Creative Brief – Japan! Part One

Third time lucky? I am lucky enough to be off to Japan for a third trip soon. Reviewing past images of Japan will be a key part of my preparation for the upcoming shoot extgravaganza.

I have not been shooting a lot for the last twelve months or so. Part of the preparation will have to be reviewing my creative and technical skills. Like a runner who has not been pounding the pavement, my creative fitness has taken a bit of a hit.

“The Bull” creative brief I have used before (derived from Picasso’s process) should serve me well in developing some key creative themes to capture in Japan. You can read more about the technique here.  I have been particularly inspired by the Japanese photographer Eiji Ohashi (website here who has produced a beautiful photo book featuring vending machines – a ubiquitous part of the Japanese streetscape…

When I lived in Wakkanai-city, the northern-most city in Japan, I remember being caught in a snowstorm and I had to use lights coming from a vending machine to ascertain my own location. Since then, I slowly began to pay attention to vending machines, and soon after I was directing my gaze at them and thoughts to them and the lights they emit with attention and affection.

On one snowy night, I was attracted to the form of snow lit up by the vending machine, and since then, on every night that brings fresh snow, I go out before the snow-plows come to photograph the beautiful sights. I probably looked like a strange suspicious man to others. Naturally, it is difficult to photograph under such weather conditions, but I could not be happier than taking photographs of the mysterious encounter of form and light orchestrated by vending machine and snow.




Oh, and by the way, I purchased the book! It is a lovely, high quality paper book in a landscape format.

Ohashi has distilled a part of Japanese culture into a powerful set of images. The vending machine is more than just a dispensing station when you hear Ohashi talk about them. Sometimes, I feel as though the range of my images is a little broad – I get bored fairly easily, so shooting lots of different things keeps me happy, but I feel as though it holds back my creative development at times. “Jack of all trades and master of none” comes to mind… I am just not conscious about composition enough. I just kind of walk around sometimes until I see something that is aesthetically pleasing, rather than have a creative mission in mind.

First Image Review

Shot on Kodak Tri-X ISO 400 film using a Mamiya 7ii with a 43mm lens, the first image uses a range of creative tools to achieve something pretty cool.

The image combines a few different elements to deliver the result.

The subject is moving quickly, and combined with a relatively slowish shutter speed, gives the motion blur which immediately balances the subject and the background more evenly. The blur of the subject also makes him much easier to distinguish from the background image – it actually increases the “figure to ground” ratio in a unique, unexpected way. If the subject was not blurred, his form would be confused with the suited models in the background.

I don’t always get moving subjects in the right spot – for the best effect, I find that having them entering the frame from either the left or right works best. Sometimes, I am a bit slow and only get the subject as they are exiting the frame – which is not as visually interesting. Having the subject enter the frame here on the left gives a natural starting point for the viewer, drawing them naturally into the image, and then moving them along to exit on the right. 

There is a nice concept of “mirroring” – the suited subject is walking past what feels like a pretty judgemental gaze of the handsome suited models. They are immaculately dressed and groomed – and feel like they are evaluating passers-by against their own “blue steel” scale of coolness. Their impossible level of fashionability contrasts with the more gritty reality of rushing along the street in a suit rather than a studio. Again, the motion blur of the subject helps balance the viewer’s attention and leaves the actual state of the subject’s suit to the imagination… He could be super tidy, or a bit dishevelled… who knows?!

There are a number of attractive horizontal lines in the image, starting with the angled paving, and then the lines of the outdoor advertising. Each of the models in the advertising panel provides both a vertical line with their suit and tie, and a horizontal line of their heads all being roughly aligned.

Finally, the only disappointing element in the image is the table or whatever it is in the bottom right part of the frame. I just didn’t see it when composing the shot – with such a wide angle lens (the 43mm is equivalent to 21mm in 35mm format) it is easy to make the mistake of including something by mistake in frame. Interestingly, I only really noticed the table in the image when I was doing the detailed review for this post! I hadn’t really noticed it before – it just goes to show why I can never be a professional photographer – I just don’t have the attention to detail.


Focus on themes and proactively pursue them in Japan, rather than just looking exclusively for random opportunities.

Find great backgrounds, and then think about what the best subject might be – and wait.

Are there other opportunities to use motion blue that remain unexplored?

Potential Theme – Japanese businessmen?


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