Jon is a creative director based out of Tokyo, Japan, running the creative agency Pikkles with his business partner Vitaly Dmitriev. He is an avid photographer who loves Japan and Japanese culture and hopes his photography will inspire others to visit this incredible country.
1Q) Can you please tell us the story behind this portrait? How you took it and why you choose to shoot this person?
This is my dear friend Nurul, we met after I moved to Singapore with my wife Waki who is taking her MBA course here. That night was our first evening out together, we were enjoying a drink and a game of cards outside a popular bar. Waki and Nurul were getting serious with the game while I sat back and enjoyed my drink. Nurul lit up and I couldn't resist, I had to take a shot. From my point of view, the bokeh my 50 produces played nicely with Nurul's polka-dot dress, and the colored lights from the bar framed her nicely. Nurul was a good sport about me taking a few photos, often when people notice me taking shots they start to post but Nurul kept her cool and that's how I got this shot. It's one of my favorites.
2Q) What photography gear you used here and why? What is usually in your photo bag?
I shoot with a Nikon D700. I go with Nikon because I prefer their older ai and ais lenses over anything new. I love the qualities of classic glass and the 50mm F1.2 ais is one of two lenses I primarily shoot with. The other is the 85mm F1.4 AFD which is a piece of art. I love both of these lenses very much. In my kit I have a full set of Nikkor primes, 20mm F2.8 AFD 35mm F1.4 ais, 50mm F1.2 ais, 85mm F1.4 AFD, 135mm F2.8 ai. I wouldn't mind a 14mm F2.8 AFD one day, I miss my Sigma 10-20 from my DX days, that was a fun lens.
3Q) What do you love most about shooting portraits?
I love when they have no idea what I'm doing until it's too late. It's fine when they pose for me, but I much prefer to catch people off guard, where they're more relaxed so I can really capture their honest character. Of course I have no objection to permission portraits, I did that in Cambodia and got some nice shots out of it. Just my taste and aim.
4Q) Do you consider yourself mostly as a “portrait” photographer?
I wouldn't pin myself as any particular kind of photographer, I enjoy shooting a range of subjects, especially street candids. My lens kit does reflect my style of photography in a way, those primes are the fastest primes Nikon makes, and all are suited to low-light situations. Coincidentally my taste in fast primes arose from my working schedule. I run a creative agency called Pikkles which is based in Shibuya, Tokyo, and like any good creative agency in Japan, I work long, late hours. The only time I would really have for shooting was the late evening when I would leave my office and walk back to Shibuya station, thus necessitating fast primes.
I consider myself a sort of "camera otaku" and "pro" hobbyist. On one end I obsess over the history and functionality of classic cameras and lenses. On the other end I know what I'm doing with photography, at least I think I know what I'm doing, and I blow out my highlights because I want to. That's one of the purest joys of photography, quite honestly there is no right or wrong, it's all about experimenting and testing ideas and seeing if they achieve the results you want.
5Q) Do you work with available light or do you use additional lightning often?
I have an SB600 which I use for special events or family gatherings, it's very handy to have a good flash on hand. That said, outside of those few situations I only shoot with fast primes. I used to shoot with DX until I started exploring classic Nikkor glass. I moved up to the D700 shortly after picking up the 50mm F1.2 ais, that lens and that camera body and a very nice match. Shooting full frame with a fast 50 is exhilarating.
6Q) What/Who are your photography muses and influences?
My biggest influence would easily be my father, Stuart. He is a professional photographer who I deeply respect. I grew up with a photo studio in the basement of our house. I think I was one of the few kids in my neighborhood when growing up who knew how to develop black and white film at home. I learned all the important basics of photography from him, although photography always remained a passive hobby for me. It wasn't until I moved to Tokyo, Japan that I really started to explore photography and began to enjoy it as a creative outlet. My other influences would, without a doubt, be Tommy Ga-Ken Wan, TGKW on Flickr, and ce28nn on Flickr. I have no idea what ce28nn's real name is, but his cinematographic style blew my mind when I first saw it. His work really got the wheels in my head turning at the thought of telling a story with my photography. Tommy's work was really the ignitor for me, stumbling on his portfolio of work just lit up my imagination in an instant. He is a master story teller, it's not just the quality and style of his photography, but his writing to match that really got me thinking in entirely new ways. Another important person is my friend Alfie Goodrich who opened my eyes to wonderful new techniques for shooting street candids. He set me on the path to experiment with shooting from the hip, and using the distance meter on the top of my lenses to judge the space between myself and my subjects. That was absolutely one of the most important lessons for me.
7Q) Any tip for taking better portraits?
Don't hesitate, just start shooting and decide for yourself what style best suites you. Again, there is no right or wrong way to do something, it's all comes down to your own taste in style and photography.
Thank You, Jon!