We rejoin my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Tour again this week, picking up the trail as we reach the West coast of the island, for some beautiful seascapes, as we journey on to the northern-most point of Japan.
In stark contrast to our three days in the Biei area, with her beautiful rolling snow-covered hills, when we hit the coast we are generally greeted by weather that fits the mood of the Japan Sea.
Shinto “Torii” Gate
After a sushi lunch during our drive over to the coast, we settled for the last hour of daylight on the beach facing the Shinto “Torii” Gate, that you see in this first image for today.
I was so pleased to get this heavy sky behind the Torii, and using the Luma Range mask tool in Capture One Pro, I was able to select just the darker parts of the sky and darken them down a little further, leaving the brighter areas alone, introducing some dramatic contrast to the photograph.
I also took the White Balance picker and from the white water got a custom white balance of just under 12,000 Kelvin, which brings out a little bit of warm sunlight on the horizon. I decided to keep these shots in color so as to not lose the vermillion color in the gate, or the warm color in the sky.
By the time I shot this, the light was so low that even at f/11 with an ISO of 250 I was still able to leave the shutter open for 4 seconds, which is why the sea is smoothed over in places, but this is also short enough to leave us some texture in the water and we can still see the waves forming a somewhat daunting looking line behind the gate.
Frozen “Torii” Gate
The following morning, after an early breakfast, we went back to the gate, and I was happy to see a covering of snow and icicles on the gate itself, so I shot it from the side to highlight that, and also to included the line of tetrapods to the left of the gate.
For this shot, I used a 10 stop Neutral Density filter to give me a 1-minute 30-second exposure at f/11, ISO 100. This long exposure is responsible for making the waves all disappear leaving a kind of mist over the rocks in the sea and the tetrapods.
I also really like the layers of fallen snow on the beach, which was another element that added to my decision to photograph the gate from this angle. The long exposure also caused the numerous waves that came in and out, while the shutter was open, to leave varying tones of white on the beach, accentuated by the dark sand.
After photographing the gate for a while, we made our way back to the bus, and on the way, I stopped to photograph the window of one of the Fisherman’s Workshops in the harbor.
I like the bleached look of the wood, from the summer months, as much as the harsh winter weather I imagine, and the ball of twine used to fix the fishing nets, as well as the hand-pump for pumping diesel into the boats, all add to the story. As, of course, do the fishing net and floats on the wall next to the window.
I increased my ISO to 250 for this, because I was hand-holding the EOS R, and I also wanted to freeze the snow to a degree, and the resulting 1/80 of a second shutter speed at f/8 helped me to acheive that.
Icing Sugar Beach and Tetrapods
The next stop gave us a few hours on a beach an hour south of the previous location, where the tetrapods half-buried in the sand, the waves and a stream that flows into the sea all collaborate to form some beautiful patterns, especially with a slightly long shutter speed, and another sprinkling of snow on the black sand.
The timing of this kind of shot can be critical, so although I usually just use the 2 second timer for landscape work, for this kind of photograph I use a cable-release. With the EOS R I actually bought the new Canon Bluetooth Remote Release BR-E1, which I used to release the shutter exactly as the time was right for the maximum effect of these waves rolling in and washing up the beach.
I was actually really impressed that when you connect the Bluetooth Remote, it automatically switches from a 2 second timer to instant release, which was just what I wanted. For this shot I was using an aperture of f/16 for a 0.6 second exposure at ISO 100, and a focal length of 39mm.
Stream and Tetrapods
Next to where I shot the previous image, there is a stream that flows down the beach into the sea, as you can see in this next image. I repositioned myself to include the mouth of the stream cutting through the snow, which formed a shape that was really nice this year.
I spent quite a long time for this shot, waiting for the various elements to come together. The large wave rolling in and crashing over the distant tetrapods, and the foreground wave behind the tetrapods, but also the wave that has just broke, high enough to wash up the beach forming those beautiful patterns.
And then the stream runs down into the waves on the beach, forming a whirlpool. I love it when a plan comes together! My settings for this image were the same as the previous one, but slightly longer focal length, at 58mm.
After lunch, we went back to the Torii gate that we’d visited a couple of times already, but the weather was improving, and the high pressure that comes with that forced the sea level down, so the rocks and sea bed were surrounding the gate, with just a few rock pools, and it really wasn’t worth shooting a third time in my opinion.
The following morning we continued our journey towards Wakkanai, the norther-most city of Japan, where we’d spend the next two nights. A little way up the coast, we made our first stop at a spot that I’ve found with various types of tetrapods along the beach, including the round ones that look like practice golf balls made of plastic. Only here, they’re made of concrete and covered in snow.
This was shot from the other side of a water duct that was running down to the sea, and I had to crop in tight along the bottom of the frame to avoid the duct’s wall, and that meant cropping into the two balls at the bottom of the frame, with the dusting of snow.
In my photographs I always try to focus on what most interests me, and for these shot, it’s those two darker balls, but I had to crop into them, which is of course not great, but when I look at the photo I still find myself diving in to the detail in those balls at the bottom of the frame. Luckily, the rest of the shot still appeals to me, with the layers of tetrapods and golf balls, and the 30-second exposure that I used with my 10 stop ND in the relatively bright sunlight still gave me a nice smooth sea, but with some texture.
Boat Graveyard 2019
A little later, we made our first visit to the Boat Graveyard, that I absolutely love to photograph each year. There wasn’t quite as much snow as usual in some areas, but the drifts behind these boats were still there in full form, and the grasses that are showing through almost add to the texture and grittiness of the shot, so I’m still very happy with this.
As with the Torii Gate shot earlier, I once again applied a Luma Range mask to the sky in this shot, to easily increase the contrast between the dark and light areas of the clouds, for added drama. I also cloned out a few stalks of grass that were poking into the frame along the bottom edge.
My settings were an aperture of f/14, for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 16mm. I was using my EF 11-24mm lens with the Canon Control Ring Mount Adapter. This allows me to use my EF lenses with the EOS R, and have the Control Ring, so that I can change my ISO according to my custom settings, by turning the Control Ring.
Having less snow than usual presented us with other bonuses, such as this large piece of driftwood, that was visible on the bank near the boats, and again, more grasses than usual added a nice touch for this photograph. I was drawn to the light coming through the snow clouds, and there is a single stalk of grass poking up through the snow in the center of the top third, that crooks over to the right, then kicks back up towards the sky.
I was actually drawn to this grass and the light more than the log, but I think the grass was happy enough to step back and play a supporting role in this photograph. I did very little to this, really just converting it to black and white, and giving it a small tweak on the levels and Luma tone curve to bring out the texture of the snow a little.
My settings were f/14, for a 1/50 of a second shutter speed at ISO 100, and a focal length of 92mm, now back working with my RF 24-105mm lens. I’ve been incredibly happy with the image quality of this new lens along with the EOS R, which I used almost exclusively throughout this tour.
Fish Drying Frames
After lunch in Wakkanai, we headed over to the fish drying frames that you see in this photograph. I did a long exposure for this, for 60 seconds, to introduce a little bit of movement in the sky, more visible to the right of the frame, and also to smooth over the sea that you can perhaps just make out poking through the gap at the end of the frames.
I shot this from the side as well, but I do like the symmetrical nature of this shot, with the structures balanced equally in the frame. It’s kind of a one-point perspective, like the compositions that we see a lot in Stanley Kubrik’s movies. My other settings for this were f/14 at ISO 100, and a 61mm focal length.
Boat Graveyard in Snow
The following morning we went back to the Boat Graveyard for some different light, and were treated to a little falling snow, as we can see in this image. My guests often ask about shutter speeds and falling snow, and here I increased my ISO to 400 at f/14 to get a 1/125 of a second shutter speed, which is sufficient to mostly freeze the snow in the air. Some of the snow closer to the camera is streaking slightly, but the further away snow is all suspended in mid-air. I find that to be just the right balance for this shot.
I zoomed in quite a lot to 87 mm for this shot, again, mostly to accentuate the snow in the air against the boats that are obviously larger in the frame at this focal length. And I also processed this slightly darker to add drama and context for the snow.
MBP Pro Membership
Of course, you might not be able to see all of the detail that I’m talking about in the Web-sized version, so note that I am also now releasing a high-resolution eBook article of all of my posts, which are available as part of my new MBP Pro subscription, which is currently available at the Bronze level, until I ramp it up further in March, after I finish my winter tours. There will be prorated upgrade prices available too, so if you are interested, jump on board now, and then consider the upgrade later at no extra cost.
Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2021
Many people have also been inquiring about spaces on my Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure Tour, which is sold out for 2020, but I have now updated our website with a 2021 page, so you can now book for that if you are interested. Details and the reservation payment buttons are now available at https://mbp.ac/hlpa.
See details of our currently available Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour here: 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
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.