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Capturing Breathtaking Landscapes Under Ever-Changing Lighting Conditions

It is a race against time for shoots in the early morning. Conditions of the light are ever-changing, and thus no mistakes are allowed. In the following, I will explain three key points for capturing the decisive moment: time, composition and angle of view. (Reported by: Michiko Kaneko)

Photo 1
EOS 5D Mark III/ EF24-105mm f/4L IS USM/ FL:47mm/ Aperture-priority AE (f/16, 1/20 sec., EV+0.3)/ ISO 400/ WB: Daylight


Magnificent Landscape Takes on Different Looks in the Early Morning

To capture the larch trees that turned yellow at the Odashirogahara marshland, which is located about 200km north of Tokyo in the northern Tochigi Prefecture, I started my shoot before sunrise. There is a white birch, known as “the lady of Odashirogahara”, that stands alone on the wetland. I positioned the tree at the centre, while featuring the white plain covered in frost and the golden larch trees that formed a “folding screen” in the background to capture the wide expanse of the land. I then waited for the sun to shine on them from an angle to create a glittering look.

The subjects take on a different look every single second, thus it is recommended that you spend at least two hours on the shoot. You can capture the Odashirogahara marshland from either a wide-angle or telephoto focal length, so it is best to bring along lenses that cover a wide focal length range.

For the shoot, I selected the Aperture-priority AE mode, and narrowed down the aperture to f/16 to capture the subjects in the image sharply. However, be careful not to narrow down the aperture excessively, as doing so may cause diffraction to occur, resulting in an image that lacks sharpness.


STEP 1: Time – Start the shoot before sunrise to capture the ever-changing looks

In the above shot, which was taken from the same location as Photo 1 but one hour earlier at 5:30 am, the marshland takes on a completely different look. The sun was rising from the other side of the mountains, with light of the morning glow reflected from the clouds, brightening the entire sky. Morning haze that appeared due to the drastic temperature change before sunrise added a fantastical feel to the image.


STEP2: Composition – Include both oblique light and shade for more contrast

I composed a shot with the white birch as the main subject, and adjusted the composition by emphasising the golden larch trees in the background and oblique light that was coming from the right. As we tend to be attracted to brighter objects, I included a shady area in the foreground to direct the viewer’s attention to the main subject.


STEP3: Angle of view – Change the secondary subject according to the size of the main subject

In Photo 1, I used a focal length of 47mm to capture a large number of elements. In contrast, with the focal length set to 200mm to capture a large view of the white birch, as illustrated above, I was able to bring out the sparkling frost that covered the trees. When determining the composition, you should take into consideration both the main and secondary subjects.



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).


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