Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Natural Beauties


 Earlier this month, I had a really fun photoshoot with three lovely young ladies: Polina, Elizabeta, and Nastya. Luckily, it was a beautiful sunny January afternoon (looks like my rainy photoshoot curse is lifting! :D *knocks on wood*), and the girls were so light-hearted and easy to work with. I felt really happy with the shots we created from this photoshoot. I even asked the girls to give ideas as to poses and expressions, and they were more than happy to help each other out. It's fun to brainstorm and be spontaneous together rather than only directing from my side.

This was my first three-way shoot, and I thank you girls for helping make it a success!


Great pose, Polina!


I felt like Nastya was sort of the "senpai" of the three, for some reason :)
She was great at giving advice to the other girls!


 I loved her confidence and ethereal aura.



 Elizabeta had a lovely smile!

She wasn't afraid to have fun and make silly faces during the shoot :)



 Leaping across the stones.


One of my favorite shots. So glad this one worked!
I felt like these girls were so creative-minded and knew exactly what I was thinking when I told them an idea I had for a certain shot.


Friendship :)




This was definitely one of my favorite photoshoots so far. Polina, Nastya, Elizabeta, thank you so much for working with me in this shoot!! It was really a joy for me to take pictures of such beautiful and confident girls. Every time I finish a shoot like this, I feel like I'm getting one little step further on the road toward becoming a better photographer. And more than that, the colors, light, expressions, and moments really fills my soul to see them and be able to preserve them in a way. 

Can't wait to do more shoots! :)

Friday, January 25, 2013

What's wrong with being quiet?

"Am I wrong for being quiet?"

How many of you have ever asked yourself that question? If you have, you are probably an introvert.
I have been reading the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts by Susan Cain, and it made me start to think. Even from childhood, there's already so much pressure to raise your hand and participate, participate, participate in the classroom. (Remember participation points?) Those students who talk more and answer questions in class are thought of as smarter. As we grow older and pass through college, enter companies and start working, there's the ever-existing expectation to sell yourself and meet people head on with a big, bright smile and firm handshake. 

One of my close high school friends once told me that in the P.E. class where we first met, she initially had the impression that I might be a foreign student from overseas, since I was so quiet in the class.
Well, no. (Unfortunately :) I simply didn't talk much in any of my classes. Incidentally, P.E. was also one of my most loathed classes, so I had even less reason to talk. 

 It's not that I'm shy. I don't consider myself a shy person. I just don't talk unless I have something I really want to say. All the external stimuli and information swirling around out there... it can get overwhelming sometimes, and I need time to fully process it all and judge my inner response, to think it over before reacting. Throughout all hours of the day, from the moment I wake in the morning until I drift off to sleep at night, my head is continually churning with ideas, images, plans, pieces of thoughts not yet joined together - an ongoing internal dialogue with myself.

I have no reserves about being open with those closest to me. In fact, I tend to talk much more with those I'm used to talking with and truly trust. I know that those people understand when I'm quiet, there's no need to fill the silence with ungainly words. Small talk is a challenge. I can do it, and I've learned to do it quite well after becoming an English instructor (it's necessary). But I cannot say that I enjoy it in the least. It can be too direct, abrupt, or heavy for some, but I would like to jump straight past the facade and talk about meaningful things instead.

When I'm in groups, I find it much harder to speak out and be open than when I'm talking with someone individually. For example, when I was teaching English, I absolutely loved teaching one-on-one lessons. However, I despised getting up in front of those huge classes of 30 or 40 students, whether they were elementary school kids or college-aged young men and women. I had to paste a smile on my face, take a deep breath, and force myself to exude confidence. The experience completely tired me out; I found it very difficult to teach a crowd, when what I really wanted to do was to focus on the individual needs of each student, one at a time.


Another example from my experience involves music and the personalities of artists. During my first two years in Japan, I performed quite a few lives in various venues and live houses around Tokyo. I loved doing lives, but having to do the talks in between songs always felt so awkward to me. I never knew quite what to say, and even if I prepared my topics on some note paper beforehand, I still felt uncomfortable saying them. That bright spotlight on me, the many eyes looking expectantly while I fumbled through a ramble about the seasons... I felt so much better after finishing my performance and going to meet and talk to the listeners, one at a time. 

However, I have seen lives in Tokyo where the artist's talking skills were fantastic - cracking jokes left and right, getting the audience chuckling, speaking with charm and unabashedly advertising their CDs, websites, or upcoming shows. It almost seems like something artists *should* do, this repertoire of chattering on the stage. It comes along with our concept of "big" artists - they are great with people and know how to entertain through talking as well. In fact, I was even told by music company staff that I should work on my MC skills, that it's a vital part of the live itself.


 Well, I disagree. I think in the case of musical artists, people should focus more on the music itself. For singers and musicians, people are not going to be buying a CD of you talking. They're going to be buying (or downloading) a CD of your music. Why does how well the artist talks have to have anything to do with their craft, their skill? It doesn't have to. Society just happens to associate great talking with great talent. Personally, I've accepted already that I'm just not going to be comfortable with or enjoy that kind of onstage talking, so in the last few shows I performed, I gave a try at just playing all my songs and going to talk to people individually after. I felt much more relaxed while singing, knowing that I didn't have to dread the next awkward few minutes of chatting to the entire room before I could sing the next song.

 Does it make a difference in the impression of the artist? Yes. Regardless of the actual musical skill of the artist, those with excellent speaking skills, charisma, extroversion - these people tend to become more noticed and successful. Those who speak up, get their cake. Even on the Internet, there are those who have the ability to keep up a steady stream of tweets, blog updates, and webcasts throughout the day. These are the ones who easily attract followers and inspire adoration from their fans.

But what about the quiet artist?

What about the one who needs time and space to process her thoughts, who would rather stay home and read a book than go to the party, who works much better alone than in a team, and who prefers isolation in order to make her motivation bloom?

Introverts are not deficient in some way. We don't need pull ourselves up to some kind of fast-talking, charismatic standard. If we don't talk, it doesn't mean we don't have something to say. It doesn't mean we're angry or depressed. More likely, we have plenty going on internally, and we just don't get such enjoyment out of being vocal and social. Nothing stresses an introvert out more than being forced to talk. Why do we so often judge people like this for wanting to be quiet and left alone sometimes?

In this society, introverts are often overlooked and misunderstood. At least for the near future, the powerful, talkative extroverts will still continue to dominate. Don't get me wrong - sometimes I really do like extroverts and appreciate their gifts, their natural talents in conversational expression, setting people at ease, and attracting people to them. But I only ask for a little more understanding and support for us introverts out there. We are who we are, and maybe we like being quiet.


(*The scarf has no religious or political meanings, and was used in this shoot for purely aesthetic purposes.)

By the way, I hope you liked these shots from my experimentation with self portraiture and lighting (using a floor lamp from Ikea and a scarf found at H&M)! Also experimented with a bit of makeup for the first time in a while. It was fun! Been going mostly makeup-less these days :)


>> I loved this blog post about being an introvert by Michelle (The Stranger), one of my favorite bloggers! So honest and well-written, do check it out.

>> Here's a short quiz based on Susan Cain's book, Quiet, that I mentioned above! Find out if you're an introvert or extrovert (though you probably already have a good idea).

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Shinkoiwa Part 2

A warm afternoon of photo-taking and exploring the quiet streets.
Thank you for being a wonderful model, Wendy! :)

The riverside, looking like something out of a Japanese drama.
You know, where a high school boy is wheeling along the river on his bicycle, and the girl he likes 
is sitting behind him holding on to his waist, and he blushes and says, 
"You know what? Actually, all long, I..."

Train rushing through the bridge over the water.

Smiling Wendy :)


An abandoned old bike.
(See! The one from the guy who was about to say something to the girl, earlier :P)


More of that cute cat we met.

One of the yummiest fish bowls I've ever had! (This one's Wendy's.)


 Hmm.. who could this be, in bread form??

These days, the weather has been really nice on weekends, perfect for afternoon strolls and exploring. Being by a large body of water, like the river we found near Shinkoiwa station, is always calming somehow... looking out over the rippling waters, the sunbeams reflecting on little waves, it sort of diminishes your worries, your sense of urgency. There's just the water, carrying your mind to peaceful tranquility.
It's almost Friday! I can't wait to go somewhere this weekend.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Shinkoiwa Part 1

 Photography by Wendy!
Thank you for the beautiful photos :)






Pretty sure I'm in the middle of saying "So cuuute!" in this photo, haha :)

 Just in the last golden hour before the early winter sunset, we set off to explore the town of Shinkoiwa. The station was surrounded by shops and restaurants, but just a few steps further off lay quiet residential areas, and beyond that, the road. We scrambled across it to the riverside, standing near a large bridge which rang with motion each time a train whooshed through it. A huge, sparkling river lay in wait before us.

Part 2 soon to come! Stay tuned :)

Sunday, January 20, 2013

5 Great Photoshoot Locations in Tokyo

As a photographer in Tokyo (well, whenever I have time in the evenings and weekends away from the office :), it's important to keep stock of a few places to do photoshoots at. When I first arrived in Tokyo back in 2009, I didn't really have a clue what the best places would be to shoot, but I gradually researched and made my way around several parks and locations which I would like to share with you below.

As you can see from some of my past photoshoots, I have really enjoyed shooting at each of these locations. If you're coming to visit Tokyo soon, or have lived here a while but would like some new ideas for locations to spruce up your photography, why don't you give one or two of these a try?
Let me tell you what I like about them.

(All photos below taken by me.)

 1. Shinjuku Gyoen

 Shinjuku Gyoen holds some of my earliest memories for photography in Tokyo. This huge, sprawling park in the middle of the Shinjuku metropolis provides a nice relaxing ground for picnics, taking a nap (yes! I've also experienced sitting on that field. Thumbs up :), or simply taking a stroll. While Shinjuku Gyoen can be on the crowded side on weekends, being somewhat popular for families and couples, this park has more than enough space for you to find your own tranquil spot. It's also interesting to see the tall buildings of Shinjuku sticking up out of the trees in the distance.

One of the very best things for me about Shinjuku Gyoen is the absolutely lovely cherry blossom season! The trees here are absolutely amazing, with lots of sakura blossoms you can reach up and touch. These make fantastic backgrounds for spring photoshoots. Try coming early in the morning or on weekdays to avoid the cherry blossom viewing craze in April, because the ground will be covered in those blue picnic sheets. All in all, a solid choice for a photography location in Tokyo - easy access (close to Shinjuku or Shinjuku sanchome stations, as well as Shinjuku gyoenmae if you just really don't want to walk), peaceful with a variety of trees and plants, definitely worth a visit!

 2. Hama Rikyu Gardens


I first visited Hama Rikyu gardens (near Shiodome, Shimbashi, and Hamamatsucho stations) during my first winter in Japan. Although it was January, I remember being pleasantly surprised at how warm and peaceful I felt strolling through this park. Tall buildings are in the immediate background, providing a very interesting contrast to the trees and Japanese garden style. I love the wooden bridge and water area as well.


 It takes quite a while to cover the whole park, with some open grassy areas as well as patches of lush forest to explore. In terms of photography, I love the variety of backgrounds Hama Rikyu provides - you can shoot your model reclining in the grass, deep within the trees, or outlined against the blue sky with water and tall buildings behind. Furthermore, I even once came across a traditional Japanese wedding photoshoot being held in this park. If it's a weekend afternoon, there can still be quite a few people visiting Hama Rikyu Gardens, although not quite as many as Shinjuku Gyoen. Nevertheless, this is a very peaceful and beautiful park that I highly recommend visiting if you haven't.

3. Koishikawa Korakuen Garden

Located near Iidabashi and Korakuen stations, Koishikawa Korakuen has fast become one of my favorite parks in Tokyo. I've been there for photography twice, once to shoot a video and photos for a music project, and once for a model photoshoot. Both times, I was astounded by how amazingly quiet and tranquil this place is. Koishikawa Korakuen has a strong Japanese-style garden feel, with beautiful momiji trees, a giant stone bridge, and lovely ponds.


When walking through Koishikawa Korakuen, I had this curious feeling that I should step softly and quietly through the park grounds.. almost as if some spirit exists there. Or maybe that was just my feeling :) On warm, sunny afternoons (both times I went happened to be so), the gentle light filtering through leaves overhead, the trickle of water, the rush of wind through grasses... it really feels good for your soul.

4. Kiyosumi Teien


I have been to Kiyosumi Teien quite a few times throughout the seasons, and I have never been disappointed. Located near Kiyosumi shirakawa station, this is another park that I simply enjoy walking through due to its serene personality. (..yes, parks now have personalities :) The park is basically structured around a huge pond located in its center, and the water itself is just wonderful - filled with ducks, koi, and turtles! How cool is that?? And the huge, colorful koi are super friendly, sometimes swarming over with hopes that you might feed them something. I just love locations that actually have wildlife in them, and the animals here certainly seem to be in harmony with the park's visitors.


Each time I came to this park for photoshoots last year, I have never seen what I would call a crowd - mostly just a trickle of visitors. This makes Kiyosumi Teien an excellent location for a photoshoot. Furthermore, there are so many unique features of this park, including little stepping stone pathways across the water and the beautiful Japanese pine trees. Be sure to take a look at this lovely garden if you haven't yet.

5. Ginza     


 For recommendation #5, this may seem an unexpected choice since it is not a park like the others above. However, I am including the main streets surrounding Ginza station as one of my top choices for a photoshoot location in Tokyo, simply because it is a superb place to shoot at night. Even when it's pitch dark out, the bright and colorful buildings of Ginza are more than enough to provide nice night photography lighting.


With its upscale and somewhat refined personality, I found that Ginza provided plenty of interesting corners and sidestreets to explore when I did photoshoots there before. Shooting Ginza at night is an excellent opportunity to practice night exposures (I'm just starting to experiment with longer exposures that create the blur of moving crowds, for example), and I'm sure you'll get some fantastic shots. Meanwhile, this could also be a chance to catch up on some shopping, or grab that sweater or Uniqlo socks you've been meaning to pick up :)

So there you have it! Thank you so much for reading my recommendations for photoshoot locations in Tokyo. Of course there are countless more awesome places to shoot, but these are just a few that I particularly enjoyed shooting at.
Please share this post with any of your friends who are looking for places to go when they visit Tokyo, as well as photographers looking for great Tokyo photoshoot spots!

Oh! And if you visit any of my recommendations in this post, please let me know afterward how you liked it. If you have some photoshoot location recommendations of your own (doesn't have to be in Tokyo, or Japan!), please let me know too! I'd love to hear what you think :)


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