Like Stephen Alvarez or Steve McCurry, Michael Yamashita is one of those National Geographic photographers who has a job most of us would envy. For the past 30 years he’s been traveling the world on behalf of Nat Geo, giving us an inside look into the amazing world around us. After graduating from Wesleyan University with a degree in Asian studies, he spent seven years in Asia, really getting to know the continent and its people. In fact, as a third generation Japanese-American, you could say that he has a natural love for his home country and its surrounding areas.
Take a look at Yamashita’s body of work and you’ll notice that he has an incredible way of telling stories through light, color and composition.
I got in touch with the award-winning photographer to ask him a few questions. Read that interview below.
In your opinion, what makes a great photograph?
A great photograph for me is what I call a page-stopper – a picture with such visual impact that it stops a reader from page flipping. The composition, the light, the color and the subject arrest you, and make you feel compelled just to stare at it.
What is it about Asian culture that draws you in, making you want to focus your photography on the continent?
Back when I started 30 years ago, I wanted to go everywhere and did. Africa, South America, all over Europe. But somewhere about ten years into my career, I thought, what part of the world made me happiest, and the answer, as a third-generation Japanese-American, was Asia. I like to joke it's the love of rice.
Who do you think are today's best photographers (Nat Geo or other)?
The photographers from VII have the hot hands at the moment.
What separates a Nat Geo photographer from the pack?
Working for the Geographic has always been one of the best jobs in photojournalism. The assignments average months in the field rather than weeks or days. You get to do definitive work on whatever the subject. Although today's stories run on tight budgets and deadlines, the world's best photographers are making a bee line to Washington DC as the Geographic is now the only game in town, in a vastly diminished print world.
Are there any real world tips you could give to other photographers who are looking to take great travel photos?
Do your homework; know the place you're going to and what pictures you want to take. Work from your shoot list. Good pictures are more about planning and hunting than reacting to an accidental subject or situation.
Is there any career advice you could give to photographers just starting out?
It helps to be financially independent or – to put it bluntly — wealthy, so you don't have to think about making a living from this game. It is getting more and more difficult to compete in a shrinking market with an oversupply of photographers and photography. So many outlets – from magazines to stock agencies – have disappeared in the last few years, and the seeming ease of digital photography has made everyone a photographer.
I would also advise someone starting out to learn to shoot video, as it is the story-telling medium of the Internet future of publishing.
Thanks so much for the interview, Michael. We’re truly enchanted by your incredible photos.