Traditions || Kendo
In recent months, I have been putting a fair amount of my time and efforts into a personal project in which I'm photographing people involved in some of the traditional arts and cultural trades of Japan. With several of these shoots already completed, and several more in the planning stages, I'm well along my way into creating a new collection of work.
One of the more recent shoots that I've finished was for a practitioner of kendo. Long a traditional activity of Japan, kendo is a type of martial art/sport derived from an extensive history of Japanese swordsmanship. The word kendo, made up of two characters, ken (剣), meaning 'sword' and dō (道), meaning 'road' or 'way', effectively translates to 'way of the sword'. It is a well established facet of traditional Japan that embodies numerous Japanese cultural beliefs and ideas, and, being such, kendo has been high on my list of items to shoot for this project.
The original plan for this shoot was to take the photos at the school gym where the kendo practice was regularly held. I had previously made visits to meet and speak with the kendo instructor as well as to look around and see if the location was something that I could work with. Being a school gym, it wasn't exactly an exciting place for taking photos.
When the time came to schedule the shoot however, an issue with availability required a change of location, which, in this particular case, meant moving the session to a place I hadn't yet seen. Admittedly, the gym was a less than ideal location, but at least I had seen it and knew what I had to work with. The new location, a privately owned dojo belonging to an acquaintance of the kendo instructor, would require me to come up with new ideas on the spot.
The dojo, at first glance, didn't appear to offer much. The inside was large and completely empty with the exception of a small shelf for kendo gear and a large practice mirror on casters. The walls were untreated wood sheets. The floor was covered with old and beaten dark wood planks. The only perceptible texture in the entire room was the sliding wood doors at the entrance.
After taking it in for a few moments, the dojo began looking much better than the school gym; however, I still needed to come up with ways to utilize the location. I decided to begin with some simple shots and quickly began processing the space and its potential as I worked through those first photos. It wasn't long before the ideas started coming to me and the problem changed from having too few ideas to having too many to work through in the available time.
A few of the things I was able to make use of during the shoot included the large mirror, the wooden doors, and the sheer size of the dojo. With the mirror, as we were shooting in the late afternoon, I noticed light from the falling sun bouncing off it and streaking across the floor. So, I rolled it over and used it to fill in some shadows in a few shots, while in others I angled it in a way that a single narrow streak of sunlight cut across the floor in front of my subject.
In other shots, I decided to make the background disappear altogether and have my subject emerging from the blackness. I did this by simply moving my subject closer to the center of the space and lighting him using a softbox positioned directly overhead. This kept any extra light from spilling onto the background or elsewhere.
I also like to try for a little variety during shoots, so in order to avoid having every photo with a nondescript or completely black background, I positioned my subject in front of the only discernible texture to be found in the dojo, the wooden doors. As a means to bring out and better define the shape and texture, I placed a single flash high and almost directly against the wall so that the light would rake across the wall and doors. I also threw a grid on the flash head to restrict the beam of light and give it a little more character.
All in all, I'm glad for the change of venue and the opportunity to think on my feet. It's just these type of situations and experiences that help me prepare for the shoots that actually count (i.e. those not done on my own time and dollar). In any case, there will be more photos from other sessions in the not-so-distant future. For now, you can find a few photos from the kendo shoot below.
As always, thanks for stopping by and having a look!