Lighting, Portrait
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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, he kind of blazed the trail for them), but his longevity in the business grants him serious senpai (or seniority) status over pretty much anyone else in the industry.

Now in his 60’s, he runs a media production company, makes daily appearances on TV, devours current affairs voraciously, and sleeps about 4 hours a day. We shot the below photos in his office (yep – all of those TVs are real, old-school CRTs, and they are on all the time), while he kept us entertained with stories about the good old days of Japanese TV in the bubble economy.

Photo Tip Of The Day:
When shooting into a bank of old TVs like this you have to pay close attention to your shutter speed. Especially with those old tubes – remember – the big fat ones (80’s kids will know)? The reason why, is that those old TVs typically have a screen refresh rate of 60hz (or 50 in some parts of the world) – meaning that 60 times a second the image on the TV screen is repainted by the electron gun in the back of the TV. This imposes limits onto your maximum shutter speed if you want to capture the TV screen as you see it – too fast and your shutter will close before the the electron gun has had time to time to paint the entire screen – leading to parts of the screen being blank. The safest shutter speed to use? Well given that most TVs in Japan have a refresh rate of 60Hz (ie, 60 times a second), it stands to reason that setting your shutter to 1/60 seconds will give your camera enough time to capture a full refresh cycle on the TV. Too much slower than that and the images on the TV start to blur together – any faster and bits of the TV will be blank.

Dealing with reflections in the screens is another issue -especially given that we are using a strobe-heavy kit here. So – let’s use our brain a little bit here; big, soft light sources are out of the question because, well, they are big, and that causes a shitload of problems when dealing with reflections. For example – the bigger your light source the larger the specular reflection in the TV screens, also, angling a large light source so the screens can’t ‘see’ the light (and hence reflect it) becomes a nightmare if you’re spraying your light everywhere. Solution? Reflector and grid combination on my Einstein as a keylight – this combo doesn’t leave any exposed diffusion surfaces to show up in random reflections, and keeps the light going where I want it: on my subject’s face. Bare girds are known to produce extremely harsh, deep shadows though, which generally look ugly and undesirable, so as a fill-light I used an Orbis ring flash on lens axis to open up the shadow side of Dave’s face. Gasp! – you might say. But surely if I place the ring flash directly in front of the TV screens you’ll almost certainly see the reflection of the ring in the screens? Well, the solution here is easy enough – if I put Dave between the flash and the TV screens, he effectively blocks the multiple TV screens from seeing the flash and reflecting it. Thanks Dave!

Anyway – hope you enjoyed this post – if you want some more mini-explanations of my technique (because there aren’t enough of them on the ‘net already), let me know!

More to come soon.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (2)

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong (1)


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