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Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Satoshi Kobayshi: Fortissimo Photography

Satoshi Kobayshi’s high-energy product imagery is anything but still

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Satoshi’s muse is water, a constant that helps to add the feel of motion to his images. “I think in commercial photography,” he says, “water is a more interesting and popular effect than streaks of light. When you open up magazines, especially women’s magazines, you turn the pages and see so many images with water—fruits, vegetables.” Satoshi even has a custom-made water tank that he often employs on a shoot.
Like most high-end tabletop photographers, Satoshi always created images on large-format transparency film. Interestingly, the beginning of the digital revolution—when Adobe Photoshop became a standard part of the photographic workflow—meant that he traded down from 8x10 to 4x5 because of the dramatic cost savings. At a quarter the size, the resolution of 4x5 was still more than enough for most commercial applications, so he made the switch. Resolution also dictated his eventual conversion to digital capture, too.

“For commercial still life,” Satoshi explains, “our clients required a certain image size. So we used to shoot 8x10 because it’s easy to work on the camera—we could see so much detail on the ground glass. But when we started to do lots of scanning, we started to switch to 4x5 more and more. And then when the digital back became large enough—22 megapixels, about 13x17 at 300 dpi—that was big enough, so we switched from 4x5.”

Now working with a 39-megapixel digital back, it was the 22-megapixel backs that initially convinced him that the time was right to make the switch to digital. Satoshi invested in a Sinar p3—what he calls the ideal camera for still-life photography—and began working in the same style as always without ever missing a beat. He raves about the technological innovations in the Sinar system even from the beginning, including a live video view that allowed him to replicate the large size of an 8x10 ground glass on his computer display. Though the process was the same, the results were far different.

Satoshi quickly figured out that digital capture’s instant feedback was priceless. It’s the other reason he gives for his portfolio’s high-energy feel; those images would have been practically impossible in the film era. With digital capture, he finally had a camera that lived up to his vision.

“Digital is more like my internal motivation,” Satoshi says. “In the old days, shooting film, we would never know until we got the film back. We’d have to take hundreds of shots, and it’s really costly, but doing digital you know exactly what you’re getting every time you trigger. My motivation is always the vision. The best way for me to produce the image, what works the most, is I get an idea and then try to determine how to execute the image—how much I can do in-camera and how much I can do in postproduction. Then I complete the image. That’s kind of the way I like it. Once you get the vision in your head, that’s the starting point. Then you try to extend the execution level as far as you can go. Digital photography suddenly could extend my execution to a much higher level. It’s extremely exciting. I really don’t think I’m a perfectionist. I’m just trying to do as good as I could do.”

There’s an image in Satoshi’s portfolio that represents his expert level of technical prowess, his passion for objects, his affinity for motion and his love of photographing water. It’s actually an image he made on spec to showcase those skills to a potential client. The image captures a running shoe midstride, with an athlete’s leg composed entirely of water, with a big, energetic splash tying it all together.

“I worked on this for a client presentation,” Satoshi says, “and it’s the same thing. I wanted to make it more interesting and exciting. This was actually a clear plastic mannequin leg, and I filled it with water inside and I was running water, hosing it down, on the outside. Running shoes are very soft, but still stiff. So in order to create that kind of form, we needed a real foot. So the sneaker itself, and the splash, was shot with an actual man’s foot. And then after shooting the sneaker and then the splash, I replaced the human leg with the water effect. Probably between the splash and the foot, it’s three or four shots combined, and altogether somewhere around 350 shots. From testing and shooting and retouching postproduction, it took me probably a total of seven or eight days—almost two weeks.”


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