All images and words by Jason Halayko. Used with permission.
My name is Jason Halayko, and I am a Canadian-born photographer who is now based in Tokyo, Japan. I have been doing photography for around 20 years (since many hours of time in the high school darkroom) and have been doing it as a full professional for the last 3 years. The main types of photography that do would be action sports, portraits, street photography, event photography, etc. I personally really love shooting action photography and working with the crazy athletes that take their sports to the extreme edge and even beyond at many times. This is what I am best known for as a photographer, and especially for my work with Red Bull here in Japan over the last 10 years.
My creative vision when I am taking photos would be about how I can make an athlete look as cool and badass as possible while also maybe taking the image in a way the I have not done in the past. For me, working WITH the athletes and creating an image that is creative and spectacular as an artistic photo while also showing the sport in the best way. What I mean is I want my images to be photographically amazing, but they also need the proper timing for the tricks so that the athlete is shown at the peak of their performance. I think that my work could be inspirational for a lot of budding action sports photographers out there, especially ones that want to work with companies to share their common vision.
Why did you get into photography?
I first got into photography when an artist friend of mine in high school suggested we take the photography course for an “easy A”. Little did he know the course was quite demanding, and although he dropped the course quite quickly, I loved its structure and the fact we could use the dark room whenever we wanted. I spent many an afternoon in the alone developing my prints and experimenting with different printing styles. During this time the photography bug was firmly placed in my heart, and still has a home there today, over 20 years later.
What photographers are your biggest influences?
Looking back I would have to say one of my earliest influences would have to be the photographers in my brothers snowboard magazines back in the early 90s. I was fascinated by the sequence photos I would see, and I think the general style of the images I saw in various media (skateboard, BMX, X-Games, etc) really helped to build a solid foundation of what makes a great action sports image.
In recent years I have been able to meet and work with many amazing international photographers through my work with Red Bull here in Japan. Just some of these people would be Rutger Pauw, Joerg Mitter, Dean Treml, Nika Kramer, Romina Amato, Little Shao, and although I have not yet met him personally, Dan Vojetch is also a huge inspiration. I think these people have influenced me the most because I have worked alongside them and have been able to witness how they work firsthand (from start to finished photo) and can compare their work to what I shot during the same day at the same event. And although these photographers are all at the top of their game, they have all taken the time to teach and encourage me where they could, which is something I would like to do more myself with other photographers here in Japan, and around the world if possible one day.
How long have you been shooting?
I’m pretty sure it was 1994 when I took my first photography class in high school, so over 20 years now behind the lens.
Why is photography and shooting so important to you?
Photography is not just something I do, but has really become a deep essence of who I am as a person and how I interact with the world around me. I feel that photography allows me to express my creative visions in a way that connects with how my mind and body work. I used to love drawing, but find it very challenging to put my true vision onto the paper. But with photography I can create a shot in my head, and then find it possible (not easy but possible) to recreate my vision in a final photograph. From there, once I have the final image, I really cherish the joy and excitement my images can bring to those who see them. There is no better feeling than taking a picture and having your subject go crazy after seeing how the photo came out. Best feeling in the world!
Do you feel that you’re more of a creator or a documenter? Why?
As a professional photographer some days I have to be a creator and some days I have to be a documenter. For example, on jobs where I am asked to take portrait/action photos of an athlete for their profile, etc., I have free range to shoot as I like, so I am for sure a creator on these shoots. But there are times where I work jobs where I need to have a good balance of creator and documenter. For example, many Red Bull events I shoot want to have super creative imagery for more progressive magazines and other artist outlets, but they also need the who, what, when, where shots for the local newspaper the day after the event. Both types of images are very important for the job, so I have to be aware of this while shooting and do a good balance of both throughout the day.
What’s typically going through your mind when you create images? Tell us about your processes both mentally and mechanically?
Generally speaking, the first thing I will look at when shooting is the background. What elements in the background will help the image tell a story, and what elements are simply distracting to the viewer in the end photo. I tend to like uncluttered, graphically interesting backgrounds that help the viewer focus on whatever subject I am shooting. Things like an athletes cluttered bags, irrelevant cars or pedestrians, garbage, ugly power lines, distracting colors, etc., it can be a pretty long list.
From there I would say next is, do I shoot natural light or do I want/need to use my flashes. Usually for me time is a large factor here. Some shoots I just don’t have time or need to be super mobile, or might be working alongside a film crew so using flashes is out of the question. And sometimes the natural light is just really freaking nice! Other times though I will use my flash to add pop to the image, or because it is a necessity when shooting indoors on location.
Want to walk us through your processing techniques?
I am not one of those people that can spend 6 hours editing one image. For most of my professional work, Red Bull is a great example of these, I need to look through anywhere from 500 to 3,000 images from a single day, pick the best 15-30 images, and edit them within an hour or two; sometimes even faster. During these shoots I will do 99% of my edits in the Camera Raw editor for PS as this allows me to do quick edits that I can then use on other images quickly and easily. As this is how I have worked for a long time, even when shooting for myself or have extra time, I tend to edit quite quick and don’t get to crazy with my edits. Saying that, I would love to find the time to take an intensive course of PS and learn more of the interesting and creative ways of editing and image.
Tell us about the project that you’re pitching, or your portfolio.
My portfolio is my website, and it is something I try to constantly update with new photos I take throughout the year. I have broken it down into the major types of images I enjoy shooting (people, action, Japan, culture, university) and also have a page showing the results of my larger printed work. To me this is a natural way to show my work and seems to be working for now. By keeping my portfolio up to date I feel I am able to show how I am currently growing as a photographer, and maybe show how my style has developed over the years.
What made you want to get into your genre?
I never really had much interest in action sports until I started snowboarding with friends back in Canada and in Northern Japan in the late 90s-early 2000s. Once I had a sense of how difficult/dangerous these sports are I had a much greater respect for the athletes. Specifically with action sports photography, when I worked at a local ski resort in Northern Japan I became friends with a Japanese guy named Suzuki Daisuke, or Daice as he is known now. Daice is one of the first professional FMX riders in Japan and would always invite me to his events. When I finally was able to see one he was kind enough to introduce me to a friend of his who just happened to be an editor at Transworld Motocross Japan. Long story short, some photos I took that day got published, and from then on I have loved photographing action sports ever since.
Tell us a bit about the gear that you use and how you feel it helps you achieve your creative vision.
I use all Nikon Cameras and lenses when shooting. My main camera is the Nikon D5 and although it does not have the largest sensor on the market, its high shutter speed and amazing ISO performance really help me capture every moment, even when the event hall is darker than I would like. I don’t have any lenses that are too exotic, but I really enjoy using my 24mm and 50mm 1.4 lenses as I love bokeh and the look the prime lenses get. Saying that, I have been using the same 6 lenses for several years now and can kind of instinctually know now which lens would be best for what I am shooting. So really, people need to remember its not what gear you have, but how well you know it, and how well you use it!
What motivates you to shoot?
Fun. I really, really enjoy photography and all the challenges, disappointments, tears, rage, joy, happiness, friendships, and experiences that it has brought into my life. I really can’t think of anything else I would want to do with my life. Well, if I could help raise red pandas I’m pretty sure I would drop everything and do that, but other than that, pretty happy where things are right now.