My annual autumn in the Mt. Fuji photo tour just concluded, and it was a huge photogenic success. My visits to Mt. Fuji number's well over 1,000, if I had to guess a more concrete number, I would say about 3,000 times; I have ventured around the base of Fujisan and summited 3 times. The most important tool I bring on all my adventures is "The Beginners Mindset" because this allows me to see everything fresh and new, and I am ready to chase the light around Japan's most holy mountain, Mt. Fuji, with a fresh mind. My instincts chasing the light has never been better, beckoning multitudes of new perspectives with far-out and cool lighting, places that I have visited in the past, and are mostly pastel-colored, "well I knew this time around, they would jump to life in vibrant color." In this newsletter are just a few of the dozens of gallery-quality shots that I have already started printing. Mt. Fuji beckons amazing amounts of visiting photographers every year for a Mt. Fuji photo tour experience, but one thing that sets my tours and workshops apart from other Japan Photo Tour organizers is perspective, and I am a local of the region.
20 plus years exploring in the Mt. Fuji region has compelled me to introduce the iconic symbol of Japan to visiting photographers even when the focus of the photography workshop is wildlife and birding in Hokkaido, or Snow Moneys in Nagano or even on a commercial gig, or in the opposite direction on Honshu. Mt. Fuji has been worshipped over for thousands of years, even before Japan was called Japan, beginning with the First Nation’s People, the Ainu. In the year 863, it became a sacred volcanic peak because of the magnitude of the lava Lava flows, the outpourings of molten rock was the hugest we know of. That phenomenon created the Sea of Trees. Aokigahara is a fantastic, mystical forest that spans 24 square kilometers across the Northwest base of Mt. Fuji. My recommendations always come rooted in the form of personal experience, and Mt. Fuji and its surrounding area are no different.
20 years later, I am still using the same trails when entering the forest while leading a Mount Fuji Japan Photo Tour. The most significant difference now is sometimes the opening to larger trails is busy with Japanese schoolchildren, on field trips they are being educated on the forest's natural beauty, and scientific facts, not folklore. The Aokigahara forest spans over 3000 hectares, and the forest is comprised primarily of Hemlock Fir, Japanese Cypress, other evergreens, and broadleafs such as the Longstalk Holly, Japanese Andromeda, Oak, Fuji Cherry, and Maple. There is no accurate count of the number caves, but it's in the tens of thousands, some are kilometers long and deep and have ice year-round, and some are home to migratory bats. The forest's popularity is growing among nature photographers, fine art photographers with its incalculable mythological forms appearing from tree roots and moss growing in around and over volcanic lava.
Hosting photo tours in Japan took me 5 years after my arrival with careful mapping and planning. Most professionals feel ‘ready’ to share a location and host a photo tour after just a short one week of scouting; of course, they are only thinking about time and money and not safety. For me, to lead a workshop/tour in a new area, I need at least a month of scouting, sometimes longer, to ensure I know the region, its charms, and how to keep my clients happy and safe while leading my Japan Photo Tour. Some workshop leaders or commercial photographers visiting from outside Japan depend on Google and social media to create their itinerary, but this technology simply cannot be depended on for planning photography workshop itineraries; Google doesn't know the lighting situations and locals. The years of experience my team and I have in the field perfecting our itineraries allow us to serve our friends, clients, and commercial contracts with almost a perfectly balanced schedule time chasing the light for the perfect imagery, and we are out before first light and well after the blue hour. Also, every itinerary is gone through with a fine-tooth comb over and over until my team, and I feel comfortable that we have every avenue covered. While in the field, we always travel in pairs, and on larger groups, commonly, we ride in a convoy of 4-6 SUVs with business class seating. We are well planned, but foul weather comes in easy and fast, and we are ready for this and others setbacks; our time in the field behind the lens is maximized, and I hate sitting in hotels or having a photoshop day due to weather. These foul weather days can be hair raising, but they are often the days we capture that once in a lifetime image.
I remember last winter in Akano Hokkaido; there was a snow blizzard with thundersnow. I went out with two team members to capture lightning, and one client out of 8 came along; these days are not for everyone.
It is precisely this preparedness that led to the gallery hanging photographs attached to this newsletter. Za-Zen and beginner's mindset sounds great, and it is, but its time/patience, and lots of meditation to chase the light and capture what I like to call zen imagery. An essential rule for all adventurers is "know your surroundings, weather-and the chances are you will keep yourself and group safe.” Weather charts are paramount, and I am constantly checking, on and offline with handheld weather testing equipment that measures Air, Water, and Snow Temperature Altitude, Average Wind Speed, Barometric Pressure, 3- hour pressure trends, Current Wind Speed, Dew point, Maximum Wind Gust, Relative Humidity, and Wet Bulb Temperature. So in Mt. Fuji, I knew that half of our days in the field, we would have a high chance of rain, but it's mountainous and the weather changes on a whim. We did get a few days of beautiful rain with heavy fog making for dramatic lighting, and there is nothing like a scene just after the heavy rains; the contrast is high and perfect, and the colors are most vibrant in the golden blue hour just after the rain and or during. My planning led to once in a lifetime photos and happy clients
All Images below were taken during my annual Autumn Mt. Fuji Photo Workshop, 2019.