I mentioned earlier that my photos from Niseko were both low in number and also in variety, as managing a camera along with kids and snowboard was just too much – and so the pictures are mainly from the lower village close by the apartment that we stayed in and from my iPhone on the hill.
We were there in the middle of March, which is kind of close to the end of the season – not that this means that there is no snow on the hill – but the season only seems to be when there is ridiculous amounts of powder. This year is snowed from the start of December to the End of January for all but two days.
The week that we were there had a big dump over night in the middle of the week that gave me a day doing tree runs in knee to mid thigh powder and the following day, some amazing runs off piste on the very top of the hill (it is about a 30 minute hike from the highest lift through gate 3 to get to the top and well worth the effort).
Having never been to Niseko before we were lucky to get a place that was at the bottom of the Lower Hirafu Village, that is 100m from the shuttle bus route and away from the generic ski hotels that give you generally very over priced and under sized rooms.
Our flat was two floors (so the kids had a room each, which is very important at 5am), it’s own Onsen (a mineral bath at 42 degrees) and a great little kitchen/dining/lounge to hang out in.
I am going to have to apologise that this post has some iPhone pictures amoungst the Nikon FE images – but as I want to talk about Niseko as well as the reality of taking pictures in snow, it is unavoidable.
So this is the entrance to the apartments and anyone who knows our house will understand why this place called out to us.
And the inside of the flat showing the other reason to go to Niseko apart from the snow – Sapporo Classic that is not exported outside of the North Island and is essential apres ski.
The very small ski village of Hirafu sits below the mountain and houses hundreds of cool ski lodges as well as probably the best small restaurants from Yakatori to French and everything in-between (including great pizza).
So here is the camera part to talk about taking photographs in snow, as it is really not a very exact science and one based on lots of educated guess work.
So just to get technical for a minute – the meter on your camera assumes that what it is seeing is 18% grey all of the time.
If you have a high end film camera (F5 or similar) then it will have a little CPU with thousands of images stored for it to try and compensate for very white or very black images or if you are using a digital then it will either have the same sort of CPU or scene selection for snow etc.
If you imaging your camera thinks that the snow scene you are trying to capture is 18% grey, then you are going to get a massively over exposed image with no highlights.
So this is where you have to make your compensation of between 1 and 2 stops – either by changing the film speed or by using the compensation dial if your camera has one.
Experience told me that in cloudy daylight that I needed 1.5 stops and as much as 2.5 in bright sunlight to get any highlights on the snow.
The one above was taken from our apartment window in the morning of the best snow of the week – very over cast and still with 1.5 stops compensation.
This was the same day with sunlight and clouds and from memory 2.5 stops (plus some highlight help in post processing as it was still too blown out).
So what happens to the colours and shadows in an image if you are putting a correction of 2.5 stops onto your picture? The simple answer is nothing as there is so much white and reflection in the image that you get really good colour reproduction and shadow density as can be seen in the untouched picture below of Cassius going sledging behind our apartment. If anything I could have increased the correction to even 3 stops to get better highlights.
The film of choice for the trip ended up as Kodak Ektar 100 (I wanted to put some B/W through the camera but was out voted by Nathalie).
I had a 20/2.8 on the camera most of the time (it is small and light) and the following one shows how at this time of year a day after a big dump, the roads are clear again.
These final ones are all iPhone and from the hill to show how beautiful the place is in the sun and also the fantastic new APX goggles from Dragon that never fogged – even when I was hiking up hill.
This shows you just how many people go off piste here – especially when the view is so clear.
So next time we are going to do a few things differently than we did this time and a few things the same but as they seem to be things no one tells you, I thought I would add them here;
– Hirafu is the village at the bottom of the ski hill – you can walk from the hill to the bottom of the village in full ski gear in about 15 minutes – or take a shuttle that runs from 8am to 8pm continually.
– The hotels are all just below the ski hill and if this is your cup of tea – then go for it. Some of the hotels are ten to twenty minutes drive away from Hirafu (but still at the bottom of the mountain) and tend to have nothing around them in the way of restaurants or bars. Only book these if this is the type of ski holiday you want.
– The beautiful Japanese houses and flats are in lower Hirafu village.
– There is night skiing every night on nearly all of the hill. Take orange or clear goggles with you as the snow conditions when it is dumping give you seriously flat light. At this point take to the trees as then you won’t need to worry about visibility as much.
– Off Piste is really easy and safe and most good tree runs need a short walk to get to them.
– Take nappies and wipes with you for kids (if applicable) as you won’t find them in the village.
– Lots of sites and people talk about how Niseko is a cash only place and this is rubbish. True that there is only one international ATM – but everywhere takes cards.
So next year we are thinking an earlier trip without the kids to get more powder and also sample the apres ski.