Portrait and Still Life Images for Megami Ceramics

My time spent in Japan has allowed me to meet several interesting people, and one is Gabby Headly. While both of us started our time here teaching English, we both spent time pursuing our dreams and talents; in my case, it was photography, in hers, ceramics. We realised we had somewhat similar backgrounds (we both studied media in university with various disciplines under our belts) and a love of art. That became a common ground for a great friendship. So when Gabby decided to launch her ceramics line, Megami, she contacted me to create the visuals for her website and her debut exhibition. 

The exhibition, titled Setsuna (刹那), was the result of time spent in Japan honing her skill after years of study. This was both in her native country of America at the venerable Howard University and in the small but culturally rich town of Hita in Oita prefecture. 

Her vision for the images was quite clear and could be separated into three parts; minimalist photos of her pieces shot on black, others with her pieces shot on a tatami mat layout, and portraits of her holding the ‘hero’ pieces as well as solo shots. 

After discussing how to bring the ideas to life, we set up a makeshift studio in her apartment to shoot the pieces using a mix and natural light and flash. I did my best to use the lighting to accentuate the shapes and curves of the ceramics to give them as much character as possible. Over a few days, I was able to dial in the lighting and edits and photograph all the items. Then came the tricky parts; the portraits. 

 For the first day of portraits, we travelled to a location in Oita called Sakuradaki and made a 15-minute trek to find an absolutely gorgeous waterfall. After an entire day of rain, the clouds parted just enough for us to get some wonderful light for key images. Being that close to the waterfall also meant that we were constantly being sprayed with a fine mist of water; by the end of the shoot, our clothes clung to us. 

On the second portrait day, we ventured into the middle of a mostly dry riverbed in Hita. With our friend Deidre-Ann working as an assistant, we set up the tatami as a backdrop and she acted as the counterweight. I got as many photos as possible in the waning light. 

Right at the end, I was also able to take a few medium format shots with my Mamiya M645 1000s; and they came out surprisingly great! While I haven’t done official scans yet, here’s a taste of what they look like.

All in all, this was a wonderful project. I had a great time working with Gabby, and I’m happy I could help her showcase her talents! Check out Megami Ceramics and have a look at her work. 

 Special thanks to our friend Deidre-Ann Johnson for being a great assistant and behind-the-scenes photographer! To see full-sized images, check the project gallery here!


My 31st Year

I turned 31 in January. There was no fanfare or party (Coronavirus aside, I don’t do a lot on my birthdays) but I decided to celebrate it in my own way. It had to be something I enjoyed a lot, and naturally, the idea of a photoshoot came to mind. Leading up to the day I made preparations, the main one being bleaching my hair! It was the first time I’d ever done something like that, but I had a feeling bleached hair would look great on me (spoiler alert; it does). One person came highly recommended to me; a stylist named Mao who works at a salon called Diall House in Daimyo, Fukuoka. He was friendly and great to chat with while I was in the chair. If you’re in Fukuoka City and looking to get your hair done, shoot him a message! 

 After getting home, I started brainstorming what I wanted the images to look like, and an idea immediately hit me. “Why don’t I ape an i-D Magazine cover?”  I’ve always loved their covers. Plus, I have a soft spot for the ones from the late ’90s to the mid-2000s. I got my wardrobe together, created a tiny studio space in my apartment, and started shooting. 

 I decided to shoot tethered using Capture One Pro 21, using the Live View function to frame my shots. It took a bit of doing, but I was finally able to walk away with the image I was looking for, plus a few extras! 



 This past year has been rough for most of us, to put it mildly. Very literal death and destruction came in waves, and while 2021 hasn’t had the best start, I’m still hopeful. I’ve chosen to do what brings me joy, amidst all the chaos, and so I’m hoping I can do this once a month. A small shoot, a handful of images, to keep my work fresh. There’s no guarantee I’ll be able to pull it off, but as my Dad tells me, “Nutn beat a try but a fail.” 


 See you all next time!


How I Failed Vlogtober

A few weeks ago (eight to be exact) I was excited and proud to announce to the world that I would be participating in my very first Vlogtober. No, I wouldn’t be doing it daily, but I was trying to commit to a weekly schedule to show the world everything I’d been doing. 

As you can probably guess from the lack of blog posts, that didn’t happen.

I had very lofty ideas about how I wanted to shoot the videos that I couldn’t quite produce without putting in a fair amount of work.

That same week I started working at another school; then I was perpetually busy with writing lessons, marking papers and creating content for my students.

It wouldn’t be the first time I’d been busy. 

Back home in Jamaica, I routinely worked multiple jobs at once (you have to if you’re a professional photographer). That meant taking on many clients and scheduling shoots, while working at the Edna Manley College, while, at one point, working five nights a week and some weekends for a local newspaper. So I’m no stranger to pressure.

But what this experience here and now taught me is that I need to slow down, which is exactly what I decided to talk about for a bit in my video. The images from the video can be found below. Have a look!



Medium Format Film Portraits with Gabby

Hello, back again! I’m here to share a few frames with you from a trip I took to Nokonoshima Island Park this past summer with my friend Gabby. I carried my Mamiya m645 1000s medium format film camera and decided it would be the perfect opportunity to attempt some portraits with 120 film. It was my very first time shooting portraits with it, and I’ve got to say the results were pretty good! Since I don’t use a light meter, I try to meter with an app on my phone or play it by ear, and on that day I was doing a bit of both. Gabby was a great sport and incredibly patient while I fiddled with getting my focus right. 

These were shot on Kodak Portra 400 film. A local lab in my town developed the film after which I scanned it using a Skier CopyBox II and a macro extension tube on my Sigma 18-35mm lens. There were some issues with the development process as it left streaks on every frame, but in the end, I didn’t mind it too much. I still have a few more frames from that roll that need scanning but until then, enjoy these portraits!


My First Vlogtober

I decided to take part in my very first Vlogtober! For those who are unaware, in October many content creators try to make a daily video (or vlog). It can cover any topic, and over the last few years more and more Jamaicans have tried their hand at it; so I thought that it’s about time I did too. One thing to note is, I definitely won’t be doing a daily vlog. My schedule isn’t exactly flexible enough for that right now. BUT, I will be attempting a weekly one. I don’t have any specific topics in mind, but feel free to shoot me an email if there’s anything you’d like to see in a video!


Black Lives Matter.

There’s nothing I can say about the Black Lives Matter movement that hasn’t been said somewhere else online. If you have followed any of my social media accounts, you know where I stand. You may also know how I feel about police states and carceral systems. Not just in America, which runs on white supremacy, but my tiny island nation of Jamaica as well. It’s a very complex issue that has found ground far and wide. But that’s not what I’ll be writing about today.

On the 21st of June, there was a Black Lives Matter March in Tenjin, Fukuoka in Japan. I was fortunate enough to be able to take part and document it. 

Left to right: Riane Victoria, Athena Lisane and Bako Nguasong

I’ll be focusing on the efforts started by some brave women, Bako Nguasong , Athena Lisane and Rianne Victoria. They came together to organize one of the few BLM marches held in Japan in the wake of the murder of George Floyd by the Minneapolis Police Department. 

This march was not centred on just Floyd. All the most recent victims of American police officers were mentioned, as they all deserve to have their names heard. 

I say “deserve”, but we shouldn’t have to do this in the first place. It should never have had to happen. They should be alive. The afternoon started with everyone gathering in Tenjin Park to listen to Bako and Athena speak. You could hear the emotion in their voices as they reiterated the importance of what was being done and why it was necessary. 

The crowd kneeled in solidarity as they observed a moment of silence. They were then directed to view photos and the victims of police violence, and to read their stories at a small exhibition that was set up. People were able to learn the stories of the victims, speak with organizers, and gain a greater appreciation and understanding for the day’s events.

A note on marches in Japan; as a non-resident, we do not have a constitutional right to protest. We aren’t allowed to protest the government itself (it’s in some of our job contracts). As a result, marches are held. A permit is needed from the city office, and police personnel have to be on site. The officers on the site helped to coordinate some modicum of social distance. Athena stood at the start of the line of approximately 500 people, bullhorn in hand. They practised chants with the crowd while Bako walked alongside them. And then, the march began. Attendees held up their signs, chanting in unison while they marched through the streets of Tenjin. While they didn’t have the numbers that similar marches up north had, they had the spirit and the energy. 

The march ended back in Tenjin Park, as energetic as when it began. There were more speeches, with some from members of the crowd, speaking on their experiences or showing solidarity. It was a powerful day. 

There is a lot to unpack when it comes to racism in Japan. While it doesn’t have the same level of violence as other countries in the global north, it’s far from harmless. Microaggressions are the order the day, as well as employment and housing discrimination. I’ve never faced it personally, but I know many who have. It’s the climate in which we live. It is safer, but not ‘safe’. 

The support the march received from not just the attendees, but people on the streets who cheered with the crowd wasvery heartening. Although racism isn’t a topic that is spoken on enough in Japan, we can see that the narrative has slowly but surely began to change. For that, I’m grateful.

This post is anything but poetic. There’s nothing profound to be found in these words, as I’m just relaying, roughly, the events of the march. If I began to write about Black Lives Matter as a whole, there would be too many words; you can follow my twitter account for that kind of stream-of-thought discussion. There was a great turnout, and the organizers, not just Bako and Athena, but everyone who put in the work to make it happen, did a tremendous job. I’m proud of them, and I’m happy I was able to play a part in documenting parts of it.  Please go to the the Black Lives Matter Fukuoka Facebook Page and Instagram Page.  You can also read more about the Black Lives Matter movement and racism in Japan in this article from the New York Times.


#BlackLivesMatter 


Now here’s some information for the folks who love film. I captured a few frames with my Mamiya M645 1000s using Kodak Portra 400 120 film. If you know the camera, you know it’s… slow. Shooting medium format film with a 40-year-old camera with no autofocus, while in motion, is a challenge. But it’s one that I’m glad I took on. I didn’t meter that day; my cellphone was dying, and I don’t own a handheld light meter.  So I kept the Sunny 16 rule in mind (I barely understand it myself). But I find that after some years of shooting and metering with digital, it has translated to shooting film; thank goodness. Apart from a few focus issues (my fault) I think they came  out fine. When shooting medium format film, you need to have a steady hand and eye. You focus as best you can, hold your breath, wait for the right moment… and then you take the shot. There’s no focus beep. No light within the viewfinder guiding your process. It’s you, your nerves, your eyes, your reflexes, all working in tandem to make each frame count.

The negatives were developed by Matsuo Photo Studio in Yame, and I scanned the negatives via DSLR and did the colour conversion myself. On another day I’ll run through my process of scanning and my overall journey with film photography thus far. There is a cliche about shooting film, wherein people will tell you it gives you the chance to slow down and appreciate what you’re photographing. While it can be a mixed bag, there is some merit to it. This was a wonderful opportunity to test my limits and capture an important and moving event for many, and it’s an experience I’ll cherish.


You can view the film images below.

Bako Nguasong (left) speaking to the attendees in Tenjin Park, Fukuoka.

Athena Lisane (2nd left) speaking to the crowd inTenjin Park, Fukuoka.

Athena Lisane (left) leading the chants for the march.

Athena Lisane (left) leading the chants for the march.

Left to right: Riane Victoria, Athena Lisane and Bako Nguasong


Corporate Photography for Jamaica Pre-Mix Concrete Limited

Hi everyone, and welcome back! It’s been a while since my last blog post, but I have some images that I’ve been waiting to share with you. 

 For my last assignment, before I left Jamaica in July 2018, I worked with Jamaica Pre-Mix Concrete Limited, one of Jamaica’s premier providers of ready mixed concrete. A quintessential Jamaican company over 50 years old, it was a pleasure to work with them to create content for their new website, created by the talented people at Chrysalis Communications. The brief given was to create semi-staged photos of actual employees as they went about their day. It sounds simple enough on the face of it, but with corporate and industrial photography it can be anything but, especially without a detailed brief. 

In the end, some great images were created that captured the essence of Jamaica Pre-Mix’s working environment! For those interested in the technicalities, all images save for one, were lit with a YN-660 Speedlight in a 47” octabox, held by my colleague Jik-Reuben. Some of the environments were quite tight (the cab of the cement truck, for instance), but with expert positioning we got the job done.

One last thing I’m fond of is the image on their landing page. I wasn’t able to photograph their truck, so they sent me a picture of it that was taken with… a cellphone. And I was able to edit it quite nicely to match the other images! It’s a small thing, but it makes me smile.

I didn’t put the truck on this background. I did cut it out, colour grade it, and make it a transparency, though!


The One Card Challenge

I recently attempted the #1CardChallenge issued by fellow photographer Yannick Reid. It stipulated that you should use one card, no bigger than 8GB for two weeks. Shoot what you can, select the best four images, and edit them… but only on your phone.

It was a nice way to get other photographers to change their process and workflow a bit, and for those who tend to ‘spray and pray’ when it comes to shooting, force them to slow down and be more discerning with what they capture. Personally, the smallest card I own is 16GB, but I’m not the type to overshoot, so that wasn’t an issue. 

Another change was that I didn’t do it over the course of a fortnight, but instead during a single, short photo walk. 

Living in semi-rural Japan hasn’t quite offered me the photographic opportunities I had been seeking. However, I believe that you can create images just about anywhere in the world. So I set out to capture what I could in 5°c weather. Being from a part of Jamaica where 28°c to 32°c is the norm it was an exceptionally rough evening, but I was able to power through and get my shots. 

The first four images were my selections for the challenge; the others are extras. I edited them all using Adobe Lightroom CC Mobile and VSCO. Doing this challenge helped me to get back in touch with street photography a bit, and to be more motivated to explore my town. It also gives me the chance to keep my page with street photos in Japan active. I look forward to the next one!


2018: A Retrospective

2018: A Retrospective The end of January seems like a good time to take a look back at the year that was 2018. I skipped writing one of these in 2017 (not on purpose, I assure you) but I could let it pass me by this time around. Last year was a pretty big one for me professionally and personally. Let’s get to it! 

My ‘Top Nine’ of 2018 on Instagram.

In January I started the year off with a bang when I had the privilege of having my work published on the cover of WestJet Magazine, with a full double-page spread on the inside. It was my first time being published for a paid gig, and I can’t begin to explain how wonderful it felt. You can read the details of that endeavour in this blog post here

In February I released some great fashion work with designer, model and friend Anna-Lisa Guthrie, who wanted to showcase some great tops and earrings. Her makeup was done by one of my favourite makeup artists, the ever talented Dominique Mitchell. While these were some simple images, I really liked the looks, and it gave me an opportunity to work on my lighting and retouching. 

Shortly after that, I was published for the second time that year with a March fashion editorial called Light and Shadow in Sheeba Magazine! Another collaboration with Anna-Lisa and Dominique, with the help of my friend and colleague Jik-Reuben Pringle we created some absolutely stunning images, some of which were inspired by fashion and commercial photographer Lindsay Adler. Not only were these images published, but I also had one on display in the 2018 Faculty Exhibition at the Edna Maney College of the Visual and Performing Arts (EMCVPA). This was my first time being in an exhibition so it was quite exciting for me, and thankfully the print was well received. You can find the blog post about it here!

April was also quite the month. It marked the release of a fruitful collaboration with another of my favourite makeup artists, Tamara Melville, FHL Designs and Vintage Chic Jewellery; a fashion and beauty editorial titled Tropical Memories. I am absolutely proud of the work we produced, and I look forward to creating more like it. 

Following that, in May Tamara and I teamed up with White Lotus Bridal to create the Bridal Beauty editorial which featured wonderful dresses and clean subtle bridal makeup. 

Another highlight of 2018 for me was capturing portraits of the team of WE-Change, a women’s empowerment organization. I had a great time working with them, through and through, and we created some really great portraits

Other client work was done, but not everything can be posted, and some still haven’t been released by the client (in the commercial world, these things can take quite a bit of time) but it was a stellar year of photography for me. Now, on to some of the big changes that happened in my life. 

As I’ve mentioned before, I worked in the Photography Department of the EMCVPA as a technician, as well as a Part-Time Lecturer for the School of Continuing Education at the college. My time with the EMCVPA family ended in June 2018. It was a great run, and an absolute privilege to have worked with an entire college filled with not just seasoned artists in a myriad of fields, but bright young minds who are just as likely as their forebears to inspire me. I will miss the institution and the art, but my departure wasn’t without reason. In July 2018 I moved… to Japan! 

It was a monumental decision, but I had my personal and professional reasons. In the six months I’ve been here I’ve returned to my roots in street photography, though it hasn’t yet become a concerted effort. I’m still finding my ground and biding my time. 2019, though it might not be as filled with clients, will be no less spectacular, and I look forward to creating even more content to share. In the meantime, you can stay updated with my images from Japan here!


An Announcement

For this year’s World Photography Day on the 20th of August, I shared this photo of my good friend Toni McLennon. It’s one of the few unreleased photos from my shoot with her last year because it was originally a test image. Her face isn’t retouched (shout-out to the amazing makeup by Dominique Mitchell aka @ladybugmua!) as I’ve yet to figure out how to do that on a phone, but that makes me love the image even more. I came across it while perusing my Lightroom CC catalogue. Did the black and and white conversion there, and a bit of tweaking in Snapseed. Also have to shout out @jikreuben and @kidbazzle for being my technicians that day.

I’d also like to take the time to ‘announce’ that I’m no longer in Jamaica (and won’t be for quite a while) so the content of my page might shift a bit. I’m currently living and working in Japan, and I’ll be doing a bit of exploration of my craft while I’m here. You may see more landscapes, more architectural work. Whatever comes next, I’d like to thank you all for supporting me and my work. Thanks to all the clients I’ve gained, the friends I’ve met. And hey, if you’re in Southern Japan and you’d like to work with me, feel free to give me a shout!

Toni McLennon

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