Lighting, Locations, Personal, Portrait
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GAIJIN: Hugh Ashton, Writer

Here is another addition to my side project of Gaijinwho do interesting things around and about Tokyo (click image for larger version).  This time I’ve photographed freelance writer and novelist Hugh Ashton, whose been living in Japan for nearly a quarter of a century out in Kamakura.  Of the many things he does, one of his most notable recent endeavours is expanding the venerable mythos of Sherlock Holmes and his assistant Watson.  To date he’s written three volumes of Holmes novellas / short stories and 1 full length novel, is a member of the Sherlock Holmes Society of London and enjoys the approval and endorsement of the Conan Doyle Estate (the writer of the original books).  Pretty cool stuff!  Other than that he freelances for various domestic and overseas publications and has a website here where you can check out his books.

Many thanks must go to the people of the battleship Mikasa Preservation Society which was where we shot this photo.  She’s an English-built ship from the 1910’s complete with Victorian-style fittings belowdecks, and she was sold off to Japan where she has spent the rest of her life (much like Hugh himself, some might say?). Hugh is a member of the Mikasa Preservation Society and without him I wouldn’t have been able to procure the location. Many thanks also must go to Capt. Kouta and Rear Admiral Nakamura for being so accommodating and letting us set up right in the middle of Admiral Togo’s dining room, even with tourists milling about.  The awesome outfit was supplied by Suzy Walker at

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

How I made this shot:

I’ve never shot on board a boat before but one thing I’ve realised is that ships generally don’t have must space *at all*. Roofs are low, floor space is limited, and there are shiny bits and specular surfaces everywhere which makes it difficult to have flashes going off everywhere without things getting out of hand. What’s worse is that there is a lot of polished dark wood which in addition to soaking up a lot of light, gives off harsh reflections as well, which makes it a bastard to photograph. Adding to this poop-fest is the fact that the roof is barely two meters high, and WHITE, meaning that if I don’t keep light off it, it’s going to become unnecessarily bright and generally ugly, taking away from the cozy warm atmosphere.

One thing I’m aware of the minute I see the location for the first time is that I’m not going to nail the shot that I want in-camera with the gear and time I have. There simply isn’t enough space and too many difficult surfaces to deal with all the shadows/harsh reflections that will be thrown everywhere once I start putting my flashes all over the place. Rather than try nail the whole scene in camera, I decided to nail specific portions of the frame in camera and composite those parts back into the final frame.

I started with lighting Hugh – using in total three lights to get the effect I wanted. The first light – the key light – was flash with a snoot and orange gel clamped to the roof (you can see the Pocket Wizard hanging down from the top right of the frame). This flash was motivated by the light that would be coming from the main ceiling fixture. The next light is another Nikon flash with a slightly less extreme orange gel on a stand to camera left, filling in Hugh’s top-hat and chest. The third one you can see in the frame – Mr. Nakamura holding yet another Nikon flash with a Lumiquest Softbox III – his role is to give some nice edge lighting to the right side of Hugh’s body.

That’s the base photo below – the rest of the work involved carefully lighting the rest of the frame with a gridded frame and putting them together in Photoshop (that’s a whole other can of worms).

Anyway, hope you enjoyed it! If you know a gaijin who should be photographed, or if you would like to be photographed for this project, drop me a line at I’ll shoot you some nice straight portraits for you to use for social media or whatever as a form of compensation :)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong


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