All posts filed under: Lighting

On Hasselblads, Noh, and freelancing for a living

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 …

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

*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 …

It’s…THE YEAR OF THE HORSE!

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 …

Japanese Celebrities – Dave Specter

Not-so-recently I had the pleasure of photographing Dave Specter -one of the rare but rising number of foreign タレント (or ‘talent’) in Japan. Dave however is a little bit different from all the others – when he got started in the entertainment business 30 years ago he was the only foreigner on Japanese TV on a regular basis. The Japanese ‘talent’ industry is a peculiar one of hierarchies and strict observances of rankings of seniority, and for a non-Japanese to break into that world several decades ago was probably extraordinary. Of course, Dave’s Japanese is impeccable – beyond the level even of the average Japanese person – but Dave puts it down to ‘being in the right place at the right time’. Back in the 1980s there were few foreigners in Japan and even fewer actively working in the media with fluent Japanese. Dave Specter quickly became the go-to guy for non-domestic related news and has been around ever since. So not only is he the elder statesman for all foreign talent all TV today (after all, …

GAIJIN – James H Catchpole – Mr OK Jazz Tokyo

I present to you another portrait in my GAIJIN series! This time we have James H Catchpole – otherwise known as Mr Ok Jazz – he’s an extremely cool guy and a treasure trove of information about all of the underground, obscure live jazz houses dotted around and about Tokyo. He should be – he’s been living here since his university days at Waseda and has been constantly exploring and documenting jazz bars and cafes all over Tokyo for more than a decade. Whether you’re in the mood to hear some live experimental jazz, blues, soul or whatever – go to his website for a comprehensive list of major and minor jazz sites around Tokyo. The list he has built and is still building is quite extraordinary. As well as maintaining this blog, James also does fixing and consulting for foreign TV productions in Japan, and also hosts a weekly radio program on Inter FM 76.1 – which, in my opinion, is the only channel worth listening to in Tokyo. Follow James for all things …

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. 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 …

Are you having fun yet? Why test shooting is important

We live in interesting times for photography. Technology has changed the landscape of the craft beyond recognition over the past 5 years. Each new generation of cameras outstrips the models of the previous years by exponential factors. Professional grade RAW video is cheaper than ever. Photography has never been easier to learn, and as a result hundreds of new ‘professionals’ are flooding into the industry, stars in their eyes with the promise of glamor-filled photoshoots. Some of these photographers are terrible. Most of them are decent. Enough of them are phenomenal. There are countless photographers out there better than you, and a scary amount of them are younger than you. Every day that you aren’t shooting photos, thousands of truly awesome photos are being made – and none of them are yours. Everyday that you don’t pick up the camera, that you decide to ‘take a break’, the rest of the photography world surges on ahead of you and without you. Not to mention that technology convergence means that photographers need to learn other disciplines; …

What to say when photographing people

Here’s something that I’ve never really thought about all that much – what exactly do I say to people during a photoshoot?  More importantly, what’s the right thing to say? I shoot photos of people for a living and I think I am confident in winning the trust of my subjects, but to this day I’ve never really sat down and tried to break down my process for approaching my subjects and – essentially – getting them to do what I want before my time is up. So let’s begin at the start of this whole process – I’ve arrived (hopefully) early at the location, and set up my gear.  Next is usually the painfully long wait for the subject to arrive/get interviewed/finish getting ready, in which every possible excruciating thought passes through your mind: ‘what if he/she is in a bad mood?’ ‘what if the lighting I’ve set up doesn’t work for them?’ ‘what if they take a look at the setup and don’t like it?’ ‘is there a better spot I could have …

Spruce up your office (portraits)

So. A lot of my work somehow ends up being done in offices in Tokyo. I’ve shot all sorts of people in boardrooms, office lobbies, corridors, etc, because let’s face it, most of Tokyo where the business goes down is just one gigantic office, split up into millions of tinier sections.  And let’s also face it; a lot of those offices are pretty careworn, drab places. Now, I’m a little bit ADHD in the fact that I get bored if I always shoot the same type of portrait in essentially the same type of environment. It’s safe, sure, but I need some more cowbell in order to feel like I’m really earning my pay . Consider the shot below of Dr. Thomas Kaberger, executive board chairman of the Japan Renewable Energy Foundation for Recharge Magazine.  I had to settle for a boardroom photo (taking him outside to do the portraits would have added very little thematic value to the shot), but I also wanted to make it contextual somehow – suitable for an editorial portrait …

GAIJIN – Bellamy Hunt

Here is another addition to my Gaijin project, which involves photographing foreigners living in Japan who have somehow managed to forge their own path living here in this often bizarre country – and have done it in an interesting fashion. There are many types of foreigners in Japan, with just as many grey areas in between – for example there are many expats and their families who get sent to work at the Tokyo branch of their big foreign company; there are people who have a Japanese spouse and have decided to make their life here, and then there are gaijin – like me – who originally came to Japan thinking that they’d only stay long enough to get up to some adventure and mischief, but ended up falling in love with this country and never left. It’s stories of these gaijin that particularly interest me – seeing as I am one of them – because I like to hear about the journey they took from their first job in Japan (often as an English …