Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 700)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 3 (Podcast 700)


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This week I’d like to start by giving us all a pat on the back. This is a milestone episode, as we just reached number 700! I’m pretty proud of the fact that I’ve been releasing this podcast almost every week for coming up to fifteen years now! I’m also incredibly humbled by the fact that many of you have been following my antics for most of, if not all of that time. Thank you so much for sticking around!

We’re going to do a regular episode though, and conclude my Japan Winter Wildlife Tour #2 travelogue series, with a visit to Lake Kussharo to photograph the Whooper Swans, and then on to Rausu to photograph the sea eagles. I once again have way more than 10 photos to discuss, so although we had some fun photographing the landscape a little after we finished at the sea eagles, I’m going to skip those photos and give preference to the wildlife work, because this is really what this tour is all about.

Let’s start with a shot from the Whooper Swans. As you can see, there was a slight mist over the lake, which was still not frozen, due to this being the warmest winter in Japan for thirty years. I love the graduated horizon line of the lake, caused by the mist and the swans here have an almost painterly look, due probably in part to the quality of light, but also the fact that I was panning with them with a 1/50 second shutter speed.

Swan Lake
Swan Lake

I wish I’d not clipped the wing of the swan on the right side of the image, but I’m pretty happy with this all the same. I also kind of like that it’s a grey cygnet that is leading the pack here, rather than an adult, which I think may have been a little bit too obvious as a composition. That was pure luck of course and totally a hindsight observation.

Water-Brake

I’ve become quite partial to this next kind of swan-panning shot as well. As the swans start to waterski on the lake as they land, again, at a 1/50 of a second, the water makes some beautiful textures that I can kind of get lost in visually. I also really like the slightly ruffled feathers under the near-wing of this swan. The lake being thawed this year contributed to keeping the swans cleaner than they sometimes are when it’s frozen. I imagine it’s because they are not forced to sit around in the shallow water at the same location, rubbing against the algae and sitting in their own mess. Either way, this is a completely fun way to shoot these awesome, yet sometimes clumsy-looking birds.

Water-Brake
Water-Brake

In this same location the following morning I used an 1/800 of a second shutter speed to freeze the movement instead of blurring it, and fell lucky with this next shot, as four swans lined up with a mallard duck at the end looking as though they are just starting off on a race of sorts. The mist had cleared, though it was still overcast, and the faster shutter speed enabled me to freeze the mountains on the far side of the lake, so I consciously tried to keep my camera higher to include the top of the mountains in the frame.

And They're Off!
And They’re Off!

Japanese Long-Tailed Tit

The little guy in the next image is a Japanese Long-Tailed Tit, and probably one of the cutest birds I’ve ever photographed. I’ve seen these before in the trees near where we stop to photograph the swans, but never managed to get a shot so far. Fast-movers though, at 1/1600 of a second, this tiny bird is slightly soft, so I increased my shutter speed for a few more frames, but I like this one the best, as he flew down from his perch, on which he stopped for a less than one second at a time. A very difficult bird to photograph.

Japanese Long-Tailed Tit
Japanese Long-Tailed Tit

Fleeting Fox

Another fleeting moment in this next image, as a Northern Red Fox found something in the hole that it was digging that didn’t agree with him, so he ’bout turned and shot off like a bullet. I was not ready for that speed again, so his head is blurred, but I think that, along with his pose, adds to the dynamic feel of the shot, so I’m going to run with it, like the fox.

Fleeting Fox
Fleeting Fox

It was so nice to have snow, like this, until the end of the season. Just a week until the start of March at this point, the warm winter had taken its toll, but the occasional cold front had kept most of our locations topped up with snow, and from the number of hand-warmers we got through on the bus, I think the participants probably didn’t believe me when I kept saying that it was warmer than usual.

Indeed, as we got into our first morning photographing the Sea Eagles the next day, with the wind chill and the cooling effect of the sea-ice, even this mad-dog and ex-English-man didn’t have the nerve to call it warm. We did have sea-ice, but to be completely honest, I wish it hadn’t come down in the Nemuro Straits at all this year. The warmer conditions had meant that the Steller’s Sea Eagles were nearing the point where they’d find a thermal to climb to set them off on their way back to Russia for the summer.

They weren’t moving much at all, and the staff of all the boats were starting to wind down for the season as well. I would not accept that the birds simply wouldn’t move, and managed to talk the skipper of our boat to let us charter his second boat for the group for the second two days. This won’t always be possible, but it did give us the freedom to call the shots and salvaged the situation. The ice was closer on the second day, but we spent some quality time near the harbor wall as well, and got this next image, which is one of my favorite Steller’s Sea Eagle shots of the season.

Steller's Scuffle
Two Steller’s Sea Eagles in a Scuffle

Once again, I’m going to live with the clipped wings and tail, as I think the bulk of the shot is interesting enough to not throw it out. I love the detail in these birds, and those talons and claws look absolutely lethal! These really are magnificent birds.

White-Tailed Eagle Departs

Later in the day, we headed back down the Notsuke Peninsula, where I’d photographed the fox two days earlier, and although I don’t usually stop for sea-eagles out there, we did find the White-Tailed Eagle in this shot sitting in a more interesting spot than usual. We waited until he flew, and sure, it’s a butt-shot, but this is one that I’m happy with. The surroundings, with the driftwood and perch, and those beautiful distant mountains on the Shiretoko Peninsula made for an almost perfect scene for this proud raptor to start his journey from.

White-Tailed Eagle Departs
White-Tailed Eagle Departs

I actually pulled back to 366 mm rather than trying to go full-frame, to ensure that I included more of the surroundings. I also used the Advance Color Editor in Capture One Pro to warm up the orange tones, as I found it a little bit too bleak for the wood, which I somehow felt needed to look a little warmer.

Although it was difficult to set up and actually get them to go for fish in the water this late in the season, and the eagles were pretty much constantly flying away from the sun, we did manage to get a few images of them taking fish from the water, rather than off the ice. I was not going to give up on these photos on this trip, both for myself, and most importantly, for my guests.

Steller's Sea Eagle at Work
Steller’s Sea Eagle at Work

Hopefully, it will look pretty natural to you, but I had to increase the shadows slider to plus 80 to bring out even this amount of detail in the dark underside of this Steller’s Sea Eagle. Definitely a rescuable image, and pretty much as good as it was going to get under the circumstances.

At almost exactly the same location, just 50 seconds later, I got this shot of a White-Tailed Eagle doing pretty much the same thing, but with much better wing positions. The shadows slider is up at 70 for this shot too, and for both of these images I warmed up the blues slightly, again, using the Advanced Color Editor in Capture One Pro. I just felt that it needed a slight saturation boost.

White-Tailed Eagle at Work
White-Tailed Eagle at Work

As I said, we’ll skip three landscape images that are sitting in selection in chronological order, as I like to keep my posts down to ten images when possible and finish with one last wildlife shot. It’s been a number of years since we’ve seen any, but finally, our luck was in with a sighting of a Great Spotted Woodpecker in the Shiretoko National Park on our final morning of the tour.

Great Spotted Woodpecker Peekaboo
Great Spotted Woodpecker Peekaboo

Although the foreground branch is slightly obscuring the back of her head, I really like how this woodpecker is peeking back at us through this window between the arch of a broken branch and a second branch that is holding it up. The smattering of falling snow is a nice added touch to help us wrap up this three-part travelogue series covering my last Japan Winter Tour for this season.

Participants’ Comments

Before we finish though, I did my traditional walk around the bus to get a comment from the participants, which I’m going to play you now. Please listen with the audio player above, starting from 10:17, to find out what each guest had to say about the tour.

Japan Winter Wildlife 2022

If you’d like to join me on the 2022 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour, when we next have spaces available, please check out the tour page, and contact us if you’d like to be put on the waitlist for the 2021 tour.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

Show Notes

Check out my available tours here: https://mbp.ac/tours

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 1 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 697)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 1 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 697)

I’m sitting in my studio on the second day of March 2020, having just completed this year’s three Japan Winter Tours. Despite this being the warmest winter for 60 years, and having no snow for the Snow Monkeys on one of our visits, all in all, it turned out to be an awesome winter tour season, and I have around 550 images from the three tours that I absolutely love. It was not without its challenges, and a great deal of luck helped to provide me and my groups with opportunities that I feel incredibly grateful for, and I’m completely stoked that the participants on my tours managed to come away with many images that I know they’ll treasure as much as I do mine.

Choosing to update our iOS app Photographer’s Friend between the second and third tours was a silly decision to make at such a busy time for me, but the changes I made were well worth it, and I’ve just finished writing an email to a user that helped me to think of another tweak that I’m now itching to code, but I’m going to try my best not to let that rule me too much over the next few weeks, and my goal is to put out at least five episodes of the podcast this month, to make up for only releasing two each month for January and February, as I am committed to releasing a minimum of three per month for our MBP Pro members, so let’s get to it.

Whooper Swans

We pick up the trail on February 2, as we arrived at Lake Kussharo to photograph the Whooper Swans. In this first image for today, we see one of the parents leading in four cygnets, as they flew to the area where the beach is warm and the lake is usually thawed there for a strip, from geothermal activity. It’s nice to see the swans raising such large families. Four is, I think, the most I’ve seen in one family here in Japan, though I have seen two adults with seven cygnets in a remove lake in Iceland, in 2015 or thereabouts.

Four Whooper Swan Cygnets with Parent
Four Whooper Swan Cygnets with Parent flying in to Sunayu at Kussharo Lake

Usually, these birds would land either on the ice of the frozen lake, or in the thin strip of water thawed by the geothermal activity, but with this year having been warmer than usual the lake was only frozen in the shaded corner that we visited first, and as you see in this next image, it was not frozen at all at this location. This is only the third time I’ve known the lake to be not frozen like this in the 17 years that I’ve been visiting Hokkaido in the winter. As I often say though, I enjoy making the most of the new opportunities we are presented with as the status quo shifts, and I can’t help but think that this kind of winter going to be less of an exception as global warming seems to be digging its claws into the planet.

Swans on Kussharo Lake
Swans on the Unfrozen Kussharo Lake

For this shot, I pulled back on my Canon EF 100-400mm lens opening it up to 100mm to include the wider group of birds, but also pointed the camera upwards slightly, to include the top of the mountains on the far side of the lake. We also have that band of shimmering light along the horizon line that we often see caused by the cold air above the lake.

In case you missed this, I’m no longer calling out all of my camera settings, because the Meow Lightbox software that I’m using now displays this when you click on the images, and they just released an update that makes it even prettier than before, so don’t forget to click on the images and take a look whenever you want to see the settings I used when shooting.

We also did our usual panning, with a 1/50 of a second shutter speed to capture the movement in the wings of these beautiful birds as they take off from the lake. This image is one of my favorites from Tour #1. The head is slightly soft, but I love the look of the wings in this shot, and the wake in the water as the swan runs through it really appeals to me.

Swan Wings
A Whooper Swan stretching its wings upwards

There was also a bit of the warm light of the sunset reflecting in the water, giving it a pinkish color, and the top of the frame is slightly darkened from the reflection of the mountains on the distant shore of the lake, and that helps to keep the eye in the image.

Apocalyptic Fumaroles

We cut our swan time a little short on this trip so that we could spend more time with the cranes as we’d been delayed in Tokyo due to bad weather in Hokkaido, so we’ll move on now, to the last major leg of the tour, as we move to the fishing town of Rausu, for the sea eagles. As usual though, on our way out of town, we stopped briefly at Iouzan, or Sulphur Mountain, for our group photo and to quickly shoot the apocalyptic fumaroles there.

Sulphur Mountain Fumarole
A Fumarole at Iouzan (Sulphur Mountain)

There was only a slight breeze when we visited, so the steam hung around for longer than usual, making the timing more critical, to enable us to actually get a view of the sulfur-stained fumaroles.

As I prepared for this episode I looked through my sea eagle shots and found myself left with 160 images that I’d be happy to share. It was a bumper crop for sure. Out of these I selected my favorites, and still found myself with 36 photos. I don’t want to bore you with shot after shot of sea eagles, as magnificent a bird as they are, so I’ll skip the first day of eagles, and we’ll come back to them in a moment.

Northern Red Fox

On our second visit to the Notsuke Peninsula while in Rausu, we were able to photograph this beautiful proud looking Northern Red Fox sittings on top of some tetrapods. This is one of the only fox photos from both trips that I was happy with. I like the almost coordinated dried flowers against the patch of snow, and the nice clean coat on the fox is nice too.

Proud Red Fox
A northern red fox on tetrapods

I’m not sure if it’s some sort of mange, but many of the foxes on the peninsula currently have no fur on their tails or just a tuft on the end, so we found ourselves giving them names like pencil-tail and pipe-cleaner, which is kind of sad.

Steller’s Sea Eagles

The following morning we went out on the new boat that the company we use had just put into service, which was quite an honor. The owner of the company had rushed things through so that we could be first. The dawn shoot is when the eagles are most hungry, although it does leave us somewhat short of light, so much of the work is done with high ISO, starting at 6400 or sometimes higher, but then quickly trying to bring that down while increasing the shutter speed to 1/1600 to freeze the action. Ideally, I like a slightly deeper depth of field, but f/8 is just about enough to get the bulk of the bird in focus.

One Talon Catch
A Steller’s Sea Eagle plucking a fish from the sea with one talon

The catch, with the splash of water, as the fish is pulled from the sea is one of my favorite shots, but I also really like the pose in this next image, as the Steller’s Sea Eagle approaches the fix and raises his talons at the last moment. This is probably one of the most difficult images to get with the EOS R because the frame rate is too slow to rely on simply mashing down on the shutter button, hoping to capture this moment in a burst. I literally have to watch and release the shutter as this happens, so most of the time this is the first shot I get, followed by something like the previous shot.

Talons Out
A Steller’s Sea Eagle with Talons out for the fish

Without doubt, my favorite photograph of the trip is this next one, which I shot at the end of the third eagle shoot on the third and final day in Rausu, We pulled the boat up alongside the quay wall, and because that has snow on it, the light is bounced back up onto the underside of the eagles putting them in beautiful light. I was really close to the bottom of the tail in this shot, so I’ve cropped it in a little from the top too, to balance it out, but I love the detail in this image, and how the flight feathers are spread as he tries to control his flight so close to the wall.

Menacing Steller's Sea Eagle
A Steller’s Sea flying above the harbor wall in Rausu

White-Tailed Eagle

I find myself drawn towards the Steller’s Sea Eagle, as it really is an awesome looking bird, but we’ll wrap up the sea eagle shots with this one of the White-Tailed Eagle, also above the quay wall moments later, as he swoops down to grab the fish that the boat operators threw up onto the wall to attract the eagles. I like how the fine falling snow is visible in this shot, and I love how we can see the faint shadow of the eagle cast into the snow below it.

White-Tailed Eagle Swooping Down
White-Tailed Eagle Swooping Down on a fish on the quay wall

Oshin Koshin Falls

After our final eagle shoot, we checked out of our hotel, and made our way around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula and back up to Utoro on the other side, for our final night, and a bit of relaxing landscape work before we fly home. Here is one of the shots of the top of the Oshin Koshin Falls.

Oshin Koshin Falls
The Top of the Oshin Koshin Falls

I often make my photos of these falls black and white, because there is usually a lot of black rock showing through, but on this visit, the back of the falls was also frozen, and perhaps is was the light bouncing around from that ice, but the ice around the falls was glowing with a beautiful faint glacial blue that I had also not seen before, and I certainly didn’t want to remove, so this year’s shot stays in color.

Participant’s Comments

As usual, I recorded a comment from each of the participants as we ended this tour, which I included in the audio, starting at around 10:33. You can listen using the player at the top of this post. We’ll continue our travelogue series next week, as we embark on my second Japan Winter Wildlife Tour for 2020.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2022 Now Open for Bookings

This year was actually the last time for now that I planned to run the second tour that we’ll talk about next week because some of the locations that we visit are now so crowded that I don’t think it really works at the moment. Because of that, the one trip that I am planning in 2021 is already full, and I have now started to take bookings for the 2022 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshop.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

I will decide whether to make the third Japan Winter Tour a wildlife or a landscape trip based on information I gather in the coming months, but I am doubtful that it will be a wildlife tour, so if you would like to join me in Japan for the winter wildlife, please check out the details of the 2022 tour here. If you are reading this way into the future, check for the most recent available tours in the Tour & Workshops menu at the top of this page.


Show Notes

Check out the 2022 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour here: https://mbp.ac/ww2022

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.


Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 655)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 655)

We pick up the trail on the second of my Japan Winter Wildlife Tours for 2019 today, as we continue to photograph the clumsily beautiful Whooper Swans at Lake Kussharo.

My final selection of images from this incredibly productive tour is still slightly over 300, so I have a little more work to do there, but I’ve been able to reduce the number of images to share with you today to a final twelve, so we’ll finish this series covering this year’s Japan winter tours with this episode.

Swan Fly-By at Dawn

The morning after our first panning session with the swans at Lake Kussharo, we went back to the lake hoping for a few more fly-bys and we did have a couple that gave good results. My favorite of the morning is this image, with four of the Whooper Swans almost overhead, as they approached the lake.

Dawn Fly-By
Dawn Fly-By

I really do enjoy watching these huge birds fly overhead, and when they are this close, I literally shot this with my 100-400mm lens wide open at 100mm, you can often hear the wooshing sound as they flap those huge wings. Their wingspan can be as wide as 275 cm or 9 feet, and they weigh up 14 kg or 31 pounds, so it’s a hefty bird, and actually the largest that we photograph on this trip, although the sea eagles that we’ll also look at shortly take some beating when it comes to sheer awesomeness. My other settings for this shot were ISO 400 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/11.

Three Swan Pan

At the end of this day, we were back at the lake for another panning session, and I was again trying to get more than one swan in the frame, and did a pretty good job of it with this next image, in which we can see three swans in a line. The heads are sharp enough to keep the image, although I’d have liked them to be just a little bit sharper.

Three Swan Pan
Three Swan Pan

These panning shots are a lot of fun, and generally, we leave this location with lots of smiling faces, and that’s always good to see from my perspective. The hit ratio with this kind of shot is pretty low, but having two evenings to try it really helps too. My settings for this image where ISO 1000 for a 1/50 of a second at f/16, and I was out at 100 mm still with my 100-400mm lens. Although the lake was uncommonly not frozen on the first trip three weeks before this, as you can see in this image, it had mostly from over by the time we arrived on this trip.

Sulfur Mountain

The following morning we revisited the lake one last time, before continuing our journey to our last major destination of Rausu, for the sea eagles. On the way, our first stop was just 15 minutes from where we’d stayed, at Sulfur Mountain. You can see where it gets its name from with the yellow sulfur stained fumaroles in this somewhat apocalyptic looking photograph from our brief stop.

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now

The steam from the fumaroles was really heavy on this day, but the breaks in the cloud and clear sky made for a really dramatic looking scene if you time the shot just right. I was exposing this so that the sun was almost completely over-exposed, and that of course made the shadows very dark, but the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro helped to bring that detail back out, so overall I’m happy with the results. My settings were 1/1250 of a second at ISO 100, at f/16, and my focal length was 35 mm, with Canon’s new RF 24-105mm f/4 lens.

Northern Red Fox

We also made our regular first stop at the Notsuke Peninsula during our drive and were greeted by this beautiful Northern Red Fox that posed for us on the snow for quite a while. To avoid frightening the foxes, we generally photograph them from the bus, and just open the windows, and of course, turn the engine off to stop the vibration.

Northern Red Fox
Northern Red Fox

Occasionally we see foxes on the peninsula with tails that are stripped of their fur, probably by the sea eagles or crows that sometimes bully them, but this fox has probably one of the most beautiful bushy tails that I’ve seen. I shot a number of images of him sitting up, zoomed in on his face, but the images felt somewhat empty without that tail, so I settled for this image. My settings for this shot were ISO 1250 for an 1/800 of a second at f/8. I was using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in Extender engaged, and zoomed to 420 mm.

Sleepy Fox

Happy with our first encounter, I was surprised to get another fox shortly afterwards in a completely different environment, but every bit as cute as the first. This guy was quite a way off, so I had to shoot this with an external 2X Extender fitted as well as my 200-400mm lens with the internal Extender, for a focal length of 1065 mm, but as I’ve mentioned, the EOS R seems to quite like this combination, so I’m finding it very workable.

Sleepy Fox
Sleepy Fox

This fox was actually licking its paws then cleaning its face with them, but I’ve called this image Sleepy Fox as it almost looks like he’s got his head on his paws getting ready for a nice sleep. Because the light was relatively low, I was at ISO 5000 for this shot, for an 1/800 of a second at f/11, my widest aperture for this combination of Extenders. It’s always nice to get the fox up on the fishing nets like this, placing the foxes obviously in a fishing area from these visual clues, so the nets add a nice element of story.

Stags’ Play-Fighting

After a visit to the nature center, we turned our bus around and drove back down the Notsuke Peninsula, stopping this time for some Ezo Deer stags that were sizing up each others’ antlers. I like the flakes of snow in this, and the environment is beautiful, with the stags on the frozen brackish lake, just past the vegetation that they often feed on.

Stags' Play-Fighting
Stags’ Play-Fighting

Having said that, the lake is like a white sheet, so I’ve cropped this down to a 16:9 aspect ratio image, removing the top a little, as it wasn’t really adding anything. You can see from the angle of the right deer’s feet that they weren’t really pushing at each other here, but it’s nice to see them at least starting to get ready for this year’s rutting season. It seems I still had my 2X Extender fitted for this image, as my focal length was 685 mm, and my ISO was up at 6400 with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at f/11.

Steller’s Sea Eagle at ISO 12800

As I often say, with the camera’s we have these days, cranking up the ISO is really not that big a deal any more, as long as you ensure that you are exposing to the right, as in, adjusting your exposure so that the right-most data of your image is almost touching the right shoulder of the histogram. I was doing just that at dawn the following day, as we started the first of our three trips out on a boat to photograph the sea eagles.

Dawn Sea Eagle
Dawn Sea Eagle

This was around 30 minutes before the sun actually came up over the Kuril Islands, so even with a 1/200 of a second shutter speed at f/5, I still needed my ISO at 12800 to get this shot, but as you can see, there really isn’t a lot of grain in this image, even in the dark bird, simply because I increased my ISO enough to get my image data over close to the right shoulder of the histogram. Had I been too scared to do that, and left it at say ISO 3200, I guarantee you, the image would have been much noisier.

The Humble Butt Shot

Another thing that you will often hear when shooting with other photographers is people lowering their cameras as a bird or animal turns away from us, calling out the image as a “butt shot”. I do this myself too, so I’m not calling anyone out with this, but I do want to point out that I feel it’s a crying shame to completely rule out an image based on a popular idea that a certain type of photograph is in some way taboo.

Steller's Sea Eagle Butt Shot
Steller’s Sea Eagle Butt Shot

This shot of a Steller’s Sea Eagle is, I have to tell you, one of my favorite shots from this trip. I love the detail in the tail feathers and indeed the entire bird, and it doesn’t bother me one bit that this is a butt shot. Another thing that you’ll often hear bird photographers talking about is getting completely sharp wings, and this also is something that I purposefully do not try to do all the time. I like to use a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second, because it sometimes allows the wings to blur slightly, adding, in my opinion, some dynamism to the photograph.

I shot this with a shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second, and still have movement in the wing tips, but I like that here, so I’m happy with my choice of settings. My ISO was at 1600 by this time, as there was now much more light, and my aperture was down at f/10, with a focal length of 400mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle and Sea Ice

Of course, shots from the front are great too, like in this next image. Quite often with birds, we end up with our shots being from the side, which are also nice, but because it’s less common to get a bird coming straight towards you, it is nice to get some shots like this.

Steller's Sea Eagle and Sea Ice
Steller’s Sea Eagle and Sea Ice

As you can see from these shots, we did also get a decent amount of sea ice on this second trip. The timing of the second trip does give us a better chance of getting sea ice, although I really don’t mind when we don’t get any. Since talking the skipper of the boat into going out even when there is no ice, around five years or more ago, it has become one of my favorite ways to photograph the eagles. When the ice is there though, it does add a nice additional element. My settings for this shot were ISO 1000 at 1/1600 of a second at f/10 and a focal length of 400 mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle Silhouette

We went back down the Notsuke Peninsula once more on our second day in Rausu, but the photos weren’t great, so we’ll skip to the following morning, back out on the boat, as the sun rose above the Kuril Islands. I like to keep my eye out for an eagle flying close to the sun at this time, hoping for shots like this one, where the eagle is almost silhouetted against the sun’s disk.

Steller's Sea Eagle Silhouette
Steller’s Sea Eagle Silhouette

To enable me to get this sort of image, this is one of the few times when I use Auto-ISO, and allow the camera to control the exposure itself. That way when I’m shooting away from the sun the ISO shifts to give me a brighter bird, but then when the sun is in the frame, like this, the ISO drops automatically, giving me a silhouette. The other settings I did set manually, which were an 1/800 of a second and an aperture of f/10. My focal length was 371 mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle’s Grimace

Another shot that I’m happy with from a few minutes later, while the sun was still pretty low in the sky, is this one, of a Steller’s Sea Eagle, probably landing, kicking up snow and ice, but with his wings still open, as though he’s about to take off. The three eagles in this shot are obviously quite dark, because I’m shooting into the sun, but I love this angle and the sense of movement in this majestic raptor.

Steller's Sea Eagle's Grimace
Steller’s Sea Eagle’s Grimace

Having photographed the subjects on this trip so many times, it takes a lot to impress my wife when I get home, but she was impressed with this shot, as it’s something pretty different to what I usually come home with, and that feels good. My settings for this were ISO 1600 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Fishing in Dawn’s Warm Glow

The following morning, once again, I got lots of great shots, although the increasing number of seagulls and crows made it more difficult than usual. Before we finished our third and final trip out to shoot the eagles though, I asked the skipper to throw some fish into the sea in the open water, rather than onto the ice, so that we could get some photos like this one, with the eagles taking the fish from the water.

Fishing in Dawn's Warm Glow
Fishing in Dawn’s Warm Glow

I really like that we have the warm glow of the dawn sky reflecting in the water in this photograph, as that makes up for the fact that we had to shoot back towards the sun a little. To ensure that the eagle was bright against the bright background, I actually shot this at ISO 4000, with a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second at f/10. I was also very happy that the EOS R continued to perform well, autofocussing admirably against this contrasty water and ice. We did our usual drive around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula, and played with some Intentional Camera Movement and the waterfalls etc. around Utoro, but we’ll skip those images so that we can finish the series here.

Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R
Canon EOS R

Having completed all three of my Japan Winter Tours this year shooting almost exclusively with the new EOS R, Canon’s first full frame sensor mirrorless camera, I would just like to relay that I continued to be very happy with this camera, having now shot a total of around 16,000 images with it. There was the problem of the viewfinder fogging up, that I talked about in my review back in Episode 650, but other than that, it has way surpassed my expectations and even my hopes.

This doesn’t mean that my 5Ds R bodies are all of a sudden bad cameras, but I have instantly learned to appreciate the size and weight of the EOS R, and I’m now considering selling one of my two 5Ds R bodies, and keeping the funds on my point card at my local camera store, as I wait for the 5Ds R Mark II, which is rumored to also be coming along with the R Mount, and therefore obviously also a mirrorless camera. Although there have been plenty of people giving the EOS R a bad rap, personally, I’m incredibly pleased that I waited for Canon to finally release a full frame mirrorless camera, and I am really looking forward to being able to continue to use all of my beautiful Canon lenses moving forward.

Participant Comments

Before we wrap up this final travelogue episode for my 2019 winter season, I do of course have our final round of participant comments to play you from the bus on the final morning of the tour, as we headed towards the airport to fly back to Tokyo and disband.

[Please listen with the audio player at the top of this post to hear what each participant had to say about the trip.]

It was lovely, as usual, to hear the group again, now more than three weeks after the tour finished. Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments!

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours 2020

OK, so we’ll wrap it up for now, but please do note that although Tour #1 has now sold out, we do still have some places open on the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour #2, so if you might be interested, please check that out here.


Show Notes

Michelle’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mSMZwzAoNX_XmJ2YPP2Tw/videos

See details of the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2020

Details of all available Tours & Workshops are here: https://mbp.ac/workshops

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.


2017 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour 2 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 566)

2017 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour 2 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 566)

This week we conclude our travelogue series to walk you through the second of my Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido, Japan Winter Wildlife tours for 2017, with a number of Sea Eagle photographs.

We pick up the trail at dawn on day ten, when we were out on a boat to photograph the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles at sunrise and for a while after that. The sea ice drifts down from Russia and we hope that it drifts far enough to make it’s way around the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula and down into the Nemuro Strait, close to the fishing town of Rausu.

Last year the ice didn’t make it down, and this year there wasn’t a lot of ice, and what there was, was quite far away, but we made the most of it while it was there for this second tour. In this first photo from dawn on day ten (below) we see a Steller’s Sea Eagle flying close to the sun’s disk as it rose over the Kunashiri Island.

Steller's Sea Eagle at Sunrise

Steller’s Sea Eagle at Sunrise

I sometimes go to Aperture Priority mode when shooting into the sun like this, because it’s easier to work that way when some of the images will be facing away from the sun, and that’s how I started out on this shoot, but I am really not comfortable working in an automatic exposure mode, so by the time I shot this I had already switched back to Manual, and was just exposing so that the disk of the sun and the sky around it just starting to blow out, just a little. I then just brought those areas back under control in Capture One Pro afterwards.

Another thing I do is use the digital level in the viewfinder of the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera, so that I can try to keep the horizon straight. With fast paced wildlife work I don’t always get it straight, but this shot did not require any rotation. It actually looks like it’s tilted to the left slightly, but that’s an optical illusion, probably caused by the slant of the island above the horizon. My settings for this image were f/8 for a 1/640 of a second exposure, at ISO 2500.

A few minutes later as the sun rose further, I shot this next image, of a sea eagle whisking away a fish that another eagle had tried to take (below). These guys often seem so comical with their big yellow beaks, especially when they aren’t happy about something. They’re almost like cartoon characters to watch.

Dawn Squabble

Dawn Squabble

I had adjusted my exposure slightly as the sun came up, now at f/11 to get more depth of field, especially with the multiple birds in the frame, and with my shutter speed still set to 1/640 of a second, I was now at ISO 2000. Again, I’d allowed the sky to blow out a little here, to get some detail in the birds, and reduced the sky in post.

Trading Places

Trading Places

Once the sun had come up we just sailed around stopping in a number of places to photograph the eagles on the ice. I generally try to get us lined up with something of interest, and for the next three shots, I was watching the eagles on the ice formation that we see in this photo (right).

Shortly before I shot this image, I had noticed a White-Tailed Eagle sitting on top of this triangle of ice, and lowered my camera to tell the participant of my tour that was standing next to me, so that we could get a photo of it taking off, but then before I raised my camera again, it did take off, and the participant got the shot, and I didn’t. That’s fine of course, I’m there to enable my participants, but I was still kicking myself for a moment.

Luckily, eagles like to sit on top of these pillars of ice, and pretty soon a second eagle rested up there, so I trained my camera on it, and waited. The eagles are also not shy when it comes to getting themselves in a prime position, so as I watched, the second eagle in this shot came crashing down onto this perch, and the eagle that was already there had to move down to the lower perch. They seem to have their pecking order all worked out. The one that is going to take the place knows that the other will just move, and they generally seem to do so quite peacefully. My settings for this image were f/10 for a 1/1600 of a second shutter speed at ISO 1600, with a focal length of 400mm.

I still didn’t have a shot of the eagle taking off from the ice, but I couldn’t resist shooting this somewhat comical image of four White-Tailed Eagles sitting on this ice formation (below). We spend between 90 minutes and two hours with the eagles each time we go out on the boat, and if the weather permits us to go out for all three days, we generally start to get time to just relax and enjoy moments like this.

King of the Hill

King of the Hill

Of course, when there is no ice, and we just throw fish straight into the water, the action is more full on. It’s a much faster paced shoot, and I do enjoy that type of photography, but when the ice is here, it does make for something a little bit different from your regular sea eagle shots, especially as this is becoming a somewhat uncommon experience these days. My settings for this image were f/10 for a 1/1600 of a second exposure at ISO 1600. My focal length for this image was 271mm. For all of these eagle shots I was shooting with my Canon 100-400mm Mark II lens.

Eagle Takes Flight

Eagle Takes Flight

Not wanting to miss the eagle on the tallest pinnacle of ice taking off again though, I went back to portrait orientation and zoomed in a little to 349mm and waited. My patience and shoulder ache was rewarded, as you can see in this next image (right).

I was pleased to have not gone right in to 400mm for this shot, because I wanted to include the second eagle, being as he was so close. I’ve cropped this image down from the top, making it a 4:5 ratio, as the white sky wasn’t adding anything to the image.

I generally like to crop in the preset ratios, rather than just arbitrarily cropping, as it makes life easier later when printing. Canvas stretcher bars and frames are easier to match up if you use the regular print sizes.

For this image I had dropped my shutter speed down to 1/125o of a second, at f/11, ISO 1600. This was the last shot that I want to share from our second day out with the eagles.

The following morning we went back out again, but the weather wasn’t going to be so good, and we’d had two sunrise shoots on the first two days, so I decided to take the group out on the second boat for our third morning. As we sailed out in the light it was an almost eerie scene with hundreds of eagles sitting around on the ice waiting for the fish, as you can see in the background of this photo (below).

How Many Eagles!?

How Many Eagles!?

I actually shot some video with my iPhone of the wider, more eerie scene, but here i was trying to include some action with the three eagles in flight. You can see just how many eagles there are though, and this is only what just happened to be in the background of a shot at 214mm. To the naked eye it’s really quite a scene. I shot this at f/10 for a 1/1600 of a second exposure at ISO 2000.

The other thing that I like to do when we have the ice, is to just try to capture moments where there is a little bit of movement to freeze, like the snow kicked up by this eagle as he lands on the snow covered ice (below). I have actually trimmed this down a little from the top left corner to remove an eagle that was sticking into the frame, but I still have an image larger than I could get with the 1DX Mark II or 7D Mark II, so I continued this year to have no regrets about my decision to sell my original 1DX or the 7D Mark II.

Snow Kickin' Eagle

Snow Kickin’ Eagle

I have to admit feeling a slight pang of envy as some of the participants had brought 1D X Mark II cameras with them. I do like the 1 series bodies from Canon

 

, and would be all over what would be something like a 1Ds Mark IV if it had a 50 megapixel or higher sensor in it, but I’m making it work with the not so weather proof 5 series bodies, and I absolutely love the detail in the images that I’m getting, and the ability to crop like this a little when necessary. The settings for this photo were the same as the previous image.

The final eagle shot that I wanted to share for this season is of a White-Tailed Eagle in flight, as he decided to look over towards the boat for some reason (below). He’s not looking directly at me, but it’s close enough to feel the eye contact.

What!?

What!?

The light had increased just slightly on this overcast morning, so I was now at f/11 for a 1/1600 of a second shutter speed and my ISO set to 1600, and my focal length was 400mm. I was also exposing for the sky in this image which was relatively bright compared to the dark bird. I then brightened up the bird by increasing the shadows slider in Capture One Pro, and that’s the same slider in Lightroom of course.

After the eagle shoot, we started our drive around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula to go around from Rausu to the Utoro side, and on the way, we stopped for our usual ICM or Intentional Camera Movement shoot with the birch trees. For many years I’ve shot the lighter color background version, and we started with that on this tour too, but then I went across the road to a patch of trees with a dark background, for this kind of image (below).

Haunted Trees

Haunted Trees

I prefer this patch now, probably just because I’ve gotten a little bit bored of the original photo, but I do like the eerie, almost haunted feel of this dark background. I find myself thinking in sets of images a lot as well these days, so I can also see a pair of prints, with the light and dark version next to each other, almost like a Yin and Yang sort of thing.

One other thing that I thought of as I was there shooting this ICM shot on the last tour was to make a straight photograph, without the camera movement, so that you could see exactly what it is that is making the streaks of color and contrast in the ICM shot, so here that is (below).

Haunted Trees without ICM

Haunted Trees without ICM

It’s nothing to look at as a photo of course, but hopefully this will help you to visualize what we’re doing here. I basically set the camera to a slowish shutter speed of 1/25 of a second at around f/16 or smaller if necessary to get the slow shutter speed, and I also of course set the ISO to 100 for the same reason. I then frame up my patch of trees and focus on them, then raise the camera upwards, steady my posture, then lower the camera quickly, releasing the shutter just as I know the bottom of the trees is a little way into the frame. If you time it right, the white snow starts to blur up into the base of the trees for this beautiful surreal effect.

We went to the Oshin Koshin falls as well, and then up into the Shiretoko National Park for a beautiful walk and to try to find some woodpeckers. We would usually have better look with the woodpeckers earlier in the day, and generally we go back into the park for a few hours on the last morning, but a nasty weather front was closing in, and was threatening to disrupt our return flight, so I made the decision to change our return flight to a different airport, so that I could get the group back to Tokyo on time on our last day. This meant that we had to forfeit our final shoot in the park, and head over to the airport after breakfast on the final day.

So, that brings us to the end of the photographs, but as usual, I recorded a message from each participant as we left Utoro to head for the airport. Here’s what they had to say…

[Please listen to the audio with the player above to hear what the group members had to say about the tour.]

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours 2019

Because our 2018 tours have now filled, we’ve started to take bookings for 2019, so if you are interested, please check the details and book at https://mbp.ac/ww2019. If you’d like to be added to the wait list for 2018, please drop us a line. But be aware that the 2018 tours do now have a relatively long cancel list, so booking on the 2019 tours is a probably better at this point.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour 2019

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour 2019


Show Notes

Check out details of the 2019 tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2019

Contact us to be added to the 2018 wait list: https://mbp.ac/contact

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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


Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 2 Travelogue #4 (Podcast 518)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 2 Travelogue #4 (Podcast 518)

This week we conclude our series of four episodes to walk through 40 images from my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016. Today we visit the Notsuke Peninsula to find an adorable Northern Red Fox, then back to the Seal Eagles, before finishing with a little bit of landscape work in Utoro.

We pick up the trail on day ten of our 12 day tour, after our second session photographing the sea eagles from a boat in Rausu, when we headed back out initially to see if we could find an Ural Owl. We revisited a few spots where I know there to be a nest, but there was no owl for us to photograph, so we’d missed out on this tour.

After that, we headed over to the Notsuke Peninsula, where we were treated with an encounter with this beautiful Northern Red Fox (below). He was sitting on top of a snow covered truck trailer with fishing nets and floats poking through the snow. And, having seen my image of the fox yawning from last year, one of the participants was just saying that she’d love for him to yawn, and he did the honors.

Northern Red Fox Yawning with Fishing Floats

Northern Red Fox Yawning with Fishing Floats

I actually shot this at 1,120mm. I was using my 200-400mm lens, with the internal 1.4X Extender engaged, and a 2X Extender fitted. Ideally, if I’m going to attach the 2X Extender for a focal length of 800mm, I like to keep the internal Extender out of the mix, but I gave this a try, and it worked out OK. The image is a little bit soft, with all that magnification, but with it being a 50 megapixel file, there’s enough resolution to still print pretty large if I needed to, so all is good.

My settings here were 1/640 of a second at f/11, ISO 400. The aperture of f/11 is forced on me here because of the Extenders. It’s an f/4 lens, but the 2X Extender forces me down to f/8, and the 1.4X Extender forces the aperture down to f/11, so there’s no going wider, and of course, no auto-focus past f/8, so I was manually focusing here too, while resting on the window of our bus.

The following morning, on Day eleven, we headed back out for our third morning on the boat, to photograph the sea eagles. The weather had kept us from doing dawn shoots each of the previous days, but this works for us when it’s overcast, because there is no sunrise to speak of, that would make for a beautiful back drop. Also, as there was no sea ice for the entire season this year, there’s nothing for the sea eagles to perch on with the sunset in the background, so in many ways, the later starts suit us more.

On this third morning though, the weather was promising to provide us with a bit of color in the sky from the sunrise, and that would give us some new opportunities that we had not had on the first two days, so I was quietly optimistic that this would turn out to be a good shoot.

We started while it was still relatively dark, but the sun over the Kunashiri Island was reflecting in the water by this point. Here you can see that I decided to silhouette this White-Tailed Eagle against the slightly orange water.

White-Tailed Eagle Swoops in Silhouette

White-Tailed Eagle Swoops in Silhouette

We generally start off a shoot like this, where the birds fly closer to the sun, with our cameras set to Aperture Priority mode, as that helps the camera to shift the exposure as the background gets brighter. That automatically gives us a silhouette as the birds fly over a bright background, and helps to prevent the background from blowing out too much.

By the time I’d made this photograph though, I was back in Manual mode. I’m just more comfortable in Manual mode, so I like to switch back as soon as I can. My settings here were 1/500 of a second at f/8, ISO 2000, at 278mm.

It does mean though that as we photograph towards the sun, the exposure needs to be tweaked, but as suns rays started to form over the Kunashiri Island, I adjusted my exposure and got a few frames like this one, with a White-Tailed Eagle flying over this almost biblical looking backdrop (below). I have a number of these that I really like, although this is probably one of my favorites.

White-Tailed Eagle with Sun's Rays

White-Tailed Eagle with Sun’s Rays

As you can see, there was still a good amount of cloud around from the storms over the previous few days, but these really helped to create a dramatic sky to form those sun rays, making the nice backdrop for the eagle in flight. There are a couple of areas of the clouds that are a little over-exposed, but I’m happy with the balance. If you try to stop clouds around the sun from blowing out completely, the entire image can get a bit dark, and when you consider how bright these areas are in reality, I don’t think it’s necessary to go much darker than this. My settings were 1/1000 of a second, to freeze the bird in flight, with an aperture of f/10, ISO 640, at 330mm.

This next image is from eighteen minutes later, when a caught a Steller’s Sea Eagle catching one of the fish that we threw out, from a somewhat still patch of water. If you look at the very top of the frame here, you can see a little bit of more textured water creeping in. These still patches are left in our wake, after we’ve maneuvered through the water, and can help to give us a slightly different feel to our images, as you can see here (below).

Steller's Sea Eagle Catching Fish from Calm Sea

Steller’s Sea Eagle Catching Fish from Calm Sea

This is one of a pair of images from my final selection, with the other having much more distance between the splash and the eagle, which I prefer, but you can’t see the eagles face in the other image, so I chose this one to share with you. My settings here were 1/1000 of a second at f/8, ISO 1600, at 400mm.

I was using my 100-400mm lens for the entire time while shooting from the boat. It worked really well with the Canon EOS 5Ds R camera, and although I cropped some of these images a little bit, I still ended up with some beautiful high resolution images that I’m finding are printing absolutely beautifully, and I’m loving having the freedom to go full-frame wide, as well as zoom right in and then crop as necessary, and still have a larger image than those from my 7D Mark II. Of course, there are times when I don’t have to crop at all, and then the detail captured is absolutely off the charts.

OK, so this next image is the last eagle photo that I’ll share from this season. Here we see a Steller’s Sea Eagle coming in, with those incredible talons out in position to catch his fish (below). As I mentioned last week, these birds will pretty much always fly into the wind when they swoop down like this, and the wind was coming from the land out towards the sea, with the sun across the sea over the Kunashiri Island, so even though I’ve photographed this guy from a different angle than most of the other shots, the light is still coming from behind him, which is a shame, but cannot be helped.

Steller's Sea Eagle Swooping to Catch Fish Talons Forward

Steller’s Sea Eagle Swooping to Catch Fish Talons Forward

To bring back some of the detail I’ve increased the Shadows slider in Lightroom right up to 100, and the Blacks slider up to 60, then bumped the Clarity slider up to 55. Because I was exposing to the right, to get the white on the eagle perfectly exposed, my shadows weren’t totally plugged up, and my ISO being at 400 by this point also helped, so there isn’t a lot of noise that has been introduced by this somewhat extreme processing. My other settings for this were 1/1000 of a second shutter speed, at f/10, with a focal length of 400mm.

After our final eagle shoot, we started the drive around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula, to the town of Utoro on the other side, where we’d spend our final night. On the way, we made our customary stop at a copse of birch trees, where I introduce the group to the wonders of intentional camera movement photography. As the weather was clear by this point, and quite bright, the copse on the side of the road that I usually like to photograph was a little bit too bright, so we walked back a little way, to another batch of trees that had a darker background, as you can see in this photograph (below).

Birch Trees Over Dark Background

Birch Trees Over Dark Background

You know, I never get tired of photographing the wildlife on this trip, but I have to admit, I didn’t really need another white on white birch tree shot, and although I’d been shaking it up a little bit on the first tour for this year, I was really happy to get something really quite different on this second tour. I think the fewer number of birch trees against the black background worked really well here, and although I’m not overly happy with those few patches of blue, I think this complements the other white on white shots quite well.

As usual, my settings for this image were 1/25 of a second, and to get to that shutter speed, I’d selected an aperture of f/13, ISO 100, and I was using my 24-70mm f/2.8 II lens at 61mm. Although it’s usually dark enough to get down to 1/25 of a second with an aperture of f/16 or so, it was so bright on this day, that we had to use an ND8 neutral density filter to reduce the amount of light hitting our sensors, and because not everyone had one, we loaned each other these filters and played with the scene a little longer than usual before heading on for lunch, and then on to Utoro.

Oshinkoshin Falls

Oshinkoshin Falls

As we reached the coast again, it seemed ironic for there to have been sea ice, all the way up to the shore, and stretching out into the Sea of Okhostk, as far as the eye could see. There has been no ice in Rausu for the entire season this year, but by this point, it had made it’s way down to Utoro. It just wasn’t going around the tip of the Shiretoko Peninsula and down into the Nemuro Strait, which is of course where we need it, to be able to photograph the sea eagles with the sea ice.

Our first stop in Utoro was to shoot the Oshinkoshin Falls, as you can see in this photo (right). Again, because it was a clear day, it was a bit too bright for photographing waterfalls. They are much better to photograph on overcast days, but we made the most of the situation, as usual.

For this I used an ND8 neutral density filter, to give me a three stop longer exposure, taking my shutter speed to 0.4 seconds at f/16. I generally like to go a little bit longer, up to around 0.8 or one second, but it was too bright for that, and I don’t like to go smaller than an f/16 aperture because that starts to introduce diffraction. My next ND down is an ND1000, which is a bit too dark as well, so I just lived with this exposure.

After photographing the falls, I crossed the road to the fence from which we can look out across the sea, and made this next photo (below).

Some Ice Floes

Some Ice Floes

For this photo I was using the ND1000 which is 10 stops, coupled with a three stop ND8 for a 120 second exposure at f/22. As you can see, the foreground sea ice has hardly moved, but the ice further out to sea has moved during the exposure, so it has blurred, along with the clouds where were moving a bit, although not a great deal.

Now, before you start thinking that I’m being a hypocrite here, as I just said that I don’t like to go below f/16 because of diffraction, I will, if I have a good reason to, but then I’m basically committing to opening the image in Canon’s Digital Photo Professional, and using the Digital Lens Optimizer to remove the diffraction, which it is actually very good at. Canon designed the lenses by computer, so they can basically reverse engineer the light as it travels through the lens, and remove the affects of diffraction.

I don’t like to use Digital Photo Professional, because I absolutely hate everything else about the program, but I will use it if absolutely necessary, such as in times like this, when I have to stop down for a really long exposure. Because I have to save the image as a TIFF to get something with the Lens Optimizer corrections, I then just take that TIFF file into Silver Efex Pro to convert to black and white.

After we photographed the Ice Floe and the falls, we drove along to just past the town of Utoro, and went to the mouth of a river there, and I made this photograph (below). I shot this at my sweet-spot aperture of f/14, which is my soft-ceiling for how small I like to go before I even start to think about diffraction.

Utoro Ice Floe from River

Utoro Ice Floe from River

This once again was converted to black and white in Silver Efex Pro. As I’ve mentioned before, I’m trying to convert more of my images to black and white in Lightroom, but I’m just really not getting the look I like for all of my images, so I’m finding it hard to leave Silver Efex behind, and I still have not found another application that works as well, as dated as Silver Efex is now. My shutter speed for this image was 70 second, at ISO 100, 67mm, with my 24-70mm lens.

After this last shoot for the day, we went to our hotel and enjoyed our last dinner together as a group, in the amazing banquet hall and buffet at the hotel that we use here. The next morning we went up into the Shiretoko National Park for our final shoot of the tour, and as usual, we split the group into two, with one group going down into the valley to look for deer, and I remained at the top, hoping to photograph the Great Spotted Woodpecker.

Great Spotted Woodpecker

Great Spotted Woodpecker

After an hour or so of walking around, enjoying the fresh morning air and the snow, we still hadn’t heard a single peck from the woodpeckers, so we went back to the bus, and just as I’d broken down my camera, we saw one flying from tree to tree on the other side of the car park.

I didn’t have time to put an Extender back on, but those among the group that were interested all rushed back off the bus to capture this beautiful little guy, that we can see in this image (right).

I had to crop in quite a bit on this, but still have a 25 megapixel image, so again, more resolution than I would have had using my 7D Mark II, but I have the freedom to crop a little wider as necessary, which I’m enjoying.

I love the catchlight in this woodpeckers eye, and the detail captured overall is astonishing, especially when you consider it was hand-held with the 200-400mm with the built-in 1.4X Extender engaged for a 560mm focal length.

I did ensure that I had a good shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second though, to help me keep it steady, and my ISO was set to 400, for what would turn out to be the last photograph of the tour.

After this little bit of excitement to end our morning shoot, we drove towards the Memanbetsu Airport where we’d fly home from, and as usual, I went around the bus with my digital recorder and recorded a message from each of the amazing participants for this tour, so I’d like to play that to you now.

[Listen to the audio using the player at the top of the post to hear what the participants had to say about our tour.]

How great to hear there voice of the group again, now more than a month after we parted company. Thanks so much everyone. It was an absolutely pleasure traveling with you all.

And that concludes our Japan Winter Wonderland travelogues for this year. I hope I haven’t bored you going through each tour in so much detail. I really did have a great time running these tours, and in spite of the weather taking away a number of opportunities, I honestly feel that we were presented with many more amazing opportunities, and this turned out to be the most productive season we’ve had for a while, so I hope you’ve enjoyed looking through my images with me.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

Before we finish, I’d like to remind you that we are now taking bookings for the 2018 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours. For details and to book your place, visit the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2018. Our 2017 tours are already sold out, but if you’d like to be put on the wait list, please contact us.

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

Details of the 2018 Tours: https://mbp.ac/ww2018

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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