Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 698)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2020 Tour 2 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 698)

This week, we revisit the Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido on my third and final Japan Winter Wildlife Tour for 2020. This is always an incredibly busy time for me, with three tours back to back, but it’s also a highlight of my year, as I meet all of the wonderfully talented and interesting guests that kindly participate in my tours, and this year was no exception. Our patience wasn’t tried by flight delays, and although I’ve decided to change the second wildlife tour to a landscape tour in 2021, the reduction in overseas visitors as the Corona Virus took hold actually made our trip more enjoyable, although I would have preferred that to be for different reasons.

Primate
Monkey with Rim-Light

Monkeys

Our first day with the Snow Monkeys on this trip was very similar to the first trip because there was again no snow. Even without the snow though, these guys weren’t just monkeys.

The opportunities that open up to us are different, but depending on how you approach it, definitely still worth being there, as with this first image, where I once again used the warm-colored background with the darker top, as well as the less diffused light to create a beautiful rim-light with the monkey’s fur.

This is a comparatively light-colored monkey anyway, which helps, but with well-controlled exposure, the results can be really nice. The only challenge was getting a monkey in a position where the background was far enough away to be completely blurred, and with enough contrast to form the rim-light.

I often find that even when exposing to the right, so that the histogram information is just touching the right shoulder, the monkey’s faces can still be slightly dark, so I generally tweak the Shadows sliders in Capture One Pro to bring that back out, and that’s the same if you’re using Lightroom.

That didn’t work as usual in this case though because I wanted to keep the top of the background dark, so rather than just increasing the Shadows slider for the entire image, I painted in an Adjustment Mask just around the monkey’s face, and increased the Shadows on the mask instead.

That enabled me to brighten the face without increasing the darkness of the background and losing some of that contrast that I was enjoying working with.

Another thing that I always enjoy doing, is walking down into the valley next to the river, to see what is happening there, away from the hot spring pool that is so popular.

On our first day, we were treated to a pair of young monkeys grooming (below, left), and I just love the pensive look on the larger monkey’s face here, but more so, the completely relaxed, almost meditative mood of the monkey being groomed. I also really like the background in this shot too. Once again, it was far enough away to be nice and blurred, but the pale brown tones make a nice change from the white, as much as I do love it when these guys are against the snow.

Talking of snow, although it wasn’t as much as forecast, it actually did snow overnight after our first day, and we were rewarded with some snow-covered patches as well as a bit of falling snow on our main, full day with the monkeys, as you can see in the next image (below, right).

The snow is a little dirty, and I have to admit, I cloned out two tiny triangular gaps in the snow where rock showed through, but it was nice to be able to get an almost completely white background, for the first time this season. It had snowed during the two and a half weeks between our two visits, so it wasn’t a completely snow-less year, but this was the first snow that I’d had, so it was nice to see.

You can see from this next image though, that the valley walls were still very much bare, with just a few patches of snow here and there. It takes a lot more snow than we’d had, and really multiple snowfalls, to cover the valley walls. A scuffle in the pool resulted in this mother and baby getting out, so as this young one clung to its mother for warmth, she surveyed the area and situation, trying to figure out what to do next.

The Snows That Fall
Adrian!
Adrian!

As much as I enjoy intimately close images of my subjects, I do really enjoy placing them in their environment like this as well, giving the viewers of our images more context, although, as with most photographs, it’s always about how much the photographer wants you to see.

Most people don’t realize just how crowded this location can get, because most of the photographs you see are just of the animals. You’d be forgiven for thinking that this monkey is somewhat isolated in the mountains when the reality is that to the left of this scene, there are probably between 50 and a hundred people standing around with some form of an imaging device and a huge smile on their faces.

That is fine, of course. I have a huge smile on my face as well most of the time while I’m at the snow monkeys. The point is that we show what we want to show, and it can sometimes be deceiving, like the pose in this shot.

Everyone that sees this, including me when it happened, and when people look at the photo, recall the end of the Rocky movie, generally accompanied by a corny impression of Stallone calling out to Adrian.

Once again these primates prove to be some of our closest cousins, and for once, this wasn’t a fleeting moment. This monkey held her arms up for perhaps 20 seconds, then moved around to face the other side, giving us plenty of opportunities to record her proud pose.

Red-Crowned Cranes

Happy that we’d gotten some snow and some nice monkey photos, we headed back to Tokyo, and thankfully our flight was not delayed this time, so we made our way up to Hokkaido on schedule on the fourth morning of the tour, and made our way straight for the Red-Crowned Cranes, which continued to provide us with abundant photography opportunities.

The light was a little bit harsh at times though, so for this first photo, I actually drew a mask over the foreground and reduced the clarity, to try and take a little bit of the edge off the crunchy looking snow. It was nice to see the crane’s dancing together and many times on this trip they were kind enough to do it without other cranes getting in the way.

High and Low
High and Low

I put this post together in a bit of a jumbled order, as I selected my images, and came back to this point after writing the rest of the post, as I now know that I have way too many crane shots to share by the end of this episode. I still have 18 other images in addition to the rest of the shots that we will look at today, so I’m giving up trying to keep this series to just two episodes unless I can do a really good job of holding myself back on the swans and sea eagles later. I’ll cheat with the next shot too, sharing three images in one.

Crane Triptych

It can be a lot of fun to just make portraits of the cranes that get close enough to fill the frame with just parts of their bodies. The obvious shots are the head and the graceful poses that the cranes make as they go about their tasks, such as grooming and eating. I was trying to decide which one of these images to share and couldn’t, so I decided to just go with all three as a triptych. I anguished for a while over the order in which to place the images, but decided to just go with chronological order from left to right, as there flow became too choreographed each time I tried something that should have made more sense.

These photos were all shot at 560 mm with my Canon 200-400 mm lens with the 1.4X Extender. I actually found myself using a second extender for a focal length range of 280 – 560 mm with the internal Extender disengaged but then having the option to flip it back in for a focal length range of 392 – 784 mm. The image quality drops very slightly for some images, but the autofocus is still very snappy, although slightly more error-prone than when just using the internal Extender.

Here’s another shot made at 784 mm, with both the internal and external 1.4X Extenders engaged. I’m sure you’ll agree that the image quality is there, making this a viable way of shooting. I just really enjoy getting in close like this for some of my shots, especially with subjects as beautiful as these red-crowned cranes.

Head and Feet
Head and Feet

On the second day in Hokkaido, we visited the bridge in the town of Tsurui where the Red-Crowned Cranes sleep in the river, in what is supposed to be their safe haven. It would be if it wasn’t for the atrocious behavior of a select few visitors from neighboring countries. A few years ago, some Korean men dressed as government workers and went down under the bridge to get a photograph of the birds from a different angle, although the moment they did, the birds flew away and many didn’t return for a number of weeks.

Crane's Not So Safe Haven
Crane’s Not So Safe Haven

This year, a Chinese man hired a taxi from Kushiro city to take him to the car park, where he set down his drone and proceeded to fly it down the river, once again startling the cranes, forcing them further back than ever. The cranes all used to roost where this foreground crane is now, and when they ventured closer to the bridge, they were only around 20 or 30 meters away, sometimes closer. These days though, after repeated abuses, they rarely come even this far forward.

I love this photo, but it completely saddens me to think that these locations are being completely ruined by the actions of just a few irresponsible people looking for a few seconds of video or something “different”. Before long the cranes will roost completely around that distant bend in the river, and there will be nothing but trees and water and a bridge full of disappointed photographers.

I don’t like to call out people by their nationality, as it really is just a select few, but it seems that people from our neighboring countries are the main perpetrators in these irresponsible acts, and I for one, would love it if someone was able to educate them a little more on how to behave around wild animals. If you think highly enough of something to want to photograph it, surely it isn’t too much of a stretch of the imagination to want to keep it safe and protected.

Or maybe the drive for being here in the first place is more about just needing a shot that your photography buddies have, and is completely unrelated to any kind of admiration for the subjects. And to be fair, I am probably thinking this way purely because we are neighbors, as I’m sure there are photographers in other countries that sometimes go too far to get the shot. To me, there are no photographs that are worth disturbing the animals to the degree that some people tend to be OK with.

Ural Owl Pair

We’d visited the Ural Owl’s nest that I know of in the area the previous day, and being late in the season, and warmer than usual, there were no owls there. After breakfast on the second day though, we went back, and the pair were sitting in their tree, looking as cute as ever. Being nocturnal, they sleep mostly during the day, but the larger female owl opened her eyes for a few moments to look down as something, before closing them again for the rest of our visit.

Ural Owl Pair
Ural Owl Pair

For this shot, I’d used both the internal 1.4X Extender and an external 2.0X Extender, for a focal length of 1120mm. That is really pushing it, but most of the time the images are still pretty sharp, as long as you have a fast enough shutter speed and accurate focusing.

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours 2022

As my 2021 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour is already sold-out, if you’d like to join me on this tour, please take a look at the 2022 tour page, or check my tours page for a link to everything that is currently available.

Winter Wonderland Tour 2022

Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


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Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 654)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 654)

Today we start a series of travelogue-style episodes to walk through the second of my two Japan Winter Wildlife Tours for 2019, as we kick off with the Snow Monkeys, then move on to the Red-Crowned Cranes in Hokkaido.

A Mother’s Arms

After driving over to the Nagano Prefecture from Tokyo, we headed into the Monkey Park on the first day, and the relatively small amount of snow that we saw on the way in was a good indication that this was going to be a somewhat challenging visit, but that to me, is part of the fun of running these tours. I get to see these locations in all conditions, and I will always come away with something to make these visits worthwhile, both for myself and more importantly, for my guests.

I shot less than usual, but as with this following image, there are still little gems to shoot even if the valley isn’t filled with pristine snow. This mother was sitting on the side of the hot spring pool that the monkeys often bathe in, picking up the grain that the wardens through down for the monkeys, but of course it’s the interaction with the young monkey that makes this shot worth sharing.

Even though the mother is preoccupied with the grain, she shows affection for the youngster in her arms with the way her right arm is wrapped around its shoulder, and closed eyes in an animal to me are always a sign of security and contentment.

To ensure that I got a sharp shot with my 100-400mm lens, I increased my ISO to 3200 for a 1/500 of a second exposure at f/10. If I’m shooting the monkeys running around on the valley walls, I generally try to get at least an 1/800 of a second shutter speed or higher, but for monkeys sitting around, this is enough. My focal length for this shot was 300mm.

Note too that I have drawn a mask over the babies face and increased the Shadows slider a little in Capture One Pro, just to ensure that we can see the baby down in the shadows.

A Mother's Arms
A Mother’s Arms

A Ride Home

All of the shots that I’ll share from this visit to the snow monkeys are from the middle of the three days. I really enjoy standing in a spot where the monkeys walk down the mountain through the snow, and I did that a lot on this trip too, but because there hadn’t been any fresh snow, what there was had become quite brown with the mud from the monkeys’ feet, and wasn’t all that picturesque. If, like my tour participants, it was my first and perhaps only, visit I’d spend the time to clean up the dirty snow in my photos, but I won’t spend the time to do that myself.

After lunch on the second day though, as I walked back down to the hot spring pool, there were a few monkeys walking down the mountain in some still relatively clean snow, as you can see in this photograph. You will also be able to see how wet the snow is, as this patch resists the overwhelming temptation to become water.

For this shot I increased my shutter speed to an 1/800 of a second, just about enough to freeze the action, with an ISO of 2500 at f/10. My focal length was 176 mm, so you can tell I was pretty close.

This framing is also out of the camera. I clipped the back foot of the snow monkey, but I’m not too concerned about that. I like to frame my subjects as tight as possible, so I was pretty happy with this.

I increased the Shadows slider to brighten up the monkeys a little, and once again, I drew a mask over the baby’s face, and just increased the Shadows slider a little, to ensure that we can see it. Their faces tend to go a little dark, even in situations like this, especially as I’m exposing my images to ensure that the snow is white, and yet not over-exposed. That can make the monkeys a little bit dark overall.

A Ride Home
A Ride Home

Standing Ground
Standing Ground

Standing Ground

This final image from the Snow Monkeys is from just a few minutes after the previous image. There was a procession of monkeys that came down the hill in a relatively short space of time, and it caused a small crowd to form, which probably started to intimidate the monkeys a little. In retaliation, this one climbed up on a log sticking out of the snow and shook the log a couple of times, which is a sign of aggression, aimed towards the crowd. That’s about as far as it went though. The monkey jumped off the log after a second or two and continued on its way.

The monkeys are, after all, very much accustomed to being close to the hoards of humans that visit the park each day, and in perspective, tolerate us really well, considering that they are still essentially wild animals.

My settings for this photograph were the same as the previous one. I shoot in manual mode so as to not have to worry about my exposure too much as I shoot, so once it’s set, I can just concentrate on getting my shots until the light conditions change.

In post, I opened up the Shadows on this image too, and once again drew a mask over the monkey’s face and just brightened it up a little. I also tweaked the Saturation slider a little, to bring out the red in the monkeys face. I don’t often do that, but for some reason, this monkey felt a little pale, so I thought I’d give it some help. Other than that, this photo is pretty much straight out of the camera.

Hokkaido

After our three days with the Snow Monkeys, we took a steady drive back to Tokyo, then got an early flight up to Hokkaido on the fourth morning of the tour. Despite it being warmer than usual, I actually came away from the second trip this year with a huge number of images that I am really happy with. That’s a great problem to have, but it also means that as I prepare for this episode, I’m once again struggling to whittle down a selection of images to talk about. I have just gone through the images from the first four days in Hokkaido, and have 39 images that I’d love to share with you, and that obviously isn’t going to work. We’ll work through a few images anyway, and I’ll decide which one’s get chopped as we go along.

Room To Spread Wings

As I’ve mentioned recently, they have reduced the amount of corn that they are throwing down for the cranes, as their numbers are now increasing quite well. They have also stopped throwing out live fish at 2 pm each day at the Crane Center, and this means that the eagles no longer come to try and steal the fish. That was always fun, but it did mean that the Crane Center was often way too crowded on this second tour. Luckily for us though, these developments mean that although many locations in this area are now very crowded during this second tour, the Crane Center is not quite as bad, and because there is less food for the cranes, there are fewer cranes too.

That might not sound like a good thing, but there have been so many cranes for the last few years, that when they actually do something, it was very difficult to isolate the bird or pair that was performing for a nice photograph. That is definitely getting easier to do now though, because of the lower number of birds, although it’s still nice when a bird lands, like this, in a frame with no other birds in the foreground or background.

Crane Landing
Crane Landing

It’s also nice when we have a full covering of snow like this, and the overcast sky on this visit meant that there wasn’t too much contrast in the snow, which is great. I much prefer to see these beautiful birds in photographs shot in overcast conditions, as it’s easier to appreciate the detail in their feathers. I also really like it when the white of the bird is very similar to the white background. That’s probably one of the most appealing things about the photographs that we do on this trip to me.

So as to freeze most of the motion in these birds as they move around or fly, I had set my shutter speed to 1/1600 of a second at ISO 1000, and my aperture was at f/11, to ensure that I had enough depth of field to get two birds sharp when they are in the frame together, although that’s obviously not important for this photograph.

Ural Owl and Nuthatch

In the afternoon, we headed over to an owl’s nest that I know of, and although there was a pair on the nest during our first visit, there was only one owl this time. As I often say though, when we lose something, we often gain something else, and in this photograph, we have a surprise visit by a beautiful little Eurasian Nuthatch, posing perfectly for us on the side of the tree, and probably making enough sound scratching at the bark as he flitted around, to cause the owl to look over in his direction.

Ural Owl and Nuthatch
Ural Owl and Nuthatch

Although I had fitted a 2X Extender to my 200-400mm lens as well as engaging the built-in Extender, I’d actually not zoomed in fully for this, so that we could see these animals in their environment, so my focal length for this shot was 811 mm. To get my exposure of just 1/160 of a second I had to increase my ISO to 3200, at f/11. Of course, with both Extenders engaged, f/11 was the widest aperture available to me. The base f/4 aperture of the lens becomes f/5.6 when you engage the internal Extender, then we have to add two more stops, so f/8 then f/11 for the 2X Extender.

Dancing Cranes Triptych

I’m going to talk about the next three images as a set, because this is how I’m considering them, like a triptych. All three images were shot within 15 seconds of each other, as a pair of cranes danced at our final location for this day. We were here to do some panning shots with the cranes as the light dropped, but I couldn’t resist changing my settings to a faster shutter speed to try and freeze this movement a little.

Again, this is one of those situations where the birds are hardly distinguishable from the background, except for the parts of them that are black, or their red crowns. It was great that neither of these birds was banded, and despite me having to shoot these at ISO 8000, there is virtually no grain in these images, thanks to the EOS R, and because I was exposing to the right. I know it’s counter-intuitive, but most people are afraid to increase the ISO because it increases grain, but believe me, most of the time the increased exposure will counter this to the point where you will get a much cleaner image.

Six Cranes Take Flight

Unfortunately, for this next image, it had started to become so dark that my original image was around a stop under the right side of the histogram, so although I had my ISO set to 6400, has a little bit more visible grain in it than the previous images. Also, although I generally like to see sharper heads in my panning shots, for this image, I’m not letting that prevent me from really liking this. I love the form of the blurred wings of these six cranes as they run across the snow and start to take flight.

Six Cranes Take Flight
Six Cranes Take Flight

I also really like the bit of snow kicked up by the last few cranes, adding a nice additional element of interest. I actually deliberated as to whether or not I should do this, but I removed half a crane that was sticking into the shot from the left edge. I didn’t mind that it was cut off, because it kind of indicated that there were more birds to come, but it was slightly annoying that it was cut off, so I decided to remove it. My settings for this were a 1/30 of a second shutter speed with an aperture of f/5.6 and an ISO of 6400. I should have left my ISO up at 8000 or higher, but this was one of those times when the light was fading quicker than I noticed, so it kind of got away from me a little.

Otowa Bridge Bedlam

The following morning we visited the Otowa Bridge as usual, but despite leaving the hotel at 4 am the bridge was already packed when we arrived. We set up and waited to see if the hoar frost formed, but it was a little too warm for it to get really nice. We did have places to shoot from, but the shots weren’t great. To be completely honest, the bridge is becoming unworkable on this second tour, and although we’ll visit next year, it’s possible that we won’t even go early. On the following morning, before we left this area, we had a little bit of extra time in bed and didn’t try to get a place, opting rather to just shoot through the shoulders of the people that were already there.

Heaven from Bedlam
Heaven from Bedlam

This worked, and I’m relatively happy with this image, as the cranes started to rise, with a few walking around and one of them with his wings spread. I’m pleased that we were able to get some shots like this, but it’s getting really difficult. Thankfully the other parts of this tour are still great though. My settings for this were ISO 6400 for a 1/500 of a second at f/9. I was using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in Extender engaged for a focal length of 560 mm.

Whooper Swan Fly-By

After the cranes, we headed over to Lake Kussharo where we photograph the Whooper Swans for two days. We made our customary stop at Lake Mashuu on the way, and stopped at a corner of Lake Kussharo for an hour before lunch, then having checked in and got our rooms sorted at the hotel, we went back to the lake for our panning session to end the day. Before the sun dropped behind the mountains though, we were treated with a fly-by at a good height, allowing me to shoot this next photograph.

Whooper Swan Fly-By
Whooper Swan Fly-By

I love the softly out of focus distant clouds in the background, and the swans here are beautifully sharp and uncommonly clean. They are often quite dirty on their undersides because of the algae on the bottom of the lake that rubs against them, but these pair are really quite clean, which makes all the difference. I also really like how the back one, of the two birds, is banking a little, almost as though he’s just come out of a corner. To freeze the action like this, I’d set my shutter speed to 1/1600 of a second at ISO 1600, with an aperture of f/11. I was zoomed in to 400mm with my EF 100-400mm Mark II lens.

Homeward Bound

We’ll finish today with a panning shot as we slowed down our shutter speeds, but unlike my usual swan panning shots, again, we were lucky enough to have another fly-by, and this time I left my camera in my panning settings, so it’s made a very ethereal image, and again, one that I believe has enough artistic merit that I’m not going to throw it out just because the swans’ heads aren’t sharp.

Homeward Bound
Homeward Bound

This actually reminds me of a photo that one of the participants shot on my very first tour to this location back in 2008, where the head wasn’t sharp, but the image blew me away, so I’m really pleased to have been able to get this image. My settings were 1/50 of a second at f/16, with an ISO of 640. It was really just luck that I had such a deep depth of field because of my panning settings, but it has enable me to capture quite a lot of definition in the mountain in the background as well, which I really like.

OK, so we’ll wrap it up there for this first episode. We’re actually doing pretty well, already into the swans, so I’ll try to get our final selection down to ten or maybe twelve images so that we can finish this series next week and move on to some other topics that I have lined up for you.

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours 2020

Note that we do still have some places open on the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tours, so if you might be interested, please check that out here.


Show Notes

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

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast as an MP3 with Chapters.

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Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 1 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 652)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 1 Travelogue 1 (Podcast 652)

Having now actually finished all of my Japan Winter Tours for this season, I’m back in the studio and ready to start sharing our experiences from the two trips.

We started our journey as usual, with a bus ride from our hotel in Tokyo, over to Yudanaka, in the Nagano Prefecture, where we walked the thirty-minute snow trail into the Monkey Monkey at Jigokudani. In recent years there hasn’t been a lot of snow at the Snow Monkeys, so it was a pleasant surprise to find a good amount of snow on the ground as we entered the park.

Snow Monkeys

You can get a feel for the snow in this first photo for today, as a monkey showed aggression to another, kicking up the fresh snow on the valley wall in the process.

Act of Aggression
Act of Aggression

Still In Love with the Canon EOS R

As I mentioned in my review of the Canon EOS R in episodes 650 and 651, I shot pretty much everything in this years winter tours with the EOS R, and as I shot this image I was still getting used to the idiosyncrasies of Canon’s first full-frame mirrorless offering.

Galloping Snow Monkeys
Galloping Snow Monkeys

I am happy to report though, that as of the beginning of March 2019, I’ve now shot around 17,000 images with the EOS R, and I am still 100% in love with this camera. It has been so much more than I had expected, and even more of a camera than I’d hoped for. I’ve now decided to sell one of my two EOS 5Ds R bodies, and I’ll save the money from that to put towards the 5Ds R Mark II, which I am now really hoping will also be an RF Mount mirrorless camera.

Galloping Snow Monkeys

The biggest thing that has taken some time getting used to with the EOS R is that even in the high-performance electronic viewfinder mode when you are shooting in burst mode, you no longer see the fluid movement of your subject in the viewfinder. You essentially have to track a moving subject based on a series of still images, so you are almost looking at a stroboscopic representation of reality.

It does work though, and although I occasionally missed photos that I would probably have got with a DSLR camera, the other benefits such as being able to see your exposure and live histogram right in the viewfinder, in my opinion, far outway the demerits of the EOS R.

Real Snow Monkeys

On our second day in the monkey park, it snowed heavier than I’ve ever known it to while we were actually in the park, and it was an amazing day! I have been there when it snows, many times, but this day was just something else.

You can hopefully get an idea of how heavy the falling snow was, from the amount of it stuck to this snow monkey’s fur. Composition-wise, I briefly toyed with the idea of making this a shorter crop, maybe 4:5 aspect ratio, but decided to stay with my original framing, because I think having the swath of snow at the bottom of the frame in this photo helps the viewer to understand that the monkey is high up. You might not be able to see that he was looking down at me from a hill, but the sense of height probably comes across because of the snow bank at the bottom of the frame, so I decided to leave it in.

Very Snowy Monkey
Very Snowy Monkey

Exposure Considerations

For the Snow Monkeys, I generally shoot stationary ones such as in the previous image with between a 320th and a 500th of a second exposure. For shots like the one before that where they are running around, I try to get a shutter speed of between an 800th and a 1250th of a second. To achieve this, I increased my ISO to around 2000 or higher when necessary.

My aperture will be between f/8 for a single subject and f/11 or even f/14 if there are multiple snow monkeys in the frame that need to be relatively sharp. And, of course, I was exposing to the right, as always. This means that I expose so that the right-most data on my histogram is as far over to the right side as possible, without being over-exposed. This gives me the cleanest and highest quality images possible, even at high ISOs.

It’s this control over the exposure that enables me to get beautiful white snow with texture in it, and because I set my exposure in manual mode, I don’t have to mess around with exposure compensation as the darker subjects take up more or less of the frame.

This is also why I am able to capture things like the subtle shadow of this snow money leaping from a tree stump. If you find that hard to see, or can’t really see the texture in the snow, then your monitor may be set too bright. It’s important to darken down your display as part of a calibration process, otherwise, subtle details like this can be missed.

Leap of Faith
Leap of Faith

Red-Crowned Cranes

It didn’t snow on our third morning with the Snow Monkeys, and although I have a bumper crop of images from this very productive visit, we’ll move on now to day four of the tour, as we fly up to Hokkaido and start our two days photographing the beautiful Red-Crowned Cranes.

We weren’t so lucky with the snow at the cranes though. It’s becoming less and less common for it to snow while we are with the cranes. I’m actually just happy that we have a full covering of snow on the ground most of the time now, although I do wish for falling snow still. It didn’t happen on any of the days we visited this year though. As you can see from this photo though, when there isn’t fresh snow, the ground can be very heavily textured.

Ruffled Feathers
Ruffled Feathers

I’m still relatively happy with this photo, as it shows the beautiful detail of the ruffled feathers of the crane, as well as the pose you will often see these birds do as they land. Because the cranes often land behind other cranes, I was also somewhat happy to be able to photograph this one, that landed a little closer, and in front of the other birds, for a change. Of course, the birds in the background of this shot, are Whooper Swans, which we move on to photograph after our two days with the cranes. I was using a shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second here at ISO 500, and an aperture of f/11.

Crane Flyover

The only time I used my Canon EOS 5Ds R during the tour was as my second camera while we were with the cranes, because they sometimes fly over our heads as they leave the crane center, and you can see that in this next image.

Crane Flyover
Crane Flyover

We were lucky to get a nice sky while at the cranes though, as you can see, and this shot happened to have the crane lined up nicely with most of that stretch of blue between the clouds, which I thought was nice.

Catchlight Help

I’ve adjusted the shadows and clarity sliders in Capture One Pro to help bring out the detail in the crane, but there wasn’t much of a catchlight in this crane’s eye, due to the angle of the head. I zoomed in on the image though and saw a very faint catchlight, so I used an Adjustment brush to draw over it and then increased the exposure creating an almost false, but very convincing catchlight in the crane’s eye. Unfortunately, you probably can’t see the catchlight in the web version, although it is visible in the eBook article that accompanies this post, available to all MBP Pro Members.

Ural Owl Duo

After spending most of the first day in Hokkaido with the cranes, I took the group to a location where there is a tree that often has one or sometimes two Ural Owls, and on this day, we were lucky enough to get the latter as you can see in this next image.

Ural Owl Duo
Ural Owl Duo

These are beautiful animals, but because of the bad behavior of many photographers that try to photograph them, the local authorities have cordoned off an area to shoot from that is quite a distance from these owls. That’s fine, and at least the owls are staying in this nest because they aren’t quite as bothered as others, but it does mean that you need a very long focal length to frame these owls like this.

I shot this with my 200-400mm lens with the built-in 1.4X Extender engaged, and an external 2.0X Extender fitted, giving me a focal length of 1120mm. Needless to say this requires me to shoot with a tripod, but the EOS R actually gives a slightly sharper image with this lens and extender combination than my 5Ds R, probably because it’s lower resolution and therefore a little more forgiving.

Three Cranes Take Flight

The following morning, we made our first visit to the Otowa Bridge, which as I’ve mentioned before, translates to the “Sound of Wings” Bridge, which I find simply beautiful, especially as it’s in the town of Tsurui, which means “Cranes are Here”. How cool is that!?

This is the location where we need it to be below around -16°C or 3°F, with little to no wind, and a bit of humidity, to make the trees go white with hoar frost, and hopefully some nice mist on the river. On the two mornings that we visited on this trip, it was -23°C and -25°C, which is -9°F and -13°F respectively, and this is actually a little bit too cold, as the mist was at times too heavy to even see the cranes.

Luckily though, there were times when the mist cleared enough for us to photograph the cranes, and at one point, we were really lucky to have three cranes fly away from the group. This isn’t common so early when it’s this cold, as the cranes need to warm up a little before they can fly, but someone must have been smiling on my group on this particular morning.

Three Cranes Take Flight
Three Cranes Take Flight
Red-Crowned Crane Preening
Red-Crowned Crane Preening

Even though we were able to see the cranes, I used a Luma Range mask in Capture One Pro to select the three cranes in flight, and the line of cranes behind them, and just darkened them down a little more, to make them stand out against the misty white background. With the sun well above the horizon by this point though, my settings were a 1/500 of a second at f/14, and ISO 320, and a focal length of 526mm.

Red-Crowned Crane Preening

After breakfast, we went to the Akan Crane Center again for most of the day, and once again, it was a bright, mostly cloudless day. On days like this, although I still enjoy flight shots, the birds standing in the snow show quite a lot of texture, as we saw earlier, so I tend to spend a lot of time zoomed in very tight on the nearby cranes, doing what I call studies or almost portraits of these beautiful birds, as we can see in this photo.

I just love the detail that we can see in this kind of photograph, and also how the white of the bird almost merges into the white snow in the background. I actually have a few photos of dancing cranes from the second trip that are so similar in tone between the cranes and the background that it’s hard to see where one ends and the other starts, but I’ll share that in a few weeks time.

Crane with Birch Trees

In the middle of the afternoon, I took the group over to a different location, where we were able to photograph the cranes flying over a prettier background, with some lovely white birch trees, which make a nice backdrop. With the sun at our backs, we also get really nice catchlights in the eyes.

Crane with Birch Trees
Crane with Birch Trees

The following morning, we went back to the Otowa Bridge, and had great hoar frost again, although the mist was even stronger as it was a few degrees colder than the previous day. My photos look pretty much the same though, so I won’t share another today. After breakfast, we checked out of our lovely hotel in Tsurui and started our journey on to the Whooper Swans, then further still to photograph the Sea Eagles at Rausu, on the Shiretoko Peninsula.

As we’ve reached our ten photos for this episode though, we’ll finish there for today and conclude the Tour #1 travelogue in part two next week, before covering Tour #2 in another probably two episodes.

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours 2020

Note that we do still have some places open on the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tours, so if you might be interested, please check that out here.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour

Show Notes

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

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

Music by Martin Bailey


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Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 1 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 512)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 1 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 512)

This is the third of a four part series to walk through the first of my two Japan winter wildlife tours for 2016, continuing with a visit to Sulphur Mountain, then on to the Notsuke Peninsula, and Rausu, where we photograph the majestic Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles.

We pick up the trail after our final shoot with the beautiful Whooper Swans on the morning of day eight, as we swing by the apocalyptic Iouzan, or “Sulphur Mountain”, before we start our drive over to Rausu. This is a fun spot to shoot, with the fumaroles spewing their sulphuric steam into the atmosphere, as we see in this photograph (below).

Apocalyptic Fumaroles

Apocalyptic Fumaroles

I’m a little torn on this photo, as I obviously am not a huge fan of having this large an expanse of overexposure around the sun, but in general, I do like the feel of this shot with the steam bellowing out and the snow in the air. This snow was not present in the images where the sun was hiding behind thicker cloud, and I just kept coming back to this one, which is why I selected it to share with you today. I guess that means I prefer this shot, although the large patch of white does disturb me a little.

I shot this image at f/11 for a 1/250 of a second, ISO 100 at 70mm, using my 24-70mm f/2.8L II lens. For the processing of this image, I ran it through Nik Software’s Color Efex Pro 3, and added a bit of Detail Extractor, to bring out the texture in the sulphur stained rock and the steam, as well as the snow. To prevent a harsh line forming around the area of overexposure, I placed a couple of minus control points over that area for the Detail Extractor filter, which enabled me to maintain a nice smooth gradation from white to the surrounding grey steam.

Between Sulphur Mountain and the Notsuke Peninsula, we called at two Ural Owl nests that I know of, hoping to capture one of these lovely birds, but neither of the nests was occupied on this day unfortunately, so after lunch, we pressed on for a pretty productive drive along the peninsula. The first shot I’d like to share from there is this one, of an Ezo Deer stag (below).

Ezo Deer Stag

Ezo Deer Stag

The light was coming from behind the stag, which isn’t ideal, but the Shadows slider in Lightroom brought out plenty of detail in this side of the animal. I always love to see the texture in the antlers on these deer, as the rutting and foraging in the snow that they do with them strips off the brown coating, leaving those beautiful white tips to what are essentially then bear bones.

I shot this image at f/8, 1/1000 of a second at ISO 400, using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in 1.4X extender engaged. On the Notsuke Peninsula, we generally just stop the bus and open the windows, then shoot resting our lenses on the window frame or bus seat head-rests, and it seems to work pretty well. Unlike some of the other subjects that we photograph on this tour, if we got off the bus here, these guys would be long gone before we could raise our cameras.

There were a few stags that started practicing their rutting behavior, as you can see in this next photo (below), locking antlers and pushing each other back and forth. I’ve cropped this down a little, to a 34 megapixel file, as these guys were a little way off, even at 560mm.

Ezo Deer Rutting

Ezo Deer Rutting

I actually had a lot of trouble auto-focusing on these guys with the bright back-lit snow. I could tell something was wrong as I shot, but when I looked at my images at the hotel later, almost all of them were blurred, and then I found one that I was wide enough to see an area of sharpness way in the foreground. I thought at first that it may have been a shortcoming of the 5Ds, but it turns out that two other Canon shooters had exactly the same problems at this spot. One with a 1D X and the other with a 7D Mark II. We also noted that all of the Nikon shooters had no problems at all, so they were able to snigger at us on this occasion. I shot this with the same settings as the previous image.

Shortly afterwards, as we drove along the peninsula, I spotted this Northern Red Fox sitting at the side of the road, so we stopped the bus and shot some portraits (below). I love these foxes, when they’re all clean like this, they’re such beautiful animals.

Northern Red Fox

Northern Red Fox

I actually shot this in portrait mode, but then decided to crop it down to a square anyway. My settings were f/8, for a 1/640 of a second at ISO 1250, 454mm. Again, we were shooting from the bus. The angle isn’t great looking down on him, but I’m happy enough with this. I think my shot from last year is better though, especially as the fox was sitting on a bank of snow that was leaning downwards, away from the bus, so it looked like we were pretty much at eye-level. Much better.

A moment after this photo, the fox jumped in the air and with his muzzle dug a mouse out of the snow. At first I thought he’d heard it scuttling around and hunted it before our eyes, but it turns out it was a carcass that he’d buried earlier, and for some reason decided to dig it up and eat it in front of a bus load of photographers. There was a lot of grass between him and us at this point though, and they weren’t particularly pretty photos, so none of them made my final selection. After a visit to the Nature Center on the peninsula, we took a steady drive back to the hotel as the sun set.

The next morning, we boarded our boat at 8:30am, to go out and photograph the sea eagles. Unfortunately, with 2016 being an el niño year, the sea ice is nowhere to be seen. It usually comes in a few times between the middle of January to the end, but even when it’s late, it’s usually here in the first few days of February. We visited on Feb 9, 10 and 11, and there was nothing. Even as I prepare this on February 19, we’re yet to see any sea ice in Rausu.

Having said that, as I’ve mentioned before, we now take the boat out anyway, and throw fish into the sea, which the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White-Tailed Eagles come down in their droves to catch, and honestly, I love the resulting photographs. In many ways, I actually prefer these photographs to the sea ice photographs, because it looks a lot more natural to see the eagles taking the fish from the water rather than off the top of a piece of sea ice, as you can see in this photograph (below).

White-Tailed Eagle Catching Fish

White-Tailed Eagle Catching Fish

The other thing that was a little bit against us on this first outing, was that there was very heavy cloud cover. Even though the sun had come up more than two hours before we started shooting, for this photograph to get a shutter speed of 1/640 of a second at f/5.6, I needed to set my ISO to 3200. That’s no big deal. I shot some at 6400 as well, and because I’m still exposing to the right, there isn’t a lot of grain. I’d prefer to shoot at lower ISOs of course, but if it’s a toss-up between getting shots with a bit of grain, or not getting any shots, I’ll take the shots anytime.

The previous image was shot at 330mm and this next image was shot at 360mm, with my 100-400mm lens. This is the perfect lens for photographing these eagles from the boat, even on a full frame camera. I have some shots that we’ll take a look at that have the eagle almost filling the frame, uncropped, at 241mm, so it’s really not worth trying to hand-hold the 200-400mm from the boat, especially when there is as much swell as we had on this day.

Steller's Sea Eagle Catching Fish

Steller’s Sea Eagle Catching Fish

I did crop this photo of course, just a little bit either side, and with a 16:9 aspect crop as this Steller’s Sea Eagle was quite close to the bottom of the frame, so the narrower crop helps to balance the image a little better. My settings here were still f/5.6 for a 1/640 of a second, now at ISO 2500, so I’d brought it down just a little bit.

Picking my Moment

As I’ve mentioned, I was shooting with the high resolution Canon EOS 5Ds R camera on this tour, and many people are pigeon-holing this camera as a landscape and still life body. That really isn’t the case, as I’m sure you’ll start to appreciate with these eagle shots. The frame rate is of course going to limit our shooting, at only 5 frames per second, and I doubt that I was even getting that under these conditions, but you know what, I actually really enjoyed the challenge.

Rather than shooting in long bursts while tracking with the birds, as I have always done with my 1D X or 7D Mark II, I found that I was waiting for the exact moment that I wanted the frame, and often shooting just one frame, sometimes two, but never more than three frames. Sure, I will have missed a few critical wing positions, but I found that I was getting the wing position I wanted with my first frame the majority of the time.

I also enjoyed not having to go through so many photographs. I was coming back from the two hour sessions that we have on the boat each morning with between 500 and 600 frames, rather than a thousand or more, which is what I used to have to look through. And, at the end of the day, I have these beautiful big 50 megapixel images that open up doors for me with regards to very large prints and cropping, so I am really pleased with my decision to leave the 7D Mark II at home.

Because we had not found an Ural Owl on either of the nests that I know about the previous day, after a quick rest-room stop at the hotel, we took a 90 minute drive back to the nearer of the two nests. We were happy to spend that time too, as we were rewarded with photos like this one (below).

Ural Owl in Tree

Ural Owl in Tree

These owls are just beautiful, and it’s always a pleasure to see one, especially when their eyes are open, like this. As I mentioned in a previous episode, I’m finding that with the 5Ds R, for at least some of my images, I’m actually pulling back a little, and really showing the wildlife in their environment more, because I still have a huge amount of detail, even with the subject quite small in the frame. I have some closer one’s which I might share at some point, but here, I disengaged the 1.4X Extender, and pulled back a little to 376mm, to include this beautiful old tree that the owl is perched in.

My other settings were f/8, for a 1/320 of a second, at ISO 1000. I allowed the sky to blow out a little bit in the camera, as it was not as important for the photograph as getting the owl nicely exposed. In Lightroom though, the data on the histogram is not quite touching the right side, so it’s not actually over-exposed. At least as Lightroom sees it.

We don’t stay long at the owl, as I don’t like to disturb them too much. We took it in turns getting into a good position either side of the tree, and then took our leave. Afterwards, we had another drive down the Notsuke Peninsula but this time saw absolutely nothing. It was as though we were in a totally different place than the previous day, with the deer and foxes. I’m pleased this happened on the second day though, or the group would have wondered why we were even there.

The following morning, we went out for our second session with the sea eagles. This time we had about an extra two stops of light, which was really welcome, as a lot of the group hadn’t really capitalized on the first morning with it being so dark. Even as we got started, my ISO was down at 1600 for this first image (below).

White-Tailed Eagle with Talons Ready

White-Tailed Eagle with Talons Ready

I love the clarity of this shot, and the reflections of the feathers, but most of all, those outstretched talons accompanied by the White-Tailed Eagle’s gaze are awesome. I cropped this one just slightly from the top left corner, but this is still a 44 megapixel photograph. This was shot at f/6.3 for 1/1000 of a second, ISO 1600 at 286mm.

This next image is the back end of a juvenile White-Tailed Eagle, as it whisks its frozen pray out of the water. I really like this angle, although you can’t see the eagle’s head, but the high wing position forming a beautiful V shape is really appealing to me, and the droplets of water and the splash are nicely frozen by the 1/1000 of a second exposure.

V for Victory

V for Victory

My aperture was at f/8 at this point, and my ISO down to 1250, with a focal length of 360mm. I did crop this one in slightly from the bottom left this time, leaving me again with a 44 megapixel file. I actually generally don’t release the shutter or even frame them up when I notice that the eagle is a juvenile, as I rarely share or use these images, but I’m pleased I reacted to this shot. It’s perhaps one of my favorites from the trip.

This next image is perhaps my heaviest crop from the trip, down to a tiny 25.2 megapixels, but I couldn’t resist sharing this shot (below). I noticed these four sea eagles converging, so I focused on the middle Steller’s Sea Eagle, and hoped for the best.

Four Sea Eagles

Four Sea Eagles

They were a way out, but I though this was a fun mishmash of avian brawn as they circled our boat, and I thought it was extra cool that one of them is looking straight at the camera from the midst of all this. My settings for this shot were f/8, 1/1000 of a second, at ISO 1250, with a focal length of 312mm. I wished I’d had a chance to zoom in, but it happened too quickly for that.

That’s our ten photos for today, so we’ll be back with 5 more eagle shots from the same day, then one more from our third day with them, before we head around to the other side of the Shiretoko Peninsula for our final day before returning to Tokyo and disbanding.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

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

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

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

View all currently available Tours & Workshops: https://mbp.ac/workshops

Music by Martin Bailey


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Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 2 (Podcast 462)

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido 2015 Tour #2 Part 2 (Podcast 462)

This week is the last of a two part series to walk you through a selection of photos from my second Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour for 2015. We pick up the trail on day seven, with one last Whooper Swan photo, before the majestic sea eagles, and a surprise visit from a beautiful Northern Fox.

Towards the end of last week’s episode, when I walked you through the first 12 photos from Tour #2, I mentioned that the swans often run along the water in front of the frozen lake as they take off. This is the photo I was thinking of, and the unsteadiness of the water often gives the swans an ungainly look as they splash along the water gaining speed to take flight (below).

Whooper Swan Dash

Whooper Swan Dash

Man in the Mist

Men in the Mist

Also, as I mentioned last week, I generally shoot panning shots like this between 1/25 and 1/40 of a second exposure. 1/25 has a much higher failure rate for sharp heads, but can result in more aesthetically pleasing blurred shots. 1/40 of a second has a high success rate, but less wing movement. This particular image was shot at 1/30 of a second, so the head is slightly less sharp on close inspection, but beautiful wing movement is recorded, so it can be a good if somewhat risky balance.

Next is a fun shot that I made after breakfast on day seven, as we visited Sulphur Mountain, for what is usually an apocalyptic scene with the volcanic fumaroles spewing sulphuric steam into the atmosphere. As it was so warm in Hokkaido for pretty much most of this winter though, it was too misty to any more than a few close-up grab shots of the fumaroles, but I quite like this fun shot of two of our tour participants in the mist (right).

I have a couple of frames in which the subject to the right is more prominent, but I like the minimalism here, and just a hint of the figure looking quite sinister to the left of the image.

As we drove over to the fishing town of Rausu, where we would spend three days, going out each morning to photograph the sea eagles, we took a look at a couple of locations where I know there to be Ural Owls, but they were not on their nests this day, so we continued on after lunch to the Notsuke Peninsula.

As warm as it has been, with temperatures floating around freezing point most days, I guess I shouldn’t have been so surprised to see this, but it seemed very strange to be able to see the dried grasses and patches of dirt showing through what is usually just pure white snow plains (below).

Ezo Deer at Notsuke Peninsula

Ezo Deer at Notsuke Peninsula

The Ezo Deer are happy enough with the situation, as they can start their spring eating a little early this year, and were often so busy with their feast that they wouldn’t even look up for a photograph as we stalked them from the bus on the road that runs along the thin fishhook shaped strip of land that juts out into the sea on the east coast of Hokkaido.

We went out to photograph the sea eagles at dawn on all three mornings that we were in Rausu, and although the sea ice was very close to the shore on the first morning, high winds drove it out from our base in Rausu towards the Kunashiri Island on the other side of the Nemuro Strait from the second day. Still, we had three great mornings, with the middle shoot being a bit slow.

I’ll share a few eagle shots from the second morning in a moment, but after our first morning, we headed back out to the Notsuke Peninsula, but shortly after we got there, I received a phone call from a friend to tell me that one of the Ural Owls that we’d gone to photograph the day before, was currently on its perch, so we headed over there to photograph this adorable avian (below).

Ural Owl

Ural Owl

I often switch to portrait mode for these owls, because that enables me to fill the frame with the tree trunk, but for this shot, I used the landscape orientation, and showed the edges of the tree to give the owl a little more context, and I thought that worked pretty well here, and more than anything, I was happy that I’d been able to provide the group with an owl photo, following a couple of no-shows the previous day.

Back to the sea eagles now though, and here’s a photo of a Steller’s Sea Eagle from our second dawn shoot with them (below). Here he’s coming in to land on the sea ice, and I just love the detail in his feathers, and those crazily cool talons, and pensive stare as he concentrates on his approach.

Steller's Sea Eagle Coming in to Land

Steller’s Sea Eagle Coming in to Land

The following morning, having found a good perch in the foreground for the eagles to sit on as the sun came up, we waited for the sun and eagles to do just that, as we can see in this photo (below). The eagles generally just sit on these high perches of ice, and seem to just enjoy the sunrise as we do, but sometimes, as we see here, they jostle for position on these perches, and I was able to capture this particular jostle while the sun was still close to the horizon.

Jostling for Position

Jostling for Position

One tip to keep in mind when shooting things like this, is that once the birds are in front of the sun, auto-focus gets all flustered, and generally doesn’t work until you see a more distinct silhouette, like in this photograph. If you are working from a boat like this, it’s a good idea if you use the back AF button to focus, to get focus while the birds are away from the sun, and assuming you don’t move closer to or further away from the subject, just don’t press the AF button again as the bird moves in front of the sun. If you do that, the focus can start to search and you’ll miss your shot.

Of course, you have to disable the focus from the shutter button as well, and this is a common way to set up a camera for wildlife and sports photographers. I won’t go into detail on this now, but if you are interested, let me know and I’ll do an episode on this, and go through the merits and demerits of focusing in this way.

Another thing to remember at times like this too, is to try not to look at the sun through the lens too long. You’ll end up doing it for a few seconds to get your image all lined up and composed nicely, but once you have your composition set and the lens focussed, move your eye up slightly, so that the sun is obscured, at least partially, by the top of the viewfinder.

This way you can still see enough to maintain focus and your composition without frying your eyeballs. Note too that this is only possible while the sun is very low in the sky. Once the sun rises much more than you see in this shot, it’s very dangerous to look at it directly through your camera, especially with a long lens, and even when it’s obscured slightly.

OK, so here’s my messy sea ice shot. It’s nice when we have sea ice, especially when it creates a nice an uniform background as it did in the earlier eagle shot. It can be quite messy though, as you can see in this next photograph, of a White-Tailed Eagle taking a fish from the sea (below).

The Catch

The Catch

I can live with the messy sea ice in this shot though, as I just love the wavy shapes and lines in this image. The wave formed by the lower line of the neck of this eagle is almost mirrored by the arch of the water that the bird has kicked up as he drew the fish from the water.

Of course, it’s easier to get a much cleaner background by shooting the eagles in flight, as I did with this next image (below). We have the mountains behind Rausu in the background here, and I went in really tight with the new 100-400mm lens from Canon at 271mm. I could have pulled out further of course, but sometimes I just like to really crop in tightly to capture the incredible detail in the magnificent raptors.

Pensive Flight

Pensive Flight

Here’s one last fun shot of the Steller’s Sea Eagles before we move on (below). This is not a multiple exposure or anything like that. These three stooges had been sitting on a bit of ice, just chewing the fat, as they do of a morning, and decided it would be fun to walk across this little chunk of ice to a larger piece, and I was lucky enough to capture the comical moment.

Not a Multiple Exposure

Not a Multiple Exposure

After our third dawn sea eagle shoot, we had some tough decisions to make, as the weather was closing in on us again. If you remember from the previous episodes, on Tour #1, there had been major road closures across eastern Hokkaido forcing us to stay in one hotel and extra night, and preventing us from getting to Rausu for two days. We brought the situation around by positioning ourselves to get in early enough on our second day to shoot the eagles, and then we shot twice more on our last day there, but it had been a difficult couple of days.

Well, although we’d finished three great eagle shoots on Tour #2, if we’d moved on to Utoro, where we do some finishing landscape work and have a great last dinner, there was a good chance that we would not be able to leave Utoro on our last morning, forcing us to miss our flight. There was also a good chance that our flight on this side of the island would be cancelled, so it was decision time.

We decided to change our plans, and abandon our last day in Utoro, in favour of traveling across the island to a different airport, so we changed our flights as well as our hotel for the last night. We did have enough good weather and time left to go through to the pass to Shari, at the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula for lunch though, and that also took us past the spot where we usually stop to do some intentional camera movement shots of the birch trees, as we see here (below).

Birch Trees in Snow

Birch Trees in Snow

We had a lot of ground to cover through the afternoon though, to get to Kushiro, and our new hotel, and to be in position for our newly arranged flight. Not wanting to spend the entire afternoon on the bus though, we headed for the Mashuu Lake, where we would have 45 minutes or so to shoot before heading on, but then just as we reached the area, we found this incredibly cute young Northern Fox (below) just sitting at the side of the road, and he posed for us for about 15 minutes before we had to leave.

Fox's Yawn

Fox’s Yawn

We all got lots of great photos of this young guy, but after we’d been there for a while, and I was shooting over the head of one of our participants, he got up and moved away, giving me his seat. Just as he did, the fox did this huge yawn, and although I wasn’t quite lined up properly, I was already focussed, and got what was probably my favourite photo from the entire tour.

I was a little annoyed that I’d got so much space above this little guys head, but this is a perfect space for the time and date on my iPhone lock screen, and it will also be great for adding copy on an ad or magazine cover for example, so I’m looking forward to getting this uploaded to OFFSET the stock agency that represents my work. I’ll share more of this little guy later, but I hope you like this shot. It’s definitely one of my favourites.

The last photography stop of the tour turned out to be Mashuu Lake, as you see here (below). This is a beautiful spot, but now with only thirty minutes left, as we spent 15 minutes shooting the fox, we only had time for a bit of a flying visit before we had to continue on to Kushiro.

Mashuu Lake

Mashuu Lake

We had some great local food in a quaint old bar that night, and then woke the next morning to a cancelled flight, as the weather had closed in even earlier than expected. Yukiko our tour conductor worked her magic, and after around 90 minutes of phone calls and planning discussions with me, we decided to change our flights again, and take a risk on driving over to yet another airport that still had some free seats on the next three flights, and had not yet cancelled their first flight of the day, which was a good sign, as all other airports were cancelling their flights as quickly as we could check on availability.

To cut a long story short-ish, our plans panned out, and although we lost our afternoon on day eleven and the morning on day twelve, we were repaid with a some wonderful fox photographs, a bonus landscape shoot at Mashuu Lake, and we still ended up back in Tokyo an hour earlier than planned, much to the relief of our guests who mostly had international flights to catch the following day.

As usual, at the end of the trip, I went around the bus with my iPhone and recorded a brief message from each member of the group, which I’ll play you now.

[Listen to the audio to hear what the group had to say.]

Also, one of the participants Rich Dyson, a very talented UK photographer based in Edinburgh, Scotland, has posted a detailed recount of our tour on his blog here, if you’d like to see the tour from a participants perspective. I am also going to be chatting with a few people from the tours in a Google Hangout at some point soon, so look out for those upcoming episodes.

2016 Japan Winter Wonderland Tours

OK, so that finishes my travelogue of our second Japan Winter Wildlife Tour for 2015. Note that we have been taking bookings for the 2016 tours for a while now, and both tours are already almost full, so if you would like to join us, check out the 2016 Tour page, and sign up sooner rather than later, to secure your place on a Japan Winter Wildlife Tour of a lifetime.

 


Show Notes

See Details of 2016 Tours here: https://mbp.ac/ww2016

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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