When it comes to commercial photography, some of us may have the impression that there’s only so much you can do to get creative. The genre heavily leans toward client directive, so it’s not uncommon for photographers to set some of their bright ideas aside in favor of what the project requires. However, it’s not at all impossible to work with clients who share the penchant for out of the box approaches. Case in point is the vibrant photography of Yuya Parker, who has worked with big brands like Adobe, Amazon, Smirnoff and Starbucks.
A quick look at the portfolio of the Los Angeles-based photographer and director reveals his affinity for color, which he executes through playful use of props and details. He attributes this painterly composition and use of colors to his background in painting. Meanwhile, adding a touch of whimsical details allow him to freshen up a brand’s visuals with a fine art approach.
This “freshness” is a quality that Yuya himself considers integral to his visual language. It’s what draws clients to work with him, giving him the freedom to design a creative concept based on the kind of photos they need.
“Because I grew up in Japan, my sense of color and the way I compose things and my choice of props is slightly different than it would be if I’d grown up in the US,” he tells us in a quick interview. “Now that I spend the majority of my time here, I’m influenced by both cultures.”
In addition, his visual style allows him to explore what the collaborative spirit lend to his work, especially for commercial photography. It begins with respect for a fellow creative’s craft, and trusting in their strengths. However, he’s careful about getting into anyone’s space, keeping in mind that everyone is working together towards a single goal.
“I think in our heads we always have a “this will be better” idea, but it’s always better to try other ideas too – that usually has the best outcome.”
There’s a lot more to learn and get inspired from our conversation with Yuya, so we’re inviting everyone to check out our full interview below.
Can you tell us something about yourself and what you do?
I grew up in Japan and loved taking photos since I was a kid. After briefly studying architecture, I decided to go to the US to study landscape design. I moved to Los Angeles where I studied English at first, and eventually my passion for photography came back and I began to pursue photography. I now do commercial and fine art photography that emphasizes vibrant colors and textures. My work ranges from still life and lifestyle to architecture photography. I often get inspiration from fine art painting. I enjoy photography and my goal in photography is to have fun and to bring the viewers the same experience as I have.
How did your photography adventure begin? How did you discover the kind of work that you now do?
I was always taking photos since I was a kid, when I had a 35mm compact lens that my mom gave me and a cheap toy camera. I would always go around taking pictures of things, even though photography was not my main goal at the time. The work I’m doing now maintains some of the playfulness from my beginnings. It gradually developed as I discovered my strengths and what made my photography stand out.
What do you consider to be the most important aspect or characteristic of your visual language?
I think the freshness. Because I grew up in Japan, my sense of color, the way I compose things and my choice of props are slightly different than it would be if I grew up in the US. Now that I spend the majority of my time here, I’m influenced by both cultures. At this point I’m mixing elements from both experiences, and I think the synthesis gives a fresh look. I’m also always paying attention to the lines and structures in my work, whether it’s still life or architecture – I think because I spent some time studying architecture.
Your commercial photography has a distinctly vibrant and painterly style with incorporation of whimsical details. How do you usually make this combination work in your client projects?
I try to get involved in the early process as much as I can. I suggest ideas or provide visual references, such as sketches, when possible. Often, clients take the essence from those ideas and we arrive at a combination of their vision and my vision. Occasionally, clients come to me and give me the freedom to come up with a creative concept for the shoot. They just provide a general outline of what types of photos they need.
How do you approach collaborations with brands or other creatives?
It starts with respect for each other and finding the strengths of each talent, because you don’t want to get in anyone’s space and we want to work together to create one thing. Sometimes, my work with prop stylists is collaborative. I’ll suggest some ideas for props and we discuss what might work best for the shoot. When we both have different ideas, I try to test both directions. It can be switching up props, moving objects, or using different background colors. I think in our heads, we always have a “this will be better” idea. But it’s always better to try other ideas too – that usually leads to the best outcome.
Can you share with us a little about your creative process? How has it evolved throughout your career?
In the past I didn’t have any specific creative process, I just did things as I went. But now, I’ve started to create a more structured creative process by learning from my mistakes and what worked in the past. Like in order to create shots, I now take simple written notes of any ideas that come up because often, something you assume other people already understand or know, they don’t – or they aren’t thinking the same way. So, I try to put it into simple clear words or images or sketches to make sure we are all on the same page. I don’t want to spend too much time communicating back and forth because it can be a waste of people’s valuable time. So, using these notes, images and sketches helps me communicate in a quicker and clearer way.
How do Adobe products like Lightroom, Photoshop and Adobe Express help you achieve your creative vision?
I use Photoshop heavily. It’s great for me to bring in colors and fine tune details. There are certain things I cannot do on set such as use very specific background colors or prop colors, because I cannot control what’s available (unless I make them from scratch, but that isn’t always practical for commercial shoots). Since the camera is just a tool to capture an image and isn’t perfect, Photoshop allows me to get closer to the image I intended.
Lastly, what would you advise to those who want to explore creative commercial photography? What are some dos and don’ts?
I think a “do” is to do enough creative test shoots. I wouldn’t just do a bunch of test shoots that are the same. That’s what I used to do. That’s how I learned that creating lots of images is good, but sometimes it’s good to step back and think about each idea, each shot, and fine tune these ideas. Think about what props to use and every single detail you can think of. That’s the luxury you have with a test shoot.
On fusing creativity with the client’s vision
With commercial shoots, there are a lot more restrictions because it’s not about you. It’s about bringing the client’s vision to life. The more you show your style, the more clients will expect you to create that style. That’s often what happens for me. When there’s a different creative direction I want to take in my photography, I do that in test shoots and in my fine art photography. Essentially, you are the one in control of your creativity and the direction of your commercial work.
On equipment considerations and misconceptions
I would also say don’t think that you need to have all the equipment or the best equipment you can think of to pursue product photography. That’s the mistake I’ve seen from myself and many other photographers, especially those in their early stages. There are some people who just don’t shoot enough because they think they need to save up to buy a new camera first, instead of just shooting with what they have or continuing creating. Or, it could be lighting. They think if they don’t have good lighting equipment, they can’t produce photos. The truth is, when I started my commercial photography (the first two years or maybe more), I was using two lights I bought on Craigslist for $100 back in college. I was using the same lights for commercial work. Those lights only had a half and full stop switch. I only had high and low.
To control the light, I had to use different materials and I had to get creative with the lighting. When I did commercial shoots with those lights, no one complained or looked at the final photos and told me anything about my equipment. Instead, they just saw the photos and loved them. Now, my career has evolved. When I work in a high-end production, I do use top of the line equipment just to ensure efficiency and reliability. But it’s never about thinking that the equipment itself is going to give a better result. I’d be confident using the toy-like lighting I used back then (which unfortunately died after so many shoots and good memories!).
Don’t forget to check out Yuya Parker’s website to see more of his impressive commercial photography and fine art photography.
All photos by Yuya Parker. Used with permission.