All of the holiday decorations are down and stored and some sense of normalcy is finally returning to the household. The air in Tokyo is crisp and the sun is shining. New Years is right around the corner.
The end of December always seems to sneaks up on me. It has been a hell of a year and I can honestly say that there is no better time to be a photographer in Japan. What actually happened during the these months that flew by so quickly? Here are some of the highlights from 2017.
January - Travel Editorial Photographer
I brought in the new year with my camera in hand. For the first week of 2017, I shot sunrise to sunset in Japan's Yaeyama islands for the stunning Ritz Carlton Magazine, the hotel chain's chic quarterly publication. I couldn't have asked for a better way to kick January off and was thrilled to finally see some of Okinawa and the isolated island chain.
February | Food Photographer
February is usually a very slow month for photographers, at least the ones living in cold climates. This February was surprisingly different. The shortest month of the year started off with an editorial commission for Qatar Airways' Oryx Magazine. Focused on the art of Japanese cuisine, the assignment took me through the backstreets of Shinbashi and into the basements of Shibuya. But more, the assignment allowed me to try my hand at making incredibly cute, panda shaped onigiri, a skill that I will use to impress my two year old son in months to come.
With the assignment for Oryx completed, I packed my bags and headed to Sapporo to complete my first travel assignment for The New York Times. For three days I shot 36 Hours In Sapporo. It goes without saying that I was beyond stoked to see the piece published.
But February's tour with The New York Times wasn't over. I headed back to Tokyo and immediately began work on my next job for NYT Travel department. The assignment focused on Tomigaya, one of Tokyo's up-and-coming neighborhoods.
March - Portrait, Concert, and Travel Photographer
March is such a tease, always tricking me into thinking that winter is over. And though the days were warmer, spring was really yet to arrive. I started March with a string of chilly portrait shoots and then moved my attention to Konzerthaus Berlin, one of Europe's finest orchestras. Tokyo was the first stop on the group's Asian tour and I was thrilled to be at Sumida Triphony Hall to capture every last note.
After a couple of months of being heavily booked, it was time for a bit of time away from the job. But that doesn't mean I took time away from the camera. In fact, I spent more time behind the lens on vacation that I did during the first months of the year.
Saudi Arabia based photographer Roger Gribbins and I decided to put a big check on our bucket lists and headed to the mountainous Kingdom of Bhutan. For a week Roger and tramped from Thimpu to Paro, slept in local farmhouses, visited monasteries, and learned to play one of the most difficult lawn dart games known to man.
April - Couples and Travel Photography
Spring finally arrived and, as always, portrait photography really picked up in April. My calendar was relatively full with pre-wedding, individual, and family portrait sessions. Believe it or not, I even had a portrait shoot with a certain Royal Family.
However, the portrait shoot that stood out in April was Justin and Victoria's pre-wedding session. I was stoked to spend a few hours with Justin and Tori, causally clicking the shutter in some of Tokyo's lesser-known neighborhoods.
Before April was over I was back at it for the NYT, this time for 36 Hours in Tokyo. From ritzy bars to classy bookstores, the assignment led me to some gems that, until then, had yet to discover.
May - Editorial Photographer In Japan
My favorite highlight from spring was an editorial photography gig for The San Francisco Chronicle. For the longest time, I debated whether or not to wake up in the wee hours of the morning to tour Tsukiji Fish Market as a tourist. I was glad that I didn't because the SFC assignment led me directly to Tsukiji, the busiest fish market in the world. Even though the job started at 3:30 in the morning, I was wide awake as soon as the smell of over a million freshly caught fish hit my nose.
June - Travel Photographer
Much of my work from the beginning of 2017 was editorial and/or travel based and helped to beef up my budding portfolio. I eventually want to house this work separately from my portraiture work. So at the beginning of June, I started the design process on a new website just as the heat in Tokyo was ramping up. While I didn't launch the effort until fall, I spent my share of red-eyed hours behind the screen to create andrewfaulk.com.
With so much focus given to the new platform, my mind was locked on travel photography. I was glad for it because my next big job had me jet set for Langkawi, Malaysia where I penned and photographed a travel feature for Ritz Carlton Magazine's autumn issue.
July - Portrait and Drone Photography
July is a month I always look forward to. Every year my family and I return to the motherland to spend time at our mountain home in Asheville, North Carolina. The weeks in in the Appalachians are wonderful. Cool air. Calm night with fireflies. Meat constantly on the grill. I also manage to squeeze in a few portrait shoots throughout the summer to break up the stretches of couch-potato-bliss.
July's portrait sessions were amazing. But, I must admit I was constantly distracted throughout July by my new favorite toy. Like many other photographers, I got bitten the drone bug and broke into my piggy bank to buy a DJI Mavic Pro.
As a remote-control car lover and a video game fanatic, the child in my couldn't resist the latest photography craze. I guess you could say it was love-at-first-flight (Yes, lame word play). All I wanted to do during July was zoom my Mavic Pro over the mountains of western North Carolina.
Side note: I named my drone Lawrence. I am pretty sure he loves me back.
August - Travel Photography
Before heading back to Japan, I decided to make the trek to India, a country that continues to ignite my curiosity. I went to see Leh, a region (whose largest city shares the name) in Jammu in Kashmir that I have wanted to visit for years. I only had five days to make the trip and learned a few lessons about Indian travel the hard way. Read more about that particular photography trip and how it went south here.
September - Travel Editorial Photography
Safely back in Japan, I was ready to kick off the fall photography season. September got off to a great start with another assignment for The Times. But this job didn't have me scurrying around any of Japan's metropolitan areas or turning my lens on a plate of scrumptious food.
Instead, I meandered south to Koyasan, a monastic retreat and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Surrounded by goliath cedars and moss covered statues, I covered the esoteric Buddhist monasteries and the monastic accommodations available in Koyasan. Read more about the assignment and my experience in Koyasan here.
October - Travel, Family, and Event Photographer
The editorial string continued into October. Next up came back-to-back travel jobs that took me to Osaka, Japan and then onto a smaller town along Honshu's western coast. In between the two locations, I made a stop in Kyoto to have a family portrait session with the Howard family.
Up next was an event for the South Australian Government. The soirée showcased the regional delicacies and wines from, you guessed it, South Australia. It was my first time shooting for the regional government as well as my first time sampling kangaroo which was, in itself, a 2017 highlight.
November | Portrait, Couples, and Tour Photography
As always the November calendar was full. Japan has such an amazing fall season and I will be surprised if November is ever an easy month to get through as a photographer.
My November began with blogger Alejandra Guardado, the force behind Sprigs of Mint, a newly launched fashion and travel blog. I was stoked to spend some time with Ale developing visual content for her Sprigs of Mint project.
November rolled along and it started to feel more and more like autumn in Japan. The change in temperature was soon followed by the orange, yellows, and fire red foliage. I had the opportunity to work with several couples who had come to Tokyo in need of pre-wedding portraits and made portraits of several friends in hopes to "up their Tinder game."
And then it was time to turn my lens on the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Instead of a one-off performance like Konzerthaus Berlin's Tokyo stop (see March), BSO contracted me for their entire 2017 Japan tour. I documented the Grammy winning orchestra's jaunt through Nagoya, Osaka, and Tokyo, and spent time with the group on, off, and beside the stage.
December | Portrait Photographer
As always, end of the fall was stunning. December is, without a doubt, my favorite month of the year in Tokyo. The last of the leaves fell from the trees and I pulled out all of my tacky sweaters. But before throwing in the towel on 2017, I pulled a string of family and individual portrait sessions.
My last highlight was made in a sleek conference room at the Square Enix (Final Fantasy, Deus Ex, Hitman, etc) headquarters here in Tokyo. I was sent to the creative hub to photograph Yoko Taro, lead writer and creative mastermind behind Nier: Automata, one of most critically acclaimed video games of 2017. I was given twenty minutes with the masked, mysterious developer and was stoked to see final images published in Game Informer's December issue.
All in all, 2017 was huge. I worked a lot. There were some successes and a ton of failures (failures are such a blessing). I learned more about myself as a photographer and as a creative than in previous years. I had the chance to photograph a lot of cool stuff in some even cooler places and I couldn't be more grateful.
What does next year look like for me as a photographer? I have no idea and I like it that way. So here's to the unknown and to new beginnings. I hope that your next cycle around the sun is fruitful, peaceful, and positive.
Happy New Year!
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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.