Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 607)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 607)

Today we conclude our travelogue series from my recent Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure tour and workshop, as we pick up the trail on the morning of day eight, as we left Wakkanai and first visited the Souya Fishing Port at the northern-most tip of Japan.

Uncommon for Hokkaido in the winter, especially this far north, when we arrived at the Souya Fishing Port the sky couldn’t decide whether to snow or to rain. For the first thirty minutes or so it was raining, which is very out of character. This shortly gave way to snow though, which you can see falling in the first image for today (below).

Souya Harbor Boats
Souya Harbor Boats

I cropped this down to a 1:2 aspect ratio, as the foreground snow and top of the sky wasn’t adding much to the scene. After increasing the contrast in the sky, I like how we can see the plumes of snow as they blow in on the gusts of wind. I also set my ISO to 400 for an 1/80 of a second exposure at f/9, to avoid camera shake from the gusts of wind. My focal length was 28 mm with my 24-105mm lens.

Because we were shooting directly into the snow, this is one of those times when I wipe my lens with a lens cloth while keeping a second cloth draped over the front of the lens, then with a two-second timer, I wait until a split second before the shutter is released, and then pull the cloth away for the exposure. I then check to see if there’s anything on the lens, and if there is not, I know I’m good to move on. If there is a drop of water on the lens, I repeat the process until I get a spot-free shot.

We stop at a number of fishing ports on the way around the tip of Hokkaido, then drive down the eastern coast to our stop for the next two nights at a small town with a port that has some nice strategically placed tetrapods, as you can see in the next image (below).

Sawaki Fishing Port Tetrapods
Sawaki Fishing Port Tetrapods

I shot this at the end of the day, as the light came on in the lighthouse, leaving a streak of light on the water in this two-minute exposure. As the light was already very low, I think I was using the 2.0 Density ND filter in the holder on the back of my 11-24mm lens, which is 6.6 stops. I went for an equal amount of sand on the beach allowing me to also be almost square on to the tetrapods rather than bringing the lighthouse and distant tetrapods more into the frame, although that does look slightly awkward. My ISO was set to 100 and aperture to f/14.

The following morning before breakfast we went back to the port for an hour or so, and as you can see in the next image (below) it had snowed, and the sea was so calm that the snow was still settled right down to the water’s edge. The sun was just over the horizon on the right of this image, making the sky a little lighter there, but it didn’t quite make its way through the thick cloud, which suits me just fine.

Sawaki Fishing Port
Sawaki Fishing Port

I’m doing all of my black and white conversions in Capture One Pro and love the amount of texture we can see in the snow, especially on the tetrapods to the left, where we have all that great contrast with the dark concrete. I’ve also dropped a graduated mask down the sky and around the top of the tetrapods to the left and darkened the sky down a little.

I much prefer doing this in post, as a physical graduated neutral density filter would have to be dropped down across the top of the tetrapods, making them too dark. Also, those big square filters are a pain to use in the snow, which is another reason why I have been using circular screw-in neutral density filters exclusively for more than fifteen years now. My settings for this image were ISO 100 for a 13-second exposure at f/16, with a focal length of 15 mm, again with my 11-24 mm lens. 

After breakfast, we set out for an exploratory drive inland. I have to admit that I wasn’t looking out of our bus window as I discussed plans with our logistics staff, but luckily one of the participants called out so we stopped to photograph this beautiful scene (below) still very close to our hotel. We cross this bridge every year and I haven’t seen the trees looking this way before, so I’m pleased someone was paying attention.

Winter Estuary
Winter Estuary

I really like the contrast between the light snow that had stuck to the top side of all of the trees in the foreground, as well as covering the trees on the bank of this estuary. And of course, those golden grasses that were still showing through because of the relatively light covering of ground snow add so much to this shot that I couldn’t bring myself to convert it to black and white. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/30 of a second at f/14, and I was using my 100-400mm lens at 182 mm to isolate a small section of the larger scene.

Across the road from the bridge over the estuary, there is a barn that appears to be abandoned, so I spent a while looking for an angle that worked for me. From most angles, there were foreground trees that covered the barn, but I quite like this final angle that I decided on, again with the snow outlined trees and those beautiful golden grasses showing through.

Winter Barn
Winter Barn

If I ever print this I’ll probably clone out the grasses poking in from the bottom edge, especially along the bottom right, but for now, I’m running with this version to save time. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/40 of a second at f/14, back with my 24-105 mm lens at 105 mm.

We continued down the road that we’d pulled our bus onto which is one road north, parallel to the road that I’d planned to drive down, and we found that the snow and perhaps humidity had caused the light snow to stick to all of the trees, not just those near the estuary, making for some beautiful scenes, as we’ll see over the next few images. In this first shot from inland, I really like how the deciduous trees covered in snow stand out against the evergreen trees in the background (below).

Contrasting Trees
Contrasting Trees

I have enabled Black and White in Capture One Pro for this image, but I can actually not see any visible difference, as the scene was almost completely black and white anyway. For this shot I was actually shooting hand-held, having just jumped up onto a bank of snow from the bus, and we were parked in a place that I didn’t want to stay at for very long. My settings were ISO 200 for a 1/100 of a second at f/14, at 105mm. 

We drove along the road a little more and found a better stretch of road to park on and walked back a little to photograph the magical scene you can see in the next image (below). I use the word Winter Wonderland a lot in reference to my Japan Winter tours, but this photo is one of those that sums that up better than most others.

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland

The trees here were absolutely beautiful, and a stream that was flowing under the snow caused some wonderful curves in the foreground snow in front of the trees. I removed a few clumps of snow-covered grass from the left and right sides of this image, but other than that and a bit of Clarity and a very subtle Luma Curve, this is pretty much straight out of the camera. Again, I’ve also enabled black and white, but the original was almost already there. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/40 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 70 mm.

This next image (below) is from the same location, just a little further up the hill, so that I could include part of the large black tree on the left. I’ve cloned out a larger number of blades of grass from the foreground of this one, to clean it up a bit, but this was otherwise really such a beautiful scene, and I love the contrast between the white birch trees and the darker trees, all sharing a common covering of snow. 

In White
In White
Trees on Hill with Fence
Trees on Hill with Fence

I’m seriously considering making my own Christmas Cards with this image for this year, printing them on fine art paper. To be totally honest, I find the whole Christmas card thing very tedious, especially being in Japan where we don’t really celebrate Christmas, but doing something special like that might make it a bit more interesting. My settings for this were ISO 100, for a 1/50 of a second at f/14, and a focal length of 50 mm.

The following day, we took a drive over to a place that I like, with a small copse of trees on top of a hill. This year we walked quite a way up and over a hill along the road, and at one point the light was catching the edge of a snowdrift adding an additional element of interest that I absolutely love, and you can see that in this next image (right).

I went with a 4:5 crop for this photo, reducing the sky mostly, as I found that it worked better. The gray sky wasn’t adding much, and I wanted to draw the eye down to the snow-covered hill and highlighted snowdrift, and that seemed to work better with the crop.

I also really like the line of the fence that runs down the hill. There’s just something about this location and subject that really appeals to the minimalist photographer in me.

My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/30 of a second at f/14, and I was using my 100-400mm lens at its full extent, so 400 mm. You can probably appreciate how low the light levels are even during the day with these low shutter speeds.

The following day, we went out exploring again for a while and found a beautiful frosty plain, so we all climbed down the bank beside a bridge to get a closer look. Moving in gradually so as not to get in each other’s way, we got to a point where we could each start to photograph the frosty grasses close up, as you can see in this image (below).

Frosty Grasses
Frosty Grasses

I had initially preferred this shot in black and white, but once again couldn’t quite give up on the golden color of the grasses. As I prepared to record this episode, I tried it again in color and darkened the grasses down a little bit with the Color Editor in Capture One Pro. I also drew in an Adjustment Layer over the sky to just darken it down slightly, as it was a little washed-out. My settings were ISO 200, again because there was a bit of wind, but this time I wanted to reduce the risk of the grasses moving, by increasing my shutter speed to 1/200 of a second at f/14, and my focal length was 50 mm.

Later in the day, we visited another favorite spot of mine, where there is a lone tree at the side of Lake Saroma, and as with the other shots from this area, there was lots of golden grass that would usually be more covered in snow (below).

Saroma Lake Tree
Saroma Lake Tree

Because I selected my settings to stop the sky from over-exposing, for this image the grasses had gotten a little dark, so I brightened them up with the Color Editor, but otherwise I quite like what they add to this image, and again, there is that snow on the dark bows of the tree adding an extra bit of contrast that we don’t normally get. My settings were ISO 100 for a 1/100 of a second exposure at f/14, and a focal length of 35 mm.

The following morning we had a few hours to shoot before heading over to the airport to head back to Tokyo. We visited the lighthouse at Cape Notoro, but the wind was really strong, so I ended up spending most of my time there shooting video of the snow driving across the plain, which I’ll use in a production at some point.

Our last shoot was about 15 minutes from the airport when we shot some farm buildings and some members of the group got invited in for tea by a kind lady that lives there. I have a few shots but they aren’t great, due to the shadow of some power lines, another reason why I love to shoot in overcast conditions, so I’ll wait until I catch that spot on a cloudy day to reshoot.

After that, we recorded a comment from most of the members of the group, which I’ll play you now. 

[Please listen to the audio with the player at the top of this post to hear what the participants said about the trip.]

So, that brings us to the end of this three-part travelogue series to share our antics in the northern-most island of Japan on my Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure Tour & Workshop for 2018. I hope you’ve enjoyed it.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020

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

HLPA 2020

Show Notes

Details of the next available Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure: 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

Click for Details


Show Notes

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

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

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.