Seascape & Pacific Ink Expo Event Photographer
Known for his love of long exposure and painted seascapes, Ryan Sakamoto spends most of his hours shooting on the island of Oahu, where he was born and raised. As a young kid Ryan enjoyed drawing. His mom would buy him superhero batman, superman comic books to indulge his creative side. He grew up taking art classes at the YMCA and reading comics which was an important part of his creative journey as an artist. Although he feels he is not a master at photography he continues to study and master techniques to grow as an artist. A quote dear to him from David Duchmen reads “Mastery is a journey, not a destination”. Ryan Sakamoto has had some ups and downs over the past ten years studying the craft of photography but feels the end of each day he knows that he could not accomplish today what he will tomorrow. Last year we where able to work with him and capture some behind the scenes at the 2017 Pacific Ink & Art Expo.
At what point did you discover you wanted to be a photographer?
I ran a part time side business as a graphic designer and custom airbrush artist for 15 years, in the last 2 years I got so burnt out. I was so tired of making everyone’s dreams into reality, there was no time for me to express my creative side. In those last 2 years I picked up a camera and started to photograph my daughters playing basketball and soon after found myself diving into sports photography. In 2009 I wanted to shoot something other than sports & ventured out of the gym to shoot my 1st sunset at the backside of the Iliki Hotel with my camera on full AUTO mode. The picture was stunning, at least I thought it was at that time and I was totally hooked, that was the moment everything clicked for myself. From there I sought out photography clubs & meetup groups where I honed in on my technical & creative skills. During that time I met so many talented photographers who have helped me learn the different techniques and styles of photography, which shaped the photographer I am today. It’s the ADDH in me that, when I find something I like, I totally immerse myself into it, as I’ve done with my photography.
What was your 1st camera and go to gear when on location?
My camera evolution, 1st camera Nikon D50, D90, the D700 with battery grip. The D700 & the 70-200 f2.8 took my sports shooting to a new level, I loved that setup! When my daughters graduated from high school, that ended my sports photography journey. I jumped ship basically to reduce gear weight, to a Sony A7S I then to A7S II. For the past year & a half, I’m now shooting with a Fujifilm XT-2 paired with my Rokinon 12mm f/2 lens which is the perfect combo for a sunrise seascape… I’m in love with this system!!! For my portraiture work the Fujinon 56mm f1/2, I always bring 2 other lens, but they always stay in my bag. The workflow hasn’t changed much, lightroom & Photoshop, the equipment & software has gotten better, more accurate and better dynamic range. Unfortunately Lightroom has gotten slower than faster, hopefully that will change in the near future. Portable lighting has gotten so much better. No need to drag studio lights to & from a location. That was a major pain! All my 4 lights fit into 1 backpack now. My 3 stands & 3 softboxes fit into 1 heavy duffle bag.
What is one of your favorite photographs and why?
One of my most favorite shots was displayed in the 2017 Contemporary Photography In Hawaii gallery in downtown a few months ago, entitled “Orange Dream”. The shot was taken late last year in 2016, at a time of my life where My mom, 89 years young, was going thru some health issues, and even though I was surrounded with my family’s support I felt so alone at the same time. I’ve tried to tap into those same feelings photographically, since that time, but have never been able to. So very frustrating. My friends tell me not to force it and to just let it come to me. My Mom has pulled thru her struggles and is very healthy once again, that’s the main thing.
I’ve learned a lot from this 1 photograph & how important emotion plays a part of an image. At 1st I didn’t understand it & it took me over a year to figure out what my “Orange Dream” shot was telling me, & I realized how important mood & emotion pays a vital role in any image.
If you could place yourself in a photograph or piece of artwork what would you choose and why?
2 local photographers that I admire is Bruce Omori & Tom Kualii & their imagery of Pele’s lava on the Big Island. I’ve never had the opportunity to go out & shoot lava but would love to one day! If I was to put myself into one of their lava images, just to be able to see the beauty of the flow on a single frame & to capture a moment in time to immortalize Pele’s mana that would be so amazing! .
Tell us about a shooting adventure you have had in the past and how did it help shape your portfolio?
This happened about a year & a half ago. I used to shoot 7-9 bracketed shots for my seascapes & did exposure blending in post. I would have to cull through nearly 400-600 images to produce 2-3 final images. I did this shooting with screw on solid ND filters. Just out of curiosity I did some research into the Lee Filter system & decided to buy a set. Wow! It totally turned my entire world upside down! With the solid ND & the gradient filters I was able to do most of the things that I edited in post in camera! My frames per outing went from 400-700 frames to 7-24 frames. I indulged & purchased a 6 stop Little Stopper & 10 Stop Big Stopper. It has changed my entire portfolio & how I see & capture my sunrises. It has also helped me to slow down & see my environment & composition. Another side effect was that I’ve started to move my lens away from the sun & see the effects that the sun’s golden light has on the environment as it slowly touches & reflects against the surrounding ocean & shoreline.
What Informs How You Look at the World?
This is a fully loaded question, I dislike politics with a passion & with all the bad news that I hear/read on the newspaper, social media, TV, I’ve stopped reading the paper & rarely watch TV nowadays especially the news. Even in social media with people ranting & raving, I’ve tried to minimize what I see, but it’s hard. Photography is my ESCAPE from reality!!! Cutting off some of the negativity on news & social media has helped me focus more of my creativity into my art, but it’s impossible to cut off ALL the negativity. My imagery especially my seascapes & waves is very serene, perhaps one day the world will reflect that same feelings? I can dream, can’t I?!
What has helped shaped your style and techniques for photography?
I believe it was the edium in which I could give something back. I’m a big advocate of giving back to the community. I’m now teaching free workshops at 2 local camera shops, Pro Camera Hawaii & Hawaii Camera. Both owners have graciously given me a venue for me to share the knowledge that I’ve acquired throughout my short journey as a photographer. I’ve also organized & put a team together of 12 of my closest photography friends to participate in 3 Help Portrait events, 2012-2014 & took family pictures for the Hawaii Children’s Cancer Association & the Shriners Hospital in Hawaii. We successfully gave these families a framed 8”x10” print with the hi resolution digital files to share, at no cost to all the families.
What are a few pieces of advice you find yourself offering most frequently to aspiring or emerging photographers who are looking to advance their careers?
Like anything in life if you want to get better, you got to go practice, practice and practice! When you’re done practicing go out & practice some more!!! Get off your lazy ass & get out, rather than just saying I’m gonna do this & not do anything… Get out & do it! You’re not doing yourself any favors by talking crap. Always keep an open mind to learn from others! With all the different types of media available to anyone with an internet connection it’s so easy to learn through the web & meeting other like minded people! And don’t let the TROLLS get you down!
What can emerging talents do to stand out from the crowd in the context of submissions and building their portfolio?
If you want to improve your portfolio & photography, stop taking snapshots and MAKE a picture. Slow down & look around you, it’s not about quantity it’s about quality & creativity. Stop rattling off 20 shots in a bursts & hope you have 1 usable frame, think about your composition in relation to your subject & background. You not only have to see your environment but you have to feel it as well. Look for subjects that are interesting & shoot it from every possible angle. Take what you’ve learned & put it into action. Yes you’re going to fail miserably & fall flat on your face, but so long as you learn from your mistakes, I guarantee you that you will become a better photographer. As a side note, I’m still failing & falling flat on my face, even after 10+ years of shooting. Technically know what your camera is capable of doing & work within it’s limits, having the latest & greatest gear/software is not always the best thing. You can rent bodies & lens now, use that & experiment. You have everything at your fingertips. When working on your edits, & even before, when you’re composing your shot in the field, learn how to lead a viewer’s eye throughout your image. Make your viewers think & captivate them with the beauty that is your vision. With all this said, the bottom line for you to get better as a photographer is to practice and most importantly have fun while you’re doing it!!!
Aloha a hui ho, Ryan Sakamoto