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.


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 Adventure 2015 #2 (Podcast 458)

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2015 #2 (Podcast 458)

Following on from last week, today I walk you through the second half of my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure, a new tour that I just completed with special guest David duChemin and a group of incredibly talented photographers.

We pick up the trail on January 11, 2015, when we drove back down the west coast of Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan, to photograph a small fishing harbour that I’d visited during my 2011 reconnaissance tour. For me, the highlight of this little harbour was a corner that had seven old scrapped boats in the snow. This was basically a fishing boat graveyard (below).

Wakasakanai Fishing Boats

Wakasakanai Fishing Boats

This was a two minute exposure, again using both an ND8 and an ND400 for a hair under 12 stops of neutral density, enabling me to do long exposures in the middle of the day. I love this technique and found that it worked really well with the big heavy sky, with some patches of sunlight breaking through the clouds, especially along the horizon in the distance. If you click on this to view it large, you can probably also make out the Rishiri Island on the horizon in the far right of this photograph.

In the next photograph of the same group of fishing boats, I decided to remove the neutral density filters and record the heavy dynamic sky as it was, again with the sun breaking through the clouds in the distance a little. This was a 1/400 of a second exposure, as I didn’t want to blow out or over-expose the sky around the sun as it broke through the clouds. If you are careful to protect your highlights, there is still a lot of detail in the shadow areas to bring out in post or in a black and white conversion like this one, which I did as with most of the set, in Silver Efex Pro 2.

Boat Graveyard #3

Boat Graveyard #3

When comparing these two images, I feel as though the boat graveyard feeling is much stronger in this second image. The first one from above shows the same boats, but the angle doesn’t emphasise the fact that they are almost buried in the snow. From this angle the metaphor of them being buried is much stronger, and feels sadder in many ways. That’s also backed up of course by that heavy looming sky.

Along the coast, the fishing boats play an important part in this tour, and on the following day, we drove around to the small harbours along Cape Souya, the northern-most tip of Japan. This image (below) is from the first one that we stopped at as we made our way around the coast on January 12.

Souya Fishing Boats

Souya Fishing Boats

Here I used a 14mm lens and got in close to emphasise the bow of the boat. I was also conscious here of details like the ladder in the snow under the boat, and I purposefully lined up the bows of the rest of the boats to trail off into the distance. Again here, I shot with with a normal shutter speed. This was 1/50 of a second with an aperture of f/14, ISO 100.

A little further around the coast, and we came to the same harbour where I photographed a line of fishing boats back in 2011, very similar to this next image (below). We’re back to a two minute exposure here again, and this time the cloud movement did what I love, as it moved towards the scene, and the wide angle lens, again 14mm, really helps to emphasise the flowing, radiating effect of the movement. Here I was also really excited by the way the snow looks like the sea. As David duChemin got back on the bus at the end of the shoot I showed him this on my camera saying that it looks like the boats are sailing on a sea of snow. David laughed and said that he’s just said the same thing to someone else too.

Souya Harbour Boats on a Sea of Snow

Souya Harbour Boats on a Sea of Snow

When I was here before searching for these locations, I was always quite conscious about going into these fishing harbours, but for this trip, we contacted most of the locations ahead of time, which made it much easier to do our thing. You wouldn’t know it from the photos, but some of these ports were actually quite busy doing things that can only be done in the winter time, while the fishing boats are up on the land like this.

After these fishing port stops through the morning, we started to drive down the eastern coast of Hokkaido, towards a small fishing village called Ohmu, which would be our home for another two nights. With Ohmu as our base, we took a drive inland to look for some more minimalist landscape, such as this one, which is just a fence in the snow (below).

Fence in Snow

Fence in Snow

I really enjoy this kind of photography, especially in a print, when you can see the subtle detail in the snow, and in this particular shot, there’s a stick poking out of the snow at the bottom right, which for some reason I really like. I can imagine some people cloning that out, but for me, these things are like easter-eggs. Easter-eggs in software terms are what developers used to hide in applications, such as an entire 3D world in Microsoft Excel years ago, that could only be accessed if you knew a secret series of keystrokes. You don’t hear about these so much these days, but finding a little detail in a photograph like this feel similar to that.

On the afternoon of the 13th, we made time for a workshop session at the hotel, and I walked the group through an hour on Silver Efex Pro and Color Efex Pro, and David followed up with a talk about composition. Quite often by this point in a workshop like this the group is happy for a bit of downtime, and if you can use it productively like this, it’s always nice. That’s why I carry a projector with me on most of these workshops, and the hotel that we stayed at had a really nice conference room with a screen that we were able to use.

The following morning, after breakfast we checked out and were due to start our drive to the next and final location, but as we got on the bus the sun was bursting through the clouds forming beautiful rays, so instead of starting our drive, we drove just a couple of minutes back down to the port at Ohmu, and had an hour photographing these rays with the beautiful port in the foreground, and of course, there were Tetrapods.

Ohmu Tetrapods at Dawn

Ohmu Tetrapods at Dawn

Here (above) I lined up the tetrapods so that they formed a kind of leading line, from the bottom left and closest tetrapod block, leading our eye into the scene and around to the wall of the harbour and rays of sunlight. To capture the movement in the sea I went for a four second exposure this time. That’s long enough to capture a wave or two, and leave some texture in the water, but not so long that the rays of sunlight start to merge together. If you go too long with things like the suns rays, they weaken as they merge together.

You can still see the rays a little bit in this next longer 60 second exposure (below), but they are not as well defined as those in the previous photograph. Here though, I’d recomposed, and was using the rocks in the foreground to now anchor the image and I really wanted to capture the water more smoothly now, so hence the longer exposure.

Ohmu Tetrapods at Dawn

Ohmu Tetrapods at Dawn

This is a foreground that I feel was worth including too. Quite often these days I see people with foregrounds that don’t actually add much to the image, if anything. It’s as though people are taking the advice of putting something in the foreground too literally.

Rules in photography are only ever guidelines, to give us ideas on how to compose images, but when taken too literally can stifle our creativity. I really only like to add foregrounds like this when I feel they add something to the scene. I know it goes against recent trends, but every images does not have to have a strong foreground, although it is nice when they can have one, and I believe this is one of those occasions.

Later in the day, we arrived in the Saroma Lake area. The Saroma Lake is a body of brackish water separated from the sea with a thin slither of land in the most part, but with a thin inlet through which the salt water of the sea flows into the lake. It’s the third largest lake in Japan, and the largest in Hokkaido, and is dotted with multiple fishing ports, one of which we spent a number of hours photographing the fishing boats, as in this photography (below).

Toetoko Fishing Boats #2

Toetoko Fishing Boats #2

For this photo I got in relatively close to the first boat, cropping it off in the top right, then included the bows of the other boats, but the attraction to this scene for me was the stark shadows cast by the boats. I also take it for granted having lived in Japan for most of the last 24 years now, but the I imagine the Japanese writing on these boats does give them a different feel to a similar scene in many other countries.

As I narrowed down my selection of images to show you in these two episodes, I was conscious to try and give you a good spread of subjects and scenes, but I couldn’t resist also including this other boats and shadow shot (below), which was literally just a few minutes later looking in the opposite direction to the last shot. For me, I actually found it interesting that the owner of the Ko Yu Maru boat decided to add the name in roman characters, which I’ve never seen before on a fishing boat.

Toetoko Fishing Boats #3

Toetoko Fishing Boats #3

Again though, it was the shadows and here the flowing form of the drift-snow, almost looking like the waves on the sea that attracted me to this scene. The prevailing winds that blow between the boats as it snows are obviously responsible for this, and I imagine it happens a lot, but I just found these shapes very pleasing. We were careful of course as a group not to destroy these patterns until everyone had gotten their own shots, and when possible, tried to just leave them as pristine as possible when leaving.

Later in the day, we drove along the northern side of the strip of land separating the Saroma Lake from the sea, and found a way down the bank to the edge of the lake with this beautiful old tree (below) and again, the sun was breaking through the clouds causing beautiful rays. I have some wider images with the entire tree in too, but quite like this tightly cropped image, with all the grasses and plants in the snow playing a larger part in the scene.

Saroma Lake Tree #2

Saroma Lake Tree #2

You wouldn’t know it from the photo, but at this point there were about six of us all just sitting around the snow, making jokes as we worked the scene. I love this camaraderie when traveling with my groups, although a lot of what is said can often not be repeated in public.

The following day we headed inland again, looking for some minimalist scene and at one point we rounded a corner and were presented with this scene (below). This is a 1:2 aspect ratio crop of a single frame, but I also used a longer lens flipped into portrait orientation and shot a series of images for a wider stitched panorama, which I can’t wait to print really large, and maybe do a gallery wrap of. This scene was simply beautiful, and with the frost on all of the trees and the pristine snow in the foreground, it felt like a glade of heaven really.

Glade of Heaven #1

Glade of Heaven #1

Later in the day, David noticed a small copse of trees on top of a hill as we drove around, and although I got a shot of that copse that I really like, using my last image of the 12 for this episode, here is the last image of the set. This is the line of trees just beneath the one that David had seen (below). Again, I just like the simplicity of this kind of scene, with the trees complimented by the fence, and vice versa.

Trees and Fence

Trees and Fence

One thing to note here is that because this scene was quite far off, I borrowed a new Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens from one of the participants, and compared to my 70-200mm with the 1.4X Extender on it, the new 100-400mm is incredibly sharp. I’ve even heard that it’s sharper than the 70-200mm without an Extender, which is hard to believe, but I’m thinking that this statement is probably true. I’ll be taking my 100-400mm Mark II on my next two Hokkaido wildlife tours starting tomorrow, and I’ll be sure to follow up and let you know how this lens performs, in addition to my updated findings on the 7D Mark II, when these tours are finished.

Anyway, that takes us to the end of this two part update on my first landscape only Hokkaido tour. I hope you’ve enjoyed following our footsteps. I actually slipped up on the final morning. If you’ve followed this podcast for long and have listened to previous tour updates, you’ll know that I usually finish with a recording of comments from the group. On this tour though, I continued to look for opportunities until we literally pulled into the airport car park on the last day, and it totally slipped my mind, so I have nothing to play you, so sorry about that.

Note too that I have now started taking bookings for the 2016 Hokkaido Landscape Tour, which you can find at https://mbp.ac/hlpa including buttons to pay your deposit and make your reservation if you’d like to join us for another wonderful adventure. I should also mention that our two Japan Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours for 2016 are filling very fast, so if you’d like to join us, check your schedule and visit https://mbp.ac/ww2016 to book your place before these tours sell out.

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2016

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Show Notes

2016 Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Martin on Instagram: http://instagram.com/martinbaileyphotography

Music by Martin Bailey


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