Tips & Tutorials

2 Mesmerising Winter Photography Spots in Hokkaido

Hokkaido, Japan, with its beautiful winter scenery, is a popular travel destination. Here are 2 iconic shooting spots, and some tips and ideas for capturing them. (Reported by: Eriko Tsunami, Masami Goto)

Mihoro Pass, Hokkaido

 

1. Biei Town

Poplar trees in the snow, Biei Town, Hokkaido

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 45mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/7.1, 1/320 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Eriko Tsunami
Best viewing time: Late January/ Shooting time: 3.00pm

 

Pale shadows and twin poplar trees on a snow-covered hill

The poplar trees that stand side by side in the soft daylight under the sky make a poetic scene straight out of a picture. To ensure that this air was portrayed in my image, I tried my best to preserve the brightness both of the sky and of the poplar tree shadows that extended beneath my feet. I did not use a polarizing filter as my priority was on ensuring clarity. I also adjusted the composition in a way that I felt would fully utilise the clouds and the patterns made by the poplar tree shadows. Using positive exposure compensation lightened the shadows, making them look less harsh and imparting a soft atmosphere to the entire image.

The image was shot at about 3pm, which is when the poplar tree shadows are long enough to add some variation to the snowy ground. If you squat down to shoot, the angle will help to add depth to the image.

 

Negative example: There are few shadows if you shoot too early in the day, and the image will look flat

Poplar trees in the snow (shot at noon) – No shadows

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 40mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/10, 1/250 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Eriko Tsunami

This was shot at noon, about 3 hours before the first image. There are no clouds or tree shadows, which makes both the sky and the snow-covered ground look plain and lacking.

 

Other notes
The shooting spot is on a gravel path. Tripods can be used, but the street is narrow so do be aware of your surroundings.

How to get there
Car: Approx. 20min from Asahikawa Airport. Take National Route 237 towards Biei. Pass by Hokkaido Prefectural Route 543. The spot is a short walk from the foot of the first bridge over the Ubashibetsu River.

 

2. Bihoro Pass

Snow ripples at Bihoro Pass overlooking Lake Kussharo

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF20mm f/2.8 USM/ FL: 20mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 2 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Best viewing time: Late January/ Shooting time: 6.00am
Photo by: Masami Goto

 

Kussharo Lake and sastrugi, steeped in the colours of sunrise

Kussharo Lake is Japan’s largest caldera lake, and can be viewed in its entirety from Bihoro Pass. There are very few trees in the area around the observatory on the Pass, and this lack of obstruction allows the wind to create wave-like ridges in the snow, a phenomenon called sastrugi.

Eastern Hokkaido tends to have many clear days even in winter, so when I shoot there during this period, I tend to focus on showcasing the beautiful colours of dawn and the shapes of the sastrugi carved into the snow by strong winds. The sastrugi in this area are not very large in terms of size, so you would probably get a more impressive photo not by going into them, but by finding a place nearby with a good view of the shapes and formations, and then capturing them with a wide-angle composition.

When capturing a photo with the sastrugi as your central interest, use a wide-angle lens and move closer to the subject. To ensure that the sastrugi retain their sense of presence even against the majestic Kussharo Lake in the background, I decided to shoot in landscape orientation so that I could also showcase the expansiveness of the entire scene.

 

Alternative example 1: When shot in portrait orientation, the sastrugi do not command as much attention

Bihoro Pass (Portrait orientation, ombre dawn colours)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF20mm f/2.8 USM/ FL: 20mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 1.6 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Masami Goto

Shooting in portrait orientation allows you to draw attention to the ombre transitions in the blue dawn sky extending all the way down to the horizon. However, the sastrugi do not look as vast and have a weaker sense of presence.

 

Alternative example 2: The sastrugi will not appear as bluish if you shoot some time after dawn

Bihro Pass (sunrise)

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF20mm f/2.8 USM/ FL: 20mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 1/100 sec, EV±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Masami Goto

The shapes and forms of the sastrugi are emphasised by the shadows resulting from sunlight falling on them in the darkness. This is a very intriguing image too, but it does not have the surreal-looking blue tones of the first image.

 

Read the following for more tips and tutorials on photographing landscapes at dawn/sunrise:
Early Morning Landscape Photography: To Shoot Before or After Sunrise?
How I Nailed the Shot (2): Photographing Sunrise Over Rice Terraces
Capturing Breathtaking Landscapes Under Ever-Changing Lighting Conditions

Other notes
- The exact location where the sastrugi are formed depends on wind direction.
- As a form of courtesy to other photographers, try to avoid leaving footprints in the snow among the sastrugi.

How to get there
By car: Take National Route 243. The area is diagonally opposite from the Lake Kussharo side of the Bihoro Pass Observatory on the route.

 

1. Biei Town
2. Bihoro Pass

 

Also check out our recommendations on shooting spots in Japan for spring, summer and autumn:
Stunning Summer Landscapes: Scenic Spots in Japan & Pro Photography Tips (1)
Stunning Summer Landscapes: Scenic Spots in Japan & Pro Photography Tips (2)
Stunning Summer Landscapes: Scenic Spots in Japan & Pro Photography Tips (3)
Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (1)
Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (2)
Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (3)
Where to Photograph Autumn Leaves in Japan: 2 Spots Off the Beaten Track

 


Receive the latest update on photography news, tips and tricks.

Be part of the SNAPSHOT Community.

Sign Up Now!

 

EOS 5D Mark III (Body)



FIND OUT MORE

EF20mm f/2.8 USM



FIND OUT MORE

EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM



FIND OUT MORE

Digital Camera Magazine

A monthly magazine that believes that enjoyment of photography will increase the more one learns about camera functions. It delivers news on the latest cameras and features and regularly introduces various photography techniques.
Published by Impress Corporation

Masami Goto

Born in Hokkaido in 1955, Goto started taking photos of the Daisetsuzan mountains in 1978 alongside commercial photography assignments. In 1984, he began travelling all around Hokkaido as a freelance photographer, documenting and photographing its natural landscapes. He currently photographs landscapes all over Japan, with a focus on the Hokkaido and Tohoku regions.

http://www.mgphoto.jp/

Eriko Tsunami

A resident of Hyogo Prefecture, Tsunami combines images shot in Hokkaido’s Biei Town and the English countryside with words to create her works. She holds solo and group exhibitions in Tokyo, Osaka and Kobe.

comments

Write a Comment

 

Login to comment

You have been logged off from your account.

An email with an activation link had been sent to your SNAPSHOT registered email.

After clicking the link, you will be able to login with your existing login detail.

Thank you for your continued support as a member of the CANON and SNAPSHOT Community. We will do our best to continue provide you with more exciting and meaningful content to help you in your everyday quest to bring out the best photographer within you!

Permission to continue

Your CANON ID will be MERGED with your SNAPSHOT ID.

An activation link will be sent to your email.

Please re-enter your password to give us permission to continue.

Type your password

By clicking this, you agree to merge your CANON ID to SNAPSHOT ID. Agreeing to this is subject to CANON AND SNAPSHOT’S TERMS & CONDITIONS.