I’ve been obsessed with the ice monsters, the juhyou, of Zao Ski Resort in Yamagata Japan. They are pine trees covered with snow, frozen then sculpted by the high winds. I first saw them on a ski trip ten years ago. At that time, I only had a really cheap point and shoot digital camera and it did not enjoy the cold. Plus I was skiing. It is very hard to take photos on skis or on deep snow wearing ski boots.
Last year I finally figured out how I could get the photos I was looking for–snowshoe around the area. It didn’t really matter that I didn’t know how to snowshoe. I was determined to do it. Snowshoes HAD to be more stable than skis. I convinced my friend, fellow photographer, Maria Trabucco to join me.
I found a tour guide, Ito-san, who was a certified guide as well as an instructor! Excellent! The one thing about traveling with a photographer is how long it takes to move along. We are always stopping to take a shot. It was good to have a guide who understood.
I wanted to bring a medium format camera but wasn’t sure if I’d be able to carry a large camera safely. It would have been fine… sigh. But I suppose that’s better than crying over a broken, beloved camera. I vowed to pack light. I was worried about my fitness. Would I be able to carry my gear around a mountain in deep snow all day? I ended up bringing three cameras: the pinhole converted Minolta7, iPhone and my Canon EosM. It seems like a lot of gear but it all fit into a smallish backpack with a change of clothes included.
Shot with iPhone
Shot with Eos M
We had amazing weather for February. It was warm enough we even saw the unkai, a sea of cloud in the valley, that usually only appears in March. The last time I was on the peak, it was -30C and this time it was just below 0C. Snowshoeing was not as hard as I thought. It was certainly work, but I was much more stable than on skis. I fell quite a bit but always managed to keep the camera out of the snow. Priorities, right? The other challenge was the intense brightness at the peak. It was hard to compose images because of the glare.
So what was your toughest location shoot? How did you overcome your challenges?