“In some cases, the driving force behind a shoot has to do with the unfortunate social constructs that exist here in Japan,” says photographer Bobby Pitts about his work. “It’s difficult for Japanese women to explore and appreciate their own beauty, especially when it comes to sexiness.” This is part of how his MASKED series started. But he’s done more beyond that. Bobby has been into photography for years and is known for creating a really big mood in his photos using LEDs. He says the lighting often matches the energy of the shoot.
The Essential Camera Gear of Bobby Pitts
I’m grateful to have a camera as capable as the R5. Once I’m dialed in, I am able to focus entirely on my subject and the composition without having to worry much about the settings, autofocus, etc. This is especially important when it comes to shooting challenging live performances like fire and pole dance.
Beyond having a camera, the most essential thing is a good relationship between myself and my subject. I don’t often shoot professional models or people who are comfortable in front of a camera, so a crucial asset is my ability to help people feel more relaxed and confident.
Lastly, having an assistant is always nice because I like the feeling of creating something as a team. Everyone involved really encourages everyone else, and in the end, we can all be proud of the final results together.
Phoblographer: Talk to us about how you first got into photography.
Bobby Pitts: When I was around 12 years old, my father bought me my own point-and-shoot camera. I took pictures of anything I thought was interesting or beautiful, like sunsets, insects, eyes, roadkill, etc. The purpose of my pictures was simple and self-gratifying. It wasn’t until 8 years ago that I finally began to discover my true passion and learned how photography could be used to further my goal.
My partner had a dance performance, and I wanted to gift her with nice pictures from the show. I purchased my first mirrorless camera and took pictures that would change both our lives forever. It was then that I began to realize there was a deeper power to photography, beyond just snapping a nice picture. I learned that capturing a moment when someone feels confident and beautiful is a way to empower them, and I made it my goal to use my camera to do just that for the people in my life. The truth is that my pictures are not the reason I am passionate about photography. My motivation is helping others to love and appreciate themselves more. I want to capture proof of experiences that people will cherish forever. That’s why I am drawn to shooting performers, and also why my photoshoots are often a challenge for my subjects. I want them to push their limits and discover that they are more capable than they realize.
Phoblographer: you’ve got a lot of very high-contrast work. what makes you want to blend bright lights with lots of darkness in the scene?
Bobby Pitts: In some cases, it’s circumstantial. A lot of the shows I shoot are both colorful and dark, and I’m really just capturing what’s there.
In my photoshoots, I think it comes down to the fact that I really love skin. It’s the best canvas for light, and the lines and curves of the human body create the most beautiful shadows and highlights. When I first started helping my friends with their self-love, it didn’t even involve my camera. I used red and blue LEDs, a dark room, and a mirror to help them literally see themselves in a different light. It’s fascinating how people respond. They begin to see their own figure as a work of art, and that’s usually when they feel ready to bring out the camera.
Phoblographer: I can imagine, when you photograph fire dancers, that you’re capturing the scenes. when you work with models in more of a studio setting, how much instruction and creative vision is set forth to create the images?
Bobby Pitts: As I’ve touched on before, when I have a shoot with a model, my primary goal is to help them appreciate and feel more confident in themselves. I’ll use various settings, lights, costumes, props, etc. to help see themselves in a different perspective. There is usually a component of role-playing involved, too. I try to get my subjects to imagine a character they want to portray. A mermaid, a cyborg warrior assassin, a greek goddess; anything to get them out of their usual headspace. For me, the energy of the shoot more important than being meticulous and methodical about the posing and shooting, and I think that energy is reflected in my pictures.
In some cases, the driving force behind a shoot has to do with the unfortunate social constructs that exist here in Japan. It’s difficult for Japanese women to explore and appreciate their own beauty, especially when it comes to sexiness. It’s a culture that values conformity and modesty, which can sometimes lead to women having issues in their self-confidence and self-expression. Because of this, I’ll be approached by women who are looking for a way to explore or embrace their sexiness in a safe, judgement-free space. Actually, this is the origin of the “MASKED” project. I wanted to give my models a way to be anonymous and safe from the judgements of society.
Phoblographer: do you feel like the magic of your photos comes out in-camera or in post-production?
Bobby Pitts: I feel like the magic comes from what’s in front of the camera, and pressing the shutter just captures that. The truth is I do very little post-production on my pictures. I’ve never been huge on photo editing, as it’s my intention to capture things as they are. That having been said, I’ll adjust things like shadows, clarity, color, etc., if it helps the image match the energy or feeling I was able to witness in person.
About Bobby Pitts
“Bobby was born in Costa Rica to an American father and Taiwanese mother. He graduated from high school at the American International School and moved to the USA, where he studied business, biology, art, and theater at Eastern New Mexico University. In 2015, he moved to Japan to begin his career as a teacher.
After spending the past 7 years as an English educator, he decided to turn his passion into his profession. He currently works as a photographer and videographer in Tokyo, specializing in dance performances and portraiture.”