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

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


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

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

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

Swan Lake
Swan Lake

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

Water-Brake

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

Water-Brake
Water-Brake

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

And They're Off!
And They’re Off!

Japanese Long-Tailed Tit

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

Japanese Long-Tailed Tit
Japanese Long-Tailed Tit

Fleeting Fox

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

Fleeting Fox
Fleeting Fox

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

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

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

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

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

White-Tailed Eagle Departs

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

White-Tailed Eagle Departs
White-Tailed Eagle Departs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Great Spotted Woodpecker Peekaboo
Great Spotted Woodpecker Peekaboo

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

Participants’ Comments

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

Japan Winter Wildlife 2022

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

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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

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

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

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

Whooper Swans

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

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

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

Swans on Kussharo Lake
Swans on the Unfrozen Kussharo Lake

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

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

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

Swan Wings
A Whooper Swan stretching its wings upwards

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

Apocalyptic Fumaroles

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

Sulphur Mountain Fumarole
A Fumarole at Iouzan (Sulphur Mountain)

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

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

Northern Red Fox

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

Proud Red Fox
A northern red fox on tetrapods

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

Steller’s Sea Eagles

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

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

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

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

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

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

White-Tailed Eagle

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

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

Oshin Koshin Falls

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

Oshin Koshin Falls
The Top of the Oshin Koshin Falls

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

Participant’s Comments

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

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2022 Now Open for Bookings

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

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

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


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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


Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 655)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 655)

We pick up the trail on the second of my Japan Winter Wildlife Tours for 2019 today, as we continue to photograph the clumsily beautiful Whooper Swans at Lake Kussharo.

My final selection of images from this incredibly productive tour is still slightly over 300, so I have a little more work to do there, but I’ve been able to reduce the number of images to share with you today to a final twelve, so we’ll finish this series covering this year’s Japan winter tours with this episode.

Swan Fly-By at Dawn

The morning after our first panning session with the swans at Lake Kussharo, we went back to the lake hoping for a few more fly-bys and we did have a couple that gave good results. My favorite of the morning is this image, with four of the Whooper Swans almost overhead, as they approached the lake.

Dawn Fly-By
Dawn Fly-By

I really do enjoy watching these huge birds fly overhead, and when they are this close, I literally shot this with my 100-400mm lens wide open at 100mm, you can often hear the wooshing sound as they flap those huge wings. Their wingspan can be as wide as 275 cm or 9 feet, and they weigh up 14 kg or 31 pounds, so it’s a hefty bird, and actually the largest that we photograph on this trip, although the sea eagles that we’ll also look at shortly take some beating when it comes to sheer awesomeness. My other settings for this shot were ISO 400 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/11.

Three Swan Pan

At the end of this day, we were back at the lake for another panning session, and I was again trying to get more than one swan in the frame, and did a pretty good job of it with this next image, in which we can see three swans in a line. The heads are sharp enough to keep the image, although I’d have liked them to be just a little bit sharper.

Three Swan Pan
Three Swan Pan

These panning shots are a lot of fun, and generally, we leave this location with lots of smiling faces, and that’s always good to see from my perspective. The hit ratio with this kind of shot is pretty low, but having two evenings to try it really helps too. My settings for this image where ISO 1000 for a 1/50 of a second at f/16, and I was out at 100 mm still with my 100-400mm lens. Although the lake was uncommonly not frozen on the first trip three weeks before this, as you can see in this image, it had mostly from over by the time we arrived on this trip.

Sulfur Mountain

The following morning we revisited the lake one last time, before continuing our journey to our last major destination of Rausu, for the sea eagles. On the way, our first stop was just 15 minutes from where we’d stayed, at Sulfur Mountain. You can see where it gets its name from with the yellow sulfur stained fumaroles in this somewhat apocalyptic looking photograph from our brief stop.

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now

The steam from the fumaroles was really heavy on this day, but the breaks in the cloud and clear sky made for a really dramatic looking scene if you time the shot just right. I was exposing this so that the sun was almost completely over-exposed, and that of course made the shadows very dark, but the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro helped to bring that detail back out, so overall I’m happy with the results. My settings were 1/1250 of a second at ISO 100, at f/16, and my focal length was 35 mm, with Canon’s new RF 24-105mm f/4 lens.

Northern Red Fox

We also made our regular first stop at the Notsuke Peninsula during our drive and were greeted by this beautiful Northern Red Fox that posed for us on the snow for quite a while. To avoid frightening the foxes, we generally photograph them from the bus, and just open the windows, and of course, turn the engine off to stop the vibration.

Northern Red Fox
Northern Red Fox

Occasionally we see foxes on the peninsula with tails that are stripped of their fur, probably by the sea eagles or crows that sometimes bully them, but this fox has probably one of the most beautiful bushy tails that I’ve seen. I shot a number of images of him sitting up, zoomed in on his face, but the images felt somewhat empty without that tail, so I settled for this image. My settings for this shot were ISO 1250 for an 1/800 of a second at f/8. I was using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in Extender engaged, and zoomed to 420 mm.

Sleepy Fox

Happy with our first encounter, I was surprised to get another fox shortly afterwards in a completely different environment, but every bit as cute as the first. This guy was quite a way off, so I had to shoot this with an external 2X Extender fitted as well as my 200-400mm lens with the internal Extender, for a focal length of 1065 mm, but as I’ve mentioned, the EOS R seems to quite like this combination, so I’m finding it very workable.

Sleepy Fox
Sleepy Fox

This fox was actually licking its paws then cleaning its face with them, but I’ve called this image Sleepy Fox as it almost looks like he’s got his head on his paws getting ready for a nice sleep. Because the light was relatively low, I was at ISO 5000 for this shot, for an 1/800 of a second at f/11, my widest aperture for this combination of Extenders. It’s always nice to get the fox up on the fishing nets like this, placing the foxes obviously in a fishing area from these visual clues, so the nets add a nice element of story.

Stags’ Play-Fighting

After a visit to the nature center, we turned our bus around and drove back down the Notsuke Peninsula, stopping this time for some Ezo Deer stags that were sizing up each others’ antlers. I like the flakes of snow in this, and the environment is beautiful, with the stags on the frozen brackish lake, just past the vegetation that they often feed on.

Stags' Play-Fighting
Stags’ Play-Fighting

Having said that, the lake is like a white sheet, so I’ve cropped this down to a 16:9 aspect ratio image, removing the top a little, as it wasn’t really adding anything. You can see from the angle of the right deer’s feet that they weren’t really pushing at each other here, but it’s nice to see them at least starting to get ready for this year’s rutting season. It seems I still had my 2X Extender fitted for this image, as my focal length was 685 mm, and my ISO was up at 6400 with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at f/11.

Steller’s Sea Eagle at ISO 12800

As I often say, with the camera’s we have these days, cranking up the ISO is really not that big a deal any more, as long as you ensure that you are exposing to the right, as in, adjusting your exposure so that the right-most data of your image is almost touching the right shoulder of the histogram. I was doing just that at dawn the following day, as we started the first of our three trips out on a boat to photograph the sea eagles.

Dawn Sea Eagle
Dawn Sea Eagle

This was around 30 minutes before the sun actually came up over the Kuril Islands, so even with a 1/200 of a second shutter speed at f/5, I still needed my ISO at 12800 to get this shot, but as you can see, there really isn’t a lot of grain in this image, even in the dark bird, simply because I increased my ISO enough to get my image data over close to the right shoulder of the histogram. Had I been too scared to do that, and left it at say ISO 3200, I guarantee you, the image would have been much noisier.

The Humble Butt Shot

Another thing that you will often hear when shooting with other photographers is people lowering their cameras as a bird or animal turns away from us, calling out the image as a “butt shot”. I do this myself too, so I’m not calling anyone out with this, but I do want to point out that I feel it’s a crying shame to completely rule out an image based on a popular idea that a certain type of photograph is in some way taboo.

Steller's Sea Eagle Butt Shot
Steller’s Sea Eagle Butt Shot

This shot of a Steller’s Sea Eagle is, I have to tell you, one of my favorite shots from this trip. I love the detail in the tail feathers and indeed the entire bird, and it doesn’t bother me one bit that this is a butt shot. Another thing that you’ll often hear bird photographers talking about is getting completely sharp wings, and this also is something that I purposefully do not try to do all the time. I like to use a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second, because it sometimes allows the wings to blur slightly, adding, in my opinion, some dynamism to the photograph.

I shot this with a shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second, and still have movement in the wing tips, but I like that here, so I’m happy with my choice of settings. My ISO was at 1600 by this time, as there was now much more light, and my aperture was down at f/10, with a focal length of 400mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle and Sea Ice

Of course, shots from the front are great too, like in this next image. Quite often with birds, we end up with our shots being from the side, which are also nice, but because it’s less common to get a bird coming straight towards you, it is nice to get some shots like this.

Steller's Sea Eagle and Sea Ice
Steller’s Sea Eagle and Sea Ice

As you can see from these shots, we did also get a decent amount of sea ice on this second trip. The timing of the second trip does give us a better chance of getting sea ice, although I really don’t mind when we don’t get any. Since talking the skipper of the boat into going out even when there is no ice, around five years or more ago, it has become one of my favorite ways to photograph the eagles. When the ice is there though, it does add a nice additional element. My settings for this shot were ISO 1000 at 1/1600 of a second at f/10 and a focal length of 400 mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle Silhouette

We went back down the Notsuke Peninsula once more on our second day in Rausu, but the photos weren’t great, so we’ll skip to the following morning, back out on the boat, as the sun rose above the Kuril Islands. I like to keep my eye out for an eagle flying close to the sun at this time, hoping for shots like this one, where the eagle is almost silhouetted against the sun’s disk.

Steller's Sea Eagle Silhouette
Steller’s Sea Eagle Silhouette

To enable me to get this sort of image, this is one of the few times when I use Auto-ISO, and allow the camera to control the exposure itself. That way when I’m shooting away from the sun the ISO shifts to give me a brighter bird, but then when the sun is in the frame, like this, the ISO drops automatically, giving me a silhouette. The other settings I did set manually, which were an 1/800 of a second and an aperture of f/10. My focal length was 371 mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle’s Grimace

Another shot that I’m happy with from a few minutes later, while the sun was still pretty low in the sky, is this one, of a Steller’s Sea Eagle, probably landing, kicking up snow and ice, but with his wings still open, as though he’s about to take off. The three eagles in this shot are obviously quite dark, because I’m shooting into the sun, but I love this angle and the sense of movement in this majestic raptor.

Steller's Sea Eagle's Grimace
Steller’s Sea Eagle’s Grimace

Having photographed the subjects on this trip so many times, it takes a lot to impress my wife when I get home, but she was impressed with this shot, as it’s something pretty different to what I usually come home with, and that feels good. My settings for this were ISO 1600 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Fishing in Dawn’s Warm Glow

The following morning, once again, I got lots of great shots, although the increasing number of seagulls and crows made it more difficult than usual. Before we finished our third and final trip out to shoot the eagles though, I asked the skipper to throw some fish into the sea in the open water, rather than onto the ice, so that we could get some photos like this one, with the eagles taking the fish from the water.

Fishing in Dawn's Warm Glow
Fishing in Dawn’s Warm Glow

I really like that we have the warm glow of the dawn sky reflecting in the water in this photograph, as that makes up for the fact that we had to shoot back towards the sun a little. To ensure that the eagle was bright against the bright background, I actually shot this at ISO 4000, with a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second at f/10. I was also very happy that the EOS R continued to perform well, autofocussing admirably against this contrasty water and ice. We did our usual drive around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula, and played with some Intentional Camera Movement and the waterfalls etc. around Utoro, but we’ll skip those images so that we can finish the series here.

Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R
Canon EOS R

Having completed all three of my Japan Winter Tours this year shooting almost exclusively with the new EOS R, Canon’s first full frame sensor mirrorless camera, I would just like to relay that I continued to be very happy with this camera, having now shot a total of around 16,000 images with it. There was the problem of the viewfinder fogging up, that I talked about in my review back in Episode 650, but other than that, it has way surpassed my expectations and even my hopes.

This doesn’t mean that my 5Ds R bodies are all of a sudden bad cameras, but I have instantly learned to appreciate the size and weight of the EOS R, and I’m now considering selling one of my two 5Ds R bodies, and keeping the funds on my point card at my local camera store, as I wait for the 5Ds R Mark II, which is rumored to also be coming along with the R Mount, and therefore obviously also a mirrorless camera. Although there have been plenty of people giving the EOS R a bad rap, personally, I’m incredibly pleased that I waited for Canon to finally release a full frame mirrorless camera, and I am really looking forward to being able to continue to use all of my beautiful Canon lenses moving forward.

Participant Comments

Before we wrap up this final travelogue episode for my 2019 winter season, I do of course have our final round of participant comments to play you from the bus on the final morning of the tour, as we headed towards the airport to fly back to Tokyo and disband.

[Please listen with the audio player at the top of this post to hear what each participant had to say about the trip.]

It was lovely, as usual, to hear the group again, now more than three weeks after the tour finished. Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments!

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours 2020

OK, so we’ll wrap it up for now, but please do note that although Tour #1 has now sold out, we do still have some places open on the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour #2, so if you might be interested, please check that out here.


Show Notes

Michelle’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mSMZwzAoNX_XmJ2YPP2Tw/videos

See details of the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2020

Details of all available Tours & Workshops are here: https://mbp.ac/workshops

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #2 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 613)

2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #2 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 613)

Today we conclude our travelogue series to walk you through our adventure on the second of my Japan Winter Wildlife Photography tours for 2018.

Once again, I’m sitting down on a Monday morning here in my Tokyo studio, to decide which ten images we’ll look at for this final episode. It’s been just over three weeks since I finished this tour, but it’s been a whirlwind three weeks as I try to catch up on business left undone as I traveled, and as I try to pull in a few big jobs, such as making some very large prints for display at a new gallery Canon’s headquarters here in Tokyo. I’m hoping to bring you more on this in the coming weeks.

The result is though, although I came home from each of this year’s tours having made my initial selection of images, I’ve still to make time to actually whittle down my final selections, so I have ended up going through and doing part of that in preparation for each travelogue style podcast episode I’ve done. That helps too of course, and today I’ll get further into the process, and then I expect to get time to finish this work in a couple of weeks.

I’ve just counted the remaining images after the Whooper Swans that we left behind at the end of the previous episode, and I’ve got 376 of them to choose from today as we jump into this. As usual when I’m trying to make a selection of images, I’ve created a Collection Album and marked it as my Selects folder, and I’ve defined “Q” as my shortcut key, in Capture One Pro, to add images to that folder, so my first job is to go through and hit the Q key when I see something that I want to consider for talking about today.

After my first pass, I had 55 candidates to whittle down to ten. As these were obviously the better of the images left in my selection, before I started to remove any, I marked them all with four stars, so that I could easily pick up where I left off when I get around to finalizing my selection. 

If we were to follow our trail chronologically we’d start today with a shot from Sulphur Mountain, but I’ve already shared a shot from there this season, so we’ll skip that. After our drive over to the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula, we made our first stop at the Notsuke Peninsula, which is like a small fishhook-shaped strip of land that juts out into the Nemuro Strait. Out there I got a few nice shots of the Ezo deer rutting, and a few nice-ish fox images, but nothing hugely special, so we’ll skip them.

Sea Eagles

As I continue writing this week’s post in preparation to record, I still have 25 images in my collection, but Monday has been another day of completing unplanned tasks, and I’m way behind, so I’m just going to start and pick images that I absolutely must talk about and see where we can get. Let’s actually jump in and look at a shot of a Steller’s Sea Eagle from the following morning, as we took our first trip out of the boat to photograph these magnificent birds. 

I actually shot this first image with the camera flipped up into the vertical orientation, as I was trying to get some of the birds with their wings spread vertically in the frame. I do this relatively often, and I got a few shots like this that I like over the next few days. For this one though, the eagle had contracted his wings, so not needing the vertical orientation I decided to crop it down to a square. With the sky being uniformly blue, if I needed to, I could expand the sky back out to a wider ratio image, but I’ll only do that if I need that format, as it would require keeping a Photoshop PSD file instead of my raw file, and I like to avoid that when possible.

Steller's Jet Fighter
Steller’s Jet Fighter

I love the way this eagle has streamlined his wings to start his dive and the way he has his eyes firmly locked on to his prey. The light isn’t always great when we photograph these guys either, so although I’m not a fan of blue skies, it is nice to get some nice light on the back of the bird. My settings for this were 1/1000 of a second shutter speed at f/9 and my ISO set to 1000. My focal length was 349 mm with my 100-400mm lens.

Foxy Encounter

After our dawn eagle shoot, we spent the afternoon on the Notsuke Peninsula again, and although we aren’t getting full snow coverage so much these days, we were lucky enough to get a Northern Red Fox rolling around on what is in actuality a very narrow strip of snow, as you can see here (below).

Rolling Fox
Rolling Fox

This fox was actually trying to scratch its back, but it made for a very cute shot, and I was happy to have nailed focus on the face during what was a very quick maneuver. I did have to crop this in from the right side a little though, as I was zoomed out just a little to 533 mm with my 200-400mm lens and the in-built 1.4X Extender engaged, and I was framing him with more space on the right, as I hadn’t expected the head to come up over the body like this. From my Canon EOS 5Ds R body though I still have a higher resolution image than I would have had with a 7D or 1D-X body, so I’m not too concerned about cropping a little like this if necessary.

My settings were f/11 for a 1/640 of a second at ISO 1000, and I was actually hand-holding the 200-400mm at 533 mm because we’d gotten off the bus to get closer to the foxes. That’s another reason that I was happy to find that this was nice and sharp as I was pushing the hand-holding a little bit too.

Moments later the fox was laying down in the snow, looking almost like a model posing, as you can see in this next image (below). I love the expression on its face here, almost as though it knows exactly how beautiful it is, especially in this pose.

Foxy Model
Foxy Model

I had to crop this one slightly less because the head was back further out but I had also zoomed to 560 mm for this frame. My other settings were the same. I have another fox shot that I’d like to look at, but I’ll resist the temptation for now. If you are interested in seeing more, please check it out on Instagram.

The following morning we went back out at dawn to photograph the eagles, and the day started with a somewhat rare sea mist in the Nemuro Strait, as you can see in this image. Although it sometimes feels pretty cold when we’re out of the boat to photograph the eagles, it doesn’t normally get cold enough for sea mist in this area, and the captain of the boat we go out on was saying that it had been quite some years since he’d seen this phenomenon. It’s not a great photo, but I couldn’t help sharing this to show you what the sea mist looked like (below).

Rausu "Kearashi" Sea Mist
Rausu “Kearashi” Sea Mist

Oh, and of course it’s a sunrise shot, with half a dozen or so sea eagles sitting around on the sea ice as well. When shooting into the sun like this I often expose to let the sun’s disk over-expose a little, and then bring it back under control with the Levels and Highlights sliders in Capture One Pro. That enables me to maintain a little more detail in the foreground, but I also of course still have the option of darkening this down for a silhouette if I want to. My settings were a 1/800 of a second at f/11 and ISO 500, and a focal length of 400mm.

I want to include a shot of a White-Tailed Eagle, as they make up around half the number of eagles that we shoot on this tour, but with the number of images I share being limited, I’m torn between a few possibilities. I think I’ll go with this shot (below) as it shows the eagle in its environment, with the beautiful mountains surrounding the port town of Rausu in the background.

White-Tailed Eagle with Rausu Mountains
White-Tailed Eagle with Rausu Mountains

This is also uncropped, and pretty much straight out of the camera, which is what I generally aim to do. Although I can crop when I have to, I don’t like to throw away pixels, so when I can zoom in nice and close, it’s great to nail a shot with a bird in flight filling the frame like this. I also really like how this eagle almost looks like it has a Mohican hairstyle, with that tuft of feathers sticking up on its head. I shot this at f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/1000 at ISO 1250, and a focal length of 400 mm.

On our final morning out on the boat to photograph the sea eagles, I did something that I love to do, which is just rolling with the fact that the light was low, and spent the first thirty minutes or so doing panning shots at 1/50 of a second shutter speed. Here’s one of my favorite images from this thirty minutes, with a Steller’s Sea Eagle flying over the sea ice, with his wings nicely blurred by the long shutter speed (below).

Eagle in a Flap
Eagle in a Flap

It’s relatively difficult to get eagles’ heads sharp when they are flying around the boat because their heads move up and down quite a lot, but if you shoot enough frames and have relatively good panning technique, it’s possible to get some shots with sharp heads, like this one. My other settings were f/11 at ISO 500, and a focal length of 312 mm.

The final eagle shot that I’d like to share today (below) is one to give you an appreciation of how large these birds are. On our last trip out it was really quite warm, and this enabled hordes of crows to get out to the ice from the port town of Rausu, and they were getting in the way in many of our shots, along with the seagulls. It’s really annoying when some of our best shots get bombed by a crow or seagull, but here the crow gives us a sense of scale, so I thought I’d share this anyway.

Big Bird, Little Bird
Big Bird, Little Bird

These crows are actually quite possibly larger than crows you are used to seeing at home too. They are Large-Billed Crows and measure up to almost 60 cm or 24 inches in length, and they are still dwarfed by the huge Steller’s Sea Eagle with its 2.5-meter wingspan. My settings for this shot were f/10 for 1/1250 of a second shutter speed at ISO 3200, and a focal length of 349 mm.

Oshin Koshin Falls
Oshin Koshin Falls

Oshin Koshin Falls

After our three days in Rausu photographing the sea eagles and heading out down the Notsuke Peninsula, we headed around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula and did our usual international camera movement photos of the birch trees, then after lunch headed up the north-western coast of the peninsula, and made our usual stop at the Oshin Koshin falls.

It’s been a while since I shared a photo of this, so here’s what I like to do, just zoom in a little and single out a small area of the falls (right).

Quite often my shots of the falls are black and white without actually converting them, but on this day the rock was a very dark brown, so I turned on the black and white checkbox just to remove the ambiguity, and I also used a very subtle “S” shaped tone curve to increase the contrast between the black and white tones in the scene.

I also like to shoot close-up waterfall shots like this in portrait orientation, because I feel it matches the flow of water from top to bottom, although I do generally shoot both orientations just to give myself options.

My settings were a 0.8-second shutter speed, using a three-stop neutral density filter, and an aperture of f/16 at ISO 100, and a focal length of 105 mm with my 24-105mm lens.

Severe Snow Storm

We were actually being chased down the peninsula by a very severe snow storm that would close down a number of the airports in the area for the next day, so I was being very careful to try to keep the group shooting without putting anyone in danger. As the winds started to whip around the peninsula though, I got this shot from across the road from the falls (below).

Okhotsk Snow Devil
Okhotsk Snow Devil

As you can see, I timed my shot to capture what I call a snow devil, which is like a dust devil, or a little whirlwind of snow being whipped up by the wind over the sea ice. It was also nice to see a bit of color in the water in the pools on the ice. My settings for this shot were 0.4 seconds at f/16, ISO 100 and a focal length of 105 mm. If I recall I was using an ND filter to capture just a bit of movement, hoping to intensify the feeling of movement in the snow devil, but I can’t really tell if that worked or not.

Conscious of the fact that the snowstorm might stop play for our final morning in Hokkaido the following day, we battled the elements a little to go down to the mouth of the river that I like to shoot as our final shoot for day eleven. As you can see in this final image for today (below) it was by this time pretty cold, and although you can’t see this in the photograph, it was also getting really quite windy by this point. 

Cold River
Cold River

To me, the biggest indication in this image that it was pretty windy, is the way the snow has been blown of the top of the rocks in the river. If it was just cold and snowing, there would be pillows of snow on the rocks, but here, they’re just bare. Also, the rocks on the right side are showing through but partly frozen. This feels cold to me too. 

For this image, I obviously converted it to black and white, but I also ran a gradient mask from the top of the frame to the horizon and reduced the exposure on that adjustment layer by half a stop, and that just makes the sky slightly grey, rather than being almost pure white. I was using a six-stop neutral density filter too, to give me an 8-second shutter speed at f/14, ISO 100. My focal length was 50 mm.

Timely Exit

By dinner that night, the storm was well and truly set in. The tree outside our dining room lost a few branches as the wind whipped around the building, driving snow horizontally across the window. The storm died down by around 10 pm, but it had by this time pretty much engulfed all of eastern Hokkaido. We’d been planning our exit from the island on the final day, and decided that the best course of action was to skip our morning shoot in the national park and make our way to the airport straight after breakfast.

Which airport, we hadn’t yet decided. Our amazing tour conductor Yukiko had us seats booked provisionally at two other airports, giving us options, but I checked MeteoEarth, an app that I use on my iPhone to check wind direction and strength, among other things, and I found that there would be a band of relatively low wind literally from the base on the Shiretoko Peninsula to the Memanbetsu airport, where we originally intended to fly out from, but our travel window was going to be short.

If we used the time that we’d free-up by not driving to a different airport to do one last shoot, the storm would set in again and prevent us from leaving the peninsula. So, we drove straight after breakfast over as close to the airport as possible, and did a few short shoots there, before catching our plane as planned, and arriving back in Tokyo on schedule.

As usual, I recorded a comment from the participants who were up for it, and I’d like to play that for you now. Also, one of the participants recalled that she wanted to say something else later, so I’ll tag on that extra comment at the end. Let’s see what everyone had to say…

[Participant’s Comments: Please listen with the audio player at the top of the post to hear what people had to say about the tour.]

So, that’s it for this year’s Japan Winter photography tour season. I hope you’ve enjoyed traveling with us, and for those that are listening, I’d like to extend a huge thank you to everyone that joined this year’s tours. 

2020 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshops

Although our 2019 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours have been sold out for a while now, we are now taking bookings for 2020, so if you think you might like to join us, please take a look at the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2020.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour and Workshop 2020

Show Notes

Book for 2020 here: https://mbp.ac/ww2020

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.


2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #1 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 610)

2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #1 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 610)

Although I’ve just completed my second Japan winter wildlife tour and final winter tour for this season, today we’re going to pick up the trail on the first of the two wildlife tours, as we leave the cranes in the snow behind, and move on to our final day with the Whooper Swans before heading over to Rausu for sea eagles and foxes etc.

Once again, fighting the clock, as usual, I still had 109 photos left in my collection of images that I still want to talk about in this travelogue series. I was hoping to complete this series with one more episode, but having gone through and shortlisted the images that I really want to talk about, I still have 27 images. We’ll just jump into it, and see if I can whittle down my selection to just ten images as we go.

Cygnus Cygnus

On the eighth shooting day of the tour, and the fifth day in Hokkaido, we went back to the Kussharo Lake for one last Whooper Swan fly-in shoot before starting our drive over to Rausu and the Notsuke Peninsula. One of the reasons I ensure that we get at least two days in each location is because quite often, the weather can change and present us with different opportunities. On this visit, it was overcast and slightly misty. Conditions that I love to photograph the Whooper Swans in, and you can hopefully see why in this first image for today (below).

Whooper Swans In White
Whooper Swans In White

I really like it when we get white swans on a white background, often with just subtle differences in tone between the two. The thing that I really like about this photo is that the swan on the left of the frame is looking straight at me as he flew in. It has to feel a bit strange to them when they fly to their beach and see a line of photographers awaiting their arrival. They’re used to seeing people of course, but this is a reminder that they are not totally oblivious to our presence.

My settings for this image were 1/500 of a second shutter speed at f/11, ISO 1000 and a focal length of 400mm with my 100-400mm lens. This is, of course, the Mark II version of this lens. Again this year we had a participant that had rented the original version without knowing and was somewhat disappointed. If you are buying this lens, and you find what you think is a good deal, check that it is not the original lens which is very long in the tooth now, and frankly with today’s camera resolution really punishing older lenses, I wouldn’t use one even if it was free, let alone cheap.

Although I love it when the white swans are on a white background, I also found this next photograph somewhat appealing, with two juvenile Whooper Swans still with their wings spread as they landed in the fresh snow on the frozen Kussharo Lake (below).

Grey But Not Ugly (Ducklings)
Grey But Not Ugly (Ducklings)

I’ve entitled this “Grey But Not Ugly (Ducklings)”. Sometimes the grey juvenile swans might look a bit like ugly ducklings, as in the fairy tale, but in this photo, I think it helps to accentuate them against the white background. I toyed with the idea of removing the three lines of thawed snow at the top of the frame, but decided against it, as I think they add a little depth to the background. My settings for this were f/11 at ISO 1000 still, but I had increased my shutter speed now to 1/640 as the light gradually came up. My focal length was 286 mm.

I have another swan shot that I wanted to show you, but I’ll skip that in a bid to still try and finish this travelogue series today. I did post it on Instagram while I was traveling, so check out my Instagram account if you don’t already follow me over there.

Apocalypse Now

After the swans, we drove just a short way and called at Sulphur Mountain or Iouzan, for a quick session with the surreal fumaroles spewing out their sulphuric steam and painting themselves yellow in the process, as you can see in this image (below).

Apocalyptic Mountain
Apocalyptic Mountain

This place always seems a little bit apocalyptic to me. This is one of the few times when I decided to keep the ridge of the mountains behind the fumaroles in the shot, partly because the wind was blowing the steam away at a more acute angle than usual, but also because I felt it helped to show the surroundings a little better, providing a little more information about the place. My settings were a 1/250 of a second shutter speed at f/14, with ISO 320 at 70mm.

We then continued our journey towards Rausu, where we’d photograph the sea eagles, but on the way, took a diversion to the Notsuke Peninsula in the hope of seeing some Northern Red Fox, like the one we see in this next image (below).

Fox Scratching Face
Fox Scratching Face

This isn’t my best fox photo, but I kind of like the way he’s got the tip of his tongue sticking out as he scratching his face, looking quite content up on his snow bed, actually on the back of a trailer that is semi-abandoned on the peninsula. My settings for this were f/11 with a 1/800 of a second shutter speed at ISO 1600, and a focal length of 560 mm. I was using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in 1.4X Extender engaged.

Orca Encounter!

The following morning we went out for our first sea eagle shoot of the season from the fishing port of Rausu. Not long after we’d started shooting the captain of the boat told me that there had been some Orca spotted further down the coast, and asked if I’d like to go. It took me about 0.2 seconds to decide that we must do just that, so we sped along the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula. Although I’d love to have spent more time and got better photos, we still had a very special encounter and I still got some shots like this one (below).

Winter Orca at Shiretoko
Winter Orca at Shiretoko

We believe there were seven Orca in the pod we encountered. I have been traveling to Rausu and going out photographing the sea eagles in January and February every year since 2004, and I’ve never seen these amazing whales this early in the season. Wanting to get some really killer shots, pardon the pun, I’ve been trying to make time to visit in June or July for the past few years, but never seem to get time, especially now that I’m doing my Namibia tours at that time. This encounter has ratcheted up the priority of that trip a few rungs, so I might just have to do that this year. My settings for this image were f/9 at 321 mm and a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second with ISO 1250.

Sea Eagles

OK, so we’re five images in, and I usually do ten images per episode. Let’s take a look at some sea eagle shots, and see if we can finish this today, and move on to the second wildlife trip next week. Rather than trying to show images from all three days that we photograph the eagle, let’s just look at some of my favorites from this trip, in chronological order.

First, here’s a White-Tailed Eagle catching one of the fish that we throw out from the boat (below). Quite often it’s a flatfish, which you wouldn’t normally expect an eagle to scoop from the surface of the sea, but still, these can be quite dramatic shots. 

Cool Snatch
Cool Snatch

Unless these birds open their beaks when they are startled or angry, they have pretty expressionless faces, and in this image, the sea eagle looks very calm and relaxed as he snatches up his breakfast. There was no sea ice on this first trip. It’s getting less common, with us having no ice at all some years now, although we did get some on the second tour, as we’ll see in the coming weeks. My settings for this were a 1/1600 of a second shutter speed at f/11, with ISO 640 and a focal length of 400mm.

This is image not-cropped at all. I love to go in very tight with my 100-400mm lens, and although the bird’s wings sometimes go out of the frame, and I sometimes don’t mind that, it’s great when I can get something like this in a 50-megapixel file without cropping. The detail is just amazing!

This next image of a Steller’s Sea Eagle grabbing his breakfast too is also not cropped (below). That’s the framing that I shot the image at, and again, the 50-megapixel file absolutely blows me away. I love shooting wildlife like this with my Canon 5Ds R, even though it’s a slow frame rate camera, that most wildlife photographers try to avoid.  

Steller's Sea Eagle Catch
Steller’s Sea Eagle Catch

I have lots of shots with the entire splash in as well, but I just love getting in close and seeing all of this beautiful detail, and you lose some of that as you pull back to include more. My settings for this shot were f/11 for a 1/1600 of a second exposure at ISO 640, and again, zoomed right in to 400mm.

This final eagle shot is cropped down quite a way, to a file just over 22 megapixels, as the bird was quite a way off when he was doing his aerial acrobatics. That’s another great thing about the high resolution we have now though, should we choose to use it. I can crop in quite a way and still have a bigger file than the 7D Mark II or even the 1D X Mark II. There are of course times when a higher frame rate would be useful, but I’m making it work at the slower frame rates, so I couldn’t be happier. 

Steller's Sea Eagle Aerial Acrobatics
Steller’s Sea Eagle Aerial Acrobatics

I’m in awe of these magnificent eagles. Just look how he can fly pretty much upside down, yet his head is still pointing straight up, with his eye on his prey. These are absolutely incredible animals. My settings were still f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/1600 at ISO 640, and a focal length of 400mm, although cropped, as I mentioned.

After our three days with the sea eagles, we headed around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula to spend our final night in Utoro. On the way, we stopped for our traditional ICM or Intentional Camera Movement session, which is always fun and generally provides us with some nice shots, as you can see here (below).

Enchanted Forest
Enchanted Forest

For this kind of shot, I generally set my aperture to around f/14 or f/16, and set my shutter speed to 1/25 of a second, and then adjust my exposure with the ISO. If it’s too bright, I sometimes use a three-stop neutral density filter, as I believe I had to do on this day, as it was bright sunlight. I then start with the camera pointing higher up in the trees, then move it downwards quickly, releasing the shutter just as the snow starts to come into the bottom of the frame. I prefer it when the bottom of the frame is just white, but there were some sticks showing through on this day, leaving those smaller streaks.

We continued on and photographed the Oshin Koshin Falls and the sea ice which was packed wall to wall on this side of the Shiretoko Peninsula. I did one ten minute exposure of the sea ice to see if it was actually moving, and apart from a very thin line near the horizon, it was totally stationary. There wasn’t even any vertical movement from waves under the ice, which was surprising.

We continued on in the town, and took a walk down to the mouth of a river to see what we could do and I was relatively happy with this last photo for today (below) which actually is the last image that we’ll talk about from the first of this year’s two Japan Winter wildlife tours.

River Mouth and Sea Ice
River Mouth and Sea Ice

Here I believe I used a three-stop ND filter, for a 1.3-second exposure, to smooth over the water in the river a little. I converted this to black and white, but the original was almost completely black and white anyway, with the dark stones in the river and low light. My other settings were f/14 at ISO 100, with a focal length of 35 mm.

Before we finish, as usual, I’ve recorded a message from each member of the group that I’d like to play for you now.

[Please listen to the audio with the player at the top of the post to hear what the participants had to say.]

It’s always lovely to hear what the participants have to say, and this was a great group, so listening brings back some nice memories of our time together. I do hope you’ve enjoyed following along with this travelogue. We’ll continue next week with tour #2, which presented a few different opportunities, and possibly my best red fox shot to date, which we’ll see in a few weeks.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshop 2020

Our 2019 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours have been sold out for a while now, but we are now taking bookings for 2020, so if you think you might like to join us, please take a look at the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2020.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour and Workshop 2020

Show Notes

Booking for 2020 is now open here: https://mbp.ac/ww2020

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.