Interview with Martin Bailey, nature photographer from Japan

snow monkeys in japan
Snow monkeys in Japan – © Martin Bailey Photography

This month we fly to Japan to meet the British nature and wildlife photographer Martin Bailey. Blogger, podcaster and tour leader based in Tokyo. In addition to conveying his passion for photography through the blog and organizing adventurous workshops, Martin is also a Capture One ambassador and X-Rite Coloratti. A professional committed at 360 degrees.


Where does your passion for photography come from?

Initially, back in my teens, I was attracted to photography as a means to capture the beauty of the English countryside, as I walked in the hills of Derbyshire and the Lake District.

When I moved to Japan at age 24 I had access to better camera equipment (financially) and although the culture of Japan drew me into photography further, I continued to find myself gravitating back to photographing the landscapes and eventually also the wildlife of Japan.

My passion for photography has always been fueled by my excitement as I view images that I believe enable me to relive moments that I was out in the landscape or see into the soul of my wildlife subjects. 

What prompted you to pursue a professional career?

I started a photography podcast back in 2005 and quickly found myself with an unexpected but very welcome audience. That led to me setting up my first tour and workshop in Hokkaido, the northern-most island of Japan in 2008, and by 2010, after my third successful tour that was now selling out, I started to think that if I had more time, I could do more tours and perhaps make photography my full-time career. 

I actually booked myself on a voyage to Antarctica with a friend in 2011, as a resident photographer, I would not have had enough paid leave from my day-job to do the voyage, so I basically backed myself into a corner. I had to leave my day-job, or let the chance of a lifetime slip away. I knew that I had to leave the day-job, so I’d set the wheels in motion for my exit.

Antarctica landscape
Antarctica landscape – © Martin Bailey Photography

From England to Japan. Was it difficult to get used to a culture so different from yours?

Although the culture of Japan is in many ways different to England, I actually felt very much at home in Japan, from around my third day here. On getting back to Japan after my first visit home six months later, and standing on the Bullet Train platform in Tokyo, waiting for my train up to Fukushima, where I’d ultimately spend my first four years here, I recall breathing a huge sigh of relief, and realized that “I was home”. 

Tell me the story behind one of your photographs, an unforgettable moment from one of your journeys.

I recall around 2011, I was in Hokkaido with my tour and workshop group, and it hadn’t snowed for the two days that we were scheduled to photograph the beautiful Red-Crowned Cranes, and the snow makes a lot of difference to the photographs. Although we were supposed to move to our next location and start photographing the Whooper Swans, when I saw it was snowing, I made a decision to take the group back to the cranes first. 

Shortly after we arrived and set up our tripods and cameras, multiple groups of cranes started dancing in the snow, and I got one of my favorite photographs of the cranes to that point, and probably one that I have not improved on since. The photo is special to me, but there was another side-story that made this experience so much more important.

Red-crowned cranes
Dance of the red-crowned cranes in Hokkaido – © Martin Bailey Photography

In my group, there was an Israeli lady who had been walking with a limp and seemed somewhat under the weather for the first five days of the tour. As the cranes started to dance though, I looked around at my group and noticed that this Israeli lady was jumping up and down and giggling like a fourteen-year-old. I realized at that time that my tours were changing people’s lives and felt so proud that I had been able to build a business that enables me to bring so much joy to the lives of my clients.

What kind of tour/workshop do you organize?

I do workshops to locations that I personally have fallen in love with. My cornerstone tours are “Winter Landscape” and “Wildlife Tours” in Japan, but I’ve also worked in Antarctica, Greenland, Iceland, Morocco, and Namibia. I’m still doing Namibia tours each year, and working on a joint Iceland and Greenland tour at the moment, and I’ll add a few more over time. 

Winter landscape in Hokkaido
Winter landscape in Hokkaido – © Martin Bailey Photography
Dead Vlei trees in Namibia
Dead Vlei, Namibia – © Martin Bailey Photography

The main thing that I always do with my tours is to offer a certain level of luxury that my clients appreciate. I always arrange the best possible hotels or lodging for the areas we visit, and transport is never crowded, so that people have room to be comfortable and usually have quick access to their camera gear.

I also dedicate a lot of time working with my clients on their questions and helping them with their photography. People generally leave my tours with some photos and experiences of a lifetime and also knowing at least a few things more about photography.

What is the equipment you always carry with you on travel?

Since last year I am using two Canon EOS R mirrorless cameras. I generally also have a Canon EF 11-24mm, an RF 24-105mm, an EF 100-400mm lens, and for domestic wildlife work, I also take my 200-400mm lens. I use Really Right Stuff Tripods and heads.

Greenland Aurora
Aurora in Greenland – © Martin Bailey Photography

As a resident, what is the district of Tokyo that most inspire your photographs?

I know that this may seem wasteful, but although I live in Tokyo, I really don’t photograph it. I appreciate looking at the Street photography of others, but I have very little interest in photographing Tokyo myself.

The last curiosity Martin: what would you have done in life if you hadn’t become a photographer?

I’d have stayed in IT (Information Technology). I have a computer-related degree that I got in college here in Japan, and I have learned a lot about business and management, so I could have stayed in IT and made more money than I do now. But I would not trade being a photographer for anything. I love my life, and I love the world that I am fortunate enough to have and will hopefully continue to be able to photograph.


 

Martin Bailey portrait Martin Bailey, nature and wildlife photographer based in Tokyo, Japan.

www.martinbaileyphotography.com

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