I met the Dohrenwend family a couple of years ago. Secretly I hoped that they would book a family photography session at some point. When Amber inquired in late November about fall portraits, I was thrilled that I was finally going to have the chance to work with the Dohrenwends here in Tokyo. I was certain that a set with this family would be a ton of fun and would, of course, yield a great set of images.
Before our shoot, I knew several things about the Dohrenwend family. I knew that Amber and Pete are multi-talented and that they are just as much at home in the forests of northern Michigan as they are in their home in the Japanese capital (if not more so). I knew that A&P are artists and educators, thinkers and makers. I also knew that they had a special something in the way they parent their children.
I also knew a thing or two about Dohrenwend girls. They are just as amazing as their parents are. Young E (9) and I (6) are energetic, spunky, and curious about the natural world. They climb trees like monkeys, have amazing senses of humor, and smiles that will melt your heart. And more, E&I are some of the most independent kids I know (a trait I love in kids).
On our shoot day, I met the Dohrenwends at Nogawa Park, a vast and beautiful expanse of space in Chofu, just outside of downtown Tokyo. In the late autumn (early December), the park is ablaze with the deep reds of Japanese maples and the patches of ginko leaves on the ground are circular yellow carpets surrounding the trunks of the many biloba trees. For our session, we decided to incorporate as many elements of the Dohrenwend's ordinary lives as we could. For years the family has played, picnicked, and explored in the park. So it seemed only natural to start our portrait session there in Nogawa.
From Nogawa Park we moved on to Mushashi Koganei Station, a stop on the Tama line that the Dohrenwends most frequently use. While we weren't able to hop the stalls and shoot inside the station (even though E asked the station attendant in perfect Japanese), we were able to meander around the train stop and incorporate a lot of elements of the station and Tokyo's public transportation system into our shoot.
Our family photography session wrapped up outside of the Dohrenwend's home. There, I spent some time photographing E&I playing with their neighborhood crew, riding their unicycles, and spinning around on their scooters. I found a rhythm there in the parking lot of the Dohrenwend's apartment complex and even managed to summon my own inner child while I nailed some shots of the girls doing what kids do best.
In the end, I was incredibly happy with the massive count of photos we created. After spending some quality time with this family, I remain in awe of the Dohrenwends. The troupe of four is, without a doubt, one of the most fascinating families I have worked with in a long time. As I had expected, the 90-minute session was heaps of fun. I couldn't have asked for a better day out with one of Tokyo's finest expat families.
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Ling and Ryan are no strangers to Tokyo. In fact, the couple spent most of their engagement living in the Japanese capital together. For three years the pair called Tokyo home.
Anyone who has ever spent time in Tokyo realizes that the pull of the Japanese capital is strong. Though only a year has past since moving away from Tokyo to start a new life in Hong Kong, Ling and Ryan felt the tug and decided to come back to Japan for their holiday. But, this trip was different. Now Ling and Ryan are married and more, they had a third wheel, Aerin (6 months), along for the ride.
When they lived in Tokyo, Ling and Ryan frequented Hinokicho Park, using the small greenspace as an oasis away from the mid-town hum. To me, it sounded like the park was the perfect spot for our family photography session. Hinokicho would offer a mix of spots that would suit both Ling and Ryan's artistic tastes and be centrally located.
When our shoot date came, the morning sun was blasting. I didn't mind. I knew that we could use the harsh light to our advantage. I was also confident that there were some shady spots in Hinokicho that would help make some more traditional family portraits.
The family of three arrived and we got straight to work while Aerin was alert and happy. But by the end of our hour-long portrait session, Aerin was completely spent and fell asleep in Ling's arms. With the baby sound asleep, we all tiptoed out of the park together and waved goodbye. But, something tells me that I will see the Li family again...
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When you mention Tokyo, most people immediately think of bustling streets and futurist Bladerunner madness. But, Tokyo is much more than neon-soaked streets and anime culture. It is more than skyscrapers and bullet trains.
Tokyo is vast, filled with tranquil green spaces and areas far removed from the idyllic scramble crossings of Shibuya and Shinjuku. In fact, most Tokyoites live in calm wards, mini-cities removed from the the pulsating glow of the capital's downtown. It is here, in the "suburbs" of Tokyo that I met the Gotterson family.
During the first portion of our family session, Stephanie and Tim invited their parents to join us for some whole family fun in Nogawa Park, one of western Tokyo's best kept secrets. It was awesome to have Tim and Stephanie's family together and interacting with Freya, the youngest Gotterson (age two).
For the rest of our session, Tim and Stephanie wanted something a bit more intimate and reflective of their everyday life here in Tokyo. We waved goodbye to both sets of grandparents and headed into the streets of Tama, the tiny enclave of Chofu that the Gotterson family calls home.
To most, Tama isn't much more than a train stop. The area hosts a vegetable stand, a convenience store, and a ramen shop or two. But to the Gottersons, the area holds a lot of meaning. These are the streets that they walk daily. These are the only corners of Tokyo that Freya is familiar with. For the Gottersons, this little area will represent Tokyo long after they have moved on from the megalopolis.
For the next forty-five minutes, the four of us popped here and there around Tama, making portraits, eating strawberries, and sharing smiles. In all honesty, it was the perfect family portrait session and it is my hope that Stephanie, Tim, and Freya continue to make wonderful memories in Tama.
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I imagine a "last anything" brings up a lot of emotion. I think that endings can be weighed on a balancing scale; the best experiences still have cons and the worst experiences have pros. Preparing to leave any place is no different. You start to reflect on all of the great memories you have made and you affirm the reasons for leaving. But, I have never heard of anyone who leaves Tokyo with the scales tipped towards the negative.
For the Palmer family, Tokyo has tremendous significance. It is where Sharla (2) and Ellis (6 months) were born. Tokyo is where the family began to grow as a unit. For that reason alone, I imagine Tokyo will always be a part of the family's identity.
In our initial correspondence, Ceyda specifically mentioned that she wanted our portrait shoot to "encapsulate the beauty of Tokyo." We decided that Chidorigafuchi would be the perfect place for our family photography session. There, near the Imperial Palace, the sakura would still be in bloom and there would be enough room for the kids to be kids.
I met the Palmers as planned right outside of Kundanshita station. It was bright and early in the morning and I was excited to spend a couple of hours with the energetic family, We began our session right away and, in our time together, leisurely strolled, laughed, and made some great portraits.
I remained impressed with Ceyda and Sam as they navigated the park with their young children (and learned a thing or two about how to "interact" with my own two-year-old son). It was obvious that, no matter where the Palmers end up, they have nothing but good things on the horizon.
In the end, I was honored to spend a bit of time with this beautiful family and can only hope that our portrait session will be added to the long list of great memories the Palmer's have of Tokyo.
This year's sakura season has past but I am already booking portrait sessions for the 2019 cherry blossom season in Tokyo, throughout Japan, and beyond. Don't wait until its too late. Book your 2019 sakura family session now!
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Above all, being a professional photographer is about relationships. I am always overjoyed when I have the opportunity to connect with a client and establish a relationship that extends beyond a single photo session. That relationship is what I am after, what I hope to create with each client I serve here in Japan.
For some photographers, a paycheck is good enough. But, for me, I would rather have a handful of clients whom I enjoy spending time with than a million clients who "just want some photos." Why? Well, great images are created when both clients and photographers are comfortable with each other, when there is a level of trust and respect.
I worked with the Schultz family a couple of years ago and was thrilled that they wanted to schedule another family portrait session in downtown Tokyo this year.
Even though I have kept in touch with the Schultz family these past years, I was shocked to see them in person. Joyce and Matt hadn't aged a bit, but the kids had grown so much. But, as much as the kids had grown, their personalities hadn't changed at all. The Schultz children still had as much spunk and energy as they had in 2015.
In the end, our second portrait session together was a nice as the first. I left our session overjoyed that I had the chance to see this beautiful family one more time. I was honored to spend another hour or two chatting with Matt and Joyce and creating more images to remind the Schultz family of their time in Japan. I was grateful to know that the family was, and will continue to be, one of the clients I cherish.
Are you searching for a family photographer in Tokyo? If so, please don't hesitate to reach out to secure your spot on my 2018 session calendar!
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From Tokyo To Kyoto, Japan
The Howard family had a family portrait session in Tokyo scheduled for weeks. I looked forward to the shoot but worried that the Howard's session, like so many others this season, would have to be rescheduled due to weather. It has not been the greatest autumn in Tokyo this year, raining much more than usual.
As our shoot date approached, my fears were confirmed. According to the forecast, it was obvious that our shoot would have to be rescheduled (Ain't nobody want to have a family session in the pouring rain). But Pauline, Ross and the kids didn't want to push their portrait date too far into the future. Nor did I.
We looked at our calendars and it didn't seem like we were going to be able to find an available date that worked for both of us. The following weekend the Howards would head off to Kyoto and... wait. I was going through Kyoto the next weekend for a travel editorial. We found it.
While our schedules weren't going to allow for a family portrait shoot in Tokyo, the calendar gods conspired to give us a small window of time together in Kyoto, Japan. I became excited about the prospect of breaking my editorial workload up with a family shoot in a new location. Family portraits in Kyoto sounded great to me.
A week later I connected with the Howard family hundreds of miles away from our original session location. We were finally together and got to work straight away.
For the next hour, we strolled through the Shimogamo Shrine and relaxed in the wooded areas of the manicured complex. It was a wonderful session and I was pleased to have the environmental change. Kyoto delivered amazing weather and the Howard family came equipped with smiles.
In the end, I couldn't have planned it better.
Are you thinking of a portraiture session in Tokyo or Kyoto, Japan? If so, let's chat and start planning your custom portrait experience.
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Iishi Family Autumn Portraits
Jenny and Shunji are happily marrried. Like other couples, they laugh together, relax together, and enjoy their time together. But, unlike other couples, they do the things (that many of us take for granted) thousands of miles apart. Jenny and her daughter Lilly-Rose live in Germany while Shunji, for now, remains in Japan for work.
I was honored to hear from Jenny who planned on making the trek to Tokyo to see her husband and to relax as a family during one of the most pleasant times of the year. Jenny wanted to schedule a family portrait session within Tokyo and wanted to ensure that the shoot would yield great images. But, she was just as keen to book a session that would be a fun family activity. Understandably, Jenny didn't want a single, precious moment of the trip to be wasted.
We set a date on the calendar for late October, my favorite month if the year. Tokyo is amazing in the early fall. In October the autumn leaves have not yet shown their true potential. The daytime is still warm but air becomes pleasantly crisp in the evening. People swarm back to Tokyo's beautiful parks. The city seems to breathe during the final days of October. Tokyo seems to relax.
I met the Iishi family at a traditional, Edo-period garden (one of my favorite places in all of Japan). To my surprise, Jenny, Shunji, and Lilly-Rose were all dressed in Kimono. I was immediately reminded of Jenny's email. I realized then just how much of an event the portrait session was. The photos would just be the icing on the cake for Jenny and Shunji. The time together, having fun, and making memories, was the true intention.
Throughout our session, I gave the family some space, allowing them to laugh and chat together. We meandered through the gardens, stopping every now and again to make some images that will, hopefully, remind the family of their time together in Tokyo.
In the end, I was very grateful to have such kind and willing clients. But more, I was grateful to be reminded of how lucky I am to have my family together, here in Japan, under one roof.
Why not carve out some time to make some memories with your family? Contact me today to reserve your own family portrait session in Tokyo or beyond.
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Catherine's attitude throughout our correspondence blew me away. I always try to get a sense of a client's personality through those first initial emails. Sometimes it is hard and sometimes, thankfully, it isn't.
With Catherine, I had a pretty good idea of who my client was, at least in regard to personality. I could tell that Catherine was positive, funny, and as amiable as they come. She was obviously excited about her vacation to Tokyo and I was honored that she had selected me to help document some the family's time in Japan's capital.
I was really excited to finally meet the family from California in person, Catherine showed up to our meeting spot in Shimokitazawa with a smile, her husband Brian, and her two handsome sons Lucas and Max. I was right. Catherine was no different than her emails led me to believe. Better yet, Brian and the boys were also cheerful and ready for an afternoon in one of Tokyo's hippest neighborhoods.
For the next hour or so, the five of us shopped, popped into nearby temples, admired antiques, and strolled through Shimokitazawa at a snail's pace. It was the perfect family lifestyle session here in Tokyo.
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I did all I could to learn about Ashli and her family before proposing a location, talking turkey, or even thinking about portrait session dates, I like to gain a sense of who a client is and how, specifically, I can craft a custom session for them ( I don't believe in cookie cutter experiences).
I learned that the Dunphy family has lived in Asia for several years now. They like to travel. They value art. They they enjoy their time together as a family. Over email, the Dunphys seemed like my perfect family client.
After hearing about the asian adventure the Dunphys have had over the last few years, I knew that Patrick and Ashli would be down for any location I could come up with. The kids on the other hand, were my primary concern (as always). I wanted Sam (age 4) and his sister Liberty (16 months) to be as comfortable as possible throughout our time together.
Sometimes during sakura season, clients want to join the tourist throngs at Yoyogi or Ueno Park. While the sakura are beautiful in these hot spots, they are the antithesis of a great location for family portraits. Taking the Dunphy kids to one of these spots during the sakura peak would be pure madness.
Considering this, I was delighted to learn that the Dunphy family was very flexible about their shoot. While they wanted to somehow incorporate the cherry blossoms into their session, the little pink and white blooms did not have to be the sole focus.
I was relieved and excited to find a location that fit the bill. I was also excited that we would all be spared of the human throngs politely jockeying (as is the Japanese way) for selfie-position under the blooms.
I started my search for a spot that offered more than just the famous spring blossoms and settled on Nogawa, a suburban park thirty minutes by train outside of downtown Tokyo. Locals from Fuchu, Mitaka, and Chofu wards are quite familiar with Nogawa and prefer it to any of Tokyo's downtown gardens or plazas because of its accessibility and serene nature.
I knew that there would be sakura in bloom in Nogawa. I knew that there would be a playground to bribe the children with. I knew that there would be restrooms and facilities without lines. And, most importantly, I knew that we would have the expansive suburban landscape mostly to ourselves.
Ashli, Patrick, Sam and Libby showed up exactly on time for our shoot. After chatting briefly about our portrait session, I opened my gear bag so that the kids could inspect the tools of the trade. I pulled out my camera and got to work.
As we sauntered along, I learned more about Ashli and Patrick. Patrick flies planes and Ashli is a photographer and potter. I learned about their experiences in Tokyo and we chatted about Seoul, South Korea, a city where both the Dunphys and I lived for some time. Through our conversation I noticed a lot of commonalities and felt as though I was photographing old friends from "back home."
I was really impressed with the Dunphy family. For nearly two hours both the kids and the parents did their part to make a great portrait shoot. We walked through nearly half of the park and it was finally time for the kids to really let loose. Instead of pressing on, we decided to stop, relax, and let Liberty and Sam run wild at Nogawa's playground.
At the end of it all, I was thrilled that we selected Nogawa for our family portrait session location. I was also grateful to have had such relaxed, personable clients during sakura, the most hectic season for any photographer in Tokyo. My initial suspicions were correct. The Dunphys were the perfect family portrait clients.
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Looking out my window, I notice that the plum blossoms beginning to fade. Anyone who has lived in Japan for any significant amount of time knows what this means. When the plum blossoms drop, it is officially spring. In just another week or two, the more anticipated sakura blossoms will come out. The cherry trees usually burst at the end of March and all of Japan will celebrate the coming of another year.
I love the change of seasons. It doesn't matter which season I am leaving behind or which season I am greeting, the change signifies movement. I adore how the weather actually shows us that it is time to move on, to shake things up.
As I look out at the last of the plum blossoms, I think back to a family portrait session I had this past fall with the Markowitz family. I was so happy to hear from Chalice and her family right before the end of the fall portrait season. The family wanted to squeeze in a last minute portrait shoot before winter came.
Just like the plum blossoms signify the end of winter, fall's end is also shown by the trees.
When the yellow ginko leaves are ablaze, you know you have reached the end of the fall. The ginkos are always the last to go and, when they do fall sometime in mid-December, you know winter is looming right around the corner. But, winter hadn't yet come and the crisp fall air was still perfect for portraits.
I met the Markowitz family right outside of Chidorigafuchi and we leisurely strolled through the picturesque gardens, stopping here and there to make a portrait and to admire the last of the fall foliage.
When was the last time your family had a portrait session? Contact me today to start planning your family portrait session in Tokyo, throughout Japan, or beyond.
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Who Is Andrew Faulk?
Tokyo photographer Andrew Faulk specializes in portrait, editorial, event, and commercial photography assignments. With over a decade of experience living and working in Asia, he collaborates with individuals, families, publications, and corporations to create timeless images under any deadline. Andrew's work is frequently featured in a variety of international travel and lifestyle publications. He is a husband, father, and lover of fried food.