Being a photographer in Japan has taken me all over the country on assignment to incredibly photogenic places far, far away from where I am based in Tokyo.  Sometimes though, locations right on your door step can prove to be very workable, under the right set of conditions.

If you want to learn more about Japans hidden gems and places you can enjoy from beaches to mountains, cities to backstreets, join my journey on my Facebook fan page because it’s chock full of rarely known incredible places to explore!

A while back I decided I wanted to shoot with a SUP (paddleboard) that I had bought the summer before.  There’s a lot of SUP and surf pictures out there already, less SUP pictures for sure and from what I could tell, nothing that really showed it in an other environment than the usual suspect – a picture perfect sunset beach with shiny bikini girls, pineapple trees and pristine white beaches.

I wanted to show it in another environment.  Sort of bringing together the surfer spirit, (that crack like addiction surfers get to go out to the sea every week no matter the conditions or time of year) and the reality of limited choices.

An hours drive from central Tokyo on a cold and rainy February morning seemed like a good bet to glue all this together so I called up a friend of mine that I knew would be up for it.  Without so much as raising an eyebrow to the suggestion of standing around in the pouring rain for hours in the middle of February, Free (a martial artist and up-and-coming fighter,) as he is called, happened to be free that day.

Hayama is like any beach an hours drive away from Tokyo.  Unappealing, fairly dirty beaches, no real waves, nothing particularly photogenic or notable about the place or coastline to speak of but that was exactly what I wanted for this setting.  I knew I wanted it to look cold and keep it as real and authentic as possible, no bells or whistles.

© Steven West | Photographer in Japan

It was an overcast day with zero wind.  Lot’s of rain but no wind, no waves, the ocean was a pale turquoise blue as opposed to the deep navy blue with specular highlights you get on a summers day at noon.  Pancake flat and actually looked like somewhere National Geographic would go shoot penguins or something.  It was slightly surreal and I’ve never seen it the way it was that day, before nor since.

© Steven West | Photographer in Japan

© Steven West | Photographer in Japan

If you use Lightroom, you probably know what presets are.  A pre-defined recipe of settings that give a particular look with just one click.  Problem is, since each image is so different, and needs different attention, there’s no way you’re going to just click on a random preset and be happy with it.  At least that never happens for me.  I seriously would have more chance winning the lottery.  They’re a good place to start to quickly get a feel for the direction you might want to take an image though.  If you’re new to Lightroom, I honesty recommend learning how to create the effects you see in images you like rather than rely on presets from the get-go.  Use them later as a short-cut.  Short-cuts are your friend when you’re batch processing but with the knowledge to build up an image yourself, or create a look you already have in your mind, you’ll never find yourself stuck or frustratingly clicking through thousands of presets to find one that works.

That said, a shout out to Totally Rad! who have gone about recreating as close as you can get to many of the old film stock favourites that we analog trained people came to know and love.  Check them out if you’re in the market for film looks.  Or just go buy some film.

I’ve always stood well outside of the film vs digital argument because for me it’s a non-issue.  Yes, I love film but do my clients want me to shoot with it?  No, no they don’t.  Undoubtedly film has this aesthetic that somehow (at least for those who originally shot on it) gives it a value that digital doesn’t have.  It may be all very unconscious but when you see a photographic print that was taken on film you know there was some effort behind it.  Not in the shooting, but the process.  It, not always, but usually means someone went to a shop to buy the film, put it in their camera, shot pictures, took the film out when it was finished, went to a lab to get it processed, went home, prayed, went back to the lab, prayed again, eagerly looked at the negatives, chose a few to print, went home, came back to the lab, picked up the prints, went home and then prepared them for viewing for wherever you happening to be viewing them now.  So there you go – a breeze.

I know I said aesthetic value but maybe it’s more accurate to say it conveys a sense of investment in time, energy, patience and skill.  For me at least, I know that’s exactly the value I feel when looking at images taken on film.

© Steven West | Photographer in Japan

Quick Equipment Review

I’m not in any way affiliated with this company.  I happen to see other photographers using them and immediately saw how they could be useful on location.

The CapturePRO Clip from Peak Design is just a little gadget that will hold your camera in place to anything you can attach the clip to.  Like a belt, backpack shoulder straps and so on.

The CapturePRO Clip from Peak Design

There are millions of superfluous camera gadgets you could go and throw your money at but few are rarely needed.  Same goes for this little guy, but I will say it’s quite liberating to just hand-off your camera to something secure, like handing it off to an assistant until you need it again.

In this case I was on the beach, in the rain and shooting without any help.  Nowhere to put my camera down as I move sticks and boulders out of the scene and so on.  It was just nice to be able to use two hands and not worry that when I bend over I need to be careful the camera doesn’t swing around to my front and bash itself of the ground as might happen if I just had the camera slung around my neck or even diagonally across my body.

I’ve tested it on several hikes too over long distances and it’s nice to move equipment weight from your lower back (where my equipment is usually in my backpack) to my chest area and it’s there ready, rather than tucked away somewhere in your pack and you never know when a Sasquatch is just going to pop outta the bush, right?  So be ready.

It’s a keeper for me.  I wholeheartedly recommend this if you’re shooting over long periods of time and need to be handsfree/multitasking but still have your camera only a push button away.  Don’t even think about getting something cheaper; it’s holding your gear so it needs to be as reliable as someone you trust to hold it for you.

Impromptu Set

To keep warm in-between set-ups, Free started spontaneously shadow boxing which looked pretty cool.  It looks even nicer in high res where you can see the rain action frozen.

© Steven West | Photographer in Japan © Steven West | Photographer in Japan

I felt we definitely got lucky here.   The perfect storm without the storm conspired for us to get some nice, quiet shots that you simply couldn’t do under any other circumstances at this location.

If you want to learn more about Japans hidden gems and places you can enjoy from beaches to lakes, mountains to cities – join my journey on my Facebook fan page because there is just too much to post here.