In October I went to Japan to explore the Shimane and Hiroshima Prefectures for National Geographic. As luck would have it, I arrived to Japan along with Typhoon Lan, the biggest storm to approach the country in recent history.
I was skeptical that the flights from Tokyo that would take me to my first destination of the Oki Islands would depart after looking at the forecast. But somehow I found myself at the airport in a thrum of people all trying to get to their destinations before the weather worsened. Then, despite high winds and sideways rain, a tiny propeller plane bounced and jolted through heavy turbulence and delivered me to the Oki Islands.
I sat at lunch mulling over the weather situation while sipping my miso soup. The rain and wind would only increase over the course of the day as the typhoon neared the country and being on assignment I had no time to spare. I had to get out to explore Dogo Island. Photographers need to know how to photograph in all weather and lighting situations, but admittedly I was disheartened with the heavy grey skies. As much as I secretly desired the sun to come out, I knew that some of the most unique photographs could be made in inclement weather. As I departed lunch I pulled on my rain coat and pants, covered my cameras with waterproof sheaths, and thanked the Norwegians for making me a believer in the saying, “There is no bad weather, only bad clothing.”
I set off with my guides to explore the west coast of Dogo, the largest of the Oki Islands, all of which are considered a UNESCO Global Geopark. I’d seen pictures of these islands taken during better weather; bucolic scenes of horses and cattle grazing in emerald fields and cliffs dropping down into sparking turquoise waters. But what I saw in person was a vision of the islands blurred by thick, moody mist.
We visited the Tamawakasu-no-mikoto Shrine and the rumored to be 2,000 year old Yao-sugi Japanese cedar tree and although the grounds were dark in the heavy rain I still made images. Along the curving coastline where we’d normally see stunning views around each corner, I was met with clouds and limited visibility. With rain dripping down my face, I still shot, knowing I had to make something of the situation. I even photographed the streams of rainwater pouring off the rooftops of traditional boathouses in a quaint, deserted fishing village. But then we went to see the Dangyou-no-taki waterfalls.
One must pass through a torii gate flanked by cedars to walk into the forest which leads to the falls. I was already entranced by the trees, the ethereal light, and the misty air. The rain made sense here. And I’d truly found Oki’s magic.
I climbed past the shrine to get a vantage behind the waterfalls, which are normally a fraction of the intensity I found that day from the typhoon rain. I set up my tripod to make a long-exposure that would make the water silky-smooth and caught one of my companions enjoying the view under her yellow umbrella. Finally, I’d found the perfect subject for making the best of a damp, windy situation.