I headed to Japan last year with my wife, determined to shoot a fresh take on a very well photographed country. What makes Japan unique is its two very different faces: on the one hand Japan is a technological powerhouse with one of the most eclectic capital cities in the World; on the other, it is a cultural treasure trove with timeless traditions rooted deep in its long history.
This mixture of modernity and tradition is what makes Japan so unique and fascinating. I wanted to portray both aspects with a modern, artistic and hopefully original touch.
I chose to go in autumn, as it provides a slightly more unusual “take” than the hugely popular spring blossom and also because I wanted to make the vivid autumn colours of the Japanese maples a strong visual character of my images.
I meticulously planned every location in advance from Tokyo’s landmarks and cityscapes to the remote rural countryside of the Nakasendō ancient route, or the idyllic surroundings of Kyoto and iconic views of the Mount Fuji.
Autumn colours fade quickly, so I had to plan the whole trip betting on the peak time of the colours in different areas, and researching the best angles to frame the visual ideas that I had in my head.
Finally, to create bright, vivid, modern images, the quality of light is all- important. We had to return numerous times to each location to catch the best possible conditions to create the perfect images that I was after.
This well-known view of the Rainbow Bridge and Tokyo Bridge relies on the powerful foreground of the bridge lit at night standing out against the Tokyo skyline.
We came upon this beautiful river nearby Kyoto at midday, and I soon realized we needed to be back in the early morning when the sun was in line with the river backlighting the beautiful branches.
I wanted to put a traditional “model” into the image. You can rent traditional Japanese kimonos everywhere in Kyoto, so we hired one that afternoon and bought an umbrella. It is crazy how complicated it is to dress up in all the layers of a kimono, so having to leave the hotel for the session at 5am next morning, my wife decided to keep the dress on for the entire night.
She had an extremely uncomfortable night, but the image that we captured creates an iconic shot that represents Japan in autumn in a single shot.
Mt Fuji, Japan’s iconic and holy mountain, has become the photographer’s symbol of Japan. We were in place at dawn to catch the emerging rays of the sun and used the yellow boats to produce foreground interest and colour.
For this shot of a mountain road winding through Izu National Park, I used a drone to create an entirely different perspective and careful framing to give the image impact. I had seen a version of this image somewhere on one of my social feeds during the trip, and spent a few hours searching on Google Maps and Google Earth to find exactly where this intersection of mountain roads was. Luckily, it turned out to be just a few kilometres from where I was.
The overcast sky was perfect to avoid shadows, pop the colours and make the image more abstract. But it was also about to rain and I had to fly the drone in a thin drizzle praying that the rain wouldn’t affect the motors. The result certainly justified the risk.
By the 20th of November we knew we were a bit late for autumn at the Fuji lakes but there were still some perfectly coloured maples on the banks of Lake Kawaguchiko. I was busy taking a picture of Mt Fuji wreathed by autumn leaves, balanced precariously on tiptoe on top of an unstable ladder, when I saw a group of tourists sneaking close to “my” beautiful tree. One of the girls was wearing a hat and gloves the same red colour as the maple leaves. When she started taking pictures with her smartphone I sneaked beside her and grabbed this one shot. It makes a great travel lifestyle image.
I like to look for unusual viewpoints. On a visit to the TeamLAB Borderless Digital Art Museum in Odaiba, I got my camera down on the reflective floor to create this amazing, futuristic vision that presents something utterly different to the “normal” coverage of Japan. The TeamLAB Borderless is a very crowded place. I had to queue several times for entering this room to achieve an image with a line of people in the background with none providing distraction in the foreground or mid-ground.
This final image is the proof that planning is not enough sometimes. We headed out to take this exact picture on a beautiful sunset, but soon realized that we would have to queue for an hour behind a hundred instagram-lovers waving selfie-sticks who all wanted to take the same shot for their social feed.
We returned early next morning – thankfully insta-grammers tend not to be early-risers – and we had the whole stage for ourselves. The light was nothing like as rich as the day before, but an overcast day provided the muted tones much favoured by contemporary magazines and the more artistic brochures. Enhancing the red of the Tori Gate in post-production helped it pop against the soft blue hues.