The use of models in my travel and landscape photography is a new concept for me. I would take a photo of a building in a city, would wait (and wait) for people to clear out so I could get a pristine image of the building. When taking a picture of a landscape, again I would wait for people to move away so I could get a “clean” image. In Japan, we did the opposite. We hired our own model and included him/her in our image. The models we hired are not the models you hear of, fashion, glamour, runway, fitness, commercial, and many more. We made use of non-traditional modeling, both planned and spontaneous.

Planned Model Shoots

The planned model shoots are set up for our success. The model is positioned in a way that brings out the best of the scene and the model. But is a planned model shoot at a famous setting worth it? The next two images are from the gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine, famous for its 12,000 orange gates along a hillside. The first image is without a model, the way I have been shooting for years. The second image includes our model.

Some of the 10,000 gates of Fushimi Inari Shrine sans model. Nice image but seems incomplete.

Add a model, especially a Japanese woman in a kimono, and there is now a story to be told.

In my opinion (which is the only one that counts) the image with the model is far superior. Why is this? Perhaps the model demonstrates more of the Japanese culture, or the model helps the image tell a story, or something as simple as providing a sense of scale. One thing it most certainly does, it makes my image unique.

Our model is walking through the Arashiyama bamboo forest. The red kimono stands out.

This is the Otagi-Nenbutsu-Ji Temple where there are over 1,000 rock statues of Japanese men. You can see some of them lining the right seemingly entertained by our model.

Without our model this Torii gate would be uninteresting. Thanks to Francis, one of our two guides, for being a good sport and posing in the frigid temperatures.

Sometimes we photographers get lucky. The following image is of our new friend, Azu. She was invited to join us by our guide, she speaks English and Japanese, making food ordering much easier. As luck would have it, she is a professional model. After a great lunch where we were able to order foods we found acceptable, we set out to a very interesting building, Tokyo International Forum.

Inside the Tokyo International Forum we took advantage of our time with the gorgeous Azu, receiving permission from her to do a private mode shoot. Boy did we shoot.

Spontaneous Model Shoots

Another type of model is the spontaneous variety where we find someone we don’t know to help us out. Picture seven photographers, big camera in hand, waiting for the right “model” to approach. I’m surprised anyone said yes.

We are at the entrance of a shopping mall waiting for the perfect model. This woman happened to walk by, on her way to do some shopping. We asked, she said yes, and now we have enhanced the photo dramatically.

We are near Biei on the island of Hokkaido where I came across this beautiful young woman who was showing off for her boyfriend. I asked, she said yes, and proceeded to show off for me.

Unexpected Model Shoots

Lastly, sometimes models show up when you least expect it. We were walking to Tokyo Station to catch a train when three weddings showed up. Here is a photo of a bride and groom doing a pose for me. All I did was point to my camera, they both smiled and nodded, then I got the shot.

This photo became a personal favorite of mine from our trip to Japan. They were very willing subjects. They said yes without hesitation.

After using models throughout our trip and seeing the results I achieved, I will now seek out models for my photo shoots going forward.