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


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Red-Crowned Cranes #4 – Hokkaido, Dec 2006 (Podcast 74)

Red-Crowned Cranes #4 – Hokkaido, Dec 2006 (Podcast 74)

In Dec ’06 I visited Hokkaido to photograph the Red-Crowned Cranes. Three and a half weeks ago, we started a series of travelogue style episodes in which you can join me on my photographic adventures and share my experiences while viewing some of my shots in iTunes or on my Web site. We pick up the trail at the start of the fourth and final day, again looking through the shots from this day, and also summarizing what I ended up gaining from this trip compared to what I was hoping for.

Before we go on to the main topic for today, note that this is the final week that the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast is being sponsored by top camera bag manufacture Lowepro. Over 40 years of firsts in camera bags. If you didn’t yet hear my review of the bags I use and details of the Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera bag that you can win in the Photography Assignment, please listen to Episode 70 of this Podcast. There’s still plenty of time to scoop this amazing prize. Thanks again to Lowepro for your support and generosity!

If you remember from the first few episodes of this travelogue, on this trip I was hoping to get three types of shots. Having gotten a few nice panning shots of the birds flying in the almost dark, with the movement of the wings recorded on film over the previous two evenings, I was relatively happy that I’d got some decent shots of the first type. The second two types of shots though depended on weather certain conditions and with just four days here, were always going to be hit and miss. I got up at 5AM on this final day to get out to the Otowa Bridge, which you might recall directly translates as “The Sound of Wings” bridge, and was still hoping for a chance to get some of the second type of shot I was after, which is the Cranes from this bridge enshrouded in the mist around dawn as the birds as they start their day. It was very cold on this final morning, but it was not quite as cold as it needs to be for the river to get misty as I’d hoped. For this the temperature needs to drop to around minus 15 degrees Celsius, or 5 degrees Fahrenheit. I don’t remember exactly, but I think it was around minus 8 to 10 degrees Celsius as I approached the bridge, still clinging to some threads of hope. As I setup my tripod with the 600mm F4 lens and peered down onto the river where the Cranes roost of cold nights, trying to make out the scene in the pre-dawn dark, I could see lots of lots of cranes, so it had obviously been cold, but unfortunately there was no mist. There went my chance to get the second type of shot of the three. There were a lot of cranes there though, so I decided to hang around on this last day, as I was hoping now to get some shots of the birds as they left this location, probably to fly to the Itoh Crane Sanctuary where I’d been spending most of the days here. This was kind of a gamble, as I was quite possibly throwing away my chance to get the third type of shot, which was one with a pair of cranes honking in the warm sunlight with the mist bellowing out of their beaks. I have some shots with the freezing breath visible from previous trips, but I really want one with the warm early morning sunlight as a backdrop. I could possibly have still gotten this shot had I gone to the Sanctuary now, and waited for sun-up, but there was no guarantee that the sky would turn orange as the sun rose, so I decided to stay here at the river, and try to capture the cranes in a different environment than the Sanctuary.

Let’s take a look at the first shot today, which is number 1246, where we can see a fairly large number of cranes still wandering around in the river as they start their day, and what are actually four Whooper Swans that have just taken off from the river, in the stretch of water between the back and front islands to the left. I found it quite interesting that these large birds all roost together, without any territorial squabbles. This was shot at 7:36AM, around 45 minutes after the sun hits the horizon. The low cloud and the mountains stopped this area from receiving any direct sunlight at this point, but the sky was taking on a slight orange tint, which was reflecting nicely in the water of the river. This was probably enhanced somewhat by the boost in saturation that I give my shots to get that Velvia slide film look that I like, but this is pretty much how I remember the scene anyway. I have cropped this image along the top and the bottom, to remove some unnecessary areas that really added nothing to the shot. If you take a look at the EXIF data below the image in my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com you’ll see that I was shooting at 840mm, which is the 600mm F4 lens with a 1.4X extender, which is what Canon calls a teleconverter. I had stopped down a little to F11 to get the background scene more in focus, but you can see that as I’m focusing on the flying swans here, even the cranes below at the front are slightly out of the depth of field, and the ones at the back of the scene are quite out of focus. There is enough detail in the scene though to be able to see what’s happening, and also allow us to focus on the swans that are sharp, removing any doubt as to what the main subject of the image is. The F11 aperture by the way meant that I had to raise the ISO to 400 to be able to get a shutter speed of 1/160th of a second. Because I was in manual mode you can see the amount of exposure compensation I was using, but as I recall, I was exposing around 1 to 1 and a third stop under what the camera’s meter was thinking, as it was still not all that bright a scene, and I didn’t want to falsely brighten it up at all. I would probably have gone as low as minus two stops for this kind of light had the river not been reflecting quite a lot of light, which was kicking the exposure back the other way, cancelling out some of the metering systems shortcomings. Note that I do use centre weighted metering most of the time, as opposed to evaluative metering, so I’m working more with direct light readings than the more intelligent matrix readings and algorithms that the camera would do if I left it totally up to the camera, so this might not translate exactly to your own shooting style. Really the best thing to do to get your own exposure right in the field is to keep checking your histogram to make sure you’re where you think you need to be for any particular scene. For a scene like this, you’d expect to see a large hump over in the left third or quarter, for the dark area of tree in the background and the sides of the frame, but another hump in the right quarter or so for the lighter water. With digital I generally tend to expose for the highlights, ensuring that nothing is blowing out, so ensuring the right side of your histogram doesn’t hit the right shoulder is usually a good guide.

Dawn from a Bridge #2

Dawn from a Bridge #2

In the next shot, number 1249, we see a close-up of a Red-Crowned Crane as it approached the bridge flying away from the river. This was singled out from a group of five or six cranes that had just taken off, which I chose to do rather than shooting with the 100-400mm lens on my 5D getting the whole group in. I did shoot some shots like that, but for now, want to look at this particular image. You’ll notice that I was still at F11, this time with a shutter speed of 1/125th of a second, and I’d dropped the ISO to 200 as it got lighter. This cost me a little shutter speed, but I wanted to get some movement in the bird’s wings as well. I can’t pretend though that I was changing these settings for each individual shot. There is simply not enough time to change the settings from the longer shots to the close-ups as the birds come towards you. One thing I was trying was keeping the Manual settings at F11, then the Aperture Priority settings at F5.6 or something, and switching from Manual to Aperture Priority as an easy way to switch around, but I found this to be a little troublesome and confusing, and I don’t recall if this really helped any more than it slowed me down. I will continue to develop this as a way of shooting though, as more practice may help to make it a more fluid switching system. The other thing of course is simply making a few clicks one way to change the aperture and a few more clicks the other way to change the shutter speed, of course I’m talking about when in Manual Mode, but when you’re talking just a second or so from when multiple birds are filling the frame to having to focus on a single bird coming towards you pretty fast, it can all just get pretty confusing and cost you the shot. The other thing I’m doing obviously is shooting with a second camera setup differently with a 100-400mm lens, so that I can zoom in and out much more efficiently and have a different depth of field at the ready. On the artistic side, I have kept this image quite dark, again, as there really was not a lot of available light around yet, but also to enhance the highlights that we can now see hitting the bird from back left where the sun was now breaking through the clouds. This sunlight was still not hitting the river below, but was now high enough in the sky to clear the mountains and break through the cloud hitting objects around the height of the bridge on which I was standing. These highlights are what make the shot for me, on the body and tail, plus neck and the side of the face of the bird, but also the tips of the wings. With a little movement registering, we can see the soft morning light illuminating the tips of the Cranes wings against the still very dark background.

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #27)

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #27)

In image number 1253, we can see another mass exodus as more than 30 cranes take to the sky from the river. There are I think around 28 birds in the main group, four more in a sub-group below the main group, one taking off alone from the furthest island on the left as we look at the shot, and another two cranes flying way in the background at the top right. I chose this from a number of images shot in succession as the birds flew towards me, mainly because the left and right-most cranes were nicely spaced from the edges of the frame without any cropping, I liked the two birds in the top right adding a little more interest, which will be much more apparent in a large print, and also, I like the pair of birds walking in the river to the left. I often see these cranes just walking around in pair, and again, I’m personifying them somewhat here, but it always seems as though they’re just having a breakfast time stroll, reflecting on life in what seems to be, although extremely harsh conditions, something of a Utopia for these magnificent birds. There’re two more pairs in the middle of the frame as well, that seem to be just wandering around, which for me just adds a little more to the overall story that unfolds the more I look at this image. Trying now to get to ISO 100, for minimal grain, I’d opened the aperture up to F8, with a shutter speed of 1/250th of a second when I shot this. Again, to a certain extent being governed more by the changing light than for the need for more of less depth of field, but as the entire scene was so far away, even when shooting this at 600mm, having removed the 1.4X extender for a while, I think there was enough depth of field at F8 to pull this off. We can see now, with the sun having been up for an hour and twenty minutes, that the suns rays were now catching the wings of the cranes even at this part of the river, and the surface of the water was much brighter now and still taking on quite a yellow cast, partly due to the warm morning sun, and partly down to the saturation settings used in post processing.

Exodus

Exodus

It was shortly after this that I had to head back to the Hotel Taito for breakfast, and say goodbye to this location for this trip. There are more images from this few hours pre-breakfast shoot on my web site along with all the others from this trip. Again, I’ll put a link to display all the images from the trip in the shownotes, but let’s continue looking at the rest of the day’s shots that I started after breakfast, with image number 1255. In this photo you can see that the I had basically lost my chance to get the third kind of photo I’d been hoping for, which is the cranes with their breath freezing against the warm morning sun as a background. It was just too warm as the sun came up on this final day too. This is a nice-ish shot with the two cranes honking, one of them with the wind ruffling up its tail-feathers, and the other behind honking too, kind of like a backup. The tree to the right in the background is in focus enough to add a little interest, but not so much that it overpowers the main subjects, which are of course, the cranes. I like this shot mainly because of the detail in the tail of the crane on the right side though, plus there are no other birds cluttering up the shot, and there’s a nice catch-light in both birds eyes. One other thing to note here is that many of the birds at the Sanctuary actually have id rings on their legs, so it’s always nice, as with this shot, to capture some crane that have not yet been tagged. I shot this at F8 for 1/400th of a second, at ISO 100, with my 600mm F4 lens.

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #29)

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #29)

In image number 1259, we can see another pair of cranes, this time one with tagged legs. For this shot, I really just like the slightly comical way the crane to the right is looking very nancilantly at the bird to the left, who is obviously trying its best to impress with a wonderful dance. The catch-light in the bird to the lefts eye is nice too. Shot at F8 for 1/500th of a second, again at ISO 100, with the 600mm F4 lens. Not a particularly great shot. I thought I’d include it today really to also just touch on cropping. It always feels good to nail a shot in such a way that it requires no cropping, but I feel that cropping should also be used to enhance a shot. It is part of the composition, sometimes visualized when shooting, such as to remove to top, bottom or both of a shot that will obviously look better as a letterbox style panorama, but it can also be an afterthought. Either way, I don’t particularly feel that cropping a shot is in any way cheating, as some people seem to think, even if it is being done to remove something that detracts from the main subject. In the original of the image we’re currently looking at, it was obvious I’d need to crop it when I shot it. There was part of a single crane on the left edge, and the tail of another crane encroaching into the scene from the right. After cropping them out I’m left with a perfectly balanced square image. Of course, I could have changed to a vertical composition, but as I was using a prime lens, not a zoom, I would have just ended up with more foreground and sky that would not have been necessary, so I’m happy with simply cropping out around 20% of the left side and 10% of the right of the image. On occasion, I’ll also crop out portions of a larger photo, when I could simply not get physically closer, or did not have a long enough lens to make up for not being able to get closer. You need of course to be careful as to not cut so much away that you leave yourself with a tiny image, especially if you want to make large prints, but the amount you can remove leaving the image useful really depends on your intended use and how many pixels you had to start with, and with all that in mind, it is still very much open to debate as to what you need and I am not about to start preaching on this in any way. Of course its up to the individual to decide how you each feel about this, and the amount of cropping that you personally can do, if at all. Of course, one last thing I should say on this is that cropping just out of laziness and not taking the time to get it right in the field is something I would not do. If you can move closer, or use a different lens, do so. It’s always best to get the image as good as possible in the field over any amount of post processing. All I’m saying here is that as photographers our main job is already deciding what to leave out of the frame, sometimes equally if not more important than the decision on what to include in the image, so cropping should not be avoided, just for the sake of keeping the original aspect ratio. Trying to do so may unnecessarily limit your creativity.

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #33)

Red-Crowned Crane (Tsurui #33)

By lunch time, the sky had really started to clear up, much more than any of the previous three days, which opened up a whole new window of opportunity for me photographically. I could now experiment a little more with the cranes against the blue sky, which often looks so much better than when they are set against a plain white or grey sky, just because there is so much more contrast. In image number 1262 I noticed a bunch of pigeons that had taken off from the field at the Sanctuary at roughly the same time as the same number of cranes took off and flew out to the left. We can see here that there are exactly four pigeons and four cranes, with a nice blue sky with a few wispy clouds as a backdrop. It would have been nice if the two different breeds of bird had flown in line or at least a little more symmetrically arranged in some way, but still I feel that being able to play off the number coincidence is better than a straight shot in some ways. You’ll see here that I have cropped the top and bottom of this shot too, to allow us to home in on the eight birds more easily. This was shot with the 100-400mm lens on the 5D at F8 for 1/640th of a second, ISO 100.

Four Cranes, Four Pigeons

Four Cranes, Four Pigeons

In image number 1274 we can see that another element, a benefit of the sky clearing, had appeared to add interest. The moon, although rising quickly, was now helping to add another element to my shots, as the timing of the birds fell into place. By now it was 12:30PM, and I was into my last hour and a half of shooting before I had to leave for the airport to fly back to Tokyo. The moon, and the blue sky had me running around frantically, really quite charged up as things unfolded. As I wanted to get some detail in the moon, I closed the aperture down to F11 and raised the ISO to 200 to compensate, giving me a shutter speed of 1/500th of a second. Not a brilliant shot again, but the tops of the trees along with the moon add a little something more to the shot than the cranes alone against the blue sky.

Cranes and the Moon #1

Cranes and the Moon #1

The next shot, number 1286 is one of my favourites from this final day, and possibly from the whole trip. This is going to be a little difficult to appreciate on an iPod and possibly difficult even on the Web size that I uploaded to my site, but this is a really nice large print. I recall tracking with the birds as they circled in the distance having flown out of the Sanctuary, and positioned the moon in the bottom right hand corner of the frame, and rotated the camera with the three cranes to keep them in the top left. I don’t recall cropping this at all, so really the in-camera composition is what you see here, which I personally think really works as a large fine art print, with just the moon and the three cranes against a uniformly coloured dark blue sky. This will probably work as a black and white print too, but I didn’t give it a try yet. For this I’d actually closed the aperture down even further to F16, and raised the ISO to 400, again to compensate, so that I could keep the shutter speed at 1/500th of a second. I was using the 100-400mm lens on the 5D by the way. The fact that I was at the widest focal length of 100mm with this lens really pushed my composition as I tracked round with the birds and the moon, and I think I pulled it off OK.

Cranes and the Moon #4

Cranes and the Moon #4

Another shot at 100mm with the 5D is the last shot of the cranes that we’ll look at today is image number 1291. For this shot, I’d initially taken my mind off the moon for a while, as it was now quite high in the sky, and I thought I’d got a few successful shots, so I’d dropped the ISO to 100 again, and was shooting at F5.6 for 1/640th of a second. It was kind of just luck that this pair of cranes flew straight out of the Sanctuary over head and towards to the moon, allowing me to get them all in the frame together again. You’ll not really notice the moon being a little soft with the narrower depth of field in this shot, but when viewed at full size it is just a little softer than I’d have like, but the cranes are incredibly sharp, so I’m still thinking it’s a nice addition to the gallery from this trip. I wanted to briefly touch on the importance of keeping an eye out behind you when shooting at this kind of location. The birds often fly in from behind you, and also often circle around after taking off, allowing you to get some great shots like this that would simply not be possible if you only look straight ahead, waiting for action in front of you. Of course, if you spend all your time looking behind you, you’ll miss action in front of you too, so I find that a glimpse over you shoulder every minute or so can help increase your chances. You won’t catch them all, but it helps. The other thing I find useful too is just keeping your ears open, waiting for the shutter clicking away on the cameras of people away. This give very little warning, as they will already be shooting, but if you can get your second camera in your hand either ready, or pick it up very quickly, as I was doing by putting it in the stone bag of my Gitzo tripod, you can still get some great shots, even if you wait until hearing other photographs cameras clicking away. I’ve not included any shots of the cranes almost overhead in this Podcast, as it would make it a little too long, but there are some on my Web site if you are interested in taking a look.

Cranes and the Moon #5

Cranes and the Moon #5

If you check the EXIF data below this last photo on my Web site you’ll see that it is already 2:10PM, ten minutes past the time I’d planned to leave for the airport. I simply could not drag myself away from the Sanctuary with all the action going on overhead, but I really was starting to cut it fine by now. I packed away my camera, and said goodbye to Watanabe-san, who I’d met here three days earlier and spent a lot of time chatting to during my stay, and also said goodbye to Cezary Raczko who I’d met here a couple of times over the last few days, and I started to walk back towards the car to make for the airport. I can’t remember if I’m pronouncing Cezary’s or maybe Chezary’s name properly actually, and if I’m getting it wrong, please forgive me, but this US based wildlife and scenic photographer is creating some really great stuff. I’ll put a link to his Web site in the show-notes, so please do check it out. Anyway, as I walked away from the Sanctuary I could’t resist raising my camera to shoot this last shot for today though, number 1294. I noticed five cranes coming in to land as I walked along the road, and I happened to be positioned so that they fell right into line above Watanabe-san in the distance. That’s him there with the dark navy coloured coat on, snapping away. He was going to be here for one more day, for which I must admit I was a little envious. I was also envious of the people I’d met at the hotel that were here on Christmas day, a few days before I’d arrived, because it had been extremely cold, and the mist on the river had been magnificent. Exactly what I’d hoped to capture, but it wasn’t to be. It was also not to be, for my other shot, of the freezing breath against the warm morning sunlight. I had gotten a few nice panning shots, and a number of other great shots, so I was in no way disappointed with my quarry.

Goodbye Itoh Crane Sanctuary

Goodbye Itoh Crane Sanctuary

Wildlife photography, like any other kind of photography that depends on special weather conditions or timing of natural events, takes a lot of time and patience. I would have been ecstatic to have captured all three types of shots during my four, well actually three and a half days here in Hokkaido in December 2006, but this is really not long enough, and I was hoping more for some good luck than anything else. This was my third winter trip to Hokkaido, and will definitely not be my last. Hopefully next year I’ll be able to find more time, a week at the least, hopefully longer, to really concentrate on getting some spectacular shots. And even if I manage to capture something that I am really happy with, it will not be the last visit. I intend to keep coming back here as long as I can finance the travel, either through my day job, or my photography, and each time, I’ll come away with something a little better, or a little different. Of course, people will always get lucky, and maybe turn up once, and get the exact conditions to make a killing in one or two days, but generally, not giving up on nature and wildlife photography is the only way to improve your portfolio. Of course, each year we continue to hone our skills, and improve as photographers, or at least we should, so this coupled with mother nature’s ficalty, pretty make up the reasons that I’ll keep coming back.

So that’s it for this four part series covering my trip to Hokkaido, to the town of Tsurui in December 2006. I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Before we finish just a couple of bits of housekeeping… Firstly, I wanted to mention that I was interviewed by Thomaz Trzebiatowski (prounced: tomash tchebiatovsky) of the Shutterstories Podcast. Thomaz has just launched a new Web site where you’ll find our interview, plus currently three others from other photographers which make for a great read. If you have some time, please take a look at www.shutterstoriesmagazine.com.

Finally, remember that there’s still some time to enter the “Silence” assignment and put your self in a position to win the Lowepro Stealth Reporter D650 AW camera that will be awarded to the entrant with the most votes after the assignment after the current one. Take a look in the Assignment Forum at martinbaileyphotography.com for more details, but just to remind you, you’ll be able to upload your images for the Silence assignment until the end of Sunday the 18th, so just over a week now as of the date of release of this episode. With this Assignment we’ll have a winner of the print of your choice from my online gallery at martinbaileyphotography.com, but the scores will go into a pool, and added to the scores for the following Assignment that will be announced after two weeks of voting for the Silence Assignment, at the same time at the winner. If you amass more votes from both, or even a single assignment, you will take the Amazing Lowepro camera bag. So good luck with your last weeks shooting for the Silence Assignment for now. Have a great week, whether you’re shooting for the assignment or whatever you do. Bye bye.


Show Notes
Music from Music Alley: www.musicalley.com/

Check out the interview that Thomaz Trzebiatowski of the Shutterstories Podcast was kind enough to do with me at Thomaz’s new Web site: http://www.shutterstoriesmagazine.com


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Hokkaido Feb ‘06 Part IV – Deer and Seals (Podcast 28)

Hokkaido Feb ‘06 Part IV – Deer and Seals (Podcast 28)

Hello, and welcome to episode 28 of the Martin Bailey Photography Podcast. In this the fourth and final episode of a photo-journal of my trip to Hokkaido the northern-most island of Japan, in February 2006, I’ll discuss some dear shots from the afternoon of the third day and some seal shots from the last hours before heading for the airport on the last day.

Ezo Deer #1

Ezo Deer #1

Firstly, let’s take a look at shot number 926. Shortly before shooting the “Drift Ice at Sundown” shot that I mentioned at the end of episode 27, we visited the Shiretoko Nature Center. On the way up to the center there were two deer standing on the steep concrete embankment at the side of the road that stops the earth from sliding down into the road. This enabled me to walk right up underneath this fawn and shoot it a number of times. I chose this one to upload as it shows the fawn with it’s jaw extending out to the side as it chews a scrap of grass it’s found under the snow, and also the snow on it’s face from rooting around. This was shot at F5.6 with my 100-400mm lens, which was fully extended to 400mm so that I didn’t have to get so close as to scare the deer, and I had the ISO set to 640 which gave me a nice fast shutter speed of 1/1000 of a second.

Ezo Deer in His "Element"

Ezo Deer in His “Element”

Shortly after the shot of the fawn, we got back on the bus and headed up for the Nature Center. There we were joined by a guide from the center and a friend of Yoshiaki Kobayashi, the pro that we were on the tour with. He told us that there were some male deer in the grounds behind the center and guided us out there. Although in this area there are deer pretty much everywhere, the male are usually quite timid, and stay away from the sides of the road, preferring to keep deeper in the woods for most of the time. So it was great to be able to get really close, literally just five meters or so from some young males as in shot number 927.

I shot this sitting in the snow on a footpath at the edge of the woods, again with my 100-400mm lens. There was not a lot of available light as it was overcast and snowing, so I cranked up the ISO to 800 and rested my elbows on my legs to stabilize the lens as much as possible. The aperture still set to F5.6, this shot was exposed for 1/250 of a second. I was also exposure compensating by minus 1/3, which still gave a resulting image that was slightly brighter than the actual scene, but any darker than this and we’d start to miss detail in the deer’s fur coat. I also like to keep the snowy areas as white as possible giving this image a nice dreamy feel, while maintaining the harsh conditions in which these beautiful animals live.

Ezo Deer #4

Ezo Deer #4

These deer are known in Japanese as Ezo Shika. Shika simply means deer, but Ezo is a word that is appended to many animals and plants that are native to Hokkaido, though many are also found in areas of similar harsh climate such as far north Japan or nearby Siberia and China.  The Ezo Shika have a very hard time finding food during the long Hokkaido winter, which results in them having to eat the bark from trees as we can see in the next shot, number 929. This is apparently not that great a source of energy compared to the effort taken to actually eat it, and it is becoming a problem for the trees themselves. They are more susceptible to various diseases without the bark and many die as a result. I’m no expert of the reasons for this. It may well be something that has always happened during winter, but it has been highlighted more recently since the Shiretoko Peninsula was registered as a Unesco World Heritage site and is now protected along with all the deer. So the locals can no longer hunt the deer and their numbers are growing to pest proportions. I must admit though, this is something that I personally as a photographer, and probably the thousands of deer in the area are pretty happy about.

 

Taishou and Ogawa-San

Taishou and Ogawa-San

Next let’s take a look at shot number 931, which is really more of a snap or at best a documentary photo from the trip, that shows a guy who’s nickname is Taishou and Ogawa-san, an elderly gentleman that joins most of the photography tours with Yoshiaki Kobayashi. I’m not sure how old he is, but probably in his 70’s he really holds up well in this cold and is just an incredibly nice fellow all round. You can see here how close we were able to get to another male deer, not the one in the previous shot, this one was a little younger with smaller antlers, but he was so interested in stripping the bark from the trees that he didn’t seem to mind us that much at all. We were told that they can be quite dangerous though if they decide they don’t want you around. So if you find yourself in a similar situation approach with caution. I also just really like the warm feel of the sun as it dropped low in the sky behind the trees here accentuating the tunnel the bows of the surrounding trees made at the end of the third day of the trip.

I closed the aperture down to F11 with a shutter speed of 1/320 of a second, again at ISO 800 for this shot and minus 2/3 exposure compensation to stop the sky from blowing out and loosing that warm feeling. We then went to the Puyuni Promontory from where I shot the drift ice in Utoro Bay that I showed you at the end of episode 27 last week. That was the last photo from the third day.

The following morning we had a bit of a lie in. The first three days of the tour had meant getting up at 4AM, and everyone was feeling pretty tired. The sun rises behind the mountains here in Utoro, so as there’s no real golden light to speak of, this wasn’t such a bad idea. Having said that, I was wide awake at 6:20AM and started getting ready for the journey back to Tokyo after the morning’s shoot. I sent a parcel of the stuff that I would no longer need back before breakfast. This only costs around $16 and saves a lot of messing around carrying around additional luggage. Things included thermal wear that I would no longer need and dirty laundry from the previous days. I also packed off my monopod and battery chargers etc. as I would no longer need these either.

Oshinkoshin Falls

Oshinkoshin Falls

We headed out from the hotel at 9AM for the Oshinkoshin Falls. Hokkaido is home to the Ainu people, and in the ancient Ainu language Oshinkoshin means man and woman. The falls that you can see in image number 935, are the left hand falls as you face them, which are Oshin, or the man or male falls. If the falls to the right were not frozen we could have seen the Koshin part which is the woman, or female falls. I’m not going to include this in the Podcast audio file, but if you take a look at image number 165 on my Web site you’ll see how the falls look in late summer. Here you can see a larger, more thick set fall to the left signifying the man, and the more slender woman falls to the left.

I recall when I shot this photo in September 2003 I really wished I had a nice blue sky in the background and some white fluffy clouds. I might have wished too hard as last month when I was there you can see if we go back to image number 935 that there wasn’t a cloud in the sky. This was actually quite a challenging shot as the bottom of the falls were in shadow as the sun had not yet risen high enough in the sky yet to light the whole area. This does of course have the benefit of a much more saturation blue sky, so there’s a trade off here. I took a number of different shots here, including a few with a gradual neutral density filter, two in fact, across the top of the frame to reduce the contrast between the top of the falls and the sky, and the lower shadowed area of the falls. These shots came out OK, but I decided to also shoot some images with a few varying exposures to allow me to stitch the top and the bottom of closer exposed images in Photoshop, emulating what a neutral density grad filter would do.

Both shots were at ISO 100 at F20 shot with the 16-35mm F2.8 lens. The top of this image had a shutter speed of 1/13 of a second. The bottom image was shot at 1/6 of a second. I copied the image that I was to use for the bottom to the clipboard in Photoshop and then pasted it over the second image and converted it to a mask, the painted over the bottom part until I had an image that still had a visible shadow across the bottom, but with much one stop less contrast than a straight shot. I also have a shot with the bottom much brighter, but decided to go with these two as I didn’t want to deny the fact that there was ever a shadow there. Also the texture of the light would have been considerably different in the original shadow area.

Another thing to consider and I also tried, but decided not to go with, is that when shooting running water, much more than one stop difference obtained by changing the shutter speed would result in much more silky looking running water in one shot than the other. What I did here was bracketed the ISO for a few shots. Basically I left the aperture at F22 and shutter speed at 1/25 of a second, but bracketed the ISO from 100, then 200, then 400. This gave me a two stop range with exactly the same aperture and shutter speed so there was no need to worry about how the shutter speed would affect the running water. I decided to go with the shots I did though as I can’t tell any difference between the faster and slower shutter speeds in the water. In fact the top of the falls look like a longer shutter speed though the reverse is true. Also, I just preferred this composition to the ones I took where I bracketed the ISO. Still I thought I’d share the idea of ISO bracketing with you as it will probably come in handy and I’ve not heard of anyone else doing this at this point, though it is a pretty obvious option in similar conditions.

Anyway, let’s move on, as I still have five images to talk about. Let’s get though them quickly. Before we look at the next shot, some might find this a little shocking so before we jump to the shot, I’ll tell you that this is what I believe to be the remains of a crow that probably an eagle decided to have for it’s lunch. We’d moved along the coast a way, and were now standing on the sea shore shooting the drift ice that we’ll look at shortly, and I looked down to find the remains of the crow. If you are not too worried about looking at this, please jump to image number 936. Now I have warned you, so please don’t mail me saying what the hell are you doing showing me that. Firstly, if you don’t want to look, pass it over. Secondly, this is part of nature, and I felt that as a nature photographer it was my duty to record it. It’s reality.

Remains of a Crow

Remains of a Crow

Now as a photograph, I find the contrast between the wet black feathers and the white snow, with the bright red areas of the blood quite interesting. Nothing technically difficult here. I decided to place the corpse on the left of the frame so that you could also see the splashes of blood in the snow to the right and also just because I didn’t want to bulls-eye this. I rarely do. As I was pretty close with my 24-105 F4 lens and shooting at 105mm I shut the aperture down to F9 at 1/640 of a second to get a certain amount of depth-of-field. I was using ISO 100 still.

Footprints

Footprints

On a more calm note, the next shot, number 937, shows some footprints in the snow. This was yet a little further down the road and we’d stopped the bus again to shoot the drift ice and I noticed these footprints from the side of the road. I closed in on the scene, which was probably only a few meters across with my 100-400mm lens, and was shooting at 260mm. I was shooting at an angle and so to get a fair amount of depth-of-field here I shot with an aperture of F16 for 1/400 of a second with ISO 200. These are probably deer prints but maybe fox. So that should give you some idea of the scale.

Drift Ice

Drift Ice

Moving on to shot number 938, we finally get a look at the drift ice I keep talking about. I have loads of shots of this but nothing really spectacular. I chose this one because there are some water birds in the sea around a third of the way from the top of the frame, which adds a little something when viewed on a largish print. I also like the contrast between the whites and the dark water in this shot. I have seen some amazing shots of drift ice from people that live and shoot in the area. Although a different scale to icebergs, sometime the ice is as big as a house and as it melts around it’s base can sometimes even look like a large mushroom floating out there one the sea. Hopefully I will be able to keep traveling back here and sometime in the future spend time here in early morning or in the evening to capture some of this drift ice in a much more beautiful way. I’d stayed at F16 for 1/400 of a second with ISO 200. In fact I was in manual mode and just didn’t need to change the exposure settings. The whites were still white.

Sunbathing Seal

Sunbathing Seal

Anyway, we were nearing the end of our time here in Hokkaido for this four day, well, really 3 and a half day tour. We had left Utoro and moving along the coast before heading in land to go to the airport and we noticed a group of four seals basking on the edge of the ice on a lake next to the sea. They are usually in the sea, but must have waddled their way over a bank or two to the lake. In shot number 939 you can see a single seal looking up at us as we shot from the bus window at the side of the road. To get in close for this shot I’d attached my 2X extender to my 100-400 lens, which resulted in this shot being a little soft. I was shooting at 1/1000 of a second at ISO 800, and resting quite steadily on the headrest of a chair, so camera shake should not have been a problem. This really is going to be a limitation of the 2X extender. The aperture was F11, which was forced as at 400mm this lens has a largest aperture of F5.6 so add two stops to that and you get F11. If you want to know more about using extenders or tele-converters and also extension tubes with your lenses, take a listen to episodes 23 and 24 of this Podcast if you haven’t already.

Seals and Common Merganser

Seals and Common Merganser

OK, so the last image from this four part series is shot number 940, which is again the group of seals we’d stumbled across basking on the ice, and just before we left a Common Meganser, also known as a Goosander swam into the shot leaving a nice wake to add a little interest. This was shot at 400mm as I’d now removed the 2X extender at ISO 400 for 1/2500 of a second.

A few moments after this last shot we pulled away and were now heading to the airport and back to busy Tokyo. I had a great time over these 3 and a half days. As a reminder I’ll add a link in the show notes to enable you to view what turned out to be a total of 105 images from these four days. If you can find time to take a look I’ve only managed to show you just under half of these during these last four weeks, so please drop by and take a look at them all. Remember if you do follow the link in the notes you’ll get a list from newest to oldest, so to view the images in the order they were shot, click the number at the bottom right of the thumbnail screen, which is now 14 and will probably remain at 14. You’ll then be able to click the last image, and then click the left arrow above the images when viewed at the larger size to walk back through the images in the order they were shot.

Beep/Click

So that’s it for this week. I hope you’ve enjoyed this series. Remember you can contact me with feedback etc. using the contacts form on my site or via private messages from the forum if you take a moment to register. We’ve just blasted through the 200 member mark so things are really starting to liven up now, so drop by and chat about just about anything photography with the cool bunch that are hanging out on the forum and member’s gallery.

One last note that if you can spare 5 minutes, please complete the listener’s survey that you can find linked beneath the small Podcast section on the top page or with a larger graphic on the Podcasts page. This will enable me to learn more about you and hopefully help me to find a sponsor for this Podcast at some point. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a listener or how frequently you listen to this Podcast. Thanks in advance for taking the time out to complete this survey.

So that really is it for this week. I hope you have a great week. Bye bye.


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

 


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