What is it about snow monkeys that brings people from all over the world back year after year? After all the famous snow monkey park in Nagano, Japan is pretty small and can get crowded but being able to see the snow monkeys close up and interacting and with one another, and sometimes with people, is really an experience you wont forget. But above all else I think that the young monkeys and their non stop energy are really the biggest attractions at the park.
The young cute Japanese macaques sometimes look more like teddy bears than monkeys.When you visit the snow monkey you will see that the hot spring area is not very photogenic. The best plan is avoid being lazy and get from the other photographers in the hot spring pool area and get away to walk around the other areas for refreshing angles and new backgrounds. Having a zoom lens like my Sigma 150-600mm F5-6.3 DG OS HSM | Sports lens is a big advantage here as it makes it much more likely you will want to move as you are not carrying a bag full of prime lenses! Carrying a zoom also makes the 2 km walk into the park a lot more comfortable.
Every day about noon a group of young monkeys would take off away from the main group and go up into the snow to play together and each day my tour group and I would follow them. It was always non stop craziness.
Being able to photograph young monkeys playing and fighting in snow makes all the trouble getting to the park including the 2 km walk, all worth it. The monkeys really seem to enjoy being in the snow so much so that if you plan on visiting the monkey park, I would highly recommend visiting in winter.
Snow fall can turn the monkey park into a state of photographic nirvana with just about unlimited photographic opportunities. Normally the monkey park it is buried in deep snow but this year Japan had a record breaking lack of snow but thankfully out of our three days at the park we had one full day of snow.
Sunlight is a luxury that you don’t see everyday in February at the park so I could not pass up this backlit portrait. The level of photography equipment available today is amazing. A few years ago is was not possible to capture this level of dynamic range in an image without flash or tone mapping multiple images. Here I was able to capture nice tones and detail in this monkeys face with losing detail any highlight detail even along the edge of the the rim light.
Although the monkey park can get crowded there are places you can go and work alone without any other photographers. This is my favorite spot called the green pool that is not normally visited or photographed.
In the warmth and security of its sister’s arms this little one looked up for just a second and my lens made the image possible. Being able to work close up is a big advantage of a telephoto zoom lens. Working at this kind of close distance is impossible using a 600 prime without using extension tubes.
When working close like this I prefer to stop down since you will lose so much depth of field. Even here at f/11 the depth of field is very shallow. I would have preferred f/16 but the image was only there for a split second.
The Japanese snow monkeys keep photographers from all over the world coming back to the Jigokudani Monkey Park year after year and the young monkeys and the the biggest stars. If you have a chance to visit the park I highly recommend it.
For more information on my 2017 city/wildlife tours to Japan visit this link: https://www.robertotoole.com/workshop/hokkaido-japan/
If you have any questions or comments be sure to share ’em in the comments section below.
Robert O’Toole is a Sigma Pro and has been a professional photographer for more than 20 years. As an accomplished instructor, Robert leads photography workshop tours across the US and internationally. For more info visit Robert’s web site at robertotoolephotography.com