03 May 2010 Podcast 241: Hokkaido Photography Tour and Workshop 2010 #2
Following on from Episode 237, this week we look at some images from the Landscape leg of the 2010 Hokkaido Workshop. We also hear participants comments from the entire Hokkaido Tour (only in the audio available in iTunes or at the bottom of this post).
Before we look at these images, do note that we will not be visiting these locations on the 2011 workshops. I’ve changed the itinerary based on participant’s feedback. Basically it takes a long time to get over to the middle of the island, and with the bad weather we had this year, it took even longer, and some of the 2010 participants didn’t feel that it was worth the time to get over to central Hokkaido for these scenes. I have added some new locations for 2011 that offer similar opportunities, but we will generally be spending more time in each of the locations that we looked at in Episode 237, and I’m also working more structured lectures and training into the 2011 schedule too.
I’m very pleased to be able to announce that I have teamed up with the kind folks at X-Rite, the makers of the ColorMunki and ColorChecker Passport, and will be integrating hands-on sessions on color calibration in the digital workflow.
Anyway, let’s look at some photos from the second leg of the 2010 tour. Having made our way from the Shiretoko Peninsula to central Hokkaido, and the Daisetsuzan Mountain range, we would spend the night of the 7th of February at a hotel close to the cable-car station, from where we could take a cable-car that would take us close to the top of Mount Asahi the following day, weather permitting. The plan for this first afternoon was to to shoot around the cable-car station, and I had walked up the ski slope with one of the participants, as he picked my brain on my thoughts about subject and composition. I honed in on the pair of trees that we can see in image number 2497.
These trees attracted my attention because one was almost black, and the other almost white. When you see something like this in nature it’s often a good idea to try and capitalize on the situation in some way. I started with a wider lens, but switched to the 70-200mm F2.8 lens and walked back a fair distance, so that I could use the stacking effect of the lens to make the two trees appear to be almost on top of each other, although they were already very close. This perspective would also enable me to line up the top of the trees almost with the top of the trees in the distance, and a wide aperture of F3.2 and long focal length would also enable me to throw the background out of focus, even from a distance, to create some separation between the main subjects and the background. I also ensured that the two small trees in the mid-ground to the right were not overlapping the right side of the white tree. I really wanted a little separation there, or they would have acted as a conduit between the foreground trees and the background.
The following day, we got to the station to board the first cable car up the mountain, and I was happy to see just the occasional, although very small, patch of blue, through the clouds that were moving pretty fast across the generally overcast sky. It was snowing, but I figured it would be worth going to the top, in the hope that we’d catch one of these small patches of blue. I’m not always one for having blue skies in my shots. In fact, I usually avoid blue skies altogether. But when you are talking about the top of the tallest peak in Hokkaido at 2,291m or 7,516ft, being cloudy means almost zero visibility and danger too, if you wander too far from the cable-car station. We needed it to clear to give us a chance of photographing anything worth photographing.
We’d been walking around the outside of the station, trying to get to a vantage point that would be worth shooting from if it cleared, and then we wandered up the start of the ski-slope to about as far as we could go without skis or snow-shoes. As we got there, the cloud started to thin, and we started to be able to see the ghostly white outline of the peak of Mount Asahi in the distance. We set up our tripods, and shot what we could, with a histogram that was like a small spike on right side, indicating that we were shooting very slightly different shades of almost pure white. I assured the group that we’d be able to salvage something from the shots with tone-curves and levels etc. and we continued to shoot for a while, and then, as if someone started to slowly open the curtains, the sky cleared from the left, as we can see in image 2501.
It was a beautiful sight. You can see in this image that it was still snowing. We all had a frantic few minutes of photography making the most of this amazing clear spell. Australian skiers stopped beside us looking in wonder at the top of Mount Asahi. One told us that they’d been skiing here for five days now, and this was the first time they’d seen the summit. We were most certainly being granted a rare look at the face of our mountain host. It didn’t last long. I felt sorry for an elderly Japanese gentlemen, that walked up and dropped his tripod down beside us as the cloud cover thickened again, hiding the summit once more. Luckily though, as we made our way back down on the cable car, it did clear again, and I’m sure he got himself a few beautiful shots as well.
They don’t heat the cable car too much, so there’s no concern about condensation on the way down. Because of this, I usually keep a camera out of my bag, with a 70-200mm F2.8 lens attached, as there are often opportunities to shoot from the cable car, such as my shot of a skier through the trees, in image 2502. The skier here helps to give us some scale in the scene, and I like this image more because it tells us how beautiful this location is to ski in, as well as a location for the occasional group of crazy, yet very lucky photographers.
On the way down the mountain we stopped at a spot that we’d also visited in 2009, to shoot the pillows of snow in one of the rivers that flows down from the mountains, as we can see in image 2504. This is the landscape or horizontal orientation version of two images that I uploaded. I like both of them, selected this one to look at today, as it enables us to see more detail in the water and the texture of the snow. This was shot with the 70-200 at 200mm, with ISO 100 and an aperture of F11. I selected F11 for depth-of-field, but also to get a slow shutter speed, but I also needed to use an NDX400, which is a nine stop neutral density filter to reach a shutter speed of two and a half seconds, to render the water that smoothly. We were standing on a bridge too, so you have to make sure that you don’t make your exposure while cars or trucks are driving over the bridge, as this will often cause vibration and ruin your shot. Even though I wanted nice soft dreamy water, the details in the snow have to be sharp, or it doesn’t work.
In image 2505, we see the view from the other side of the bridge, which is much more picturesque than the side from which I shot the last image. The water was too far away to be able to appreciate the effects of a slow shutter speed image, so I removed the NDX400 for this shot, and exposed it for 1/320th of a second instead, still at F11. I shot this with the 24-70mm F2.8 lens, so the detail is amazing, and it works very well in a large print, with the texture of the snow and the shadows from the small trees etc. I converted these images to black and white with a slight blue tone in Silver Efex Pro by the way.
Later in the day, we arrived in the Biei area, and made our way to the Takushinkan, which is the gallery of Japanese photography Shinzou Maeda, who made this area of Japan famous, and popular with photographers. Unfortunately, I knew that the gallery was going to be closed for the winter months from this year, but there are some beautiful trees in the grounds of the gallery, so we visited in the hope that we’d still be able to get in, and we were able to. One of my favorites shots from here is number 2506, in which we can see three trees, with the low afternoon sun behind them. This was shot at around 3:30PM, so there was around another hour or so of daylight left, but we were shooting up at the trees, and the hill behind it, so the sun was almost touching the horizon from our perspective. I’ve actually just added a new paper to my fine art print options, which is Hahnemuhle’s Fine Art Baryta. This is a beautiful gloss fine art paper, and this particular photograph looks absolutely beautiful printed on it.
Ten minutes later, and just to the right of these first three trees, there’s a line of four small trees, which we can see in image 2507. I like this image because of the beautiful soft tones and texture in the snow as it forms the line along which the trees are growing, and a second line just behind them. There’s also a fox trail on the hill just behind these trees to the left, which adds an additional subject of interest when viewed large.
We drove to a place where we’d have been able to shoot a beautiful sunset, but nature was not cooperating, and the sunset didn’t happen, so we went back to the hotel and called it a day. On the following day, we headed back to an area close to the previous day, just down from the Takushinkan, to where my favourite tree in Biei is. We’ll look at that in a moment, but first, I shot image number 2508, which Ross_M on Flickr called a Photo Haiku, which I thought was so cool. I’m sure you know, but Japanese Haiku are very simple poems with five, seven, then five more syllables. They also should have what the Japanese call “kigo”, which is a word associated with a season. This image of course is very simple, like a Haiku peom, and with the totally white, wintery look, it has a strong “kigo” as well. There are also seven distinct stems protruding from the snow, as in the middle phrase of the haiku poem. I’m not sure if Ross was fully aware of this when he made the comment, but I thought it was an amazing observation all the same. Thanks for that Ross if you are listening/reading.
Finally, here’s my tree. I shot some image very similar to one of my favourite images last year, with this tree almost totally whited-out in a snow storm, but I didn’t upload any of these, as they were pretty much the same as last year. Image 2509 though, came out pretty well, as the sun broke through the heavy cloud forming some very nice contrast when converted to black and white, again, using Silver Efex Pro. When I initially posted this image to the Web, it was almost a straight conversion, with just a few Control Points to add a little more contrast and structure to the sky. When I printed it though, I found that the snow in the foreground was a very dark grey, because I’d exposure for the bright areas in the sky, and it really didn’t look right, to have dark grey snow. I reworked it in Silver Efex Pro to brighten the snow quite a bit, to a lighter grey, which in my mind looks much more natural. It’s still grey, not white, but when you consider that the snow was in the shade, I’m kind of happy with the results now. Again, this makes a beautiful large print.
Later this day we travelled to the Tokachi Hot Springs area, where I’d shot an image last year that I called Heaven on Earth. Unfortunately the weather worked against us again today, and although we just managed to scramble up there with the aid of our amazing bus driver, the weather only cooperated for a few minutes. As the space that you can shoot from is very narrow, there was only time for one group to get a few frames before the clouds rolled in again. We had lunch at the hot-springs, and waited for it to clear again, but it didn’t happen.
In general, although we had a few lucky breaks, I have to agree that the extra effort to come over to the central part of the island, especially when a number of things don’t go well, reduces the overall “Wow!” factor, and so I’m happy with my decision to not return here with next year’s tours.
Having said that, I will certainly come back here myself in Winter, as I love the area, and can’t imagine never coming back here at all. I might even organize another workshop here at some point, but it will be separate from the main workshop, and could even be a little earlier, as we wouldn’t be trying to work to the schedule of the ice-floe etc. that have a much shorter window of opportunity.
Either way, I hope you’ve enjoyed taking a look at some of my images from the tour, from what turned out to be the last Landscape leg for the time being at least.
Remember that I have published details of the 2011 Tours and Workshops, so do take a look if you are interested. The longer 12 day tour including a visit to the Snow Monkeys in Nagano before we head up to Hokkaido is now half full (as of May 2010) so please do try to get in touch before too long if you are thinking of joining us.
Download the Enhanced Podcast M4A files directly.