Umbrella man.

As promised in my debut post, here’s my golden ticket story of how I got to be the assistant of Trey Ratcliff for a day - and even managed to sneak away with a prize at the end of it.
Sorry if today’s entry is going to be a bit long and diary-ish, still learning the ropes of this whole blogging thing (welcome to the 2010s).

Everything started out in a fairly unspectacular manner, with a simple post on Google+. Trey Ratcliff was looking for an assistant to help out during an event in Tokyo - no further details given. I still don't really know if it was luck of the draw but minutes later I got a mail - I was in.

I was given a location and a time, and was even invited to bring my own gear for shooting as well... a few hours later, I showed up at the the spider sculpture near Roppongi Hills, the meeting spot. By then it was pouring, and while looking for a good place to wait, I noticed some familiar faces - photographers from Tokyo who had been invited by Google Japan to attend a "secret" photowalk.  

"Get off your horse." (liberally translated). Asakusa.

Since I was there to assist, I would be in Trey's group - and it was going to be a day of very hard chores: I ended up carrying some of his gear and holding an umbrella (the protect-against-the-wrath-of-nature kind) whenever the rain was getting too bad. My skill set was perfectly adequate for both of these tasks, and I still was left with one hand free to take pictures whenever the opportunity came up. Really made me appreciate the low weight of my mirrorless Fuji once again :).

So off we went. Our task was a) to enjoy the photo walk and b) to go looking for our personal "Cool Japan", that is to say, something about the country that we'd find unique or fashionable, and capture it. We were asked to upload our best shots to Google+, using the hashtags #100tokyo and #cooljapan - and as an added incentive, a special prize was promised for the best photograph from each group. 

Our group was assigned to cover Asakusa, one of the areas of Tokyo with very traditional feel to it. The rain had calmed down when we got there, and the streets were full of people.


After spending some time shooting the local crowds near Sensōji temple, our guide took us to some of the lesser-visited parts of the area, all the time providing background information about the place.  

Of course we wouldn't let history lessons get in the way of our mission, and so we kept eyes on the finder & fingers on the trigger. We were very fortunate to have Mei Tan (from Time Out Hong Kong) and Saori Arai (from Horipro, a local talent agency) come along, as they made for good company as well as good models. 

We had to get back to the launch party for the #100Tokyo event at Google HQ, so the photo walk was cut short a tiny bit - but we didn't really mind as it had gotten a bit chilly by then. 

We used the time on the bus for introductions; and everybody with a laptop or smartphone was getting busy editing their contest entries. I didn’t get to take many pictures in the end, but had a couple of shots that I thought might work.

I used the wifi transfer feature on my Fuji X-T1 to send some in-camera jpegs to my iPhone. I picked one shot I especially liked, did some basic colour and contrast adjustments in Snapseed, added a film emulation effect in VSCOcam, and published the finished result using the contest hashtag. 

And that should have been the end of it - I got to be part of a surprise photowalk in a nice area of Tokyo, and had a good learning experience while watching Trey and the others. It had been a fun afternoon, hanging out with a great crowd of like-minded people, and there was really nothing to make the day any better. 

I already had some plans for the evening - but then again you don't get to visit Google HQ everyday, and so I decided to stay for "just an hour" - of course "just an hour" never really is. After a bit of networking (=“enjoying the food and drinks”) and listening to a couple of speeches about Cool Japan the program was coming to a close - all that was left was the big announcement of the winning photographs. Might as well hang around for that, right?

A winning smile.

A winner was picked from each of the three groups (Asakusa area, Marunouchi area, Harajuku area), and each of the lucky winners got to take home a brand new Nexus 7 tablet. And then suddenly a familiar photograph showed up on the big screen - the one I had uploaded from the bus.

Turns out there was another prize for "best overall picture"; and my close up shot of Saori carrying an umbrella was picked as the winner. While I did have a good feeling about the composition of the picture, this came completely out of the blue; it truly made for an incredible ending to a fantastic day, and I really can't be thankful enough for how everything unfolded. 

So, after all this, the name "Umbrella Man" is probably going to stick for a while. 

I guess I can live with that :-) 

Thanks for reading, and hope to see you again!