This week we conclude our three-part series to walk you through our antics as I traveled with a wonderful group of photographers on my 2020 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Tour.
As with previous days, we were lucky to get a flurry of snow to cover the ground sufficiently to provide the beautiful scenes that we were hoping for, and that I’d been concerned that we might not get, with us having the warmest winter for 60 years this year. Having just gotten back from the first of my Japan Wildlife trips in Hokkaido, I’m happy to say that we had a cold front come in for most of the time we were up there, and there’s another forecast for next week when I set out for my third and final Japan trip of the year.
We pick up the trail on day eight of my Landscape Tour today though, as we left Wakkanai and headed first for the fishing ports near Cape Souya, and the northern-most tip of Japan, so let’s look at a shot from there to start with. As you can see, the snow wasn’t deep, but it was enough, and quite clean at this spot too, without much grass showing through.
I’ve processed most of my images from this trip in black and white, as I feel that it suits the subject matter most of the time. I also like to see a little conformity in the sets of images that I come back from these trips with, although as we’ll see later, there were a few shots towards the end of the trip that, in my opinion, worked better in color.
The next photograph, on the other hand, was shot on medium format black and white film, so I don’t really have a choice, but I think these images suit the Hokkaido Landscape work really well. For this I used an ND400 which gives me 8.6 stops of darkness for a 60-second exposure at f/16, to enable me to smooth over the sea like this. I had an ND8 and ND400 filter custom made here in Japan, to fit on the bayonet filter holder on my Rolleiflex to make this possible.
There’s a little more grain in the sky than I’d like, but I was just about getting to grips with the Rodinal developer chemicals by this point, and the SilverFast scanning software that I have also been using on recommendation is producing grainier scans than I’d like, but I guess this is more natural grain in the film, and my Canon scanning software is cleaning that up more, rather than SilverFast introducing it. Still, the six rolls of film that I developed and scanned during my week at home between the two trips was probably the biggest learning experience since I started shooting and developing my own film again a few months ago.
Shortly after the previous shot, at the end of day eight, I shot this image on the same beach, this time with my EOS R and, if I recall correctly, by this time, it was dark enough to give me a 2-second exposure without any filters on. I used a Bluetooth remote for my camera to time my shots perfectly for the drawing out of the waves, as this gives better texture and patterns in the water than the waves coming in.
These shots don’t all work, but if you shoot a number of them, you can start to see how the waves and timing affect the shots, and then select the most pleasing one later. That’s certainly something that I want to be doing more with digital than with my film camera, although I will probably experiment more when I’m back out by myself, rather than with my wonderful group on a workshop.
The following morning, back in the port on day nine, the tide was further out, and there was a coating of frost on all of the rocks, so I got down low for this next shot, shortly after the sun had risen. With the sun’s disk in the frame, I allowed it to overexpose slightly, as did a little of the water with the sun reflecting on it, but at that exposure, the dynamic range of my camera was plenty to still capture lots of shadow detail, without any part of the scene completely plugging up and going full black.
I spend a lot of time on my tours talking about exposure, and this is one of the best landscape locations to illustrate the benefits of Exposing to the Right, both for image quality, but also to protect the shadows in a wide tonal range scene like this. I covered this in detail in Episode 503, in which I covered using the Zone System for digital photography.
As we drew closer to the time that we were planning to leave the beach, we noticed some pancake ice forming on the surface of the sea, so I grabbed a number of shots with the three tetrapod pyramid tops sticking out the water, as you can see here.
It’s a cool phenomenon, as the sea starts to freeze and form the little circles of ice. It didn’t feel cold enough for this to form, but I guess that’s because we are all wrapped up to protect ourselves from the elements. Plus, I warm up a great deal when I’m photographing things, as opposed to just standing around in the cold. Later in the day, we went for a drive around the area but the warm winter was not helping with the landscape, so we went back to the hotel and did a few hours of workshops, before heading back down into the port for another quick shoot before the sun went down.
The following morning though, the snow came to our rescue, so we initially photographed the port one last time for this trip, as it was presenting us with a slightly different opportunity with the snow-covered tetrapods that you see here. Ideally, I’d have moved to my right a little more here to get better separation between the two tetrapods near the middle of the frame, but one of my guests was in that spot, and the guests always take preference. It’s fine though, and I still really like this shot.
The snow running right down to the water’s edge shows how calm the sea was on this final visit, and that also allowed the snow to settle on the tetrapods and rocks rather than being washed away, which is what usually happens.
We were planning to move on to our final location for the last two days of the tour, but there was no way we’d have gotten out of town without spending more time shooting the beautiful scenes that the previous day had not delivered, and you can see what I mean in this next image. This is not hoar frost, although it looks like it. I’ve seen this happen before at this location a few years ago, so I’d had my fingers crossed.
It’s very fine snow that has stuck to the trees and coated the land and other foliage. The bamboo grasses in the foreground give you an idea of what I mean too. On the previous day the soil had been showing through on the fields, and the trees were black and pretty bleak. This Winter Wonderland-style scene, on the other hand, is the sort of thing that I love to encounter on this trip, and we were fortunate to get this on this visit, with it being so warm compared to most other years.
The snow started to melt off the trees relatively quickly, so this is one of the last shots I got from this morning, of a silo in a farmer’s field, albeit a little bit of a Christmas Card type of a scene, and I mean that in a somewhat negative sense. Still, it’s a pleasing shot and helps to illustrate the conditions, so I thought I’d include this before we move on.
Note that these two images are some of the few that I left in color, as I mentioned earlier because I really felt that their color added something to the images. I used to remove the color in images when it got in the way, but for a number of years now, especially with this trip, my default is to convert to black and white, and I only leave images in color when I feel that the color is adding something to the scene.
It was back to fishing boats for much of the last two days of the trip, as we visited a fishing port on the Saroma Lake. We had a smattering of snow again, helping to clean things up, and I loved the sky that we had on our first visit, as you can see here.
This once again shows how useful it is to Expose to the Right, to control the highlights and protect the shadows. Without using this technique, which you can read about more in Episode 381, the shadows fall too dark to give much definition. By using this technique, the boats come out of the shadows easily with the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro and Lightroom etc.
As has become tradition, at the end of each tour, I record a comment from each of the participants, which I will play you now, in the audio for this post. If you want to hear what people said about the tour, please listen with the audio player above. The comments start at 10:23.
We are going to conclude this travelogue series with what I believe is a fitting film shot, of the boats at the same fishing port. Again, I’m really happy that the film I’m using, which for this trip turned out to be exclusively Rollei RPX 100, is giving me such similar results to how I process my digital work in black and white. Apart from the square format and more apparent grain, these images feel very similar to me, and shooting film on this trip was a lot of fun.
I actually thought that I’d need to mollycoddle my now 55-year-old Rolleiflex, to protect it from the elements, but having gotten it wet on a number of occasions, although I did wipe it down, I’m happy to report that it did not rust, and is still as shiny as ever. a True tribute to German craftsmanship. Note that I have used my new script for assigning and updating the EXIF data on my scanned film, so if you click on these images you’ll see the shooting information, just like my digitally shot images. I have a few more tweaks to make, but I hope to be able to share that in March when the dust settles after my winter tours.
I’ve also spent the last few days working on an update to my Photographer’s Friend app for iOS. I was contacted with a request to add a couple of medium format sensor sizes between 35mm and the 645 format, which I’ve done. In the process though, I updated the app to the latest version of Swift, the programing language used to create it, and then decided to add a Light and Dark theme throughout the app, and a few other tweaks.
If I can overcome a few remaining issues that I’m working on, I hope to submit the update to Apple before leaving for my third trip of the season next weekend, so stay tuned for that if you have version three of the Photographer’s Friend, as it will be a free update. I will not be updating version two, and you can see which you have by tapping on the About Photographer’s Friend link at the bottom of the Help menu.
One other thing to keep your eyes out for is that although the night view has been replaced by the more comprehensive dark theme, you can still switch themes easily by simply shaking your device, and that’s useful if you are using the app at night and want to protect your night vision. I also think that the dark theme looks great anyway. By default, Photographer’s Friend will now simply follow your system preferences unless you shake it.
Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour
We’ll wrap it up there for this week though. If you are interested in joining the Landscape tour in 2021 or future years, check out the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa.
Check out details of future Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventures here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa
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).
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).
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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).
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).
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.
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
Details of the next available Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure: https://mbp.ac/hlpa
Continuing our travelogue series from my recent Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure tour and workshop, today we pick up the trail on the morning of day three, when we took a walk around the back of our hotel to photograph the blue waterfall there.
This is another of those shots that I pretty much take every year, and haven’t really been able to find a variation that I like more than this composition, but I’m including it to show you what we got up to. The falls are literally blue, although I’ve helped it along with a few tweaks of the sliders in Capture One Pro here. The color comes from the minerals in the water, and the haziness that you can see in this image comes from the warm water that flows into the cold water from nearby hot springs.
I actually prefer some drone footage that I shot of the springs after the group had returned for breakfast, but I’ll have to include that in a video at some point. Unfortunately, my Mavic Pro broke a few days after this, so the footage I got was relatively limited. I shot this photograph at f/11 for a four-second exposure at ISO 100, with a focal length of 234mm.
After breakfast, we set off for a 90 minute or so drive to the ski slopes on Mount Asahi. This is something we are able to do if my strategy for shooting the Biei hills and trees in the snow is successful, so I was happy to be able to visit Mount Asahi. As you can see in this next image (below) we had plenty of snow, and I got my 2018 version of one of my favorite scenes.
Mount Asahi Trees
I positioned myself to hide the huge metal cable car pillar behind one of the trees to the left, and I cloned out the wires in Capture One Pro. It takes a bit longer to do this in Capture One, but I like the benefit of being able to keep my photograph in raw format, rather than round-tripping to Photoshop and ended up with a large PSD file. Not only are the raw files smaller, I get to benefit from future processing engine updates in Capture One Pro. I shot this at f/14 for a 1/13 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 28mm.
This next image is from a little further up the ski slope (below). I’ve looked at this tree every year, and seem to recall photographing it on my first visit in 2008 on my very first Hokkaido Tour, but I’ve never been able to make anything I like of it, until now. The way the snow was sticking to the tree, and the contrast of the white and dark form seemed somehow more poetic than it’s been to date.
So I could include the entire tree as well as to frame the background without any distractions, I broke out my 11-24mm lens and shot this at 13mm. This, of course, causes quite a lot of distortion in the distant trees, but I’m not too worried about that. I know a lot of people will try to straighten these up, but it doesn’t bother me enough to do so. My other settings for this shot were an aperture of f/14, ISO 160 for a 1/20 of a second exposure.
After visiting Mount Asahi, we stopped at a spot at the base of the mountain and spent some time photographing the trees there. I got some shots that I like of twigs sticking out of the snow, that I’m building quite a collection of. These are nice images, to me at least, but I’m going to skip them for today so that we can keep these series down to just one more episode.
The following morning, we checked out of our hotel in Biei and started our morning drive over to the north-western coast of Hokkaido, where, after a sushi lunch, we had our first shoot at a nice spot with some tetrapods in the sea. I’m going to skip that photo too, to save time, and move on to our second and last shoot of the day, which was at the Torii gate in the sea 30 minutes north of our hotel for the next two nights.
As you can see in this next image (below) as the light dropped at the end of the day, we were able to get some nice shots with the sea water washing around the base of the Shinto gate. For a shot like this, I like to use between half a second and a full second, to leave some form and texture in the water, but also capture its movement. For this shot, I was at 0.8 seconds and used a cable release rather than a 2-second timer, so that I could time my exposure perfectly for the breaking waves and water washing over the concrete base of the Torii.
Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate
This first afternoon’s shoot was like our insurance visit, as we’d have another full day in the area to revisit, but as you can see from this image, the grey sky indicates a low-pressure weather front. We came back here the following morning, and although the tide was supposed to be higher, the water was way back, and if we wanted, we could have walked out to the gate.
One member of the group provided the answer, which is that the sea level was low because of atmospheric pressure. On a stormy day with low pressure, the sea is able to rise up, but the following day, with a clear blue sky, and therefore high pressure, the sea was being pushed down, despite the tide being higher. We looked back through our records and found that two years ago, we arrived at high tide to find the sea very low, and we also recorded that it was a clear day then too.
It makes a lot of sense, but I was somewhat surprised by the amount the sea is actually pushed down by the high atmospheric pressure. In addition to my 0.8-second exposure, my other settings for this shot were f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 55mm.
There was a lot of snow on the eastern side of Hokkaido during this trip, and I had to play human snow plow to forge a way through the snow to get to the Torii gate.
Overnight we had another sprinkling of snow, which in total made a staircase that runs up to the observatory on top of the hill behind the gate look quite special, as you can see in this photograph (right).
The sky was quite bright for this shot, but I exposed to ensure that it didn’t over-expose and then brought the white of the snow back in contrast to the black stairs in Capture One Pro, using the Levels and a Luma Curve.
I’m quite happy with the results and love how much snow has settled on the steps. I don’t think I’d like to try to climb up there, although I don’t know how much more difficult it would have been than my snow plow impression from the previous day.
My settings were f/14 for a 1/40 of a second at ISO 100 and a focal length of 70mm.
As the Torii gate was not worth shooting without the sea washing around its base, we moved on earlier than planned to another location that I like to photograph, where there are some tetrapods half buried in the sand on the beach, as you can see in this next image (below). With it being clear, if I recall, I used a six-stop Neutral Density filter to get a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds to capture the movement of the water as it flowed around the front of the tetrapods into the foreground.
Tetrapods with Snow
This only happens every few minutes, so again, I was using my cable release to time my shots. I was also conscious of waiting for a wave to break behind the tetrapods, to add an extra element of interest to the scene. I succeeded in getting the timing right on a number of images and have about six left in my selection still. I think this is my favorite, but I have to live with my images for a little while longer before I can whittle that down to my final selection. My other settings were f/16 at ISO 100 with a 60mm focal length.
As the weather looked like it was getting a little cloudier, with some heavy clouds out at sea, towards the end of the day we went back to the Shinto Torii gate to see if the water level had risen at all, but it was still pretty low.
While we were there though, I took the opportunity to make some long exposure photographs of a line of tetrapods in the sea, as you can see in this image (right).
I think I used the six-stop ND again for a four-minute exposure as the light dropped at the end of the day. The result, of course, is very smooth silky sea water and a bit of movement in the clouds.
I’m doing all of these black and white conversions in Capture One Pro, because I love the tones that I’m able to create in the images, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s great to be able to keep my images in their original raw format.
I also dropped a graduated adjustment layer across the sky in Capture One Pro to darken that down, and there’s a second adjustment layer along the rocks at the bottom edge, to darken them down a little too, to add weight and provide a nice anchor for the image.
The following morning we went back to the Torii gate to try our luck one last time, but the sea was still too far out, and really not looking great, so it turned out that the best shots from this year were from our insurance shoot two days earlier. It was a little rushed, but I do like the images from that shoot, so I’m pleased we went. For my participants, of course, I’d have loved to provide a second attempt with high sea water, but although we can control most expects of the tour, we can’t do anything about the weather, unfortunately.
We continued on to our next location, along the way stopping at the spot where there are some practice golf-ball like wave breakers in the sea, but the snow here got the better of me. It just wasn’t possible to forge a way through, so we gave up on that shoot, and continued on to the boat graveyard, one of my favorite spots in Hokkaido.
Boat Graveyard at Sunset
The sky wasn’t great on this first visit, but the light was still very nice, especially when the sun broke through the relatively heavy clouds a few times, as you can see in this photo (above). I’ve cloned out a few bits of grass that were in the bottom left corner, and again darkened the sky down a bit in Capture One Pro. I shot this at f/14 with 1/80 of a second exposure at ISO 100 and a focal length of 28mm. Unfortunately, the compression on the blog has caused a sharp step in the gradation around the light of the sun, which doesn’t happen on the original, but that can’t be helped.
The following morning we went back to the boat graveyard, this time luckily we were presented with some sea mist or “kearashi” as they say in Japanese, which you might be able to make out along the horizon in this image (below). Again, shot from the side just a little bit behind the boats, I found this angle about the best to show the detail in the sky and the sea mist, as well as showing us lots of great texture in the foreground snow.
Boat Graveyard with Sea Mist “Kearashi”
We generally spend a couple of hours at this location, just working the boats, because I love to wait for a great sky like this. Also the great thing about visiting in the morning is that the sunlight is coming from just to the left of the frame in this shot, so it really helps to create shadows in the troughs that form in the snow drifts behind the boats.
For some of the shots from this year I removed the fox footprints from the right side, when they didn’t really add anything to the image, but for this shot, I feel as though they add an additional element of story which I quite like, so I left them in on this one. My settings were f/14 for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100 and a focal length of 70mm.
Before we move on, I want to share one last shot of the boat graveyard, because it’s an angle I’ve not shot before. Shortly before we were due to leave, a number of us climbed up onto the bank beside the boats, and photographed directly towards where the sun was in the sky, but at this point covered by clouds, giving us some beautiful rays above the horizon (below).
Boat Graveyard and Sun Beams
The sea mist is still just about visible, and when viewed large you can actually see the distant wind farm on the horizon above the boats. This is one of the shots in which I think removing the fox prints helps the shot, allowing us to see just the smooth mound of snow in the foreground and the quality of the light and texture as it darkens towards the corners of the frame. My settings were the same as the previous image but at 29mm now.
After spending a few hours with the boats, we visited the location where we have permission to photograph the fish drying frames that you can see in this next image (below). I’m not totally happy with the line of snow at the base of this image, which is from where the road in front of the frames has been plowed, although this is part of life in Hokkaido during their harsh winter. We had a reasonably nice sky though, which I am happy with, and roughly the same amount of fish drying on each rack which adds a bit of symmetry.
Fish Drying Frames
My settings for this image were f/14 for a 1/40 of a second, ISO 100 with a focal length of 76mm. Again, you can tell how low the ambient light is because I was down at 1/40 of a second in the middle of the day. I didn’t do a long exposure here, because I didn’t want to hog the spot, but also because for this particular image I think I prefer the texture in the sky.
After lunch, we spent a few hours at the port at Cape Noshappu near Wakkanai, the norther-most city of Japan. I have some fishing boat shots that I like, but not really any better than previous years. As the sun neared the horizon though, I noticed the possibility of lining it up with the top of the lighthouse, so I quickly made my way across the harbor to a place where I might be able to photograph this.
Noshappu Lighthouse Sunset
As you can see in this final image for today (above) the sun broke quite strongly through the cloud at just the right time for me to align it with the chamber at the top of the lighthouse where they usually shine the light from, and that along with the rays of the sun in the sky made for quite a dynamic photograph. Being Hokkaido, in the winter, I did try this in black and white as well, but the color really adds so much to this shot, that I decided to leave it in color.
I have brightened the foreground quite a bit, so that we can see the snow on the quay wall and also see the sea a little. Without that it was almost a complete silhouette across the bottom third of the image. My settings were f/14 with ISO 400 for a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. The wind was really quite strong at this point, and I’d even taken the hood off of my 100-400mm lens to stop it from acting as a sail and catching the wind. My focal length was 158mm.
If I don’t drop a few more as I prepare, I currently have 12 more images to talk about in the final episode of this travelogue series. I have been really struggling to get this recorded and prepare an additional episode before I leave for my first Japan winter wildlife tour in a few days, so next week I will probably interrupt the series and share something that I did on Capture One Pro for the Phase One team recently, and then release the final part of this series as soon as I get back from my second visit to Hokkaido for this season.
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
Details of the next available Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure: https://mbp.ac/hlpa
I’m really proud to be able to share a video of our 2017 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour with you today. I have been looking forward to releasing this since we completed the tour in January 2017.
I invited Australian videographer Rob Bampton along, to capture our antics during the tour on video, so that I could share what we get up to with you. I have to admit, I was not expecting the results to absolutely blow me away, but they did. I knew Rob was going to do a great job. That’s why I asked him to do this, but at dinner on the last night, Rob showed us a two minute preview of some of his footage, and believe me, the jaw of everyone in the group was on the floor.
Rob then had to go and do some other jobs while he was in Japan, and I went off to do my two Japan winter wildlife tours, so the footage sat until March, when we both freed up a little and could start working on the video. Rob did most of the editing, with some feedback from me, then I did some final tweaking and created the music.
I uploaded the final version of the video to our Vimeo account last week, and I’ve already let many people know via our social channels, but for those of you that listen to the podcast, and don’t follow me on any of the social networks, I’m releasing a placeholder episode of the podcast today, basically to point you to the video.
So, if you haven’t already seen the video, please do check it out below. Grab a drink, turn up your speakers, and go full screen, then welcome to my world.
The video turned out to really capture the essence of the tour, and the feeling of what it’s like to be in Hokkaido photographing the amazing minimalist landscapes that we experience there. Rob was an absolute pleasure to work with. He is professional and fun to be around, and his skill at flying a drone is pretty awesome too, as you’ll see in the video. If you need some videography or photography done, for that matter, check out Rob’s web site at http://www.robbampton.com.au.
I’m pretty proud of the music that I created for this video too. I know that it’s not photography related, but as I know that some of you enjoy creating music too, plus the fact that this just really helps to avoid copyright strikes, even for music that is legally licensed, I am now finding myself creating my own music for videos, as part of my career as a photographer. So, if people are interest in hearing more about my process and tools used, let me know in the comments below, and I’ll put a video together to walk you through the making of my Hokkaido track.
Although we’re selling the remaining places pretty quickly, if you would like to join us for the 2018 or future Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure, you can see details and book on the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa.
Today we continue with part two of my travelogue series on my recent Hokkaido Winter Photography Adventure tour for 2017. This was an amazing trip with a group of very talented and enthusiastic photographers, and probably the most productive of my Hokkaido Landscape tours so far, thanks to the incredible weather conditions we were presented with.
When I talk about good weather conditions though, you might think I’m talking about beautiful blue skies, but that is totally the other end of the scale. For this tour we need gray skies and lots of snow. Day four of this tour was perhaps a little too extreme though, even for my liking. As we made our way from Biei over to the West coast, a cold weather front that was slamming down on Hokkaido had blocked roads going south, but luckily we were heading north, and our excellent driver was able to battle through to Haboro where we’d spend the next two nights.
We had to abandon a couple of locations that I was hoping to shoot, for today at least, as high winds and spray from the sea would have made them pointless, but before we went to the hotel, we did get to spend a good chunk of time at the Konpira Shrine Torii, which is a Shinto Gate in the sea, that you can see in this photograph (below).
Konpira Shrine Torii in Storm
This was a real battle with the elements, as the wind was so strong, even my sturdy Really Right Stuff tripod was shuddering during these 1/15 of a second exposures. I wanted to do a little longer to capture more wave movement, but they just weren’t working even with my pushing down hard on the tripod to keep it from moving, but this shutter speed just about worked.
I’m happy with the position of these waves, and think this photo at least partially conveys how harsh the weather was. I was shooting at f/11 and an ISO of 400 to maintain that 1/15 of a second shutter speed, and was happy to have come away with at least a few shots that were actually sharp in these conditions.
The following morning, we drove back down the coast to the first location that we’d abandoned the previous day, and when we arrived, there was a patch of heavy snow, so we went with our driver to turn the bus around, and as we got back, we actually had a pleasant clear patch that lasted the time we were there, but still gave us some beautiful dark skies while highlighting the texture in the snow quite beautifully, as you can see in this photo (below).
Tetrapods Near and Far
The sun was also catching the distant set of tetrapods in the sea, giving a nice highlight on them too, which I thought was nice. The rough sea was still causing a lot of white water though, and this time I chose to smooth that over to a degree with a two minute shutter speed. I used a 10 stop and a 3 stop neutral density filter nested, for 13 stops of additional darkness, which was perfect for these lighting conditions. I was back to my old faithful aperture of f/14 and my ISO was set to 100.
I was continuing to use my new Mark II 24-105mm lens for much of my work, as it’s wonderfully sharp and very versatile with that wide zoom range, but it wasn’t quite wide enough for the next photo (below) which I shot at 14mm with my 11-24mm f/4 lens.
Driftwood Under Snow
For this photo I wanted to include the full arch of driftwood under the snow on the beach, but also include that expanse of sky with the stratocumulus clouds just above the horizon, but also that wispy bank of snow cloud that might be classed as cirrus clouds in the foreground. I love it when various weather conditions are this close together, because the sky changes so quickly and gives us lots of various opportunities. I was also here still playing with that beautiful texture in the snow. I shot this at 1/80 of a second at f/14, ISO 100.
As we drove back up the coast to the second location that we’d skipped the previous day, the snow set in again for a while, and I couldn’t help thinking once again that we were getting the exact types of weather for each scene that we shot as and when we needed it. It really was uncanny.
As we walked down to the beach where I wanted to photograph the tetrapods, we were presented with this scene, that once again plays not only on the snow texture, but the bright sun also caused this wonderful shadow which is obviously a major part of this image (below).
Snow Beach Fence
Once again, it was also great that we had a nice dramatic sky in the background, rather than clear blue, that you might expect to see with the foreground being so bright. For this I also used a total of thirteen stops of neutral density for a one minute thirty-second exposure at f/14, with ISO 100.
As I’ve mentioned before, all of these images were converted to black and white in Capture One Pro, and because the new Mark II 24-105mm f/4 lens is still not supported for Lens Correction, I am still manually selecting the old 24-105mm to fix the slight bowing that is easy to see on the horizon on a photograph like this. My 11-24mm lens is now supported, which is great, although it actually has much less distortion than the 24-105mm Mark II anyway, so I’m hoping that Phase One get to this soon.
Once we had all photographed this scene in our various ways, all different and all unique, we trampled through this pristine snow down to the beach, and went over to a group of tetrapods that I know of that are half buried in the sand. We found that there was a rope and a lot of old fishing net tangled around a tree trunk that was washed up on the tetrapods, so I got a large knife from our bus, and cut most of that away, and proceeded to shoot this photograph (below).
Obira Tetrapods with Tree Trunk
When photographing the sea, especially when there are some good waves, I sometimes like to use a shutter speed of 1 second, which enables me to capture a good amount of movement in the sea without smoothing it completely over. I also often use a two-second timer when shooting landscapes, so that I can take my hand away from the camera before the exposure, which reduces the risk of me introducing vibration through my hands.
In cases like this though, when I want more control over the actual moment at which the exposure starts, I do still use a cable release, and turn off the two-second timer. This enabled me to perfectly time this image as a large wave washed up well past the tetrapods and tree trunk, and merge with a stream of water that was running down to the sea from the right to the left of this frame. This caused some beautiful swirls in the water, and I think my one-second shutter speed captured this perfectly on this occasion.
I also dropped on my large ND filters again, for another shot of the same scene, but for a three minute exposure this time. I like both photographs, but you can see that they are although obviously the same subject, the scene is depicted very differently by increasing the shutter speed from one to 180 seconds, allowing the sea, which was still quite rough, to smooth over to create this much more silky and surreal look (below).
Tetrapods and Driftwood
We can still see a trace of how the sea water washes up past the tetrapods, and merges with the stream flowing from right to left, and causing the trail of the water to flow around the tetrapods and back to the sea. Both of these images were shot at f/14 with ISO 100, and a focal length of 43mm, although I did compose them slightly differently.
We went for lunch after this session, and then went back to the Konpira Shrine with the Torii gate in the sea that we visited at the end of the previous day. With the storm now gone, we didn’t have to battle with the wind, but the sea often takes an extra day or so to calm down, so we still had some great waves that we could now photograph with much slower shutter speeds, such as the 50 seconds that I used for this photograph (below).
Konpira Shrine Torii and Icy Beach
Again, I was using my cable release, and timing my shots so that they started when higher than usual waves washed the foreground, but then at 50 seconds, the sea continued to wash up high and smooth over the gaps between the rocks. I like this shot mostly because there is a patch of highly textured foreground in the bottom right corner that is covered in snow and partly frozen, which I think adds a nice additional element of interest. I also like how the rough sea makes the line of tetrapods to the right slightly less defined than the Torii gate and the foreground. This gives a sense of depth to the image.
The following day, we were to drive a few hours further North to Wakkanai, where we’d spend another two nights. On the way, there’s a spot that I’ve found where there are a number of different types of tetrapods. Technically, only a certain type of wave breakers with four legs, are called Tetrapods. Using the word tetrapod to simply mean a wave breaker, this spot offers nice varied layers of them, which I love photographing when they are covered in snow, as we see in this photograph (below).
Practice Golfballs and Ice Monsters
What attracts me to this particular image is that I was able to place these large balls that look like those plastic practice golf balls, completely covered by snow, all along the foreground. On this trip, I’d invited a talented videographer named Rob Bampton to video this tour, and I will be sharing the results of that probably in March, when we’ve had a chance to edit the video.
Rob asked me at this location though, why I hadn’t included the horizon in my composition. I actually had been shooting both, and will share another in a moment. My reason for not including the horizon in some of these images though, is because it enables me to simplify the shot a little more. Here I think just having the three distinct layers works well, and enables us to view each layer and appreciate the entire composition for its simplicity and minimalism.
In this next shot (below) I’d taken a few steps forward, to reveal an extra layer of golf-ball tetrapods down in the water, and an extra layer of tetrapods in the sea to the right. Here I feel that the additional layers make the shot intrinsically more complicated, and the wider focal length and more acute angle also makes the horizon closer to the top right corner of the tetrapods, so I think including the distant horizon works better for this composition.
I guess the point I want to make here though, is that I don’t think we necessarily need to include a horizon, just because it’s there, just out of frame. I think we should include or exclude any element only when it adds to the composition, as I feel it does in this second image from this location. Another reason I think it works in this second image, is because of the acute angle, the horizon helps to cap off and rebalance the image.
In the previous image, the top layer of tetrapods is already almost straight, and doesn’t necessarily need to be rebalanced. Both images were physically perfectly level by the way. I always use the digital level in my camera, and unless I have a creative reason to photograph a screen skewed, I generally have it straight.
A little further on our journey, we stopped for a toilet break at a place in the middle of nowhere, were there is a huge line of wind turbines, harvesting the wind to create electricity. The line of turbines that you see in this image is actually only about half of them. There is a similar number to my back as I shot this photograph (below).
We were in a bit of a snow storm again, with high winds and snow blowing across the scene, so we just grabbed some shots from a snow bank before moving on, but I like this shot enough to share it with you. This is also coming back somewhat to something that I mentioned in my 2016 top ten images podcast a few weeks ago, which is that I am tending more and more to add a human element to many of my photographs.
Thinking about it, that may well be a tendency I’m developing more through running this tour, as much of what we do after the first three days is about man made objects in the landscape, such as the tetrapods, the Shinto Torii gate, this wind farm, or the boat graveyard that we visited after this. Because we were shooting hand-held, I increased my ISO to 200, to give me a 1/100 of a second exposure at f/14, my go-to aperture for landscape work.
After our rest-room break, we forged along the coast, to one of my favorite spots on this tour, the boat graveyard. We would come back to this location the following day, but this is my favorite shot from the end of day six (below). Once again we found ourselves on the edge of a weather front, with flurries of snow, sometimes quite heavy, giving way to breaks in the clouds that made for some quite dramatic skies.
Breaking Snow Storm
I shot this at f/14 with a 1/8 of a second shutter speed, at ISO 100, so you can probably appreciate once again that the available light levels were quite low for a daytime photograph. This is partly what makes these locations so special though. We have some crazy skies in the next few images that I’ll share from this location in next week’s episode, so I hope you’ll stay tuned for that.
We’ll wrap it up there for this second travelogue, and pick up the trail again next week at the start of day seven. I have now updated the tour page and started taking bookings for the 2018 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure tour and workshop, so if you think you might be interested, please do take a look. You can find the page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa, and if you have any questions at all, please drop me a line via our contact page.