Complete Namibia Tour 2018 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 621)

Complete Namibia Tour 2018 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 621)

Just back from this year’s Complete Namibia Tour, today we start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk you through our antics as my group and I traveled this majestic land.

I’m going to come right out and say, that I believe this year’s Namibia tour was probably one of my best tours to date, if not these best. I’ve been incredibly fortunate to travel with many wonderful people over the years, and everyone on this group seemed to click with each other, which makes my life as a tour leader very easy, and the photographic opportunities that we were presented with on this trip were incredible too.

Humbling Experience

We start in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, then drove down to a place called Keetmanshoop, for one night, to photograph the Quiver Tree Forest there. On our way, we stopped to eat our packed lunches on the grass in front of a supermarket, and I had a very humbling experience that I’d like to share with you before we start to look at some images.

Namibia has quite a high percentage of unemployed people, and very little by way of benefits to help those without work. As a group, whenever we have food left in our often too large lunch packs, rather than wasting it, we collect it together and give it to people that we meet on the road. We did just this on our first lunch stop, and after our guides had handed one man some food, I found a few other uneaten apples and sandwiches, so I walked over to this man to hand these over too.

As I approached him, I saw that his hands were both already covered in yellow grains from the cornbread that we’d given him. As I reached out to hand him the apples and sandwiches, he opened his mouth, showing me his teeth also covered in yellow grains, and this is usually something that I am not keen on looking at. He gave out almost a scream of delight, and threw his hands out to his sides, then extended them forwards to accept the food.

I have never been so happy to see the food inside a person’s mouth. It was a beautiful sight! But at the same time, incredibly sad and humbling. I could hardly believe that we could make a man so happy simply by giving him a meal, and I was immediately reminded of the hardship that many people face just obtaining the food that they require to simply stay alive. We are so fortunate to live in a world where the next meal is almost a given, and I also feel incredibly fortunate to have been able to witness this humbling experience first-hand as we traveled in Namibia.

We did, of course, continue to collect what we didn’t eat, and I noticed that not only were people that were obviously struggling to get a meal accepting the food but even officials working on some of the remote national park gates etc. would gladly take what we could offer them. Please don’t think that this is coming from some sort of an aloof perch, handing down our scraps. Everyone that we can help on this tour is treated with utmost respect, often with our local guides passing the food discretely to the recipients. This is actually another reason why I felt so fortunate to have been able to have had the experience I just mentioned during our first lunch, as I don’t normally pass the food directly.

Quiver Tree Forest

Anyway, moving on to our first shoot, we checked in at the nearby lodge in the afternoon of day one and made our way to the Quiver Tree Forest. We shot for a couple of hours to give the group a chance to stake out some nice places to shoot the sunset, and here is my shot to show you what it was like (below). I’m not much of a sunset person per se, but when we can get something nice and unique like the quiver trees in the frame, as well as the fiery African sky, it’s hard to resist.

Quiver Tree Fiery Sunset
Quiver Tree Fiery Sunset

I enjoy doing these silhouette images, looking for a spot with a nice main tree, then also trying to get some nice separation between the trees in the background, as well as a clear edge on either side of the frame. I was shooting with my 24-105mm lens at 27mm and struggled quite a bit to get a nice line of trees without too many bushes, like the one you can see below the right-most quiver tree. Still, the sky is lovely and it was an enjoyable shoot. My other settings were f/14, and a 0.2-second exposure with ISO 100.

Moonlit Quiver Trees

Because of availability of some of the key lodges, this year I was not able to align our visit to the Quiver Tree Forest with a new moon, which would have allowed us to shoot the Milky Way, but there was going to be an almost full moon, which I was hoping to use to good effect. Rather than going back to the lodge for dinner then coming back out, I negotiated a late dinner, to give us an extra hour in the forest as the moon rose.

The result was this next photograph, with the moon illuminating the low cloud cover, but the stars also clearly visible shining through the clouds (below). We can also see how the moonlight had lit the base of some of the foreground trees, making them not quite silhouettes, but I like being able to see that extra bit of detail.

Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees

I shot this with my 11-24mm lens at 17 mm. Now, of course, shooting by moonlight, my shutter speed was 25 seconds at f/4, and ISO 1600. At 17mm you can’t really use a longer shutter speed, because the stars start to elongate if you do, and I didn’t want that. This is why I chose to use a high ISO and wide aperture instead of a longer exposure. There is still some nice movement in the clouds though, and I really like being able to see stars in the relatively bright sky. It definitely makes up for not being able to shoot the Milky Way here this year.

The Giant’s Playground

The following morning, we visited the nearby Giant’s Playground before breakfast, to photograph the boulders silhouetted against the pre-dawn sky, as you can see in this photograph (below). I like looking for faces in the rocks, and pretty much did a repeat of one of my favorite photos from this location, with the boulders on the left looking a little like the Moai Statues, and there is a large chinned man bottom right, and a portly somewhat Shrek-like face in the bottom center of the frame.

Dawn Faces at Giant's Playground
Dawn Faces at Giant’s Playground

I shot a few frames as the sun got closer to the horizon, and this was the one that had the most intense color. I really like the perfectly clean gradation between the orange and the blue here. My shutter speed was 1.3 seconds again at f/14, at ISO 100 and a focal length of 85mm.

Kolmanskop

After breakfast back at the lodge, we checked out and drove through the morning to Kolmanskop, the deserted diamond mine town, where the desert is gradually reclaiming the houses. This first image (below) is one of my favorite scenes, and one of my first shots, as I showed some of the participants where this particular house was. This small indoor sand-dune has been there for five years now, since my first visit in 2013. This house is actually faring better than some, which are starting to succumb to the desert more quickly than others.

Indoor Sand-Dune
Indoor Sand-Dune

I really love the color contrast in this room, with the pastel blue being almost exactly the opposite color to the orange sand on a color wheel, and that’s something that we are almost programmed to find appealing. This was a two-second exposure at ISO 100, a focal length of 28mm and you guessed it, an aperture of f/14. That’s my go-to aperture when there is no reason to change it. It gives me enough depth of field at this focal length to get everything in the frame sharp.

Playing with Color

I continued playing with the color in these beautiful old houses, working with a similar palette this time, with the orangey-brown walls similar to the color of the sand. There was also a hint of blue and teal coming from the left and right rooms at the end of this sand-filled corridor. Quite often, to shoot these images, I simply get far enough into the room to get past the doors to the sides near the entrance, just enough to give me a clear shot of what I consider to be a much cleaner scene, with fewer distracting elements.

Brown-Walled Sandy Corridor
Brown-Walled Sandy Corridor

I also have a vertical orientation shot of this image with an old light-shade hanging down from the ceiling included, and I think I prefer that shot, but the blog formatting works better with landscape orientation images, so that’s what I’m sharing at this time. I shot this at 24mm, f/14 for 0.8 seconds at ISO 100. I pretty much always stick with ISO 100 unless there is a reason to change it as well. I’m not afraid to increase the ISO of course, routinely shooting up to ISO 6400, but with no real wind requiring me to speed it up, ISO 100 it was.

Collapsed Ceilings

Something that I saw much more of this year was houses where the ceiling has literally just collapsed into the downstairs rooms, as we can see in this photo (below). I imagine this is mostly caused by the weight of the sand that accumulates on the floor upstairs, especially as the roofs succumb to the elements allowing more sand in. Here once again though, I enjoyed the contrast between the blue walls and orange sand.

Blue Wall and Collapsed Ceiling
Blue Wall and Collapsed Ceiling

My shutter speed for this image was 4 seconds at ISO 100, so we can tell that the afternoon light was getting a little darker by the point. Again, my aperture was f/14 and my focal length for this shot was 30 mm.

Exterior Shot!

Next, I want to share one of the few photos I’ve made of the exterior of the buildings at Kolmanskop. I don’t do this often, as I generally prefer the colors of the interior, as well as the spectacle of having sand-filled rooms, but this particular scene caught my eye, as we wandered from building to building. As you can see, the sand also builds up against the outside walls sometimes, and I thought this straggly tree made for a nice element along with the window and sand (below).

Straggly Tree and Window
Straggly Tree and Window

I like cropping in tight like this, but here I was also forced in tight because I didn’t want to include the frame of the door just to the right of this scene. I’m not a big fan of the grasses creeping into the frame on the bottom right edge, but I might spend a few minutes to clean that up at some point. It doesn’t bother me enough to spend that time today as I try to get caught up on work. My settings were a 1/13 of a second exposure at f/14 and a focal length of 62mm. I changed my ISO to 400 for this shot, as there was a bit of a breeze that may have caused camera-shake a longer exposure.

Another Collapsed Ceiling

As I mentioned, I noticed more collapsed ceilings this year than before, and here is another example of this (below). The roof seems pretty much intact here though, so I’m not sure what caused this ceiling to cave in. In this photo, I do like the contrast between the still intact wash basin and sand and the collapsed roof. The fact that the walls are still pretty nicely decorated adds additional elements of contrast.

Collapsed Ceiling
Collapsed Ceiling

Back in the shelter of the building again, away from the breeze, I had returned my ISO to 100 and shutter speed back to 4 seconds, at f/14, and now shooting with my 11-24mm lens again, at 14mm.

The Ice Factory

Towards the end of the day, as I made my way back towards the entrance of Kolmanskop to our cars, I stopped at another favorite room, the relatively well-kept Ice Factory (below). I had earlier thought this was just a workshop of sorts, but there is a sign on the door that says Eisfabrik, which I believe means an ice factory or to manufacture ice.

Eisfabrik (Ice Factory)
Eisfabrik (Ice Factory)

With the sun almost on the horizon on the other side of this building, there was virtually no sunlight making its way into this room by the time I photographed it, so my shutter speed was 20 seconds at f/14, ISO 100 and again using my 11-24mm lens, this time at 12mm. As I would have been standing in the precious light coming through the doorway, I moved down the steps and out of the way during my exposure. There’s no point in blocking my own light.

We’re going to end this first episode with this, my last photo from day two, as the warm light from the sun illuminated a side room at what I seem to recall being the old bakery, and here I was again using the one-point perspective composition that I talked about last year. I love the drama and tension this kind of composition adds to a photograph (below).

Bakery Side-Room
Bakery Side-Room

Again, I had to move to the side to avoid blocking my own light and leaving a shadow on the right wall in this image. We can also see the marks on the sand in the foreground of this shot from a recent relatively rare heavy rain that they had, a few weeks before we arrived. This seems to have dripped through the ceiling of this building. My settings here were a 25-second shutter speed at ISO 100, f/14 and my lens wide open at 11 mm.

Processing Finished

We’ll leave it there for today, as we’ve reached the usual 10 photos at which I like to limit my posts. I’m quite pleased to have been able to make time each evening to pretty much catch up on my selection process and most of the processing that I wanted to do on my images before finishing the trip. As we’ll see, we end this trip with four nights at the Etosha National Park shooting wildlife, and that presents a bigger problem due to the number of images we shoot compared to landscape work, but I was still pretty much able to complete my preliminary selections before I started my flight back to Tokyo.

After getting a few hours sleep on my way from Johannesburg to Dubai, then a few more hours at the start of my flight from Dubai to Tokyo, I was able to work on my images and selection process for a further six hours on the plane, and that enabled me to just relax a little over the weekend, and spend some quality time with my wife. It was really nice to come into my studio this morning with all of this work done and just get straight into selecting the images that I’ve talked about today.

I haven’t selected the images for the remaining episodes of this travelogue yet, so I don’t yet know how many parts this will take, but I have a massive 363 images in my final selection, so I think we’re looking at around four, perhaps a five-part series to cover this trip, and we’ll continue to part two next week.

Complete Namibia Tour 2019

If you might like to join us on this tour from June 2 to 18, 2019, please check out the tour page at mbp.ac/namibia2019. It really has matured into an amazing tour, and I’d love to travel with you in this beautiful land.

Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Moonlit Quiver Trees
Start your day in the Giant's Playground
Start your day in the
Giant's Playground
In one of the most conservation aware countries in the world
...in one of the world's most
conservation-aware countries
Amazing Cultural Experiences
Savor life-changing
Cultural Experiences
Mind-Boggling Landscapes
...and
Mind-Boggling
Landscapes
Take a walk on the Wild Side
Let's take a
walk on the
Wild Side
Your Adventure Starts Here
The Complete Namibia Tour & Workshop
June 2 – 18, 2019
Your Adventure Starts Here!
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Show Notes

Visit the 2019 Complete Nambia Tour page here: https://mbp.ac/namibia2019

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 605)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 605)

Continuing our travelogue series from my recent Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure tour and workshop, today we pick up the trail on the morning of day three, when we took a walk around the back of our hotel to photograph the blue waterfall there.

This is another of those shots that I pretty much take every year, and haven’t really been able to find a variation that I like more than this composition, but I’m including it to show you what we got up to. The falls are literally blue, although I’ve helped it along with a few tweaks of the sliders in Capture One Pro here. The color comes from the minerals in the water, and the haziness that you can see in this image comes from the warm water that flows into the cold water from nearby hot springs.

Blue Falls

Blue Falls

I actually prefer some drone footage that I shot of the springs after the group had returned for breakfast, but I’ll have to include that in a video at some point. Unfortunately, my Mavic Pro broke a few days after this, so the footage I got was relatively limited. I shot this photograph at f/11 for a four-second exposure at ISO 100, with a focal length of 234mm.

After breakfast, we set off for a 90 minute or so drive to the ski slopes on Mount Asahi. This is something we are able to do if my strategy for shooting the Biei hills and trees in the snow is successful, so I was happy to be able to visit Mount Asahi. As you can see in this next image (below) we had plenty of snow, and I got my 2018 version of one of my favorite scenes.

Mount Asahi Trees

Mount Asahi Trees

I positioned myself to hide the huge metal cable car pillar behind one of the trees to the left, and I cloned out the wires in Capture One Pro. It takes a bit longer to do this in Capture One, but I like the benefit of being able to keep my photograph in raw format, rather than round-tripping to Photoshop and ended up with a large PSD file. Not only are the raw files smaller, I get to benefit from future processing engine updates in Capture One Pro. I shot this at f/14 for a 1/13 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 28mm.

This next image is from a little further up the ski slope (below). I’ve looked at this tree every year, and seem to recall photographing it on my first visit in 2008 on my very first Hokkaido Tour, but I’ve never been able to make anything I like of it, until now. The way the snow was sticking to the tree, and the contrast of the white and dark form seemed somehow more poetic than it’s been to date.

Jazz Dancer

Jazz Dancer

So I could include the entire tree as well as to frame the background without any distractions, I broke out my 11-24mm lens and shot this at 13mm. This, of course, causes quite a lot of distortion in the distant trees, but I’m not too worried about that. I know a lot of people will try to straighten these up, but it doesn’t bother me enough to do so. My other settings for this shot were an aperture of f/14, ISO 160 for a 1/20 of a second exposure.

After visiting Mount Asahi, we stopped at a spot at the base of the mountain and spent some time photographing the trees there. I got some shots that I like of twigs sticking out of the snow, that I’m building quite a collection of. These are nice images, to me at least, but I’m going to skip them for today so that we can keep these series down to just one more episode.

The following morning, we checked out of our hotel in Biei and started our morning drive over to the north-western coast of Hokkaido, where, after a sushi lunch, we had our first shoot at a nice spot with some tetrapods in the sea. I’m going to skip that photo too, to save time, and move on to our second and last shoot of the day, which was at the Torii gate in the sea 30 minutes north of our hotel for the next two nights.

As you can see in this next image (below) as the light dropped at the end of the day, we were able to get some nice shots with the sea water washing around the base of the Shinto gate. For a shot like this, I like to use between half a second and a full second, to leave some form and texture in the water, but also capture its movement. For this shot, I was at 0.8 seconds and used a cable release rather than a 2-second timer, so that I could time my exposure perfectly for the breaking waves and water washing over the concrete base of the Torii.

Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate

Konpira Shrine Shinto Gate

This first afternoon’s shoot was like our insurance visit, as we’d have another full day in the area to revisit, but as you can see from this image, the grey sky indicates a low-pressure weather front. We came back here the following morning, and although the tide was supposed to be higher, the water was way back, and if we wanted, we could have walked out to the gate.

Wintry Stairs

Wintry Stairs

One member of the group provided the answer, which is that the sea level was low because of atmospheric pressure. On a stormy day with low pressure, the sea is able to rise up, but the following day, with a clear blue sky, and therefore high pressure, the sea was being pushed down, despite the tide being higher. We looked back through our records and found that two years ago, we arrived at high tide to find the sea very low, and we also recorded that it was a clear day then too.

It makes a lot of sense, but I was somewhat surprised by the amount the sea is actually pushed down by the high atmospheric pressure. In addition to my 0.8-second exposure, my other settings for this shot were f/14, ISO 100 and a focal length of 55mm.

There was a lot of snow on the eastern side of Hokkaido during this trip, and I had to play human snow plow to forge a way through the snow to get to the Torii gate.

Overnight we had another sprinkling of snow, which in total made a staircase that runs up to the observatory on top of the hill behind the gate look quite special, as you can see in this photograph (right).

The sky was quite bright for this shot, but I exposed to ensure that it didn’t over-expose and then brought the white of the snow back in contrast to the black stairs in Capture One Pro, using the Levels and a Luma Curve.

I’m quite happy with the results and love how much snow has settled on the steps. I don’t think I’d like to try to climb up there, although I don’t know how much more difficult it would have been than my snow plow impression from the previous day.

My settings were f/14 for a 1/40 of a second at ISO 100 and a focal length of 70mm.

As the Torii gate was not worth shooting without the sea washing around its base, we moved on earlier than planned to another location that I like to photograph, where there are some tetrapods half buried in the sand on the beach, as you can see in this next image (below). With it being clear, if I recall, I used a six-stop Neutral Density filter to get a shutter speed of 1.6 seconds to capture the movement of the water as it flowed around the front of the tetrapods into the foreground.

Tetrapod Flow

Tetrapod Flow

Tetrapods with Snow

Tetrapods with Snow

This only happens every few minutes, so again, I was using my cable release to time my shots. I was also conscious of waiting for a wave to break behind the tetrapods, to add an extra element of interest to the scene. I succeeded in getting the timing right on a number of images and have about six left in my selection still. I think this is my favorite, but I have to live with my images for a little while longer before I can whittle that down to my final selection. My other settings were f/16 at ISO 100 with a 60mm focal length.

As the weather looked like it was getting a little cloudier, with some heavy clouds out at sea, towards the end of the day we went back to the Shinto Torii gate to see if the water level had risen at all, but it was still pretty low.

While we were there though, I took the opportunity to make some long exposure photographs of a line of tetrapods in the sea, as you can see in this image (right).

I think I used the six-stop ND again for a four-minute exposure as the light dropped at the end of the day. The result, of course, is very smooth silky sea water and a bit of movement in the clouds. 

I’m doing all of these black and white conversions in Capture One Pro, because I love the tones that I’m able to create in the images, and as I mentioned earlier, it’s great to be able to keep my images in their original raw format. 

I also dropped a graduated adjustment layer across the sky in Capture One Pro to darken that down, and there’s a second adjustment layer along the rocks at the bottom edge, to darken them down a little too,  to add weight and provide a nice anchor for the image.

The following morning we went back to the Torii gate to try our luck one last time, but the sea was still too far out, and really not looking great, so it turned out that the best shots from this year were from our insurance shoot two days earlier. It was a little rushed, but I do like the images from that shoot, so I’m pleased we went. For my participants, of course, I’d have loved to provide a second attempt with high sea water, but although we can control most expects of the tour, we can’t do anything about the weather, unfortunately.

We continued on to our next location, along the way stopping at the spot where there are some practice golf-ball like wave breakers in the sea, but the snow here got the better of me. It just wasn’t possible to forge a way through, so we gave up on that shoot, and continued on to the boat graveyard, one of my favorite spots in Hokkaido.

Boat Graveyard at Sunset

Boat Graveyard at Sunset

The sky wasn’t great on this first visit, but the light was still very nice, especially when the sun broke through the relatively heavy clouds a few times, as you can see in this photo (above). I’ve cloned out a few bits of grass that were in the bottom left corner, and again darkened the sky down a bit in Capture One Pro. I shot this at f/14 with 1/80 of a second exposure at ISO 100 and a focal length of 28mm. Unfortunately, the compression on the blog has caused a sharp step in the gradation around the light of the sun, which doesn’t happen on the original, but that can’t be helped.

The following morning we went back to the boat graveyard, this time luckily we were presented with some sea mist or “kearashi” as they say in Japanese, which you might be able to make out along the horizon in this image (below). Again, shot from the side just a little bit behind the boats, I found this angle about the best to show the detail in the sky and the sea mist, as well as showing us lots of great texture in the foreground snow.

Boat Graveyard with Sea Mist "Kearashi"

Boat Graveyard with Sea Mist “Kearashi”

We generally spend a couple of hours at this location, just working the boats, because I love to wait for a great sky like this. Also the great thing about visiting in the morning is that the sunlight is coming from just to the left of the frame in this shot, so it really helps to create shadows in the troughs that form in the snow drifts behind the boats. 

For some of the shots from this year I removed the fox footprints from the right side, when they didn’t really add anything to the image, but for this shot, I feel as though they add an additional element of story which I quite like, so I left them in on this one. My settings were f/14 for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100 and a focal length of 70mm.

Before we move on, I want to share one last shot of the boat graveyard, because it’s an angle I’ve not shot before. Shortly before we were due to leave, a number of us climbed up onto the bank beside the boats, and photographed directly towards where the sun was in the sky, but at this point covered by clouds, giving us some beautiful rays above the horizon (below).

Boat Graveyard and Sun Beams

Boat Graveyard and Sun Beams

The sea mist is still just about visible, and when viewed large you can actually see the distant wind farm on the horizon above the boats. This is one of the shots in which I think removing the fox prints helps the shot, allowing us to see just the smooth mound of snow in the foreground and the quality of the light and texture as it darkens towards the corners of the frame. My settings were the same as the previous image but at 29mm now.

After spending a few hours with the boats, we visited the location where we have permission to photograph the fish drying frames that you can see in this next image (below). I’m not totally happy with the line of snow at the base of this image, which is from where the road in front of the frames has been plowed, although this is part of life in Hokkaido during their harsh winter. We had a reasonably nice sky though, which I am happy with, and roughly the same amount of fish drying on each rack which adds a bit of symmetry. 

Fish Drying Frames

Fish Drying Frames

My settings for this image were f/14 for a 1/40 of a second, ISO 100 with a focal length of 76mm. Again, you can tell how low the ambient light is because I was down at 1/40 of a second in the middle of the day. I didn’t do a long exposure here, because I didn’t want to hog the spot, but also because for this particular image I think I prefer the texture in the sky.

After lunch, we spent a few hours at the port at Cape Noshappu near Wakkanai, the norther-most city of Japan. I have some fishing boat shots that I like, but not really any better than previous years. As the sun neared the horizon though, I noticed the possibility of lining it up with the top of the lighthouse, so I quickly made my way across the harbor to a place where I might be able to photograph this.

Noshappu Lighhouse Sunset

Noshappu Lighthouse Sunset

As you can see in this final image for today (above) the sun broke quite strongly through the cloud at just the right time for me to align it with the chamber at the top of the lighthouse where they usually shine the light from, and that along with the rays of the sun in the sky made for quite a dynamic photograph. Being Hokkaido, in the winter, I did try this in black and white as well, but the color really adds so much to this shot, that I decided to leave it in color.

I have brightened the foreground quite a bit, so that we can see the snow on the quay wall and also see the sea a little. Without that it was almost a complete silhouette across the bottom third of the image. My settings were f/14 with ISO 400 for a shutter speed of 1/250 of a second. The wind was really quite strong at this point, and I’d even taken the hood off of my 100-400mm lens to stop it from acting as a sail and catching the wind. My focal length was 158mm.

If I don’t drop a few more as I prepare, I currently have 12 more images to talk about in the final episode of this travelogue series. I have been really struggling to get this recorded and prepare an additional episode before I leave for my first Japan winter wildlife tour in a few days, so next week I will probably interrupt the series and share something that I did on Capture One Pro for the Phase One team recently, and then release the final part of this series as soon as I get back from my second visit to Hokkaido for this season.

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020

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

HLPA 2020


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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.


Dramatic Sunsets and Visualization (Podcast 19)

Dramatic Sunsets and Visualization (Podcast 19)

Welcome to episode 19. Today I’m going to talk about sunsets. Well, not just sunsets, but dramatic sunsets. When the sky starts to turn orange then red as the sun goes down, it can make an amazing spectacle, and your emotions will run riot and you might not think much about what you are shooting. A common mistake, not just with sunsets, but with any kind of photography, is getting so carried away with what you are seeing you don’t think about how you shoot it. You expect that no matter how you compose the image, the emotions will carry through to the viewer of the image at a later time. However this is rarely the case. The viewer has not been through the experiences that you have to get to the place where you made the exposure. They don’t feel the temperature of the atmosphere around you, the fatigue from climbing the mountain to get to your vantage point for example, the exhilaration of the wind or the excitement of others around you when things start to go right. Without these and many other factors that come into play, the viewer is relying on your image alone to incite an emotion.

In this episode I’ll introduce some of my sunset shots, including my first successful sunset that I still have hanging on my living room wall today, which was shot in 1993. I’ll also show you another shot from the top of a ferry, from October 2003, and three shots from yesterday (Jan 9th 2006), that have really prompted me to talk about Sunsets today. As usual, as these are real-world examples of how to make this kind of photo, I’ll also talk about how I went about getting these shots, and what makes them work for me.

I usually try to progress in chronological order when introducing my images, but today, I’m going to work back, from present day to my earliest shot from 1993. There’s no particular reason for this, other than the sun is further past the horizon as the shots progress. It just seems more natural to talk about them in this order.

Monday the 9th of January 2006 was a national holiday in Japan, so I’d got the day off from my day job. I’d had a pretty crappy weekend, having problems with an upgrade to the forum software at my Web site, and I’d spent two very nice days inside, in front of my computer, and was feeling pretty down. The weather on Monday was not as good as the previous two days, as there were lots of clouds in the sky, so I was also annoyed at having spent the best days in front of the computer. However, I’m a firm believer that fair weather photographers limit themselves to only a small amount of the possible photographic opportunities that nature has to offer, so I started to think how I can capitalize on the broken cloud. Sunset’s are in my experience best when there is a certain amount of cloud around to both add interest, and to reflect the warm light. The thing is, you never know for sure if a sunset will be orange and red, or the sun will just go down uneventfully, either in full view or behind cloud. Anyway, I recalled a spot that I visited some five years ago, and started thinking that if conditions were good, it would make a great spot for a sunset. In October 2001 I’d actually hiked to this spot from another mountain. It was a pretty grueling day, with lots of ups and downs along mountain paths.

Most mountains in Japan are pretty densely wooded, so you usually can’t see anything either until you get to the very top of a main peak, which usually has a number of picnic areas and sometimes little shacks that server snacks and drinks, and server as a place to get warm in the winter months. This point, the peak of Mount Jinba or Jinbasan, is very much like this. There are some four or five shacks, and lots of man-made platforms to sit and eat and rest. One of the main reasons for this is because on a clear day you get an excellent view of Mount Fuji.

On the day I visited in 2001, after reaching this peak, I descended via a few hundred log steps to a car park. It takes only about ten minutes, though when using public transport as I was that day, you then have quite a walk to the nearest town and the closest bus stop. I remember thinking though that if I had a car I could park up right there and probably get to the top in just 15 minutes or so. And this is exactly what I did yesterday. I must admit, it was a bit of a lung bursting climb. Pretty much just step after step, with little flat ground, but as I thought, after about 15 minutes, maybe 20, I was standing on the top of Mount Jinba.

Mount Fuji was not visible, and I was starting to think that maybe I would be out of luck, but the haze in the mountains meant that as the surrounding mountains got further away, they became lighter in shade until they we no longer visible. As the sun set if the sky turned orange it would make a nice shot, so maybe all was not lost.

Roof Reflections

Roof Reflections

Take a look at the first shot from this day, which is number 825, and the first of three that we’ll take a look at from this vantage point. This shows this effect well, as the mountains fade into the distance. It was shot at F11 at 1/100 of a second, with my 100-400mm F4.5-5.6 L lens at 115mm. So, why did I use this lens? Well, there are two reasons. Firstly, if I had gone with a wide angle or even a standard lens of say 50mm, I would not have gotten close enough into the scene to show anything interesting. Also, telephoto lenses compact the perspective, making objects seemed stack-up against each other. The result is the mountains as they get less and less visible and defined seem all stacked up on top of each other. Also, and you will not be able to appreciate this very much on the smaller image that I have on the Web or in iTunes, in the foot of the valley in the foreground, the sunlight is reflecting off the roofs of the houses. This helps to give the shot some focus. This, with the stacked up mountains adds greatly to the drama of the image, but this is still more of a Landscape shot than a dramatic sunset, but the orange clouds help us to know that the end of the day is near.

Now, before the sky started to turn orange, I had spoken with a guy working at one of the shacks on the top of the mountain, the only one operating on this day, and he’d commented that is was a shame that we couldn’t see Mount Fuji today, and seemed pretty certain that it would not be visible at all. After I’d mentioned how beautiful I found this misty stacking effect of the mountains though, he told me roughly where the sun would be going down, so that all would not be lost.

Drama through a Letterbox

Drama through a Letterbox

Well, I’d decided to hang around for a little while in the hope that the sky would turn orange and red, and that was starting to pay off in the last shot. Now, let’s take a look at the next shot, which is shot number 827. You can see from this that the heavy cloud in the top of the frame had parted, allowing the sun to be almost visible through the haze, but more importantly, Mount Fuji had, against the odds, showed itself through broken clouds. Again there is the stacking effect of the surrounding mountains, but with the cloud, the hazy sun, and the icon of Japan in the frame, this makes for a very dramatic shot. I’ve actually put this into my Landscapes album on my Web site and not the Sunsets album, as this to me is much more than just another sunset. Again, this might be one of those images that can only truly be appreciated when viewed in a large print, to allow one to pore over the details.

This too was shot with my 100-400mm lens at 135mm, F8 this time for 1/200 of a second. Oh, by the way, both of these shots and the next one were shot ISO 100.

Before moving on to the next image, I’d like to briefly talk about how much equipment I take with me when shooting. I know that many people try to think ahead to what they will need and take only the bear minimum to save energy, especially when climbing or extensive walking is involved. This is important, but if you are going to go somewhere to make photographs, getting the shot is also important. I’ve been in parks photographing small birds with a long lens and heard comments from people nearby like, I wish I’d bough my long lens, or I wish I’d bought my extender. Don’t wish for these things. The only person that can get your equipment to the shoot is you. I do take far too much equipment with me when I leave the house, I know. My backpack for a regular day out ways about 14kg or 30lbs, as I take just about all my lenses, just in case I need them. And granted, I often take them home in the evening having not even taken them out of my bag. But I would rather struggle a little with a heavier bag than miss the shot. Please don’t misunderstand me. If I was doing the original hike that got me to this peak across multiple mountains, I’ve have traveled more lightly. Had I not, I would not only have gotten much more tired, I might have even endangered myself. I made not have made the hike. But when possible, take as much of your kit as you think you might need, because taking it home unused is much less stressful than being somewhere and needing it, but it’s sitting at home.

Anyway, I am bringing this up because many people would leave the big heavy 100-400mm lens at home if they were going to have to climb a few hundred stairs with in on their back. Believe me, taking the right gear is what is going to separate you from the amateurs.

Red Fuji

Red Fuji

Next, let’s take a look at shot number 829, the final shot from this vantage point on top of Mount Jinba. This shot was taken again with the 100-400mm lens, this time at 310mm, at F11 for 1/30 of a second. I’ve filled the screen with the iconic Mount Fuji, and really wanted to illustrate my point about the stacking effective with telephoto lenses. With the increased focal length this image was made at, you’ll see now that the mountains in the foreground are now severely stacked together, making for quite a dramatic statement about this mountain. You can probably tell that I have a lot of strong feelings for Mount Fuji, which is perhaps swaying my judgment of shots that include it too. I would like to think though that I am doing this amazing volcano justice in my work.

Sado Island Sunset

Sado Island Sunset

So, moving on, the next shot, which is number 190, is another one of my favourite sunsets. This was shot from the deck of a ferry, heading towards the island of Sado, which can be seen in the bottom of the shot. With so much of the sky aflame with these fingers of cloud radiating out from the island, this is one sunset for which a wide angle lens was useful. I shot this at 17mm on my 10D, which means an actual focal length of approximately 27mm, at F6.3 for a 50th of a second, ISO 100. This shot for me has a lot going for it, with the island in silhouette and the sky reflecting in the calm sea.

I’m including this, not just because it’s one of my favourite sunsets, but also to give you a tip, that many of the best sunsets often occur within the 10 to 20 minutes or so after the sun has dropped below the horizon. I’d been shooting this sunset as it evolved over the space of 30 minutes or so, and was thinking that it wouldn’t get any better and that I’d got my shot, and I actually started going back inside to my friends, who I was probably annoying by spending all my time photographing as usual, when the sky burst into colour like this. So I’ve learned from experience that once the sun’s disk has disappeared from view, don’t pack away your gear and start to head home. Give it another 10 to 20 minutes. You never know what will happen.

Ghost Tree

Ghost Tree

Finally, here is one of the first shots I uploaded to my Web site. It is number 20, and as I said in the introduction for today’s episode, I still have a print of this shot hanging on my living room wall. On the day that I made this image I was sitting at home back in 1993 when for some reason, and I can’t quite remember why now, almost 13 years on, but I felt that there was going to be a nice sunset this day. So I jumped into my car and drove to this point as fast as I could. It is a place called Shirafu Pass, that winds its way through the mountains between Fukushima City and the Ura-Bandai area. This was about a 30 to 40 minute drive from the apartment in which I lived at that time. As I go closer and closer the sky started to fill with colour and I recall thinking that it would all be over by the time I got to this spot. I did get there just as the sun dropped below the horizon, and once again, as you can see from this shot, during the time after the sun had disappeared, the sky contained a lot of colour.

For this shot though, the sky, although a beautiful colour, contained no real drama. It was here that the reason for my returning to this spot came into play. I’d noticed this dead tree at the side of the road when passing this point previously, and thought to myself how beautiful this tree would look in a sunset shot, and how much drama it would add.

So here is one more very big take-away for you from today’s episode before we finish; In addition to amazing photography and photographic philosophies, Ansel Adam’s left many wonderful quotes. One of my favourites and one of the most useful pieces of advice I continue to give myself is this. “In my mind’s eye, I visualize how a particular sight and feeling will appear on a print. If it excites me, there is a good chance it will make a good photograph. It is an intuitive sense, an ability that comes from a lot of practice.”

The ability to visualize the end product, be it a print, or what you view on your computer screen, will help you greatly in your photography. When I’m out and about I’m constantly looking for subjects for photos. Things that excite me often end up getting captured, as Ansel advises. In addition to this, when you find a great subject, don’t just envisage it in the conditions under which you find it. Think about what that place would look like at a different time of day or a different time of year. Mid-day has much harsher light than early morning and around day break as in this photo. If you turn up very early in the morning, there might be layers of mist to add to the mood or maybe also dew on the ground to reflect early morning sunlight. Think of what it would look like if it was raining, or snowing. What would it look like in the moon light? Limiting yourself to the scene as you find it could limit your creativity. And we don’t want that to happen.

Beep/Click

So I guess that’s about it for this week. I hope you enjoyed this episode, and I hope it will help you in the never ending quest to become an even better photographer. If it does, why not spread the word about the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast. I’m sure many of you do this anyway, but recently there’s been a lot of talk in the forum about what you, the listener, can give me in return for my knowledge and experience as a photographer, and the time I put into creating doing this show each week. How about mailing as many people as you can think of and telling them about this Podcast. Email them a link to the Podcast feed or to the Podcast Page. How about mailing them a link to the top page and just ask them to come along and check out my work. If you have any professional contacts that use commercial photos, send them a link to my site. I’d very much appreciate it. After all, the more successful I become as a photographer, the more I can help you to do the same.


Show Notes
The Music in the first 28 Podcasts is copyright of William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).



Getting in Close in Landscape Shots (Podcast 8)

Getting in Close in Landscape Shots (Podcast 8)

Although I love a wide sweeping landscape, it is often very effective to get in close, and just cut out a small area of the scene.

Firstly, I just want to say a big thank you to Robert Rodriguez Jr. for his mail in support of my views on not giving away your images from Episode 7. Rob’s mail reads:

Just wanted to commend you on the excellent podcast concerning copyright and the business aspect of photography. As a professional musician and amateur photographer myself, I couldn’t agree with you more on the importance of holding firm to ones beliefs about what your work is worth, especially when it is your livelihood. I think those who may take offense are those who have not invested their entire lives in pursuit of their creative ambitions. Keep up the good work, looking forward to more Podcasts.

Rob also points us to an interesting link on Photographer Paul Butzi’s Web site about luck in photography. Take a look for yourself if you’re interested, on http://www.butzi.net/articles/luck.htm [no longer live]

Thanks for your mail and support Rob! So, moving on to today’s main topic…

682_Hagoromonotaki_9198I love to make wide, sweeping landscape shots, and enjoy looking at those of others. But we can also make, in fact maybe even more often make more interesting, effective and beautiful shots by getting in close, and just cutting out a small area of scene. When faced with a beautiful vista, the human eye has an amazing propensity to zoom in on certain areas, many areas of the scene in an instant. Due to this, even though we may also have lots of memories of certain areas, we tend to record the whole scene in memory. The areas we zoom in on, initially subconsciously, are often those that capture our interest. It is up to the photography to realize where those areas are and record them to film or digital memory, not just our mental memory.

When photographing animals I often try to get a close up of their eyes, as I find them enchanting and beautiful, be it a bird or mammal, but insects too. In the same way, when looking at a landscape, in addition to getting the obvious shot of the whole scene, the sweeping landscape, I try to find areas of the scene that would be interesting if isolated in the frame.

This might also be appropriate if you don’t have optimal weather or light conditions for the vista shot. It will also set your shots apart from what your average photographer might.

First let’s look at shot number 682 of the beautiful Hagoromo Falls in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan. If you are listening on an iPod Photo you will be able to see this first photo. If you are listening on iTunes, click the thumbnail in the bottom left of the window and you’ll be able to see the photo much larger. To view the photo using the number, go to my Web site at martinbaileyphotography.com and enter 682 in the small box under the Podcasts section on the top page, or jump to my Podcast page and find Episode 8 in the list, then click the first thumbnail.

You’ll see the falls in all their glory, with the two falls at the top flowing down to make the larger, single waterfall at the bottom. Now this shot in itself is nice, but the weather wasn’t great, so there’s a large patch of white sky, that really detracts from the shot if anything. So, having made this documentary style shot at 20mm with a Canon EOS 20D, making an effective focal length of 32mm, and allowing you to see the entire waterfall, I then switched from vertical composition to horizontal, and recomposed the shot to include just the top two falls, zooming in a little to 53mm. This is an effective focal length of 85mm due to the crop factor. The next photo, 683, is the result.

683_Hagoromonotaki_9210Now, as there is currently no software available for Windows to make an Enhanced Podcasts, you will only see the first shot if you are listening on an iPod. If you are viewing in iTunes though you can click the little arrow above the thumbnail and open the next photo to see just the two top falls in the tighter crop. Also note that from version 6 of iTunes you can open multiple image windows simultaneously, so you can open both the first photo and this one together to compare them. If you are looking on my web site, the thumbnails will open new windows anyway to allow you to do this.

Anyway, once you can see the shot, I hope you’ll agree that the second shot here, although not allowing you to see the overall splendor of the falls, does allow you to inspect much more closely the foliage of the trees and see more detail in the flowing water and rock face etc. I’ve also cropped out that white uninteresting sky, allowing you to concentrate on an interesting part of the Hagoromo falls. I particularly like the detail in the trees in the foreground. I’ve printed this out on A3+ paper and looking even through a loupe the detail is just amazing. Of course I was using a tripod, as it was quite overcast. I closed the aperture down to F11 to get a deep depth-of-field, and allow me to get a shutter speed of 1/3 of a second at ISO 100, which is necessary to give the water a slight flowing effect. I took some slightly slower to see the effect on the water, but they became a little bit overdone. I find the effect at 1/3 of a second just right. I was also checking the histogram to ensure that none of the water became over exposed and blown out. +1/3 of exposure compensation started to blow this out, so the camera meter was doing a perfect job, which is not surprising as the center of the shot is a neutral rock face and I was using the 20D’s center weighted metering mode.

So, hoping that you agree that cropping out the center of this shot, and showing you the part of the scene that I found most interesting was a success, let’s move on to another example. Take a look first at photo number 546, which is a mediocre sunset shot, including the steam from the Radford Power Station’s cooling towers. This was made during a visit to my brother’s house in the UK in December 2004.

546_Power_Station_Sunset_3593I found the mix of man’s distructive power and nature’s beauty interesting, but then take a look at the next shot, number 545. This was made a few minutes earlier a few steps to the right from where I made the last shot. This shot was made at 190mm, which is just over 300mm effective focal length on the 20D, compared to 22mm or 35mm with the crop factor. Both shots have interest, but again, I hope you agree that the tighter crop, picking out a certain area of interest makes for a more effective, dynamic and pleasing image.

545_Attenborough_Nature_Reserve_Sunset_3579

Finally, one last image from the same spot, made about ten minutes later just as the sun hits the horizon, which is number 547.

547_Pylon_Sunset_3629

Again, a tight crop, but what I wanted to briefly mention here is that as a predominantly nature photographer, I wondered for just a little while as to whether or not to include this big ugly electrical pylon in the shot. As I peered through the lens at 400mm or 640mm on the 20D, considering my options, I found this composition, with the sun’s large disk next to the pylon, with the duck on the lake helping us to return to nature. Again this helps to display the stark contrast between nature and man’s ugly structures. Also it reiterates my point from Episode 3 about “Seeing Shots”.


Show Notes

Music by William Cushman © 2005, used with kind permission.


Audio

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

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).