If there’s one skill Yuichi Takasaka has mastered, it’s patience. The Japanese-born, B.C.-based photographer is no stranger to spending hours upon hours waiting for that perfect moment when all the different variables come together to create an incredible image.
And that’s after he’s hiked, boated or flown in to a ridiculously remote location to be sure that he will be the one to capture that elusive picture.
But he’s learned not to take his wife and son along for the ride anymore.
“They just get so bored,” he shrugs.
Takasaka’s work is highly sought after. His photographs appear regularly in National Geographic; NASA is one of his best customers. Though he considers himself first and foremost a landscape photographer, the images he's best known for are of the aurora borealis.
Last week, he happened to be in Yellowknife when a massive fireball exploded over the area. Takasaka's photos of the explosion were shared around the world.
Over the past two decades, Takasaka has taken countless shots of the northern lights across Canada, the U.S. and Europe, and has travelled as far as Tasmania to do the same with the southern lights.
Check out some of Yuichi Takasaka's photographs. Story continues below:
What's surprising, is that he never planned for this; indeed his career trajectory has been a series of happy accidents that have brought him to this point.
He came to Vancouver in the early 1990s to “just take a look around the place," reignited a romance with a local woman he had first met in Tokyo and got married.
They decided to head north, driving all the way to Yellowknife where his wife had been hired to teach. Takasaka had no work visa, and was told that his immigration application was likely to take five years.
He checked in with the rudimentary office in Yellowknife, manned by a retired fisherman from Prince Rupert, who told him to come back the next week. Takasaka showed up, and the immigration officer said, “Congratulations, you’re landed.”
“That was so strange,” Takasaka smiles.
Having been part of a very high-end tour company in Japan, it didn’t take long for the Yellowknife Japanese community (that numbered three, at the time) to point him in the direction of a local company specializing in the northern lights.
“They were such a small operation,” he recalls. “They didn’t even have a computer, everything was written out by hand.”
Takasaka told the owner he would help him, but that everything would have to change. That first winter, they escorted around 100 tourists. By the time Takasaka left to go freelance in 1999, they were hosting over 10,000 Japanese tourists per season.
The photography began as a necessity: “We needed pictures of the northern lights for publicity material, to show people what they would be seeing,” he explains.
He bought a camera and started taking pictures. This was the pre-digital world, so he sent rolls of film to Edmonton and waited three weeks to see how they turned out.
“It was so cold, cameras would break up, film would rip …” he laughs. “Many hundreds of pictures later, I learned how to do it.”
Now, Takasaka teaches others. He still guides tours, but often for specialist photography or media visits to see the night sky do its spectacular show.
He travels constantly: last year he was away from home once a month, taking tours through Yellowknife, Jasper and Alaska plus his own aurora hunting trips to Scotland and Australia.
Despite all this, home is always somewhere remote. Yellowknife, Whitehorse and now, Lumby, B.C.
Traded photos for food
There were even a few years in a remote native village just south of the Alaskan border, only reachable by boat or air. The Nisga’a numbered around 300, and Takasaka quickly settled into trading photos — portraits, weddings — for food.
“They would show up with sea lion and say, ‘Will you eat this?’ And I would be like, ‘I’m Japanese, I eat anything.’”
His tempura moose became so popular, he was called in to prepare it whenever dignitaries visited the community.
But surprised the community wasn’t eating the roe or heads of the fish they caught, he made a special request for the tongue.
“They used to eat the whole animal, but had lost that tradition. I cooked up the tongues for them and let them try it,” he says. “After that, they didn’t give it to me anymore.”
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