By Alyce Bender
Some of the most peaceful moments I find in nature are those spent next to the smaller rivers and streams that course through a landscape ensconced in forests, shaded from the open light and giving a sense of seclusion to the experience. When I was living in northern Japan, the situation was no different. About thirty minutes from my house was one of the most beautiful places to see fall colors in the entire country. For me though, this place was amazing at all times of the year and it gave me a Top 100 photo in NANPA’s 2022 Showcase competition.
Oirase Gorge is a 14 kilometer, heavily wooded and narrow ravine that lies between the foot of the Hakkoda mountains and the shores of Lake Towada and is part of the Towada-Hachimantai National Park. It is located in the Aomori Prefecture in the far northern section of the main Japanese island of Honshu. Following Oirase stream from Lake Towada, a trail runs through all 14 kilometers the ravine, passing numerous waterfalls of various sizes and shapes. However, my favorite stretch of the river was this one section that came around a bend and flowed over a series of boulders which had turned into tiny islands on which the small trees, mosses, and ferns grew. It was a “newer” portion of the stream, created more recently then much of the rest of the stream bed, after an earthquake altered the course of the stream and sent boulders down from the gorge walls. Here the rapids had a refreshing and energetic sound that I appreciated during the long hike.
On this particular day, in mid-June 2018, everything seemed to come together just right. The light filtering through the late spring foliage cast a beautiful green glow with yellow highlights. The mosses were well on their way towards summer, flush with bright green coloration, and the stream was flowing just right due to a good snowpack and recent rains, which created smaller details to form, like the micro-waterfalls over the edges of the river boulders. The trail-edge ferns had returned from their winter slumber and the entire scene showcased what I loved about this location.
Using my Nikon D500, Tamron 10-24mm lens, a polarizing filter, and tripod, I set about composing an ultra-wide angle shot of the scene. As wide as my lens was, it just wasn’t as wide as I needed for the composition. With flowing streams, I find a composition is helped if the area where the river runs out of the image is not fully open, meaning it is obscured by another feature in the frame. This helps keep the viewer in the frame and doesn’t let their eye flow out with the water. Thus, I chose to include the large boulder on the left of the image which, due to the angle at which the rock is positioned relative to the camera, also helps give depth and leads the viewer further into the scene.
The other aspect of the scene I wanted to capture was the bend in the river where the water is coming from. To include both these elements meant I needed to do a panorama. I ended up shooting ten frames to make sure I collected enough information from each one to overlay the next. I used Adobe Lightroom to stitch them together. From there it was simply a bit of cropping to get the frame just right and a few, basic, developmental edits to process the image from RAW to JPEG as I experienced the scene in real life. The final image is one that continuously reminds me of a quintessential late spring/early summer day in the forests of northern Japan.
Gear notes: I used my Nikon D500, Tamron 10-24mm f/3.5-4.5 SP Di II LD Aspherical (IF) lens at 12mm, a Breakthrough Photography circular polarizing filter, and a Benro tripod with Zomei ballhead. Camera settings were ½ second, f/22, ISO 500.
In addition to placing in the Top 100 in the 2022 NANPA Showcase competition and publication in upcoming 2022 Expressions, this image also merited in the 2021 PPA International Photography Competition, and was published in the 2021 PPA Showcase book. You can hear more from Alyce Bender on Episode 19, “Be a Better Naturalist,” of The Nature Photographer on Wild and Exposed podcast.
Alyce Bender, a Tamron Ambassador, roams the globe, exploring Earth’s natural beauty. Currently based in San Antonio, Texas, she is happiest in the field. Bender uses photography to connect people to wildlife and environments from across the world. She leads tours, publishes articles, and hosts workshops promoting exploration, creativity, and ethical nature photography. Her work has been recognized nationally and internationally.