 though, and the focal length was 135mm.

While it was still snowing a little, we went back to the few stands of trees before going to lunch, and I made this photograph (below). This is almost a replica of last year’s shot of these trees, but it was snowing much heavier last year, making it look more like a pencil drawing, but I still like the structure in this year’s version, and there is still snow crossing the front of the trees adding that additional dimension of being able to see the air.

Sketched Trees

Sketched Trees

Remember as you view these images, if you open up your browser window much wider than the post width, and click on the images, you can view them much larger. They will automatically advance to the next image too, but you can use your keyboard arrow keys or mouse to move back and forth, or place your mouse over the image to stop the slideshow from progressing. I shot this at 1/60 of a second at f/14, ISO 100 at 100mm.

After lunch, I had our bus driver drop us off at the top of a hill on the way back to the same areas that we shot the last image, and he parked our bus in a car park that the group all now knew, and we walked back to it through the hills for about a mile. One of the reasons I wanted to do this was to photograph the tree in the next image (below).

Tree in Hollow

Tree in Hollow

This tree was sitting in a slight hollow, which dissects its shadow a little, and I found that quite pleasing. Again, I also really enjoy it when there is only a subtle difference in tone between the color of the snow and the sky. I was also interested to find that I processed a number of my images from this trip in Lightroom, instead of Silver Efex Pro. I still love the ease of Silver Efex, but for some of these images I found that the control over the black and white conversation that I have in Lightroom was enough, and that’s  perhaps a first for me. I do prefer to keep my images in their original raw format too when possible, so using Lightroom for black and white conversion enables me to do that, which is an added bonus.

This was shot at f/14 for a 1/10 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 400mm. This is of course the long end of my 100-400mm, so you can tell how far away this tree was. The 70-200mm lens works as your long lens for this trip, but last year I found myself using my extender a lot, and figured that I could live without the gap of 30mm between my 24-70mm and the 100-400mm lenses, in exchange for this extra reach, and I was happy with my decision.

As we continued to walk back along the road to where our bus would be parked, I initially walked straight past this next photograph, but luckily I’m in the habit of looking behind myself regularly as I look for images. As I looked back at this point, this graphic composition of the fanned out grasses caught my eye immediately (below).

Radiating Grasses

Radiating Grasses

Once again, this was shot at f/14, for 1/6 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 227mm. I could have used a shallower depth of field here, with a wider aperture of course, but the grass was still, so there was really no need to change my settings so I just rolled with it.

This next image (below) actually made me a couple of minutes late back to the bus, but usually, the mountains in the distance to the right of this scene make it too messy for a really minimalist shot, but the snow and reduced visibility gave me the entire seventeen trees in this row, so I couldn’t resist running down to this spot for one last frame before I jumped on the bus to head back to the hotel at the end of day two.

Seventeen Trees

Seventeen Trees

I shot this at f/11 for a longer 6 second exposure, without a neutral density filter, so you can tell that it was really quite dark at the end of the day now, and the focal length was 25mm. This is another Lightroom conversion, as I just liked the subtle tones in the shadows under the trees a little better in this version.

We had a relatively steady start on day three, as we were driving a good distance from the hotel, so we had breakfast before we left. We drove around to the ski lift station at Mount Asahi, the tallest mountain in Hokkaido, where we walked a little way up the ski slopes, keeping out of the way of the skiers of course, as we looked for photographs like this one (below), which is absolute chaos, I know.

Chaos

Chaos

It’s actually the chaos that attracted me to this subject. I love visiting this spot, because it can present some very challenging composition opportunities, but often some extraordinarily beautiful scenes. I’m not sure if this falls into the latter category, for it certainly was a challenge to compose though. I found the foreground tree, and just love the detail, but when I framed it up, the background was just chaotic. I thought about using a wide aperture to reduce the depth of field, but I actually started to really like this look, with everything just all jumbled up together, so this became my image. It was shot at f/11 for 1/30 of a second, ISO 100 at 70mm, the long end of my 24-70mm lens.

Just along from the last image, I found this scene, that has probably become one of my favorite images of the trip (below). I felt this easier to compose than the last image, although there was a lot of thought that went into this. Firstly, the cable car cables run almost half way into the scene, and there was a large pillar to support the cables, so I moved into a position where the pillar would be behind a tree, leaving me only the cables to clone out.

Mount Asahi Trees

Mount Asahi Trees

I also wanted the twigs from that small bush in the foreground not to overlap with the other two bushes in the distance behind it, so I adjusted for that too. Finally, I tweaked my framing so that I cut off the trees at each side in a pleasing place.

Also, note that because I expose to the right, my original of this is almost pure white, with pale grey trees, but I decided to process this with a somewhat classic look, which I think suits the scene. For my black and white snow scenes, I pretty much always now turn on Enable Profile Corrections under the Profile tab of the Lens Corrections panel in Lightroom. This removes both lens distortion and vignetting from an image.

I sometimes only remove the vignette, but generally both. The reason I do this, is to stop the corners getting really dark during the black and white conversion, but as you can see in this image, I chose to leave the vignette there. I did not use the Lens Corrections. I could have corrected it and then added my own vignette later, but something about this image just beckoned me to leave it with this classic feel with a real lens vignette.

My settings for this image were, you guessed it, f/14, 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 30mm, again with my 24-70mm lens.

So, that’s our twelve images for today, and we’ll pick up the trail next week with a photograph from the foothills of Mount Asahi from a shoot on our way back to the hotel later in the day.

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017

Before we finish, I just wanted to quickly mention that we have now started taking bookings for the 2017 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure, from January 8 to the 20th, 2017. Hokkaido is the northern-most island of Japan, and as you might have noticed, it is the minimalist winter landscape photographer’s dream. This will be our third year running a dedicated landscape tour in Hokkaido, and it’s evolving into something very special that I’m extremely proud of. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2017


Show Notes

For details of the 2017 Hokkaido Landscape Photograph Adventure visit the tour page here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


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