In November 2023 I spent a few weeks in Japan in autumn. It wasn’t my first time visiting, but it had been almost 10 years since my last visit. And I never visited during the peak of autumn. I was invited by my friend Daniel Kordan to co-guide a tour with him and decided to spent some days before and after to explore some more places and take some more photos for myself. People that know me know I love colour in my photographs, and Japan was the perfect place to explore my style: vibrant reds, oranges and yellow. There were beautiful colours everywhere and some of the most beautiful autumn colours I had seen. It was simply magical.
I was hypnotised by the beauty of the maple trees and the details in the colourful autumn leaves. And I was fascinated by the beauty of Mount Fuji, that I tried to photograph from many angles. It’s just such a special mountain that basically stands in the middle of nowhere. You can see it very well from every angle around, and some houses in villages nearby have spectacular views right from their windows.
Next to the beauty, I really enjoyed Japanese culture and food. The extremely quiet atmosphere in some remote places, little teahouses and cute stays where you could just feel completely at ease. And then authentic healthy food with great taste. Little houses with home owners just cooking for you for a very fair price. I loved all of it.
In these photo series I’m portraying Japan how I experienced it. I visited Tokyo & surroundings, The Mount Fuji Area, Matsumoto, Kyoto, Osaka and Koyasan. I only just scratched the surface and I am very much looking forward to exploring more.
I hope you enjoy the series and stories!
It's morning like these that I like most about photography: Almost no wind, the silence, a little bit of fog on the water and seeing through the water with the last autumn leaves below. I took this photo with a polariser to see through the water. This was about 45 minutes before sunrise with a beautiful twilight glow in the sky.
A spectacular morning near Kyoto. The sun just rose, casting a beautiful golden light over the river and lighting up the orange tree that was at the peak of its autumn colours. For this morning, we had a real geisha with us that Daniel arranged for this morning of the tour. We asked her to be a model in some of the beautiful autumn locations.
A teahouse surrounded by red maple trees. It was already getting dark here and the lights from the teahouse casted a romantic glow, causing the red tree to glow even more. I just loved strolling around in places like this. They're rather 'simple' scenes in terms of photography, but for me they were very satisfying to see, experience, and photograph. The harmony between the orange and red colours of the tree, with the romantic orange lights and brown wood on the teahouses was very satisfying.
This is one of the most classic spots to see Mount Fuji from: The Chureito Pagoda. That doesn't make it any less beautiful. If you go here to see the sunset, you're surrounded by hundreds of people. So I decided to go during a very early morning. I was there 2.5 hours before sunrise and I was all alone. The first person that came up walking arrived about an hour before sunrise. It was so peaceful to stand here all by myself, and I was surprised by the many stars you could actually see above the city. The light pollution was actually not that much. In this photo, we see the very first alpenglow on Mount Fuji. It's the very first light casting a beautiful balanced light on the landscape.
A tree tunnel with extremely vibrant red trees. I had never seen such a vibrant autumn before. It almost had too much saturation for the camera.
During my trip in Japan I got addicted to the maple leaves and their details. In this place, I saw a yellow carpet of leaves with some red maple leaves scatted on it: a great colour contrast.
You'll find many Torii gates in Japan. A Torii gate is a traditional Japanese gate most commonly found at the entrance of Shinto Shrine, where it symbolically marks the transition from the mundane to the sacred. To me they were just a beautiful subject for photography. You'll find so many Japanese gardens and temples in Japan, and most of them are just spectacular during autumn. Fun fact about this photograph: It was taken with a shutter speed of 1/3rd of a second, hand held, to get the waterfall smooth, but the model still sharp. The Image Stabilisation of the Sony A7RV helped a lot in this shot.
During the day, the beautiful streets of Kyoto are filled with tourists. But we decided to go very early morning when no one was around. The rain added an extra touch of atmosphere to the shot. I love walking around in towns early morning or late evening, when the crowds are gone and when you can experience the real magic of these little streets.
On our way from Tokyo to Kyoto we visited Matsumoto city. In the middle of the city you find this spectacular black castle. This photo is from early morning when a slight hint of colour painted the skies for just about 10 minutes. These swans were swimming around in the lake and I caught this one on camera combined with the reflection of the castle.
We found some little beautiful places in Japan that were just like you were in a dream. This was one of them: A small pond with unreal turquoise water, surrounded by red maple trees. And on top of that, it was full of koi fish and some swans. Not easy to capture all of it on camera, but I tried my best in this photo.
A beautiful morning with the first golden light creating an amazing golden glow on a lake near Mount Fuji. It was a super cold morning with not much wind and when the sun came up, the steam on the lake because much more visible. On the early morning, the fisherman go on the lake to catch fish. The combination of the golden light, first sunlight and the fisherman on the lake gives such a magical atmosphere.
Here we see a Japanese garden near Kyoto. The autumn colours are deep vibrant red, in harmony with the red little temples that you often see in these parks. In this season many women come to these parks and dress up with their kimono's and umbrella's to take photos of each other.
When walking through picturesque Japanese villages I look at lots of details. There are just so many small things to see and photograph next to the bigger pictures. Here I spotted this beautiful Japanese lantern on one of the houses, and framed it with a wide open aperture from a vibrant red maple tree.
I really enjoyed photographing this shot. It was definitely not easy, and I took many photo to try and get the perfect framing. This one came close enough: Mount Fuji reflecting, a fisherman, and the golden light framed through orange maple leaves. Maple trees in Japan are not tall. You can easily stand next to one of them and point your camera through the leaves and try and get the perfect framing. Still, this is not easy at all, because the leaves are often moving. This was shot at 16mm at f/22 aperture. You can see, the foreground leaves are still out of focus, meaning I was super close to them. But in the end I really like the result.
During the autumn season around Mount Fuji it gets extremely crowded with both tourists and locals. At almost every maple tree you see dozens of photographers trying to get the perfect angle with Mount Fuji and the colourful maple leaves.
At the end of our trip we visited Koyasan: an amazing places high up on the mountains. We had some beautiful conditions there, along with snow. There were still some tiny maple trees with their last red leaves, creating this beautiful contrast between the red maple leaves, dark background and white snow.
Another one of my favourite mornings in Japan. Mount Fuji just received fresh snow from 2 days ago. Before that, it did not even have a snow cap (that was in November) which is quite unusual. On this lake, I found some of these fisherman boats as a foreground. When the sun rose, the fisherman came and went with them in the lake to catch fish (see the earlier photo in the series). But at this time, about an hour before sunrise, I had them all to myself.
There are so many picturesque villages in Japan. It's also a great way to escape some of the bigger crowds in the bigger cities. Walking around in these villages, capturing details and just enjoying the atmosphere is something I often did in Japan. Here, we were with our photo tour and we organised a model in a Samurai outfit to have a fun photo shoot in this village.
The cemetery on Koyasan, a very sacred place in Japan, a few hours drive from Osaka. The atmosphere of this place is difficult to describe in photo. It was snowing when we visited and I decided to capture various details when walking through this huge cemetery in this sacred place.
A close up shot of mount Fuji, captured from a nearby village at 400mm. I really liked how a clowd was hugging the top of the mountain here.
In Kyoto you can find the famous Bamboo Grove. If you go here during the day, you'll never be alone. Thousands of tourists visits this place every day. And even for sunrise, it's tricky. That's not the place you see on the photo above. This is a slightly different bamboo place with a nice stairs going through it. Very similar to the original bamboo grove (in my opinion even better), and without the crowds.
A calm early afternoon at Kawaguchiko lake, with Mount Fuji reflecting in the water and the beautiful red maple colours framing around. To get photo like this required some preparation. One day, I drove all around the lakes to find the best maple trees. At that time the weather conditions were not great and Mount Fuji was not reflecting in the water (doesn't happen that often). But I used the time to find all the nice places and mark the spots. In the next days, I stayed around the lakes in a hotel. I simply waited for the best weather and quickly drove past all the spots to take the shots I had already planned.
The little statues you see in this photo are called Daruma Dolls. Daruma dolls are seen as a symbol of perseverance and good luck, making them a popular gift of encouragement. The doll has also been commercialised by many Buddhist temples to use alongside the setting of goals. There are some temples and parks around Osaka where you can find thousands of these!
Spectacular views on Mount Fuji from villages around. Here, the last night hit the top of the mountain. The trees in the village had their peak autumn colours. And we asked our guide monk to pose for us on this spot!
I did not only photograph Nature and villages when visiting Japan. On some of my last days, I enjoyed exploring tiny streets in Tokyo. I decided to get a hotel at very local area with not many tourists. There, I wandered around with my camera, just seeing what I would find. There are so many beautiful little streets filled with lanterns and atmospheric lights. You'll see locals eating and drinking inside (or outside). I wandered around here for a couple of hours and then went inside into one of these tiny restaurants to eat a delicious meal.
Ginko trees become bright yellow on their autumn peak. And when the leaves fall, you get a yellow carpet of Ginko leaves. This is just magical to experience. On this location, the Ginko tree was at its peak. This place was great because there was also a Torii gate and a little park. A small but extremely beautiful scene.
Another visualisation of the local night life in Tokyo. You see a lot of well dressed men here. They come right from work and look for a place to have their dinner. I walked around for a few hours here, capturing photos like this one.
A simple scene of a red bridge surrounded by autumn colours that caught my eye in one of the many parks around Kyoto. Here, a woman was posing with her umbrella for one of her friends (that's behind the red trees). I was standing on the opposite side of the lake, capturing the full reflection of the woman and the red bridge.
This is a photo of the most famous Bamboo Grove in Japan, that you can find near Kyoto. I was talking about it earlier in the photo series: It gets super crowded during the day. For this shoot, we arrived about an hour before sunrise to avoid most of the tourists. A real geisha was joining us for our photo shoot. We had about 15 mins before most of the tourists arrived, but it was worth to get this shot :)
This was one of my favourite little alleys when wandering the streets of Tokyo in the evening. I just love the chaos in this little street everywhere around: pipes, airconditioners, and lots of neon signs.
A different view of the bamboo stairs from earlier in these series. I really liked to capture it in a super wide angle view. This is actually a vertical panorama of 2 shots to show how the path is leading you through the bamboo trees.
The forest surrounding Mount Koya (Koyasan) in Wakayama, a sacred mountain and temple complex founded by the monk Kobo Daishi, serves as a huge cemetery. So huge, in fact, that Okunoin Cemetery, as it is called, is the largest in all of Japan. This is an extremely special sacred place in Japan. Walking around here in the evening was just magical, and maybe slightly scary :) .
Mount Fuji as seen from a street in one of the villages nearby. By using a longer lens of about 200mm, you get this perspective where the mountain looks very big compared to the street below. It makes everything look spectacular. I really enjoyed walking around in this village and finding angles to photograph Mount Fuji from.
I hope you enjoyed the visual summary of my visit to Japan of November 2023. Special thanks to my friend Daniel Kordan, and local guide Alex, who is not only a great guide but also a great model in many photos :) If you are interested to join me in 2024, I am guiding a tour that you can find here.
If you're interested in my postprocessing style, feel free to check out my Full Editing Course on Landscape Photography
Gear used in Japan:
Thanks for watching!