What a hectic weekend. Saturday morning flight to Haneda airport followed by a drive to Fujikawaguchiko and the rush back the next day to catch the last flight from Haneda. This trip was supposed to take place the week before (31st October) but was delayed because of Typhoon Chaba, which would have caused non stop weekend of rain. And there would be no way Mount Fuji would be visible from the town located 10km away to the north.
If you have followed this site quite a bit, you would have noticed that this is one of my favourite sites to shoot Mount Fuji. I could wake up early in the morning and walk 30 mins to the other side of Kawaguchiko across the bridge and set up my tripod before 6am. And in the last 3 times I have been here, Mount Fuji would always be visible in the morning along with a calm lake to catch some reflection. Kawaguchiko is large enough not to be perfectly calm, and the wind does kick in about 7-7:30am. So get there early. I will not detail too much how to get there, the easiest would be via the Keio Express bus line from Shinjuku just opposite Yodobashi Camera. And as a primer, Fuji 5 Lakes regions composes of… of course, 5 lakes. From the right to the left, there’s Yamakako, which I have never been, and since I have not heard too much about the view there, I have no plans to visit since it is also out of the way. Kawaguchiko is arguably the easiest one to access, as it is just situated by Fujikawaguchiko and the northern shore is littered with attractions like a monkey show and a music box museum. The views here are one of the best accessible without long hikes and a car, and Mount Fuji looks symmetrical from here. The only possible issue is that the town would be visible in your picture of the famous mountain. Only an issue if you’re after the mountain sans civilization. Just next to it would be Saiko, where Mount Fuji is not visible at all, obscured by a close by hill. News has it that Saiko is a good fishing place. Next to it, a little drive a way is Shojiko, which I think rivals Kawaguchiko. Cars could drive to the lake bank facing Mount Fuji, and you could get down to water level. What you would see on the opposite bank on the foot of the mountain is just pure nature. However, Shojiko is not that easy to reach without your own car. The public buses don’t run regularly, so you may have 1 hour there and if you do not get on the returning bus, the wait may be quite long. No buses at night the last time I checked, so night time shooting by bus would be impossible. One could camp by the lake side though. The last one is Motosuko, a relatively large lake, with an elevated vantage point at the far side of the lake. It is even more remote than Shojiko. This is also the view of Mount Fuji that could be found at the back of a 100 yen note.
Lets see what we have here…
Shoji-ko: This is one of the first shot of this Autumn season for me. The EXIF reads 5:30pm and it was already dark. Exposure reads 30 secs at f5.6 on a 28-70mm. It was already dark when I got there, and the long exposure lights up the mountain a bit. I kept the foreground dark to convey the evening mood. You could see car lights on the right at the bottom of the mountain, and some faint lights at what could be the mountain 5th station. AT this time of the year, the snow cap is starting to grow, but obviously it is still early.
Shoji-ko: This is one of my favourite picture of the shoot. Exposure reads 4 minutes 30 seconds and f8. I did another one that was 20mins long but came up to almost a blank shot. I had a ND8 on the lens and I would have to stretched it to 1hour exposure if I was to get something like this. What I wanted to do with this shot was to have a long enough exposure to catch the star trail. You could also faintly notice a line of a passing aircraft. I would have wished to have more time here, I guess I will explore the possibility to camp here the next time. Would have been great to catch an hour long star trail.
Kawaguchiko: This was taken at very close to 6am. Note the vapour on the lake surface. This morning was not what I hoped for, with cloudy skies in the morning. When I got to the lakeside at 5:30am the mountain was covered in clouds, but almost always it clears at close to 6am when the faint trace of sunshine appears. You also notice that Fujikawaguchiko town is quite prominent in the foreground. This is a 4 sec exposure at f8, at about 40mm, and I cropped the top and bottom of the original frame. You also noticed that the view from Kawaguchiko is a little different, with the long gentle sloping sides of the mountain visible from here, while at Shojiko, the slope is quite strong.
Kawaguchiko: Looking at the east at the rising sun. The only good thing about a cloudy day is that the morning red sun glow is quite strong.
Kawaguchiko: With the sun starting to appear in the morning, Mount Fuji starts to glow a little shade of red. This scene only lasts not more than 10 mins. In fact I think it might have been shorter than that. So this is where an ergonomic camera comes in, when you switch from one scene and light type to another. The controls has to be easily found and you do not have the luxury of diving into the menus to change something.
Kawaguchiko: Looking towards the west, at the thin layer of fog on the surface of the lake early in the morning. We are at 6:20am now.
Kawaguchiko: Here’s a 1 minute exposure intended to give the lake a smooth appearance and to blur out the clouds. It has this mysterious look although it was not one of my favourite shots. Lacks drama. EXIF says 60 sec at f8 and so far all these were shot at ISO200.
Kawaguchiko: This is one of the opportunistic shot for the morning. A fisherman was just passing by in front of me and I waited for him to reach the middle in nice alignment with the mountain peak before I took the photo. Note the altocumulus clouds, as the lower level clouds start to be blown away.
Kawaguchiko: And with a little graduated ND filtering, here is a shot that starts to look different from the rest. This one is 6:48am. There is now enough light to do 1/30sec at f8. I’ve switched to a 17-35mm wide angle set at 22mm for this shot. All on tripods and remote trigger.
Saiko: One of the reason to come here at this time is to catch the Autumn leaves in Fuji 5 Lakes region. At the lower altitudes most of the trees are still between green and yellow while it has already started on the top of hills.
Saiko: Ok I lied a little bit. It is possible to catch Mount Fuji on the western end of Saiko, but only at an oblique angle like this. Since Saiko lies on the shadow side of a hill, it gets the sun later in the morning, and the fog on the surface of the water is still visible at 7:50am. The lake surface is relatively calm here, with reflection of the mountains quite well defined. The blue tint on the water surface was courtesy of a Singh-Ray Gold-n-Blue polarizer. The non filtered photo looks quite bland since I’m shooting more or less into the sun. EXIF reads 1/90s at f8 and I’m back to the 28-70mm.
Saiko: Morning fishing at the lake. This close crop isolates the scene from the messy mountains in the distance which would distract from the subject, in this case the boats. This was shot with a telephoto, one of my favourite lens, 70-180mm Micro. It looks sharper than this on the original file, almost pixel level sharpness. I just love the way the surface level fog stays on this lake surface longer than the other 4 lakes.
Saiko: On the same side as I am standing on, a fly fisherman prowls the banks.
Motosuko: This is the only one that I liked from the banks of Motosuko. This is 8:30am and the sun is already quite high up in the sky. It looks like it over the mountain as at Motosuko you are looking from the west. The vantage point at the carpark is elevated, and I don’t think the lakeside view will be better because part of the right slopes of Mount Fuji is obscured by a hill. This view is very difficult to digest for me, mainly due to the lack of ability to capture a clean Mount Fuji like at Kawaguchiko. However, I met some Large format photographers at Motosuko, so there is obviously some with different opinions than me. The cloud day and the fact that most morning you would be shooting into the sun, makes Motosuko a better evening spot.
Shojiko: back at Shojiko, I noticed this opportunity to shoot a reflected bank at the western end of the lake. Mount Fuji would be on the right in this case. This was shot at a humble 35mm. ISO had to be cranked up to 560 due to the fact that most of the foreground is actually in the shadows. I had to use Lightroom to bring it out while keeping the skies controlled.
Shojiko: The rest of the lake looks quite normal. Nothing special in this view.
Shojiko: One of the boats you could rent for fishing. I’m not sure if a fishing permit would be required to rent it, but for fishing that’s for sure. For this shot I had to add +2/3 stops to the exposure as as the boat is relatively in the shadows compared to the background. But the resulting image was better than I expected when I first shot it.
Shojiko: This marks the second trip where I get ducks swimming past me. The first time I fumbled to switch my camera to the right setting to get the ducks and the mountain sharp and the right shutter speed. I ended with a blurred out ducks… motion ducks. This time I dialed in 1/250s and f11 right away and also managed to set the camera to continuous shot. I have about 10 shots of various duck positions, but I tend to like this one that is a little past the mountain in the middle. I also like the way the sun is partly obscured by the cloud and it is possible to see the god rays above the mountain. Focal length for this shot is 17mm on FX sensor. I’ve heard of people complaining about the Nikkor 17-35mm, but it is a fine lens for me.
Shojiko: Picnic by the lakeside. One day….
Fujikawaguchiko: Enough mountains… the other reason to come here is for the red leaves. There is an entire tourist attraction the week I was here based around a flea market and the sights of red leaves like these. This was shot just next to the road on the northern banks of Kawaguchiko, with many tourists passing behind me. 70-180mm Micro does its second purpose as a micro lens.
Fujikawaguchiko: More red leaves. This is at 1/180s f5.6, the only reason for the large aperture is that I was hand holding the lens set at 90mm and I really wanted something sharp. ISO is 450. For close up shots like this I would go for shutter speeds that are reciprocal of double the focal length (i.e. 1/180s)
Fujikawaguchiko: Trying something different here.
Fujikawaguchiko: I have no idea what this chair is doing here, but it is one of those test shots that made me go “hmm, not too bad looking” after importing it into LIghtroom. So it stays.
And one last shot to close this post. What a better way than to shoot a Japanese Maple leave, Japanese style with uncluttered background and lighter earthy toned overall picture. Over and out, till the next season at Kawaguchiko.