• Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 16mm. 1/160s @ f2.8, ISO 100.
    Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 16mm. 1/160s @ f2.8, ISO 100.

Behind the lens: The Crow Castle

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It was another cold and early wakeup call - one of many on our month-long trip in Japan back in 2018. Thankfully our sunrise shoot location (Matsumoto Castle) was only a 3-minute walk from our hostel. It’s always a bonus when you can book your Airbnb right next to your shoot location.

Before I arrived in Japan, I had researched Matsumoto castle on Google and Instagram and found many picture-perfect photos of the castle in a pure wintery white setting. Unlike most castles in Japan, Matsuomoto has a dark and contrasting exterior, and a shot of it was high up on my trip’s shot list.

From the hostel, we walked through the cold and sleepy town and arrived before sunrise. Travelling with other photographers is nice because we all knew why we were there. Without a word, we all split up and got to work, dashing around in the dark trying to get a sense of the castle to find our compositions.

I walked around the moat and took a few test shots with the castle footbridge before settling on this simple, cleaner composition.

The sun slowly started to peak over the surrounding mountains on the right and its colour started filling in the castle and the sky. It wasn’t the snowy wonderland I had in mind, but the stillness of the moat was a nice surprise. It created a perfect reflection of the castle with the occasional white swan floating by.

During this shoot I noticed all the crows cawing and circling the castle. Coincidentally, it’s actually also known as the “Crow Castle” (烏城, Karasu-joˉ) due to its black exterior. All that was left was to wait for a few of them to fly into the right position.

I have seen many of the Castles throughout Japan, but Matsumoto is definitely one of my favourites. It is conveniently (and purposely) located in the centre of town which makes it pretty easy to get to no matter where you’re staying. It may not be the biggest or the most extravagant, but the way it’s positioned with a wide-open moat makes for a clean composition.

The edits on this were simple, basic adjustments in Lightroom, with a radial filter on the right to emphasise the warmer light and colour coming from the sun.

This photo ended up being one of my favourites from the trip, even though it didn’t turn out like what I was expecting. I find it is getting more difficult to plan perfect seasonal shots, with even the locals saying that the weather patterns seem to be shifting with less and less snowfall over the years. Even so, I’ll take this beautiful reflection shot of Matsumoto Castle, and I’ll be back for that wintery shot on my next trip.

Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 16mm. 1/160s @ f2.8, ISO 100.
Canon 5D Mark IV, 16-35mm f/2.8 lens @ 16mm. 1/160s @ f2.8, ISO 100.
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