Hell’s Valley, Jigokudani, Japan 2017

This image of the left hand of a Japanese Macaque, also known as Snow Monkey, is one of my most successful images to date. Category Winner in Travel Photographer of the Year 2017, exhibited in various locations around the world (Dubai, Portugal, London etc.) and a fine art print purchased by a Premier league player.

The Snow monkeys of Japan are very well known by wildlife photographers for various reasons. They are accessible, they are numerous and they are not afraid. Basically they are an easy target. The hard part of photographing them is to create something special or unique. THAT is the challenge of photographing a previously well covered subject.

Let me paint the picture for you. These Snow monkeys are found in a place where they are fed regularly to keep them coming back. It is relatively easy to access the area and for these reasons it can be somewhat crowded at times. The monkeys are well known worldwide due to the fact that they have learnt that bathing in the geothermal hot pools of the area has a number of benefits. An uncountable number of funny but also high quality images have emerged from this particular spot over the years.

I traveled to Jigokudani, Japan as a co-guide for Wild Nature Photo Adventures and we spent two days with the monkeys. As previously mentioned it is very easy to get good shots of the monkeys. They are close to you and they are easy to approach. They are completely wild animals but they are used to human presence due to a daily feeding programme.

The first day I found it hard to be creative and selective to be honest. The whole experience was a bit overwhelming. Monkeys everywhere! On the second day I felt more relaxed and “in the zone”.

You could easily fall into concentrating on portraits of these very cute animals or shoot the interesting interaction between the individuals. Just because it is so easy… After some time though, I got bored with these shots and my creative juices started flowing. As always, when you start experimenting and trying to be creative you get a very mixed bag of shots. Some are just silly and laughable whilst others turn out to be unique keepers. As with most things, the more you practice, the bigger the bag of keepers.

At one point, whilst trying to find a good spot amongst the visitors, an image idea materialised. If I compose the photo in a way that only one of the hands of the Snow monkey is in the frame, I will create an image of a scary or eerie nature. It would look like something is trying to climb up from below. Of course, this took some patience to find a monkey that was positioned in the right way with its hand in the right angle, the right light etc etc. But after some patience I got what I wanted and bagged one of those keepers. In this case it turned out to be a very successful image.

Prints for purchase of this image can be found here