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Ambassadors Programme

Explorer

Danny Green

Mar19

Wild Japan: whooper swans by Canon Explorer Danny Green

By Danny Green, Thursday March 19, 2015
Whooper swans at dusk on Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/10, ISO 400.

Whooper swans at dusk on Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/10, ISO 400. © Danny Green

The whooper swan is one of the most beautiful birds in the Northern Hemisphere. This graceful swan breeds in the wet tundra bogs across Scandinavia and Siberia. They have to escape the harsh winter conditions and so migrate south each autumn.

Large numbers of whoopers gather over winter on the island of Hokkaido and one of the best places to photograph them is Lake Kussharo; a beautiful caldera lake in the Akan National Park. The landscape surrounding the lake is the perfect backdrop for photographing this stunning bird.

The lake is frozen for most of the winter but, because of the geo-thermal activity pockets, it stays ice-free. These pockets are a magnet for the swans as they can roost and feed in safety. With whoopers I usually need to work with long lenses or be in a hide, as they are nervous birds, but this is not the case at Lake Kussharo. The swans are fed by the local people and, as a result, they have become extremely tame.

There are not many places where you can have the freedom to work in this way and it was so liberating to work with different lenses and use various techniques. However, I used my trusted EF500mm f/4 IS II USM lens for my favourite image from my time with the swans. A heavy snowstorm had hit the lake the day before and then strong winds followed. The wind was whipping up all the fresh snow and made for some very atmospheric conditions. The swans in this picture (above) were displaying to each other.

I mainly work with my 24-70mm f/2.8 [lens] for landscape images and I very rarely get the chance to photograph wildlife this close. So I took advantage of the confiding nature of the swans when framing the second image (below). The swans had come back to a favourite area to spend the evening. The reason they come back to this area was because of the thermal spring that feeds into the lake. The difference in temperature must be around 30 degrees, so you can see why it is so attractive to them. I decided to shoot into the setting sun to create strong silhouettes of the swans. I always underexpose my images when working this way and by doing so here the mist rising from the water added that final touch of atmosphere.

This part of the lake was also great for capturing the swans in flight as they would fly in from the surrounding area. I was lucky for this last shot (bottom) because the wind direction was in my favour. Big birds, like swans, always fly into the wind, because it gives them greater stability, and so I could capture them as they flew down the barrel of the lens.

Incoming! A whooper swan in flight, Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/4, ISO 800.

Incoming! A whooper swan in flight, Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/2000sec at f/4, ISO 800. © Danny Green

Whooper swans caught in a snowstorm, Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/4, ISO 800.

Whooper swans caught in a snowstorm, Lake Kussharo, Hokkaido, Japan. Taken on a Canon EOS-1D X with an EF500mm f/4L IS II USM lens; the exposure was 1/4000sec at f/4, ISO 800. © Danny Green