Finally – The Last Sentoshi has arrived


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Well, I’ve been promoted the living shit out of it for the last week or so, and here it is finally: the official release of “The Last Sentoshi”.

What is this? If you like photography and you like anime or superheroes, you might like this movie.

Why’d I do this? I dunno! But I really had a blast making it. I really have to thank Nissin Digital Japan (they make strobes) for actually having the balls to do something like this. They had my back every step of the way and really helped out on the production side of things. Not a lot of companies, especially in Japan, are quite so willing to put their trust in someone so untested such as myself. I also have to really thank the entire cast and crew for all of their own time they put in over our manic 3 day shoot. I’ll be writing up about the process of getting this project off the ground in future blog posts, as I really stepped out of my comfort zone for this project and as a result learnt a lot.

As for the AIR remote, it’s a wireless transceiver for their D700i strobe, and it’s really good. But promoting it isn’t the point of the movie. You’ll notice there are other camera/film/flash brands making their appearance here, not to mention the Nissin logo only makes an appearance for less than a second. That’s a testament to how much creative control the folks at Nissin surrendered to me, and how dedicated they were to making something good and entertaining, rather than a glorified ad for their new product.

By way of explanation, ‘Sentoshi’ is the pronunciation of “閃闘士”, which is a fictional term. Breaking down the Japanese characters we have 「閃」”sen”, which means flash, and 「闘士」”toshi” which means warrior. So Sentoshi = Flash Warrior, which didn’t sound very cool so I kept the title in its original Japanese. Hope that makes sense! Suggestions for a cool translation of ‘Sentoshi’ are super welcome!

Here are the English- subtitled versions and the straight Japanese versions. We worked really hard on it so I hope you enjoy it!

The trailer is here.

「最後の閃闘士」The Last Sentoshi: Trailer



I’m a bandwagon jumper. I’m not ashamed to admit it. I like to do things that everyone is doing, especially if everyone else finds it popular. Photography is one of those things, and so is eating.

Recently another one of those popular things is superhero movies. I mean seriously, those things have really really taken off. Seems like about twenty of those things come out every year, and people can’t get enough of them. Me either. I’m watching them all, without fail. Except that Fantastic Four reboot, hoo boy. Josh Trank really screwed the pooch on that one.

Anyway getting back to the point, superhero movies the new bandwagon and I’m a bandwagon jumper, so guess what! I made a superhero movie. Kind of. More accurately it’s a short film and it’s more anime-inspired than superhero-inspired.

Here’s the trailer. The official release is on September 18. Hope you enjoy it and please share if you feel inclined!

Also, here is the English subtitled version for non-Japanese understanding folks!

Portraits from the archives: Apichatpong Weerasethakul

Lighting / Portrait / Uncategorized

Given that I’m somewhat nominally in the creative business, I occasionally find myself indulging in the delusion that I am some kind of flighty auteur type whose sensitive needs and fancies are incomprehensible to the common man, and that the everyday grind of administrative tasks such as emailing and dressing presentably are beneath me. This I use as an excuse for when I eat an entire bag of Funyuns in one sitting while marathoning the extended Lord of the Rings Directors Cut in my underwear. It also helps stave off the guilt when I spend a whole day hungover playing video games. Hey, I’m a sensitive artiste you know, I need all of this special time to get inspiration for my work, and by special time I mean rewatching season 6 of Seinfeld for the eleventh time.

Human experience is all relative though and in my line of work I’m fortunate enough to meet lots of people who manage being both creatives as well as fully functioning adults at the same time. One such example is the Thai director Apichatpong Weerasethekul whose name I was extremely fearful about pronouncing right up until I met him and he said that I could call him Joe. Maybe he was being ironic, maybe that’s the moniker he actually goes by just so he doesn’t have to hear shutter monkeys like myself continually mangling his name but either way it works.

Anyway, if you’ve heard of Joe Weerasethekul, you’re obviously a film-goer of some taste. His feature films, 8 in total, are fixtures at fancy European film festivals, and a few years ago one of his works: ‘Uncle Boonmee Who Can Remember His Past Lives’ picked up some award called the Palm d’Or from this relatively unknown film festival at a place called Cannes (people assure me this is a big deal). I personally think his film ‘The Adventures of Iron Pussy’ should win a new award at the Oscars for Best Title every year in perpetuity.

I met him for these photos in 2010, and as usual my approach to photographing him consisted of trying to copy Dan Winters and failing miserably. I guess that should be my explanation anytime someone asks me what my personal photographic style is. Enough said there. What was nice though was hearing about his experiences firsthand and actually being in the presence of a true auteur whose achievements are worthy and whose artistic values I subscribe to. I should consider myself lucky when the biggest dilemma of my day is whether or not to put on pants – Joe is probably busy getting the Thai censorship board off his back so he can show his internationally acclaimed work inside his own country. The shoot itself was short – maybe only 10 minutes or so (I sat through the interview as well), but I definitely got the impression that this is the kind of artist I want to emulate; dignified, self-possessed and confident, with an unshakeable belief in the worth of his own work. My work often allows me to meet a lot of dedicated, intelligent people like Apichatpong Weerasethakul, and through these encounters I can recalibrate my own internal compass to make sure I am always headed in the direction I want to go as an artist.

Gotta go now I smell my poptarts burning and I need to get back to League of Legends otherwise I’ll get banned from the server.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - apichatpong weerasethakul (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - apichatpong weerasethakul (4)Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - apichatpong weerasethakul (1)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - apichatpong weerasethakul (5)

Recent Portraits: Yoshiyuki Sankai of Cyberdyne Inc.

Lighting / Locations / Portrait / Uncategorized

I think I was about 8 when I watched James Cameron’s fantastic documentary Terminator 2: Judgment Day for the first time, and by golly that film scared the bejeezus out of me. Something about that scene where Linda Hamilton gets nuked, has her skin burned off and is turned into a skeleton in her nightmare really caused me to crap my pants. Also, the bit where the T-1000 stabs that carton of milk was particularly upsetting to me, for some reason.

But the scene that really lodged itself into 8 year old self’s head was the death scene of token black character Miles Dyson, Cyberdyne employee and inventor of the microchip technology that would eventually lead to the self-aware computer called Skynet and all the nuclear shenanigans that entailed. In this scene Dyson, in keeping with the fine tradition of all token black characters in cinema history, has been shot and left for dead by all the white characters who have vacated the area quicker than a train carriage emptying out after a particularly bad fart. Poor Dyson, wounded and unable to move, is left holding up a weight over the triggering device that will blow up Cyberdyne and end the threat of Skynet forever. As his breath fades away, we are confronted with the terrible tragedy of man’s eternal struggle with the relentless nature of time and creeping death, bearing the weight of sacrifice for as long as possible before the reaper claims you for the last. Dyson is willing to sacrifice himself for the greater good but he continues to hold aloft that weight until his final gasp, because racked with pain and exhaustion though he is, he now realizes how sweet and precious each moment of life he struggles through is.

And when the end finally comes for Dyson in the form of fire, explosions and the utter destruction of Cyberdyne, we are left with a feeling of sadness at his death, and yet that sadness is tempered by the knowledge that in the end his life and death had meaning and consequence. As a frightened 8 year old, this scene really made me stop and reconsider my outlook on life. We should all try to be a bit more like Dyson.

How unsettling then, 24 years later, when I received an email from Forbes Asia asking me to photograph the founder of Cyberdyne Industries. I had been under the impression that, similar to my urine-soaked nightmares of the T-1000, that the ghost of Cyberdyne was well and truly behind me! Obviously not, as it appeared that Cyberdyne Industries not only still existed, but had its HQ on the outskirts of Tokyo, and no one seemed to think this was a big deal!

Now, I wasn’t sure which I found more worrying – the fact that I was originally told that I had only 5 minutes to shoot a cover and inside shots, or that the threat of invincible robot hunter-killer machines and a nuclear winter still hung over the human race. Both issues are certainly cause for concern however my approach to tackling multiple problems dictates that I should start with the more achievable one, which is why I emailed the press lady asking if it was at all possible to extend my 5 minutes to 10. Yes, I know that the possible threat of genocide and human extinction via autonomous machines definitely seems like the more pressing issue but I’m just an editorial photographer, what do you expect me to do?

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (10)

Anyway, while I waited for the lady to get back to me I began to do some research on Cyberdyne, even though I knew what I was going to find: death, destruction, and men made of liquid metal. Contrary to my expectations however, they were manufacturing robotic exoskeletons which can sense the intentions of the user through nerve impulses detected through the suit’s sensors, and assists them with a carefully applied amount of force that helps them ‘exert more motor energy than usual’. This revelation was surprising to me, because the Cyberdyne I thought I knew did not specialize in exoskeletons, but rather ‘living tissue over metal endoskeleton’.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (1)

My unease returned though when I noticed the name they had given their flagship revolutionary exoskeleton model: HAL. If not before, alarms bells were certainly going off inside my head now! The company responsible for the nuclear annihilation of Judgment Day, teaming up with the malevolent, murdering AI from the spaceship Discovery One? At this point I had forgotten all about the extremely brief 5 minutes I had been allotted to photograph Mr. Sankai, the visionary behind this new Cyberdyne. I would have been happy with 15 seconds if it meant I could walk out of there without HAL locking me out of the pod-bay doors to die alone and hopeless in the vacuum of space.

Eventually though the press lady got back to me and very nicely told me I could have 10 minutes, and so resigned to my fate I packed my gear and drove to Cyberdyne HQ where I met Mr. Yoshiyuki Sankai, the founder. And let me tell you right now that he is genuinely just a really, really nice man. I mean, the whole thing about building an army of robots in secret that will eventually gain sentience and wipe out the human race notwithstanding, I really warmed to Mr. Sankai. I could sense he really cared about his work and what the important innovations it is making in the field of robotics and the eventual subjugation of humanity. Sometimes you can get so caught up in a company’s image that you forget that behind the facade there are real, honest and committed people working towards their vision of a better future, or, in this case, apocalypse.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (6)

Anyway, my allotted 10 minutes turned into 20 minutes as Mr. Sankai was very generous with his time and seemed very amenable to all of the ideas that I wanted to try (even in the face of metallic doom I can’t help but get enthusiastic if I think I’m onto something good). Everything worked out great – I was really happy with the photos and Mr. Sankai was gracious and patient right up until he had to leave to have a meeting with the Minister of Technology, where I’m sure they bargained over the fate of mankind. The only real negative was that I was bumped from the cover by the Singaporean Lee Kwan Yew dude who died that month, but hey, considering that I managed to walk away from a shoot at Cyberdyne without getting Terminated, I consider myself pretty lucky already.

Well anyway, thanks for reading another overly lengthy blog post in which absolutely nothing of worth to the photographic community is discussed. I hope you enjoyed it, and please stay tuned for the next post about a shocking story in which an analog film hipster gains sentience. Bye!

PS: Just in case you didn’t get the joke (and to be honest, I can hardly blame you), Cyberdyme does not actually make killer death robots. They are a wonderful company at the forefront of ‘cybernics’, as it’s called on their homepage, which is about using robotics to help make people’s lives better. Their exoskeletons have numerous applications in the physical rehabilitation of stroke victims or the partially paralyzed. They are an awesome company!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (4)Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Cyberdyne, Yoshiyuki Sankai (7)

Portraits from the Archives: Horicho


Now then, welcome to instalment number 2 of semi-regular blog posts from yours truly destined to stop within two weeks. This is the part where I realize that I really have nothing to add to the dialogue so I’m just going to pour out an unedited stream of consciousness, mould it vaguely into some kind of motivational diatribe and occasionally throw in not-so-subtle epithets like GEAR BAD PHOTOGRAPHER EYE BRAIN THINKY GOOD. Having read a fair share of photoblogrographer’s blogs in my time this really seems like the way to go in order to achieve fame and the everlasting adoration of all the Internets and that is certainly something that I want because I have a warehouse full of cleverly designed camera-themed print t-shirts that I really need to sell.

So anyway given that I’ve run out of things in my navel to gaze at, I’ll just get straight to the pictures today.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (3)

Portraits being my main thing, I generally try to get around town photographing the most interesting people I can get my camera lens trained onto. I treat it like collecting baseball cards. Most of the time you don’t get anything good. But sometimes you luck out and you come across some really interesting and rare cards that not only make your collection look big, but also gives it value. These are the types of interesting portraits that I’m hanging out to photograph.

Now interesting people can be divided into three categories – there are people who do really cool or interesting things with their life, which gives some kind of context in which to base my portrait around. There are those who just look cool, for whatever reason. And then there are those who look freaking cool and do interesting, rare things with their life. Speaking as a person wot likes fotos, when you’ve got a subject who has that winning combination of cool visual aesthetic/amazing context/cool location in front of your camera then you’ve basically hit the jackpot, portrait-wise. It’s the photo equivalent being invited to the all-female nude slumber party at the Playboy mansion. There are so many things you want to try, and so little time to do it all.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (45)Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (7)

Case in point, the tattooed chaps you see here. I was fortunate enough to be able to go and photograph these really amazing locations and people for a book about traditional Japanese tattoo (or Wabori). The book is sensibly enough named ‘Wabori’ and is still available through Kingyo press by the way.

Anyway, as Wabori has a widespread (and deserved) image of being closely linked to the Yakuza underworld, these Wabori practitioners don’t really openly advertise their shops and opening hours, that sort of thing. Straightaway, this fact alone gives me a big photographer stiffy (insert telescoping lens joke here). In all seriousness though it’s exciting for me to shoot inside a place not many people get to see, mainly because I’m a curious person and also because it makes my photos look better – always a good thing in this business.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (9) Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (43)

Second thing that really gets my juices flowing – I get to photograph masters of their craft. Call me an idiot romantic, but virtuosity means a lot to me. When I see someone who’s really really really good at what they do, I get a warm tingly feeling inside. Sure, it may be the syphilis but who’s keeping track. Either way, I love meeting talented people and photographing them, especially if what they do is getting rarer and rarer these days. I really feel like documenting these fading crafts lends some meaning to my superfluous and otherwise insignificant existence on this ball of rock hurtling through the trackless black wasteland of our Universe. I don’t know where the existential crisis suddenly came from but I’m happy to blame it on the syphilis again.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (18) Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (28)

Finally, there’s always something about Yakuza gang members covered with freakin tattoos that’s always looked cool to me. Don’t know what it is but for some reason it’s just really fun to photograph, and not at all intimidating. Add that to the beautifully cluttered interiors of these Wabori studios and you’ve got a photoshoot that really just does all the work for you, and I’m definitely all about that. Of course, as I mentioned in my last post my immediate reaction upon seeing a cool location like this is to revert to copying Dan Winters, heck, basically anything makes me revert to copying Dan Winters. However possibly because I’m not as good as him, I always end up with some other stuff that just looks like I photographed it. I wonder…maybe if I find out what gear he uses and just buy all of that stuff it will solve my problems once and for all! It’s definitely worth a try.

Anyway, hope you enjoyed my masterclass on shooting portraits. To sum up my main points: don’t rely on your own skill to make interesting photos, just make sure your subjects and locations are interesting enough that you can’t go wrong even if your camera is set to P-mode and you haven’t taken the lens cap off. This really is the key to everlasting success as a foto graffa and by sharing these secrets I’m sure I’m angering the whole professional community but what can I say, I aim to be informative and interesting.

Join me in six months time for my next blog post, which will be a long form Haiku about how I imagine Dan Winters smells after a shower. Expect gratuitous use of the word sandalwood.

Now then, who wants to buy some T-shirts?

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (47) Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (46)   Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Japanese Traditional Wabori Tattoo (51)

Portraits from the Archives: Toyo Ito

Lighting / Locations / Portrait / Tokyo

Never let it be said that I am not an unstoppable content producing machine. I churn out photos like my camera has some form of irritable bowel syndrome, which in itself is a great metaphor for most of my photos. The thing I tend to forget about is the part where I put them up somewhere to be seen; namely on this blog. If anyone’s counting (and I doubt anyone is), you’ll find that I wrote a grand total of 4 blog posts last year, averaging one every three months which equates to typing roughly one word every 6 hours. A pretty gruelling schedule you might say and I say yes, by the time I got to typing my typing fingers had all been tuckered out by the endless button pushing, dial spinning and head scratching that my job requires of me. Facetiousness aside though, I think we can safely delete the title ‘social media guru’ from my LinkedIn account profile, as last year I probably put as much effort into self promotion as a bodybuilder puts into binge eating.

What’s the point of all this you say? Well yes dear reader (as I’m sure there is only one of you), this being the new year and being a time for new beginnings and resolutions doomed to die before Spring and all that, I decided I might try my hand at this blogging thing once again, even though at times it seems that I’m shouting into a stiff wind blowing back into my own face, which can be kind of fun but inevitably exhausting after a while. We’ll see how long I last this time and if I run out of things to blog I can always rely on the traditional photoblogrographer’s tried and true fallback position of bright sparkly GEAR REVIEWS as a half-hearted last gasp before I drop off the face of the Earth entirely once more.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (10)

I shot this portrait of ace architect Toyo Ito with a Nikon D800, which goes to show you how far back through the archives I’m trawling for these photos. I haven’t owned a Nikon for about a year now and I haven’t been happier since I switched over to Fuji even though the spectre of Full Frame still temptingly hangs over me like a naughty text message from an underage coed. Of course, there was nothing wrong with the D800 except for bulky, clunky interface, spotty and unreliable autofocus and bloated file sizes that gummed up my iMac’s HDDs with terabytes of photos 90% of which weren’t even worthy of importing into Lightroom. No, the Fujifilm XT-1 is much more my speed with its slim form factor and traditional interface making it easy to – hang on, when did this post become a GEAR REVIEW? We’re here to talk about photos dammit, and the point of these posts is to give you some insight into the photo taking procedure even though this photo shoot happened nigh on two years ago and my memory of what happened is decidedly dimmed by time and the alcohol-fuelled haze of memory-loss.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (7)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (8)

Anyway Toyo Ito, whom I found out much later to be one of the most famous architects in the world let alone Japan, winner of some kind of Pritzker prize, was one of those assignments that drifted across my inbox from a first-time client. The brief was basic: Toyo Ito is a famous architect, please go photograph him with one of his buildings. My immediate reaction (and it is always my immediate reaction) was to envision a Dan Winters-esque tableau picturing Mr. Ito as a towering but humble presence dominating the center of the frame, standing on a rise in the foreground which would conveniently be right where I needed it, with one of his architectural creations recognizably yet artfully out of focus in the background. The sky would be blue but smattered with clouds, as if foreshadowing something, and his expression would be distant and determined, with his body language anchoring him in the present. That was the photo I was going to take, and with my skill and confidence it would translate into glorious reality.

Of course, that’s the kind of optimism you have every time you’re excited about something and looking forward to doing it. You think to yourself, ‘sure, the last time I had the triple spicy jalapeño curry dip I got the shits so bad I turned into a hunchback for a week, but this time it will be fine!’ Well, every photo shoot is kind of the same way – you go into the shoot with high hopes that everything will be fine, but it’s usually not and you have to expend considerable energies trying to make something of the mess you’ve found yourself in, eewwww. Thoughts of creating a Dan Winters style masterpiece fly out the window and all you want to do is come out of the shoot with a frame that doesn’t shame your house and end your career in a gory act of self-disembowelment.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (4)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (5)

Case in point, it was raining when we arrived and the sky didn’t even have the decency to have moody cloud formations, just a flat, bright slate gray that will blow out to highlights if you even think of trying to get a decent exposure on the foreground. On top of that, there wasn’t even a nice hillock in the foreground for my subject to stand. The dream was dead. The shoot was shot. No Dan Winters ripoff for me, all that’s left is me standing amidst the shattered remnants of my dream to copy Dan Winters and the need to think of something new to photograph, quickly.

As a photographer it’s a guilty confession of mine that I’m often terrified at the prospect of using my own creativity. That makes life rather interesting as the situations where I’m forced to improvise are far more numerous than any normal, organized person should have to encounter. Anyway, in these sorts of situations my conscious brain sort of recedes into a fetal position and my primate brain comes to the fore. I babble and grunt a lot. I do gratuitous Borat voices, mostly in the vein of ‘is nice’ and, ‘I like’. Occasionally I’ll hear voices, my own, that will say ‘umbrellas! Umbrellas make strong visual thingys!’ I’m never certain whether I am saying these out loud.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (9)

Mr. Toyo Ito was, for his part, bemused, gracious and patient. I didn’t go overboard with my research on him because I never like the idea of being overwhelmed by how accomplished my subject is before I even go into a shoot. Also, it’s hard not to be impressed by someone who creates beautiful pieces of contemporary art that double as functional spaces that will serve people for decades. Still, I didn’t really over research him – there’s no point in knowing all sorts of random tidbits from his life if I can’t walk up to him and have a normal conversation, and to be honest it probably comes across as creepy if you start mentioning random stuff from their lives in an effort to jumpstart a dying conversation. So as it was we chatted mainly about travel, and he exhibited a polite interest in my life story of how I’ve come to be a photographer living in Tokyo.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (3)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (2)

I guess the point of this all is not to make me seem like a Dan Winters fanboy (I am), nor that I have a loose approach to interacting with my subjects (I do). It’s to say that sometimes when you’re forced to improvise on the spot it can be fun, if not terrifying in a way that makes my scrotum retract like the landing gear of a small Cessna. That’s photography for you though and if I didn’t want an interesting job there are a multitude of different ones I could have picked from.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (6)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Architect Toyo Ito (1)

Gear nerds! I’ve not forgotten you. The stuff I used on this photoshoot was:

– Nikon D800
– Nikkor 45mm f2.8 PC E
– 24-70mm f2.8G
– 14-24mm f2.8G
– Paul C Buff Einstein + Vagabond


Commercial / Friends / Lighting / Locations / Photo Gear

Happy New Year everyone!

You guys know the drill by now – at the end of each year I shoot a Nengajo (a type of Japanese greeting card for the New Year) of my close friends/team members in the theme of a movie poster, featuring the animal of the year’s Chinese zodiac. You can check out the previous ones here and here. This year it was to be the year of the sheep, so I rounded everyone up, threw them into a car and drove down to a farm outside Tokyo to do the photoshoot.

Well, actually it wasn’t quite so simple as that, as there was a fair bit of work involved in putting together all of the costumes and props, which meant hours trolling websites and vintage clothing stores around about Tokyo in order to find exactly what I wanted. I also needed to find a farm which would grant me permission to use their paddock and sheep as props for a whole afternoon, which meant driving down to several farms to check them out in person. Given that this year’s New Year’s card was loosely based as a Western movie poster I’m sure you can imagine that I had a hard time finding a suitably frontier-like location within a few hour’s drive of Tokyo! Luckily I found a great farm in the end, and the costumes came together pretty great, especially with the help of Yuka (see individual portraits below), who made one of the dresses from scratch!

Also, all of the sheep in the photo are real, live animals and yes, we had a worker from the farm with us the whole time to make sure none of them were harmed during the shoot. Sheep are quite fun to work with – most of them are quite happy to stand where you lead them to, and once you scatter a handful of feed on the ground they will stay there grazing for minutes at a time, allowing plenty of time for photos. It’s probably not a good idea to drop sheep food too close to your gear though, as I found out when one of the sheep almost bulldozed over my tripod and Hasselblad in its single-mindedness to get to the food!

Anyway it was fun times for everyone involved, and I’m so very grateful to have such talented friends who will give up an entire day to go along with my ridiculous ideas. As always with each year I’ve been blessed to have the support and help who I genuine respect and enjoy working with, and this is definitely one of the best parts of my job.

Please check out the BTS video below, as well as the actual poster and individual portraits of the people who helped me put this thing together. I’m looking forward to reaching even greater heights in the year of the sheep!



Me: Yes, this is me; Irwin Wong, Tokyo photographer. Nothing special here, let’s just move on.


Asuka: This is my wife! I can’t find the words to describe the patience and support she has shown me this year. She makes me always want to be the best person I can be, and that’s why I love her. Also, the incredible dress and corset she is wearing was made by the incredibly talented Yuka, who was another one of our team members for this photoshoot. Her profile is below somewhere.


Maiko: This is Maiko’s third appearance in one of my nengajo, and her skill as a makeup artist has only gotten better since I’ve known her! She’s a capable, calming presence on set whom I have learned to thoroughly trust over the years. The lamb she is holding was really docile for most of the shoot but here I managed to catch it during one of its rare bleating session.


John: As well as shooting most of the video for the behind the scenes clip, John is an awesome friend who often has to put up with me swinging by the craft beer bar he manages just to sound some ideas off him. Also, just like me he’s a big nerd with an appreciation of all things fine: beer, movies, videogames, cats, etc. Can’t wait to see what shenanigans we’ll get up to this year!


Hamish: Making his first appearance in my nengajo, Hamish used to help me out on the occasional photoshoot but now is a talented landscape/documentary photographer in his own right. Also, he has an awesome duderanch in Tokyo with about every gaming console under the sun, so I often find excuses to go around to hang out.

Yuka: I only met Yuka recently, but I count myself incredibly fortunate to be able to work with her. She’s a clothing stylist who specializes in repurposing old kimonos and turning them into awesome garments for rock bands, models and actors to wear. An example of such a garment is the one my wife Asuka is wearing in her photo above. I really hope to be able to collaborate with Yuka very closely in the future!

Anyway, that’s it! Please stay tuned for more – I promise I will post more on this blog this year (last year I only managed 4 posts), but as always thank you very much for stopping by and I hope you enjoyed the photos!

On Hasselblads, Noh, and freelancing for a living

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Commercial / Lighting / Locations

Sometimes I wonder if being a freelance photographer these days is a bad idea. Honestly, I do. I could count off the number of gripes I have about my chosen career and you’d have walked off in disgust before I’d even got started. To list of the main ones; it’s a terrifying world with no one to take you by the hand and guide you. Work and money don’t just fall into your lap – you have to go out and find it, and once you do, you have to fight off other photographers to keep it. You don’t get paid when you take time off to go on holiday. And then there’s the endless amount of drudge-work to do in between shooting that never seems to end or dry up. Taxes, insurance, rent payments, gear payments, more taxes – and in my case, visa applications, all sapping away at the resources you need to keep yourself motivated to get out there and keep that momentum up. A lot of people out there romanticize the idea of the freelance life and think that you get to do whatever you want. Hah! I can never do anything I want. I’m married to this job, and its needs are insatiable.

When you have a real job, things are taken care of for you (don’t think so? Think: pension). Your work has a nice cut-off point when you get in your car to go home. Life is ordered, scheduled and categorized for you, and you know when your paycheck comes and exactly how much you’re getting. Sometimes I wish for that kind of security and stability. Sometimes I wonder if I’d take up an offer for a full time job if it was offered to me. Sometimes I wonder if I should just go back to photography as a hobby. You know, not having the constant pressure of improving upon my images every time I go out and shoot. It’s a thought that haunts me in my darker moments, when the phone isn’t ringing and the work isn’t flowing.

Another thing we freelancers have to deal with are the crazy work schedules that sometimes seem to materialize out of nothing, with very little notice. Case in point, a couple of months ago I find myself talking with the guys at Hasselblad Japan. The new CMOS sensor H5D-50c is coming out in a week and they have 0ne of the pre-production bodies. Somehow during the conversation they mention that they have a budget for someone to go out and shoot some promotional photos, would I like to do it?

I get paid to go and shoot anything I want, with a camera worth more than a Mercedes? Sounded like the dream assignment to me.

Except for the fact that my current schedule made it all but impossible to fit it in.  Here’s what they wanted:

1. They wanted a BTS video as well.
2. They needed both photos and video edited and delivered by next week, before the launch of the camera
3. Within that week you need to find a suitable subject, and get said subject approved and booked
4. Oh and we are having a landscape photographer use the camera this week as well, so you’ll have to schedule your shoot around his shoot

It sounded ok up to that point, until I realized that it was also the week that I happened to be moving house. Not to mention I had to juggle the several other jobs I had booked in during that week as well.

Shit had hit the mother-flippin’ fan, all at once.

Could I even manage to pull together a shoot worthy of the project, in such a short time?  Let alone edit and deliver the photos and video, in between moving house? Was it even ethical for me to take the job, given that I had so much going on and wasn’t even sure I could crowbar the tight schedule into my already insane one? Ah what the hell. I took the job anyway. LOL.

And let me tell you, it was tough getting everything done. My hair was turning grey trying to organize and plan everything in and around packing my life into cardboard boxes. Plans that were made last minute had to be changed at the last-second to accommodate some schedule changes from the subject and the other photographer using the camera. I had to shoot and edit other shoots that were already scheduled during that week.

Still, I managed to organize a shoot with one of the most respected practitioners of the Japanese theatre art of Noh, and things were looking good. All that was left was to go to Kyoto and do the shoot, then go back and have the photos and video edited in the next two days. No problem, except the mover’s trucks were scheduled to arrive the morning after I got back from Kyoto. Needless to say, the only thing I bothered to get set up in my new apartment for a few days was my computer. So, it was a bit of a logistical nightmare and I almost keeled over from the stress of it all but you know what? It was fucking awesome. Every single glorious, stressful moment of it. We freelancers don’t have a lot but we know when to count our blessings. How many times do I get to hold a pre-production Hasselblad? How often do I get the freedom to go out and shoot pretty much anything I want. How many times do I get to work with some freaking amazing practitioners of an ancient and traditional artform?

I nearly killed myself just so I could have that experience. I guess that’s the foundation that the makes the freelance photographer life worth it. Somewhere along the line I decided that the actual journey meant more to me than whatever I had accumulated by the time I reached my final destination. Hell, don’t get me wrong, I freaking love money. Oh boy. But I’m not ok with trading my life doing something I’m not invested in for a steady paycheck. Sure, there’s a lot of drudgework and paperwork involved in staying afloat when you work for yourself, but I put up with all of that because the moments in between all of that crap, when I’m shooting, are sublime.

I guess that’s something I should never take for granted, even if it means writing myself a lengthy blog post to remind myself of it 😀

Video: Keiichi Kondo
– Hasselblad H5D-50c pre-production
– HCD 4.8/24mm
– HCD 4-5.6/35-90mm
– HC 2.8/80mm
– HC Macro 4/120mm II

– Profoto B1 + standard zoom reflector and 15 degree grid, taped down to a 10cm slit
– Einstein + 4 foot Profot octabox as fill light
– Lumopro LP180 + snoot for accent, or rim, or whatever I needed it for

All three lights were used for every shot except the final group shot of Udaka-san and his sons, in which I swapped out the grid reflector combo for Photek Softlighter.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Noh masks, Noh actors, Kyoto (56)

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NOT a list of 10 things I’ve learnt from shooting 4×5

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Friends / Lighting / Locations / Models / Personal / Photo Gear / Portrait / Uncategorized

*Warning: sanctimonious rant ahead*

I don’t know what the heck is the deal with people on the Internet these days, but there seems to be an overabundance of ‘wisdom lists’ propagating amongst photography blogs in particular. ’10 things I’ve learnt from street photography’, ‘9 things I’ve learnt from developing film’, ’26 life lessons I’ve learnt from greasing my shutter button’ etc. ad infinitum ad nauseam. People like this kind of thing I guess. Numbers, metrics, concrete results – if you’re shooting photos and spending the nest egg on gear and workshops then I guess being able to quantify your progress into discrete bullet points makes the whole game of photography a little more palatable for the average weekend warrior/aspiring photographer. Also, I hear the list thing is good for search engines, so if increasing that statistic is your focus as a photographer, good luck to you.

So, lists. I dislike them for no rational reason and thusly have taken my first good step into crotchety old man territory. Frankly though, if we’re talking about things we learn from photography, then really, the idea of making lists of things you’ve learnt seems ludicrous. Every time you go out and shoot you should be learning dozens of little things about the way you work, the way you interact with people and how you can manipulate light and your images in post-production. If you’re not learning anything then you’re not challenging yourself, and you’re only standing still as others move forward. If you are learning, then great, keep at it, and enjoy yourself. There’s no need to make an onanistic list every single time congratulating yourself on coming to terms with rudimentary truths about photography. “Shooting film makes me slow down”. Well, no shit!  Here’s another one: pictures are generally better in focus, didja think to include that in your list of epiphanies??


I wonder if anyone is still reading?

Anyway guys, guess what? I’ve been heavily shooting 4×5 recently. For those unfamiliar, 4×5 is a size of film even bigger than medium format, which brings its own set of challenges completely different to largely automatic cameras these days. So yes, I’ve gone back to film, and a particularly fiddly version of it as well. And guess what? I’ve been learning things about photography. A crapload of things about photography that if I were to make a list of them there would be at least 100 bullet points long (think of the search engine rankings!), and as much as everyone likes lists, I don’t think the lolcat generation has the patience to sit through one. So screw it, I’m doing it the old fashioned way – big, motherlovin’ chunks of text straight from my stream of consciousness (although some would argue it’s a different type of stream). Also, here’s some camera pr0n to congratulate you for reading this far.


4×5 photography, for those unfamiliar, has been around since pretty much the beginning of photography. It involves those quaint cameras with the adjustable bellows and the guy hiding under a sheet of cloth trying to focus through the dim ground glass in the back. You might think that the camera size is prohibitively large, but to be honest they’re no bigger than the digital kit that I carry around to most of my jobs. It’s portable enough that you shouldn’t whining about it if you own a DSLR with more than one lens. Anyway, that’s not really the problem. The problem is that they’re fiddly, and expensive to keep putting film through. And the film, while it is breathtaking and beautiful as all large format films are, isn’t beautiful enough on its own to make the average superbowl fan gasp and exclaim “now I see why photography is amazing!” This is not a slight against the image quality of 4×5 film, which is beyond fantastic – the truth is that 9 times out of 10 the medium that the image is captured on is not going to affect its critical reception.

So basically there is no incredible return for switching to a far more expensive and work-intensive format of photography. Your photography peers may appreciate it and distinguish the difference, but realistically my Nikon D4 is no image slouch either, and equally capable of beautiful photos. So why am I bothering with the extra trouble and expense of 4×5? I’ll tell you why: it changes the way I shoot, and that means it changes the way I think about making photos. Ok, it sounds a little esoteric (read: wanky) when I say it like that so why don’t I just explain the process of shooting 4×5 to you so you get what I mean.

Ok – so first thing you gotta do is go out to one of your local photography shops and buy some sheet film. Then you gotta load them into these holders. No big woop, but  here’s thing about these holders – each of them only holds two exposures of film; one sheet in the back and one in the front. 36 shot canister of 35mm film? Hilarious. 12 shot roll of 120 film? Don’t make me laugh. You only get two shots with each holder, so you’d better stock up on them if you plan on doing a lot of photographing.

Then assuming you’ve got a willing subject and some lights, you put your smexy 4×5 camera up on a tripod, set up your lighting and do your composing – all regular things that I assume you do with every camera. 4×5 is a little fiddly though and there are quite a few things that you need make sure to remember lest you forget and ruin a sheet of expensive film. Let me explain:

Firstly, the viewfinder isn’t really a viewfinder – it’s more like a piece of frosted glass that the lens is projecting the image on. You can see the image pretty clearly, but it’s a little dim, and it’s also upside down. Forget being able to focus it on a sunny day without a hood or a cloth to cover your head. Also, forget about focusing it with the aperture stopped down – the lenses are obviously manual so the blades close whenever you stop it down, making the image on the back dimmer. You have to focus wide open and then remember to reset to your desired aperture before you release the shutter, or you’re going to have some very overexposed, expensive failures.

Focusing with the 4×5 isn’t too difficult unless you don’t know what the word ‘focusing’ means. The larger format means you get thinner depth of field compared to smaller cameras at equivalent f-stops, but it doesn’t matter – focusing is focusing, it just takes a little longer in this case. Plus you get the added benefit of the camera movements to help refine your plane of focus. It’s incredibly liberating to have these options of tilting, shifting or swinging the front or the back of the camera – it’s a little like cheating and gives you numerous options for maintaining critical focus on things you may not otherwise have the depth of field for. Either way though it’s simply another factor, another problem for solving, and yes it takes time, no matter how fast you are.

So you’re doing all of this focusing, checking the glass with a loupe, fiddling with all sorts of stoppers and knobs to tilt your lens forwards and then refocus because it put your subject’s eyes out of focus again. All the while your face is completely obscured behind this big camera, if not hidden under a blanket, and your subject – sitting or standing – is under strict instructions not to move because any slight movement throws everything out of focus and you have to twist some more knobs and fiddle around a bit more. You’re not even half way towards making an exposure and yet the camera has grown into this huge obstacle between you and your subject. It’s in the way. You change one thing and it messes up another. So much attention needs to be lavished upon this machine to make sure you’re even ready to click the shutter (noticed how I haven’t even bothered mentioning taking light readings and setting up your exposure?) that suddenly what your subject is doing or feeling seems like a very far away thing. Some portrait photographer you are – hopefully you’ve had the presence of mind to keep up at least a senseless babble so your subject doesn’t feel abandoned in front of the lens while you fiddle about behind it. If not, then well, then you have a few more valuable opportunities to get them back, because here is where the fun starts 😀

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (4)

Eventually you’re going to get to the point where further fiddling is useless and you’re more or less ready to shoot your photo. Time to load your film. Yup. Slide in that big film holder right in front of your ground glass. Wait what? You heard me. The film holder goes between the ground glass and the lens. Blocking the light, and hence your view through the lens. You can’t see through the viewfinder anymore. Hear that? You can’t. see. through. the motherflippin’ viewfinder. And you can’t touch anything either, lest you ruin your painstaking work of focusing. Suddenly the camera, which up until a couple of moments ago was such a dominating, needy presence, has virtually vanished. At this point, with no viewfinder to hide behind, you are put right in front of your subject. You are forced to be present, in the moment with the person in front of your lens and if you don’t have some kind of gameplan for getting some kind of reaction worthy of clicking the shutter and exposing a pricey sheet of film, then things are gonna get awkward real easy, real fast. Timing becomes paramount, as you can’t just snap off another shot straightaway. Only one exposure at a time. As Alec Baldwin put it in one of my favorite film monologues of all time; “it’s f*ck or walk.”

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (14)

Do you see why I love this particular method of portraiture? The entire process is so different, so far removed from gunning it with a DSLR that it can’t help but put you in a different frame of mind. It’s more deliberate, and you have to think ahead a little more. It gives you another perspective to help you break down your current portraiture method and reconstruct your habits. Never a bad thing.

But wait, we’re not finished! Assuming you’ve got some kind of rapport with your subject and are confident enough to expose a sheet (are you sure your focus is still dead on?), it’s time to click the shutter! Hold on just a moment though, don’t forget to close the shutter before you take out the darkslide, lest you expose your film accidentally. Oh, and make sure you prime your shutter, otherwise it won’t release when you finally do get that elusive, decisive moment. Oh, and almost forgot – your aperture was wide open for focusing, better remember to reset it otherwise you’ll end up with overexposed shots. NOW you’re ready to press the shutter. Everything has been leading up to this moment.

Click. The quiet whisper of the copal shutter snapping open and closed, flashes triggering in sync.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (20)3

And that’s it. For better or worse, one image exposed. One more photo created. And it’s at that moment you realize that for all the fiddly bits it’s the same as all other photography. Same as using a DSLR, same as shooting a photo with an iPhone, same as using one of those Samsung abominations. Press a button, immortalize a moment. The only difference being the amount of care you put into it, or, how you approach it. In a way, 4×5 format or larger doesn’t give you the option of not caring (unless you like burning expensive film). It’s refreshing that a camera forces you through the motions so thoroughly, before taking away your ability to hide behind the camera, forcing you to be face to face with your subject. I love it. And it’s teaching me heaps. Not that I’m saying that I switched to this camera and now all my photos are amazing. Far from it – no camera will turn you into a genius straight away. But it’s teaching me a few things that might help me be a better portrait photographer, and I’ll take it.

So, despite my professed hatred of lists I’m going to end with one, because hey, we’re allowed to change our opinions and I think of myself as an open-minded person. Here’s my definitive list of life lessons I’ve learnt from shooting 4×5:

1. It helps if you give a sh*t about what you are photographing.

That’s all I can think of, without including points that overlap each other. But aren’t you glad I tried?

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (6)

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Commercial / Friends / Lighting / Personal / Photo Gear / Uncategorized

Happy New Year everyone!

In keeping with my tradition of shooting a new year’s card with my team (see last one here) – I’ve gone and shot something in keeping with this year’s theme according to the Chinese zodiac – the year of the horse!

Once again, I featured my team in a movie poster, this time with a WWII theme (only because the costumes were the only ones within my budget) and I decided to up the ante a little by including a live animal in the shoot this time. So we all jumped into a car and drove down to a farm in Chiba where I had booked a horse for the shoot. Given that I’m no horse-whisperer there were quite a few risks involved in going forward with this idea – firstly, the fact that it was my first time working with such a large live animal on set with some super expensive gear gave me the f/64 pucker factor, not to mention the fact that it was my first time riding a horse, ever, made me more than a little nervous. Horses are known to be skittish around flashes, but luckily for me the handler there did an amazing job of keeping Merry (the horse’s name) under control and relatively calm. Still, we only managed to get around 8 shots of me atop the horse before she decided she’d had enough and started getting restless.

We also had Profoto and Hasselblad lend me some pretty amazing gear for the shoot;  we got the new B1 battery-powered monoblocs, which were really, really handy in the middle of nowhere with no plugs in sight. From Hasselblad we had the pleasure of using an H5D-40, which has made it very difficult to go back to shooting with my Nikon (although yes, I realize that there are practical differences between the cameras that make it difficult to justify selling all my gear for one)

Anyway, I’ve had a lot of support and help in the past year from all sorts of different and unexpected avenues – I’ve certainly realized that being a freelancer these days is more than ever about connecting with people and finding opportunities to work together. I definitely couldn’t have come this far without all of the people that have for some reason or the other have stuck by me or otherwise put their faith in me. So, thank you very much, and I hope we can all achieve even greater heights in the year of the horse!

Below is the actual poster and there is an intro to each person as you scroll down. Skip to the bottom for a BTS video!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

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Irwin: Yes, this is me, me use camera, take photo, scratch head, push button, make hooting noise. Nothing special here.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Horse (3)

Asuka: [Borat voice]She is my wife! [/Borat voice]. What can I say, except that I’d be a complete mess without her! She puts up with my terrible ideas and bouts of self-loathing that I occasionally go through as a photographer. Anyway she keeps me going and is an endless source of support, and she’s amazing!

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Michio: Michio helps me with a lot of different things – a capable assistant and photographer, his main skill is retouching. In fact, most of the retouching on the poster and these headshots is by him! I’ll be working with him a lot more in the coming year, hopefully on some even bigger projects.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Horse (1)

Keiichi: Keiichi does everything video related for me – he’s a hardworking honest dude who always seems to be cleaning his room. I wonder if that’s a euphemism for something?  Anyway, he shot 99% of the behind the scenes video at the bottom of this post.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - Year of the Horse (5)

Maiko: Maiko is my hair and makeup specialist. I work with Maiko all the time – she’s reliable, talented and easygoing, not to mention almost always has a solution for almost any of my random ideas or requests. She is almost always the first person I call if some special makeup is needed on a photoshoot, such as this one.

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Will: My frequent collaborator and raconteur, Will is one of the most dependable guys I know, always down to help me out on whatever stupid idea or project I’ve cooked up – such as this one. We’ve got a few things in the works that might take a while to gestate, but looking forward to moving on with those projects this year!

Anyway, that’s it! Looking forward to working with these guys this coming year, other than that, I just want to thank the people who have helped me grow myself as a photographer over the past year – I’m looking forward to more good times, cool projects and meeting new faces this year. Check out the behind the scenes video below, and more importantly, have a happy new year!

More to come soon!

Year of the Horse – Behind the Scenes from Irwin Wong | Photographer on Vimeo.