Hokkaido Landscape Tour Reconnaissance Trip

Hokkaido Landscape Tour Reconnaissance Trip

This post is going to be a living document for a few weeks, depending on how much time, energy and connectivity I have. I’ve come up to Hokkaido, where I run my winter tours, for a 12 day trip with the first half being a reconnaissance trip for a possible new Landscape workshop that I want to put together for 2012. Then I will meet up with a friend that was to be on the whirlwind wildlife tour before I canceled it for lack of interest. There was no obligation for me to do this, but I also wanted to photograph the Eagles and Cranes here without the group that I’ll be coming back with in a few weeks time. As much as I love doing my Hokkaido Winter Wildlife Tours, and as much as I allow myself to shoot, I’m never photographing fully for myself on the tour. I’m always conscious of my group, as I should be, but this means that it’s actually been five years since I was in Hokkaido in the winter just for me, so here I am.

My plan is to pretty much circumnavigate Hokkaido over the next 12 days, as you can see in the below map. If you don’t know where Hokkaido is by the way, it’s the big island at the top of Japan, above Honshu. If you don’t know where Japan is, it’s the banana shaped island next to Korea and China!

Hokkaido Travel Plans

Hokkaido Travel Plans

On January 26, 2011, I left my Tokyo home at 2PM, for a ferry from the port of Ooarai, in the Ibaraki Prefecture.This is basically Day zero, as the map above starts at Day 1, after the 19 hour ferry journey.

The roads were clear so the drive took just under two hours. I stopped at the convenience store just outside the port and bought dinner and breakfast, and a few tinnies, in case I needed some help getting to sleep in my bunk. I was in a Casual Room, which could have been inhabited by 12 other snoring blokes. Luckily there were only two others in the room, and I’m sure I snored louder than both of them.

My Bunk on the Ferry

My Bunk on the Ferry

There was no Internet connectivity, either wireless or by my Pocket Wifi, and for some reason, I felt really tired, so I just crashed out pretty much as soon as we set sail at 18:30. It was a weird night’s sleep. The rocking of the boat obviously encroaching into my dreams, as I kept dreaming that I was in the basket of a hot air balloon, weaving my way through streets, under the power cables etc.

Day 1

I slept on and off, then got up at 6AM to see if the sun rise would give me any nice shots. The speed of the ferry combined with the already cold northern Japan winter air made me pleased that there wasn’t really anything on the boat to include with a sunrise in back, so I gladly went back to bed for three more hours.

After a while there was an announcement that the tallest brick Lighthouse in Japan could be seen to the left of the ferry, so I went back outside and took a few shots. Unfortunately the warmth of the sea water hitting the cold air meant that the air along the horizon towards the tip of Honshu were shimmering and so it wasn’t really much of a scene to capture.

Before I headed back into my room, I noticed a patch of sunlight pouring through a gap in some heavy cloud behind us, and having tried a few different compositions, quite liked this one.

Lifeboat

Lifeboat

I cut most of the light coming through the clouds off, but I thought I’d share my thought process here.

My car was filthy before I got started so I stopped at a gas station, filled up, and then had them wash my car while I was there. This can be a time consuming activity in Japan, especially when they also sell you $150 worth of Winter style windscreen wipers, that don’t freeze up as easily as my native Tokyo ones. I arrived at my hotel in Jousankei, marked Day 1 on the above map, just as the sun went down. I went out as it got dark, feverish to make some images, and got the following two by the river behind the hotel.

Snow Pillows

Snow Pillows

The warm light isn’t a sunset, it’s the lights from the hotel on the other side of the river, but what the hey! The below photograph is the larger scene. This is a typical hot springs hotel town here in Japan, but you gotta love those snow pillows! 🙂

Jouzankei Hot Springs

Jouzankei Hot Springs

I wasn’t actually expecting to get anything worth sharing today, so I’m happy enough. It’s off to bed now, and up at 6AM for a sunrise. My trusty iPhone tells me that the sun will rise pretty much down this river, so I might get some naturally warm light around my snow pillows tomorrow. If not, it’ll be back in for an early breakfast then hitting the road. I have a long drive tomorrow, and the roads are icy and scary for us non-initiated.

Day 2

OK, I didn’t have any Internet on Day 2, but I do on Day 3. The problem is, I’m making more photos now, so just going through them all and doing black and whites of the ones I want to do so with is taking a lot of time. I’ll see if I can give at least a quick update though.

It was overcast when I got up on Day 2, and with the mountains at the end of the valley, it became obvious that there would be nothing to reflect in the water in the river, so I switched the plan B, had breakfast as soon as they opened and hit the road.

When I got out to my car the thermometer told me it was -7 Celcius, which explains why my rubber floor mats had become almost as hard as plastic and pushed back against my foot as I pushed down on the accelerator. It was even more worrying as it pushed back when I hit the break for the first few times, but then it started to soften up as the car warmed up.

Boro Lighthouse

Boro Lighthouse

The main objective today was to get up to a place called Haboro, where I would spend the second night, and I estimated that I’d be able to stop for up to two hours of photography, if the roads remained clear. I wanted to get close enough to Haboro to make sure that I could actually get there though, without getting snowed in somewhere, so I fought the temptation to stop at a number of promising looking spots.

The first spot I did stop at looked promising, but didn’t turn into much. Then, as I drove through a small town that I believe is called Boro, I saw a lighthouse on a promontory. Lighthouses always add a nice feature in a shot, in my opinion, so I started to see if there was anywhere to shoot it from, and just as I was about to leave town, I found it.

Had there been no where to park, I’d have missed this, but luckily there was a small lane that led down into the harbor in the village, and it was wide enough to park and still allow people to get past.

I ended up stacking two ND8 and an NDX400 neutral density filter, almost 15 stops worth, for a 30 second exposure here (right). That and a little bit of Silver Efex Pro gave me a relatively nice shot, I thought.

After that, just past a town called Rumoi, I spotted some cormorants on some wave-breakers, and swung the car around again for this shot.

Three Cormorants

Three Cormorants

I love it when the sun is shimmering on the water like this, especially when there is heavy cloud near the horizon. A lot of the time if there isn’t heavy cloud, but it is cloudy, I’ll drop a neutral density grad over the top of the sky in Lightroom, but this one is natural.

I stopped a few more times, but then arrived at Haboro. I had a drive through the back roads, around the farms, and found some nice spots, but with no fresh snow and relatively clear skies, it wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Then as it got down, I headed into the harbor and did a few more long exposures, like the one below.

Boats in Haboro Port

Boats in Haboro Port

Day 3

I didn’t expect this trip to be so easy when it came to early starts, but because I hadn’t noticed anything that would warrant a dawn shoot, I decided to east breakfast at 7AM again and then headed out.

Hut on the Edge of Town (Haboro)

Hut on the Edge of Town (Haboro)

It had snowed about 15cm overnight, and was still snowing as I left the hotel. Having spent most of the last 10 years in Tokyo, I’m always a little dubious about driving in snow, but I had my $150 Winter windscreen wipers from the first day, so I felt confident! 😉

It was actually easier driving on fresh snow than on the nasty ice that get’s left around later, and it was well below freezing again, so there wasn’t much risk of the fresh snow being on wet ice, which is extremely scary.

The fresh snow changed everything though. I had around 130km to cover today up to Wakkanai, at the northern tip of Hokkaido, and again, with the snow, I intended to get a good way there before I started to photograph. Famous last words! I couldn’t get out of town. There were beautiful little snow covered things everywhere. I haven’t been able to get through all of my pics yet, so I won’t show you all of them but here’s one of my favorites from just outside of Haboro (right).

This sky is half real, and half Lightroom by the way. It was a heavy snow filled sky, but not heavy enough, so I helped it a little.

The drive up from Haboro to Wakkanai was amazing. This is a beautiful area. Unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, the snow gave way to clear skies as I drove further north, until it was positively balmy towards the northern most tip of Japan. I stopped and made a few long exposures of Rishiri Island, but I’m not fully happy with them. The skies weren’t cooperating. Then, as I pulled into a small habor on the edge of town, I found this prehistoric frozen camel-horse, cow, thingy…

Prehistoric Frozen Camel-Horse, Cow

Prehistoric Frozen Camel-Horse, Cow

You gotta love driftwood!

I got the angle finder out and a 16-35mm, and aligned the sun with this guys back and grabbed a few shots. I had to make sure I had a catchlight in his eye too, or this wouldn’t have worked. 🙂

I then took a good drive around, looking for some of the other things I wanted to photograph, and did some more long exposures before heading for the hotel. I can’t decide which one to post though, so I’ll leave it for today. It’s already an hour later than I wanted it to be, so good night!

Day 4

By the end of Day 3, I had a bunch of locations that I wanted to visit on day 4, but weather conditions would dictate which one’s I aimed for at dawn. As there was cloud cover, I decided to use the dawn light for a moody photo of some wooden frames that they use to hang and dry fish from near one of the harbors.

Fish Drying Frames

Fish Drying Frames

Now, for you Michael Kenna fans out there, before you come screaming to me that I’m copying his work, I know. I am specifically searching out some of the locations that he has shot on this trip, because I want the tour that I’m developing to appeal to people that like this sort of work.

I personally love these shots, and I am trying to bring my own feel to the images I’m creating. In fact, sometimes when I have some of the subjects or scenes framed and ready to shoot, I pass it over, because it’s too similar to something I have seen of Michael Kenna’s work. But, I’m not Michael Kenna, and I have no intention of trying to emulate his work. The subjects are the same, but they are represented how I want to.

So why the long winded explanation? Because the back of the frame to the left here, is the right of two frames that Michael Kenna shot in a very similar way. I know that some people will jump on me for this, but don’t bother. I know! 🙂

After I’d photographed these fish hanging frames, I drove around the harbor, and then around the Wakkanai harbor, and noticed a sea mist, so I broke out the 600mm and did a vertical pano for this shot.

Lighthouse with Sea Mist

Lighthouse with Sea Mist

The wind electricity generators in the background are on the other side of the Souya Harbor, which is where I headed after this, and found these eight boats perfectly lined up in the Souya Port.

Souya Harbor Fishing Boats

Souya Harbor Fishing Boats

This is one of my favorite shots of the trip so far. I shot about four or five frames here, each over two minutes long, and I got the clouds just how I wanted them in this one. Again, I was stacking lots of ND filters.

I ended up at the northern-most tip of Japan, a few kilometers up the road from this Souya Port, and had to set the 10 second timer for this tourist memory shot.

The Northern-Most Tip of Japan

The Northern-Most Tip of Japan

That white streak on the sea is drift ice. This stuff is essential for shooting Steller’s Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, as they need somewhere to perch to eat, and we need somewhere to throw the fish on to, to lure them. I was pleased to see that the Okhotsk Sea was full of drift ice for over 100 kilometers as I drove down to Oumu, where I’d spend the night and get up for a sunrise shot on…

Day 5

So, having spent way too long going through my pictures in the hotel at Oumu, I was really not up for getting up at 6AM for a sunrise shoot. I even said to myself that the world doesn’t need another sunrise shot, trying to talk myself into going back to sleep. But, the cold air and drift ice does funny things to the sun in this part of the world, so I headed down to a point where I would be able to photograph the sunrise at about 6:30AM.

Well, for the first time in my life, I witnessed the fabled “Square Sun”.

Square Sun

Square Sun

Then, I almost got the legendary “Wine Glass”.

Almost a Wine Glass

Almost a Wine Glass

Then it became clear where Apple got the iTunes Logo from.

iTunes Logo?

iTunes Logo?

Then, just as I thought it was all over, someone decided to pour a ginormous blob of molten metal through the clouds.

Molten Metal from the Sky

Molten Metal from the Sky

After the dawn drama, I took a steady drive down to the Saroma Lake, where I spend the hold day driving the entire circumference of this huge lake, looking for interest locations. I found surprising few, but enough to keep me happy.

Saroma Lake Tree

Saroma Lake Tree

Crow in Tree

Crow in Tree

Boy did I wish that was an eagle in the tree not a crow…

From Girders

From Girders

And, that took me to the end of Day 5. Tomorrow I hook up with a friend flying in from the States, and we’ll be shooting Eagles and Fish Owls in Rausu for three days, then over to Kushiro for the Red-Crowned Cranes for the three days after that.

The volume of shots is going to increase from tomorrow, and I know that I don’t have Internet Connectivity in the first hotel, but if I get a chance to throw up a few quick selects in the coming days I will.

I’m very pleased with this first five days, and believe there’s a tour here for 2012. If by the way, you are interested in shooting in the locations we’ve looked at in the post, please do drop me a line, and I’ll keep you up to date on my plans. In fact, even if you aren’t a definite starter, please let me know if you “might” be interested, because that will help me to gauge interest, and fuel me to get things planned ahead of other priority tasks. You can drop me a line via our contact form here.

Thanks for keeping track of this trip too. I really appreciate all of your interest and support!

See you when I get a signal again…

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #2 (Podcast 173)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #2 (Podcast 173)

Last week we started a two part series in which we are looking at some images that I made on a trip over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, three weeks ago, and we’ll take a quick look at those again today. Let’s jump right into it though, and we’ll see what I shot in the few hours after breakfast, before lunch, when we started heading back to Tokyo.

So, we were played out of Episode 172 with me all excited after my hour long shoot in the blizzard at dawn. I was heading back in for breakfast, but I wanted to remind you, I’ve said before, that when you go back inside with really cold gear, condensation will form on it, and if your gear is cold to the core, as mine would have undoubtedly been, condensation can form on the inside, giving you all sorts of problems, and even damaging your body or lenses. To avoid this, you need to put the gear into your camera bag and zip it up, and don’t open it in doors until the gear has had a chance to slowly warm up. Depending on how cold it is, it can take a good hour or more, before the risk of condensation subsides. You can also put your gear into plastic bags and tie up the opening to make it relatively airtight, but I prefer to just stick it all back in the bag if I’m going into the warm. Plastic bags do help to get the gear warmed up more quickly, so probably not to be ruled out as an option, especially if you are going to use it soon after going inside.

If you want to make backups of your images while you’re inside, I suggest you take the memory card out before you pack your gear away, as it will be tempting to open up the bag too early if the memory is still in the camera. Another thing to note is that if you are going to be heading back out into the cold within an hour or two, it is really not worth allowing your gear to warm up, because it’s only going to get cold again. Because of this, if you are in a relatively safe area, as in low crime, consider just putting your gear in the trunk of your car, as it’s going to be pretty cold in there too, if you haven’t had the engine running of course. I threw all my gear into the trunk of the car, and left it out in the cold while I had breakfast and checked out of the hotel etc. When I came back out to grab it and start shooting again, there was actually still snow all over my 600mm and 300mm lenses, and the body for that matter, so it was most definitely still below freezing in my car.

Anyway, let’s take a look at some more shots from the morning. The first of which is image number 2048. Although we haven’t looked at any swan shots yet, I was here mostly interested in shooting the swans that spend their winters here, because it’s warmer than Siberia, where they fly down from. At most of the lakes where you find swans in Japan you almost always find a large colony of Pintail ducks too, and these are what we see here walking up the snow covered beach of the Inawashiro Lake. Ducks are pretty comical I think, and this procession of waddling beauties is a good example. What they do is waddle their way up the beach, and wait outside the cafeteria door next to the hotel in which I’d stayed. The lady in the hotel cuts bread into pieces which they sell for $2 a bag. Tourists buy the bread and come outside and give it to the ducks, and then when it’s all gone, they fly down to the water to have a drink to wash down the bread. Then they waddle back up to the door to wait for the next tourist bearing bread to come out. I have mixed feelings about feeding these birds, but it is how they’ve been conditioned, and they look OK for it, so I guess its fine. Us humans need that contact too I believe. My wife doesn’t really like the cold, or more accurately, she doesn’t like the sensation of slipping on the snow, so she rarely comes with me to places like this, but here, she knows she can feed the ducks, and that makes it worth here while to come with me. We had also headed out just for a break, and spent the previous few days doing more of a touristy thing, visiting a quant village about an hour from here on the winter roads.

Pintail's March

Pintail’s March

I shot this image by the way with the 70-200mm F2.8 L lens and had set my camera to ISO 200, giving me a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second at F5. I didn’t select a smaller aperture, because I wanted to maintain a shallow enough depth of field to allow the back of the line of ducks and the waves on the lake to go out of focus some, adding a feeling of depth to the image.

I shot a few images, such of which are uploaded as well, of the ducks up close. It helps to try to slowly move in, shooting as you go, trying to get gradually closer to your subjects, if there’s a chance that you’ll spook them and they’ll fly away, as these ducks do. Sometimes though, you can get in so close, that you can capture some pretty cute expressions, as I think I did in image number 2051. Here I got so close that the duck on the right of the image looked right up at me, a little apprehensively, so I got a nice shot of that awareness of my presence. Pretty much all of the other shots are of the ducks in a totally nature pose, totally oblivious of my presence, so I thought this was a nice addition. This was shot still at ISO 200 but for 1/160th of a second at F6.3. I was add the wide end of my 70-200mm lens shooting at 80mm.

Awareness

Awareness

As you get too close though, the birds will get skitty and fly away, as they did a moment or two after the last shot. I wanted to see if I could capture that though, and so when they’d come back, I set my camera up to capture the action, as we can see in image number 2054. I selected an aperture of F2.8, wide open, with a shutter speed of 1/640th of a second, at ISO 100, and as I got close to the ducks again, they took flight, and I snapped of a few frames with the camera’s focusing system set to AI Servo, hoping to latch on to something interesting, and I did, with this single bird that we can see in the middle of the frame looking pretty sharp. It’s actually slightly soft due to the movement, but sharp enough to set it apart from the rest of the flock, for a pretty dynamic image of these pintails taking flight.

Flying Pintails

Flying Pintails

Tree with Three Swans

Tree with Three Swans

There were a couple of trees on the snowy beach of the lake, and I’d basically sat myself down in the snow, with my tripod legs opened up to the second notch, partly so that I could put my legs between the tripod legs, but mainly to give the tripod a wider base to help fortify it against the wind that was still battering this beach. I shot image number 2057 from this position. This is the image that I mentioned in my 2008 best shots round up episode. It is similar to the one I selected in my best ten, but this one has three swans in the top of the frame, adding an additional element of interest. I wanted to mention this image today for two reasons. Firstly, because I really like it, and wanted to share it with you. Secondly, because I used the new Content Aware Scaling in CS4 to bring the swans a little bit closer to the tree. In the original they are a little bit farther away from the tree than this, higher up in the frame. There was a lot of dead space which gave the impression of the image being too tall, in the native aspect ratio of the images from my 1Ds. So I basically selected the bottom half of the shot including the tree, then selected the top of the shot from the birds and above, saved the selection, and then selected the Context Aware Scaling, then made it aware that I wanted to protect my saved selection. That way, when you resize the image by dragging the frame around it, only the space between the tree and the swans get’s compressed, while maintaining the slight gradation in parts of the sky and the driving snow, that you can’t really see in the Web version. I probably wouldn’t have done this a few years ago, but I’m thinking that this is a good use of the technology now. It was shot at F8 for 1/125th of a second, at ISO 100.

Tree on Wintry Shore

Tree on Wintry Shore

Next let’s take another look at image number 2058, which was one of my 2008 best ten selection. I spoke about this shot recently, so won’t go into any detail on that again. The conditions were the same as the last shot we looked at anyway. I did want to mention why I chose this over the one with the swans for my best ten of 2008 though. You know, many moons ago, I did an episode on adding an additional element of interest, and I still do that when it makes sense. But this is one of those times where simplicity really does win out in my opinion. I’ve been doing a lot of test printing recently, and this has been one of the shots I’ve been printing, and there is enough in the image to hold our interest I think, without the swans. The main subject of course is the tree, and in a print, this is a pretty stunning piece of work. The dappled pattern on the bark adds nice contrast, and there are actually a number of brown withered leaves left on the tree that you end up picking out visually as the scan the print. Then of course though there’s the white snowy beach, which probably isn’t an element of interest in itself, more just stage setting, and then the breaking waves help to show that we’re at a lake or maybe even the sea, and there’s wind. Then as you look closer still, you see the snow, driving across the image from right to left, which actually helps to bring us back to the tree as our eyes wander. So basically we’re keeping the lone tree as the main subject, with nothing to fight for our attention. I do really like the version with the swans too, so I’m not ruling it out at all, but when the swans are there, it does fight for our attention, so it is not quite as aesthetic as this shot on the whole.

After I’d shot a number of frames of the tree, and was happy that I’d got what I wanted, with the waves in the right place and the snow adequately captured, a large group of swans flew in, so I took the camera off the tripod, and hand held for a number of shots with the swans flying into their roost. I shot a few images that I also like that I uploaded as well, but then saw or sensed some warm light behind me, and as I turned, there was a small break in the low cloud, revealing an patch of light and part of the distant bank of the Inawashiro Lake that we can see in image number 2061. This was also one of my favourites of 2008, that we looked at just a few weeks ago, so I’m not going to go into detail on the capture again. I did want to touch on one thing though, following a question from Ken Dickson in the forum at Photography martinbaileyphotography.com. Ken said “I was surprised to see you include images taken only days before in your best of collection. I normally like to allow my images to soak a bit before making that kind of decisions.” This is a great point. I actually mentioned this about another swan shot that I made in the last few days of 2007 that I included in my 2007 collection as well. I am a big believer in having a cooling off period after the excitement of the shoot to allow the emotional connection that we have with images to subside a little, so that we can make more objective decisions about our selection. Before I even upload images to my gallery, when possible, I allow two to three days for them to sink in a little. I’m living with 12 shots from a flowerscape shoot last weekend at the moment, waiting for the memories of the shoot to die down a little, as I had a great time shooting them, and it will make me want to upload them more now than it will in a few days. It’s definitely best to do this, and I find that this helps to make sure that in the most part, only your best work hits the eyes of the rest of the world.

Momentary Break in the Storm

Momentary Break in the Storm

There was a teeny weeny bit of risk in selecting these too shots from the last day of 2008 for my best ten of the year, which I was definitely conscious of. Things to note here though, are that although I shot them on December the 31st, I didn’t actually upload them until the 4th of January. This was really the time needed for to me to through my cooling off process. The other thing to bear in mind is that I didn’t actually put the list together until the 6th of January, so I’d actually had almost a week for these images to become real to me. Even with that in mind, as I said, I was conscious that there was still going to be some of the excitement of the shoot left in me. Almost a month has passed now though, and I’m still happy with the selection, so I think I’m good here. Thanks for the great question though Ken, and for your continued participation in the forum. It’s all very much appreciated.

So, let’s look at one last image before we close for today, and that is image number 2062. The last shot that we looked at was shot at 28 seconds past 11:14AM, just twenty seconds before this on. The brief break in the heavy snow clouds lasted literally just a few seconds, and by the time I shot the same six swans flying towards their roost here, it was gone. This is another one of those images that looks great in a print, as there are a literally hordes of swans in this photo, that you can hardly make out in the Web version. There are three swans on the lake in the foreground, directly below the six flying. Then there are of course the six flying in, but I have counted 115 swans in that roost or breeding ground between that dark line which is like a hard sand bank, and the snow on the land that we see further back in the distance. I just love delving into the details of shots like this, especially in a large print. I shot this by the way at F11 for 1/60th of a second, with ISO 100. Relying a little on the 70-200mm F2.8 lenses image stabilization here, shooting at a 150mm focal length.

124 Swans

124 Swans

So, as I mentioned, I was basically here with my wife. It was one of those relaxing break, with some photography sort of trips, so I didn’t want to push my luck doing too much. I’d had a flurry of images here having spent a few hours on the snow, in total, and was feeling pretty happy with my harvest. I was thinking to go back to the falls that I shot in winter at the beginning of January in 2008, but as the swans had kept me out of the beach for a little longer than I expected, I decided not to push my luck, and asked if my wife was ready to start heading back to Tokyo. The snow was pretty heavy still, so we decided to do just that. The snow stopped just a few miles towards home from here mind. We literally drove into a tunnel feeling like we were at the north pole, and we came out, and the sun was shining, and there was not even any snow on the ground. It felt pretty weird, and just shows how much mountains can affect the weather. We had a nice afternoon drive back to our apartment in Tokyo, and were back just as the sun set. My wife had enjoyed the trip, because I didn’t push my luck with my photography, and I had gotten, what I think at least, were some great shots, so it really was a nice finish to 2008 for the both of us.

So, I hope you enjoyed joining me at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008. I really enjoyed this shoot, and it was great warming up for the Hokkaido Workshop and Photography Tour which is now less than three weeks away. We’re just putting the final touches on the planning and all the participants have the details of the meeting point etc. It’s really now just a case of sending a few things off ahead, and then getting started. I can’t wait!

If you are doing a composite image for the January assignment, remember that we have a very short time to do this in our first assignment since switching to the monthly schedule. You will have until the 31st of January, which is this coming Saturday to upload your image to the Composite Assignment gallery at mbpgalleries.com. I’ll turn on voting from the 1st of February for two weeks, and then announce the winner in the following Podcast episode. We’ll also be kicking off a new assignment at the beginning of February, which will run that in parallel with the voting for the January assignment, so stay tuned for that too. I haven’t even started my composite image yet by the way, so I’m starting to get a little worried. I hope you’re having better luck making time for this yourself. Whether you intend to participate or not though, you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


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Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

Inawashiro Lake Blizzard – Part #1 (Podcast 172)

So, as you just heard, I was over at the Inawashiro Lake on the last day of 2008, hoping to capture one or two more good images before I said goodbye to the year. I believe I did that, as we saw two of the shots for this day in my best 10 shots of 2008, in episode 170, a few weeks ago. Today, we start a two part series in which I’m going to talk a little more about the trip, as we look at a few more shots from the day, and I’ll mix in a few tips on how I got some of the shots as usual.

We were played in there by me standing on the shore of Lake Inawashiro in the Fukushima prefecture in northern Japan. The wind was high, and the snow was driving at me at almost horizontally. It was impossible to stand looking into the snow and record, so as I said, I turned my back to the wind and snow for most of the time there. It was just after 6:30AM when I started recording that intro, and it was still pretty dark, but getting gradually lighter as I spoke. I was into Civil Twilight though, as I confirmed by using VelaClock, a tool that I use on my iPhone to find out when the various twilights start, and what time the sun will rise. I’ll be talking more about VelaClock in another episode in the near future, so I won’t go into much detail today, but I did want to quickly mention that from the last update, VelaClock now has the ability to select different days in the past or future, which was the last thing I was waiting for, after information on the azimuth at which the sun and moon will rise and set, so now, in my opinion, this is a must have iPhone application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. It also now has the ability to detect your location with the iPhone’s GPS, and give information on that location, or you can input GPS coordinates into the home location for use when planning a trip. I’ll put a link to the VelaClock site in the show-notes, but just search for VelaClock in iTunes App Store and you’ll find it there.

Anyway, the sun was going to rise at about 7AM, but the heavy snow clouds were cutting out a lot of the light. There was no point in just standing there though, waiting for the swans to fly, because like I said, they tend to swim more when it’s gusting as it was, and probably wouldn’t fly in this weather until it got a little warmer after dawn. So, basically, I started to see what could be picked out of the landscape with my 300mm F2.8 and we can see an example of what I captured in image number 2039. You can tell how low the light still was, because I shot with an aperture of F5.6, and I still had to select a shutter speed of 1/30th of a second, with ISO 800. In this wind, I was relying heavily on my tripod, and the Image Stabilization, because it really was gusting. Most of the shots were sharp though, as I shot mostly in the moments when the wind died down slightly, and the tripod served me well. Now, I have of course included a man-made object with this jetty that will be used in the summer months to board people onto their swan shaped paddling boat, but right now, it was only serving to add a point of reference in my photo showing how the snow was driving almost horizontally across the scene, and how really cold this place was. It wasn’t really bitterly cold, and nowhere near as cold as it gets in Hokkaido on the dawn shoots, but with the temperature being pretty much at around freezing point without the wind, when you calculate in the wind chill, it must have been around minus 10 or 15 degrees. I don’t know how fast the wind was blowing, so I can’t calculate this accurately.

Blizzard Jetty

Blizzard Jetty

I think I’ve mentioned before, but the main problem with shooting in conditions like this, apart from the obvious things like cold hands and actually seeing, is the fact that the snow hits the front element of your lens as soon as you point the lens directly at it. At this angle, I was still probably around a 45 degree angle away from the snow, and so could play with the scene a little. In the next image, number 2045, I was still working this same patch, just looking for areas of the scene to crop out with my 300mm lens. This was shot at 7:22, almost half an hour after the last shot. The sun was now above the horizon, though of course not lighting this scene, and probably in fact still behind the mounts behind me. The sky was of course though much brighter now, and so I had reduced my ISO to 200, and was shooting with a shutter speed of 1/50th of a second at F5 for this, so much more available light now, although still pretty bleak. This is one of my favourites from this series of shots where I just cropped out portions of the scene. I have uploaded a few more, and I will include a link in the show-notes to list all 30 shots that I uploaded from this day and the previous evening, in case you are interested in taking a look. I like the look of the dark trees with the driving snow and then the slightly soft background, caused by both the shallow depth of field, and the fact that there’s more snow back there. One thing to note here is that to bring out these blacks from the snow storm, I had to increase the black slider in Lightroom to about 20, from the default of 5, and increased the contrast and clarity some too, to bring out the definitions of the shapes a little more.

Snow Storm Trees

Snow Storm Trees

Getting back to the snow on the front element though, as the light levels rose, I really wanted to start shooting the area of the scene in which the swans roost, and so I was going to have to start and point my lens straight into the snow. I find that the only way to shoot in these conditions is to shoot quickly, then wipe the lens. If you only have a bit of water on the lens, you can usually blow it off with a blower, but in conditions like this, the front element gets covered pretty quickly, so there’s no option other than wiping it with a lens cloth. I keep one handy at all times when shooting, and simply had to shoot in bursts, then turn the camera towards me and give the front element a wipe, then shoot again for a few frames.

The other problem of course is that you can’t change the lens very easily, without risking getting snow, and therefore of course water, inside the camera, which is not good. It would probably be worth taking the risk if you really have to, but you would have to be very careful, and when you consider that I needed a long lens on the camera in case the swans did start to fly through the snow, I really didn’t think it was worth taking the risk. So, to capture images like number 2047, I basically turned the camera up into portrait mode, and shot a series of images, moving across the scene at about half a frame at a time, and then stitched them together in Photoshop. This was actually sixteen vertical images stitched together, with lots of overlap in each of course. The resulting image is 16,248 pixels long and 3,658 pixels high. It’s difficult to appreciate this in the Web version of course, but it’s one cool image to view in Photoshop CS4. The reason being that CS4 now uses the computers GPU or graphics processing unit to render images on the screen, and you can now grab the image and as you move it across the screen, the image scrolls fully intact, not like before, where it moved the image with a frame, then re-rendered the image after you let go of it. This means that you can basically zoom in to fill the screen horizontally, then just flick across it, viewing all of the detail in the image. There are a lot of swans in there, just waiting to be seen. I haven’t actually printed this out yet, but I’m hoping that before too long I’ll be able to print this out on roll paper, and do a really big long panoramic print of this, to see what it really looks like in its entirety. The stitching was painless by the way. CS4 seems to have made even more improvements to an already good stitching utility.

Swan's Roost

Swan’s Roost

This image was shot at 7:30AM, shortly before I finished the dawn shoot and went back inside for breakfast. I recorded another few minutes of audio before going back though, so let’s listen to that before we finish for today, ready to pick up the shoot after breakfast in the next episode. I kind of feel as though it would be nice to end with this clip, so let’s skip the housekeeping section for this week. Don’t tune out just yet, but I’ll just say thanks for listening, and you have a great week, whatever you’re doing. Bye bye.


Show Notes

Here’s a link to the VelaClock Application for the iPhone. This is a must have application for any photographer working in the great outdoors. http://www.veladg.com/velaclockapp.html

Music by UniqueTracks.


Audio

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