Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 604)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 604)

Just back from the 2018 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure tour and workshop, today I’m going to start a travelogue series to walk you through our antics as we pretty much circumnavigated the beautiful northern island of Japan.

Having met the group over dinner on the Sunday night of January 7, we gathered bright and early the following morning to board our flight to Hokkaido, where we’d spend our first three days in the Biei area. This is a part of Hokkaido that I’ve been traveling to for 15 years now, and I absolutely love this area for minimalist Winter photography.

Our first stop was to photograph a tree that I quite conceitedly called Martin’s tree. Many of the trees in the Biei area have names, often because of a commercial in which they featured, or just based on their appearance, like the Parent and Child trees not far from my tree, but my tree doesn’t have a name, so I gave it mine.

As you can see in the first photograph of this travelogue series (below) it’s a birch tree, situated on top of a hill, surrounded by small trees and bushes that are gradually overtaking the line of the hill. 

Martin's Tree in Biei

Martin’s Tree in Biei

It was nice and cloudy for much of this first day, although it didn’t snow. My tree generally looks fine without falling snow, but many of the other locations we visit in Biei depend on falling snow, so I always get a bit nervous on the first few days hoping to get the right weather.

I shot this first image at 85mm with my 24-105mm f/4 lens, with the aperture set to f/14, and ISO at 100, for a 1/50 of a second shutter speed. Back in my favorite snowy environment, I shot in Manual mode as usual, and just adjusted my exposure until the white’s were all the way over to the right side of the histogram, to ensure that the white snow was white and not too gray, as the camera would have it if left to its own devices.

As the day progressed, the sky cleared and was almost completely blue at some points, which made me even more nervous. We continued shooting and got some shots that I am happy with, although I knew it would be much more special with falling snow, so I kept my fingers crossed. Here’s another shot from the first day, when we stopped at a place I like, where the plow lines in the soil often show through the snow. This is one spot that works when there is some sunlight, as it helps to accentuate the troughs made by the plow lines.

Tree on Ploughed Hill

Tree on Ploughed Hill

Some members of this year’s group asked me why I often place the tree in the top of the frame, with lots of snow instead of more sky, and the answer is really quite simple. If I’m looking up at a tree on a hill, I want it to look like it’s on a hill in my photograph. If you place the horizon closer to the bottom of the frame, it’s harder to tell that the tree is on a hill. Of course, if there is a great sky, I’ll consider including more of it, but as you’ll see, a snow-covered hill is generally more important to me than a relatively uninteresting sky. I shot this image at f/14 for a 1/30 of a second at ISO 100, with a focal length of 56mm.

The last image from the first day that I want to share is this very simple photograph of a line of deer footprints in the snow (below). I find the simplicity of this shot quite appealing, although I’m sure it’s not for everyone. I also like the fact that you can’t easily see that the prints actually make their way into the frame from the right edge until you study the image a little more closely.

Deer Footprints

Deer Footprints

Again, there’s lots of hill here, but this time because the snow contains the main subject, and we do need to see that these prints are going uphill as well, so this composition makes sense to me. I shot this at f/16 for a 1/4 of a second at ISO 100 and a focal length of 100mm. This was actually the wide end of my 100-400mm lens, which I use for landscape quite a lot on this tour.

The following morning, on day two of the tour, I got my wish as we started the day with a beautiful shoot in the snow around the Takushinkan Gallery. This is pretty much my standard photo (below) of the line of trees behind the gallery, which I can’t resist shooting each year.  

Takushinkan Trees

Takushinkan Trees

Three Birch Trees in Snow

Three Birch Trees in Snow

The snow completely cleans this scene up. The top of the hill behind the trees disappears, as do the distant mountains and trees, which you can just about see to the right of the right-most tree in this image. I shot this at f/14 at 22mm with my 11-24mm lens for a 1/13 of a second at ISO 100.

Right next to the line of trees are three silver birch trees that stand proud looking somewhat austere in their wintery surroundings, as we can see in this next image (right).

Here the line of the top of the hill behind the trees is still visible, with the somewhat brighter sky above it to add a bit of contrast. There were some human footprints in the snow in front of these trees that I cloned out in Capture One Pro, but I left the animal footprints behind the trees, as I often don’t mind seeing these if they are non-human.

You can probably make out the streaks of snow above the trees in this shot as well, showing that the snow was actually still falling quite heavily.

I think the reason that the top of the hill is more visible in this shot is because I’m closer to the trees. The more distance I put between me and the trees, as with the previous image, the more the snow is able to white-out the background.

This image was shot at f/14 for 1/15 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 31mm.

The next image has become a standard that I simply have to shoot when the snow starts to fall in Biei, but again, I can’t resist this shot (below). 

Pencil Drawing Trees

Pencil Drawing Trees

This image works for me because it looks like a pencil drawing, with the streaks of snow caused by the 1/15 of a second shutter speed at f/16. I was at ISO 100, but as the snow gets heavy, the light is this low without using an ND filter or anything else to reduce the light. I also really like the way the brow of the hill to the left of the trees is only visible for a little way, then completely merges into the sky from around the middle of the photograph. 

This is actually the same hill that had the deer footprints in that we looked in an earlier photograph, but the snow had completely covered them by the time we got back there on our second day.

In this next image too, I really like the beautiful subtle line in the snow and a slightly brighter patch of snow behind the tree adding an accent (below). I zoomed in on the tree a little more for this shot, and that also helps us to see the snow streaking across the black bark of the tree trunks.

Tree on Snow Covered Hill

Tree on Snow Covered Hill

I also like the bamboo grass and few additional stick poking out of the snow to the right of the tree in this shot. These things just add a touch more interest to otherwise very minimalist work. I shot this at f/14 for a 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 371mm.

The next photo is slightly different to my other work from this area, in that it’s not quite a beautiful tree, rather a scrappy mess of twigs, but I was really attracted to this form (below). Initially, it kind of looked like a cartoon character, with that top right twig almost like the head of a raggedy bird.

Jiminy Cricket Climbing a Twig

Jiminy Cricket Climbing a Twig

Then, after getting home and looking at this photo on a larger screen, initially my 56-inch 4K television, my wife and I noticed what looks like a little man, perhaps even a Jiminy Cricket type of character climbing the top right twig that I was originally seeing as a bird’s head and beak. You might not be able to see this in the web version, but I thought it was a fun little “Easter egg” to find in the details of the photo. This was shot at f/16 for a 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 158mm.

Trying unsuccessfully to keep the number of shots from Biei to a minimum, this next image (below) is the same tree from the second shot we looked at today, but again, the troughs from the plow lines were pretty much hidden on this second day. Another reason that I love it when it snows is because the sky is generally either the same tone or darker than the snow, so the snow is allowed to stay white, as it feels most natural. When the sky is brighter the snow gets greyer, which I don’t really like.

Tree with Grasses

Tree with Grasses

Other things that I love about this scene are the subtle shadow under the tree, and the grasses poking their way out of the deep snow. These add a lovely accent and really help to complete the photograph, in my opinion. I shot this at f/14, for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 76mm.

I couldn’t resist the light hitting the four trees in this next image (below) as we drove through Biei, so we stopped at a place that we don’t normally stop at, and I’m pleased we did. It’s nice to add new location possibilities to a trip, and I’m sure we’ll stop here again.

Five Trees

Five Trees

Some of the scenes we shoot are somewhat deceiving as you can’t see what’s outside the frame. Here, to the left of this scene, there is actually a thicker line of trees and a fence, and if I recall a bit of a ditch running down towards the foreground. Although that will work for some people, personally I prefer the simplicity of this composition, shot at 214mm with an aperture of f/11 a 1/320 of a second exposure. I had increased the ISO to 400 for that faster shutter speed, as it was blowing a gale and there actually a bit of rain in the wind that hit the front element of my lens very very quickly if my exposures were too long.

Just as we’d all gotten back on the bus after shooting the previous scene, the cloud started to break, revealing an amazing stormy cloud sky, so we filed back off the bus and spent another fifteen minutes or so photograph the new scene, as you can see here (below).

Five Trees Five Shadows

Five Trees Five Shadows

With the sky being so bright in places, the trees were forced into almost silhouette for this shot, but I love the strongly defined shadows that they cast. I’m a huge fan of the previous type of image with much more subtle tones, but this is a nice addition to my Hokkaido Winter Landscape portfolio in my opinion. Because I had exposed for the sky, I actually had to brighten up the foreground snow quite a bit with an Adjustment layer in Capture One Pro.

Because the scene was so much brighter, I dropped my ISO back down to 100 for this shot, as that still gave me a shutter speed of 1/400 at f/14, and my focal length was slightly wider at 170mm.

OK, so that was actually eleven images for this episode, one more than usual, but I wanted to show the comparison between the last two images. We’ll pick up the trail in part two with a visit to the blue falls near our hotel on the morning of day three, before we head around to Mount Asahi for some beautiful scenes from the ski slopes, and then we’ll head over to the coast to continue our journey around the island of Hokkaido.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020

If you think you might like to join this tour in the future, either let us know that you’d like to be added to the 2019 cancellation list, or secure a spot on the 2020 tour with special guests Nicole S. Young and Brian Matiash, who will be around to offer advice in addition to me, and will be doing a number of workshop sessions during the course of the tour. For details see our tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa

HLPA 2020


Show Notes

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2017 Travelogue #4 Saroma (Podcast 560)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2017 Travelogue #4 Saroma (Podcast 560)

In this concluding episode of a four part series covering my Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure tour for 2017, we visit the Sawaki fishing port at Ohmu, go inland for some detail abstractions, and finish our tour with two days at Lake Saroma.

We pick up the trail at the start of day nine, when we returned to the Sawaki Fishing Port to photograph the rocky beach and tetrapods, that you can see in this first image for today (below). I really like the high vantage point, from the wall above the port, that we saw in the last image of episode 559, but with the sea calmer now, it was nice to be able to not only get down on the beach, but also lower my tripod for this low, more intimate perspective.

Rocky Beach and Tetrapods

Rocky Beach and Tetrapods

I don’t subscribe to the school of thought that says every image needs a good foreground. In fact, I’ve now seen way too many images that have a really uninteresting over-accentuated foreground, simply because people have had this drilled into them.

There are times however, when the foreground does have enough interest to warrant getting down low and showing the details, and I believe these wet black rocks fall into this category. I also like how the sun catches the wet rock more to the right side, and this gradually decreases over towards the left side of the frame.

The other so-called rule that I’m breaking with this image is that I put the horizon line almost along the center of the frame. This was of course done on purpose, as I like the balance afforded to the image by including almost as much sky as foreground, especially here because there is plenty of texture and detail in the sky. If the sky was just grey I would have pointed the camera down more.

Capture One Diffraction Correction

Another thing that I’d like to mention about this image is that I stopped down the aperture to f/16, which you’ll probably recall is a third of a stop smaller than my usual landscape aperture of f/14. I did this partly because I wanted a slower shutter speed, but also because I wanted good focus from the nearest foreground to the distant objects, but it does start to introduce just a slight amount of diffraction, which is what happens when light passes through a small hole, causing the image to become slightly softer, despite the deeper depth of field.

It’s not a huge issue at f/16, and I am usually more concerned about this at f/22 if I have to go there for some reason. One thing that I’d been looking forward to testing though, is the new Diffraction Correction feature in Capture One Pro version 10, that was released recently. I turned this on under the Lens Correction tool panel, and did notice that the foreground rocks became slightly sharper, so this seems to be working nicely. I’ll try again soon when I have to stop down further, but for now I’m happy that this new checkbox does something useful.

My other settings for this image were a focal length of 13mm with my 11-24mm f/4 lens, ISO 100 for a 0.6 second exposure.

Looking for Image Sets

After a morning photographing in the port, we went for lunch, then headed in-land, to see if we could find some nice landscapes. We did shoot some landscape work, with one image that I like with various patterns in the different types of trees, but from the same location I wanted to quickly share the next set of three images.

I first noticed this batch of twigs sticking out of the snow just off the road, and framed them up in a place that enabled me to surround the twigs with only snow, and nothing distracting sticking in or out of the side of the frame. If you click on the image to view it larger, you might be able to see the very fine tendrils on the ends of the twigs, which I thought made nice graphic elements for this abstraction.

Winter Twigs

Winter Twigs

Once I’d found the first image though, I decided to look for more, to see if I couldn’t create a mini set of images. A little further along the bank there was another group of twigs that I found somewhat pleasing, as we can see in this image (below). I actually prefer this to the first image, as there are less cut-off twigs, and more of those tendrils on most of these.

Cheerleader Twigs

Cheerleader Twigs

With two images in my set now though, I set out to find a third. Two is just a pair, but three is a set of images. Not finding anything initially, I crossed the road and started walking along, and as the patches of twigs started to run out, I found this last image to complete my set (below).

An Intimate Audience

An Intimate Audience

The major difference between this and the first two images is that there is no crossing of the twigs. None of them overlap. I feel as though this one is almost like a dancer on the right, with a small, very intimate audience, watching from the left.

I shot all three images at ISO 100 for 1/20 of a second at f/14. They were already almost black and white, but I did convert these images to black and white in Capture One Pro, and although you won’t really be able to see in the web version, the texture throughout the snow looks almost like that seen in textured fine art media, like Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse Textured. Because of that, printing on a textured media would probably not work so well, but I’m looking forward to getting some time later in the year to print these out of a beautiful smooth matte paper.

After our in-land shoot, we started our drive south to Lake Saroma, where we’d spend the last two nights of the tour, in a beautiful hotel overlooking the frozen lake. Our first shoot the following morning was at the Toetoko Fishing Port. For my first shot from this location, I was photographing straight down between two lines of fishing boats (below).

Toetoko Fishing Boats with Footprints

Toetoko Fishing Boats with Footprints

There are line after line of fishing boats like this, but this is the only one that had relatively undisturbed snow between them, apart from the old footprints, which I feel actually add to this image, mostly because they are smoothed over a little. If these had been fresh prints it wouldn’t have worked. We had a great sky though, especially that small patch of detail at the vanishing point, so I was happy with how this turned out.

You will have already guessed that I shot this at f/14 with the ISO set to 100, and the shutter speed was 1/50 of a second. My focal length was 27mm with my new 24-105mm Mark II lens.

Video Coming Soon

As we started to photograph these boats, Rob Bampton, the incredibly talented videographer that I took along to cover this trip for us, flew his drone about a foot over our heads and straight down the middle of this line of boats. We laughed as the participant next to me felt the wind on her head as we got “buzzed”.

The footage that Rob captured here and throughout the trip is really quite amazing, and enables the viewer to really experience this tour first hand, so I can’t wait to share that with you, probably in March when I’ve completed all of my winter tours for this year.

Going wide for the previous shot enabled me to tell the bigger story of the multiple lines of boats, but I went a little narrower to 43mm for this image (below) so that I could show more of the details of these beautiful, rugged fishing boats, that have been brought up on land for the winter, to avoid them being crushed by the sea ice.

Toetoko Fishing Boat Sterns

Toetoko Fishing Boat Sterns

The sun was coming from camera right, so the texture is the snow is beautifully accentuated and the backs of the boats lit with a lovely soft, diffused light from the somewhat overcast sky. I have a tendency to try to include all of my subject, so I sometimes find it difficult to crop off the top of the rigging on these boats to the left of this image, but I’d have had to go much to wide to include that, and that would have taken away the detail that we have in this final image. Sometimes you just have to make a decision, and cut off certain features of your subject for the greater good. Again, I shot this at f/14, ISO 100, with a shutter speed of 1/60 of a second.

To my back as I shot the last few images, there was a line of larger boats, that we can see in this image (below). I was attracted to this line because of the way the snow has drifted forming ridges between the boats, but also because the larger boats gave us a better look at the screws and rudders, which I thought added something to this image over the previous ones.

Toetoko Fishing Boat Screws (Neutral)

Toetoko Fishing Boat Screws (Neutral)

Making Use of Color Channels

The bottom of each of these boats is actually a different color, with some being red, and some being blue. It can sometimes feel a little wasteful to throw out this color information, but I personally just much prefer to see these images in black and white.

This doesn’t mean that we simply ignore color in our black and white images though. In the above image, I left the color channels neutral, but in this next image, I reduced the red channel to -35 and increased the blue channel to +25, to give me this version of the same image (below).

Toetoko Fishing Boat Screws (Red Dark, Blue Bright)

Toetoko Fishing Boat Screws (Red Dark, Blue Bright)

Not only will you notice that the second boat from the right now looks a little lighter than the first and third boats from the right, you will also see that this new version now has much more contrast between the rightmost screw and its background, which was the red underside of the boat behind it. Part of my intension with this photo was to highlight the boat screws, so this interpretation enables me to do that much more effectively.

In the afternoon, we went in land to a location where there are some nice copses on hills, and first of all, I shot the next image (below) which I like for its simplicity. The trees are relatively sparse, and I like the fence that lines the top of the hill, then starts to work its way down the right edge in the heavy snow.

Copse and Fence

Copse and Fence

There was a slightly darker sky which I think works well here, and then a patch of snow in the foreground which is much steeper than the rest of the hill, giving the snow an area of slight variation too. This scene is quite a distance from the road on private land, so we can’t climb up to it, but with my 100-400mm Mark II lens I was able to get this framing that I’m happy with.

As we approached this location this year, I noticed an angle that I’d not seen before, so we went there after the previous shoot, and I created a number of new images, including this next panorama which is five 5Ds R images stitched together in Photoshop (below). I’ve made the web version of this image wider than usual, so open up your browser window nice and wide and click on the image to view it in more detail. Remember too that if you want to stop the images from automatically advancing, just place your mouse over the image.

Copses Near and Far

Copses Near and Far

I was attracted to the idea of two separate copses on nearby hills, and how the fences seem to punctuate the hillside, in some ways almost stitching them together. This series of images were shot at 255mm, f/14 at 1/20 of a second, with ISO 100.

The following morning we visited a tree that I have shot many times now. There was a little less snow than usual this year though, so the grasses around the tree weren’t as buried as they usually are. This added a little complexity to our compositional decisions, but I was happy with the few photos that I got. This one (below) appeals to me because I was able to get a little patch of clear snow in front of the grasses, but also place these two tall grasses along the left side of the frame.

Lake Saroma Tree with Grasses

Lake Saroma Tree with Grasses

The main thing that I try to do when composing an image like this, is to find a place where I can get as few objects leading to the edge of the frame as possible. There are a few grass stems going out of the frame in the middle band, but the foreground was quite clear here. Also, this angle enabled me to place the sun behind the tree, so the bright area of the sky around the sun became easier to manage, and it gave more pleasing shadows, as they seem to radiate out from the tree. This was an 11mm focal length at f/14, 1/125 of a second at ISO 100.

The previous day we’d visited the Toetoko Fishing Port in the morning, so on this day we went back in the afternoon for some slightly different light. I had a photo to share with you from that session, but I chose to include the second example of using the color channels earlier, so we’ll skip that one.

The following morning, we basically have a couple of hours to shoot as we head to the airport, so we visited Cape Notoro, and photographed the lighthouse there. It was a little disappointing aesthetically to see that they’ve now put solar panels on the roof of the lighthouse and built a steel fence around it, so my best angle was this image with the foreground grasses hiding most of that (below).

Notoro Light House

Notoro Light House

This was also the first day of the trip where we had mostly clear skies, which I’m not usually a fan of, but as we had to fly back to Tokyo in the afternoon, this was probably better than a snow storm, which could have resulted in a delay return, so all was good. I shot this at 35mm with an aperture of f/14 for 1/160 of a second at ISO 100.

Again, all of the images that we’ve looked at today were converted to black and white in Capture One Pro, my new raw processing and image management software of choice. If you’d like to try it, you can download a fully functional trial version and if you choose to buy it, use the code AMBP for a 10% discount.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2018

We’ll wrap it up there for this concluding episode in this four part travelogue. I hope you’ve enjoyed joining us vicariously as we circumnavigate the northern part of Hokkaido in this true winter wonderland minimalist tour and workshop. If you are perhaps interested in joining us on a future tour, please do take a look at the details on the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa, and if you have any questions at all, please drop me a line via our contact page.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2018


Show Notes

See details of the tour and sign up for next year here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Download Capture One Pro here: https://mbp.ac/c1download

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.


Minimalism in Photography (Podcast 530)

Minimalism in Photography (Podcast 530)

Minimalism—I almost made the title of this post just “Minimalism” but that’s a little bit open to interpretation, as it has a place in all visual arts, design, architecture and music, as well as a way of life in some cases. So, I added “in Photography” and this is still probably the shortest episode title I’ve given a podcast so far, so we’re off to a good start.

One of my popular mantras as I teach and do my own photography, is that a photograph is often more about what you take out, than what you leave in the frame. I’m not necessarily talking about physically adding or removing elements, although that might be the case in studio and still life work. I’m talking more about what we choose to photograph, the conditions in which we photograph, and how we choose to frame our subject.

Less is More

The phrase “Less is More” is used a lot here in Japan, where minimalism can be found in many of the arts, but also interwoven into every day life. Unchecked, I often used to try to include as much as I can into a photo or design, and even today I find myself whispering “less is more” as I frame up a scene.

I’ve mentioned before that quite often, as we approach a scene, there is usually just one or two elements that really excite us, attracting our attention. Finding ways to exclude or minimalize other distractions is often a challenge, although generally results in more pleasing photographs.

Today, I’m going to walk you through a series of example images, and discuss my thoughts on minimalism in photography as we view each image.

My Minimalist Awakening

I had a look through my image library, and although I can see traces of minimalism starting many years ago, as I recall my reactions to my work, I think I’d have to say that I first started to become aware of the beauty of minimalism as I made this photograph (below) of the tree that we visit in my Hokkaido Landscape tour. This was from 2009, when the landscape tour was just a part of my Hokkaido tours, not a dedicated tour as it is now.

Lone Tree on a Hill

Lone Tree on a Hill

I remember standing out in a driving snow storm as I shot this, but I fell instantly in love with the effect that the snow had on the scene. The background was gone, the foreground reduced to a series of lines and texture, and the tree itself seems barely visible through my viewfinder. I put the tree on the far right of the frame, to emphasize the emptiness to the left, and also show the curves in the hill as it raises slightly, then drops off again towards the left edge of the frame.

All I did to this image in post was reduce the Blacks slider in Lightroom to -5, and I removed a red and white pole that was stuck in the snow to the right of the tree, to mark the edge of the road that runs in front of the tree, although you can’t see it from this angle, thankfully. I reduced the blacks slightly to bring out the form of the tree just a little, but I didn’t want to be able to see it any more than this, or the feeling would have been loss.

Wabi-Sabi

The Japanese concept of Wabi-Sabi, has in my opinion, strong connections to minimalism. Wabi-sabi in art essentially means “flawed beauty”. Japanese art is often based on the idea that nothing is permanent, perfect or complete, so if we flip that, wabi-sabi is about impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness.

To me, snow scenes are very much a part of my minimalist work, and as I think about this, it’s possible partly due to the impermanence, imperfection and incompleteness of the scene. The snow falls as the wind dictates, changes every time fresh snow falls, and then it’s gone come spring, giving way to a very different scene.

Tanchou Study #7

Tanchou Study #7

Since I first started to travel to Hokkaido in the winter in 2004, I found attempts at minimizing the beautiful form of the red-crowned cranes against their white background, but probably the first time I pulled this off the way I wanted to, was with this photo (right), that you might recognize the cover of my Making the Print ebook.

In this photograph, the head is totally pronounced, with that splash of red, but that and the brownish beak is really the only color in the photograph. The line along the back of the crane is much more defined than the front, which almost merges into the background, and this is another element that appeals to the minimalist in me.

The important thing in making this photograph of course, was ensuring that there was nothing else in the frame. I used a long 600mm lens, and luckily as the crane cranked its neck around like this, there were no other cranes in the frame.

Also, the decision to rotate the lens around in the lens collar for a vertical orientation helped, as the main lines of the subject are vertical too.

Of course, keeping the exposure nice and bright was also essential, and part of what makes all of the white tones very similar, and allows us to only see a certain amount of texture in the bird’s feathers.

Long Exposures in Minimalism

Although we’ll come back to some snow scenes, let’s look at a few examples from other seasons as well, like this one from Okinawa in the summer time. This little island made for a great minimalist subject when placed on the left side of the frame, because there’s nothing to its right, except the outcrop of land that you can see faintly in the distance coming into the frame from the right edge (below).

 

Tree, Rock, Sea

Tree, Rock, Sea

I actually find that little bit of land quite appealing, again, because it’s so faint it’s almost not there. I like it when you have to work to see some of the elements of a scene. The main reason that I consider this to be a minimalist photograph though, is the smooth water caused by using neutral density filters. I used an ND 400 and an ND8 neutral density filter to get a 64 second exposure, making the water smooth over in this way.

This is something that I find I do a lot when I’m in minimalist mode, especially in seasons other than winter. It just helps to reduce the scene down to its barest elements, in this case, the tiny island, its tree, and the distant promontory. I also recall just after this realizing that my wallet was still in my pocket as I waded out into the ocean for this shot, so at the next stop we had to spend some time drying my bank notes.

Minimalism in Color

My minimalist is excited by any scene that can be reduced down to not only the minimal amount of elements, but to a low number of colors, either just black and white, or like the crane shot that we looked at earlier, where we had mainly black and white, with a splash of red.

In Namibia last year, I noticed a sun bleached skull of an animal out on the edge of a sand dune, so I used my 100-400mm lens and zoomed right in to 400mm for this photograph (below). I was interested in the large expanse of deep orange sand, with these two white specks at first glance. Despite the size of the skull and the bit of bone above it, our eyes go instantly to these, because of their difference in color and lightness.

Skull on Dune

Skull on Dune

We then of course notice the comet trails that the wind has made in the sand, and then start to explore the texture in the surface of the dune, with the wind ripples, and for me at least, after that, my brain starts to recognize that the left third of the frame is in shadow, and I can jump in and notice some different texture over there.

In a photograph like this, our eyes and brains seem to zoom right in on the small detail first, then gradually work back out to the larger scene. This might not be the case if you are viewing the small web sized image, but try clicking on it and viewing the larger image. Also, with a large print, you can bet that people would walk up close and try to see what the white object is, before trying to appreciate the image as a whole.

In fact, you could say that there really is no image as a whole if it was just the ripples in the sand and the line of shadow. It might work, but I think the skull is the added element that we need to hold attention and give the image a reason to delve into the details. This to me is what minimalism is all about.

Himba People Fetching Water

Himba People Fetching Water

Another example from Namibia is this photo of a group of Himba people walking across the desert to fetch water (right).

Of course, this has a minimalist aspect because the people are so small in the frame, yet recognizable. Again, in a large print, I can image people walking right up to this and noticing how the boy and girl at the front of the group are looking up at us as we photograph them from the top of a nearby hill.

It also though symbolizes minimalism for me, as these people have to walk a few miles each day to fetch their water. This is something that we take so much for granted in many countries and yet water is life-threatening scarce for these people.

I purposefully placed the group towards the end of the vehicle trails that they were walking along, hoping to put them symbolically closer to their water supply. If I’d framed this with the group towards the top of the frame, it could have told a different story, making them seem much further away from their water.

By the way, if you’d like to join me in Namibia in June 2017, check out our  Namibia tour page.

Darken to Simplify

Another technique that I like to use to reduce the detail and minimalize my images is to darken down shadows and certain colors during the black and white conversion. Here you can see two photos of the Seljalandsfoss waterfall in Iceland. It is of course the same photo, but the one on the right is the original image, before I converted to black a white (below).

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall - Both Versions

Seljalandsfoss Waterfall – Both Versions

Notice how I’ve used the green and yellow color channel information to darken just the greens in Silver Efex Pro, which makes the cliff side very dark. It also makes the two patches of grass at the bottom of the frame less noticeable as I they’re the same dark gray as the water in my final image.

The resulting photograph stops being about the greens that we see across most of Iceland, but simply about the tender shape that the streams of water make as they fall into the basin, some of them caught and blown off course by the wind. I’ve left some textures in the cliff side, but I’m sure you’ll agree it’s much more about the shape and form of the waterfall in my black and white version. Removing or making elements look less obvious can often be all that’s required to minimalize a scene.

Mist as an Aid to Minimalism

You might recall from my Winter Wonderland Tour travelogues a few months ago, that I’m particularly partial to a bit of mist, because it allows us to reduce the scene down to literally just the bare essentials. In this shot of three whooper swans flying towards us, we were out at dawn and treated with some beautiful early morning mist over the frozen Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido (below).

Three Swans in Mist

Three Swans in Mist

Without this mist, it’s still a beautiful scene, with the frozen lake and mountains in the distance, but it’s not minimalist. The mist takes away everything but the birds, and I love this. It’s like having wild swans with 2.5 meter wingspan flying for us in a studio space, in front of a giant roll of seamless with huge soft boxes providing the most beautiful soft light imaginable.

Background is King

To keep a scene to its most minimal, with only the necessary elements, I am forever conscious of the background. For this next photograph, I recall struggling to exclude some distracting elements in the distant background, that would have been a bit of an eyesore had I left them in. Of course, we can consider removing them in post, and with a white scene like this, that’s easy to do, even for an impatience post-processor like me, but when I can get a clean background in the field, I much prefer to do it in camera.

Stark Ballerina

Stark Ballerina

Had I simply zoomed in more, there would have been less white space around dried plant, but I think that space is necessary to maintain the solitude and loneliness that I feel from this image. Without at least a certain amount of space around the subject, I feel as though it’s more just a still life photograph. Especially when it’s a dark subject against a light background, or visa versa. The crane photo that we looked at earlier works OK I think, because the majority of the crane is white, against the white background, maintaining the minimalism.

The point is though, that you can make or break a minimalist photo by not paying attention to the background. For any kind of photography, it is necessary to scene the edges of the frame, and ensure that nothing distracting is creeping in. If you have a textured or multicolored but out of focus background, experiment with the balls of bokeh and how you place them in relation to your main subject.

Open Your Mind to Nothingness

I saw the tree in this next photograph (below) as we drove through the hills in Hokkaido on my Landscape Tour there this year. We were already running late for our lunch, and the group was getting hungry, so we stopped on the way back, and I’m glad that we did. I ended up shooting this scene at 400mm, but even then it was a little too small in the frame for many of the group members to appreciate. I recall getting really excited about this tree as most of the group walked off down the road to shoot the closer trees.

Tree in Hollow

Tree in Hollow

The thing is that I believe we have to let go of the idea of the subject needing to take up so much of the frame sometimes. For me, this image works because of the large expanse of nothingness. The lines along the horizon and the gray sky above it break up the scene nicely. Also, because we can see the line of snow in front of the tree, defined by the shadow of the tree itself, we mentally extend that line out much further.

There is really nothing in the bottom two thirds of the frame, except snow, but we know that it’s snow and that it’s there as an extension of what we can see in the top third. It’s like we mentally fill in the gaps that are suggested by the detail that is included in the image, and this to me is one of the reasons that I love shooting winter snow scenes like this.

Again, the weather is crucial for this. Not only do we obviously need a good covering of snow, but without low cloud or mist in the background, there are hills, farmhouses, other trees and mountains in the background, all of which would make this scene not worth photographing in my opinion.

Three Million Dollar Minimalism

I was in two minds as to whether or not to include this last example photo, but let’s go ahead and look at it anyway. Shortly after photographing the tree that we just looked at, we were walking through the hills, back towards where I’d asked our bus driver to park the bus, and I couldn’t resist this photograph. I recall joking with some of the members of the group that this was my three million dollar photo (below).

Brow of Snow Covered Hill

Brow of Snow Covered Hill

I was referring to the photo Rhein II which sold for 4.3 million dollars a few years back, causing quite a stir. I said that I was going to print it at three meters wide and put it up for auction, all tongue in cheek of course. Deep down though, I’m actually really attracted to this photo. I thought it would remain a joke piece, but I’ve continued to like it, and come back to it every now and again, wondering what I should eventually do with it.

If we think about the actual elements of the frame, it’s one curved line, slightly above center. I was actually careful to get that line sharply focussed, so if you zoom in on this, there is a tiny line of texture across the crest of the hill. There are few other things that this could be though, so with one simple line, we can understand that we are looking at the crest of a snow covered hill, and the gray sky above it. Call me what you will, but I actually think that’s quite profound.

If there’s anyone out there with $3m to spare that feels the same way, drop me a line. I’m sure I could figure out some fancy printing process for you to brag about, and I’ll even through in free shipping! 🙂

Minimalist Ideals Improve Our Photography

As you’ve seen, much of my minimalist work seems to be centered around snow scenes, although I find it creeping into much of my work. I’ve selected these example images because they can mostly be considered minimalist photographs, but I think the idea behind minimalism can help us to improve all of our photography, not just minimalist work.

Although this might not be the case if your image might be about mayhem and confusion, generally, photographs benefit from only including the elements that are contributing to the image, or supporting the elements of interest by providing contrast or context. If something isn’t contributing to the photograph, the chances are it’s detracting from it. The fewer distractions you include, the more the viewer will be able to enjoy the beauty of the elements that you do include.


Show Notes

See our Tours & Workshops section for details of the tours on which I made all of these photographs.

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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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


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