Following on from the previous post about creating a slideshow using Boinx Software’s FotoMagico, although I was taken out of action for two days following my fourth COVID vaccination, I spent several additional days creating the background music for my slideshow, as I mentioned in that previous post. Slideshow music can be difficult because you don’t want it to be too prominent, but at the same time, it needs to compliment the images and content, so it takes more thought than simply sitting down to make a track just for the sake of it.
I’m not going to go into much detail, as this post is really at this point to point you to the video. Still, as the video starts, you’ll notice some simple Kalimba music, which is an African instrument that I have in one of my many plugins. I then spent some time finding chords that matched the subject matter, slightly sad sounding in places, mainly because of the feeling from the deserted diamond mines, and then I make it a little lighter with some flurries when necessary. We drop back to the Kalimba several times to break up the piano. After the initial Kolmanskop piano accompaniment, I switched to a hybrid traditional piano and electric piano played together. My wife thinks the flurries with the hybrid piano sound a little 70s or 80s, and she’s probably right because I was thinking Blade Runner as some of the notes and feeling of the music started to form.
Here is a screenshot of the final score in Ableton Live before I exported the music to embed into FotoMagico. If you click on the image, you’ll be able to see more detail if you are interested. Note that I designed the dark-teal theme for Ableton, as I don’t like the look of any of the actual themes provided with the software. The only additional thing to mention is that I also added some orchestral strings with brass and horns at various places, again, to add a little variation while changing the way I played some of the chords, hopefully making it a little less monotonous without having to compose and play each bar individually. This is to both save time and because too much variation can also get in the way of the slideshow if it starts to take the viewer’s attention.
I changed the timing a little, so although I’d say this would be around 18 minutes, the final video is 16 minutes and 30 seconds, which is still very long for a slideshow. This essentially represents most of my “keepers” from the trip, as the slideshow is designed to show you how much can be achieved during my 17-day Complete Namibia Tours. If you have time, do try to watch to the end, but I doubt with the number of images, it will be a video you’ll rewatch many times. Either way, though, if I can get my message across, that’s great. I hope you enjoy this. You can see this and over 100 other videos on my Vimeo Channel.
We pick up the trail in this fifth and final part of my Complete Namibia Tour report for 2022 as we made our way into the Etosha National Park on a day that we’d traverse the entire park from West to East, and shortly after entering the park we noticed this Spotted Hyaena having a morning stroll. It was difficult to catch him as he walked quickly through the park behind the trees, but I managed to grab a frame or two when he was in a good clearing. The sun was behind him, so the lighting not great, but the shadows slider in Capture One Pro helped me to bring out a lot of detail in the Hyaena, so I’m pretty happy with this.
A large part of what I teach on my workshops is the importance of keeping your eye on your exposure via the histogram, and this shot shows the importance of that better than most. I almost always expose to the right, which means that I am manually changing my exposure so that the brightest part of the image, represented by the right-most data on the histogram, always falls just before or even just touching the right shoulder of the histogram frame. For many reasons, this will generally give you the best image quality, but in this image, it was key to gaining a well exposed image while giving me enough information in the hyaena to bring out the shadow details.
If I had left it up to the camera, the scene would have been recorded in the middle of the histogram, and the hyaena would have been so dark that the details would not have been recoverable from the shadows. Even as I shot this at my adjusted exposure, the hyaena was almost completely black, in silhouette, but I trusted my process and got a shot I’m happy with.
Shortly after our encounter with the hyaena, we headed to a waterhole where we found some zebra taking a drink, and they had pretty nice reflections, resulting in this image. Zebra are always great subjects, but those dazzling stripes getting doubled up in the reflections make for a striking image, and the sun caught some of their eyes, giving me some lovely catchlights.
The following image is a little bitter-sweet for several reasons. At first, I was really happy to find a leopard out in the open. Until now, I’ve only seen leopards in Namibia obscured by thickets or foliage or for just a few seconds before they took cover again. This leopard was sitting under a tree with what we thought was probably a springbok he’d taken down. The first problem with this, though, was that it was the middle of the day, and he was very far away. That means that even though I could use a 2X extender on my RF 100-500mm lens for a focal length of 1000 millimeters, the shimmering of the air from the heat takes away most of the clarity in the subject. It looks OK-ish when you view the full-frame image, but when you zoom in on the leopard, the image quality just isn’t there.
The second problem you may just be able to make out is that this animal has the wire of a snare wrapped tightly around its upper jaw. You might be able to see that the skin on the snout is pinched downwards between the nose and the eye, and also, the upper lip is pulled up a centimeter or so. Although the leopard was trying to eat, I guess that the snare was so uncomfortable or painful that he was having trouble making a start on his meal. As soon as I returned to Tokyo a few days after this, I sent this photo with GPS coordinates and the name of the nearby waterhole to our travel partner for this tour, and they, in turn, passed this information on to one of the vets that work in the Etosha National Park, so that they could locate, anesthetize and then take the snare off of this beautiful animal. I haven’t heard anything back yet, but hopefully, it won’t take long before we can remove that snare and give this guy a normal life again.
I should add that I was not aware of the snare when I shot this image. I was trying to make the best of the situation, using the tree to augment the landscape and show the leopard in its environment. I only saw the snare later when I zoomed in to check the lack of detail in the leopard.
Many years ago I photographed a Secretary Bird at the Ueno Zoo here in Tokyo and was amazed at how beautiful it was, with its long eyelashes and pristine headdress. I was still working in my old day job and honestly didn’t, at the time, even dream that my efforts as a podcaster and blogger would lead me to become an international tour and workshop leader, so this next photo has a special place in my heart. We came across a Secretary Bird in the wild, strutting through the grasses in the Etosha National Park. At first, it was far away, and the clarity was low due to the mid-day heat haze. This time, our subject continued walking towards us, so I was able to get this beautifully clear shot at 500mm as the bird continued walking, looking for lizards and other small animals, even snakes, to prey upon.
These are magnificent birds, and I feel so humbled that the life I’ve been able to make for myself through the podcast has enabled me to build a working business model that enables me to travel to such wonderful places on what I truly believe are life-changing tours for the guests that are kind enough to travel with me. Not to mention life changing for me too.
A little later in the day, we were in for another treat as we spotted a white rhino heading towards a waterhole. I can’t recall seeing any white rhino wild in the park here, with our sighting usually restricted to the ones at the Ongava Lodge, so I’m hoping this indicates that the poachers are being kept out. The fact that these animals are no longer having their horns removed is also very encouraging and makes for much better photographs.
Again, I love the scene that this rhino is in with the beautiful tall yellow grass that simply could not grow for the few years before the pandemic struck due to the drought that lasted seven years, and ended finally with the rains that Namibia got in December and the start of this year. I used my 1.4X Extender on the 100-500mm lens for this shot, giving me a 700mm focal length. I haven’t called out the settings for all of my shots today, but generally, I am aiming to get a shutter speed of around 1/2000 of a second to freeze the motion should an animal be running around, and that requires an ISO of around 1600 at ƒ/11, or as in this case, ƒ/13 because I wanted slightly more depth of field to show the landscape in focus. Also, note that if you click on images on my website, you can see the shooting data in the light box surrounding the images if you are interested.
I was happy with this next photo of a Lilac-breasted Roller bird in flight, until I saw a shot from one of my guests with the wings spread and a beautiful angle showing the top of the bird. Now I’m not so impressed with my own shot, but it’s great to see my guests get incredible work, and it always helps me to stay on my toes as well.
Again, I’m so impressed with the Canon RF 100-500mm lens, including with Extenders fitted, as it handles really well, and the image quality is out of this world. Being able to get out to 700mm with the 1.4X Extender is amazing, and I’ve gotten used to the fact that you can’t zoom out completely when you have an Extender fitted.
We don’t always need very long focal lengths, though. This beautiful, proud African elephant is pretty much filling the frame at 300mm. If I’m not mistaken, this is the one that shortly after this did a dummy charge at our vehicle as it walked in front of us. He wasn’t comfortable with the distance. He was so close that I’d switched to my iPhone to get some video, which I’ll include in the slideshow that I’m going to put together to showcase the trip after posting this concluding episode of my trip report series.
Next, we have a Journey of Giraffes, also shot relatively wide at only 223mm. I cropped this down to a panorama to emphasize the width of the group. We can tell from the pattern in their fur that these are Angolan Giraffe, and I also heard that the darker colored giraffe are the older animals.
We also saw a lot of scuffles and fighting between the zebra near the waterholes. I’m guessing that this is because the rains have provided more food, and that probably has the female zebra thinking more about having young and that in turn is making the males more likely to fight to find their pecking order within their groups. I returned with lots of shots of the zebra fighting and kicking each other, but this is probably my favorite. However, it is a somewhat brutal attack on the middle zebra, as we can see from the white of his eye as he receives a particularly hard blow from both sides of his neck.
The fiftieth and final image of this five-part series is an attempt at a panning shot. We saw some giraffe that had been frightened by something and started running from the waterhole, so I selected a slow shutter speed of 1/80 of a second and tried to pan with the giraffe to make the background a little blurry. I succeeded to a degree, and feel that probably with this number of animals and the distance to them, this is probably about as much as I can expect to succeed at relatively easily. Next time I think I’ll try around a 1/50 or a 1/40 of a second, as I do for my panning bird shots. Even though the success rate will be lower, if I can pull it off, it will give very beautiful results.
OK, so that’s about it for the images. We traveled back to Windhoek the following day, and before we all flew home, the group was kind enough to record a few comments for us, which I’ll add into the audio at this point.
<< PLEASE LISTEN TO THE AUDIO TO FIND OUT WHAT PEOPLE SAID >>
They were a wonderful group. Such a pleasure to travel with, and listening to them all again there made me feel as though we were still in Namibia four weeks ago, and in many ways, I wish we were. Life goes on here in Tokyo, though. Having thought about this often over the past six months, I’ve taken up archery since returning. I have joined a local club and enjoying it immensely. I don’t know how it will play into my photography, other than the fact that it’s getting me out and is more physical exercise than I expected it to be, but that is great because I’ve already started to lose a few pounds, so hopefully, this is something that I’ll be able to continue.
As I mentioned a few times during this series of trip reports, I will now set about the task of creating a slideshow to showcase the trip and what can be achieved on my tour. I hope to be able to share that with you in another week or so, alongside some tips on using the latest version of Boinx Software’s FotoMagico.
OK, so by the end of the previous episode I’d selected three sets of ten images from just over half of a total 320 images I selected from this year’s amazing Complete Namibia Tour. Today, with slightly under half of my selection left, I was going to try to select just ten more, but after a very picky look through my remaining images, I have 25 that I’d still like to talk about, so I’m going to whittle that down to twenty and do one more episode after this to finalize the series. It was such a productive trip, so this is a nice position to be in, and I hope you continue to enjoy joining me on my travels via the Podcast.
We pick up the trail as we made our first visit to the Himba village, where I found that the girl I’ve been photographing over the years was not there. She’d be 18 years old now, and I was looking forward to meeting her again, and was ultimately hoping to get a photo of her with her first baby at some point, but at least for this visit, it wasn’t to be. We did talk with the people that were there and will try to get her back for our next visit, but only if it isn’t too much trouble. The Himba haven’t been getting so many visits due to the pandemic, so there were a number of things that happened during our two visits, one at the start of this day, and one towards the end.
The first thing that I noticed was that the Himba did not seem to get tired of our presence. Usually, after we’ve been there for a few hours, they set up a shop, with most of the women and children in the village forming a circle, and sell bracelets, bowls, baskets, dolls, and other ornaments. Buying these things is one of a number of ways that we pay them back, but it’s also, in the past, been a sign to us that they are ready for us to leave. On this visit, they didn’t set the store up until I felt that the group and I were running out of things to do, so I asked them if they were going to set up their shop, through our guide of course. My understanding of the Himba language stretches to around five or six words, so I rely on our guide heavily for communication.
The other thing that happened was that we met the elder of the group for the first time when we went back in the evening. We don’t usually see many men, but the elder was sitting on a chair near the entrance to the outer corral and was surrounded by many young to middle-aged men. They asked to see my photos from previous visits, so we spent ten minutes or so looking through my photos of them. It was lovely to see their reactions as members of their group that had moved away appeared on my iPhone screen. I was also interested to find that they knew many of the people from the group that lives near the foot of a mountain near Puros, a few hours by car to the northeast from their village.
We were also thanked by the elder for taking so many provisions for them, and he asked our guide to make a note of what he’d brought along for them, and to spread the word that this is the amount of stuff they’d like when people visit. I was amazed to hear that some people turn up, take photos, and leave without giving them any provisions. An exchange like this has to be mutually beneficial, or it becomes tiresome for the people in the village. And for those that turn up and think that paying $10 for a doll will make up for spending one or two hours there, it’s really not. Let’s help people out a little more than that.
Anyway, to the photos… One of my first shots was this image of four Himba children in the back of a truck. This was only the back of the truck, just sitting in the dust, but it was a nice toy for the kids. I found it ironic that the boy in the center of the frame had a key around his neck, as though he was going to be letting himself in when he got home from school. The irony comes from the fact that none of their huts have doors, let alone a lock with a keyhole, so this was purely an accessory, which I thought was a nice touch.
By the way, if you are new to the Podcast and wondering how to see the images, note that they are embedded in the audio file, and applications like Overcast or the Apple Podcasts app will automatically display the images for you as the audio progresses. There is a page under the Posts menu with the title Viewing Podcast Images that has more information. Note too that you can simply type mbp.ac with a slash then the episode number to jump to the post for each episode, so you can see the gallery for this post at https://mbp.ac/783. If you support us on Patreon for just $3/month or more you can also see the full manuscript, and supporters for $10 per month also get a beautifully laid out eBook of each post, that can be downloaded for reading offline and it contains 4K resolution images.
We took a number of the Himba people inside one of their huts to photograph them and at one time had a mother and child inside, giving me the opportunity to get this next photograph of the child lit by the beautiful light from the hut door. Note that I actually use a few layers to darken down the background to almost completely black and feather in the shadow manually with the brush in Capture One Pro. To illustrate this, I’m including the finished image alongside the original image straight out of the camera and included the Capture One Pro interface so that you can also see some of the settings.
If you listened to the episode I did before leaving for Namibia, you might recall that I was planning to take my 50mm ƒ/1.2 lens along with me for these portraits, but I actually ended up leaving it at home, because my bag had simply started to get too heavy, and I was fine with shooting at ƒ/4 with my 24-105mm lens. It’s also nice to be able to zoom in and out as well, especially with kids, because they run around all over the place, making it difficult to frame them well with a prime lens. You can see that I shot this wide open at ƒ/4, with a focal length of 88mm and a 1/160 second shutter speed, at ISO 4000.
Next up, meet Tjiringa, a young Himba girl who I think may turn into my new project if we can’t get Makihoro back in the next few years. Tjiringa is very animated and can grimace as freely as she can smile, so it’s fun to photograph her, and I like the results. I zoomed all the way into 105mm for this, as she was sitting further away than the child in the previous shot. Although I do like a shot that I have of her from the doorway, I really like the serious, almost stern look on her face in this image, so it became my preferred image to share. So that you can see just the previous image as well, I’ll put both of these in together below.
I did, of course, process the photo of this little girl the same as the photo of the small child, using multiple layers to gradually darken the background, and draw attention to the subject’s face. This also simply removes the background, which I often find somewhat distracting.
As I mentioned earlier, we came back to the Himba village later in the day, to photograph the Himba bringing their goats back into the inner corral, and here is a photograph of them doing just that. In fact, this was one of the times when they were taking the goats back out again, and would then drive them back in for me and my group to photograph them once more. I just found this view, with the four ladies in full traditional dress, to be so fascinating, that I couldn’t help grabbing a few extra frames.
Following that, I got this next image which was probably my favorite of the session, with the sunlight catching the goat-dung dust through the wooden sticks that form the inner corral, and the ladies with their few children walking behind the herd again. There was a very relaxed mood, even when we had them do this a third time to increase our photographic opportunities, and one of the ladies thanked us for coming twice and spending so much time with them. I’m completely humbled by that, and as I have mentioned before, I’m so happy that we are able to have such valuable cultural experiences and exchanges on this tour.
The day after we visited the Himba people, we drove through the morning to arrive at our camp just outside the Etosha National Park, where we’d have lunch, and spend the next two nights. After lunch, we did one of their game drives, which I know to have a pretty good chance of seeing the subject of this next image, the amazing White Rhino. The last time I was here the owners of the lodge had bought a truckload of grass to feed the elephants and rhinos with because the drought had pretty much stripped the park bare. This meant that all of the rhinos were concentrated in a small area with the elephants, and that provided some unique opportunities, but it was so nice to see these magnificent animals simply reaching down for a mouthful of that beautiful golden grass.
We also had a few encounters with their lions, but the line of sight was very poor through the trees, so we only got a few shots as this male lion lifted his head reluctantly for a few seconds, before flopping back down to go back to sleep. The top left corner of this shot was very noisy, with heavily textured grass, catching the sunlight through the trees, and the right top corner was just grey dust, so the entire background was a source of annoyance. Because of that, I used a similar technique to that which I use to darken down the background of the Himba, but this was more difficult as the hair is really difficult to fade into the manufactured shadows. I think I made a relatively good job of it, but feel I’d like to revisit this again when I get more time.
I was also very tempted to convert this to black and white, as I enjoy that aesthetic, but I couldn’t bring myself to throw out these beautiful golden colors from the last minutes of the day, and it also looked too much like the work of my friend Christian Meermann. I’m fine with work looking similar to others, especially that kind of processing, as I’ve been doing similar processing on flowers and other subjects for many years, but in my mind, Christian owns the high contrast black and white lion space, so I decided to stay away for now.
The following day was spent inside the Etosha National Park. Not exactly big game, we spent a few minutes photographing these ground squirrels, which I thought were hilarious with their bot-bellies and that huge belly button. I have some hand-held video of these guys as well that I will include a few seconds in the slideshow I’m going to make soon, so stay tuned for that.
We also saw a black-backed jackal eating a snake, which I shot with my 1.4X Extender fitted to the 100-500mm lens, and still had to crop this to about half of the actual image size, but I’m pretty happy to have this. It’s a young jackal, so he did well to catch this snake. It took him a total of around 20 to 30 seconds to eat the snake, so I’d say he was happy for the meal.
Ten minutes later, we found a black rhino on his way to the waterhole. I know this is common knowledge, but if you’ve never heard how to tell the difference between a black and white rhino, here goes. If you look at the photo of the white rhino that I shared earlier, you’ll see that it has a very wide mouth for grazing, and the word White actually simply came from someone mishearing the work Wide, for the wide-mouthed rhino. The black rhino although markedly smaller, is about the same color, but it has a pointed mouth, using for browsing as opposed to grazing. He was apparently given the name black rhino simply to differentiate it from the wrongly name white rhino. True story.
And, as the sun went down on our second day at the Etosha National Park, we reached our ten images, so we’ll wrap it up there for this episode. We will finalize this series next week, but our final ten images, from our last two days in Etosha.
I have just got back from Namibia and from today for the next three or four weeks will report on what we got up to, illustrated with around 10 images for each episode. This was my first tour in two and a half years, so it felt amazing to be out in the field again, and this tour was made even more special by the five guests that accompanied me on our epic journey around Namibia. I’ve been lucky to travel with many wonderful groups over the years, rarely meeting people that simply don’t mesh, but it does happen, so it was a huge relief to find that this group really was a complete pleasure to spend 17 days with. We’ll hear from the group in the final episode, as we recorded a short message from each of them on our final evening, but for now, let’s jump in and start to walk through the tour.
I actually went to Namibia a day early this year, in case the additional procedures in place due to the pandemic caused any problems. Shortly before I left Japan though, the requirement to get a PCR test within 72 hours of entering Namibia was lifted, which certainly removed a level of stress that helped to get things kicked off more easily. Wearing a mask for the entire journey over was somewhat taxing, especially because the first of my two outbound flights were extended from 12 to 15 hours as we couldn’t fly over Russian airspace. I also confirmed my general dislike for Lufthansa planes. Economy class on these planes has too little leg-room, with my legs having to be pressed against the seat in front of me for the entire flight. I’m just pleased that the flight between Tokyo and Frankfurt was an ANA codeshare, as ANA has much better planes and generally better staff as well.
I did hear at the beginning of the tour that Qatar Airlines have just started a direct flight to Namibia as well, which I’m going to try to book next year to avoid Lufthansa. I really don’t understand why their planes have so little leg room. It’s not as if Germans are generally little people, so maybe there are just trying to force more people into Business Class, which would be a shame, as I generally go by economy class.
Anyway, on my second morning, I went back to the airport in Windhoek to welcome the remaining four of our five guests as they also flew in from Frankfurt. Lufthansa had lost one of the guest’s luggage, which added an extra level of difficulty to the start of the trip. Luckily the guest rolled with it pretty well, and the case did get forwarded to us as we traveled, albeit around five or six days into the tour.
As usual, I timed the first photography day with a new moon, and we got into the Quiver Tree Forest relatively early in the afternoon after our drive down from Windhoek, so we had plenty of time to decide which trees we’d use for our sunset shots. My main goal as I look for a nice group of trees is to find one main tree with a pleasing shape, and a number of smaller or more distant trees that are nicely isolated. I also ensure that the main tree is isolated, without anything else overlapping it anywhere. In this case, that meant I had to lower my tripod to just over one leg section, to prevent that bow hanging down on the left side of the main tree from overlapping with the distant quiver tree below it.
I was happy with the results though, and although I’m not much of a sunset person, I do like this warm glow after the sun has dropped below the horizon when it happens.We went back to our lodge for a lovely dinner shortly after the sunset glow had died down, and then we came back out a few hours later to capture the Milky Way, and the Galactic Core which was to be still low in the sky, allowing us to place the silhouette of some Quiver Trees in from of it, as you can see in this next image.
This was actually the first time I was going to really get to use my Canon RF 15-35mm ƒ/2.8 lens, as well as my Canon EOS R5 in the field, and I was completely blown away all over again by this gear. The RF 100-500mm lens was also really getting its first field use, and I was really happy with that too, as we’ll see later in these trip reports. I used the 500 rule for my shutter speed, so divided 500 by 15, my focal length, which gives 33 seconds, and I rounded it down to 30 seconds. This gives slightly elongated star discs but in my opinion a good balance. My ISO was 1600 and my aperture was set to ƒ/3.2, stopping down just a fraction to ensure that the quiver trees were also sharp. Note too that I generally zoom in to 10X magnification on the electronic finder and manually focus on the stars. Just cranking your lens out to infinity is not always going to give you sharp stars, so when possible, zooming in and manually focussing gives better results.
The following morning we visited the Giant’s Playground before breakfast, and this shot was a hair under a four-minute exposure as the light on the horizon started to pick up. I just went to ƒ/14 for this to ensure that the nearby and distant rocks were sharp. The ISO was 100 and I was using my RF 24-105mm lens for this shot. Note too that I generally like to go to the cloudy White Balance preset for dawn and dusk shots as it makes the colors much richer.
Here’s another shot from the Giant’s Playground, in which you can see what almost looks like a comical Disney character silhouette on the right, and one of the few Quiver Trees that you can also find in the Playground. By this time the sun was almost on the horizon, so my shutter speed was now 1/6 of a second at ISO 100, still with an aperture of ƒ/14.
After breakfast, we drove over to the Atlantic coast to visit the deserted diamond mine at Kolmanskop. One of the houses that has lost its roof and the upstairs floorboards is great for this kind of high-contrast shadow shots, with the light shining through the slats in the ceiling. I’ve generally shot the other room on most of my visits, but there is now a well-formed sand dune in the second front room, which I really enjoyed as well.
I also had to visit what’s probably my second favorite room for this beautifully formed sand dune and lovely pale-blue walls. There seems to be more decay on the walls now though, giving this shot even more character than in previous years. I love that I’m able to watch these locations evolve over time.
As you can see in this next image, some of the building’s ceilings are now caving in, and some buildings are also close to collapsing. Some of the floors have also given way. The Mine Manager and the Accountant’s houses on the top of the hill at Kolmanskop have been cleaned out, almost restored to their former glory. We also heard that there is talk of renovating many more houses and restoring them to their former state, but this would be a grave mistake.
The appeal and beauty of Kolmanskop come almost entirely from the sand and the decaying building. If they are to do anything, it should be to prevent the buildings from becoming any more dangerous, while maintaining their current decayed state. If it becomes simply a museum of what the mine used to look like, they will destroy it completely. I don’t think I’d be the only one to stop visiting if that were to happen.
We spent the following morning in the mine at Elizabeth Bay, which is another diamond mine town, which actually still has an active mine area, so security is very strict when entering and exiting the area. Part of the charm of Elizabeth Bay comes from the fact that they used sea water to make the bricks for the houses, so many of the bricks have decayed away leaving just the mortar that used to hold the bricks together, as you can see in this image.
Elizabeth Bay has fallen more quickly into decay during the three years since my last visit. As you can see in this next image, many of the houses have now almost completely collapsed. In some ways, it’s getting more difficult to shoot, because so many of the houses are now just piles of rubble.
It’s also a rather harrowing place to shoot. I’ve shot what were essentially slave quarters many times over the years, with a line of tiny partitions on either side of a large room in which the workers slept. Now that the outer walls of some of the larger buildings have fallen away, as you see in this final image for today, we now see that there were some of these quarters that had a second row, making them even harder to look at, but I think it’s important to record this, and to this day, the current owners still say that the workers were not slaves, because they were paid. I’m sure that’s true, but they were also often chained, and not allowed to leave. That sounds a lot like a slave to me.
OK, so that’s our ten photos for this first episode. To make up for missing the last three weeks, I intend to release the following episodes in quick succession, so stay tuned if you like this sort of work. Also note that we do have some spaces still on next year’s tours, so check out our tour pages for details.
This year’s Japan Winter Wildlife Tours provided us with a bumper crop of Red-Crowned Crane photos, so despite my sharing six of them already in the previous episode, today we’re going to look at ten more, with a bit of information about each image.
The first thing I noticed as I worked on my selection is that I have become quite partial to the square crop, probably due to the new-found love of medium format with my excursion into film from last autumn. That aesthetic has really grabbed me, and I love the freedom of not having to think about whether it’s portrait or landscape orientation. It just is!
So, three of these images are square format, and two are cropped to 4:5 aspect ratio because I thought that suited the images too. The remaining images are all original ratio, with four of them being landscape on one portrait. For my portrait-oriented images, I generally just slip the camera into portrait mode by rotating it in the tripod ring, or literally by turning the camera when shooting hand-held. Since I started working with the EOS R just over a year ago now, I made a decision not to buy the battery grip, so I have to crank my hand over to reach the shutter button, but with these cameras being so much smaller than their DSLR cousins, that has really not been a problem.
Anyway, here is the first shot, which is from the Akan Crane Center. The first nine images are all from February 21, from two different locations, and the final image is from the following morning. As I mentioned briefly last week, the cranes were relatively cooperative this year and performed for us in openings more than they have been in recent years.
For a while, the increasing number of cranes had made it difficult to get shots like this, without other cranes completely blocking the view, and that of course, is a very good thing. The increasing numbers, I mean. But photographically, it was getting pretty difficult to make uncluttered shots. The warmer weather though has meant more farmland poking through the snow, and that causes the cranes to disperse a little, with more feeding in the surrounding areas, and less of them concentrated in the crane centers.
Another part of this is that they stopped feeding the cranes live fish at this location a few years ago, mostly so as not to attract the sea eagles, which could have brought avian flu, and that would not be good for the cranes. As usual, when something changes, many of the other photographers that bring groups to Hokkaido were complaining, but also, as usual, I instantly saw the positive side to this. The Akan Crane center is now less crowded, on the whole, and the fewer cranes, conversely, brings more photography opportunities.
Let’s Make This Time Well-Spent
As the Corona Virus sweeps around the world, there are of course people losing loved ones, and I in no way want to make small of that, but if you and your loved ones can stay safe at this time, let’s also try to find a bright side. How often do you really get time to spend at home, with your families, with nothing special to do? Usually, we gather at Christmas and other special times of the year, but then the focus in on the event, and everyone rallies around to make that special. Right now, millions of people are being asked to simply stay at home, with no special meals, nothing more than each other, or just yourself, if you live alone.
This to me is a wonderful opportunity to catch up on those things that we always wanted to do, but couldn’t really find the time for. Even just reading those books that you bought but simply put aside, or going through the hordes of photos from trips that we went on, but didn’t get time to look through, because life got in the way. Well, guess what? It isn’t getting in the way anymore, so let’s use this time to do all of those things that we can do when staying at home is the order of the day. These are hard times for many, and really, if you lose a loved one, or lose yourself for that matter, my heart goes out to you, but if you stay safe, and make it through this, we’ll hopefully be looking back on this outbreak in a few years time and actually have some good memories of how we spent our time in self-isolation. Let’s make it count.
Back to the cranes though. I love the ruffled feathers on this crane as the wind he created catches up with him as he touches down on the snow. With them being so graceful we often forget how much energy it takes to get these birds into the air and keep them there, so it’s a great reminder when we see this disruption in the feathers as they land.
As you can see, the light was pretty harsh on this day, with lots of texture in the well-trodden snow, but the detail in the feathers kind of makes up for that. It’s also nice to have a bit of a catch light in the crane’s eye, as we don’t always get that from this angle. We can move around to the right a little more, which I sometimes do if it looks like something is going to happen, but I prefer this location as I believe it generally gives a higher number of opportunities. I’d have been shooting this crane from behind if I was not where I was.
Ito Crane Sanctuary
Later in the day, we moved over to the Ito Crane Sanctuary, where we continued to get some lovely shots of these awesome avians. Depending on where you stand, and the luck of the draw, we sometimes find ourselves with a pretty low angle, shooting up at the birds slightly, which can be nice. As you can see in this image, it gives us a darker background for the birds, which I like to see some of the time. These two were doing a courtship dance on the hill at the sanctuary, with one of them getting slightly more excited than the other.
This was shot at 490 mm, and the crop is just to bring it to a 4:5 ratio, not actually cropping the height at all, so you can tell that we were relatively close. By comparison, the first image that we looked at was shot at 756 mm, using both the internal and an external 1.4X Extender on my 200-400mm lens.
I am coincidentally thinking of selling this lens, now that Canon has announced their upcoming 100-500 mm RF mount lens. As much as I have enjoyed using the 200-400 mm lens, since the updated 100-400mm was released that’s generally all that I am taking with me overseas, so I’m now using the 200-400mm only on these trips, and only really for the cranes.
I imagine that the Extender that is also going to be released for the RF mount will also work well with the 100-500, for a total range of 140 to 700 mm, and that will make it a very versatile combination.
As an aside, I checked the focus distance used for this shot using Raw Digger and found the Focus Distance Upper to be 42.04 m and the Lower was 33.46 m. I checked because the back bird is quite soft, obviously out of the depth of field slightly. This is why I still shoot wildlife at around f/11, but it was still outside of that depth of field.
I went into Raw Digger for these distances, so that I could calculate the actual shooting distance, and see how much actual Depth of Field I have, using my Photographer’s Friend app. I found that I would have been focussed at 37 meters or 120 feet, but Canon’s depth of field is way off. I’d have needed to stop down my aperture to f/115 to get that amount of depth of field at 30 megapixels. Even if I turn off Pixel Peepers mode, and use the archaic 8 x 10 print at arm’s length calculation, I’d have needed f/56. I think I’ll contact a friend at Canon and see if I can get some light shed on how these calculations are being done, and why they are so far off.
I like the shot either way, and was happy to see catchlights again, but my mind wanders like this from time to time, which is probably a good thing, as it helps me to think of cool new features for my app. 🙂
One of the reasons I like the Ito Crane Sanctuary is because it has some very nice trees, in particular the tree that you can see in the background of this next image. Although the tree is not complete, I think it adds a nice additional element to this shot, as a crane flew into the sanctuary. I also like that we have a few flakes of snow in the air. We didn’t get very much snow falling on this trip, but to be able to see the air here is nice.
This is uncropped, and I like how the tree on the far right frames that edge of the image as well, so I’ve left the bird on the left third, which also makes us feel as though he’s leaving the frame. He may have been taking off, but from the pose, I think this one was gliding in because a take-off requires much more frantic flapping.
Here’s another image with the base of that tree, and the beautiful grasses around it, helping to give some context for this crane which has just landed and is arching its back, stretching his muscles to relieve the tension caused by flying. I do this sometimes when I stand up after sitting for a while, but I don’t look even a millionth as graceful as these guys.
I do like to see the animals in their environment like this as well. Again, it’s the warm winter that’s helping those grasses to show through as much as they are. Often times there is so much snow that they get mostly buried. That’s nice too of course, with just the tree sticking out of the deep snow.
The dancing continued, to the point that even whittling down my selects became quite a task, let alone deciding which shots to share here, but these next few are some of my favorites. Although you can’t see the head of the right crane, I really like the way these two birds are weaving around each other as they dance, and I especially like that you can see the pink on the bottom of the feet on that right crane. That’s not something we see often, so was nice to get a shot of here.
This next image is literally one of my favorites from the entire trip. These are the same two cranes, just two frames later, and actually still the same second as the previous image, so this is an extension of the previous pose, but now, to me, they look like two flamenco dancers striking the same pose but in reverse, again, weaving around each other in maybe a tango, rather than flamenco, but a passionate dance all the same.
The last shot from February 21 is this image, as a couple started to move in preparation for their dance. It’s obviously not the optimal dance moment, but I just like the poses, almost like a couple at a family wedding, getting up to dance having had too much to drink, knowing that they’ll regret it in the morning but they’re going to do it anyway. OK, so I may be reading too much into that, but I have a vivid imagination.
This final image for today is from the following morning before we moved on to photograph the Whooper Swans. I was hoping to catch the cranes with their breath highlighted by the in the morning light but unfortunately, it was cloudy. The cranes still have to breathe though, and the dark background at the top of this photograph helps us to see that breath in the chilly Hokkaido morning air.
Shortly after this shot we boarded our big bus and headed north for a couple of hours to Lake Kussharo, where we’d start to photograph the Whooper Swans for a few days. Next week we’ll cover that, and then move on to the Sea Eagles to complete the tour and conclude all three of this year’s Japan Winter Tours.