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

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

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

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

Souya Harbor Boats
Souya Harbor Boats

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

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

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

Sawaki Fishing Port Tetrapods
Sawaki Fishing Port Tetrapods

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

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

Sawaki Fishing Port
Sawaki Fishing Port

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

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

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

Winter Estuary
Winter Estuary

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

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

Winter Barn
Winter Barn

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

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

Contrasting Trees
Contrasting Trees

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

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

Winter Wonderland
Winter Wonderland

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Frosty Grasses
Frosty Grasses

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

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

Saroma Lake Tree
Saroma Lake Tree

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020

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

HLPA 2020

Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 604)

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure 2018 Travelogue #1 (Podcast 604)

Just back from the 2018 Hokkaido Winter Landscape Adventure tour and workshop, today I’m going to start a travelogue series to walk you through our antics as we pretty much circumnavigated the beautiful northern island of Japan.

Having met the group over dinner on the Sunday night of January 7, we gathered bright and early the following morning to board our flight to Hokkaido, where we’d spend our first three days in the Biei area. This is a part of Hokkaido that I’ve been traveling to for 15 years now, and I absolutely love this area for minimalist Winter photography.

Our first stop was to photograph a tree that I quite conceitedly called Martin’s tree. Many of the trees in the Biei area have names, often because of a commercial in which they featured, or just based on their appearance, like the Parent and Child trees not far from my tree, but my tree doesn’t have a name, so I gave it mine.

As you can see in the first photograph of this travelogue series (below) it’s a birch tree, situated on top of a hill, surrounded by small trees and bushes that are gradually overtaking the line of the hill. 

Martin's Tree in Biei

Martin’s Tree in Biei

It was nice and cloudy for much of this first day, although it didn’t snow. My tree generally looks fine without falling snow, but many of the other locations we visit in Biei depend on falling snow, so I always get a bit nervous on the first few days hoping to get the right weather.

I shot this first image at 85mm with my 24-105mm f/4 lens, with the aperture set to f/14, and ISO at 100, for a 1/50 of a second shutter speed. Back in my favorite snowy environment, I shot in Manual mode as usual, and just adjusted my exposure until the white’s were all the way over to the right side of the histogram, to ensure that the white snow was white and not too gray, as the camera would have it if left to its own devices.

As the day progressed, the sky cleared and was almost completely blue at some points, which made me even more nervous. We continued shooting and got some shots that I am happy with, although I knew it would be much more special with falling snow, so I kept my fingers crossed. Here’s another shot from the first day, when we stopped at a place I like, where the plow lines in the soil often show through the snow. This is one spot that works when there is some sunlight, as it helps to accentuate the troughs made by the plow lines.

Tree on Ploughed Hill

Tree on Ploughed Hill

Some members of this year’s group asked me why I often place the tree in the top of the frame, with lots of snow instead of more sky, and the answer is really quite simple. If I’m looking up at a tree on a hill, I want it to look like it’s on a hill in my photograph. If you place the horizon closer to the bottom of the frame, it’s harder to tell that the tree is on a hill. Of course, if there is a great sky, I’ll consider including more of it, but as you’ll see, a snow-covered hill is generally more important to me than a relatively uninteresting sky. I shot this image at f/14 for a 1/30 of a second at ISO 100, with a focal length of 56mm.

The last image from the first day that I want to share is this very simple photograph of a line of deer footprints in the snow (below). I find the simplicity of this shot quite appealing, although I’m sure it’s not for everyone. I also like the fact that you can’t easily see that the prints actually make their way into the frame from the right edge until you study the image a little more closely.

Deer Footprints

Deer Footprints

Again, there’s lots of hill here, but this time because the snow contains the main subject, and we do need to see that these prints are going uphill as well, so this composition makes sense to me. I shot this at f/16 for a 1/4 of a second at ISO 100 and a focal length of 100mm. This was actually the wide end of my 100-400mm lens, which I use for landscape quite a lot on this tour.

The following morning, on day two of the tour, I got my wish as we started the day with a beautiful shoot in the snow around the Takushinkan Gallery. This is pretty much my standard photo (below) of the line of trees behind the gallery, which I can’t resist shooting each year.  

Takushinkan Trees

Takushinkan Trees

Three Birch Trees in Snow

Three Birch Trees in Snow

The snow completely cleans this scene up. The top of the hill behind the trees disappears, as do the distant mountains and trees, which you can just about see to the right of the right-most tree in this image. I shot this at f/14 at 22mm with my 11-24mm lens for a 1/13 of a second at ISO 100.

Right next to the line of trees are three silver birch trees that stand proud looking somewhat austere in their wintery surroundings, as we can see in this next image (right).

Here the line of the top of the hill behind the trees is still visible, with the somewhat brighter sky above it to add a bit of contrast. There were some human footprints in the snow in front of these trees that I cloned out in Capture One Pro, but I left the animal footprints behind the trees, as I often don’t mind seeing these if they are non-human.

You can probably make out the streaks of snow above the trees in this shot as well, showing that the snow was actually still falling quite heavily.

I think the reason that the top of the hill is more visible in this shot is because I’m closer to the trees. The more distance I put between me and the trees, as with the previous image, the more the snow is able to white-out the background.

This image was shot at f/14 for 1/15 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 31mm.

The next image has become a standard that I simply have to shoot when the snow starts to fall in Biei, but again, I can’t resist this shot (below). 

Pencil Drawing Trees

Pencil Drawing Trees

This image works for me because it looks like a pencil drawing, with the streaks of snow caused by the 1/15 of a second shutter speed at f/16. I was at ISO 100, but as the snow gets heavy, the light is this low without using an ND filter or anything else to reduce the light. I also really like the way the brow of the hill to the left of the trees is only visible for a little way, then completely merges into the sky from around the middle of the photograph. 

This is actually the same hill that had the deer footprints in that we looked in an earlier photograph, but the snow had completely covered them by the time we got back there on our second day.

In this next image too, I really like the beautiful subtle line in the snow and a slightly brighter patch of snow behind the tree adding an accent (below). I zoomed in on the tree a little more for this shot, and that also helps us to see the snow streaking across the black bark of the tree trunks.

Tree on Snow Covered Hill

Tree on Snow Covered Hill

I also like the bamboo grass and few additional stick poking out of the snow to the right of the tree in this shot. These things just add a touch more interest to otherwise very minimalist work. I shot this at f/14 for a 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 371mm.

The next photo is slightly different to my other work from this area, in that it’s not quite a beautiful tree, rather a scrappy mess of twigs, but I was really attracted to this form (below). Initially, it kind of looked like a cartoon character, with that top right twig almost like the head of a raggedy bird.

Jiminy Cricket Climbing a Twig

Jiminy Cricket Climbing a Twig

Then, after getting home and looking at this photo on a larger screen, initially my 56-inch 4K television, my wife and I noticed what looks like a little man, perhaps even a Jiminy Cricket type of character climbing the top right twig that I was originally seeing as a bird’s head and beak. You might not be able to see this in the web version, but I thought it was a fun little “Easter egg” to find in the details of the photo. This was shot at f/16 for a 1/25 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 158mm.

Trying unsuccessfully to keep the number of shots from Biei to a minimum, this next image (below) is the same tree from the second shot we looked at today, but again, the troughs from the plow lines were pretty much hidden on this second day. Another reason that I love it when it snows is because the sky is generally either the same tone or darker than the snow, so the snow is allowed to stay white, as it feels most natural. When the sky is brighter the snow gets greyer, which I don’t really like.

Tree with Grasses

Tree with Grasses

Other things that I love about this scene are the subtle shadow under the tree, and the grasses poking their way out of the deep snow. These add a lovely accent and really help to complete the photograph, in my opinion. I shot this at f/14, for a 1/50 of a second at ISO 100, and a focal length of 76mm.

I couldn’t resist the light hitting the four trees in this next image (below) as we drove through Biei, so we stopped at a place that we don’t normally stop at, and I’m pleased we did. It’s nice to add new location possibilities to a trip, and I’m sure we’ll stop here again.

Five Trees

Five Trees

Some of the scenes we shoot are somewhat deceiving as you can’t see what’s outside the frame. Here, to the left of this scene, there is actually a thicker line of trees and a fence, and if I recall a bit of a ditch running down towards the foreground. Although that will work for some people, personally I prefer the simplicity of this composition, shot at 214mm with an aperture of f/11 a 1/320 of a second exposure. I had increased the ISO to 400 for that faster shutter speed, as it was blowing a gale and there actually a bit of rain in the wind that hit the front element of my lens very very quickly if my exposures were too long.

Just as we’d all gotten back on the bus after shooting the previous scene, the cloud started to break, revealing an amazing stormy cloud sky, so we filed back off the bus and spent another fifteen minutes or so photograph the new scene, as you can see here (below).

Five Trees Five Shadows

Five Trees Five Shadows

With the sky being so bright in places, the trees were forced into almost silhouette for this shot, but I love the strongly defined shadows that they cast. I’m a huge fan of the previous type of image with much more subtle tones, but this is a nice addition to my Hokkaido Winter Landscape portfolio in my opinion. Because I had exposed for the sky, I actually had to brighten up the foreground snow quite a bit with an Adjustment layer in Capture One Pro.

Because the scene was so much brighter, I dropped my ISO back down to 100 for this shot, as that still gave me a shutter speed of 1/400 at f/14, and my focal length was slightly wider at 170mm.

OK, so that was actually eleven images for this episode, one more than usual, but I wanted to show the comparison between the last two images. We’ll pick up the trail in part two with a visit to the blue falls near our hotel on the morning of day three, before we head around to Mount Asahi for some beautiful scenes from the ski slopes, and then we’ll head over to the coast to continue our journey around the island of Hokkaido.

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

Hokkaido Winter Landscape Photography Adventure 2020: 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.


Shigakougen Blue-Green Landscape Travelogue (Podcast 481)

Shigakougen Blue-Green Landscape Travelogue (Podcast 481)

I recently visited the Shigakougen or Shiga Highlands in Nagano here in Japan, as part of my trip to test the Canon EOS 5Ds R, and one of my main goals was to capture the blue-green summer foliage, so today we’re going to walk through three separate shoots on June 22, 23 and 24, 2015.

On June 22, I’d spent the afternoon with the Snow Monkeys on my first summer visit, and we looked at photos from the monkeys in the last episode. The monkey park closes at 5pm in the summer, which gave me another couple of hours of daylight, so I headed up the mountain to the Shigakougen area, as I was hoping to get some landscape photos of some of the many ponds in the area.

As you arrive in the highland plateau after driving up the mountain, the first pond is called Ichinuma, which literally means the first pond or number one pond. I parked my car in the car park down the road, and walked around to Ichinuma, and as I arrived the air was clear, and I recall thinking that I’d love it if we got a little bit of mist to add atmosphere to the images. I’d made maybe three exposures of the lush greenery on the other side of the pond, and then all of a sudden, a mist rolled in across the surface of the water and some low cloud came over from the back of the trees, as we see in this image (below). I couldn’t believe my luck, with this mist coming in this way, perfectly on cue!

Ichinuma in the Mist (Panorama #2)

Ichinuma in the Mist (Panorama #2)

Although the 50 megapixels of the 5Ds R is plenty to give me some great large prints, even if I crop down to this kind of panorama, I had been using the 100-400mm Mark II lens, and picking out just small sections of the trees, as we’ll see in some other images after this. I had just rotated the camera in the lenses tripod ring, to capture some vertical shots to stitch together for a panorama, so I went ahead with the series of frames as the mist rolled in.

The thing that you have to be careful with when shooting in conditions like this is if you aren’t relatively quick getting your images, the mist and cloud can move so far that it makes it difficult for Photoshop to stitch the images together because the content of the adjacent frames can be too different. I was shooting in Live View, as I often do for landscape work, and there’s a bit of a lag after making your exposure before the image comes back, and you can make the next exposure, but as soon as it came back, I panned the camera around by around half a frame, to give Photoshop plenty of overlap, and then quickly shot my next frame.

The final image that we see here (above) is from five vertical images, and is a whopping 140 megapixels. I can print this image at 24 x 43 inches at 432 ppi, without any resizing, which will give absolutely amazing detail in the final print. These images were shot at 0.6 sec, f/10, ISO 100 at 112mm.

Ichinuma Trees

Ichinuma Trees

As quickly as it rolled in, just five minutes after the last image, the mist was gone, as we can see here (right).

I was feeling really fortunate to have arrived when I did and get that beautiful mist and low cloud, but with it gone, I concentrated again on capturing the lush greens.

The line of bright yellow-green color along the waterline is from ferns, giving way to the green leaves on the azalea bushes around the base of the trees. When you zoom in on this image, you can actually see spots of orange red as the azalea were flowering, another reason that I decided to visit this area at this time.

Although I like the wide aspect of the panorama images we’ll look at today, and also the landscape orientation images, here I went for a vertical orientation to emphasize the vertical tree trunks and their reflection in the water.

Note that I also composed this so that none of the tree trunks are cut off along the side edges of the image. It can be difficult with woods to find a good place to frame your shot, but it really helps with images like this if you can find a good clean edge like this.

Note that I had also zoomed in to 148mm so as not to include any of the sky, now that the low cloud was gone. The sky was just white and lacked texture, so would have just been a distraction. This was shot at 0.8 sec, f/10 at ISO 100.

This next image (below) is another stitched panorama, from six vertical frames this time. Again, this is the shot that I had just set my camera up for when the mist rolled in, so with the missed gone, I shot another series of images and stitched them together in Photoshop. Again, my goal here now was to capture the lush greens, with that flash of brighter green from the ferns punctuating the line between the real and the reflected world.

Ichinuma Panorama #3

Ichinuma Panorama #3

The resulting image is this time 160 megapixels, and can be printed at 24 x 44 inches at 453 ppi, which again is going to give incredible detail. Of course, I could print much larger, but I’m basing this on my own large format printer’s maximum width of 24 inches. If I had a 44 inch large format printer, I could print this at 44 x 82 inches still at 244 ppi, and that would be amazing too, and this all made possible by the 5Ds R with its 50 megapixel sensor and a bit of stitching. Of course with a lower resolution camera I could have done multi-row stitches, but I never felt it worth going to that much trouble.

I spent a total of 15 minutes at Ichinuma on the 22nd, before heading back down the mountain to a business hotel for the night. The next morning I got up bright and early and went back to the monkey park until lunch time, then after grabbing something to eat at the convenience store, I drove back up to the highlands. I had booked a hotel just across the road from Ichinuma on the 23, as I wanted to get back to the pond at dawn the following day.

For now, I was going to make the most of the afternoon driving around the various spots I know in the area. I drove past them all initially, because the sun was still high, and went up to the highest point at Shibu Pass (Shibutouge), which is just inside the border on Gunma Prefecture, next to Nagano Prefecture, where I made this photograph (below).

Shibutouge (Shibu Pass)

Shibutouge (Shibu Pass)

This was shot with the new 11-24mm f/4 L lens from Canon, which I reviewed in episode 465. I opened the lens right out to 11mm for this shot, at f/11, ISO 100 for 1/100 sec, and processed it in Silver Efex Pro 2 for this beautiful contrasty black and white. The scene at this time of year is nothing really special, so I was really happy to see this somewhat dramatic sky, that lasted really just a few minutes shortly after I arrived, and then a bank of cloud came over from behind me and it poured with rain for a while, so I was lucky here with my timing again.

Shibutuoge, which is about 20 to 30 minutes past the main pond area, was the furthest I went, and having done a u-turn, I stopped at the location where I shot this next image of Yokote Mountain, again with some nice stormy skies (below). This was again shot with the 11-24mm at 15mm this time, for 1/60 sec at f/14, ISO 100.

Yokoteyama Stormy Skies

Yokoteyama Stormy Skies

At this location I’d actually done a few series of bracket shots, thinking that I might have to do some HDRs because the sky was so bright, and I was still at this point thinking that the 5Ds R probably had slightly less dynamic range compared to my 5D Mark III. As I suspected might be the case though, I got home and found that I simply hated all of the HDR images that I was able to create from my bracketed images. I also found that my usual claim, that I can usually get everything I need from a single frame, even when parts of it seem very dark, continued to be the case with the 5Ds R.

It can be scary when you see the base image in the camera, but I now know that I can trust my instincts again, even with the 5Ds R. Here (below) is the original photo of the previous image, straight out of the camera, so that you can see what I mean. I just expose to the right, so that the brightest part of the scene is on the far right side of the histogram, and there is enough detail in the shadows to bring it all back out with some slider adjustments in Lightroom. You’d think that there was no information in the black foreground here, but as we see from the previous image, that’s not the case.

Yokoteyama Stormy Skies (Original)

Yokoteyama Stormy Skies (Original)

I was also pleasantly surprised to see that the 5Ds R actually has slightly better dynamic range than the 5D Mark III according to DxO Mark’s tests. They have the 5D Mark III at 11.7 EV and the 5Ds R at 12.4 EV dynamic range, which is surprising, but great to hear.

I continued to drive back down the mountains towards Ichinuma and stopped at another pond on the way, called Kidoike. It was raining, so I decided to go with the flow, and include the droplets of rain in the surface of the pond, as you can see if you look closely in this photo (below).

Kidoike Reflection with Rain

Kidoike Reflection with Rain

Again here, I’m watching the edges of the frame, trying to find the best place to cut off the scene, so as not to have dissected tree trunks. I’d have preferred a smooth clear reflection, but I think the soft summer rain adds a different kind of mood to this image, which I don’t dislike too much either. This was a 0.5 sec exposure, at f/14, ISO 100 at 105mm. I headed back to my hotel for the night after this final visit to the Kidoike.

On the morning of June 24, I got up at 4am, for a dawn shoot. The sun was set to rise at 4:32am I think it was, so this would give me just enough time to throw on some clothes, grab my camera and go back across to Ichinuma. Because I’d gotten some shots with mist on the surface of the water two days before this, I actually considered going back to Kidoike first, because it had been raining the previous day, and I wanted that clear reflection. I decided to stick with my original plan though, as I really wanted to capture a different mood at Ichinuma.

I wanted to capture the foliage in the dawn light which I figured would give it the blue-green look that I associate with Japanese summer foliage, and I was lucky enough to get that, back at Ichinuma, as planned (below). As I’ve mentioned in the past, there is a very blurry line between the colors blue and green in Japanese culture. Ao means blue, and midori means green, but the Japanese will often also refer to green, as “ao” which is blue, but they really green. Confusing, I know, but that’s how it is.

Ichinuma with Dawn Mist

Ichinuma with Dawn Mist

This image was shot at 0.3 sec, f/16, ISO 200 at 100mm. I actually really wish I could somehow get a white horse on that shore in this photo. There is a Japanese artist named Kaii Higashiyama (1909-1999), who created a wonderful series of paintings depicting blue-green scenes very much like this photograph, but he painted in a majestic white horse. They are truly beautiful prints.  The best example I can find online to show you is on the cover of a children’s book called “The White Horse” here.

I spent maybe 15 minutes at Ichinuma, as I was confident I’d gotten my shots, and I wanted to get back up to Kidoike while the sun was still behind the mountains. Once direct sunlight hit these ponds the mist would be gone, and the blue-green would be gone too. As I drove up towards Kidoike, a valley filled with morning mist came into view, so I had to stop the car and walk back up to where I made this photo (below).

Birch Trees in Mist (Shigakougen)

Birch Trees in Mist (Shigakougen)

I seem to be really attracted to birch trees. I think they’re perhaps my favorite tree. I just love the contrast that their white trunks provides, as in the other images we’ve been looking at today too. This was actually quite challenging, as the valley has ski lifts and telegraph wires and other structures strewn all over the place. I shot something a little wider than this too, but there was a large pole to the left, and wires running all over the top, and I don’t have the patience on the computer to mess around removing them. This image still captures the mood of the scene though.

I love being out at dawn when all of this is happening. It’s just a shame that Japan doesn’t adjust the clocks in the summer time. The sun rises around 4:30 and sets just after 7pm in summer time. We could put the clocks forward by two hours and actually be able to utilize the light evenings, but the fear is that the salary men would have an even harder time dragging themselves out of the office if it was still light outside.

There is still talk of doing this, but I wish they’d hurry up. It would open up many photographic opportunities in both the mornings and the evenings. The reality is that to get to any of these places from Tokyo, you pretty much have to drive through the night and sleep in the car for a while, or stay in a hotel, which is what I generally end up doing these days.

Let’s look at the last image of this series, from back at Kidoike, shortly before the sun hit the top of the trees (below). This is another stitched panorama, from around six frames. I used the new panorama stitching feature in Lightroom 6 to create this one. It’s actually really good. It is quick and saves the resulting file as a DNG so you still get all of the benefits of a raw file.

Kidoike Panorama

Kidoike Panorama

The only problem is that you can’t easily fill in areas where there is background showing. In this image there was a slither of white in the top left, that I was not able to crop out, or I would have gotten too close to the top of some of the trees, so I ended up going into Photoshop anyway, to content aware fill that slither of white. Again, I’m longing for a while horse here. Maybe some day I’ll make enough money to put on a production and actually make that happen. 🙂

The exposure for this one is 1/5 sec, f/11, ISO 100 at 100mm. We can tell that the light was coming up as the sun came over the mountains, because the shutter speed was much faster at this point. Shortly after this, the sun hit the lake, the mist disappeared, and the contrast got up so I packed my stuff into the car, and started to drive back to Tokyo.

I hope the very similar theme in most of these images wasn’t too boring for you. I had a definite goal with these images, which affected the composition and time of the images. I’m very happy with the results, and can’t wait to actually start printing some of these. Some of them are already available as fine art prints if there are any collectors among you, and believe me, these are going to look stunning! They may well be some of the first 5Ds R fine art prints to hit the market too, which is pretty cool.

 


Show Notes

Music by Martin Bailey


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Determination, Persistence and Resilience (Podcast 59)

Determination, Persistence and Resilience (Podcast 59)

In episode 58 we visited Ichinuma, a pond in a highland plain called Shigakougen, which was the first colour of this Autumn for me here in Japan. I mentioned that I would like to go back to the same place a week later, although I wasn’t sure it would be possible. Well, I went back, last weekend which was the 14th and 15th of October, and today we’re going to take a look at some more shots from just a few hours each of these two days. I’m also going to talk about the need to be determined, persistent, and quite often resilient, as things don’t always go our way.

Also, before we move on to the main topic, I’d like to make a quick apology for not getting an episode out last week. I’ve been very busy recently with other commitments, and we’re continuing to have problems with the Web site, so I’ve had to spend most of what little spare time I could find, troubleshooting the issues and working with the technical support. I have now also rented a new server with a different company to the one I have the martinbaileyphotography Web site and the members’ galleries Web site server with, and I’m trying to move the audio files to this second server for download, but I’m having trouble with the settings on that server too, and things still are going as smoothly as I’d like. Anyway, without boring you with too many technical details, I am working hard to improve the situation, so please do stay subscribed, even if it takes a little time to get the newest episodes, from both a release schedule and download availability perspective.

So the weather forecast was for a cloudy start to Saturday, and then a clear sunny Sunday. So on Friday night, I talked the missus into coming with me, and I booked a hotel for Saturday night, so that I could get to the place that I wanted to shoot, looking down the mountain side from a pass called Shibutouge. The Sun was due to rise at 5:44, I think it was, and at this time of year I was going to have to get there probably an hour before that, believe it or not, to get a place to set up my tripod amongst the other photographers, each trying to make their own version of the scene. That means I need to get parked up by 4:44AM, and to do that after driving from Tokyo, I’d have had to leave my apartment shortly after midnight and drive through the night. Or drive through the evening, and sleep in the car before getting up for the shoot. Either would work for me, but I wanted to take my other ‘alf and take it easy a little bit this time, as I’d driven through the night the previous week.

Anyway, I still got up at 6:30AM on Saturday, to start the four hour drive before the traffic around Tokyo got too heavy, and would quite possibly add an extra hour or two to the journey. We loaded the car up and were on the road shortly after 7AM. I’ve found that getting out of Tokyo after 7:30AM can cost quite a lot of extra time, especially if there’s an accident or something. So basically this meant that we arrived in the area around noon, and had some time to talk a look around, and shoot a few shots before sundown, and do a little reconnaissance of the area I’d shoot from at dawn the next day.

Let’s take a look at one of the shots I uploaded from the first day, which is image number 1139. Last week when we looked at shots from this area, I said that the autumn leaves would probably be even better this weekend, but actually I was surprised to see, as we can see here, the leaves had already fallen from most of the trees in the area. This did allow me to get a nice graphic image of the white skeletons of the trees without the leaves, and there is just enough colour to keep the shot lively, but this shot now has an almost wintry feel to it, or at least very late autumn. You can see how I composed this with almost the same amount of reflection as the actual trees, with the edge of the pond just above center. I don’t like to position anything in the centre of the frame, especially horizons, which I guess this could be likened to, but sometimes it works, as I think it does here. I also composed this image with the edge of the lake that is getting closer to us coming round on our right as we view the scene, and the large evergreen tree on the left also, helping to stop our eyes from running out of the frame to the right or left. I used a tripod for all the shots we’ll look at today, and this particular image was made at F11 for 1/8th of a second. I was in Aperture Priority mode, and exposure compensating to the tune of minus two thirds of a stop. I pretty much always use center weighted metering though, and this was probably necessary because the centre of the scene is darker than the surrounding area. I’d say this scene would have been better metered, and probably need no exposure compensation at all had I switched to evaluative metering, but I’m just so used to using centre weighted, I rarely use any other, apart from spot metering on occasion. I also did quite a bit of cleaning up of the surface of the pond here. I usually don’t do much retouching of images, but I found there were a number of white specks on the surface of the water that looked more like dust on a scanned image than parts of the actual scene, so I cleaned them up.

Late Autumnal Scene

Late Autumnal Scene

Now, I did go on further up the mountain to and shot a fair number of other photos in the next hour or so, but the trees had almost lost their colour in many places and the sun was getting so low in the sky by this point that many of the areas of the mountains were in shadow, so I really wasn’t turning out anything that I would consider up to my current standards. I went to the point that I was hoping to shoot from the following day, and noticed that the small lay-by or pull-off in which you can park around 10 cars was already full, and a number of cars were parked on the road either side. I entered the point into the memory of my car navigation system so that I could easily see how long it would take me to get back there the following morning, and made my way back to the hotel. It was going to take around 15 minutes, so I figured I’d better get up at 4AM and leave the hotel by 4:30AM to get to the same point an hour before sunrise to ensure I got a spot to not only park my car, but to set up my tripod. That’s exactly what I did, but I couldn’t believe my eyes when I turned up at 4:45AM on the Sunday morning to find that not only were the same 10 cars or so that I’d seen here 12 hours before were still there, there must have been fifty or so cars parked either side of the lay-by, and people were turning up along with us. There was a large car park around 10 minutes walk from the best spot to shoot from, but I figured if I was to have any chance of finding a spot to stand my tripod here, I was going to have to be quick in getting out there, so I went past the line of cars once, turned around, and parked it at the other end of the line that I’d just driven past. Still a five minute work back to the lay-by, I really couldn’t believe my eyes at the number of people here waiting to shoot the scenes we’ll look at shortly. I wanted to photograph them just to show you guys, but I wanted to get setup and decided not to. By the time the sun rose and I could see everyone, there must have been at least a thousand people, maybe more, setup with their tripods all along the road for maybe a few hundred meters. They were standing in multiple rows, some in front of the barrier at the side of the road, on a small ledge that has been calved out over the years. There was another line behind the main line, shooting through the gaps, and a large number of people just wandering around not being able to find anywhere to set up.

I myself had found a gap, maybe two feet wide, and stuck my tripod with two legs running parallel to the barrier at the side of the road, well actually, at the back of the lay-by, and the legs were intertwined, with the two tripods of the people either side of me. It was tight, but there really was no choice but to get in here while the slot was free. I’m sure if I had not jumped in here, one hour before sunrise, I would have been one of the poor guys that came all this way out here only to wander around at the back, trying to find a gap to poke my lens through as the light changed.

By the way, this lay-by is the highest point of all the roads in Japan at 2,172 metres or 7,125 feet. Until the sun came up, it was really cold for this time of year, at 2 degrees Celsius or almost 36 degrees Fahrenheit. It wasn’t raining, but I put on my rain proof trousers and jacket for the wind proofing they provide and a little extra protection from the cold. Still, it was a little uncomfortable, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this cold. I’ll definitely bring warmer clothes if I come back here in future years. Let’s take a look at shot number 1140 which was shot around 30 minutes before sunrise. This was shot at F5.6 with a shutter speed of 5 seconds. We can see the faint line of the mountains in the valley below, and just a couple of specs of light from the town down there too, but I shot this for that break in the cloud with the swirling lines and the small cloud that was flowing through the middle of the break. I’m not sure if this is a real winner or not, but I quite like the mood of the image and the abstract feel of the clouds, that are accentuated by the slight movement introduced by the five second exposure.

Break in the Sky

Break in the Sky

I shot the next image, number 1143, at 5:57. The sun was now above the horizon having risen almost 15 minutes earlier, and we can see here that a thick blanket of cloud along the horizon was stopping the sun’s light from hitting the landscape below. At the top of this image we can see where the clear sky starts, and there wasn’t a cloud in the sky about that. The sun poked through a gap in the clouds a few times, and at this point, the gap was slightly smaller in the middle, making the sun split almost into two, looking like a pear of a eyes peeking through. The mountains in the valley are now more visible, as are the sea of clouds in the foot of the valley. This was shot at F11 for 1/80th of a second now, with minus one and one third of a stop exposure compensation to stop the sun and the golden lining on the clouds from blowing out too much. I used ISO 100 for all of these shots by the way.

All Seeing Eyes

All Seeing Eyes

It was now possible to shoot the scene I was hoping to shoot, but as we can see in image number 1141, shot three minutes before this last image, as I feared on seeing the trees the day before, much of the colour was now gone from the trees that would have made this the shot that a several hundred other photographers as well as me were here to capture. If there was no cloud on the horizon, in that perfect world scenario, this scene would already have been bathed in the golden light at the first few minutes of the day, and I probably could still have salvaged a much better image, but it wasn’t to be at this point. By the way, this was shot at 1.3 seconds at F11, again at ISO 100.

Autumn Too Short

Autumn Too Short

Let’s look next at image number 1144, which I shot at almost 6:30AM, 45 minutes after the sun rose. You can see now that sun has cleared the clouds totally, creating an extremely bright light source in the top left of this image. Shot at F11 for 1/40th of a second, with minus one stop exposure compensation, this time I’d switched to my 24-105mm F4L lens, instead of the 70-200mm lens I’d used for all the other shots. This allowed me to include more of the scene, including the slope we closed in on in the last shot, and we can also now see part of a volcano mouth in the top right, and some vents letting of steam too. In the bright area there are mountains in the valley below, but these are just not visible because of the brightness of the sun by this point. As the sun had been hidden behind the clouds for the first 45 minutes, by the time it blessed the entire vista with it’s light and warmth, it was already quite harsh. We are really at the end of the golden time now. People, including myself, often call this light the golden hours, but in reality, it’s just a number of minutes.

Out of the Light

Out of the Light

To salvage something of the situation, I switched back to my 70-200mm F2.8L lens, and closed in again on the only part of the scene that had any autumn colour of note left. We can see this in image number 1146, shot again at F11 for 1/30th of a second this time. This was minus 1/3 exposure compensation. We can see now that many of the golden yellow trees’ leaves are now fallen, with a fair few left in the bottom half of the shot, but many also now in their skeletal winter form. The thing with this shot though, and the reason for closing back in, is that there are still a number of orangey-red trees left. Had the weather been on my side the previous weekend, and I had already scanned the area to find the best spot to shoot from, I might have been in time for this hillside at it’s best, but again, this wasn’t to be this year, and the shots we’ve just looked at are about the best I could scramble together for now. I was really pushing the light too, and as I shot these last few images, the hordes of photographer’s that lined the road on the top of this mountain were now down to about the last 10% of their earlier numbers.

Brief Autumn

Brief Autumn

Natural Gradation

Natural Gradation

As I walked back to my car, now sitting alone, five minutes along the road, I started looking out for other photographic opportunities, and I did notice one last shot, which I think may well be my favourite from the day. Ironic, as it was not the scene I was here to capture! Anyway, let’s take a look at image number 1147, which I’ve entitled Natural Gradation. I’m looking back in the direction of the sun, with my hand held in front and above the lens hood to shield some sunlight that was causing flare that the lens hood could not stop. The tree to the left is an evergreen, still with leaves, but the one to the right has died. These trees are locked in ice for the few months from about now until next spring, and so the road is lined with white skeleton trees like this, that make for nice models. I shot one or two of them on the other side of the road with a nice deep blue sky behind them, but the results weren’t special. This though, I really like, with the gradation in the sky, from the just visible mountains in the valley, to the line of cloud at the top of the image. Of course, I’ve metered for the sky, allowing what is actually a pure white tree, to fall totally into silhouette. Again though, this is not a real winner. Had there been a hawk sitting on that tree, like one I shot in a different situation about this time last year, it would have been really special. That would take a different level of determination and perseverance though, the sort that nature photographers who sit in hides for weeks and months for just a single shot. I’m afraid however dedicated I am, I simply can’t afford that amount of time.

We went back to the hotel for breakfast, and I shot a few more scenes along the fifteen minute drive, and some of them are uploaded to my Web site. We’ll look at one more before we finish, but for now note that I’ll put a link to all of the shots from this weekend into the show notes. After breakfast, I stopped off at the Kanman falls, which is just a one minute stroll from a car park on the way down the mountain from the highland plains. The light was very harsh as I shot image number 1150 at almost 10:30AM. This image was made at F16 for 1/15th of a second, again at ISO 100. As I got to the point where I could see this vista, although amazed at the beauty of the scene, there was a lot of haze between me and the subject. You can see some remnants of that haze in this shot, but I had to do a lot of playing with the curves and saturation in Photoshop to get to this point. I also selectively brightened the water in the falls as it really just didn’t stand out very much as shot. I think I made something from this situation, but again, this probably could be a much better shot if I got here at the right time of day, probably before sunset, but I’m not sure. I’ll look into this more if I get a chance to come back, other than for the shot I’m now after from the main location we’ve talked about today. For this particular day, I didn’t want to get back home too late, and I still have a lot of other work to do, so I decided start the four hour drive back to Tokyo after this, leaving the harsh light to all of the tourists now making their way up the mountain in the opposite direction.

Kanman Falls

Kanman Falls

OK, so I’ve titled this episode “Determination, Persistence and Resilience”, so before we wrap up for today, let’s think about what I mean by this. Firstly, to get the shot we want, it is important to be Determined. You have to want that shot, and you have to go out of your way to get it. If you’ve followed my Podcasts for a while, you’ll know that I go to great lengths to get to a certain location, at the right time of the day, and the right time of year. The thing is as with this location and with, as another example, the flower fields that I finally captured the way I wanted this year after visiting Hokkaido in the summer a number of times over the years, there is no guarantee that determination, and the commitment necessary to get to a certain place at the right time, will actually get you the shot. From this area, I believe I have some nice shots of the colour of the autumn leaves reflecting in the ponds from last week, but I want to improve on them. I also think I have some nice shots from this location on the mountain pass, Shibutouge, but not what I wanted. There is a lot of improvement to be made in both subjects. So I have to be “Persistent”. I travelled 4 hours here and 4 hours back home last weekend, and the weekend before that, so I’m being persistent on a small scale, but as I don’t yet have what I want, I’ll be coming back next year, or at some point in future years. I’ve learned that I need to be here before sundown on the previous day and sleep in my car to get a better spot to stand too, which is going to take even more determination and persistence. I have, and will continue to build on my repertoire of locations, that I will continue to visit throughout the year building my portfolio and setting myself up for much more success as a photographer. It is not easy though as no amount of determination and persistence on our part is going to change the all important element, the weather. Adjusting to weather conditions is very important and is what enables us to come away from shoots with useable images, but it sure can get in the way of getting the exact image we want, or require for our portfolio. So here’s where Resilience comes in. We have to be able to take the knocks. Of course, I’m not just talking about setbacks caused by the weather, there is a steep learning curve to get to where we long to be as photographers. And once we get where we thought we wanted to be, we reset the bar much higher, and continue to improve. Everyone else is improving, so if we don’t too, we become stagnant and get left behind. Also, we will take knocks from other sources. We might receive a harsh critique for one or more of our images. This is always hard to take, but we have to learn to take the advice that seems to naturally make sense and that we are comfortable with, and work it into our shooting or post-processing workflow. We also have to learn to shrug off the advice that we don’t agree with, which is fine, and we need to reset our feelings so as not to become paralysed by the fear of making the same type of image. So when things are not going your way, or according to you plan or your wishes and desires, we must be resilient, and bounce back quickly, moving on to better things. Because if we are determined, persistent and resilient, there is almost certainly going to be some amount of success waiting for us further down the road. And once we get to that point, because we’re determined and persistent, we’ll reset the goals, and continue on to further success.

So that’s it for today. By the time most of you listen to this episode, the Assignment Album will be locked, taking no more submissions. I’ll be locking it tomorrow, on my Monday here in Japan, to make sure that all of you are able to upload your images right until the end of your Sunday the 22nd of October. If you are quick to listen to this episode, you might still have a few hours to upload your image if you haven’t already. There are some amazing shots in the album already though, so thanks very much to all of those that have already submitted your image. If there should be any more site problems that prevent you from uploading your image, please email your submission to me at info@martinbaileyphotography.com, before the end of your Sunday the 22nd, and I’ll add it to the album for you. I can change the owner to you in the database, so this isn’t really a problem.

Once the album is locked, voting will start. There will be a black “Vote” button above the images in the Reflections album that when clicked will add your single vote to the image you chose. If you want to mark an image that you think is just great as you look through the album but want to change your vote afterwards, all you need to do is hit the vote button again. You’ll then see a message asking if you want to change your vote to the new image and remove it from your previous selection. Just click to apply your vote if that’s what you intended to do. You can change your vote as many times as you like until the voting stops two weeks from now at the end of November the 5th. You don’t have to have submitted an image yourself to vote. All members can vote regardless, but you will need to register on the mbpgalleries.com web site, as I still haven’t gotten around to linking the two sites. I’d like to get as many people voting as possible though, so that we can really show all the entrants how much we appreciate them taking time out to shoot for this assignment, and this is your chance to let them know which shot you think is best. The standard is always very high though, so the decision will be tough.

Once again, I’m sorry for all the problems with the site recently. Please do stay subscribed. Things will be back to normal very soon. So have a great week, whether you’re out shooting or whatever you do. Bye bye.


Show Notes

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