Lighting, Photojournalism, Portrait, Tokyo
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Career milestones as a photographer

So, recently I felt like I had hit some kind of milestone in my photography career, so I’m going to talk about that a little bit. It wasn’t my first one, and I’m really hoping that it won’t be my last one, but somehow this one was important to me.

Late last year Japanese magazine and newsstand fixture AERA let me shoot one of their longest running regular articles called ‘Gendai no Shouzou’ (現代の肖像 translated: Portrait of the Times) – which basically is an in-depth profile on someone prominent in Japan at that moment. Usually it takes a few months to shoot and write the story, which means hanging out with the subject a lot and finding a good way to shoot some kind of iconic portrait.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

I’ve shot regularly for AERA for a while now, but this was kind of the first time I really felt I’d had real trust invested in me. Like I’d made it to the next level in a video game suddenly. The milestone for me was not being able to shoot these portraits – rather that I finally felt some kind of acceptance within that Japanese publication. This is a huge deal for me because it was a goal that I always had doubts about being able to achieve, which might be hard to get for some people but those that live here will understand.

Granted, it may not seem like a big thing, but to me it meant that my hard work was vindicated, at least in part. It told me that things will happen if I keep my head down, concentrate on shooting, and continue to get my work in front of people I want to work with. It told me that I didn’t have to host exhibitions and enter competitions to get noticed and hired. Most importantly, it told me that progress was being made.

Progress – more accurately the feeling of progress – is an extremely powerful form of motivation for freelancers, and I’ve learnt to never take it for granted. There are a lot of us out there who want to become photographers, and every one of us is going to walk a different path towards that goal. Some of us won’t make it, because this shit is hard and being a photographer requires much more discipline that many people imagine starting out. But we all have to try, and in the end, we can only measure our weird career by the personal milestones we’ve struck along the way.  It could be the first time you scored a paying job on your terms; it could be the first tax return you file with just photography earnings; it could even be the first time you nail that off-camera flash portrait that you were sweating over the night before (I remember my very first photo shoot: portrait of a chef at an Indian restaurant, one light into a shoot-thru umbrella, I couldn’t sleep the night before, which to me is hilarious now). Whatever the case, these little career markers dotted along the trail are important, and I hope any of you aspiring photographers out there are keeping track of them. It’ll help you keep going.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong Portraits Editorial

If you’re out there struggling with the rest of us, share some inspiration and drop us a line in the comments with any milestones in your career you might have hit recently. Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem too much of a big deal – what is success but the slow and steady accumulation of small triumphs over time?  Just keep at it, don’t sweat, and count the good things that happen. Then maybe, just maybe, we’ll all make it.

Also, for those curious – the person in these portraits is Sadahiro Nakamura, CEO of TRANSIT General Office, a design company that’s been responsible for producing some of the most popular restaurants/venues in Tokyo recently. Bills in Omotesando is a good example. If you’re in Tokyo and have a penchant for design-centric interiors as well as good food, then you’ve most likely been to one of his restaurants. Over the course of the 3 months that we covered him for the story I shot a variety of portraits of him as well as a ton of documentary shots –  here are three portraits of him that I think worked out pretty well.

More to come soon!

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong - editorial portraits

1 Comment

  1. Jason says

    Congrats Irwin! I don’t comment much on your blog, but I always enjoy reading your posts and viewing your images. While I have never worked directly for a Japanese employer, I think I’ve lived in Japan long enough to appreciate your milestone,

    Btw, how did you manage to get Sadahiro Nakamura to wallpaper Bellamy Hunt’s office? 🙂

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