Meet: Azusa Takano
MEET: AZUSA TAKANO
LINE OF WORK : FREELANCE PHOTOGRAPHER
A: Tell me about you!
AT: I’m Azusa! I’m Japanese American, I love food, cooking, hanging out with my friends, and singing in the shower; which I’m pretty bad at but sometimes I think I sound like Mariah Carey in there. I also love cats and dogs! Quite a few of my clients actually own pets of their own so it’s great to play with them since I don’t have any. Thank you for having me!
A: So how did you get into photography?
AT: So initially I went to school for medicine. Growing up in an Asian household, we never were allowed to think about pursuing a creative field as a full-time career. So it was considered more of a hobby and having fun, and so I did the whole medical school for four years. I hated it. One day, at my typical 9-5 job, I realized this lifestyle wasn’t for me so I quit my stable job with no backup plan. Don’t do that guys have a backup plan! A friend of mine who is a fashion blogger was like “Hey, why don’t you take my pictures in the meantime since you like photography and you might be good at it.” I started shooting and tagged along with her to events and where I networked and met with other creative. Eventually I started getting paid inquires so I was like why not try this out. At my 9-5 job I would test out eye drops to determine if they were clean. It was a very basic routine type of job I would have to do everyday. It got so boring and was unfulfilling to me. Right now, I’m having so much fun being in a creative field, it’s definitely a big change from what I was initially doing. I am happier now. It has been about 3 years now in April since I shifted careers.
A: What kind of photography do you do?
AT: I mainly shoot fashion lifestyle, portraits, and editorial. I like portraiture, people convey messages through their expressions and facial feature; in my opinion, it’s more interesting to shoot than anything else. I also photograph some wedding photos, not very often though. I have gotten requests to do a headshot for professional profile and Tinder once, which was one of the weirdest one yet.
A: Did you go to school or take any courses for photography?
AT: I didn’t go to school for photography but just learned from other colleagues, YouTube videos, and websites. My colleagues however did go to school for photography so I would always ask them if I had any questions. I think going to school would really help better your technical skills. It just takes practice and if you love it eventually you will get better at it. I think I’m doing pretty well. Obviously there is always room for improvement; I think that’s the best part about photography, having room to grow and learn.
A: How did you break into the photography world?
AT: Having my blogger friend take me places and other events helped me showcase my talent. She has a lot of followers on Instagram and people would ask her like “Hey who is this new girl?” So they would click on my page and see my work. Honestly, if you saw my work 5 years ago, it sucked. With those past photos people still wanted to work with me, I was surprised but now that my photos are better, I know how much I’m worth. Breaking into the business consists of a lot of networking. You have to be nice, in this industry a lot of people put up a front and are fake but you have to be to get around; but for me, I’m weird. I hope you like me if I’m weird! I’m also very nice and I like to give back and so if I work with a client for long enough, I’ll offer a discount here and there. I like creating relationships verses making money, because in the end when you are dead it’s like memories and experiences that matter the most.
A: Is this a full-time job for you?
AT: It is a full-time job now. Before I used work part time for companies but then I realized I didn’t like getting bossed around. I like doing my own thing at my own pace. Don’t get me wrong; turning your hobby into a freelance full-time job is built on hard work and dedication if you are starting off from nothing. Again best advice is to be nice to people and give back. People think that a freelancer you are just having fun all the time, but in reality you are your own boss managing your own time. Shooting is one thing, there is the editing process, the follow-ups, rough drafts whatever else it maybe.
A: Do you prefer studio or lifestyle shoots?
AT: I think prefer lifestyle just because I get more of those and are more used to doing them. I would like to branch out into doing some studio shoots because it is something fairly new to me and I want to learn more about that area. Sometimes studio shoots can be stagnant so I do prefer a more free flow lifestyle shoot. I prefer working with the sun and natural lighting.
A: Do you have any mentors?
AT: I have many mentors who are also my friends; Randy Tran, Ryan Kim, Kevin Chu, Meli Lee, and Silvia Gundy.
A: How many cameras do you own and what are they?
AT: So I currently own one DSLR which is the Canon 5D Mark 2. I have three lenses, 24-70mm, 2.8, 50mm 1.4, 85mm 1.2 that are my professional gear kit. I also have my iPhone and a point and shoot Canon G7 camera for basic vlogs and for regular pictures.
A: Since you also do Wedding photography, how did you build clients in that area are they your friends?
AT: For weddings I have not shot for any of my friends. I just started off assisting a wedding photographer Henry Wang who is in Temple City. I wouldn’t even shoot, I’d just hold up lights or reflectors, or whatever he needed me to assist with. So I learned while watching him. I also worked with another photographer, Jessica Castro who specializes in wedding photography. It was a lot of free assisting work. I would only shoot a small portion of the wedding to grow my portfolio. The main photographer would shoot brides and then the assistant would shoot the groom, so a lot of my wedding photos are just men. That is how it is usually done, but depending on the photographer.
A: Three tips you would give an aspiring photographer!
AT: I think the first tip I would give is to practice. Master your craft to what you want it to look like. Take pictures of everything or whatever it may be. Understand the technical skills first of how your camera functions. So practice perfecting your craft. Number two would be having a good group of friends and colleagues who have the same work ethics as you. They don’t necessarily have to be in the creative field, but if you surround yourself with hardworking people as you are and who are always passionate, it will help you do just as well and or better. It really helps to have friends who can help motivate you. Tip three would be collecting all your receipts for taxes. Being a freelance photography is of course fun, but there is a business side to this and for me it is still a learning process. I never took a business class, so running the business itself is a whole new realm you have to learn. Be on top of what you spend and make. Keep all your things in check and make sure everything is noted.
A: Tips on freelancing gigs or how do you start a freelancing process?
AT: A lot of my clients are through referrals. As I mentioned before, networking, being nice to people, and give back. My clients would tell other people who are in need of a photographer, so they would refer me. I get a few inquires through my website and Instagram, but mostly through referrals. This is a hard question and it all depends on the person. Unless you go to networking events and or tag along to events to meet other photographers it is harder for you to get your foot into the door with the industry people. In the beginning I had nothing really to show for but I began shooting same people over and over perfecting my craft and people started noticing my work.
A: What is your daily schedule like?
AT: On an average day, if I were to go to LA, I try to book 2-3 gigs around the same vicinity and just map out my schedule. I’m a relatively fast shooter, so it all depends on how many looks they need to shoot, but approximately 2-3 hours. Before heading out I’d give myself an hour buffer time to get to my location because you know, LA traffic. So after shooting that day, I go back home and upload all my pictures. If the clients ask for the proofs to select their favorite images, I’ll only edit the ones they have picked out and I would give that to them 2 days later. It also depends on the shoot, for fashion bloggers it is relatively fast and easy and my usual turn around time would be 2-3 days. Then there are days where it is more relaxed, like today I get to drink coffee and get interviewed by you!
A: Do you bring anything else when you shoot? What is an essential thing for you to bring to a shoot?
AT: I just bring my camera. I don’t bring a lot of equipment with me because I don’t like drawing attention. You want to stay low key as much as possible depending on where you shoot. Some places are private property and don’t allow you to shoot without a permit. I‘ve been kicked out before, but I’ll be nice about it. One time I brought a reflector and they thought it was a full on photo shoot so they told me I couldn’t shoot here without a permit. So having just a camera, I can fake being a tourist and be shooting my friend. That is all camera is max.
A: Do you have any photographers you look up to?
AT: Oh gosh! It’s like all the people I mentioned earlier! Randy, Ryan, Kevin, Jessica, Silvia, they have been in the industry longest. So for me to just step in, they accepted me in and taught me. A lot of people would not do that. Margaret Zhang is really great as well. All these Asian photographers are starting to get a lot of acknowledged and to think that could be me one day! Seeing their stuff on the magazine is pretty cool!
A: So if you could ask your favorite photographer any question what would it be?
AT: Does your toilet paper roll over or under? *laughing*
A: WHAT! They are going to be like “What kind of question is this?!”
AT: This will determined if we are friend or not!
A: Do you like the paper over or under, because I like it over!
AT: Me too! I like it over! When I see it at other peoples place I switch it!
A: What motivates you to take pictures?
AT: The reaction I get from my clients. Especially when I do family portraits. It is very sentimental, especially if someone passed away to have these photos to look back at. I had a client who emailed me back after I shot their Chinese tea ceremony, and they were like “Oh my gosh! I didn’t know this happened because I was so busy. Thank you for capturing all the good moments that I could always look back and remember this important day for me. So I think the value of a photo is very meaningful. If my parents didn’t not take pictures of me as a kid, I would not have know what I looked like or the stupid shiz I did, so having a physical or mental memory box that they could keep is the best and most rewarding job. I know fashion is very superficial and so I say I also do portraits because I like capturing people’s stories giving it more value vs. taking a picture of a cup.
CHECK OUT AZUSA!