Japan 2017 – Day 16 – April 2 (B’bye!)

We checked out at 7:30 am in order to catch our train. It was chilly and wet and our mood was a bit somber because it was our last day in Japan.

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In the station we bought our last bento box and took a bullet train to Shinagawa (Tokyo) then the Narita Express to the airport. We had reserved our seats on the train so we were in the “Green Car”. We overheard some idiot Americans complaining about there not being seats available when the truth was, they hadn’t reserved any. They were politely (and I mean VERY politely – almost apologetically – as is customary in Japan) to go to another car that was not reserved seating. Whenever I travel, I am often embarrassed by Americans. The entitlement, rudeness, and lack of respect for other cultures is such a shame.

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I LOVE THESE BLUE ROOFS!

I LOVE how clean Japan is. We traveled many many miles and I never saw as much as a tissue on the railroad tracks.
And while I am at it, the Japanese have a lot of tile roof houses. My favorite are these beautiful blue, almost iridescent, tiles. I want one!

Carol and Russell were on a different plane for the trip back, so we said our goodbyes and waved as they hauled luggage, some of it ours that we had dumped on them – thank you Carol and Russell.

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At the Narita airport we made our final purchase…Royce Chocolate. There are some things the Japanese do better than anyone else. Sushi (obviously), sake (Obviously), beef (Matsusaka not Kobe), and chocolate. If you ever have Royce Chocolate, it will make the best chocolate you have ever had, on a scale of 1 to 10, a 6 or 7. If you ever have it, you will immediately go out and buy a ticket to Japan so you can go get some more.

In the Narita Airport we had our last meal in Japan.
Squi, with his eternally positive nature, had Cherry Blossom Cake!
Kaz had Japanese meatloaf and tempura shrimp.

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I am embarrassed to say, I had a McDonald’s Cheeseburger. I think it was a “I’m unhappy to be leaving, guess I’ll go eat worms and pout” kind of thing.
Kaz just rolled her eyes and told our son, “You can’t take the white trash out of your Daddo!”
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We were lucky and caught a great tailwind, so the flight only took 8 1/2 hours instead of the usual 10. We arrived at LAX and although it felt good to be home, we dreaded coming back to a society that doesn’t have a lot of the things we enjoyed so much in Japan…cleanliness, politeness, and the best food in the world.

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Japan 2017 – Day 15 – April 1

The next day Mitsuru and Masataka picked us up again and took us to see a magnificent piece of engineering – a bridge in Sakaide. One strand of the cables that support the bridge could encircle the Earth 4 times! We were able to go up to a lookout point on a local hill and get a photo of the bridge.

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The Hanafusa Family is our 2nd family! Thank you so much for taking good care of us always.

From there, they took us to Kurahiki, which is a adorable town with a river running through the middle of it. On each side of the river are shops and if you feel compelled, there is a gondola in the river you can ride. Actors Headshot Photographer It was interesting to me that the river going through the middle of town had no barriers along it’s edge and it’s about a 6 foot drop to the water. I wondered how many people had accidentally fallen in and also how different the Japanese culture is. In the USA, there would be barriers and people would STILL fall in and the sue the city. That doesn’t happen in Japan. I guess they have a concept of personal responsibility…what a great idea! We shopped and checked out yet another temple that was really lovely. Squi and Mitsuru enjoyed the koi ponds while we wandered the grounds.

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When Mitsuru dropped us off at our hotel, he presented us with a bunch of sake that I was told I had ordered the evening before. Well, in spite of not remembering much about that – I’m glad I did….it’s delicious. There is a Muscat sake that takes 3 bunches of grapes to make ONE bottle…it’s astonishingly delicious!

That evening we “white trashed it”. We went to a HUGE mall, Aeon, and we ate at a food court!
We discussed all the food we had eaten in Japan and decided the best was in Okayama. But to quote Carol,”I wanna just eat my way through Japan!”
Next time!

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Japan 2017 – Day 10 – March 27

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I LOVE the bullet train! The Hyabusa is the fastest of all the bullet trains in Japan and we decided to take it for a quick day trip up to Sendai, 300 miles north of Tokyo. The 300 mile trip takes an hour and a half and that’s with a couple of stops! It was a beautiful smooth ride and there was one area we traveled through where they had snow.

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Snow in Fukushima

Russell, Carol and I explored a local temple near the train station in Matsushima and walked down to the ocean to see if we could find any signs of the tsunami’s destruction. At the temple there are limestone outcrops where the monks have carved “rooms” into the rock. The rooms were used as the final resting places for cremated remains and for occasional meditation areas.

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We found nothing to indicate the area had recently been through an assault by a 60 foot wall of water. One thing that helped protect this area was all the islands that dot the offshore area there. It’s amazing how quickly the area has returned to business as usual. As a side note, when you see construction sites in Japan, the barriers erected are often these cute anime characters…again in the spirit of “Kawai” (cute). It’s seen throughout Japanese culture…funny to see a very dignified business man in a suit carrying a cell phone with a cute little charm dangling from it.

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In Sendai, Date Masamune is everywhere.

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Squi and Mommy went to Anpanman Museum

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In the Sendai train station there were lots of places to eat and novelties to check out. One thing I admired greatly was a “dollar a shot” sake sampling vending machine! NOW we’re talking! Especially since I didn’t have to drive anywhere!Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer

Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer

We enjoyed a wonderful bullet train back to Asakusa where we checked out yet another temple. I never get tired of admiring these structures. They are all a bit different and all have a unique history.

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We went to dinner with Seri, Kaz’s old friend and Kaz’s bother, Takashi. We ate at Gonpachi restaurant and the good news is we had the best oysters EVER in my entire life! The bad news is, it’ll be hard to have oysters here in the States since they can’t compare. We did an oyster tasting… sampling them from all parts of the Japanese coast. Of course, along with tons of other food, there was the requisite over indulgence of sake and beer.

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Great friends, great food, and a wonderful country make for a truly memorable experience!

 

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Squi loves his uncle, Takeshi!

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Japan 2017 – Day 8 – March 25

Los angeles Photographer Actors HeadshotFrom the comfort and solitude of our getaway in ryokan Kamata, we ventured back to the big city madness of Tokyo. Tokyo is currently the biggest city in the world, and wonderfully – the SAFEST city in the world! I could literally put my camera on a bench with my wallet next to it, go in a store and shop for an hour, and when I came back it would still be there. It’s one of the MANY things about Japanese culture that I love and admire.

In Tokyo we arrived at the train station in Shinagawa then took a cab to our hotel in Asakusa. One thing about the hotels in Japan…the rooms are small….very small. But we figured we were only going to be in there for sleeping and taking a shower, so no big deal but it’s worth noting if you are planning a trip there.

Our friends, Carol and Russell came in that night to hang out with us for a week. We were so happy to see them and excited to show Russell around since it was his first time in Japan. Carol had been there before with us, so this was a special treat for her also.
First stop, of course, was a local bar to get a taste of what the Japanese do and drink after work. We went to the locally famous Kamiya Bar and had tasty bar food treats.
https://www.timeout.com/tokyo/bars-and-pubs/kamiya-bar
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Kaz had to teach an acting class that evening, so she hopped a train and left us on our own to wander and explore. Our explorations started out with going to Akihabra, the electronics capitol of Tokyo. I forgot to bring our selfie stick from home, so it was an easy find in Akihabra.
We didn’t count on our GPS not working so well in the city. Seems the signal bounces all around in the tall buildings and makes finding each other pretty much impossible. Contrary to what Verizon said, my phone wasn’t working, so I was useless in helping find Kaz once her class was over. After a lot of false starts, we all were finally reunited and got our shopping mojo in gear.

We had a good laugh at the Asahi building and the ridiculous giant sculpture on top of the building adjacent to it. Supposedly the Asahi building is a beer glass with the foam of a beer on top and the “golden Flame” atop the other building represents the fire or flame inside the beer. It makes no sense and has come to be known as  “Kin no unko” which translates as “The golden Turd”. At least it is memorable!Los angeles Photographer Actors Headshot
Los angeles Photographer Actors Headshot
Even though it was chilly and drizzling rain, it was great to be here and with good friends.
We found a fabulous restaurant and had extraordinary miso dipping sauces and veggies. Even the veggies seem better in Japan.

We made it back to our hotel content with a good day of exploring, shopping, and eating amazing food. Carol’s famous quote of the trip was,”I wanna just eat my way through Japan!”

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Japan 2017 – Day 3 March 20

Today we got up early due to the time difference, even though we are NOT morning people. By 8:30AM, Kaz, Rick, and John Jack had gone off to teach acting class.Actors Headshot Los Angeles Photographer

After poking about and having morning coffee, checking email, and reading a bit of the ever depressing news from the States, our friend, Seri came by and we nosed about Shinjuku a bit before going to hang out with Kaz and gang.

There were a few actors who had signed up to get head shots done, so I was busy doing that while Kaz translated. We were in a hallway of a building and I was checking out the light there but had decided against shooting there. As we were leaving the area, I looked down and there on the floor was a very special necklace that I had given Kaz years ago. Somehow it had simply fallen off and I found it. Weird.

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After a LONG day of waiting for the teachers to stop chatting with actors, we headed off to the “Robot Restaurant”. It’s a huge production with robots “fighting” dragons, and other robots, and dancing ninjas, and crazy mad costumes of all sorts. It was a formidable costume and light show with lots of loud music. First of all, allow me to clarify…it is NOT a restaurant in any way, shape, or form. It is an amazing, wonderful, colorful, fantastic show….if you are 8-10 years old. Otherwise you will feel completely ripped off. Maybe we’re jaded because we are from LA LA Land, but it takes more that costumes, lasers, and jumping around for me to be drawn in.

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We got a kick out of that and wound our way out of Robot hell to try and find a bar. Dan, Rick’s brother, mentioned there was a fairly famous bar nearby. It’s the Albatros Bar and was visited and recommended by Anthony Bourdain when he was in Tokyo.

When we got there we were informed there wasn’t much room left except a bit in the upstairs loft overlooking a small part of the city. That was great for us, so we headed up the stairs.   The group of Californias asked us “Did you take JAL from LA on Friday?   We were sitting in front of you guys.”   We found out they were at the same show at the Robot Restaurant.  AND one of them were living in SF – where Dan works, and his cousin lives in Little Tokyo in LA.    What are the odds, eh? In all of Tokyo, we ran into them 3 times.

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We had a good laugh, tried to join them for drinks but there wasn’t enough room where they were or where we were the next floor up….so who knows, maybe we’ll run into them again in LA.

When in Tokyo, it’s hard to keep track of time because everything is lit and even at 2 or 3AM people will be scurrying about the city, so at some point we made it back to our house just a little worse for wear.

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Japan 2017 – Day 1 – March 18

Michael Helms Los Angeles Headshot Photographer Journey to Japan – Day 1

Boarding a plane bound for Japan is an exercise in mixed feelings. We’re SO HAPPY to be going but dreading being trapped in an aluminum tube at 37 thousand feet for 12 hours.
I’m jealous of those who can sleep on planes…I can’t. So, I have found the best way for me to pass time is to catch up on all the movies I haven’t seen. “LA LA LAND” was first on my list. What a horrid film…slow paced, predictable, schmaltzy, and I’m sorry but Emma and Ryan are neither singers or dancers. Watch Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire…listen to Julie Andrews or Judy Garland sing.
On the other hand, I LOVED “Moonlight” and feel it deserved to win. Well shot, directed, acted, and a wonderful story that walked a tough line concerning a sensitive and current topic. Sadly, the people who SHOULD see it, probably won’t.
I saw “Doctor Strange” – liked it a lot and recommend it. I’d watch Benedict Cumberbatch read a phone book.

We arrived at Narita Airport and on our way to pick up our baggage, Squi was running through the airport, tripped, fell, smacked his face on the floor and got a black eye. Great….we hoped this wasn’t a sign of things to come.

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We got to AirBnB rented house in Shinjuku around 3 in the afternoon and Kaz had to leave soon after to go teach an acting class. Squi and I decided to have a treasure hunt, so we went out on our own and wondered around. The “treasure hunt” consisted of taking photos as we went so we could find our way back home. I think it worked better than bread crumbs. But ultimately we were too tired to walk very far, so we found our way back home, put our feet up, and watched Sumo Wrestling!
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John Jack, the head honcho at The Stella Adler Acting Academy arrived that evening.
So when Kaz got back, we started our first food search.Los Angeles Headshot Photographer
We knew of a teeny hole in the wall restaurant in an alley in Shinjuku called Shinagawa Tei. The restaurant has room for about 8-10 guests and is owned and operated by a little old lady and her son. It’s a VERY popular local eatery and is practically impossible to get reservations but the last time we were there we just walked in at the right time and got seats! So we thought we’d go by and just say hello. As fate would have it, we got there just as they were opening and we got to eat there again!!! When we walked in the little old lady looked at Kaz and said, “OH….Matamura-san!!” We were stunned that she remembered us but so happy to get to have more of their wonderful food.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer

We love Japan and I’m pretty sure living there part time will be in our future. Also – MANY of these blogs will mention food! Food you can’t get in the US, food that you can get in the US but is WAAAYYY better over there, and food served in a way (both in terms of service and presentation) that you can’t find here in the US.Los Angeles Actors Headshot Photographer Los Angeles Headshot Photographer

After our meal, we wondered around a bit in Shinjuku before we met up with Rick, an instructor  from Stella Adler, who was also coming in to join the teaching forces.
We’d been up for a LONG time, so after a snack and too many Asahi beers, we crashed  at our house, happy, full, and excited about the days to come!

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Photoshop ­ – to retouch or NOT to retouch

One of the things I hear a lot these days is “I want my photo to look natural”. Yet, when I sit down in front of a computer monitor after a photo session to view their head shots, I hear ”can you fix this, and that, and that, and….”

In this age of digital manipulation, the general rule is: It is a GOOD thing to Photoshop your photos, it is a BAD thing to OVER­Photoshop your photos”

If you are in the public eye ­ an actor, model, CEO, or celebrity ­ you need to be aware of your image. The first thing to know is that you are not in the business of reality.

You are in a business of fantasy or at the very least idealism. No one who views your photos wants to know you had a zit the day of your photo shoot. No one is interested in seeing your blobby mascara, nose hairs hanging out, or blood shot eyes, even though that’s the “way it really looked” or the way it was “naturally”. When we view photos of George Clooney, we want him to look as perfect as our fantasies imagine him. We want Angelina Jolie to have flawless skin, perfect hair, and a trim lovely figure.

Dove has been running a campaign the last few years showing makeovers and accentuating all the stuff done in Photoshop afterwards. The idea is to show the “real” faces of models and therefore make them more “human” and accessible and thereby draw attention to their products. In my opinion, this is a huge marketing mistake. These videos will draw a lot of attention and get a lot of nods of approval but in the end will not increase sales of their products as much as an ad NOT showing the before images. People need a goal to strive for not someone who they look at and ”Oh well…with THAT MUCH photoshop, I can look good too!” It’s like telling people there is no Easter Bunny!

I had an agent here in LA tell one of my clients to “just shoot a selfie” for her head shots!! While I understand the agents frustration with actors bringing her head shots that don’t look like them, I also think a selfie is a horrid misrepresentation of oneself. The distortion of camera phone lenses, awful lighting, and unplanned images makes selfies fun but useless as a business tool.

So where is the magic line? When is an image “over Photoshopped”?

If you have a mole, leave in it because to will be there when you go on an audition. If you have a blemish, retouch it out.

It’s OK to soften laugh lines a bit but to remove them is a mistake. Taking the red out of your bloodshot eyes is fine because HOPEFULLY you won’t always have that, unless you live in Colorado.
If you plan on losing a little weight, then it’s OK to take some off in Photoshop but rarely do people actually go ahead and lose that weight and so you’d do better to look like your photo.

If you are taking a photo for your wall at home or for a gift, then you can Photoshop to your hearts content, but if it is for work, then less is more.

While on this topic, I should add that there is a lot of BAD Photoshop out there, so buyer beware. A photographer should either do it himself or have someone on staff who is proficient and will sit down with you to do the Photoshop Head shots in LA are going through a “natural” phase right now, which is a good thing, but beware of anyone who tells you not to do any Photoshop at all.

Remember ­ it is a GOOD thing to Photoshop your photos,

it’s a BAD thing to over­Photoshop them.

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“It Just Isn’t ME!” – How to be a successful actor

I’ve been a photographer for over 35 years in the Los Angeles area. I’ve been shooting head shots of actors, models, celebrities, and corporate people for all these years. There are some things that I always hear no matter who my clients are and one of those things is,”I hate having my picture taken”.

It seems such an odd thing for an actor to say but it happens at least 90 percent of the time. I usually respond by telling them that a head shot is an acting job just like any other acting job and that they are portraying characters that represent the “type” they will be called in to portray. It’s a completely ineffective response on my part but what I attempt to do is simply get the actor into a different type of mindset so the session doesn’t become so self analytical.

Last year I had a guy come to my studio who was a character type and had a good “look” for casting. But one of the things he said to me was very revealing. He said he got called in for a role as a “very very bad guy” (like a rapist or pedophile) and he said,”I can’t play that! It just isn’t ME!”

As a photographer, I thought it odd he said that because when he walked through my studio doors, my first impression was what a great character type he was and what a perfect “rapist” or “pedophile” he could portray. He was a WONDERFUL human being and a terrific Dad to his children but he had a certain “look” (read CASTING) that conflicted with his real life existence. As a result of his feelings about the “bad guy” role he had auditioned for, he felt it more appropriate that we shoot images of him where he looked more friendly. He wanted a “Dad” shot, a “business man” shot, and a “guy next door” shot. All these “looks” are indeed a good idea and he might book some of those roles but his PRIMARY market will go untapped simply because of his own personal inability to separate himself PERSONALLY from himself as This is a somewhat schizophrenic business to be in.

An actor (model, celebrity, corporate person) needs to see themselves as a product. They need to look at their photos as pictures of “him/her” and NOT as photos of “ME”. If the reason for shooting a photo is for personal reasons and it’s going to hang on a wall or be put in a frame, then, certainly there is reason to want to look good and be yourself but if it is for business use, no matter the business, then that end use becomes the driving factor in what that image should be.

For instance, the CEO of a corporate bank should not have a head shot in a baseball cap and a tank top. It may be a perfectly acceptable look for him on vacation in the Carribean, but not for his corporate offices.

The NUMBER ONE comment I hear from actors when they come through the doors of my studio is,”I just want a photo that captures ME and who I REALLY am!” As harsh and cruel as it may sound…. in this business, who cares who and what you REALLY are!?? Casting offices only look at an actor as having the right look (and talent) for a role. They may be wonderful folks but they have no interest in who an actor “really is”. You don’t have to be a Mom to play a Mom. My client didn’t have to BE a “bad guy” to play a bad guy. His inability to divest himself of his self image damages his career.

Over and over I see this played out in my studio. Girls who are rather plain who want to be sexy, girls who are sexy who want “to be taken seriously” and not do sexy roles, guys who want to be macho leads who look like nerds, and fellows like I just mentioned who could make tons of money playing “bad guys” but are at odds with their casting.

Acting is a business. My advice is to put your money where you make your money. If you are attached to your photos, you are doing a disservice to your business. Look at TV, commercials (where 75% of the money spent in LA goes!), films, and print media and see who looks like you. What are they wearing? How are they cast? Then shoot images that will get you called in to audition for roles you have a shot at booking.

All this seems so “obvious” but I am astounded at the percentage of actors who miss this basic concept. A head shot is NOT about YOU and what YOU REALLY ARE. It is about shooting images that get you called in for work you have a shot at booking. A “great photo of you” is NOT a great photo of you if you get called in and when you get there, you look around the room and  everyone is prettier, older, younger, or just simply not your “type”.

It may be a great photo of you for your wall at home, but if it doesn’t generate the appropriate auditions and get your work, then it’s NOT a good photo for your career.

headshots

Headshots for actors. Three looks to start with.
Commercial / Theatrical / Character (Squi as De Niro)

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Japan Trip – Glass Making

A day after the funeral, we decided to do something creative to cheer us up.
My GF’s friend, Seri, set up the glass making class for me.

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Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer My cheek hurt … it’s hard to get the bubble going, but once you do, then it gets easier.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CLICK HERE for Michael Helms – Glass Making Video
Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer

I decided to make a bowl. I chose a kind of teal color with a red rim. Here we are shaping it a bit before blowing again to enlarge it.

Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer

 

 

Here I’m expanding the opening in the bubble to create a bowl. It takes a little pressure at first and getting the bowl perfectly round is tricky.

 

 

 

Still expanding the bubble to form the bowl while the glass is red hot. Then I changed the angle of the tongs to flare the top of the bowl a bit.

 

In these last two photos, you can see the finished bowl. It has a bubble in the glass, a flaw but some glass blowers think of it as character and leave them in. I like the “flaw”.

Also…my bowl isn’t perfectly symmetrical, but

again, I like it. Gives it character.

Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer

Michael Helms - actors Headshot photographer

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