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Japan Diary – Day 3

Another early morning :) Left the guesthouse at 4:45 so getting out of bed at 4:15. Packed the gear in the cars and left for the Bihoro Pass for some breathtaking views over Lake Kussharo. Well in time for the sunrise, the setup was geared towards panorama shots. Temperature was a crisp and fresh -14C.

The sun rises relatively quickly so no time to fiddle too much with the settings etc. This kind of photography is really not my strongpoint. With that said, it is always great to challenge yourself with new tasks. With the sunrise done and dusted we drove back to the very photogenic Whopper swans. A new location this morning but in essence quite similar to yesterday. Managed to bag a few shots I did not succeed with yesterday which is always great. Back for breakfast and some well-earned rest…

After a lunch on town we went back to our Whooper swans and I decided to work a bit with some alternative technologies which I am not to comfortable using. Not too happy with the result but we all have to start somewhere they say :)

Still got some decent shots though.

Why not join Wild Nature Fotoresor on this Japan trip next year?

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Japan Diary – Day 2

A nice sleep-in today. Alarm went off at 05:30. Bags packed in the car to move to a new location after another session with the cranes. Again, a different location for the cranes. We have been at 3 different locations altogether. Each location with its own pros and cons which creates new challenges and opportunities and different images. For the type of images that I prefer to create I think this last location was my favourite.

After a 4-hour session with the cranes we refuelled the cars and left for Lake Kussharo – a 90 minute drive to the north. We’re staying for 2 nights and we have some landscapes and Whooper swans on the menu. We arrived early afternoon and managed a delicious Japanese lunch in a traditional restaurant and even a first session with the swans.

The lake is frozen but thanks to the thermal activity in the area the hot springs feed into the lake and keep some small areas open for the swans where they tend to congregate in quite a large number.

After our first “taste” of the swans we headed back to our cosy little Japanese guesthouse, had dinner and start downloading today’s images from the memory cards. Another great day with Wild Nature Fotoresor

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Japan Diary – Day 1

All 7 guests in the @wild nature fotoresor group arrived safely yesterday evening and after a very traditional Japanese dinner we opted for an early night to be well rested for today’s adventures.

Alarm set for 3:30AM… An early morning start with a fresh -12C outside. Why so early you might ask? Well… We had a 30 minute drive to the location and to get a decent place you want to be there before the crowds appear. This specific location was on a bridge over a small river so space is obviously very limited.

When the warm rays of the rising sun meet the cool water of the river, a mist/fog is created. This mist together with the morning sun, the water and amazingly beautiful birds make the perfect setting for a crisp winter scene. If you are lucky and if the cranes decide to cooperate you can bag a bunch of very atmospheric images on a morning like this.

Once back at the hotel, a tasty and very colourful Japanese breakfast was waiting for us. Still a bit frozen after the morning session, some of us decided to go for a traditional thermal bath (onsen in Japanese) after breakfast. The 42 degree water come from natural hot springs.

After a few hours rest we went back put again for some more crane photography, but at a different location this time. Different location means different types of shots.

Review – Mindshift Gear Firstlight 40L Camera bag

mindshift-bagAs a traveling wildlife photographer I am very often completely dependent on my carrying system (as it is fancily called) in the field. In layman’s terms it is also know as a camera bag :) A good bag is essential for me and many other wildlife- or other type of photographers. There are many types of camera bags but personally I use exclusively a backpack. My previous backpack gave up on me gradually by literally coming apart at the seems. Somewhat of a disaster if the contents of the bag slowly starts slipping out undetected on your way to a hide on the Finnish/Russian border for example…

For my recent trip to The Maasai Mara in Kenya I was in dire need of a new backpack. I did extensive research online about different backpacks. I looked at F-stop, Lowepro, Tamrac etc etc. I always found something I didn’t like whilst browsing around. My previous pack had an insert inside the actual bag. This meant that to open it I had to open 2 zippers every time. This became very annoying over time and I definitely didn’t want one of those again. I needed it to be on the larger side to fit a variety of lenses. Some of them on the larger side of the spectrum. On the other hand I don’t want a backpack which is too large due to airline regulations regarding hand luggage.

After some careful consideration I started looking into the Mindshift Gear packs and they seem to tick most of my boxes. The guys at Mindshift Gear were kind enough to supply me with one of the Firstlight 40L packs for my upcoming trip to Kenya. Now, anyone that has visited The Maasai Mara for a safari knows that you don’t do much gear-carrying since you are more or less constantly in your vehicle with your backpack next to you on the seat. So it is not really a proper test of the comfort of the backpack over a longer period of time. So, to get a more complete overview of the system I also used it extensively once back home.

Some basics:
Exterior Dimensions: 13.8” W x 21.7” H x 9” D (35 x 55 x 22.9 cm)
Interior Dimensions: 13.4” W x 20” H x 7.3” D (34 x 51 x 18.5 cm)
Front Pocket:  Weight: 6.0lb (2.7kg)
Volume: 40 Liters
Price: Around $330 or €295 (at the time of writing)

Size and Space
Firstly, I would like to say I easily packed all my necessary gear in the pack. 2 camera bodies, 300mm f2.8 with lens hood and camera body attached, 70-200mm f2.8, 2 teleconverters, 16-35mm f4, 105mm f2.8 macro, 15mm macro, Speedlight SB700, Macbook Pro 15″ plus a variety of smaller stuff such as extra batteries, memory card cases, filters, essential tools etc. The rather squarish design is really paying off. I don’t feel the gear is so crammed as it was in my previous backpack. Especially at the top of the pack where the more squarish design gives you that little bit of extra space. Overall it is definitely spacious enough. Worth to mention is that it also has a dedicated hydration pocket of 3 litres. The fact that I can keep my 300mm lens with lens hood and camera body attached is a great advantage for me since I can be ready to shoot in an instant. That the bag is so spacious obviously has the drawback being a larger bag overall. I must say although I could fit the bag in the overhead compartment on the plane it was a little bit tight. If you do a lot of air travel with your bag, I would consider the smaller 30L version  if you are not desperate for space.

Comfort
mindshift_firstlight_30l_shoulder_straps_harness_system_front_view-dsc_7819_large-221x300Although it looks somewhat bulky with its more square design it is remarkably comfortable even over longer periods of time. My bag, fully loaded, can easily weigh 15-17 kg when I am out and about so for me it is very important that the bag is steady, comfortable and with a good support system. The Firstlight is simply amazing in this regard. The shoulder straps are padded like there’s no tomorrow. Love that! The hip belt is also well padded and sizeable which is great. Too many backpacks has just a thin strap as a hip belt which isn’t very comfortable and doesn’t give much support at all. You can also adjust the straps in all kind of ways which gives you the opportunity to make it suit your individual body type. The adjustable torso-harness also gives a great way of customising the bag to your personal requirements. All this boils down to an extremely comfortable backpack even on those longer days with a fully loaded tool box.

Verdict
My conclusion after having used this bag both as a carrying system whilst working locally and more of a portable storage system in Kenya, is that it is extremely complete. Simple, solid and functional… Not too many fancy solutions that in my opinion often turns out to be a bags downfall anyway. So far, I have only 1 thing to say about this bag that might be improvable in my opinion. The laptop pocket. Although there is the space for a laptop, it is not padded at all. This is of course easily solved by placing your laptop in a padded laptop sleeve before putting it in the bag. But I think I would feel more comfortable with some kind of padding there. If you are happy with the sleeve-solution I must say it really is a great bag which I can honestly recommend to anyone.

Please read more about MindShift Gear and especially the Firstlight 40l here

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Maasai Mara Diary – Day 6

Last day on this adventure. A short morning game drive and then to the air strip for the short flight back to Nairobi. It turned out to be a very fitting last morning. We came across a huge group of wildebeest all in single file on the move. This train of wildebeest, reached on all the way to the horizon and it kept on coming. For some reason they decided all to gather up in the middle of the savannah under a tree. After a short time the group was enormous. It was great to see the migration spectacle on our last morning. We also had time to visit a huge male lion eating a hearty breakfast consisting of meat, meat and a little bit more meat. He had killed a wildebeest during the early morning hours and he was now chomping away.

After enjoying watching him it was time to head back to camp for breakfast and the last minute packing before heading for the airstrip and say goodbye to this incredible place one again.

Why not joining us for next year?

Kenya Maasai Mara Photo Adventures
www.PhotoWorkshopAdventures.com/Kenya-Safari