Winter Wonderland Workshop 2009 #2 (Podcast 179)

Winter Wonderland Workshop 2009 #2 (Podcast 179)

Carrying on from last week, today we are going to take a look at some more photos from the 2009 Hokkaido Workshop and Photography Tour, affectionately known as the Winter Wonderland Workshop. It’s slow going, as we do a lot on the trip, and today we’re going to get through a day and a half, from the second day to the middle of the third. We pick up the trail in the small town of Tsurui, were we spent our first night.

If you have been following this Podcast or my photography for a while, you’ll know that one of my favourite shots of my own from last year, and possibly of all time, was shot from a bridge in the town of Tsurui, on the second morning of our 2008 trip. It was a magical morning. The temperature was low enough for there to be mist on the water and frost on the trees, in the area where the cranes roost, mostly on the really cold nights. The temperature has to be lower than -15 degrees Celsius, and there has to be no wind, or it blows the mist away, even if it’s cold enough to form. After a pretty good first day, I awoke on the 17th of February, hoping for cold, still weather. As we walked out of the hotel lobby to the bus, shortly before 5AM, well before sunrise, I was pleased to see that a reasonable amount of snow had fallen. We had snow fall almost every night during the trip, which is great, as it keeps the landscape white, for our Winter Wonderland effect. The problem was though, that it was windy. There was going to be no mist, even though it felt pretty cold. As we drove down towards the bridge though, the roadside thermometer said -13 degrees. It was cold, but not cold enough. We pulled up at the bridge, and looked down towards the river. This in itself is kind of futile, because the sun doesn’t rise for more than another hour or so. It was pitch black down there, but we could see that it was not frozen at all. Had the trees been frosty, we’d have seen that with the lights from the bus.

We parked in the car park next to the bridge, and walked out with our gear to take a look, but as it got very slightly brighter, we could tell that not only there was no mist, there were very few cranes in the river. This is not surprising, because they sleep here mainly when it’s really cold. The water is warmer than standing in snow or on ice. I know that we’d been very lucky in 2008, to get such amazing conditions, but I’d really hoped to be as lucky again this year. We weren’t though. After a few minutes wondering what to do, we returned to the bus and decided to go to a place nearby, where there would be cranes, or so I thought. I had travelled to this bridge every morning for five days in December of 2006, and when there was nothing doing, I’d go to the same place that we went to today. Unfortunately, this morning, there were no cranes here at all. We set up our camera’s and waited a little while, but there was no sign of the cranes.

While we waited, the sun rose above the hill at the back of the Itoh Crane Sanctuary, and I shot image number 2125. I actually really like this shot. I focused on the foreground trees, allowing the ones in the back, closer to the sun to go out of focus slightly. The sun placed on the right third of the frame, with the slightly thicker tree trunk running through it, is a pretty large disk, because of the magnification of the 600mm lens that I shot it with. I shot a few with the 70-200mm, and the sun shining off the snow, as it got a little higher, but knowing the location as well as I do, I couldn’t use the shots without cranes. Had there been a few cranes doing a courtship dance, I’d have been showing you that image right now. Having checked with one of the participants in the last few weeks, we have seen cranes there at this time, and I was really surprised that they didn’t show this morning. It seems that the relatively warm weather had sent them elsewhere.

Tsurui Sunrise

Tsurui Sunrise

We had a few decisions to make, to maximum our photographic chances. The itinerary had us shooting cranes at the bridge and this location until lunch time, then going on to the Kussharo Lake, to shoot Whooper Swans for the afternoon. Without any cranes here though, or at the bridge, we felt woefully deprived of cranes. Sure, we’d had a good day the day before, but it wasn’t quite enough. We decided to go back to the TAITO Hotel, and eat breakfast earlier than planned. That would give us time to drive back, in the opposite direction of the Kussharo Lake, to the Akan Crane Center, where we’d shot the previous day. It was a 40 minute drive, although this would add 40 minutes to our drive to the lake later in the day, but this was OK. We had to get our fix of cranes.

Here’s the thing. For those who photograph the cranes for the first time, anything they do is beautiful. Despite any mental preparation you can do, when you are confronted with a field full of 160cm tall birds, that dance and play as beautifully as world class ballerinas, you get trigger happy. So much so that at first, you think you are getting world beating shots. The truth is though getting true world beating shots of these birds takes a lot of time and patience, and a good helping of luck. People generally get out of the first day so excited about seeing the birds, but then as they start to take objective scans through their images, realize that they haven’t got quite as many of the photographs that they thought they had. Apart from the fact that I could look at these birds every day for a month and not get bored of them, this is why I schedule more time shooting cranes on the second day, before we move on. Everyone agreed later in the day, that it was a good decision to go back to the Akan Crane center. A decision that we made collectively as a group by the way, as they had all become accustomed to shooting the cranes on the first day, and most people felt that they had probably gotten some better shots than the first day too.

I want to take a look at one of my shots before we move on, and that is image number 2129. Here we see a Red-Crowned Crane flying almost straight towards me. It is relatively easy to get shots of these birds from the side, as they fly in to the crane center. You have to keep shooting these, because sometimes, you get things just that little bit better than the average shot, and your collection of crane shots start to become slightly more elevated than other peoples. It is not as easy though to get the cranes coming straight for you like this. I was lucky to notice a group of birds coming in at a different angle than usual, and caught this guy in this beautiful position, with his wings up at full stretch. I also like the fact that there was some light snow fall at the time, meaning that I not only got some in the shot, but also that the light was not that harsh. We can see some beautiful tones in the white on the bird’s body. The focus here actually falls along the back side of the bird, so we have a beautifully pronounced tail, with the wings and legs really, really sharp. Unfortunately, the head is coming out of the depth-of-field slightly, and I would have liked it to be a bit sharper, but I still think it is worth keeping this image in the collection. I was shooting at F5.6, for 1/1000th of a second. F5.6 should have been enough for a slightly sharper head, even with the size of these birds, so I’m thinking that the AI Servo focusing had not kept up here, or had simply locks on the back of the bird, rather than the front. Still, as I say, I really like this shot, and intend to keep it in the collection.

Soft Arched Wings

Soft Arched Wings

So, we’d had no frost or mist at the bridge, which was a disappointment, but we’d figured out how to get more crane shots, and everyone was happy. We left the crane center before the feeding today, to head over to the Kussharo Lake, to shoot the Whooper Swans. You can imagine my shock when we got there, and the lake was not frozen. I’ll be sure to figure out a way to check this next year, but in my mind, there was no chance of the lake not being frozen. Surely enough though, as we got closer to our location, we could see that there was no ice on the lake. This would mean that the whole place would be different. The birds would not take off in their usual flight path, along the small strip of water at the edge of the lake, where the hot springs that flow into the lake stop it from freezing and give the swans a strip of water to take off from. This was to be our panning afternoon, but that was not going to happen now.

In shock, we ate at the restaurant at the lake, and I asked the waiter how long the lake had been thawed, only to be more shocked to hear that it had only frozen for one morning the whole winter, and that thawed by noon. We decided to make the most of the situation, and get what photographs we could, and as we came back to the lake with our gear after lunch, I noticed an elderly gentlemen that I’d spent time with on my first winter photography tour here some five years ago. I was pleased to hear that he remembered me too, and he told me that he’d visited this place every year for twenty years, and never known it to not be frozen. I was starting to feel a little bit down, with the few strokes of bad luck we were having.

In image number 2137, you can see that the swans were flying, but you can also see that apart from a small piece of ice in the bottom left of this shot, the lake was most positively liquid. I had stopped my aperture down to F16, with a shutter speed of 1/80th of a second, in preparation for some panning shots. Ideally we needed to be down to under 1/50th of a second, to get movement in the wings of the swans, but it was too bright, as you can see. I could have gone to ISO 50, for 1/40th of a second, but as the birds were not flying in their usual pattern, there seemed little point.

Kussharo Lake Whooper Swans

Kussharo Lake Whooper Swans

Not giving up that easily though, we kept shooting, and got some images that were worth the effort. Another of mine from here is number 2138, as a group of swans took flight, at a different angle than usual, but that in itself made for a nice image, with the mountains on the far side of the lake in the frame. It was cold though. The wind was coming off the lake straight at us, almost like it was slapping us in the face, rubbing in the stretch of bad luck we’d had already today, and making our eyes water with the cold. Once everyone had grown tired of shooting with the somewhat limited opportunities with the frozen lake, we went to the hotel a little early. This in itself was not a bad thing, as they are long days when you are up and out ready to shoot at 5AM.

Taking Flight

Taking Flight

The following morning was another early start, as we were to drive to the Bihoro Pass for a morning Landscape shoot. Although the first five days of the tour are mainly wildlife photography, we do some landscape work, and this is the highlight of Landscape locations for this section, weather allowing of course. I was really hoping for some better luck with the weather today, as Mother Nature had dealt us a few blows on the second day. It was quite dark as we started to walk from the bus to the top of the mountain to look down on Kussharo Lake, but the sun was starting to brighten the sky, enough to walk by, and to start to get a feel for how clear it was. There was lots of cloud and mist in the valley to our left, but the sky was mostly clear at this point. There was a crescent moon helping to light our way too, and it was really quite a nice walk to the top, despite it being well be freezing.

As we reached our vantage point, and set up our tripods, the sun was lighting the sky up beautifully, and went straight for the 14mm F2.8 lens to capture image number 2140. You can see the moon here looking very small at this focal length, but also because of the 14mm being so wide, it gives us a huge depth-of-field. I stopped down to F11 here, though wider would have sufficed, and I have everything from the snow, a few feet in front of the lens, right to the mountains in the distance in sharp focus. At 100% you can see the reflection in the water of the line of trees on the bank of the island in the middle of the lake. I shot this with ISO 100 for 3.2 seconds by the way, so you can tell that there still was not a lot of available light. Notice too that I did not correct the white balance. I prefer this cold blue, as the daylight preset rendered the scene. This is pretty much the correct white balance for the horizon with it’s warm reds, but it’s a stark contrast to the cold blue world who’s white balance the sun was about to correct.

Moon Over Kussharo Lake at Dawn

Moon Over Kussharo Lake at Dawn

Sunrise over Kussharo Lake

Sunrise over Kussharo Lake

This image was shot at 5:49AM, with the sun still 29 minutes from the horizon. Now, I just love this shot, and don’t know if I would have gotten anything better on this day, but the colour on the horizon faded very fast. I was pleased that we’d made an early start, because about five minutes from this point, the clouds that had been sitting in the valley, warmed as the sun got closer, and then engulfed the scene. We were able to shoot a little more, but the shots had been for no more than five minutes when we first got to our vantage point. Another shot from here as the mist cleared just slightly after this, is shot number 2143. This was shot at 6:31, forty minutes or so after the last one we looked at. The sun is well and truly up now, and occasionally burned through the cloud like this. I did have to play with the black levels and tone curve a little mind, even to bring out this much detail. Still, it’s a pleasing enough shot in my opinion.

Just for fun, let’s look at image number 2144. This is the frost that had formed on my tripod in just one hour at this location. I took my watch off to try and measure the air temperature, as it has a thermometer built in, but it got stuck at -7 degrees. It dropped to that temperature pretty quickly, and I know it was colder, but I couldn’t measure the actual temperature. I’d say it was probably around -15, and there was no real wind-chill to factor in, so it remained relatively pleasant. We decided to walk back down the hill slightly as we know that there are some nice trees down there that make great shots, especially when there’s frost like this around, and the scene over the lake was now pretty much impossible to shoot, let alone improve on our shots from an hour ago.

Hoar Frosted Tripod!

Hoar Frosted Tripod!

Of my original selection of tree shots from this morning, let’s take a look at image number 2146. Here we can see how the hoar frost has formed on the tree, painting it a beautiful white. The sky also has a very pale blue tint to it here, as the cloud thinned. The clouds kept coming back in, and light was changing quickly, but it was beautiful light no matter what. Almost like a huge light box, and hard to shoot a bad photograph under. I shot this at F8 for 1/250th of a second at ISO 100 by the way.

Hoar Frost Tree

Hoar Frost Tree

Now, I mention my original selection, because there was one image that I’d culled out from this part of the trip, that kept haunting me. It was crying out to me from my two stars batch, which basically means I was once selected, but now I’m not in the final batch. The photo was there, but it was a little pale, and I’d not spent the time to pull out some detail in post processing. I knew that was all that was necessary though, so it kept coming back to me. Finally, last week, I decided to take the image into Photoshop and see if I could make it work. I spent a couple of hours working on two images actually, and that’s a lot of time for me to spend in Photoshop. I like the program, and that’s why I keep upgrading, but I don’t like to spend very long on any individual image. I did get the image that had been haunting me very close to what I wanted, but it was a little too dreamy for my liking. I decided to sleep on it, as it was getting late.

The following evening I revisited the image and decided that I really didn’t want to take it that far, and so I decided to have a go at correcting it with the curves in Lightroom instead. Probably helped by the playing I’d done in Photoshop the previous night, in about a minute, I had arrived at what I posted as image number 2246. I love this shot, and am so pleased that it kept calling me back. I actually now can’t understand why I culled it in the first place, because the original is not that bad. Actually, this is probably because many people are waiting to see these images when I get back from these trips, so there’s a certain amount of pressure to complete my selection quickly, and get them posted. I probably just couldn’t commit the time to do just a little bit of post processing during my original selection. I actually posted the original image, my overly dreamy Photoshop version and this final image in the forum for all to see. If you are interested I’ll put a link to the post into the show notes, so you can take a look.

Line of Trees

Line of Trees

Finally, to give you a sense of place, let’s look at image number 2149. Here we can see one of the participants of the workshop making his way down from where we’d been shooting the trees. You can see the cloud in the valley to the left, and if that wasn’t there, you’d be able to see the Kussharo Lake down there. It’s a wonderful location that I have visited many times, and always look forward to revisiting. I think this photo gives a sense of this, and it definitely helps to bring back memories of one of the best parts of this year’s trip in my opinion.

Bihoro Pass

Bihoro Pass

After the dawn shoot at Bihoro Pass, we went back to the Kussharo Prince Hotel for breakfast, and then started our long drive over to Rausu. We did some more shooting on the way into town, as we found a lot of White-Tailed Eagles and Steller’s Sea Eagles perched in the trees. These were more insurance shots that anything, as there was still no guarantee that the boat would go out the following day, which is why we’d come to Rausu in the first place. Last year, the boat did not go out, due to bad weather and the fact that the ice floe had not come far enough down from the tip of the Shiretoko pensinsula for the eagles to see us out there. If the ice is far away but it’s a clear day, it’s still worth going, as the eagles can see us, and that for them means free fish. If they can’t see us though, they won’t come, so it’s a waste of time. We ended our second day with a bit of shooting in the port etc. While we were there, the boat that we would board came into port, so I had a chat with Hasegawa-san, the skipper, to see what our chances of putting out the following day were. It was looking good, but we had to wait until the evening for the weather reports to see if we could really get out there this year. Join us again next week to see how we got on. For now, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

For details of the workshop itself, including next year’s workshop once the site it updated, please check out my workshops Web site here: Tours & Workshops

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Winter Wonderland Workshop 2009 #1 (Podcast 178)

Winter Wonderland Workshop 2009 #1 (Podcast 178)

This week we start a multiple episodes series to walk you through the February 2009 Hokkaido Workshop and Photography Tour. As I mentioned last week, the workshop went very well again, with a few things that didn’t go according to plan, but most which did were great fun and everyone got a whole bunch of great photos. Let’s jump right into it and take a look at 10 images from the first day.

Now, I don’t intend to do one episode for all nine days of the tour, so don’t worry about that. Some days though just warrant a single episode because there were so many things to shoot and to talk about. The first day was February the 16th, 2009, and we met at Haneda Airport in Tokyo to head out to Hokkaido to start shooting for the first day. It seems that as much as I try, the first day in Hokkaido for me often winds up with me doing something silly or hurting myself. I won’t go into details to save time, but this time, as soon as I got on the plane, and went to put my bag in the overhead compartment, I caught the weight of it a bit funnily, and briefly dislocated my thumb. Luckily, as soon as I felt it pop out, I took the weight off it, and it popped straight back in again, but there was some damage done. It swelled up a little, but I put some cold pads on it for the first few nights and it was OK after that. It still hurts even now though, three weeks later, so I definitely tore something. Kind of relieved that my jinxed first day injury was out of the way now, I settled down for the flight with the other participants.

I’d asked everyone to come for the flight dressed for the day, as we spent a little too long getting everyone changed at the start of the 2008 trip, and so after one more mishap where someone left their passport in the luggage cart at the airport, and us going back to find it still there, we hit the snow in the middle of the morning, between around 10:30 to 11AM. With there always being so much to shoot on this workshop, we don’t really get time to do any practical study in the field. It’s difficult to get everyone in one place for one, and even if I start to talk about something that I want to impart on the participants, something happens, and everyone jumps straight back to their gear to continue shooting. Because of this, I prepare everyone for the shoot on the bus on the way to the location, then we build on this as necessary with each individual in the field. I generally set up my gear too, so that I can not only get into the zone, as they say, as well as getting some pictures myself of course, but I also need to be shooting to understand the conditions and make myself aware of anything that I need to let the participants know so that they can get the best possible shots while there too.

On this first day, the most apparent thing was that the patchy cloud was making exposure difficult. Aperture Priority or shutter priority simply don’t work with the cranes, because they move from a pure white background to a very dark almost totally black background and any split of the two, very quickly, and very often. Trying to keep up with exposure compensation in conditions like this is pretty much impossible, so I get the group shooting in manual mode as soon as possible. Both this year and last year it took some time for the necessity for this to sink in, but usually after the first day or so, everyone is in agreement that it is the only way to go. Basically, if you are not in manual mode, every time the white cranes jump up in the air or fly, and the brightness of the background changes, the camera’s meter will get all confused and over-expose the cranes considerably. I’ve spoken about this a number of times over the years, so if you still don’t understand why, either listen to the previous related Podcasts or sign up for next year’s workshop. I’ll be releasing details on how to do so very soon.

Anyway, to get back to what I was talking about, on this first day, there was a lot of patchy cloud, which means that although manual is still the only way to go, you have to keep your eye on the light conditions constantly. When the sun was fully out, we were shooting at around 1/1250th to 1/1600th of a second at F5.6 with ISO 100, but then when the sun went behind the cloud, we’d have to reduce the shutter speed to around 1/640th or even 1/500th of a second. This means there was around one and a third of a stop difference in amount of the light we were shooting with. So, we had to constantly keep our minds on the whether the sun was behind the clouds or not and keep switching between the two extremes of exposure. The good thing is that the two extremes were pretty predictable for most of the day, but still, it posed some difficulties. One option is to simply shoot them all a little underexposed and bump up the exposure in post processing, but I personally don’t subscribe to that way of shooting. If you do this you’ll end up with muddy and grainy blacks that look pretty horrible. The mantra of getting it right in camera will pretty much always help you to get the best results, even if you have to constantly keep your eye on your exposure. You do sometimes blow out the odd highlight, or something turns out a little dark, because you didn’t notice the light shift, or it happened right in the middle of a piece of action, but in those cases, as long as you are shooting RAW, you can usually rescue the image. This will result in lower quality images of course, but if something is worth saving then go for it. Aiming for the best you can is the most important thing, and we can fall back on the technology as necessary when things don’t go as well as they might.

Let’s take a look at some images now though, to see what we were shooting and what I mean about the exposure. First let’s look at image number 2107. This is a pair of cranes coming in to land at the Akan International Crane Center. You can see here that I have perfect, bright whites, still though with lots of detail in the dark, black feathers around the crane’s neck and along the back side of their wings. If I was to rely on brightening the images back up, and not shooting to the right shoulder of the histogram, this detail would simply not be there in the blacks. I’d be able to pull some detail out, but it would end up grainy and muddy. I like the overall symmetry here, with the back crane in almost the same post as the foreground crane. I shot this at 1/2000th of a second at F4.5 with ISO 100. I was using the 600mm F4 lens for this, as the cranes were at a distance. It’s important when shooting the cranes and the eagles later in the week, to have two camera bodies with you, one with your long lens on, and another with a wider lens.

Syncronized Landing

Syncronized Landing

I find that the 70-200mm range is perfect for the wider lens at these places, and we can see why in image number 2111. As the cranes flight out of the crane center, they sometimes fly right over your head, as this one did, and they are very close. This image was shot at 70mm, which is of course the widest end of the 70-200mm F2.8 lens. Now, this is one of those shots that I just could not throw out, because of the perfect detail in the underside of the bird, and when you zoom in, there is actually a bit of a catch-light in the eye, that you can just see. The exposure was perfect too, as I was keeping on top of that, but I actually cropped this very close to the end of the birds beak in camera. There was a slightly better framed shot before this, but it was a bit soft as I probably wasn’t panning with the bird as smoothly as I needed to, basically because I was panning upwards and had my back craned right over by this time, no pun intended, so I was simply at my extreme physically. It is just too good a shot to throw out though, so I increased the size of the canvas by around 15% along the top, and cloned the sky in from the top edge, to fill the canvas. I probably wouldn’t have done this a few years ago, but I’m kind of OK with doing this now, to save something that I just can’t bring myself to throw out.

Overhead

Overhead

As the number of cranes gradually grows, which is a good thing of course as they almost died out in Hokkaido a number of decades ago, one problem that we face when shooting them is that it’s difficult to get a clear shot of just one or two cranes. The cranes sometimes start honking and do a mating dance with their partner, and sometimes just do a dance with their family, including the young from the previous year, and also sometimes in a foursome, with two pairs honking together. It can though be really tough getting a shot of this from where you are set up. As you need a leveled, pretty long lens, and because there are only so many free spaces along the edge of the viewing area, it’s not always practical to move to a better spot either.

Honking Dance

Honking Dance

Sometimes though, you do get a clear, what I call a “through-shot”, so let’s take a look at some of mine that I was quite pleased with. The first one is image number 2115. I followed these two birds as they maneuvered through the crowd of birds. In fact, I won’t include the image, but you can see that I got another shot of these birds 15 seconds earlier, as they started to honk in unison, with their backs to me. That in itself is a nice shot, but as I tracked their movement, they turned to each others, and started to cross over each other from my perspective. This is one of my favourite crane photos as it shows both the tufted tail of the crane on the right of the frame, but also shows the wings on the left bird raised upwards, showing us that what usually looks like a black tufted tail is actually not a tail at all, but the back edge of the crane’s wings. We can see here that the Japanese Red-Crowned Crane’s tail is actually pure white. I’ve tested Japanese people on this, asking them what colour they think the crane’s tails are, and they all say black, because that’s how they appear with the wings contracted. We also just see the shape of the birds body very well in this image, and one other thing that I have tried to capture many times, is the breath of the bird, slightly white against the dark background. For me, everything works in this image, so I was really pleased that I got a clear shot of just the two birds.

Courtship Dance

Courtship Dance

I continued to shoot, as the crossed over, and got another that I was happy with, which is image number 2116. Overall, I prefer the last shot, but in this image, we have that wonderful symmetry in the legs, and the almost symmetrical pose, both with necks arched backwards, making a kind of wine-glass shape. Both of these images were shot at F5.6 with ISO 100, and a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second. I was using the 600mm F4 lens.

Let’s move on to a more documentary shot, which is image number 2118. Here you can see at least seven cranes in the background of this one eating a fish that has just been thrown out for the cranes. This shows just how crowded the place is with cranes, and hopefully helps you to appreciate how difficult it is to get a nice clear shot of just a single pair. It also shows that the cranes are fed fish for a few reasons. One reason is to help the cranes feed themselves. The cranes were dwindling in numbers due to human encroachment into their breeding and feeding grounds for many years, until a few organizations and individuals started to set land aside for them and feed them. They don’t feed them much. If you watch, I’d say they only throw out 1 fish for every five or six cranes, so they don’t all get a belly full at feeding time. That brings us to the other reason for them feeding, which is really to ensure that the cranes come back to this same spot, not just because it’s a safe place for them to be, but also because it helps to attract another, not so rare species, call the photographer. Photographers, particularly the sub-species with latin names like wildolifus or naturalis photografius, thrive on images of rare and beautiful creatures like the majestic red-crowned crane, so it’s kind of a symbiotic relationship.

Yellow Fin Snack

Yellow Fin Snack

The fish also attract other birds, such as the White-Tailed Eagle and the Steller’s Sea Eagle, and we can see a White-Tailed Eagle making off with one of the fish in image number 2120. I cropped this across the top and bottom a little, to narrow the path of the bird out of the image a little, which I thought worked, probably partly because of the shape of the snowy bank in the trees in the background of the image as well as the arch made by the eagle’s wings, kind of like a boomerang in this shot. To capture the action, I’d changed to ISO 200 now and was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/1600th of a second, still at F5.6

White-Tail with Fish

White-Tail with Fish

Let’s move on to image number 2121 now. After the feeding, the cranes start to make their way out of the crane center, sometimes in pretty large numbers, as we can see here. Again I’ve cropped this image a little to keep focus on the birds, as the top and bottom of the shot really don’t add much. I think I cropped the left side a little too, to balance it out with a similar amount of space as the right side. This again is another reason to have a second body, with a wider lens on, or you would simply miss these shots. I got this with the 5D Mark II and the 70-200mm F2.8 IS lens, shooting at 200mm. Still at ISO 200, I was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/800th of a second now due to the cloudy sky, and I was still at F5.6. The birds are heading off to the nearby river to roost, which is where we were hoping to shoot the birds in the mist the following day. There is a location about 30 minutes or so from the Akan Crane Center, where a kindly farm owner has set aside a field for the cranes to stop off at, and an area for photographer’s to set up their gear and photograph the cranes flying overhead. Shortly after shooting this image, that is where we were headed.

Nine Cranes

Nine Cranes

Before we go though, let’s take a look at one last shot from the Crane Center for today, which is image number 2122. Another animal that makes his way to the center at feeding time is the fox, as we see here. The crows are everywhere in Japan, so can often just be a nuisance, but here I kind of like the play with the sharp fox, with the cranes behind him, and the crow in front, with the fox firmly focused on it. I know that some of the cranes heads are cut off, but they are also out of focus and really just providing some context, so I’m not too worried about that. I kind of like the way the fox is staring at the crow though, so thought I’d stick this one into the collection for good measure. The foxes are there of course to get a piece of the fish action when they can, but at great risk, because the 160cm tall cranes have little patience for the eagles and foxes and other things that try to steal “their” fish, as we saw in one of my shots from last year, where a juvenile crane was stomping down pretty hard on a distressed White-Tailed Eagle.

Regards

Regards

Over at the Kichuchi Farm now, to shoot the flyover as the cranes make their way to the roost, I shot image number 2123. This shot is very much something that I could have shot at the last location, but you’ll notice that there is much warmer light on the underside of the crane’s wings here, as the sun is now almost on the horizon at the end of the day. It also makes for that stunning, almost shocking blue sky, as a backdrop for this image. Shot at ISO 200, I was still at F5.6 with a shutter speed of 1/320th of a second now, as the light dies at the end of the day.

Dusk Cranes

Dusk Cranes

Finally for today, we have a slightly played with shot to finish, which is image number 2124. So, getting very experimental here for me, and in the spirit of being totally open about what I’m doing, there are a few things that I wanted to talk about. Firstly, I got two shots of this scene, with the cranes in this position in relation to the trees, which I quite liked. The first shot, had the trees slightly blurred, as I panned with the cranes, but the cranes were a little too blurred. The second shot had really sharp cranes, but the trees were too blurred. Basically, what I did was opened them both as layers in Photoshop, which is now one of the edit options in Lightroom by the way, and grafted the sharper birds from the second shot into the first shot, with the sharper trees. Again this is something that I would never have done years ago, but I’m pushing the boat out a little here these days. The second thing that I did was to add a coloured gradation filter to warm up the bottom half of the shot for that after sunset red glow in the sky. Here I was thinking of my film days, when I would sometimes drop a warm red or orange graduated filter over my lens to get exactly this effect, and figured, well, if I could do it with film, why not. I quite like the end results, so I thought I’d finish with this for today.

Cranes Fly to Roost

Cranes Fly to Roost

So, that was the first day of the Winter Wonderland Workshop from February 16th to the 24th, 2009. As I said earlier, I don’t intend to take an entire episode for every day, but some days just seem to warrant it. Join me again next week, as we pick up the trail at the beginning of the second day, when were were hoping for calm weather, with temperatures of -15 degrees Celsius or below, so that we could get the frosty trees and mist on the river, like we did on the second day of the 2008 trip. See how that turned out next week. For now, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

For details of the workshop itself, including next year’s workshop once the site it updated, please check out my workshops Web site here: Tours & Workshops

Music by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #2 (Podcast 173)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #2 (Podcast 173)

Last week we started a two part series in which we are looking at some images that I made on a trip over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, three weeks ago, and we’ll take a quick look at those again today. Let’s jump right into it though, and we’ll see what I shot in the few hours after breakfast, before lunch, when we started heading back to Tokyo.

So, we were played out of Episode 172 with me all excited after my hour long shoot in the blizzard at dawn. I was heading back in for breakfast, but I wanted to remind you, I’ve said before, that when you go back inside with really cold gear, condensation will form on it, and if your gear is cold to the core, as mine would have undoubtedly been, condensation can form on the inside, giving you all sorts of problems, and even damaging your body or lenses. To avoid this, you need to put the gear into your camera bag and zip it up, and don’t open it in doors until the gear has had a chance to slowly warm up. Depending on how cold it is, it can take a good hour or more, before the risk of condensation subsides. You can also put your gear into plastic bags and tie up the opening to make it relatively airtight, but I prefer to just stick it all back in the bag if I’m going into the warm. Plastic bags do help to get the gear warmed up more quickly, so probably not to be ruled out as an option, especially if you are going to use it soon after going inside.

If you want to make backups of your images while you’re inside, I suggest you take the memory card out before you pack your gear away, as it will be tempting to open up the bag too early if the memory is still in the camera. Another thing to note is that if you are going to be heading back out into the cold within an hour or two, it is really not worth allowing your gear to warm up, because it’s only going to get cold again. Because of this, if you are in a relatively safe area, as in low crime, consider just putting your gear in the trunk of your car, as it’s going to be pretty cold in there too, if you haven’t had the engine running of course. I threw all my gear into the trunk of the car, and left it out in the cold while I had breakfast and checked out of the hotel etc. When I came back out to grab it and start shooting again, there was actually still snow all over my 600mm and 300mm lenses, and the body for that matter, so it was most definitely still below freezing in my car.

Anyway, let’s take a look at some more shots from the morning. The first of which is image number 2048. Although we haven’t looked at any swan shots yet, I was here mostly interested in shooting the swans that spend their winters here, because it’s warmer than Siberia, where they fly down from. At most of the lakes where you find swans in Japan you almost always find a large colony of Pintail ducks too, and these are what we see here walking up the snow covered beach of the Inawashiro Lake. Ducks are pretty comical I think, and this procession of waddling beauties is a good example. What they do is waddle their way up the beach, and wait outside the cafeteria door next to the hotel in which I’d stayed. The lady in the hotel cuts bread into pieces which they sell for $2 a bag. Tourists buy the bread and come outside and give it to the ducks, and then when it’s all gone, they fly down to the water to have a drink to wash down the bread. Then they waddle back up to the door to wait for the next tourist bearing bread to come out. I have mixed feelings about feeding these birds, but it is how they’ve been conditioned, and they look OK for it, so I guess its fine. Us humans need that contact too I believe. My wife doesn’t really like the cold, or more accurately, she doesn’t like the sensation of slipping on the snow, so she rarely comes with me to places like this, but here, she knows she can feed the ducks, and that makes it worth here while to come with me. We had also headed out just for a break, and spent the previous few days doing more of a touristy thing, visiting a quant village about an hour from here on the winter roads.

Pintail's March

Pintail’s March

I shot this image by the way with the 70-200mm F2.8 L lens and had set my camera to ISO 200, giving me a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second at F5. I didn’t select a smaller aperture, because I wanted to maintain a shallow enough depth of field to allow the back of the line of ducks and the waves on the lake to go out of focus some, adding a feeling of depth to the image.

I shot a few images, such of which are uploaded as well, of the ducks up close. It helps to try to slowly move in, shooting as you go, trying to get gradually closer to your subjects, if there’s a chance that you’ll spook them and they’ll fly away, as these ducks do. Sometimes though, you can get in so close, that you can capture some pretty cute expressions, as I think I did in image number 2051. Here I got so close that the duck on the right of the image looked right up at me, a little apprehensively, so I got a nice shot of that awareness of my presence. Pretty much all of the other shots are of the ducks in a totally nature pose, totally oblivious of my presence, so I thought this was a nice addition. This was shot still at ISO 200 but for 1/160th of a second at F6.3. I was add the wide end of my 70-200mm lens shooting at 80mm.

Awareness

Awareness

As you get too close though, the birds will get skitty and fly away, as they did a moment or two after the last shot. I wanted to see if I could capture that though, and so when they’d come back, I set my camera up to capture the action, as we can see in image number 2054. I selected an aperture of F2.8, wide open, with a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, at ISO 100, and as I got close to the ducks again, they took flight, and I snapped of a few frames with the camera’s focusing system set to AI Servo, hoping to latch on to something interesting, and I did, with this single bird that we can see in the middle of the frame looking pretty sharp. It’s actually slightly soft due to the movement, but sharp enough to set it apart from the rest of the flock, for a pretty dynamic image of these pintails taking flight.

Flying Pintails

Flying Pintails

Tree with Three Swans

Tree with Three Swans

There were a couple of trees on the snowy beach of the lake, and I’d basically sat myself down in the snow, with my tripod legs opened up to the second notch, partly so that I could put my legs between the tripod legs, but mainly to give the tripod a wider base to help fortify it against the wind that was still battering this beach. I shot image number 2057 from this position. This is the image that I mentioned in my 2008 best shots round up episode. It is similar to the one I selected in my best ten, but this one has three swans in the top of the frame, adding an additional element of interest. I wanted to mention this image today for two reasons. Firstly, because I really like it, and wanted to share it with you. Secondly, because I used the new Content Aware Scaling in CS4 to bring the swans a little bit closer to the tree. In the original they are a little bit farther away from the tree than this, higher up in the frame. There was a lot of dead space which gave the impression of the image being too tall, in the native aspect ratio of the images from my 1Ds. So I basically selected the bottom half of the shot including the tree, then selected the top of the shot from the birds and above, saved the selection, and then selected the Context Aware Scaling, then made it aware that I wanted to protect my saved selection. That way, when you resize the image by dragging the frame around it, only the space between the tree and the swans get’s compressed, while maintaining the slight gradation in parts of the sky and the driving snow, that you can’t really see in the Web version. I probably wouldn’t have done this a few years ago, but I’m thinking that this is a good use of the technology now. It was shot at F8 for 1/125th of a second, at ISO 100.

Tree on Wintry Shore

Tree on Wintry Shore

Next let’s take another look at image number 2058, which was one of my 2008 best ten selection. I spoke about this shot recently, so won’t go into any detail on that again. The conditions were the same as the last shot we looked at anyway. I did want to mention why I chose this over the one with the swans for my best ten of 2008 though. You know, many moons ago, I did an episode on adding an additional element of interest, and I still do that when it makes sense. But this is one of those times where simplicity really does win out in my opinion. I’ve been doing a lot of test printing recently, and this has been one of the shots I’ve been printing, and there is enough in the image to hold our interest I think, without the swans. The main subject of course is the tree, and in a print, this is a pretty stunning piece of work. The dappled pattern on the bark adds nice contrast, and there are actually a number of brown withered leaves left on the tree that you end up picking out visually as the scan the print. Then of course though there’s the white snowy beach, which probably isn’t an element of interest in itself, more just stage setting, and then the breaking waves help to show that we’re at a lake or maybe even the sea, and there’s wind. Then as you look closer still, you see the snow, driving across the image from right to left, which actually helps to bring us back to the tree as our eyes wander. So basically we’re keeping the lone tree as the main subject, with nothing to fight for our attention. I do really like the version with the swans too, so I’m not ruling it out at all, but when the swans are there, it does fight for our attention, so it is not quite as aesthetic as this shot on the whole.

After I’d shot a number of frames of the tree, and was happy that I’d got what I wanted, with the waves in the right place and the snow adequately captured, a large group of swans flew in, so I took the camera off the tripod, and hand held for a number of shots with the swans flying into their roost. I shot a few images that I also like that I uploaded as well, but then saw or sensed some warm light behind me, and as I turned, there was a small break in the low cloud, revealing an patch of light and part of the distant bank of the Inawashiro Lake that we can see in image number 2061. This was also one of my favourites of 2008, that we looked at just a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to go into detail on the capture again. I did want to touch on one thing though, following a question from Ken Dickson in the forum at Photography martinbaileyphotography.com. Ken said “I was surprised to see you include images taken only days before in your best of collection. I normally like to allow my images to soak a bit before making that kind of decisions.” This is a great point. I actually mentioned this about another swan shot that I made in the last few days of 2007 that I included in my 2007 collection as well. I am a big believer in having a cooling off period after the excitement of the shoot to allow the emotional connection that we have with images to subside a little, so that we can make more objective decisions about our selection. Before I even upload images to my gallery, when possible, I allow two to three days for them to sink in a little. I’m living with 12 shots from a flowerscape shoot last weekend at the moment, waiting for the memories of the shoot to die down a little, as I had a great time shooting them, and it will make me want to upload them more now than it will in a few days. It’s definitely best to do this, and I find that this helps to make sure that in the most part, only your best work hits the eyes of the rest of the world.

Momentary Break in the Storm

Momentary Break in the Storm

There was a teeny weeny bit of risk in selecting these too shots from the last day of 2008 for my best ten of the year, which I was definitely conscious of. Things to note here though, are that although I shot them on December the 31st, I didn’t actually upload them until the 4th of January. This was really the time needed for to me to through my cooling off process. The other thing to bear in mind is that I didn’t actually put the list together until the 6th of January, so I’d actually had almost a week for these images to become real to me. Even with that in mind, as I said, I was conscious that there was still going to be some of the excitement of the shoot left in me. Almost a month has passed now though, and I’m still happy with the selection, so I think I’m good here. Thanks for the great question though Ken, and for your continued participation in the forum. It’s all very much appreciated.

So, let’s look at one last image before we close for today, and that is image number 2062. The last shot that we looked at was shot at 28 seconds past 11:14AM, just twenty seconds before this on. The brief break in the heavy snow clouds lasted literally just a few seconds, and by the time I shot the same six swans flying towards their roost here, it was gone. This is another one of those images that looks great in a print, as there are a literally hordes of swans in this photo, that you can hardly make out in the Web version. There are three swans on the lake in the foreground, directly below the six flying. Then there are of course the six flying in, but I have counted 115 swans in that roost or breeding ground between that dark line which is like a hard sand bank, and the snow on the land that we see further back in the distance. I just love delving into the details of shots like this, especially in a large print. I shot this by the way at F11 for 1/60th of a second, with ISO 100. Relying a little on the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses image stabilization here, shooting at a 150mm focal length.

124 Swans

124 Swans

So, as I mentioned, I was basically here with my wife. It was one of those relaxing break, with some photography sort of trips, so I didn’t want to push my luck doing too much. I’d had a flurry of images here having spent a few hours on the snow, in total, and was feeling pretty happy with my harvest. I was thinking to go back to the falls that I shot in winter at the beginning of January in 2008, but as the swans had kept me out of the beach for a little longer than I expected, I decided not to push my luck, and asked if my wife was ready to start heading back to Tokyo. The snow was pretty heavy still, so we decided to do just that. The snow stopped just a few miles towards home from here mind. We literally drove into a tunnel feeling like we were at the north pole, and we came out, and the sun was shining, and there was not even any snow on the ground. It felt pretty weird, and just shows how much mountains can affect the weather. We had a nice afternoon drive back to our apartment in Tokyo, and were back just as the sun set. My wife had enjoyed the trip, because I didn’t push my luck with my photography, and I had gotten, what I think at least, were some great shots, so it really was a nice finish to 2008 for the both of us.

So, I hope you enjoyed joining me at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008. I really enjoyed this shoot, and it was great warming up for the Hokkaido Workshop and Photography Tour which is now less than three weeks away. We’re just putting the final touches on the planning and all the participants have the details of the meeting point etc. It’s really now just a case of sending a few things off ahead, and then getting started. I can’t wait!

If you are doing a composite image for the January assignment, remember that we have a very short time to do this in our first assignment since switching to the monthly schedule. You will have until the 31st of January, which is this coming Saturday to upload your image to the Composite Assignment gallery at mbpgalleries.com. I’ll turn on voting from the 1st of February for two weeks, and then announce the winner in the following Podcast episode. We’ll also be kicking off a new assignment at the beginning of February, which will run that in parallel with the voting for the January assignment, so stay tuned for that too. I haven’t even started my composite image yet by the way, so I’m starting to get a little worried. I hope you’re having better luck making time for this yourself. Whether you intend to participate or not though, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Music by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

So, as you just heard, I was over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, a few weeks ago. Today, we start a two part series in which I’m going to talk a little more about the trip, as we look at a few more shots from the day, and I’ll mix in a few tips on how I got some of the shots as usual.

We were played in there by me standing on the shore of Lake Inawashiro in the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan. The wind was high, and the snow was driving at me at almost horizontally. It was impossible to stand looking into the snow and record, so as I said, I turned my back to the wind and snow for most of the time there. It was just after 6:30AM when I started recording that intro, and it was still pretty dark, but getting gradually lighter as I spoke. I was into Civil Twilight though, as I confirmed by using VelaClock, a tool that I use on my iPhone to find out when the various twilights start, and what time the sun will rise. I’ll be talking more about VelaClock in another episode in the near future, so I won’t go into much detail today, but I did want to quickly mention that from the last update, VelaClock now has the ability to select different days in the past or future, which was the last thing I was waiting for, after information on the azimuth at which the sun and moon will rise and set, so now, in my opinion, this is a must have iPhone application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. It also now has the ability to detect your location with the iPhone’s GPS, and give information on that location, or you can input GPS coordinates into the home location for use when planning a trip. I’ll put a link to the VelaClock site in the show-notes, but just search for VelaClock in iTunes App Store and you’ll find it there.

Anyway, the sun was going to rise at about 7AM, but the heavy snow clouds were cutting out a lot of the light. There was no point in just standing there though, waiting for the swans to fly, because like I said, they tend to swim more when it’s gusting as it was, and probably wouldn’t fly in this weather until it got a little warmer after dawn. So, basically, I started to see what could be picked out of the landscape with my 300mm F2.8 and we can see an example of what I captured in image number 2039. You can tell how low the light still was, because I shot with an aperture of F5.6, and I still had to select a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, with ISO 800. In this wind, I was relying heavily on my tripod, and the Image Stabilization, because it really was gusting. Most of the shots were sharp though, as I shot mostly in the moments when the wind died down slightly, and the tripod served me well. Now, I have of course included a man-made object with this jetty that will be used in the summer months to board people onto their swan shaped paddling boat, but right now, it was only serving to add a point of reference in my photo showing how the snow was driving almost horizontally across the scene, and how really cold this place was. It wasn’t really bitterly cold, and nowhere near as cold as it gets in Hokkaido on the dawn shoots, but with the temperature being pretty much at around freezing point without the wind, when you calculate in the wind chill, it must have been around minus 10 or 15 degrees. I don’t know how fast the wind was blowing, so I can’t calculate this accurately.

Blizzard Jetty

Blizzard Jetty

I think I’ve mentioned before, but the main problem with shooting in conditions like this, apart from the obvious things like cold hands and actually seeing, is the fact that the snow hits the front element of your lens as soon as you point the lens directly at it. At this angle, I was still probably around a 45 degree angle away from the snow, and so could play with the scene a little. In the next image, number 2045, I was still working this same patch, just looking for areas of the scene to crop out with my 300mm lens. This was shot at 7:22, almost half an hour after the last shot. The sun was now above the horizon, though of course not lighting this scene, and probably in fact still behind the mounts behind me. The sky was of course though much brighter now, and so I had reduced my ISO to 200, and was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at F5 for this, so much more available light now, although still pretty bleak. This is one of my favourites from this series of shots where I just cropped out portions of the scene. I have uploaded a few more, and I will include a link in the show-notes to list all 30 shots that I uploaded from this day and the previous evening, in case you are interested in taking a look. I like the look of the dark trees with the driving snow and then the slightly soft background, caused by both the shallow depth of field, and the fact that there’s more snow back there. One thing to note here is that to bring out these blacks from the snow storm, I had to increase the black slider in Lightroom to about 20, from the default of 5, and increased the contrast and clarity some too, to bring out the definitions of the shapes a little more.

Snow Storm Trees

Snow Storm Trees

Getting back to the snow on the front element though, as the light levels rose, I really wanted to start shooting the area of the scene in which the swans roost, and so I was going to have to start and point my lens straight into the snow. I find that the only way to shoot in these conditions is to shoot quickly, then wipe the lens. If you only have a bit of water on the lens, you can usually blow it off with a blower, but in conditions like this, the front element gets covered pretty quickly, so there’s no option other than wiping it with a lens cloth. I keep one handy at all times when shooting, and simply had to shoot in bursts, then turn the camera towards me and give the front element a wipe, then shoot again for a few frames.

The other problem of course is that you can’t change the lens very easily, without risking getting snow, and therefore of course water, inside the camera, which is not good. It would probably be worth taking the risk if you really have to, but you would have to be very careful, and when you consider that I needed a long lens on the camera in case the swans did start to fly through the snow, I really didn’t think it was worth taking the risk. So, to capture images like number 2047, I basically turned the camera up into portrait mode, and shot a series of images, moving across the scene at about half a frame at a time, and then stitched them together in Photoshop. This was actually sixteen vertical images stitched together, with lots of overlap in each of course. The resulting image is 16,248 pixels long and 3,658 pixels high. It’s difficult to appreciate this in the Web version of course, but it’s one cool image to view in Photoshop CS4. The reason being that CS4 now uses the computers GPU or graphics processing unit to render images on the screen, and you can now grab the image and as you move it across the screen, the image scrolls fully intact, not like before, where it moved the image with a frame, then re-rendered the image after you let go of it. This means that you can basically zoom in to fill the screen horizontally, then just flick across it, viewing all of the detail in the image. There are a lot of swans in there, just waiting to be seen. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but I’m hoping that before too long I’ll be able to print this out on roll paper, and do a really big long panoramic print of this, to see what it really looks like in its entirety. The stitching was painless by the way. CS4 seems to have made even more improvements to an already good stitching utility.

Swan's Roost

Swan’s Roost

This image was shot at 7:30AM, shortly before I finished the dawn shoot and went back inside for breakfast. I recorded another few minutes of audio before going back though, so let’s listen to that before we finish for today, ready to pick up the shoot after breakfast in the next episode. I kind of feel as though it would be nice to end with this clip, so let’s skip the housekeeping section for this week. Don’t tune out just yet, but I’ll just say thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the VelaClock Application for the iPhone. This is a must have application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. http://www.veladg.com/velaclockapp.html

Music by UniqueTracks.


Audio

Subscribe in iTunes for Enhanced Podcasts delivered automatically to your computer.

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.



Hokkaido Workshop/Tour Jan 2008 – Day 5 (Podcast 128)

Hokkaido Workshop/Tour Jan 2008 – Day 5 (Podcast 128)

Today is the final part of a series of Podcasts in which we’re looking at shots from the Hokkaido Workshop/Photography Tour held in January 2008. I was originally planning this to be a three part series, but we had so much to put in, it ended up being four parts. If you’ve had enough of me talking about the tour and my photos, stay tuned, because I also have some recordings from the bus on the way to the airport at lunch time on the last day that I’ll play you later. Before that though, let’s get through the last four photos I wanted to look at.

On the last morning, as we’d been up before dawn every day to this point, we decided to have a bit of a lie-in, and met for breakfast at 7AM, before checking out and going to the Shiretoko Nature Center to try and find some deer before heading out of town towards the airport. As we headed up the hill towards the nature center, the bus driver slowed the bus down as a fox started to walk in the road in front of us. This was one of those times where I really regretted being over tired towards the end of the tour, because I’d failed to reset my camera after shooting the falls on the previous evening. I usually reset everything after a shoot, so that I don’t have to worry about anything when I start shooting again, but with everything that had been going off, I’d totally forgotten to do so, so when I lifted the camera to my eye to shoot the fox, I saw that I was still set at 15 seconds with an aperture of F11. I quickly started to reset my camera, but lost my first few chances for a shot. Feeling better, I lined up my second shot, and on pressing the shutter button, I was confronted with mirror lockup. On my third attempt I realised that I was using a timer, so had to change that to One Shot. After that, I finally got shot number 1725, in which we can see the fox looking back at us on this huge bus stopped at the side of the road beside it. Shot at F5.6 for 1/2500th of a second, with ISO 400, which was also what I’d ended up shooting at the night before, I was not happy with this shot. The fox then moved to a great spot on the top of that embankment, when I was confronted with what must have been the fifth setting I regretted not resetting, which was the focus point. I often use the center focus point, but I had the camera set to auto-select the focus point. That meant that when the fox moved to the top of the embankment and struck a pose, I was focusing on the twigs around it, and could not lock onto the eyes. I have my camera set so that I can hit one button to switch to the center focus point very quickly, but by the time I’d hit the button, he dropped behind the embankment and went his own way. The only shot I came away with was this one. So, this is one of those important lessons re-learned, which is to set your camera back to some default settings that you decide on after every shoot. I usually do this religiously, and I usually also check the settings before going out in the morning, but failed to do either with the somewhat unusual circumstances I was in on the workshop, and probably I was also starting to get a little tired, having packed so much into this week. Maybe there are more lessons to be learned here as the organizer of the tour than just resetting my camera.

Hokkaido Fox

Hokkaido Fox

So, we pulled into the Shiretoko Nature Center car park a few minutes later, and having relayed to everyone how much time we have, we all headed along the path through the buildings into the woods to see if we could find some Ezo Deer. Without any prompting at all, a number of the guys disappeared through the woods down into the valley. A number of us stayed around the top area, shooting still-lifes in the woods. It was a magical morning, but I wasn’t all that pleased with many of my shots from this point, although I really enjoyed the walk through the woods. One shot I wanted to look at from this point is image number 1726. Here I found a simple twig sticking through the snow, and waited until the sun shone brightly enough to make a bit of a shadow in the foreground. The shadow was from a couple of trees to the right of the scene, and the surface of the snow has kind of bent the shadows to highlight the smooth undulations. I converted this to black and white by reducing the saturation of all the channels in Lightroom, and then lowered the Luminance of the Red, Orange and Yellow channels. This allowed me to darken twig which was actually quite a light brown to almost black, without effecting the darker patches in the snow at all. I shot this wide open at F2.8 with the 70-200mm lens, zoomed right up to 200mm. The ISO was set to 100 as there was plenty of light, and the shutter speed was set to 1/800th of a second.

Twig

Twig

With a few of us having stayed in the woods behind the buildings, I was happy to hear that a couple of the guys that had headed down into the valley had found a large herd of deer, including some young males. It was at this time that we thought how useful it would be to have brought some close range radios, to stay in touch in situations like this, when we split up. I think I’ll pick up a few before the next trip so that we can contact each other if one group finds something interesting. Talking of the group, let’s take a look at image number 1729. After the Nature Center, we started to head towards the airport, but wanted to shoot the ice floe before we left, and I recalled a spot where it was possible to walk down to the edge of the sea for some shots. Having shot here for probably 40 minutes or so, shortly before we left, Even, who you might remember from the first MBP Roundtable, had the idea of hitting the pose that all the guys are hitting in unison here. I didn’t realise it at the time, but after returning home, Even sent us a link that I’ll include in the show notes, to www.phoons.com. Apparently this pose is called a Phoon. Don’t ask me why, though I’m sure Even knows. Anyway, as the four guys in the foreground Phooned away, I was calling to Andrew in the distance to get him to join in, but at first he couldn’t hear. Then when I’d just about given up, he turned and saw us, and without any hesitation what so ever, phooned. This photo to me really sums up the light hearted fun and camaraderie that reigned throughout the week. We all had such a great time, as we’ll hear shortly. This image by the way was shot at F11 for 1/320th of a second, with ISO 100.

Five Fun Fellows

Five Fun Fellows

Before we move on to the recording, I actually decided to upload one last shot from the dawn shoot of the cranes on the misty river. While we look at image number 1732 I want to update you on a statement I made in Episode 126. I mentioned that I was probably going to have to upgrade my Wimberley Head to the version two head, having read something that I thought meant that the version two head was better than the original head at slower shutter speeds. Well, following a mail conversation with Clay Wimberley, the maker of the Wimberley Heads among other great products, and Arthur Morris, who wrote the newsletter I’d read, it seems that I don’t need to upgrade after all. In fact, it seems that I probably have the better head for slower speeds, but only marginally. Artie actually went on in his mail to say that trying to go below 1/60th of a second is going to cause problems. Even then, it is not only OK, it’s recommended to stop the 600mm F4 from shaking by holding it with your arm across the top, pretty much as I had been doing.

Pre-dawn Huddle

Pre-dawn Huddle

I actually bought a copy of Arties book on CD from his Web site and it contains some images of how to hold the 600mm to really reduce shake in slower shutter speeds. It’s a little different to the way I’ve started holding mine, so I can’t wait to practice Arties method the next time I’m out with my long lens and shooting at slow shutter speeds. The book is called The Art of Bird Photography II, and as I say it’s only available on CD. It is more than 900 pages though of some amazing bird and wildlife photography, as well as technical tips. I haven’t really scratched the surface of my copy yet, but I can recommend it to anyone interested in bird or nature photography. At $43 dollars plus tax if you live in Florida and postage which varies depending on where you live, the book is worth every penny. It’s worth it just for the pictures before you start to even read the text. I’ll put a link to the book page on Artie’s Web site in the show-notes in case you’re interested.

Even Arties technique for stopping shake is not going to help with really long shutter speeds for a number of seconds, as you will start to move the lens around yourself if holding it that long. I found though, in the image we are currently looking at, number 1732, that for really long shutter speeds, the lens tends to have long enough to stop shaking from the shutter movement, and create a relatively sharp image. This shot from some 30 minutes before sunrise took at 15 second exposure, and although there is a tiny bit of fuzziness, there is also a lot of fine detail, as though it shook for a moment, but then settled down to make a solid image. This was shot at F8 with ISO 250, with the 15 second exposure like I say. This was actually a little too long for a perfect exposure, which resulted in the blue channel becoming a little bit blown out. This is actually why I ruled it out from my first selection, but it just kept coming back and haunting me, and I figured that the blown out blue channel was probably helping to add to the cold yet dreamy feel of the shot, and so I decided to upload it after all.

So, let’s now take a listen to our brief conversation inside the bus on the way to the Memanbetsu Airport around noon at the end of the workshop.

You can probably tell that we had such a lot of fun together, as well as learning from each other, as well as from me. Just listening to this again brings it all flooding back for me, and I hope you enjoyed it too. By the way, a number of people have been asking for us to share shots from the rest of the gang, so without giving too much away, I just wanted to say that we have something planned. I’ll be sure to let you know when we’ve got everything worked out.

So, until I do get back to you with news of how we’re going to share the shots from the others, that’s it from our Hokkaido Workshop/Tour. Remember that I will be arranging a similar tour next year, so stay tuned. If there’s a possibility that you might lose touch with the Podcast but are interested, drop me a line and I’ll put you on my list of people to mail when I get the dates and details nailed down.

There one piece of housekeeping that I wanted to touch on before we finish. Due to some issues with my shopping cart at martinbaileyphotography.com, and/or changes in the PayPal system, it seems that problems have developed using the MBPListener coupon that I talked about in Episode 117, in which I explained all about the options available when buying fine art prints from my Web site. I just wanted to say that the problem is now fixed, so if you tried to use the coupon recently but ran into problems, it would be great if you could try again. If you didn’t listen to episode 117 but would like to use the coupon, after you have made your selection enter MBPL in uppercase, capital letters, and istener in lower case, small letters, into the coupon field in the shopping cart before checking out. Also, please don’t publish this coupon anywhere online. It’s a special discount as a thank you to you for listening to this Podcast and for support me in the various ways you do.

So with that, all that remains to be said is thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing — Bye-bye.


Show Notes

Here’s the Phoons site I mentioned: http://www.phoons.com/

Here’s Arthur Morris’ book on CD, a must for all bird and nature photographers, The Art of Bird Photography II: http://www.birdsasart.com/ABPII.htm


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