Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 655)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2019 Tour 2 Travelogue 2 (Podcast 655)

We pick up the trail on the second of my Japan Winter Wildlife Tours for 2019 today, as we continue to photograph the clumsily beautiful Whooper Swans at Lake Kussharo.

My final selection of images from this incredibly productive tour is still slightly over 300, so I have a little more work to do there, but I’ve been able to reduce the number of images to share with you today to a final twelve, so we’ll finish this series covering this year’s Japan winter tours with this episode.

Swan Fly-By at Dawn

The morning after our first panning session with the swans at Lake Kussharo, we went back to the lake hoping for a few more fly-bys and we did have a couple that gave good results. My favorite of the morning is this image, with four of the Whooper Swans almost overhead, as they approached the lake.

Dawn Fly-By
Dawn Fly-By

I really do enjoy watching these huge birds fly overhead, and when they are this close, I literally shot this with my 100-400mm lens wide open at 100mm, you can often hear the wooshing sound as they flap those huge wings. Their wingspan can be as wide as 275 cm or 9 feet, and they weigh up 14 kg or 31 pounds, so it’s a hefty bird, and actually the largest that we photograph on this trip, although the sea eagles that we’ll also look at shortly take some beating when it comes to sheer awesomeness. My other settings for this shot were ISO 400 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/11.

Three Swan Pan

At the end of this day, we were back at the lake for another panning session, and I was again trying to get more than one swan in the frame, and did a pretty good job of it with this next image, in which we can see three swans in a line. The heads are sharp enough to keep the image, although I’d have liked them to be just a little bit sharper.

Three Swan Pan
Three Swan Pan

These panning shots are a lot of fun, and generally, we leave this location with lots of smiling faces, and that’s always good to see from my perspective. The hit ratio with this kind of shot is pretty low, but having two evenings to try it really helps too. My settings for this image where ISO 1000 for a 1/50 of a second at f/16, and I was out at 100 mm still with my 100-400mm lens. Although the lake was uncommonly not frozen on the first trip three weeks before this, as you can see in this image, it had mostly from over by the time we arrived on this trip.

Sulfur Mountain

The following morning we revisited the lake one last time, before continuing our journey to our last major destination of Rausu, for the sea eagles. On the way, our first stop was just 15 minutes from where we’d stayed, at Sulfur Mountain. You can see where it gets its name from with the yellow sulfur stained fumaroles in this somewhat apocalyptic looking photograph from our brief stop.

Apocalypse Now
Apocalypse Now

The steam from the fumaroles was really heavy on this day, but the breaks in the cloud and clear sky made for a really dramatic looking scene if you time the shot just right. I was exposing this so that the sun was almost completely over-exposed, and that of course made the shadows very dark, but the Shadows slider in Capture One Pro helped to bring that detail back out, so overall I’m happy with the results. My settings were 1/1250 of a second at ISO 100, at f/16, and my focal length was 35 mm, with Canon’s new RF 24-105mm f/4 lens.

Northern Red Fox

We also made our regular first stop at the Notsuke Peninsula during our drive and were greeted by this beautiful Northern Red Fox that posed for us on the snow for quite a while. To avoid frightening the foxes, we generally photograph them from the bus, and just open the windows, and of course, turn the engine off to stop the vibration.

Northern Red Fox
Northern Red Fox

Occasionally we see foxes on the peninsula with tails that are stripped of their fur, probably by the sea eagles or crows that sometimes bully them, but this fox has probably one of the most beautiful bushy tails that I’ve seen. I shot a number of images of him sitting up, zoomed in on his face, but the images felt somewhat empty without that tail, so I settled for this image. My settings for this shot were ISO 1250 for an 1/800 of a second at f/8. I was using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in Extender engaged, and zoomed to 420 mm.

Sleepy Fox

Happy with our first encounter, I was surprised to get another fox shortly afterwards in a completely different environment, but every bit as cute as the first. This guy was quite a way off, so I had to shoot this with an external 2X Extender fitted as well as my 200-400mm lens with the internal Extender, for a focal length of 1065 mm, but as I’ve mentioned, the EOS R seems to quite like this combination, so I’m finding it very workable.

Sleepy Fox
Sleepy Fox

This fox was actually licking its paws then cleaning its face with them, but I’ve called this image Sleepy Fox as it almost looks like he’s got his head on his paws getting ready for a nice sleep. Because the light was relatively low, I was at ISO 5000 for this shot, for an 1/800 of a second at f/11, my widest aperture for this combination of Extenders. It’s always nice to get the fox up on the fishing nets like this, placing the foxes obviously in a fishing area from these visual clues, so the nets add a nice element of story.

Stags’ Play-Fighting

After a visit to the nature center, we turned our bus around and drove back down the Notsuke Peninsula, stopping this time for some Ezo Deer stags that were sizing up each others’ antlers. I like the flakes of snow in this, and the environment is beautiful, with the stags on the frozen brackish lake, just past the vegetation that they often feed on.

Stags' Play-Fighting
Stags’ Play-Fighting

Having said that, the lake is like a white sheet, so I’ve cropped this down to a 16:9 aspect ratio image, removing the top a little, as it wasn’t really adding anything. You can see from the angle of the right deer’s feet that they weren’t really pushing at each other here, but it’s nice to see them at least starting to get ready for this year’s rutting season. It seems I still had my 2X Extender fitted for this image, as my focal length was 685 mm, and my ISO was up at 6400 with a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second at f/11.

Steller’s Sea Eagle at ISO 12800

As I often say, with the camera’s we have these days, cranking up the ISO is really not that big a deal any more, as long as you ensure that you are exposing to the right, as in, adjusting your exposure so that the right-most data of your image is almost touching the right shoulder of the histogram. I was doing just that at dawn the following day, as we started the first of our three trips out on a boat to photograph the sea eagles.

Dawn Sea Eagle
Dawn Sea Eagle

This was around 30 minutes before the sun actually came up over the Kuril Islands, so even with a 1/200 of a second shutter speed at f/5, I still needed my ISO at 12800 to get this shot, but as you can see, there really isn’t a lot of grain in this image, even in the dark bird, simply because I increased my ISO enough to get my image data over close to the right shoulder of the histogram. Had I been too scared to do that, and left it at say ISO 3200, I guarantee you, the image would have been much noisier.

The Humble Butt Shot

Another thing that you will often hear when shooting with other photographers is people lowering their cameras as a bird or animal turns away from us, calling out the image as a “butt shot”. I do this myself too, so I’m not calling anyone out with this, but I do want to point out that I feel it’s a crying shame to completely rule out an image based on a popular idea that a certain type of photograph is in some way taboo.

Steller's Sea Eagle Butt Shot
Steller’s Sea Eagle Butt Shot

This shot of a Steller’s Sea Eagle is, I have to tell you, one of my favorite shots from this trip. I love the detail in the tail feathers and indeed the entire bird, and it doesn’t bother me one bit that this is a butt shot. Another thing that you’ll often hear bird photographers talking about is getting completely sharp wings, and this also is something that I purposefully do not try to do all the time. I like to use a shutter speed of around 1/1000 of a second, because it sometimes allows the wings to blur slightly, adding, in my opinion, some dynamism to the photograph.

I shot this with a shutter speed of 1/1250 of a second, and still have movement in the wing tips, but I like that here, so I’m happy with my choice of settings. My ISO was at 1600 by this time, as there was now much more light, and my aperture was down at f/10, with a focal length of 400mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle and Sea Ice

Of course, shots from the front are great too, like in this next image. Quite often with birds, we end up with our shots being from the side, which are also nice, but because it’s less common to get a bird coming straight towards you, it is nice to get some shots like this.

Steller's Sea Eagle and Sea Ice
Steller’s Sea Eagle and Sea Ice

As you can see from these shots, we did also get a decent amount of sea ice on this second trip. The timing of the second trip does give us a better chance of getting sea ice, although I really don’t mind when we don’t get any. Since talking the skipper of the boat into going out even when there is no ice, around five years or more ago, it has become one of my favorite ways to photograph the eagles. When the ice is there though, it does add a nice additional element. My settings for this shot were ISO 1000 at 1/1600 of a second at f/10 and a focal length of 400 mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle Silhouette

We went back down the Notsuke Peninsula once more on our second day in Rausu, but the photos weren’t great, so we’ll skip to the following morning, back out on the boat, as the sun rose above the Kuril Islands. I like to keep my eye out for an eagle flying close to the sun at this time, hoping for shots like this one, where the eagle is almost silhouetted against the sun’s disk.

Steller's Sea Eagle Silhouette
Steller’s Sea Eagle Silhouette

To enable me to get this sort of image, this is one of the few times when I use Auto-ISO, and allow the camera to control the exposure itself. That way when I’m shooting away from the sun the ISO shifts to give me a brighter bird, but then when the sun is in the frame, like this, the ISO drops automatically, giving me a silhouette. The other settings I did set manually, which were an 1/800 of a second and an aperture of f/10. My focal length was 371 mm.

Steller’s Sea Eagle’s Grimace

Another shot that I’m happy with from a few minutes later, while the sun was still pretty low in the sky, is this one, of a Steller’s Sea Eagle, probably landing, kicking up snow and ice, but with his wings still open, as though he’s about to take off. The three eagles in this shot are obviously quite dark, because I’m shooting into the sun, but I love this angle and the sense of movement in this majestic raptor.

Steller's Sea Eagle's Grimace
Steller’s Sea Eagle’s Grimace

Having photographed the subjects on this trip so many times, it takes a lot to impress my wife when I get home, but she was impressed with this shot, as it’s something pretty different to what I usually come home with, and that feels good. My settings for this were ISO 1600 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 400 mm.

Fishing in Dawn’s Warm Glow

The following morning, once again, I got lots of great shots, although the increasing number of seagulls and crows made it more difficult than usual. Before we finished our third and final trip out to shoot the eagles though, I asked the skipper to throw some fish into the sea in the open water, rather than onto the ice, so that we could get some photos like this one, with the eagles taking the fish from the water.

Fishing in Dawn's Warm Glow
Fishing in Dawn’s Warm Glow

I really like that we have the warm glow of the dawn sky reflecting in the water in this photograph, as that makes up for the fact that we had to shoot back towards the sun a little. To ensure that the eagle was bright against the bright background, I actually shot this at ISO 4000, with a shutter speed of 1/1600 of a second at f/10. I was also very happy that the EOS R continued to perform well, autofocussing admirably against this contrasty water and ice. We did our usual drive around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula, and played with some Intentional Camera Movement and the waterfalls etc. around Utoro, but we’ll skip those images so that we can finish the series here.

Canon EOS R

Canon EOS R
Canon EOS R

Having completed all three of my Japan Winter Tours this year shooting almost exclusively with the new EOS R, Canon’s first full frame sensor mirrorless camera, I would just like to relay that I continued to be very happy with this camera, having now shot a total of around 16,000 images with it. There was the problem of the viewfinder fogging up, that I talked about in my review back in Episode 650, but other than that, it has way surpassed my expectations and even my hopes.

This doesn’t mean that my 5Ds R bodies are all of a sudden bad cameras, but I have instantly learned to appreciate the size and weight of the EOS R, and I’m now considering selling one of my two 5Ds R bodies, and keeping the funds on my point card at my local camera store, as I wait for the 5Ds R Mark II, which is rumored to also be coming along with the R Mount, and therefore obviously also a mirrorless camera. Although there have been plenty of people giving the EOS R a bad rap, personally, I’m incredibly pleased that I waited for Canon to finally release a full frame mirrorless camera, and I am really looking forward to being able to continue to use all of my beautiful Canon lenses moving forward.

Participant Comments

Before we wrap up this final travelogue episode for my 2019 winter season, I do of course have our final round of participant comments to play you from the bus on the final morning of the tour, as we headed towards the airport to fly back to Tokyo and disband.

[Please listen with the audio player at the top of this post to hear what each participant had to say about the trip.]

It was lovely, as usual, to hear the group again, now more than three weeks after the tour finished. Thanks to everyone for your wonderful comments!

Japan Winter Wildlife Tours 2020

OK, so we’ll wrap it up for now, but please do note that although Tour #1 has now sold out, we do still have some places open on the 2020 Japan Winter Wildlife Tour #2, so if you might be interested, please check that out here.


Show Notes

Michelle’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC4mSMZwzAoNX_XmJ2YPP2Tw/videos

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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2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #1 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 610)

2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #1 Travelogue #3 (Podcast 610)

Although I’ve just completed my second Japan winter wildlife tour and final winter tour for this season, today we’re going to pick up the trail on the first of the two wildlife tours, as we leave the cranes in the snow behind, and move on to our final day with the Whooper Swans before heading over to Rausu for sea eagles and foxes etc.

Once again, fighting the clock, as usual, I still had 109 photos left in my collection of images that I still want to talk about in this travelogue series. I was hoping to complete this series with one more episode, but having gone through and shortlisted the images that I really want to talk about, I still have 27 images. We’ll just jump into it, and see if I can whittle down my selection to just ten images as we go.

Cygnus Cygnus

On the eighth shooting day of the tour, and the fifth day in Hokkaido, we went back to the Kussharo Lake for one last Whooper Swan fly-in shoot before starting our drive over to Rausu and the Notsuke Peninsula. One of the reasons I ensure that we get at least two days in each location is because quite often, the weather can change and present us with different opportunities. On this visit, it was overcast and slightly misty. Conditions that I love to photograph the Whooper Swans in, and you can hopefully see why in this first image for today (below).

Whooper Swans In White
Whooper Swans In White

I really like it when we get white swans on a white background, often with just subtle differences in tone between the two. The thing that I really like about this photo is that the swan on the left of the frame is looking straight at me as he flew in. It has to feel a bit strange to them when they fly to their beach and see a line of photographers awaiting their arrival. They’re used to seeing people of course, but this is a reminder that they are not totally oblivious to our presence.

My settings for this image were 1/500 of a second shutter speed at f/11, ISO 1000 and a focal length of 400mm with my 100-400mm lens. This is, of course, the Mark II version of this lens. Again this year we had a participant that had rented the original version without knowing and was somewhat disappointed. If you are buying this lens, and you find what you think is a good deal, check that it is not the original lens which is very long in the tooth now, and frankly with today’s camera resolution really punishing older lenses, I wouldn’t use one even if it was free, let alone cheap.

Although I love it when the white swans are on a white background, I also found this next photograph somewhat appealing, with two juvenile Whooper Swans still with their wings spread as they landed in the fresh snow on the frozen Kussharo Lake (below).

Grey But Not Ugly (Ducklings)
Grey But Not Ugly (Ducklings)

I’ve entitled this “Grey But Not Ugly (Ducklings)”. Sometimes the grey juvenile swans might look a bit like ugly ducklings, as in the fairy tale, but in this photo, I think it helps to accentuate them against the white background. I toyed with the idea of removing the three lines of thawed snow at the top of the frame, but decided against it, as I think they add a little depth to the background. My settings for this were f/11 at ISO 1000 still, but I had increased my shutter speed now to 1/640 as the light gradually came up. My focal length was 286 mm.

I have another swan shot that I wanted to show you, but I’ll skip that in a bid to still try and finish this travelogue series today. I did post it on Instagram while I was traveling, so check out my Instagram account if you don’t already follow me over there.

Apocalypse Now

After the swans, we drove just a short way and called at Sulphur Mountain or Iouzan, for a quick session with the surreal fumaroles spewing out their sulphuric steam and painting themselves yellow in the process, as you can see in this image (below).

Apocalyptic Mountain
Apocalyptic Mountain

This place always seems a little bit apocalyptic to me. This is one of the few times when I decided to keep the ridge of the mountains behind the fumaroles in the shot, partly because the wind was blowing the steam away at a more acute angle than usual, but also because I felt it helped to show the surroundings a little better, providing a little more information about the place. My settings were a 1/250 of a second shutter speed at f/14, with ISO 320 at 70mm.

We then continued our journey towards Rausu, where we’d photograph the sea eagles, but on the way, took a diversion to the Notsuke Peninsula in the hope of seeing some Northern Red Fox, like the one we see in this next image (below).

Fox Scratching Face
Fox Scratching Face

This isn’t my best fox photo, but I kind of like the way he’s got the tip of his tongue sticking out as he scratching his face, looking quite content up on his snow bed, actually on the back of a trailer that is semi-abandoned on the peninsula. My settings for this were f/11 with a 1/800 of a second shutter speed at ISO 1600, and a focal length of 560 mm. I was using my 200-400mm lens with the built-in 1.4X Extender engaged.

Orca Encounter!

The following morning we went out for our first sea eagle shoot of the season from the fishing port of Rausu. Not long after we’d started shooting the captain of the boat told me that there had been some Orca spotted further down the coast, and asked if I’d like to go. It took me about 0.2 seconds to decide that we must do just that, so we sped along the coast of the Shiretoko Peninsula. Although I’d love to have spent more time and got better photos, we still had a very special encounter and I still got some shots like this one (below).

Winter Orca at Shiretoko
Winter Orca at Shiretoko

We believe there were seven Orca in the pod we encountered. I have been traveling to Rausu and going out photographing the sea eagles in January and February every year since 2004, and I’ve never seen these amazing whales this early in the season. Wanting to get some really killer shots, pardon the pun, I’ve been trying to make time to visit in June or July for the past few years, but never seem to get time, especially now that I’m doing my Namibia tours at that time. This encounter has ratcheted up the priority of that trip a few rungs, so I might just have to do that this year. My settings for this image were f/9 at 321 mm and a shutter speed of 1/800 of a second with ISO 1250.

Sea Eagles

OK, so we’re five images in, and I usually do ten images per episode. Let’s take a look at some sea eagle shots, and see if we can finish this today, and move on to the second wildlife trip next week. Rather than trying to show images from all three days that we photograph the eagle, let’s just look at some of my favorites from this trip, in chronological order.

First, here’s a White-Tailed Eagle catching one of the fish that we throw out from the boat (below). Quite often it’s a flatfish, which you wouldn’t normally expect an eagle to scoop from the surface of the sea, but still, these can be quite dramatic shots. 

Cool Snatch
Cool Snatch

Unless these birds open their beaks when they are startled or angry, they have pretty expressionless faces, and in this image, the sea eagle looks very calm and relaxed as he snatches up his breakfast. There was no sea ice on this first trip. It’s getting less common, with us having no ice at all some years now, although we did get some on the second tour, as we’ll see in the coming weeks. My settings for this were a 1/1600 of a second shutter speed at f/11, with ISO 640 and a focal length of 400mm.

This is image not-cropped at all. I love to go in very tight with my 100-400mm lens, and although the bird’s wings sometimes go out of the frame, and I sometimes don’t mind that, it’s great when I can get something like this in a 50-megapixel file without cropping. The detail is just amazing!

This next image of a Steller’s Sea Eagle grabbing his breakfast too is also not cropped (below). That’s the framing that I shot the image at, and again, the 50-megapixel file absolutely blows me away. I love shooting wildlife like this with my Canon 5Ds R, even though it’s a slow frame rate camera, that most wildlife photographers try to avoid.  

Steller's Sea Eagle Catch
Steller’s Sea Eagle Catch

I have lots of shots with the entire splash in as well, but I just love getting in close and seeing all of this beautiful detail, and you lose some of that as you pull back to include more. My settings for this shot were f/11 for a 1/1600 of a second exposure at ISO 640, and again, zoomed right in to 400mm.

This final eagle shot is cropped down quite a way, to a file just over 22 megapixels, as the bird was quite a way off when he was doing his aerial acrobatics. That’s another great thing about the high resolution we have now though, should we choose to use it. I can crop in quite a way and still have a bigger file than the 7D Mark II or even the 1D X Mark II. There are of course times when a higher frame rate would be useful, but I’m making it work at the slower frame rates, so I couldn’t be happier. 

Steller's Sea Eagle Aerial Acrobatics
Steller’s Sea Eagle Aerial Acrobatics

I’m in awe of these magnificent eagles. Just look how he can fly pretty much upside down, yet his head is still pointing straight up, with his eye on his prey. These are absolutely incredible animals. My settings were still f/11 with a shutter speed of 1/1600 at ISO 640, and a focal length of 400mm, although cropped, as I mentioned.

After our three days with the sea eagles, we headed around the base of the Shiretoko Peninsula to spend our final night in Utoro. On the way, we stopped for our traditional ICM or Intentional Camera Movement session, which is always fun and generally provides us with some nice shots, as you can see here (below).

Enchanted Forest
Enchanted Forest

For this kind of shot, I generally set my aperture to around f/14 or f/16, and set my shutter speed to 1/25 of a second, and then adjust my exposure with the ISO. If it’s too bright, I sometimes use a three-stop neutral density filter, as I believe I had to do on this day, as it was bright sunlight. I then start with the camera pointing higher up in the trees, then move it downwards quickly, releasing the shutter just as the snow starts to come into the bottom of the frame. I prefer it when the bottom of the frame is just white, but there were some sticks showing through on this day, leaving those smaller streaks.

We continued on and photographed the Oshin Koshin Falls and the sea ice which was packed wall to wall on this side of the Shiretoko Peninsula. I did one ten minute exposure of the sea ice to see if it was actually moving, and apart from a very thin line near the horizon, it was totally stationary. There wasn’t even any vertical movement from waves under the ice, which was surprising.

We continued on in the town, and took a walk down to the mouth of a river to see what we could do and I was relatively happy with this last photo for today (below) which actually is the last image that we’ll talk about from the first of this year’s two Japan Winter wildlife tours.

River Mouth and Sea Ice
River Mouth and Sea Ice

Here I believe I used a three-stop ND filter, for a 1.3-second exposure, to smooth over the water in the river a little. I converted this to black and white, but the original was almost completely black and white anyway, with the dark stones in the river and low light. My other settings were f/14 at ISO 100, with a focal length of 35 mm.

Before we finish, as usual, I’ve recorded a message from each member of the group that I’d like to play for you now.

[Please listen to the audio with the player at the top of the post to hear what the participants had to say.]

It’s always lovely to hear what the participants have to say, and this was a great group, so listening brings back some nice memories of our time together. I do hope you’ve enjoyed following along with this travelogue. We’ll continue next week with tour #2, which presented a few different opportunities, and possibly my best red fox shot to date, which we’ll see in a few weeks.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshop 2020

Our 2019 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours have been sold out for a while now, but we are now taking bookings for 2020, so if you think you might like to join us, please take a look at the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2020.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour and Workshop 2020

Show Notes

Booking for 2020 is now open here: https://mbp.ac/ww2020

Music by Martin Bailey


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2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #1 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 609)

2018 Japan Winter Wildlife Photography Tour #1 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 609)

Today we continue our journey on the first of my two Japan Winter Wildlife photography tours for 2018, as we photograph the Whooper Swans, but then go back to the Red-Crowned Cranes for a chance of photographing them in the fresh and falling snow.

On day six of the tour, we left the cranes and moved on to photograph the Whooper Swans at Lake Kussharo in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan. After stopping for a somewhat touristy visit to Lake Mashuu, we first spent an hour at a small corner of the Kussharo Lake called Kotan.

Not long after we arrived, a fight broke out between two swans that had just flown into a part of the lake that doesn’t freeze totally because of the geothermal hot water that flows into it there. I don’t like to sensationalize fights between animals, but there can sometimes be something quite beautiful as swans in a flurry cause the water of the environment to take to the air, as we can see in this first image for today (below).

Swan Fight

Swan Fight

These fights can be quite brutal, sometimes drawing blood, and it often makes me wonder what one swan might not like about the other, but they are common and sometimes unrelenting. A part of nature I guess. I had set my camera to ISO 320 for a 1/1000 of a second exposure, so the airborne water droplets were pretty much suspended in place, and the flailing wings of the birds frozen in time. My aperture was set to f/11 and my focal length was 312 mm with my 100-400mm lens.

After lunch a little further down the road beside the lake, we photographed the swans again for a while and were lucky enough to get some daytime fly-ins, which we don’t see that often. Here we see two pairs of swans flying with the mountains on the other side of the lake as a backdrop. It was around 2:30 pm when I shot this, but already the afternoon light is starting to warm up as the sun nears the horizon.

Two Pairs of Whooper Swans

Two Pairs of Whooper Swans

My settings for this shot were ISO 400 for a 1/1000 of a second at f/11, and a focal length of 110 mm. After this, we went to check in to our hotel early, as it’s close by, and then came back to the same location to photograph the Whooper Swans as the sun dropped behind the mountains with a slow shutter speed, panning with them to capture the movement of their wings, as you can see in the next image (below).

Streaks and Blur

Streaks and Blur

We didn’t get many chances on this first day, so this is probably my best shot, but I do like the warm color over the mostly frozen lake behind the swan, and the “X” shape made by the swan’s wings and their reflection. As I mentioned last week, I generally like to do large bird panning shots with a shutter speed of between 1/25 and a 1/50 of a second. This was a 1/40 of a second, and that generally gives you a better chance of getting the head sharp.

While in the Kushiro area for the first two days in Hokkaido, there had been no falling snow, and the ground where we’d been photographing the Red-Crowned Cranes was very heavily textured from the cranes walking on it, and from the contrast added by the bright sunlight.

So, when the weather forecast indicated that it may well be snowing on our fourth day in Hokkaido, because we were still close enough to go back to the crane’s, I decided to do just that. Swans are beautiful birds, but when there is a chance of photographing crane’s in the snow, in my opinion, that’s always going to be the better option.

To hopefully illustrate my point, here is one of my first photos after we arrived at the Akan Crane Center on our bonus visit (below). These four cranes flew in and landed in a clear, which was a stroke of luck in itself, but the falling snow in this scene and the clean, fresh snow on the ground gives this image a much better look than the images I shared in last week’s travelogue from a few days earlier.

Four on the Floor

Four on the Floor

I recall myself and the participants all being very excited as we captured these images. There is an electric excitement when standing in front of a field of birds as beautiful as this in what is probably one of their most majestic conditions. My settings for this were ISO 3200 with 1/800 of a second shutter speed, so you can probably appreciate how little light there was. My aperture was f/10 and my focal length was 442 mm with my 200-400mm lens with the built-in 1.4X Extender engaged.

Just a few minutes later there was another group of five cranes that flew in, as we can see in this next image (below). There were no birds with bands on their legs in both this group and the previous group, which is another stroke of luck. Quite often the crane’s in the best shots have bands on their legs, and that kind of spoils the image. Occasionally I’ll clone them out, but that’s generally more work than I like to do to an image. Not from an ethical perspective, I just don’t like spending any more time on post processing than necessary.

Five in the Sky

Five in the Sky

As you can see, even without the snow on the ground included in the shot, the snow in the air still transforms the background to a beautiful painterly backdrop. My settings for this shot were the same as the previous image, but I’d disengaged the internal Extender and was shooting at 400mm, the full extent without the Extender.

After this, the snow got a little finer and the wind got up more, and many of the cranes just seemed to hunker down and start to simply bear the weather. This presents its own photographic opportunities, as you can see in this next image (below) although I was hoping for a little more action.

Hunkered Down

Hunkered Down

Still, I like this kind of shot too. There’s a kind of austere beauty to it that really appeals to me. I guess it’s the wildlife version of some of the minimalist landscape work that I love to do so much. My settings for this were ISO 2000 for a 1/800 of a second at f/10, and a focal length of 480 mm. I could, of course, have slowed my shutter speed down some, with the birds being so still, but I do like how the small flakes of snow are totally frozen in time, so that’s not something that I’m going to be too concerned about.

We also of course never know when the cranes are going to burst into action and start dancing around, as one did in this next image (below) so I generally like to just leave my camera settings to be ready for action while with the cranes. I love the painterly feel to this image as well. There was a very beautiful quality to the light for most of this day in the heavy snow. This is another reason why I love photographing anything in the snow.

Odd One Out

Odd One Out

I’ve heard this accredited to the legendary Jay Maisel, although I can’t find proof of that online, but I love to quote the saying “Never trust air you can’t see.” In New York, that might have a different meaning, but to me, I love it when there is something in the air to make it visible, be it snow, rain, mist, fog or steam. It seems that my favorite images have something in the air to stop it being totally transparent, and that’s a quality that I really value when I’m making photographs.

My settings for this image were ISO 1600, so we can tell that the light was increasing gradually, and my shutter speed was 1/800 at f/10, with a focal length of 560 mm.

At this point, I’m still trying to whittle down the images that I’ll talk about in this travelogue series, and I’m looking at another nine photographs from my picks from the cranes. We’ll continue on with three more images, and then try to move back to the swans and sea eagles for the final episode next week.

I couldn’t resist leaving this next image in the set, partly because I like the texture and detail in the black feathers along the back of the wings on this pair of cranes as they sing together, and partly because this photo reminds me of the difficulty that we often have in getting a clean shot of the crane’s when they dance or sing.

Crane's Song

Crane’s Song

In reality, for this shot, I have cloned out a swan sitting on the ground just behind the two cranes, two more cranes that were strutting along to the right of the swan, and a third crane standing in the space to the left of these cranes. Years ago I wouldn’t have done that, but as the cranes thankfully grow in numbers, it’s become more and more difficult to capture them in the clear and I figure because this is art, not photojournalism, I can do whatever I like.

Of course, it still feels great to nail a shot without having to do that, and most of my work is almost straight out of the camera, but I’m not too concerned these days about removing something when necessary. I was at ISO 1250 for a 1/800 of a second shutter speed with an aperture of f/11 and focal length of 560 mm for this shot.

Talking about detail, that’s also why I like this next image too (below). This is a crane coming in to land, relatively close to us, as I shot this at 400mm and it’s uncropped. I really like the ruffled feathers on the back of this crane’s wings, as the wind that he disturbs as he lands catches up with him. I also like how he has the ice on his legs, probably from sleeping in the river where they roost, that we also looked at last week.

Ruffled Feathers

Ruffled Feathers

It’s nice too that I was able to capture this while the crane was still over the dark trees in the background. When I first started traveling to this crane center in the winter some 15 years ago, the entire back of the field had dark trees along it like that, but they cut most of them down due to disease, many years ago now, so all we have are these last few trees on the right. They still make a great backdrop when the stars align though. My settings for this photograph were ISO 1600 for 1/800 of a second at f/11. 

Every so often the cranes come quite close to the front of the enclosure and they started to do that in the afternoon shortly before we had to leave to return to the area that we were supposed to be photographing the Whooper Swans in. Here (below) we see a single crane almost posing for the camera, with ruffled wing feathers and a lovely neck and head position.

Posing Crane

Posing Crane

I also love the foot as the crane lifts its right leg, again, almost looking like it’s posing for me. This was shot at 350 mm, so relatively close, and my ISO was set to 1250 for 1/800 of a second shutter speed at f/11.

We’ll wrap up this episode with that, and as I release this, I’ll actually be back with the Sea Eagles in Rausu on my final Japan winter tour for this season. I still feel incredibly fortunate to be able to make a living partly from running these tours, and I get an untold amount of pleasure out of the enjoyment that I see on the faces of my tour participants as we photograph these elegant and majestic subjects, especially when my decisions as we travel enable us to do more than would be possible if my group was traveling with a company that does not maintain the flexibility that I do in my tours.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour & Workshop 2020

Our 2019 Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tours have been sold out for a while now, but we have just started taking bookings for 2020, so if you think you might like to join us, please take a look at the tour page at https://mbp.ac/ww2020.

Snow Monkeys & Hokkaido Tour and Workshop 2020


Show Notes

Booking for 2020 is now open here: https://mbp.ac/ww2020

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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

Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

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Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 2 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 516)

Japan Winter Wildlife 2016 Tour 2 Travelogue #2 (Podcast 516)

This week we continue to walk through a series of 40 images from my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016, when we visited the “Sound of Wings” bridge for a second time before moving on to perhaps the best two days with Whooper Swans that I’ve yet experienced.

On the sixth morning of the tour we had our second crack at Otowabashi, or “Sound of Wings” bridge, in the hope of beating the first day there, when there was actually a little bit too much mist to maximize our opportunities with the wonderful hoar frost covered trees.

As we left the hotel shortly after 4am, I was pleased to see that the outside temperature was about 3 degrees warmer than the previous day, giving us a temperature of probably around -18°C (0°F) which is perfect conditions for the hoar frost and not so cold that there is too much mist. We waited on the bridge, our places secured, for around an hour as the dawn light started to illuminate the scene.

I start shooting long exposures mostly to see what the scene looks like, but then as the light got better, we were treated with scenes like this one (below). We’d been at the bridge for about two hours by the time I shot this, so the sun was directly falling on the right side of the scene, but the white helps to reflect light around, so you don’t really get a harsh shadow from the trees along the left bank of the river.

Distant Dance 2016

Distant Dance 2016

Right now, I’d say this is one of my recent favorites from this location. My first nice photo from here was an image I called “Distant Dance” from way back in 2008. I still love that photo, although it was demoted out of my Nature of Japan portfolio a number of years ago now.

In some ways, I’d say that my old photo may have this beat, but here I do like the formation of the three cranes in the right foreground, looking as though they’ve been shunned by the forth, and the four pin-tail ducks along the bottom edge, anchoring the photograph. Then of course, the stars of the show, the pair of dancing cranes in the left background, that aren’t initially obvious. You have to work a little before you find them, and I like that in a photograph. It’s like an Easter egg, that a kid has to look around the house for in excitement, before finding their reward.

My settings for this photo were 1/500 of a second at f/11, ISO 640, at 420mm. I was using the 200-400mm lens with the 1.4X Extender engaged, but had pulled back a little to include more of the scene, and show the cranes in their roost environment. Again, this is not cropped, so I have the full 50 megapixels to work with. I am really enjoying getting high resolution shots like this, that I can add to my portfolios. My original Distant Dance was 21 megapixels, shot with the 5D Mark II, so it was fine for printing large, but having this new photograph at 2.5X the resolution really opens up options for really large prints.

Another favorite from this morning is this next image (below) of a pair of cranes dancing in the foreground this time. I like the poses on the dancing cranes here, and there is also a crane calling to the left, in the foreground, which adds an additional element of interest. The trees once again are quite pretty, and I just find this to be a generally pleasing scene to look at.

Crane Courtship

Crane Courtship

My settings were almost the same as the previous image, except that I have decreased the ISO from 640 to 500. I generally shoot in manual mode, and simply keep an eye on my histogram and the blinkies, and as the scene starts to get brighter, I bring down the ISO a further each time, to keep the whites white, but not overexposed.

This second morning at the bridge certainly beat the first for this trip, and I think that this is the first year where we’ve had the hoar frost and mist on both tours, as this doesn’t happen every day, so this was another added bonus, especially when you consider how the El Niño weather patterns had taken some opportunities away from us this year.

After breakfast, we took a steady drive over to Lake Kussharo, where we were to spend the next two days photographing the beautiful Whooper Swans. When we first arrived, we called in at a little corner of the lake called Kotan, where I made this photograph (below). Now, I know that some of you aren’t going to get this, especially if you have your display brightness turned up quite high, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to make out the face of a swan through the mist.

Almost Not There

Almost Not There

There are hot springs that flow into the lake in a few locations, and on cold days, that causes mist to rise, and although it’s only in a small area of the lake, with a long lens, you can isolate your subjects enshrouded in the mist, just like this, and I love this kind of image. Again, there’s an Easter Egg element here; you have to work to see what the image is about. All of the image information in this photograph is in the top 15% of the histogram, so really, if your monitor is too bright, you just won’t see this. I am really looking forward to printing this as well though. These tones come out really well on a subtle matte fine art paper like Breathing Color’s Pura Bagasse Smooth.

My settings for this image were 1/800 of a second, f/5.6, ISO 400, at a focal length of 400mm, with my 100-400mm lens. Although I often photograph large birds at f/8 or f/10, here, I opened up the aperture as wide as it will go for this lens at 400mm, to get as shallow a depth-of-field as possible, to emphasize the dreamy feeling of the rest of the scene. I also dropped a small Radial Filter over the main swan’s face and neck in Lightroom, and set the Shadows slider to -15, the Clarity to 55 and the Sharpness to 38, just to give the main character a little more body.

Later in this first day with the swans, we tried to do some panning, but the swans weren’t being very cooperative. We had a few chances and I have some images, but I have a better one from the next day, which we’ll look at later, so for now, let’s move on to the dawn shoot on the following morning. As we approached the lake from the hotel, we were happy to see a beautiful band of mist across the surface of the lake, that we can see in the background of this photo (below).

Whooper Swans' Misty Approarch

Whooper Swans’ Misty Approach

I love it when there is something in the air to give the image atmosphere, and the distant mountains on the other side of the lake add a lovely bit of additional interest to these next few shots. Here I released the shutter as the swans were in front of the central band of mist, and I have added a Graduated Filter in Lightroom, just across the bottom white band, which is the frozen lake, and I reduced the Dehaze slider, just to take the edge off a little bit of contrasty snow that was visible down there. I thought this cleared up and simplified the image nicely. My settings were 1/1000 of a second at f/10, ISO 400 at 188mm.

We had been standing by the lake for almost an hour before the swans started to fly in, but once they started, we had a number of beautiful opportunities, with the mist, and also some hoar frost on the trees to our right, as you can see in this image (below). I have two frames of this pair that I like, one with them a little bit further to the left of the frame, clear of the trees. Depending on my mood when I look at them, I think I prefer that image, but I am happy with them both.

Swans' Dawn Flight

Swans’ Dawn Flight

My settings were the same as the last image, and I have added another Gradient filter in Lightroom just to take the edge off the texture in the snowy surface of the frozen lake again. As we shot the swans, the sun was just coming over the trees to our backs as we faced the lake, so the light at this time of day is beautiful.

Just twenty minutes after the previous photo, I shot this one, and you can see how the mist has now receded down to a much thinner bank, enabling us to see the mountains behind the trees, which weren’t visible at this angle before. Here I have photographed the swans in the distance as they rounded the line of trees, flying in to this spot from their roost (below).

Lake Kussharo Swans Flight

Lake Kussharo Swans Flight

Luckily the hoar frost on the trees was still there, and again, this is one of those shots that you have to work for a little. This will also look great in a large print, where the viewer would more easily find the line of swans, but I hope you can appreciate it at the web size as well. My settings were the same as before, except just a touch of extra light allowed me to reduce my ISO from 400 to 320, again, just trying to maintain the optimal exposure without blowing out any of the whites.

Just 30 seconds later, I shot the same group as they approached, just before they flew almost overhead, in this photo (bel0w). I’ve included this, because I recall explaining to one of the participants, how important it is to develop the ability to zoom out as a group of birds approaches like this. I had gone wide for the last shot, but then zoomed in to get closer shots of the swans, and was by this point zooming back out again as they approached.

Overlined

Overlined

In many ways, this seems obvious, but the person I was talking to looked at me as though to say, “that’s way too much stuff to think about at one time!” And you know what, when you are just getting started, or trying to photograph birds in flight for the first time, it can seem quite daunting. As we hone our skills, and parts of our shooting become second nature, they become automatic, and we stop having to think about them. I don’t have to think about keeping my focus points over at least one of these birds, or refocusing if it runs off. I don’t have to think to press the back focus button, because my shutter button doesn’t activate the focus mechanism.

I do still think actively about how I am composing an image, although I’m drawing from experience and it’s an easy set of decisions, including trying new things from time to time. And, I don’t have to think about exposure, because I’ve done all that before the action starts, and it won’t change because I’m in Manual mode. Finally, as this group of birds approaches, I don’t have to think about zooming out, at least not any more than sending a few signals to my hand to make it twist the zoom ring while composing and doing all of that other stuff.

When you list it all out like this, we are actually doing quite a lot of complicated stuff all at once, and if any of these things require more than a little bit of thinking, it can stop the others from happening altogether, and that’s what happens when people are just getting started. So, how do you get good at doing this stuff? You keep doing it, again and again, consciously thinking of what you need to do, until it becomes second nature, and automatic. Repetition and practice is the only way to get used to doing this stuff, and the more you do it, the better you get.

I Dreamt of Swans

I Dreamt of Swans

I feel very comfortable with the technique of shooting these days, and really now am in a mode where I’m trying to tweak my composition and timing to make better and better photographs as the opportunities provided by each subject and location allow.

Of course, I also find myself in situations occasionally when I’m still challenged, and that’s great. It would get boring otherwise, but I wanted to talk about this really to impress on you the importance of practicing your craft. And, perhaps even more importantly, that it’s OK to be overwhelmed at first, because we do a lot of things in parallel, but with practice, it does get easier. So, if that’s where you are in your photography, don’t worry too much about it. Stick with it, and it will come.

After breakfast back at the hotel, we went back out, back to Kotan, and were happy to find that the mist was still there. I love to capture the moments when the swans stretch up and flap there wings a few times, like we can see in this photograph (right).

As I’ve mentioned, I set my exposure in Manual mode when I first arrive at a scene, so I don’t have to think about that when these birds rear up. There is literally just a split second to grab focus, and recompose, but it works sometimes, and the results can be nice.

The mist adds so much to this scene of course, and the dark trees across the top of the frame really add to the dreamy feel, as do the rushes along the bank of the lake, gradually fading into the distance. Again, I feel that mist in a scene like this really does literally add atmosphere.

After spending the rest of the morning photographing the swans at Kotan, we went back to the hotel for lunch, and had a couple of hours in a workshop session, before going back out again at 3:15pm, to try out hands at the panning again. We had a few more chances this time, and most of the group seemed to get something that they were happy with, like this shot (below).

Whopper Swan in Flight

Whopper Swan in Flight

This is a fun technique that I like doing with the group. We set our cameras to a shutter speed of 1/50 of a second, and as it was getting dark, this still required an ISO of 400 at f/11 to get a nice exposure. A 50th of a second is a good speed for this technique. If you go much slower the success rate drops dramatically, and if you select a much faster shutter speed, the background becomes sharper, and the wing movement is not as pleasing. Of course, it depends what you are panning with, and your focal length, but for large birds I find this to be the sweet spot.

The following morning, it was forecast to be snowing, so we rose to a changed plan of going back to lake for another fly-in shoot, rather than our optional shoot at Bihoro Pass which we do sometimes, when weather permits. There’s no point in being on a mountain in cloud and snow though, as we wouldn’t be able to see the scene, so I’d changed our plan.

I’m really pleased I did too. The swans flew in again a number of times, and were in a beautiful mist again, but this time, with snow in the air. We’ll look at a few more images next week, but for now, let’s close with this shot of two Whooper Swans that are just landing, with mist and snow in the air (below).

In White

In White

I know this might sound a little bit conceited, but I absolutely love this shot. I enjoy close up images where the subject fills the frame, but sometimes, I also really enjoy having them occupy a much smaller area of the frame, with lots of negative space, as I’ve done here. I shot this at 300mm, so I could have zoomed in further, but I decided to go with this composition instead.

I just love the softness of this image, with the birds in two different poses, with one walking on the snow by now, and the other still floating six inches above it. I’ve done nothing to this is post, not even a spot of Clarity as I often do. I wanted to leave the softness there, and the feeling of the mist and snow in the air. It feels like these two birds are just sitting in a huge soft box. It was a beautiful quality of light. My settings were 1/400 of a second at f/10, ISO 1000, at 300mm.

OK, so we’ll wrap it up there for this episode. I’ll be back next week where we’ll take a look at a few more images of these Whooper Swans in the soft box, before going on to Sulphur Mountain and the Sea Eagles, in part three.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

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

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


Audio

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Download this Podcast in MP3 format (Audio Only).

Download this Podcast in Enhanced Podcast M4A format. This requires Apple iTunes or Quicktime to view/listen.


Image Selection Workflow After Winter Wildlife Tour #2 (Podcast 514)

Image Selection Workflow After Winter Wildlife Tour #2 (Podcast 514)

Having just completed my second Japan Winter Wildlife tour for 2016, and taking way too long to whittle down my final selection of images, today I’m going to talk a little about some of the techniques I use during this editing process.

Despite 2016 being an el niño year, resulting in us having much less snow than usual on both of my Japan winter tours, this turned out to be just as productive a trip as any year, if not more so. The more we have taken away, the more we seem to receive in other opportunities.

I shot about 500 more images on this trip compared to the first, giving me a total of 7,500, and after my initial run through these images to find the ones that I thought were good enough to show people, I similarly had 750 images, compared to around 800 from the first trip for this year.

As with the first tour, I decided to leave my 7D Mark II at home, and worked exclusively with my two Canon EOS 5Ds R bodies, despite this being a wildlife tour. I touched on this a lot during my four travelogue episodes for the first tour, so I won’t keep going on about this, but I have continued to be amazed at how well the 5Ds R coped with the fast paced shooting.

The autofocus worked incredibly well. Much better than the 5D Mark III in similar conditions, and I actually found the reduced frame rate liberating. It had me thinking much more about the critical timing at which I would release the shutter, especially for the eagle shots that we’ll look at later in the series of travelogues that we’ll follow up with. I also had less than half the images to look through, which saved me time, and that’s always a welcome benefit from any new shooting style.

Whittling my Final Selects

With so many images that I was happy with from this trip, I found the selection process even more challenging than usual, and I used a few different techniques for whittling down my images from this trip that I thought might be useful to talk about, so before we get into the travelogue series, I’m going to walk you through some of these processes.

As I travel, I try to look through my images from each shoot, and when other activities such as sleep get in the way, I make a note of which days I’ve looked through, and which one’s I haven’t. For this trip, I managed to look through 9 of the 12 days, so I went through the other three days over the last week, after getting back from the tour.

During my first pass I generally just give anything that I want to look at again 3 stars. This is my “worth a crap” rating. It means that I’d be happy to show people the image, although might not proactively do so. After tour #2 I had 750 of these initial selects which I then needed to reduce to a more appropriate number, which is as few as possible, as usual.

Using Lightroom Smart Collections

To make it easy to review images I generally create a Smart Collection for three star images and above for any multi-day trip that I do. This helps me to quickly view all images that I have rated by going to that Collection, rather than selecting all folders from the dates of the trip, then filtering on three stars or higher.

To create the Smart Collection I just go to the Collections panel in Lightroom’s Library Module and click the + symbol to the right of the Collections label, then select Create Smart Collection… As you can see in this screenshot (below), I then select three stars for the Rating field, and this is set by default to “is greater than or equal to”, so anything with three or more stars will be included in this Smart Collection.

Smart Collection Settings

Lightroom Smart Collection Settings

I then click the + button to the right of the Rating line to add more criteria, and select Capture Date, then “is in the range” and enter the start and end dates for my tour, which was Feb 22 to March 4, 2016. Now, I can see all images with 3 stars or above for the entire trip, just by clicking on this Smart Collection folder.

To reduce my 750 initial select images, I started to look at groups of similar images and reduce them to as few as possible. After my second pass, I was down to 348, so I was able to remove just over half of my original selection. I still had 151 images of the Steller’s Sea Eagles and White Tailed Eagles, so I did a third pass just through these images, and removed an additional 25 images, but then I was stuck again. I really felt as though the 125 eagle shots that I had left were quite strong images, so I guess this is a nice problem to have, but I really wanted to reduce my overall number of selected images even further.

Lightroom Slideshow Functionality Change

With a total of 323 images left in my Smart Collection for the trip, I tried using my slideshow and coffee process. I’d been through the entire set a number of times at this point, but having hit a wall, it was time to simply feel my reaction to the images as the slideshow progressed.

I start a Lightroom slideshow, and if I am happy to see the next image come up, it stays, but if I get even the slightest sinking feeling as the next image comes up, I hit the 1 key on my keyboard to demote the image out of my selection. 1 star is my “once great” rating. It means I once thought enough of it to promote it above the others, but then decided otherwise. I just like to keep this star on there as a reference.

Anyway, it was this point in time when I realized that Lightroom no longer works as it used to, so the keyboard is not recognized during slideshows. This is actually quite huge for me, as I use this process a lot. It’s even more annoying because the slideshows in Lightroom are being nicely enhanced with features like “Pan and Zoom” and better synching with music being added, but now I have to click through each image in full screen mode, which I don’t like so much. I like to remove anything that disrupts how I “feel” about each image, so the slideshow was perfect for me.

So, while manually going through the images, even after doing this a few times, I was still at 311 images. I’d only managed to remove another 12 from my gut reaction to the images. At this point, I decided to go the other way, and promote the ones that I really liked.

Using Raw Emotion to Select Images

When traveling these days, I generally create a Lightroom Collection that I set to sync with Lightroom Mobile, so when I drop images into that Collection they automatically sync with my iPad and iPhone. I just set that Collection to be the Target Collection, which means that I can add images easily by hitting the B key while browsing or editing images. This gives me an easy way to show the tour participants what I’ve been capturing as we travel, and also my wife can follow along with my progress from home.

Lightroom Mobile Screenshot

Lightroom Mobile Screenshot

The thing with this process is that I obviously don’t just drop all of my selects into this synced Collection. Unlike my initial selection which I give three stars simply to indicate that I want to look at these images again, for my Lightroom Mobile Collection I only add images that I feel are good enough that I want to show people. I make this decision as I work through my initial selection process, so there’s a lot of gut feeling involved. It’s a raw emotional response to the images, and I think that is worth working with.

By the time I’d been through all images from the tour I had around 180 images in my Lightroom Mobile Collection for the trip, so these are images that I already knew that at some point I’d felt strongly about. More strongly than the superset of 750 initial selects in the Smart Collection, so I decided to do some further comparisons of the larger group against this subset of images.

I went into my Lightroom Mobile Collection and labeled all of the 180 images in there with a blue label, then went back into my Smart Collection, and in the grid view I could now easily see all of the images that I had added to my gut feeling favorite images Lightroom Mobile Collection. More importantly, this blue label also enabled me to filter out all images that did not have a color label assigned, so I could look at only the images that I had not yet added to this subset. Theoretically these should be the less-good images.

By this point, I’d been back from the tour for over a week, and the emotion of each shoot was pretty gone, so when I looked through these images, I was able to simply feel my reaction to them a fresh, and add anything else that I thought was good enough to want to show people to the Lightroom Mobile Collection.

After doing this, with the memory of the last pass through my lesser images still fresh in my mind, I went back into the Lightroom Mobile Collection, and did another pass, this time with the newly added images included, and removed everything that I didn’t feel was up to scratch. Some of them were from my initial Lightroom Mobile selection, and some were added for the first time. I could see this because of the blue labels, which I thought was useful.

This process enabled me to reduce my overall 3 star image count to 251, which is a closer number to what I like to work with, but by this point I’ve been pretty ruthless, and felt uncomfortable removing anything more at this point. These base three star images will probably remain in the collection, and I’ll present these to Offset, my stock photography agency, for their consideration as well.

My Lightroom Mobile Collection, which contained images that I would more proactively like to show people, had increased a little at 214 images. At this point, I promoted all of these images to 4 stars, and removed the blue label. I don’t like to leave color labels on images, and it was no longer necessary. My 4 star rating is, as I say, for images that I proactively want to share, and I give 5 stars only to images that I feel are portfolio worthy, or actually in a portfolio.

Selecting the Absolute Best to Show You!

By this time, it was 2:30 on Monday afternoon, and I am supposed to be releasing the first travelogue episode for Tour #2 today! At this point I started the process of selecting my final 30 or a maximum of 40 images to talk about. We already now that I wasn’t able to get to the travelogue episodes. The process just took too long. I made Lightroom’s Quick Collection the target Collection again, and then sat through the entire set again, hitting the B key when an image that I thought I’d like to talk about came up on my screen.

Well, as you might imagine, I ended up with a new shortlist of 112 images. I’d added just over half of my 4 star images to my Quick Collection. Aargh!

So, I had to go back and start to select similar images again. I had 46 sea eagle shots, so that was an obvious place to start. For example, I had five shots of White-Tailed Eagles with their talons forward, coming in to catch a fish, so I removed four of them. I had six shots of White-Tailed Eagles side-on actually catching the fish, so I removed five of these, leaving just the one with the most dramatic splash.

I repeated this process for the various types of eagle shots, but the most difficult group to reduce was these four images of a Steller’s Sea Eagle coming in to land on harbor wall at Rausu (below). These four images are already a subset of a series where the light reflecting from the snow on the wall, back up onto the eagle, was absolutely stunning.

Four Stellers Sea Eagles

Four Steller’s Sea Eagles

I love each one of these shots with a passion, so I was disappointed to see that on closer inspection, the third image was a little bit blurred as the eagle lunged forwards. That did make removing one more image a no-brainer though of course, and the other three were absolutely tack sharp.

In fact, as we are not going to have time now to actually start the travelogue this week, let’s take a look at just how sharp these images are. Keeping in mind that the image is already cropped slightly, here is a 100% crop of the fourth of these images (below). I can’t tell you enough how much I have fallen in love with shooting wildlife with the Canon EOS 5Ds R.

Steller's Sea Eagle 100% Crop

Steller’s Sea Eagle 100% Crop

All I’ve done to this image in post is increase the Shadows slider in Lightroom to +18 and increased the Clarity to +12. Apart from that, and the crop of course, this is straight out of the camera, so hopefully you’ll see why I’m so excited about the resolution and image quality of this camera. The shutter speed was 1/1000 of a second at f/10, ISO 400, at 234mm.

In a desperate bid to reduce the number of images down futher, I actually removed the last shot of the White-Tailed Eagle snatching a fish from the water as well, as the Steller’s Sea Eagle shot was better, and this enabled me to get the eagles down to just 12 images for now, so I went through the rest of the remaining 75 images in a similar way, trying to remove more.

The next difficult set was trying to reduce the number of Whooper Swan images. We had two amazing mornings at Sunayu, at Lake Kussharo, with a number of beautiful fly-ins and incredible light. I found it really difficult to reduce the images I will talk about, much past this selection (below). I ended up removing some of my favorite images simply because I didn’t think their true beauty would come through in the limited Web size that we have to use here.

Last 16 Swan Fly-in Shots

Last 16 Swan Fly-in Shots

As you can see, we had very different conditions each day, which made it even more difficult to reduce the number. Especially the second of our two days there, the swans looked as though they were just sitting in a huge soft-box with stunning light, and such a tiny subtle difference between the birds and their white background.

So, finally, after a few more heartbreaking decisions, I arrived at the 40 images that you can see in this screenshot (below) that I will talk about over the next four episodes.

Final 40 Images from 2016 Tour#2

Final 40 Images from 2016 Tour#2

If time allows, I’ll try to start recording the travelogue series early, and release the next episode before the end of the week, so that we don’t spend much longer on these travelogue series. I also have some other exciting stuff coming up as well, that I don’t want to delay any longer than necessary, but it really depends on how much time I can assign to these tasks in the coming weeks. Either way, let’s wrap it up there for today.

2018 Winter Wonderland Tours

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

Winter Wonderland Tours 2018


Show Notes

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

Music by Martin Bailey


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