Our guest speaker, Roger Geldard (DPAGB BPE4*), had set himself the target of a two-week trip to photograph specific targets in Japan and was able to carry this through and return just before the first pandemic lockdown. His preparation followed the old maxim FAIL TO PREPARE – PREPARE TO FAIL and it was abundantly clear that he had researched the venues that he wanted to visit, the birds and animals that were his clearly defined objectives, his photographic equipment and his clothing in order to maximise the experience. The itinerary was described to us in fine detail.
The technical aspects of his camera equipment (and the reasons for their choice) was of much interest to our members. He has dispensed with the DSLR and entered the world of the Sony mirrorless camera with electronic shutter. His two principal cameras being the Sony A911 and the Sony A7R4 with lenses up to 600mm. These are full frame cameras with electronic view finders (EVF) capable of bursts of 20 fps, using manual settings, set up before going into the field, and both with lens and camera image stabilisation. Clearly, he is a firm believer in the best quality tripod with fully flexible head, and a lightweight monopod. Interestingly we were advised that there was no need to calibrate camera/lens combinations with the Sony setup. Back button focus was a favoured technique. A salutary lesson to us all to be fully clued up on your camera’s settings before you go! It’s pointless learning on the job while the object of your photographic ambitions is right in front of you.
The substance of the evening was a high-quality travelogue under demanding conditions with absolute determination to succeed in prepared objectives. This included studying birds’ habits at both take off and landing in order to be warned of impending flight speed slowing down or movements in advancing toward the prey. Understanding perspective, knowing the birds prefer to take off and land into the wind and preparing image composition during the shooting session gave the best opportunity for the perfect shot, using automatic focussing at shutter speeds from 1/800s to 1/4000s nothing can be left to chance. Naturally we expected to see something special!
The first shoot saw us at OTOWA Bridge rising at 4:00am to see the Red-Crowned Crane, a bird that was heading towards extinction. The objective was images of Cranes taking off, from a misty atmosphere, into the rising Sun. The author was disappointed at the less than perfect conditions.
The next session was at TSURUI where cereal grains had been scattered, to attract the birds, on a snowy carpet. There was a mass of birds and the opportunity to achieve a dancing pair was demanding on the serious photographer, but success was achieved, which included a young solo dancing Crane, on video – a real treat. The meeting of these birds to form life bonds, where they do everything, in wonderful synchronicity, was very much Roger’s objective – as we expected his persistence was rewarded. The journey gave the opportunity to see a pair of young URAL Owl perched on a tree trunk hollow gazing ruefully at any passing photographer. Onwards to a frozen caldera – LAKE KUSSHARO where the swans were gently swimming about but a member of the group spotted a long-tailed tit nibbling, intermittently from an icicle tip, and this set the challenge to capture this unusual activity in tack-sharp detail, a challenge which Roger met superbly a clear need for firing at 20fps was essential and the pre-setting incorporating a cable release to catch the tiny time frame that was needed.
The next stop was the NOTSUKE Peninsula. After driving for a while, the group came upon vehicles parked on the side of the road. What were they looking at? It was a red fox bathing in the warmth of the afternoon sun and a selection of grazing deer.
The next objective was the Sea Eagles at RAUSU. Taking the boat at 5:00am, If it is a bright morning it is a good time shooting to the light (up to 1 hour from sunrise). Rising sun offers great backlit photography opportunities with the White-Tailed Eagles and Steller Eagles. The on-board stock of fish and sympathetic ship’s captain facilitated great opportunities, again, the fruits of Roger’s preparations were there to be seen and a host of approx.60 birds provided ample targets and outstanding results. The final step of this trip was to Lake FUREN to shoot the Black Eared Kites and Eagles.
Regrettably on arrival a huge snowstorm had blown up and visibility became restricted. Attempts to draw the birds closer ended up in a free-for-all as the birds attempted to devour the food, an image of a snowy beaked eagle proved to be the unusual highlight of this section.
Finally, a long trip across this fascinating country took us back to Tokyo to see the amazing Snow Monkeys. They inhabit a hot spring fed pool some 20 X 10 metres. Activity was low on this day as the Matriarch was disinclined to take a swim and that, in turn, precluded others from entering the water. A selection of rather soggy infant monkeys provided us with some amusement.
To end the tour a Samurai Castle (Matsumoto) was visited, although amazing it operated with rules restricting photography. No trip to Japan would be complete without attempting to capture the splendour of Mount Fuji at sunrise, unfortunately by the time the cloud had cleared the “golden hour” for light was lost.
This was a special event as it gave us an insight into the mysterious country which is Japan, a precise look at the Winter wildlife of that country, all presented by a dedicated, technically skilled photographer with a breadth of knowledge in many aspects of our hobby who was keen to share both his experiences and his knowledge. We thank him for the time and effort in preparing this talk and his excellent presentation skills in bringing it to us. For those of you who find their appetite whetted we recommend a visit to Roger’s Facebook page at – https://www.facebook.com/photo?fbid=10158622451625039&set=gm.3113027122110905