Osaka, Japan-based portrait and lifestyle photographer Hideaki Hamada transformed a traditional Japanese house on the outskirts of Tokyo into his studio with the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light.
Hideaki Hamada is known for taking emotionally resonant, natural light portraits, whose subjects appear un-posed. “I mostly create images of men and women in their daily lives, interior décor, fashion—basically everything that is related to people and lifestyle,” he says. “Photography is a way to express how I face the world. And I feel happy when my images, which depict normal things in daily life, can inspire the imagination of the viewer.”
Hamada-san says that spontaneity is incredibly important. “The position of the model, shaping of the light—everything is improvised on the spot,” he says. “I press the shutter in moments that move my heart, even when I don’t have a particular idea in mind.”
Looking for new creative opportunities
In the past, Hamada-san has rarely used on-camera flash, because he loves natural light and feels that on-camera flash is often too harsh. “If I do not have enough available light, I often just stop shooting,” he says.
But this, he says, has its drawbacks, especially when he needs to get the shot. “One time, at sunset, there wasn’t enough available light, so I changed ISO and also used a slow shutter speed,” he recalls. “Neither the model nor I could move one millimeter during the shoot. It was difficult for both of us, and I really could have used a portable flash.”
Hardly surprising, then, when we approached Hamada-san and asked if he wanted to try out a new product under the theme “The world is my studio” with the Profoto A1, the world’s smallest studio light, he was excited to give it a try.
“I have been a natural light shooter since I started my career as a photographer five years ago,” he says. “Recently, I had been looking for ways to update my shooting style. I had high hopes that the A1 would inspire fresh new ideas.”
Finding summer light in a flash
The location he chose, a traditional Japanese house with sliding shoji paper walls and wooden floors, was perfect for Hamada-san’s objective—to bring out a retro, 1950s ambiance. On the way to the house, they saw a nearby river they thought might provide a setting for some improvised images.
“Unfortunately, it was a cloudy day with occasional showers,” he says. “Clouds, rain and the darkness were causing the light to be very flat.”
“But just by adding one A1, I was able to transform the light, creating a feeling of blazing summer light,” he says. “And by bouncing the A1’s light on the silver side of my Collapsible Reflector, I could make the model stand out from the green background of the river and nature.”
“Inspirations into reality”
Once inside the house, Hamada-san and his team made their way to the old-fashioned kitchen. No sunlight was coming from the window, and the room was fairly dark. So, Hamada-san used a Profoto A1 with an Umbrella Deep White M outside a window to mimic soft, gentle light flowing into the kitchen. He also bounced another A1 on camera with a Dome Diffuser toward the ceiling to create fill light.
The Profoto A1 completely changed the mood of the dark kitchen into a fresh, morning feeling.
“It is extremely easy to use the A1 off camera, and I just love it,” Hamada-san comments. “I can immediately turn my inspirations into reality with it.”
Light shaping opens a new world
Next, Hamada-san wanted the ambience of a young woman feeling the summer air as she stood in the kitchen. But with natural light, the scene was too dark. Hamada-san decided to light the kitchen with one A1 in the back and another A1 with a Dome Diffuser in the front, bouncing off the ceiling.
“I saw the model in a languid mood, which was exactly the feeling I wanted for this shoot,” Hamada-san explains. “I thought that if strong light came in through the windows in the back, I would be able to create the lazy summer air I wanted. So I changed the location of the A1 to the rear, created backlight and shot with some lens flare.”
“Rather than adding light, I shaped the light to change the mood. It was a completely new experience for me. I felt the A1 opened up my world!”
A paper wall as a diffusor creates a studio feel
Hamada-san then decided to create images of his model sitting on a Japanese-style veranda, reading a book. For this scene, he used an A1 on camera with a Dome Diffuser. “I was very happy with the quality of the light of the A1, which could be beautifully blended with the ambient light,” he says.
“I also used sliding shoji paper walls as a diffusor. It literally turned the old-fashioned Japanese house into my studio!”
“Superb job in critical photographic moments”
Finally, as dusk gathered, the model changed into a beautiful yukata, a Japanese summer kimono. Hamada-san shot the scene with her enjoying fast-burning, Japanese-style fireworks. Even though it was at the end of the day, the Profoto A1 was still going strong.
“Thanks to the Li-Ion battery, I could shoot without feeling any stress,” he says. “And I never had to wait for the flash. I was happy that I did not miss a shot in this scene, even though the fireworks don’t last long. The A1 does a superb job in critical photographic moments.”
Improvising with the Profoto A1
Hamada-san says that light modifiers, such as the magnetic Dome Diffuser and CTO gels, were a big help on the shoot. “Rather than being inflexible with a fixed approach, it suits my style to use a light shaping tool with freedom and mobility, like I can with the A1,” he says. “Adding accessories in layers to change the nuance of the light—to shape it—is a completely new idea for an on-camera flash. It seems so obvious, but no one has thought of it before.”
Unsurprisingly, for someone who had not been using flash, Hamada-san isn’t someone who cares a lot about product specifications. “But I care a lot about the design,” he says. “The A1 has a strikingly cool design, which made me feel good during the shoot. I also love the matte-black body and that it has a premium feel, but I can still use it easily.”
As Hamada-san had hoped from the beginning, the Profoto A1 opened up new creative possibilities. “With the A1, I could shape light with ease and with freedom. I could be more creative with a wider range of expression.
“I could even use it to create new light that doesn’t exist,” he explains. “For example, the backlit kitchen or the deliberate flare created with the light in the front. It would have been impossible to create that without the A1.”