What are the key elements of a great portrait photo

Photography is all about light. That is it. Light determines composition, mood, colors, depth, and so on. Without light, all you would see is a black rectangle. However, once the light is cast, more elements come into play. Portrait photography is not about photographing faces. It is about photographing emotions, moments, personalities. If you focus on the face only, you lose depth and story. Face is not the subject here, the moment is. Just like when you photograph dancers, you capture movement, energy, gesture and composition, balance and grace, power and momentum. You do not photograph legs or arms.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Psychology plays massive part in portrait photography. Your job, as portrait photographer, is to search deep under the surface of social masks that everyone wears. They make people feel safe and invulnerable. You have to learn how to strip them off even just for a moment. Similarly to how street photography is about waiting and predicting a happening, portrait photography is about capturing and evoking split seconds of feelings and moods. Knowledge of body language is as important here as the ability of connecting with another human being. That connection has to be sincere so they feel comfortable and loosen their guard. This cannot be done in a haste, so do not rush your portrait shoots. This is also why I do not agree with charging per hour. It feels like mass production to me. I charge per each final image, and yes, post processing is the second reason here. 

It is said that the best portraits are taken when people do not realise they are being photographed. True, but for me this is a bit too invasive. One of the reasons why I am not comfortable with street portraiture, even though I do appreciate it's raw beauty, is because it feels unfair and even vulgar to invade other people privacy. It does not feel fair to me to steal those moments. I want to witness them, evoke and experience them, be a living part of them. Only then I can truly understand who is that I am photographing. In portrait photography the model knows that she or he is being stalked with a lens. And yes it is way more difficult to take a natural looking photo this way, but that is why a specific set of skills is required.

model: Anna Mitzel

model: Anna Mitzel

Key elements of portrait photo for me would be complementing light, natural body language, undisturbed flow of energy through the photo, and impeccable post processing. Perfect exposure has nothing to do with image being good. Far from it. Mindless following of "photography rules" will also get you nowhere. Photography is an art, not a science, even though there is science behind it. The energy flow relates to all elements including the background,, which is often overlooked and yet so important. Post processing is huge and I would never allow to be photographed by someone who does not edit their own photos. They are either lazy, too focused on squeezing more shoots to make more money, or simply lack artistic vision. I do not just shoot and edit, I shoot with a vision of editing. When I am asked to pass RAW unedited images to a client I am actually being insulted. I do not produce snapshots, I create photographs.

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How to take portrait photographs of professional artists and performers

This is by far one of the most demanding and yet the most rewarding type of portrait photography that you can get into. Most of the people have no idea what portrait photography is all about, hell, they even do not know what they want. Everyone has their own style and they know what they like when they see it, but have difficulties with envisioning it. Just like you buy furniture in a store, when you see a sofa on its own it may not do much for you, but if you see the same sofa in a context of other complementing furniture, then it may make you think - oh wow this would be perfect for my house.

See Artists are different. We do not see trees, we see light synchronizing with amazing maze of shapes and shadows. We do not see city streets and cars, we see art in motion, a happening of movement, a game of kinetic energy and 100s of unique face expressions passing by. A true artist will never tell you, "man, just make me look good", most of them have a vision of what they want, but they are more than excited about bouncing ideas on the go with you. It feels like long vacations on Maldives for the soul.

So how do you shoot artists, performers, singers, and so on. Well, first do not get intimidated, get excited instead. This is the time when you can let your creativity go mustang. Remeber that it is essential to go outside your comfort zone EVERY time you shoot, otherwise you will not grow. On the other hand you need need to stay composed and know exactly what your client or model is after. Do a research on what they do and ask them all questions that you need to know regarding why and what for they need a portrait photo. It is challenging because you have to take their specific or abstract and loose ideas on board, and then imbue it with your own style. Photographers are, or should be, chosen by their portfolio. You are not going to book a photographer whose style is not appealing to you. It makes no sense.

Above is a portrait shot of Dobolo, a hip hop artist from Tokyo, who needed a photo for promoting his new song About to Blow (you can see the video clip below, created by a really talented videographer Jeremy Rubier. Dobolo needed a metro / urban portrait shot, that will be powerful but at the same time simple in form. It had to be a photo that will go well with the theme, message and vibe of the song. I used natural lighting only, breaking all rules of what you will learn when you start with portrait photography, which are to avoid hard sunlight, and always position your subject face towards the light. Well soft light would not work here at all. I had flash guns with me but I figured that the massive contrast between dark and light tones will actually bring this photo closer to black and white, making it way more impactful in terns of tonal difference. I needed space for the text but I did not want it to clutter the breathing space around him, so I was shooting with 16:9 ratio in mind. Also, I knew how I willl do the toning of this photo inside of photoshop and also that bringing down saturation and shifting tones in the photo will only emphasize light qualities.

Tiny angle change of the portrait gives it a bit more energy and modern look. It is a slight tilt, nothing too aggressive. It it were, then it would overpower the model, and since this is not high fashion, the model is actually important. It is not that in high fashion models are not important, it is just that the message being conveyed usually overpowers all other elements, and the model becomes an integral part of the image. In fashion photography it is about the art, not about models. Last but not least, notice how the fence behind Dobolo imitates a keyboard. It is not supposed to be evident but subliminal in a way.

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Importance of matching colors and tones with the mood of a photo

Human skin is very complex in terms of tonal shifts and colors. Depending on the light used during the shoot, you can achieve different results. Light decides everything: mood, composition,  colors, tonal shifts, and so on. Then, during photo retouching, you will need to deal with things like color casts, skin blotchiness, imperfections of skin texture, shadow and highlight bending and uneven transitions between them, discoloration in highlights and excessive saturation in shadows, difference of skin color temperature or even hue depending on the size of the light source used, etc.

model: Nami

model: Nami

Photo retouching is an extremely powerful tool which allows me to complete my artistic vision. I do not care about how things should look like, all I care about is what feel and mood I want to convey. Photo retouching should not be a result of happy accident or what you think others will find appropriate, but a creative tool for finalizing YOUR idea. The same as with photography rules, you master those to break them. Composing a photo is like falling in love, you feel it, you do not think about it or analyze it. There are no limits to art, as long as it does not feel forced or fake. Photography and photo editing should be naturally inspired by what you see and what it makes you feel like. This is also why taking time to choose photo for retouching is of no less importance than the editing process. Not rushing through the retouch or using photoshop presets mindlessly will only benefit you at the end.

If the toning does not match the mood of the photo it will be a visual cacophony. You are composing a symphony, and all the instruments have to be in tune with one another. But understanding all this is not enough. You need a good connection with your model or client, a connection strong enough for you to either capture an emotion that is real and not staged, a moment in between if you will, or be able to evoke it. Only then you will fully understand the mood of your own photo. At that stage a direction in which you should take your retouching will become clear.

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The devil is in the detail - perfectionism and photo editing in photoshop

Whenever I edit my photos my paranoia kicks in before I even start retouching. I can spend an hour deciding between photos to edit. It is all down to finding that one photo with perfect body language, or even merging elements from various photos to achieve that goal. I do not care how I get there, all I care about is great creating images with fluid and undisturbed energy flow. There has to be a balance of elements and this is why post processing plays a huge role in my photography.

If you watch my speed art videos in which I edit my portrait photos, you will notice that very often I work in great zoom, 100% - 400%. It is essential for skin editing and making sure that skin pores are not damaged, also it helps a great deal during skin mattifying (micro dodging and burning), which is done almost exclusively on skin pore level. All my portfolio photos are in full resolution at 300dpi, so everything is out in the open. There is a lot you can get away with in resized photos, especially if they are full or half length portraits.

model: Yayoi Kawahara

model: Yayoi Kawahara

If you are serious about portrait editing you will appreciate its complexity. Whether it is removing distracting elements that ruin the composition, skin editing, global tonal adjustments, color cast and blemish removal, matching skin tones, blending shadow to highlight transitions, adding new complementing elements to the photo via compositing and photoshop manipulation (like drawing hair by hand for instance), contrast and micro contrast adjustments, sharpening, texture repairing, etc., you have to remember that the devil lurks in details so once you take care of all those things that are not visible immediately, all the elements of the photo will start falling in place. And that is why single portrait photo retouching can take between 1.5 to 4h. There are no shortcuts or plugins that can get you there faster and allow for the same level of quality. There is a reason why some of the best things in the world are hand made. Automation is great, but far from perfect.

If nothing else, remember this - portrait photography brings responsibility. As a professional you are responsible for how your model looks on your photos. It is your job to make sure you have done everything that justifies their time or money spent helping you to create images. A great photo can be ruined by poor editing, so if you respect your models you will make sure you have done your absolute best not just during the photoshoot, but also in post processing.

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What is the difference between a pro snapshot and professionally editited portrait photo

In short, about 2 to 3 hours, because this is how long it takes to retouch a portrait photo on a professional level. Photo retouching is not a skill, it is an art, and for me it is a valid and essential part of my photography service. Not everyone can appreciate the importance and impact of photo editing because this is something that is done behind the scenes. It is a process you most likely will not witness personally as a model or a client, but it is always greatly appreciated when compared and explained.

Portrait photo retouching is a complex process of refining tonal shifts, removing color casts, redirecting or emphasizing the main subject or area of interest in the photo, removing distractions, reorganizing and tiding up shadows and highlights, finalizing the artistic vision of the photographer, amplifying the existing feel or creating a completely new mood in the photo, creating a completely new image via composite photography or an artistically enhanced creation though photo manipulation (fantasy, sci-fi, abstract, etc.), and so on.

I am an artist, not just a photographer. I do not capture images I create them, and pressing a shutter on my camera is merely a part of the entire process. Portrait photo retouching is my passion just like photography, Japanese calligraphy, book writing or any other artistic endeavor that I am engaging in. I love photo editing so much that I can easily take an hour only to look through already pre-selected photos from a given photoshoot to choose the one I think is the best in terms of body language and quality of light for editing. Time wise, photo retouching is far more time consuming than a photoshoot itself and can take several times longer than image capturing. I will give you an example. Let us say a photoshoot lasts for 5 hours and 600 images are taken. Now if I pick 10 photos for editing and spend 2.5h on each, that sums up to 25 hours in photoshop alone. That is 5 times longer than the actual photo shoot. A single complex photoshop manipulation can take over 24 hours to complete.

In the era of digital photography photo editing options are limited only by the skill and imagination of the artist, and it is a never-ending journey of discovery and learning. Every photo is different, every person ha sits own personality and mood. I do not use any ready made presets in my workflow and each photo is manually retouched, toned and finalized. Every photo is yet another day of the great journey.

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Harmony between soft and dramatic light in balck and white portrait photography

Two extremes co-existing together in perfect harmony. Symbiosis in dichotomy. This photo is from a recent shoot with an American artist and model Mandy Jane. We set the shoot for 7 am in Yokohama. It was gloomy, rainy and cold, so we had to shoot anywhere with a roof over our heads. Most of the shots are from the underground tunnels in Minato Mirai. We searched for any place with good light, be it natural from outside, artificial or mixed. There is no perfect weather, light or place to shoot. If you understand how light works and how to control it or use it to your advantage, then you can shoot anywhere and anytime. But you can go even one step further, and reshape the light or change the quality of light in photoshop. This is why the skill of shooting with a vision of post processing is so important in my workflow.

Taking a great photo is as complex as sensing how to post process it. This shot was lit by natural light, with delicate influence of artificial ambient light. Light is soft and supple. It was coming through a huge entrance to the underground passages. Now, the light on Mandy's face is soft and delicate, just like her distant and remote expression. Light on the metal blinds at the background, is also soft, but their shape creates dramatic conversation between light and shadow. I purposely softened the light hitting the model even further, because I knew that I want to change the light quality of the background to much more powerful and hard. Parallel horizontal lines create another contrast, because they introduce stability and harmony. This photo expresses a quite intimate moment in a powerful and dramatic setting, but cocooned in a strong vignette which encloses the scene. This is also why I photoshopped out the bottom line which was too bright, and darkened the top one, and also warped the whole left hand side of the photo outwards.

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The art of boudoir portrait photography - how to choose the right photographer?

I look at boudoir and nude photography as I look at my Japanese calligraphy art. It is all about undisturbed energy flow, grace of lines and curves, and the balance between the mood and the form. It is a dialogue between the model and the space around her. I really enjoy capturing people at those unique moments when they zone out for a split second, moments when their mind is somewhere else. Then all I do is photograph the lines and shapes their body forms dressed in highlights and shadows in connection with their thought flow, linking what you can see and what you can only imagine. If you follow me on my blogs you know well that photo retouching plays a huge role in my photography art, and I absolutely love taking my time to retouch every single photo. I find the photo editing process extremely creative and exciting. I hear photographers saying so many times *I would rather be out there shooting than in front of my Pc editing*. I could not disagree with this more! Taking a photo is only a small step in a vast creative process of visualising and realising the final image. I believe that when a photographer starts using automated presets to edit 10s or 100s of photos with a few clicks of a mouse, he or she turns something that could be very unique into a very common and rather dull image. We are very jaded and consumed so much as a human race, that most of us cannot distinguish anymore between art and and a visual insult on our sensitivity. People are confused rushing through life, being too busy to take their time to think what they really like deep inside, and instead they follow the general trend appreciated by the masses. Do not be a sheep and feel it yourself. Art should not be about speed and efficiency, but the the emotion it evokes when you look at it. I do not want to have to rush through the photoshoot, which is why I set my fees to per final edited photo count and not per hour. The final result is so important for me, that I am and will refuse anyone who is approaching me for mere snapshots, or asking me to shoot for 3h and pass 50 or 70 photos to them. As an artist I actually find such requests somewhere between sad and insulting. Portrait photography is all about psychology, sparking a moment, telling a captivating story, capturing an image that will make you wonder or pause for a while, but it also has to allow one achieve artistic fulfillment. This simply cannot be rushed. It takes time to get to know who you shoot, combat their camera fear, lack of confidence, and other issues that a model or client may have. I care more about my images than those who pay for them, in fact I care so much I can take even an hour only to browse through a few shots and think which image from a series of images of a certain look I want to edit. Photo editing is a long process if done properly. A single portrait can take anywhere between 1.5 to 4 or more hours. Extremely creative portrait photography manipulations can take a whole day. There are many ways in which an image can be retouched, from a more traditional way like the one you can see below, to a fantasy theme. When you pick a photographer do not base your decision on the price, but the style and quality of his or her portfolio, the skills and passion that drives them, creativity and attention to details, and last but not least their personality. You should not only enjoy the final photos, but also the experience of being photographed. 

Eline

Eline

How to crop your images to make them look balanced and appealing

Image after completing compositing and editing

Image after completing compositing and editing

Cropping images is an art and it is the final touch to your photo just like the seal of a Japanese calligrapher pressed at the very end on the work. There is a saying that goes "印鑑までの作品", which means "a (perfect) work (is one that goes) all the way to the (author's) seal". The same in photography, cropping is a very powerful tool in your photo editing arsenal. Most of my portraits are cropped in camera during shooting, but sometimes I create composites or change the background, like in this photo of Katie. She was cut out and placed on a new background, and since she wanted a circle shaped final shot I had to place her in the dead center of the frame (see the photo to the right). Now I would never shoot a portrait this way, unless it was for a poster with some promotional materials or texts waiting to be added, then I would make space for it. So, I had to go in and crop the image to make her really shine. Below you can see 5 different crops that I created and all of them have a slightly different feel. Crop 1 would be sliced in the headshot style for corporate use or for a bio on a website. Do not be afraid to cut tops of the heads, but when you do that make sure it is balanced with the space below the chin and around the face. Also pay attention to the background texture, it is important that it does not overpower the face, which is the main focus (scroll down to read more).

Crop 1

Crop 1

Crop 2 is a perfect square, which is a common format used by social media pages. Two things you need to remember when cropping images for such sites. 1. the are in square shape, and 2. they are usually tiny, so make sure that the face is filling the frame as much as possible. I placed her a bit to the left hand side of the frame, to create asymmetry which is perfectly empowered by the intersecting diagonal lines (created by both shoulders and the eyes). This creates an illusion of a triangle shape, and goes well with slanting lines of the background. Dynamic crop introduces movement and since she looks dynamic and jolly it fits perfectly.

Crop 2

Crop 2

Crop 3 is what Katie wanted for her page. Here I placed her eyes along the center line and cut off part of her right shoulder. The leading lines of the jacket going up and then curving with her face outline to the right forces eyes to circulate, which supports the shape of the crop. Note that Crop 1,2 and 3 have a corporate feel with emphasis on Katie but there is enough space for the background building to be registered by a viewer as an important element of the photo, even though it is out of focus. Background can be a powerful ally. 

Crop 3

Crop 3

Crop 4 is more centered and looks it gives Katie more powerful image. Her being in the center suggests control, but at the same time her cheerful smile makes her approachable. This is a cross-over between a corporate shot and a more casual profile photo for a webpage. This could also be cropped lower, which would cut the top of her head and showed a bit more of the neck. I cropped it this way to move her eyes to the center.

Crop 4

Crop 4

Crop 5 has a corporate feel again, but it is in a vertical orientation. I sliced the right shoulder and emphasized the other one which is in perfect alignment with the building. The part of the building to the left frames her from the other side and it creates a narrowing effect which pushes the viewer's eyes to her face. Those buildings also create a natural vignette which introduces contrast and redirects the attention to Katie. She is a bit off center to the left, which balances the way she stands, the direction she is facing to and mirrors the direction the light is coming from.

Crop 5

Crop 5

If you are looking for a portrait photographer in Tokyo and you enjoy my style of photography then please contact me directly to discuss details or book a photoshoot. If you are interested in private photoshop workshops via skype desktop sharing feature, please see more details on my main page.

Why photo editing skills are equally or even more important than photography skills?

RAW file from the camera

RAW file from the camera

Photography is an art and one can produce stunning photos straight out of camera. However, a skillful photo editor can elevate such photos to a completely new level. Photo editing is a huge knowledge and requires a lot of patience and time, constant studies from various disciplines, including human anatomy, color management, behavior and qualities of light, etc. To edit portraiture you literally have to be a painter, in order to blend and smooth out blemishes, unflattering skin shadows and skin tone issues. Human skin is complex and it is a theater for the game of shadows and highlights. It is virtually impossible to capture a relaxed and healthy looking image without any editing process. Now there are those who take shortcuts and do lazy editing, which results in blurry skin, loosing pore details and obliterating face features, and such editing is done by photographers who either lack the skill, or those who simply prefer to bulk edit photos and move on to another client to make more money. Those type of photographer also use presets and with one click sort out 10s of photos. This also why their photographs look all the same. Photo retouching is an art, and it is way more time consuming than actual shooting. A single portrait editing can take up from 1.5 to 4h, or more, depending on which direction I want to go with it. Is it a straight forward editing, a photoshop manipulation, a creative toning, etc. The devil is hidden in details, and when you take care of the details the rest will fall into place. I work on skin pore level, often zoomed in way past 100% of the actual image size in order to correct small issues that when fixed become apparent. Good photography is always vision-driven, and the shutter click is literally the last step in capturing a good image. No matter what gear you use, how many assistants you have, if you are not in love with light and do not understand human psychology, you will not make a good portrait photographer. Then come editing skills, and those are vastly important in combining all the elements together - the vision, the captured image, understanding of your model and the ability to feel the image. Those who think that photo retouching is unnatural should ask themselves those questions: Is art supposed to be natural or appealing? Is female make-up or hair styling natural? Were Picasso's paintings realistic? Are brand items really needed? Do you like concept cars? Should we all listen to the same music? I hear a lot of photographers say "I prefer to be out there shooting than sitting in front of the PC editing". For me editing is far more creative than taking photos, and offers a true freedom of creation. Being just a photographer sounds a bit limiting to me. I need more than that.

final edit / model: Lena

final edit / model: Lena

Power and elegance - importance and impact of color grading in portrait photography

image straight from the camera

image straight from the camera

Photo editing is essential in the era of RAW digital photography. Majority of people do not realize that professional photographers do not take photos in.jpg format, but in RAW file format. If you set your camera to produce .jpgs, then the camera does the editing for you. It is the same as setting camera to automatic mode and let it do all the job. No good photographs can come out of such practice. RAW files straight from the camera are flat and without much saturation or contrast, though it all depends on the type of camera used and lens quality. The whole idea of shooting in RAW is to post process the image in Photoshop or Lightroom, and imbue it with personal style. However, portrait editing is not all about removing skin blemishes and smoothing the shadows to make skin look more relaxed and even. Color toning is something that can change a good photo into an amazing one just by skillful adjustments done to colors and tones. Toning changes the mood, look and creates this magazine look that people tend to enjoy, but are not sure why. Professional photo editing could be compared to music in a movie. If you notice the music and it is too obvious you will not enjoy it. Best music is one that fits, but you perceive it only on subconscious level without noticing it is there. For private photoshop workshops via skype please contact me directly or see this page

final photo / model: Lena

final photo / model: Lena

How to capture movement on photos and make it look natural and balanced

When you film moving people in any type of motion, there is a good chance that they will look natural. Now a still photo is a whole different story. Most of photos showing movement will look unnatural and unbalanced, and that is because they freeze one frame of a sequence of moves that only if combined together in fast motion bring balance to that action. In this photo I was photographing a performing belly dancer and shot maybe 25 frames out of which 2 were fairly good, but still not good enough for me to call it a perfect shot. So, I realized that if I combine 3 photos into one in photoshop and select gestures that would show continuity and add some meaning and reason for this pose it will make more sense and balance the photo. Knowledge of how to post process your photos will not only vastly improve the look of your images and give them a unique look, but it gives you freedom of following your vision as an artist, not just a photographer. If you are interested in learning photoshop, contact me for more info.

model: Lena

model: Lena

Ancient art + portraiture = photography on a different level

Everyone can take a snapshot, a few can take a photograph, even fewer can make it fine art image. But for me capturing a photo is merely half way, if not less. Photo editing this days is either abused by those who search for shortcuts, photographers who want to mass produce their images by one-clicking a preset in Lightroom that will edit 100s of photos in minutes, or underestimated by the viewers. We live in era of Instagram garbage, small screens on which you can barely see anything, and so many photos online that no wonder people have troubles with recognizing what is the difference between quality work and something rather dull just colorful. Editing for me is an art form, and one has to be an artist to be able to edit images with a vision, sense of beauty and consistency of ever-evolving style. Being a multi-genre artist, I enjoy merging various forms of visual arts together, be it digital art and photography, creating photo manipulations, or by merging Japanese or Chinese calligraphy art of my authorship with my photography. Calligraphy can be intimidating due to its highly abstract nature, but when accompanied by an image, it much more approachable and perhaps can be appreciated from a different angle.

Calligraphy art in semi-cursive script: 雲中白鶴 (lit. white crane in clouds / meaning; someone of pure heart and transcendent character)

model: Lena

model: Lena

Black and white or color - how to decide on photo post processing

It is said that if a photo does not look good in color, it could still look decent in black and white. Indeed, but only to some extend, but even if it is so it's usually down to pushing it. The truth is that if you want to have great results in black and white, you should post process your photo in color first. If you capture something really interesting, and the shot is slightly out of focus or the composition is off, sure thing, convert it to black and white, throw some filters and call it art. But if you are serious about your portfolio or the quality of your photography art, then you will want your photos to look amazing regardless of whether they are in back and white or color. For me, black and white conversion takes LONGER, than editing photos in color. I make sure I got my shot tuned in color version, and then I work on black and white. I usually decide on post processing in the very moment of capturing the image, especially that retouching is an integral and essential ingredient of a successful image. If you want to learn more about black and white conversion watch my full length in-depth photoshop video tutorial.

Good light and body language - two key elements of portrait photography

No matter who I am photographing, I always say the same thing - I need good light and natural body language, and the rest can be fixed in post production. Modern photography is all about those three elements, and retouching is a seriously underestimated powerhouse. If you are a pro or amature photographer, and especially if you are a portrait photographer, you must learn photo retouching or else your photos will be weak. And I do not care about what all the "pure photography" idiots tell you, they just jealous, lazy or not talented enough to be able to work their own photos. I go even further, I think that post processing is more important than shooting, and the reason for this is simple - the possibilities you have with photoshop (forget lightroom and all the presets, leave that crap for lazy people), provided you have an artistic sense and vision, are endless. For anyone interested in private photoshop workshops, see here. Portrait editing is all about fixing all small issues that we all have as humans, like tiny skin discolorations, skin unevenness, over pronounced features due to unfortunate lighting, things that mess up the compositions but could not be dealt with in camera, and so on. If your editing skills are low, you are stuck with what you capture. Photography is not about what you capture, but what you want to share and show. Photography should not be a xerox copy of reality, but an image of a combination of your own artistic vision with the energy of the unique moment in time that you have witnessed.

model: Diana

model: Diana

Tranquility - the unique beauty of older people portrait photography

Kids and old people - the best you can capture on camera. Kids because they are so pure, so unpredictable, so honest and raw and so everywhere in the same second. Old people because they are like kids, but with suitcases of life experience written all over their faces, no ego, no masks, just peace and tranquility. I captured this image today at Narita san temple complex near Tokyo, one of my favorite photography spots, and most amazing temples in Japan. I do not know who this lady is or what is her name or what was she thinking about before she spotted me taking her photos, so make your own story.

Why you should photograph people against the sun

Unless you shoot high fashion, model photography, or going for some special look, backlit portraits are the best. The person doesn't squint, you have a beautiful rim light, and it just looks incredibly flattering. Especially if you shoot mature models, you do not want any harsh light on them. I took this photo without any fill light, and I was relying on the reflected light from the nearby walls, the ledge at the bottom, and also the highly reflective gold color background helped a lot to lift the light levels, and boost the colors. Good portraiture is all about understanding the light and the face features of your model, as well as confidence in your editing skills, especially if you shoot without any fill light. The person you photograph should be brighter than the background, so she or he stands out, regardless of how blurred and background is. There has to be a contrast between the eyes, face and the background, drawing you inside the image, creating a center point of the image and tone based leading lines or leading planes as I call them.

model: Nami

model: Nami

My Japanese calligraphy teacher - Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟)

I have been studying Japanese calligraphy for about 14 years now, and from the very beginning I was extremely lucky to be accepted by Grand Master Kajita Esshuu (梶田越舟) .as his disciple.  I have spent over 20 years of my life in various schools, including two universities, overseas schools, etc., yet still he is hands down the best teacher and mentor I have ever head. Grand Master Esshuu is so peaceful and humble that one can almost forget how insanely knowledgeable this man really is. He is a descendant of great Japanese Masters, historical Japanese calligraphers, such as Grand Master Kusabe Meikaku 日下部鳴鶴 (1938 - 1922), who had 3000 disciples and was known as one of the Three Brushes of Meiji Era (three greatest calligraphers of Meiji Era), Grand Master Hidai Tenrai (比田井天来, 1972 - 1939), who was known as the father of modern Japanese calligraphy, and Grand Master Kuwahara Suihou (桑原翠邦, 1906 - 1995), who was so respected in Japan, that he was asked by the Imperial couple to assist them to the mausoleum of Hidai Tenrai and introduce them to his works. Here is a portrait of Esshuu sensei that I took recently. I made it into a faded and slightly damaged photo, and contrasted it against his genuine carefree smile, which is something you cannot find on antique photographs. I thought it would bridge between what is in the past and the present times.

Low key portrait photography - harmony of light and shadows

I am not too fond of typical studio shots, with almost flat lighting on the model and plain white background. Those kind of shots are mostly used for ads in magazines, in which the model is removed from the background and the image can be manipulated in every way possible. The problem is that those kind from shots are on the boring side. The light is dull, they all look the same, there is no power, no drama, no impact. Naturally there are exceptions, like amazing models, interesting perspective or angle, great hair or makeup, or amazing fashion design that model is wearing. This is why I love dramatic and moody lighting, shadows, mystery and all that. Shadows provide another set of clothes for a model, or just a cloak if she is nude. It is quite complicated to work with speed lights in low key, as if the model moves only by one or two centimeters it can throw off the entire composition, especially if hard light is considered. Low key photography is also great for learning controlling the light in a very precise way. Once you master low key photography, you can shoot anything. Girls living in Tokyo area or models building their folio who are interested in a photoshoot like this, please message me directly and we can schedule a shoot. You do not have to be a pro.

Flash photography outdoor beauty portrait photoshoot in Tokyo

I love all types of portrait photography, and I too think that natural light is simply amazing and hard to beat, however, flash photography offers so much more control that is is difficult to pass on. If you are a natural light photographer only you are limiting yourself very substantially to the ambient light, i.e. available light. Once the night comes, and the wonderful city lights pop out, you are packing and going home. Now flash photography allows me to shoot all day, 24/7 regardless the light. In fact, I can create night during a sunny day, remove ugly distraction from he background, and control the power, ration and colors of the light. I can set up white balance to one setting, slap on a gel or two on my speed lights and create mood that otherwise would be impossible to capture. Here is a portrait of Nicole, a model and a singer from Scotland taken outside on the evening street of Shibuya in central Tokyo. If you are visiting Tokyo and wish to have spectacular photographs taken, that will make you feel great not only about yourself but also create unforgettable memoirs from your travels, then contact me and book a shoot!

model: Nicole

model: Nicole

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