Claire has been in Japan for five years as an English teacher, blogger and professional photographer. L&A caught up with her while we were over there and grabbed some tips on how to take amazing pics…
Claire is a professional photographer from Brisbane, Australia. Currently back home in Australia for a short break, she travels all over Japan and Asia taking photos. In a few short weeks she will be moving back to Western Japan to continue photographing this amazing country she calls her second home.
L&A: What made you choose to live in Japan?
Short answer – A gorgeous German Shepherd named Leo. Some years back, I used to look after my brother’s then girlfriend’s (now wife!) dog, Leo, whenever she and her family returned to Japan for holidays. He would become part of the furniture at our house for months at a time but in 2007, the family decided to move back to Japan and Leo went with them. Naturally, I planned to visit my beloved adoptee pooch but sadly Leo passed away just months before I was to arrive in Japan. I ended up coming anyway and those 5 weeks travelling around Japan were amazing enough to convince me to move to Japan the following year.
L&A: Why did you get involved in photography?
Animals had a hand in this too. Clichéd as it sounds, I remember as a child ripping open each new edition of National Geographic the moment it arrived in the letterbox and the impact that the images splashed across those pages had on me was profound. Within those pages I came to know the power of an image and the impact that just a single shot can have on a person. That style of photography – brutal realism and an unflinching pursuit of documenting it – has had more than a passing impact on my photographic endeavours. Unsurprisingly, my first serious photos were of animals – namely tigers at a local theme park then later of Leo the German Shepherd.
L&A: What kind of photos do you take?
I’m somewhat eclectic in my photography. I take loads of action shots, mainly horse racing and other sports, but I also love capturing the slower side of life, especially nature. Lately I’ve moved into doing portrait work and even the odd wedding. Quite to my disbelief, wedding photography is anything but ‘stuffy portrait work’. It’s quite possibly the most challenging work I’ve ever done!
L&A: Why do you enjoy taking photos in Japan?
I’ve always been headed towards life with a camera near to hand having studied journalism at university. But it was somewhat by accident that my photographic career began, and at a racecourse in Japan of all places. I happened to be on-course the day a famous Australian jockey won the Tenno Sho Spring Edition, one of Japan’s most prestigious races. A few emails later and my photos from the day were on two websites and in a newspaper. With luck like that, who wouldn’t enjoy taking photos in Japan?! While I might be broadening my working horizons beyond Japanese racecourses these days, horses are still playing a major role in my career – my latest magazine spread was thanks to them!
L&A: What do Japanese people think of your photos?
The most frequent reaction to my photos whilst teaching at a public junior high school was surprise. Though I’d always have a DSLR hanging off me at major school events, whenever a colleague found out that I’d taken the photo on my desktop or the photos that I was using in my lessons, they’d always be a little taken back. I love getting that sort of reaction from people seeing my work. It’s like they see the photos for the first time all over again. I love being able to move people with my photos.
L&A: Do you have any advice for budding photographers?
Just get out there and shoot. It doesn’t matter if you’ve just got a point and shoot or an iPhone. Shoot till your eyes drop out. Get comfortable and confident with the equipment you have before upgrading. Deep pockets and a great deal of patience are just as important as expensive gear.
L&A: What do you plan to do next?
Return to Japan and finally get around to shooting more locations outside of Mie Prefecture! Trips to Hokkaido, Shikoku and along the sea of Japan are all being pencilled in as you read this so stay tuned! And hopefully along the way I’ll get to shoot more than a few weddings too!
L&A: And lastly, tell us about your favourite ever photo?
That’s akin to choosing your favourite child, right? I can say that my favourite shots nearly always involve freezing fast-paced action. But of course an eternal favourite must be the photo that started it all – one from the racecourse that day Craig Williams rode Jaguar Mail to victory and gave me my first published work. Thanks mate!
Take a look at the rest of Claire’s work here: www.inakabiking.com and http://usmarc.wix.com/claire-usmar#!portfolio.