25 Apr

Shooting with local models in Tokyo, Japan!

Nami Hanma modeling in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

If you've not seen [Part 1] of this blog where I talk about finding models from Japan to shoot, aka, the other side of the world, check it out here: - there's also a lovely rant about how much I love social media, but in reality, that's your best option for finding people.  In this here blog, though, we'll just talk about the shoot day and upload a pictorial of Images, but I'll warn ya, for someone with dyslexia, I don't half have verbal (typist) diarrhea.. so strap yourself in kiddies.

So I was planning on going to the Art Aquarium in the morning and I had invited the girls even though we weren't planing on shooting 'til later in the afternoon as we were looking to catch some darkness too, but I had figured there may be some cool colours and pools of light worth shooting in the museum.  Unfortunately, or possibly fortunately, neither lady could make it.  Nami was interested but got called in to work at the bar bright and early on a Sunday morning as it was covering the UFC, such as the time difference.  The title fight in USA time (in one of the states at least) will be like noon or something in Japan.  And I say fortunately, because the Art Aquarium was pretty rammed in the end!

The Art Aquarium, Ginza, Tokyo, Japan

Given the ladies couldn't go, I knew I had no set time to be there (other than making it back to Akihabara in time for the shoot), and also knew that Marc (who I was travelling with) really fancied going to see the grave's of the 47 Ronin, so we went there first.  If ya don't know, Ronin are Samurai, but without a Daiyo master.  And for those unaware of the legend of the 47 Ronin, then I'll let you do your own research should you wish.  There are films out there about it, there's even one starring Keanu Reeves, but I'm sure Dr Google is a quick and easy fix if you're impatient.  Anyways, we head there, and then a little later than originally planned, we head to the Art Aquarium Museum.  There's nothing like it in the UK that I've ever seen, but the other guys were less enthused than me about it, so they zoomed through, but I stuck around for a while and loved it.  With pretty colours and running water, I found it really relaxing, and that's despite it being crazy busy.

Katy Igwe modeling in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

Back in Aki, and I met with Katy first as she could get there prior to Nami, so we did a quick 45 min (or so) photoshoot before Nami arrived.  It's always a bit crazy meeting with people that you don't know and then hoping you can identify them, and that anxiety could be multiplied 10-fold when you're the other side of the world in a new environment, but then there aren't too many half Nigerian ladies walking around Akihabara station either, so once we worked out which exit to meet at, it was all good.  Later in the day, and knowing both girls had moved away and back to Japan, and also knowing how little I explored entertainment when I was living in Birmingham until friends from London visited, I asked the girls what's the craziest thing they've done in Tokyo?  I mean, Japan has some mad entertainment, so I was thinking at the very least it was gopher cafe or something.  For instance, the rest of my travel party at this point were doing real life Mario Kart on the streets of Tokyo, but Katy simply responded "meeting two strangers off the internet to shoot with in Akihabara" - I guess I take that for granted as a photographer, because short of the specific location, it happens to me all the time!

Anyways, back to the shoot, and it was nice to get some time under the belt before I shot them as a duo. I like to get a feel for the model and the shoot in general, and get a vibe for how it'll play out. As soon as that chemistry is gone (or was never existent), or the location or light doesn't work, and then having a new face to communicate that to, you can feel the tension in the images you produce, and then shoots just aren't fun. This is one of several reasons I avoid family photography and weddings and I like modifying lighting, because I like to shoot concepts and narratives, which means controlling the lighting and knowing that the model will deliver, otherwise the shoot is controlling you, and you're just making shit work. That's great for events where you're capturing real life, or if you need to just take a pretty image that you don't care about, but it ain't where I want to be to enjoy portraiture, typically.  Having said all that, being on the other side of the world with no lighting and with my only aim being to have an awesome time and experience shooting some local ladies, I was happy to just rock it and see what would happen!  I know some photographers who love the chaos of spontaneity and capturing what ever they can rather than manufacturing it, so I guess as with everything in life, it's all about your expectations and mindset, so you have to find what works for you and your style!

Nami Hanma modeling in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

  Thankfully, via pre-comms, I'd already said I was just looking to do casual fashion and for it to be chill, and given I'd spoken to Nami plenty prior, and then Katy later thanked me for the experience of it being laid back as she's newer to random TF shooting, we must have got the balance right, so it was just a matter of feeling it out on the go at the time.  Basically, if my rambling above didn't imply it with clarity; with me not being massively familiar with the area while travelling light, I'm essentially just winging it!  Using natural light on a hard sunny day is often a photographer "no no", so you know you've just got to find 'open shade' (in theory) and get something to work, and that certain things you'd love to do in an ideal world will be out of your control.  So as suggested, we're just running with what we can find and are experimenting with whether the light beats the location, or the location beats the light. 

Unlike many photographers, however, I am a fan of hard light when it's placed just so, but I also want some images where the narrative screams Japan, and the problem here is marrying the two in a flattering manner.   For instance, there are a couple of Ferraris on display for some reason, which is a unique and cool backdrop, and they're covered with crazy Anime designs which helps scream Japan, so we fired off some shots next to them.  However, they are behind rope, so then my thinking is that maybe we can go for an influencer at an event pap vibe, but they're also drawing a passing crowd from all angles, and the lighting wasn't great, so now I know it's probably gonna just look snap shotty given we have no control of too many major elements in being able to force a good angle.. quite literally!  But hey, we don't pay for film any more, and your knowledge can easily turn in to arrogance, so you should never let it get in the way, so let's just suck it and see, as sometimes you can be surprised and learn something new right?

If we make it about Japan, aka the car becomes the sole subject, then there's no point in the model.  If you try to frame the model nice while picking the best light, then there's no decent angle of the car, especially while framing people out of a busy background.  If you shoot shallow enough that those in the background are less of a distraction, you're losing the details of the car's wrap/paint job, and it starts becoming solely about the model again.  This is the kinda stuff photographers have to think about on every shoot, which is why we otherwise control the lighting and/or environment.  That's what you'll pay us for, to make those decisions through experience and ability, not because we have a great camera that takes nice photos!  In fact, hopefully it's because you like what we do and our style!  To dip in to a regular cliché statement that I often use; always pick a photographer you like, not one just because they're a "professional".  If you like a photographer's style,  hire that photographer, don't ask another one to shoot like them, 'cus ain't nobody, you or them, will be happy with those images!  Well, unless of course you both want a challenge and to experiment - and then that's on your money.

Katy Igwe modeling in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

Anyways, as always, I digress, the Ferrari stuff didn't work for me, so we moved to some steps nearby which also led up to a bridge meets high platform area that surrounds a building.  From staying in the area for a few days, I'd already singled this out as a spot I liked as it was quieter and had some railings and pathways that could be used for leading lines.  Even after this, for some images I still had to hit up photoshop to remove some people from the background, fight light flare that I liked but was just too much of a contrast and saturation killer (light flare and that, is subjective in its self), as well as even out some of the hard light a little so the shadows from the buildings in the background aren't too deep and distracting.  Again, you're playing with locations where two or three elements may work, but maybe one doesn't so well, so you either fix it now and forgo that shot, or you suck it and see, and maybe fix it later.  You can't win the lottery unless you buy a ticket.. aka, again, suck it and see given you're not paying for film or are on a time constraint!  Inevitably some images will slip though the cracks that you really wanted to make work, especially as at this point in real time, we're also still in the getting used to each other phase, so images may be stiffer until our personalities blend, and every one gets comfortable and more confident.  We still got some cool shots with good emotions, natural smiles and passion though!

It's not too long before Nami reaches out lost at the same exit in Aki station, and given there's not too many Filipino cross rock chicks knocking around Aki station either, Katy spots her sharpish.  Pior, me and Katy were just about to head to somewhere with a little greenery, so we mooch over that way for the duo stuff too, not least because it's between buildings that are a little more out of the way of the station exit and even more quiet again.. I say this, but we're still practically on the same block high rise platform I think. I take a few quick images with Nami just to break the ice and given Katy can have a wee rest, before we set about some duo images.  I touched on this briefly in the latest issue of Photoplus magazine, but shooting more than one person has it's own challenges in that now you need to keep both models reasonably in focus with one another, while at the same time you are opening up the background to more detail and to be being more distracting.

Nami Hanma modeling in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

I'd bought a 50mm Sigma Art f/1.4 just before heading to Japan, which if you're somehow here with no knowledge of photography, 1.4 basically means hella blurry background and good in low light.   It was always my intention to shoot super duper shallow (blurry) and at night, because that's kinda why you buy a lens like that, but that kinda goes out the window when you introduce a second person for the reasons mentioned above.  Everything in photography is a trade-off, in fact the essence of photography settings is a trade off within the exposure triangle, unless of course you're in control of the whole environment.  To this day, unless people are focus staking (different images focused at different points which are then layered on top of each other in post to give the illusion of perfectly sharp focus though out a single image) group images in the studio, I've not worked out the best way to shoot layered (posed) group images unless you're on a super wide lens with a decently high (or low depending on your terminology) f.stop, aka, a larger number - wide lenses just keep way more in focus, even at smaller f.stops. 

On the way down from the platform heading towards the main strip, I spot some water for some possible funky reflection shots.  About now it's starting to get dusk and I have to start pushing the camera a little harder, but then that was always the intention.  You can't come to Japan and not shoot around some neons and night lights, plus that's part of the reason I bought a 1.4.  The water stuff was on a whim, but the lit up escalator was something else I'd singled out and had in mind.  I tried to play with some longer exposures that I ended up not feeling.  The theory was that if I was moving at the same speed as the model just a few steps below, we may get some creamy motion blur along the side and what not, but with all that light and those straight lines heading where we were, it had no real dramatic effect.  It was a fun one though because we had to work around people constantly coming up and down to little hang out areas and eateries, but what wasn't so fun was the white balance that the lights were giving off.

It was your typical fluorescent lighting with a green colour cast, and no matter the amount of in camera white balance adjustments, it's still bloody green.. and I hate green!  I hate green grass in images, never mind green skin! I duno why, I just find it really aggravating, grungy, overpowering or cold, and if you fix it with just white balance adjustments, it only gets colder and more blue.  I'll typically add some red in to the yellow side of greens when I have any amount of grass or nature in images so that it feels a little more summery.  I don't mind the colour in life, I just hate green in images.. it must have psychologically scarred me at some point in my photography journey.  You'll probably see in the images below that they all differ slightly as i'm fighting the green and constantly tweaking it, and working out whether I want warmer skin tones, not least because I edited them across different days.  You can throw over colour setting layers you've made from one image to another to keep it perfectly uniformed, but for me an image is an individual thing and requires individual attention, the difference between light at the bottom and the top of the escalator as it dissipates in to the ether may be is noticeable, and it certainly is between sitting down and standing.

After this we quickly head back to the hotel so I can grab my battery light wand that I'd bought with me, and then we head to the main strip with the intention of some cliché Tokyo night shot vibes.  Akihabara is the 'Otaku' town, aka nerd part of Tokyo, so Anime, maid cafés and cheap tech is the general vibe here.  Unfortunately, Aki is probably not the best place for neons and cute scenic side streets, and that's despite plenty of lit buildings on the main run, plus it was busy as hell!  Realistically, propping up for a shot with any neon lit main buildings on the main strip would just be too messy and probably get us run over.  One place did have some funky lighting that we could use as a bokeh (out of focus blurry light) background from a pop-up anime display, which I think must have tied in to the cars down the road.  It was closed for the night but it was still drawing a small crowd and was on a busy main street, so we kinda just quickly snapped some tight shots here to the bemusement of some, while others asked if they could take piccies on their phone.  The bonus of having two modes now is that one of them could hold the light, and we could just kinda shoot quickly with a small footprint and then get out of everyone's way.

Katy Igwe modeling in Akihabara, Tokyo, Japan

A night or two before, I had shot some puddle reflection shots of a funky colour kana neon sign down a quieter side street, so I suggested that we head there for some quirky wide images, and that undoubtably Tokyo neon Japanese narrative I was chasing.  Again, I did have to remove people from the background in post, but compared to the main street, it was a godsend!  At this point, and given we're doing it in a chill way, we decide to head out together to get some food.  Katy fancied an Indian, so we find somewhere on Google.  In the UK, if you're not a shop on the main street, the chances of you getting random customer footfall is tiny unless your advertising game is on point, and therefore your reputation is probably strong too.  In Japan, they have these random shops and restaurants, with barely any signage, seven floors up in an unassuming building that you'd walk past without a second thought as a Brit, while just assuming it was some sort of office space and not for the public.  This was kinda one of them.  

After food, we then have a quick look around to see if there's anywhere that jumps out at us, and that's where we find the quiet side road with the Kana on the floor.. again another slice of Asian narrative, and then that's pretty much a wrap.  It was approaching 9pm, Katy had work in the morning, and Nami probably went out on the piss!  She still hasn't reported back to me on whether the Welsh nugget bar was epic or not.  I also gave her a VIlla shirt that she's probably binned due to a lack of interest in football, or maybe lost on the night out, lol.  Japan is not a tipping culture, so I bought some gifts over from the UK for people we met as we went, and of course having spent the most time talking to Nami prior, I figured I'd inflict some typically British stuff on her, like seaside snacks and football.  If you read this, I wanta see you shooting in that Villa shirt and know what you thought of the nugget!?

See the pictorial here:

* The email will not be published on the website.