As you may have known from my previous posts, I used to be a photographer myself in Tokyo. Here, the landscape is ripe with colors and is a playground for photographers of all sorts. The air quality here is different. Crisp and clean blue skies contrast against the starkly tall skyscrapers. The sun sets with a golden hue, giving a new feel to the surroundings. Then neon lights switch on, with lanterns and a vivid night life on the street. Tokyo is a different part of the world all together. Brandon Small, a resident of Tokyo for 10 years now, knows the city intimately. He knows the places to visit for the faintest light to reach his subjects, and the wide open spaces where light seems to dance around his models. I wanted to get to know a bit more about his work.
Mimi: Tell me about what you were doing before you came to Japan?
Brandon: I went to college at East Carolina University on a track and field scholarship before joining the United States Navy. After my first command in Bethesda Maryland, I received orders to Japan in 2011. I didn’t even want to come to Japan at first because I had never lived outside of the country and never been a coast away from my immediate family. After arriving however, I soon fell in love with Japan, the culture, the traditions, and the history that is so well-preserved and all around us.
Mimi: What attracted you to continue living in Japan?
Brandon: My experiences in Japan, meeting and marrying my wife, and the adventures and food that I had in Japan really created a powerful pull for me. In 2014 I received orders to go back to the States and I remember feeling so upset about having to leave. I had reverse culture shock on my return to America and found myself dreaming of life back in Japan.
I felt disconnected being back in the States which began to influence my desire to return to Japan. I left the military in 2018 and took a job in D.C. where I worked for a year before ultimately decided to leave life in America behind and return with my family to Japan.
Mimi: How did you pick up photography?
Brandon: I picked up photography in a very unfocused way back in 2015. It started as a simple hobby and ironically, as a person with ADHD I found that I pick up more than I stick with anything. But for some reason I always found myself returning to photography. Not many things capture my attention so when I found something that did I knew I needed to stick with it and focus my energy on developing. It started really as a desire to stay connected with family back in America and sort of took on a life of its own.
Mimi: What is your favorite time of day to photograph (or lighting scenario)?
Brandon: I prefer shooting in the daytime, because you just don’t have to think too much about camera settings to expose a shot properly. No need for excess gear, tripods, or flashes (depending on how/what you’re shooting). You can really just focus on creating.
But I always equally enjoy the social aspects of my night photography and training my technical ability to locate light and produce creative shots. At night, I enjoy finding soft white ambient light to bounce off portions of the face and create that shadowy visible contrast.
Mimi: Do you get better results from staged photos or candid?
Brandon: I don’t really like directing shots that much. I can do it but I prefer to get candid shots of people in the moment. You can capture authentic emotion that can connect with your audience in a way scripted photography just can’t (unless the model is also a good actor).
Mimi: What is your go to camera and lens? What makes that your favorite?
Brandon: My current go-to is my Fujifilm x100v. It’s a street camera that takes crisp portraits, candids, and environmental shots. But I recently purchased the Fujifilm X-T3 and 50-140mm lens for portraits and that thing is amazing to shoot on. Great low light performance and the noise doesn’t look too terrible in post.
Mimi: Where do you see photography taking you 10 years from now?
Brandon: In 10 years, and honestly probably sooner, I see my photography granting me the ability to hone my skills into a niche to elevate photography to a sustainable business. I even intend to start learning filmmaking, but I am currently 100% self-taught so there may come a point where I seek out formal technical training to fill the gaps I have.
Thank you, Brandon, for taking the time to answer my questions. Your photography is beautiful and makes me want to someday start up again.
You can follow Brandon Small on his Instagram page @smallworldphotovideo and also join him on his Clubhouse discussions in his "Japan Inside" club. Brandon also hosts several photography walks, so follow his stories if you're in the Tokyo area.