With a longstanding passion for Japan and its culture, it was a love story that took Belgian photographer Nicolas Wauters to Tokyo in 2013, where he has lived ever since and became a guide and workshop leader.
Thank you, Nicolas, for this opportunity. Would you like to start by introducing yourself to our readers?
Hi Fuji X Passion, thank you to give me the opportunity to share my vision and love of Japan with this article.
To introduce myself, my name is Nicolas Wauters and I’m a Belgian based in Tokyo since 2013.
When I arrived in Japan, I created my own tour guide company and since then I’m working as a tour guide and photographer all around Japan.
My goal is to share my passion and love for Japan through private guided tours, images, and Photography Workshops.
Could you tell us how your interest in Japan began, and what elements of its culture attracted you in particular?
I was born in 1979 and I grew up in the eighties. At this period in Europe, it was the introduction of video games, the arrival of the Japanese anime on tv screen like Dragon ball, and more.
I started playing video games when I was 5 years old with the Atari 2600. At the same time, I was watching plenty of Japanese anime and this made me start interest myself in the Japanese culture.
I’m someone very passionate about a lot of things and some of them are skateboards, motorcycle, basketball, and many others. I invest myself so much in my passions that I try to do them at 200%.
The same happened when I played video games. Since the beginning of my gamers life, I finished more than 4000 games and was a hard-core gamer in World of Warcraft for more than 7 years too.
For sure, nowadays my vision has completely changed, and I immediately stopped playing video games when I arrived in Japan.
The temptation was too huge and the best idea was to stop…
However, it’s always fun that thanks to my travel guide job I meet with many other people who have grown in the same generation and come to Japan for the same reason as me.
When did you decide to move to Tokyo, and how were the early days there? Was it easy to get used to a new culture and habits, and today you consider yourself fully integrated?
I made my first trip to Japan in 2010 to finally established myself in 2013. This adventure started in Brussels. In 2009 I met a Japanese lady in my hometown who lived in Bordeaux and was speaking French.
Our first meeting started with a small flirt of one week in Brussels before she had to go back to Japan. Next, I took a plane ticket for Japan and proposed her to meet again during my trip.
This flirt became a long-distance relationship, and after 3 years of two-way travel between our countries (sometimes 3 weeks, sometimes 3 months), we finally decided to be married and she asked me to join her in Japan.
I took 2 empty suite cases, put everything I needed inside them, sold all my unnecessary stuff in Belgium, and was finally ready to join her in Tokyo.
Thanks to my different travels in Japan the past few years, I was already used to the Japanese culture and I saw this situation as a “restart”, a chance to open my mind. A challenge to start something new and learn more about the Japanese culture.
My wife told me so many things and really helped me in daily life to integrate myself in the best way possible. However, as she always told me “living in Japan is really different than traveling in Japan”.
And your interest in Photography, did it start before or after your move to Tokyo?
My interest in photography started just after I arrived in Japan.
When I landed in Japan, after a few weeks/months I saw so many people completely lost in the city cause of all the different subway/JR lines… These people gave me the idea to start a tour guide job.
At this time, the first thing I needed to create my company was a website and knew the importance of having great images on it.
However, due to my low-income, buying a photography license was not an option and I decided to start shooting photos of the city on my own.
The first results were not that great and going to a photography school in Japan was not an option because of my low Japanese level.
Hopefully, we live in a wonderful generation where you can study on your own with the internet.
I tried to learn by myself with a Nikon D3100 that someone lent me.
I have multiplied the outputs and spent hours viewing online courses like Phlearn.
And time goes on, the need for photography for my website became a passion that I kept multiplying.
I think it was super great for me to change my addiction for video games with another passion such as photography.
How would you define the type of photography you currently do, and what inspires you to grab the camera and go out into the streets?
Honestly, I don’t know exactly… I just try to share my love for the city and the country itself. I try to make cityscapes and landscapes of Japan most of the time without people.
I started photography with cityscapes of Tokyo, and my goal was to share an empty Japan. Looking on the web or social network made me see many pictures of different locations in Japan without any population. Those pictures were insane and gave me inspiration about some locations.
My goal was to share only the beauties of the city itself without any population.
It’s also a feeling… Even if I’m always impressed by some portrait photography, it’s very difficult for me to do it. When I take pictures of people, I feel like I’m stealing something personal and take “advantage of them”.
But please keep in mind that this is a personal feeling and don’t change my love for these kinds of pictures.
That’s why I decided to take pictures of Tokyo during the night when everybody is sleeping.
Besides, walking alone in the city gives me the motivation to grab my camera and explore.
After having photographed many places in Tokyo and other cities in Japan, I wanted to open my mind to Japanese Landscapes to continue to discover the country from North to South.
It’s curious that you mentioned the goal of sharing an empty Japan. In a city whose metropolitan area has approximately 40 million inhabitants, how do you shoot your photographs with almost empty streets and this enormous sense of silence and tranquillity?
According to me, the city itself is sufficient as a subject and I don’t want to have humans in most of my photography.
This doesn’t mean that I don’t like people (as many people can think). I love people, I love to meet them, talk with them, and share with them my passion for Japan. But when I take photos, I just want to be focused on the city itself and nothing else.
For Tokyo and other cities, I shoot most of my pictures during the night. Most of the time I leave my home when people go to sleep and walk into the city until the morning.
For my Japanese landscapes, it’s not that difficult. Most of the places are quiet or sometimes I just need patience.
And if you go on my website, you will be able to see a few pictures with humans like monks or ladies with kimonos who add more a “Japanese signature” to the pictures.
We noticed that, in each of your photos, there is a long and hard work of choosing the location, the best angle, time of day, the best day of the week, focal length, settings, and so on… You could briefly describe your workflow from the moment you have an idea of photographing a certain location until the final photograph is completed and ready to be printed?
Not that much, or I don’t realize it… Due to my tour guide job, I walk around 400km per month in the city or country trying to always explore it more and more. I can also spend hours on Google Earth to find interesting locations.
When I see some interesting places, I add them on a Google Map and create a list of photography named “to do”.
As I fell in love with the city and as I’m a more urban guy, sometimes just a footbridge or a factory can look interesting as a subject in my opinion and I add many places on my map.
Besides, social networks like Instagram give me also the inspiration for the locations.
When I have new locations for my cityscapes, I decide to take a walk during the night to these spots. And luckily, the weather doesn’t impact my cityscape photography so much. I don’t need special light or golden hours as much as I need for my Japanese landscapes.
For my Japanese landscapes, it’s always a pleasure to take my car and take a ride to the place itself.
Waking up at 2 am to shoot or come back home to post-prod, well I love all the parts of photography.
We understand that you organize a series of workshops several times a year, not only in Tokyo but also in other regions of Japan, correct? Who typically looks for your services, photographers who need some guidance to get better pictures of their trip to Japan, or tourists who want to get to know the country but are not particularly interested in photography?
I created my company called Tokyo Trip who provides tours in Japan in 2013.
During several years, I created partnerships with different travel agencies in Belgium, France, Switzerland, etc. In the last seven years, with my team, we provided many thousands of tours in the country.
Until 2018, I worked in real estate photography, but I decided last year to stop to only focus on landscapes and cityscapes.
Having sightseeing the country with my work as a tour guide and working as a photographer since 2015, I decided to combine those two jobs to create photography workshops.
Even if I already made many private and group tours, the Workshop is a really “fresh” concept that started in 2019.
It has been impacted by the pandemic but today I’m working on new tours and hope to meet many people who love Japan to frame it together.
I’m a very open-minded guy, so everyone is welcome, and I always try to adapt myself to the travelers.
The idea is to discover the country together while improving our photography techniques.
This requires learning more and more and that’s one of the things I love about photography.
Speaking of Japan is almost inseparable from talking about cameras, as it is also an integral part of its culture. Compared to the European and American markets, for example, do you notice differences between the brands and types of cameras preferred by the average user?
To be honest, I don’t consider myself a gear addict. I’m more a lonely photography shooter.
But my feeling is that Nikon is more popular in Japan as Canon can be in Europe or the U.S.
I’m also always impressed how Japanese people have most of the time amazing cameras like a D850 or huge DSLR for family shots.
A couple of years ago you moved from Nikon to Fuji, correct? What were the reasons that led you to choose Fuji and, given your specific requirements for a camera system, what are your impressions so far?
I started photography with a camera that my dad lent me. It was a Nikon D3100.
After a time, I bought my own camera, a Nikon D810, and I upgraded later with a D850.
With my four lenses 14-24mm, 24mm T.S, 24-70mm, and 70-200mm I was able to cover all the range I needed, and I have been super happy with Nikon during all these times.
However, the only trouble was the weight of it. As I told you, I walk a lot (around 400km per month) and most of the time with my camera bag. The more my bag is filled, the more I feel pain in my back when I go back home after walking a lot.
In 2019 I was interested in the Fujifilm system, especially for its weight.
A day I brought all my camera bags to the camera store and sold all my gear to switch for Fujifilm. And that’s one of the best decisions I made!
Not that my Nikon camera was not great, but it was too bulky and heavy.
This change made me reduce more than 3KG in my bag and gave my back the pleasure of going out and shot some pictures.
Fujifilm also gave me back the pleasure to shoot thanks to all the different interactions available on the camera.
All the ISO dial, shutter speed dial, aperture ring that you must do manually make more the feeling to make the picture than just snap it.
And the most important is that now I can focus on new projects. New projects like making videos on YouTube (with log profile) when the pandemic will be more in control or even hiking photography that I will start in 2021, and which would have been more difficult with heavier equipment.
What can we usually find inside your camera bag?
90% of the time it’s the same gear. Depending on the location, I can add some extra gear like a mic or a drone.
• Body: Fujifilm X-T3 with grip
• Lenses: Fuji 10-24mm F4, Fuji 16-55mm F2.8, Fuji 50-140mm F2.8 Samyang 24mm tilt-shift
• Drone: DJI Mavic Air
• Filter: NiSi filters V6 kit + ND 16 / ND 100 / GND 8
• Tripod: Gitzo traveler 2545T
• Mic: Zoom H4N Pro
Speaking of camera bags, we understand that you are an f-stop ambassador, right? Why did you choose this brand and, in your opinion, what distinguishes it from the others?
Like any other photographer, finding the perfect camera bag was a long way to travel.
I have tried many brands as Lowepro or Think Tank and even if it was a great experience, I completely changed my opinion after trying the f-Stop brand.
For me, f-Stop makes the perfect bags regarding comfort and looks.
But the best thing is their ICU (Internal Camera Unit) that you can adapt from small size to extra large size.
Due to that, my bag can be “only a camera bag” with my large ICU or if I plan to go on the mountain I can switch with a medium ICU and add clothes for a two to three days trip.
All of that only with one bag!
In addition, the brand mentality speaking is just amazing and that’s something that is very important for me.
I’m in contact since the beginning of 2020 with f-Stop and today I’m super proud to be one of their ambassadors.
For the post-processing work, what software do you use and why?
For most of my post-prod, I use Lightroom 75% of the time, and I can sometimes make some blending or other actions on Photoshop.
Given that despite being a very odd year for everyone, 2020 was a quite interesting year in terms of Fujifilm products announcement, don’t you think? To conclude, what is your wish list for this year of 2021?
2020 was a very special year… The pandemic has completely changed the game for many of us… As for my travel company which has stopped the activity since March…
However, I always try to see the positive part even if the situation is negative, and it gives me the opportunity to be more focused on new projects.
It also allowed me for the first time since 2013 to enjoy time with my wife and my two bulldogs…
Indeed, Fuji has made a lot of releases, but I’m very impatient to see what will come in 2021.
The end of the year is coming, and I really hope for all of you that 2021 will be an incredible year and that you will be safe and enjoy discovering the world while framing with your camera!
If I had one wish, it would be to be able to see travellers again soon in Japan and take them with me to photograph Japan together through one of my next photography workshops.
“My name is Nicolas Wauters and I’m a Belgian based in Tokyo since 2013.
When I arrived in Japan, I created my own tour guide company and since then I’m working as a tour guide and photographer all around Japan. My goal is to share my passion and love for Japan through private guided tours, images, and Photography Workshops. “