2017 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour 1 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 561)

2017 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour 1 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 561)

Last week we completed the first of my two Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido, Japan Winter Wildlife tours for 2017. Today I’m starting a travelogue series to walk you through our adventures via a selection of my photographs.

As usual the tour was a lot of fun, and very productive. I was able to keep up with my initial selection of photographs each day as the tour progressed, and I ended up shooting just under 6,000 images, which isn’t a lot for a wildlife trip, but I’m shooting with 5Ds R bodies which are slow, and I’ve been to the locations we visit so many times I can be more selective than the participants.

Image Selection

At the end of each day, I went through and deleted any obvious mistakes and images where I missed focus etc. and put a 3 star rating against any of the images that I wanted to look at again. I created a Smart Album in Capture One Pro to automatically pick up all 3 star or higher images so that I could easily go back in and review my selection. Whenever I had some spare time, I’d go back in and remove images that I didn’t feel so strongly about and came home with around 880 images that still had a three star rating.

Over the last week, in between catching up with other tasks that I need to complete before starting the second tour on February 19, when I release this first travelogue episode, I’ve continued to go back in and whittle down my selection to currently 320 images. I’ve run out of time to get down to my final selection, so to start preparing for this episode I’ve gone through my selection and marked all of the images that I want to talk about, and I’m currently at 120, which would take three months to talk about, so I obviously have to get that number down further.

As a record of this first selection, I changed the star rating to 4 for all but a few which were just for illustration purposes. I really would like to talk about this trip is just three episodes, four at most, so at 10 images per episode we’re talking 30 to 40 images or just a little more. As I’m running out of time, I’m going to steam through and select the images that I feel I absolutely must talk about, and see where that leads.

Great Weather for Most of the Trip

The weather was very cooperative, giving us two great mornings with hoar frost on the river with the Japanese Red-Crowned cranes, which is always a treat, but we didn’t get any falling snow while we were with the cranes. We still had a great time though, and got some beautiful photos, as you’ll see as we progress through this travelogue.

We started the tour with an optional dinner at a hotel in Tokyo, before meeting to start the tour officially the following morning to head out to Nagano for our first three days to photograph the adorable snow monkeys. I was very happy to see that we had a lot of snow in the valley as we walked in, as last year there had been very little snow.

We spent our first afternoon with the monkeys, getting the group accustomed to photographing in the snow, and getting used to shooting in Manual mode to get the best possible results in these winter wonderland conditions. I had some nice shots from the first afternoon, but although there was lots of snow on the ground, it wasn’t fresh and it didn’t snow while we were there.

The following morning though, we awoke to a good covering of fresh snow, that was still falling, so when we arrived in the monkey park when they opened at 9am, the snow on the valley walls was still untouched, and that’s a bit of a treat to work with. The first photo that I want to share is this one of a female snow monkey making her way through the fresh snow (below).

Snow Monkey Forging Through Deep Snow

Snow Monkey Forging Through Deep Snow

On the previous day this snow had been chunky and nasty from a thousand snow monkey footprints, but with the fresh snow it was transformed. It was also very soft, almost powder snow, so it looked great as the monkeys walked through it, and of course, it stuck to their fur, which helps to illustrate the harshness of the conditions that they live in.

I shot this at f/10 at ISO 800 for a shutter speed of 1/400 of a second. That’s about as slow as I like to go for a moving subject, and I generally try to speed this up as the light increases. It worked here though, because the monkey wasn’t running at speed.

As the monkeys got more active, running around, often in confrontation, I increased my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second by increasing my ISO to 1250 and reducing my aperture to f/8 for this next photograph (below). Here we see a young snow monkey retaliated as another monkey showed aggression towards him.

Snow Monkey's Arrest

Snow Monkey’s Arrest

Fur Coat

Fur Coat

Again, the soft snow was sticking to the monkeys as they ran around, and this always adds a nice extra element to improve the photographs, and another of the reasons why I love it when we have fresh snow.

Also, although I am often happy to just capture a quiet moment, more like a portrait than a wildlife shot, I do like it when I can capture some dynamic movement and a different expression like this. It takes a bit more patience as you need to be watching constantly, but that’s the biggest part of the fun of wildlife photography.

This next image (right) is more in the other camp, the quiet portrait, although the timing was still pretty critical. This little guy with a huge coat of fur was just chilling out, and was actually wide awake, but to get a more peaceful looking image, I released the shutter when he had his eyes closed for a few moments, as I much prefer this kind of image if the monkey is just sitting around.

For this image I had also dropped my shutter speed back down to 1/800 of a second at f/8 with ISO 800. This is my ready for action zone. It’s fast enough to capture some moderately fast action, but of course that also works for static subjects like this little guy.

I tweaked my Manual settings again, as the light changed, so I increased my shutter speed to 1/1000 of a second and reduced my ISO to 640, at the same aperture of f/8, for this next crazy image (below). It looks like this monkey is laughing maniacally while looking directly at the camera. The reality is that she’s retaliating to aggression in the group, and for a moment looked at me.

Haa!

Haa!

I have a second frame where she looks like the joker from Batman, but we’ll move on as I try to keep the number of images down to ten for today. A word on the cropping before we do move on though. I shot this in landscape orientation, with the monkey on the left third, and I have cropped down to a square removing the right third of the image, as I feel it suits the image better, with the monkey looking straight at the camera.

I left the second image of this laughing monkey uncropped though, because she was looking to the right of the frame, and therefore the image looked better with some space for her to look into.

This last image from the snow monkeys (below) shows another relatively young monkey walking down the valley wall in the fresh snow. This is another reward for being patient and aware, as well as a bit of luck. The fresh snow around the hot spring pool was starting to get trodden down, except for a patch on the top left. I recalled that monkeys often climb down the mountain and walk through this point, so I started to watch for some coming down.

Shoulder High Snow

Shoulder High Snow

Only a few moments later, I could see two monkeys way up on the mountain side, and sure enough, they made their way through to this point, so I was able to photograph them coming through the fresh snow. This is actually the second one. The one that actually broke the snow first got so buried in it the photograph was a bit of a mess, so this is the better of the two, again with lots of snow on the monkeys fur, showing the harshness of their environment.

Red-Crowned Cranes

We came back into the park for a third day, just for a few hours before heading back to Tokyo for the night, then we set off for Hokkaido bright and early on the fourth morning, with our first stop being to photograph the beautiful and graceful Red-Crowned Cranes.

On the first day, we got lots of great photos of the cranes flying overhead. I have many with just one crane, which are nice, but they often feel a little bit documentary, so I thought I’d share this one, with six adult cranes flying together, which I quite like (below).

Six Adult Cranes in Flight

Six Adult Cranes in Flight

I always find it interesting that some of the cranes fly with their legs tucked in when it’s cold, rather than letting them hang out to the back like the others in this group. They leave their legs tucked away like that sometimes until literally just before they land, as though they are lowering the landing gear.

No Fish Fed to the Cranes

During this trip the crane center that we visit had been forced to stop feeding the cranes live fish, as this attracts the sea eagles. Although that’s become one of the main attractions in addition to photographing the cranes, the eagles travel further distances and therefore risk bring avian flu to the group, so there was no feeding at two o’clock and subsequently no eagles. Apparently after a meeting with the government bodies on February 14 they are now feeding fish to the cranes again, but not at 2pm, which has become too well know by the eagles, so this year, there are no eagles here. Luckily for my group we spend three quality days with the eagles anyway later in the trip.

Sublime Hoar Frost

As I mentioned earlier, we had some beautiful hoar frost at the river, giving us some sublime photography opportunities on our second morning in Hokkaido, day five of the tour. The temperatures got down to around -25° C (-13° F) for a while, which was great, because we need it to be cold with no wind for the hoar frost to form, but when it’s this cold the mist can be a little too thick. We patiently waited though, and as the mist sometimes thinned we were rewarded with photos such as this one (below).

Cranes in River Mist at Dawn

Cranes in River Mist at Dawn

The cranes are still mostly asleep as it needs to warm up a little more for them to become active, and they are also roosting further down the river than usual this year, but I still love this scene. The sunlight was by this point directly hitting the trees to the right, and just catching the top of the mist in places, but what makes this shot for me is the layers of wispy mist flowing over the back of the scene, at the top of my frame here.

At the severe risk of sounding conceited here, when I came back to this photo a few days later, as it popped up on my screen the soft layers of mist and overall color palette felt very much like a Turner painting to me. There’s just something so ethereal and calming about this that really appeals to me.

I’m going to resist showing you another photo from this first morning of hoar frost, because as I’ve worked through my selection I’m now close to being able to finish the cranes in this first episode, and I have something slightly better from the second morning, so we’ll press on and look at a couple of photos from the second day with the cranes.

As I’d mentioned, we didn’t have any falling snow with the cranes, so I tended to concentrate on birds in the air, because the snow is a little too chunky and contrasty for my liking. Of course, for first time participants they’ll still get great shots, but I can be a bit more picky having visited so many times.

Also still trying to avoid showing just cranes with a blue sky background, this photo (below) has become a bit of a favorite because of the trees in the background, that add a lot more texture and detail than my usual images at the crane center.

Crane in Front of Trees

Crane in Front of Trees

I shot this with my 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender engaged, but pulled back to 420mm. At f/10 though, at this focal length, the background gets relatively nicely blurred, while still keeping this large bird fully in focus, so there’s some nice separation and the snow on the distant hills is nice and soft, almost looking like clouds, apart from the bit of detail in the top left corner.

At the end of our second day with the cranes, I took the group to a location where there are usually a few cranes that fly out as it gets dark, giving us an opportunity to shoot a few panning shots before it does actually get dark. With no control over where the birds fly, most of them on this day flew over the top of the snow, rather than climbing a little higher to get a dark background, and white on white doesn’t look quite as good with the cranes. Instead, I thought I’d share this image (below) of three cranes starting to run as they took off, to fly to the river where they’d roost for the night.

Three Cranes Taking Off

Three Cranes Taking Off

For panning shots like this I generally select a shutter speed between 1/25 and 1/50 of a second, or perhaps a little bit faster, but not much. For this image I was using 1/30 of a second shutter speed at f/11 with the ISO set to 800. This gave me plenty of movement in the wings so I’m relatively happy with this, although I do prefer it when the birds are actually in flight and over a dark background.

OK, so as I’ve worked through this, selecting the images that I want to share with you, I’m at the point where we can finish the Snow Monkeys and Cranes with just three more images from the last morning at the bridge with the hoar frost, so we’ll push this episode to twelve images, then move on to Whooper Swans next week. We’ll probably be able to finish in three episodes then, so we’re doing well here.

Otowa Bridge

As I’ve mentioned in previous years, the bridge from where we photograph the cranes on the river is called “Otowasbashi” where “bashi” or “hashi” just means bridge, but I love the fact that “Otowa” in Japanese means “the sound of wings”. The name of the town is “Tsurui” which means “Cranes are Here”, and I also find that very cool. To top it all, the bridge on which the photographers stand is actually a second bridge built just for photographers, to keep them off the main road which runs parallel to it.

This image was shot at 7:22, about 30 minutes after the sun had risen, so there was still a bit of warmth in the light hitting the scene, and I love the shape that the mist forms in this photograph. The cranes were waking up slowly because it was almost but not quite as cold as the previous day at around -23° C (-9° F). This is perfect for the mist. It was thick for a while, but not too thick, as you can see (below).

Cranes Call in Mist

Cranes Call in Mist

Basically as the scene unfolds and the mist forms pleasing patterns, we stand and wait with our fingers crossed for the birds to do something to add a little more interest to the scene. For me here that was the two cranes that were singing to the right. I pulled my 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender engaged back to 480mm so that I could get both banks of the river in too, which I often like to do. My shutter speed here was 1/500 of a second at f/14, ISO 800.

The cold kept the birds from really waking up though, until 7:55. My group were getting cold and wanted to go back to the hotel for breakfast, but knowing the potential of the scene and the fact that the birds would eventually all wake up, we gave it a little more time, and then most of them started to dance and sing, for one last frenzy of shutters from the bridge.

When all of the cranes are dancing together, it can actually be a bit messy as a scene so my favorite at the moment is this shot (below) there are two birds dancing just left of center, with good clearance through to the background, and there are also a few other birds dancing in the right side, though less obvious. You can also see that the light has cooled down a lot by this point, partly because it had clouded over a little, but also because the sun was now higher in the sky, and the mist had also died down considerably.

Dancing at Dawn

Dancing at Dawn

After grabbing lots of shots of the dancing frenzy, I switched to video and got thirty-seconds of footage of the entire group dancing, which is really quite special, so I’ll be inserting that into a slideshow or other video at some point.

For this final photo (below) from the bridge and for today, shot about 20 minutes later, just before we left, there was a small group of cranes that had warmed up enough to fly out, probably heading over to the crane center that we’d photographed them at for the last two days.

Cranes Take Flight at River

Cranes Take Flight at River

The cranes quickly climbed and flew over the trees to the right of the frame here, but I’m happy with this shot, where they are all still in a clear patch, making it easy to understand what we’re looking at. For this shot I zoomed in just a little to 490mm and shot this at f/14 for a 1/500 of a second at ISO 1600, which incidentally was the same for the previous image as well.

We’ll leave it there for this week, as we left the cranes for this tour, to move on and shoot the Whooper Swans, which we’ll pick up next week.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours 2019

Because our 2018 tours have now filled, we’ve now started to take bookings for 2019, so if you might be interested, please check the details and book at https://mbp.ac/ww2019. If you’d like to be added to the wait list for 2018, please drop us a line.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour 2019

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour 2019

CP+ 2017 Canon Large Format Printer Booth

One other piece of housekeeping before we finish, I’m proud and thrilled to tell you that Canon will be using five of my images at their large format printer booth at the CP+ show in Yokohama Japan, from February 23 to 26, 2017. One of the image will be printed at B0 (zero) size, which is 40 x 56 inches, and the other four will be trimmed to approximately one meter wide and 2.5 meters high, to show the capabilities of both the 5Ds R camera and the new imagePROGRAF PRO line of printers.

If you will be visiting the show, please do stop by the Canon large format printer booth and take a look. If you get a chance to take a photo too, please do and send me a copy, because I can’t go myself. I’ll be on the second of these tours while the show is on.


Show Notes

Check out details of the 2019 tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2019

Contact us to be added to the 2018 wait list: https://mbp.ac/contact

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 2 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 516)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 2 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 516)

This week we continue to walk through a series of 40 images from my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016, when we visited the “Sound of Wings” bridge for a second time before moving on to perhaps the best two days with Whooper Swans that I’ve yet experienced.

On the sixth morning of the tour we had our second crack at Otowabashi, or “Sound of Wings” bridge, in the hope of beating the first day there, when there was actually a little bit too much mist to maximize our opportunities with the wonderful hoar frost covered trees.

As we left the hotel shortly after 4am, I was pleased to see that the outside temperature was about 3 degrees warmer than the previous day, giving us a temperature of probably around -18°C (0°F) which is perfect conditions for the hoar frost and not so cold that there is too much mist. We waited on the bridge, our places secured, for around an hour as the dawn light started to illuminate the scene.

I start shooting long exposures mostly to see what the scene looks like, but then as the light got better, we were treated with scenes like this one (below). We’d been at the bridge for about two hours by the time I shot this, so the sun was directly falling on the right side of the scene, but the white helps to reflect light around, so you don’t really get a harsh shadow from the trees along the left bank of the river.

Distant Dance 2016

Distant Dance 2016

Right now, I’d say this is one of my recent favorites from this location. My first nice photo from here was an image I called “Distant Dance” from way back in 2008. I still love that photo, although it was demoted out of my Nature of Japan portfolio a number of years ago now.

In some ways, I’d say that my old photo may have this beat, but here I do like the formation of the three cranes in the right foreground, looking as though they’ve been shunned by the forth, and the four pin-tail ducks along the bottom edge, anchoring the photograph. Then of course, the stars of the show, the pair of dancing cranes in the left background, that aren’t initially obvious. You have to work a little before you find them, and I like that in a photograph. It’s like an Easter egg, that a kid has to look around the house for in excitement, before finding their reward.

My settings for this photo were 1/500 of a second at f/11, ISO 640, at 420mm. I was using the 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender engaged, but had pulled back a little to include more of the scene, and show the cranes in their roost environment. Again, this is not cropped, so I have the full 50 megapixels to work with. I am really enjoying getting high resolution shots like this, that I can add to my portfolios. My original Distant Dance was 21 megapixels, shot with the 5D Mark II, so it was fine for printing large, but having this new photograph at 2.5X the resolution really opens up options for really large prints.

Another favorite from this morning is this next image (below) of a pair of cranes dancing in the foreground this time. I like the poses on the dancing cranes here, and there is also a crane calling to the left, in the foreground, which adds an additional element of interest. The trees once again are quite pretty, and I just find this to be a generally pleasing scene to look at.

Crane Courtship

Crane Courtship

My settings were almost the same as the previous image, except that I have decreased the ISO from 640 to 500. I generally shoot in manual mode, and simply keep an eye on my histogram and the blinkies, and as the scene starts to get brighter, I bring down the ISO a further each time, to keep the whites white, but not overexposed.

This second morning at the bridge certainly beat the first for this trip, and I think that this is the first year where we’ve had the hoar frost and mist on both tours, as this doesn’t happen every day, so this was another added bonus, especially when you consider how the El Niño weather patterns had taken some opportunities away from us this year.

After breakfast, we took a steady drive over to Lake Kussharo, where we were to spend the next two days photographing the beautiful Whooper Swans. When we first arrived, we called in at a little corner of the lake called Kotan, where I made this photograph (below). Now, I know that some of you aren’t going to get this, especially if you have your display brightness turned up quite high, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to make out the face of a swan through the mist.

Almost Not There

Almost Not There

There are hot springs that flow into the lake in a few locations, and on cold days, that causes mist to rise, and although it’s only in a small area of the lake, with a long lens, you can isolate your subjects enshrouded in the mist, just like this, and I love this kind of image. Again, there’s an Easter Egg element here; you have to work to see what the image is about. All of the image information in this photograph is in the top 15% of the histogram, so really, if your monitor is too bright, you just won’t see this. I am really looking forward to printing this as well though. These tones come out really well on a subtle matte fine art paper like Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse Smooth.

My settings for this image were 1/800 of a second, f/5.6, ISO 400, at a focal length of 400mm, with my 100-400mm lens. Although I often photograph large birds at f/8 or f/10, here, I opened up the aperture as wide as it will go for this lens at 400mm, to get as shallow a depth-of-field as possible, to emphasize the dreamy feeling of the rest of the scene. I also dropped a small Radial Filter over the main swan’s face and neck in Lightroom, and set the Shadows slider to -15, the Clarity to 55 and the Sharpness to 38, just to give the main character a little more body.

Later in this first day with the swans, we tried to do some panning, but the swans weren’t being very cooperative. We had a few chances and I have some images, but I have a better one from the next day, which we’ll look at later, so for now, let’s move on to the dawn shoot on the following morning. As we approached the lake from the hotel, we were happy to see a beautiful band of mist across the surface of the lake, that we can see in the background of this photo (below).

Whooper Swans' Misty Approarch

Whooper Swans’ Misty Approach

I love it when there is something in the air to give the image atmosphere, and the distant mountains on the other side of the lake add a lovely bit of additional interest to these next few shots. Here I released the shutter as the swans were in front of the central band of mist, and I have added a Graduated Filter in Lightroom, just across the bottom white band, which is the frozen lake, and I reduced the Dehaze slider, just to take the edge off a little bit of contrasty snow that was visible down there. I thought this cleared up and simplified the image nicely. My settings were 1/1000 of a second at f/10, ISO 400 at 188mm.

We had been standing by the lake for almost an hour before the swans started to fly in, but once they started, we had a number of beautiful opportunities, with the mist, and also some hoar frost on the trees to our right, as you can see in this image (below). I have two frames of this pair that I like, one with them a little bit further to the left of the frame, clear of the trees. Depending on my mood when I look at them, I think I prefer that image, but I am happy with them both.

Swans' Dawn Flight

Swans’ Dawn Flight

My settings were the same as the last image, and I have added another Gradient filter in Lightroom just to take the edge off the texture in the snowy surface of the frozen lake again. As we shot the swans, the sun was just coming over the trees to our backs as we faced the lake, so the light at this time of day is beautiful.

Just twenty minutes after the previous photo, I shot this one, and you can see how the mist has now receded down to a much thinner bank, enabling us to see the mountains behind the trees, which weren’t visible at this angle before. Here I have photographed the swans in the distance as they rounded the line of trees, flying in to this spot from their roost (below).

Lake Kussharo Swans Flight

Lake Kussharo Swans Flight

Luckily the hoar frost on the trees was still there, and again, this is one of those shots that you have to work for a little. This will also look great in a large print, where the viewer would more easily find the line of swans, but I hope you can appreciate it at the web size as well. My settings were the same as before, except just a touch of extra light allowed me to reduce my ISO from 400 to 320, again, just trying to maintain the optimal exposure without blowing out any of the whites.

Just 30 seconds later, I shot the same group as they approached, just before they flew almost overhead, in this photo (bel0w). I’ve included this, because I recall explaining to one of the participants, how important it is to develop the ability to zoom out as a group of birds approaches like this. I had gone wide for the last shot, but then zoomed in to get closer shots of the swans, and was by this point zooming back out again as they approached.

Overlined

Overlined

In many ways, this seems obvious, but the person I was talking to looked at me as though to say, “that’s way too much stuff to think about at one time!” And you know what, when you are just getting started, or trying to photograph birds in flight for the first time, it can seem quite daunting. As we hone our skills, and parts of our shooting become second nature, they become automatic, and we stop having to think about them. I don’t have to think about keeping my focus points over at least one of these birds, or refocusing if it runs off. I don’t have to think to press the back focus button, because my shutter button doesn’t activate the focus mechanism.

I do still think actively about how I am composing an image, although I’m drawing from experience and it’s an easy set of decisions, including trying new things from time to time. And, I don’t have to think about exposure, because I’ve done all that before the action starts, and it won’t change because I’m in Manual mode. Finally, as this group of birds approaches, I don’t have to think about zooming out, at least not any more than sending a few signals to my hand to make it twist the zoom ring while composing and doing all of that other stuff.

When you list it all out like this, we are actually doing quite a lot of complicated stuff all at once, and if any of these things require more than a little bit of thinking, it can stop the others from happening altogether, and that’s what happens when people are just getting started. So, how do you get good at doing this stuff? You keep doing it, again and again, consciously thinking of what you need to do, until it becomes second nature, and automatic. Repetition and practice is the only way to get used to doing this stuff, and the more you do it, the better you get.

I Dreamt of Swans

I Dreamt of Swans

I feel very comfortable with the technique of shooting these days, and really now am in a mode where I’m trying to tweak my composition and timing to make better and better photographs as the opportunities provided by each subject and location allow.

Of course, I also find myself in situations occasionally when I’m still challenged, and that’s great. It would get boring otherwise, but I wanted to talk about this really to impress on you the importance of practicing your craft. And, perhaps even more importantly, that it’s OK to be overwhelmed at first, because we do a lot of things in parallel, but with practice, it does get easier. So, if that’s where you are in your photography, don’t worry too much about it. Stick with it, and it will come.

After breakfast back at the hotel, we went back out, back to Kotan, and were happy to find that the mist was still there. I love to capture the moments when the swans stretch up and flap there wings a few times, like we can see in this photograph (right).

As I’ve mentioned, I set my exposure in Manual mode when I first arrive at a scene, so I don’t have to think about that when these birds rear up. There is literally just a split second to grab focus, and recompose, but it works sometimes, and the results can be nice.

The mist adds so much to this scene of course, and the dark trees across the top of the frame really add to the dreamy feel, as do the rushes along the bank of the lake, gradually fading into the distance. Again, I feel that mist in a scene like this really does literally add atmosphere.

After spending the rest of the morning photographing the swans at Kotan, we went back to the hotel for lunch, and had a couple of hours in a workshop session, before going back out again at 3:15pm, to try out hands at the panning again. We had a few more chances this time, and most of the group seemed to get something that they were happy with, like this shot (below).

Whopper Swan in Flight

Whopper Swan in Flight

This is a fun technique that I like doing with the group. We set our cameras to a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second, and as it was getting dark, this still required an ISO of 400 at f/11 to get a nice exposure. A 50th of a second is a good speed for this technique. If you go much slower the success rate drops dramatically, and if you select a much faster shutter speed, the background becomes sharper, and the wing movement is not as pleasing. Of course, it depends what you are panning with, and your focal length, but for large birds I find this to be the sweet spot.

The following morning, it was forecast to be snowing, so we rose to a changed plan of going back to lake for another fly-in shoot, rather than our optional shoot at Bihoro Pass which we do sometimes, when weather permits. There’s no point in being on a mountain in cloud and snow though, as we wouldn’t be able to see the scene, so I’d changed our plan.

I’m really pleased I did too. The swans flew in again a number of times, and were in a beautiful mist again, but this time, with snow in the air. We’ll look at a few more images next week, but for now, let’s close with this shot of two Whooper Swans that are just landing, with mist and snow in the air (below).

In White

In White

I know this might sound a little bit conceited, but I absolutely love this shot. I enjoy close up images where the subject fills the frame, but sometimes, I also really enjoy having them occupy a much smaller area of the frame, with lots of negative space, as I’ve done here. I shot this at 300mm, so I could have zoomed in further, but I decided to go with this composition instead.

I just love the softness of this image, with the birds in two different poses, with one walking on the snow by now, and the other still floating six inches above it. I’ve done nothing to this is post, not even a spot of Clarity as I often do. I wanted to leave the softness there, and the feeling of the mist and snow in the air. It feels like these two birds are just sitting in a huge soft box. It was a beautiful quality of light. My settings were 1/400 of a second at f/10, ISO 1000, at 300mm.

OK, so we’ll wrap it up there for this episode. I’ll be back next week where we’ll take a look at a few more images of these Whooper Swans in the soft box, before going on to Sulphur Mountain and the Sea Eagles, in part three.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

Before we finish, I’d like to remind you that we are now taking bookings for the 2018 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2018. Our 2017 tours are already sold out, but if you’d like to be put on the wait list, please contact us.

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

Details of the 2018 Tours: https://mbp.ac/ww2018

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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