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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Danny Green

Mar13

Canon Explorer Danny Green photographs snow monkeys in Japan

By Danny Green, Friday March 13, 2015
A dominant snow monkey relaxes in his hot tub. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/8, ISO 800. A Speedlite 580EX flashgun was used for supplementary fill-in lighting.

A dominant snow monkey relaxes in his hot tub. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM lens; the exposure was 1/250sec at f/8, ISO 800. A Speedlite 580EX flashgun was used for supplementary fill-in lighting. © Danny Green

During the late 1980s I picked up a copy of National Geographic magazine and saw some wonderful images of Japanese macaques or snow monkeys, bathing in a geo-thermal pool. These images were taken at Jigokudani in the Valley of Yokoyu River, Joshinetsu-Kogen National Park in the northern part of Nagano, Japan.

Since seeing those images it has been my burning ambition to visit this wonderful part of the world. The snow monkey is the only primate (apart from ourselves) that can be found in such a cold environment. The ones at Jigokudani have developed a unique way of combating the extreme weather by regularly bathing in these hot springs; a kind of natural hot tub. Only the very dominant monkeys are allowed to bathe and this hierarchy is usually determined by birth.

The snow monkeys are extremely tolerant of humans because of the amount that visit the park. Usually I have to work with long telephoto lenses but it was really liberating to work with wide-angles for a change. The main lens that I used was the EF24-70mm f/2.8L USM; having the zoom gave me greater freedom to compose the images. After a few days of working around the hot spring I decided to concentrate on some of the other monkeys that were feeding further along the river.

The weather conditions were perfect for my visit with lots of fresh snow. I love working in these kind of conditions because you can pick out individuals and the fresh snow acts as a perfect white canvas. For the image of the young macaque I used my EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM telephoto. By using a very shallow depth-of-field I could just isolate this youngster from its surroundings. It was really funny as he kept putting his head up above the small snow bank; his great expression said it all.

On the last couple of days the weather got worse and heavy snow started to fall. This is what I really wanted as the monkeys look great covered in snow. It was not easy because they don't like the wet snow clinging to their fur, so they are constantly shaking it off. I did eventually find a young female that was being really protective of her youngster. She was taking the full blast of the snow and he was nicely tucked up in between her arms. Every now and then he just lifted his head to take a quick look at his surroundings. An intimate portrait of this iconic species.

A young snow monkey wondering where all the snow came from. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 800.

A young snow monkey wondering where all the snow came from. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/1000sec at f/4, ISO 800. © Danny Green

An intimate portrait of a mother and her young. Taken on a  Canon EOS-1D X with an EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens;  the exposure was 1/320sec at f/7.1, ISO 400.

An intimate portrait of a mother and her young. Taken on a
Canon EOS-1D X with an EF300mm f/2.8L IS II USM lens;
the exposure was 1/320sec at f/7.1, ISO 400. © Danny Green