DPP Home Profiles Nahoko Spiess - Master Of Ambient Illumination

Monday, November 26, 2007

Nahoko Spiess - Master Of Ambient Illumination

The former head designer for ELLE Japan, Nahoko Spiess uses the unpredictability of natural light to bring creative unpredictability to her photo shoots

Spiess often lights her models using a mix of natural light and flash. While she feels that sunlight is the best key light for her images, she often adds one or two strobes to “smooth the contrasts.” Her Profoto or Quantum QT2 strobes are set to a low power and used indirectly with a reflector or fired through a diffuser. She triggers the heads with a PocketWizard attached to a Canon EOS-1Ds Mark II while her assistant walks next to her with the flash head aimed at the model's face.

The demure photographer is concise in the manner in which she brings together all the elements that make a successful shoot, starting with the clothes, which she tries to match with the pose she imagined. If the dress has a sexy back, Spiess will create a scenario with the model walking away from the camera. If it's a long dress with light material, she'll create the environment where the wind can “play with it and give it life.” Spiess often sketches out storyboards, where she says she “thinks about the rhythm, the front cover, the double-page spread, and to try to conceive and create a well-balanced sequence.”

Spiess' transition from the head designer at ELLE Japan to a fashion photographer in Paris began 10 years ago in her native country during a meeting with a photographer with whom she was discussing the kind of pictures she needed for an upcoming issue of the magazine. “I knew the result I wanted, but I had no clue how the photographer would do it. I wanted to learn,” she recalls.

There are advantages and disadvantages to working in Paris versus Tokyo, says Spiess. In Japan, the senpai-kohai (master-disciple) relationship is so important that it's difficult to avoid the five- to 10-year pathway as an assistant to a renowned photographer before embarking on a solo career. She has seen this result in many aspiring photographers unwittingly locking themselves into a career as an assistant. In Paris, she found that if she did photos that people liked, they didn't question how she got there, where she came from or whom she assisted.

The tough side of working in the capital of fashion is that she finds herself competing with hundreds of other photographers for one client.

Says Spiess, “I tend to be shy, so I have to let my photos speak for themselves. Sometimes it works, but Paris is a challenging place. French photographers are just as much or even more artistic when they talk about their work than the actual art they create. Sometimes it takes more than just the photos to charm art directors.”

To see more of Nahoko Spiess' photography, visit www.nahokospiess.com.



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