2016 was a rollercoaster that just wouldn't let me (or any of us) get off. But like every other year, the finite amount of time came to an end and I am really glad to bring in a new year full of possibilities. Even though we are in the throes of winter, just seeing the word January on the calendar is enough to make me feel refreshed.
Instead of focusing on all of the melancholia that stained 2016, I would like to reflect back on the many positives. 2016 was my first year as a father and another splendid year living in Tokyo. My wife and I were fortunate enough to travel together with our son a bit and we enjoyed time with friends far and wide. I was generally in good health and Chicken Little remains wrong; the sky hasn't fallen quite yet.
But it wasn't just a successful year on the personal front. There were plenty of joyful moments professionally too. I felt that this past year was full of tiny strides. These small, incremental steps are what photographers use (what anyone uses) to keep motivated.
So, without further adeiu, here is a recap of a highlight (or two) from each month of 2016.
The year started with a bang. Just after I greeted 2016, Tokyo Thrift was published in Obvious Magazine. The collaboration with writer and model Lauren Dungari was a great way to start the year. Marie Nakagawa (Asia's Next Top Model Season 2) worked her magic for the shoot and new comer D-Asa even let his fro out for us. Even though I had shot the editorial weeks before, it was great to finally see it published and started 2016 off with momentum.
Though it is the shortest month of the year, February is by far my least favorite. During month number two, I chomped at the bit and eagerly awaited spring (and the end of any seasonal depression). Admitedly, I spent much of this past February indoors. A lot of my time was devoted to this website. I streamlined the site in an attempt to make it clean and convenient for users.
Part of the streamlining process was to gain user feedback. By utilizing a free service called Peek, I was able to gain valuable insights about my website from anonymous users. Some of the feedback was positive and some was quite constructive. I took notes and made the appropriate changes (stay tuned for a post about how you can utilize user testing to better your own website).
While couples and family portrait sessions really picked up in March, my highlights were found in the streets of Tokyo. Armed with a bunch of new Fujinon lenses, I went back to my roots as a photographer and shot a ton of monochome images.
In April my good friend and fellow creative Steve Wilcox came to Tokyo. It was great to see a friend from my "Seoul days." While Steve was here, we decided to get out into Harajuku and mess about.
After reviewing the the images from our session, I knew that I wanted to see the fashion story published. Steve and I were both stoked to see our evening of fun featured in KALTBLUT. Magazine, a Vice Media partner. The Lone, as the story is named, shows not only how handsome and Jesus-looking Steve is, but a different side of Tokyo.
I continued my publication streak with another fashion editorial in May; this time for The Dapifer. I was stoked to work with my buddy Go Kamada (BarkInStyle Tokyo) for a piece called Suzume No Namida, or The Sparrow's Tears in Japanese. This fashion editorial, just like the others published in 2016, was a success because of a great team.
In June my family packed our bags and headed to the United States. Being at our home in Asheville, North Carolina is always awesome for me. Away from the Tokyo grind, I was able to really relax. I stared at the mountains, pet the neighbor's dog, and did a whole lot of nothing (for the first couple of weeks).
With few distractions around, I got the chance to look through boxes of old film I had stashed in a closet. The time with those boxes of film was important because it gave me a chance to reflect and understand my evolution as a photographer.
During June I also decided to brand a bit. For some photographers, branding can be all-consuming. For the longest time, I held firm to the notion of having the "brand of no brand." While I acnkowledge that branding does have a place for the professional photographer, I do not let it overwhelm me.
Still, I wanted a new logo and decided to outsource the task to my friends over at 99 Designs, an agency that allows multiple designers to work on a client's brief. Being a photographer, not a designer, I decided that 99 Designs' service was perfect for me and I was really satisfied with the result.
June floated into July and I remained in North Carolina. But July wasn't all barbeque and fireflies. I made the most of my time and managed to break out some of the photo gear I have stashed in America.
My first task was to capture the lovely Casey Puhr. But there was more to this shoot than simply portraits. I needed portraits of me, taking portraits of Casey for a piece I was crafting about Manfrotto's new stunt bag. Wanting to show the best possible behind-the-scenes images, I brought in Asheville's Micah Mackenzie to shoot alongside me.
With the assignment for the good people at Manfrotto in the bag, I wanted to keep my portrait chops up. Even though I live in Tokyo I still keep in touch with people who are gracious enough to model for me. With some time on my hands I arranged five or six shoots for funsies.
While all of these summer portrait sessions were the bee's knees, I really loved the last two shoots of the summer. I got the opportunity to collaborate with the talented Amanda Anderson of Asheville's Dollbox Productions. Amanda is always a pleasure to be around. With incredible make-up and styling skills, I couldn't ask for a better partner.
In August I headed back to Japan to work with several couples who either wanted engagement portraits in Tokyo or their honeymoon captured. One couple, Dana and Yusef, decided to come out with me for two days to capture as much of Tokyo as possible. Dana and Yusef were so much fun to be around. Because of them, and other clients like them, August was a great month for portrait photography in Japan.
August was also a busy month with a lot of hours being spent behind my computer. I decided to join the great team of staff writers at FStoppers. Writing about photography projects, industry news, and creative craft was quite fulfilling and I was honored to start a collaboration with such a respected company in the photography world. Check out some of the articles I wrote for FStoppers in 2016 here.
Lets get real... September was a dud of a month. Let's not chat about September.
Since my son was born, my family really hasn't really been that mobile. This fall, we wanted to remedy that. So, we took a much needed long weekend together in Hiroshima. We did the tourist circuit and I fell in love with the well known city (more photos of this trip to come).
After returning from Hiroshima, I started a string of fall portrait shoots. There were prewedding and anniversary shoots as always. But the session that stood out most in my mind was a proposal in Tokyo's Koishikama Gardens. I was honored to take part in Edwin's proposal to his beautiful girlfriend (now fiancé) Yen. The peaceful surroundings and romance made for a gushy day behind the camera and solidified this shoot as an October highlight for me.
Another fall standout was again working with Manfrotto. This time the assignment was for Manfrotto School of Xcellence. I was tasked with testing the new XPro Monopod and 500 series video head. For the piece, I decided to see how the monopod and head could help in a variety of situations and was so impressed with the stability of the monopod that I even managed to capture some brief timelapse work with it.
While November might seem late in the year to most, it is the perfect time of year to be a photographer in Japan. In October, some of the leaves start to morph in color. But, November is really when the fall show really kicks off.
Wanting to take advantage of the season and our newly found mobility, the family and I again pulled out of Tokyo and headed south. This short trip was to Kyoto. Naturally, we picked the busiest weekend of the year to visit the idyllic Japanese city. Yet, even with throngs of people, Kyoto proved its worth.
My favorite client shoot of November occurred as soon as I returned from Kyoto. Eric T. was the perfect client. He knew exactly what he wanted for his portrait shoot. He mentioned three words in our initial correspondence which let me know that we were in for a good time together: stylish, fashion, editorial. Working with Eric felt like I was working with a professional model. If all portrait sessions were as easy as this one was, well, everyone would be a professional photographer.
The shoot that stood out the most to me in December was with the beautiful Jordan W. Headshot sessions are not exactly know for being exciting. But, I was thrilled to work with Jordan because of her kind temperment and positive attitude. Our session was a blast and I couldn't have asked for a bettter day to work with Jordan throughout Kichijoji, one of Tokyo's gems.
After a short month of portrait shoots with individuals and couples hoping to get in the last of the fall colors (that's right... those leaves are still on the trees in December here in Japan), my family and I packed our bags for Hoi An, Vietnam for some much needed rest and relaxation. Most of my time in Hoi An was spent away from my camera. But the shots I did manage to take, I made count.
December 31st has now past us by and I have leapt into the new year with a busy start. I am truly looking forward to a wonderful year and am eager to see what it has in store.
Happy New Year. May your year be blessed.
Award winning photographer based in Tokyo, Japan. Specializing in portrait photography, he shoots a variety of portraiture, editorial, event, and commercial photography assignments. Andy is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.