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Where to Photograph Autumn Leaves in Japan: 2 Spots Off the Beaten Track

The rich colours of autumn foliage are a sight to behold and photograph. Japan is full of such scenic spots. Some of them are very famous even overseas, but for photographers looking for somewhere more off the beaten track (and probably less-crowded) we introduce 2 spots less well-known to non-locals, and some tips for achieving stunning images of the place (Reported by: Michiko Kaneko, Takashi Nishikawa)

Autumn foliage at the Ninai Falls, Mie, Japan

 

1. Kannon-numa Forest Park (Fukushima Prefecture)

Autumn colours at Kannon-numa Forest Park, Fukushima, Japan

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM / FL: 78mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 1/5 sec, EV+0.7)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Michiko Kaneko
Best viewing time: Mid-October / Shooting time: 9:30 am

 

Reflections of autumn foliage create a scene straight out of an oil painting

In the Kannon-numa Forest Park (lit. “Goddess of Mercy Swamp Forest Park”) lies a spot where miniature islands can be seen floating around the swamp. The reflection of autumn leaves on the surface of the swamp is simply a spectacle to behold. I positioned the shot such that the trees as well as the reflections of the autumn leaves in the water were in the frame, and used a 78mm focal length so that only the part of the scene which I felt had the best balance of elements was included in the frame. The lighting was quite even but the scene was slightly underexposed, so I set my exposure compensation value to EV+0.7.

 

Technique: Create an abstract finish by including only physical elements and their mirror images in the image frame

Shooting the above photo at a 78mm angle-of-view let me position the frame to include the autumn leaves as well as their mirror images on the water surface. The image was shot such that only the varying colours of the autumn leaves and the upside-down colour arrangement of the reflections were in the frame, giving rise to an oil-painting-like effect.

You could also produce an abstract photo like the one below by filling the image frame with only the reflections.

Photograph resembling an abstract painting. Kannon-numa Forest Park, Fukushima, Japan

EOS 5D Mark III/ EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM / FL: 200mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/13, 1/6 sec, EV +1.0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Michiko Kaneko

 

How to get there:
By car: approx. 40 min from the Tohoku IC on the Tohoku Expressway
By public transport: 10 min by taxi from the Yoson-Koen Station on the Aizu Railway Aizu Line

For more ideas on photography using water reflections, check out:
Composing a Shot of an Aurora with its Reflection in the Lake
Photographing Sakura in Japan: Scenic Spots & Pro Photography Tips (3) (example 2)
Tips for Water Reflection Photography: Fun with Puddles!

Here are some more ideas for abstract photography:
Abstract Photography: Turning to Nature for Props

 

2. Ninai Falls (Mie Prefecture)

Autumn foliage at the Ninai Falls, Mie, Japan

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 32mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1 sec, EV ±0)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Takashi Nishikawa
Best viewing time: Mid-October/ Shooting time: 9:30 am

 

Achieve a good balance between the two flowing waterfalls and autumn leaves by shooting in landscape orientation

The Akame 48 waterfalls, located in the heart of the Murō-Akame-Aoyama Quasi-National Park, consists of over 20 waterfalls lined up in a staircase-like configuration stretching over 4km, and are ranked at the top of the list of Japan’s ‘Best 100 Waterfalls’. Among them is the 8m high Ninai Falls (lit. “Load-bearing Falls”), of which the flow of water is split into two streams by a rock in the middle, making it look like the rock is ‘bearing the load’ of the waterfall.

For those wishing to photograph this place, it is recommended that you shoot after it rains so that the water level is higher. At the top of the photo, a bit of mist formed around the cluster of autumn leaves and accentuated them. Next, in order to achieve a good balance between the waterfall and autumn leaves, I shot the photo in a landscape orientation. Then, I stopped down my aperture to f/11 to slow down my shutter speed to 1 second so as to emphasize the flow of the water and give it a more distinct presence.

 

Technique: Shoot at a timing when mist starts to form

As this valley is quite dark, I would recommend shooting not on a sunny day where there would be strong contrasts, but rather on a bright but cloudy day, and when there is mist present. By enveloping the entire image in a flat light, you can bring out the vibrancy of the autumn leaves. The photo below was shot in the morning. While it captures an ample amount of water in the waterfall and abundant red autumn leaves, it does not have the layer of mist at the top, unlike the photo above. Autumn is damp and moist, and I felt that the presence of mist would convey a stronger feel of the season.

Autumn foliage at the Ninai Falls, Mie, Japan

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 32mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1 sec, EV-0.5)/ ISO 200/ WB: Daylight
Photo by: Takashi Nishikawa

 

Negative example: Shooting in portrait orientation makes the image look cramped

Cluttered image (portrait orientation). Ninai Falls, Mie, Japan

EOS 5D Mark II/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL: 47mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/11, 1 sec, EV-0.5)/ ISO 100/ WB: Daylight
Shooting in portrait orientation puts more emphasis on the waterfall, but as a result, the leaves at the top of the photo become cluttered, which throws the image off balance.
Photo by: Takashi Nishikawa

 

How to get there
By car: approx. 2h 30min from the Hari IC on the Meihan National Highway
By public transport: approx. 10min by bus from Kintetsu Akameguchi Station. Stop at Akamedaki. The Ninai Falls is about 4km (approx. 70 min walk) from the bus stop, and you will pass by many other waterfalls on the way.

For more tips on photographing waterfalls, check out:
Photographing Waterfalls: Basic Tips

 

1: Kannon-numa Forest Park (Fukushima Prefecture)
2: Ninai Falls (Mie Prefecture)

 

Also check out our recommendations on shooting spots in Japan for spring and summer:
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)

 


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Takashi Nishikawa

Takashi Nishikawa

Born in Nara Prefecture in 1965, Nishikawa graduated from the Broadcasting & Movie Department of Visual Arts Osaka Professional Total Creative School. He self-studied photography, and worked at a commercial video production company and a professional photo printing lab before finally becoming a freelance photographer. A member of the Japan Nature Scenery Photograph Association (JNP).

Michiko Kaneko

Michiko Kaneko

Born in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, Kaneko started to engage in photography activities after chancing upon a deeply inspiring shot in Okunikko in 1987. She studied under the late renowned photographer, Shotaro Akiyama, before setting up a photo studio and becoming a freelance photographer. Fascinated by the beautiful colours of nature, she travels around Japan in a car, to capturing soothing shots of landscapes in the different seasons as well as photos that feature both trains and landscapes. A member of Japan Professional Photographers Society (JPS) and Japan Society for Arts and History of Photography (JSAHP).