Anthony Wood | Tokyo Headshot and Portrait Photographer


Thoughts, experiences, and photos of life and work in Japan by Anthony Wood | American Headshot and Portrait Photographer based in Tokyo, Japan

Traditions: Ikebana

Here we have another addition to a personal project. This time around I met with a woman who practices and teaches Japanese flower arrangement, or ikebana (生け花) as it is known in Japanese.

The location for this set of photos was an old house located on a quiet back street of an older area of Tokyo. It was a fairly small home situated in the kind of area that requires precision driving down narrow streets and around seemingly impossible turns to reach. If you've ever walked off any main road in Tokyo, or anywhere else in Japan for that matter, you probably know the kind of streets of which I speak.

The house may have lacked in accessibility and size, but being the old structure that it was, it had no shortage of charm and atmosphere. I could have easily spent an entire day, or longer, inside finding and creating new images.

Unfortunately, time was limited. As such it was necessary for me to also limit the number of places I would use as a backdrop. As a result, I only made use of a front sitting room and a small traditional Japanese side room regularly used for teaching and practicing ikebana.

After choosing my two locations, I set upon figuring out the framing for each of my intended shots. It became quickly apparent though that I was going to have to remove some distractions from cluttered rooms. There was simply more in the rooms than necessary; all of it would only take away from the photo and distract from the subject. So, I moved out every piece of furniture, every decoration, and every knick-knack that didn't contribute to the image I had in mind.

When it comes to including elements in my photos, I generally adhere to the words of Antoine de Saint Exupéry. As he put it, "perfection is attained not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to remove." The absolute minimum necessary to convey a message or idea is all that is required for a photo. Anything more can be a needless distraction.

Next up was the lighting. I had been hoping for some sun on the day of the shoot to help add to the ambiance of the rooms. No such luck though. As most often seems to be the case, I was once again left with the need to create my own sunlight. Although, this is easily enough accomplished with some thoughtful placement of lights and a bit of orange gel. The problematic part was setting up the flashes outside the house in a way that they would be able to receive the optical signal to fire from the camera inside the house. After a bit of maneuvering and a few compromises with placement, I was able to get the flashes to fire consistently and have my "sunlight" enter through the windows in a suitable manner.

With the composition and the lighting set, it was all about working with the subject to create the images. This of course has its own set of challenges, which are far too numerous to go into here. 

The limitations and challenges I commonly encounter during a shoot can be mild frustrations for sure, but they are nevertheless important parts of the game. They force me to think more creatively and learn new solutions to problems that I am only likely to run into again and again.

When the challenges and limitations aren't there, neither is the opportunity for personal and professional growth. 

Plus, it's never as fun when everything goes as planned.

Ikebana - Anthony Wood ©2014.jpg