Fashion photography in Tokyo: Mari in Yurakucho

Fashion photography in Tokyo: Mari, one speed-light and some gels

It’s been quite a while since I went out shooting with Mari. We put that right yesterday, with a quick trip to Yurakucho.

I used to hate flash. Part of that is because, after something like 13 years of shooting only music photography, I was fed up with being told not to use it. Pretty much every gig I ever shot would be preceded by someone from the band’s PR or the venue coming out and saying ‘first three, no flash’. So I learned to shoot everything without flash.

Learning lighting at college was first done with constant lights which is a great way of learning. The flash work came after you’d got used to seeing the light, seeing the shadows, getting the angles right.

College was mostly about using flash in the studio. I don’t mind the studio but I much prefer working on location. The buzz for me is walking into a location with a model, clothes, the camera, a light or two and quickly coming up with the best way to use all of it to create something cool. Approaching a location that millions of folk might walk through every day [on their way to work, to go to the shops] and to turn it into something completely different, that makes people go ‘eh? that’s that place? I’d never have guessed…..’.

Mari and I met primarily for me to give her a few copies of the Housing Japan magazine, which she features in twice. As we find it impossible to be together and NOT shoot some photos, we decided to do that to. I never have to worry about telling Mari ‘to wear something that’s good to shoot in’, as she is the consummate professional and will always turn up in exactly the right ‘something’ anyway.

I was feeling slightly lazy and knew  that by the time we met I’d have a stack of heavy magazines in my bag, so I packed light on the gear front: Nikon D800e, 28-80mm G series variable-aperture zoom [the ‘plastic fantastic’, I call it], one SB-800 speed-light, a monopod, a clamp to mount the flash onto things, some gels.

There’s nothing like limiting your gear choices in order to squeeze out the creativity.

There were a few spots in the Tokyo International Forum that I’d wanted to shoot in with Mari and I’d recently sent her a photo of one, that I’d shot with my phone.

She came along yesterday dressed in a nice white ensemble: trousers, jacket and t-shirt. It sort of looked a little ‘Jedi meets couture’. Turned out that the lighting we used really helped the ‘sci-fi’ feeling.

We shot in five spots around the Forum, inside and semi-outside. Mostly inside as it was raining all day yesterday,

I either used the SB800 mounted on the clamp or on the monopod. Stands aren’t allowed at the Forum. Nothing resting on the ground, in fact. So when the security guards were close by, I had the foot of the monopod rested on my leg or foot. You can see the placement of the strobe on the clamp in this shot below: clamped onto the glass partition between the escalators. These clamps are great. Cheap, light and with a ball-head on them. I also had a 15degree grid on the flash. Ideally it would have been nice to have a higher angle on the light, clamped on the wall where I was shooting from. The SB800 just doesn’t have the throw for that, though.


The monopod is fairly tall and makes for a great one-man-band rig. You can get it high above the model and lean it in to get a nice down-angle on the light, all with one hand whilst holding the camera in the other.

The gels are a set of Selens gels; about 25 colours in a wallet. I got them super cheap from Meking Studios’ store on ebay. Super easy to use, great variety of colours and colour-correction gels.

The whole set you see below took us just over an hour. Lots of fun.

How come the blue and red in some shots?

I work a lot with custom white-balance in the camera, usually beginning by using the Live View on the camera, setting the white-balance to the ‘Kelvin’ setting and then scrolling through the colour temperatures, whilst eyeballing the way the world in front of me changes colour on the screen of the camera.

Yesterday I was using colour temperatures of between 2500K and 3500K to get the ambient light a nice shade of blue, with a red gel on the flash. Red and blue are always good bed-fellows. The coour combo and Mari’s clothes really made for a nice sci-fi feel.

If you’re interested in booking me and a model for your own personal ‘use Tokyo as my studio’ session, drop me a line. I do lots of those sorts of lessons and ‘location shooting photo tours‘, exploring some cool spots across the city and using them all as locations for the model shots. It’s a lot of fun and usually teaches folk all sorts of things about how to see the potential in even the most ‘normal’ of locations. We usually shoot ambient and some flash.

Here’s the set of shots from yesterday’s outing with Mari:


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