Thursday, June 16, 2011

Keeping it natural

You'll have to excuse the lack of posts in the last week or so. Between hanging with the kids on the water slides in Guam, and watching them play baseball with the local kids here in Japan I've been flat out having fun!

Today I was out and about doing one of my favourite things - checking out the giant bookstores here in Sapporo.

There's one thing about Japan that we photographers love. They love their photography. There are rows and rows of books and magazines on every aspect of photography. I can spend hours just looking through all the different books and being inspired by the incredible imagery from both professional and amateurs alike.

I'd never really thought that much about what it is about Japanese photography that appeals to me so much but today it kind of hit me.

I was looking through a book which had the winners of an annual photo competition and something immediately struck me. So I picked up some more magazines and found the same thing. It is almost as if Photoshop had never been invented, or at least never made it this far East.

The overwhelming majority of images look like they've never seen the inside of a computer. Which of course is not true because if you look at all the captions a lot of it is shot digitally (although medium format film nature photography is huge over here). But even the images shot digitally are processed to look as natural as possible. A lot of it could have been shot on trannie film and you'd never know the difference.

I was having a look at the technical section in the bookstore and expecting to find a horde of Strobist-style flash tutorials in amongst the thick tomes on landscape photography, nature photography, portrait photography and umpteen hundreds of camera manuals. Nothing. Zilch, zip, nada. I found one book that purported to talk about small flashes but it wasn't very in-depth at all. It seems like the off-camera flash phenomenon hasn't even taken off here. Japanese photographers love their light to come from that great big yellow ball in the sky and they are incredibly skilled at finding it in various shades, form and colour.

And I find that by taking away this element from their photography they tend to concentrate much more on the content of the image. The subject rules. Emotion, moment, capturing a fleeting glance, a smile. You look at the pictures and say 'what a great moment', not 'what great post-processing skills'. And I find that really refreshing and almost nostalgic in its simplicity.

And all the years I've been coming here I'd never really thought about it before but now that I have it's really hit me. So today's book purchase was one of the many fantastic books by nature photographer Hoshino Michio. He was tragically attacked and killed by a grizzly bear in Kamchatka a few years ago now, but he is without a doubt one of my all-time favourite photographers. You can feel his love for nature permeate every single one of his images. And I feel it every time I look through a Japanese photo magazine.

It's nice to remember that not everything has to be put through Photoshop to be a great image.