Around the Fuji in 3 days

Last Christmas, we enjoyed a few days away from Tokyo, to one of the most iconic and beautiful scenery in Japan. Mount Fuji is one of the most famous volcano/mountain in the world and there are good reasons for that.

There are so many different view points in the neighboring areas that it gives millions of opportunities for great shots, as long as the weather in on your side. And I was quite happy with the weather indeed! Winter light in Japan is very nice indeed. See for yourself below: just a few clouds to enhance the wonderful sky.

Taken from the north side of the Kawaguchi lake (Fuji X100s, WCL, f11, 1/50s, ISO 200)

The trip was all done by car, from our ryokan in Kawaguchiko, then going to the different lakes surrounding mount Fuji and looking for the best perspectives and compositions.

Probably my very best shot of this trip (if not the best ever) is the one below. We drove past that place in the late afternoon and I noticed the small boat and the golden vegetation. It wasn't possible to stop immediately as there was some traffic but I convinced my wife I had to go back immediately so we turned around and I ran in the muddy shore to get the right spot. What a great feeling once I checked the shot on the computer!

From the north shore of Kawaguchiko, the feet in the mud... (Fuji X100s, f11, 1/210s, ISO 200)


On that first day I also wanted to go to a very very common place for pictures of mount Fuji... The temple and pagoda below have probably been shot billions of times, at every season and every time of day, but still, I love trying to make my own shots of renown places too.

Playing with the flare and sunstar (Fuji X100s, WCL, f16, 1/20s, ISO 200)


On the second day we went to discover a couple of the other lakes farther on the west side of mount Fuji. The lake Saiko offered a few nice spots from the north side beaches closed in that season.

Saiko lake, north shore (Fuji X100s, TCL, f16, 1/220s, ISO 200)


Pushing farther east we tried the Shoji lake and Motosu lake, but didn't find any interesting spots. The Motosu lake north shore wasn't even accessible as the road was closed for the season.

However, continuing further south we discovered the Tanuki lake and a very nice composition from the hotel hidden at the extreme west. But somehow I wasn't able to find the right spot and focal to compose the right way. It was also very cold so we weren't too motivated to try long...

There is also a very large camping and picnic area on that lake that is really nice and must be delightful in summer.

Tanuki lake (Fuji X100s, f11, 1/180s, ISO 200)

After that we continued south to waterfalls whom unfortunately I can't remember the name... But always a pleasure to play with slightly longer exposures there. The light is probably better in spring or summer though.

Time to play with the tripod and long exposures... (Fuji X100s, WCL, f16, 6.5s, ISO 200 CPL)

Continuing the road, we went to the slopes going around the mount Fuji from the south. The roads go pretty high on the slopes there and there was quite some snow on the way. Good thing it was not to late in the afternoon or there would have been many icy patches on the road! But at least we got to see the top of the Fuji from much closer. By that time the sky had cleared completely, so no more cute clouds...

South side of the deity (Fuji X100s, TCL, f5.6, 1/550s, ISO 200)

We then decided to continue the loop from the east back to the hotel and be right in time at the extreme east of the Yamanaka lake to get another iconic view of the Fuji. Unfortunately there were not enough clouds to really enhance the sunset light. I definitely wasn't the only photographer there so it was about getting the right spot fast.

I wasn't motivated enough to get to any of the key spots for the first daylight, but we had the chance to have a great view from the hotel room and I was waiting with the tripod around 6am on the second day to catch the rosy rays of light on the Fuji and clouds. 

View from the hotel room in Kawaguchiko (Fuji X100s, TCL, f16, 1/6s, ISO 200)

We really enjoyed these few days around the mount Fuji at that time of the year. The weather was superb, cold and dry as I love and we could enjoy great light for photography. Definitely a must-do for any enthusiast landscape photographer coming to Japan. 

Trip to Nikko - Day 2

On the second morning, the weather was still quite overcast and grey, with poor light for landscape photography, so the most appropriate program was to visit the Toshogu temple. Actually, this is a large area full of temples, in the forest, going uphill along steep stairs and built with an architectural style quite different from other places in Japan.

Fuji X100s 23mm, ISO 200, f16, 1/5s

WCL 19mm, ISO 200, f16, 0.4s

WCL 19mm, ISO 200, f16, 1/6s

Not very easy to get a picture without tourists on it, as everyone is taking turns to take a selfie in front of every temple... But still, an amazing place, even with the white and even light of this cloudy morning. And the luxurious vegetation and trees are giving a lost jungle impression.

23mm, ISO 200, f16, 1s

After a couple of hours visiting the different shrines in the premises, we decided to give another shot to the Chuzenji lake and the Senjogahara moor, hoping for better weather than the day before. And good thing we did! We even got a few seconds of sun... 

The Senjogahara moor is extremely well arranged for an easy walk to the Yudaki falls, about one hour away. There is a wooden pathway all the way, so that even after heavy rain it stays accessible (and better so, as a moor is never too far from a swamp...). The trees are slowly extending their territory across the moor, although the many fallen trees show the balance is well kept.

WCL 19mm, ISO 200, f16, 1/5s

23mm, ISO 200, f16, 1.3s

The path leads progressively into thicker woods, with some quasi-swamps and lovely waterfalls.

WCL 19mm, ISO 200, f16, 1/4s

TCL 33mm, ISO 200, f16, 2.5s

Which brought us at last to the Yudaki falls, where we started our previous day under heavy rain, but this time with better conditions! Quite impressive falls and I am glad we came back.

WCL 19mm, ISO 200, f16, 42s (8-stop ND filter)

Actually if you look closely and have a good imagination, the central shape can be seen as a large frowning deity under a shower... 

That was it for the second day, before going back to our wonderful ryokan and enjoying again the hot spring and a huge dinner.

Trip to Nikko - Day 1

We took a 3-day trip to Nikko, the world heritage region, a bit less than 200 km north of Tokyo. And of course I was extremely excited at the idea to spend 3 full days in this area, being able to take pictures of beautiful landscapes, waterfalls, temples, etc.

It did not start as well as expected though, with heavy rain on that first day, making it quite challenging to takes pictures (that's when one understand the rationale behind the weatherproof cameras and lenses...). We decided to still follow our prepared schedule, trying our luck and hoping for a pause in the storm.

We went all the way up from the Nikko station to the Yudaki falls, where the conditions where difficult (and where I managed to drop my CPL filter 4m below the observation deck...). Going further down the road, to the Senjogahara moor, we were lucky to have a slightly drier 10 minutes so I jumped off the car and up the road to take this shot. The perspective lines were interesting, so, why not...

Senjogahara moor (Fuji X100s, WCL 19mm, f16, ISO 200, 1/200s)

Further downhill, just after the Chuzenji lake, are the Kegon falls, very high and with an elevator to bring you down 100m at the foot of the falls. There was also a very welcome dry spot under the observation deck where I could set the tripod and take time shooting.

Kegon no Taki (Fuji X100s, TCL 33mm, f16, ISO 200, 0.8s)

Still, even in a dry spot, the drizzle and the wind kept coming to the lens and didn't help...

On the other side of the observation deck, a smaller waterfall was creating an interesting slide. The trees are growing almost perpendicular to the slope, so it gives a strange impression.

TCL 33mm, f16, 1/4s

We decided to go to the ryokan and enjoy the hot spring there, as the rain was getting even stronger. And we were right after all, as it didn't stop until the next morning!

The rest of the photos are in the Nikko gallery, but I will post the Day 2 and Day 3 adventures later!