How to Shoot a 'Day in the Life' Project
Tsukiji fish markets, Tokyo. Photo by Alfonso Calero.
Following a string of Skype conversations and numerous emails, Alfonso Calero hatched a plan to document a day in the life of the world-famous Tsukiji Fish market in Tokyo, Japan. He shot hundreds of images over three mornings and collaborated with a writer to produce a self-published pictorial book which is now sold to English-speaking tourists visiting the world-famous markets. He shares his top five tips for anyone planning their own ‘day in the life’ project.
Whatever your project, it obviously helps if you can arrange unrestricted access to the places and people you want to shoot. With the help of the book author Ken who is also a tuna-fish broker, I was able to get full media access to all areas during the early-morning fish auctions. These areas are not normally fully accessible to the general public so with a media pass nobody told me to "GET OUT" as the locals have learnt to say to dis-obedient tourists over the years.
The Tsukiji project was shot under a range of light sources including tungsten, fluorescent and daylight. This creates some issues with white balance as flouro creates a green colour cast and tungsten red. Shooting in RAW allowed me to very easily adjust the colour temperature in post-production. I also used a grey card, photographing it from time to time as the lighting conditions changed. This made it very easy to accurately correct the white balance later on.
WORKING WITH PEOPLE
When shooting portraits engage with your subject and work as quickly as possible. Most people don’t like having their portrait taken so get in and out as quickly as you can. Always ask the subject’s permission and explain what you are doing. I came back six months later to give the people I photographed a copy of their portrait. Fortunately, I speak Japanese so that helped in this case. If you don't know the local language or customs, hire a translator or a fixer – you’ll find you get access to places and people that are not open to the average tourist. For large group photos like the auction I tried to be as unobtrusive as possible and position myself away from the traffic streaming past to get the best vantage point to tell my story.
Planning is important in any large-scale photography project. Before the three-day shoot I visited the markets to take some test shots and make a list of photos I would like to get for the book. Ken the writer also had a clear idea on the style of photography we needed to achieve in the short time allocated. His vast knowledge of fish and the market was very useful in deciding what to shoot.
05 MAKING THE BOOK
After a whirlwind of very fast editing in Lightroom I put together my own custom design using Blurb books as a test platform before handing over the images, text and a copy of the dummy book to a graphic designer. Researching a good and reliable printer in Japan helped to keep our costs down to allow for a decent profit margin based on printing at least 1000 books and allowing for commission to book stores. The books are currently selling very well at a book store in Tsukiji Fish Market. Printing in Japan at a low cost and good quality was important to avoid paying very expensive freight costs. We also did a print run of 200 books beforehand to test if the book would sell well. Overall it has been a huge learning curve but we are now looking to produce other books for tourists visiting Japan.
Born and raised in the Philippines, Alfonso Calero moved to Australia at the age of 15. He graduated from the Sydney Institute of Technology with an Associate Diploma in Photography in 2001 and has been professionally photographing food, portraits, landscapes and travel subjects ever since. He started a travel education and tours company in 2008 delivering workshops every Saturday morning in Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Fremantle. He also takes groups of four people to Japan, Philippines, Spain and Tasmania once a year for 10-14 day photography workshops. For more information about his tours and workshops go to www.alfonso.com.au or www.photographytravel.net.au