Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 694)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 694)

Today we continue our travelogue series covering my recent Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure. I’d like to start by answering a question to last week’s post from Paulo Silva. Thanks for the great questions Paulo! Although I’ve answered in the comments for last week’s post, I’m going to include my answers here too as this is probably useful for others as well.

Why do you use apertures so small as F/16 with such wide focal length as 22mm? For the longer I understand if you want to keep everything in focus but as wider than 22mm or 35mm, wouldn’t you get the lens best performance (keeping everything in focus) and using a little bit wider aperture (say f/8 to f/11), having in mind that diffraction usually starts to show with f/11 and smaller? I know that it depends on the lens you’re using, and my experience is only with APS-C sensors in which diffraction happens sooner than with Full Frame sensors.

Another question, if I may, is where did you put your focal plane? At the trees or did you use some kind of hyperfocal distance?

Question from Paulo Silva

OK, so my settings are usually the result of thinking through what I want to do with the elements of the image, and also based on testing my gear to understand what it is capable of. There is also a hint in the text for last week’s post with regard to those particular scenes. Here too is a gallery of the images, to save you going back to the previous post:

The main reason for those particular images is because I wanted to get a shutter speed of between 1/20 and 1/40 of a second to cause the snow to streak slightly. It’s hard to see in the web versions, but it makes a beautiful pattern over the trees at these shutter speeds. If that requires me to stop down to f/16, I’m fine with that, because I test my lenses as described here https://mbp.ac/594 to see where diffraction starts to kick in. I built the functionality into my Photographer’s Friend app to also display diffraction warnings when calculating depth-of-field, which I also reference, but I’ve found that my gear does not start to visibly show the effect of diffraction until I stop down to f/22, but the depth-of-field does increase.

For example, the hut and tree shot with the dark sky was shot at 91mm, and at f/16 the close foreground snow is starting to come out of the depth-of-field. For the snow pillows shot, I was trying to get a slow shutter speed to record the water movement.

For the dawn mist in Biei shot, you’ll see that I opened it up to f/11, because, firstly, I was hand-holding, but also because the foreground snow was not going to be important, so I didn’t need to stop down so much. For the blue waterfall, I opened up to f/11 and adjusted my ISO to get a 1-second shutter speed, again, so make the water look the way it does. For the raven’s in the tree shot, I opened up to f/11 to get a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second, but I didn’t want to go any faster, because I wanted the flying birds to blur slightly when flying.

I have to admit, that these are perhaps better examples of my thought process because the low light causes me to decide where the trade-offs will be played out. With brighter scenes, I generally just shoot pretty much everything at f/14, but this is more out of habit. Before I really tested my lenses I used f/14 as my soft-ceiling, and f/16 was pretty much the highest I would go, but that is no longer the case.

I am aware that some people like to shoot at f/8, mostly because they’ve read somewhere that this is the sweet spot for the lens, but this in my experience is generally completely unnecessary, and often causes them to have to focus stack, etc. I rarely focus stack, and I mean like, almost never, and the thought of having to do that to overcome an obstacle that does not exist turns me completely cold. Before anyone makes a decision like that, they need to test their lenses and find out where diffraction starts to become visible for all of their lenses. 

Also, as you said, crop factor cameras will start to see diffraction at wider apertures, so you do need to test, but my app also shows the warnings accordingly when crop factor sensor sizes are selected. In case you haven’t seen it, you can check out Photographer’s Friend here.

People also, in my experience, have a very poor understanding of depth-of-field, and very few people understand that depth-of-field is directly affected by the megapixels (resolution) of the sensor in the camera. You get shallower depth-of-field with higher resolution cameras, if, as I do, you check critical focus at 100%. This is what I enabled with the Pixel Peeper mode that I built into my Photographer’s Friend app. When enabled you can clearly see the difference in depth-of-field as the sensor resolution increases.

Regarding Paulo’s question about where I focus, most of the time I am focusing on the main subject, to give it the clearest pixels. I occasionally focus around a third into the screen when I need more depth-of-field, but I generally feel that the main subject is best. With the shadow of the tree shot, for example, I recall focusing on the middle of the shadow, as it was about one third into the scene, but also because the shadow was the main subject of this image, not the tree itself. This also helped me to get more focus on the foreground snow.

The Coast

OK, so let’s continue to discuss the next ten images from this trip. After leaving Biei we headed over to the coast, which is a relatively long drive, so after our morning shoots before we leave, the next opportunity is usually the Shinto Torii gate that you see in this image. I had been excited about the fact that it was going to be a high tide on both evenings that we’d be able to visit this Torii, but as you can see from the sky, it was relatively clear, and I’ve found over the years that a clear sky, which indicates high atmospheric pressure, has more effect on the sea that the tides at this particular location. If it was overcast, meaning low pressure, the sea would have been up over the concrete base and the sky much more interesting.

Torii Gate at Dusk
Torii Gate at Dusk

Some members of the group got some really nice shots with the sunset reflecting in the pools between the rocks in front of the gate, which was great! We’d come back here the following evening, but once again despite it being high-tide, there was a clear sky, so it didn’t really work again.

We also spend a lot of time at some other locations in this area while we are there though, and one of them you can see in this next image. I like this spot because there are tetrapods lined up along the shore, often covered in ice like this, and then there is a line of tetrapods out in the sea, which add an element of interest to break-up the otherwise somewhat monotonous sea.

Icy Tetrapods
Icy Tetrapods

One thing that came up as we shot here, is how do I focus to get both the foreground icy tetrapods and the distant tetrapods sharp, and this is also related to Paulo’s earlier questions, so I’ll explain. Now that I’m using the EOS R with the electronic viewfinder, I can do this directly in the viewfinder, but in the past, I would do this same thing in LiveView. Basically, I zoom in on one of the extremes in the focus, either the foreground or the distant objects. Then, having set my aperture to something hopefully small enough to get both subjects in focus, I hold down the depth-of-field preview button, which I have mapped to the exposure lock or asterisk button on the back of my EOS R.

Then, say if I’m looking at the near subject, I physically move the focus out with the focus ring, until I see the near subject start to go soft, then pull back a little again, so that it’s still in the near end of the depth-of-field. Then I zoom in on the distant subject and check that it’s also in focus. Sometimes I have to pull the focus back a little to check that it does out of focus when I do, as it’s easier to then see when it comes back into focus. There is also focus peaking indication in the EOS R which helps, as everything that is highlighted has a sharp, in focus, edge.

You can see how little snow we had this year in this next image. Normally this beach has around 50 cm of snow and is difficult to walk on, but this year we were able to walk around quite freely. Rather than fighting it, I used the sparse snow as part of the composition for this shot, using it as leading lines towards the outcrop of land and the tip of triangular tetrapods.

Sugar Coated Beach
Sugar Coated Beach

Just in case, we swung by the Torii Shinto Gate one last time on the way out of town for on the last day in this area, but with the lower tide and clear sky the water was so far back that I found out for the first time that there is a second concrete base under the one you see in the earlier photo, which was also visible, so I had the group stay on the bus, and we started our journey to the next location, shooting some of my favorite spots along the way, the first of which, you can see in this next image.

Three Types of Tetrapods
Three Types of Tetrapods

I shot this with my medium format film camera, the Rolleiflex, and I’m pleased that I did because my EOS R had mysteriously switched to 12-megapixel mode without any warning the frame after the previous image of the beach. I noticed it around fifty frames later, and have no idea why it switched. This happens when you put an EF-S or crop-factor lens on the EOS R, but looking at when it switched, I had not even taken the lens off the camera, and I don’t own an EF-S lens, so nothing should have caused this to happen. I tell you, in general, I’m very happy with my Canon gear, and I love the EOS R, but when I found out that this had happened I felt like throwing my camera into the sea. Luckily the Rollei came to the rescue, and I still have some high-resolution images from this part of the trip.

I really like how we have the three distinctly different types of tetrapods at this location. The practice golf-balls in the foreground, the angular tetrapods in the middle, and then the rounder-legged tetrapods out in the sea. The word Tetrapod actually means four-legged and is a trademark for the original company that made them, but I just call all of these wave-breakers tetrapods.

We swung by the boat graveyard that I also love to shoot on the way to the next location, but again the lack of snow didn’t make it look very pretty. Luckily we had some snow while we were there, so we were able to get some nice shots the following day. On the first day in this area, we continued on to the Noshappu Fishing Port and photographed the boats there, and as we got settled into our shooting, the snow started, giving us a nice clean white foreground in the most part.

Noshappu Fishing Boats
Noshappu Fishing Boats

This is another shot from my Rolleiflex that I was quite happy with. I actually had a few problems developing my film from this trip, as I tried different developing chemicals, based on a recommendation from a previous post about developing my own film. The original Ilford DD-X that I was using gave great results every time, but I found that I needed to tweak the Adox Rodinal development process quite a lot before I could get results I was happy with from the Lab-Box that I shared with you in Episode 682.

The main problem was that I started out diluting it at 25:1 as that gives faster development times, and I was also agitating every thirty seconds based on advice from the Lab-Box folks, but it turns out that both of these things resulting in very grainy negatives when working with Rodinal. I started diluting at 50:1 for almost double the development time and also reduced the agitation to 10 seconds every minute, and also not turning the handle on the Lab-Box as fast, and I’ve found that this gives me much better results.

Here’s another shot from the Noshappu Port, this time shot with my EOS R. I’m really pleased that I’m able to get very similar looking images from both cameras in many cases, obviously when I’m converting my EOS R images to black and white, that is.

Line of Boats at Noshappu
Line of Boats at Noshappu

I found myself looking at my focal length quite regularly as we shot, and whenever I was around 50 millimeters focal length, I reached for the Rollei to get a film shot, as it’s a 75mm lens, which is about 50mm in 35mm sensor terms.

It snowed some overnight, so the next morning we revisited the boat graveyard for much better-looking scenes than the previous day. We also had a great sky at times, with the low sun illuminating the clouds from the side adding some nice texture, enhanced a little in Capture One Pro mind.

Boat Graveyard with Wild Sky
Boat Graveyard with Wild Sky

I feel somewhat privileged to watch these boats slowly decay over the years, and this year was no exception. More of the cabins seem to have collapsed and more bits are falling off as these boats succumb to the elements.

This next photo is a secondary Boat Graveyard further into the port than the first and was pretty nice this year because of the lack of snow. There’s a rugged feel to this shot that I find appealing, helped, once again, by the sky detail that I pulled out using Capture One Pro.

Second Boat Graveyard
Second Boat Graveyard

There’s a little more grass and dirt showing through than I’d like, but I think that just adds to the overall grungy feel, so I’m pretty happy with the results of our visits.

I’m generally a glass-half-full sort of person, so rather than concentrating on what we lost through the lack of snow, I really enjoyed getting into the stuff that we gained. The next image is usually out of bounds because the snow is too deep to get to this part of the port, but that wasn’t the case this year.

Boat Cabins
Boat Cabins

I believe these boats are still sea-worthy and in use, so this isn’t a graveyard, as such, but I still like the overall rugged feel and mood of these shots, and all in all, I was very happy with what we got this year.

In the afternoon, we swung by the fish drying frames, and once again I shot them with my Rolleiflex as well as my EOS R. I like both shots, but I think the square format suits this shot, so I’ll go with the Rollei version.

Fish Drying Frames
Fish Drying Frames

We were lucky again here, as we’d been told when we spoke with the people that own these frames a few days earlier that there was no snow on the ground. There were only a few centimeters of snow when we got there, but that is enough to clean up the scene like this, so once again we were very fortunate.

We’ll finish there for this episode, as we’ve reached our ten photos. I have not had time to create an extra episode for next week, and I am leaving for the first of this year’s two Japan Wildlife trips tonight, so we’ll be skipping next week, but I’ll be back in two weeks time to conclude this travelogue series and start to update you on the wildlife tours.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour

If you are interested in joining the Landscape tour in 2021 or future years, check out the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa.


Show Notes

Check out details of future Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventures here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 693)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Tour 2020 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 693)


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Having just completed this year’s Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Tour, today I’m going to start a three or four-part travelogue series to walk you through our antics as we made our way around the beautiful northern-most island of Japan for twelve days.

I’m always a little nervous as we start this tour, because the success of at least the first location, Biei, depends on us getting some falling snow while we are there. I plan for three days in this area partly to give us a better chance of getting that, but also because there are lots of things to shoot. In the past, we’ve gotten to the last few hours of daylight on day three before it snowed, and that was nerve-racking.

Biei

On this visit, it started snowing as we arrived in the area on day one, which is a huge relief and takes the pressure off for these first few days, but of course, we had to get out and do our photography before that became a given. We started with the trees behind the Takushinkan gallery, as usual. You wouldn’t know it from this shot, but without the falling snow, there is a brow of the hill just above the top of the trees behind them, and I love it when that is erased by the snow.

Takushinkan Trees
Takushinkan Trees

Even as the snow stops and the sky lightens I get completely put-off by this scene, and others in this area. The snow minimalizes everything and helps to create the look that I think suits this area so well.

Here’s another example, where the falling snow renders the scene in a beautiful minimalist style. I love how you can barely see the top of the hill against the very slightly darker sky here. I also love to see the faint shadow below the tree, and then how the patches of grasses punctuate the hillside.

Tree and Grasses
Tree and Grasses

This is really what this area is all about to me, and I love sharing these scenes with the guests on this tour. As I’ve mentioned in the past, I now have a piece of software on the Website that includes the EXIF shooting data with the image in the lightbox that is displayed when you click on the images, so if you want to check my settings for any of the shots, just click or tap on them to view the lightbox.

In stark contrast, as we walked along the hills in Biei, the late afternoon sun broken through the clouds to the right of this next scene, illuminating the foreground snow, outlining it’s texture while leaving the sky dark, which I enhanced a little in Capture One Pro to exaggerate the difference between the sky and the snow.

Hut and Tree on Hill
Hut and Tree on Hill

I do like this as well and think that I’ve kept a relatively minimalist feel to the image by not zooming in on the hut and the tree as much as I could have. Leaving them small in the scene helps to keep it simple, and also feels more effective when viewed as a large print, kind of as a reward for walking up close to the print.

The following image is another that you’ve seen before from previous years, but I can’t resist doing this. Again, it kind of requires you to look at a higher resolution version, but when you look closely at the line of trees in this image you can see that the falling snow has made the trees look like a pencil sketch, which once again, I find really appealing. I like to aim for a shutter speed of between a 1/40 and a 1/20 of a second to create this look.

Line of Trees Sketch
Line of Trees Sketch

Something that often comes up as I work with the group here is how I decide where to place the line of trees in the frame. My usual way of thinking about this is, if the subject is physically higher than I am, as in, I’m looking up at it, I tend, more often than not, to place that subject near to the top of the frame. If I place it anywhere else, you lose the feeling of it being higher, and I think that is important. Also, I ask what the better of the possibilities, a white field of snow, or a blank white sky. I personally prefer the snow, but that’s mostly in a symbolic sense. As far as the photo is concerned there really isn’t much difference.

The next photo from day two was a bit of a bonus. There wasn’t as much snow in Hokkaido, as usual, this year, and that has probably left more food in the hills for the crows, so this was the first time I’d seen what I conceitedly call Martin’s Tree with a murder of crows perched in it.

Ravens in Martin's Tree
Ravens in Martin’s Tree

I left my shutter speed slow as some of the crows took flight, to add a little dynamism to the shot, and feel that the blurred crows add a slightly stronger Hitchcock feel to the scene. The texture in the sky for this shot also adds to that feeling, so I am pretty happy with this.

Another thing that I’ve not really seen at this spot in all of the years I’ve been traveling there, is the shadow of the tree on the snow, as we can see in this next image.

The Shadow of Martin's Tree
The Shadow of Martin’s Tree

This was somewhat difficult to process, as I exposed for the highlights in the sky in the top right corner, leaving the foreground snow very dark. I did most of the work in three layers, one to bring out the detail and texture in the sky, a second to lighten that central bank of snow, as that was almost black, and then a third over the foreground snow. That third layer, covering most of the bottom of the frame has a tone-curve on it that snakes back and forth across the center line to create almost white snow while enhancing the shadow.

On our third day in the Biei area, we drove around to Mount Asahi to photograph the scenes either side of the ski slope there. On the way, we stopped to photograph the pillows of snow forming on top of the rocks in the river, that you can see here.

Snow Pillows
Snow Pillows

I usually shoot this with a much longer focal length, but I stayed pretty wide at 120 mm for this shot, as the individual pillows didn’t do much for me this year. They were small and not really well-formed, so I decided to portray the larger scene instead.

I took my new Rolleiflex TLR camera on this trip and shot a total of six rolls of 120 format film, and here is the first one I want to share with you, of the trees at the side of the ski slope.

Mount Asahi Trees (Rollei)
Mount Asahi Trees (Rollei)

I’d prefer to work a little more on this, as I’m still trying to get better results from the scanner software that people recommended in the comments on my recent post about scanning medium format film. The software is called SilverFast SE and although I can see the benefits of using it, the image quality that I’m currently getting isn’t as good as what I get with the native scanner drivers, so I’m trying to get some advice from their support team, and if that doesn’t help, I will probably rescan my film with the original Canon software.

The blue Shirahige waterfall behind our hotel was pretty much unchanged, but I thought I’d share a shot, to complete the documentation of the trip.

Shirahige Falls
Shirahige Falls

This is from the start of day four, as we walked around from the hotel before starting our drive to the next location.

I couldn’t resist stopping our bus as we drove out of town though when we were presented with this morning mist against the pastel dawn sky.

Dawn Mist in Biei
Dawn Mist in Biei

I originally converted this to black and white, which I liked, but these colors kept calling back out to me from the Apple Photos app, as I’d loaded both versions so that I could live with them for a while to help me make up my mind. I found myself preferring this, so I’ve now deleted the black and white version.

We’ll wrap it up there for today, as that takes us to our ten photo limit that I try to stick to. If you would like to join this tour, I have switched to running this twice a season from 2021 so we do have a few places left on each tour. Check out the tour page here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2021
Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2021

You can see details of future available tours on our Tours and Workshops page.


Show Notes

View all available Tours and Workshops here.

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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Hokkaido Landscape Tour 2019 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 649)

Hokkaido Landscape Tour 2019 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 649)

Today we conclude our three part series of travelogues to walk you through my 2019 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure Tour & Workshop.

[download id=”55697″]

We pick up the trail as we leave Wakkanai and head around Cape Soya at the northern-most tip of Japan, making a few stops to photograph the fishing boats that are brought up onto the land to stop them from getting crushed by the sea ice.

Fishing Boats On Land for Winter

The high winds that they’d had shortly before we arrived in this part of Hokkaido had blown the snow away in some coastal areas, so there wasn’t a great covering of snow beneath or around these boats, and unfortunately this was one of the days that we had an almost clear blue sky. I did a long exposure to try to get some movement in what little cloud there was, and it registered slightly just above the boats, but not much to speak of.

Fishing Boats On Land for Winter
Fishing Boats On Land for Winter

Because there was a messy foreground, I cropped tightly in to the bottom of the boats in camera, and I cropped down from the top to remove the boring sky in post. At this point, this is more of a documentary shot to show you what we were photographing, but I don’t really like it that much as a photograph.

My settings were 25 seconds at ISO 100, with an aperture of f/20. I stopped down this far to get a long shutter speed. If I recall I was using my 10 stop Neutral Density filter, but it was so bright I had to either stop down the aperture more, or nest a 3 stop filter on top of that, and I went for the former option. My focal length was 50mm.

Sawaki Port Tetrapods

We had a reasonably long drive down the East coast of Hokkaido, to the small port town of Ohmu, where we’d spend the next two nights. The main attraction here is the small harbour with some beautiful strategically placed tetrapods in the sea and the black rocks on the beach. In this first photo you can see the sea washing up around the rocks, but also the line of tetrapods reaching out into the sea to the left, and some of the other tetrapods in the distance.

Sawaki Port Tetrapods
Sawaki Port Tetrapods

There’s also a lighthouse on the end of the quay wall, that adds a nice frame over the water and helps to bring the eye back around to the tetrapods. As the light was fading towards the end of the day, I didn’t use a Neutral Density filter for this shot, and at this point, with the ambient light I was getting a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds with an aperture of f/16, at ISO 100. The focal length was 24mm.

Buried Brook

Another thing we like to do from this location is drive inland to see what the conditions present us with. As you can see from this shot, the grasses were showing through quite a lot again, but I enjoyed these scenes, as they give us something to play with compositionally.

Buried Brook
Buried Brook

The trough that we can see working its way through the snow in the left foreground is caused by a brook that has completely covered over with snow. The longer grasses are obviously growing along the stream as a source of water. I painted a mask over the sky in this to darken down the clouds a little. The shutter speed was a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100, and an aperture of f/14, at 45mm.

Seven Samurai

Towards the end of the day, we were back at the harbor, and here I had framed up the seven tetrapods that I sometimes think of as Seven Samurai. I don’t quite know why. Maybe I see these shapes like the Kabuto Samurai helmets. Also probably how they are just standing their, calm and cool.

Seven Samurais
Seven Samurai

I was using my 11-24mm lens for this shot, at f/13, with a base shutter speed of 1/40 of a second, but I put a filter that I cut out of a sheet of gelatin neutral density film and had slid this into the holder on the back of the lens. It was an ND 10000 filter, which extended my 1/40 of a second to 4 minutes at ISO 125.

Trees in Shadow, Mountain in Light

As the snow that we’d hoped for more of started pounding down on the areas that we’d just left, we made our way to our final location for the last two days of the tour. Our first visit to the port that we start with was a bit of a flop. When we arrived we had a beautiful heavy grey sky, but like magic it cleared up as we got out of the bus and started shooting, leaving us with way too much contrast making the boats look pretty bad. None of the shots from this shoot made my final selection.

I was happy with the contrast that the sun provided at our second location though, and because the clouds were rolling across the sky their shadows were dancing down the side of the hill that you see in this next photograph. I played with a number of styles of shadow, and one of my favorites was when just the line of trees and strip of snow in the foreground were dark, but the hill brightly lit, and then all contrasted against a dark grey sky.

Trees in Shadow, Mountain in Light
Trees in Shadow, Mountain in Light

I do like it when everything is very similar tones, like some of the shots from last week, but when the conditions don’t allow for that, I feel it’s important to be able to still make the most of what you have, and playing with these contrasts was very enjoyable, and I do like the results.

I used a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second with the aperture set to f/14 at ISO 100. I was using my 100-400mm lens for this shot, with the focal length set to 220mm.

Fishing Boats in the Snow

The following day brought us a little snow, so I took the group back to the fishing port that we’d visited and got harsh light the previous day, and as we shot, the snow started to get heavier and heavier, enabling us to get the sort of shot that I much prefer, with the snow visible in the scene.

Fishing Boats in the Snow
Fishing Boats in the Snow

Of course, for this shot, I’d positioned my camera so that I was looking along the line of boats, and also went low, to accentuate the small drifts of snow between the boats and their shadows, which helps to complete the feeling of the repeating pattern. My shutter speed in the snow was a 1/15 of a second at f/14, ISO 100, and a focal length of 88mm.

One of the reasons that I make sure we get two days in each location is exactly because of this kind of scenario. When you rely on the weather doing something specific, and you only have one shot at it, you are much more likely to come away with nothing. When you have two days though, you can learn what the location is like on the first visit, even if the conditions aren’t great, then come back and get your shots much more efficiently when the conditions align with your hopes and expectations.

Saroma Tree

This also gave us enough time to visit the tree that you see in this shot, which I thought looked beautiful with its sprinkling of snow on its branches, but more so because of all the tall brown grass around it.

Saroma Tree
Saroma Tree

The falling snow that we left in the port, was, as I expected relatively fleeting, but leaving when we did, enabled us to get a dramatic sky in the background of this shot, but the snow gradually clearing to the right caused the sky to brighten slightly, showing the transient nature of our conditions.

My settings for this shot were 1/50 of a second at f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 35mm. I continued to be highly impressed with the image quality from the EOS R and found shooting with it throughout this trip completely enjoyable.

Trees in Snow Storm

As I walked back to our bus from the tree, the scene across the road caught my eye. I’ve looked at this many times, and photographed it a number of times, but it’s never really amounted to anything, until the grasses showed through like they are in the photograph.

Trees in Snow Storm
Trees in Snow Storm

Of course, in addition to the grasses, the thing that made this shot for me is the snow, driving diagonally across the frame, reducing the contrast between the foreground and the distant trees. This provides a painterly look that really appeals to me. In fact, I almost called this image Turner Trees, but I figured that was perhaps a little bit too pretentious. My settings for this shot were 1/30 of a second at f/14, ISO 100 at a focal length of 74mm.

High and Low Trees

Because we’d also got more texture in the sky, we revisited the location that we’d shot on the previous day, with the shadows on the hill, and this time I’d like to share an image of the scene just to the right of the earlier scene that we looked at.

High and Low Trees
High and Low Trees

The sun was still playing games with the clouds causing some dramatic shadows, but the texture in the sky really helped to add some drama to this shot. The texture on the hill as the snow had blown away from parts was also fun to play with again. My settings were f/14 for a 1/125 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 263mm.

Notoro Lighthouse and Okhotsk Sea

By the time the final morning came around, and we needed our plane to fly back to Tokyo, it was a relief that the snow storms affecting most of the rest of the island were holding off a few miles north of where we now were in the middle of the east coast of Hokkaido.

Notoro Lighthouse and Okhotsk Sea
Notoro Lighthouse and Okhotsk Sea

The winds did provide some dramatic waves on the way to our main stop for this last morning, so we stopped the bus and shot this image from the road, capitalizing on the rough weather. I had now packed my tripod away in a box to leave with the bus company until the next tour which I’ll be half way through when I release this episode, so I shot this handheld, and of course turned of my two-second timer, so that I could time my exposure to capture the waves in pleasing locations in the frame.

I also increased my ISO to 200, for a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second to help me almost, but not quite freeze the movement of the sea. I feel that understanding how much things like snow and water move during the exposure can really help us to craft and mold our images into something that we can more easily previsualize with the help of these tools in our mental toolbox.

Guest Comments

That brings us to the end of my 2019 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure. As usual, I did my walk around the bus with a digital recorder to record a comment from each of our guests, and I’d like to play you that now.

<< PLEASE LISTEN WITH THE AUDIO PLAYER ABOVE TO HEAR WHAT THE GUESTS HAD TO SAY ABOUT THE TOUR >>

It was lovely hearing from each guest again there, and I really appreciate their kind comments. Thank you all!

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2021

As the 2020 tour is now full, I’ve started taking bookings for 2021, so if you are interested in joining us, please check out the tour page at https://mbp.ac/hlpa, and use the Reservation button towards the bottom of the page to pay your deposit and secure your place.

Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure 2021

Show Notes

See details of our currently available Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure tour here: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes to get Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

Visit this page for help on how to view the images in MP3 files.


Hokkaido Landscape Tour 2019 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 647)

Hokkaido Landscape Tour 2019 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 647)

Just back from my 2019 Hokkaido Landscape Photography Adventure Tour & Workshop, today we start a three-part travelogue series with a total of 30 images over the next three weeks to illustrate our adventure.

[download id=”55600″]

As usual, we kicked off this year’s tour in the picturesque Biei area, with its beautifully situated trees that decorate the rolling snow-covered hills. It’s often hard to understand without seeing the difference, but the grey sky that you see in this first image from Biei is what really makes these images possible.

Lone Tree with Grasses
Lone Tree with Grasses

In the sun, the contrast is too great, and we get harsh shadows under the trees and from the grasses, and it is, in my opinion, much less pretty then. I love the almost complete lack of shadows from the grasses, and the very subtle, soft shadow that we get under the trees.

Most years, we actually have so much snow that the grasses don’t show through like this, but with relatively little snow this year, many were poking through, and they made for nice additional elements to punctuate the scenes that we shot.

I shot this image at f/14 for a 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 67mm with the new Canon RF 24-105mm f/4 lens.

Canon EOS R

Apart from a few test shots, I shot this entire trip with the new Canon EOS R mirrorless camera, and I have to tell you, that at this point, I’m very happy with it. I’m going to do a full review later after I’ve seen how well it handles fast-paced wildlife shooting, but for Landscape, it was an absolute pleasure to work with.

There were a few problems, like not being able to see the border around the histogram on the LCD in bright conditions, but nothing that I would consider really major, and the image quality is absolutely stunning.

Hut and Tree

We travel in a large bus so that everyone has a double seat to themselves, and at this location, shortly after photographing the tree in the previous image, I had our driver drop us off along a road in the hills, from where we just walked in short bursts while photographing the various things that we can see from the road, such as this hut with a small tree.

Hut and Tree
Hut and Tree

I love the mound of snow that the hut is perched on, and again the grasses that are poking through the snow. I also find the footprints that run diagonally through the snow from right to left appealing, and again, the subtle difference between the snow and the grey sky is something that I love to shoot.

I’m doing all of my processing in Capture One Pro, including flicking on the Black and White checkbox to completely remove the color, but there really isn’t a lot of difference. The original scene had hardly any color in it anyway. My settings for this were f/11 for a 1/30 of a second at ISO 100, at 255mm with my EF 100-400mm Mark II lens.

Copse and Hills

The minimalism of this next shot really appeals to me as well, with the copse of trees on the left, and the incredibly faint line between the hill that extends up from the copse, against the taller hill in the background. And again, that beautiful grey sky.

Copse with Rolling Hills
Copse with Rolling Hills

I actually adjusted the mid-tones with the Levels sliders in Capture One Pro to darken the sky down a shade or two to accentuate the curve of that middle distant hill, as it extends left behind the trees. My settings for this image were f/14 for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100, at 74mm, again with the new RF 24-105mm lens.

Patchwork Snow

Having less snow than usual presented us with an unexpected gift as the snow started to fall and we headed behind the Takushinkan Gallery to photograph the line of trees there. Apparently they grow lavender there in the summer, and run a mechanical cultivator between the lavender forming these squares, then the snow fell, and created a beautiful patchwork of snow.

Trees and Patchwork Snow
Trees and Patchwork Snow

You might also be able to make out the flakes of snow more visible in the sky than the foreground, but it was falling quite heavily when I shot this, so I was doing my trick of blowing the snow from the front of the lens in the cover of a cloth, then holding the cloth over the lens while starting my two second timer, then whipping it away at the last moment to make my exposure. Without doing this the snow driving straight at us just sticks straight onto the lens and ruins the shot.

My settings here were f/11 for a 1/20 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 22mm with my 11-24mm f/4 lens. I like to use a long shutter speed for this kind of shot to cause the snow to streak a little bit as it crosses the front of the trees.

Snow Pillows

On our third day in Biei, we drive around to the ski slopes at Mount Asahi, where I used to enjoy photographing the pillows of snow that form on the rocks in the river before we start to drive up the mountain. For the last few years, they’ve been building a new bridge and the conditions haven’t been great, but this year, the bridge is finished, and we had some lovely snow pillows again, as you can see in this next image.

Snow Pillows
Snow Pillows
Snow Pillows Luma Tone Curve
Snow Pillows Luma Tone Curve

I’ve chosen a landscape oriented image as it works better for the blog, and I like how we can see the pillows of snow extended up the banks where the snow has completely covered the river.

Because I always expose to the right, which is especially important when photographing snow scenes, the snow requires a Luma tone curve with a small dip in the slightly darker snow to bring out the very subtle tonal differences. The selected node in this tone curve screen capture is the one responsible for this adjustment.

My settings for this image were f/14 for a 1/4 of a second at ISO 125, at 105mm. The ISO of 125 was accidental. The new RF lenses from Canon have a control ring on them that I have programmed so that I can turn it to change my ISO, but I must have caught it as I adjusted the lens, and didn’t notice until after I’d shot these images.

Mount Asahi Big and Small Trees

After photographing the Snow Pillows, we headed up the mountain and parked in the cable car station car park, then walked a little way up the ski slope to photograph the trees in the snow there. This is another one of my favorite spots from this trip, although it can be tricky to compose as it’s difficult to decide where to start and where to end your frame.

Mount Asahi Big and Small Trees
Mount Asahi Big and Small Trees

One of my favorite trees is this one with the dark bark, which provides a beautiful contrast against the snow piled up on its branches, and there is a smaller tree now growing next to it. I positioned myself so as to get the Christmas trees in the background nicely framing the foreground dark tree, and left just a little more space either side of these. I shot this at f/14 for a 1/30 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 47mm.

I have another composition that I like to shoot here, but I’ve shared that many times, and on this trip, I actually shot that composition with both the EOS R and my 5Ds R so that I could do a print comparison later.

Sneak Preview

In fact, as a bit of a sneak preview, here is a screenshot of both the 5Ds R and the EOS R versions of the same photograph, both zoomed in to 100% so that you can see the difference between the two camera’s image quality. The 5Ds R shot is on the top and the EOS R shot is on the bottom.

Canon EOS 5Ds R (Top) Compared with EOS R (Bottom)
Canon EOS 5Ds R (Top) Compared with EOS R (Bottom)

The 5Ds R is obviously zoomed in more because it’s a 50-megapixel file compared to the 30 megapixels of the EOS R, but I think you’ll still agree that the EOS R with the new RF 24-105mm lens has the edge. It’s slightly sharper with more defined edges. You might need to click on the image and open it up in the lightbox to view the details.

Enchanted Forest

This next photograph seems like a scene from Narnia to me, almost like an Enchanted Forest. There is a stream that runs through the trees here, but it’s almost completely covered in snow, forming this zigzag of huge snow pillows.

Mount Asahi Enchanted Forest
Mount Asahi Enchanted Forest

Again, I’m attracted to the darker trees and how they contrast with the snow, but also here the lighter birch trees add a subtle extra element of contrast. My settings for this were f/14 for a 1/30 of a second with ISO 100 and a focal length of 70mm.

New Opportunities

As I mentioned, there was less snow in the lower hills around the Biei area, and although this can be trickier to work with, as usual, it presented us with some new opportunities, as in this photograph, where the lines of grasses and smaller trees that are usually buried, are forming lines, working their way through the snow.

Gunpowder Trail
Gunpowder Trail

For some reason, in this shot, they remind me of a trail of gunpowder, as though someone is plotting to blow up the foreground tree and has run a trail of gunpowder into the distance. There are also plow lines in the foreground snow, again, something that we would not usually be able to see.

I was shooting with an aperture of f/14, a 1/15 of a second exposure at ISO 100, and a focal length of 50mm. With such a slow shutter speed, you can probably appreciate how little the light was letting through the snow clouds, despite it still only being mid-afternoon.

Copse in Hills

This next image is a take on a subject that I haven’t photographed for a while. When the snow comes in, it completely obscures the distant mountains that are usually visible behind this copse in the hills of Biei, completely minimalizing the scene.

Biei Copse in Hills
Biei Copse in Hills

I’ve used the Levels sliders to bring out the tones a little and darken down the trees adding contrast to the image, and I really like how we can again see the plow lines under the snow. My settings for this image were f/14 for a 1/4 of a second at ISO 100, with the lens zoomed all the way in to 105mm.

Embarrassing Moment

I actually had a slight embarrassing moment with the EOS R as I shot this scene. The EOS R doesn’t autofocus great in heavy snow, so I’d switched it to Manual focus, to do a short video of this copse in the falling snow. When I went back to shooting stills I left the lens in Manual focus mode, and tweaked the focus manually, and when I did, looking through the electronic viewfinder, I thought that the warm light of a sunset was somehow shining through the trees.

I had to laugh at myself though when I realized that I’d just found out that the EOS R has focus peaking, where things in focus are outlined in red, but this only kicks in when using Manual focus, so I’d not seen it before. It’s a very useful feature, but it’s somewhat embarrassing to have thought I was seeing the warm glow of a sunset in the middle of a snowstorm.

Shirahige Falls

Behind the hotel that we stay in during our three days in Biei, there’s a waterfall called the Shirahige Falls. The water that flows through the falls and river below has a slight blue tint due, I believe, to the mineral content, so it adds a nice splash of color to this magical winter scene. I’ve enhanced the blue slightly here to increase the color contrast.

Shirahige Falls
Shirahige Falls

This is actually the first time in many years that I’ve shot these falls in their entirety. I usually zoom in much tighter, but the huge icicles to the right of the falls were appealing, and I also liked the trees framing the falls here, so I opened up the lens to 24mm for this image. My other settings were f/14, for 0.4 seconds at ISO 160.

This time I’d moved my ISO on purpose, to avoid having too long a shutter speed, which records more movement in the mist from the water, and that reduces the clarity of the falls.

OK, so that’s our ten photos for this first travelogue episode, and I slipped in a few bonus screenshots, so we’ll wrap it up there for this week. I’ll be back next week with the second part of this series, as we leave Biei and head over to the west coast of Hokkaido.


Show Notes

Buying with our B&H Photo Affiliate links helps to support the podcast at no additional expense to you. Thank you!

Canon EOS R: https://mbp.ac/eosr

Canon RF 24-105mm Lens: https://mbp.ac/rf24-105

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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

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

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

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

Souya Harbor Boats
Souya Harbor Boats

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

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

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

Sawaki Fishing Port Tetrapods
Sawaki Fishing Port Tetrapods

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

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

Sawaki Fishing Port
Sawaki Fishing Port

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

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

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

Winter Estuary
Winter Estuary

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

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

Winter Barn
Winter Barn

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

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

Contrasting Trees
Contrasting Trees

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

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

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frosty Grasses
Frosty Grasses

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

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

Saroma Lake Tree
Saroma Lake Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020

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

HLPA 2020

Show Notes

Details of the next available Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure: https://mbp.ac/hlpa

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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